Monday, December 31, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Well, with another quick read this past weekend I have fallen a little behind in my "Just Finished Reading" posts, so I'll try to attempt to catch up here. If you follow my blog you know that I have read some great books this year. New studies are coming out seemingly each week on diverse historical topics, and there is an almost never ending list of previously published books like this one that I am trying to get into my queue for the upcoming year.

Of the 69 books I read this year Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861, is certainly in the top five. In this fascinating look at mixed race relationship issues, University of Alabama professor Joshua D. Rothman uses numerous court records from the early republic and antebellum periods to complete a fascinating and illuminating look at relationships that were more often than not taboo, but not so rare as once thought.

Rothman starts out the book by looking at what is probably the most famous mixed race relationship in American history; that of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Rothman particularly examines the political attack that James Callender, a writer for the Richmond Recorder, made on Jefferson in 1802 about this very issue. Rothman concludes that Callender misjudged the effect the exposed situation would have. White Virginians understood that interracial relationships were a fact of life in the slaveholding state, but they did not appreciate their "dirty laundry" being aired publicly, especially when it concerned a venerated son of Virginia. Rothman contends that Callender's expose backfired, "By moving the rumor of Jefferson's interracial sexual affairs from private to public discourse, Callender touched off whole new rounds of discussions about the president all over the country, but he also succeeded in cementing his own reputation as a scoundrel, a judgement that has lasted for two hundred years."

Another case that Rothman investigates closely was also from Charlottesville, Virginia. It involved the long-term relationship between Jewish mercantile business owner David Isaacs and free woman of color Nancy West. Not allowed to marry due to Virginia laws, Isaacs and West maintained a common law relationship that proved instead of being detrimental to be one of great benefit to each partner. The couple lived together for forty years and had seven children together. At times they faced harassing suits from business competitors intent on seeing a rival go out of business, but they persevered and prospered.

Chapter 3, "Sex and Race on the Streets of Richmond," is a fascinating look into the back alleys and dark illegal businesses that thrived in the antebellum capital of Virginia. Rothman makes strong use of Mayor Joseph Mayo's court records, which handled many of the misdemeanor cases that involved prostitution and illegal trading of goods with slaves. Urban slavery was quite different than rural plantation slavery. In cities such as Richmond, slaves often had more "liberty" to hire their time and make their own living arrangements. These "freedoms" often led to illegal activities that led to illicit ways to earn income. Rothman writes that "Interracial sex became not only unpalatable to Richmonders but something that needed to be rooted out and prevented. No matter how vigilant white Richmonders came to be by the onset of the Civil War, however, they never effectively stamped out the interracial vice in their midst."

Other fascinating chapters cover violence that slaves extracted on owners who took sexual advantage of women slaves; divorce petitions from men asking to sever their marriages to women who were found to have had relationships with black men - by pregnancy results or eyewitness accounts; and from women whose husbands flagrantly lived in adulterous relationships with slave women. I was amazed to find how blatant slaveowning husbands often were toward their wives. I suppose they were because they knew how powerless women were, both wives and slave partners, to effect much change in the male's behavior.

In the "Epilogue" Rothman sums up his findings quite nicely: "For most of the seventy-five years before the Civil War, whites met the discovery of sex across the color line with disapprobation but also with equanimity. They recognized that exploitative, familial, commercial, and adulterous interracial sexual liaisons were all unavoidable in a multiracial world, especially where 'our family, white and black,' served as one of the central metaphors of understanding social and economic relations in that world. Accommodation of such illicit sexuality was not without its consequences, foremost among which were the instabilities wrought by the emotional suffering of members of white and black families alike, the bitter tensions and ferocious violence provoked by the systematic sexual abuse of African American women, the periodic dissolution of marriages, and the blurring of the line theoretically separating black from white, and the existence of individuals and families who seemed beyond the reach of the laws designed to make their lives difficult and dangerous. But bending to the winds of social and legal contradiction helped keep early national and antebellum Virginia from breaking. Moreover, the presence of slavery guaranteed white supremacy, enabling white men in positions of power and authority at both the local and state levels to respond to situations involving interracial sex requiring their intervention without consistently making the enforcement of laws that demanded rigid racial and sexual boundaries their sole or even top priority."

I give Notorious in the Neighborhood a hearty recommendation to those wishing to better understand the seemingly contradictory nature of race relations during slavery in the South. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Terribly Deadly Fight - 150 Years Ago

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River, or as the Confederates called it, the Battle of Murfreesboro, which occurred in Middle Tennessee, December 31-January 2, 1862, I thought I'd share a couple of short passages. One account is from the night before the battle, December 30, the other is from a Union soldier that was wounded on the first day of battle. These soldiers' vivid impression could have come from a soldier on either side, as on these days both Northerner and Southerner fought like furies in this terribly deadly fight.

"The thirtieth of December was a dreary day. 'Rain had fallen almost constantly,' reported A.M. Crary of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry, 'and soldiers were saturated with water. Toward night the wind swept coldly from the north, and . . . no bivouac fires were allowed. . . .' A soldier in the Nineteenth Ohio Infantry said that some of the men, "having lost their blankets and knapsacks suffered terribly from the cold.'

Just as the men were preparing to get what sleep they could, one of the strange events of the war took place. In the stillness of the winter night, the military bands of both armies began to play their favorite tunes, and the music became something of a contest. 'Yankee Doodle' was answered by 'Dixie,' and "The Bonnie Blue Flag brought out a resounding version of 'Hail Columbia.' Ultimately, a Federal band struck of the familiar 'Home Sweet Home,' and a member of the Nineteenth Tennessee Infantry wrote: 'Immediately a Confederate band caught up the strain, then one after another until all the bands of each army were playing 'Home Sweet Home.' And after our bands ceased playing, we could hear the sweet refrain as it died away on the cool frosty air on the Federal side.' It was a strange prelude to one of the bloodiest battles of the war."
From Stones River: Bloody Winter in Tennessee by James Lee McDonough 

Ira Owen of the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry had been shot in the leg during the fight on December 31. He was carried to a field hospital and bore witness to the day's slaughter:
"It was impossible to supply all the wounded with tents. Rails were hauled and thrown in piles . . . and large fires built. The wounded were brought and lain by these fires. Men were wounded in every conceivable way, some with their arms shot off, some wounded in the body, some in the head. It was heart-rending to hear to hear their cries and groans. One poor fellow who was near me was wounded in the head. He grew delirious during the night, and would very frequently call his mother. . . . The poor fellow died before morning with no mother near, to soothe him in his dying moments, or wipe the cold sweat from his brow. I saw the surgeons amputate limbs, then throw the quivering flesh into a pile. Every once in a while a man would stretch himself out and die. Next morning rows of men were laid out side by side for the soldiers' burial."
From No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River by Peter Cozzens

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I don't often come across works of history that make me cringe. When reading about difficult subjects, whether it be combat, slavery or some other unpleasant topic, I usually try to understand the context of that era and tell myself that it is important to know about these things and why they happened.

