On Wednesday, June 5, I’ll be giving my talk, “For-Profit Patriots: Blockade Running on the Texas Coast” at the Woodlands Civil War Round Table in Conroe, north of Houston. My talk will be at 7 p.m. at the Windsor Hill Club House, 1 East Windsor Hills Circle. Visitors are welcome, although everyone attending must be 18 or older due to the rules of the community. As before, there will be particular emphasis on two vessels wrecked here in 1865, Will o’ the Wisp and Denbigh. The official blurb:
“Patriotism, avarice and daring”? Did I write that? Gack, what turgid over-selling!
Anyway, it should be fun and informative. Hope to see you there!
___________Image: Me with nautical archaeologist Amy Borgens on the Will o’ the Wisp wreck site, July 2009.
On Saturday, two vintage baseball teams, the Houston Babies and Katy Combines, played a match as part of the Galveston Island Beach Revue, an annual kick-off to the summer beach season that’s been growing over the last few years. I didn’t make the game, but I wish I had, because it sounds like it was great fun.
Baseball has a long history in Texas, dating back before the Civil War. In March 1859, the Galveston Civilian and Gazette Weekly reported that “the Base Ball Club organized [at Richmond] on the 24th inst., numbers thirty-five members. . . . Friday has been selected as the regular practice day. We understand that the club has been organized under the same rules as govern the clubs at the North.” Even as the war was beginning in earnest, two days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, the Houston Weekly Telegraph reported that “a meeting for the purpose of organizing a Base Ball Club, was held over J. H. Evans’ store Thursday night. After the organization of the meeting, and the adoption of the name of “‘Houston Base Ball CLub,” a ballot for permanent officers was had.” By June 1861, the Galveston Weekly News noted that Houston now had two “base ball” teams taking the field. And just about exactly a year after Appomattox, the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph was calling for the reorganization of the sport:
The formation of Base Ball Clubs seems to be the order of the day among the young men in many cities at the present time. We notice that some of the clubs are flaring defiance in the face of the whole world to surpass them if they can. Let us revive the one which we had here before the war. After getting the thing a little under way, no doubt us Texans can pick up a multitude of these gloves and fling them back with a vengeance. The fact is, we don’t undertake many things which we don’t surpass in, particularly in that line.
I think Nolan Ryan would agree.
For many True Southrons™ today, the Confederate Battle Flag (or “Southern Cross”) has taken on a significance not only as a symbol of the Confederate military forces of 1861-65, but of the South as a whole. Some go farther still, insisting that the flag itself is a sacred Christian object, bearing the Cross of St. Andrew, reflecting the Confederate cause as explicitly Christian one.
While some folks choose to project their own religious interpretation onto the Confederate Battle Flag, the origin of the design was not only not sectarian, it was explicitly designed to avoid religious symbolism. As John Coski relates in his definitive study, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, the banner was designed by Confederate Congressman William Porcher Miles (right, 1822-1899), who set out in March 1861 to create a distinctive pattern for a national flag for the new Confederacy. Miles began with a familiar secessionist emblem, but subsequently modified his original layout with the intent to remove any overt Christian symbology:
William Miles’s disappointment with the Stars and Bars [i.e., the “First National” flag of the Confederacy] went beyond his strong ideological objections to the Stars and Stripes. He had hoped that the Confederacy would adopt his own design for a national flag-the pattern that later generations mistakenly and ironically insisted on calling the Stars and Bars. The design that Miles championed was apparently inspired by one of the flags used at the South Carolina secession convention in December 1860. That flag featured a blue St. George’s (or upright) cross on a red field. Emblazoned on the cross were fifteen white stars representing the slaveholding states, and on the red field were two symbols of South Carolina: the palmetto tree and the crescent. Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion,” wrote Miles and other members of the South Carolina delegation asking that “the symbol of a particular religion” not be made the symbol of the nation. In adapting his flag to take these criticisms into account, Miles removed the palmetto tree and crescent and substituted a diagonal cross for the St. George’s cross. Recalling (and sketching) his proposal a few months later, Miles explained that the diagonal cross was preferable because “it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews & many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus.” The diagonal cross was, Miles argued, “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical, it being the ‘saltire’ of Heraldry, and significant of strength and progress (from the Latin salto, to leap).” 
Miles’ design didn’t get much traction as a national flag in early 1861, but it was remembered by General P. G. T. Beauregard later that year, and was soon adopted as the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.  In that capacity is gained wide popularity in the South, and eventually became the key element in both the Second National and Third National Flags of the Confederacy. Miles’s original design was ultimately vindicated, and remains today one of the most widely-recognized flags anywhere.
