Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Henry Clay Pate vs. John Brown

I have recently started doing some research for an article I want to write on how Kentuckians reacted to John Brown's raid. Being that Kentucky was a Border State, and potentially just as dangerously poised geographically as Harper's Ferry, I though that I might find some very interesting viewpoints; and so far I haven't been disappointed.

Today I was looking through rolls of microfilm of 1859 Kentucky newspapers. In an edition of the Frankfort Commonwealth I ran across an article that was a reprint from a Petersburg, Virginia newspaper. Henry Clay Pate was its author and John Brown was his target. (For information on Pate, see my July 15, 2009 post.) Here it is in its entirety:

FEROCIOUS MANIFESTO FROM HENRY CLAY PATE--His Disgust at Old Brown.-- H. Clay Pate, the Border Ruffian hero of Black jack, has published a card in reply to the charge of having shown the white feather [cowardice] to his old Kansas conqueror, Ossawattomie Brown His letter closes with the following allusion to the imprisoned insurrectionist.

As to Old Brown, he has been an outlaw all his life. Professing to be a zealous Christian, he is a fanatical hypocrite. Living at different times in almost every State in the Union, he has been everything by starts and nothing long, except as mean a man as a horse thief can be, and as treacherous as an heir of hell and a joint heir of the devil.

I said of Brown in the St. Louis Republican, in 1856: " He told me he would take the life of a man as quick as he would that of a dog, if he thought it necessary. He said if a man stood between him and what he considered right, and he considered Abolitionism right, he would take his life more coolly as he would eat his breakfast. His notions show what he is. Always restless, he seems never to sleep. With an eye like a snake, he looks like a demon. Apparently a miserable outlaw, he prefers war to peace, that pillage and plunder may the more safely be carried on. And this is a leader of the Free State party in Kansas."

There is no reason why I should change any opinion of John Brown in 1859.

If what I have said is not enough, the public need expect from me nothing more of defense with the pen. Three years ago I thrashed one coward who said I surrendered, and when he was called on for satisfaction, would not accept a challenge. I am just as able to do the same thing in 1859 as i was in 1856, and possibly a little abler. H. CLAY PATE
Petersburg, Va., Oct. 1, 1859
This article is interesting in that, if the date is correct, it was published before the Harper's Ferry raid, which occurred on October 16, 1859. It was common practice for newspapers to recycle articles from other newspapers. This is just speculation, but possibly the Commonwealth editor had remembered reading this article and thought he would make use of it in the wake of the Harpers Ferry raid while this event was the biggest story in the following weeks.

Another significant point that this article bring out is the sense of honor that Southerners seemingly put above almost all else. The article clearly states that Pate "published a card in reply to the charge of having shown the white feather." A man's honor was not to be trifled with in the 19th century South. Being labeled a coward was seen as unmanly and therefore a heinous insult. At the end of the article Pate himself confirmed the allegation, but attempted to express his willingness to disprove the charge when he said that, "I thrashed a coward who said I surrendered," and that he called "for satisfaction," but that the accuser "would not accept a challenge."

Pate went to Charlestown, Virginia to visit Brown in jail. Apparently, as one would expect, the visit did not go well. Pate was all to happy to see his old nemesis incarcerated and gloated over his capture. Brown told Pate that he had met many people braver than the young Border Ruffian, to which Pate responded by calling Brown a villain.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just finished reading - The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth by Earl J. Hess

The notion that the rifle musket revolutionized warfare has been purported since about the time the smoke cleared from the last battles of the Civil War. Scholars have long claimed that this weapon drove casualty rates to unprecedented levels, made decisive victories rare, and relegated cavalry and artillery support to minor roles in combat actions.

Hess explores these previously long-held myths in The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat. Hess is a history professor at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee and is also a noted Civil War scholar that has written over ten well-received books, including a trilogy study of field fortifications in the eastern theater.

Hess contends that the rifle musket's major impact in the Civil War was mainly in the marginal areas of skirmishing and sniping. He compares statistics from the Civil War with earlier wars (both in Europe and in America) that were fought with smoothbore weapons and found that there was not a real significant difference in the rate of causalities. He argues that longer range rifle musket's potential was nullified in part by poor training. Civil War soldiers were rarely trained on how to judge distances or use the adjustable sights found on the Springfield and Enfield rifle muskets that dominated Civil War army's weaponry. In addition, soldiers were usually not afforded the luxury of target practice to become familiar with the way the weapons shot; most had to learn on the job, and to their harm. Officers and soldiers also negated the potential long-range effectiveness of the rifle musket due to their preference for short-range firing. It is difficult to feel that one if effectively damaging the enemy if he is too distant to see. Much along the same lines, these weapons produced immense clouds of smoke that obscured the enemy and caused battle lines to draw closer together in order to see the enemy targets.

Another point that Hess makes is that the rifle musket had a relatively short life in military actions. The Mexican War, which was fought about 13 years before the Civil War largely involved smoothbore flintlock muskets. Rifle muskets were a relatively new weapon when the North and South went to war. War has a strange way of speeding technology though; as men try to find better ways to kill each other. This was of course true for the Civil War as well, which witnessed the rise of breech loading and repeating weapons (especially on the Union side) in the second half of the war. Weapons such as Spencer's repeating rifle that shot seven rounds before reloading, and the Henry rifle, the precursor to the Winchester of Old West fame, brought about significant technological changes. After the Civil War these new weapons quite quickly made the rifle musket almost obsolete on the world's battlefields. For example, shortly after the Civil War the United States army adopted the breech loading Springfield Trapdoor and days of loading by way of the muzzle with a ramrod were gone.

Hess also explores the myth that the rifle musket caused the extensive use of field fortifications and trench works that were the precursors to World War I type warfare. He explains that field fortifications were used all throughout the war and that their extensive use for, starting in the spring of 1864, can be attributed more the constant closeness and fighting of the armies than to the rifle musket.

At a few places Hess takes time to discuss slightly off topic items, but to me this only added value to the book. I especially enjoyed his short looks at body armor used during the Civil War, and the effectiveness of some of the skirmishing/sharpshooting units.

This well-written and researched book should be read by all military history students. His challenge to the long standing myth of the rifle musket is argued convincingly and supported with sound statistics and soldier's first-hand accounts. This is a book that will not disappoint anyone with an interest in Civil War combat.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Just finished reading - Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier by Juliet E.K. Walker

This Christmas holiday season has provided me with the opportunity to catch up on reading some books that I have had for quite some time but had not gotten around to reading. Its been the story of my life since I went back to college 10 years ago to get my history degree....too many books....too little time.

Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker is a direct descendant of "Free Frank" McWorter. She worked on what became this book while studying under the late renowned historian John Hope Franklin at the University of Chicago. She is now a history professor at the University of Texas.

The story of Free Frank is in many ways similar to that of William Johnson, a free black barber in Natchez Mississippi (see August 2, 2009 post). Both men used hard work and entrepreneurship to make a better life for themselves and their families. But, whereas Johnson remained in the slave South his entire life, Free Frank eventually made his way to the free state of Illinois.

Free Frank's biography is in itself amazing. Dr. Walker tells the story of Frank's life by using personal and legal papers handed down to descendants, as well as family oral history. She also deftly provides amazing context to the larger picture of what was happening in American history during Frank's long life.

Free Frank lived a life on the frontier. He was born in Union County, South Carolina in 1777. At this time upland South Carolina was much less populated than the tidewater part of the state and it was being claimed by whites from the Cherokees. Frank's father was evidently his white owner, George McWorther, and his mother was a West African-born slave named Juda. Frank's life would be a story of struggle from the first. Family tradition has it that Juda was sent to a nearby woods to deliver Free Frank by herself. Walker speculates that this might have been done for a number of reasons. McWorther may have wished his progeny to have the least possible chance of survival, or maybe he thought that Juda would somehow miscarry the infant if birthed in less than ideal conditions. But, Walker also explains that it wasn't unusual for slave women to birth children on their own, and that it may have been Juda's choice rather than the master's demand to have the child outside. Whatever the reason, Frank's birth was only the first obstacle he would have to hurdle.