The subject of lynching is one such topic. It is difficult for us today to understand how these episodes could happen, but author Amy Louise Wood in Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940, handles the subject intelligently and provides explanations for why this type of terrorism was implemented and its publicity fortunately and ultimately proved to beckon its demise.

Lynching, although more common in the Southern United States than elsewhere in America, happened in locations across the nation. And, not only African American were the victims. Immigrants and others of non-Protestant religions also felt the wrath of mob vigilante actions. Wood concentrates her research, however, on towns and cities of mainly three Southern states; Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.

The focus of Wood's work is how lynchings became a form of visual interest. The South, after the Civil War, became less homogeneous with each passing year. Northerners came to the Southern states for a variety of reasons, and after slavery ended, immigrants no longer spurned the South as they had when the "peculiar institution" was the system of labor. Due to this lack of homogeneity white supremacy, according to Wood, had to be "constructed and established and that required constant replenishing and constant reenvisioning. That is, they needed to be performed and witnessed." And lynching often fit that bill.

Wood starts with a look at how public criminal executions were experienced and how they evolved from being open public events to being more restricted private occasions. She also covers how religion often figured into the the white supremacy mentality of lynching. Wood contends that "lynch mobs and their advocates had to impose the familiar Protestant notions of sin and retribution onto what were, in many ways, new forms of racial violence and new conceptions of white supremacy."

Of special interest to me was Wood's coverage of how photography, especially postcards, were used to spread the "spectacle" of lynching to those that had not attended the event. "Photographing a lynching marked the occasion as special, worthy of the camera's view, but it also made what was an extraordinary event somewhat familiar, especially because white southerners would have posed for and interpreted these images through their experiences with other, more typical photographic forms and practices, such as portraiture and hunting photographs."  Wood's comparison of lynching images and those of animal hunting parties, what with dogs and men and guns, and both with their hanged prey displayed is especially disturbing  but significant.

Turning the tables, Wood shows how individual and group anti-lynching advocates, such as Ida Wells Barnett and the NAACP skillfully used the same photographic images to attack lynching that spectators used to promoted the act. Lynching images were provided to show the grisly, inhumane, and unlawful realty of vigilante justice. These were printed in advocacy newspapers and magazines and made available to state and especially national lawmakers in the hope of changing public opinion and spurring legislative measures against lynching.

Also discussed at length was how early moving pictures such as Birth of a Nation and others were viewed by many African Americans as promoting lynching, and finally how Hollywood used movies like Fury and They Won't Forget to "indict" lynching.

While it was indeed disturbing to see the images of lynching parties and read about the results of their acts, what I learned from Lynching and Spectacle was certainly important. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.5.

Friday, December 28, 2012

NPS Awards Civil War Battlefield Grants

I saw an online article yesterday that claimed that the current Congress was the least productive since the 1940s. It's difficult to argue with that, what with all the partisanship, non-compromise, fiscal cliff wheel spinning that is currently going on.  

However, I also saw another short article that showed that at least one part of our government is doing something positive.

The National Coalition for History reported that:
"National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis recently announced the award of more the $2.4 million in grants to help with land acquisition at eight Civil War battlefields.

Grant projects include fee simple purchases at Perryville, Kentucky ($43,715); Mill Springs, Kentucky ($330,000); Bentonville, North Carolina ($168,720); Franklin, Tennessee ($112,800); Second Manassas, Virginia ($196,500); Peebles' Farm, Virginia; and Topopotomoy Creek, Virginia ($91,600); and the purchase of an easement at Cool Springs, Virginia ($1,500,000).

The grants were made from the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to help states and local communities acquire and preserve threatened Civil War battlefield land outside the boundaries of National Park units. Priority was given to battlefields listed in the Park Service's Civil War Site Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields (CWSAC Report). Funds were based on the property's location within CWSAC-defined core and/or study areas, the threat to the battlefield land to be acquired, and the availability of required non-Federal matching funds.

The grants were made available under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-74), which appropriated $8,985,600 for the Civil War battlefield lands acquisition grants program."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Dream? (Looks More Like a Nightmare)

With a keyword search using "Underground Railroad" I came across this image on the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online catalog. I wasn't able to make out many of the details at first so I downloaded the TIFF image and enlarged it. I must admit the image was kind of grotesque. The beasts portrayed, whether dragons, demons or some other monsters - flying or creeping or shooting cannonballs - are a seeming chorus from of Dante's Inferno.

Thankfully the kind people at the Library of Congress provided an interpretation of this image called "A Dream Caused by a Perusal of Mrs. H. Beecher Stowe's Popular Work Uncle Tom's Cabin." To me it appears to me more of nightmare than a dream. But it goes a long way toward showing how some people interpreted the potential impact that the book could or would have on society. Interestingly, it was published in 1853 by a firm (J.C. Frost and G.W. Hall) from Louisville, Kentucky, and was apparently drawn by lithographer Colin R. Milne.

Library of Congress interpretation: "An imaginative and biting satire on Harriet Beecher Stowe and her recently published antislavery novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Printed serially beginning in June 1851, the novel first appeared in book form in 1852. The artist has concocted a chaotic, nightmarish vision, where armies demons and other monsters battle in a barren, desert setting reminiscent of the infernal visions of Hieronymus Bosch and Jacques Callot. (Murrell points out, in fact, that the plate owes its central motif - an enormous flying dragon - from Callot's 'Temptation of St. Anthony.') In the center a leering black man dressed as a Quaker holds a flag 'Women of England to the Rescue.' To the left, near the mouth of the cave marked 'Underground Railway,' Mrs. Stowe is pulled and harassed by demons. She holds up a book that reads 'Uncle Tom's Cabin, I Love the Blacks.' Another woman, (or perhaps Mrs. Stowe again) rides in a parade of demons on the right. In the distance several monsters feed copies of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' to a blazing fire."

The TIFF version can be downloaded here

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Married After 21 Years

Christmas being the romantic time of year that it is, I thought I'd share an interesting document that I came across recently. It is a marriage license issued by the Freedmen's Bureau in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1866. 

The individuals listed as husband and wife were a Christmas-themed couple, Joseph and Mary Provines. It states that Mary used "to belong to W." someone - the last name is difficult to make out.  The document states that the two lived together, apparently in slavery - at least Mary was enslaved; Joseph possibly could have been free, or the disclaimer of the former owner could perhaps pertain to both of them - for 21 years.

Included is information on Joseph and Mary's son, Stephen Provines, who was about 19 years old. It claims that "Stephen went off with Genl. [John T.] Wilder's command of U.S Troops in 1863, and was heard from at Louisville, Ky soon after Hood's raid to Nashville [Dec. 1864], probably went by the name of Sanders or Calhoun."

It was not unusual that a couple would, after 21 years of common law slave marriage, take the time and make the effort to get their partnership legalized.  For many freedmen making the family union legitimate in the eyes of the law was a first step toward citizenship and equality. 

Image courtesy of the National Archives.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sherman's Christmas Gift to Lincoln

Savannah, [Georgia] Dec. 22, 1864

To His Excellency,
President Lincoln

I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.

W.T. Sherman
Maj. Genl.

