Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Visit to Southampton County, Virginia

I took advantage of some beautiful, cool, late April weather yesterday to travel about fifty miles southeast of Petersburg to Southampton County. Southampton may ring a bell for many of you that are Southern history enthusiasts; it was the location of the Nat Turner insurrection in August 1831.

The main reason I wanted to visit Southampton was because of my fascination with Turner's rebellion. Since I first read Stephen Oates's Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion many many years ago, I have attempted to read anything that I can find on the subject.

My first stop was in the county seat of Courtland, presumably named for the county courthouse located there. In the nineteenth century Courtland was known as Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Plank Road (now Crater Road and Highway 35) ran between Petersburg and the historic Southampton town. The county courthouse (pictured above) was constructed in 1834, and thus missed the Nat Turner drama that occurred there three years before.

To the left of the courthouse is the county's Confederate monument. It was erected in 1902. Several Confederate companies were raised during the Civil War in Southampton County and the town contained a number of convalescent hospitals during the conflict. A small relatively new bronze plaque in front of the monument reads: "Not Forgotten - The two hundred and nineteen names that are engraved on the bricks before you are the men from Southampton County who gave their lives defending their families, friends and homes from the Northern Invaders. They were killed in action or died from wounds or disease in the War of Northern Aggression 1861-1865. We honor their bravery and sacrifice. We will not forget their struggle to preserve the principles on which our country was founded." I thought it was an interesting choice of words, and certainly an interesting interpretation for the Southampton men's motivations to go to war. However, I was not surprised that slavery was not mentioned, although in 1860, the county's population was almost half enslaved.

Right across Main Street from the courthouse was the Mahone Tavern. Confederate general William Mahone was born in Southampton County and as a youth his father, Fielding Mahone, purchased this building and an adjacent structure as a business venture. The tavern was constructed in the late 1700s and was one of the original lots in Jerusalem. The interpretive panel in front of the building explained that as a young man Mahone earned part of the necessary money to attend the Virginia Military Institute by gambling with the tavern's visitors. 

Also in Courtland is the Rebecca Vaughan House. This structure was moved from its original location out in a rural section of county in 2004. The house is currently being restored at the Southampton Agriculture and Forestry Museum and Heritage Village. It is noted as being the last house in which residents were executed during Nat Turner's rebellion. It appears there is a plan to have the house serve as a visitor's center for a proposed Nat Turner/1831 Southampton Insurrection Trail, if funding can be secured. I could not help but wonder if the people of Southampton are ready to embrace and promote this difficult history or not. It is a story that needs to be told and known, and I believe it would bring significant tourism dollars to their community.

I know I certainly would have benefited from a map of some kind that told me how to get to the places where events happened during the insurrection. All I was really able to locate was the Virginia highway marker, which is located along Highway 35 south of Courtland. As the sign says, the insurrection began some seven miles to the west of this location, but obviously, did not provide needed specifics on how to get scenes of the event.  

Beside the highway marker was a cotton field which appeared to have been picked and cut last fall. I found it fascinating that the Nat Turner slave insurrection marker would be located next to a cotton field. I would suppose that cotton was grown in this part of the state in the 1830, although I guess I always associate tobacco with this section and era.

After leaving the highway marker I attempted to take the closest road heading west just to get a feel for the terrain of the insurrection. I do not remember the name of the road, but along the way there were many more cotton fields and wheat fields. At a country intersection I found a dilapidated farmhouse (pictured above). It looked like it was about to crack in half. As I often do when I see such sites, I wondered who had lived here and what their lives had been like. Was the family that lived here black, or were they white? Were they prosperous or were they poor? Did they only farm or did they travel to work in town too? Was this house around during the Civil War, or was it from later times? So many questions.

On my circuitous return drive back to Courtland, I followed the General Thomas Highway. I had hoped that a helpful Virginia Civil War Trails sign would point me to Thomaston (pictured above), but alas, it was not to be. So, I made it back to Courtland and stopped in at the Walter Cecil Rawls Library. There a kind reference librarian allowed me to use their internet to find directions to the house. I had been so close during my drive, but was determined to find it, which I did easily with the directions. I guess that is a lesson for my next excursiona--always take directions in the first place.

Union General George Henry Thomas was born at Thomaston in Southampton County in 1816, and lived there until his appointment to West Point in 1836. When Thomas decided to remain loyal to the Union, his sisters, who still lived in the house at the time, spurned him. They refused to send his Mexican War sword, allegedly turned his picture toward the wall, and proudly supported their Southampton Confederate soldiers. Thomas never returned to Virginia. He lived in California after the war, where he died in 1870. He was buried in his wife's city of Troy, New York. After his death, his sisters, apparently contrite, supported the erection of his monument in Washington D.C. 

Traveling back cross county with my trusty Virginia highway map I got back to Highway 58 and headed west. Before getting too far on 58, I spotted two more highway markers. One noted the former location of a plantation called Buckhorn Quarters, and was near where Nat Turner spent the night after his slave force was defeated near Jerusalem by the militia. Turner managed to escape and hide out in Southampton County for about seventy days until he was finally captured and hanged. 

Beside the Buckhorn Quarters plaque was an additional and intriguing marker. It notes the Southampton County roots of the famous Supreme Court plaintiff Dred Scott. Scott's famous case in 1857 ruled that congress could not legislate slavery and that African Americans could not be citizens. The Dred Scott Decision threw yet another log on the sectional fire and brought the country closer to civil war.