Frank's childhood was not so unusual. He grew up doing the work of a slave child on McWorther's farm. Upland South Carolina was not a place of sprawling plantations. The 1790 census shows that Frank was one of five slaves owned by McWorther. In 1795 George McWother purchased land in what was then Lincoln County, Kentucky; it would eventually become Pulaski County. McWorther and Frank followed the Wilderness Road into Kentucky that year to work the new lands and make a new homestead. Frank was once again on the frontier. Kentucky had become a state in 1792, and settlement had proved rather rapid, but it was still a rural wilderness. A year after moving to Kentucky, Frank met Lucy, the woman who would become his wife in 1799. Lucy was owned by a different master, William Denham, but the couple were still allowed to marry although they did not live together for almost their first twenty years together.

In Kentucky, McWorther hired out Frank to other local farmers and Frank was allowed to keep part of his earnings. In 1815 George McWorther moved to south central Tennessee and Frank was left to run the Pulaski County farm. During the war of 1812, while Frank was running the farm independently, he took up the side venture of mining crude nitre from local caves in order to produce saltpeter,which was a main ingredient in making gun powder. Gunpowder was an important commodity on the frontier and the second war against England. Through his hiring out and individual mining enterprise Frank eventually saved up enough money to by his wife in 1817 for $800. He most likely bought her first since any more children that she had would then be free. McWorther had died in 1815 and Frank naturally fell into ownership of McWother's heirs. Frank had proven his ability over the years and was fortunately allowed to remain running the profitable farm in Kentucky. During these years he expanded his mining operation, eventually moving his principle market to a larger Danville, Kentucky and continued to save his money. He finally purchased his own freedom in 1819 for the same price he had paid for Lucy. Now a free man, "Free Frank" bought property, continued mining, and dealt in livestock.

Over the following years Frank would continue to purchase his children that had been born in slavery. In the late 1820s he started selling off his Kentucky lands, and in 1830 he purchased land in sparsely settled Pike County, Illinois and moved Lucy and four of their children there that year; he was 53 years old. He bought other adjacent land while in Illinois and continued to purchase his children that had been left in Kentucky slavery. In 1836 he platted out a town that he hoped would eventually become a booming location. Although Frank could not read or write, he seemed capable of attaining any wish he had. Frank had a map drawn up for the town and sold some of the lots that housed some stores and merchants, but the town never took off like he had hoped.

Frank eventually had his name legally changed to Frank McWorter, not McWorther, as was his former master's name. When he died in 1854 at age 77, he had purchased himself and the freedom of sixteen members of his family (children, grandchildren, sons and daughters-in-law)at a cost of almost $14,000.

Dr. Walker states sums up Frank's story well in the concluding paragraph of her introduction to this book. "Free Frank's life as a slave, his activities to free himself and his family, the westward move to settle an undeveloped wilderness, and his establishment of a town take on a new historical significance when seen within the context of the broader society in which he lived. This study is one of the few biographies of an illiterate black man whose life began in the last quarter of the eighteenth century with the birth of a nation, and whose experiences bridged not only two centuries but two worlds-slave and free.

This 173 page book is an informative and entertaining read. The research that Walker used in the families papers that have survived as well as with county, state, and national government records is impressive. This unique story is an inspiration to what can be accomplished through hard work and appropriately applied ambition....and the desire for liberty.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

One View of Slavery in Art: Thomas Satterwhite Noble

History is interesting to me for so many different reasons, but one in particular is the joy of finding individuals that defy convention. Applying stereotypes is an all too easy way for us to make sense of the past and present. But, thankfully there are those rare people who come along ever so often and shake things up, keep us on our toes, and remind us that not everyone in a certain category sees things the same way.

I think a good example of this is artist Thomas Satterwhite Noble. Noble was born in 1835 into a slaveholding Lexington, Kentucky family that owned a hemp plantation and rope manufacturing business. He is said to have spent many evenings in the slave field quarters listening to the stories they told. He was educated at that city's Transylvania University and then went to Louisville to study under Samuel Woodson Price in the early 1850s. He then moved to New York and then on to St. Louis, and in 1856 he moved to Paris, France to study under Thomas Couture. He returned to the United States before the Civil War, and settled again in St. Louis. When war broke out he joined a Missouri Confederate regiment and eventually became a captain. He later explained that he joined the Confederate cause for his and the local community's strong belief in states' rights, and not out of any attachment to the institution of slavery.

When he returned to St. Louis following the war and then to New York where he took up African Americans as the primary focus of his works. Whether his motive was out of personal empathy for blacks, and to highlight their struggles, or for potentially greater sales in the Northern art market, or some combination of the two, is open to interpretation.

One of Nobles earliest paintings is "The Last Sale of Slaves in St. Louis," (pictured below)originally painted in 1865, but repainted in 1870 after the first copy was damaged. Another early painting (1867) is "Margaret Garner," which illustrates the true story of a northern Kentucky slave who had escaped on the frozen Ohio River only to be cornered in a Cincinnati house by slave catchers where she murdered one of her children rather than see it returned to slavery. This particular picture seems to show the horror of slavery and the horrors of infanticide at the same time.

In 1868 he painted what is I think one of the most striking images that I have ever viewed. "The Price of Blood" depicts a mixed race son, being sold by the seated slave owning father. The slave trader is standing behind a table that has several stacks of gold coins. The dealer is intently looking at the sales papers while the son, hat in hand and barefooted, looks away. The father/owner seems both at ease and disturbed at the same time by the proceedings. In the back ground is a painting on the wall depicting the biblical scene of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice.

Noble painted a number of other slave related images. His view of "John Brown's Blessing," while historically inaccurate in content and setting, shows the compassion and understanding that Brown demonstrated throughout his life toward African Americans.

Whatever may have been Noble's primary motivation, these images painted during the troubling years of Reconstruction are hardly what one would expect from a former Confederate officer that was raised on slaveholding Kentucky plantation. His seemingly sincere, dignified, and empathetic portrayal of African Americans during slavery reveal that not all Southerners during Reconstruction fit so neatly into the pigeon hole with the stereotypical violent, racist, Yankee-hating Rebel.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Just finished reading - Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles by Chad Berry

I like it when just shortly after reading a book, I see, hear, or in some other way, come across an aspect of the subject I have just read. Somehow it seems to make the effort of reading even more rewarding. Well, it happened just this week. I had no sooner finished reading Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles when, while watching "A Christmas Story," (the Ralphie one, not the Scrooge one) I saw an example of what I had just read.

In one of the last scenes of the film the gazillion or so hound dogs of Ralphie's neighbors, the "hillbilly" Bumpas family, descend on Ralphie's mother's kitchen and devour the Christmas turkey, leaving the family to eat out at a Chinese restaurant. Now, there is no doubt that I have seen "A Christmas Story" about as many times as the Bumpas family had hound dogs, but I had never really made the connection to where the story was set (a Northern Indiana town), and when the story was placed, (in the 1940s) with what was going on at the time historically.

During the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, thousands of white Southerners made their way north to work in factories, making everything from automobiles to canned vegetables, and in just about every other line of work available. The lack of jobs, combined with a booming population, especially in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia, caused one of the greatest in-country migrations that America has ever experienced. Cities such as Detroit, Flint, and Lansing in Michigan; Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, Dayton, and Cincinnati in Ohio; Milwaukee in Wisconsin, and Gary, Hammond, Indianapolis, Munice and Mishawaka in Indiana were flooded with white Southerners looking for an honest job for honest pay.

While the "Great Black Migration" of roughly the same time period has received a number of focused books and scholarly articles, the even larger white migration has received relatively little attention. Dr. Chad Berry, a professor at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky has done much to fill that void with Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles. The book was developed mainly from oral history accounts that he had conducted; including his own grandfather a west Tennessee farmer that made his way to northern Indiana.

Berry notes that many of the white Southerners were not welcomed by their Northern hosts. Stereotyped images of drunk, brawling, lazy, promiscuous, gun-wielding hillbillies kept many hard working Southerners from receiving a fair treatment. Their strange accents, music, and customs only seemed to alienate the migrants from their Northern coworkers. Many Southerners chose to stay in the North after locating stable jobs, while others only worked long enough to earn money to go back South and purchase a few acres of farmland. Many white Southerners who made the trek North sent their pay back to their families, while others sent for their families once they were established. Homesickness though proved to be too strong for many and frequent trips back home on the weekends or holidays were quite common. Berry also makes a point to show that when many of those who had stayed in the North reached retirement age, they returned to the South to live.