Image courtesy of the National Archives

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cool Civil War Era Photograph

Sailors get all the ladies.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Photographic Questions and Answers

I came across this photograph in the Library of Congress online collection and immediately wanted to know more about what is going on in the image.  Unfortunately, there was only some basic information provided in the online label.

The back of the image indicates that it was made at J.P. Ball's Photographic Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has the date September 16-22, 1862 written in pencil.  Also written on the back are the names of the men pictured standing and holding pistols. Confusingly, both men are indicated as being on the left, so I am not sure who is who. One of the men is Jesse L. Berch, quartermaster sergeant of the 22th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment and of Racine, Wisconsin. The other man is Frank M. Rockwell, postmaster of the 22nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, from Geneva, Wisconsin. Sitting between the two soldiers is a young African American woman.

So, what's the story here?

I did an internet search and found an entry on the Oxford African American Studies Center located here.  It provided a brief description of the incident depicted. It states:

"In the fall of 1862, two soldiers from Wisconsin's 22nd Infantry Regiment escorted an escaped teenage slave from Nicholasville, Kentucky, to the home of famed Underground Railroad operator Levi Coffin in Cincinnati. The regiment, composed of numerous sympathizers to the abolitionist cause, had been stationed in Nicholasville to fend off a rumored attack by by Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. The soldiers were Frank M. Rockwell (left), a twenty-two-year-old postmaster from the town of Geneva, and Jesse L. Berch, a twenty-five-year-old quartermaster sergeant from Racine. With the young fugitive disguised as a 'mulatto soldier boy,' Rockwell and Berch traveled the one hundred miles to Coffin's house at a rapid pace. The party arrived safely and spent two days at the Coffin residence. Before sending the girl off to Racine (where the soldiers had friends ready to take the girl in), however, they posed with her for the above daguerreotype, taken at J.P. Ball Photographic Gallery in Cincinnati."

The information from Oxford did not include citations where their additional information was found, or how they determined that it was Rockwell on the left, since as I mentioned above, both men are indicated as being on the left. However, from what I know, much of the narrative holds up. The 22nd Wisconsin did in fact have a number of strident abolitionists. For one such soldier see my post about the 22nd's Col. William Utley, which can be viewed here.

There might possibly be a mistake though on the date indicated on the back of the photograph. Another internet search indicates that the 22nd Wisconsin was only mustered into service on September 2, 1862, and that they left Wisconsin on September 16 and were in Cincinnati and then Covington, Kentucky, on September 22. They appear to have been in the Nicholasville, Kentucky area a month later, after the Confederates had retreated from the state after the Battle of Perryville.

Regardless of the complete story, it is a fascinating photograph that seems to indicate that some Union soldiers were fighting the war for social changes in addition to preserving the United States.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Negroes Leaving the Plough"

I came across the above drawing, titled "Negroes Leaving the Plough," while browsing through the Library of Congress online images for a project at work. The image shows what are apparently four slaves who have unharnessed and then mounted plow horses in a field as Union troops pass by on the road. It is obvious that the slaves planned to leave their field work and the plow behind and follow the troops to experience some level of freedom.  

The image was sketched by noted Civil War battlefield artist Alfred R. Waud. It was reprinted as an engraving in the March 26, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly shown above. 

We should all feel fortunate that artists such as Waud followed the armies so closely and captured moments like this that were probably too fleeting for period photography to catch, but yet likely happened quite often as the Union army moved into slaveholding areas. The Harper's Weekly picture is part of a collage titled "Scenes Connected with General Custer's Movement Across the Rapidan [River]." 

We will never know for sure the grand total of slaves that took advantage of the proximity of the Union army to make their escape from bondage during the Civil War. But they certainly understood that the war provided occasions to end the slave life they had known and the opportunity to see what it was like to make decisions for themselves and earn a wage for their labor.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Just Finished Reading

This was one of those books that I didn't buy just from reading the title - actually I didn't buy the book at all, it was generously given to me as a gift. But, I had read an abstract from the publisher online and was fascinated with its topic.

While the Family or Freedom part of the title fits quite nicely with the subject of the book, I found the subtitle somewhat ambiguous (or vague - I get those two mixed up). People of Color in the Antebellum South, to me, covers both the approximately 250,000 free people of color as well as the almost 4 million enslaved people of color. But clearly the focus of the book is free people of color. Anyhow, that's just my little gripe, and certainly the title did not take away from the quality or readability of the book.

The author, Emily West, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Reading, looks at various petitions by free people of color to voluntarily re-enslave themselves. This is something that I have wondered about, as several times I have come across accounts in newspapers where this was mentioned in a proslavery framework. That is, that the free person of color realized that life was better as a slave than being free and chose to go into slavery.

West's research into these petitions found that the main reason free people of color most often chose to be enslaved was to remain with family. Most of the states the enacted voluntary enslavement legislation allowed free people of color to choose their master and West's use of census data shows that most likely those that chose enslavement wanted to live with a spouse or children owned by a certain master. Another lesser motivation for voluntary enslavement was destitute poverty. Free people of color often lived in a quasi-slavery anyway that reduced their rights and limited their opportunities for advancement, so some of the petitioners chose enslavement to have basic needs (housing, food, clothing) met. It makes one wonder how bad free life had to be to chose to be owned by someone else.

The other major factor for voluntary self enslavement was the numerous debates that many states had on exiling free people of color from their borders. And, while it appears that Arkansas (1860) was the only state that did in fact do so, many other states (including Kentucky) discussed it in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Some free people of color simply chose to be enslaved rather risking the possibility of being uprooted from their home areas, and similar to above, away from an enslaved spouse or other family members.

This book was a fascinating read. It brought up many issues to ponder. I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in learning more about free people of color in the antebellum South and the myriad of challenges they faced. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.5.       

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fifteenth Amendment

This image commemorates the signing of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allowed all male citizens of age to vote. President Grant is shown signing the amendment and seated around him in the front row is Edwin M. Stanton (Secretary of War), Schuyler Colfax (Vice President), Abraham Lincoln (interesting that he is included as he had been dead for five years), Grant, William H. Seward (Secretary of State), and Frederick Douglass.  In the rear row is Horace Greeley (newspaper editor), Salmon Chase (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Robert Smalls (later congressman from South Carolina), Charles Sumner Massachusetts Senator), Hiram Revels (Mississippi Senator), Benjamin F. Butler (Massachusetts Congressman), and William T. Sherman (Commanding General of the U.S. Army). Above the men is a portrait of John Brown.

In the top left is a vignette of a court room that it labeled "Justice for All," and shows the importance of African Americans being allowed to provide testimony in court and to initiate suits.

Opposite is an image of African Americans in line to cast their votes that is titled "A Freeman's Right."

Below this image is a soldier to represent African American service to the "Army," and to the left is a sailor to show the "Navy."

The bottom row of images from left to right depict the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, a farm scene titled "Peace," an education scene "School," and finally another battle scene at "Petersburg," Virginia.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I have always enjoyed reading collections of essays. I think the main reason for that is because you get to think about so many different aspects on common theme, and thereby expand your knowledge both in width and depth.

Somehow, since its publication in 2000, I had overlooked Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South. This collection of essays edited by respected Southern and women's historian Catherine Clinton cover a set of topics as diverse as the geography of the South.

