Sunday, September 30, 2012

National Archives Records Show Death Continued After Civil War

A couple of weeks ago I caught the premier of a documentary, Death and the Civil War, on PBS. I was somewhat disappointed that it focused so much on battlefield deaths and seemed almost to ignore the even more numerous deaths caused by disease. It also did not mention to my satisfaction that dying continued long after the war. I suppose I can understand why one might think that once the armies stopped shooting at each other and the war ended that the dying soon stopped too. Unfortunately, though that was not necessarily true.

There were tens of thousands of soldiers that had been wounded or had contracted illnesses during the war years that lingered on with their debilities in the post war years - many passing on in the immediate months - some lingering for years. Others, particularly United States Colored Troops, contracted diseases while serving out their terms of enlistment, which sometimes lasted into the late 1860s.

Records of a number of these unfortunate men who served at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, are digitized on the National Archives website. Browsing through them shows that many did die after the war closed from a variety of ailments ranging from measles to chronic diarrhea to small pox to typhoid fever to dropsy. The pictured record above shows the death and interment of Alfred Brown of Company A, 13th United States Colored Heavy Artillery, who died of pneumonia on July 10, 1865.

Like Brown, it appears that numerous Kentucky African American soldiers died of lung ailments, such as "pneumonia," bronchitis acute", and "infected lungs." Viewing these conditions over and over in these records makes me wonder if these respiratory issues were not preexisting.

In the book A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky, the author, James F. Hopkins provided a quote from a hemp growing slave owner that described lung afflictions in his slave workforce, "from 2 to 3 of the spinners constantly off since you left home there [sic] complaints has been much as usual Roy has been sick ever since you started and I doubt very much whether he lives much longer or not he is very low with an inflammation of the lungs."  Hopkins commented in general that "Other manufacturers of hemp also found that their workmen were susceptible to some kind of ailment of the lungs. Dr. J. L. Phythian, who served as physician at the state penitentiary during the Civil War, applied the name 'hemp pneumonia' to what he described as 'a very fatal disease' which seemed to affect mainly those prisoners employed in hackling the fiber. He attributed the trouble to 'fine particles of dust settling upon and irritating the body' and prescribed, with complete success according to his own report, a thorough bath before bedtime for each person engaged in that work."

Regardless of whether many of these African American soldiers had a preexisting condition that was exacerbated by the conditions experienced in camps of war, or whether they contracted their illnesses anew, their deaths should be remembered as being as significant as those who died "in glory" on the battlefield.  

To view the National Archives records click here, and click on "Digital Copies."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gov. Magoffin's Response to Commissioner Hale

Way back on October 28, 2010 I posted about Alabama secession commissioner Stephen F. Hale's late December 1860 visit to his native Kentucky to converse with the state legislature and Governor Beriah Magoffin (pictured here) to attempt to convince the Bluegrass State to seriously consider secession.  Hale thought the opportunity was prime as many of the slave states were at the time were meeting in convention to debate the proposition of leaving the Union.

While posting Hale's entreaty was certainly important, I must confess I should have quickly followed up that post with Magoffin's reply. Better late than never, I will do so here.

Magoffin opened his written response with a warm welcome to Kentucky for the native son and by mentioning that he agreed with Hale's opinion that the issue of sectional differences was currently alarming. He also concurred that the South had long suffered from wrongs by the North, particularly in regard to fugitive slaves. Magoffin explained that "the people of Kentucky, by reason of their geographical position and nearer proximity to those who seem madly bent upon the destruction of our constitutional guarantees, realize yet more fully than our friends father south the intolerable wrongs and menacing dangers. . ."

Magoffin wrote that it was important for the North to finally and formally recognize slavery as a valid institution and sanctioned by the Constitution. "The war upon our social institutions and their guaranteed immunities waged through the Northern press, religious and secular, and now threatened to be conducted by a dominant political organization [Republican Party] through the agency of State Legislatures and the Federal Government must be ended. Our safety, our honor, and our self-preservation alike demand that our interests be placed beyond the reach of further assault."

