Extra Credit

Extra Credit

By: Jacob McCloud

The CSA: The Confederate States of America is a unique film that explains the events during and after the Civil War based on a confederate victory. Director David Wilmot and producer Spike Lee create a fake history film to show what the world could have been like if the South would have won the Civil War. Wilmot uses the documentary to show that history is written by the winners.[1] The information in this film puts the “what if” discussion we have covered in class to use. Sometimes it is necessary to see what could have happened to understand what actually did happen. To briefly summarize the movie, after a Southern victory, they annex the Northern territory and promote their ideas and beliefs, including slavery, throughout the land.[2] Many individuals of the North, including Abraham Lincoln, moved north into Canada.[3] Next, the movie describes major events such as the conquering of Cuba and South America, America’s involvement with Adolf Hitler during World War II, America’s attack on a Japanese naval base, and the issue between the Confederate States and the Canadian border.[4] A few years later, the presidential candidate, John Fauntroy, kills himself after he is accused of being a descendant of someone who had sexual relations with a slave.[5] At the end of the movie, it shows the how the commercials throughout the film were based on true events.[6] Overall, the mockumentary gives the viewers a new perspective on what could have possibly happened if the Civil War would have ended in a Confederate victory.

When it comes to learning new information from this movie, it is difficult task to do due to the fact that the movie presents made-up information based on a Confederate victory. What I did learn is how big of an impact the Civil War had on the world we live in today. The events in the movie take the opposite position of what happened in the past. For example, the United States attacked a naval base in Japan on December 7, 1941, which is completely opposite of what happened.[7] Also, it talks about how Harriet Tubman was executed when she was actually a hero during and after the Civil War.[8] This makes you think about whether or not this actually could have happened if the Confederate states won. Overall, the movie makes you grateful for the world we live in, and curious about what could have been.

When it comes to the effectiveness of the movie, it definitely did its job in showing how all of history past the Civil War would have been different.  The only criticism I have is the order of the movie. It was presented in chronological order, but it was difficult to keep up with what was going on. The movie would jump from one event to another. It might just be my lack of understanding of American history, but I was confused about where the movie was going a lot of the time. I think the commercials that were mixed in throughout the film were what really made this movie hard to understand. Plus, it is very confusing to watch this movie because you have to relearn history. Everything in this movie is backwards.

The subject matter truly shows the counterfactual ideas of the movie. Although it may be considered humorous to most, it was necessary to make the movie as “factual” and interesting as possible.  In the end, the overall purpose of the film was to show how “frightfully easy it is for the soul of a corrupted nation to stay corrupt, as each generation sacrifices its ideals for the convenience of tradition.”[9]

The parts of the movie that I found to be the most intriguing were the commercials that were shown throughout the film. While you are watching them, you consider them to be ridiculous, but at the end, you find out that some of the commercials are actually true. Some examples include the Coon Restaurant Inn. In the movie, it shows an African American woman promoting others to eat at her restaurant.[10] At first, I thought it was pretty hilarious that the directors would come up with an idea like this to convey their argument, but at the end, I found out that this was an actual restaurant. Another example was the Darky Toothpaste. In the movie, a man states that the toothpaste was necessary for a “shine that is jigaboo bright.”[11] Overall, these commercials were the most interesting part of the movie. It used examples that nobody would believe to be true and showed that they are actually facts in the end.

Overall, the information from the film is very closely related to what we have been learning in this class. Like I mentioned before, we have been learning about the “what ifs” of history and this movie perfectly explains that idea. What if the South would have won the war? How would that have affected the history of our nation? This movie answers those questions.

[1] “CSA: The Confederate States of America,” A.V. Club, accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.avclub.com/review/csa-the-confederate-states-of-america-4084.

[2] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD, directed by Kevin Wilmott, (2004, Lawrence, Kansas).

[3] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[4] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[5] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[6] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[7] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[8] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[9] “CSA: The Confederate States of America,” A.V. Club.

[10] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.

[11] CSA: The Confederate States of America, DVD.


This Day in History: September 18, 1862



This Day in History: September 18, 1862

By: Jacob McCloud

            On this day, September 18, 1862, the South retreated after the bloodiest single day of the Civil War, which took place near Antietam Creek in Sharpsburg, Maryland.[2]  After this major battle, the South lost 10,318 of 38,000 engaged, while the North lost 12,401 of 75,000 engaged.[3] The scene of the battlefield was horrific. Thousands of dead or injured soldiers covered the land. Most individuals are aware of this brutal battle, but many are unaware that the day after this massacre, the North missed a chance to defeat the Confederate army and turn the momentum of the war in the North’s favor.