With these essays we get a glimpse of life for Southern people - black, white, rich, poor, religious, secular, native, immigrant, during and immediately after, behind, and sometimes caught up in the battle lines of the Civil War.

As always seem to be the case, some of these essays spoke to me and interested me more than others. Of course, the main reason for that is because they cover topics that I find personally intriguing or because they cover events that happened in locations that I am familiar with.

The first essay offered up in this collection, "Looking for Lost Kin: Efforts to Reunite Freed Families after Emancipation," by Michael P. Johnson, looks at the effort former slaves made in trying to locate their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and extended family after the Civil War. Johnson closely examines the advertisements in the Christian Recorder, a weekly newspaper of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church. Johnson contends that the ads were submitted in such a way to take advantage of the African American "grapevine" that extended throughout the nation; that is, that these ads were meant to be read to congregations and other gatherings and then discussed among each other. The ultimate desired end result was reunion, but just getting some word about the condition and locality of separated loved ones often too provided a sense of comfort for those that had been estranged for years or even decades.

"In the Shadow of the Old Constitution: Black Civil War Veterans and the Persistence of Slave Marriage Customs," by Donald R. Shaffer, offers another fascinating study. Here Shaffer examined pensions of former USCT soldiers to find that some abandoned the "old constitution," that is, the old slave marriage customs, while others continued in that style of informal common-law relationships that had been prevalent in slave days. Shaffer explains that these marriages caused issues when wives or widows attempted to provide proof of marriage when  potentially collecting a pension. One reason for the persistence of slave-type relationships that Shaffer cites is the cost of formal marriages and especially divorces. Before the days of no-fault divorces, the court costs could prove quite prohibitive to African Americans barely scraping by. As Shaffer summarizes  "Hence, even as former slaves embraced the possibilities of freedom, their years in bondage continued to shape their behavior in a significant way even decades later."

Another essay that caught my attention was "A Family of Women and Children: The Fains of East Tennessee during Wartime," by Daniel W. Stowell. Having lived in East Tennessee for a number of years as a youth and later as an adult made me acutely aware of many of the places and circumstance included in this selection. The Fains were from Hawkins County, Tennessee and were unique for their location in that they supported the Confederacy, while the majority of their neighbors were Unionists. Eliza Fain left an incredible record of her life experience in the series of diaries she kept from 1835 to 1892. Her records on the war years are a fascinating look into the tumultuous life she and her family experienced in East Tennessee. She wrote about her experiences with her slaves, her Unionist neighbors, guerrillas, and the Union forces that rode through and occupied her land. In the end, with her husband and sons off fighting for the Confederacy, Eliza assumed the probably unwanted position of farm and slave manager and sole influential parent. She relied heavily on her intelligence and strong faith to survive the terrible conflict that turned her world upside down.

Other essays that I especially enjoyed were, "Good Angels: Confederate Widowhood in Virginia," "The White Wings of Eros: Courtship and Marriage in Confederate Richmond," "Power, Sex, and Gender Roles: The Transformation of an Alabama Planter Family during the Civil War," and, "Patriarchy in the World Where There Is No Parting?: Power Relations in the Confederate Heaven."

I highly recommend this great collection of essays. In fact, I enjoyed reading Southern Families at War, so much, that on a scale from 1 to 5, I feel confident in giving it a 5.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let Freedom Ring

By Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly 1885

Image courtesy of Library of Congress

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Emancipation Ordinance of Missouri

Following the lead of fellow border state Maryland, Missouri freed its enslaved people on January 11, 1865.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Monday, December 10, 2012

Uncle Abe's Valentine

Originally printed in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in February 1865, this image celebrated the passage of the 13th Amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 31, 1865,

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Friday, November 30, 2012

Just Finished Reading

With all of the focus on the recent Lincoln movie by director Steven Spielberg, and its coverage of the 13th amendment, one might forget that little document that came first; the Emancipation Proclamation. O.K., probably not, but just to make sure, another book about the important document is now out. Lincoln's Hundred Day: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union, by Rutgers University professor Louis P. Masur primarily examines the one hundred days between the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (Sept. 22, 1862) and the signing of the final document on January 1, 1863.

A major strength of this well written book is the variety of primary source perspectives that it provides to set the context of Lincoln's first term. We get accounts from Confederate newspapers, border state legislators, Union soldiers, British critics and supporters, and Republicans and Democrats of all descriptions.

I appreciated that Masur makes a point to show the three main differences between the preliminary and final Emancipation Proclamations; something I had never really thought about much before. First, the final proclamation didn't make a mention of colonization, an important shift in Lincoln's thinking. Second, the preliminary proclamation didn't state that African Americans would be accepted into the armed service, another significant shift. And, finally, in the January 1, 1863 proclamation Lincoln basically requested the freed people not to resort to violence "unless in necessary self defence." This may have come from the many suggestions that president received that the document would set off major insurrections in the South.

Another interesting point the book made was that Lincoln initially thought he could combat slavery from the top down - geographically speaking. That is, if the border states (Upper South) would give up the institution, the Confederacy would be convinced it could not persuade them to secede and the war would soon be over. But, when the border states continued to reject Lincoln's emancipation offers, he determined he would end slavery from the bottom (Deep South) up.

Lincoln's use of "war powers" as justification for the Emancipation Proclamation comes in for a healthy dose of coverage in the book. One analogy or story Lincoln used to explain this to visiting Kentuckians was particularly entertaining. "By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitutions  through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of the government, country, and Constitution all together."

Nicely, Masur provides four editions of the Emancipation Proclamation in the book's appendix for us readers. He includes the first draft given to Lincoln's cabinet on July 22, 1862, the preliminary proclamation issued on September 22, 1862, a final draft (December 29-31, 1862), and the final and signed proclamation (January 1, 1863).

I highly recommend Lincoln's Hundred Days to anyone who wants to know more about Lincoln's thought process and numerous conflicts that went into the Emancipation Proclamation. It is well researched, very balanced, and easy to read. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.    

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Did a Bramlette Proclamation Set Precedent for General Orders 59?

Governor Thomas E. Bramlette and Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge, the commander of the Department of Kentucky in 1864, had a strained relationship to say the least. The friction between the two men was often due to Bramlette's belief that Burbridge abused his military power and caused Kentucky citizens to fear his forces. 

One of Burbridge's perceived outrages was General Orders No. 59, issued in July 1864. The order promised to execute four Confederate guerrillas whenever a Union man was killed. Or, at the least, to deport any Southern sympathizer who lived within five miles of any outrage on a Unionist.

But, did Burbridge perhaps get his ideas for General Orders No. 59 from Bramlette? The above document issued by the governor on January 4, 1864, stated that "I, therefore, request that the various Military Commanders in the State of Kentucky will, in every instance when a loyal citizen is taken off by bands of guerrillas immediately arrest at least five of the most prominent and active rebel sympathizers in the vicinity of such outrages for every loyal man taken by guerrillas. These sympathizers should be held as hostages for the safe and speedy return of the loyal citizens." I would say that it is pretty similar in many respects. Bramlette, with ambiguous punishment suggestions continued, "Where there are disloyal relatives of guerrillas  they should be the chief sufferers." And, although he doesn't specify how they should suffer, he warned, "Let them learn that if they refuse to exert themselves actively for the assistance and protection of the loyal, they must expect to reap the just fruits of their complicity with the enemies of our State and people." 

