Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Not attempting to sound boastful, but rarely do I find an excellent Civil War book that I was at least not aware existed. But, while reading a few books recently on the "common people" of the Civil War era I came across a couple of bibliographical references to The Private Civil War, by archivist Randall C. Jimerson. Well, I'm not sure how I missed this one all these years, because it was an excellent read, but I'm certainly glad I found it. Better late than never, right?

When it was published, in 1988, it would was one of the early studies of the "plain folk's" perceptions of the era in which they lived. To get at the heart of the matter that the author was examining Jimerson consulted multitudes of letters and diaries from people at almost all segments of society and military ranks. However, as the author admits, due to the book's focus on sectional consciousness, these accounts do not include African American individuals' views. Jimerson explains that could be best done in a separate work.

The book covers four broad themes from both Northern and Southern perspectives over six chapters. First, Jimerson covers what the war meant to individuals, both soldiers and civilians, men and women, and why they decided to fight or sympathize with one side or the other. The second theme covered is the effect that the war had on racial attitudes and how African American roles changed in society during the war. While these views of African Americans came only from white citizens, they are quite insightful. The third theme that was covered, and what was probably my favorite, was a look at how Northerners and Southerners perceived each other. These views about the differences in sectional attitudes came not only from living in a slavery society versus living in a free labor society, but also from differences in culture and history. Finally, Jimerson examines wartime divisions within each society. For example, in the South, conscription divided the Confederacy along class lines, while in the North, Peace Democrats divided opinions on prosecuting the war.

As one can image the range of opinions varied widely, which only proves that the Civil War was as complicated (if not more so) asany war in America's experience.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give The Private Civil War a 5.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bloody Monday Perspectives, Part 2

A month after Bloody Monday, Louisville attorney James Speed wrote to William Thompson who had requested Speed to describe what he witnessed that terrible day.

In the letter Speed explained that he went to vote early that morning and at the polls he found people making a lot of noise and cheering for Know Nothing candidate Humphrey Marshall, who was a Mexican War veteran and future Confederate general. After eating breakfast Speed went to the courthouse where he saw from a window "Irishmen and Germans beaten and chased from the courthouse yard." He left the courthouse and started to his nearby law office. From his office he saw more Germans and Irish being attacked at the courthouse. He explained, "It was not fighting man to man, but as many as could would fall upon a single Irish or German and beat him with sticks or short clubs - not walking canes, but short clubs." He advised all foreigners he saw to avoid the courthouse. He explained that the Know-Nothings distinguished themselves by wearing yellow tickets in their hats or on their lapels.

At about 2:30 p.m. he saw a number of men armed with muskets and clubs. When Speed asked what was going on a judge replied that the Germans had possession of the first ward polls and that the men were going to take it back. Speed replied that he didn't believe that was true. That afternoon Speed saw numerous bloodied Irish being taken off to the city jail. Before leaving work that day Speed saw a crowd herding a bloodied Irishman along, one man using a pitchfork as motivation. At this same time he saw "a little German who was going up Jefferson Street. They raised the shout 'move him.' He ran pursued by the crowd. He was stricken many times before he got into the courthouse yard gate. Soon after he got into the yard he was knocked down and most unmercifully beaten. To escape the blows he crawled under the Know Nothing stand, and from where I stood I thought the man with the iron fork stabbed him under there. In this I was told I was mistaken...I still think that the man with the pitchfork struck the man when down.

He went on to say, "I saw no foreigner misbehave or do or say an insolent thing. The Know Nothings had clubs and yelled incessantly." Finally, he related one last incident. "About dinner time I saw a small German knocked from the front steps or from the upper platform to the bottom. I thought that the fall would kill him. They ran down, beat him with clubs as he got up, and as he ran pelted him with stones. A man met him and knocked him down. Captain Reausseau got up where they were and saved him."

Speed went on to have a successful career as Abraham Lincoln's attorney general, but I am sure the sights of Bloody Monday stuck with him to his last days.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, by Dr. Stephanie McCurry of the University of Pennsylvania, is a book that was receiving significant notice even before it was released in 2010. I had read McCurry's Master's of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of Antebellum South Carolina Low Country in graduate school and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I looked forward to reading this new work.

An informative opening prologue provided insight into what was to be covered over the following eight chapters. However, I thought the author kind of beat a dead horse by reminding the reader that, "The short-lived Confederate States of America was a signal event in the history of the Western World. What secessionists set out to build was something entirely new in the history of nations: a modern proslavery and antidemocratic state, dedicated to the proposition that all men were not created equal." I don't disagree with that summation, but the author apparently felt the need to repeat it again and again and again.

The thesis of the book, as I interpret it, is that some of those who were not intended to have a political say in the newly created nation - namely white women and African American slaves - did indeed end up forcing the C.S.A. to deal with them politically.

