The nice folks over at SHPG often have trouble mangling quotes (or misappropriating them), but this is spectacular:
Who knew that James Baldwin, who died in 1987, had written about the Civil War sesquicentennial of 2011-15?
Adams’ and Stones’ quotation is an amalgam of two paragraphs, lifted en bloc from a 2010 essay by David Blight. The first part of the quote actually is Baldwin’s, from a 1951 essay in which he describes Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, as “the most powerful and celebrated statement we have yet had of what it means to be a Negro in America.” Baldwin was not referring to the Civil War at all, but about Wright’s novel, and offering a critique of the American habit of using patriotic tropes and clichés to paper over the uglier realities — social, political, racial — that underlie so much of the American experience. Note also that Baldwin’s original passage includes the key adverb “unhappily,” that makes his disapproval perfectly clear, and which Adams and Stones omit:
The feeling which prevailed at the time of [the book's] publication was that such a novel, bitter, uncompromising, shocking, gave proof, by its very existence, of what strides might be taken in a free democracy; and its indisputable success, proof that Americans were now able to look full in the face without flinching the dreadful fact. Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle.
In short, Baldwin is criticizing exactly what “heritage” groups do every day of the week.
The second part, beginning “we should decorate our battlefield heroes. . . ,” are the words of David Blight, the Yale historian who’s written extensively on the legacy of the war, and how it’s been remembered by different generations since 1865. Rounding out his essay with the Baldwin quote, he continues and calls on Americans to put aside convoluted and abstract notions about what caused the war:We should decorate our battlefield heroes, and we have been doing so for a century and a half. We can only wonder whether this time, during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we can finally face the past and probe the real causes and consequences of that conflict, or whether we will content ourselves again with unexamined moral contradictions and piquant confections in our public memory.
Adams and Stone run these two passages together, attributing the whole thing to Baldwin, then omit Blight’s closing lines, where he rejects the appeal of “piquant confections” and instead calls on Americans to embrace the candor of former Confederate General John Singleton Mosby, who wrote in 1907,Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance – Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her Secession proclamation – because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding.
To be fair, Blight also left out that critical word “unhappily” from Baldwin’s quote, but — unlike Adams and Stone — he didn’t misunderstand or misrepresent Baldwin’s meaning.
Aside from the gross sloppiness of running Baldwin’s and Blight’s quotes together as one, the lack of comprehension about what either man is saying is just breathtaking, as if either one had any truck with the sort of nonsense Confederate Heritage™ groups have been peddling all these years. Adams and Stones either have no idea who James Baldwin was, or (at least) cynically assume their readers don’t. And that’s probably not a bad bet, if you think about it.
Of course, James Baldwin’s legacy is secure, no matter how his words get chopped and mangled to others’ ends. Among his other attributes, Baldwin had a wicked sense of irony. Somewhere, John and Gary, he’s laughing. And he’s not laughing with you.
As Union forces gradually moved deeper into Confederate territory, they increasingly had to adjust to the reality that they were in among a civilian population that remained loyal to Richmond. In his memoirs, Grant described his experience of this at Memphis in mid-1862:
My occupation of Memphis as district headquarters did not last long. The period, however, was marked by a few incidents which were novel to me. Up to that time I had not occupied any place in the South where the citizens were at home in any great numbers. Dover was within the fortifications at Fort Donelson, and, as far as I remember, every citizen was gone. There were no people living at Pittsburg Landing [Shiloh], and but very few at Corinth. Memphis, however, was a populous city, and there were many of the citizens remaining there who were not only thoroughly impressed with the justice of their cause, but who thought that even the “Yankee soldiery” must entertain the same views if they could only be induced to make an honest confession.
