Monday, November 25, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

It has been a while since I've listed some additions to my library, so I thought I'd get to it. My book purchasing has slowed over the past couple of months, but I've picked up a couple here and there, and I received a nice haul for my recent birthday.

Always looking for opportunities to increase my knowledge of aspects of the Civil War in eastern North Carolina, I found and purchased a copy of Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony, 1862-1867 by Patricia C. Click. Along with the Tennessee and Cumberland River valleys, the Atlantic coast proved to be a region ripe for invasion by the Union army and navy. Places like Norfolk, Virginia, Port Royal, South Carolina, and Roanoke Island, North Carolina saw early military incursions, and doing so brought thousands of formerly enslaved refugees within Union lines. The refugee story is one that needs telling more often, so I'm looking forward to this particular study. 

I've probably mentioned on here that I am always interested in reading anything that Dr. William J. Cooper authors or coauthors. I've been a big fan since reading his Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860 long ago. So, I had a big smile on my face when I saw Approaching Civil War and Southern History among the books my wife bought me for my birthday. This fine book contains 10 essays that nearly span the distinguished career of Cooper. Good stuff!

I'm hooked on reading collections of Civil War soldiers' letters. There is simply no better way to learn about the experience of soldering than reading their own written words. I heard about Dear Ma, The Civil War Letters of Curtis Clay Pollock: First Defender & First Lieutenant 48th Pennsylvania Infantry this past summer and quickly put it on my wish list. Pollock's Civil War army career spanned from answering the Lincoln's first call to defend Washington D.C. to his death in the opening days of the Petersburg Campaign. This collection is sure to provide me with a fix for my obsession. 

In my humble opinion, America's greatest challenge to realizing the ideals upon which the nation was founded is that of true racial equality. Although abolished with the 13th Amendment, slavery left a legacy on the United States that we are still dealing with today. As a friend of mine sometimes says, "Racism doesn't stop, it evolves." I firmly believe that a large first step toward eliminating racism is learning about its history. It is difficult history, but it is important history. A Long Dark Night: Race in America from Jim Crow to World War II by J. Michael Martinez covers America's troubles with race from the promise of Reconstruction, through the "nadir of race relations" at the turn of the 20th century, to the end of World War II. 
I've truly enjoyed organizing a book club at work. Getting together with fellow readers and sharing one another's thoughts is a way for me to continue one of the joys I found in graduate school. Our small group is getting ready to start its fourth year in January and it has been so worth the time organizing it. The selection for our next meeting is Lincoln's Greatest Journey: Sixteen Days the Changed a Presidency, March 21-April 8, 1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau. This period included visits to the Petersburg front, so I'm especially eager to dig in.

Happy reading!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Just Finished Reading - They Were Her Property

I've been rather tardy in sharing my thoughts on some the books I've recently read. However, one of the most impressive of those selections is, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie Jones-Rogers. In it, Jones-Rogers argues that Southern women were far greater direct participants in the "peculiar institution" than previously thought.

The system of coverture, which granted husbands rights to any property that wives brought into a marriage, has led some historians to overlook the not uncommon practice of parents willing daughters property for their "sole and separate" benefit and use. Parents of daughters knew that husbands too often squandered significant estates by mismanagement and bad habits like profligate buying/spending, gambling, and drinking. The parents wanted to provide whatever legal measures possible to protect the financial futures of their daughters and grandchildren. And since daughters many times received enslaved property rather than real estate property, the men, women, and children who passed to daughters were their primary sources of wealth. Jones-Rogers uncovers a significant amount of evidence through a multitude of different sources to show that not only did southern women in these situations view slaves as their "sole and separate" property, they often managed them differently than those that belonged to their husbands.

Many of the accounts that the author uses as evidence for these coverture-thwarting instances come from the WPA Slave Narratives of the 1930s. Sadly many of the slave narratives vividly show that within the slave regime, women could be just as harsh taskmasters of as any males.

Women also participated willingly in the slave trade, not so much as organized traders (which was overwhelming viewed as a male sphere), but Southern women pragmatically understood the system of buying and selling slaves as one that could enhance their wealth if managed properly. The same went for the renting/leasing of their human property. One facet of buying and renting that Jones-Rogers examines closely in a chapter is that of wet nursing. This situation, usually left to women due to its maternal nature, created situations in which white women controlled the motherhood of their enslaved women. White women who chose not to nurse their own children, or who were unable to produce milk, found wet nurses among the enslaved women of their communities, if not already among her own property. Obviously, little consideration or choice was given to the enslaved women who became additional commodities in these situations.

Jones-Rogers continues the examination of Southern women as slaveholder to the Civil War and emancipation. She persuasively explains how antebellum systems perpetuated Jim Crow realities in the decades after the war. From the book's epilogue the author states: "Former slave-owning women's deeper and more complex investments in slavery help explain why, in the years following the Civil War, they helped construct the South's system of racial segregation, a system premised, as was slavery, upon white supremacy and black oppression. Understanding the the direct economic investments white women made in slavery and their stake in its perpetuation, and recognizing the ways they benefited from their whiteness, helps us understand why they and many of their female descendants elected to uphold a white-supremacist order after slavery ended."