September 18, 1862 put the Confederates in a difficult situation after such a horrendous day. After retreating from Antietam Creek, the Confederate and Union soldiers remained in their positions. At this time, General Lee’s army was in a very vulnerable position because they had lost a quarter of their force, their backs were facing the Potomac River, and his men were extremely tired due to two weeks of strenuous marching.[4] The Confederate army had experienced about all that it could at that time and were subject to defeat if they were attacked again. On the other side, the Union army received thousands of additional troops to aid their attack on the Confederates.[5] General McClellan had the upper hand at this point but failed to deliver the final blow due to the belief that the Southern army was not as weak as most people believed they were. He believed that the Confederate army had around 100,000 men and 40,000 other soldiers on their way from Harper’s Ferry.[6] McClellan was urged by many major political figures, such as Abraham Lincoln, to take out the Confederate army, but he still did not attack.[7] Although this was a difficult choice at the time, it proved to be costly for the North. If McClellan would have listened to the people around him, he would have attacked the weakened Virginian Army of the Confederacy, and would have had a great chance of defeating them. Because the Northern army did not make a move, the Southern army was able to sneak away from the threat of attack. All of this points to McLellan’s inability to make crucial decisions on the battlefield. His hesitance to make critical decisions during the Civil War led to a slight margin of victory at Antietam when it could have been a great defeat. This eventually led to the end of his role as a commanding officer in the future years of the Civil War.

September 18, 1865 proved to be extremely important for both sides. For the South, they were able to escape being defeated by the Northern army, but they lost the overall battle of Antietam, losing many soldiers. For the North, the small margin of victory over the Southern troops gave Abraham Lincoln the victory he needed to introduce the Emancipation Proclamation.[8] This document declared that slaves in the rebellious states “’shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’”[9] The war shifted from a focus on Unionism to a desire to protect the African American’s human freedom.[10] This day in history allowed the Emancipation Proclamation to set the foundation of the beliefs that the Union had for fighting the Civil War.

After reading all of the information necessary for this post, it is easy to say that the Battle of Antietam played a huge role during and after the Civil War. Some major questions that come up are what would have happened if the South would have won the battle? The same situation applies for the North. If they would have taken advantage of their numerical advantage, would the war have ended a lot sooner than it actually did? Overall, September 18, 1862 played a critical role in defining our nation as it is today.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Antietam#mediaviewer/File:Battle_of_Antietam.png.

[2] “Battle of Antietam,” History Website, accessed on September 17, 2014,  http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-antietam.

[3] “Battle of Antietam,” History Website.

[4] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History, accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mcclellan-lets-lee-retreat-from-antietam.

[5] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History.

[6] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History.

[7] “McClellan Lets Lee Retreat from Antietam,” This Day in History.

[8] “Battle of Antietam,” History Website.

[9] “Emancipation Proclamation,” History Website, asscessed on September 17, 2014, http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation.

[10] “Emancipation Proclamation,” History Website.

Southern Coastal Life and the Effects of the Anaconda Plan

Over 3,000 miles of coast makes  up the Southern seafront. From Virginia on the east coast down to Texas along the gulf, the southern shoreline is truly a magnificent stretch of beach that has helped to sustain the populations that have made the region their home, wither in the 19th century or the 21st. During the American Civil War this coast played a vital role in the Norths military strategy of strangling the South by means of the Anaconda Plan[1]. By cutting off the coast, the northern navy effectively stopped or severely hampered Confederate  naval operations throughout the South, along with cutting trade to the outside world further weakening the Confederacy as a new nation. But besides the grande scale of the blockade and its military importance to the Northern leadership, I ask what effect did it have on the civilians living along the blockaded or occupied southern coast.

