Civil War Echoes: Manila Bay 1898

Today in 1898, 120 years ago, the Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey entered Manila Bay seeking to destroy the Spanish flotilla anchored inside near Cavite. Dewey’s ships sailed past Corregidor, an island that would mean much more in U.S. military history later. Shortly after dawn, the Americans opened fire and by lunchtime had wrecked the Spanish ships. Spain’s power in the Far East was broken, and Dewey had scored the first American victory in the War With Spain. (An excellent overview of the battle can be found here.) USS_Olympia_art_NH_91881-KN

Dewey’s victory carries two significant Civil War Echoes. 

The first is Dewey himself. As a young officer, he was second-in-command of USS Mississippi during David G. Farragut’s expedition to New Orleans and up the Mississippi River in 1862. Farragut’s planning and leadership impressed Dewey, and ever after Dewey took Farragut as his role model – even at points of decision asking himself “What would Farragut do?”

Dewey later admitted that passing Corregidor evoked similar feelings as the lead-up to the night battle for Forts Jackson and St. Philip in 1862.

To open the battle, Dewey gave a famous order to Charles Gridley, the captain of his flagship USS Olympia: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Captain Gridley was a young officer about USS Oneida in 1864; distinguishing himself during the Battle of Mobile Bay. That ship had run a passage of Confederate forts and then helped subdue a Confederate squadron in the bay itself. His and Dewey’s experience running forts helped steel their nerves for the passage into Manila Bay past Corregidor and neighboring islands.

These two officers, who cut their teeth in Farragut’s greatest victories, combined to produce another of the great victories in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Image: a U.S. Navy print showing Dewey’s ships engaging the Spanish. USS Olympia is in foreground.

Artillery Sketches of Alfred Waud

Talk about being in the right place at the right time . . . our own Meg Groeling wrote a series of posts for ECW several years ago called “Drawing the War.” It featured the newspaper artists who were embedded with the various Civil War armies and sent sketches to the large newspapers of the day. The piece concerning Alfred Waud has gotten a lot of traffic.

However, the piece, with some rewriting, got a new life from The Artilleryman magazine. The spread is simply beautiful, with copious illustrations of Waud’s work pertaining to artillery. Editor Jack Melton headed up this effort. Check it out!

 

A Conversation with Caroline Janney (part four)

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Janney, Carrie(part four of four)

We’ve been talking this week with Dr. Caroline Janney, author and past president of the Society of Civil War Historians. Currently on the history faculty at Purdue University, she’ll take up a new post next fall at the University of Virginia as the John L. Nau III Professor of Civil War History and the director of the Nau Center. “It’ll be Gary Gallagher’s former position,” she said, quickly adding, “I can’t fill his shoes.”

Like Gallagher, one of her mentors, Janney has spent a lot of time bridging the divide between the academy and the public. ECW Editor-in-Chief Chris Mackowski asked her about that part of her work.

Chris Mackowski: I want to go back to something we talked about a minute ago: the public speaking you do. When I’m out talking at roundtables, I hear your name come up often. The audiences you’ve spoken to rave about your presentations. You’re someone who comes up often when people are talking about their highlights. How does that compare to the academic part of what you do? 

Caroline Janney: There are many ways in which they have a lot in common. Trying to explain the hows and whys of whatever topic I’m addressing to a public audience is not all that different than in a classroom, at least an upper-level classroom where students have chosen to be in that class. Both respond well to energy and excitement. It’s just the way I talk—I couldn’t do it differently if I wanted to.

Being receptive to questions is important, too. I try not to be the professor that just stands there and lectures on stage, but an interactive experience, where I’m asking them questions and they ask me questions, so I feel like the learning goes in both directions. I truly believe that.

On the other hand, I admit that there is a certain writing style that I have to use for academic audiences, but I also want my writing to be accessible for the general public, so that’s something I try to be very conscious of in the way that I write.

I think that both reinforce one another: talking to people and visiting places. One of the things I like about roundtables is getting to visit places like Austin and Kansas that I might not otherwise get to visit. The opportunities have been learning experiences for me, so it’s really a two-way street.

CM: Do you see a disconnect between public history and academic history—between the academy and people that are working in the field at historical sites and national parks and places like that?