Such considerations were compounded by the fact that, very often, large Confederate units were operating the same general area. A few months after Grant’s experience with the citizens of Memphis, his old friend Bill Sherman got his own lesson in the crafty ways of the enemy — though he was later able to look back on it with good humor:
When we rode to Oxford from College Hill, there happened a little circumstance which seems worthy of record. While [Confederate] General Van Dorn had his headquarters in Holly Springs, viz., in October, 1862, he was very short of the com- forts and luxuries of life, and resorted to every possible device to draw from the abundant supplies in Memphis. He had no difficulty whatever in getting spies into the town for information, but he had trouble in getting bulky supplies out through our guards, though sometimes I connived at his supplies of cigars, liquors, boots, gloves, etc., for his individual use ; but medicines and large supplies of all kinds were confiscated, if attempted to be passed out. As we rode that morning toward Oxford, I observed in a farmer’s barn-yard a wagon that looked like a city furniture-wagon with springs. We were always short of wagons, so I called the attention of the quartermaster. Colonel J. Condit Smith, saying, “There is a good wagon; go for it.” He dropped out of the retinue with an orderly, and after we had ridden a mile or so he overtook us, and I asked him, “What luck ?” He answered, “All right ; I have secured that wagon, and I also got another,” and explained that he had gone to the farmer’s house to inquire about the furniture-wagon, when the farmer said it did not belong to him, but to some party in Memphis, adding that in his barn was another belonging to the same party. They went to the barn, and there found a handsome city hearse, with pall and plumes The farmer said they had had a big funeral out of Memphis, but when it reached his house, the coffin was found to contain a fine assortment of medicines for the use of Van Dorn’s army. Thus under the pretense of a first-class funeral, they had carried through our guards the very things we had tried to prevent. It was a good trick, but diminished our respect for such pageants afterward.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the Virginia Flaggers for my previous blog post, “Welcome to Crackertown (formerly Richmond, Virginia)!” That post was based on an erroneous assumption on my part, specifically that the I-95 flag would be viewed by many thousands of drivers on the freeway daily, a bold, unmistakable, scarlet landmark visible for miles around. What I didn’t fully understand was that the plan all along was to put up a 50-foot flagpole in a clearing completely surrounded by 60- and 70-foot trees — including between the flagpole and the freeway:
Ostensibly the purpose of the flag is to welcome visitors to Richmond driving north on I-95. But just 100 yards away — that’s about 3 seconds at highway speeds — the flag will not be clearly visible to drivers because of the trees. Here’s the drivers’ perspective, via Google Streetview:
Once you get directly abreast of it, this is the view from the northbound lanes of I-95:
Even the photographer from the Richmond Times-Dispatch had to get up on the Old Bermuda Hundred overpass to get a shot of it, through the trees:
The Times-Dispatch on Sunday, in an article titled, “Confederate flag difficult to see along I-95 in Chesterfield,” has this to say
A large and contentious Confederate battle flag raised Saturday next to Interstate 95 near Chester is largely obscured by trees bordering the highway. . . . Interstate 95 is the most heavily traveled highway on the U.S. East Coast, but tall trees along the road’s shoulder make the flag difficult to see for northbound traffic and, with the Old Bermuda Hundred overpass, nearly impossible for southbound.
The good news, of course, is that the nearly-hidden nature of the flag will protect it from would-be vandals, who will have difficulty finding it.
So please, Virginia Flaggers, accept this apology for my accusation that the I-95 flag would be seen as a bold, brash symbol that many view as one of divisiveness and bigotry. I was completely wrong about the “being seen” part, because it doesn’t look like that many people are going to see it at all.
So we’re cool now, right?
This post was updated Sunday, September 29 to reflect the corrected view of the site from the highway.
In April 2010, the conservative commentator Pat Buchanan penned an essay called, “The New Intolerance.” The piece was subsequently re-blogged by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who posted it under the headline, “Buchanan Exposes Yankee Terrorists.” Buchanan’s essay was part of the kerfuffle over Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration of Confederate History Month, the text of which was drafted for his office by the SCV, and omitted any mention of slavery at all. McDonnell subsequently reissued a revised proclamation, and in 2011 established a broader statewide commemoration, “Civil War History in Virginia Month.“
Buchanan’s essay revolves around the oft-made claim that “Virginia did not secede in defense of slavery.” He continues:
When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, March 4, 1861, Virginia was still in the Union. Only South Carolina, Georgia and the five Gulf states had seceded and created the Confederate States of America. . . . But, on April 15, Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers from the state militias to march south and crush the new Confederacy. Two days later, April 17, Virginia seceded rather than provide soldiers or militia to participate in a war on their brethren. North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas followed Virginia out over the same issue. They would not be a party to a war on their kinfolk.
Buchanan doesn’t bother to explain why Mississippi or Texas should be considered to be Virginians’ “kinfolk,” in a way that much closer states — say, Pennsylvania or Ohio, with which Virginia shared a common border in 1861 — were not. Fortunately, those who wrote Virginia’s ordinance of secession said explicitly what they had in common, citing “oppression of the Southern slaveholding States” as part of the justification for its actions:
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.