Engagingly written, They Were Her Property is a book that challenges us to think differently about the complexity of slavery and how interwoven it was into the white South's economy and society. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Ran Away From My Farm, At the Half-Way House

Tomorrow marks one year wedded bliss for my wife and me. To help celebrate, I made dinner reservations at the Halfway House, a 1760s inn and tavern that happened to be situated "halfway" on the turnpike (and later railroad) between Richmond and Petersburg. I received a hearty recommendation from a friend that it would be a nice place for dinner for two history lovers. After I looked it up online to make the reservation, I remembered seeing a reference to it (or at least the area) in a runaway slave advertisement.

I combed through dozens of images that I have saved on my computer and finally located it. It ran in the August 20, 1864 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. In it, owner J.M. Wolff seeks to have his slave Richard, "about twenty or twenty-one years old" and described as "black," apprehended. Although no specific dollar amount is listed for Richard's capture, Wolf promised to "pay a liberal reward."

A search through the 1860 census did not locate a J.M. Wolff in either Chesterfield County or Richmond (Henrico County). However, additional information contained within the notice did turn up some interesting corroborative findings.

Wolff explained in the advertisement that he purchased Richard from slave traders Lee and Bowman in Richmond, and that Richard was previously owned by Miss Margaret Bottom of Amelia Courthouse. I located Margaret Bottom in the 1860 census. She is listed as 23 years old and apparently living in the household of her mother, Lucy H. Bottom (45 years old), and with a brother, T. J. Bottom, a 22 year old farmer. Margaret Bottom is shown as owning $4,000 in personal property. Lucy Bottom owned $12,688 in personal property. Suspecting that most of those values were tied up in human property, I checked the slave schedules. My suspicions were confirmed. Mother Lucy Bottom is shown as owning 15 slaves. Brother T. J. Bottom is listed as owning six people, and M. P. (Margaret) Bottom owned five individuals. Margaret's enslaved property included one 23 year old black male, the only one among her group that closely fits the gender, age, and color description of Richard.

The advertisement also states that Richard had a wife near Amelia Courthouse and that may be where he was headed. In August 1864, both Richmond and Petersburg, as well as the Bermuda Hundred area where Wolff's farm was located were all under pressure from Union forces. And while it is certainly possible that Richard used the disruption of warfare to head to Amelia County to the west and his wife, his chances were probably best in reaching the Union troops under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler's Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred, a number of whom were United States Colored Troops.

These advertisements tend to bring up a multitude of questions, most of them likely unanswerable. What motivated Margaret Bottom to sell Richard to slave traders? Where did Richard really go? Was he captured before he was able to realize freedom in the spring of 1865? What did he do for a living after the war? When did he die? Did he and his wife in Amelia County ever reunite? Did they have children? Where are Richard's descendants today? Do they know his story?

Friday, November 1, 2019

When Captives Become Captors - Pvt. Solomon Jefferson Hottenstein, 107th Pennsylvania

While researching Medal of Honor recipients who earned that distinction during the Petersburg Campaign, I happened across the amazing story of Pvt. Solomon J. Hottenstein. His feat is not well known but it shows the daring lengths that some soldiers went to to avoid the possibility of serving time in prisoner of war camps.

On August 18,1864, Hottenstein's regiment, the 107th Pennsylvania (Col. Peter Lyle's Brigade, Samuel Crawford's Division of the V Corps) found itself making its way through the thickets, swamps, and fields south of Petersburg as part of the V Corps' attempt to sever the Petersburg Railroad. This important rail line, also known as the Weldon Railroad ran south out of the Cockade City to Weldon, North Carolina, and eventually to Wilmington on the coast, an important port for Confederate blockade runners.

As Crawford's Division struggled to get through the dense woodlots, other V Corps units reached the railroad and started ripping up the tracks. Confederate forces arrived from Petersburg's defenses and halted the Union's advance. Both sides called off the fighting after dark.

Gen. Grant's movements a few days earlier north of the James River successfully drew Confederates to that scene and fighting at Deep Bottom, but there were still plenty of Southerners to trouble the Federals at Weldon Railroad. 

During the afternoon of August 19, Confederate Gen. William Mahone's troops furiously attacked the unsupported right flank of the V Corps, and in the process gobbled up hundreds of Union prisoners. Hottenstein's regiment and brigade was on that unfortunate Union right flank and found themselves prisoners in a matter of no time. About 300 of the 107th Pennsylvania and a handful of their officers were among the lot. Hustled off the battlefield, they apparently came under guard of the 18th North Carolina. If this is true, the 18th North Carolina, or part of the 18th must have been detached, as the rest of Gen. James Lane's Brigade was at Deep Bottom, north of the James River.