Women in the South, like women in the North, basically had no political power in the mid-nineteenth century. They could not vote or serve on juries and were for the most part "covered" by their husbands, or fathers if not married. McCurry used numerous letters written to Confederate officials and state governors, largely from soldiers' wives and mothers, as evidence to show that these women demanded attention during the war. Attention was demanded because many of them were starving with their husbands and military age sons in the war and therefore not able to grow subsistence crops. These poor women naturally did not own slaves that could have done that work, and many of the wives had sons too young to help with labor intensive farm chores. In addition to the petition letters, a number of riots, the so-called "bread riots," the spring of 1863, in which women were the principle players, forced the Confederate government's attempt to create a quasi-welfare system to make provisions and better attempts to provide for these destitute soldiers' wives and mothers in order to try to prevent further internal demoralization.

Slaves too, like women, were not supposed to have any political power, especially in a society where they were considered property rather than persons. The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision had clearly stated in 1857 that slaves could not be citizens. But, during the Civil War South, slaves forced the issue by exercising political power with the feet. When slaves fled to Union lines upon the approach to their locales, it posed a serious problem for the Confederates. When the war began Southerners felt that slavery provided them with great strength rather than a terrible liability. Southerners simply thought that slave labor would offset the North's population advantage because slaves could do various work that would allow as many white men as possible to serve as fighting soldiers. But, they didn't think their slaves would be unfaithful and runaway. To be fair, most slaves were not touched by the Union army, but those areas that were invaded by the Union army were flooded with bondsmen and women. Many of these runaway slaves aided the Confederate's enemy by providing vital military information. And, they also provided valuable labor that the South needed. Through slaves' agency the Confederate government was forced to consider questions they never thought about before. Could a slave be charged for treason? If he or she was not a citizen, did they owe any allegiance to the government, which they could break? In addition, as attrition wore down the Confederate army through deaths by battle, diseases and captures no more white men were forthcoming because there simply were too few. Confederates had to eventually consider the previously unthinkable. Could slaves be made into soldiers? The issue was debated by soldiers and officers in the field, most famously by General Patrick Cleburne, but it was also debated in the Confederate Congress and among the highest levels of the Confederate cabinet and military officials. Slaves in the most unusual way showed they had the ability to influence Confederate politics.

The things I enjoyed most about Confederate Reckoning is that it made me ponder some things that I had not previously considered, and it exposed sources such as those soldiers' wive's letters that have not been explored much.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Confederate Reckoning a 4.75.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bloody Monday Perspectives, Part 1

One of American history's ugly warts happened in Louisville, Kentucky on election day, August 6, 1855. There on the streets of that city a veritable riot occurred that saw attacks on the Irish and German Catholic immigrant population by native-born whites, most belonging to the American or Know-Nothing Party.

Louisville Daily Journal publisher and Know-Nothing booster George Prentice called for vigilance against the immigrant population in order to insure political power did not stray in his newspaper the day before the riots occurred.

Naturally, as in any atrocity, blame was cast in numerous directions. Rival newspaper, the Louisville Democrat, which courted the immigrant vote, printed a short notice in the following days: "The attempt to lay blame upon our foreign population will be a failure. The fact is known to all that that were armed at the demonstrations made against them at the previous elections. Instead of being excited to violence they were apprehensive of attacks upon them, and very few could be induced to go near the polls. We leave the public to judge if men in this condition would be likely to provoke a dominant organized party, who had evidently had the physical force at command, and were believed to be determined to use it at will."

The Know-Nothing Louisville Journal mockingly replied to the Democrat's comments: "'We leave it to the public to judge' whether a victorious party, the party that had the numerical strength, a party that at noon was over 1,300 votes ahead, was likely to get up a riot. There was no inducement for any such insane procedure. The fact that the assaults upon Americans did not begin until after the Sag Nichts found that they were beaten at the polls is almost conclusive evidence that it was the chagrin of the latter at such a result that imperiled them to deeds of violence. It would have been folly and madness on the part of the Americans to keep peace and preserve order throughout the day at the polls, and they did so. Whenever a fight or disturbance at the polls was begun it was promptly stopped. And but for for the shooting of Americans passing in the streets the day would have passed of with more quiet than is usual on an election day."

The Journal continued below this story with another: "We are assured upon good authority that Francis Quinn, who was found dead in one of the blocks of burnt houses belonging to him was seen a few days since [ago] with a double-barreled shot-gun and a supply of shot, which he said he had procured for use on the day of the election. While his building was burning there was a constant report of firearms inside, the discharges being produced by the heat. These instruments of death had evidently been provided for dealing death to Americans. The explosions of powder whilst his houses were on fire showed that he had laid in a large quantity of ammunition. We deeply regret Mr. Quinn's death, yet all the evidence proves that his blood is upon his own head."

