Kevin reminds us that today, January 8, is the sesquicentennial of Howell Cobb’s famous letter to the Secretary of War, James Seddon, rejecting the notion of enlisting slaves as Confederate soldiers. Under the circumstances, it’s worth revisiting this old post of mine from October 2010.
Lots of folks are familiar with Howell Cobb’s famous line, offered in response to the Confederacy’s efforts to enlist African American slaves as soldiers in the closing days of the war: “if slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” It was part of a letter sent to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, in January 1865:
The proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Lee, given as authority for such a policy. My first hour of despondency will be the one in which that policy shall be adopted. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The moment you resort to negro [sic.] soldiers your white soldiers will be lost to you; and one secret of the favor With which the proposition is received in portions of the Army is the hope that when negroes go into the Army they will be permitted to retire. It is simply a proposition to fight the balance of the war with negro troops. You can’t keep white and black troops together, and you can’t trust negroes by themselves. It is difficult to get negroes enough for the purpose indicated in the President’s message, much less enough for an Army. Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong — but they won’t make soldiers. As a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier. Better by far to yield to the demands of England and France and abolish slavery and thereby purchase their aid, than resort to this policy, which leads as certainly to ruin and subjugation as it is adopted; you want more soldiers, and hence the proposition to take negroes into the Army. Before resorting to it, at least try every reasonable mode of getting white soldiers. I do not entertain a doubt that you can, by the volunteering policy, get more men into the service than you can arm. I have more fears about arms than about men, For Heaven’s sake, try it before you fill with gloom and despondency the hearts of many of our truest and most devoted men, by resort to the suicidal policy of arming our slaves.
No great surprise here; earnest and vituperative opposition to the enlistment of slaves in Confederate service was widespread, even as the concussion of Federal artillery rattled the panes in the windows of the capitol in Richmond. What’s passing strange, as Molly Ivins used to say, is that Howell Cobb is a central figure in one of the canonical sources in Black Confederate “scholarship,” the description of the capture of Frederick, Maryland in 1862, published by Dr. Lewis H. Steiner of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. In his account of the capture and occupation of the town, Steiner makes mention of
Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number [of Confederate troops]. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. . . and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army.
This passage is often repeated without critique or analysis, and offered as eyewitness evidence of the widespread use of African American soldiers by the Confederate Army. Indeed, Steiner’s figure is sometimes extrapolation to derrive an estimate of black soldiers in the whole of the Confederate Army, to number in the tens of thousands. But, as history blogger Aporetic points out, Steiner’s observation is included in a larger work that mocks the Confederates generally, is full of obvious exaggerations and caricatures, and is clearly written — like Frederick Douglass’ well-known evocation of Black Confederates “with bullets in their pockets” — to rally support in the North to the Union cause. It is propaganda. Most important, Steiner’s account of Black Confederates under arms is entirely unsupported by other eyewitnesses to this event, North or South. Aporetic goes on to point out the apparent incongruity of Steiner’s description of this horde being led by none other than Howell Cobb:
A drunken, bloated blackguard on horseback, for instance, with the badge of a Major General on his collar, understood to be one Howell Cobb, formerly Secretary of the United States Treasury, on passing the house of a prominent sympathizer with the rebellion, removed his hat in answer to the waving of handkerchiefs, and reining his horse up, called on “his boys” to give three cheers. “Three more, my boys!” and “three more!” Then, looking at the silent crowd of Union men on the pavement, he shook his fist at them, saying, “Oh, you d—d long-faced Yankees! Ladies, take down their names and I will attend to them personally when I return.” In view of the fact that this was addressed to a crowd of unarmed citizens, in the presence of a large body of armed soldiery flushed with success, the prudence — to say nothing of the bravery — of these remarks, may be judged of by any man of common sense.
The Black Confederate crowd doesn’t usually include this second passage describing the same event, or explain Cobb’s apparent profound amnesia when it comes to the employment of African Americans in Confederate ranks. How is it, one wonders, that the same Howell Cobb who supposedly led thousands of black Confederate soldiers into Frederick in 1862 found the very notion of enlisting African Americans into the Confederate military a “most pernicious idea” just twenty-seven months later? How is it that the general who called on his black troops to give three cheers, then “three more, my boys!” came to believe that “the day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution?” How is it that the commander of successful black soldiers felt that “as a class they are wanting in every qualification of a soldier?” But set aside Dr. Steiner’s propogandist account for the moment; it’s unreliable and unsupported by other sources. Events at Frederick aside, how is that Howell Cobb, in January 1865, was unaware of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of African Americans soldiers supposedly serving in Confederate ranks across the South? Howell Cobb’s Confederate bona fides are unimpeachable, and throughout the war he was irrevocably tied in to both political and military affairs. In his career he was, in turn, a five-term U.S. Representative from Gerogia, Speaker of the U.S. House Representatives, Governor of Georgia, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress, and Major General in the Confederate Army. He was a leader of the secession movement, and was elected president of the Montgomery convention that drafted a constitution for the new Confederacy. For a brief period in 1861, between the establishment of the Confederate States and the election of Jefferson Davis as its president, Speaker Cobb served as the new nation’s effective head of state. In his military career, Cobb held commands in the Army of Northern Virginia and the District of Georgia and Florida. He scouted and recommended a site for a prisoner-of-war camp that eventually became known as Andersonville; his Georgia Reserve Corps fought against Sherman in his infamous “March to the Sea.” Cobb commanded Confederate forces in a doomed defense of Columbus, Georgia in the last major land battle of the war, on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, the day after Abraham Lincoln died in Washington, D.C. Perhaps more than any other man, Howell Cobb’s career followed the fortunes of Confederacy — civil, political and military — from beginning to end. And yet, after almost four years of war and almost three years of commanding large formations of Confederate troops in the field, in January 1865 Howell Cobb seemingly remained unaware of the thousands, or tens of thousands, of African Americans now claimed to have been serving in Southern ranks throughout the war. It is passing strange, is it not?