The governor explained that "Kentucky will never submit to wrong and dishonor, let resistance cost what it may." And further, that "When the time for action comes (and it is now fearfully near at hand) our people will be found rallied as a unit under the flag of resistance to intolerable wrong." However, unlike the heated, impetuous and fleeing Gulf states, Magoffin recommended calm debate, deliberation and diplomacy within the Union family. If that more prudent course was pursued "the firm alternative of ample guarantees to all our rights and security for future immunity or resistance, our just demands would be conceded and the Union perpetuated stronger than before."

Magoffin stated, at the present time, the difference between the Kentuckys and Missouris and the more hot-spurred South Carolinas, Mississippis and Alabamas was that the border states saw its best chance of redressing constitutional wrongs within the Union, while the Deep South states saw no chance of being appeased as a member of the United States. "You have no hope of redress in the Union. We yet look hopefully to assurances that a powerful reaction is going on at the North. You seek a remedy in secession from the Union. We wish the united action of the slave States, assembled in convention within the Union. You would act separately; we unitedly."

Magoffin closed his letter with an intriguing reference to the interstate slave trade, which in my opinion vividly demonstates its importance to the Bluegrass State at the time. "I regret to have seen in the recent messages of two or three of our Southern sister States a recommendation of the passage of laws prohibiting the purchase by citizens of those States the slaves of the border slave-holding States."  This type of blackmail "is not only liable to the objection so often urged by us against the abolitionists of the North of an endeavor to prohibit the slave trade between the States, but it is likewise wanting in that fraternal feeling which should be common to States which are identified in their institutions and interests."  The governor thought it would likewise be bad policy "for the border slave-holding States to prohibit, by their legislation, the purchase of products of the cotton-growing States, even though it be founded upon the mistaken policy of protection to their own interests."

To sum up Magoffin and thus Kentucky's position on secession at this early point, it would be that while Kentucky saw eye-to-eye with Alabaman and the Gulf States on this the problem and origin of sectional differences, they viewed the solution to those issues much differently.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I love going to the library, especially my local library, because you never know what you are going to run across. I never expected to see this book, which was just published this year, but there it was - a great surprise.

Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South is one of those books that covers a topic that has always been "hidden in plain sight." It is amazing that someone hasn't explored it earlier, as one cannot read about almost any Civil War campaign without realizing that the ability to move men and supplies is of utmost importance. But, during the Civil War, not only soldiers traveled.  The conflict also caused civilian displacement - free, fugitive, and enslaved.

In this book author Yael A. Sternhell, a professor at Tel Aviv University, tells a story of Southerners on the move. Whether it is the 1500 mile journey of Texans to the Virginia front early in the war; escaping African Americans flowing to Union lines in the middle of the war; or soldier deserters late in the conflict escaping the terror and devastation of combat to head home - they all had something in common - they all hit the road to accomplish their goals.

Sternhell's explanation for looking at war through movement is thought provoking. "What is gained by leaving behind battlefields, plantations, and other traditional sites of Civil War history, by turning our gaze to the routes that ran between them, is a new understanding of how war is lived, how it is experienced by the human body, and how the most mundane action of going from one place to the other translates into complex processes of political change, social revolution, and the evolution of wartime culture."

One intriguing point that Sternhell made is that war has the tendency to turn some aspects of society upside down. As examples she provided long accepted dynamics in Southern society. Whereas slaves had largely been required to carry passes to move from place to place in the antebellum years, during the war, whites too were often required to carry passes provided by provost marshals in order to travel. Something they disdained and saw a humiliating encroachment on their personal liberties. Similarly, in the antebellum years, whites usually had little reason to hide out unless they had committed some crime, but this practice was common among slaves to escape punishments, avoid work, or make a final run for freedom. But, during the war, white soldier deserters often found themselves doing the same as slaves to avoid being captured, returned to the front or punished in some way.

One pet peeve I had with the book was found in the epilogue. Here the author used William Faulkner's The Unvanquished, a book published in 1938 "to show, marching, straggling, fleeing, and traversing formed the heart of the lived experience in the Confederate South."  I suppose I understand what the author was attempting to do, but I am not a big fan of using novels - especially those written decades after the conflict - as an example.