Finally, attempting to blame anyone but themselves, the Know-Nothings printed: "WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RIOT.-This is a question which must be answered. There is a terrible responsibility somewhere and the proper parties, let them be who they may, must bear it. One thing at least is known. The foreigners in this city, more especially the Catholic Irish, from some cause and at some instigation, were armed to the teeth, and, using their arms, from houses, behind barriers, and from their skulking places have shot down remorselessly, unoffending citizens as they passed in the streets. Of the terrible, the horrible consequences of these assaults we have no the heart to speak. There is no language too strong-there is no language strong enough, for this condemnation. It will be the duty, and the duty must be sternly performed, of the Coroner to thoroughly investigate the facts and when the inquest is made we shall have more to say."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Web Wanderings

I subscribe to a number of email listserves to keep up on conference notices, book reviews and historical questions that scholars are asking and attempting to answer. Sometimes the posts are valuable and interesting and sometimes...well, not so much. Today one came across the H-South listserve that really caught my attention and that I wanted to share here.

A number of graduate Public History students at the University of South Carolina have created an excellent website about the history of slavery at South Carolina College (the precursor of the University of South Carolina).

Here is the information from their homepage:

"This website is intended to tell the largely unknown and unfamiliar story of slavery at South Carolina College, the institutional predecessor of the University of South Carolina.

Slaves played a fundamental role at the college between its founding in December 1801 and February 1865, when slaves saw themselves liberated by the arrival of federal troops in Columbia in the final months of the Civil War. The primary buildings of South Carolina College survive as the historic heart of the modern campus—known today as the Horseshoe—and were constructed by slave labor and built of slave-made brick.

If one stands today on the steps of the university’s McKissick Museum and gazes toward Sumter Street, almost all of the buildings that constituted South Carolina College on the eve of the Civil War are visible. (The original president’s house has been replaced by McKissick Museum and several extant antebellum buildings are obscured by structures and vegetation.) It is a surprisingly intact and well-preserved “landscape of slavery.”

Slaves were essential to the daily operations of the antebellum institution, in addition to their role in shaping its built environment. Whether they were owned outright by the faculty or the college itself, or hired from private parties, slaves maintained campus buildings, cleaned student tenements and faculty duplexes, and prepared meals at the student dining commons, faculty residences, and the president’s house. Slaves lived and worked in now-forgotten outbuildings located behind the buildings of the present-day Horseshoe.

Slavery also shaped the contours of the intellectual and political world at South Carolina College. Presidents and faculty members became some of the nation’s most ardent defenders of slavery, even as a handful emerged to oppose the institution. The college prepared its students to assume positions of political leadership within the state and in Washington, D.C., and many alumni came to play pivotal roles as proponents of South Carolina’s economic and racial interests in the sectional crisis that culminated in civil war. These political and intellectual leaders are relatively easy to trace in libraries and archives through their writings and their records of public service. More challenging to research are the names, much less the lives, of individual college slaves or the full details of slavery at the college."

Take a look for yourself and leave them some feedback on what you think!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just Finished Reading

What? A book read in a day? Yep, this book was that good. O.K., it was only 180 pages or so of text, so it was not all that difficult, but again, it was hard to put down.

Since the late 1980s numerous studies on the soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies have been published and have seemingly covered just about every topic one could imagine. But, until this book, a real close look at the idea of honor and manhood in the Union army had not been completed. Traditionally, studies on honor have dealt with Southerners, but as Lorien Foote contends and proves in The Gentlemen and the Roughs, honor meant a great deal to many of those men who served from the North too.

Foote made extensive use of regimental order books and courts-martial records as her basis of evidence. These documents, largely overlooked by previous researchers and historians, provided her with numerous cases where individual soldiers' (both enlisted men and officers) idea's of honor were tested and played out...many to deadly effect.

Foote explains that Northern ideals of honor included many levels. For some men, especially those from the upper levels of society - the gentlemen - honor was obtained by being self controlled. These men believed that those of like status would hold them in high esteem if they maintained a level of coolness in heated exchanges in camp and dire situations in combat. This often played out on the battlefield where officers were expected to lead their men in their fights, seemingly oblivious to the dangers around them. But, the Union army was not only composed of gentlemen; it had its fair share of "roughs" as well. These men, usually poor urban factory workers and rural farm laborers, brought a different idea of honor to their armies. These men felt that manhood and honor was expressed in physical prowess. They fought in camp to prove their manliness and spoke back to officers when they felt their honor had been offended. Obviously, this disregard for hierarchy happened quite often in a system that threw men from diverse backgrounds into situations that demanded deference to a military superior from those unused to giving to giving any deference. A section of the book on page 108 sums up this idea nicely. "Northern society contained too much socioeconomic diversity for a standard of honor to be widely shared across a larger community as was the case in the south. All men did not value honor in the first place; among those who did, there were different standards of worth and different methods to prove worth to one's peers."