Many aspects of the migrants lives are touched upon in this study. Everything from the proliferation of country-western radio stations in the Midwest during this period due to the migrant's tastes, to the establishment of churches that met the spiritual needs of the Southern migrants are discussed. Berry's oral history interviews with actual participants in the historic migration bring the story to life, and one can't help but empathize with their struggles to attain economically stable lives in order to provide a better existence for their families.

I think I enjoyed this book so much because I could relate (to some extent) what these white Southern migrants went though on a couple of levels.

First, when I was nine years old my family moved from east Tennessee to southern Indiana. I remember after moving in that I and my brother were kidded about our accents almost constantly. I especially remember that my fellow classmates found it quite humorous the way I said the word "school." I naturally pronounced it without the "l;" it had always been "schooo" to me in Tennessee. Although most of the ribbing I received was good natured, it sometimes stung a little too. I also remember in my first week of school that my third grade teacher asked me to show her on the class map where I had moved from. Since the little town of Harriman, Tennessee was not on the map I proudly found the closest town of size, Oak Ridge, and said, "around here." She looked at me with somewhat sad eyes and said, "Oh Appalachia!" Now, I don't know if she meant anything by that, but it made me feel different than the rest of the class.

Secondly, the story of white Southern migration is the story of many members of my family; on both my mother's and father's sides. I had a number of uncles, aunts, great uncles, and great aunts that moved from counties in south-central Kentucky to places like Munice and Columbus, Indiana for jobs. Most of them that went, stayed, had families, and never permanently returned to Kentucky.

This story of the wave of white Southern migrants that went north is one that everyone should become familiar with. The customs and culture that white Southerners brought with them has changed the fabric of American life. However difficult the adjustment, eventually, after some time, most that stayed were accepted as friends and neighbors, however different they seemed to be.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to Everyone, and God Bless Us All!

Personality Spotlight: Elizabeth Thorn

Above: Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse, Gettysburg, PA, after the battle

Above: Peter and Elizabeth Thorn
I have found that one of the most rewarding things about studying history is that you constantly discover people that you never knew existed. What makes it even more special is when you find those people of the past that hurdled obstacles in their way and accomplished incredible feats that help inspire you in the present.

The other day I ran across the account of a woman from Gettysburg named Elizabeth Thorn. Now, I have read extensively on military history of the Battle of Gettysburg, but I had not really taken the time to find out about the toll the battle took on the civilian population of this small Pennsylvania town.

Elizabeth Masser Thorn was born in 1832 in Germany and had emigrated to the United States with her parents in 1854. The Massers settled in Gettysburg where Elizabeth met Peter Thorn, who had also recently emigrated from Germany. The couple was married in September 1855, the same day that the cornerstone for Evergreen Cemetery (Peter's employer) was laid. The couple took up the duties of cemetery caretaker and wife. One of the perks to the seemingly morbid work was that Peter and Elizabeth were allowed to live in the Cemetery gatehouse for free, which was good because Peter was only paid $150.00 per year. By the time of the battle that would swirl around their gatehouse home, the house was also filled with couple's three boys and Elizabeth's aging parents.

Peter enlisted in the Union army in 1862 and his cemetery duties fell to his wife and father-in-law. Elizabeth left a vivid account of the Confederate army's inital visit to Gettysburg and the battle that followed. Elizabeth and her family stayed as long as they could in the basement of gatehouse, but were ordered to leave during the battle. She and her father returned one evening to gather some personal items, but almost everything they owned had been taken by the combatants that had fought there. They quickly left again and finally returned on July 7 to find death and destruction all around their home.

Upon their return Elizabeth and her father had been instructed by the Cemetery's president to mark off and dig as many graves as possible in which to bury the dead soldiers. Her aged father was not able to provide much help, but they eventually buried over one hundred soldiers; all while she was six months pregnant.

Elizabeth would name her new born daughter Rose Meade Thorn, in honor of Union general George G. Meade who commanded the Union forces at Gettysburg. She continued to be caretaker of the cemetery until her husband was mustered out of the Union army in 1865. The Thorns continued their role at Evergreen until Peter resigned in 1874; they both passed away in 1907.

Today a monument of the six-months pregnant Elizabeth Thorn (shovel by her side) stands in the Evergreen Cemetery to commemorate the sacrifices that she and other Gettysburg women made during and after the brutal battle that changed their lives forever.

In October I was able to visit Gettysburg. However, I am sorry that I was unaware of this story or the monument pictured above. Had I known of its existence I would have certainly taken a few minutes to see it for myself. Hopefully I will get the chance to make it to Gettysburg once again in the future and do just that.
For Elizabeth's account go to:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Poinsettia - Named for a Southerner

Christmas may just be a plant lover's favorite holiday. Along with the ubiquitous fir trees, and the mistletoe, the poinsettia is also known for its association with the holiday. And, while everyone knows what a poinsettia looks like, many people probably do not realize that the plant was named for a man who is now little known outside of his native state of South Carolina.

Joel Roberts Poinsett was born in Charleston in 1779. During his lifetime he attained the high government positions of U.S. Congressman, Secretary of War (under Martin Van Buren), and the first Minister to Mexico (under James Madison). Poinsett was also known for his contrary outspoken unionism during the Nullification Crisis in the early 1830s. His correspondence and inside information to President Andrew Jackson kept the chief executive appraised of the situation in the Palmetto state and thus allowed the president to take a firm stand without risking the possibility of armed conflict. In addition, Poinsett helped found the National Institution for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts (the predecessor of the Smithsonian Institution).

Poinsett, like many men in his day, dabbled in science. His specific interest was botany, and it was while he was Minister to Mexico, he visited southern Mexico (Taxco del Alaracon) and he discovered the bright and beautiful plant. Poinsett instantly fell in love with the plant and had specimens shipped back to his green houses in South Carolina and to botanist friends. One of Poinsett's plants was sent to Phildelphian John Bartram, who in turned provided a plant to noted botanist and author Robert Buist. Interestingly, when I interned at the Stonewall Jackson House I learned that Jackson, a green thumb himself, owned a copy of Buist's book on gardening.

The name Poinsettia started to come into use in the mid 1830s and the plant's association with Christmas developed over the years. National Poinsettia Day, December 12, was declared in honor of Joel R. Poinsett who passed away on that day in 1851. Merry Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Just finished reading - Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism by George C. Rable

In graduate school I took a class that has had a significant impact on my overall historical understanding; "U.S. Women to 1900." I suppose, at that time, I had not really thought much about the importance of studying specific avenues of history. Sure, I had had classes in specific eras such as, Age of Jackson, Early America, World War I, and a host of others, but I hadn't fully grasped the importance of studying gender history. The class really opened my eyes and got me interested in women's history; especially 19th century Southern women's history.

Author George C. Rable, professor of history at the University of Alabama, focuses Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism upon the white women of the antebellum, Civil War, and postwar South. Their stories are as diverse as the women who left the letters, journals, and diaries that make up much of his research. Not only does he look at the voluminous amount of material left by those elite women of Southern society, but he also searched for and examines the scraps of information left by middle-class and poor white women.

The overall theme that came to me from reading this story is one of tragedy. These women were part of the Southern world that saw unprecedented change in such as short span of time. Whether these women were slaveholders or not, they lived in a society based on the uncompensated labor of others and rarely questioned the right or wrong of it. The level of loss and suffering that the Civil War brought these women is staggering. Not only did Southern women have to deal with the grief of losing kin and friends, the economic losses and social changes they endured is heart breaking. During the war and Reconstruction years they faced challenges they thought they would never see, and like all wars, opportunities came as well.