CJ: I don’t want to suggest that there isn’t because I’m sure there are many people that think that there is. For me, the park service is especially important, not just because of my own time there, but important because of the colleagues and friends that I have in the park service, and I know I couldn’t do my job without them. They are an invaluable resource and overwhelming generous with their time. I know how much hard work they do on the front lines and I’m very conscious of that and grateful for what they do. That’s not exactly the answer you’re really looking for.

CM: I’m not really looking for any answer in particular. What’s so refreshing about this is that you’re just so optimistic and so forward thinking. It’s just a pleasure.

CJ: Perhaps I’m not being realistic; I know there are budget concerns and things that hamper what people on the front lines can and can’t do, such as not having resources. And I’m not unaware of the disconnect that public historians often feel from academic historians and vice versa. But I truly believe that we are better off when we collaborate and work together. 

CM: I feel the exact same way. For me, when Joe Q. Public walks through the door of a historical site, at the end of the day, he has to have some sort of way to connect with history or find it relevant to him in order for them to take that story away with him. The more ways historians can help to facilitate those stories, the better.

CJ: And in that way, I do see the parallels. I understand why someone on the front lines might not see it the same way, but for me, it’s the same challenge with a student in a general survey course. There are students that have to be there and don’t necessarily want to be there. How do I convince them that there are things you can get out of the class if you think about history in a slightly different way—ways that you can then connect and see your world in a different way. I tend to take it as a challenge to try to help them open that door much in the same way that those at public history sites do every day.

CM: As you move forward with your writing and your teaching, do you have any particular goals or aspirations?

CJ: There’s always the next book or project, and wanting to continue to speak or write in a way that sheds new light on what we think are familiar topics. I think I’m just so grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had, I just want to be able to keep doing what I’m doing and having those opportunities.

A Conversation with Caroline Janney (part three)

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(part three of four)

As a scholar, Dr. Caroline Janney has explored a strong interest in Civil War memory. During our conversation with her this week, she’s also talked about the deep connection to place she feels as a historian. In today’s portion of her interview with ECW Editor-in-Chief Chris Mackowski, she talks more about the importance of memory and place, and how she brings those topics into her classroom at Purdue University.

Chris Mackowski: As you’ve written about the subject of memory, from the first paper you did about tracing your steps through the cemetery, what is it you’ve found about memory particularly that’s been so compelling to you as a way to look at Civil War history? 

Caroline Janney: In large part, what I try to convey to my students is that the way the memory, and not just war memory, but all memory, serves the present and not the past. We celebrate, commemorate, or forget things for personal and political reasons. It’s something that we do both consciously and unconsciously and is something we manipulate and take for granted at times. Memory shapes our everyday existence in ways that we aren’t even conscious of. It shapes our identities for good or bad. The myths we tell ourselves as individuals and groups, and as a nation, are instrumental in how we define ourselves. And in many ways, it’s about power and politics.

CM: When your students come to class at the beginning of the semester, does that challenge some of the expectations that they have?

CJ: I have a course just on Civil War memory. I teach a course on the Civil War where we cover the coming of the war, the fighting, and the conclusion—Reconstruction. But, during the spring semester, I teach a course on Civil War memory, and we spend a couple weeks, somewhat on a theoretical and philosophical level, examining what memory is. But then we grind down into looking at the first efforts of the war generation to commemorate the war through cemeteries, Memorial Day, through poetry, et cetera. For today’s class, I taught Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge.”

So we go all the way through to the present looking at the ways that, through the generations, northerners and southerners, Confederates and Unionists, blacks and whites, men and women all have tried to come to terms with the Civil War. It’s a process—an unfolding if you will. We peel back the layers as we progress from the 1860s, through the early 20th century, to the present.

CM: What would your assessment be of college-age students today? I hear at roundtables things like, “We need to get more young people interested in history.” Do you think there are enough young people interested in history?

CJ: It has been my experience that they certainly are interested in history. A lot of my students have a thirst and a desire to understand the complex, contradictory past, whether that’s U.S. history or world history. I think that every generation laments that not enough people are studying history. The Civil War generation certainly did, so I think that’s something that each generation will say, but in my experience that isn’t really the case.

CM: I like your phrase “complex, contradictory past.” How much of a challenge is it in this soundbite, social media world to discuss the complicated past?

CJ: Sometimes I think that’s what my students find refreshing. When you explain to them that it can’t be explained in a tweet, it doesn’t fit in a box with a headline, that people are inherently contradictory and messy, and at times ugly—but it’s also at times wondrous. I find more and more that they’re receptive to that and they like the untidiness of it all. Somehow, that rings true to them, despite what we might think about the younger generation.