I was pleased to find that the author also explored honor and manhood as it was applied in U.S.C.T. units as well. Here, the examination process for officers, designed to select the best men to lead these soldiers, often did not weed out racism as well as was hoped. Officers' racial assumptions and prejudices sometimes changed how they handled black troops, much as ethnic and class stereotypes affected relations between officers and men in all-white units. Punishments for military offenses that former slaves thought resembled their past lives were often resisted, which many times led to even greater difficulties between officers and men.

This is a wonderful book that is well researched and easy to read. On scale of 1 to 5, I give The Gentlemen and the Roughs a 5.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Just Finished Reading

To me social history makes some of the best reading. Getting at the the nitty-gritty of what life was like for people in the mid-nineteenth century - their thoughts, ambitions, struggles - makes that time period come even more alive for me. The title of this book is what peaked my curiosity to read it. It sounded like quite an ambitious topic to take on in 330 or so pages. But, having read some of Scott Nelson's previous works and having met Carol Sheriff (both William and Mary professors) when I worked at Pamplin Historical Park, I figured that they could probably pull it off. And I believe they have.

This book's title sounded very similar to another title that I have sitting on the shelf, A People's History of the Civil War, by David Williams. I have not read Williams' book as yet, but it's in line. It will be interested to compare the two.

The last paragraph on the inside dust jacket pretty well sums up A People at War: "An engrossing account of ordinary people caught up in life-shattering circumstances, A People's War captures how the Civil War rocked the lives of rich and poor, black and white, parents and children - and how all of these Americans pushed generals and presidents to make the conflict a people's war."

One of the things I appreciated most about the book is that it did not just start right in on the Civil War. It provides a nice contextual introduction in the first section, "From Compromise to Chaos, 1854-1861." That section includes two chapters, "The Road to Bleeding Kansas," and "From Wigwam to War." Three sections of 10 chapters make up the majority of the book and cover the war year experiences of citizens and slaves. Like the helpful first section, the author's provide a necessary final section that covers the Reconstruction years; "Rebuilding the Nation, 1865-1877." In this last section I found the author's coverage of Northerner Albion Tourgee's experience in Reconstruction North Carolina especially insightful.

This book is littered with accounts of deserters (from both sides), women ammunition factory workers, soldiers who bought substitutes, slaves who fled to Union lines, hospital workers, laundry women, foreign sailors, Southern refugees, plantation owners and scores of other people that had a part, albeit sometimes minor, in our nation's greatest struggle. Many of these people and their stories have long been neglected in favor studies of the famous generals, politicians and even the common soldier; this book provides those previously left out with historical voice.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give A People at War at 4.5

By the way....what an incredible cover photo!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Runaway..

Looking for some primary sources to share with teachers in an upcoming workshop I ran across an advertisement for a runaway slave in an August 1855 edition of the Louisville Daily Journal. This particular issue spent the majority of its space covering the "Bloody Monday" riots, which I will post on soon.

The ad stated:
"Ran away from the subscriber, in Jefferson county, on Friday, July 20, the negro man REUBEN, 45 years old, a broad, well-built man, very black, high, well-formed nose, white teeth, and receding forehead; hair generally kept plaited and very long; one hand much injured by a cut, so he cannot more than half open it; fine appearance for a negro. I will give $50 reward for him if taken in State, or $100 if taken out of State and secured so that I can get him. L.I. Dorsey"

I don't believe that I have ever ran across a runaway ad that described a male slave with plaited long hair. However, it was not unusual to describe slaves with scars or injuries, as it provided a good and positive identifier. It would be interesting to know how this slave's hand was cut. Was it an accident? Was it self-imposed? Did it happen in a fight?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Kentucky Military Institute Gave Some

In the digital collections of the Kentucky Historical Society are a number of photographs from the 1859 class of the Kentucky Military Institute. As one might expect a number of these young men found their way into the Civil War. A large number of the students were from Southern states and thus fought for the Confederacy. Some of the images have information about which unit that the individual served with and if they died during the war; others I have found with basic internet searches. Unfortunately, on some, I was not able to find any soldier information, but still included them here. However, as the majority of military age men in the South served, it is probably safe to say they went to war.
In the digital collections of the Kentucky Historical Society are a number of photographs from the 1859 class of the Kentucky Military Institute. As one might expect a number of these young men found their way into the Civil War. A large number of the students were from Southern states and thus fought for the Confederacy. Some of the images have information about which unit that the individual served with and if they died during the war; others I have found with basic internet searches. Unfortunately, on some, I was not able to find any definitive soldier information, but still included them here. However, as the majority of military age men in the South served, it is probably safe to say they went to war.


