Sunday, February 28, 2010

Southern Distictiveness

I've just finished reading a book of selected essays by noted Southern and Civil War historian Charles P. Roland, titled History Teaches Us to Hope: Reflections on the Civil War and Southern History. I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Roland a couple of weeks ago at a meeting held to develop interpretive themes for the Kentucky Historical Society's approach to the the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration.

Dr. Roland is a native of West Tennessee and received his undergraduate education at Vanderbilt and his graduate degrees from Louisiana State University. At LSU he was a student and research assistant for noted Civil War historian Bell Irvin Wiley (author of the invaluable soldier life studies, The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank). Dr. Roland served as an officer in World War II and retired from teaching at the University of Kentucky in 1988.

In his essay "The Ever-Vanishing South," published originally in the Journal of Southern History in 1982, Dr. Roland went to Southern author William Faulkner (pictured above) and his recognized work The Hamlet for an illustration on the difference between Southerners and Northerners. It is as follows:
"Another of Faulkner's characters demonstrates humorously the southern sense of concreteness by explaining the difference between how a southerner and a northerner go about establishing a goat ranch. The southerner does it unceremoniously when his herd of goats grows so large it can no longer be accommodated in the barnyard or on the front porch. The northerner begins with no goats at all but with a pencil and piece of paper to reckon how many yards of fence and how many acres of land are needed for a given number of imaginary goats. The southerner never has the problem of making the number of goats match the length of fence or amount of land. They never matched, and he doesn't expect them to. If, on the other hand, after the northerner has set up his business he is unable to make them all match, he resorts to pencil and paper again. Now said Faulkner's speaker, instead of a goat ranch, the northerner has an 'insolvency.'"

While I found all of the essays contained in History Teaches Us to Hope enjoyable, Dr. Roland's essays in "Part Two: Secession and the Civil War," and "Part Four: The South in Fact and in Myth," were especially enlightening. Of particular interest to me was "A Slaveowner's Defense of Slavery." This "faction" (blend of fact and fiction) letter from a Southerner in Louisiana to a Northerner in Illinois in January 1861, who had been classmates at Princeton, is quite impressive. Dr. Roland explains that, "The persons and the letter are imaginary, but the arguments and outlook are not; they have been gleaned by me from thousands of letters and diary entries of the time, supplemented by information from published histories of the South and the nation." As the title indicates, the lengthy illustrative letter contains the viewpoint of a majority of Southerners at the time in defending their economic, social, and political way of life.

I highly recommend History Teaches Us to Hope to anyone interested in array of easy to read essays on Southern and Civil War history.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Old Kentucky Home and Uncle Tom's Cabin?

OK, back to minstrelsy. Living in Kentucky for the past ten months or so has shown me that no sport takes precedence over Wildcats basketball here in the Commonwealth. I grew up in a Wildcats household (my father was a big fan-he preferred listening on the radio to watching on television) and I was even a fan myself for several years before I found my own team to follow and came to favor football over hoops. A Kentucky tradition that I always found touching is that on Senior Day when the senior members of the Wildcats team and their families get honored and sing My Old Kentucky Home together on the court. It is after all the state song and in my opinion (and many others' too) no state associates with its theme as does Kentucky.

Stephen Collins Foster probably wrote My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night in 1852 as it was published early in 1853. It is significant when he wrote the song because the same year Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stow was published in book form and became an immediate transatlantic bestseller. Social events seemingly had an impact on Stephen Foster and the subjects he covered in his songs. Written evidence proves that Uncle Tom's Cabin had an effect on Foster as it did so many other people.

Most people do not realize that the original title to My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night was Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night. Instead of "Then my old Kentucky Home good night," that ends each stanza, Foster's handwritten manuscripts of the lyrics shows he wrote, "Den poor Uncle Tom, good night." In a 1936 article -"The Slavery Background of Foster's My Old Kentucky Home" - printed in the Filson Club Historical Quarterly, Dr. Thomas D. Clark speculates that Foster probably changed the title and lyrics to make the song more marketable to Southern customers, who obviously despised Stowe's book. Minstrelsy was extremely popular thoroughout the United Stated during the 1850s, but especially so in the Southern states. Offending your best fans is not the way to become rich in the music business; then or now.

Dr. Clark states that, "Thus it matters little where My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night was written, but it is significant that it mirrors a most interesting background of the nation's history. It is signifcant, also, that the author's use of a title obscured his context sufficiently to cause Kentuckians, to whom Uncle Tom's Cabin was anathema, to take the song to their hearts and claim it as their very own." Interesting huh?