[This post originally appeared here on June 19, 2010.]
“Emancipation” by Thomas Nast. Ohio State University.
Juneteenth has come again, and (quite rightly) the Galveston County Daily News, the paper that first published General Granger’s order that forms the basis for the holiday, has again called for the day to be recognized as a national holiday:
Those who are lobbying for a national holiday are not asking for a paid day off. They are asking for a commemorative day, like Flag Day on June 14 or Patriot Day on Sept. 11. All that would take is a presidential proclamation. Both the U.S. House and Senate have endorsed the idea. Why is a national celebration for an event that occurred in Galveston and originally affected only those in a single state such a good idea? Because Juneteenth has become a symbol of the end of slavery. No matter how much we may regret the tragedy of slavery and wish it weren’t a part of this nation’s story, it is. Denying the truth about the past is always unwise. For those who don’t know, Juneteenth started in Galveston. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. But the order was meaningless until it could be enforced. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederacy had been defeated and Union troops landed in Galveston — that the slaves in Texas were told they were free. People all across the country get this story. That’s why Juneteenth celebrations have been growing all across the country. The celebration started in Galveston. But its significance has come to be understood far, far beyond the island, and far beyond Texas.
This is exactly right. Juneteenth is not just of relevance to African Americans or Texans, but for all who ascribe to the values of liberty and civic participation in this country. A victory for civil rights for any group is a victory for us all, and there is none bigger in this nation’s history than that transformation represented by Juneteenth.
But as widespread as Juneteenth celebrations have become — I was pleased and surprised, some years ago, to see Juneteenth celebration flyers pasted up in Minnesota — there’s an awful lot of confusion and misinformation about the specific events here, in Galveston, in June 1865 that gave birth to the holiday. The best published account of the period appears in Edward T. Cotham’s Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, from which much of what follows is abstracted.
The United States Customs House, Galveston.
On June 5, Captain B. F. Sands entered Galveston harbor with the Union naval vessels Cornubia and Preston. Sands went ashore with a detachment and raised the United States flag over the federal customs house for about half an hour. Sands made a few comments to the largely silent crowd, saying that he saw this event as the closing chapter of the rebellion, and assuring the local citizens that he had only worn a sidearm that day as a gesture of respect for the mayor of the city.
The 1857 Ostermann Building, site of General Granger’s headquarters, at the southwest corner of 22nd Street and Strand. Image via Galveston Historical Foundation.
A large number of Federal troops came ashore over the next two weeks, including detachments of the 76th Illinois Infantry. Union General Gordon Granger, newly-appointed as military governor for Texas, arrived on June 18, and established his headquarters in Ostermann Building (now gone) on the southwest corner of 22nd and Strand. The provost marshal, which acted largely as a military police force, set up in the Customs House. The next day, June 19, a Monday, Granger issued five general orders, establishing his authority over the rest of Texas and laying out the initial priorities of his administration. General Orders Nos. 1 and 2 asserted Granger’s authority over all Federal forces in Texas, and named the key department heads in his administration of the state for various responsibilities. General Order No. 4 voided all actions of the Texas government during the rebellion, and asserted Federal control over all public assets within the state. General Order No. 5 established the Army’s Quartermaster Department as sole authorized buyer for cotton, until such time as Treasury agents could arrive and take over those responsibilities.
It is General Order No. 3, however, that is remembered today. It was short and direct:
Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865 General Orders, No. 3 The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere. By order of
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.A.G.
What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.
The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in recent local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.
Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.
Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Ostermann Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin (right, 1827-78) of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.
Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.
Update, June 19: Over at Our Special Artist, Michele Walfred takes a closer look at Nast’s illustration of emancipation.
Update 2, June 19: Via Keith Harris, it looks like retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison supports a national Juneteenth holiday, too. Good for her.