There is so much important history in this still largely rural southeastern Virginia county. I would highly recommend a day's visit, or more, if you find yourself in area.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dying Far Far From Home: Daniel Anderson, 116th USCI

It didn't take me long being back in Petersburg to head over to Poplar Grove National Cemetery. I had visited there a couple of times when I lived here previously, but I had not done much other than walk through glancing at the graves of men from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Wisconsin, Michigan and many other states. However, even back then, I do remember seeing a number of United States Colored Troops' grave stones.

This time, and now knowing that a number of Kentucky USCT regiments served in the Petersburg Campaign, I got to wondering if there might be some Bluegrass State men buried there. After a little bit of searching on the internet, I found a brief list that indeed enumerated a number of men serving in USCT regiments from Kentucky. Fortunately, that list included the grave numbers where those men rest. With these numbers it was not difficult at all to find the individual graves.

All of the stones in Poplar Grove have been placed on the ground rather than standing perpendicular as in most national cemeteries, such as Arlington. This practice was started apparently in effort to help speed the required mowing maintenance of the cemetery. The only down side is that it seems this has also sped up the erosion of the wording on some of the stones.

One of the first stones I found was number 5130 and that of Daniel Anderson, who served in Company K of the 116th United States Colored Infantry. To find out more about Anderson I searched his service records on the Fold 3 website. Anderson's service records indicate that he was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, but apparently lived in Fayette County, as that county was credited for his enlistment. His owner's name was Thomas Barber. Apparently Anderson enlisted without Barber's permission.

Anderson enlisted at Camp Nelson on July 6, 1864. He was only twenty years old and stood five feet nine inches tall. His complexion was listed as black. Anderson's service records seem to show that he was a solid soldier, but as so often happened to many Civil War soldiers, he contracted a disease. His was small pox. Small pox is caused by an infection by the variola virus and can be contracted from person to person or though contaminated items, such as clothing and blankets. In addition to the visible feature of red spots, which often leave large pock marks on the skin, small pox's flu-like symptoms include: fever, headaches, severe fatigue and back pain, and possibly vomiting.

Anderson was admitted to the U.S. Flying Hospital (the MASH of the day) on December 8, 1864, just five months after enlisting. The young Kentuckian did not last long. Anderson died in the army hospital at Point of Rocks, Virginia (just outside of Petersburg) on December 27, 1864. Anderson's service records note that he was first buried "between Bermuda Hundred, Va & Jones Landing, N(orth) of Road." Anderson was moved to Poplar Grove when it was established as a national cemetery in 1866. Apparently Anderson's original grave contained some marker for identification.

One wonders if young Daniel Anderson had family back in Kentucky. And if so, were they notified of his death in a far off place called Petersburg, Virginia? If so, they were likely proud that their son served, and although he did not die on the battlefield, he nonetheless gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country and those that remained in slavery.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Petersburg Courthouse: Then and Now, 1865 and 2015

Well, I have gotten somewhat settled in here in Petersburg this week. I moved into my new place last Monday afternoon, and after several days of unpacking and placing things, I feel pretty good -- other than trying to get rid of the stupid bird who keeps trying to nest in my clothes dryer vent. Today, I finally had my cable hooked up and internet installed, so I thought I'd take the earliest opportunity to post.

On Thursday, I went to have the oil changed in my car. The good thing about going to a place where you have lived before is that you know where things like a good mechanic and barber are located. While my oil was being changed, I took the opportunity to walk into downtown Petersburg, get a library card to the new public library, and and snap some photographs of some of the historic architecture.

While many of the city's buildings were damaged during the famous so-called siege, the Petersburg Courthouse survived. The courthouse's appearance was recorded during the war when it was photographed in 1865 after the Union army captured the city (above). Today, it still stands, looking pretty much the same way it did 150 years ago (below).

Nearby, I also noticed that a work crew was busy working to restore the Southside Railroad Depot. The National Park Service will soon be using that historic structure for interpretation and a visitor's center.

When I was in Petersburg before (2006-2009), I suppose I took for granted the fantastic architectural landmarks that dot the area. Hopefully, this time I can take time to enjoy them more and share them on this forum.

Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Just Finished Reading - More American Than Southern

Well, this is my last weekend in Kentucky. I have accepted the Associate Director of Education, Interpretation, Visitor Services, and Collections at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldiers in Petersburg, Virginia. I worked at Pamplin before coming to Kentucky six years ago, so it will be nice to return to a place I am familiar with and has loads of diverse historical subjects to dig into. I can not express enough the amazing time I had in Kentucky. I was able to learn so much and make so many new friends, that I can state without hesitation that I leave a much better person than when I arrived.

With it being my last post in Kentucky, I thought I would share a few thoughts on a book I just finished reading. I have been amazed with the number of scholarly works that have appeared discussing Kentucky's antebellum and Civil War eras in the last five to seven years. Kentucky and other border states, too, are finally receiving the attention they so readily deserve.

More American Than Southern: Kentucky, Slavery, and the War for an American Ideology, 1828-1861 (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2014), by Gary R. Matthews, covers a time period within the state that has been long misunderstood and understudied. Although many have suggested reasons why Kentucky, a slave holding state, remained within the Union, few have offered truly compelling arguments.