I enjoyed reading Routes of War. It brought out an aspect of the war that is too often overlooked for its ubiquity, but shouldn't be for its importance. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.5.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On the Air with Blogtalkradio

If you find yourself with nothing better to do tomorrow night (September 27) at 9:00 p.m. ET, log onto Blogtalkradio while I spend some time with host Natonne Elaine Kemp of the "Research at the National Archives and Beyond" show. We will be discussing my blog, historical research, and genealogical resources in Kentucky, among other things.

Here's a link to the show: Blogtalkradio 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I know there are lots of Civil War enthusiasts that find faults with Lincoln's decisions and his handling of touchy issues during his administration, but the more I read about him and understand the full context in which those vital decisions were made, I find his political acumen more and more impressive. Many of those tough decision come to light in William C. Harris's Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union.

Harris's book is the first full-length treatment of Lincoln's unique relationship with the ever-important border states during the Civil War in many decades. Professor Harris upends many former scholar's findings that by 1861 the border states were firmly in the Union's fold. Rather, Lincoln and the Border States shows that during the four year conflict the president had to deal time and again with the slaveholding Union states.

Harris focuses most of this attention on the three most significant border states: Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland. Delaware, due to its small population and geographic location, was tied largely to Maryland's fate. Each of the three principle border states had unique issues that taxed Lincoln's time and patience. He did not deal with all of the states the same, but looked at each one individually and took their unique situations into consideration. For instance, he pushed the envelope on constitutional issues in Maryland with arrests and quieting dissenting presses, but he was much more hands off - at least initially - in Kentucky and Missouri on those issues. In Kentucky, he refused to push black enlistments until the spring of 1864, but they occurred much earlier in the other border states.

Two of Lincoln's most troubling issues in the border states was emancipation and enlisting black soldiers in those states. Radical elements helped end slavery before the war closed in Maryland (November 1864) and Missouri (January 1865), but Kentucky resisted their native son's encouragement and kept slavery alive in the commonwealth until the 13th amendment was ratified in December 1865. Earlier in the war all of the border states, including tiny Delaware, had turned down Lincoln's offer of compensated emancipation, but it was his cautious and thoughtful attention to the border states that kept them in the Union, which ultimately helped win the war. Harris rightfully gives these twin thorns in Lincoln's side considerable attention.

I highly recommend Harris's excellent book on this largely over looked, but very significant topic. I don't think you won't be disappointed by the level of scholarship or readability of the book.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union a 4.75.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Photo and Drawing - Done at the Same Time?

I came across the above amazing photograph a while back. It captures a moment in the Civil War, that in my humble opinion, we see too little, but obviously was not uncommon. An African American family, or possibly extended family, or perhaps it's even two families, is shown with a wagon drawn by two horses or mules while Union cavalrymen or officers stand nearby.  The photograph shows at least 15 people in the traveling group. Those 15 people were likely someone's property shortly before this photograph was taken. Some of the individuals have Union army caps and coats that they probably picked along their way. They apparently stopped in Union lines long enough to have a photographer record this moment.

A multitude of questions come to my mind when I see images like this. What are their names? Where did they come from? Where did they want to go? Did their owners abandon them to avoid the Union army (thus their having horses/mules and wagon), or did they runaway and take their conveyance? Are they happy or apprehensive about the future?  Maybe both. Have they had enough to eat? Are they keeping warm? How were they treated in slavery? Did they leave any family members behind? Did they have to avoid slave patrols? So many questions.....

After finding the above drawing another question came to mind. Was the drawing done at the same time the photograph was taken? There are some subtle differences between the two, but there is too much in common in both images to not be depicting the same scene.

The drawing was made by famous Civil War correspondent artist Alfred Waud. Waud's numerous works are easily recognizable to Civil War students for their detail and realism. But, here, Waud wasn't standing next to the photographer when he sketched this one.

Information provided by the Library of Congress explains that Waud made his sketch on January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, from the photograph. Waud titled the sketch "An arrival in Camp--under the Proclamation of Emancipation," and it was published in Harper's Weekly magazine on January 31, 1863.