Certainly, Bramlette's proclamation is not as explicit as Burbridge's order, but to me, there is a similarity that seems more than coincidental.

Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The National Game, 1860

Left to right: John Bell of Tennessee, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Waiting 'til the Midnight Hour

This image from the Library of Congress shows slaves gathered in a quarter cabin and watching a pocket timepiece as the minutes creep toward January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was to go into effect.

Surroundings and individuals depicted here are quite interesting. As a banjo hangs from the wall, a slave with a runaway neck collar and spikes holds a torch which illuminates the emotional scene. Many of the slaves shown are women who are either holding children or praying, or both. One slave stands by the door holding an American flag and apparently keeping those outside the cabin apprised of the time. Two individuals cover their faces apparently overcome with emotion, and one is shown prostrate on the floor as if in supplication.  Ages range from the old man with the watch in the center to the infants held by their mothers. Complexions, too, vary from the very dark woman by the door to the seemingly white woman in the left foreground. The table over which the old time keeper stands is made from a Sanitary Commission box and there appears to be an open book of some type on top of it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yeaman not Welcome Back in Kentucky?

If you happen to go see the new Lincoln movie by Steven Spielberg you will probably be introduced for the first time to a Kentuckian who helped cast one of the deciding votes needed in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the 13th amendment.

I had heard of George Helm Yeaman, due to the fact that he delivered an impassioned speech in the House in 1862 opposing the Emancipation Proclamation (I will try to share some of that document in a future post). But, I did not know much of his history or what became of him.

Yeaman was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, in 1829. Hardin County also produced Abraham Lincoln twenty years earlier. Yeaman was admitted to the Kentucky bar in 1852 and began practicing law in Owensboro, Daviess County. He was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1861 with numerous other Unionists and helped keep Kentucky in the Union in the fall of 1861. He was elected to the U.S. House to replace congressman James S. Jackson, who had resigned his seat and been killed at the Battle of Perryville.

Yeaman was a lame duck representative when the 13th amendment was being debated in late 1864 and early 1865, as he lost the 1864 election. He apparently had little to lose by switching his vote to outlaw slavery in the United States, but in fact he may have paid dearly.

Yeaman was offered, and accepted, the minister to Denmark position in 1865. Was this opportunity offered in exchange for his switched vote? I'm not sure at this point, but I would not be surprised, for as the movie showed, certain lame duck members of the House were provided with certain "benefits." Yeaman served as minister until 1870.

Kentucky was still very volatile during the Reconstruction years and it would also not surprise me to find out that Yeaman was not welcome back in his home state. Whatever the reason, Yeaman took a law professor position with Columbia College in New York City and was later the president of the Medico-Legal Society of New York. He never made it back to Kentucky, as he died in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1908, and was buried at Madison, New Jersey.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

More Pennsylvania Support for the Crittenden Compromise

Early last month I shared an interesting and patriotic-themed petition from the citizens of Lancaster, Pennsylvania supporting the Crittenden Compromise resolution. Recently I found another petition, this one from Philadelphians, also supporting the Kentucky senator's proposal.

As can be seen in the the text of the resolution, the compromise measure was doomed to failure due to its highly pro-slavery measures, one of which stipulated that "No future amendments shall affect the preceding articles, and Congress shall never have the power to interfere with slavery in the States where it is now permitted." But, as can be seen in these two documents, some Northerners were quite willing to compromise on slavery in effort to save the Union.

A larger image of the document can be seen here. 

Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Ruinous Influence of Arbitrary Power

This selection will be that last I will share from Slavery Unmasked. While in Charleston, author Philo Tower witnessed some disturbing scenes and according to him, spoke to some individuals that were against slavery in principle if not in practice. Those people were apparently disturbed by the violence that often comes from one person owing another. By legally owning someone a sense of superiority and tyranny arises - something that Tower described as "the ruinous influence of arbitrary power."

One woman (her name was not given) told Tower about another Charleston woman that, on the surface was well respected in the community, but at home, terrorized her slaves.

The informant said, "I have known her thus on the watch . . .scolding for more than a hour at a time, in so loud and boisterous a voice that the whole neighborhood could hear her; and this without the least apparent feeling of shame. Indeed, it is no disgrace among slave-holders, and did not in the least injure her standing, either as a lady or a Christian, in the aristocratic circle in which she moved."

This woman was apparently vicious. "This mistress would occasionally send her slaves, male and female, to the inquisition (slave pen) for more savage punishment than she could possibly inflict at her house. One poor girl whom she sent there for torture, was stripped naked and whipped so horribly that deep gashes were made in her back sufficiently large to lay my whole finger in them - large pieces of flesh had actually been cut our by the torturing lash. I have seen it in the hands of the most unmerciful inquisitors; may God have mercy on them for it, for the devil never will . . . .

This professedly Christian woman was a most awful illustration of the ruinous influence of arbitrary power upon the temper. Her bursts of passion upon the heads of her victims were dreaded even by her own children, and very often all the pleasure of social intercourse around the domestic board was destroyed, by ordering the cook into her presence and storming at him when the dinner or breakfast was not prepared to her taste, and in the presence of all her children, commanding the waiter to slap his face. . . It was common for her to order brothers to whip their sisters, and sisters their own brothers; and yet no woman visited among the poor than she did, or gave more liberally to their wants. But her own slaves must feel the power of her tyrannical arm, and know and keep their places."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Northerner's View of Slaves

In Slavery Unmasked, author Philo Tower took time to give his observation of what he saw as "the most disgusting sites" of slave life in Southern cities. This seemingly unkind portrayal is his attempt, I think, to show the degrading influence slavery had on African Americans.

"But to the descriptive part of this article; and here I am forced to remark (notwithstanding all my sympathies are enlisted on the side of the poor slaves) that one of the most disgusting sights presented to a Northerner, in walking the streets of a Southern city, and one that meets him at every corner, not only in the streets, but on the quays, levees, and on the the public walks and squares, is the mighty, rolling, headlong mass, or tide of negro servants, male and female, black, brown and yellow, their squalid, filthy, careless appearance as they pass along, up and down, to and fro, now bearing you along in the press, now retarding your advance, now cutting your path at right angles, then comparatively deafening you with a loud laugh or a shrill whistle, is anything but agreeable to one of any amount of refined feeling. But the facts in the case are, the cruel, unnatural, debasing servitude in which these poor creatures have been bred has so effectually crushed and ground every ennobling principle of humanity out of them as to render them almost insensible to shame or fear, unless their master or overseer should chance to be close by. You encounter them on the public walks from six in the morning until nine at night, and they are clad for the most part in the most fantastic style conceivable, from the gaudy household livery of a Southern nabob, to the tattered costume of a wandering Gipsy, many of them bare-headed, bare feet and legs, men, women and children. I have seen them during the all the winter months, singing, whistling, chatting, running, jumping, and dancing along the walks, with sundry other monkey shines too tedious to mention, with scarcely any regard to the thousands of whites they meet, unless it should be their overseers. One moment you run against one of them with a pile of wood on his head; the next your encounter an old woman with a wash-tub half full of water on hers; now you meet a grinning, bare-headed Topsy drawing a two-wheeled cradle, with some two or three white babes in it, singing her lullaby to them, as unconscious, apparently so, of any other presence, as though she were in the centre of her mistress' nursery; now a stocky woolly-headed chap passes you with a piece of board, some two by three feet platted on his pate, heaped up with fresh fish, singing out at a deafening rate, startling every disordered nerve in one's body - fish, fish, here's your good fresh fish. And then, to bring up the rear, and fully consummate your disgust, you see that hyena of the human race, the slave-drover, come up the street with some two or three hundred men, women and children in a drove, some in chains, some in rags, and come half naked. All these are to be placed on the block on the morrow for public sale."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Southern Morality and Ruffianism - Fearful Revelations