Thomas Booth from Carrollton, Mississippi. The image is marked, "The Utility & evils of innovation."


R.C. Coleman from Church Hill, Mississippi became captain of Company H, 40th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. He was killed at the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi on September 19, 1862. The image is marked "Southern Education" on the front and on the back that he was killed "while gallantly leading and cheering on his men."
R.C. Coleman from Church Hill, Mississippi became captain of Company H, 40th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. He was killed at the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi on September 19, 1862. The image is marked "Southern Education" on the front and on the back that he was killed "while gallantly leading and cheering on his men."

P.G. Roussel from Bonnet Carre, Louisiana. P.G. Roussel from Bonnet Carre, Louisiana.

L. Charles Roussel from Bonne Carre, Louisiana and obviously the brother of P.G. Roussel, above. This image is inscribed "Faith and Reason." L. Charles Roussel from Bonne Carre, Louisiana and obviously the brother of P.G. Roussel, above. This image is inscribed "Faith and Reason."

J.W. Kemper from St. Joseph Missouri served in the 3rd Missouri Infantry Regiment (CSA) and died at Coffeyville, Mississippi on October 30, 1862 after being wounded at the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi. The image is marked, "American Filibusterism."
J.W. Kemper from St. Joseph Missouri served in the 3rd Missouri Infantry Regiment (CSA) and died at Coffeyville, Mississippi on October 30, 1862 after being wounded at the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi. The image is marked, "American Filibusterism."



E.R. Archinard was from Alexandria, Louisiana. A search shows he served as a captain in the 2nd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Louisiana Militia. He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April 6, 1862. The image is marked "Heart Yearnings."



D.W. Ramsay was from Allentown, Alabama. The photograph is marked "Ireland: as she is & as she should be." Ramsay served as a captain of Company B in the 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment.



Ben Morrison's photograph is marked "Modern Greece." He died at Guadalupe County, Texas on April 18, 1861, probably from disease.


The one Northerner was assistant math instructor and 1858 graduate H.V.N. Boynton. Interestingly, he served in the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which spent a significant period of his wartime service in Kentucky. He was from Cincinnati, Ohio.

The one Northerner was assistant math instructor and 1858 graduate H.V.N. Boynton. Interestingly he served in the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which spent a significant period of his wartime service in Kentucky. He was from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Uncle Kirby Wants You for the CS Army

I love historic handbills and broadsides. It is amazing that so many of these pieces of ephemera have survived, but thankfully they have because they tell us so much about the past.

Take the above for instance. This one was issued by Major General Edmund Kirby Smith in attempt to recruit Kentuckians to join the Confederate army when they invaded the state in 1862. It was apparently tacked to a tree in Harrison County. It clearly makes an effort to use native Kentuckians and Confederate commanders John C. Breckinridge and Simon Bolivar Buckner as a means of appeal to the men of the state. The bill also explains that Kentucky's and the Confederacy's interests are one.

It says:
"Kentuckians, I am authorized by the President of the Confederacy to organize troops and issue commissions. I appeal to you to make one effort for your principles, for your institutions [slavery] and for your state. Rally under your flag, organize and muster your men in the cause of the South. Breckenridge [sic], Buckner and their brave Kentuckians are on their way to join you. Make one effort, strike one blow and your state will be saved, from Yankee thraldom [sic] and take place in the van of the Confederacy, where her interests, her institutions and her principles rightfully place her.
Kirby Smith, Major Gen. C.S.A."

Courtesy Kentucky Historical Society

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I am a real big fan of these "documentary" histories. For me, there's nothing quite like reading numerous primary sources associated with a subject, especially if they have been edited well. Ira Berlin and Leslie Rowland, both from the University of Maryland, certainly have the expertise to tackle such a task and passed again with flying colors. Berlin and Rowland were the primary movers in the Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation series (4 volumes) and are the lead faculty for the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland.

This book contains eight chapters and cover a wide variety of topics and geographic regions. Chapter 1, "Escape, Rescue and Recapture: Families and the Wartime Struggle for Freedom" provides accounts from runaway slaves, those that received them in Union lines, and those that demanded their return during the Civil War. As one might image many of these accounts were written by barely literate individuals that spelled phonetically or simply by guessing. The editors did a great job of transcribing the documents and maintaining their historical integrity, but making them understandable when necessary. Images of a number of the primary sources are also provided, which lets one compare them to the transcriptions. In addition, the editors have included photographs of slaves and also images from period periodicals such as Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.

