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Cities of the Dead

Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914

William A. Blair

Publication Year: 2004

Exploring the history of Civil War commemorations from both sides of the color line, William Blair places the development of memorial holidays, Emancipation Day celebrations, and other remembrances in the context of Reconstruction politics and race relations in the South. His grassroots examination of these civic rituals demonstrates that the politics of commemoration remained far more contentious than has been previously acknowledged. Commemorations by ex-Confederates were intended at first to maintain a separate identity from the U.S. government, Blair argues, not as a vehicle for promoting sectional healing. The burial grounds of fallen heroes, known as Cities of the Dead, often became contested ground, especially for Confederate women who were opposed to Reconstruction. And until the turn of the century, African Americans used freedom celebrations to lobby for greater political power and tried to create a national holiday to recognize emancipation. Blair's analysis shows that some festive occasions that we celebrate even today have a divisive and sometimes violent past as various groups with conflicting political agendas attempted to define the meaning of the Civil War. Blair examines Civil War commemorations in postbellum Virginia, focusing on the sharply different remembrances and celebrations that developed among whites and blacks. Blair places these commemorations in the context of Reconstruction politics and race relations across the South and the nation. He argues that black commemorations, despite their vibrancy in the years immediately after the war, were pushed aside over time by holidays and memorials that catered to the political and racial needs of whites as whites moved to consolidate their primacy in the post-Reconstruction era. Blair examines Civil War commemorations of blacks and whites and shows how arguments over how the war would be remembered and memorialized were part of a larger competition over how society would be structured and power exercised. Exploring the history of Civil War commemorations from both sides of the color line, William Blair places the development of memorial holidays, Emancipation Day celebrations, and other remembrances in the context of Reconstruction politics and race relations in the South. His grassroots examination of these civic rituals demonstrates that the politics of commemoration remained far more contentious than has been previously acknowledged. Commemorations by ex-Confederates were intended at first to maintain a separate identity from the U.S. government, Blair argues, not as a vehicle for promoting sectional healing. The burial grounds of fallen heroes, known as Cities of the Dead, often became contested ground, especially for Confederate women who were opposed to Reconstruction. And until the turn of the century, African Americans used freedom celebrations to lobby for greater political power and tried to create a national holiday to recognize emancipation. Blair's analysis shows that some festive occasions that we celebrate even today have a divisive and sometimes violent past as various groups with conflicting political agendas attempted to define the meaning of the Civil War.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-9

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

Roughly a decade ago, I was researching a related project on national identity when I came across a newspaper item about an Emancipation Day celebration. The year was 1866. Former Confederates in Hampton, Virginia, were angered by the event, which featured black soldiers marching in the streets....

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

This book examines the political implications of commemorating the Civil War, specifically Emancipation Day and Memorial Day in the former Confederate states from 1865 to 1915. These rituals originated and matured in an era when street processions, parades, and various public displays...

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CHAPTER 1. The Commemorative Landscape before the Civil War

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pp. 11-22

When a writer for North American Review looked at the commemorative calendar of the United States in 1857, he bemoaned the lack of a unified holiday. ‘‘It is an exceptional trait in our nationality,’’ he noted, ‘‘that its sentiment finds no annual occasion when the hearts of the people thrill...

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CHAPTER 2. Establishing Freedom’s Celebrations, 1865–1869

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pp. 23-48

In the spring of 1866, the Civil War had been over for a year, but the wounds had by no means healed. That much became clear as the black residents of Hampton, Virginia, gathered on the first anniversary of freedom. They marched on April 9—not the date of the Emancipation Proclamation...

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CHAPTER 3. Waging Politics through Decoration Days, 1866–1869

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pp. 49-76

For former Confederates, a number of shadows darkened the first ceremonies in honor of their war dead. First was the knowledge that those being mourned had fallen in an unsuccessful effort. White southerners had to accept the sacrifice of nearly one-quarter of their seventeen- to fifty-year...

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CHAPTER 4. The Politics of Manhood and Womanhood, 1865–1870

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pp. 77-105

When viewing Confederate Decoration Days during Reconstruction, northern commentators often reached the conclusion that their former male enemies hid behind the skirts of women. Periodicals suggested that the events served as thinly disguised political rallies for the Democratic...

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CHAPTER 5. The Era of Mixed Feelings

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pp. 106-143

Ten years after the Civil War, people throughout the country noticed a changing mood between the sections. In 1875 Congressman William D. Kelley of Pennsylvania returned from a six-week tour of the South convinced that the North had little cause to fear its former enemies. At a...

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CHAPTER 6. The Rise and Decline of Political Self-Help, 1883–1900

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pp. 144-170

On May 29, 1890, Richmond residents unveiled the statue of Robert E. Lee that still sits on Monument Avenue. With first light the city bustled with activity, accompanied by martial music. The crowd was estimated at 100,000, with the procession of veterans, according to one observer, taking...

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CHAPTER 7. Arlington Sectional Cemetery

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pp. 171-207

In 1914 Woodrow Wilson committed a political blunder over commemorating the dead. The southern-born president declined an invitation by the gar to speak at Union Memorial Day in Arlington Cemetery. Although a disappointment to the veterans, Wilson’s decision came as no...

Notes

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pp. 209-226

Bibliography

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pp. 227-236

Index

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pp. 237-250


E-ISBN-13: 9781469603582
E-ISBN-10: 1469603586
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807828960
Print-ISBN-10: 0807828963

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Civil War America