Update 3, June 19, 2013: Freedmen’s Patrol nails the general public’s ambivalence about Juneteenth:
I suppose it gets ignored for the same reason we ignore Emancipation Day. To make a national fuss over it would require us to grapple with slavery and own up to freedom as a kind of national project, not a crystallized perfection handed down from men in powdered wigs.
As many readers will know, 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. Over the years, “Decoration Day” events gradually coalesced around late May, particularly after 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, to be an occasion in its own right. 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.
Recently while researching the life of a particular Union soldier, I came across a story from a black newspaper, the New Orleans Semi-Weekly Louisianan dated June 15, 1871. It describes an event that occurred at the then-newly-established Arlington National Cemetery. Like the U.S. Colored Troops who’d been denied a place in the grand victory parade in Washington in May 1865, the black veterans discovered that segregation and exclusion within the military continued even after death:
DECORATION DAY AND HYPOCRISY. The custom of decorating the graves of soldiers who fell in the late war, seems to be doing more harm to the living than it does to honor the dead. In every Southern State there are not only separate localities where the respective defendants of Unionism and Secession lie buried, but there are different days of observance, a rivalry in the ostentatious parade for floral wealth and variety, and a competition in extravagant eulogy, more calculated to inflame the passions than to soften and purify the affections, which ought to be the result of all funeral rights. Besides this bad effect among the whites there comes a still more evil influence from the dastardly discriminations made by the professedly union [sic.] people themselves. Read this extract from the Washington Chronicle: AT THE COLORED CEMETERY While services were in progress at the tomb of the “Unknown” Comrade Charles Guthridge, John S. Brent, and Beverly Tucker, of Thomas R. Hawkins Post, No. 14 G.A.R., followed by Greene’s Brass Band, Colonel Perry Carson’s Pioneer Corps of the 17th District, Butler Zouaves, under the command of Charles B. Fisher, and a large number of colored persons proceeded to the cemetery on the colored soldiers to the north of the mansion, and on arriving there they found no stand erected, no orator or speaker selected, not a single flag placed on high, not even a paper flag at the head boards of these loyal but ignored dead, not even a drop of water to quench the thirst of the humble patriots after their toilsome march from the beautifully decorated grand stand above to this barren neglected spot below. At 2 ½ o’clock P.M., no flowers or other articles coming for decorative purposes, messengers were dispatched to the officers of the day for them; they in time returned with a half dozen (perhaps more) rosettes, and a basket of flower leaves. Deep was the indignation and disappointment of the people. A volley of musketry was fired over the graves by Col. Fisher’s company. An indignation meeting was improvised, Col. Fisher acting president. A short but eloquent address was made by George Hatton, who was followed by F. G. Barbadoes, who concluded his remarks by offering the followign resolutions, which were unanimously adopted: Resolved, that the colored citizens of the District of Columbia hereby respectfully request the proper authorities to remove the remains of all loyal soldiers now interred at the north end of the Arlington cemetery, among paupers and rebels, to the main body of the grounds at the earliest possible moment. Resolved, that the following named gentlemen are hereby created a committee to proffer our request and to take such further action in the matter as may be deemed necessary to a successful accomplishment of our wishes: Frederick Douglass, John M. Langston, Rev. Dr. Anderson, William J. Wilson, Col. Charles B. Fisher, William Wormley, Perry Carson, Dr. A. T. Augusta, F. G. Barbadoes. If any event in the whole history of our connection with the late war embodied more features of disgraceful neglect, or exhibited more clearly the necessity of protecting ourselves from insult, than this behavior at Arlington heights, we at least acknowledge ignorance of it. We say again that no good, but only harm can result from keeping up the recollection of the bitter strife and bloodshed between North and South, and worse still, in furnishing occasion to white Unionists of proving their hypocrisy towards the negro in the very presence of our dead.
The black soldiers’ graves were never moved; rather, the boundaries of Arlington were gradually expanded to encompass them, in what is now known as Section 27. Most of the graves, originally marked with simple wooden boards, were subsequently marked with proper headstones, though many are listed as “unknown.” In addition to the black Union soldiers interred there, roughly 3,800 civilians, mostly freedmen, lie there as well, many under stones with the simple, but profoundly important, designation of “citizen.” The remains of Confederate prisoners buried there were removed in the early 1900s to a new plot on the western edge of the cemetery complex, where the Confederate Monument would be dedicated in 1914.
Unfortunately, the more things change, the more. . . well, you know. In part because that segment of the cemetery began as a burial ground for blacks, prisoners and others of lesser status, the records for Section 27 are fragmentary. Further, Section 27 has — whether by design or happenstance — suffered an alarming amount of negligence and lack of attention over the years. The Army has promised, and continues to promise, that these problems will be corrected.
As Americans, North and South, we should all expect nothing less.
Images of Section 27, Arlington National Cemetery, © Scott Holter, all rights reserved. Used with permission. Thanks to Coatesian commenter KewHall (no relation) for the research tip. This post originally appeared here in December 2010.
