31 December 2017

Coming in 2018: Vlog

I have long wanted to start a vlog that would incorporate elements of my blog and Youtube channel. As with all the projects I've had in mind for the last few years, and the fact I always have too many irons in the fire (thank you ADD), I've never been able to pull this off. However, beginning some time in early 2018, I will finally see this desire come to fruition. I've spent the last year thinking about what I want to talk about and explore and have settled on a specific theme and several topics for the vlog. 

Back in 2011 (??!!) I mentioned that I would be producing a video "tour" of my office. Though I did some initial filming and still have that footage, I never completed or edited what I started. There was also the issue of needing a better 1080 HD camcorder, lighting, good external mic/audio capabalities and video editing software that was easy to master, yet had the capability of producing decent videos (not to mention the time involved.) 

This month, I finally acquired a decent HD camcorder, tripod, wide angle lense, external mic and other items necessary to produce something that I hope will be satisfactory. I've also been using Filmora video editing software for my relic hunting videos for a year and am comfortable enough to go to the next level with some video production. (Filmora is a fabulous tool and I highly recommend it.) I've also settled on a theme or tagline/name for this video series:
Life, liberty & the pursuit of relics.
Most of this phrase is, of course, taken from one of our nation's most sacred documents and was penned by one of Virginia's favorite sons: Thomas Jefferson. It is immediatley familiar to most folks who will be interested in the subject matter of the vlog. The substitution of "relics" for the word "happiness" adds some clarity and hint to what I'll be discussing in the videos. But the relics discussed will, to one degree or another, share thematics with the spirit of Jefferson's immortal words.

I also plan to do some book reviews and discussion, go on location to some historic sites and interview some interesting individuals. These videos will average around 10 minutes each. I want to keep them relatively short so folks will actually take the time to watch them. Initially, I can only commit to one a month, but hope to work up to more than that at some point if the interest is there and I can maintain the motivation. My wife's health will continue to take precedent but, for now, she's doing relatively well. 

Part of the motivation for this project is my own posterity, specifically my own children and grandchildren. Though I know quite a bit about my own family history and heritage, much more of what I would liked to have known went to the grave with my grandparents and father before I really became interested in preserving that history. This vlog will hopefully, to some measure, prevent my descendants from experiencing that same kind of loss.  

As I mentioned, I hope to do one video a month, but may do 2 in January with the first one being an introduction to the vlog. We shall see. So, lights, camera action . . . stay tuned.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Relics Studio Office

Note: Plans to keep the blog focused as previously noted have not changed, nor have the plans to move the blog to another platform as soon as possible.

29 December 2017

Who's Winning the Confederate Monument Debate? Part 2

As I discussed in Part 1 of this topic, we've witnessed a multitude of Confederate monuments and statues disappear from the public landscape this past year. There are a few history and Civil War bloggers that celebrate this on a regular basis as they can barely contain their glee with each announcement of a monument removed or vandalized. 

But others seem to be having buyer's remorse after joining the Confederate bashing frenzy over the last few years. As I pointed out in the previous post on this subject, an overwhelming majority of Americans do NOT favor removal of Confederate monuments. Debating and arguing about the Civil War, its repercussions and why soldiers fought is one thing, but most folks think removing these monuments is simply going too far and that something important is being lost. Many also see that (as I and so many others predicted), this is the proverbial slippery slope and no figure in American history is pure enough to gain the approval of the new Puritans. (If Lee must go, then so too must Washington.) An anecdotal sampling of professional historians in the October issue of Civil War Times revealed the same overwhelming opinion--Confederate monuments and statues should not be removed. While the concerns being expressed by those advocating for removal should be addressed in some way, most do not believe removing Confederate monuments from public spaces is the right thing to do. 

In addition to the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose removing these monuments, the largest battlefield preservationist organization in the country (The Civil War Trust) recently sent a survey to members and others wanting to know how that organization should respond to the removal of Civil War monuments. The heading of the survey itself included the following in bold text: "OUR HISTORY: EMBRACE IT - DON'T ERASE IT!"

