Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2014

[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
Major-General Granger
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.

Exactly right.

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The White Lies of Paula Deen

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on July 5, 2013

Deen

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.[1]

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.[2] He served a term in the Georgia House of Representatives beginning in November 1857.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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WilliamBattsAffidavit
Judge Batts’ affidavit and power-of-attorney, filed to collect monies owed his deceased son, William.

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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

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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. [7]

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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.[8]

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:

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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. [9]

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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. [10]

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.[11]

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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.


[1] Southern Recorder, May 25, 1847, 3.

[2] Albany, Georgia Patriot, April 3, 1856, 2.

[3] Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville: Stare of Georgia, 1861).

[4] Federal Union, August 14, 1860. 3.

[5] Albany, Georgia Patriot, September 22, 1859, 2; Journal of the Senate of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville: Stare of Georgia, 1857), 5.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] Sun and Columbus Daily Enquirer, August 20, 1874, 3; Macon Telegraph and Messenger, August 18, 1874, 1

[11] August Weekly Sumter Republican, May 24, 1878, 3; Georgia Weekly Telegraph, May 28, 1878, 8; Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun, May 23, 1878, 3.

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GeneralStarsGray

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2013

[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
Major-General Granger
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.

Exactly right.

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The (Very) Posthumous Enlistment of “Private” Clark Lee

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 14, 2013

ClarkLeeKevin and Brooks have been all over the Georgia Civil War Commission, and particularly of its handling of the case of Clark Lee, “Chickamauga’s Black Confederate Soldier.” I won’t rehash all of that, but there are a few points to add.

First, kudos to Eric Jacobson, who noticed that the modern painting of Lee used by the commission on its marker (right) is almost laughably tailored to affirm Lee’s status as a soldier, including the military coat with trim and brass buttons, rifle, cartridge box belt, military-issue “CS” belt buckle, and revolver, all backed by a Confederate Battle Flag — even though the Army of the Tennessee didn’t adopt that flag until the appointment of General Joseph E. Johnston, well after the Battle of Chickamauga.

It’s probably also worth noting that the man in the painting looks a lot older than 15, the age the Georgia Civil War Commission says Lee was at the time of the battle.

As it turns out, several weeks ago the SCV and other heritage folks installed and dedicated a new headstone for Lee, explicitly (and posthumously) giving him the military rank of Private. The stone also states that Lee “fought at” Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, the Atlanta Campaign, and a host of other engagements by the Army of Tennessee. These are very specific claims, so it’s worth asking what the specific evidence for them is.

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Service
E. Raymond Evans (center, with umbrella), author of The Life and Times of Clark Lee: Chickamauga’s Black Confederate Soldier, speaking at an SCV memorial service for Clark Lee in April 2013. From here.

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As is so often the case, there doesn’t appear to be any contemporary (1861-65) record of Lee’s service. There is no compiled service record (CSR) for him at the National Archives. Presumably the historical marker, the headstone, and a recent privately-published work on Clark Lee are all based on his 1921 application for a pension from the State of Tennessee, where he had moved in the years after the war. You can read Lee’s complete pension application here (29MB PDF). I cannot find a word in it that mentions or describes Clark Lee’s service under arms, or in combat. There is a general description of Lee’s wartime activities, but it’s quite different from what the Georgia Civil War Commission wants the rest of us to understand about him. I’ve put it below the jump because of some of the unpleasant themes expressed.

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Free Access to Confederate Records on Fold3 in April

Posted in Genealogy by Andy Hall on April 3, 2013

Fold3The commercial subscription service, Fold3, is providing free access to Confederate records for the month of April in recognition of Confederate History Month. It’s a good opportunity to become familiar with the resources available, particularly compiled service records (CSRs) of individual soldiers. Have at it.

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GeneralStarsGray

Third Assistant Engineer William Francis Law, U. S. Navy

Posted in Genealogy by Andy Hall on February 2, 2013

Will Law SmallThe other day, when I was poking around the web for images to go with my post on the H. L. Hunley spar, I came across this image (right) of a U.S. Navy engineer officer. My immediate reaction was, that’s a kid dressed up in somebody’s uniform. But it’s not; the notation on the back of the CDV reads, “Uncle Will Law as a Naval Officer Civil War.” Uncle Will was Third Assistant Engineer William Francis Law, appointed in November 1861. Law died on September 24, 1863 of unstated causes.

