The Civil War, 150 Years Later: 2 Student Perspectives
The Civil War is considered the constitutive conflict in American history, and this divisive struggle between North and South, Union and Confederacy, is still deeply rooted in the personal memories of its citizens. The Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the War (2011- 2015) gave Clemson history professor Dr. Paul Anderson cause to begin formulating a concept for a Creative Inquiry project called battleground/BLOODFIELD. Students involved in this project created a website featuring a blog, digital archival content and a video documentary series about various events and figures of the Civil War and its surrounding years. Further, they were given the chance to see South Carolina in light of the conflict-and ensuing Reconstruction-that marred its ground and to expand their knowledge of this important period in the greater history of our nation.
Two students involved in Anderson's project, Daniel Boland and John Russo, were assigned to research the tumultuous South Carolina Election of 1876-an event marked by the Hamburg Massacre and the violent Red Shirts-which signified the end of Reconstruction in the South. Through their exploration of this event, they were able to not only gain a deeper understanding of South Carolina history, but also to hone important skills and qualities that have aided them in their studies. John Russo, a senior from Orange, CT, initially became interested in the project because of a previous course with Anderson. "I found him to be one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining professors at Clemson. I jumped on the chance to study under him again," says Russo. He explains that in the election of 1876, former Confederate general Wade Hampton was elected governor, becoming the first Democrat governor in South Carolina since the Civil War. Russo's role in the group was primarily research based, and he spent a number of weekends traveling to various locations throughout the state, such as the historic town of Edgefield. "In Edgefield, I spent most my time in the archives sifting through records and letters pertaining to the violence that occurred," Russo explains. The team also spent time visiting various graveyards and historic monuments in South Carolina to further their research.
There was great value in this Creative Inquiry experience for a political science major like Russo. "I believe that the Creative Inquiry was one of the most productive and beneficial academic experiences I have had during my four years at Clemson. It gave me the opportunity to get out of the classroom and gain experience conducting research and interviews that I otherwise would not have gotten in a traditional classroom setting."
Little Mountain, SC, native Daniel Boland was involved with Anderson's project during his senior year. As a history major, Boland's desire to be part of the project stemmed from an interest in the Civil War, the issues surrounding the cause, and the consequences that followed. He, like Russo, was involved in researching, traveling and writing a script for a video documentary about the Election of 1876. He describes the group's approach as egalitarian, with each member getting a chance to voice their opinions.
"My research skills expanded far beyond reading books and primary documents because I was encouraged to search in a variety of places for the answers I sought. These places ranged from city halls to cemeteries." Boland also gained a better understanding of how to function as a member of a team. "I have always been accepting of other people's ideas, but this project encouraged this behavior on a level that cannot be matched by writing a simple research paper."
While both Russo and Boland held some knowledge of the Civil War and its causes and consequences before being part of this Creative Inquiry project, their work gave them both a deeper understanding of a conflict that hits very close to home. "For many Southerners, winning the battle of memory after the war was just a continuation of the war itself," says Russo. Anderson agrees: "The Civil War was fought-the Civil War continues to be fought- right outside our classroom windows, even at the heart of campus. Our ground remains, today, the battlefield of the war's memory." The work of Anderson and the students involved in the battleground/BLOODFIELD Creative Inquiry gives relevance to Civil War memory and sheds light on this definitive period in South Carolina, as well as American, history.