While doing research on something else, I came across a couple of accounts of the aftermath of the Confederate assault on Fort Pillow, written by naval officers of U.S.S Silver Cloud (above), the Union “tinclad” gunboat that was the first on the scene. I don’t recall encountering these descriptions before, and they really do strike a nerve with their raw descriptions of what these men witnessed, at first hand.
These accounts are particularly important because historians are always looking for “proximity” in historical accounts of major events. The description of an event by someone who was physically present is to be more valued than one by someone who simply heard about it from another person. The narrative committed to paper immediately is, generally, more to be valued than one written months or years after the events described, when memories have started to fade or become shaded by others’ differing recollections. Hopefully, too, the historian can find those things in a description of the event by someone who doesn’t have any particular axe to grind, who’s writing for his own purposes without the intention that his account will be widely and publicly known. These are all factors — somewhat subjective, to be sure — that the historian considers when deciding what historical accounts to rely on when trying to reconstruct historical events, and to understand how one or another document fits within the context of all the rest.
Which brings us back to the eyewitness accounts of Acting Master William Ferguson, commanding officer of U.S.S. Silver Cloud, and Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell of that same vessel.
Ferguson’s report was written April 14, 1864, the day after he was at the site. It was addressed to Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding officer of the Union’s XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee, then headquartered at Memphis. It appears in the Army OR, vol. 57, and the Navy OR, vol. 26.
U.S. STEAMER SILVER CLOUD,
Off Memphis, Tenn., April 14, 1864. SIR: In compliance with your request that I would forward to you a written statement of what I witnessed and learned concerning the treatment of our troops by the rebels at the capture of Fort Pillow by their forces under General Forrest, I have the honor to submit the following report: Our garrison at Fort Pillow, consisting of some 350 colored troops and 200 of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, refusing to surrender, the place was carried by assault about 3 p.m. of 12th instant. I arrived off the fort at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 13th instant. Parties of rebel cavalry were picketing on the hills around the fort, and shelling those away I made a landing and took on-board some 20 of our troops (some of them badly wounded), who had concealed themselves along the bank and came out when they saw my vessel. While doing so I was fired upon by rebel sharpshooters posted on the hills, and 1 wounded man limping down to the vessel was shot. About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed, and hailing the steamer Platte Valley, which vessel I had convoyed up from Memphis, I brought her alongside and had the wounded brought down from the fort and battle-field and placed on board of her. Details of rebel soldiers assisted us in this duty, and some soldiers and citizens on board the Platte Valley volunteered for the same purpose. We found about 70 wounded men in the fort and around it, and buried, I should think, 150 bodies. All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered a terrible death in the flames could be seen. All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen. Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter of our unfortunate troops. Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate. As near as I can learn, there were about 500 men in the fort when it was stormed. I received about 100 men, including the wounded and those I took on board before the flag of truce was sent in. The rebels, I learned, had few prisoners; so that at least 300 of our troops must have been killed in this affair. I have the honor to forward a list(*) of the wounded officers and men received from the enemy under flag of truce. I am, general, your obedient servant, W. FERGUSON,
Acting Master, U.S. Navy, Comdg. U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud.
Ferguson’s report is valuable because it is detailed, proximate in time to the event, and was written specifically for reference within the military chain of command. It seems likely that Ferguson’s description is the first written description of the aftermath of the engagement within the Federal’s command structure. Certainly it was written before news of Fort Pillow became widely known across the country, and the event became a rallying cry for retribution and revenge. Ferguson’s account was, I believe, ultimately included in the evidence published by the subsequent congressional investigation of the incident, but he had no way of anticipating that when he sat down to write out his report just 24 hours after witnessing such horrors.
The second account is that of Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell (right), a 20-year-old junior officer aboard the gunboat. Critchell’s letter, addressed to U.S. Rep. Henry T. Blow of Missouri, was written a week after Ferguson’s report, after the enormity of events at the fort had begun to take hold. If Ferguson’s report reflected the shock of what he’d seen, Critchell’s gives voice to a growing anger about it. Critchell’s revulsion comes through in this letter, along with his disdain for the explanations of the brutality offered by the Confederate officers he’d met, that they’d simply lost control of their men, which the Union naval officer calls “a flimsy excuse.” Crittchell admits to being “personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels,” but also stands by the accuracy of his description, offering to swear out an affidavit attesting to it.
