Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cool Civil War Photograph

I saw this photograph on Facebook friend's post and thought I'd share here, too. Although no information is provided on who is pictured, where the photograph was taken, or when it was taken, it nicely shows two soldiers whittling pieces of wood, a common camp time-killer. The wide-eyed soldier on the left (a sergeant) either looks particularly surprised or wanted to make sure he did not blink while the image was being taken.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Constructing Townscapes

Recently I received an email from a reader asking why I sometimes post my thoughts on books that were published several years ago. At first, I did not know quite how to respond, but when I thought about it, I explained that I hoped my thoughts proved helpful to anyone looking to read about a particular subject. I know I appreciate when someone brings a book to my attention regardless of how long ago it was published. Certainly not everyone will agree with my take on what I read, but if I can direct someone to a different perspective, offer another source, or even save them a buck or two on a purchase, well, its worth doing. I know I often search out what others think before buying a book.

Constructing Townscapes: Space and Society in Antebellum Tennessee by Lisa C. Tolbert (1999) was brought up in a book discussion group when I inquired if anyone knew of a study on slavery as it was experienced in small towns. After reading a couple of online reviews this book sounded like a very intriguing read, so I found a used copy. Constructing Townscapes is so much more than just a study on slavery in small towns. And, while I actually wish more of that particular subject would have been covered in this book, I was not disappointed in what it did explore.

For this study Tolbert looks at four small towns in Middle Tennessee: Franklin, Shelbyville, Murfreesboro, and Columbia. All were county seats and all developed in relatively the same time period, the early-19th century. She studies how citizens constructed these towns and how they rebuilt and rearranged their structure when circumstances initiated change. One interesting examination involved the growth of educational facilities in these towns. While academies for both males and females had been popular in the early-19th century, the growth of colleges often changed how people lived. Female colleges were likely to be found in central residential areas of the towns, while male institutions (much less prevalent in these Middle Tennessee towns) were located on the towns' edges. Tolbert credits the fewer number of male colleges versus female colleges in these towns to the established male universities in the states of North Carolina and Virginia that many of the Middle Tennessee families had migrated from.  Another consideration were those colleges with significant academic reputations in the North, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton all being draws for the sons of middle and upper middle class citizens that largely made up the towns' populations.

My favorite part of the book was the second section, "Walking the Townscape." Here Tolbert looks at how town life was experienced by three groups of people that held relatively little power in the antebellum era: women, young men, and African Americans. Tolbert makes good use of primary sources such as journals and letters kept by women and young men, and court cases involving both enslaved and free African Americans. The author's brief discussion of how the towns' water well served as place of information exchange among the towns' slaves was especially thought-provoking. I was somewhat surprised to see that little use was made of the WPA slave narratives, to expound on the town slave experience. While I am not sure, it seems probable that small town slaves' stories would have received some coverage in the WPA narratives. Instead, Tolbert used Harriet Jacobs's famous story as a small town slave in eastern North Carolina to provide some additional information.

Constructing Townscapes is a fascinating read that provides some much needed coverage of antebellum life in small towns. Towns often get overlooked in favor or studies about southern rural farms and plantations and cities.  Farms and plantations receive so much attention because they covered the vast majority of the South. And cities, although fewer in number in the South produced  large amounts of primary sources for historians to study. I highly recommend Constructing Townscapes to anyone interested in antebellum southern history. It fills a much need void. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Ruin Nation

I attempted to purchase Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War while at a conference about a year ago, but the publishing sales representatives must have been had more pressing business because they were no where to be found at the sales table. After about a 15-20 minute wait, I gave up.  So, Ruin Nation went onto my Wish List, and there it lingered until I finally put in an interlibrary loan request at my local library, who got a copy into my hands.

The wait was worth it. I really enjoyed reading this interesting take on the war. It was and was not what I was expecting. I was expecting to read about the terrible destruction to the built and natural environment that was wrought during the war, but I was not expecting to read about how the war ruined human bodies through amputations.

That is basically how Ruin Nation was organized by author Megan Kate Nelson.  It is broken into four parts:

1 - a look at ruined cities. Hampton, Virginia  in 1861, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in 1864, and Columbia, South Carolina in 1865, come in for the majority of the discussion on this particular section. What prompted these cities' demolitions and how their citizens responded to the destruction was quite interesting and the authors analysis was insightful.