Images courtesy of the Library of Congress  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Breaking the Backbone of Rebellion with Emancipation

In honor of the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (September 22), I thought I'd post this cartoon I found on the Library of Congress website. I remember seeing a somewhat similar picture in the the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War a long time ago, but that particular image depicted Lincoln battling the gyascutus alone while symbolically being hamstrung by the Democratic Party and the Constitution.

Here, Jeff Davis holds his chained gyascutus - a mythological animal seemingly part dog, part alligator, part dragon - and marked "rebellion," and with the distinction of having "the stiffest backbone ever grown" that "can't be broken."  While one dejected man (not identified but maybe John J. Crittenden?) sits behind holding his head and a tiny hammer labeled "compromise," Gen. Henry Halleck prepares to hammer away at the animal's back with a mallet labeled "skill."  Gen. George B. McClellan does the same with a hammer labeled "strategy."

Standing on deck to take a swing at the beast of secession is Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton with the "draft," and says "Halleck may use his skill and Mac his strategy, but this draft will do the business."  President Lincoln, the "old railsplitter" tells Stanton, "You can try him with that, but I'm afraid this ax of mine is the only thing that will fetch him."  The ax is labeled "Emancipation Proclamation."  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

1861 Border State Conference in Frankfort

At the end of May 1861, a Border State Conference was held in Frankfort, Kentucky. It was chaired by notable politician John Jordan Crittenden (pictured), who's compromise proposal had been unable to breech the nation's division the previous winter. At the conference's conclusion the committee made addresses to the nation at large and to the people of Kentucky.

In their message to Kentucky the committee explained that the state declined to fill Lincoln's order for troops after Fort Sumter out of a spirit of the "purest patriotism," rather than comply and be guilty of further fracturing the country.  The state's action was made for "self-preservation" and was thankfully "respected by the [Lincoln] administration."

The message confirmed Kentucky's continued loyalty to the Union: "In all things she is as loyal as ever to the Constitutional administration of the Government. She will follow the Stars and Stripes to the utmost regions of the earth, and defend it from foreign insult. She refuses alliance with any who would destroy the Union."

Kentucky sought to be mediator in the country's trouble, much as political hero Henry Clay in the past had done with offering compromises. "When called to take part in it, she believes that there is more honor in the breach than in the observance of any supposed duty to perform it." To do so the commonwealth "announced her intention to refrain from aggression upon others, she must protest against her sail being made the theatre of military operations by any belligerent. The war must not be transferred, by the warring sections, from their own to her borders."

This war was serious stuff the committee reminded anyone who would listen. "The day of mere party platforms has, we trust, gone forever. It has passed from being a mere struggle for place that may gratify personal ambition, to one for the present and future welfare of a whole people, for the safety of homes and firesides."  It came down to this: "Union or no Union--Government or no Government--nationality or no nationality. Before this grand and commanding question everything else gives way."

The committee recognized that the war was unnecessary as "it so happened that at this dangerous crisis, when a sectional President had been elected, there was a majority in opposition to him in both Houses of Congress, by which he could have been controlled, and the people protected." But, unwisely, as the Southern states seceded, their representatives left Washington "and placed a President who would have been in a minority at the head of a triumphant majority."

During this mess though "Kentucky remained true to herself, contending with all her might for what were considered to to be the rights of the people, and although one after another of the [slave] States that should have been by her side ungenerously deserted her, leaving her almost along in the field, yet she did not surrender her rights under the Constitution, and never will surrender them."  And, for a point of emphasis they remarked " She will insist upon her constitutional rights in the Union, and not out of it."

Much like rejecting Lincoln's call for troops, Kentucky also refused to secede, not out of submission to the Lincoln administration, but out of "exalted patriotism." By maintaining a neutral position, Kentucky hoped to avoid being desolated by the contending armies. "Already the cannon and bayonets of another section are visible on our most exposed border. Let these hostile armies meet on our soil, and it will matter but little to us which may succeed, for destruction to us will be the inevitable result. Our fields will be laid waste, our houses and cities burned, our people will be slain, and this goodly land be baptized 'the land of blood.'" To emphasize slavery's central role in the disagreements between the belligerents and importance to the state it was added, "And, even the institution, to preserve or control which this wretched was was undertaken, will be extermination in the general ruin."