In an announcement posted in September of this year, CWT President O. James Lighthizer alluded to this same position:
As a general rule, we believe monuments should remain where they were erected. Taking a historic resource out of its proper, historic context is rarely an advisable course of action. But in the case of moving monuments to battlefields, our imperative is to ensure their integrity in perpetuity – so future visitors can fully experience the landscapes the soldiers once saw. Aside from the immense costs in moving and maintaining such monuments, the Civil War Trust would not want to facilitate the loss of pristine battlefield landscapes by placing monuments where they were never intended. [Emphasis mine.]
This public announcement is a big deal to me. In some ways, I'm a bit surprised that I've not seen this mentioned on other Civil War blogs and websites. Are these other bloggers and historians unaware or do they prefer not to point out that their cheerleading for monument removal is apparently being challenged by some rather formidable forces? 

I recently contacted an official with CWT to inquire about the results of the survey. I was informed that the CWT expects to release those results sometime early next year. The official I contacted via email sent a response back to me stating, in part:
I can say with confidence that most members seem to agree with you, that the monuments should stay where they are with some additional interpretation if needed . . . [Emphasis mine.]
This approach seems to be the most popular "middle of the road" response to the call for removal of Confederate (and other) monuments. Frankly, I think "additional interpretation" is simply pandering, condescending and patronizing. Americans interested in the context can figure that out on their own. Adding a couple of paragraphs of "additional interpretation" is rather silly in my opinion. Besides, there will be even more backlash with that as well with one side or the other saying the "additional interpretation" is itself biased. I maintain the best solution is simply to add more monuments and statues which will reflect other perspectives and tell a more complete story.

Of course, the CWT is not the only preservationist organization that is taking this position. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation came out very strong in opposition to monument removal. Their bold stance prompted me to immediately contribute and become a member. Their position statement includes the following:
The monument policy states that the “SVBF is opposed to the wholesale eradication or removal of plaques, statues, monuments, place names, and other public honors associated with the history and heritage of the United States.”
As well as . . .
“Rather than taking down Confederate monuments, we should be adding additional monuments that address the subjects of slavery, the Underground Railroad, self-emancipation, U.S.C.T. service, the 13th through 15th amendments, reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and the Civil Rights Acts. Existing monuments should be kept intact, but can often be complemented with interpretative signage that provides context and reflects a broader history than the monument itself evidences.”
This is, in my opinion, a much more reasonable approach and one that closest matches my own position. This is a way to preserve the existing monuments while, at the same time, addressing the concerns over aspects of the war that have not been as publicly recognized and remembered. I cannot figure out why such an approach isn't being advocated by more public historians and academics unless, of course, they have other agendas.

And while one would expect the Sons of Confederate Veterans to be vocal about opposing the removal of Confederate monuments, the Sons of Union Veterans have also issued a strong statement in opposition to removing ANY Civil War monuments. A policy statement issued in August of 2017 states, in part, the following:
WHEREAS, we the  members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War strongly condemn the removal, defacement or destruction of any Civil War Veterans Monument or tablet, whether Union or confederate.
Self-serving politicians, progressive historians and activists motivated by emotion and other agendas seem to be getting all the attention while reasonable voices opposing the removal of Confederate (and other) monuments are either being ignored or are shouted down. If those voices opposing the removal of monuments could unite and persevere, we might see a more positive approach to this issue going forward. I certainly hope so.

Regardless, I believe that given how the vast majority of Americans feel about Confederate monuments and the fact preservationist organizations are, albeit late, arguing against removal, the debate about what happens going forward isn't over.

26 December 2017

History Repeats


Some might consider today's leftists and progressives the heirs of the New England Puritans and witch hunters: hating and banning everything from monuments and statues to public Christmas celebrations and the wishing of "Merry Christmas." History repeats.

Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

23 December 2017

Who's Winning the Confederate Monument Debate? Part 1

The monument debate falls into two categories: remove or keep (though some actually prefer destruction). When considering just that aspect, the answer to the question is rather obvious. Many Confederate monuments, as well as some to other Americans, have been removed. Buildings, schools and roads have also been renamed. I suspect this trend will continue to one degree or another. But if we drill down deeper into the discussion on monuments, the answer to "who's winning?" becomes a bit more complicated.

The remove folks certainly are winning the emotional and political debate. The results speak for themselves. But what about the intellectual and serious historical debate? I would proffer the remove argument is losing. There is substantial evidence to support my argument.