2 - a look at ruined homes. People's thoughts about the safety and sanctity of their homes was challenged during the Civil War. Rifling through people's private residences made some soldiers think twice, while others, calloused by the war, thought little of seeking our personal property for gain or destruction. Whether pulled down to make for clear fields of fire, or burned in revenge, private citizens lost an extraordinary amount of personal property during the war. This sense of lost lasted much longer than the war itself - financially as well as in terms of disdain for the enemy that destroyed.

3 -  ruined landscapes. Armies not only made war against each other, they seemingly made war against nature itself. Trees were cut by the thousands to provide fuel for fires, materials for fortifications, roads, and bridges. Landscapes were changed to make way for military railroads and to form transportation and communications networks - not to mention the man-made forts, trenches, and earthworks that covered the southern environment.

4 - ruined bodies. The destruction caused by improved technology in weaponry in the Civil War was unprecedented. Large numbers of amputations of legs, arms, feet, hands, and fingers created needs not realized before. Who was going to take care of veterans that survived, but survived less than "whole" men? In the North the federal government, and in the South the states provided pensions for those who were physically wrecked by war. Losses of limbs also caused a crisis in gender roles as men struggled to remain providers and women tread on egg shells so as to not overstep traditional boundaries and spheres of responsibilities, but yet survive. And while cities and homes were rebuilt and the destruction caused by the war soon disappeared - and as forests regenerated and landscapes returned to productive farmland - bodies did not fix themselves, limbs did not grow back. Those that suffered lost arms and legs were left to deal with their loss until they breathed their last.

Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War is a book I think almost anyone with an interest in the war will find beneficial. It adds to a growing niche of environmental studies, but as mentioned, it is much more than that.  My only wish is that the author would have touched more upon the mental destruction that occurred to soldiers who experienced combat, but I suppose that could make a book of its own. I highly recommend Ruin Nation. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.75.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Even More Zooming in on Dutch Gap, Virginia

This image of a bomb-proof shelter at Dutch Gap, Virginia is noted as being that of a Major Strong, 16th New York Artillery. The first time I saw it I assumed it was just a photograph of USCT soldiers at that location since there were a number of those regiments located there. But since it is noted as being a particular officer's quarters I suppose these men pictured are the officer's servants.

The man on the right side of the photograph sits on a ladder used to make repairs to the roof of the bomb-proof, which appears to be cut into the side of a hill. The bomb-proof has a wooden door, glass windows and a brick chimney, probably all scavenged from homes in the neighborhood. The man is dressed in a military shell jacket with piping on the cuffs, rolled trousers, and forage cap. His shoe soles appear to be caked with mud.

The man on the left side of the photograph sits on the hillside. He, too, wears what appears to be a shell jacket and trousers that may have a stripe visible on his right leg. A military cap shades his eyes. The shell jacket has sergeant's stripes, which if he is a servant seems quite strange. I would not think that a servant would be allowed to wear the insignia of a non-commissioned officer, then again maybe his officer employer thought it was humorous to have servant wear stripes. I'm not sure. A patch or medal of some kind that looks to be a starburst of some kind adorns the right breast of his jacket. Like his partner, his shoes seem to be muddy, and his socks are bunched up just over his shoe tops.

A pile of entrenching tools lay to the far left side of the photograph. A spade and a couple of picks probably came in handy building the bomb-proof quarters.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Our Peculiar Domestic Institutions"

Recently I shared my thoughts on Joshua Rothman's book Flush Times & Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson. The above image appears on the book's dust jacket. It is a picture that I had seen before, but never quite connected to its time and place.

The picture is a woodcut engraving and was printed in 1840 in the American Anti-Slavery Almanac. Knowing its source helps explain its perspective. However, it is quite obvious from its depiction the intended message it presents. Abolitionists made political capital with the 1835 Mississippi happenings described in Rothman's book by showing the evil influences that slavery produced in southern society.

In the left foreground are two cocks trained to fight. Behind is a master torturing a slave by raking his naked back with a cat while two shirtless men engage in a knife fight. Directly behind the brawlers a horse race is shown.  Horse racing was a popular source of southern entertainment that often left its betting patrons poverty stricken.

In the front center of the image a group of men sit at a table playing cards wagering their earnings on chance. The man on the right side of the table has fatally shoot the man across the from him in the head, while the man with his back to the image pats a slave child on the head implying that he is using the youngster for betting stakes. Behind the poker players is a tree filled with victims of a local lynch mob. Through images like this Abolitionists tried to show that slavery produced a paranoia within its practitioner's ranks.