UNITED STATES STEAMER “SILVER CLOUD.” Mississippi River, April 22nd, 1864. SIR :-Since you did me the favor of recommending my appointment last year, I have been on duty aboard this boat. I now write you with reference to the Fort Pillow massacre, because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established. Our boat arrived at the fort about 7½ A. M. on Wednesday, the 13th, the day after the rebels captured the fort. After shelling them, whenever we could see them, for two hours, a flag of truce from the rebel General Chalmers, was received by us, and Captain Ferguson of this boat, made an arrangement with General Chalmers for the paroling of our wounded and the burial of our dead; the arrangement to last until 5 P. M. We then landed at the fort, and I was sent out with a burial party to bury our dead. I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evidently sought safety; they could not offer any resistance from the places where they were, in holes and cavities along the banks; most of them had two wounds. I saw several colored soldiers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bayonets; many of them were shot twice and bayonetted also. All those along the bank of the river were colored. The number of the colored near the river was about seventy. Going up into the fort, I saw there bodies partially consumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, anyway, there were several companies of rebels in the fort while these bodies were burning, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they chosen to do so. One of the wounded negroes told me that “he hadn’t done a thing,” and when the rebels drove our men out of the fort, they (our men) threw away their guns and cried out that they surrendered, but they kept on shooting them down until they had shot all but a few. This is what they all say. I had some conversation with rebel officers and they claim that our men would not surrender and in some few cases they “could not control their men,” who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not. This is a flimsy excuse, for after our colored troops had been driven from the fort, and they were surrounded by the rebels on all sides, it is apparent that they would do what all say they did,throw down their arms and beg for mercy. I buried very few white men, the whole number buried by my party and the party from the gunboat “New Era” was about one hundred. I can make affidavit to the above if necessary. Hoping that the above may be of some service and that a desire to be of service will be considered sufficient excuse for writing to you, I remain very respectfully your obedient servant, ROBERT S. CRITCHELL, Acting Master’s Mate, U. S. N.
Critchell’s note about the explanation offered by Confederate officers, who argued that the black soldiers “would not surrender and in some few cases [the Confederate officers] ‘could not control their men,’ who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not,” is worth noting. That was the excuse offered at the time, and it remains so almost 150 years later, for those Fort Pillow apologists who acknowledge that unnecessary bloodshed took place at all. Critchell observed at the time that “this is a flimsy excuse,” and so it remains today.
Critchell’s letter also seems to endorse retaliation-in-kind, “because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.” This urge is, unfortunately, entirely understandable, and we’ve seen that within weeks the atrocity at Fort Pillow was being used as a rallying cry to spur Union soldiers on to commit their own acts of wanton violence. Vengrance begets retaliation begets vengeance begets retaliation. It never ends, and it’s always rationalized by pointing to the other side having done it before.
It never ends, but it often does have identifiable beginnings. Bill Ferguson and Bob Critchell saw one of those beginnings first-hand.
Critchell letter and images from Robert S. Critchell, Recollections of a Fire Insurance Man (Chicago: McClurg & Co., 1909).
I was looking around recently for some background to the famous Pole-Bearers address given by Nathan Bedford Forrest in July 1875 at Memphis. In his speech to the Freedmen’s group, Forrest emphasized the importance of African Americans building their community, participating in elections, and both races moving forward in peace. Just prior to making his remarks, Forrest was presented a bouquet of flowers by an African American girl, and responded by giving the girl a kiss on the cheek. This single event is sometimes cited as proof that the former slave dealer and Klan leader “wasn’t a racist” or some similar nonsense, as if that modern term had much import in mid-19th century America.
I’ll have more to say about the Pole Bearers speech another time, but if you ever wondered how Forrest’s actions that day were perceived by at least some of his former comrades in gray, now we know. They weren’t happy about it, and went to considerable efforts to say so – publicly. From the Augusta, Georgia Chronicle, July 31, 1875, p. 4:
EX-CONFEDERATES —– Meeting of Cavalry Survivor’s Association. —– A called meeting of the Cavalry Survivor’s Association was held at the Irish Volunteers’ Hall last evening. The amended constitution as reported by the committee, was unanimously adopted. Captain E. Eve said: “Comrades, we are ordered to meet to revise out constitution and by-laws; it is in the hands of an able committee ably, I trust, they have perfected their labors, but while here assembled there is one incident that has transpired upon which I wish to throw your disapproval and have recorded in our archives, although performed by as gallant a cavalryman as ever used sabre over an enemy’s brain; yet let us prove that the old esprit du corps still lives, and that we endorse no action unworthy of a Southern gentleman. I speak of the address delivered before a black and tan audience by Gen. N. B. Forrest. With what a glow of enthusiasm and thrill of pride have I not perued the campaigns of Gen. Forrest’s cavalry, their heroic deeds, their sufferings and their successes under the leadership of one whom I always considered (in my poor judgment) second only to out immortal Hampton? And now to mar all the lustre attached to his name, his brain is turned by the civilities of a mulatto wench who presented him with a bouquet of roses. We would rather have sent him a car filled with the rarest exotics plucked from the dizziest peaks of the Himalayas or the perilous fastness of the Andes than he should have thus befouled the fair home of one of the Confederacy’s most daring general officers. What can his object be? Ah! General Forrest! [snip] Wherefore be it Resolved, that we, the Survivor’s Association of the Cavalry of the Confederate States, in meeting assembled at Augusta, Ga., do hereby express our unmitigated disapproval of any such sentiments as those expressed by Gen. N. B. Forrest at a meeting of the Pole Bearers Society of Memphis, Tennessee, and that we allow no man to advocate, or even hint to the world, before any public assemblage, that he dare associate our mother’s, wives’ daughters’ or sisters’ names in the same category that he classes the females of the negro [sic.] race, without, at least, expressing out disapprobation. The resolution was unanimously adopted and ordered spread on the minutes.