Virginia was not a fire-eating state that led the way on secession. But when the chips were down, the Commonwealth recognized slaveholding as the common bond that (1) defined the seceded states, (2) held Virginia to South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and those other states that seceded earlier, and (3) was deemed stronger and more vital to Virginia’s interest than its bond to the Union.
Does that count as ” seceding in defense of slavery?” Maybe. But it certainly counts as seceding in the defense of the defense of slavery.
___________Image: Virginia regimental flag, via Encyclopedia Virginia.
On Thursday, October 17 at 6:30 p.m., I’ll be speaking at the Brazoria County Historical Museum on the fight between U.S.S. Hatteras and the famous Confederate raider Alabama, as well as the NOAA-led project to map the remains of the Union warship in 2012. Hatteras holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only Union warship sunk in action in the Gulf of Mexico, and her destruction had (as Ed Cotham and I described earlier this year in the Civil War Monitor) a profound effect on the subsequent history of the Civil War in Texas. Come out on the 17th and I’ll explain exactly why that is.
My talk is being done as part of the BCHM’s annual programming for Texas Archaeology Awareness Month. They have some other great programming lined up, as well:
Thursday, October 3rd at 6:30pm: Alamo Artillery: Ampudia and a Real Cannon. Dr. Gregg Dimmick will work to convince the audience, through historical data, that the brass cannon currently on loan to the Alamo from San Jacinto Battleground was actually at the Alamo in March of 1836. Thursday, October 10th at 6:30: Prehistoric Appetites. Jack Johnson will explore the life of prehistoric hunter gathers as it relates to weapons, edible plants, processing and cooking techniques. Artifacts and demonstrations will help bring to life the realities of our prehistoric ancestors. Thursday, October 24th at 6:30pm: Discovering the Bernardo Plantation. Charlie Gordy will reveal the latest excavation discoveries made at Bernardo Plantation, former home of Jared E. Groce and site of the Texas Revolution encampment of the Texian Army before the Battle of San Jacinto.
There’s one other talk coming up soon at BCHM, that I would recommend:
Tuesday, October 1st at 6:30pm: Rhiannon Meyers presents “Infinite Monster.” Author Rhiannon Meyers will share an in-depth look at the stories of one of America’s largest hurricanes, Hurricane Ike, through the voices of those who lived it: grief-stricken families, heroic helicopter pilots, courageous survivors, and more.
Infinite Monster by Leigh Jones and Rhiannon Meyers, both reporters for the Galveston County Daily News at the time, is the best re-telling of the story of Hurricane Ike I’ve read. Having gone through Ike (five years ago this month), It’s not a happy subject, but this book is really worth your time.
The account of Chickamauga by Private Lawrence Daffan, Company G, 4th Texas Infantry:
On my return from Fredericksburg to the camp at Port Royal, I asked General J. B. Robertson and the Captain of my company for permission to stop for a week or ten days at my uncles’ homes, two of them, which were about twelve miles east of Fredericksburg. They granted this request. . . . One warm September evening we saw the dust rising down the main road, and we slipped around to see what it was. We went through the corn and his to see what was coming. The army was moving. The first brigade was Benning’s, of Georgia; the second was Law’s, of Alabama; and the third was Hood’s Texas Brigade, my brigade. I saw the Fifth Texas pass, then came the Fourth, my regiment, and I wondered where they were going. In a few days I found I had been left in Virginia, for my brigade had gone to Georgia. In a few days I became “homesick,” as it were, to be with my company, but how to reach them was a problem. Having some idea of military affairs, though a boy of eighteen, I proceeded at once to Richmond to report to the provost marshal. He understood my condition at once, and gave an order for transportation and rations to a point in Georgia, I believe Resaca, where I expected to find the brigade. I reached there on Friday, September 18, 1863, just in time to join them in the battle on Sunday at Chickamauga. I received my only injury during the war at Chickamauga; a ball struck my gun between the rammer and the barrel, shivering the stock and knocking me down. This was at the cabin [Viniard?] in front of Longstreet’s Corps, Saturday evening, September 19, 1863. Our men made a gallant charge on the Federals and there were two lines of battle of Federals. We received a terrible volley of musketry there – the most terrible during the war. If they, the Federals, had shot low, it seems to me we would all have been killed. From six to thirty feet on the timber showed the effects of this terrible volley of musketry. I think ten of my company were killed at Chickamauga and thirty or forty wounded. Nearly all killed were shot in the breast or head, which indicated excited and high shooting by the Federals. We took their position, but did not press them further that evening. I was on picket Saturday