Today’s “Just Makin’ Stuff Up” recognition goes to the 13th Virginia Mechanized Cavalry of the SCV and the local UDC chapter, which came up with this little gem to promote their participation in Monday’s Memorial Day parade in Portsmouth, Virginia:
Remember. . . Memorial Day started as “Decoration Day” to Honor Fallen Confederate Soldiers way back before it became a national holiday. . . .
The notion that “Decoration Day,” as the precursor to the Memorial Day we’re observing this weekend, was established to remember the Confederate dead is ludicrous. If that were true, there wouldn’t be various Confederate Memorial Days splattered all over the calendar, from January to June, across the states of the old Confederacy. (Folks may recall that in 1875, when Nathan Bedford Forrest encouraged Confederate veterans in Memphis to participate in Decoration Day activities, it was not in honor of their own comrades, but “in spreading flowers over the graves of these dead Federal soldiers, before the whole American people, as a peace offering to the nation, as a testimonial of our respect for their devotion to duty. . . .”)
While the practice of setting aside a specific day to honor fallen soldiers sprung up spontaneously across the country, North and South, in the years following the Civil War, the modern holiday comes down in a straight lineage from 1868, when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a day of remembrance on May 30 of that year. It was a date chosen specifically not to coincide with the anniversary of any major action of the war, so as to be an occasion in its own right. One of Frederick Douglass’ most moving addresses was given at Arlington Cemetery on Decoration Day in 1871 — more than a decade before the inaugural event at Portsmouth — and that event was certainly not about honoring Confederate soldiers. While Memorial Day is now observed nationwide, parallel observances throughout the South honor the Confederate dead, and still hold official or semi-official recognition by the former states of the Confederacy. But to promote the idea that Memorial Day/Decoration Day was created to honor the Confederate dead is both dishonest and shameful.
A small U.S. flag marks the grave of fire-eating secessionist Louis T. Wigfall in Galveston, Texas on Memorial Day weekend, 2013. Local scouting groups place U.S. flags on the graves of Confederate veterans as well as U.S. military veterans in recognition of the holiday.
The other day, over at To the Sound of the Guns, Craig Swain took a look at a very unusual piece of Confederate artillery, photographed at Fort Marshall on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston. Looking closely at the image (available online at the Library of Congress), Craig noticed that cast into the upper side of the reinforce was a distinctive marking, almost certainly a British royal cipher. The gun in the Civil War era photo is very likely one of a handful of old British 12-pounders that, in the latter part of 1863, the Confederates had rifled and fitted with breech banding to further expand there defenses around Charleston. Those guns are marked with what looks like the monogram of George III (right, 1760-1820), which would presumably make them of Revolutionary War vintage.
There are a couple of other interesting things about this image. The first is that the gun is mounted on a field carriage, rather than a traditional seacoast mounting like the gun at left. Perhaps this was done because, as a relatively lightweight piece, the rifled 12-pounder was intended to be moved about to different positions as needed, which would be greatly facilitated by putting the gun on a field carriage.
The other thing that’s interesting is the clear view of the way the batteries themselves were covered with sod, to help maintain their shape. We’ve seen reference to this practice at Galveston, as well, and it would be essential, given that otherwise the loose sand would blow away as fast as it was piled up. The famous Confederate artist Conrad Wise Chapman completed a painting of the interior of Fort Marshall, that shows the green-sodded earthworks to good advantage:
And if you look closely, at left Chapman depicted two guns very similar to the one in the photograph, along with a tiny, house-shaped structure similar to the ready-ammunition storage seen in the 1860s photo:
Finally, since the image of
the old ye olde British gun is part of a stereo pair, I would be remiss in not offering them in all their 3D glory, for for red/cyan viewing and as a wobbler:
Divers from the Florida Aquarium’s Friends of the USS Narcissus group examine the wreck of the Civil War tugboat. Via TampaPlanet.com.
Sometime in the next several months, perhaps as early as late fall, the the State of Florida will dedicate the wreck of U.S.S. Narcissus, sunk in 1866 of Egmont Key, near Tampa, as the state’s 12th underwater archaeological preserve. I spoke recently to Roger C. Smith, Florida’s State Underwater Archaeologist, who confirmed that plans for the site are coming together for the formal dedication of the site. In this case, the process has been a long one due to the numerous agencies involved. Because the site lies at the edge of a commercial waterway, the project required the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Tampa Port Authority, and the U.S. Navy, that still holds title to the wreck. Smith explained that, like so many historic wrecks in shallow water, this one was first located by fishermen, and then by sport divers. A number of small artifacts were picked up by people exploring the site, including a few Confederate buttons. These led some to believe that the wreck was that of a blockade runner, but an exhaustive review of the historical record revealed none of those vessels wrecked in the area. They did, however, identify a U.S. Navy steam tug that went aground and suffered a boiler explosion at that location just after the war, U.S.S. Narcissus.
