Secrets of Spanish Florida on PBS

Premiering on PBS tonight:

The documentary “Secrets of Spanish Florida” was funded in part by the St. Augustine Historical Society. They also contributed to the research for the project. Be sure to catch the premiere Tuesday, December 26th, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. on PBS. For more information, click here.






Book Review–Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War

Lees, William B. and Frederick P. Gaske. Recalling Deeds Immortal: Florida Monuments to the Civil War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2014. 370 pages, 305 pages text. Index, bibliography, end notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9780813049960, $44.95.

With the recent controversies over monuments and memorials, and not just those with some attachment to the Civil War as a whole or the Confederacy specifically, it can be easy to lose sight where monuments are, who or what the were erected to or for, who erected them, or in some unfortunate cases, what they even looked like. Authors William B. Lees and Frederick P. Gaske have done a fine job in rounding up and researching Civil War monuments located in the Sunshine State.

Lees and Gaske are well qualified to write such a book. Lees serves as Director of Florida Public Archaeology Network at the University of West Florida and Gaske has served as the state of Florida’s Historic Preservation Officer in addition to having coauthored the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail Guide, a free publication produced by the state.

The authors argue that to truly understand these monuments we must place them in the context of the time they were erected. Different monuments mean different things. It is also important that we understand that sacrifice meant different things to Union and Confederate soldiers.

The book is broken down chronologically which while it has its benefits, particularly in backing the author’s argument of understanding monuments and their place in time, also can become difficult for the reader if they are only looking to know about particular monuments. For those readers a straight alphabetical system would be a better choice. Readers searching for information on a favorite monument have to refer to the index to find where to turn.

The book is broken into five chapters: Reconstruction and Beyond, Remembering Confederate Sacrifice and Valor After Reconstruction, Remembering the Union Soldier and Sailor, Remembering Hallowed Ground, and Monuments Erected After the Civil War Centennial. The authors take each monument and work to tell its story through the use of contemporary sources, whether they be newspapers, archives, government records, and more. A look at the notes and bibliography of this book will show the research efforts that were expended.

While the Reconstruction period saw only a small handful of monuments erected, the ending of federal occupation was a boom period for remembering and honoring the dead. With the creation of the Daughters of the Confederacy and their later incarnation as United Daughters of the Confederacy at least 34 monuments were erected in the state. The subject matter and location of monuments varied from outright Lost Cause to monuments such as that in a Deland cemetery which contained a list of Confederate soldiers buried there. While the majority of these monuments are still in place some, such as the Daytona Beach monument, have been damaged or altered, and some, such as Orlando, have been removed since publication of this book.

What is fascinating is the continued creation and placing of memorials and monuments. In the post 1968 period Lees and Gaske account for 33 new monuments with more being erected today. This growth is provided by organizations such as Sons of Confederate Veterans who have this as one of their stated goals. The trend on these new monuments is toward smaller and less elaborate design which is probably due to design trends but more likely cost and budget concerns. While these new monuments are often meant to commemorate hallowed ground or to honor specific soldiers the fact that the Confederate flag has been used by many other groups, often with negative consequences, the claim of “heritage not hate” is a message that is often considered to be false.

This is a valuable book and should be on the shelves of those interested in Civil War history, Florida history, and even Civil Rights history. The story is an important one and one that will not be going away. It is our responsibility to understand those of the past did not live by our standards of today. To argue that the war was not based upon the issue of slavery would fly in the face of the Articles of Secession; to erase reminders of the war will not erase the war and to me is not the correct way to deal with the issue. We should not be standing in judgement of those who came before us for erecting these memorials and monuments, but rather, we should convey that history and work to tell a new full sided and complete story. To those putting up new monuments, you have a responsibility to be honest and not hide what we now understand to be true.

To see other posts dealing with the University Press of Florida click here.

Book Review: Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection

Smithsonian Books. Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection.  Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books. 2013. ISBN 9781588343895, color and b/w photos, index, 368 pages, $40.

If you are searching for an impressive looking and hefty coffee table book that you can leave out for guests to browse and perhaps use as a conversation starter this would be an excellent choice. If you are looking for something with more depth you should look elsewhere.

Published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the war, the book unimaginatively uses 150 objects from the Smithsonian collections to illustrate the Civil War. While it is very nice to see these items, especially for those of us who do not have the ability to easily visit the various Smithsonian museums, it just seems as if this is a large grouping thrown together in order to publish an expensive book. While loosely chronological, the book is not put into real chapters. Rather, each of the 150 objects forms its own short chapter so to speak. Another difficulty of this book for me is trying to figure out which museum holds which object. These individual artifacts are not labeled, instead the reader must turn to the back of the book and by using page numbers, rather than artifact/chapter number, find the listing, then translate that by using the key provided. Be sure to have your magnifying sheet handy, the type is quite small. No bibliography or notes are included so verifying statements and conclusions is difficult.

This brings me to another point this book drives home to me, which is the donating of historical objects. Please, please, please, do yourselves and others a favor and consider your local historical museums. The Smithsonian, and similar institutions, are cram packed with objects that will NEVER see the light of day. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark. These monstrous archives can not be cared for properly and with the exception of genuinely unique items pieces will eventually be accessioned, boxed, and forgotten about or disposed of in some manner. At smaller museums, these pieces will more likely than not be treasured and put on display. People will actually be able to enjoy the artifacts you have donated and isn’t that the purpose. For many small museums donations are their only source of new materials. Their budgets do not allow for purchases so your item could become a show piece.

Back to the book, as mentioned, it is truly a beautiful book. The photography is top-notch and the book is solid. It really is more a coffee table piece rather than anything you will learn from or actually sit down and read cover to cover. The chapters are brief so you can easily pick this up, put it down, and start on it again whenever and not have forgotten anything. Don’t expect to learn much, but rather, just marvel in the images.