night; the lines changed somewhat during the night. As well as I can know, we were fronting west Saturday evening, and changed out front to north Sunday morning. In the charge Sunday morning we captured a battery, driving the enemy back, and here general Hood was wounded. I am satisfied that General Hood was wounded by his own men, Confederates off to our left. I think they were Florida troops. They mistook us on account of our neat, new standard uniform. They took us for Federals, as Bragg’s army had never seen a well-uniformed Confederate regiment. The couriers were sent to these troops telling them to cease firing, and to explain the situation. Were we in this battle, supporting the Western army, under Bragg. Hood wounded at Chickamauga. Illustrated London News, December 26, 1863. I saw General Hood wounded, and saw the men wrap him and carry him away in a blanket. I rushed up and pulled the blanket open to be sure that it was General Hood; the officer in charge of the litter corps spoke very rough to me about this, saying, “yes, it is General Hood; say nothing about it.” This was all under fire. These places all have special names now, but I give my account as a boy soldier.
Small stories that may not warrant posts of their own:
- The contentious Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Memphis was vandalized this week. Whatever one feels about that monument, vandalism is a crime, dumbasses.
- The original Medal of Honor issued to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was found and returned to the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick.
- The City Council in Selma, Alabama recently voted to offer the one-acre plot known as Confederate Circle to the local UDC for $60,000. The UDC claims to own it, but neither side can clearly document title to the property. The local UDC head, Pat Godwin, sounded a little dismissive when she said, “I see no reason why the UDC should purchase the property when we already own it.” Uh, maybe. I think the UDC needs to find a more affirmative response than that, because the city is moving on it.
- The Los Angeles Review of Books had a profile of Dixie Outfitters the other day. For a guy who’s made a fortune selling history-themed apparel, Dewey Barber sure does deflect a lot of questions about history.
- The Bullock Texas State History Museum recently put on exhibit the battle flag of the Third Texas Infantry (above), that served in South Texas before joining Walker’s Texas Division in 1864. Their only major action was the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry, which was the combat shown in flashback at the beginning of the Spielberg Lincoln film last year. The flag is unusual, being red stripes on a blue field. It was reportedly made in Cuba and brought in through the Union blockade.
- I’m reading Cecil Brown’s Stagolee Shot Billy, about the famous ballad. Everybody’s heard Lloyd Price’s famous version, but I bet you haven’t heard the version recorded for play on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand show — it’s so cleaned up, it makes no damn sense at all.
- James Reston, Jr. has a new book coming out that argues that when Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK in Dallas 50 years ago, he was actually aiming for Texas Governor John Connally. I don’t think much of most assassination conspiracy theories, which are usually too convoluted to seem plausible, but Reston’s theory — not about who shot the president, but why — seems at least worth considering.
- Confederate reenactors, beware! Among you there are infiltrators, “false flaggers” (get it?) who are being paid to subvert the hobby with political correctness and anti-Southron sentiment. Or so says this person.
- Over at To the Sound of the Guns, Craig Swain continues to do definitive and original blogging on events at Charleston during the war, tied to the sesquicentennial. Bloggers will know the discipline and focus required for a sustained effort like that. This week, Craig shared the story of one of the most historic photographs of the war. It’s not much to look at, and you may not have paid much attention to it before, but it’s absolutely worth your time.
- John McClain, the dean of Houston sportswriters, makes a compelling case that Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. He’s right, but the whole idea makes Houston Oiler fans queasy.
Got any more? Put ‘em in the comments below.
One of the common criticisms of the Lincoln administration during the Civil War is its efforts against members of the press and publishers who, in its view, were actively working to undermine the Union war effort. It helps to keep in mind, though, that pursuit and intimidation of the press by government or military authorities was nothing new in the 1860s, nor was was it confined to the perfidious Yankees. The conflict between the press, and those in authority, goes back as far as notions of the press being an independent of government, and of government needing support of the public — thus the incentive to try and exert control over the press. Those in authority will always seek to influence how they’re projected in the media, and sometimes this takes the form of raw intimidation.