In Chapter 13, of Slavery Unmasked,which is titled "Southern Morality and Ruffianism - Fearful Revelations," there was a short section that said it was "clipped from southern papers." The author does not say what newspaper this selection came from or what day it ran so that it can be checked, but under the heading "Horrid affair in Maysville - Negro Burned to Death" a tragic story is told.

"We are informed that on the Kentucky Thanksgiving Day, a couple of young men of Maysville, whose family connections are described as of the 'highest respectability,' were on a drunken spree at the Parker House, in that place, and protracting their frolic until a very late hour, after all the household had retired to bed, attempted to arouse the bar-keeper to procure more liquor, and failing in this, and succeeding in finding a yellow man, one of the waiters, asleep, they concluded to set fire to him in order to awaken him! With this view, they took a camphene lamp, and, pouring the fluid over his whiskers, ignited it, and the poor fellow's neck and head became instantly wrapped in an intense blaze, which continued until the fluid was consumed.

The sufferings of the victim were dreadful in the extreme. No refinement of torture could have produced more excruciating misery. But, strange to say, death did not release him from torment until after the lapse of two weeks. The poor creature was the slave of Mr. Ball, keeper of the Parker House, who says, as our informant tells us, that no human suffering could exceed that of his boy during the fortnight that he lived after the burning. The young men 'respectably connected,' whose drunkenness resulted in this horror, are said to allege that they burned the negro by accident - that when holding the lamp to his face, they managed to break it, and spill the fiery fluid upon him. The young men are rich. They have agreed to pay Mr. Ball $1,200 for the loss of his servant. Our informant says that no one in Maysville speaks of this transaction without a shudder of horror, but that no movement has been made towards a legal investigation of the matter, and that the 'high position' of the parties implicated will overawe any such movement."

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Period Look at Cassius M. Clay

I am about to finish up reading Slavery Unmasked: Being a Truthful Narrative of a Three Years' Residence and Journeying in Eleven Southern States (gotta love those 19th century extended titles) by Rev. Philo Tower published in 1856. And, instead of writing a review of it, I thought I share some of the parts that struck me as interesting over the next few posts.

I have read a number of these Northern travelers' accounts the past. My favorites are probably those from the pen of Frederick Law Olmstead; the future renowned landscape architect. These accounts almost always come from a biased perspective, but if one understands that fact, they can offer so much context on how one section saw the other.

In Chapter 8 the Rev. Tower visited Louisville, Kentucky and took the opportunity to share some thoughts on Cassius M. Clay's reputation. I found them good reading so I will give the quotes here:

"One of [Kentucky's] daring native sons appears to be devoting his life to such a consummation, at least: I allude to the famous Cassius M. Clay. Reader, did you ever hear this singular man in public? I presume you have, while on some of his eastern lecturing tours. Well, just allow me here to describe to you, reader, how he harangues his native Kentuckians, on the subject of SLAVERY. He sends an appointment to a given place, to lecture at a certain time; perhaps some of the citizens will send word that he will not be allowed to lecture there; he sends word back to them that he will lecture there, according to previous notice. The time comes, a great crowd is collected to hear the lecturer or to see the mob; presently the lecturer comes, he passes directly through the crowd, mounts the forum, waves his hand for attention, all eyes are turned towards the speaker. He commences with a firm, clear, and decided tone of voice, the following remarks:

Gentlemen, says he, I have a few preliminaries to settle, previous to entering upon the main subject of discussion. I want to make three short appeals to three classes of persons, whereupon he holds up a small Bible. There, gentlemen says he, is the great charter record of human rights, on which all law and equity is based, deserving the name of law - this is my last appeal to the religious portion of society - and lays it down upon the stand before him. Then he holds up the Constitution of the United States. Here, gentlemen, says he, is the bond of our Union, the noble Constitution of our Glorious Republic, which says that all men are born free and equal, with certain inalienable rights, &c., &c. This is my appeal to gentlemen, to patriots, and to all true hearted Americans, and places it with the Bible before him. Then he puts his hand into his pocket and brings out and enormous six shooter: holding it up before the audience, he exclaims: and here, gentlemen, is a six shooter, every barrel of which is heavily charged with powder and cold lead. This is my appeal to the mobocrats, and I will blow its contents through the heart of the first man who offers to lay his hands on me; to silence men in my native State, or to gag free speech in my presence. This he also lays down upon the stand with his two former appeals, ready for action; then he commences a perfect storm against the peculiar institution, enough to wring the sweat our of old Kentucky from every pore. Such, sir, is the celebrated nephew [actually cousin] of old Henry Clay, in his own State. Success to his efforts. May he live to see the chains fall from every slave in the land of his birth."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I have said it on this forum a number of times in the past, but Reconstruction is without a doubt the most important yet under-taught period in America's history. I would argue that understanding the years that immediately followed the Civil War are as significant as understanding the four years of war.

How our nation attempted to "bind up its wounds" and become one country again is certainly not a pretty story. As one might image, there was much resistance on the part of the former slave states, and much spite delivered by the Northern victors. Both legal and extralegal measures were taken to thwart the important constitutional changes that challenged former racial distinctions in both those slave states that had remained loyal (border states) and those that had seceded. The road to reunion was filled with speed bumps and pot holes; both sides guilty of transgressions and vengeance.

The set of 11 essays contained in The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America's Continuing Civil War (edited by Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller) go a long way toward helping us better understand this confusing and contentious era. In my opinion, the editors did an excellent job of selecting the articles it contains.

I was especially happy to see that two of the essays discussed the unique role Kentucky played in these years. "'I Wanted a Gun': Black Soldiers and White Violence in Kentucky" by Aaron Astor, and "'The Rebel Spirit in Kentucky': The Politics of Readjustment in a Border State, 1865-1868" by Anne E. Marshall, both provide new scholarship about a state that is not commonly thought to have been deeply affected by Reconstruction. Kentucky's unique defiance - holding on to slavery - past the war's end, made sure that it would experience Reconstruction differently than its sister border states of Maryland and Missouri.