Geez. Sounds like they were mad, huh?
With the push to purge this country of Confederate Memorials, I must wonder if those politically correct thugs would dare tear this monument down? It commemorates the bravery and courage of the Black Confederate Regiments in Mississippi that dared to do their solemn duty to their country and defend Vicksburg from the foreign invaders from the North! My hat’s off to those who fought and gave their lives in defense of our Country!
This monument stands in Vicksburg National Military Park. It was dedicated in 2004 to two Union regiments, the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry (African Descent), that were later reorganized as the 51st and 53rd U.S. Colored Infantry, respectively.
Lawrence Aylett Daffan (right, 1845-1907) is a collateral Confederate ancestor of mine, one of a few who left behind any detailed account of his wartime service. He led a remarkable life. His family moved to Texas from Conecuh County, Alabama in 1849. After his father died in July 1859, fourteen-year-old Lawrence went to work to help support his widowed mother, carrying the mails between Montgomery and Washington Counties, Texas, in 1859. Later, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, Lawrence was working as a wagoner. In the spring of 1862, shortly after his 17th birthday, he enlisted at Anderson, Texas in Company G of the Fourth Texas Infantry. He fought in the major engagements of his regiment, part of the famous Texas Brigade, including Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. It was in this last action that he received what he jokingly described as his only wartime injury, a very slight one, when a Minié ball struck his rifle and knocked him down. It was at Chickamauga, too that he witnessed the incident where John Bell Hood was wounded, that Daffan believed to be a case of friendly fire. Private Daffan was captured at Lenore Station in November 1863, during the Chattanooga Campaign, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois.
Returning to Texas in July 1865, Daffan soon found a job as a brakeman on the Houston & Texas Central Railroad. The postwar decades were boom times for the railroads in Texas, which expanded rapidly. Daffan moved his way up steadily through the company, successively serving as conductor, train master, station agent, and, from 1889, superintendent of the railroad’s Second Division.
In 1872, he married a local girl from Brenham, Mollie Day, and together they had six children, four sons and two daughters. All of their children survived to adulthood, all of them had good educations, and the eldest, Katie, became a noted author in her own right. Although he had little formal schooling himself, Lawrence Daffan valued education highly, and reportedly was an avid reader, though mostly of conventional tastes — Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and, of course, the Bible. He was active in a wide range of fraternal organizations, and especially dedicated to Confederate veterans’ activities, including the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, an effort which earned him the honorific title of “Colonel,” which he carried proudly until his death.
Lawrence Daffan was seriously injured in a train derailment near Corsicana in September 1898, losing two fingers and being severely banged up. Though he recovered, his health was much more precarious after that. He stepped down as superintendent of the H&TC’s Second Division in 1904, to become General Agent for Transportation for the entire railroad, a position he held until his death. In January 1907, at the age of sixty-one, Daffan was suddenly taken ill at his office in Ennis. Carried to his home a few blocks away, he died there that evening. Obituaries were printed in newspapers across the state, and tributes, floral arrangements and formal resolutions from groups he belonged to were published in the paper. His funeral was one of the biggest events Ennis had seen. The H&TC ran special, free trains from Denison at the northern end of the line, and Houston at the southern, to Ennis to accommodate hundreds of mourners who came to town just to pay their last respects at the funeral.
Lawrence Daffan as Superintendent of the Second division of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad, Ennis, Texas. c. 1900. This photo, and the one at top, are from Katie Daffan’s My Father as I Remember Him.
Daffan was, by all accounts, a respected and admired member of his community — multiple communities, in fact: civic, professional and veteran. He was a self-made man in the best, 19th-century sense of the term, starting out after the Civil War as a twenty-year-old veteran with little education and few prospects, worked his way up to the top levels of his profession. He provided for his widowed mother, his siblings and his own family, saw to his children’s education, and worked for the growth and betterment of his community. He was, in almost every respect, an exemplar of 19th century success through hard work and dedication to traditional values of home, family and church.
He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
You’re all familiar with the dust-up over Paula Deen’s comments on race (admitted and alleged), and there’s no point rehashing that mess again here. But I would like to throw a little historical light on something she last year, referring to her g-g-g-grandfather, John A. Batts of Lee County, Georgia:He had lost his son, he had lost his war, he didn’t know how to deal with life with no one to help operate his plantation. . . . Between the death of his son, and losing all the workers, he went out I’m sure into the barn and he shot himself because he couldn’t deal with those kinds of changes, and they were terrific changes. . . . I feel like the South is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such an integral part in our lives. They were like our family.
