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Author Archives: Amanda Hlavacek

 

“The Peacemakers” by George P.A. Healy

Now that we are close to the end of this class, it seems that an inordinate amount of time and energy was spent working to vindicate the South. The results of the work of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is the most tangible in terms of the many, many monuments erected as memorials to Confederate leadership, museums, portraits, etc.  It appears that no equivalent campaign was needed in the North because they, after all, were the victors.  In the century and a half since the war ended the Union generals and other leadership are no longer held in such high regard.  Certainly the Lost Cause propaganda served to tarnish their reputations and that legacy continues in the minds of those who were exposed to that version of Civil War memory in the classroom.

In the post-Vietnam decades, as the culture has become increasingly anti-militaristic, the popular culture attempted to cast the military in a less than favorable light.[1]  For a while, interest in the Civil War ebbed to such a low point that many publications focusing on that subject had such a decline in readership that they considered suspending publication.[2]  There has been a resurgence of interest in the military because of the recent high levels of operations.  The large audience for Ken Burns’ Civil War series on PBS piqued public interest.  The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War has received a great deal of coverage in the press and in general interest magazines.  I am optimistic that sufficient numbers of families, children especially, will have visited battlefields and other historical sites, reversing the trend of declining interest in the Civil War.

Upon reading Gary Gallagher’s book, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood & Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War, I was reminded of the negative reputation that many Union generals still hold today.  Gallagher, when referring to public demand for Civil War artwork, suggests that there are almost no prints of these leaders are either sold, or created.[3]  He confirms that this represents a reversal of the immediate post-Civil War trends, in which they were popular figures for artwork in the North.[4]  How is it that the memory of these men became so tarnished in the North?  Obviously, figures such as General William T. Sherman became the target of so much southern vitriolic as a result of his march to the sea.  However, he held in similar low esteem by many in the North.  Is it legitimate to demonize him and other Union generals?  I would suggest not; they too became victims of the aggressive Lost Cause re-write of Civil War memory.

 

 


[1] Gary W. Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood & Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 4.

[2] Gallagher, 5.

[3] Gallagher, 142-143.

[4] Gallagher, 184-185.

 

Winfield Scott’s “Anaconda Plan”

During the past few weeks, we have discussed several ways in which both Northerners and Southerners have memorialized their soldiers.  We have also discussed several groups that were excluded, or maybe their vital roles in the Civil War were not fully appreciated.  We discussed both women and African Americans, but one group that was not mentioned at all was the role of the Navy (from both the Union and Confederacy) in the war.

Many people focus on the land battles and ignore the importance of the navies.  This aspect of the war is perhaps my favorite, and it is a rich subject that has not been fully studied.  Naval historian Donald Canney asserts that “[t]he naval war was one of sudden, spectacular lightning battles as well as continual and fatal vigilance on the coasts, rivers, and seas.”[1]  Enacting a blockade was paramount for the Union Navy as it would cut off any possible help that the Confederacy could receive from sources overseas and prevent the sale of cotton.[2]  While the Union Navy was small at the start of hostilities, the Confederacy’s was non-existent.  Both sides scrambled to build up their navies and mimic the ironclad cruisers prevalent in Europe.[3]  All other ships were made of wood.  The first meeting of this new breed of warships took place between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia.  This three-hour battle “was the world’s first battle between ironclad vessels.”[4]

While the Confederacy fought to defend their ports, the Union began a two-pronged attack in order to gain control of the Mississippi River.  The brainchild of Winfield Scott, the “Anaconda Plan” was meant to “surround the foe and suffocate it into surrendering.”[5]  With the Confederacy defending their east coast ports, Union Admiral David Farragut entered the Gulf of Mexico with the intention of taking New Orleans.  Simultaneously, Union gunboats headed south down the Mississippi River.  Once New Orleans surrendered, Farragut and his Union forces moved north up the river and met up with the southbound gunboats to aid Ulysses Grant in sacking Vicksburg.[6]  The actions of these fleets effectively “sever[ed] everything west of the River from the rest of the Confederacy.”[7]  With the “Anaconda Plan” in full force, the Union Navy turned its attentions on taking the key Confederate ports.  In January 1865, Fort Fisher at Wilmington, North Carolina surrendered.[8]  Canney asserts that this fall “deprived Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia of a major supply source and contributed directly to the end of the war.”[9]