Other essays cover a diverse set of topics such as individual's stories (Wade Hampton), gender studies (antislavery women), class discussions (the poor whites of Georgia), race examinations (free people of Color in New Orleans), and even sectional studies (Northern Republicans) in Reconstruction. In fact, this is probably the best set of essays on a wide variety of subjects that have focused on the post-war period that I have ever encountered.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to better comprehend the diverse issues that have largely been overlooked in Reconstruction scholarship. A lot can be learned here. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Great Task Remaining Before Us a 4.75.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kentucky Gov. Robinson and the Emancipation Proclamation, Part I

On January 8, 1863, Kentucky Governor James F. Robinson addressed the General Assembly upon that body's adjournment. Robinson had replaced Beriah Magoffin with the later's resignation in August 1862 - just before Confederate forces advanced into the state.

In this speech Robinson noted the difficult position in which Kentucky found itself and the troubles it had faced by being occupied by both Federal and Confederate troops. Of particular mention in the address was that "the rights of property have not been respected." He complained that "farms have been laid waste, provisions have been seized, forage has been collected, and instead of being brought in open market where the supply would be ample and the competition fair, commissaries have gone with teams and soldiers, taking grain and other commodities from the farmers at whatever price the commissaries chose to affix to them . . . " He also asked rhetorically - or possibly just inquisitively   "Why is it, that all supplies are bought and paid for in Ohio, the Government coming in as any other purchaser, while the same things are unceremoniously seized in Kentucky?" He and other Kentuckians saw this practice as being unfair, even in war.

But, however disturbing that disrespect for property was, "there looms up before . . . a more gigantic evil - one, the bare contemplation of which, sickens the heart and fills all with gloomy and dreadful forebodings." If one could not guess, Governor Robinson was referring the tampering of "slave property of Kentucky."

Robinson declared that it did not matter now if it would have been better or not to have admitted slavery into Kentucky from the beginning - "It was brought from our old mother Virginia and by men who had fought the Revolutionary war . . . " and was now established.

The governor claimed that slavery had advanced the "African captive, the creature of superstitious ignorance and savage cruelty . . . ." According to Robinson the African's positive evolution was due to him being "under the tutelage of a humane but necessary subjection to a superior race . . . ."

He continued that Kentucky wrote slavery into their state constitution and that document certainly agreed with the Federal Constitution's sanction of slavery. Robinson claimed that Kentucky had suffered more from the loss of slaves than any other state of the Union but "she never attempted violence in its recovery." And although Kentucky had "complaint against fanatic citizens of the North Western States," she noted the difference between individuals and their state governments and held the individuals not the states responsible.

Robinson declared that Kentucky was well aware that the constitutions of the federal government and state governments "constituted her best safeguard for her slave and every other species of property . . . ." And, Kentucky had refused the enticements of the Southern Confederacy because of this fact. During the Bleeding Kansas years, Kentucky "looked on with indifference" and let the matter be settled as the laws allowed. Too, Kentucky, although their candidate of choice was not selected, had been encouraged that the Republican Party had a platform that disavowed "any right or purpose to interfere with slavery in the States where it already existed by law."

Robinson said that at the outbreak of the war Kentucky assumed no move would be made that could not be undone to fix "a peaceful adjustment of all pending difficulties. She never allowed herself for one moment to stop to discuss the value of the Union. In her estimation nothing could compare with its value, or compensate its loss; and hence, when Southern politicians made bare their treasonable purposes, regardless of the disruption it made in her own social fabric, and the utter derangement and ruin of her commercial interests, she took her stand on the side of the Union and had maintained it with her treasure and her blood. The Constitution of the Union has not yet been changed and with her consent never shall be." [Emphasis in original]

To be continued...
Image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Clay, the Hunter of Kentucky

Henry Clay is the hunter, and various Democrats his quarry. Clay wears a fringed buckskin outfit and coonskin cap reminiscent of Davy Crockett and the Western characters of the contemporary stage, such as Nimrod Wild-Fire or Jibbenainosay. (In Bucholzer's earlier cartoon "Treeing Coons," no. 1844-20, James Polk wears a similar costume.) He grasps a rattlesnake with the head of incumbent President John Tyler. In his belt are two trophies, the Van Buren fox and Polk goose. He stands on the trunk of a felled "Hickory" tree (an allusion to Democratic patriarch Andrew Jackson), while an eagle hovers over him displaying a ribbon with the Whig campaign slogan, "Honor To Whom Honor Is Due." Clay says, "Thus perish the enemies of my Country, and of the People, who have honored me with their suffrages!" To the left stands Clay's running-mate Theodore Frelinghuysen, holding John C. Calhoun and Thomas Hart Benton by the seats of their trousers. He addresses Clay, "Here, noble Hunter! I have found two non-descript Animals! One of them is continually bawling about mint drops! and the other is yelling about disunion and nullification!" "Mint drops," slang for gold coin, were popular symbols of Benton's hard-money philosophy. Calhoun's leadership in the South's 
movement for nullification of the federal tariff of 1828 marked him as an advocate of disunion.

Interpretation and image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lincoln's Appeal to the Border States

On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln invited the senators and representatives from the border states to hear his offer of compensated emancipation to their states' slaves.

Lincoln explained to those gathered that he wanted to take this opportunity to speak to them since congress was set to adjourn soon. He believed that the border states men held "more power for good than any other equal number of [Congressional] members" and thus felt obligated to make his appeal.

He told them that if they had accepted gradual compensated emancipation back in March that "the war would now be substantially ended." He believed that if the seceded states saw that the border states would give up their slaves and never join their cause, those seceded states would quickly surrender, but he emphasized  "you can not divest them of their hope to ultimately have you with them so long as you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within your own states."

Lincoln asked them, "Can you, for your states, do better than to take the course I urge?"  He understood that they preferred "that the constitutional relation to the states to the nation" should be "practically restored, without disturbance of the institution," and that if it could be done he would be doing his whole duty under the constitution. But it was not being done, and thus they were "trying to accomplish it by war." Lincoln wanted them to know that war changed things and it would surely change slavery ". . .the institution in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion-by the mere incidents of war. It will be gone, and you will have  nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of it's value is gone already."

With this clear he asked how much better would it be to do something to help end the war, end the bloodshed, and at the same time receive some remuneration for it? He did not call for "emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually."  He suggested that there were accommodations in South America for colonization of those freed and that they would be willing to go when sufficient numbers settle there.

The president mentioned his repudiation of General David Hunter's proclamation freeing slaves and that he was feeling pressure from those that disagreed with his decision. Lincoln told the border state men that their acceptance of his offer could relieve that pressure and help the country all pull in the same direction to win the war.

Lincoln closed asking for due consideration. "You are patriots and statesmen; and, and such, I pray you, consider this proposition; and, at the least, commend it to the consideration of your states and people."  He continued that "Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views, and boldest action to bring it speedy relief. Once relieved, it's form of government is saved to the world; it's beloved history, and cherished memories are vindicated; and it's happy future fully assured, and rendered inconceivably grand."