The right side of the picture shows two men brawling on the ground, likely caused by the effects of alcohol. To their right a man viciously whips a slave child. Abolitionists wanted to vividly demonstrate that the institution caused a callousness that did not spare even its most innocent victims. Behind the whipping scene two men engage in a duel in effort to preserve their high-minded idea of southern honor. In the upper right hand corner a group of men gather to observe and probably wager on a cockfight.

Rothman sums up the image, "All told, the collage of images delivered a powerful message. Debased by greed and accustomed to the violence on which slavery rested, white southern men had become little better than animals, as indifferent to suffering and conditioned to mutilate and murder one another as the fighting cocks they cheered." Propagandist images like this one brought new converts into the ranks of the abolitionists, and on the opposite side, made southerners feel they were being unfairly depicted and judged.  
Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Day of Jubelo

This artist's interpretation of the day that emancipation arrived includes a freedmen's dance in the parlor of their former master's house. In the background children slide down the big house banister while one gets a spanking.  A banjo player picks out a tune as others "cut a rug." One man leans back in an armchair and wears the absent master's stovepipe hat while he downs a jug of some adult beverage. A child in the foreground rolls on the floor amid clutter including a bottle, an overturned chair, and what appears to be a drum. Another youngster looks to be dancing with the adults while a cat plays with his feet.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Joseph Holt on USCT Recruiting in Kentucky

Joseph Holt is probably best known to history as the man that oversaw the prosecution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. However, he was also a native Kentuckian that had had a long political career by that point. For example, in 1857 he was appointed as Commissioner of Patents under the Buchanan administration, and then in 1859 served as Postmaster General, and finally Secretary of War, albeit briefly.

Holt was an unconditional Unionist, not the most common thing from Kentucky in the Civil War. He was instrumental in providing information to the Lincoln administration to help the president handle the Bluegrass State's unique situation.

Unlike most white Kentuckians Holt encouraged black enlistments. In late July 1864, when black recruitment was peaking he wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. While his statements are a often a bit exaggerated and overly optimistic at some points, it provides intriguing reading.

"The recruiting of colored troops, in Kentucky is proceeding most satisfactorily. About ten thousand have already been enlisted, & this number, it is believed, will be doubled in Sixty days. They have for some time been coming in at the rate of about a hundred per day. When we consider the perils & menaces, which these downtrodden men have to brave in making their way to the recruiting stations, we cannot but regard the example of their courage & loyalty & zeal as among the noblest & most cheering signs of the times. The commencement of the recruiting of colored troops in Ky. was signalised by disgraceful outrages perpetrated in the twin, & it would seem inseparable interests of treason & slavery. Slaves escaping from their masters, with a view of entering the military service were waylaid beaten maimed & often murdered. This shameful condition of things, however has disappeared, under improved public sentiment, & from the vigor & success with which the government has continued to press its policy. The popular opinion is rapidly reaching the conclusion that the policy of recruiting colored troops is too firmly established to be resisted, & that it is the interest, as it certainly is the duty of Kentucky to acquiesce in it. The feeble opposition which still remains is fostered mainly by unscrupulous politicians, who hope to make out of this popular irritation a certain amount of political capital to be invested in the approaching presidential election. Upon the whole the recruiting of colored troops in Kentucky, must be held to the a decided success thus far, & to be full of encouragement for the future. The service under the vigilant & faithful administration of Maj[or] Slidell & his subordinates, is marked by energy & discretion, & promises soon to bring to the support of the government a numerous & zealous body of soldiery, of a class whose courage & loyalty have been conspicuous on so many fields.
J. Holt"

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Democratic [Party] Platform Illustrated, 1856

This image makes an attack on the Democratic Party for the election of 1856. The artist paints the political party as proslavery with the vivid storytelling imagery it incorporates.

The view is split in half by an a flag pole with Old Glory waving in the breeze above. Presidential candidate Pennsylvanian James Buchanan and vice presidential candidate Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge's names are emblazoned on the flag along with the phrase "Modern Democracy." The artist apparently shunned subtlety in favor of labeling to make his point clear.