The committee warned that no matter how much danger there was from outside the state there was potential trouble in the Bluegrass State too if they citizens did not stick together. "People of Kentucky, look well to it that you do not get to fighting among yourselves, for then, indeed, you will find, that it is an ill fight where he that wins had the worst of it. Endeavor to be of one mind, and strive to keep the State steady in her present position. Hold fast to that sheet-anchor of republican liberty, that the will of the majority constitutionally and legally expressed must govern."  And "Trust and love one another. Avoid angry strife. Frown upon the petty ambition of demagogues who would stir up bad passions among you."

Kentucky, of course, would not maintain their position of neutrality throughout the war. It probably was not possible as the war escalated. Unfortunately, too, when those tough decisions were made and lines were drawn Kentuckians did not "stick together."  Some fought for the Union, some fought for the Confederacy, some fought for their own material gain and to take from their neighbors, and some simply tried as best they could to sit it out. The Civil War in Kentucky should serve as an illustrated reminder of what results when compromise breaks down and minds are closed to diplomacy.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Researching Georgia? No History For You!

I was disappointed to learn earlier this week, that due to budget cuts, the Georgia state archives would be closed to the public and its staff would be drastically reduced. I know first-hand what it feels like to lose a public history job due to circumstances beyond one's control and the results of our nation's economy. It is sad to think that the field I have chosen as my career is too often viewed as "nonessential."

I suppose it could be worse. Fortunately, Georgia is the only state archives that has closed - so far. I have no remedy other than to let our elected officials know the importance of having public history services continued. It would be great if somehow we could get these institutions to where they sustained themselves fiscally, but that is probably not realistic in many instances. However, in my humble opinion their continuance is worth the expense in maintaining them and making them available to the public. How are we to derive knowledge from the past to make informed decisions in the present and future if we do not have ready access to primary source evidence?

Here an article on this disappointing situation from the National Coalition for History:

On September 13, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that due to budget cuts the Georgia State Archives would be closing on November 1. After that date, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees. Georgia will become the only state without a fully accessible state archives.
Kemp, whose office oversees the archives, said an order by Governor Nathan Deal to reduce state agency budgets by an additional 3 percent necessitated his action. The edict forced Kemp to come up with an additional $733,000 cut in his agency’s budget. Kemp refused to speculate how many of the agency’s employees would be laid off.
Kemp said he would seek to restore funding for the archives when the Georgia state legislature convenes in January. “I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia.”
The National Coalition for History will be working with historians, archivists and other affected stakeholders to have the decision reversed.
Official statement from the Georgia Secretary of State:
“The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626). As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia. As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions. We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety.
To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public. The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation. To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state. The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced. The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed. After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.
Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work. I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government. I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I remember as a youngster how crushed I was when I found out that my native East Tennessee was largely Unionist in its sympathies.  As I have aged I have learned some of the reasons that the citizens in that part of the state chose the path they did.  I have also learned that there were Unionists in other parts of Tennessee, some of whom felt a stronger attachment to the nation and stayed Unionist throughout the war, and some that felt they ultimately owed their loyalty to the state and joined the Confederate cause.

Daniel Croft's Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis does much to explain the thinking and actions of those not only in Tennessee, but also in Virginia and North Carolina.  Crofts chose not include Arkansas because it was largely a frontier region west of the Mississippi River and it did not have a competitive party political system that allowed for proper comparisons as did the three eastern upper South states.

Crofts's book looks at different pushes toward secession in these states from Lincoln's election in November 1860 to his call for 75,000 volunteers in the wake of Fort Sumter. The first push came with the election of the "Black Republican" president.  That threat was enough to convince the Gulf states to leave the Union, but not the two tiers of state above them; the upper South states and the border states. The second move was a push back by those upper South states who at the time wanted no part of secession, but were also angered with the North and the president for threatening coercion against the seceded states. The final push came after the bombing of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's subsequent call for states to provide troops to put down the rebellion. The fight at Fort Sumter itself was not enough prompt the upper South states to leave. It took Lincoln's perceived coercive action for the straw to break the camel's back and prompt their secession.  Virginia went out first on April 17, then North Carolina on May 20, followed by Tennessee, who's June 8 referendum was largely for show as the governor had effectively already separated the state from the federal government. 

