What It Means to Be American
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Identities

In Atlanta, Honoring Two Civil War Generals Opens a Discussion on Race and History

Restoring Twin Monuments to the Blue and Gray Unites a Changing Neighborhood

The McPerson Monument in East Atlanta, as rendered on an German-made 1880s postcard. Image courtesy of Henry Bryant and Katina Van Cronkhite.

By Henry Bryant
March 3, 2017

One hundred and fifty years ago, my colorful East Atlanta neighborhood sat two miles outside of the city limits. By July 22, 1864, Union troops had set up their front lines along a trail that later became our main street. When the Confederates decided to bring the fight to their enemy, these quiet woods became the location of the devastating Battle of Atlanta, where some 12,000 men were killed—including, rather unusually, two opposing generals.

Today, a short walk from my house, …

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Encounters

The American Revolution Story Has a Hole the Size of Spain

While the Marquis de LaFayette Gets a Share of the Glory, Names Like Gardoqui and Gálvez Are All But Forgotten

ferreira-lead

By Larrie D. Ferreiro
November 29, 2016

Americans like to think of our nation as exceptional in nature, a dramatic break from all that came before it. Being exceptional, it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that two European powers provided invaluable assistance in our struggle for independence from Britain. So we usually don’t. The American origin story thus has scrappy colonists fighting the British alone, with little outside help except for France’s Lafayette, and a cameo by General Rochambeau at the very end. But Americans could have never won …

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Engagements

Coming of Age Under a Flying Fortress

Being a Teenager in L.A. During World War II Meant Blackouts, Rations, and B-17 Bombers

Rodriguez on WWII LEAD

By Manuel H. Rodriguez
August 11, 2016

That Sunday, as on most Sundays, the family was gathered around the kitchen table listening to the radio. It was too early in the day for drama and comedy programs so we listened to a music show. The date was December 7, 1941. I was 11 years old.

“We interrupt this program to bring you this important news bulletin, ‘The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor by air, the White House announces!’”

The world war that followed was …

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Places

The Quebec Battle That Opened the Door to America

By Beating Back the French in 1759, British Colonials Defeated a Big Obstacle to Their Own Independence

MacLeod LEAD

By D. Peter MacLeod
August 2, 2016

You can go to Quebec City, about 100 miles from the nearest U.S. border crossing, for the spectacular scenery, fine dining, great museums, and strolls through neighborhoods that date to the beginning of the 17th century.

Or you can go for the American history. Those who know of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham—fought September 13, 1759 on a plain named for the early French settler Abraham Martin—often remember it as a fight between a French army commanded by Lieutenant …

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Ideas

The Biggest Forgotten American Indian Victory

While We Remember Little Bighorn, That Wasn't the Battle That Led to the First Congressional Investigation in U.S. History.

Maumee Towns

By Colin G. Calloway
June 9, 2015

In less than three hours on November 4, 1791, American Indians destroyed the United States Army, inflicting more than 900 casualties on a force of some 1,400 men. Proportionately it was the biggest military disaster the United States ever suffered. It was also the biggest victory American Indians ever won. Yet it was quickly consigned to the footnotes of history.

Unlike the much more famous Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, when American Indians annihilated George Armstrong Custer’s command, …

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Artifacts

World War I’s Heart Is Kept in the Heartland

The Conflict That Disillusioned the World and Killed More than 100,000 Americans Is Remembered in Three Powerful Midwestern Memorials

World War I’s Heart Is Kept in the Heartland

By James MacLeod
May 22, 2015

World War I was one of the most destructive events in human history, killing around 16 million soldiers and civilians worldwide, including 116,000 Americans. It did more than just destroy lives. It destroyed confidence in progress, prosperity, and the rationality of civilized society, perhaps the most treasured characteristic of the 19th century.

The Great War also arguably destroyed much of the next generation: those who would have provided leadership to Europe in the dark days of the 1920s and 30s, …

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Ideas

Did the End of the Civil War Mean the End of Slavery?

April 1865 Marked the Beginning of a New Battle for American Abolitionists

Emancipation monument

By Matthew Pinsker
April 14, 2015

On the same morning that Abraham Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet, noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was quietly gloating by the Charleston, South Carolina graveside of John C. Calhoun. Garrison, approaching his 60th birthday, had traveled down to secession’s birthplace with a delegation led by the former Union commander at Fort Sumter, now Major General Robert Anderson, in order to help mark the end of the Civil War with a symbolic flag-raising ceremony at the heavily damaged harbor fortifications …

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Places

Where Lincoln Was President and Conqueror

The Commander-in-Chief’s Surprisingly Humble Journey into Richmond, Virginia, After the Confederacy’s Fall

Lincoln statue in Richmond

By Jamie Stiehm
April 10, 2015

April 4, 1865. The conqueror entered Richmond, Virginia, on a rowboat with his son Tad, after nearing the fallen city by military steamer. President Abraham Lincoln was escorted and guarded by Union Army officers, but the victory scene was far from triumphal. He slipped in unannounced, to bear witness, not to preside over the vanquished.

Lincoln simply strode up the hills of Richmond, the enemy capital, passing the pearly state capitol building designed by Thomas Jefferson. He sauntered into the antebellum …

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Ideas

The Serious Business of Pulp Fiction

How Paperbacks Helped Forge Our Modern Ideas about Sex, Race, and War

pulp fiction_WIMTBA

By Paula Rabinowitz
April 7, 2015

Cheap paperback books are like sex: They claim attention, elicit memories good and bad, and get talked about endlessly. The mid-20th century was the era of pulp, which landed in America in 1939.

You could pick up these paper-bound books at the corner drugstore or bus station for a quarter. They had juicy covers featuring original (and sometimes provocative) art, blurring the lines between canonical literature (Emily Brontë and Honoré de Balzac) and the low genres of crime, romance, and Westerns. …

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Artifacts

The Gentleman’s Agreement That Ended the Civil War

Two Generals Sat Down at Appomattox and Choreographed an Unusually Civil Armistice in the Most Punishing Conflict Ever Fought on American Soil

Appomatox furniture, Lee's surrender to Grant.

By Harry R. Rubenstein
April 3, 2015

One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 9, 1865, a lone Confederate horseman violently waving a white towel as a flag of truce galloped up to the men of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry near Appomattox Court House and asked for directions to the headquarters of Major General Philip Sheridan. On orders from generals Robert E. Lee and John Gordon, the rider, Captain R. M. Sims, carried a message requesting a suspension of hostilities to allow negotiations of surrender to …

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