On the left half of the image is a depiction of South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks beating Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a walking cane, which occurred on May 22, 1856, on the U.S. Senate floor. In that scene's background is the burning of free state stronghold Lawrence, Kansas, by proslavery Missourians, which happened the day before the Brooks/Sumner affair. Above the Lawrence action it says "Squatter Sovereignty Demonstrated," a slight at the political idea of popular sovereignty popularized by Democrats, first Lewis Cass of Michigan, then Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Both of these instances were used by the opposing Republican Party to show how undemocratic the Democratic party truly was. Using force to curb free speech, as in the Sumner incident, and violence instead of votes to determine if Kansas would be a free state or slave state proved effective in switching many citizens party allegiance - at least in the North.

On the right half of the image a standing enslaved man and a kneeling slave woman petition as a whip-wielding master stands by. The woman beseeches, "Is this Democracy?" Again, with a play on the word democracy. Interestingly, both the enslaved man and woman are chained to the flagpole, suggesting clearly the United States compliance of the institution. The master, with raised arm and pointing finger declares, "We will subdue you," apparently speaking to the island above his hand and implying that filibuster expeditions (as illustrated by the war ship) to Gulf of Mexico nations would ultimately be successful in expanding slavery. If the imagery did not make the message obvious enough to the viewer, the words "A Due Regard for our Just Rights in the Gulf of Mexico," is included to help clarify.  

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Historical Thinking, Curiosity, and Frustration

You won't find a more enthusiastic advocate for teaching students historical thinking skills than me. Being able to analyze information, understand context, and draw conclusions based on evidence are tools that invaluable for college and career readiness. But, I must admit that at times my historical thinking mind causes me a great deal of frustration. That frustration usually comes from the inability to access additional information to satisfy my curiosity, which is yet another product of historical thinking.

Case in point is the regimental company lithograph partially pictured above for the 108th United States Colored Infantry, Company H. This piece is quite intriguing. It lists the regiment's officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates. At the bottom it also includes a brief regimental history. The 108th USCI was organized at Louisville, Kentucky, and spent a good deal of the war guarding Confederate prisoners at Rock Island, Illinois. After the war they were sent to Mississippi for Reconstruction duty. 

At the end of the list of privates, there is an enumeration of those from Company H that died during the unit's service. While looking over those men's names and their dates of death something caught my attention. Listed fifth from the top of that group is John Hardin. It shows that he was killed at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 9, 1865. My historical thinking mind automatically caught that that date was after the war - which them made me wonder who or what killed this soldier after the belligerent shooting had stopped. Was he killed by a fellow soldier in his company in an accident? Was he killed by a disgruntled citizen of Vicksburg that was upset being under occupation controlled by black troops? I had to find out more.

Looking up Hardin's service records provided some additional information on the man and the incident that ended his life. 

Hardin was born in Oldham County, Kentucky, and enlisted in Louisville on July 12, 1864. He was described as black, 28 years old, and was 5 feet 5 and a half inches tall. The only offense that Harding apparently committed while in service was that he was charged for a canteen and haversack in the winter of 1865. However, one card (pictured above) states clearly that he was shot by Lt. O. E. Babcock of the 10th Indiana Cavalry.

What? Someone on his own side killed him? It appeared so. What caused Babcock to shoot Hardin? Did they get into an argument? Did one soldier say something to the other that caused offense?  Or, was it just an accident?

Yet another card (pictured above), provided even more information. It states in the "Remarks" section, "Killed at Vicksburg, Miss by an officer while taking apples from an orchard, July 9/[18]65."

What? Killed for taking apples? Was that cause for being shot? Surely there is more to this story!

Here is where the frustration set in. No more information was included in Hardin's service records.  A "Casualty Sheet" was included, but offered little additional clues as to what truly happened. It just shows Hardin's name, regiment, company, and "nature of casualty." "Cause of casualty" states, "Killed by Pistol Gun Shot wound," and then who certified the death, the date of death, and place of death.  

My curiosity by now was running wild. Was Lt. Babcock court martialed for this shooting? Was he ever punished? What punishment did he receive? A search for the service records of Babcock came up empty. All I was able to find was a listing in a book from the Indiana Adjutant General's report that said Babcock was mustered out with the rest of this regiment in Vicksburg on August 31, 1865. That was about a month and a half after the shooting incident. Does that mean that he was not court martialed and punished? Was his offense waived due to its victim being African American? 

Is there more information to this incident that is out there? Would there be a report of this in Vickburg's records? Or, since it was a military matter, would those town records be mute? Is there something on file at the National Archives? Or, was the matter totally dropped since Babcock was mustered out so soon after the shooting?