To have a better in-depth look into this topic,  the broad picture must be refined to a specific area. Early on in the Civil War the city of New Orleans was taken and occupied after May 1, 1862 by Union forces starting their trek up the mighty Mississippi.[2] Southern Louisiana became a battleground and civilians living in that region quickly felt the pains of a disrupted life.  New Orleans at the wars beginning was alive with military parades and cheering crowds but soon after its occupation the population was under new military authority. The civilians both poor and wealthy then faced life under a conquering force, that to many of New Orleans residents had come down to Dixie for one purpose, to destroy their southern way of life.  For New Orleans its time in Dixie had ended and was  governed by a man they called the devil or in most cases “the Beast” for his mistreatment of southerners in the city. Major General Benjamin Butler became the commander of Union forces in the city, and during the time he was in command of the city he had William Munford, a local citizen executed for cutting down a U.S. flag before the cities capture. This was on the drastic end of what southern citizens could have experienced.[3]

Heavy handed laws and oppressive authority may have been the norm for occupied New Orleans but the region around it felt the sting of invasion and blockade differently. the blockade created shortages of food and supplies that crippled coastal populations. Even the food staples of the poor south, ham and corn  became harder to find and starvation spread as the Confederacy slowly rolled back against a tide of blue. This happens to be the time period when chicory coffee became a substitute for the real thing in the deep south. And lets say it has an acquired taste.

In short the Anaconda Plan blockaded all trade and supplies to the Confederate coast. The people living along the shore found themselves locked away from the sea, a vital source of food from fishing and from the wealth of commerce. Still it was the poorer side of society that was hardest hit. New Orleans had to endure a tyrannical general and bad coffee, but around the seashore others starved.

[1. Masur, Louis P. The Civil War: A Concise History. Oxford University Press. 2011p. 26]

[2. Foote, Shelby The Civil War: A Narrative Fort Sumter to Perryville vol. 1. Vintage Books A Division of Random House, New York. 1986. p.354]

[3. Hills, Albert Gaius. Edited by Gary L. Dyson. 2013. A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills of the Boston Journal. Published by McFarland and Company, Inc.]

Hollywood History

“Hollywood History”
The entertainment industry has grown exponentially in the past century and is in every facet of life now, including historical topics. Many television shows and movies are historically based and try to recreate a historical event or time period for the viewer to emerge in. As a historical scholar, I have begun to question the accuracy of these portrayals. As I’m sure many other historical scholars have discovered, no entertainment based historical movie or show is completely accurate. No matter what, every historical publication will have its imperfections.

The movie, although a multiple prize winning film, is full of historical inaccuracies[1].The main problem that most historians have with the film is that the 54th Massachusetts regiment is portrayed to contain many fugitive slaves that escaped the South and joined the fight to help free other slaves. This was simply the not the case. Every African American soldier of the 54th Massachusetts was actually a freedman. This completely dissolves the theme for the character that Denzel Washington plays. One major thing that the movie does seem to present accurately is the initial distrust of an all-black regiment to the North. Although the North fought to end slavery, many Northerners still considered African Americans inferior and did not trust them to fight the war[2]. In the movie, a reporter asked Col. Shaw (Matthew Broaderick) “Will they fight? A million readers want to know.” Shaw then replied “A million and one.” This is a very accurate symbol of the North’s fear that African Americans were servile and wouldn’t have the courage to fight. Although many of the themes throughout the film seem to follow historical evidence, the directors and writers also added in effects and inaccuracies to draw in the audience and make the story seem more progressive. Further exploration of the movie reveals more minor inaccuracies such as the attack on Ft. Wagner being from the south rather than from the north[3], Col. Robert Gould Shaw was the only real person[4], and the fact that Shaw accepted the command of the 54th as soon as it was offered[5]. Beyond those infractions, many scholars have agreed that the dialect and costumes used in the film are at least mostly accurate.
To read more from the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts regiment, go to http://54th-mass.org/tag/54th-massachusetts/ or you can watch the movie at http://viooz.ac/movies/1571-glory-1989.html.

Hell On Wheels
AMC has now entered its fourth season of the critically claimed TV series “Hell on Wheels” which follows westward expansion with the Union Pacific Railroad following the Civil War. Protagonist Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is an ex-confederate soldier that is immediately put in charge of a “cut” of African Americans working for the railroad (most are portrayed as ex slaves). The show, like most in our entertainment industry today, lands with a foot in both camps of being accurate or inaccurate. Some prevalent themes, such as a bitterness and willingness to fight of ex-confederates is completely accurate for the time period, but other themes such as Thomas “Doc” Durant (chairman of the railroad) getting along with African Americans simply would not have happened in that time period. The title of the show refers to the name of the traveling town to which all the characters call home. As the railroad moved west, the town would move with it[6]. Even with the completely false plot of vengeance that drives Hell on Wheels, I still believe it can give an educational insight to what life was like in the reconstruction period of the US. Hardships such as cholera, disease, Indian attacks, depression, wildlife, winter, rain storms, and social prejudices are all well-represented. In the latest installments of the show, the thread of carpet-baggers taking advantage of the horrible situation is also introduced.