Matthews contends that Kentucky's brand of slavery was much different than that of the Deep South states. In Kentucky, slaves were allowed to be educated if an owner so wished, and although the state had the third most slaveholders in the 1850 and 1860 census (only Virginia and Georgia had more), Kentucky owners held on average about only four or five slaves each. In addition, African Americans only made up about 20% of the state's population in 1860.

Kentucky's market relationship with their neighbors to the north also affected their outlook. Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana were populated largely with former Kentuckians, so a kin network became established between its northern border states that proved strong. This, combined with a large Whig contingency made Kentucky's northern ties at least as firm as its southern ones. Matthews also argues that Kentucky's latent move toward industrialism in the the late antebellum period brought in new populations with new ideas. While German and Irish immigrants in Louisville and other northern Kentucky cities and towns brought conflict with nativeists, they also influenced their communities thoughts and practices.

Geography was important to Kentucky's antebellum rise. Its location between the northern and southern states brought economic diversity and prosperity. The state's river system connected it to many markets, and the invention of the steamboat proved to be a transportation and commercial revolution for the state.

There are several points that Matthews makes that I am in disagreement. His mention that Kentucky tolerated antislavery (page 63) dissidents is somewhat stretching reality. The men he mentions as being tolerated: James G. Birney, Cassius Clay, and John Fee, were all harassed, attacked, and otherwise persecuted for their antislavery stances. Both Birney and Fee were exiled at points, while Clay had his newspaper press dismantled and shipped out of state in 1845. This is not what I would call "unwillingness to subvert basic constitutional guarantees." I also thought that the author downplayed Kentucky's reliance on the Fugitive Slave Law as a major cog in its Unionist wheel. While he states "The belief that the future of their peculiar institution was better served within the Union, rather than the Southern Confederacy," (page 263), much of that had to do with a constitutional guarantee to return Kentucky's runaway slaves. And while Ohio had passed personal liberty laws designed to circumvent the Fugitive Slave Law, slaves were still returned, and Illinois and Indiana more often than not upheld the law.

I am personally not convinced that "the relevance of slavery declined" (page 269) during the antebellum era in Kentucky. While there appeared to be a somewhat progressive movement through the 1830s and 1840s, the sectional issues of the 1850s, according to my understanding, deepened Kentucky's commitment to slavery from that point on until the national ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. As I have mentioned many times on this forum, Kentucky did not ratify the amendment to abolish slavery until 1976.

While I had some minor quibbles about some of the book's interpretation, and thought that a deeper dive into primary sources to show individual Kentuckians' perspectives may have strengthened it, I found that More American Than Southern is probably the best book I have read thus far that gets at the heart of Kentucky's antebellum disposition and why it chose to remain in the Union when civil war came. One a scale of one to five, I give it a four.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Visit to Waveland State Historic Site

The past few months I have been attempting to visit some historic sites in Kentucky that I had neglected to see in my six years since moving here. I got to spend some time at Locust Grove back in February, and last Saturday I made the short trip down to Lexington to see Waveland.

Waveland has roots that go back to Kentucky's earliest settlements. The famous frontiersman Daniel Boone married Rebecca Bryan, who's family founded Bryan Station, just north of what became Lexington. In addition, a Bryan, William Bryan, married Daniel's sister, Mary. William and Mary's son, Daniel Boone Bryan, settled on the land that became Waveland around 1786. Daniel Boone Bryan built a stone home on property and quickly prospered as a farmer and noted gunsmith.

Byran's son, Joseph, inherited Waveland when his father died in 1845. That year Joseph had the old stone home torn down and construction started on an elaborate Greek Revival home (pictured above), which was completed in 1848. Various resources from Waveland went into the home's construction. Timber for framing and trimwork, and bricks, made from clay on the property, all came together to built the enormous structure. One of the most impressive features of the home are side gallery rooms, which were intended for guests.

Under Joseph's direction Waveland became a profitable hemp and grain plantation. In fact, the name Waveland came from the romantic scene which occurred when wind blew the crops back and forth resembling waves on the ocean.

To maintain his estate and create its profits Joseph, like other Kentucky hemp planters, used slave labor. Joseph Bryan is shown in the 1850 census owning twelve slaves and holding property worth $42,000. In 1860, Bryan had increased his labor force to eighteen slaves. The 1860 census shows what appears to be eight slave dwellings at Waveland. While the field slave quarters have all disappeared, the kitchen and house slave quarters (pictured above) still stand. This two story brick building was somewhat typical for Kentucky house slave quarters. They were often constructed of brick or stone,and usually included two or three rooms for living areas. The two story design was also quite typical, as work was often done on the ground level, while domiciles were upstairs.

Another impressive structure on the grounds is the smokehouse. In order to provide the dietary needs of the Bryan family, their slaves, and also to sell at market, a tremendous number of hogs were slaughtered annually. The smokehouse features a salting table (pictured above), which was made from an enormous log. Also in the smokehouse are cutting tables to process the meat and a huge brine barrel. The Bryan family's ice house is also on the grounds.

As had the previous generation, Joseph Bryan's son, Joseph Henry Bryan, inherited Waveland when his father passed away in 1887. Joe Henry, as he was known, was a large man who decided to take Waveland in a different direction. Joe Henry apparently love horses. He became a thoroughbred and trotter breeder and even built two racetracks on the property. With the horses and horse racing came debt, and in 1894, Joe Henry was forced to sell Waveland. After a couple of owners the property was deeded to the University of Kentucky, who used it as an experimental farm, and in 1957 it became the Kentucky Life Museum. UK turned the property over to the state park system in 1971.