So, there you have it. More questions than answers - a curse of a historical thinking mind.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Historical Doppelganger?

In the past year I have seen a number of celebrity/historical look-a-like comparisons illustrated on the internet. Some are eerily close.

For instance, the similarities between Nicholas Cage and some random 19th century man is quite creepy. The eyes, the nose and mouth are all so closely similar they could seemingly be brothers or father and son.

But, so is a younger John Travolta and some other random daguerreotype era dude. The only real difference is the historical figure doesn't have the divot chin. 

When searching out an image of Andrew Johnson that I could use for my last post, I happened upon a photograph that struck me as reminiscent of someone, but I could not for the life of me figure out who at first. 

I think I have decided why I could not initially come up with who this photo reminded me of.  I think I was imagining a combination of two people and couldn't settle on one. At last it finally struck me that this looked somewhat like Tommy Lee Jones. 

Jones, of course, recently portrayed 19th century Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." The part was a good fit for Jones, especially with the wig. But, I think he makes an even better Andrew Johnson. If they make a movie of Johnson in the next few years (which they won't) Jones should get first right of refusal. By the way, if you are curious, yes, there is as already a biographical movie out there. "Tennessee Johnson" was released in 1942 and starred Van Heflin as Johnson and Lionel Barrymore as, interestingly, Johnson's nemesis Thad Stevens. I caught it once on TMC and wasn't impressed. I would really like to pick the producer and director's brain why they chose Johnson for a movie.

However, if Jones and television political talking head Pat Buchanan could have a love child and waited until he turned late middle age then that would probably be an even better choice to play Johnson.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

116th USCI Soldiers Write to President Johnson

I have mentioned the 116th United States Colored Infantry on several occasions here on Random Thoughts. These men enlisted in Kentucky and trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County. They participated in the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns and after the war, like a number of other USCT units, they were sent to the Texas/Mexico border.

While stationed in south Texas four non-commissioned offers wrote a telling letter to President Andrew Johnson. Knowing Johnson's attitude toward African Americans I am sure the letter had little to no effect on the commander-in-chief. Still, the letter shows their concerns and their demands for the rights they felt their service in the Union army had earned them. These men of limited education but still in the ranks over a year after the war had ended wanted to be heard. They were concerned that the $300 bounty they were to be paid for their enlistment was not going to be honored. Without these funds the soldiers were concerned for their futures and the futures of their families.

White Ranch [Texas] July 3rd 1866

Dear President
I have the honor to address the[e] as follows[.]  the few remarks i wish to say and to inform you of is this[:] the Condition of our familys in Kentucky and the Condition of our self[.] we Kentuckians are men that Came our in this great and noble cause[.] we did come out like men[.] we have stood up to geather with Comrades and have proved not only to the people but to the world that we have been faithfull and prompt to all dutys[.] we have fulfilled all posts that we have been put and then as for a Regiment['s] Commander to treat the soldiers so mean as we have been treated i think is out of the question[.] My President and vice i think as a dutyfull as the 116th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry have not had no more quarters shown them then what [h]as been i dont think it is right[,] for i think that there are not the tenth part of quarters shown us that is intended for us[,] for if our officers and field officers would take the Law as it is given to them and use it they have not the power to use such ill treatment[.] Mr President and vice we learn by the [news]papers that the sum of three Hundred dollars [bounty pay] that was promised us when we inlisted in the service[,] we would not get it[.] but if the [Kentucky] Governer [Thomas E. Bramlette] should turn out the men of our standing barehanded i would like to know how you would expect for us to live ear [here] after[.] we are a nation that was poor and had nothing when we came to the service[.] we had neather house nor money[,] no place to put our familys[.] now these poor nation of colour have spent the best part of his days in slavery[.] now then what must we do[?] must we turn out to steal to get a start [on our future?] we left our wifes and Children no place for them to lay there heads[.] we left them not counted on Equal footing as the white people[.] they where [were] looked on like dogs and we left them with a willing mind to exicute our duty in the army of the United States war to eather to make us a nation of people eather in this generation or the next to come[.] Now Mr President[,] i wish you to ansure [answer] this letter and let us know we are to do[,] as this Regiment is labouring under a great mistake untill you let us know what we are to do and you will releive our mind a great deal and we will remain your affectionate Brother Soldier[.] Direct to
1est Sargint Wm. White
1" D[itt]o McMeail
2" D[itt]o Taylor
[Corpor]arl Thomass

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Flush Times and Fever Dreams

It has been about four months and 20 books ago since I posted a "Just Finished Reading" report. I am not sure what to credit that to. Maybe it has been just a simple lack of motivation.  I have certainly come across some good reads in that meantime, and maybe I will get a breeze of inspiration and eventually post on some of them. My recent read, however, was just too good not to share.