I’ve been able to find very little about Law in readily-available sources. The second image in the auction lot is a photograph of U.S.S. New Ironsides, that served off Charleston; written on the back of that card, in the same hand, is the note “Uncle Will Law’s ship Civil War.” According to Porter’s Naval History of the Civil War, Law was serving aboard U.S.S. Pinola at the capture of New Orleans in April 1862, and was still part of her complement the following January 1, as part of Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron. It seems he turns up exactly once in the ORN, a one-sentence mention in a routine report from Commander James Alden to Farragut on September 14, 1862: “Mr. Law succeeded in repairing the Pinola by making a new stem to her Kingston valve.”

About Law’s civilian life, I’ve been able to find even less. He is almost certainly the William F. Law, age 17, who was the eldest child of Benedict and Anna C. Law of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, just west of Harrisburg, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census. He graduated from the Carlisle Boy’s High School in 1858 and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer of June 28, 1861,  graduated from the Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, specializing in road building.  Polytechnic was one of only a handful of universities in the United States at that time that offered engineering degrees, and Law’s academic background may have set him a little apart from his fellow engineers. Seagoing engineers in that day, both in the Navy and in the merchant service, were more commonly men with practical experience on shore in machine shops, foundries or similar trades.

I haven’t been able to confirm Law’s service aboard U.S.S. New Ironsides, as indicated on the back of the auction house photo; his name does not appear on these lists of ship’s officers transcribed from the National Archives. If he did serve aboard that ship in the summer of 1863, he saw a tremendous amount of action off Charleston.

One final note — in his undated portrait, taken at the Bogardus studio on Broadway in New York, Third Assistant Law looks to be wearing a gold-braided hat borrowed from a much more senior engineering officer. Maybe the sword, too. Gotta look good for the folks back in Carlisle, I suppose.

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Private Kirkland, Battery D, First Missouri Light Artillery

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on January 4, 2013
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A postwar image of part of Wilson’s Creek Battlefield, believed to be the cornfield behind the Ray family springhouse. Image via Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield; WICR 31376.

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Like probably a lot of people, I was surprised by the scene in Lincoln where Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln’s modiste and confidante, says to the president, “as for me: my son died, fighting for the Union, wearing the Union blue. For freedom he died. I’m his mother. That’s what I am to the nation, Mr. Lincoln. What else must I be?”

I was unaware that Keckley’s son had died as a Union soldier, but it’s true — at Wilson’s Creek, in 1861. Over at The Sable Arm, Jimmy Price has the details.

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A Boy Named Quarantine

Posted in Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on November 7, 2012

One of the interesting things about doing original research and putting it out there for the public — either on a blog, or in longer, more tangible form as a book — is hearing from folks who have stories or documents or information you never knew about. It can be a little frustrating, too, especially when that new information is something you could have used when you were writing, but hey — that’s what second editions are for, amiright?

My friend and fellow blogger, Jim Schmidt, has been researching the history of yellow fever epidemics in the Civil War era for a while now, and the subject figures prominently in his recent (and highly recommended) book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom. So imagine Jim’s surprise to get an e-mail from a reader telling the story of a Galvestonian with the improbable name of Quarantine B. Schmidt.

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Did Jefferson Davis’ Son Serve in the U.S. Navy?

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on October 14, 2012

Slave quarters on Jefferson Davis’ plantation, Library of Congress.
 

Did Jeff Davis’ son by an enslaved woman serve in the U.S. Navy on the Mississippi?

Over at Civil War Talk we had a discussion over this item that appeared, almost word-for-word, in numerous Northern newspapers beginning in February 1864:

 
The London Star of January 15th says a letter from a gentleman occupying a high position in the United States, contains the following story: This reminds me says the writer, that Jeff. Davis’ son, by his slave girl Catherine, was in the Federal service on board of one of our gunboats, in the Mississippi, for several months—a likely mulatto. Among the letters of Jeff, taken at his house by our Illinois troops, there was a batch of quarrelsome epistles between Jeff. and Mrs Davis, touching his flame Catherine. Mrs. Davis upbraided her husband bitterly. I have this story from one of the highest officers in the squadron, who had the negro Jeff. on board his gunboat, and who himself read the letters and suppressed them.
 