Monday, February 22, 2010

John Brown and Phrenology?

Yesterday I spent much of the day at the University of Kentucky's Young Library looking through microfilm of 1859 newspapers searching for how Kentuckians reacted to John Brown's raid. Actually, I really only got through the second half of October and the first half of November. If you have never viewed period newspapers you don't know what you're missing. They are printed in tiny type and have a gazillion columns; it is enough to make you go cross eyed.

The editor of the Daily Louisville Democrat, as you might imagine, did not hold Brown in high esteem. He also did not hold dear feelings for other abolitionists such as Bostonian Wendell Phillips. On November 3, 1859 the editor wrote, "We see that Wendell Phillips has been making an ass of himself as usual, in pubic and speech. He has been long known as a crazy fool running at large about Boston, where there are a good many of the same sort. Phillips is valiant in words, and generally exhibits his prowess in that way. He is more guilty than Brown, but he knows what Brown doesn't, that discretion is be better part of valor."

Many abolitionist were considered mad or crazy or insane by those that favored slavery - both North and South. I am not aware of Brown or many other abolitionists receiving treatment for insanity (except for Gerrit Smith when he checked himself into an asylum after Brown's raid), but there is documentation that Brown visited a phrenologist in 1847.

Phrenology was a pseudo-science that was extremely popular in the nineteenth century. During that era it was believed that one could find out their natural attributes by having a skilled phrenologist "read" the bumps on their skull. In February, 1847 Brown's head was read by noted phrenologist Orson S. Fowler. To a large degree Fowler was spot on about Brown's personality. After feeling Brown's skull Fowler determined that Brown was "positive in your likes and dislikes, 'go the whole figure or nothing,' and want others to do the same." He also found that Brown's head bumps made him "practical rather than theoretical," and that he "would rather lead than follow." In addition, he saw that Brown possessed a "great sense of honor, and would scorn to do anything mean or disgraceful. You might be persuaded, but to drive you would be impossible. You like to have your own way, and to think and act for yourself - are quite independent and dignified, yet candid, open, and plain; say just what you think, and most heartily despise hypocrisy and artificiality, yet you value the good opinion of others though you would not stoop to gain applause."

Without the aid of hindsight that we have in examining Brown's personality and actions, Fowler made quite the prescient reading; even if his method was nothing but "hogwash," as my father used to say.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Story of the Yellow Rose of Texas

Lately I have been trying to learn more about the pop culture of the mid-nineteenth century-minstrelsy. Recently reading Sarah Meer's Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s, has touched off a multitude of questions that now plague my thoughts. That's the curse (or blessing-depending on who you look at it) of loving history.

I first became interested in minstrelsy a few years back when I was doing Civil War reenacting. I bought a CD by the 2nd South Carolina String Band that had a number of songs by Stephen Foster, Dan Emmet, and other minstrel writers of the 1840s-1860s on it. Inside the liner notes it had a brief history of each song. Since then I have purchased a few more of their CDs, and I highly recommend their recordings.

One of songs that the 2nd South Carolina covers on their latest CD, Dulcem Melodies, and that has an interesting story is the Yellow Rose of Texas. Although it was published by "J.K" Frith, Pond & Co. in 1858, the true author is unknown and most certainly the song was written earlier than the published date.

The story is based in the era of the Texas Revolution of 1836, in which Texas was attempting to claim its independence from Mexico. According to the legend there was a beautiful young mixed race (thus the "yellow" adjective) woman named Emily West who had migrated to Texas in 1835 and was indentured on the plantation of James Morgan in New Washington, Texas. When Mexican general Santa Anna arrived in New Washington he was so captivated by West that he had her captured and brought along with the army. The legend is not real clear but apparently Santa Anna was so smitten, seduced, or distracted (or all three) by West that he did not prepare his troops properly, and during the day's siesta, on April 21, 1836, the Mexican army was badly defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto. Morgan was reportedly so appreciative of West's help in winning Texas its independence that he released her from her indenture.