Today, Waveland is a great place to learn about Kentucky's antebellum hemp farms. They have an impressive amount of Bryan family treasures, which only add to the educational experience. I highly recommend a visit to Waveland if you get the chance. Places like it are becoming more rare all the time, especially those that provide public tours and that educate visitors about this time period.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Just Finished Reading - The Internal Enemy

Of the several nineteenth century conflicts fought by the United States, the one I can claim the least knowledge about is definitely the War of 1812. But, reading The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, by Alan Taylor (W.W. Norton, 2013) helped fill in a lot of gaps, especially as to how the war played out in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Taylor focuses the majority of The Internal Enemy on how the British encouraged enslaved individuals to runaway, or more often was the case, float or sail away to their warships that controlled the Chesapeake Bay in 1813 and 1814.

The British, presaging the Union Army of the Potomac in the same area in the Civil War, readily understood that taking from the enemy's labor pool only aided their own cause. Similarly, those that were enslaved saw that the enemy of their masters could often prove to be their best friends. And like the Yankees in the 1860s, the British in the War of 1812 were described by masters as fiends only wanting African Americans to come into their lines so they could be worked to death or sold as slaves to Caribbean nations.

However, runaway slaves served the British not only as soldiers (Colonial Marines), but also as laborers, guides, and spies. Their intimate knowledge of the Chesapeake's shoreline, inlets, and rivers proved invaluable to the British successes.

Of course, the War of 1812 was not the first to encourage slave assistance. Lord Dunmore in the Revolutionary War had done the same. Masters and their heirs, who had long memories of Dunmore's attempts, feared their slaves as an "internal enemy" should another conflict with a foreign nation occur.

Taylor explains that Virginia had to rely upon itself for much of its defense. The infant United States was not in a strong position to offer a significant amount of support in men, money, supplies, and arms. Engagements on other fronts spread limited resources even thinner. One result of this reality was to weaken Virginia's traditionally strong bond to the Union.

The amount of research that went into The Internal Enemy is quite impressive. However, how Taylor chooses to use his sources is even more impressive. For example, Taylor utilizes Virginian St. George Tucker's experience to show how that state's gentlemen planters were affected by the British raids. Tucker shared Corotoman plantation (located along the Rappahannock River) with a step son and son in law. While the owners were able to move some of the enslaved workers inland to another plantation in Nelson County, sixty-nine of the Corotoman slaves were lost to the nearby British forces.

Being a big fan of irony, I found it quite interesting that when compensation was finally made in 1828 for the sixty-nine Corotoman slaves that escaped to the British, the acquired funds helped payoff the plantation's debts, some of which was furthered by the slaves' departure. Without that infusion of cash, the plantation would likely have had to resort to selling off the workers which would have surely resulted in the division of many of the enslaved plantation families.

Although the size of the book (435 pages of text) may appear intimidating to some readers, it is written in such an engaging way that the pages fly by. I highly recommend The Internal Enemy to those who wish to learn more about the War of 1812 than just the military engagements. As with all wars, soldiers were not the sole sufferers. On a scale of one to five, I give The Internal Enemy a 4.75.      

Monday, April 13, 2015

Western Military Institute at Drennon Springs, Kentucky

Last year I posted several times about some interesting articles that I found in a number of antebellum Southern agricultural and literary journals. In the September 1852 edition of the South-Western Monthly, which was published in Nashville, Tennessee, I came across a selection about the Western Military Institute. At that time the school was located at Drennon Springs in Henry County, Kentucky.

On my travels to and from Frankfort to family in Madison, Indiana, I have passed the above state highway marker many, many times. So when I came across the 1852 article, I immediately recognized the name of the place. Curious to learn more I searched out some additional information.  

Drennon Springs was actually the third location for the Western Military Institute. It opened in 1847 by Colonel Thornton J. Johnson in Georgetown, Kentucky. It is important to remember that states such as Kentucky and Tennessee in the mid-nineteenth century were thought of as "Western." After three years in Georgetown, the school moved to Blue Lick Springs in Nicholas County, as it was believed that a more rural environment would lead to better learning. I suppose the town of Georgetown and nearby Lexington offered too many distracting temptations for the institute's cadets.

Western's stay at Blue Licks Springs was even shorter than at Georgetown. Apparently the school did not receive proper attention from the owner of the property and thus moved to Drennon Springs in Henry County in February 1851. Drennon Springs offered the institute "beautiful natural scenery, salubrious mineral springs, extensive and commodious buildings, and an area of several acres for military exercises, with extensive grounds for the recreation of the cadets in leisure hours."

In the fall of 1852 the school had 166 students. The cadets learned "Greek, Latin, French, German, and Spanish," as well as "Mathematics, Engineering, Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, History, Rhetoric, Logic and Belles Letters." Students could also take "Physiology, Natural History, Chemistry, Geology," accounting, and even law. For entertainment the cadets had a library, two literary societies, and a student newspaper called The Cadet, which was edited and published by the students.