Other chapters provide excellent accounts from black soldiers' families in Free States and Border States, as well as documents from families in the post-war occupation armies. Many of the black soldiers who enlisted did so late in the war (often from no fault of their own) and thus for many, their enlistments did not end with the end of hostilities but instead lasted into the early years of Reconstruction and sometimes in remote locations such as Texas.

I was pleased to find that a significant number of the accounts provided in the book came from soldiers and families that came from Kentucky or had ties to the Bluegrass state. Kentucky, unlike most of the other slave states, did not outlaw teaching slaves to read and write, thus there was likely a higher literacy rate in Kentucky slaves that those from other states. One letter that stands out was from a soldier of the 5th United States Colored Cavalry who wrote from Lexington in October 1865 to Secretary of War Stanton complaining that his officers were robbing the regiment's enlisted men of their pay money and selling their rations. He also complained that the officers had the soldiers working on citizens' farms pulling stumps and clearing brush and that the soldiers were not allowed to make purchases except from the regiment's sutler. The officers also allegedly would not issue furloughs to these soldiers so near their homes and families and would not allow soldiers' wives into camp to visit. Similar accounts from others, both soldiers and families, requested discharges from everyone from the president to the Secretary of War to take care of their dependents and provide protection.

Families and Freedom is a valuable and usable resource. I highly recommend it to gain a better understanding of the experiences of black soldiers and their families during and after the war. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I know one of the first things that many young Civil War enthusiasts try to do is make homemade hardtack. I know I gave it a try as a boy, and it turned out horrible. And, although Civil War soldiers didn't have to make their own hardtack, I suppose they probably had a similar result their first time trying to cook on the campaign.

In A Taste for War, author William C. Davis explains that most Civil War soldiers had little to no experience in cooking before volunteering for armed service. Some soldiers improved their skills over time, others found a comrade to do their cooking for them, others just got by somehow. Most longed for the days back home when a mother or sister or wife did the cooking and the results were tasty and nutritious.

Nevertheless, men had to eat, and eat they did. Sometimes it was a sumptuous meal provided by local ladies, as was common early in the war; sometimes it was weevil infested hardtack and salt pork served in camp or garrison, other times it was dried vegetables that the army called desiccated vegetables, but the soldiers called "desecrated" vegetables. If a soldier found himself in a prison camp he might even eat a rat or be issued a mere handful of corn meal. If a soldier landed in a hospital he may be served chicken soup, often without any of the bird. If he was besieged, as at Vicksburg, a soldier could resort to eating just about anything, including horses, mules, dogs and cats.

Largely, soldiers both North and South, ate food that was unhealthy and not at all nutritious. Meats were often preserved in salt or brine, usually in large enough quantities to damage the taste buds and send one's blood pressure through the roof. The bread rations were usually hard (hardtack) and difficult to digest, containing only flour and water. Soldiers rarely got fresh fruit and vegetables, and often scavenged for wild onions and other natural sources of needed vitamins to keep scurvy at bay. It is no wonder that so many soldiers died of dysentery and other intestinal disorders.

One my favorite things about this book are the many humorous stories that soldiers told about their experiences involving food. Soldiers in the worst of circumstances can often find a humorous angle. Davis relates numerous funny stories of soldiers preparing, foraging, hiding, eating and even dreaming about their meals. Another favorite part of the book was the excellent pictures and images that the author chose for illustration. Tin cups for coffee (the soldiers' favorite drink), tin plates, knives, forks and hardtack crackers appear in photograph after photograph.

Davis closes the book with about 50 pages of Civil War era recipes, many of which were taken from period newspapers and periodicals. Do you want to know how to make possum with sweet potatoes? It's in there!

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give A Taste for War a 4.25

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Three Years of Random Thoughts

I can't believe that it has been three years since I started this blog. Time flies. It began as a way for me to pass the time as I searched for a new job, stay up on historical scholarship and share my passion for history. I have appreciated the kind words of encouragement and different perspectives that readers have shared. Hopefully we can all improve our understanding of the past by continuing to think about and debate it.

Union Camp Servants in Kentucky, Part II: The Curious Case of Adam

In the Library of Congress is a series of correspondence that involved a Kentucky runaway slave that became a camp servant for a Wisconsin regiment. While there were thousands of instances of runaways fleeing to the approaching Union armies during the Civil War, this particular instance involved a distinguished owner and ended up on President Abraham Lincoln's desk.