Here are the words to the minstrel song:

There's a yellow Rose of Texas that I am going to see
No other darkie knows her, no darkie only me
She cried so when I left her, it nearly broke my heart
And if I ever find her we never more will part.
(Chorus) She's the sweetest Rose of color this darkie ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your May most dear and sing of Rosa Lee
but the yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.
Where the Rio Grand is flowing and the starry skies are bright
She walks along the river in the quiet summer night
She thinks if I remember, when we parted long ago
I promised to come back again and not to leave her so.
Oh! now I'm going to find her, for my heart is full of woe
And we'll sing the song together, that we sung so long ago
We'll play the banjo gaily and we'll sing the songs of yore
And the yellow Rose of Texas will be mine forever more.
During the Civil War the song became a favorite marching tune for Confederate soldiers. After General John Bell Hood's disastrous Tennessee campaign in November and December 1864 ended with the virtual destruction of the Army of Tennessee at the battles of Franklin and Nashville, those veterans added their own verse:

Oh my feet are torn and bloody and my heart is full of woe
I'm going back to Georgia to find my Uncle Joe [Johnston]
You may talk about your Beauregard and sing of General Lee
But the gallant Hood of Texas, he played hell in Tennessee.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

William Apes, The American Indian Frederick Douglass?

While recently reading Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America I ran across an individual I had never heard of. That was not so surprising to me, considering my lack of Native American history knowledge. But what was surprising to me was learning that there was an Indian voice in the 1830s that evoked much of what Frederick Douglass would later say on behalf of African Americans.

William Apes (also spelled Apess) was born in 1798. His father was a mixed race Euro-Indian and his mother was, he said, a Pequot Indian, but may have been of mixed race Indian-African ancestry. He was left to his abusive grandparents when he was a child and then when he was five he was apprenticed to a white family, through which he received a partial education.

He enlisted in a New York regiment as a drummer and fought in the War of 1812 in Canadian actions. After the war he wandered the New York-Canadian border and developed an addiction to alcohol that would plague him the rest of his life. In 1818, he "found religion" and became a licensed Methodist exhorter. I suppose that was just a step down from a preacher in those days.

In 1829 he wrote his autobiography, A Son of the Forest. He put out two more books in 1831, The Increase of the Kingdom of Christ: A Sermon, and The Indians: The Ten Lost Tribes. In 1833 he wrote, The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe; or An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man.

Apes seemingly kept an eye on national politics, and particularly President Andrew Jackson's evolving plan of Indian removal. In 1836 he delivered a speech titled "Eulogy on King Philip." In this lecture he explained his perspective on how Indians had been treated over the years. King Philip, or Metacom (his Indian name), you might recall was a Wampanoag leader who lead a revolt against the English in Massachusetts in 1675 when diplomatic efforts broke down between the two belligerents. King Philip was killed in 1676 by an Indian that was a soldier for the English forces and that basically ended the fighting but not the ill will between the colonists and the indigenous population.

As I read through Apes' "Eulogy on King Philip" it struck me as sounding very familiar. It finally dawned on me that it reminded me a lot of Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?," which was given on July 5, 1852 (see my July 2, 2009 post). Instead of emphasizing the irony of the Fourth of July to enslaved African Americans as Douglass did, Apes highlighted the incongruity of celebrating the Mayflower landing (and Fourth of July) to the Indians. The following is that quote:

"Let the children of the pilgrims blush, while the son of the forest drops a tear, and groans over the fate of his murdered and departed fathers. He would say to the sons of the pilgrims, (as Job said about his birthday), let the day be dark, the 22d day of December, 1620; let it be forgotten in your celebration, in your speeches, and by the burying of the Rock that your fathers first put their foot upon. For be it remembered, although the gospel is said to be glad tidings to all people, yet we poor Indians never have found those who brought it as messengers of mercy, but contrawise. We say, therefore, let every man of color wrap himself in mourning, for the 22nd of December and the 4th of July are days of mourning and not of joy."

I don't know if Douglass had read Apes' "Eulogy on King Philip" and drew inspiration for his speech in 1852, but I would not be surprised to find that he did.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Edmond Kelley to Abraham Lincoln

It is unfathomable how many people probably wrote to Abraham Lincoln during his presidency. I seriously doubt that he had the time to read every letter that came his way, but I wouldn't be surprised if he tried. That just seems to be the type of person he was.

One of the multitudes of letters that has survived was written by an African American preacher named Edmond Kelley. Kelley was born a slave in 1817 in Columbia, Tennessee. He was baptized after he "got religion" in 1838. He was licensed to preach by his local church in 1842, and was formally ordained as a Baptist minister in 1843. In 1846 his owner, Ann White, went into debt and encouraged Kelley to escape before he would have to be sold. Instead of fleeing Kelley was provided by White with a pass to travel anywhere he wished in order to preach. In 1847 he became the minister of the Second Baptist Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Over the next several years he worked with antislavery advocates to raise money to purchase the freedom of his wife and family, still enslaved in Tennessee. In 1851 the family was finally reunited.