Why it all matters
Although I personally enjoy both of the historical titles mentioned, I do long for a more accurate display of the Civil War and history in general. As a historian, I often pay more attention to the mistakes and inaccuracies than I do the plot. More importantly, many Hollywood portrayals of history are teaching a false history. Most Americans do not study history on a regular basis, or do their research on a topic before or after watching a movie. I do not think directors and writers should be held responsible or liable for fibbing a few facts to sell to the masses, but rather the viewers should be aware that not every fact in movies and shows are accurate. I would consider this more of a call for society to become more scholarly and do research rather than rely on entertainment for a historical basis of knowledge. On the opposite side, I believe movies and shows like these can give viewers an idea of what it physically looked like to live in or after the civil war and some problems that one might encounter.

1. Glory won at least 14 awards and was nominated for many more.
IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097441/awards
2. Hitorical Society of Massachusetts, “54th Regiment!” masshist.org. http://www.masshist.org/online/54thregiment/essay.php?entry_id=528. September 17, 2014.
3. Pohanka, Brian C. Civil War Trust, “Fort Wagner and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.” civilwar.org. America’s Civil War Magazine. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/batterywagner/battery-wagner-history-articles/fortwagnerpohanka.html September 17, 2014.
4. Hickman, Kennedy. “Civil War: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.” militaryhistory.about.com. http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/1800sarmybiographies/p/rgshaw.htm. September 17, 2014.
5. Civil war Trust, “Robert Gould Shaw.” civilwar.org. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/robert-gould-shaw.html. September 17, 2014
6. Randall, J.G. and David Herbert Daniel. The Civil War and Reconstruction, “The Post Civil War South.” http://www.civilwarhome.com/postwarsouth.html. September 18, 2014
7. American Experience: 25 Years, “Hell on Wheels.” pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/tcrr-hell/. September 18, 2014

The Battle Cry of Freedom: Perspectives through Music

Being a musician, I often look at how history affects and shapes music. Music is not only an art form. It is a language and a tool that can be used to rally groups of people to feel emotion and unite under a common cause. For example, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many patriotic songs rose to Number 1 on radio and media stations, from several different versions of The Star Spangled Banner to classic hits like God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood. [1] Why? To remind Americans that the country was united under these ideas of patriotism and national pride.

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy used music as a way to unite people under an idea. For the Confederacy, that idea was that the South was strong, independent, and ready to come together to defend states’ rights. For the Union, the music reminded people that the country was founded with the idea that it would be ONE nation, unified by common ideas and goals. [2] Both the North and the South could use the same tune two present two completely different ideas. Such is the case with the popular civil war song, The Battle Cry of Freedom. While both songs have the same upbeat, instrumental background that grabs a listener’s attention, they were altered to fit both a Pro-Confederacy and Pro-Union platform. These lyrics can be found here.

The Union’s The Battle Cry of Freedom Verse 3 and Chorus:
We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star;
While we rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The song gives the idea of the union’s opinion of succession, (down with the traitor, and up with the star) as well as throwing in a hint of abolitionist ideology and their willingness to allow slaves to join their ranks, (We welcome the loyal, true and brave. . . Although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave.)

The Confederacy’s The Battle Cry of Freedom Verse 3 and Chorus:

They have laid down their lives on the bloody battle field.
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!
Their motto is resistance –“To tyrants we’ll not yield!”
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!–

Our Dixie forever! She’s never at a loss!
Down with the eagle and up with the cross!
We’ll rally ‘round the bonny flag, we’ll rally once again,
Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!

The South used the same melody but changed the lyrics to give their opinion of succession, (down with the eagle and up with the cross) as well as their views of states’ rights (to tyrants we’ll not yield.)

This is of course just one of the dozens of song examples to choose from, but it does give interesting insight into some of the motivational music of the time period, as well as being a interesting primary source for history enthusiasts today.

Works Cited

Videos and song lyrics can be found through the in-text links above.

[1] https://www.leegreenwood.com/biography

[2] http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/culture/music/music.html