Most mid-nineteenth century parents sent their sons to military academies for the discipline it instilled in the young men. The article claimed as much. A military education "requires the exercise of courtesy and gentlemanly deportment; it demonstrates the advantages and enforces the practice of order, promptitude in the performance of every duty, and subordination to the properly constituted authorities. The want of such habits has proved proximate cause of the ruin of many a gifted mind, and the destruction of many, we may say nearly all of our Colleges." The article ended with an endorsement for the school and recommended those interested to contact the school to receive a copy of its rules and regulations. 

Western, like many other military schools in the slave states, understood where it needed to target market. They advertised in popular newspapers and these agricultural journals, including the famous DeBow's Review, which were often read by those wealthy enough to send their sons for an education. In an 1853 edition of DeBow's, Western placed and ad explaining that the school was "situated on the Kentucky River" and that it could be "reached by steamboat from Louisville or Cincinnati, or by railroad from Louisville to Eminence on the Louisville and Frankfort" railroad, and then with a short stagecoach ride to Drennon Springs. Tuition and room and board was $80 per session. The DeBow's advertisement was placed by the school's president Col. Bushrod Rust Johnson.

When Western moved to its Drennon Springs location, Johnson (below) became its president. Although Johnson was born in Ohio, he went on to become a general in the Confederate army. He began his career in the Western Theater, fighting in such engagements as Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River and Chickamauga, but was tranferred to the east and served in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He commanded troops at Petersburg and Five Forks. Johnson he was relived of duty at Sailor's Creek during the army's retreat toward Appomattox and surrendered there without a command.

Apparently an outbreak of disease at Drennon Springs in 1854, prompted the school to move once again, this time to Tyree Springs, Tennessee. The following year it moved to Nashville, where it became part of the University of Nashville. It operated there until the Civil War ended it existence.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Just Finished Reading - The Caning

Those that claim that slavery (or better slavery's extension into the western part of the country) did not or was not the precipitating issue that brought the Southern slave states to secede and thus inaugurate civil war, have their eyes closed to the primary source evidence of those years when these events were playing out. Stephen Puleo's book, The Caning: The Assault that Drove America to Civil War (Westholme Publishing, 2012) is certainly not in that camp.

The Caning takes a close look at that May 22, 1856 event that added yet another log to the sectional fire. I have read other books that solely focus on this subject, but few if any goes into such detail about the personalities involved or the subsequent events that were triggered by the assault on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina Representative Preston S. Brooks.

At the time of Sumner's beating his state of Massachusetts was viewed as the home of the most radical of abolitionists. It was, after all, the home of The Liberator newspaper published by pacifist abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, as well as the home of industry and thus the wealth financiers who fully supported the Kansas free state campaign.

South Carolina, on the other hand, was home to slavery's most vehement defenders. Statesmen such as John C. Calhoun (who had died in 1850), James Henry Hammond, and Andrew Butler all spoke in favor of their state's cherished domestic institution. Preston S. Brooks was cut from the same cloth and had tired of the attacks on slavery, his state, and his family. It was this last, his family's honor, which was disparaged by Sumner, that drove Brooks to take out his fury on what he saw as the dishonorable and ungentlemanly Sumner.

Two days after Sumner had disparaged slavery, South Carolina,  and Andrew Butler (a kinsman of Brooks) in his lengthy and particularly abrasive speech "The Crime Against Kansas," Representative Brooks took his gutta percha cane and strode to the Senate chamber where he beat a seated Sumner over the head, shoulders, and back, leaving the senator bloodied and bruised. Sumner would not return to his senate seat on a full time basis for four years. During Sumner's absence, which supporters saw as a political advantage, and opponents saw as a ploy, he suffered from occasional setbacks and possibly post traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms.

I have mentioned on this forum before that I am not a big fan of psycho-history. However, I do believe it is important to look into events of personalities' pasts to gather information to help explain how they reacted to certain events. Here is where I think Puleo's book excels. He looks at Sumner's distant relationship with his father and other family members to understand his arrogant and close-minded approach to life. Brooks on the other hand was raised in a loving and close family situation, which caused him to cherish family above all else. It was Sumner's malicious verbal attack on Butler, Brooks' cousin, that infuriated Brooks to the point of not making an offer to duel Sumner, but rather beat him as one would, of course, do to an inferior in his home of South Carolina. Brooks saw dueling only appropriate for gentlemen, and to Brooks, Sumner was not a gentleman worthy of respect. To Brooks, Sumner had to be disciplined for his rude actions.

Puleo also shows the influence that the Brooks-Sumner caning had on immediate subsequent events. He contends it was the caning that drove John Brown to take extreme measures in Kansas only days after the attack in the Senate. He also links the caning to the election of 1856, the  Dred Scott Decision the following year, the increase in influence and power of the Republican Party, and thus the election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession of the Southern states, and the coming of the Civil War.

The only real complaint I had about the book was the omission of footnotes. Although Puleo includes a bibliographic essay to explain where he obtained his sources, I certainly prefer footnotes or endnotes when reading a work of history. I did not read anything I really felt was historically inaccurate - although I do believe historians argue whether or not John Brown heard about Sumner's caning on May 22 before he engaged his his butchery at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas less than three days later. I suppose word could have been carried by telegraph from Washington D.C. to Kansas, but it seems quite unlikely even if transmitted, that it would reach Brown in a rather remote area of the state in such short time.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Caning and thinking about all of the events that were going on at this time. On a scale of one to five, I give it a 4.5.          