CM: If you look at society as a whole, do you see that same sort of willingness to engage in the complicated past?

CJ: I don’t know. I’m not a social commentator, I’m a historian: I look to the past. I guess I’m not cynical enough to say that that’s the case. I think we do often live in a media world that is driven by soundbites, but when people have the time and/or inclination to address the complexities, I think they’re willing to, or I at least like to hope they are.

CM: One of the things I think you’ve been especially successful at is being one of those historians who has found an effective way to reach out to the general public or audiences beyond the academy. How does that public history component fit into your role as a historian?

CJ: Part of it is just how I see history. It’s who I am. My first job was as a guide at Luray Caverns. I loved being able to share with visitors how the caverns were created and why they’re there. I had a lot of history in my guided tours.

Being able to talk and teach, not just to students in the classroom, but to the general public, is just a passion that I have. I think it comes from my experience working with the caverns, working with the National Park Service for 10 years, and having wonderful role models in the field who were exceptional at engaging the public. I truly enjoy it. I consider myself incredibly lucky that I get to do all of the things I love to do. I get to research, write, and teach, not just college students, but also an interested general public.

CM: Where’d you do your NPS gig?

CJ: I worked at Shenandoah for about 10 years in college and grad school. My official title was Historian/Archivist. I was fortunate to work with a man named Reed Engle who came to Shenandoah to create the archives there and make them accessible to the public and revise the very outdated and offensive exhibits.

Getting to do research on the creation of the park and the new exhibits [at the Big Meadows Visitor Center] was a very formative period for me. I had no idea I was going to grad school; I had no idea I was going to become a professor. I just loved history—and this was a summer job that allowed me to engage it. But all of those experiences were leading me down a certain path that I didn’t quite see at the time.

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Tomorrow, Chris wraps up his conversation with Dr. Janney by talking more about her efforts to bring history out of the classroom to the general public.

A Conversation with Caroline Janney (part two)

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Janney, Carrie @ Gburg

Young Carrie Janney at Gettysburg

(part two of four)

As part of our Women’s History Month commemoration, we’re talking this week with Dr. Caroline Janney, professor, author, and past president of the Society of Civil War Historians. Janney has spent a good deal of her writing career discussing memorialization and memory. In part one of their conversation yesterday, ECW Editor-in-Chief Chris Mackowski asked her about that in the context of Janney’s time at Perdue University. Today, they widen the lens a bit.

Chris Mackowski: So you’ve written two fantastic books about how and why the war has been remembered as it has been. [Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation.] How did you get interested in that topic in the first place? 

Caroline Janney: The first time I wrote about it was as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. I was struck by the Confederate monument in the cemetery there, and I wondered how and why that was the case. It was an English class on the Civil War, and I started to research and was struck to find that these women’s associations had come up with the idea to create a Confederate cemetery and to commemorate the soldiers who died in the area. It grew from that, but I always had a fascination with the fact that Virginia was populated with so many Confederate monuments.

For a long time, I joked that my hometown had as many Confederate monuments as it did stoplights. I never quite understood why that was the case and how and why they got there—it wasn’t a scholarly question I had as a kid, but something I sometimes wondered about. Then I had that opportunity as a student at a university to explore that and realized that there were a lot of questions that were still unanswered.

CM: I like to ask people what their “Civil War origins” are. Would you trace yours back to those monuments in your hometown?

CJ: That and the fact that my grandfather was a WWII Marine veteran, and he took me to battlefields as a kid. He took me to Antietam and Gettysburg, and my parents, who likewise enjoyed history, took my brothers and me to places of historical significance. We went to Williamsburg and Mount Vernon and battlefields—and the New Market reenactment, which we went to every year. I halfway joke, though I’m probably more serious than joking, that I grew up surrounded by the Civil War. I can’t fathom not wanting to understand how that shaped the landscape as well as the people who lived there.

CM: If it’s not too personal of a question, would you mind sharing a story of your grandfather at one of the battlefields?

CJ: He and my grandmother took me to Gettysburg when I was probably eight or nine, and I remember distinctly Pops would walk the battlefields. He wouldn’t go in the visitor center or the gift shop. Grandma and I went to the Cyclorama, but he spent alone time on the battlefield, and I never quite understood that as a kid.