Narcissus was launched as the 82-foot-long screw steamer Mary Cook at East Albany, New York, in July 1863 and purchased by the U.S. Navy a few weeks later as U.S.S. Narcissus. She was assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron and assisted with operations after the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. The following December, Narcissus was sunk in shallow water by a Confederate mine, without loss of life, and was subsequently raised and repaired. The 2011 proposal to turn the site into an archaeological preserve tells the rest of the story:
In October 1865, with the war concluded, Acting Rear Admiral Henry Knox Thatcher no longer needed the many vessels previously required for an active blockade of southern ports. Thatcher stated in a communication that USS Narcissus and other screw tugs were ready to be sent north for sale. On January 1, 1866, USS Narcissus and USS Althea, both screw tugs, began their journey along the eastern shores of the Gulf of Mexico on their way to New York to be decommissioned and sold. According to the deck logs of USS Althea, both Althea and Narcissus encountered a storm off the coast of Tampa on January 4, 1866. The commanders made the decision to anchor outside the port and wait out the storm. Althea headed northwest against the tide and the wind while Narcissus took a seemingly easier route to the west, feeling the brunt of the wind and tide on her starboard beam. It was during this final journey to avoid the shoals that Narcissus, traveling at full speed, ran aground on a sandbar. Althea also briefly grounded on a sandbar, but was able to power her engine to break free. At 6:15 pm, the crew of Althea noticed Coston signal flares coming from Narcissus. Althea returned the signal at 6:30 pm, but received no response. Thirty minutes later, Althea noted more signals from Narcissus, but could not understand them. Althea returned with a final signal, but again received no response from Narcissus. Just after 7 pm, Althea’s deck logs note that Narcissus’ boiler exploded as a result of grounding on a sandbar. The crew of Althea stood by in disbelief as Narcissus was seen to break up and sink into the water along with her entire crew. The next morning Althea anchored off Egmont Key and noticed the beaches strewn with wreckage from Narcissus along with the unidentified body of one of the firemen and the papers of Acting Ensign Bradbury and Mate J. L. Hall. Althea stayed in Tampa for two more days to look for survivors, and finding none continued her journey to New York. In 2006, the Florida Aquarium received a matching grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources to conduct the Tampa Bay Historic Shipwreck Survey. The Florida Aquarium collaborated with South Eastern Archaeological Services and Tidewater Atlantic Research to conduct a Phase I survey of high probability areas based on archival and cartographic research. This project was conducted to create a database of the submerged cultural resources in the area and promote in situ conservation. In addition, any submerged sites listed in the Florida Master Site File that were located within the permit area were reevaluated to access their condition. USS Narcissus was one of the first sites visited for reevaluation. During previous investigations, the site of USS Narcissus was covered by sediments, with only a small portion of the engine visible. Upon arrival at the site in 2006, all of the steam machinery, propeller, propeller shaft, pillow block, boiler pieces, and a portion of the wooden hull were exposed. As a result, it was decided to conduct a non-intrusive archaeological investigation to record the site’s features with the assistance of Florida Aquarium’s volunteer divers to produce a site plan. Divers also took hundreds of digital images and high definition video. Archaeological evidence indicates that USS Narcissus met her demise in a boiler explosion. This is further supported by a letter written in 1889 to the Secretary of the Navy from the Late Acting Ensign William F. Kilgore. He states, upon arriving “where I had located the ‘Narcissus’ going on to the reefs…about one third of the hull [was there] bottom up and held there by her anchors.” Archaeological investigations support these observations. The boiler is completely destroyed and the hull forward of the machinery spaces, where the boiler would have been located, is absent.
Florida’s “Museums in the Sea” network of marine archaeological sites may be the best program of its type in the country. It’s great public outreach and education effort, to encourage divers and snorkelers to visit and learn more about our shared maritime past. Interpretive materials include both general brochures and guides to the wrecks themselves (see this example, for the 1715 Spanish plate ship, Urca de Lima), so that divers can actually go beyond underwater sight-seeing, to have a better understanding of the site and its significance.
Here’s a big lot of images on Flicker of divers working to document the Narcissus wreck site in 2006. It can be slow and not-very-glamorous work. They even dragged Gordon Watts, the acknowledged dean of 19th century marine steam powerplants, in on the action. It’s wet work like this that goes into generating site plans and reports like the proposal excerpted above. Designation of the site as an archaeological preserve is the culmination of many hundreds of hours of work, often done by volunteers, in recording the site, doing historical and archival research, and many other activities. It’s diligent work, but tremendously rewarding for the folks who do it, who are making a major time commitment to bring this aspect of maritime history of a larger audience.
Hats off to them all.
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.