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Richmond's Free Black Barbers Assisted the Confederacy, and Why it Made Sense

I had been wondering if black barbers advertised in newspapers in other upper-South states like Virginia and Maryland like they did in Kentucky, so I did a little keyword searching in the Chronicling America feature on the Library of Congress website. And while I did not find many ads, I did come across the above short article, which I found intriguing.  

It was printed in the July 16, 1861, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. With the Civil War just started and Virginia seceding only three months before, constructing fortifications around Richmond--now the Confederate capital--were important for the city's defense. In addition, only days after this article ran, the first large engagement of the war occurred at Manassas, Virginia.

The article claimed that "several hundred" free blacks were "listed" at the City Hall for this work. Whether listed meant enlisted, or merely a census was being taken for potential work projects is not known. However, the author notes that he noticed many of the town's barber shops closed due to their operators being preoccupied with either the work or being counted.

Surprisingly, or on the other hand, perhaps not so surprisingly, the author claimed that free black barbers were "confessedly superior in intelligence, worth, and breeding to their [I assume he means non-barber free black] compatriots." The author, and certainly other whites, understood the service that these free men of color and talent provided to "the white male population unaccustomed to the having process, and who have been in the habit of availing themselves of the barbers' skill."

Although the barbers were willing to help in the Confederate cause, it appears that the town's whites would have preferred that these free men of color be exempted from working on the fortifications so that no inconvenience would come to their white patrons. Besides, the author argues that men who had experience in working with "nothing heavier than a razor will necessarily make an unproductive hand at rolling a wheel barrow or shoveling dirt." Obviously this is a fallacious argument, but not a shocking one from someone who saw free men of color with a prejudiced eye. 

So, why would free black barbers offer to help the Confederacy? It would be unwise to claim that they all had the same motives. Some may have indeed felt an obligation to help their new nation. I suspect, however, that most of them fully understood the potential economic repercussions if they did not show support. If the black barber ads tell us anything it is that these men flattered their patrons and relied on them coming into their shops in order to keep their businesses open, food on their families tables, and clothes on their backs. If a free black barber evidenced anything other than unwavering patriotic duty to the Confederacy, they would likely suffer being blackballed, certainly lose clients, and potentially be put out of business.    

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Just Finished Reading - The Confederate Heartland

Let's face it, when it comes to Civil War studies, especially those of the Confederate variety, the Eastern Theater gets most of the love. There have been various arguments put forth on why this is so, but regardless, it remains mostly true. Being from Tennessee, however, I started my Civil War interest by appreciating the Western Theater, and if I'm being honest, I probably still lean toward that region in my reading choice.

So, when I finally came across The Confederate Heartland: Military and Civilian Morale in the Western Confederacy (LSU Press, 2011), by Bradley R. Clampitt, it quickly made by reading wish list.

The Confederate Heartland examines how morale among the Western Theater's soldiers and citizens ebbed and flowed in the last sixteen months of the war. Clampitt divides his chapters into two month segments, starting in January and February 1864, with Joseph E. Johnston's assumption of command of the Army of Tennessee after the disasters of November at the battles around Chattanooga. It ends in March and April 1865, with that army's surrender in North Carolina.

Clampitt argues that Johnston quickly turned around the confidence level in the Army of Tennessee when he took command and that the change in leadership also positively impacted civilian morale. That upswing in morale continued with the resumption of combat in the spring of 1864. And although Union Gen. William T. Sherman captured a significant amount of territory during the ensuing campaign, Johnston's tactics sought to maintain the health of his army, which was greatly appreciated by both the soldiers fighting and the civilians at home.

Clampitt focuses his research on sources largely from the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. That is what he defines as "Confederate Heartland." One might argue that Georgia could be included, too. A number of the sources Clampitt uses are those probably familiar to many Civil War students. Diaries of civilians Ellen Renshaw House, Myra Inman, and Eliza Fain, among others, and soldiers' journals by William Berryhill and Samuel T. Foster help convey the emotions of the people of the "Heartland." However, the strength of these sources is that for the most part they are war time accounts rather than post- war reminiscences.

Even with the Army of Tennessee's change of command in July 1864 to Gen. John Bell Hood, Confederate Heartland morale remained fairly good. It naturally dipped with the loss of Atlanta in early September, but again began to improve with Hood's movement into Middle Tennessee in November. To those of the Heartland, forward movement was good. It was there, though, that things dissolved. With Hood's tragic decisions to smash his army at Franklin, and then become the attacked in December around Nashville, confidence in ultimate Confederate victory withered. The evidence seems to strongly confirm that morale rested largely on the peoples' confidence in their army commanders, and ultimately, their army's success on the region's battlefields.

I enjoyed reading The Confederate Heartland. It provided a much needed look into how the people of the Western Theater perceived their new nation and how their thoughts rode the waves during the last months of their efforts to win their independence. I would highly recommend it to those, who like me, enjoy studies focused on the red-headed step child of Civil War studies. On a scale of one to five, I give The Confederate Heartland a solid 4.5.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Washington Spradling's Kerfuffle

Yesterday I posted some information about antebellum Louisville black barber Washington Spradling. Being quite curious to find where he might show up in the era's newspaper records, I decided to do some searching.