Miles had made a point of using the heraldic term “saltire” to describe the diagonal pattern he settled on, and explicitly distanced his design from any intent at religious symbolism – “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical.” This may come as a shock to some present-day Confederate heritage activists, some of whom wield their own religious beliefs like a cudgel and project back onto the Confederacy their own brand of Christianism. Nonetheless, the reality is that the revered Battle Flag was the result of a conscious attempt by Miles and his collaborators to make its design less Christian, and so less offensive to people of other faiths. Miles rejected the notion that his flag was a religious symbol at all, and instead sought to make it an explicitly secular one. And he did so as a member of the congressional delegation from South Carolina, the fire-eating state that led the South into secession in the first place. To put it in terms familiar to those who follow debates about its use and meaning, the design of the Confederate Battle Flag was, in the context of its time and place, a cave-in to “political correctness.”
Furthermore, as Coski pointed out recently in an essay at the New York Times Opinionator blog, contemporary references to the design as the “Southern Cross” were allusions to the astronomical constellation, not the Cross of Calvary. For patriotic Southerners like George Bagby, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, it was the constellation — usually invisible below the southern horizon to those in the northern hemisphere — that was a symbol of the Confederacy’s future greatness. Channeling the imperialistic ambitions shared by groups like the Knights of the Golden Circle, Bagby saw in the constellation the destiny of the Confederacy:
The “Southern Cross” holds its place steadily in the Southern heart. It was in every mouth long before the war began; it remains in spite of all arguments against it. These arguments are ridiculous. First, we don’t see the Southern Cross in the heavens. Indeed! Do the British see the lion and the unicorn on the land or in the sea? Do the Austrians behold the double headed eagle anywhere in nature or out of it? What has seeing got to do with it? The truth is, we shall see the Southern Cross ere the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave is accomplished. That destiny does not stop short of the banks of the Amazon. The world of wonders in the animal and vegetable kingdom, of riches incalculable in the vast domain, watered by that gigantic stream, is the natural heritage of the Southron and his domestic slave. They alone can achieve its conquest and lay its untold wealth a tribute at the feet of commerce, the Queen consort of King Cotton. 
Anyone looking for the “Southern Cross” known to the Confederates of 1861 should look to the night sky, not the Holy Bible.
People can, and always will, find religious imagery and inspiration in all manner of temporal objects. That’s a matter of their particular belief, and they’re welcome to it. But neither should we confuse what people believe as a matter of faith, with the historical record. While symbols like the Confederate Battle Flag evolve through their use and association to have many different meanings to people, it’s also important to keep discussions about those meanings grounded in the words and actions of those associated with them, over the last 152 years. Open and frank discussion about those things will avail a far more comprehensive understanding of this symbol and its troubled past – and its future.
 John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 5-6.
 Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History ( Memphis: St. Lukes Press, 1988), 58.
 George Bagby, “Editor’s Table,” Southern Literary Messenger, January 1862, 68.
Image: William Porcher Miles, Library of Congress.
Oral arguments were held Wednesday in the Virginia SCV’s appeal to reinstate their lawsuit against the City of Lexington, that had been dismissed by the district court last year. There are several news items about this, but the only one I’ve seen that describes events in the courtroom is this item from the Washington Post and the AP:
The Southern heritage group contends the city snuffed its speech and violated a 20-year-old court order when it enacted an ordinance in September 2011 banishing its flags from holders on dozens of city light poles, other than the city, state and U.S. flags. The three judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which seemed skeptical of the appeal, typically rule in several weeks or more. The group is appealing a decision last summer by a federal judge who concluded the ordinance did not violate a 1993 consent decree, which blocked the city’s attempt to ban the display of the Confederate flag during a parade honoring Jackson. The 2011 ordinance does not restrict the flying of the flag elsewhere in the city. You can still march down Main Street with the flag? Judge Robert King asked. “You can still do that,” replied Thomas E. Strelka, representing the SCV. Strelka argued, however, that the ordinance had “closed a public forum” and the city’s action appeared to be directed at the group. Jeremy E. Carroll, representing the city, said Lexington has the right to say who can used city-owned light poles and the regulation “treats everybody the same.” Local colleges that used to use the poles to fly their banners are also prohibited from using the poles. City officials adopted the ordinance after they received hundreds of complaints after Confederate flags were planted in holders on light poles to mark Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday in Virginia. The flags were provided by SCV, and the city authorized them to be flown on the city poles. The SCV also paid for city workers to install the flags on approximately 40 poles.