While being held as a large group, Pvt. Hottenstein circulated among his comrades explaining his dread of spending time in a southern prisoner of war camp. He soon convinced enough of this fellow captives to make a distracting ruckus, shouting that a Federal counterattack was coming. Hottenstein was to kick of the daring act by attacking a Confederate flag bearer who was armed with a pistol. Hottenstein's attempt to disarm the captor was successful as were those of his comrades. The tables turned as quickly in the other direction and soon the outnumbered Confederates were the captives. Taking additional advantage of the battle's confusion and limited view shed due to the thick woods and smoke, the rebels were marched over to Union lines with Hottenstein presenting the Confederate colors and prisoners to Gen. Crawford.

Rewards soon came to Hottenstein for his heroic act at Weldon Railroad. In early February 1865, he  received a promotion to corporal, a furlough, and the Medal of Honor. However, Hottenstein's luck ran out four days later when he was wounded in the hip at Hatcher's Run before he could get away on his furlough. Although his wound pained him greatly for the rest of his life, Hottenstein survived the war. He married after the conflict and ironically, moved to Manassas, Virginia in the late 1880s where he leased land to tenants. He died in 1896 at 52 years old and was buried in the Manassas Cemetery surrounded by Confederates, just as he had years earlier at Weldon Railroad.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

We Are Coming Father Abraham, 300,000 Strong

In the summer of 1862, things were not going as well as it could have for the United States military. The Army of the Potomac was being battered away from Richmond by Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia as June turned to July. In the western theater, a Union victory at Shiloh in April soon gave them the vital railroad crossroads at Corinth, Mississippi, but relative stalemate followed.

Unwilling to enlist African Americans just yet, the Federal government through President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more white soldiers to put down the Confederate rebellion. To encourage men to sign up and fight in order to reunify the nation, James S. Gibbons wrote a poem, "We re Coming Father Abra'am."

We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more,
From Mississippi's winding stream and from New England's shore.
We leave our plows and workshops, our wives and children dear,
With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear.
We dare not look behind us but steadfastly before.
We are coming Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!

We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!

If you look across the hilltops that meet the northern sky,
Long moving lines of rising dust your vision may descry;
And now the wind, an instant, tears the cloudy veil aside,
And floats aloft our spangled flag in glory and in pride;
And bayonets in the sunlight gleam, and bands brave music pour,
We are coming, father Abr'am, three hundred thousand more!

We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!

If you look up all our valleys where the growing harvests shine, 
You may see our sturdy farmer boys fast forming into line;
And children from their mother's knees are pulling at the weeds, 
And learning to reap and sow against their country's needs;
And a farewell group stands weeping at every cottage door,
We are coming, Father Abr'am, three hundred thousand more!

We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!

You have called us, and we're coming by Richmond's bloody tide,
To lay us down for freedom's sake, our brothers' bones beside;
Or from foul treason's savage grip, to wrench the murderous blade;
And in the face of foreign foes its fragments to parade.
Six hundred thousand loyal men and true have gone before, 
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!

We are coming, coming, our Union to restore,
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!

The poem was a hit, and it soon was put to music by a host of composers including the famous Stephen Collins Foster. The appeal proved successful and these 300,000 men plus more, eventually along with black troops, helped win the war.   

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Virtue of Cain

You say you don't know much about Reconstruction? Not to worry! There is an ever-growing list of books and documentaries focusing on this vital era of United States history. However, once people dive into Reconstruction, they sometimes get bogged down in concepts and terms like Presidential Reconstruction vs. Congressional Reconstruction plans, Black Codes, constitutional amendments, carpetbaggers, scalawags, and backroom compromises, too often forgetting about the people most impacted by all of these measures.

In my humble opinion, the true story of Reconstruction is that of those individuals who desperately tried to hold on to the changes wrought by the Civil War. And although in many ways they were initially unsuccessful against the violent backlash of white supremacy, their legacy provided roots for the long Civil Rights Movement. One of those individuals who found himself in the heat of Reconstruction was Lawrence Cain. If you have not heard of Lawrence Cain before, you are likely among the majority. But his story is a fascinating and inspiring one of long odds, many disappointments, yet persistence and internal fortitude. Fortunately, his story is now available for all to read about. Virtue of Cain: From Slave to Senator - Biography of Lawrence Cain by Kevin M. Cherry, Sr. examines an extraordinary life lived under extremely difficult circumstances.

Cherry, a descendant of Cain, happened upon his ancestor's story largely by accident. In the generations between Cain and Cherry, family members were able to relocate geographically and pass as white, virtually erasing their African American heritage and sometimes adopting a Native American interpretation of their family lineage. Extensive research and DNA testing told the truth, though.