I had read Joshua Rothman's Notorious in the Neighborhood about a year and a half ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was happy to hear about his new book Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

As someone who has been fascinated with the culture and society of the Old South for years, this book was just up my alley. In it Rothman examines the expansion of the nation in the early nineteenth century into areas formerly occupied by Native Americans and that gave way to the cotton boom. In the early and mid-1830s the economy was on a seemingly endless upward coaster ride. Land for cotton farming was being bought and sold so well in Mississippi and men were banking on the continuation of those good times. While reading I saw many similarities between that time period and our recent recession in 2008 and the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s. But like a roller coaster, and those other eras, what goes up usually must come down - and in 1837 an economic panic hit that wiped out much of the accumulated wealth of the region and which took decades to rebuild. All before being wiped away again by the Civil War and emancipation.

Rothman though concentrates the majority of Flush Times and Fever Dreams on the year 1835 - when things were still going well - at least economically. Socially, things were different. As mentioned above, men came to Mississippi in the 1830s to make fortunes. Those that didn't do so well either gave up or sought to take from those that were doing well. In this culture men like John A. Murrell, a born loser if there ever was one, made a living robbing, stealing horses and slaves, and often killing his victims.

The peculiar and interrelated factors that led to the economic boom on the cotton frontier also led to its eventual demise, both economically and socially. Men bought land to produce more cotton, and purchased more slaves to plant, cultivate, and harvest that cotton. It was a vicious cycle that caught many up in its pull. Banks lent enormous amounts of money because the potential return was so great. But the seeds of demise were being sown with the mono-crop. Slave populations grew in many parts of cotton growing Mississippi to where they outnumbered whites by wide margins. With that extreme disparity in numbers came extreme fears. Fears that turned into violence. As Rothman explains, "It was a truism of life under slavery in the United States that white southerners feared their slaves might rise against them. But in the [Old] Southwest, Americans had created ideal circumstances for the situation they dreaded most."

When a rumor was spread that the then incarcerated Murrell had hatched a plot to organize slaves for a massive insurrection in which the whites would be killed and their riches would be collected, a massive backlash was let loose. In Madison County, Mississippi, white men believed to be associated with Murrell were rounded up and whipped, beaten, and killed to extract confessions and information. Black slaves suspected or over heard speaking of the incident were whipped and hanged too. In nearby Vicksburg, a mob of the most town's usually most respectable citizens turned furious against the professional gamblers there that they believe polluted the morals of the community and were a drain on the city's wealth.

Rothman does an excellent job of telling the story of Murrell, his would be captor Virgil Stewart, the "respectable citizens" of Vicksburg, and the rein or furor and violence that rocked west central Mississippi in July of 1835. Tying these heinous acts to the atmosphere of the times and the society it had created is one of the book's greatest achievements.

I highly recommend Flush Times and Fever Dreams to anyone interested in antebellum southern history - or for that matter, anyone that enjoys reading a good story. I sincerely believe you won't be disappointed by the writing, research, and storytelling you will find in this book. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a full and worthy 5.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Who Is the Real Number One?

At this time of year when college football is just starting up everyone wants to know, who is number one? I have always thought that to discuss this issue so early in the season was foolish. I am of the mind that it will work itself out when all of the games are finally played.

Likewise, I have always thought that historic firsts were a little foolish. Does it really matter who was the first to do this or that, or who had the most such and such, or which regiment lost the most men at a certain battle? But, being the objective person I try to be, I do see some benefits for claiming first place. After all, who remembers second - except for those who are in second.

Such is the case when over and over I hear that Kentucky was second only to Louisiana in number of United States Colored Troop enlistments. One online reference I located and that seems correct states that the Pelican State sent 24,502 African American men into the ranks. It credits Kentucky for 23,703.  The next closest state is Tennessee with 20, 133. That is a pretty big gap between second and third - not nearly as small as the margin between first and second. Frankly, I was never a math major, but my elementary subtraction skills show that the difference it is only 799 men.