My earlier thoughts on why the Virginia SCV is probably going to lose this one are here.
In other news, it looks like the Reidsville, North Carolina monument knocked down in an automobile accident two years ago is finally being restored, this time in the Confederate veterans’ plot at the local cemetery, owned by the UDC. The question of who owned the monument itself has been central in the dispute over whether to restore at its previous location or move it to the cemetery, as the UDC wanted to do. Over time, though, challenges to ownership of the monument seem to have fallen away:
The UDC claimed ownership of the monument shortly after it fell. The city searched for records saying otherwise and never found any. Traveler’s Insurance Company, who represents Vincent, paid the UDC $105,000. The UDC said it planned to use the money to recreate the soldier for the monument and use the original base as the platform. City officials helped the UDC find a new location for the monument. The city deeded a plot of land in Greenview Cemetery to the UDC years prior. The plot houses the body of Confederate soldiers. The Confederate monument continues to be a controversial issue in the community. After the 2011 earthquake, a group, the Historical Preservation Action Committee formed to ensure the monument returned to its original location in the South Scales and West Morehead Streets intersection. In December 2011, the UDC made an announcement it planned to move the monument to the cemetery. HPAC filed a lawsuit against the UDC and the city to stop the monuments removal. The lawsuit included the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources as well. HPAC dropped the city and the UDC from the lawsuit. Davidson County Superior Court Judge Mark Klass dismissed the case citing the organization lacked standing to bring it forward. Rockingham County Judge Moses Massey dismissed the case as well.
Naturally, the usual crowd is furious about this development, in the comments section. But there’s also this little gem of information, that I hadn’t been aware of before:
It remains unclear when the soldier might be installed. In a February interview, Ezell said there wasn’t a timetable to install the new soldier. She did add that this soldier would have a Confederate uniform. The previous monument’s designer outfitted the soldier in Union attire.
You really can’t make this stuff up.
The Galveston Historical Foundation has announced its lineup for the 2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series:
June 9 – Grant Comes To Galveston
Presented by Edward T. Cotham, Jr. In the spring of 1880, former President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant made a visit to Texas. Fanned by unprecedented press speculation and coverage, huge crowds and celebrities turned out to greet Grant everywhere he went. This was particularly true of the general’s visit to Galveston, at that time the largest and most prosperous city in Texas. Where did Grant go and what did he do? What did he say? And most importantly, what did he eat? Respected historian Ed Cotham answers these questions and more as he chronicles the extensive newspaper coverage of Grant’s historic visit to the island city in his newest presentation for the Menard Summer Lecture Series. June 23 – The Galveston-Houston Packet; Steamships on Buffalo Bayou Presented by Andrew W. Hall Before the railroad, before the Interurban, before the scourge of construction detours on the Gulf Freeway, Galveston and Houston were first linked by steamboat. The water link between the two cities helped establish both towns as the fastest-growing, booming communities in the state of Texas during the 19th century. The tale, largely overlooked until now, is one of cut-throat competition, horrific accidents, hard-fought battles and more. Join Galveston author Andy Hall, to explore some of this forgotten history. July 14 – Historic Tales of the Texas Republic, A Glimpse of Texas Past
Presented by Jeffery Robenalt
Though the Republic of Texas existed as a sovereign nation for just nine years, the legacy lives on in the names that distinguish the landscape of the Lone Star State. Austin, Houston, Travis, Lamar, Seguin, Burnet, Bowie, Zavala and Crockett- these historical giants, often at odds, fought through their differences to achieve independence from Mexico and established a republic destined to become the twenty-eighth state in the Union. Author Jeffrey Robenalt chronicles the fight to define and defend the Republic of Texas, from revolutionary beginnings to annexation. August 4 – The First Texas Navy, 1835-1837 Presented by James P. Bevill This powerful presentation takes place in the throes of the Texas Revolution, as the provisional government of Texas scrambled to put together a naval force to wreak havoc upon the Mexican supply lines. Having first resorted to the use of privateers (state sponsored pirates), Texas was able to borrow money in New Orleans in early 1836, to secure the warships Liberty, Invincible, Independence and the Brutus. Author and historian James Bevill tells the story of those four ships and the significant contributions of men made on the high seas in the fight for Texas independence. This remarkable story is triumphant and tragic, and an entertaining finale to the 2013 Menard Summer Lecture Series.