It sounds exactly like the sort of scurrilous accusation that Northern readers would want to hear about Jeff Davis, like the story the following year about his being captured by Federal troops while wearing a dress. It has the ring of tabloid-y trash, and it’s easy to dismiss on that account.

However, there’s another, longer story from the Bedford, Indiana Independent of July 13, 1864 (p. 2, cols. 3 and 4) that, while differing in several details, largely supports the claim in the London Star, and provides substantial corroborative detail:

 
Jeff. Davis and His Mulatto Children — Abolitionists are constantly accused in copperhead papers of trying to bring about an amalgamation of whites and blacks; but those papers are very careful to conceal from their readers, as far as possible, such facts as those related in the following extract of a letter from an officer in the Army to a Senator in Washington:
 
“While at Vicksburg, I resided opposite a house belonging to a negro [sic.] man who once belonged to Joe Davis, a brother of Jeff. Learning this, I happened one day to think that he perhaps would know something about the true story told in the London Times, that there was a son of Jeff. Davis, the mother of whom was a slave woman, in our navy. The next time I met the man I asked him if he had ever known Maria, who had belonged to Jeff. Davis, and was the mother of some of his children? He replied that he had not known Maria, but that he knew his Massa Joe Davis’ Eliza, who was the mother of some of Massa Jeff’s children. I then inquired if she had a son in the navy? He replied that she had — he knew him — they called him Purser Davis. He said that Eliza was down the river some thirty miles, at work on a plantation. The next day, as I was walking down the street, I met the man, who was driving his mule team, and he stopped to tell me that Eliza had returned. A few moments afterwards he came back, and pointing to one of two women who came walking along, he said she was the one of whom we had been talking. When she came up, I stopped her, and inquired whether she had not a son who would like to go North. She replied yes and added that she would like to go too. I told her that I only wanted a lad. She said that her son had gone up the Red River on board the gunboat Carondelet, but when he returned she would be pleased to have him go. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘some say that Jeff. Davis is your son’s father — do you suppose it’s so?’ ‘Suppose,’ she cried with offended pride, ‘I’s no right to suppose what I knows — am certain so. Massa Jeff. was the father of five of my children, but they are all dead but that boy, and then I had two that he wasn’t the father of. There’s no suppose about it.’ Perhaps if the boy gets back safe on the Carondelet, you may see him in Boston some of these days.”
 

Here’s where it gets interesting. The correspondent recorded the young Carondelet sailor’s name he was told as “Purser Davis.” There was, in fact, not a Purser Davis, but a Percy Davis in the crew of U.S.S. Carondelet at that very moment. According the NPS Soldiers and Sailors System, a fourteen-year-old named Percy Davis was enrolled for a term of one year as a First Class Boy on the ship at Palmyra, Mississippi on November 16, 1863 — almost exactly two months before the original news item appeared in London. He remained on board Carondelet at least through the muster dated January 1, 1865. Davis is described as being mulatto in complexion, and five-foot-one. Percy Davis gave his birthplace as Warren County, Mississippi — the county of Vicksburg, and where both Jefferson Davis and Joseph E. Davis were major slaveholders, with 113 and 365 slaves respectively at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census.

Does this prove the original story is true? No, but it does add considerable additional detail, some of which is corroborated. The first news item is vague, without any specifics, but the second is detailed and at least partly verifiable. There’s enough here that the claim of Davis’ natural son having served aboard a Union gunboat cannot, in my view, be dismissed out-of-hand as Civil War tabloid trash. The possibility of its truth merits further digging.

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1940 Census Update

Posted in Genealogy by Andy Hall on July 30, 2012

A couple of months ago I predicted that Ancestry was going to take a very long time indexing the newly-released 1940 U.S. Census, which allows users to search for individuals by name. Searching a specific address was already possible, but that’s only useful if you have a good idea of where they lived at the time.

Anyway, Ancestry is making rapid progress, now having indexed some 38 states and territories, including New York, California, Ohio, Georgia and the District of Columbia.

As someone who uses Ancestry all the time, and mostly not for personal genealogy work, color me impressed.

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