I was reminded of this in re-reading Tom Chaffin’s 2008 book, The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy. Chaffin picks up this thread in mid-October 1863, after the submarine sank for the second time in training, on this occasion taking her entire crew (including her namesake, Horace L. Hunley) to the bottom of the Cooper River, in front of scores of onlookers both afloat and on shore:
This latest submarine boat disaster was hardly a secret in and around Charleston. But the city’s two major newspapers, acting with the same self-censorship they had exercised after the boat’s initial sinking, avoided any immediate mention of the Hunley. By now, local editors were well aware of the sort of published revelations that were likely to win them a reprimand from local military officials. Indeed, on October 18, three days after the Hunley’s second sinking, the Augusta (Georgia) Daily Constitutionalist published a revealing and disparaging story, by a correspondent identified only as “W,” on torpedo and submarine boats. The story implicitly referred to the Hunley’s recent mishap. “These crafts,” W concluded, “have been more injurious to our people than to the enemy, and thus far have proved to be a humbug.” The following day, Beauregard–exercising the sort of “boldness,” so admired by General Grant, by which the Confederate military “silenced all opposition and all croaking”-ordered his chief of staff, [Brigadier General Thomas] Jordan, to write a letter to the Constitutionalist’s editor. Jordan’s missive complained about the offending story’s comments on the “Submarine Torpedo Boat,” as well as its references to new changes in the armaments at Fort Sumter. Such information, Jordan wrote, “is surely of benefit to the enemy, and it has been particularly the wish of the Commanding General that this matter be kept from their knowledge.” Jordan then came to the intent of his letter-brute press intimidation. “In view of these facts, he [Beauregard] trusts that you will have no objection to furnish him with the name of your correspondent ‘W’ and at the same time, he must request that you will in [the] future abstain from publishing any thing [sic] the knowledge of which would possibly be of the least service to the enemy.”
Whether it’s 1863 or 2013, a free press is always the bane of those in power. Always.
____________Image: The Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, by Conrad Wise Chapman. Via the Museum of the Confederacy.
The Fall 2013 issue of the Civil War Monitor made its online debut today, and it’s a good one. This issue includes:
- “Destination: Chickamauga,” by Sam Elliott and David A. Powell, a traveler’s guide to the must-see spots around that Georgia battlefield and in surrounding communities.
- “Napoleon Perkins Loses His Leg,” by Megan Kate Nelson, chronicling one soldier’s experience of being maimed on the battlefield.
- “Ironclads in Action,” one of the earliest examples of combat photography (taken 150 years ago Sunday!), by Bob Zeller of the Center for Civil War Photography.
- “Henry Lord Page King,” a profile of a Confederate staff officer killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Stephen Berry.
- “Sherman’s Mississippi Raid” by Clay Mountcastle, an account of Kerosene Billy’s operations early 1864 that convinced him of the feasibility of what would later become known as the “March to the Sea.”
- “Why I Fight” by Matt Dellinger, with photos by Jonathan Kozowyk, profiling a dedicated Zouave reenactor.
- “An Act of War,” a collection of Jonathan Kozowyk’s portraits of Civil War reenactors.
- “The Puritan and the Cavalier” by Jeffery D. Wert, exploring the unlikely friendship between Stonewall Jackson and J. E. B. Stuart.
- “Hell Hath No Fury,” by Caroline E. Janney, documenting the role that women played in keeping wartime passions alive in the decades after the war, even as the veterans themselves settled into reconcilliation.
- “Memoirs: The Ultimate Confederate Primary Sources,” an appreciation of postwar autobiographies by Robert K. Krick.
Good stuff, all of it. The Fall 2013 issue of the Civil War Monitor should be appearing on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes soon. Considering a subscription? Click here.
Updated renders of a digital model of U.S.S. Hatteras, a Union warship sunk in battle with the Confederate raider C.S.S. Alabama on January 11, 1863. This model replaces an earlier version that, while similar in general configuration, I now believe to be wrong in several respects. This model, which is about 75% new, is based on a detailed drawing of Hatteras‘ sister ship, the Morgan Line steamer Harlan (see that set), in the Bayou Bend Collection. Thanks to my colleague Ed Cotham for locating the Harlan image and sharing it with me. As always, full-resolution images available on Flickr.