Each talk takes place on Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, at Menard Hall, 33rd Street and Avenue O in Galveston. Tickets are $12 for each talk, or $40 for the series. Hope to see you there.
Senior curator for the Museum of the Confederacy, Robert Hancock, holds the sword carried by Confederate Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead during the Battle of Gettysburg in a work room at the museum in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., will open the exhibit “Gettysburg: They walked through blood” on May 11 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The Museum of the Confederacy is about to open an exhibit that rivals the scope of the battle itself (h/t C.M. Winkler):
An exhibit that includes Confederate battle flags recovered from the fields of Gettysburg is opening Saturday at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. The exhibit also includes swords, revolvers, wrenching letters home from soldiers and their haunting photographs. The flags are among more than 500 in the museum’s extensive collection. They are the centerpiece of “Gettysburg: They walked through blood,” which focuses on Gen. George Pickett’s Virginia Division and the doomed charge on Union Maj. George G. Meade’s union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863. All eight battle flags are from Pickett’s Division and the swords of his three brigade commanders are part of the exhibit.
As a frequent Amazon customer, I get regular recommendations for books on subjects they think I might be interested in. Here’s the recommendation list I got last week:
I really cannot deny that those topics are of interest to me. Also this week I got a statement from the publisher on the steamboat book, that it’s crossed the threshold for generating royalties. Given the very narrow subject matter, I’m glad it’s officially in the black.
I also have three more speaking engagements lined up for the next few months, on Buffalo Bayou steamboats in Galveston on June 23 and in Liberty on July 15, and at the Brazoria County Historical Museum on October 17 for Texas Archaeology Month. Scheduling details to follow soon.
In other news, some of it CW-related and some not:
- Al Mackey has been doing a bang-up job at his blog, systematically knocking down cherished Southron myths about Fort Sumter. He’s cheating, of course, by using the contemporaneous words and actions of the participants themselves; he hasn’t cited Tom DiLorenzo once.
- Confirmed: Written accounts of cannibalism at Jamestown during the “starving winter” of 1609-10, thought by some modern scholars to be exaggerations, are now supported by archaeological evidence.
- David Rumsey is probably the world’s foremost private collector of historic maps. More important, he’s long been committed to sharing those with a wider audience through the Internet. A few of them can even be viewed here, overlaid in Google Maps. Even more gooder, Rumsey recently added more than 38,000 (!) items from his collection to the new Digital Public Library of America. There goes your afternoon.
- Along those same lines, blogger Brian Schrock hosts the Google Earth Time Machine, using that application’s historical imagery to track changes in human and natural geography over time. Schrock is originally from Houston, so Texas locations feature prominently in his posts.
- Corey Meyer continues to highlight the Southern nationalist movement’s recent infatuation with stickers. My own observation is that the compulsion to cover every flat surface with stickers is transitory, peaking at about age four or five. So maybe Cushman will start posting about his Barbies® soon. That’ll be fun.
- Art conservators at the Vatican believe they’ve discovered the oldest European depiction of Native Americans, dating to 1494. That’s cool.
- Over at Defending the Heritage, Robert Mestas takes the case of two Union sailors killed aboard U.S.S. Hatteras to argue that the men, both immigrants, “probably had no idea who they were fighting or what they were fighting for.” Neither Mestas nor anyone else has any idea what these individuals thought or believed, of course, but then consider the source — Mestas makes up fake quotes from Confederate veterans, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he follows my blog, I just wish he were a little more candid with his own readers about his sources when his lifts pictures from from it.
- A relatively new blog, The Freedmen’s Patrol, has been digging down into the weeds of secession and slavery since it debuted a few months back. I’ll have more to say later, but there’s some real education happening over there, and the blog deserves more attention. For now, check out the posts on some Americans’ fixation on taking over Cuba as an annexed slave territory, as outlined here, here and here. American designs on Cuba didn’t start when the battleship Maine went boom.
- Harper Lee, arguably the greatest living Southern writer, is suing the son-in-law of her former agent to recover the copyright to her 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Got any more? Put ‘em in the comments below.
This is (at least) the fourth time Gary’s posted this nonsense:
A Confederate soldier for less than a day, James Hanger had the misfortune of losing a leg at the first land battle of the war, Philippi Bridge, WV, He returned home to Churchville, Virginia and made himself an artificial leg then found he had a market in both the North and South and started the Hanger Corp, still in business today. . . . Sadly, as with the rest of the politically correct world in which we live, the company no longer relates the story of their origin.