Lawrence Cain was born about 1844 in Edgefield District (later county), South Carolina to a white father and enslaved mother. Edgefield is as Old South as Old South gets. It produced Preston Brooks, the antebellum congressman who beat Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner on the senate floor in 1856. Edgefield was also home to later-day segregationists like "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman and Strom Thurman. Lawrence Cain's biological father was likely Dr. S. V. Cain. Dr. Cain died at a young 49 years old in 1858 and Lawrence Cain was sold along with the rest of Dr. Cain's estate. Lawrence was purchased by Z. W. Carwile.

One of the things that I especially enjoyed about Virtue of Cain was Cherry's inclusion of historical events as supporting evidence of white southern sentiments. For example, during this chapter on Lawrence Cain's early life, Cherry shares a couple of fascinating quotes from speeches made by S. V. Cain in 1856 (after the Brooks-Sumner incident) and Samuel McGowan (future Confederate general). McGowan said in part: "The great question out of which rise the convulsions that disturb and shake the country as with an earthquake, is the question of African Slavery, in which our destinies are bound up forever. In comparison with this there is no other question worth attention."

When Z. W. Carwile's son, Thomas, went of to fight in the Civil War, Lawrence Cain went with him as a camp servant in the 14th South Carolina Infantry, which first served in Maxy Gregg's brigade, but after Gregg's death at Fredericksburg, Virginia, ended up commanded by Samuel McGowan. Incidentally, McGowan's Brigade was camped for about 6 months (October 1864-March 1865) where I work, Pamplin Historical Park, so Lawrence Cain was likely walking the same ground I see almost everyday. In the last days of the Petersburg Campaign, McGowan's men were pulled out and sent to a threatened sector a few miles away. Sometime in the last days of fighting, Lawrence Cain was wounded in the leg. Admitted to a City Point, Virginia, Union hospital, Cain recovered and returned to South Carolina.

Almost immediately Cain dedicated himself to the improvement of African Americans. He started a school and taught there. Again, as before, Cherry sprinkles in period newspaper accounts that reference Cain and which add significantly to his story's telling. Cain also founded a church for blacks, and soon entered Reconstruction state politics as a Republican. With a black majority population, and after ratification of the 15th amendment, political offices were claimed by black men in Edgefield, and other similar South Carolina counties. However, the black political rise was relatively short lived as white supremacists such as former Confederate cavalry officers Martin W. Gary and Matthew C. Butler led counter terrorist activities that severely curtailed black voting, but not before Lawrence Cain had served in the South Carolina state senate, served as Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue, and accomplished a tremendous amount for his constituents.

Lawrence Cain died of tuberculosis in 1884, being only about 40 years old. However, what he was able to accomplish, although forgotten by many over the years, lived on and inspired future generations of both black and white South Carolinians who continued Cain's quests for freedom and equality.

Well researched, and written in an engaging style, which includes a number of primary sources, Virtue of Cain is an important book, about an important man, who lived in a difficult and dangerous but important period. I believe that everyone would benefit from reading Virtue of Cain. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Fort Dushane: An Unprotected Civil War Fort that Once Protected the Union Army

Today's share comes as a guest post, courtesy of Michael Spencer of the Petersburg Battlefields Foundation (PBF). The folks at PBF are doing great things to help preserve the hallowed ground associated with the Petersburg Campaign. I encourage you to look into supporting their cause with a kind financial contribution or by purchasing a membership. Additional information about their efforts can be found by using underlined link above. 

Fort Dushane: An Unprotected Civil War Fort that Once Protected the Union Army 
by Michael Spencer

Just a few miles south of the City of Petersburg, within a recently developed neighborhood, stands a mostly forgotten Union fort that sits on land once hotly contested by two opposing armies. In the early Fall of 1864, this site represented the furthest point on the left flank of the Union armies operating around Petersburg. During the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 to 1865, this bastion witnessed thousands of troops march off to take part in large maneuvers against the opposing Confederate defenses. It also was visited by famous people such as Generals Grant, Meade and Warren, along with Secretary of State William H. Seward. (Campbell, A Grand Terrible Dramma) What is the story of Fort Dushane?

During the brutal four day Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad (also known as the Battle of Globe Tavern), which took place from August 18-21, 1864, forces led by the V Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac managed to take possession of and hold this Confederate supply line that ran into Petersburg. General Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, wanted to ensure that their hard fought gains would not be lost to future Confederate attacks. He ordered Federal fortifications to be extended from the Jerusalem Plank Road (modern day Crater Road) west to Fort Wadsworth along the Weldon Railroad. South of this fort and to the west of the railroad, Company B, U.S. Engineers Battalion and members of the 50th New York Engineers began work August 30th on what would become Fort Dushane. Within a month, this fortification was nearly complete and included a bombproof that could hold 600 men, with eight traverses. Iron rails from the nearby Weldon Railroad were used to help protect the magazines and traverses. (Hess, In the Trenches)
Sketch of the fort, by Charles W. Reed
All throughout these operations, attacks were expected from Confederate forces. Some skirmishing did take place during the month of September. Charles Wellington Reed, member of the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery (and eventual Medal of Honor recipient) maintained an ongoing journal and drew many sketches during his time near Petersburg, including Fort Dushane. On September 17th, Reed wrote: “called up and prepared for action with some show of having one. [B]risk and lively skirmishing along our front and right from daylight till towards noon. [T]he rebs yelling and trying to force our skirmish line which was held”. (Campbell, A Grand Terrible Dramma)
On September 23rd, Reed noted in his diary: “our fort was named to day[.] [T]he fort is very near completion.”. This was the day that Reed learned Fort Dushane was officially given its name. Earlier in September, Generals Warren and Hancock recommended assigning names to the Union forts being established around Petersburg. Meade had his Corps commanders offer names of officers who had fallen since May 5th, 1864, which was the start of the Overland Campaign. (Hess, In the Trenches) This resulted in the naming of forts after officers such as Sedgwick and Wadsworth. Fort Dushane received its name from a fallen hero of Maryland.