As their fathers, brothers, and husbands were sent off to war women accepted many of the roles that were traditionally held by men. Women were hired to do all kinds of work that was formerly thought unlady-like. Southern white women often sought out any duty that they felt would help their cause. They filled in as store and government clerks, they served as nurses (at the time a role traditionally filled by men), they held fundraisers, they formed sewing circles, and they managed businesses, and ran farms and plantations. Southern women made sacrifices in food and clothing and they and their children suffered for those decisions. Many was the woman who asked why she was made a woman instead of man, because if she was a man she could go out and fight the hated enemy Yankees.

While some Southern women proved to be the greatest supporters of the Confederate war effort, others proved to be some of its greatest destroyers. As the war continued on into 1863 and 1864, women, like some soldiers in the Southern ranks, lost heart due to the enormous toll that the war brought to their lives. Especially poor white women petitioned their governors and President Davis for the exemption of their husbands from conscripted service. Others skipped the formality of corresponding through official channels and asked their husbands to desert and come home or else they and their children would surely starve.

Rable takes great care to cover just about every facet of Southern white women's worlds. His look at the strained relationships between white women and black slaves during the war is especially interesting. But, one area that I noticed Rable did not cover was Southern white women's formal literary efforts during the war. While I was in that "U.S. Women to 1900" class I researched for a paper the role that writing played in allowing Southern women to express themselves patriotically and as a "vent" during the Civil War. Women poured out their patriotic feelings in letters to editors of newspapers, in magazine articles, and in poems, and songs, and even in a few novels. Writing in a public forum had not been part of Southern women's sphere before the Civil War to large extent. Yes, a few Southern women such as Augusta Jane Evans had written books in the antebellum years, but they were certainly in a small minority. However, the war brought the opportunity for women to show that they could contribute in yet another way; by submitting their literary efforts. Some prudent women used pseudonyms to mask their true identity, but others such as the previously mentioned August Jane Evans, Julia L. Keyes, and Margaret Junkin Preston wrote and published extensively during the war years and after.

The Reconstruction years up to the end of the 19th century brought a continuation of challenges and opportunities to Southern white women. This period saw the rise of the Lost Cause theme of remembrance, which was promoted heavily by Southern white women. Numerous ladies memorial societies and the United Daughters of the Confederacy formed to make sure that the suffering and sacrifices during the war years by white Southerners would not be forgotten. These organizations raised funds to erect memorials, and established cemeteries to honor those that they saw as having fallen in honor of a worthy cause. Part of Rable's last paragraph of the book expresses an important concluding point, "As important participants in the rebuilding of the Southern economy and culture, they [Southern white women] remained loyal to their class and race, avoiding the risks of becoming involved in sexual politics. Although a few boldly looked to the future, and more nostalgically looked back to a glorious past, most lived from day to day, much as their mothers and grandmothers had done, praying for their families, perhaps hoping for better days, but seldom expecting miracles."

Civil Wars is a great option for those looking for an better understanding of what life was like for Southern white women during the mid-19th century, and I certainly recommend it along with Drew Gilpin Faust's Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Five Forks Gets New Visitor Center

When I lived in Petersburg, Virginia I lived literally yards away from where the Union 6th Corps broke through A.P. Hill's lines on the morning of April 2, 1865. My apartment building was uniquely situated between the Confederate line of entrenchments and the spot where Hill was shot and killed that April morning.

What was probably the major action that allowed the attack of the 6th Corps, occurred the day before a few short miles to the west. The defeat at the Battle of Five Forks, often referred to as the "Waterloo of the Confederacy," in effect sealed the fate of Lee's dug-in army around Petersburg and Richmond.

Many times when I wanted some peace and quiet I would drive down Boydton Plank Road to White Oak Road and then on to Five Forks. It was like traveling back in time. The area is still very rural and other than an occasional friendly farmer there was never many people out and about when I would visit the battlefield. I remember how happy I was to visit there for the first time shortly after moving to Southside Virginia. I was surprised to find there were a number of informative waysides to read and really impressed there was even a visitor center...I say visitor center, but really it was little more than a ranger station. In fact, it was formerly a painted concrete block service station that the National Park Service had remodeled into a "visitor center." The visitor center had things that most NPS battlefield visitor centers have; there were books for sale and displays of artifacts and other exhibits-the only difference is that at Five Forks it was all in a space about the size of a living room. My thoughts were...better than nothing, but still, it left a lot to be desired.

Before I left Petersburg last April to move to Kentucky I made one last trip out to Five Forks. That rainy day the old visitor station was not open and there was one lone battlefield rat like myself out taking pictures at the forks in the road. As I headed off down the road toward the town of Dinwiddie I noticed quite a bit of construction equipment off to the right side of the road. I was later informed that a new visitor center was in the works.

On October 3, 2009, the new visitor center (pictured above) was unveiled by the National Park Service. The new $3 million, 2,400 square foot building now has spacious room for exhibits and displays. And now, instead of a cramped old gravel parking lot, visitors have a roomy paved parking area that can accommodate bused tour groups. Also, now the battlefield has an eight mile trail that can be enjoyed on foot, bike, or horseback.

Hopefully, by providing a better facility for visitors, visitation will increase and more people will learn about this important battle. I know that when I make a return trip to the Petersburg area, one of my first stops will be back to the historic atmosphere of Five Forks and its new visitor center. Three cheers for the NPS!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Congress Gives for Battlefield Preservation

After all of the recent fighting it takes quite an impressive feat for me to give our national legislative branch a tip of the hat. Well, I think they finally did something to earn a little bit of my respect.

On November 1, President Obama signed the 2010 Interior-Environment Appropriation bill that included $9 million for Civil War battlefield preservation under the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program (CWBPP), which serves as the primary federal funding provider. This appropriation is the largest single-year allocation for Civil War battlefield preservation in our nation's history.

The funding bill is designed to use grant matching monies to encourage state and private preservation efforts such as that of the Civil War Preservation Trust. In addition, the bill seeks to target at-risk land acreage outside National Park Service boundaries; the areas most prone to development. Over the last 10 years CWBPP has saved over 15,000 acres of battlefield ground at 60 battlefields in 14 states. With this bill even more will be accomplished.

The bill was a welcome bi-partisan effort in what has been one of the most contentious congresses in recent memory. It is so pleasing to see that after the Democratic and Republican battles over bank bailouts, economic stimulus debates, and health care, they were able to come together to ensure that additional grounds gets preserved for future generations to learn from and appreciate.

In my opinion the timing of the bill couldn't be better. With an economy that has seen more individuals unable to give like they would want, and with the arrival of the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration, this was the time to get this done.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Personality Spotlight: Robert Smalls

War brings a level of destruction that few other events, whether natural or man-made, can match. But historically, war has also brought opportunities. For example, many men in the 19th century owed their political advancement to the fame won on the battlefield, rather than from their actual political abilities.

For African American slaves in the South, the Civil War often presented opportunities to seek freedom and leave their old lives behind. Robert Smalls was just one of thousands that used the social disruption that the Civil War brought to gain his freedom.

Smalls was born in 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina. He was raised as a house slave, but when he was about twelve years old he was sent to Charleston to work for a new master. In Charleston Smalls held a number of jobs including waiter, lamplighter, dock worker, sail rigger, and boat steersman. When Smalls was 17 he married Hannah Jones, a woman almost twice his age who worked as a hotel maid. His strong work ethic and good nature allowed him to earn privileges that other slaves were often denied. After a daughter was born to the couple, Smalls negotiated with his wife's owner to by them both for $800.00. A son, Robert Jr., was added to the family in 1861.

Smalls was hired in 1861 as a hand on the steamboat Planter, a transport boat that plied Charleston Harbor bringing weapons and ammunition to the harbor's various Confederate forts. Smalls eventually became the ship's pilot and used his nautical skills to make his escape. In the early morning hours of May 13, 1862, while the white boat crew was on land, Smalls, his family and twelve other slaves brought the boat away from dock and toward the Union blockade. As Smalls passed the Confederate forts the gave the correct signals and no exceptional notice was taken by the harbor's defenders. As the Planter moved toward the Union ship Onward, Smalls raised a flag of surrender and brought the boat and the weapons and supplies it carried into the Union blockade.