The letter Kelley wrote to Lincoln was penned on August 21, 1863, a full eight months after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. And, while Kelley's letter to Lincoln covers a number of interesting points, I found the following paragraph especially telling:

"For one, I sincerely trust the colored people will never wait to be drafted, but volunteer to a man. First, because slaveholders and the proslavery party have long since argued, and still argue, that the colored people are an inferior, cowardly, docile race, only fit to be slaves. Second, because the colored people have more at stake than the white people; for while the whites hazard their civil and political rights, the colored people lose both, and their freedom besides. Third, because the colored people generally proffered their services to the government, to aid in putting down the rebellion, shortly after the war broke out in 1861, when the indications were much less favorable for us than they are now. But this was specifically true of the colored people of this State [Massachusetts], and more especially for this city [New Bedford]; for it will be remembered by all that several large meetings were called, at which meetings resolutions were presented and passed by the colored people of this city, expressive of their willingness to enlist in the Government or State service. These resolutions were transmitted to the Governor and Council of this State, who without hesitancy expressed a willingness to have the colored people bear their part, but informed our friends of some of the legal difficulties in the way then, but encouraged the colored people to organize themselves into companies, and hold themselves in readiness. Let it be borne in mind that when the Governor's reply was received, another large meeting was called, and the recommendations of the governor were overwhelmingly adopted by our colored citizens. And since their prayer is answered, and the requisition has come, let none hold back, or wait to be drafted."

By the time this letter was written African Americans had already rushed to Union service. Massachusetts produced the 54th and 55th infantry regiments, as well as the 5th cavalry regiment; although these units were recruited free blacks from across the northern states, not just the Bay State. Slaves came too. Louisiana produced the most African American soldiers and Kentucky was second.

Especially during black history month, let's not forget the service of these African American soldiers and their efforts to keep our country united. Their service helped offer freedom to those who had never known it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More Manifest Destiny Art

The Promised Land-The Grayson Family by William S. Jewett, 1850

Emigrants Crossing the Plains by Albert Bierstadt, 1867

Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way by Emanuel Leutze, 1861

Daniel Boone's First View of Kentucky by William Ranney, 1849

Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap
by George Caleb Bingham, 1851

Monday, February 8, 2010

Manifest Destiny in Art

The current generation of students seem to be lacking many basic visual literacy skills. Due largely to the rapid nature of communication and technology today, young learners don't seem to focus on any one thing long enough to consider the all of the potential learning opportunities that are available. Instead, it is more like, "OK I've seen that, what's the next thing?"

Doing some research for an activity on manifest destiny and westward expansion the past week or so I ran into this piece of art titled American Progress, painted by John Gast in 1872.

Without taking a few minutes to look at it closely it doesn't look like much more than an angel floating over an Old West landscape. But, upon further review there is much to be learned in this particular piece of artwork.

The figure floating above the scene is not an angel, but rather Lady Columbia, a symbol for The United States. She is moving over an allegorical map of America, from east to west. On her forehead she wears the star of empire. In her right arm she carries not the Bible, but a school book, bringing education to the uncivilized West. In her left hand she strings telegraph wire, connecting the reunited United States. Railroads run behind her as well as stagecoaches and westward pioneers.

Uncivilized Indians and wild animals such as bears, wolves, and buffalo flee before her enlightening atmosphere. The Indians have left their teepees and the bones of the buffalo behind. To the East the skies are clear, representing the influence of civilization and technology, but to the west, over the Rocky Mountains, where the white man has barely reached, it is dark and unsettled.

Just behind Lady Columbia settlers have built a cabin and are plowing the ground to raise crops. Just under her are frontiersmen, miners, and hunters, on foot and on horseback reaching the border between civilization and wilderness.

From the late 1840s, just after the Mexican-American War, to the the 1880s, when the Wild West was finally being tamed, this idea of Manifest Destiny was portrayed in numerous pieces of artwork. Most take on a theme of progress and are heavily influenced by romanticism. Much can be learned by viewing these unique primary sources, and when you stop and take the time to look closely, they can speak to you as well as any written document.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Garrison Comments on Nat Turner's Rebellion

Many historians of the nineteenth century consider 1831 a watershed year. In fact, this year is of such significance that a book has even been written covering its momentous events (1831: Year of Eclipse by Louis P. Masuer).

