Thursday, January 31, 2013
If you sometimes like to think about the Civil War's more unusual topics - those that just a little outside of the box - then Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges may just be your fix.
As editor Stephen Berry states "Here then is not the grandness of the Civil War but its more than occasional littleness. Here are those who profited by the war and those who lost by it - and not lost all save honor, but lost that too. Here are the cowards, the coxcombs, and the belles, the deserters and the scavengers who hung back and survived, even thrived. Here are those who did not see a redemptive conflict or a manly test by a fool's errand and a fool's grave that better belonged to somebody else. Here are those who did worse than nothing, who were animated not even by misbegotten principles. Here are those who saw and lived the reality of the war but decided it would be better lived down, misremembered, repackaged for public consumption. Here, in short, is war."
Included in Weirding the War rare 18 essays that are divided into six parts, with naturally 3 essays each. Part 1, "Death Becomes Us: The Civil War and the Appetite for Destruction" is sometimes ghoulish but even more intriguing. Part 2, "Hell's Bells: New Looks Civil War Women" is seductive, flirtatious, and economically independent. Part 3, "Inside the Civil War Body" is tortuous, hungry and a coroner. Part 4, "Tortuous Road to Freedom" was probably my favorite group of essays. It included articles on the refugees at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, KKK connections with the age old tradition of horsemanship ring tournaments, and lastly but very interestingly, a look at desertion and community among USCT units. Part 5, "Honor is a Gift a Man Gives Himself - And Men Can Be Very Generous," is cowardly yet faithful, fictitious, and talkative. Part 6, "Picking Up the Pieces" is dismembered, mental, and vindictive. Hopefully those tidbits pique your interest enough to give this book a look.
Berry's "Introduction" and essay, "The Historian as Death Investigator" are real standout gems, but the other essays do not disappoint either. I don't think you will be disappointed with Weirding the War. In fact, I think you will find the "strangeness" of the essays rather refreshing. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this unique and "weird" book a 5.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
As a Whig, Kentucky Governor William Owsley was personally opposed to the war with Mexico, but on May 17, 1846 he issued a stirring proclamation to the people of Kentucky.
"Whereas, from information this day informally received at this department, it is believed that the Congress of the United States has, upon the recommendation of the President [James K. Polk], passed as an act authorizing the receiving into the service of the United States fifty thousand volunteers to aid the Army of Occupation now on the Rio Grande, or to give such other service as may be required for the defense of our Southern frontier and the maintenance of the national interests and honor: and whereas, this department had also received a communication form the commander of the Western division of the army, giving notice of an application having been made to the President for volunteers from Kentucky: and whereas, recent intelligence for the Army of Occupation leaves no doubt that hostilities have been actually commenced.
Now, therefore, mindful of the high renown that Kentucky had acquired patriotism and gallantry, and being unwilling at a crisis like this, that our noble state should suffer herself to be surpassed in devotion to the common cause of our country, I, William Owsley, governor of the commonwealth of Kentucky, do issue this my proclamation, appealing to pride, the patriotism, and the chivalry of Kentuckians, hereby urging them to form themselves into volunteer companies, and report the fact of their organization to this department forthwith, signifying to them my firm conviction that orders will in a few days be received from the President of the United States, empowering and directing me to cause them to be immediately mustered into the service of the United States, at some point which will be designated."
Answering the governor's call Kentucky raised far more troops than were needed. The federal government only asked for two regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, but the over 100 companies volunteered. The governor had to refuse the service of 75 of the companies. Only 2,400 troops were asked of the Bluegrass state, but about 13,000 came out to find adventure and attempt to preserve the state's honor it felt it had earned fighting Indians in the state's early history and in the War of 1812. 4,694 Kentuckians eventually made it south of the border.
Like the Civil War, disease claimed far more lives of Mexican War soldiers than combat. 622 Kentuckians died from various ailments in Mexico, while only 71 died from actual fighting.
Image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society
Friday, January 25, 2013
The below information is from the Smithsonian Institution:
Between 1830 and the Civil War, there was a flourish of American “genre paintings,” depictions of everyday life and ordinary people. Many of these works show citizens engaging in local politics or reacting to news of national events. Richard Caton Woodville’s War News from Mexico, first exhibited in 1848, was perhaps the most popular of the political paintings. This lithograph was one of some 14,000 prints sold.
The various and ambiguous reactions of the characters at Woodville’s “American Hotel” are suggestive of national opinions on the Mexican War. The overture to the war was the annexation of Texas in 1845, which met with opposition in the North. James Russell Lowell wrote that the South saw in Texas “bigger pens to cram slaves in.” The most famous protester was Henry David Thoreau, who went to jail in Massachusetts for refusing to pay taxes. The Whig opposition in Congress denounced “Mr. Polk’s war,” but went along with appropriations for military campaigns deep into Mexico.
The Republic of Texas had claimed the Rio Grande as its southern and western border. Mexico insisted that the border was the Nueces River, farther to the north and east (though it never officially recognized the independence of Texas). President James K. Polk sent troops into the disputed area in January 1846. Four months later, the Mexican army moved in and attacked a unit of U.S. soldiers. In Polk’s interpretation, Mexico had “shed American blood upon American soil.” Congress declared war on May 13, 1846.
The Mexican War was a decisive victory for the U.S., however indecisively the country supported it. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848, Mexico turned over more than 500,000 square miles of its territory, including California and nearly all of what is now the American Southwest.
These gains seemed a fulfillment of “Manifest Destiny,” an idea put forth by New York editor John L. O’Sullivan. On the occasion of the annexation of Texas, O’Sullivan wrote that the United States had a self-evident right “to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” He looked forward to the seizure of California from Mexico as an inevitability: “Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon [California], armed with the plough and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting-houses.”
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
A recent book that did catch my eye was Kentucke's Frontiers (winner of the 2011 Kentucky Governor's Award), by North Carolina State University professor Craig Thompson Friend.
In Kentucke's Frontiers, Friend provides a thorough account of Kentucky's early history from its first explorers up to the early nineteenth century. In doing so he looks closely at the terror that was experienced by those early explorers and settlers and how their fears of Indian raids and the frontier's wild beasts translated into culture of hero worship that ultimately limited egalitarian possibilities for white women and African Americans. As Friend explains, "Like poorer white men, blacks and white women watched as opportunities that had existed for them in Kentucke withered as Kentucky took shape. . . . During the 1770s and 1780s some members of both groups tasted social, economic, and religious independence. In the 1790s, however, both blacks and white women faced greater legal restrictions on their social and economic activities."
Friend contends that in the 1770s and 1780s "Slaves gained mobility and a sense of autonomy through the illegal but unregulated practice of hiring out. . . . White women too, both as widows and as wives acting in their husbands' absences, enjoyed some economic independence, exerting authority over salt manufactories, artisan shops, slaves and farms."
As you might have noticed in the last couple of paragraphs, Friend divides the commonwealth's early history (roughly 1750 to 1820) by labeling the earliest years as Kentucke, as it was often spelled by those white hunters and explorers, and the later period - after statehood was granted in 1792 - as the modern spelling Kentucky.
The hero worship that resulted from terroristic Indians raids (contrary to period accounts only men supposedly could defend hearth and home) developed into community reinforced organizations (county courts, state legislature, and churches) and a common culture that resulted in a white patriarchy and transformed the Bluegrass State into an Old South state in the antebellum years. However, as Friend contends and I certainly would agree, the terror did not stop with the disappearance of Indians. Black African American slaves took the red Indians' place. Friend states, "Unlike Native Americans, few blacks had the resources or freedom to actually pose threats. But African Americans were ubiquitous in Kentucky, and their omnipresence unsettled whites. As whites employed terror against slaves and free blacks to keep a real threat from manifesting, they too became dangerous Others in the eyes of their black neighbors." My personal research on Kentuckians' reactions to John Brown's raid vividly supports this particular argument.
I enjoyed reading Kentucke's Frontiers and thinking about the unique arguments that Friend poses. Hopefully more scholars will continue to reexamine Kentucky's early years, how the state's history has been told, and what we can learn from those narratives. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Kentucke's Frontiers a 4.75.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Yesterday I posted about the book, On Slavery's Border by Diane Mutti Burke. The cover of the book showed an enslaved African American woman holding a white child. Inside the book it explains that the woman was named Louisa and the child was Harry E. Hayward. It was estimated that the picture was taken in 1858. That date was probably chosen as Louisa was purchased that year by George A. Hayward, "a St. Louis businessman . . perhaps for the purpose of assisting his wife, Ellen, in caring for their young son." The caption in the book also explains that while the photograph "suggests the intimate relations that existed between slaveholding family members and their slaves. . .it also suggests their complex nature."
The image struck the same as was as it was described in the caption. Many times slaves, and after emancipation, freedwomen servants, were viewed as part of the Southern family household. However, racial undertones were in most cases probably not far from the surface, and certainly the white/black power dynamic was always understood and upheld.
In my various searches for historic images I often run across similar photographs. Some are from the antebellum and Civil War years, while others are from Reconstruction and beyond - as the custom of black child caregivers lasted well into the twentieth century - and not only in the South, but also in the North. Some of these images are shared here. Most do not have identifications, and if they do, it is usually the white child rather than the African American woman who is identified.
Unidentified and undated African American woman and white child.
Only the white child, Ada Peters Brown, is identified in this image. The smiling African American woman is not named.
This photograph is identified as Mary Allen Watson, and dated as June 15, 1866, but it is not known if Mary Allen Watson is the child or woman. Most likely it was the child that was noted.
Unidentified African American woman with two white children.
Kate Marschall English (infant) and Violet (nurse).
Historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese in her book Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South sums up the complicated nature of slaveholding women and the bondswomen in their homes: "The personal relations between house slaves and the white family could range from love to hatred, but whatever their emotional quality, they were more likely than not to include a high level of intimacy. Mistresses whipped slave women with whom they might have shared beds, whose children they might have delivered or who might have delivered theirs, whose children they might have suckled and who frequently suckled theirs."
Top four images courtesy of the Library of Congress. Bottom image courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
As the subtitle indicates, much of On Slavery's Border examines the relations between black slaves and their white master families. Here, Burke paints a picture of uniqueness in Missouri. Unlike the large-slaveholding plantations in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where slaves and masters often experienced a more disjointed relationship, Missouri's slave system was different. Here slaveholders often lived and worked side by side with their bondsmen.
As Burke explains "On Slavery's Border uses a bottom-up approach to examine how the experience of slavery and slaveholding was influenced by both the size of slaveholding and geography. In a place such as Missouri slavery developed into a region of small slaveholdings precisely because of it geographic location; both climate and proximity to free states discouraged the migration of planters and conversely encouraged the migration of slaveholders of smaller means. Small slaveholders were marginalized in much of the South, but in Missouri they dominated, creating a slavery culture that differed socially, politically, and economically from that of plantation regions.
Burke is clear to point out that this more close-style of slaveholding did not necessarily mean a more benevolent of benign form of slavery, quite the contrary. Being in such close contact often led to frayed nerves and offended feelings on both parts, which in turn led to violent outbursts.
One thing that caught my attention in my second reading was that in the 1850 and 1850 censuses the census takers were instructed to note the locations where slaves were living, not necessarily who owned them. The object of the census, the instructions said, was to determine the number of slaves, not the number of masters. In other words, if a slave or two was being rented by a man, those slaves would be listed under the name of that renter, not the actual owner's name. In upper-South states slave hiring out was a common practice for owners that had surplus laborers but who did not want to sell his/her personal property. Therefore, it seems to me that this fact makes it difficult for historians to tell if small slaveholders were actually owners or possibly renters; especially since the census was usually taken in the summer and fall, when, of course, labor was most needed and likely to be rented.
Slave renting comes in for a good deal of discussion in the work, and Burke explains its wide prevalence "Those who owned no slaves fulfilled more than their labor need through the hiring of slaves; they also purchased the social and psychological rewards of mastery - in many cases on the cheap. As Jonathan Martin has argued, 'Entree into the slaveholding ranks brought both cultural and economic rewards; in the South, the luxury of ordering slaves about was a way to enhance both one's social standing and one's production for the market.'"
Slave hiring/renting often was done to help white farm women. As Burke states "Most rural American women labored at a tremendous amount of housework, and often barnyard word and fieldwork as well. What set slaveholding women apart from other white women was their ability to free themselves from fieldwork and the most physically demanding and undesirable of domestic tasks precisely because they owned slave women to whom the could assign this grueling labor. The work of slaveholding women, or rather those tasks never performed by them, was essential in defining what it meant to be a lady in southern society."
Burke takes much of her primary source evidence on white small slaveholders from the collections of a number of family collections. Her evidence for enslaved individuals often comes from the WPA Slave Narratives and individuals slave narratives such as William Wells Brown and Henry Clay Bruce. The information these records provide are sometimes both informative and flawed as Burke points out. For example, the WPA narratives were taken during the Great Depression when life under segregation, especially in the Southern states, was particularly difficult causing these elderly former slaves to possibly misremember how trying slave days were. Also, their memories - due to so much time passing since the events they described - must make one cautious of what was said to the interviewers.
As I reread On Slavery's Border I kept saying to myself, "that sounds like Kentucky's experience." And, that certainly makes sense since many of Missouri's settlers were from Kentucky and other upper-South states such as Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These people naturally brought very similar customs and traditions with them to the "Show Me State" as were expressed as Missourians. I was a little disappointed that Burke did not point out that fact much in the work. Sure, Missouri was unique to Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia, but not so unique from Kentucky, and other upper-South states.