Before the war, Colonel Nathan Thomas Dushane was a master builder and member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He entered the war with the 1st Maryland Regiment in June of 1861. He saw action throughout the war, including being captured at Front Royal in May of 1862. He fought with his all-Maryland brigade throughout the Overland Campaign and during the summer around Petersburg. (Hunt, Colonels in Blue) During the Second Battle of the Weldon Railroad, his brigade, part of Ayres division, took part in the initial attacks that the V Corps made to capture that rail line. Dushane and his men fought throughout all the subsequent Confederate counterattacks that took place during the operations of August 18th -21st. Unfortunately for Colonel Dushane, he would fall during the last day of this contest. As Noah Trudeau wrote, during a Confederate artillery bombardment, one “shell neatly decapitated the officer in charge of the all-Maryland brigade, Colonel Nathan Dushane.” (Trudeau, Last Citadel)

The location of Fort Dushane is just a mile or two from the spot where Colonel Dushane was killed. It was an appropriate place to be given his name, being on the extreme left of the Union line at the time and near the area where he spent his final days fighting with his men.

Fort Dushane was the staging area for troop movements against the Confederate lines to the north and west. During late September, Union infantry and cavalry moved out from this area in what eventually resulted in the actions around the Peebles Farm and the capture of Confederate Fort Archer (later renamed Fort Wheaton). Later in October, General Hancock’s II Corps, which had been encamped around Fort Dushane, launched its maneuvers that ended up in the first attacks against the Boydton Plank Road and Hatcher’s Run. (Trudeau, Last Citadel)

An interesting visit took place on September 25th. According to Reed’s account, “Gen’s Grant, Meade, Warren, Humphrey, Senator [Secretary of State] Seward, and other dignitaries visited the fort to day”. This was apparently a tour of fortifications given to Secretary Seward by General Grant and high level staff. (Campbell, A Grand Terrible Dramma)

Today, Fort Dushane still stands despite over 150 years of potential destruction. Its rich but largely forgotten history needs to be preserved for generations to come. Fort Dushane holds an important role in the Petersburg Campaign that should be remembered and highlighted.

Images of Fort Dushane today.

Campbell, Eric A. 2000. A Grand Terrible Dramma: From Gettysburg to Petersburg: The Civil War Letters of Charles Wellington Reed
Hess, Earl J. 2009. In The Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications & Confederate Defeat
Trudeau, Noah Andre, 1991. The Last Citadel: Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865
Hunt, Roger D. 2007. Colonels in Blue: The Mid-Atlantic States

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

I've been following the progress of Kevin Levin's latest work, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth, for a few years now on his Civil War Memory blog. I'm particularly interested in learning more about the actual roles that the enslaved played in Confederate armies and how over the years those responsibilities became conflated with being arms bearing combatants. This highly anticipated study will hopefully spur additional scholarship on this topic, as it is area of Civil War studies that has been waiting for thorough historical examinations.   

The Reconstruction era seems to be receiving more general public interest than ever before. Perhaps the recent and highly regarded Henry Louis Gates's PBS documentary, "Reconstruction: America after the Civil War," and its accompanying book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow has something to do with it. Or perhaps the recent establishment of the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in Beaufort, South Carolina is helping create a buzz. Or maybe it has something to do with it being the sesquicentennial anniversary of the period. More likely its a combination of these things. People are finally realizing that Reconstruction is so relevant to where find ourselves today in terms of race relations. Regardless, learning about this time in our country's history is fundamental to understanding where and what we are today as a nation. Books like Virtue of Cain: From Slave to Senator, Biography of Lawrence Cain are giving us more insight than ever into the promising advances, troublesome events, and heartbreaking setbacks of Reconstruction.

Antebellum southern society seemingly offers scholars an endless supply of topics to research and write about. One that has always interested me is the happenings at popular mineral and hots springs and spas. Some of the most visited were in the hills and mountains of Virginia. Viewed as refuges from the diseases and maladies of the tidewater and low country regions, spas and springs hosted a veritable who's who among the southern elite. Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790-1860, promises to be an educational and enjoyable read. 