Smalls's daring escape made national news. His exploits were hailed in the North as proof that African Americans could help the Union win the war, and he was rewarded with a share of the money for the Planter. After meeting President Lincoln and doing some recruiting in the North for black soldiers, Small piloted the Keokuk in the Union navy and was sent back to Charleston Harbor.

In December 1863, Smalls became the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States. Back with the Planter, the ship came under Confederate fire and the ship's captain, a man named Nickerson, decided it would be best to surrender, but Smalls, fearing for the safety of the black sailors on board, refused to allow a surrender and piloted the boat away from the guns and to safe waters. Nickerson was demoted and Smalls promoted to captain in his place for his bravery under fire.

During Reconstruction Smalls held a number of political positions in South Carolina and in the U.S. House of Representatives. He held the position of Collector of Customs in Beaufort for many years, where he had purchased the house of his former master. He passed away in 1915 and was buried in Beaufort. In 2004, the U.S. Army named a vessel after Smalls.

Monday, November 30, 2009

History and College Nicknames

While watching my beloved Oklahoma Sooners dismantle their hated archival, the Oklahoma State Cowboys this past Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking about the many people who have asked me what a Sooner is (or was). That led me to think about a number of college teams who got their names from 19th century events, people, or things.

The first college football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869, so it is easy to see why many of the nicknames that developed on college campuses are related to that era. For example, the Sooners got their name from those impatient (and often dishonest) people who got a jump on their opposition in the Great Land Rush of 1889. OU started football in 1895; 12 years before statehood was even granted.

One of Oklahoma's conference rivals is Kansas University. KU goes by the moniker of Jayhawks. During the "Bleeding Kansas" years before statehood was granted, Kansas free-soilers were tabbed as jayhawkers for their guerrilla tactics. Kansas University is also located in Lawrence, Kansas, which was the strong hold of free-state activity and the target of proslavery Missourians before the Civil War and during war.

One story about how the University of North Carolina received the nickname Tarheels is attributed to their steadfastness in battle during the Civil War. It was claimed that Tarheels got their name because they stuck where General Lee placed them. The Louisiana State University Tigers also can attribute their name to the Civil War. During the war there were a couple of brigades from the Pelican state that were called Louisiana Tigers. Many of the men in those units were from the docks of New Orleans and were of the roughest sort; reportedly they fought like tigers even before getting into battle.

One team that got their nickname in the 20th century but had ties to the Civil War, is the University of Mississippi Rebels. During the war all of one company in a Mississippi regiment was made up of university students. When a contest was issued in 1936 to give a nickname to the team, "Rebels" won by an overwhelming majority to honor those that had served during the war from the state. The nickname remains, but traditions such as waving the Confederate battle flag at games and the old mascot "Colonel Reb," have all but gone with the wind.

The University of Tennessee Volunteers are named for that state's commitment to the call to armed service, especially in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, both of which saw large numbers of Tennesseeans participate. The South Carolina Gamecocks name goes back into the 18th century to honor native South Carolina Revolutionary War hero Thomas Sumter, who was known as the "Gamecock" for his boldness, daring, and courage. I found out that the Wisconsin Badgers got their name from lead miners in the 1820s, rather than for the borrowing ferocious animal. The Michigan Woverines were also not named so much for the animal than for the border dispute between Michigan and Ohio in the 1830s. No wonder Michigan and Ohio State usually makes for such a great game....the hate goes way back.

The next time you set down to watch an afternoon of college football explore the team's nicknames....there may be more to thos names than you realize.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Just finished reading - The Fire-Eaters by Eric H. Walther

The term "fire-eater," brings to my mind, thoughts of an uncompromising partisan politician; a frothy-mouthed stump speaker of unbending principles and enthusiastic hatred for enemies. I was pleased to find that my interpretation was not too distant from that of the author of The Fire-Eaters. Although not all of the men that Walther examines would be considered great orators (some were much better writers than speakers), and not all came to promote secession by the same means; all did truly believe that the best way to ensure, protect, and perpetuate the South and its way of life was through the withdrawal of the slaveholding states from the Union.

Walther is a professor of history at the University of Houston and is a well known scholar on topics related to the coming of the Civil War. He has also produced a biography of one of the most venomous fire-eaters, William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War (2006), as well as a work on the umbrella theme, Shattering the Union: America in the 1850s (2004).

In The Fire-Eaters, Walther examines nine of the most well known promoters of secession: Nathaniel Beverly Tucker, William Lowndes Yancey, John Anthony Quitman, Robert Barnwell Rhett, Laurence M. Keitt, Louis T. Wigfall, James D.B. De Bow, Edmund Ruffin, and William Porcher Miles. These men were from diverse backgrounds and held many different thoughts from one another, but they all agreed on secession as the remedy to the South's perceived step-child status in the Union. Walther contends that it was this diversity in character that allowed them to appeal to the wide array of Southern sentiment during the years leading up to the Civil War and effectively lead the states out of the Union.

It is not surprising that a number of the men were natives of South Carolina. The Palmetto state bred disunionism like no other state in the South. But, one of the fire-eaters examined was born in the North (Quitman), and another spent much of his youth in the North (Yancey). The men were not all strict conservatives. Many of them were progressive thinking on certain subjects. Ruffin, for example, was widely known for developing agricultural practices that bucked the trend of abandoning nutrient deficient soils in the East for more fertile fields in the West. Others, such as Keitt, Miles, and Quitman promoted programs of progressive reform in their respective states.

All of these fire-eaters had some role in politics at some time in their lives. Quitman was elected governor of Mississippi; Tucker, Keitt, Yancey, Wigfall, and Miles were all members of the United States Congress; publisher De Bow circulated at Southern conventions and served at head of the national census bureau; and Ruffin served in the Virginia legislature. They used their various positions to promote their beliefs and spread their cause.

Walther sums up the fire-eating theme quite well by writing, "By addressing the 'ills' of society, the fire-eaters saw themselves as preservers of basic American values. They invoked the revolutionary heritage and ideals of the Founding Fathers. They strove to perpetuate self-government as they perceived it and to correct abuses in the political process. Their concern with expansion, corruption, industrialisation, and romantic, millennial reform placed fire-eaters squarely within the mainstream of contemporary American society. All fire-eaters argued that they were defending their rights and values as Americans and, whether gleefully or with regret, came to believe that these aspirations could only be protected in a southern confederacy."

Of course, all the fire-eaters believed the institution of slavery was a benefit to both races. They all claimed that the North's disdain and unenforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act was justification alone for secession. Some promoted the idea of reopening the African slave trade to help expand slavery to territories to the west and lower slave prices to where even poor whites could benefit for the labor of blacks. They all wished to see slavery expand to other sections and territories, and Quitman even came close to leading a filibuster campaign to capture Cuba from Spain in order to expand American slaveholding interests. Their defense of slavery, their touchy sense of honor, and their perception that Northerners looked at them as un-American only contributed to their goal of a separate, independent, and sovereign Southern nation.

It is probably impossible to fully understand the secession movement without a close look at these nine men. Their similarities and differences indicate that secession, just like later support for the war effort, was not as monolithic as previously believed. I highly recommend this book to those interested in knowing the backgrounds of the men, and the similarity and the diversity of thought that was involved in the movement to remove the Southern states from the Union.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kentucky Freedmen Call for the Right of Suffrage

In March of 1866 a convention of freedmen (First Convention of Colored Men of Kentucky) gathered in Lexington, Kentucky to attempt to define where they currently stood politically, economically, and socially, and where they wanted to be in the future. At this meeting they outlined a number of resolutions. Included among these resolutions was one related to voting.

The freedmen fully understood that they had only recently been released from the bonds of slavery, and knew the constraints that slavery had placed upon their ability to receive a worthy education. Thus, they did not immediately seek the right to vote. While they claimed all other rights and privileges afforded to United States citizens, they knew that they would meet great resistance from whites of the Commonwealth if they sought the right of suffrage this soon after emancipation. They stated that sentiment clearly; "waiving for the time being, the ballot box and the doctrine of equality before the law..." But, they also made clear that they did "ask the opportunity, we demand the privilege of achieving for ourselves and our children, under regulation of impartial State and Federal law, the blessings which pertain to a well ordered and dignified life."