One must take into account a few factors with these numbers:
1. Kentucky was allowed to delay recruitment of African American slaves as soldiers until late May/early June 1864. Therefore, the Bluegrass State had a significantly shorter duration of time to enlist men than Louisiana did. Over a full year in most instances.

2. As noted in recent previous posts to my blog, hundreds - possibly thousands - of Kentucky slaves fled to Tennessee to enlist in the spring, summer, and fall of 1863, and on into the winter and early spring of 1864. Not only were Kentucky slaves going south, they also went to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, as well as other Northern states - even Massachusetts. Yes, Kentuckians served in the famous 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments. However Kentucky does not get historical credit for those soldiers.

The service record shown above of Gabriel Young, a Kentucky slave from Mason County (on the Ohio River), who had fled to Ohio to enlist at Ripley (an abolitionist and Underground Railroad hotbed) provides a piece evidence that this soldier was credited to the 6th District of Ohio, not to Kentucky. If you are keeping count, that is only 798 now separating Louisiana and Kentucky.

I would almost bet the farm that over 800 more such men could be found in regiments for other states that actually belonged to Kentucky. In the end does it matter? More and more I am of the mind that it does.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Zooming In on the Faces of the 107th USCI Band

Confederate general Robert E. Lee once remarked, "I do not believe that we can have an army without music." Army brass bands - as well as fife and drum corps were (no pun intended) - instrumental to nineteenth century military forces. The inspiration that music provided to soldiers before, during, and after battles is often overlooked by historians, but their musical efforts were certainly well appreciated by their comrades in arms.

I shared a primary source a few posts back from a soldier in the 5th United States Colored Cavalry that mentioned that the unit had saved $900 to purchased instruments for a brass band, but that the regiment's white officers had threatened to take them away, presumably to sell them and keep the money. That piece of evidence along with the above photograph of the 107th United States Colored Infanrty (and like the 5th USCC, raised in Kentucky) provide impressive proof that military music was important to black troops, too.

I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the faces of some of the men that provided musical enjoyment for the 107th. A steely determination can be seen in their countenances that are just as impressive as images of the regiment's soldiers who held rifles.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Todd County Citizens Petition for Compensation and Credit for Runaways

A few days ago I shared a petition by Christian County, Kentucky citizens to Governor Bramlette seeking help in stopping the flow of runaways to Clarksville and Fort Donelson in Tennessee. That request was drafted in January 1864 - before African Americans began being enlisted in Kentucky. Six months later, their neighbors in Todd County wrote to Gen. Lorenzo Thomas (adjutant general and special recruiter of the Bureau of Colored Troops) with a similar, yet different request:

"The undersigned loyal Citizen of Todd County in the State of Kentucky respectfully represent: that they reside on the borders of the State of Tennessee and about twenty five miles from Clarksville Tennessee.

That within tweleve months past several hundred slaves have left their owners in the Co[unty] and gone to Clarksville where a part of them have enlisted as Soldiers in the Army of the United States. but a large number are still lounging about Clarksville in idleness or are on the [Cumberland] river engaged at intervals on trade boats. The owners have received no compensation for the slaves and the State no credit for such as have been enlisted in the army. The owners cannot recover them nor can they enlist them because the slaves object

They are still going in large numbers. Some to avoid the draft & other we suppose to live in idleness. They will not enlist while they know they can so easily avoid Military duty and labor at home:

These facts result in great hardships to Our people. are prejudicial tot he interest of the Government: We therefore Respectfully request that you will publish and order or extend order No. 25 so as to direct that such slaves be seized by the provo.[st] Marshals in Tennessee at the requst of the owner. & deliver to the proper authorities in Kentucky to be enlisted. that Kentucky may receive her proper credits for those remaining to be enlisted
H. G. Petree
J. G. Hollingworth
J. H. Lowry
S. Black
E. B. Edwards
J. G. Roach
J. R. Penick"

Gen. Thomas eventually endorsed the petition and ordered that all runaways in Clarksville be put to work. Col. Reuben Mussey, who directed black recruitment in that part of Tennessee replied that all African Americans had been put to work or enlisted in the army already. No mention was apparently made about the issue of Kentucky being credited for their black enlistments so white Kentuckians would not have to serve in a war they were finding less and less friendly to their slaveholding interests.