Monday, September 16, 2019


In the summer of 1864, the Confederacy was searching for manpower. With military defensive efforts in progress at Petersburg, and around Atlanta, along with other points across the South, help was in great demand. The above advertisement, which ran in the July 28, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch sought six African American blacksmiths. These men were desired for their skills in producing horse shoes and horse shoe nails.

Without the equine beasts of burdens, mid-19th century armies were virtually powerless. Horses and mules provided the brawn to haul army supply wagons that brought equipment, food, and ammunition to the soldiers in the field. These brutes pulled the artillery pieces, limbers, and cassions that helped defend the critical locations the Southerners were backed into. But, to keep the animals functioning properly they needed food to fuel their muscles and iron shoes to protect their hooves.

It is assumed that the six "negro" blacksmiths sought by Capt. J. S. Tucker at the Richmond Arsenal were enslaved men. It was common practice in the antebellum years for owners with slaves who had skills to rent or lease them out, particularly in urban locations where industrial skills like carpentry, brick masonry, and iron working were most often happening, and thus in highest demand. Those owners reaped the reward of their enslaved's labor. It was an unjust but pragmatic system. In wartime, slave labor became even more valuable because it ideally freed up white men to be arms-bearing soldiers.

One wonders if Capt. Tucker had any trouble filling his need for six blacksmiths. I highly doubt it. The war brought thousands of white refugees into Richmond, many of whom also brought their slaves along. With all of the manufacturing and transportation requirements of the Confederate government in Richmond, opportunities were plenty, particularly for those will marketable skills.

However, the nation built on slavery was like the house on sand. The war offered the disturbances and opportunities for thousands of enslaved people to abandon their previous lives and seek new ones that offered monetary rewards for their work. The manpower drain helped create a downward spiral that eventually helped cost the Confederacy its bid for independence.   

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Spying on the South

When I was a boy, one of my great aunts gave me a paperback copy of The Slave States before the Civil War, an abridged version of Frederick Law Olmsted's travels through the antebellum South in the 1850s. I kept that book and finally read it with great interest many years later while in graduate school. I still have that old book in my library and have referred to it on several occasions due to its excellent insights. Therefore, I was naturally happy to hear earlier this year that journalist/author/historian Tony Horwitz was publishing a book based on Olmsted's travels. The book's pre-release heralded the volume much in the spirit of one Horwitz's previous books, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. Having found Confederates in the Attic a fun yet thought-provoking read, I eagerly dove into Spying on the South: An Odyssey across the American Divide.

In this, Horwitz's latest and last book (he unfortunately passed away in May, just a couple of weeks after its release), he attempts to follow Olmstead's routes through the South. However, not only does he follow Olmsted's paths, he also attempts (when possible) to travel by means of transportation as his precursor did. Naturally, that was practically impossible for travel on conveyances such as stagecoach. But, when Olmsted traveled by a certain means, Horwitz tried to, too. For example, from Wheeling, West Virginia, Horwitz received permission to go by way of a coal barge.

Like Olmsted before, Horwitz used his travel to gather insight into a divided America. Along his routes Horwitz engages people from many different walks of life and occupations, and of course, from various socioeconomic, educational levels, and political bents. Through his travels Horwitz deftly weaves in Olmsted's experiences and writings. And whereas Olmsted commented on the primary issue dividing the country in his time (slavery), Horwitz converses with Americans from Maryland to western Texas on a host of divisive political issues including climate change, crime, gun rights, perceptions of so-called liberals and conservatives of each other, and a host of others.

At times hilarious, at others quite sad, but always provoking the reader to think, Horwitz shares his adventures of sharing quarters with the Ohio River coal barge workers, traveling on a high-line Mississippi River steamboat cruise, attending a mud bog race in Louisiana, chatting with locals in a number of local bars, sitting in on political meetings in East Texas, and crossing part of the West Texas plains by way of a challenging mule and with a crusty guide. Like Olmsted, Horwitz seems to gain a great deal of useful knowledge from his travels. Olmsted used his experiences to write pieces for what became the New York Times, which helped shape northern perceptions of the South at the time. He also incorporated many of the landscapes and plants he encountered into his later work in monumental landscape architecture projects like New York City's Central Park and Vanderbilt's Biltmore. Horwitz's experience gives us this book, Spying on the South, which challenges us to try to understand and remember that not everyone sees the world as you or I do.

Written in a way that encourages one to learn more, several in our book club at work mentioned that Spying on the South prompted them to read other books on subjects that both Olmsted and Horwitz mention. I fully concur! After concluding this book I read Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 by Andrew J. Torget.