That’s not even remotely true; Hanger, Inc. dropped a not-insignificant amount of money a couple of years back on making this video (above). The company not only developed a webpage about its origins, they created a separate Internet domain for it, Hanger150.com. You go to main company website, click on “About Us,” then on “Hanger’s History.” Two clicks, that’s all. Hell, James Edward Hanger’s biography on the site begins with the sentence, “On June 1, 1861, 18-year-old engineering student James Edward Hanger left his family, forgoing his studies at Washington College. . . to join his brothers in the Confederate Army.”
Have any of the nearly 2,000 True Southrons™ over there ever nudged Gary on this foolishness? Not as far as I can tell. But then, it’s heritage: it doesn’t matter if it’s true, so long as it reaffirms your oppression under the boot heel of political correctness.
Update, May 5: Gary clears up the confusion, while complaining about “bloggers who likes to fact check posts here and straigten [sic.] the wrongs of the world.” As usual, the true villain here is not the person who repeatedly posted something demonstrably untrue, but the person who publicly called him on it. Good times.
The new issue of the Texas Historical Commission’s newsletter, The Medallion, has articles on last fall’s expedition to the U.S.S. Hatteras wreck site (pp. 10-11), and the return of the restored “walking beam” from U.S.S. Clifton to the Battle of Sabine Pass site. The Hatteras article can be downloaded here (PDF).
___________Image: “The Fatal Chase” by Tom Freeman. Copyright © Tom Freeman 2012, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
My friend and colleague Jim Schmidt had a great guest column in Saturday’s Galveston County Daily News:
150 Years Ago: Isle Needs marker to Honor Civil War Slaves
By JAMES M. SCHMIDTThe New Year’s Day 1863 Battle of Galveston was undoubtedly the zenith of the island’s Civil War story, but it was by no means the end.More than two years of fighting remained and in many ways they were the worst of the war for those who remained on the island: soldiers, the few remaining citizens, and hundreds of enslaved African-Americans, who worked — and died — building fortifications. That slaves did the lion’s share of the work in constructing the Galveston defenses was nothing new: slaves had actually built fortifications in the early days of Galveston during the Texas Revolution. The first call for slave labor on behalf of the Confederate forces in Galveston may have been as early as November 1861, when Gen. Paul Hebert authorized an aide on his staff to induce local planters “to assist in the erection of fortifications for the defense of the coast, in loaning their Negroes (sic) for that purpose.” Likewise, in April 1862, Gen. William R. Scurry declared that “it is absolutely necessary that every preparation for defense should be made to protect Texas from invasion. … In a short time, with Negroes to work on the fortifications, the Island can be made impregnable, and the State saved from the pol(l) uting tread of armed abolitionists.” To that end he called on planters in 20 counties to “send at once one-fourth of their male Negro population … with spades and shovels … to report to Galveston.” It was after the Battle of Galveston, though, that the work began in earnest. Indeed, only days later, a Confederate soldier wrote his wife that he expected that his unit would be permanently located in Galveston, and added with just confidence, “unless the Federals whip us out, which they are not likely to do.” His work was now devoted to securing the recaptured island, and he added: “In a few days we will have this place well-fortified. There are several hundred Negroes here at work building new fortifications and repairing those already built.” In April 1863, Col. Valery Sulakowski, the supervising engineer, reported that more than 600 enslaved African-Americans were engaged at the saw mills — carrying sod, timber and iron — and cooking or working on harbor and gulf defenses. The officer called for hundreds more, but getting additional slave labor was no easy task: Texas planters routinely volunteered insufficient numbers of their slaves to the periodic calls. It is no wonder they were reluctant: archival hospital records show that many slaves died from disease, exhaustion or injuries suffered while constructing the Galveston defenses. The slaves themselves did not leave a record of their toil, but the work left at least one young girl without a father. In a 1930s interview, Philles Thomas, born into slavery in Texas, explained, “I can’t ’member my daddy, but mammy told me him am sent to de ‘Federate Army an am kilt in Galveston.” Perhaps the time has come to install a historical marker to commemorate the slaves who labored — and died — on the island during the Civil War. _______ James M. Schmidt is a research scientist with a biotech firm in The Woodlands. He is a contributor, editor or author of five books on the Civil War, including, most recently, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom, The History Press, 2012.
Image: Impressed slaves building fortifications at James Island, South Carolina. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.