Just over a year later, another call for a convention of freedmen went out. The summer of 1867 saw smaller informal gatherings in preparation for a large state convention to be held in November in Lexington. The tone of these meetings and the subsequent state convention had changed dramatically over the past year. What they had "waived" in 1866, they now demanded in 1867."

So, what had developed over the period from the spring of 1866 to the summer and fall of 1867 that made freedmen make more bold calls for equality? In a word...lots!

In April of 1866 Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This new law gave freedmen the right to make contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, lease, purchase, sell, and hold real and personal property. Penalties for violating the law could be punished by a fine up to $1000 and or a year in prison. The Act was vetoed by President Johnson, but Johnson's veto was quickly overturned by Congress; creating bad blood between the executive and legislative branches of government during the early Reconstruction years.

In June 1866 Congress proposed the 14th Amendment. This potential change to the Constitution would make it constitutional law that former slaves were now citizens and were to be afforded equal protection under the law as that received by any and all other citizens. Although the amendment was not ratified and thus become effective until the summer of 1868, those Kentucky freedmen surely saw its chances of success as good under a Radial Republican congress, and the potential it held to their future improvement.

Finally, in March of 1867 Congress wrested control of Reconstruction policy away from President Johnson. Congressional (or Radical or Military) Reconstruction divided up the South into five military districts and placed demands upon the states in order to be admitted back into the Union, one of which included black suffrage.

All of these events contributed to the Kentucky freedmens' calls for the right of the ballot box and to the jury box. One assembly of Commonwealth freedmen (many former soldiers among them) in July 1867 petitioned Congress to "grant us the right of suffrage." They made the argument that without the ballot and right to testify that, "Colored men have frequently been murdered in cold blood by white citizens, and as we have not the right to testify against them, the criminals go unpunished."

These freedmen made an interesting case. They said that, "It is objected by the opposers of Republicanism that we Negroes are too ignorant to prudently exercise the great boon of freedom" [suffrage]. But, they used history to explain that back in 1837 Governor Clark had claimed that one-third of the adult white population was illiterate, but had not been barred from participating in elections. In their final statement they said, "It is feared by friends and boastfully claimed by opponents, that if enfranchised, the negro would vote against the party that saved the Government. It is answered that many of your petitioners were Soldiers; they think that they were on the right side; they see no reason to change sides and vote against the Liberty for which they fought. It is believed by your petitioners that their enfranchisement will arrest the cruel spirit of robbery, arson and murder in Kentucky, as it most evidently has done in other Southern States."

In the convention held that fall of 1867, President W.F. Butler of Jefferson County exclaimed their demands even more forcefully. "We had the cartridge box, now we want the ballot box, and soon we'll get the jury box...We went out and fought the battles of our country and gained our liberties, but we were left without means of protecting ourselves in the employment of that liberty. We need and must have the ballot for that purpose."

It wouldn't be until 3 years later, in 1870, that the 15th Amendment was ratified and established universal male suffrage as constitutional law. Events would develop after Reconstruction that saw the newly acquired right to vote removed from African Americans in the South. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses all were used in the "Jim Crow" years of segregation to keep political and thus social and economic equality away from African Americans. Many of those practices would last well into the 20th century.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Freedmen and Information Wanted Ads

Reconstruction was a time of worlds turned upside down. For all white Southerners it meant the death of a way of life they had always known. For that part of the population that had owned slaves, they could no longer rely on the unpaid labor of others. For former slaves it was a time to test what freedom meant. It was a real chance to leave their old homes, and they no longer had to seek out permission from their masters to do so.

Freed people who had been separated over the years of slavery longed to know what had happened to husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and other relatives. Some chose to walk the roads in search of those long lost. Others felt the best way to locate estranged family members was to place advertisements in newspapers.

Black newspapers, North and South, were turned into vital tools to reunite families. Papers such as the Colored Tennessean (published in Nashville, Tennessee for two years starting in early 1865) ran small classified advertisements seeking any available information on relatives that had been separated by slavery and the war. The Colored Tennessean was a rarity in this age; a black newspaper in the South, but its readership spread over several states, and it employed agents to sell these ads. It is impossible to know how may family members were reunited due to the ads placed in newspapers during Reconstruction, but regardless of their success rate, they make for interesting and educational reading.

The following are a small sampling of ads that ran in the Colored Tennessean from 1865 to 1866:

SAMUEL DOVE of Utica, NY - Looking for ARENO, his mother, his sisters, MARIA, NEZIAH and PEGGY and his brother, EDMOND DOVE. Their former owner was GEORGE DOVE of Rockingham County, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. His mother and sisters were sold in Richmond, Virginia and he and his brother were taken to Nashville.

HENRY HILL of Nashville, TN - Looking for my wife, LUCY BLAIR, of Jonesboro (Washington County) Tennessee. Five years ago she was last living with WILLIAM BLAIR. I was raised by JOHN BLAIR.

HANNAH BARNETT of Nashville, TN - Looking for MARTHA JAMES, my daughter, last heard from in Montgomery, Alabama, but supposedly gone to Mobile, Alabama. She formerly belonged to DR. BARNETT of Princeton, Kentucky and was sold to John James of Nashville, Tennessee about 9 years ago.

SAMUEL WILLIAMS of Nashville, TN - Looking for SYLVIA WILLIAMS, my mother, formerly belonged to JAMES MAXWELL of Augusta, Georgia. Before him, she was owned by DR. DeGARR. I formerly belonged to JAMES MAXWELL. My father is HENRY WILLIAMS, now in Liberia.

ELIZA ANN RATLIFF of Williamson County, TN - Looking for GEORGE (18), WILLIAM AND BEARTY LEWIS (13), my sons, born in Culpeper County, Virginia. MRS. NOTTINGHAM took them to Eastern Shore, Virginia in 1858. In 1860, they were taken to Petersburgh, Virginia. In 1855, I came to Tennessee with MRS. HEMPS.

SUSAN HOWARD of Chattanooga, TN - Looking for WILLIAM HOWARD, my son, who formerly lived in Kingston, Georgia. Last heard from in Chattanooga. He is age 19 year old with a yellow complexion.

RICHARD GRAY of Macon, MS - Also looking for POLLY NOEL, who lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi up to the time the law was passed prohibiting blacks from living there. She moved to Nashville and no one has seen her since.

JOHN MELTON of Huntsville, AL - Looking for DICK RICHARDSON, my father, who formerly belonged to MASON ANDERSON of Pontotoc County, Mississippi, my brother EDWARD and my sisters, LUCY AND POLLY, who all belonged to the same man. My uncle, JOHN ANDERSON and his wife, FANNY ANDERSON.

I can only imagine the hope that these people must have felt as they placed these ads. Not knowing if they would ever see their relatives again, or not knowing if they had already passed away must have been a painful burden. Those that were reunited surely rejoiced at their fortune, and those that weren't successful must have been even more bitter about their past enslavement.

These rare ads survive to give historians and genealogists a small idea of what the freed peoples' existence was like. Few other relics of Reconstruction tell the tale so well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Texas Stated Its Reason For Secession

The debate on what exactly caused the Civil War has been going on since South Carolina first decided to dissolve the Union on December 20, 1860. In the years since then some have claimed that it was a states' rights issue that led to war; some said tariffs; and some said cultural and economic differences between the North and South brought about extreme sectional egocentricity, and eventually the guns of war. To my understanding its all pretty simple. The underlying reason for secession (and therefore war) was a fear that slavery would be cooped up in the states that allowed it, and thus, not allowed to expand by the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, the South's economic, political, social, and cultural way of life was in jeopardy. To solve the problem...start your own country and write your own constitution that allows your way of life to continue...just like the Revolutionary War generation did.

Several Southern states felt the need to explain why they were seceding. States such as South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas all spelled out why they wanted out of the Union, and the overwhelming reason was a desire to perpetuate slavery.

The Texas version of sentiments for secession is one of the most clear on this matter. On February 2, 1861, delegates put pen to paper to explain why they wanted out of the Union. They explained that, "Texas abandoned her separate national existence [indpendence in 1836]and consented to become one of the Confederated Union [annexed to the Union in 1845] to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-a relation that had existed from the first settlement of the wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and the other slaveholding States of the confederacy."