Twenty of the border state senators and representatives issued a majority reply two days later spurning Lincoln's offer. They claimed that the federal government couldn't afford the compensation to the owners and that freeing slaves would make the Confederacy even more determined, not less.  Too, they believed that emancipation would fire up the secession impulse in their states.

The next day a minority reply was made by eight men in approval of Lincoln's appeal.

I would argue that it was not a matter of money. The president could have offered $1000.00 for each slave and the border states still would have turned him down. I would content that the issue was much more social than economic. Border state whites did not want freed African Americans living in their midst - they knew most freedmen would not willingly colonize and if they were free then there was the possibility of them becoming citizens and thus potentially equals - something they were not willing to consider.

So, over the next couple of years Lincoln's prophecy came true - the war wiped away slavery, albeit faster in some states than others. Maryland gave up slavery in November 1864, and Missouri in January 1865. Kentucky and Delaware held out until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment forced the issue in December 1865.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I apologize for the moratorium on posts over the last two and a half weeks, but I have been in the air and on the road, both traveling for work and taking some personal vacation time. The time away afforded me opportunities to finish reading a new book.

The historical record gives us many examples of men who made their escape from slavery, but enslaved women's perspectives are much rarer. To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker, by Duke University history professor Sydney Nathans, provides such a perspective. Using an extensive collection of both Walker's Southern owners' and Northern allies family papers and diaries, along with other impressive primary sources, her story comes to life.

In 1848, Mary Walker took advantage of her position as maidservant for the wealthy Cameron family of North Carolina to make her escape. When Mary went with a Cameron daughter to Philadelphia to receive treatment for consumption, she used the opportunity to run away. In fear of the newly enacted fugitive slave law, she was later persuaded to move to Boston for better protection.

Throughout much of Mary Walker's amazing Northern existence she pined to reunite with those family members she left in North Carolina, her mother, her daughter and her son. Her Northern allies attempted several schemes to bring the family out of slavery, all without success. However, her plight put Mary and her benefactors in contact with a number of the era's leading abolitionists such as African Americans William Still, Lewis Hayden, and the eminent Frederick Douglass, as well as Samuel Gridley Howe and his wife, and Henry Beecher Stowe, and Oliver Otis Howard.

During the Civil War Mary even went to the sea islands in South Carolina to work with and help freed people there, but it took the capture of Raleigh, North Carolina by Union troops in 1865 to finally free Mary Walker's family from slavery. Mary's mother had passed away, but daughter Agnes and son, Bryant were eventually reunited with their mother in Boston.

Mary Walker's journey from enslaved woman to free person shows the great risks, sacrifices, and patience individuals had to endure to find liberty. It also shows that they were active agents in their own pursuit of freedom, not only for themselves, but for their fellow slaves as well. To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker is a great story that is well researched and written and that should be required reading for all Americans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lee Demands John Brown's Surrender at Harpers Ferry

After a day and a half of shootouts and standoffs Colonel Robert E. Lee demanded the surrender of John Brown and his remaining raiders via Lieutenant James Ewell Brown Stuart.

On the morning of October 18, 1859, Stuart, who would become a dashing cavalry general under Lee in the Civil War, approached the barred door of the fire engine house at the Harpers Ferry armory. The door creaked and opened only a few inches. Inside, peering out at Stuart, was Old John Brown. Stuart had run into "Old Osawatomie Brown" during his stint serving in Bleeding Kansas. The lieutenant handed the old man Lee's demand for immediate surrender.

"Colonel Lee U.S.A. Comm. the troops send by the President of the U.S. to suppress the insurrection at this place; demands the surrender of the persons in the Armory buildings.

If they will peaceably surrender themselves & restore the pillaged property; they shall be kept in safety to await the orders of the President.

Col. Lee represents to them in all frankness that it is impossible for them to escape; that the Armory is surrounded on all sides by troops; & that if he is compelled to take them by force he cannot answer for their safety.
R.E. Lee
Col. Commd.
U.S. Troops"

Brown refused the surrender demand.

Stuart gave the signal and the Marines rushed the fire engine house with sledge hammers. The hammers didn't work, so a heavy ladder was used to batter the door down.

It a very few minutes it was all over. Brown was wounded in the fight; a nasty gash in the head.

If the old man had been killed in the assault, history may have been much different. But, he didn't. He went to the gallows and died as a martyr in the eyes of many Northerners - and a heinous villain to most Southerners. The seeds of war were sown.

Image courtesy of the National Archives

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

John Brown's Constitution

On this date 153 years ago Northern militant abolitionist John Brown and his men descended on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and changed American history.

After the shooting stopped, the dust settled and Brown and his men were captured, killed or put to flight, among the items found at the Maryland farmhouse Brown used to fine tune and launch his attack, were copies of his Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States.

Brown composed the document while a visitor in Frederick Douglass' Rochester, New York home in 1858. His goal in writing the laws of his utopia was a society where blacks and whites were equal before the law. The document's preamble bears this out.

"Whereas, slavery throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination; in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence: Therefore

We the Citizens of the United States, and oppressed people, who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court [Dred Scott Decision] are declared to have no rights which the White Man is bound to respect; together with all of the people degraded by the laws thereof, Do, for the time being ordain and establish ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, the better to protect our Persons, Property, Lives, and Liberties; and to govern our actions:

Article 1
Qualifications for membership
All persons of mature age, whether Proscribed, oppressed, and enslaved Citizens, or of the Proscribed and oppressed races of the United States, who shall agree to sustain and enforce the Provisional Constitution and Ordinance of this organization, together with all minor children of such persons, shall be held to be fully entitled to protection under the same."

And, while Brown's constitution was racially radical for the time, it was also subjective in regard to his views on moral behavior. One later article states, "Profane swearing, filthy conversation, indecent behavior, or indecent exposure of the person, or intoxication, or quarreling  shall not be allowed or tolerated; neither unlawful intercourse of the sexes."

To read Brown's constitution in full check out the following link to it at the National Archives:
John Brown's Constitution 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Photograph: Spreading Hemp in Kentucky

I found the above picture of African American workers spreading out hemp in a Kentucky field for the crop to dew rot. Once cut and shocked, hemp was spread on the ground to collect dew which naturally rotted the stalk. The stalks were finally collected together and broken to get the fibers inside.

This image was taken in 1896 for a report on hemp and jute culture in the United States by the federal government.

Image courtesy the Filson Historical Society.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

1870 Voting Trouble in Kentucky

As we approach election time I thought I'd post a short article that shows that nasty campaigns, and charges of election fraud, violence, and disfranchisement are nothing new. This short notice was printed in the November 11, 1870 edition of the Lexington Daily Press.

The 1870 election was particularly contentious in Kentucky. It was the first opportunity for African American men to vote since the Fifteenth Amendment was passed (February 1870). Not only was there violence by white Democrats in attempt to keep African American Republicans from casting their votes, but apparently intraracial violence occurred too when those of one's race did not vote as they were expected.

The notice read:
"Robert Harris, colored, who voted the Democratic ticket, and worked at Scott's [hemp] factory, lost his place as hackler, besides was rather roughly handled, and cut by negroes at that factory. This mode of treating those of the colored people who vote their principles is rather a dangerous business and intolerable in a community like ours."