While much of this book focused on the parties and politics of these states during this time period, my favorite parts were the close looks at a number of the politicians involved and the ultimate decisions they made. Men like: Robert Hatton, a congressman from Middle Tennessee who held out until Lincoln's call and then became a Confederate officer that was ultimately killed rather early in the war; and Emerson Etheridge, a rare West Tennessee Unionist that remained loyal throughout the war; and North Carolinian John Gilmer who was actually considered for Lincoln's cabinet, but chose to go with his state to the Confederacy.  Other individuals that Crofts mentioned but that I wished he would have examined more fully are William G. Brownlow of Tennessee and John Minor Botts in Virginia.

I'll admit that Crofts lost me in a heavy flurry of statistical analysis and graphs in chapter 7, "Measuring the Unionist Insurgency." But, I enjoyed most of the rest of the book and it is well worth reading for the individuals and ideas it illuminates.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis a 4.25. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

John Brown Exhibiting His Hangman?

Northern rejoicing at the end of the Civil War often took the form of vengeful if imaginary portrayals of the execution of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Here abolitionist martyr John Brown rises from the grave to confront Davis, although in actuality the latter had nothing to do with Brown's 1859 execution. Brown points an accusing finger at Davis, who sits imprisoned in a birdcage hanging from a gallows. Davis wears a dress and bonnet, and holds a sour apple. Below, black men and women, resembling comic minstrel figures, frolic about. Since the beginning of the war Union soldiers had sung about "hanging Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree." Davis's actual punishment was imprisonment at Fortress Monroe after his capture on May 10, 1865.

Image and interpretation courtesy of Library of Congress

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Irish for the Union

This patriotic envelope shows a three-leaf clover labeled North, Border States, and South, as all part of the in common Union.

The included poem reads:
"Here's to Ireland's SHAMROCK, may its pure unsullied green,
As a bond of love and UNION 'midst the Irish e'er be seen,
And may it help bind the love of the exiled Irish shown,
To the land which gave them liberty, a shelter and a home."

Courtesy Library of Congress

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Slave Before and a Soldier After

In a speech on July 6, 1863, in Philadelphia, Frederick Douglass said "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States."

That very thing is what many people, both North and South, feared with African Americans serving as soldiers. Those that opposed black enlistments saw their service as a slippery slope. Opposition thinking went along these lines: if black men were allowed to be soldiers, then they were men and worthy of citizenship. If they were citizens then they were political and social equals to whites. If they were political and social equals to whites then they could vote and serve on court juries and run for political office. If they could vote, serve on court juries and run for political office they they could potentially change the status quo of white supremacy.

The transformation from slave to soldier is no better illustrated than in two photos of Private Hubbard Pryor of Company A, 44th United States Colored Infantry. As a slave Pryor is shown in the above image with ill-fitting, torn and ragged clothing, misshapen hat and in a seated position. It is not known if the photographer had Pryor sit rather than stand for the slave image of the photograph for a specific reason, but sitting, rather than standing, infers a powerlessness.

Conversely, Pryor is depicted in the soldier image standing (as a man) in a well fitting soldier's frock coat, forage cap, soldiers' accouterments and rifle musket.

Pryor's service records state he was 22 years old, 5' 7" tall, born in Polk County, Georgia, and enlisted on March 7, 1864 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. However, Pryor's Union service appeared to be short-lived, as he was captured at Dalton, Georgia in October 1864. Pryor was probably either sent to a prisoner of war camp, or more likely he was returned to slavery. Regardless of his fate, Pryor's transformation from slave to soldier is striking and is a significant reason so many former slaves took the risk of serving.

Images courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Should We All Know Certain Things in History?

I am of the mind that the skills one learns by "doing" history (analyzing, synthesizing, interpreting, and arguing a point based on evidence) are more important than the bits of specific content knowledge that usually get measured on student tests.