When I was a junior in high school, my grandparents took me and my cousin to Antietam. Again, he walked the battlefield by himself, and we went into the visitor center, and I bought a book there called The Killer Angels. The one thing he would allow me was to get a book—and to this day, I still teach that book every year in my Civil War memory class.

I’ve come to understand more about why, as a veteran, he would want to have solitude on a battlefield, even if it wasn’t his battlefield. As a kid, I just appreciated that he took me to these historical sites, knowing that something both horrific and grand had happened at these places and trying to comprehend it all.

CM: I’m hearing a common theme while you’re talking here. Your grandfather’s sense of place and how he felt grounded there, and you walking the cemetery and feeling the connection, and that all kind of goes back to what you said earlier about Southerners having that sense of connection to place. How important to you think place is in our ability to reach out and experience Civil War history?

CJ: It’s central. I tell my students all the time that once you get out on a battlefield and you see the landscape, you have a greater sense of both strategically and tactically what happened there and why it happened as it did. Place is important both from a learned perspective and an understanding of the physical landscape, but also there is something about being in a particular spot and feeling that connection, as romantic as that may sound. For me, that may hold true at Civil War battlefields. I also experienced that at Pearl Harbor and places where something so much greater than myself happened. I don’t know that that’s true for everyone, but that’s how I feel connected to both the past and the present.

CM: Do you have a particular place on Civil War battlefields that you like to go?

CJ: I recently wrote an essay for a book that Gary Gallagher and Matt Gallman are publishing on places, and I chose Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam, and I reflected on my grandfather taking me there. That bridge—for all of those reasons, not just for the battle and what happened there, but for the fact that that it loomed so large in my memory of my grandfather—that place is important to me.

CM: How often do you get the chance to go back there?

CJ: Not as often as I’d like to. I equally say the same thing about the New Market battlefield. We went there for Mother’s Day—the reenactment was always on Mother’s Day, so that’s what we did.

CM: As an adult, seeing that same battlefield that, I’m sure as a child, you saw with a particular set of eyes—now you can revisit it as an educated expert. That’s got to be a pretty different perspective.

CJ: That’s the difference of a veteran going to a battlefield he fought on twenty years later and seeing it through a whole different set of eyes, knowing how the war ended, how that battle ended, knowing which comrades went home and which ones didn’t. I think we always filter our present through our past.

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In tomorrow’s segment, Janney goes from the battlefield to the classroom to talk a bit about her work as a professor. “A lot of my students have a thirst and a desire to understand the complex, contradictory past…” she says.

A Conversation with Caroline Janney (part one)

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Janney, Carrie(part one of four)

March is Women’s History Month, and to commemorate the event, Emerging Civil War is talking with several women who work in the field of Civil War history. This week, ECW Editor-in-Chief Chris Mackowski talks with one of the most notable voices among the new generation of Civil War scholars, Dr. Caroline Janney.  

Janney earned her PhD from the University of Virginia in 2005. She currently teaches history at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, but next fall, she’ll return to the University of Virginia to join the faculty of her alma mater. She is the past president of the Society of Civil War Historians and the author of two books, Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (UNC, 2008) and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (UNC, 2013). She’s also editor or co-editor of two volumes in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War Series, Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign (UNC, 2015) and Petersburg to Appomattox: The End of the War in Virginia (UNC, 2018).

The transcript of this interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Chris Mackowski: Since you’re at Purdue, I want to start by giving a shout-out to Indiana, which has a fantastic Civil War history. How have you been able to explore what’s out there since you’ve been there? 

Caroline Janney: One of the things that is certainly the centerpiece of Indianapolis is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. I quickly realized when I moved to Indiana that anyone who lives in and around Indianapolis knows that monument, and it’s allowed me to connect with the local population who don’t have battlefields in their backyards the same way that the people in Virginia and Pennsylvania and other places do. It’s allowed me to bring the war in some ways into classrooms and public lectures in a way that is still very present and real to the minds of people in Indiana.

CM: That really surprised me when I went to downtown Indianapolis: it’s a city that really admires its war memorialization.

CJ: Very much so—and not only the Soldiers and Sailors Monument but also the various others, like the World War I monument, along the mall. It’s kind of a miniature D.C. in terms of the memorialization of United States soldiers. [NOTE: There’s a monument to the U.S.S.Indianapolis there, too.]