In spelling out their grievences delegates took time to berate the federal government's inability to protect Texas citizens from "Indian savages on our borders" and "murderous forays of banditti from the neighboring territory of Mexico..." The Northern states, too ,were held responsible for not supporting the fugitive slave act, and thus creating animosity between the sections.

When push came to shove, the Texans' commitment to the institution of slavery was clearly spelled out. "In all the non-slaveholding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as negro slavery remains in these States."

The Texas delegates said that the abolitionists "have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens [see John Brown's raid], and through the press their leading men and a fanatical pulpit have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes, while the governors of several of their States have refused to deliver parties implicated and indicted for participation in such offenses, upon the legal demands of the States aggrieved. They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides."

Finally, they stated their firm belief. "We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, of the the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slaveholding States."

The vote to secede was not even close. Of the 174 delegates who voted, only 8 thought it unwise to leave the Union.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Personality Spotlight: Maxcy Gregg

Many of those Southerners who cried the loudest for Southern independence, states' rights, and secession were not to be found in the army or on the battlefield when the war started in earnest. The fire-eating planter politicians often put self preservation ahead of military participation.
Maxcy Gregg though was one long-time proponent of secession that ended up giving his life to his cause.

Gregg was born in Columbia, South Carolina on August 1, 1814. He excelled in his studies so much at South Carolina College, a hotbed of states' rights and nullification ideology, that he tied for first in his class but refused to accept his diploma as he was unwilling to share the honor. After college he studied law under his father's supervision, and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1839.

Gregg later received a healthy inheritance and used a great deal of it to study classical history and scientific subjects as a hobby. He was especially interested in ornithology and astronomy. Gregg even had a private observatory built to study the constellations. After serving in the Mexican War as a major in the 12th U.S. Infantry (without seeing action), he returned to the Palmetto State and went back into his law.

Gregg was present for the secession vote in Charleston, and when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, the some-what deaf Gregg was made colonel of the 1st South Carolina Infantry Regiment, which served at Charleston Harbor until Fort Sumter surrendered. Gregg and his men were sent to Virginia, but missed participating in First Manassas. By the spring of 1862, Gregg had been promoted to brigadier general and participated in the Seven Days battles around Richmond. Gregg's brigade was one of Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson's command that received the brunt of the strong Union attacks at Second Manassas. He reported walked up and down his battle line wielding an ancient Revolutionary War sword and exhorting his command, "Let us die here, my men, let us die here."

Gregg's brigade was in the pack of troops that A.P. Hill brought from Harpers Ferry that participated in last part of the Battle of Antietam. In one volley a Yankee bullet hit Gregg in the hip while riding his horse and nearly knocked him off his mount. The bullet only penetrated his pants, and ended up in a handkerchief that was wadded up in his pocket. Gregg was only bruised by the spent ball.

Gregg would not be so fortunate in his next battle; it would be his last. While riding to a threatened spot on the right of the Confederate line at Fredericksburg, Gregg was shot in the side and the bullet went through his back. Gregg lingered at a nearby private residence where he died on the morning of December 15, 1862. Before he passed away, Gregg was visited by the pious Jackson who spoke to the irreligious Gregg about his spiritual life. Gregg's body was taken to his native Columbia to be buried five days later.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just finished reading - Appalachians and Race: The Mountain South from Slavery to Segregation, edited by John C. Inscoe

After recently studying John Brown and his plan to end slavery, I wanted to get a firmer grasp on the slavery situation in the Appalachian Mountains that he anticipated using as a conduit of freedom. I had purchased this book shortly after moving to Kentucky back in May, but I hadn't taken the opportunity to read it until now.

Appalachia itself has only within the last 25 years or so received the scholarly study it so justly deserves, so it doesn't come as a surprise the subject of race in the region has received very little attention. Although African Americans have been a part of Appalachia since the earliest days of its exploration and settlement by white Europeans, their role has not always been appreciated; probably due
largely to their marginal status then and at present. When Appalachia became, by the written word in the 1880s, the stereotypical place of hillbillies, moonshiners, and feuding families, it was the place of the staid Anglo-Saxon. It was believed there was little foreign intervention or racial diversity in the mountain holds. Appalachia was seen by many as the last racially pure region in America.

These ideas of stereotypical Appalachia have been debunked by historians and sociologists, and thanks to works like Appalachians and Race, the work continues. Editor John C. Inscoe has gathered 18 significant essays to comprise this work. Some of the most well known Southern and Appalachian historians are included. Historians such as Richard B. Drake, Charles B. Dew, Kenneth W. Noe, Wilma A. Dunaway, Kathleen M. Blee and Dwight B. Billings, Gordon B. McKinney, Nina Sibler, and W. Fitzhugh Brundage, among others, give the reader a better appreciation for the role African Americans have played in Appalachian life.

Of course, of special interest to me were the articles on slavery in Appalachia. Cecelia Conway's article, "Appalachian Echoes of the African Banjo" explains the part that lowland and Piedmont slaves played in spreading the use of this now universally known mountain music instrument. Who can image Bluegrass music without a banjo? Well, due largely to travel and movement by slaves in the antebellum period through the Southern Appalachians, this instrument was learned by local populations and became the popular instrument it its today in the region.

Charles B. Dew's article "Sam Williams, Forgeman: The Life of an Industrial Slave at Buffalo Forge, Virginia" was taken from his larger work Bond of Iron: Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge, which is a book I highly recommend. It gives a vivid portrayal of life at the iron furnace operations at Buffalo Forge (just outside of Lexington, Virginia) through the accounts left by the forge owner, and later by its manager. For those who think that slavery would surely have died out with the mechanization of agriculture, Dew's article on industrial slavery will make you think twice.

John Cimprich's article, "Slavery's End in East Tennessee" is another example of the fine work that is contained in this book. His examination of the Freedmen's Bureau in East Tennessee is a real eye-opener. Political fights between Republicans and Democrats in Tennessee during Reconstruction often centered on what role freed slaves would play, and heavily Republican East Tennessee struggled with giving political rights to freedmen and keeping Democrats at bay.

As the title implies, the articles not only cover slavery in Appalachia, but they also cover the roots of segregation that emerged in Reconstruction and carried on into the early 20th century. I never knew there was a black missionary school at Elk Park, North Carolina; a little wide-spot-in-the-road-of-a-town that I often passed through on my way to and from graduate school at Appalachian State. I also was not aware that the lynching violence that so predominated in the South from the 1890s to the 1920s, was also being conducted in the Mountain South. Two well written articles also cover black coal miners. Ronald Lewis looks at "African American Convicts in the Coal Mines of Southern Appalachian" states of Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama; while Joe William Trotter, Jr. examines "The Formation of Black Community in Southern West Virginia Coalfields."

All of the article are relatively short and each can easily be read in a sitting. I believe that you will not be disappointed by the scholarship and content you will find here. The book is also available in paperback at low cost, so if you are looking for a fascinating group of essays on the diversity of Appalachia, be sure to pick up a copy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Knights of the Golden Circle

It is no secret that during and after the Mexican American War there were distinct efforts by Southerners to increase the slaveholding territory of the United States. Filibustering became the term by which these men and their missions were known. Tennessean William Walker attempted to take rule in a section of Mexico, and later proclaimed himself President of Nicaragua. For all of his efforts he was captured and executed in Honduras in 1860. John A. Quitman, a former governor of Mississippi, and a general in the Mexican War, attempted to raise men to capture Cuba but later dropped the plan at the federal government's insistence.

A secret organization of filibusterers emerged in the 1850s known as the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC). The group was founded by George W.L. Bickley in 1854. Bickley was born in southwest Virginia in 1819 and claimed to have been a doctor, but was later discredited. He had moved to Cincinnati in 1851 to take a position as a professor in a medical college and also wrote for a living. He started the first "castle," or local branch, in 1854 in Cincinnati, but quickly took his efforts to the South after being harassed by his creditors.