I highly recommend On Slavery's Border. It will prove to be especially beneficial to those interested in learning the details and interactions of masters and slaves on household farms were slaves were few and located in rural areas. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give On Slavery's Border a 4.75.
Friday, January 18, 2013
This image that was on the Puck magazine cover for the Memorial Day 1899 edition caught my attention. It shows a Confederate veteran on the left and Union veteran on the right with a Spanish-American War soldier in the middle serving as a bridge of reconciliation between the two sections. A United States of America flag bunting serves as a backdrop for the three men.
Maybe it shouldn't seem strange that it largely took a war to help heal the wounds caused by the Civil War and Reconstruction, but somehow it does. I suppose having to focus on a common enemy helped the country move past some old grudges; at least on a sectional level.
Naturally, some grudges remained. Racial prejudice, of course, unfortunately did not end with the demise of slavery. It took much longer for white and black Americans to begin to see themselves as equals and start healing old wounds that the "peculiar institution" had caused and prejudice perpetuated.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The above photograph was taken at Aiken's Landing on the James River in Virginia during the Civil War. Like many period images it is difficult to see details without enlarging the image. However, once enlarged, the photograph seemingly takes on a new life.
The fourth individual from the left is a slave woman sitting behind a pile of rails with her hands folded on her lap. It appears that she has a ring on her left hand. Her head is wrapped and she has a determined countenance.
To the woman's left is the old and the young. The old man is wearing a double-breasted coat over what appears to be a vest and shirt. He has a stocking cap on his head. The young man to the old man's left wears a Union army forage cap and enlisted man's four-button blouse. It would be interesting to know if these two are related. Perhaps they are grandfather or great-grandfather and grandson.
To the young man's left is yet an even younger boy. He sits on the rails with one leg thrown over plank and rests his chin in his hand. Like the older boy, he has a Union army cap. He has his pant legs rolled up and is barefoot. It is difficult to tell what time of year it was when this photograph was taken, but judging from the bare trees it must have been fall, winter, or early spring. A barrel half sits just behind the young fellow.
A period wheelbarrow rests empty just to the right side of the pile of rails. Surely this simple implement was used many times by the plantation's slaves.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Perusing the online object catalog of the Kentucky Historical Society I found the above certificate. As one can see, it is from the Southern Orphan Association in Richmond, Virginia, and is dated 1867. It says it is a $1.00 denomination "in the Award of premiums for the benefit of the Widows and Orphans of the Southern States," and bears the image of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson. It is singed by a "Managing Director," which looks to be Thomas L. Rosser, and is numbered 11765.
Doing a quick internet search I wasn't able to find much anything on the Southern Orphan Association or Thomas Rosset. I would like to learn more about this organization; how long they lasted, how successful they were in helping the orphans of Confederate soldiers, and if there were branches in other cities or states.
One thing that I did find in searching was that former Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise was president of the Southern Widows and Orphans Aid Association in Richmond. Was Wise's organization the same as that that issued the above certificate?
In addition, recently I read an essay in the book Children and Youth during the Civil War Era titled "Reconstructing Social Obligation: White Orphan Asylums Post-Emancipation Richmond." It covered the Richmond Female Humane Association and the Richmond Male Orphan Asylum, and even Norfolk's Jackson Orphan Asylum, but I don't remember it mentioning the Southern Orphan Association.
If you happen to know anything related to this certificate or organization, I would appreciate any insights.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
In this reprint of a period political cartoon Uncle Sam (holding split map marked "United")and "Aunt" Confederacy (holding split map marked "States" - also note her apron) engage in an argument while an apparently enslaved man makes his escape.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas the above bound Caroline Coleman and her two children to wit Orlando and Benson have been liberated and set free by the last will and testament of Benson Coleman dec[ease]d (a free man of color).
Now if the said Caroline and her children shall not become a charge to any county in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for their maintenance and support then this obligation to be void, otherwise to remain in full force.
Her X Mark
C 5ft 3 1/2 in. bright mulatto gray eyed likely and neat good countenance 35 years
Orlando 9 yrs old mulatto, Benson 5 yrs dark copper complesion both likely and stout as children usually are of their age."
Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society
Monday, January 7, 2013
One such manumission is in the special collections of the Kentucky Historical Society and was dated from October 1860.