Using the Kentucky Digital Library, I found the above short article in the September 22, 1858, issue of the Louisville Daily Courier. It would be pure speculation on my part, but I might suggest that Spradling's wealth as a free man of color in a slave state likely brought some resentment on the part of whites, and surely brought other episodes of trouble like this one.  

It is difficult for me to determine from this short article if Spradling had loaned Norwood money or the reverse. With Spadling's wealth, it would seem the former would be most probable. Perhaps Spradling tired of not receiving his loaned money back and resorted to a physical or verbal threat to Norwood. In most instances a Southerners' sense of honor would not allow such action from a black man; free or not.

Regardless of the true origins of the conflict, it appears that Norwood and his friends went to Spradling's shop "to play hickory-loo" on the black barber. In other words, they planned to beat Spradling with clubs or canes. The other phrase the author used for the intended violent action was that the white men went in "with the intention of dusting Wash's jacket."

Fortunately, a police officer intervened and arrested the three white men and set their bail at $200 each. They were apparently released with a probationary warning of six months.

A few paragraphs below this short notice ran another one explaining that in order to keep all parties involved equally responsible, Spradling, too, had been arrested. It reads: "HELD TO BAIL.-  The Court ordered the appearance of Wash. Spradling, in connection with the above case, who was brought in, and a bail of $200 was required of him to keep the peace six months, thus making all parties amenable to the law."

I found that Spradling appeared in a few other places in the newspaper record; mainly in listings of legal suits and property transactions. It would certainly be interesting to learn more about his legal actions. Was he suing or being sued? Was he attempting to collect money as appears to be the case above, or was he delinquent on payments? Finding out would certainly shed significantly more light onto this intriguing personality.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Washington Spradling's Grave

Yesterday I drove up to southern Indiana to spend Easter with my family. On the drive back to Frankfort I decided to take an slightly alternate route and try to locate the grave of Washington Spradling, a wealthy antebellum Louisville black barber. 

I knew his grave was somewhere in Eastern Cemetery, which is located next to better known Cave Hill Cemetery, but was not sure exactly where. After only a couple of wrong turns, I finally finally found both cemeteries. What caught my immediate attention was the drastic difference in how these two historic graveyards are maintained. 

Cave Hill is a huge cemetery, and it is immaculate. It features a lovely landscaped park-like atmosphere and contains the remains of numerous famous Kentuckians. Neighboring Eastern Cemetery on the other hand has many vandalized and tilting stones, tree limbs scattered here and there, and grass sprouting up in clumps instead of being finely manicured like Cave Hill. The main difference between the two is money; while Eastern is merely maintained by volunteers, Cave Hill is funded by a foundation. 

It didn't take too much looking around to locate Spradling's grave. I had looked it up on "Find a Grave" so I had an idea of what it looked like. However, Eastern Cemetery was quite a bit larger than I was expecting, and was filled with obelisk-like grave markers. Finally I found it and wandered over to take a closer look and get some photographs.

Washington Spradling was born in 1802 to a slave mother, Maria Dennis, and white overseer father, William Spradling. Washington's freedom was purchased by his father in 1825, and he soon had set up a barber shop in Louisville. As an aggressive entrepreneur, Washington developed close relationships with his white influential clientele and began using his barbering profits to purchase, sell, and lease real estate. By the 1860s Spradling had acquired quite a fortune for any man, white or black. Spadling's wealth comes through in the elaborate nature of his monument.

Spradling's stone contains the names of his wife Lucy Ann, and daughters, Martha and Julia, on one side, and his two sons, Washington, Jr. and William, both of which were also Louisville barbers and business men, on the other. I am not sure if Spradling's family members are buried in the plot around the stone with him or if just had their names included on his marker.

Washington Spradling surely understood the financial benefits that barbering had brought to his family and sought to have his sons follow in his footsteps to ensure their ability to support their own families. Spradling's son, William, ran the above advertisement in Louisville newspapers in the mid-1850s seeking patrons, and Washington Jr. founded the "Smoketown" neighborhood in southeast Louisville after the Civil War on land inherited from his father.

In business, for the Spradlings, it was like father, like sons.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kentucky Filibusterers

The 1850s are such a fascinating time in American history. The decade was filled with so much conflict and change. On the one hand it only seems natural that this ten year span, sandwiched between the previousl decade, which brought the Mexican War and the following decade, which brought the Civil War, would be chocked full of controversy and contingency. Of the 1850s' many events, filibustering adventures made for some of the most intriguing of that decade.

I found the above article in the May 28, 1856, issue of the Lebanon, Kentucky, Post, a Democratic Party newspaper, while searching for news on how the beating of Charles Sumner by Preston Brooks in the U.S. Senate was received by Kentuckians. The article obviously originated with the Louisville Times, another Democratic Party sheet, but the wording in the last paragraph makes it clear that these papers fully endorsed these largely privately funded, led, and overwhelmingly unsuccessful ventures in empire building. The fact that the papers supported these efforts is made clear by the closing sentence: "May they safely reach their destination, and win the glory and renown which their daring and enterprise so rich entitles them to."

The Walker the article mentions is William Walker (pictured below), a Tennessean, who got fully caught up in the idea of Manifest Destiny and led several missions to stake out an empire for himself. In 1853, he made an ill-fated invasion of Mexico, which of course had been defeated by the United States only five short years before. Walker must have ignored the fact that the United States used a significant military force to win its conflict.