Note that Deen can’t quite bring herself to use the word “slave” — they’re “workers.”
Now, a lot of white Southerners buy into this line. They insist that their ancestors had nothing to do with slavery, or if they did, their slaves “were like our family” and they were uniformly kind and benevolent masters. It’s a comforting rationalization, usually based on exactly nothing more than several generations’ worth of family lore. But as we saw with the case of Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler, the beloved stories held dear by the descendants of slaveholders are often very different from those descended from those who were enslaved.
What’s surprising about Deen’s case is that she seems to have made up this tale about her ancestor on her own, and quite recently. Because until a year or so ago, when Georgia College Professor Bob Wilson laid it out for her, Deen had no idea her ancestor had “workers.”
Wilson: The main source of wealth for Southern planters, when you see a figure like that, is gonna be in people. Deen: [Pause] Oh. Wilson: So let me show you this document here, see what it’s called right up there [at the top]. Deen: “Slave inhabitants.” John Batts. [Counting] Thirty-five. That’s a lot. I have said so many times, “well, my family was never involved in slavery, in any way. It’s horrific, and it’s sad.”
She also said, “If I could go back and talk to [John Batts], I would do everything in my power to convince him not to participate in the heinous act of slavery.”
But that was way back in 2012, and since then she’s convinced herself that Batts’ bondsmen and -women “were like our family.”
Believe me, I understand how disturbing it is to learn from a slave schedule that your g-g-g-grandfather was a slaveholder. But there’s nothing to be done about that. Deal.
There’s a whole lot more to John Batts’ story, though, and it doesn’t mesh very well with her image of a simple farmer, caught up in the turbulent time that ripped apart his “family” and deprived him of his “workers.”
John A. Batts was born in 1814 in Miller County, Georgia. He and his wife, Mary, relocated to Lee County sometime in the late 1830s, and John began to establish himself as a planter. By the late 1840s, Batts was representing Lee County on a regional committee to develop plans to build a railroad line through that part of the state to the Georgia Central Line at Macon.
Batt’s service on the railroad committee may have been his entre into the political arena. From the mid-1850s, Batts ran for or served in a variety of elected offices. In 1856 he was a Democratic nominee to serve as a justice of the Georgia Inferior Court, which position may be where his title of “Judge Batts” was earned. He served a term in the Georgia House of Representatives beginning in November 1857. In August 1860, Batts was a Democratic delegate from Lee County to the state Democratic convention at Milledgeville, in support of the nomination of John C. Breckinrdige and Joseph Lane in the presidential election that year. In the fall of 1860 Batts was elected to a seat in the State Senate. Batts was a member of the Georgia Senate when that state seceded from the Union, but was not a member of Georgia’s secession convention.
With the coming of the war, John and Mary Batts’ eldest son, William, enlisted as a Private in Co. A of the 12th Georgia Infantry. After William was killed in action at the Battle of Cedar Run on August 9, 1862, Judge Batts was obliged to swear an affidavit that his dead son left no wife or heirs, in order to claim $111.30 in bounty and back pay owed to the soldier.
Judge Batts’ affidavit and power-of-attorney, filed to collect monies owed his deceased son, William.
In August 1865 John Batts applied for a formal pardon from the administration of President Andrew Johnson. Among the seventeen classes of persons ineligible for the general pardon were former Confederate citizens worth $20,000 or more. Batts applied, his application stating that “thus tho [Batts] doubts [that] he is worth twenty thousand dollars, yet he may be worth those sum [sic.] or more.” The affidavit goes on, asserting
that he admits himself to have voluntarily participated in the late rebellion, having been honestly convinced that he was acting for the best. Thus he now insists to the Government of the United States with equal honesty – thus he has taken the oath hereto attached in good faith, & with the honest intent to keep the same, & hereafter to obey the laws & Support the Government of the United States [.] That soon after the publication of Genl Gilmore’s [sic.] order in reference to the freedom of the slaves he informed his negroes [sic.] thereof and since then he has been employing them at full & proper wages. 
John Batts had no trouble referring to his alleged “family” as his slaves; why does Paula Deen?
John Batts was not ruined financially by the war. Although he undoubtedly went through hard economic times like everyone else in the region, he had gone into the war period as a wealthy man, and remained so afterward. By the time of the U.S. Census of 1870, after a decade of war and Radical Reconstruction, John Batts still was able to list assets amounting to $18,000, $13,000 of that in land. He owned 2,250 acres, making him one of the largest landholders in Lee County. In the 20 years since the 1850 census, his real property holdings had more than doubled (up from 1,000 acres), and the amount of improved land tripled, from 350 acres in 1850 to 1,100 in 1870. In that latter year Batts’ holdings produced 1,500 bushels of corn, 300 bushels of oats, 141 bales of cotton, 300 pounds of wool and 500 bushels of sweet potatoes, with smaller amounts of other products, with an aggregate value of around $16,000.
