At the Cannon’s Mouth: Battlefield Relics and the Making of Civil War Memory

Time Period
1825 to 1860
1861 to 1876
Media Type
Civil War
Dr. James Broomall

On July 27, 2023, Dr. James Broomall gave a fascinating presentation on artifacts taken from the battlefields of the Civil War that helped shape the memory of the conflict. From Col. Elmer Ellsworth’s death coat to the shattered tree stump of Spotsylvania, Civil War Americans actively collected and displayed objects of war. These battle pieces appeared in small museums at the turn of the twentieth century to help visitors understand the blasted landscapes from which they came. This talk explores the lives of artifacts after they were taken from the field of action in order to understand how they informed the construction of memory. Objects with violent histories both contested and confirmed the prevailing discourse of romanticism in the nineteenth century. On the one hand, Americans clung to things connected to death and violence. On the other, Americans projected violence as regenerative to justify bloodshed.

Dr. James J. Broomall is an associate professor of history at Shepherd University and the director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, which promotes a dialogue among popular and academic audiences by integrating scholarship, education, and engagement. He is a cultural historian of the Civil War era and has published many articles and essays in journals and magazines, including Common Place: The Journal of Early American Life, Civil War History, and The Journal of the Civil War Era. James is the author of Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers (2019). He is currently working on a book project titled, “Battle Pieces: The Art and Artifacts of the American Civil War Era,” which explores how historical imagery and military artifacts were used to create representations of violence, war, and death. This lecture was presented in partnership with the Wilton House Museum.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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