CM: You’ve spent a good deal of your writing career on memorialization and memory—and I’ll ask you specifically about Indianapolis, and then get into that in a larger area—but that connection to memory certainly that must have struck a chord with you when you went downtown.

CJ: Yes, on a couple of levels. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument—I’m pretty confident it’s the largest Civil War monument in the country, and that, in and of itself, speaks a great deal that it would be in Indiana of all places. Of course, Indiana was an important site of organization for the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest of the Union veterans’ associations. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the city boasts such an impressive monument to the Union Cause.

But there’s also the symbolism that’s on those monuments. On one side, the Confederate battle flag is being trampled, which suggests that at the turn of the 20th century, there was no glorification of the Lost Cause and the Confederate flag. On the opposite side, it depicts African Americans being freed and breaking the handcuffs of slavery. Even though Indiana certainly has its own ugly racial history, the notion that freeing the slaves was a central part of the Union victory was still very much important in the early 1900s to Union veterans and their descendants.

CM: That was something that David Blight argued was not necessarily the case across the North during re-unification.

CJ: He’s absolutely right if you look at someone like Frederick Douglass, who was outraged to say the least that reconciliation seemed to be trumping emancipation and the Union cause—that white Union soldiers seemed to forget what they fought for. But in looking at countless speeches and memoirs and other writings of Union veterans, it became clear to me that the opposite was true: that early into the 20th century, Union veterans and their descendants, in fact, said freeing the slaves was part of the war. That didn’t mean they were racial egalitarians the way that Frederick Douglass wanted them to be, but they understood that ending slavery was paramount to their cause, at least at the end.

CM: Where would you see the tipping point is where people forgot about slavery as a war aim and the Lost Cause interpretation started to dominate memory?

CJ: It’s really the mid-20th century when that happens. It’s two generations separated from the Civil War when that increasingly becomes the case. Part of it is from popular culture most notably Gone with the Wind, but it’s also the passing of the veterans and their direct descendants that, by the time that we get to the Centennial, in the 1960s, there’s more of a reconciliationist narrative among white northerners or descendants of the Unionists. But that’s really a 20th century phenomena. It’s not the way that most of the Civil War generation or even their children understood the war.

CM: I think one of the things that struck me in your first book, Burying the Dead, was where you talk about how “loss” was still a very, very personal thing for these ladies across the South, and that affected how they remembered the war and how the lost soldiers were remembered. It’s got that very deep personal motivation wrapped up in that commemoration effort. At what point does it stop being so deeply personal and it becomes a habit of memorialization?

CJ: I think it depends on the people. Because Confederates and their descendants aren’t just talking about the Civil War but equally talking about Reconstruction and the legacies of Reconstruction, it remains personal and intimate for a longer period of time for subsequent generations in a way that it doesn’t for the white north.

The sheer numbers of the population—the fact that less than 50% of white, northern men fought in the war—meant that there was a smaller percentage that was as tied to the war than in the white south, where 75-80% of white men of military age fought in the war. That number is diluted in the North in the postwar period by immigration, so you don’t have those personal ties and you don’t have those Union veterans that are as important to communities as veterans tend to be in the postwar South. It seems to white Southerners—even if it’s not true—that their war was more personal and immediate than the war was in the North. They can often name ancestors who fought or point to places in their backyard in a way that many white northerners—again I’m speaking in a collective fashion here—didn’t or couldn’t. It seemed personal longer to the white South than it did in a lot of other places.

CM: My own experience, at least anecdotally, the North just seems less connected to the war than the South does, for those reasons you mentioned: with the influx of immigration, fewer people as a percentage fought in the war, so today, if you talk to a high school class, many of them have no connection to the war whatsoever. They’re immigrants or descended from immigrants, so they can’t trace back to ancestors who fought in the war. But in the South, people still say, “My great-great-granddaddy did ‘X.’”

CJ: That connection to place is important—the notion that families did or didn’t leave a certain area and being tied to a place. It’s a combination of all those things, and sometimes the perception is more important than the reality. It very well may be that northern students have ancestors that played some role in the Civil War, whether they were Union soldiers, or members of the Sanitary Committee, or some other fashion, but somehow preserving that memory hasn’t been as culturally and politically important as in the South.

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“I grew up surrounded by the Civil War,” Janney explains in tomorrow’s segment. “I can’t fathom not wanting to understand how that shaped the landscape of where I grew up.” Find out more in part two of our interview.