Two years later Walker invaded Nicaragua. Initially successful, he set up a government, made English the formal language there and reinstated the institution of slavery. However, Walker eventually surrendered himself to the U.S. Navy in the spring of 1857. Walker was not convicted for his efforts and was hailed by many like-minded Manifest Destiny mania-driven Americans intent of seeing America spread her rule and example to others whether it was wanted or not. Walker tried another invasion in the fall of 1857, but was forced to surrender to U.S. forces. He tried yet again in 1860. This would be Walker's final campaign as he was captured by the Royal Navy and was handed over to Honduran authorities who executed him by firing squad.

The article also mentions the Kentucky contingent being led by Colonel John Allen of Shelby County. Doing a little research in the book Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America, I found that Allen had a long history of mercenary missions. 

Col. "Jack" Allen had participated in the Texas Revolution, the failed 1850 invasion of Cuba, an 1851 invasion of Mexico and, of course, in Nicaragua under William Walker. It appears that Allen's filibustering career was ended in the summer of 1856, when he returned to Kentucky after contracting "tropical fever." Filibustering had a intriguing hold on a number of other notable Kentuckians, too, including Theodore O'Hara and William Crittenden, nephew of John J. Crittenden.

The potential prizes of glory and gain were seemingly too much for many 1850s men to ignore and enthralling enough for them to take numerous yet recognized risks. 

Image of Walker courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Kentuckian Provided the Eulogy for a John Brown Raider

Reading the title of this post may surprise some of my longtime readers who know how vehemently Kentuckians opposed John Brown, and those of like mind, at the time of those momentous events. However, there were a handful of men and women from the Bluegrass State who either saw slavery as a great evil, viewed African Americans as equal or potentially equal, and sought different ways to end the institution. John G. Fee was one such Kentuckian that has received considerable attention in this forum. James Thome was another. Amazingly, they were both natives of Bracken County.  

Edwin Coppoc (pictured above), along with his older brother Barclay lived in Springdale, Iowa before joining John Brown's band of raiders in the late summer of 1859. Edwin was born in 1835, and raised as a Quaker in northern Ohio, where abolitionism was the rule rather than the exception. When Coppoc's father died, the boy went live with a nearby uncle who helped conduct slaves along the Underground Railroad. Thus, from a young age, Edwin came to have strong feelings against slavery.

At age 15, Edwin moved to Springdale, Iowa, where his mother had moved and remarried. While there Edwin and Barclay met John Brown, who passed through the town during his Kansas years on his way to Canada and the East seeking funds for his abolitionist force and mission.

During the action at Harper's Ferry, Edwin found himself in the fire engine house with John Brown and was captured on October 18 by Robert E. Lee's command of Marines. He was taken with the other captured raiders and Brown to nearby Charlestown for holding and trial. Edwin was convicted along with Brown and the others. Coppoc's sentence was death by hanging, to be completed on December 16, 1859. He would die that day with African Americans John Anthony Copeland, Sheilds Green, however, on segregated gallows. Also executed that day was John Cook, who had escaped Harpers Ferry, but was caught in Pennsylvania, several days later. Edwin's brother, Barclay, made a complete escape.   

After the hanging, Coppoc's body was placed in a wooden coffin and claimed by relatives who made their way back to northern Ohio, apparently by rail, as his funeral and burial in Winona was held two days after his execution. A couple of weeks later, on December 30, Coppoc was reinterred in Hope Cemetery in Salem, Ohio, near Cleveland. At the service on December 30, distinguished minister, James Thome (pictured above), a native of Bracken County, Kentucky, provided the eulogy.

Thome was born in Augusta, Kentucky, in 1813. His father had been a slaveholder, but as a young man studying at Lane Seminary in nearby Cincinnati, Ohio, Thome revolted with a group of other students over the issue of slavery and transferred to Oberlin College where he fully converted to the abolitionist camp. Although the difference in sentiment divided Thome from his family, he remained convinced that slavery was wrong and needed to end, the sooner the better. Thome went on to teach at Oberlin and then ministered at Congregational Church in Ohio City. Thome's father eventually manumitted his human property, largely due to his son's influence.

A handbill was circulated for Edwin Coppoc's funeral that read:
"The friends of Edwin Coppock and the great principles of freedom, for which HE sacrificed his life, and to advance which, he suffered martyrdom, being desirous of showing proper respect to his memory have obtained his remains from his relatives, and have made arrangements to inter the body in the Cemetery in SALEM, FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1859.

To open the service a Rev. Burke led a prayer and then the attendees sang one of John Brown's favorite songs, "Blow Ye Trumpet, Blow." Then, Thome took center stage and used the biblical tale of the writing on the wall to explain that "like the message to Belshazzar was John Brown's to enthroned iniquity. . .Here is granduer; here is God's own work and grace, here where it is treason to proclaim God's truth; here in an age of sounding brass--are these great souls, like living organs though whose trumpet notes God has blown an anthem that shakes the land like an earthquake." An attendee explained that the sermon was especially eloquent and like one only hears once in a lifetime.

Barclay Coppoc went on to serve in the Union army and was killed when the train he was riding was derailed by Confederate sympathizers in Missouri in 1861.

Edwin Coppoc's original wooden coffin was kept after he was reinterred in a metallic casket for the Salem burial. The wooden relic was brought out of storage when Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox. It was paraded through Salem on the shoulders of its bearers while they sang "John Brown's Body."