I think that if Horwitz could learn that his book led people to read more, he would break out into his well known friendly grin. I highly recommend Spying on the South. It is fun to read, written as a true page turner, while at the same time being intellectually stimulating.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Just Finished Reading - War Stuff

It should almost go without saying that one needs stuff to wage a war. Not only is stuff needed to mobilize for warfare, but once in the field, stuff is needed to sustain a fighting force. And when one's nation state cannot supply stuff on a regular basis, or when needed stuff is more accessible locally, armies take and destroy stuff. That is War Stuff: The Struggles for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War by Joan E. Cashin in a nutshell.

Part of the Cambridge Studies on the American South series, War Stuff includes chapters on some of the most important resources sought by Union and Confederate armies as they fought out the Civil War. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the antebellum South. The following three chapters focus on specific resources: people, sustenance, timber, and habitat, and examine them through incidents from 1861 to 1863 to observe how attitudes toward these resources changed with Union stances on property as expressed by orders from Maj. Gen. John Pope and General Orders 100 (the Lieber Code) written by Professor Francis Lieber. The last two chapters cover events of 1864 and 1865, as the war moved toward a more destructive level.

In discussing "People," in chapter two, Cashin explains that, "Noncombatants could either help the armies or hurt them, building on the knowledge they already possessed and the proficiencies they had developed before 1861. During the war, they could lift morale, smuggle goods, deliver letters, provide information, engage in espionage, and work for the armies. They could even serve as hostages, which turned civilians themselves into a kind of resource."

Chapter three covers probably the most significant resource (due to its necessity) of the war: sustenance. The competition for food resources during the Civil War were fierce. Southern civilians, including the enslaved, competed with both Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers for food. Early in the war the Union army's stance was to not make war on civilians, however, those rules and standards quickly changed with pinched stomachs and a lack of variety in what the army offered. Confederates were practical if nothing, too. When sustenance options appeared, common sentiments flew out the window in favor of gaining some nutrition. Southern civilians suffered from both belligerents.

Timber, the topic of chapter 4, was probably the most observable resource claimed by the opposing forces. Armies of tens of thousands of men needed wood for cooking, fuel for warmth, and sheltering winter quarter structures. Trees vanished from the Southern landscape in some locations as quickly as frost vanishing before the morning sun. In areas of sustained occupation, soldiers had to literally travel miles for timber resources. Split rail fences on plantations and farms were the most accessible wood resources and often disappeared first. Of course, losing timber resources, whether trees or rails, impacted Southern civilians deeply long beyond the fours years of the war.

Chapter five, "Habitat" looks into how houses, which before the war were viewed as an almost holy haven, no matter how crudely constructed or spartanly furnished, often became the victims to "military necessity," too. Pulled apart for their boards and beams, burned to prevent their cover for sharpshooters, or their walls graffitied by their temporary occupiers, Southern civilians notions of hearth and home were forever changed by the war experience. As mentioned above, chapters six, "Breakdown," and seven, "1865 and After," the threats to, and competition for, resources increased with a more extreme and relentless form of warfare in 1864 and 1865.

The only minor errors that I encountered were a photograph on page 34 that I highly doubt is Patrick Cleburne, and a reference on page 37, that "Kentucky allied with the United States in 1862," (they made their allegiance known in September 1861).

War Stuff provides many intriguing thinking points. Time and time gain, acknowledged articles of war were ignored by both sides commanders and enlisted men in favor of convenience and under the excuse of "military necessity" to the detriment of Southern civilians. War Stuff reminds us that the casualties of the Civil War went far beyond the battlefields of the conflict and its combatants. I recommend it.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Just Finished Reading - In the Cause of Liberty

I sincerely enjoy reading collections of essays. Getting a range of perspectives around a central theme is helpful in forming ones own interpretation about certain subjects in the Civil War era.

In the Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American Ideals by co-editors William J. Cooper, Jr. and John M. McCardell, Jr., delivers nine essays by some of the field's top scholars, including: James McPherson, George Rable, Fitzhugh Bundage, and David Blight. These essays, all but one presented originally at a conference hosted by what is now the American Civil War Museum Richmond, Virginia, in 2007, examine how the Civil War served as the primary crucible of change for the United States. The essays mark that change and the people the war affected the most, white Northerners, white Southerners, and African Americans.

As the introduction explains, "the essays fall into five different categories:" The first, McPherson's article, looks broadly at the impact of the war. The nest two essays examine critical antebellum questions. The following three offer considerations on issues central to the Union, Confederacy, and African Americans during the war years. And the final three, which includes those by Bundage and Blight are memory studies. Co-editor John M. McCardell, Jr. provides some brief "concluding thoughts" to finish out the book.

While I found all of the essays beneficial, some stood out in my opinion. Sean Wilentz's essay, "Why Did Southerners Secede?" makes it clear that it was Lincoln's election and the Republican Party's emphasis on the non-extension of slavery that threatened Southerners stronghold on the federal government and resulted in the secession dominoes tumbling. George Rable's "Rebels and Patriots in the Confederate 'Revolution,'" provides and intriguing look into the attempt to create an independent Southern nation. Blight's "Traced by Blood" memory study looks at the legacy of the Civil War and emancipation on African Americans and how the Lost Cause and Reconciliationist interpretations of the Civil War overshadowed the emancipation story for over a century after the war's conclusion. However, as Blight suggests, researching and telling long lost stories of black contributions helps to correct some of the wrongs of the past and gives us hope for a truly more full understanding of our nation's defining moment.