When Kentucky's neutrality ended in September 1861 and Union regiments descended from Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, one unit that was included was the 22nd Wisconsin. The 22nd was led by Colonel William Utley. Utley was born in Massachusetts and moved to Racine, Wisconsin in the 1840s. Utley dabbled in local politics, supported the Free Soil Party and then the Republican Party, due largely to its insistence on the non-extension of slavery. Utley was elected a state senator in 1861, and in 1862 he was commissioned colonel of the 22nd Wisconsin. While the 22nd was stationed in northern Kentucky in the fall of 1862 four runaways made their way to their camp. Utley was commanded by General Quincy Gilmore to return the slaves, named John, Abe, George, and Dock, as they were apparently owned by Kentucky Unionists (see letter above).

Utley wrote back to Gilmore that same day and explained that while he recognized Gilmore's authority in military matters, Utley did not think this instance pertained. He flatly refused to handover the contrabands and Gilmore surprisingly did not insist (see letter above). With this instance as precedence, Utley's stance against slavery was certainly strengthened.


Later that fall, Utley and the 22nd Wisconsin encamped in central Kentucky near Nicholasville. While there a small slave, some said a mulatto "dwarf," with an iron collar with spikes, made its way into the regiment's camp. The slave's collar was removed and he was given a job with one of the regiment's orderly sergeants. The slave's name was Adam and we was owned by Lexington, Kentucky resident George Robertson (pictured above). Utley naturally did not know who Robertson was, but most Kentuckians did. Robertson had had a distinguished career in Kentucky politics. He was a former chief justice of Kentucky, professor of law at Transylvania University and long time Whig member to the U.S. House of Representatives. Robertson had also served as the personal attorney for Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln when Mary's father Robert Todd passed away and his estate was settled.

Robertson had hired Adam out to an Irishman who had abused the slave. Adam had informed Robertson of this abuse, but Robertson apparently demanded he return to the Irishman leaser. Adam, fearing for his life, fled and landed in the 22nd Wisconsin's camp after spending a significant time hiding in the woods and living off of acorns. Robertson was a solid Whig Unionist, a personal friend of the late Henry Clay, but he, like Clay, believed that the constitution guarenteed him the right to his property. When Robertson learned of Adam's whereabouts, he attempted to recover the slave. Robertson rode out to the 22nd Wisconsin's camp in his carriage, with his slave coachman, and was flatly refused by Utley. Utley suggested that if Robertson wanted to try to take Adam he could; but at risk to his own personal safety. Robertson was told to leave and he was banned from the camp.

Robertson demanded satisfaction and believed the surest way was to contact President Lincoln. Robertson wrote Lincoln on November 19 and demanded the return of fugitive slaves of Kentucky Unionist owners, but he did not reference the Adam incident specifically. However, Lincoln knew Robertson was referring to Adam as Utley had also contacted the president a couple days earlier on November 17. Lincoln amazingly wrote back to Robertson on November 26 and offered him up to $500 for Adam and asked transfer of ownership to Utley, who could then free the slave to settle the matter once and for all (see letter above). Robertson had already filed civil and criminal complaints against Utley before contacting Lincoln, but nothing brought the return of his slave. On December 1, Robertson wrote in answer to the president and refused Lincoln's offer, as he believed he could get at least $1000 by suit.

Robertson would have to wait for his collection as the 22nd was soon ordered into Tennessee where Utley and a number of his command were captured by Confederates. Utley was eventually exchanged and in 1864 resigned his commission and returned to Wisconsin. Robertson doggedly continued the suit although slavery was outlawed at the end of 1865 with passage of the 13th amendment. Finally in 1871, through the courts, Robertson collected a little over $900 for his slave Adam who had fled almost a decade before. In 1874 Robertson died from complications due to an earlier stroke. Utley was able to laugh last as he was indemnified by the U.S. Treasury through the help of his personal attorney, Lincoln's former attorney general, and Kentuckian, James Speed.

For a fuller and excellently written article on the curious case of Adam see:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Just Finished Reading

One of the first Civil War books that I obtained was Bell I. Wiley's The Life of Johnny Reb. I received it as a gift my senior year of college and I think I read it through in almost a day. This classic led me to look for and find other books on the Civil War's common soldiers. Fortunately there were books such as Gerald Linderman's Embattled Courage, Reid Mitchell's Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and Their Experiences and James I. Robertson's Soldiers Blue and Gray available to feed my interest. The View from the Ground provides good company for those that blazed the trail.

This book, which contains an introduction, nine individual essays and an afterword adds much to the ongoing scholarship that is informing us on numerous aspects of the soldier experience.

There were several of the essays that I particularly enjoyed. Editor Aaron Sheehan-Dean's "The Blue and the Gray in Black and White: Assessing the Scholarship on Civil War Soldiers" provided a nice historiography on the topic and reminded me how much I have enjoyed a number of the books and articles he mentions.

Chandra Manning's essay, "A Vexed Question: White Union Soldiers on Slavery and Race," was also intriguing. Manning examined the evolution of white Union soldiers' thoughts (as expressed in their letters and camp newspapers) on slavery and race as they came into contact with the institution and African Americans during the war. She explains that many of the soldiers became "abolitionized" and "radicalized" by what they saw and experienced while fighting in the South.