Two of the those important events in 1831 had much in common. On January 1, 1831 William Lloyd Garrison (pictured here) started publishing his antislavery newspaper The Liberator in Boston. Garrison's clear and unabashed abolitionist views expressed in his press were not well received, even in the North. Eight months later, on August 21, Nat Turner led a group of slaves on a bloody rampage through Southampton County, Virginia. Turner and his band eventually killed at least 55 white men, women, and children before they were stopped by the Virginia militia. Turner initially escaped capture by hiding out, but he was caught on October 30, tired and then hanged on November 11. Many Southerners blamed Garrison and his newspaper for bringing abolitionist views to their slaves' knowledge and thus fomenting insurrection. Of course most slaves couldn't read and the circulation of The Liberator was not of much significance this early in its career, but nonetheless, such views were not to be tolerated in the slave states.

I was curious about what Garrison wrote in his paper concerning Nat Turner's rebellion. After doing a little searching I found an interesting passage from the September 3, 1831 issue of The Liberator that I thought I'd share.

"What we have long predicted,-at the peril of being stigmatized as an alarmist and declaimer,-has commenced its fulfilment. The first step of the earthquake, which is ultimately to shake down the fabric of oppression, leaving not one stone upon the other, has been made. The first drops of blood, which are but the prelude to a deluge from the gathering clouds, have fallen. The first flash of lightening, which is to ignite and consume, has been felt. The first wailings of bereavement, which is to clothe the earth in sackcloth, have broken upon our ears.

In the first number of the Liberator, we alluded to the hour of vengeance in the following lines:
Wo if it come with storm, and blood, and fire,
When midnight darkness veils the earth and sky!
Wo to the innocent babe-the guilty sire-
Mother and daughter-friends of kindred tie!
Stranger and citizen alike shall die!
Red-handed Slaughter his revenge shall feed,
And havoc yell his ominous death-cry,
And wild Despair in vain for mercy plead-
While hell itself shall shrink and sicken at the deed!

Read the account of the insurrection in Virginia, and say whether our prophecy be not fulfilled. What was poetry-imagination-in January, is now bloody reality. 'Wo to the innocent babe-to mother and daughter!' Is it not true? Turn again to the record of the slaughter! Whole families have been cut off-not a mother, not a daughter, not a babe left. Dreadful retaliation! 'The dead bodies of white and black lying just as they were slain, unburied'-the oppressor and the oppressed equal at last in death-what a spectacle!"

Garrison ends his column with this sentence: "IMMEDIATE EMANCIPATION can alone save her from the vengeance of Heaven, and cancel the debt of ages."

Garrison and other abolitionists clearly saw that the only way to prevent further outrages such as Turner's rebellion was to immediately free the slaves. He believed that only more bloodshed could come from their continued enslavement. Garrison would again appear to be somewhat prophetic when one considers the loss of life that the Civil War would cost only 30 short years later.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CWPT Has Great Maps at a Click

Maps are essential for most historians, especially military historians. Without maps reference points can get confusing and events that are described are not nearly as understandable. Military maps quickly show distance, geographical features of battlefields, and troop location. Without maps battlefield students are literally lost.

Fortunately, the Civil War Preservation Trust knows the importance of maps to those of us who enjoy touring Civil War battlefields, or even just reading about battles. The CWPT has gone to great lengths to provide a database of high-quality maps that are accessible at any time with a point and click.

The CWPT has divided their maps into basically three categories. Each of these categories show different but important aspects of maps and mapping. One category is "historical maps." These are largely period-produced maps drawn by engineers and cartographers during the war. The historical maps are important for many reasons, but mostly because they do not show the many modern changes that have appeared on so many battlefield landscapes.

Another category of maps are the "CWPT battle maps." These stunning maps show troop locations and movements, topography, direction, and even modern roads. The map legends are easy to understand and provide excellent reference. CWPT battle maps are a must have for modern battlefield explorers.

The most impressive CWPT maps though are the "animated maps." These amazing digital works of art vividly show troop movements without the distracting arrows, rather the skirmishers, regiments, brigades, and divisions actually move on the map as the narrative of the battle is displayed. In addition, a running timeline is also provided to give the viewer a better chronological understanding of what time actions occurred during the battle. BEWARE though, these animated maps are highly addictive and hours can slip by while viewing them without even realizing it.

To see CWPT's offering of maps click on the following link: