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.