In the Cause of Liberty is a book that every Civil War student should have in their library, and it should be pulled off the shelf and read every so often as a reminder of those central issues that caused the war, how the war was experienced, and why we remember the war the way we do. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Since my "to be read shelf" has outgrown its available space, I have intentionally slowed purchasing so many new books while I try to whittle it back into shape. However, I did come across some good buys this past month that I just couldn't pass up.

The title for War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War by Joan E. Cashin was intriguing enough on its own to entice me to add it to my collection, but nabbing it a low price sealed the deal. I am presently reading it, and I am about 50 pages into it, so be on the lookout for my review in the near future. Examining things like people, food, timber, and shelter as resources that both Union and Confederate armies needed, and often took, makes for a thought-provoking study.

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers is generating quite a bit of buzz on various social media outlets. Its examination of women as active participants in economic aspects of slavery and as a road to wealth building is sure to add significantly to our understanding of the "peculiar institution."

In my never-ending quest to learn more about the Civil War's fighting men I've come to enjoy reading unit focused studies. Make the Fur Fly: A History of a Union Volunteer Division in the American Civil War by Timothy B. Mudgett examines the Army of the Potomac's Second Division of the VI Corps. My knowledge of this unit is focused largely on their participation at Petersburg, so hopefully this book will fill me in on their earlier experiences.

I just happened to come across Four Days in 1865: The Fall of Richmond while I was searching for some different studies on Richmond's history. Like the others I've shared here, it was offered at a price that was difficult to pass up. I'm sure I'll learn something from it about Richmond's evacuation.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Just Finished Reading - Executing Daniel Bright

Little by little, and book by book, I'm filling in the rather large gap in my Civil War knowledge bank about how the conflict was experienced in eastern North Carolina. And reading Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865, was certainly a big help.

While the average Civil War student probably associates guerrilla actions more with border states like Missouri and Kentucky, this book shows that irregular fighting was not confined to one or two geographical locations during the war. Myers explains that the situation, culturally, socially, economically, and yes, geographically, combined to form a perfect environment in which guerrilla warfare could both flourish and reek tremendous damage.

The Confederacy's Partisan Ranger Act of 1862 had a positive military impact in some communities throughout the South, but Myers contends that it was an "unequivocal disaster" in the area of northeastern coastal North Carolina. Not only did guerrillas from this region take advantage of the war to raid and harass both Confederate sympathizing and Unionist (termed Buffaloes) neighbors, the state authorities had little means to control irregular depredations. On top of that, counter-guerrilla military incursions by occupying Union forces, intended to curb irregular acts of violence, also brought a significant load of destruction upon the heads of these citizens. Eventually overturned in early 1864 by the Confederate Congress, the Partisan Ranger Act did much more harm than good during its existence.

One attempt to counter guerrilla activity in this region, and which is the primary focus of this study, was led by Brig. Gen. Edward Wild, who commanded a brigade of African American troops. Wild's "African Brigade," composed of almost 2,000 both free men of color and those formerly enslaved (many from the area), made their way from a base in Norfolk, Virginia to northeastern North Carolina in December 1863. The intent of the raid was to free slaves in the area for service to the Union, limit the resources of the area from aiding the Confederacy, and to curb guerrilla activity. Often provided with vital information from Unionists and slaves, Wild's men took hostages (including two white women) for exchange of captured black soldiers, and caught some men suspected of being guerrillas. One of the men captured was Daniel Bright. Bright volunteered early in the war serving with the 17th North Carolina Infantry. He was captured at Hatteras Island and imprisoned. Bright was paroled, eventually exchanged, and then transferred to the 32nd North Carolina, and then he mustered out. Wild suspected Bright of being a guerrilla, and unable to prove otherwise, he was hanged as such. This attempted show of force and use of black troops to try to quell localist violence and bring the region under Union control is an excellent example of how many areas experienced the war and thus developed coping mechanisms.

Depending on who was in power that day or week, a sense of fluid allegiance was often necessary to survive. Myers puts it best in the book's Epilogue: "Together these indications of loyalty from northeastern North Carolina demonstrate the difficult time both governments had in deciphering the loyalties of Pasquotank [County]. This confusion over loyalty is evidence that most people became adept at shifting their opinions as the situation required and that for those people caught between armed belligerents in the North Carolina's no-man's-land, surviving the war, no matter what it took, became their most important daily duty."

Executing Daniel Bright is wonderfully written, and a model of what microhistory can be, and can do. Myers's depth of research and insightful interpretation give readers clarity to what could be an otherwise cloudy historical episode. I highly recommend it!