First of all, numerous polls reveal a sizeable majority of Americans are opposed to removing Confederate monuments. That majority is even greater when the question goes to monuments to Jefferson, Washington and other historical figures not associated with the Confederacy.

For example:"A majority of Americans think Confederate monuments should be preserved in public spaces, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, a view that is at odds with efforts in many cities to remove them."

And a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that . . .

"asked voters if Confederate statues should remain or be removed. Sixty-two percent of the poll’s participants said that the statues should remain. Only 27 percent of the participants believe the statues should be removed." 
"Only 27 percent . . . believe the statues should be removed." Not even 1/3 of those polled. Given the barrage of negative news about these monuments, that is rather stunning.
Even in some urban areas like Richmond, Virginia where one would assume the vast majority of liberal leaning voters would favor removal of "offensive" monuments, a majority are opposed to such removal.

As dramatic as those polls are (given the anti-monument media frenzy), the numbers are even more lopsided when it comes to monuments related to the Founding Fathers. A recent Breitbart article cited a Rasmussen Poll:
Ninety percent of the 1,000 likely voters in the August 17 to August 20 poll opposed the removal of Washington or Jefferson from the Mount Rushmore monument as they were asked: “Two of the four presidents honored on Mount Rushmore were slave owners. Should that monument be closed or changed?”
When asked “Should George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s names be removed from public places and statues in their honor taken down?” 88 percent said the monuments should be conserved, and only 7 percent said they should be erased.
So, if you remove the politicians, the media and progressive historians, it's quite clear that the "remove" side of the argument has clearly lost the debate in terms of the viewpoints of the majority of Americans. It's really not even close. But what about the historical and intellectual arguments; setting aside the polls, politics and emotional arguments for the moment? Again, it would appear the remove side loses handily. The first case in point:

The Civil War Times recently (October 2017 issue) published the opinions of their advisory board and "highly respected scholars and authors" regarding the monument controversy. Their answers ran the gamut but a clear majority favored keeping the monuments in place. Let's parse some of their comments and boil them down to the essentials . . .

First we hear from the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War (Shepherd University), James J. Broomall:

"The removal of Confederate monuments troubles me as much as the destruction of a historic building or the total 'rehabilitation' of a battlefield." Mr. Broomall continues and falls in line with the current negative narrative in vogue suggesting these monuments may carry a "dangerous message if they remain silent." I'm not quite sure what he means by that but, bottom line, he does seem to come down on the side of "keep" with added signage and "additional memorials."

Next up we hear from Catherine Clinton who is a historian at the University of Texas:

While Professor Clinton acknowledges the "remove" arguments, she too seems to favor keeping the monuments in place:

"Perhaps we would be better served by funding counter-monuments . . . shared spaces can become places where conflicting interpretations of circumstances might be highlighted."

Next, the CEO of the American Civil War Museum of Richmond shared her thoughts. However, Christy S. Coleman's contribution sounds more like a publicity statement for her museum than an opinion, pro or con, regarding Confederate monuments. In other words, she takes no position and plays it safe. (That's not a criticism, just an observation on my part.)

Professor and Civil War author, William C. Davis chimes in with his opinion stating, "Removing statues in New Orleans  and elsewhere is unfortunate, however understandable." I would consider that a "keep" position. Professor Davis goes on to note changing demographics and politics and the impact this has had on the debate. He astutely points out: "Confederates represent a part of our history. Judge past figures by today's values, and our Capitol's 'Statuary Hall' would become 'Empty Statuary Hall.'"

I think Professor Gary Gallagher next gives the most detailed opinion and solution and the one (except for "contextualizing") that I find myself most in agreement with: "In my view, eliminating parts of the memorial landscape is tantamount to destroying documents or images--all compose parts of the historical record and should be interpreted as such. I favor adding text that places monuments within the full sweep of how Americans have remembered the Civil War. I also support erecting new monuments devoted to previously slighted groups or events."  Another "keep" vote.

Historian Lesley Gordon of the University of Alabama is a "remove" vote. Without quoting his remarks, I found them rather shallow but they are in step with most of the political wrangling in favor of removal.