The mid to late 1850s was the peak era for filibustering and Bickley was well received in the South. Bickley's plan was to develop colonies of Southern slaveholders in the West Indies, Central America, and South America; with the already strong slaveholding region of the Southern United States, these other three would form a "golden circle" of prosperity. Bickley believed that Mexico was the place to start his mission. Apparently, realizing that their proximity to Texas, and their relatively easy defeat in the recent war, made annexing northern Mexico the prime target. Bickley received his heartiest support for his organization in the Lone Star state, where he founded over 30 castles.

Ironically the quest for Southern independence ,and thus Civil War, brought the end of the KGC. With all efforts being made to defend the Southern states and win its independence, there was little time, money, or effort to be made in attempting to seize land in neighboring Mexico. Although, there were some KGC members that took part in the 1862 west Texas and New Mexico campaigns of General Henry Sibley, a man who also had ties to the KGC.

The KGC received some significant support in the lower North (southern Indiana, Illinois and Ohio) and border states (Kentucky and Missouri), especially among the Copperheads (Democrats opposed to Radical Republicans and carrying on the war) during the war. In late 1863 the KGC was reorganized as the Order of American Knights, and then in 1864 it was known as the Order of the Sons of Liberty. As the Confederacy's military success wained in 1864, and as Lincoln was reelected to a second term, the organization lost much of its interest and was officially disbanded.

A number of conspiracies have developed around the KGC since the end of the Civil War. Some credit the KGC with General John Hunt Morgan's raid into Southern Indiana and Ohio in 1863, and with involvement in Lincoln's assassination in 1865, as depicted in the recent movie American Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.

There are a number of commonalities that can be seen between the KGC and the later Ku Klux Klan. The secretiveness of the organizations and use of mysterious symbols such as skulls and cross bones, along with their commitment to white supremacy, would lead one to believe that the KKK, organized in 1866, relied on the KGC for some of its inspiration.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Personality Spotlight: John Mercer Langston

O.K., I will finally try to get away from posting on John Brown and his place in American history for a few days. But, it isn't surprising to find out that John Brown's tree of influence did touch many lives in the mid-19th century who attempted to bring citizenship and political rights to African Americans. One such man was John Mercer Langston.

Langston was born free in 1829 in Louisa County, Virginia. His mother, Lucy Langston, was a free woman with an Indian and African heritage. Like many blacks that would eventually make the fight for abolition and equality, John Mercer Langston was the son of a white man. Ralph Quarles, a wealthy Virginia planter, was Langston's father. When Langston was about five years old both his mother and father died of unrelated illnesses and he was left with a sizable inheritance.

A friend of Quarles, William Gooch, who lived in Ohio took in Langston and his two brothers Charles and Gideon and cared for them. In 1838 Gooch moved to Missouri; a slave state. It was determined that it would be best for Langston to stay in free state Ohio, so he settled in the tight knit free black community in Cincinnati. He enrolled at Oberlin College at age 14, and graduated in 1849. In 1848 he made his first public speech at the request of Frederick Douglass. Langston was admitted to graduate school at Oberlin and obtained a Masters degree in Theology, but unable to gain admission to law school, he read law under Philemon Bliss and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854; making him the first black lawyer in Ohio.

In the years between earning his position as an attorney and the Civil War, Langston organized efforts to resist the fugitive slave law and assisted slaves making their way to Canada from the slave states. He married Caroline Wall in 1854, also an Oberlin student of similar background, and stated a law office in Brownhelm, Ohio. Langston moved back to Oberlin in 1856 and started a practice there. He became active in Republican Party politics, advocated armed resistance to slavery, and supported John Brown's antislavery operations.

During the Civil War Langston served as recruiter of black troops when they were finally allowed to serve in the Union army. He helped recruit Ohio for the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry as well as Ohio USCT regiments. The Reconstruction years saw Langston as active as ever. He organized efforts for citizenship, black suffrage, and served as an eduction inspector for the Freedmen's Bureau. In 1868 Langston established the law department at Howard University in Washington D.C. In the 1870s he served as consul to Haiti for eight years, then returned to the United States to be named president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (Virginia State University) in Petersburg.

In 1888 he briefly served in the United States House of Representatives before losing the following election. In his last years Langston wrote his autobiography, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capital, before passing away on November 15, 1897.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

John Brown's Hired Martial Help: Hugh Forbes

John Brown was called "Captain" Brown by many of those familiar with him and his operations, but Brown in fact had no real military training. His operations in Kansas were guerrilla in nature...surprise your enemy and instill them with terror by your presence. I can only speculate that when Brown read the title page of Hugh Forbes's book, which like many 19th century books, had a title that stretched forever, Manual for the Patriotic Volunteer; On Active Service in Regular and Irregular War; Being the Art and Science of Obtaining and Maintaining Liberty and Independence, he read what he thought was a perfect sentiment. On that title page is a quote that states, "To form an army, it is not sufficient to collect men and put arms in their hands."

Although that was exactly Brown's plan for the slaves he hoped to free, he fully understood the importance of having a solid core of properly trained men that were guided by discipline and a commitment to a cause. To that end he eventually secured the services of Colonel Hugh Forbes, an act that would eventually cause him no little discomfort in his abolitionist mission.

Forbes was a former British soldier that had fought in the European revolutions in 1848-49. He had fought under Garibaldi in Italy, and after the failed effort had ended up a silk merchant in Florence. Forbes had left his wife and family behind in Italy around 1855 seeking his fortune in America. He landed in New York City where he struggled to make ends meet as a fencing instructor, part-time journalist, author, and speaker.

Brown had read Manual for the Patriotic Volunteer (published in 1856), and Forbes's pamphlet Duties of a Soldier while in Kansas and discussed it with another English emigrant turned writer William A. Phillips. Brown was impressed with the work and when he came east in March 1857 on a fundraising mission, he looked up Forbes in New York. Forbes appeared to Brown to be like-minded. Much of Forbes's writing in the book bore this out. Forbes had written, "Right is that which is good true honorable just humane self-sacrificing - it is the opposite of wrong." Brown could not have agreed with a sentiment more. Brown saw Forbes as being yet another believer in the wrongness of slavery, even though Forbes did not share Brown's unyielding belief in equality of the races.

At that initial meeting Brown contracted with Forbes to train his men back in Kansas and Iowa. The mercenary demanded a $100 a month salary to help support his family back in Italy and an expense account. Brown, feeling that his plan was finally moving forward, readily agreed. After a delay to tie up loose ends in New York, Forbes showed up at Tabor, Iowa in August to find only Brown and his son Owen as his sole "Patriotic Volunteers." From this rough start, things only got worse for Brown and Forbes. They were in disagreement over how best carry out Brown's plan of a slave revolution. Added to the lack of men and means, and Brown's inability to pay any more salary to Forbes, the deal snapped and Forbes left to go back east to New York by early November, but promised to set up a training camp for men in Ohio if they could be raised and he would be paid. Ironically, Brown's Iowa forces increased dramatically after Forbes departed.

When Brown traveled to Ohio in January of 1858 to check on progress there, he learned that Forbes, disgruntled over not being paid, had turned against him. Forbes did not know who specifically was funding Brown's antislavery operations but he attempted to contact many he believed were Brown philanthropists (including some of the Secret Six) in attempt to discredit Brown, reveal Brown's potential future plans, and in effect blackmail them if he was not paid. This action caused Brown to contact his benefactors and assure them that he still had things in control; but it did delay his plan.

Brown initially wanted to keep momentum going and hoped to pull off his Harpers Ferry raid much earlier than it actually happened, but with Forbes stirring up so much commotion both in New England and in Washington DC, Brown was forced to postpone the raid and let the recent dust settle. He assured his supporters that he would do nothing rash and that he would strike when the time was right. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was one of the few that demanded that Brown not delay his plan. In an effort to hide his identity, now that Forbes had "outed" him, Brown grew a long beard and used different aliases.

Brown used the delay to recruit and train more men, and to gather arms and information on Harpers Ferry by sending one of his men to live in the community a number of months before the raid was committed.

Interestingly, Forbes's presence would still be a part of the raiders' lives in the weeks before the raid. As they waited at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland they often read the collection of Forbes's books that Brown had purchased to pass the time. Copies of the books were found still at the Kennedy farmhouse when it was searched in the aftermath of the failed raid.