William Kurtz's blog

UVA Unionists (Part 2)

As the seven Lower South states seceded in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election, Unionists in the Upper and Border South struggled to hold their fracturing country together. Many of these Unionists insisted the country could endure “half slave and half free”—as it had for more than eighty years—and they worked tirelessly to contain the crisis by finding a middle ground in the debates over slavery. Their efforts failed, however, because southern secessionists and hard-line Republicans refused to compromise, but also because of divisions within the Unionist ranks.

Report from the Field

Now that the summer is over, I can safely say that working at Richmond National Battlefield Park was incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. Although I faced some challenges working as woman in the male-dominated field of Civil War history, it was so wonderful to spend the day talking about my passion for Civil War history with most of our visitors. Throughout the course of this internship, I learned so much about the field of public history and historical interpretation.

UVA Unionists (Part 1)

In October 1913, the Staunton Daily News published an editorial criticizing the lack of attention paid to Virginia students who served in the Union military during the Civil War. In the preceding decade, the University of Virginia had celebrated its Confederate alumni by hosting reunions, casting medals, and dedicating a plaque on the Rotunda. The university had compiled a list of just more than 2,000 Confederate alumni, but it had made no attempt to honor its Union veterans and rarely acknowledged their existence.

“Brave Boys of the Fifth”

In 1905, forty years after the end of the Civil War, an Albemarle-born, African-American veteran named Frank Lee applied to receive an increase in his pension. He had served as a young man in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry, a black regiment that fought for the Union cause. Because of his service, he was eligible for government assistance in the form of pensions, but he needed to verify one thing: his date of birth. Frank Lee set out to clarify.

Report from the Field

Greetings from Richmond National Battlefield Park!

Despite the massive number of bugs, sweltering heat, and possible ghosts, working for the Richmond National Battlefield Park has been an absolute dream. As the Nau Center’s summer intern at the park, I primarily work at two of our thirteen sites: our main visitor center at Historic Tredegar and at the Cold Harbor Battlefield. Additionally, I spend two days a week working on my research project, which focuses on Virginia women during the secession crisis and subsequent convention.

Black Virginians at Sea

Out of the approximately 18,000 African American sailors who served in the Union navy during the Civil War, over 2,800 were born in Virginia, the most from any state. While most of the men in our Black Virginians in Blue project were soldiers in the USCT, six served as sailors aboard five Union vessels.

"Quite Unhealthy"

Approximately 180,000 African-American men enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. In our first pass through the compiled military service records at the National Archives, we have discovered that 233 of these men were born in Albemarle County, Virginia. Of those Albemarle men, 70 died while serving in the army. Sixty-five died of disease, a 27.8% mortality rate significantly higher than the 18.5% mortality from disease of all USCT soldiers. We believe this disparity to result in part from the concentration of 40 Albemarle men in the deadly 65th and 67th regiments.

Shenandoah at War (Part 2)

This second of three installments on the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, which as a group anticipate our Signature Conference for 2017, focuses on military action. From the confrontation between Joseph E. Johnston and Robert Patterson during the campaign of First Bull Run through the Confederate defeat at Waynesboro on March 2, 1865, almost continuous activity of some sort disturbed the Valley’s pastoral countryside.

Shenandoah at War (Part 1)

The Nau Center’s Signature Conference for 2017 will focus on the Shenandoah Valley’s role in the Civil War. Lecturers will examine various facets of the overall topic, including military operations, civilian experiences, how events in the Valley resonated in the United States and the Confederacy, and how the Valley figured in memories of the conflict. In this, the first of three installments anticipating the conference, I will examine the Valley's geography and logistical and strategic significance.

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