Taking Southern Unionism on the road

Posted on April 11, 2012 by


While I’ve been writing a good deal about it over the past 5 1/2 years, I’ve only made one presentation about Southern Unionism… that being a response to a call for papers. The presentation, made at Frederick Community College, in Frederick Maryland (Fall, 2006), was largely focused on my masters thesis… which was actually still in the works.

My decision not to make more presentations was by choice, and was largely influenced by a number of factors, ranging from a busy life in general… to working on a second masters.

This Saturday, I’m returning to the podium with a presentation to the Department of the Chesapeake, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, at the 125th Annual Encampment (convention), in Winchester, Virginia. It wasn’t my intention, originally. In fact, as department commander, I had planned to line-up a guest speaker. However, it’s at the suggestion of a former department commander that I’m returning to the podium for this event. Naturally, considering the locality, the topic will be Southern Unionism in the Shenandoah Valley.

Of course, there is a challenge in this. First, to keep it around 20 minutes or so. That’s tight, but I feel I’ll be able to pull off a synopsis. Second, it’s the audience. I’ve spent most of my time trying to convince folks… mostly Southerners… that “Civil War era Southern” didn’t always equate to “Confederate”. I don’t think I’ll be in the “convince” mode this weekend, but not knowing everyone’s base of knowledge, I think I need to start off with a general overview of how many ways to interpret a Southern Unionist, and then, follow with a few examples of each that I’ve found in the Valley. Third, I need to shake off the rust. It’s been a while since I’ve been in front of an audience.

But, even with the “rust”, my plans aren’t to end there, and I’ve been giving this considerable thought over the last month.

I’ve monitored various Sesquicentennial programs, and… as I think I’ve mentioned before… I’m concerned that there is virtually nothing in the mix regarding Southern Unionism. So, even in the wake of the Sesquicentennial, will the majority of folks walking away remain under the impression that there were clear lines… North vs. South? I hope not. Of course, this puts me back in my convince mode. Sure, not even everyone in the North supported the Union war effort… but in the South, it was different. In my eyes, Copperheads never measure up to Southern Unionists… never. I think most were more hot air than they were bite. Don’t misunderstand, however… some did pay for it with their lives, but not to the extent that Southern Unionists did. Most certainly, there were far more Southern Unionists who put their lives on the line. But, before I digress…

I’ve been researching volunteer opportunities with local National Parks, especially now that I’m living in the Winchester area, and within easy reach of some fantastic sites for such programs… Harpers Ferry (the thrill factor went off the charts when I saw an interest in Jessie Scout living history interpretation there), Antietam, the C & O Canal… I think the platform exists. Question is if these sites are looking for someone to give such talks, especially for Sesqui programs… and if I carry enough clout with the topic to land some spots with them.

Let me also add… I’m not looking to stand at a podium in front of a group of people in an auditorium. No.

I want to ramp things up with costumed historical interpretation. I miss that aspect of reenacting.  I haven’t nailed-down all the particulars yet, but that’s the direction in which I’m thinking. I think the historic garb captures imagination, and creates a different climate than a talking head in a sports jacket at a podium. It’s about outreach and how you can best spark interests, and it’s also about settings.

So, that’s where things stand right now… now, what Sesqui programs are looking for Southern Unionist interpretive programs?