HOWEVER, I do think there are certain pieces of information that every good citizen of our nation should know. I think everyone should know what year we declared our independence from Great Britain. I think everyone should know what year the Civil War started - and ended. I think everyone should know what year Pearl Harbor was bombed. I think everyone should know what year Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, what year he was assassinated, and where. And, I think everyone should know what year slavery ended. After all, that was a major event in our nation's history, right?

Recently while watching a rerun episode of The Big Bang Theory I was disappointed to hear know-it-all character Sheldon tell his friend Leonard that slavery ended in 1863. I suppose by saying so Sheldon thought the Emancipation Proclamation (effective January 1, 1863) ended slavery, but as we know, Lincoln's edict did not end slavery. It would take the  ratification of a constitutional amendment (13th) in December 1865 to end the "peculiar institution." I don't necessarily expect Hollywood to get everything historically correct. They certainly don't in their feature film historical depictions, so why would they in other ventures.

But, I do hold our political representatives (maybe I shouldn't) more accountable for their historical knowledge. I would hope that they would be using lessons from history to make good decisions for us in the present and for our future. That is why I guess I was stunned to watch a clip from the Colbert Report that featured Yvette Clarke, a congresswoman from Brooklyn, New York. In the clip Clarke showed her limited American history content knowledge by thinking that slavery was still in effect in Brooklyn in 1898 and that the Dutch were responsible for it. And, while The Colbert Report is a comedy show, I didn't get the impression that Clarke was joking around. I would hope that anyone that took an American history survey course in college would know that slavery had ended over 30 years earlier in the United States, and much earlier in New York.

But, then again, maybe I am being a history snob. Would a chef expect everyone to know how to poach an egg? Maybe. Would a mathematician expect everyone to know how to "find x?" Maybe.

Watch for yourself:
 Yvette Clarke on Colbert Report

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Haitian Revolution and the 1792 Kentucky Constitution

I just came across a reference to the Haitian Revolution that I certainly was not expecting. During the 1792 Kentucky constitutional debate a stir was raised by a delegate named David Rice.

Rice was a Presbyterian minister who came to Kentucky in the early 1780s from Virginia at the behest of a group of believers on the then bluegrass frontier. Rice arrived and went to work evangelizing. He helped start the Transylvania Synod and Transylvania Seminary, which would eventually become Transylvania University.

During the proceedings of the Kentucky constitutional convention in 1792 Rice made a speech on slavery and its inconsistency "with justice and good policy."  In the speech Rice argued that slavery took away a man's free will and put it in the hands of another, which was contrary to Biblical teaching. He also warned that slavery was brewing a future cataclysmic event in America that was then being carried out elsewhere.

"It cannot be consistent with the principles of good policy to keep a numerous, a growing body of people among us, who add not strength to us in time of war; who are under the strongest temptations to join an enemy, as it is scarce possible they can lose and may be great gainers, by the event; who will count so many against us in an hours of danger and distress. A people whose interest it will be, whenever in their power, to subvert the government, and throw all into confusion. Can it be safe? Can it be good policy? Can it be in our interest or the interest of our posterity, to nourish within our own bowels such an injured, inveterate foe; a foe, with whom we must be in a state eternal war? What havock would a handful of savages [Indians], in conjunction with this domestic enemy [slaves] make in our country! Especially at a period when the main body of the inhabitants were softened by luxury and ease, and quite unfitted by the hardships and dangers of war. Let us turn our eyes to the West Indies; and there learn the melancholy effects of this wretched policy. We may there read them written with the blood of thousands. There you may see the fable, let me say, the brave sons of Africa, engaged in a noble conflict with their inveterate foes. There you may see thousands fired with a generous resentment of the greatest injuries, and bravely sacrificing their lives at the alter of liberty."

Rice's painting of the Haitian Revolution as fight for liberty, so close on its beginning heels is quite interesting. It seems that his calling the insurgents "brave sons of Africa," and their cause "a noble conflict" would be viewed as incendiary language in a slave society. But, maybe, being just a year after the start of the island revolution, for Rice, it had not yet had enough time to be spun into an atrocity, but was still something to be admired. Regardless, the Haitian Revolution was known about in Kentucky early on and was used by some to try to end slavery in the commonwealth.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To read Rice's speech go to:
Google Books