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Alabama's Civil War: Researching and Writing "Selma: A Novel of the Civil War"

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This podcast is part of the series: ArchiTreats: Food for Thought


Val L. McGee


Alabama Department of Archives and History


In Val L. McGee's new book, Selma: A Novel of the Civil War, hope is born of tragedy. Join us as McGee presents, "Alabama's Civil War: Researching and Writing Selma: A Novel of the Civil War." This ‘Bonus' ArchiTreats: Food for Thought presentation was held at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

The drama in Selma: A Novel of the Civil War is taken primarily from the pages of Alabama newspapers published in the early 1860s, available only through the reference room of the Alabama Archives. Selma also reflects research in more than 250 slave cases decided by the Alabama Supreme Court from 1819 to 1865 as published in the state Supreme Court's Alabama Reports. In this presentation McGee will share the historical research which informs almost every page of this novel and he will discuss the process of writing a historical novel.

Reviewer Dr. Norwood Kerr noted that, "Selma is especially vivid in describing the pre-war ‘Queen City of the Black Belt.'... Moderate unionists, fire-eating secessionists, and free and enslaved blacks - Judge McGee gives voice to all with both precision and compassion."

Val McGee is a past president of the Alabama Historical Association and the Friends of the Alabama Archives He is the author of Claybank Memories: A History of Dale County, Alabama; The Origins of Fort Rucker; and A Cross Above: A History of the First United Methodist Church of Ozark, Alabama. He served as an infantry officer at Camp Rucker and in Europe during World War II. An attorney by profession, he was an Alabama trial judge from 1981 to 1993. Selma is his first novel.

This ‘Bonus' ArchiTreats is presented by the Alabama Department of Archives and History.


Length: 54:12

Content Areas: Social Studies

Alabama Course of Study Alignments and/or Professional Development Standard Alignments:

SS2010 (4) Alabama Studies
6. Describe cultural, economic, and political aspects of the lifestyles of early nineteenth-century farmers, plantation owners, slaves, and townspeople.
Examples: cultural—housing, education, religion, recreation
economic—transportation, means of support
political—inequity of legal codes
  • Describing major areas of agricultural production in Alabama, including the Black Belt and fertile river valleys
    SS2010 (4) Alabama Studies
    7. Explain reasons for Alabama's secession from the Union, including sectionalism, slavery, states' rights, and economic disagreements.
  • Identifying Alabama's role in the organization of the Confederacy, including hosting the secession convention and the inauguration ceremony for leaders
  • Recognizing Montgomery as the first capital of the Confederacy
  • Interpreting the Articles of the Confederation and the Gettysburg Address
    SS2010 (5) United States Studies: Beginnings to the Industrial Revolution
    11. Identify causes of the Civil War, including states' rights and the issue of slavery.
  • Describing the importance of the Missouri Compromise, Nat Turner's insurrection, the Compromise of 1850, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown's rebellion, and the election of 1860
  • Recognizing key Northern and Southern personalities, including Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Joseph Wheeler (Alabama)
  • Describing social, economic, and political conditions that affected citizens during the Civil War
  • Identifying Alabama's role in the Civil War (Alabama)
  • Examples: Montgomery as the first capital of the Confederacy, Winston County's opposition to Alabama's secession (Alabama)
  • Locating on a map sites important to the Civil War
  • Examples: Mason-Dixon Line, Fort Sumter, Appomattox, Gettysburg, Confederate states, Union states (Alabama)
  • Explaining events that led to the conclusion of the Civil War
    SS2010 (10) United States History I: Beginnings to the Industrial Revolution
    13. Summarize major legislation and court decisions from 1800 to 1861 that led to increasing sectionalism, including the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Acts, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision. [A.1.a., A.1.c., A.1.e., A.1.f., A.1.g., A.1.i., A.1.j.]
  • Describing Alabama's role in the developing sectionalism of the United States from 1819 to 1861, including participation in slavery, secession, the Indian War, and reliance on cotton (Alabama)
  • Analyzing the Westward Expansion from 1803 to 1861 to determine its effect on sectionalism, including the Louisiana Purchase, Texas Annexation, and the Mexican Cession
  • Describing tariff debates and the nullification crisis between 1800 and 1861
  • Analyzing the formation of the Republican Party for its impact on the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States


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