Retired Gettysburg National Park historian, D. Scott Hartwig, like others acknowledges that the history associated with some monuments are "for some, painful." But he tempers this acknowledgement with a reality: "Monument removal, however, becomes more problematic when we apply it to any monument or memorial associated with the Confederacy, as if by removing these symbols we can somehow repair the past and heal wounds. . . . It seems more likely to heal one wound and open another. . . . Rather than tear down monuments, build new ones, where appropriate that tell the story of those who struggled bravely for freedom and equality." Another astute defense for "keep."

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer then compares removing "Confederate tributes" to "destroying artworks that may have both historical and aesthetic value." Holzer also notes, correctly, that some of these statues, like the ones on Monument Avenue in Richmond, "surely deserve to survive as stellar examples of American sculpture." Holzer continues noting that, . . . even Stalin did not order the destruction of the great statues of the czars in St. Petersburg . . . " Holzer admits he "remains torn" so in reading his complete thoughts, it would appear he really did not want to commit either way. Again, not a criticism; just my observation.

Next up is the always colorful, Robert K. Krick who needs no introduction. He begins his contribution with: "We live in an age riven by shrill and intemperate voices, from all perspectives and on most topics." Krick then takes a swipe at those who have used this topic for their own, self-righteous moral preening: "A casual observer, readily able to convince himself that he would have behaved similarly in the 1860's, can vault to high moral ground with the greatest of ease. Doing that gratifies the powerful self-righteous strain that runs through all of us, for better or worse. In fact, it leaps far ahead of the Federal politicians (Lincoln among them) who said emphatically that slavery was not the issue . . ."

Krick then lobs a dead cat into the moral reformer worship service: "It is impossible to imagine a United States in the current atmosphere that does not include zealots eager to obliterate any culture not precisely their own, destroying monuments in the fashion of Soviets after a purge and antiquities in the manner of ISIS. The trend is redolent of the misery that inundated the planet during the aptly named Dark Ages, arising from savages who believed, as a matter of religion in that instance, that anyone with opinions different from their own was not just wrong, but craven and evil, and must be brutalized into conformity."

I believe we can confidently consider Mr. Krick to be solidly in the "keep" camp.

Following Mr. Krick is West Point Museum curator, Michael J. McAfee. Mr. McAfee would be 180 degrees from Mr. Krick. McAfee labels the Confederates "traitors" (a rather shallow opinion when one considers the loyalties of 19th century Southerners.) But that's a post for another day. McAfee states that "monuments marking their participation on the battlefields" should be left alone. But that undermines and contradicts his whole premise. If they're "traitors", then why should there be any monument to them on any American battlefield? That's seems to me rather absurd on its face. He then states, "tear down those that only commemorate the intolerance, violence, and hate that inspired their attempt to destroy the American nation." McAfee is a solid "remove" (with the exception of graciously allowing the "traitors" to be commemorated on American battlefields).

Next we have the opinion of Mr. Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill leapfrogs right over the Confederate monuments and goes after the Founders instead: "This nation was founded on an underpinning of slavery . . ." He then condemns both Jefferson and Madison for their involvement in slavery. Despite this opinion (and it IS logical if you hold the same opinion of Confederates), Mr. McGill states his position clearly: "That said, I am in support of Confederate monuments remaining on the landscape. . . . In this sanitizing of history, we will eventually get to our Founding Fathers [many already have], some of whom were slave owners. How would Washington D.C. look without the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial?" It is a question I've not seen any of the loud "remove" voices in the blogosphere answer. McGill is a solid "keep."

Next we have Independent Scholar and author, Megan Kate Nelson. Ms. Nelson offers what is arguably the most extreme (and absurd in my opinion) suggestion I've read to date: "I would like to propose that Confederate memorials should neither be retained nor removed: They should be destroyed, and their broken pieces left in situ." Nelson further states this destruction should be government sanctioned and local citizens allowed to use a "cudgel" to participate in the destruction. (I'm not sure why she prefers a cudgel - which is most often a short stick or club - to a sledge hammer, but I assume she has her reasons.) No need to go further. Her suggestion is problematic for a whole host of reasons and I assume readers are well aware of those reasons. I'll count Ms. Nelson in the "remove" column.