The document states:
"Know all men by these presents that I Harry Richardson (free man of color) do by this instrument of writing manumit and forever set free from servitude to me and my heirs or assigns my son & servant, Isaac Richardson of mulatto complecsion, aged about thirty nine years 6 ft 1 1/2 inches in height with boots on, scar on his under lip from fighting in a fight. Purchased by me from Wesley Lair of Harrison County Ky
Witness my hand this 15th day of Oct. 1860
attn: R. J. Brown
Harry x Richardson
Bourbon County Court Oct. called term
Oct. 15 1860
The forgoing deed of Emancipation was produced and acknowledged in open court by Harry Richardson a party thereto to be his act & deed I ordered to record
Witness RJ Brown clerk of said Court the date above
RJ Brown Clerk"
Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society
Saturday, January 5, 2013
When the various commanders of Confederate armies capitulated in the spring of 1865, many of the soldiers were left with little other choice than to "swallow the dog," as they called it, which involved taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. To those Southerners who went to war proclaiming that each Confederate soldier would "whip 20 Yankees with a cornstalk" the reality turned out to be about as tasty as eating man's best friend.
In order for former Confederates to return to any sense of normalcy and participate in the basic activities of life such as voting, contracting work, getting released from a prisoner of war camp, receiving government rations, or even getting married, they were required to verbally renounce their support for the Confederacy and pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States. They were then often provided with documentation of their oath that they could provide to anyone that may question their allegiance.
And, along with the pledge to support the Constitution these documents, like the one above, also made sure the oath taker understood the changes the war had wrought. Included in this document is the statement "and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion, with reference to the emancipation of slaves."
Some Confederates initially refused to swallow the dog. The taste was just too bad. Honor, being what it was to most Southern men, made it doubly troubling. But often necessity, and as this account shows, the soldier's family's strident persuasion won out. Writing to her brother in a prisoner of war camp and advising to go ahead and take the oath, a sister explained:
"Do not again refuse when the opportunity presents itself. God judge me if I do wrong in writing thus to you. If you have suffered, believe me it has cost your sister no little pain to do that which I would rather have died then done twelve months ago! Let you act as you may, you will command the respect of your friends. Your character is too well established to be assailed after four years of strict adherence to duty, should you deem it advisable to bury all hopes and become a good 'citizen' of the United States of America. A man of sense ought to yield everything for duty's sake, and 'obey the powers that be.' Don't imagine the those who love you so dearly will ever blush for your conforming to unavoidable circumstances. Come home, then, my darling, for home needs you as well as you need it."
From - The Day Dixie Died: Southern Occupation, 1865-1866, by Thomas and Debra Goodrich
Top document courtesy of the National Archives
Bottom image "Grant's Campaign - administering the oath of allegiance to Rebel prisoners near Dutch Gap [Virginia] and taken from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper October 1, 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Friday, January 4, 2013
Thursday, January 3, 2013
To complete the narrative, Greenberg weaves together the stories of the men listed in the subtitle, but also involves other historical players that are well known - and some not so well known.
For example, one of those that comes in for major discussion, and that I enjoyed learning about, is John J. Hardin. Hardin was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, educated at Transylvania in Lexington, and moved to Illinois where he became a Whig congressman from Springfield. Hardin did not seek reelection the year Abraham Lincoln was elected. He instead raised a regiment and went off to fight Mexicans. He was tragically killed at the Battle of Buena Vista.
Another individual that Greenberg gives us a look at is Sarah Polk, the president's wife. She apparently was the charmer, which helped offset the president's dour nature. She was driven and ambitious, much like Mary Todd Lincoln, and totally committed to her husband, his position, and his legacy.
Nicholas Trist, too, comes in for coverage. He was sent to Mexico by Polk to secure a peace agreement, with an eye toward taking advantage of the seemingly easy military victory, yet realized the wrongs that had led to the war and the many depredations that were committed during the conflict and thus negotiated what the thought was a fair peace.
One of the things I most appreciated about A Wicked War was Greenberg's explanation of how Americans were so driven to expand their country in the name of Manifest Destiny, but yet also, how many were so opposed to the war with their neighbor country to the south.
Obviously the main story in A Wicked War is politics, and, while military history is not the focus of the book, it gets proper and necessary coverage to help with the context of the era. Greenberg looks at many political angles. For example, Polk's rise from seeming obscurity to Democratic presidential nominee and then president was largely due to Andrew Jackson's influence before he died. Also fascinating was Clay's opposition to the annexation of Texas and national expansion in favor of internal improvements, which cost him a shoe-in for the presidency in 1844. And, finally, how Clay's speech in Lexington in 1847, with Lincoln listening in the audience, influenced the congressman from Illinois when he arrived in Washington.
A Wicked War is, in my opinion, the way narrative history should be written. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a full 5. I certainly don't think you will be disappointed with this book and I heartily recommend it.