William Kurtz's blog

Proslavery Unionism

The Civil War left Pennsylvania lawyer and UVA alumnus James Shunk bitter and angry. In the late 1850s, as a federal secretary and clerk, he had championed the “permanency of the Union” and worked to hold the country together. When the war erupted, he denounced the Confederate “rebellion” and briefly enlisted in the Union’s defense. As a conservative Democrat, however, he vilified his Republican rivals, accusing them of provoking the war, defying the Constitution, and destroying the antebellum racial order.

Reflections from Fredericksburg

By all accounts this summer has been nothing short of the strangest in recent memory. Yet, I would submit, no other time could have been more apt than the current moment to work on the front lines engaging with the public at a Civil War park. I spent two months of this summer working for Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (hereafter FRSP).

“I Will Bet on Them Every Time”

The Battle of Fort Blakeley in Alabama took place in early April 1865 as the Civil War drew to a close, motivated by the Union desire to drive the Confederates out of their final holdings near the Gulf Coast. The seaport of Mobile Bay was no longer under Confederate control, but the city of Mobile itself still was, protected by the Confederate posts of Spanish Fort, directly to the east across the bay, and Fort Blakeley, about six miles to the north. In the end, nearly 16,000 Union soldiers fought to regain the fort, including some 5,000 members of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Slave Marriage, Free Marriage

One can only imagine the frustration Nancy Douglas of Louisiana, Missouri, must have felt trying to provide information about her late husband, Manuel Price, in her application for a widow’s pension in March 1888. “I cannot give the Month or year in which Manuel Price Enlisted, nor the date of his death, I do not know anything about the nature of the disease of which he died. All that I Know about his death, is what I have been told by Men who were his Comrades.” Price had served in the 68th USCT Infantry Regiment, but died in Benton Barracks in St.

The Statue That Never Was

As Americans remove Confederate statues from the public landscape, and debate the symbolism of monuments such as Washington, D.C.’s Emancipation Statue, with its standing Lincoln and kneeling slave, it is instructive to reflect on the paths not taken.  As modern scholarship on Civil War memory has noted, African Americans faced daunting obstacles in trying to establish their own public memorials in Jim Crow America.  A poignant example is the statue conceived by the National Emancipation Monument Association in 1889.  Its design was a striking inverse of the “kneeling slave” motif and a bol

“The Question is Settled—Negroes Will Fight”

In the late fall of 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood led his defeated Army of Tennessee from the ruins of Atlanta. The city, a key logistical and supply center, had been leveled by Union forces under Major General William T. Sherman. As Hood retreated to lick his wounds west of the city, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered him to harass and weaken the enemy while avoiding a full-scale engagement. Hood was so successful in this endeavor that in a bold stroke, Sherman proposed to abandon his supply line and march across Georgia.

The Command Advanced Gallantly

Despite major inroads made by Union armies across the South during the Civil War, the state of Florida existed largely on the periphery and experienced few major battles within its borders. As Florida was a sparsely populated state compared to its neighbors, and contained meager industrial resources, the Union did not prioritize an invasion to its inland portions. Strategically, devoting substantial resources to the state made little sense for the Union high command. As late as February 1864, only one major battle occurred within its borders—the battle of Olustee or Ocean Pond.

The Enlistment Map

Following the formation of African American regiments across the wartime Union in the spring of 1863, leading black abolitionists, from William Wells Brown to Robert Hamilton to Frederick Douglass, put aside their past, contentious disagreements over the issue of enlistment. The Union, they now all agreed, had finally proven itself deserving of black military service. Now that the nation was willing to accept black volunteers, moreover, activists were anxious not to let the moment go to waste.


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