Following Ms. Nelson is Profess or History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Professor Ethan Rafuse. Professor Rafuse begins by stating: "I respect the sacrifices and hardships of the common soldier of the Confederacy endured, and the character and military skill of some of their leaders, while also disagreeing with those who wish to pay homage to the cause they fought for." He also adds, ". . . I cannot help but think the time and energy being devoted to the removal of monuments could be spent in more constructive ways." Rafuse raises other valid points as well. I'll count him a "keep."

The next opinion offered is by Thomas V. Strain, Jr. who is Commander in Chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Frankly, I have to say Strain seemed to blow an opportunity to present a valid argument for keeping Confederate monuments and statues. His remarks were little more than shallow sound bites though he is, of course, in the "keep" column. He is correct in stating, "it is obvious that only a few people actually support the removals."

Finally, we have University of Southern Mississippi Professor of History Susannah J. Ural who also lands in the "keep" column. Professor Ural seems to take a middle of the road approach, i.e. put the monuments in museums and battlefield parks "where historians and interpreters can help visitors learn about the motives behind the Lost Cause." Those motives are more complicated than many modern historians seem to be willing to be able to discuss without extreme criticism from one side or the other, so I don't see that as a solution. I consider Ural a "remove" vote.

So, from one of the most respected and widely read Civil War publications we have the opinions of 15 "highly respected scholars and authors" regarding the removal of Confederate monuments. Of those 15, we have a solid majority of 9 who are either clear "keep" votes, or who lean heavily that way. We then have 4 who favor removing and 2 who did not take a position either way. That's a 2 to one majority. And, as previously pointed out, polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans prefer to keep Confederate monuments in public spaces.

So I ask  again, "Who's winning the monument debate?"

(Part 2 to follow soon. Stay tuned.)

18 December 2017

Need Last Minute Christmas Gifts?

May I recommend killing two birds with one stone and consider purchasing a gift from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and supporting that worthy organization? You could even purchase some of my books there. 😁

14 December 2017

Relic Hunting Post #169 - Book Review Video

Fellow detectorist, preservationist and Virginian, Bill Dancy, has written a comprehensive book about colonial artifacts in Virginia. I have already written a review for Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine that should be published very soon. In the mean time, fellow detectorist Beau Ouimette has just produced a video review of the book. I feel the same way about Bill's book as Beau does. As I noted in my review:
In addition to a wealth of practical information on colonial artifact recovery, the book is also chocked full of historical tidbits; such as a brief history of colonial copper and silver coinage. The close up color photographs (nearly 1000) of the artifacts (the vast majority the author’s own finds) are among the most detailed I’ve ever seen and stunningly beautiful. Every page overflows with eye candy for the relic hunter and collector. The quality of the images rivals anything you’ll see in academic archeology textbooks or high quality magazines. . . . There is one more thing that I really like about this book. This effort proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that “amateur” archaeologists and historians are making serious and dramatic contributions to the study of history and archeology. Dancy’s work is a textbook example of how passion and practice can lead to expertise in almost any field without formal training.

 American autodidacts have contributed some of the most respected works in the fields of archeology and history. Shelby Foote, a college dropout, wrote one of the definitive works on the American Civil War. Bruce Catton, another renowned Civil War historian, was also a college drop out.

Dancy notes in his acknowledgements that Ivor Noël Hume “had a big influence” on him and is one of his mentors. Most readers may not be familiar with Mr. Hume but I, too, am a fan. I mention Hume because he is the epitome of an autodidact who turned passion and practice into renowned expertise in the field of archeology. He was a prolific writer and, for 30 years, worked for Colonial Williamsburg where he became that organization’s director of archaeological research.
Bill is a credit to the hobby of relic hunting, metal detecting and to collectors everywhere. He exemplifies a professional and respectful attitude toward the care and preservation of artifacts. Now, the video review:

12 December 2017

Relic Hunting Post #168 - Another Recovery Featured in American Digger

I was pleased to see another one of my submissions featured in the latest edition of American Digger Magazine's "Just Dug" section. 

11 December 2017

American Exceptionalism in War Films

For some reason, the Christmas season always reminds me of war films. I assume this is due to the fact a number of Christmas films are directly tied to America's involvement in wars, especially WWII. I'm thinking specifically of Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. 

This is also likely due to the fact I spent many Christmases at my grandparents' home and my grandfather was a WWII Vet.

In any event, this came across my news feed recently and though it's 3 years old, I thought I'd share it with readers.