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Union University Dept of History

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Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer Talks about the American Civil War

Oct 25, 2012

Dr. George C. Rable, holder of the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama, presented two lectures at Union University concerning the American Civil War as the Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer on October 25, 2012. He was the 16th speaker in this annual lecture series.

In the afternoon, Professor Rable spoke on “Fredericksburg: The Battlefield and Beyond” to more than 150 faculty and students. After describing what turned out to be a depressing Union defeat at Fredericksburg in December, 1862, Dr. Rable discussed the ways in which the battle touched people’s lives in its aftermath, his goal being to “look at the battle’s larger meaning.” He noted the engagement’s casualties and reminded his listeners that soldiers had to bury the dead and move the wounded, and families back home had to cope with sorrow when they discovered the name of a loved one on the lists of the dead that newspapers published. For President Abraham Lincoln, the news of the Union’s defeat was devastating, and it created a cabinet crisis. The poet Walt Whitman, after learning that his brother had been wounded at Fredericksburg, rushed to the battle site and described what he saw. While the New York Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper, tried to put an optimistic spin on the battle as it related to the Federal forces, the rival New York Herald, which favored the Democrats, stressed the Union’s crushing defeat. Professor Rable stated that the battle was important enough to be given close attention in Europe: the Times of London newspaper, for example, talked about the impending collapse of the American republic because of Fredericksburg, and Karl Marx wrote in considerable detail about the military failure of General Ambrose Burnside, the Union’s commanding general. In closing, Dr. Rable emphasized that although the Union’s Army of the Potomac lost at Fredericksburg and endured considerable hardship in the ensuing months, the Union soldiers persevered and did so out of a deep sense of patriotism and commitment to democracy in America.

Dr. Rable’s evening talk was titled “God as General: Was There a Religious History of the American Civil War?” Noting that standard histories of the Civil War give minimal attention to the religious side of the conflict, Professor Rable stated that the calamity was “perhaps the most religious war in U.S. history.” Religious groups in both camps interpreted the war in providential terms. Many viewed the war as God’s judgment on a nation that was collectively guilty of the sin of slavery, while others blamed political corruption for the nation’s tragedy. Still others claimed that the war was God’s punishment for individual sins, such as gambling, drunkenness, and profanity. Using the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 as an example of how both sides used religion to explain battle outcomes, Professor Rable stated that the Confederacy saw its victory there as a sign of God’s favor for its cause. In the north, on the other hand, there was a belief that the Federals had stirred up God’s wrath by launching their initial attack at Bull Run on a Sunday. Other Unionists saw it as part of a need to shed blood for the nation’s transgressions. Dr. Rable concluded his talk by making reference to Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Claiming that it was the greatest speech an American president has ever delivered, Professor Rable pointed out that Lincoln refused to equate the Union victory with God’s purposes since only God knew what those were. Some 550 people came to hear Dr. Rable speak. Members of Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society served as ushers at the event.

In addition to presenting his lectures, Dr. Rable, along with his wife Kay, visited the 1830s Providence House at Casey Jones Village, enjoyed a special lunch with Union President Dr. David Dockery and others, had an extended coffee break with members of the history department, and took part in a dinner in his honor.


A high-definition flat-screen television at Union advertises the 16th Annual Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lectureship with Dr. George Rable on the eve of his presentations on October 25, 2012. Photo by Morris Abernathy


Attendees at a luncheon hosted by Union University President Dr. David Dockery on October 25, 2012, in honor of Dr. George Rable pause for a photo at the beginning of the meal. They are: (standing) Dr. David Dockery; (seated, left to right) Dr. Taylor Worley, Dr. George Rable, Dr. Tom Rosebrough; Dr. Keith Absher; Dr. Jimmy Davis, Dr. Sheila Mitchell, and Mrs. Kay Rable. Dr. Stephen Carls, who took the photo, also attended the luncheon.


Dr. George Rable (left) and Dr. David Dockery show off books they exchanged with each other on October 25, 2012.


Dr. George C. Rable, the holder of the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama, talks about "Fredericksburg: The Batttlefield and Beyond" on the afternoon of October 25 at Union University as the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer. Photo by Morris Abernathy


A large crowd listens to Dr. George Rable of the University of Alabama talk about "Fredericksburg: The Battlefield and Beyond" on the afternoon of October 25 at Union University as the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer. Photo by Morris Abernathy


Dr. George Rable (center) enjoys refreshments and conversation with members of the history department following his afternoon history lecture on October 25, 2012. History department members in the photo are (left to right) Dr. Keith Bates, Dr. Terry Lindley, Dr. Judy LeForge, and Dr. David Thomas.


History department members and Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer Dr. George Rable take time for a photo in the Jones Suite on the afternoon of October 25, 2012. They are: (seated, left to right), Dr. Terry Lindley, Dr. Judy LeForge, Dr. George Rable, and Dr. David Thomas; (standing) Dr. Henry Allen, Dr. Keith Bates, and Dr. Stephen Carls.


Attendees at a dinner in honor of Dr. George C. Rable at Union University take time for a photo on October 25, 2012. Dr. Rable (seated fourth from the left on the near side of the head table) was the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer.


Dr. George Rable, the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer, answers a question about the American Civil War at a dinner in his honor on October 25.


Dr. George Rable (left) stands with Tennessee State Representative Steve McDaniel at a dinner in Professor Rable's honor on October 25, 2012.


Dr. George C. Rable, the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer, stands with Phi Alpha President Jeffrey Lewoczko, Phi Alpha Theta Secretary Patricia Dawson (second from right), and Phi Alpha Theta Vice President Mary Ellen Poe at the end of a dinner in Dr. Rable's honor at Union University on October 25.


Dr. Gene Fant, Executive Vice President for Academic Administration at Union, welcomes attendees to the 16th annual Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lectureship on the evening of October 25, 2012. Photo by Morris Abernathy


Dr. George C. Rable, who holds the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama, speaks to a crowd of some 550 people about "God as General: Was There a Religious History of the American Civil War?" on the evening of October 25 as the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer at Union University. Photo by Morris Abernathy


Dr. George Rable talks about "God as General: Was There a Religious History of the American Civil War?" as the 2012 Carls-Schwerdfeger History Lecturer on the evening of October 25. Photo by Morris Abernathy


Dr. George Rable autographs a book during a book signing following his evening lecture at Union University on October 25, 2012. Photo by Morris Abernathy