Beyond the hard numbers collected by the census enumerator, we also have a good narrative description of Batts’ plantation. That same summer, the Weekly Sumter Republican ran a letter describing the place:
On Monday last I stopped at the plantation of Judge John Batts, where I was cordially received and well taken care of by Mr. Joseph Batts, his son, under whose able management the place is conducted, and where the general thrifty appearance of things reflect credit on his energy and superintendence. In his company I rode over considerable [part] of the plantation, and partook plentifully of the fine watermelons for which his place is noted. Of his cotton crop too much cannot be said in praise, and I venture to say there is not a finer prospect anywhere in Southwest Georgia. I saw plenty waist high, and full squares. He informed me that he expects to make on the greater portion of the place, if not on all of it, a bale to the acre. We also rode over a 60 acre field of corn, some of which I could not reach when standing on a tall horse’s back. Mr. Batts says, unless the season proves unfavorable, he expects a yield of 25 to 30 bushels to the acre. I did not go over the balance of his corn, but he assured me that all on the place was good, and he would, in all probability, make more than he needed for his own use. 
At this point, it seems, many of the day-to-day operations of the farm were being handled by John Batts’ second son, Joseph, then aged about 25. (Joseph would go on to inherit the bulk of his father’s land holdings.) Nonetheless, John Batts appears to have remained active and engaged in his community during his last years, including participation in the Smithville Grange, a sort of farmer’s promotional group. 
But then, early one Sunday morning in the spring of 1878, Judge Batts put a pistol to his right temple and pulled the trigger. According to his surviving family members, he’d been suffering from depression “for months past,” and had tried several times to kill himself by ingesting morphine. According to one account, the old judge had “had many family troubles, which had partially dethroned his reason.” He was 63 years old.
Batts’ death came thirteen years after the end of the war, thirteen years after emancipation, and seven years after the end of Reconstruction. The Redeemers, hard-line white conservative Democrats, again controlled the Georgia State Assembly and had purged its Republican, African American members. Batt’s farm – plantation, as it was still referred to – was bigger than it ever had been, and noted for its success.
Whatever torments haunted Judge Batts’ thoughts when he went out to the barn that morning in May 1878, we cannot know. I don’t know, you don’t know, and Paula Deen doesn’t know, either. It’s a personal tragedy that, at this distance, is probably impenetrable. William’s death at Cedar Run, all those years before, may well have played into John Batts’ deep and ultimately fatal depression. But beyond that, it’s speculation, without any real evidence at all. Paula Deen’s rationalization that Judge Batts’ suicide must have had something to do, fundamentally, with emancipation robbing him of his “family” is a perversion, a twisting of the story to make Batts – and by extension, herself — a victim of the end of slavery in the South. It’s selfish, and it’s shameful.
Even Judge Batts deserves better.
 Southern Recorder, May 25, 1847, 3.
 Albany, Georgia Patriot, April 3, 1856, 2.
 Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville: Stare of Georgia, 1861).
 Federal Union, August 14, 1860. 3.
 Albany, Georgia Patriot, September 22, 1859, 2; Journal of the Senate of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville: Stare of Georgia, 1857), 5.
 Batts, William. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Georgia, 12th Georgia Infantry, 1861-65 (NARA M266), National Archives.
 Batts, John. Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67 (NARA M1003), National Archives. “Genl Gilmore” is probably a reference to Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Army’s Department of the South (South Carolina, Georgia and Florida) in the first half of 1865.
 1870 U.S. Census for Lee County, Georgia; Schedule 1, Inhabitants, 12; 1870 U.S. Census for Lee County, Georgia; Schedule 3, Productions of Agriculture, 4-5; 1850 U.S. Census for Lee County, Georgia, Schedule 3, Productions of Agriculture, 147-49. At the time of the 1870 census, there were 19 landowners in Lee County, Georgia with farms amounting to 1,000 acres or more; Batts’ was more than twice that size. University of Virginia, Historical Census Browser. Retrieved July 4, 2013, Geospatial and Statistical Data Center: http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/index.html.
 Weekly Sumter Republican, July 15, 1870, 3. The writer’s impression of the overall efficiency of Batt’s farm seems to be correct, as the 1870 census suggests it had above-average production. While Batts’ 1,100 acres of improved cropland made up about 1.34% of Lee County’s total, his $16,000 in product made up about 1.58% of the county’s total agricultural production.
 Sun and Columbus Daily Enquirer, August 20, 1874, 3; Macon Telegraph and Messenger, August 18, 1874, 1
 August Weekly Sumter Republican, May 24, 1878, 3; Georgia Weekly Telegraph, May 28, 1878, 8; Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun, May 23, 1878, 3.
One of the important secondary works on the abuse and and seizure of African Americans by the Confederate Army during the Gettysburg campaign is Ted Alexander’s 2001 North & South article, “A Regular Slave Hunt: The Army of Northern Virginia and Black Civilians in the Gettysburg Campaign.” It’s a little difficult to find, but if you haven’t read it, you really should.