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.