The ingenuity of both naval powers must not be taken lightly, or ignored.  Significant advancement of naval technology occurred during the Civil War, and it is apparent that these developments contributed to the end of the war.  I believe it is a shame that there is such little credit of the vital role of the navies.


[1] Donald Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War,” http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/navy.html (accessed June 25, 2012).

[2] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

[3] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

[4] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

[5] Louis P. Masur, The Civil War: A Concise History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 25-26.

[6] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

[7] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

[8] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

[9] Canney, “The Navies of the Civil War.”

I grew up in New Orleans and returned to the Gulf Coast for a tour of duty at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS.  I am very familiar with Beauvoir House and can picture Beach Boulevard and the plethora of historic homes clearly in my mind’s eye.  Unfortunately at the time, however, I did not appreciate the historical value of Beauvoir House and thus never toured the site.  When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in August 2005 I prayed for the cities and friends that still lived there (I had moved to Colorado in 2000) and watched helplessly as the news crews showed the destruction of the places that I knew so well.  Turning at the last minute, ever so slightly, Katrina directed her fury at Biloxi, MS which sustained the worst damage from the storm.  Beauvoir House is located within walking distance of the Gulf shore.  While the main house and the Presidential Library suffered severe damage, they survived.  Five other buildings on the property were decimated.[1]

Beauvoir House was once the retirement home of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  The house was originally built in 1851 by James Brown, a Mississippi plantation owner.  Because of the sand mixed into soil, it was deemed infertile and the property was never turned into a plantation.[2]  When Brown died in 1873, the house was sold to Sarah Dorsey, a long time friend of the Davis family.  Three years later, when Jefferson Davis was visiting the Gulf Coast looking for a place to retire and write his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Davis visited Dorsey who offered to let him stay at Beauvoir House in one of the cottages for $50.00 a month.  Several years later, when she found she was dying of cancer, Sarah Dorsey offered to sell the entire property to Davis for $5500, over the course of three payments.  The first payment was made, but Dorsey died before the remaining could be made.  In an act of goodwill, Davis used the remaining balance to pay off the debts incurred against the Dorsey estate.[3]

The Davis family lived at Beauvoir House until Jefferson Davis’ death in 1889.  Davis had bequeathed the house to his daughter, Winnie.  When Winnie died in 1898, the house was left to Jefferson Davis’s widow.  Just five years later, the property was sold to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans under the condition that it be used to create a Confederate soldiers’ home under the care of the state, with the main house established as a memorial to her late husband.[4]  From 1903 until the last two Confederate widows left in 1957, Beauvoir House operated under the conditions established by Mrs. Jefferson Davis.  The state constructed twelve barracks with six rooms per building for the soldiers and their wives for a total of 288 beds.[5]

I am extremely relieved to find that restoration efforts have restored the main house and parts of the property to its original splendor and efforts continue to rebuild the rest.  Now that I appreciate its historical significance, I do not intend to miss another chance to tour Davis’ home.


[1] Lynda Lasswell Crist, “Beauvoir,” Mississippi History Now (June 2007).  http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/2804/beauvoir (accessed June 20, 2012).

[2] “History of Beauvoir.”  http://beauvoir.org/history.html (accessed June 20, 2012).

[3] “History of Beauvoir.”

[4] “History of Beauvoir.”

[5] “Beauvoir Confederate Soldier’s Home.”  http://beauvoir.org/vetshome.html (accessed June 20, 2012).