Jason Phillips' essay, "A Brother's War? Exploring Confederate Perceptions of the Enemy" and Lisa Laskin's, "The Army Is Not Near So Much Demoralized as the Country Is: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front," both provided thought provoking insights into the feelings of the Southern soldiers and those they were fighting for.

The other essays cover religion and soldiers, soldiers and antiwar movements in the North, soldiers and command leadership and how Confederate soldiers from different states tried to claim the glory in remembering the Battle of the Crater. Joseph T. Glatthaar ends the book with a nice "Afterword" where he explains that, due to the efforts of scholars such as the contributors to this book, Walt Whitman's claim that the "real war" would never make it into the history books, is being proven false.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give A View from the Ground a 4.5

Friday, March 2, 2012

Union Camp Servants in Kentucky, Part I


When Union troops moved into Kentucky and joined their Bluegrass state comrades in arms one of things they observed first-hand and commented on was slavery. For most of these soldiers, mainly from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan, their first experience with the institution came in this key border state.

As the Kentucky state legislature officially ended neutrality in September 1861, politicians and army officials made sure soldiers took a hands-off approach in relation to slaves, so as not to offend slaveholding Kentuckians, and potentially drive them into the Confederacy. The hand bill above, from Harrison County, Kentucky and dated September 28, 1861, bears evidence of this early war stance. It noted, "My soldiers will not interfere with peaceable and law abiding citizens. They will hold no conversation with your negroes, or suffer them to come within the lines of our encampment."

However, after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, things changed significantly. Although Kentucky was not officially subject to Lincoln's edict, Union soldiers, especially those from other states, took in large numbers of runaways and employed them for various camp duties.

In the letter above, from soldier James Magie of the 78th Illinois to his wife, wrote about a runaway in their camp. "We have a contraband in camp who makes us a great deal of fun. He is the greatest dancer I ever saw. He joins in our debates, and makes a right down [damn?] good speech. He is employed by the Colonel and works makes fires, works &c. He means to stay with us until the war is over and then go off to Illinois with us. He is a slave and ran away from Spencer County about 50 miles distant."

Historians have shown that many Union soldiers' attitudes toward slavery changed after making contact with the institution. Soldiers' letters bear out the fact that they hadn't really thought about slavery or what it did to a society in which it existed until they saw it first-hand. That is not to mean that the soldiers' attitudes toward African Americans always changed too. Most soldiers were for whatever would help end the war sooner, but that didn't necessarily mean they wanted African Americans to have the same social standing and political opportunities that whites enjoyed.

Images courtesy Kentucky Historical Society and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just Finished Reading

It happens to me all too often. I see a book title that I think looks super, I buy the book while I am in the middle of reading something else and I put it on the bookshelf and there it sits and sits and sits. I bought this book at the Harper's Ferry NPS bookstore when I visited there to do some research about a year and a half ago.

Well, I finally got to it, and I am pleased to say, it was a good read. The book was much more of a self described "folk history" than your typical scholarly history text; although, I suppose I would consider it a type of social history.

The author made heavy use of the 1930s Federal Writer's Project Slave Narratives to construct the book and its individual chapter focuses. The author made sure to explain that using the Slave Narratives have certain advantages and drawbacks; the biggest drawback being that these interviews occurred sometimes 70 years after slavery ended. And we all know how faulty memories can be. While she did use some limited runaway slave advertisements for clothing descriptions, I thought that particular primary source was seriously underutilized. Another potential primary source that the author rarely mentioned are period photographs.

After what I thought was a too long first chapter (50+ pages) that explored historical accounts of clothing in West Africa to help set up the later American South accounts, the author finally jumped into some intriguing chapters. The second chapter was particularly informative. It covered accounts of how slaves creating cloth and clothing. The third chapter covered accounts of how slaves wore their clothes, which was very often in much different styles than the whites in their immediate environments. Chapter four covered footwear; mainly the heavy slave brogans that slave most often wore. In chapter 5, "Embellishing the Head," I believe the author unnecessarily covered slave hairstyles. I certainly thought it was interesting chapter, but to me hair styles do not equal clothing. Chapter 6, "Crowning the Person," looked at African American head wraps and why this form of clothing was both practical and stylish for slaves. Again, I enjoyed historical accounts (from the Antebellum South as the title of the book suggests), but too much time was spent examining modern head wraps (from WWII to present).

It might sound as if I didn't enjoy the book. Well, I did, but I don't believe that this "folk history" style is personally my cup of tea. However, I do recommend it if this topic peaks your interest.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give New Raiments of Self, a 3.75