I’m off this bright Saturday to give a couple of presentations in Houston. The first, “Captain Dave versus the Yankees,” should be a fun one, although a little rough because it’s new material that I haven’t presented before. It’s the outgrowth of an anecdote I told in the blockade running book, about a local mariner who successfully recaptured his schooner from a Federal boarding party. (He may even have done it on two separate occasions, although affirming that requires more digging.) I met some of Captain Dave’s descendants over the summer, which has served as an impetus to dive further into his story. It should be a lot of fun.
Then in the afternoon I’ll be at the Houston History Book Fair, at the Julia Ideson Building downtown. Lots of good authors and publications there.
The image above is by Michael Codd, from Mark Lloyd’s Combat Uniforms of the Civil War. It’s supposed to depict a Confederate privateer, although apart from the revolver it would serve nicely for a blockade-running master, as well. The civilian clothes and lantern are particularly appropriate. Blockade runners generally went unarmed, although in the struggle for Sting Ray, Captain Dave did take trouble to relieve the Union officer of his pistol.
Earlier today I put up a blog post about a confrontation between members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and members of the local SCV camp in Danville, over the display of the Confederate flag there. The news story I used as a source quoted an SCV member as saying to one of the SCLC members, “go back to Africa!”
At the suggestion of a reader from Danville, I reviewed the video of the news story, and that shows clearly that the SCV member was inaccurately quoted. What he was saying was, “. . . then you need to go back to Africa and tell them to stop.” Who they are, and what they need to stop doing, I can only guess.
In any event, the news station clearly misquoted the SCV member in the written story that accompanied the video, and I failed to do due diligence in verifying their quote on the video. That’s on me, and I’m sorry. I apologize for putting up a post that was inaccurate and unduly critical. Getting it right is important, and this time I didn’t.
My new feature article on Liberty ship construction in Houston during World War II will be hitting local newsstands shortly. I’m especially honored to have it included in the new issue of Houston History Magazine (right), dedicated to the centennial of the formal opening of the Houston Ship Channel. The full article won’t be online for some months yet, but you can read the opening grafs here. Houston has never had the reputation of a major shipbuilding center, but it accomplished remarkable things during the war. Two hundred eight Liberty ships were pushed off the ways into Buffalo Bayou between 1942 and 1945. For those of you familiar with Houston geography, if placed end-to-end those ships would stretch more than seventeen statute miles, from the San Jacinto Battleground to City Hall downtown.
There are some wonderful articles in this issue, many of them supplemented by the photography of Captain Lou Vest, a Houston pilot and one of the best maritime photographers working today. (Don’t miss Steve Nelson’s photos, either.) I’d like to give special thanks to the managing editor of Houston History, Debbie Harwell, for her enthusiasm and encouragement. She’s great to work with.
Via John McKee Barr’s blog, Loathing Lincoln, a new film with a different angle in Lincoln:
Opens next Friday.
Congratulations to my fellow blogger, Jimmy Price, on the recent publication of his second book, The Battle of First Deep Bottom. From the description at History Press:On July 26, 1864, Union general Winfield Scott Hancock’s corps and three cavalry divisions under Philip H. Sheridan crossed to the north side of the James River at the Deep Bottom bridgehead. What was supposed to be a raid on Confederate railroads and possibly even a breakthrough to the Confederate capital of Richmond turned into a bloody skirmish. Richard H. Anderson’s Confederate forces prevented a Union victory, but only at a great cost. Robert E. Lee was forced to move half his army from the key fortifications at Petersburg in response. Petersburg was all the more vulnerable for Grant’s next move, the infamous Battle of the Crater. Including newly constructed maps from Steven Stanley and a foreword from fellow Civil War scholar Hampton Newsome, this title is the definitive account of an often-overlooked battle. Join author and historian James S. Price as he recounts a pivotal moment in the Petersburg Campaign and the close of the war.
This looks to be a fine addition to any library of books on the latter part of the war in the Eastern Theater. If First Deep Bottom is anywhere near as good as Jimmy’s first book on New Market Heights, readers will be in for a treat. Jimmy will be signing books at the Henrico Theatre at the November 9 screening of Glory; enjoy a good movie and get a good book (or two) at the same time!
As some of you know, the City of Danville, Virginia announced recently that it would leave in place a Confederate flag on the grounds of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History. The museum is housed in the Sutherlin Mansion that, for a week in the spring of 1865, was home to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government, after their midnight skedaddle from Richmond. This decision is naturally being heralded as a big win for Confederate Heritage™, although city’s announcement was based on a close reading of Virginia state law, not on the actual merits of the flag supporters’ case. Indeed, a Danville political blogger who attended the public hearing on Tuesday felt that the flag supporters did their cause more harm than good. One local SCV member, Glen Scearce, gave a rambling harangue that was
incoherent at best and is becoming sadly hilarious. God make this stop. He’s now talking about if Kennedy lived, the Vietnam war or something and by now I’ve clawed my eyes out. . . . This was the worst speech I’ve ever heard at a council meeting.
Another reportedly asked “if [the Danville City] council will be the next Hitler and the Nazis, rewriting history.” They do love them some Nazi analogies, those folks.
Anyway, one of the speakers was
outside agitator Virginia Flagger Barry Isenhour (above), who reportedly said that (in the blogger’s words) “Lexington has a high unemployment rate because they have ran off tourism.” That would be a compelling argument if it were true, but even a cursory look at the actual suggests it’s not.
The Virginia Flaggers have been claiming for a long while now that their boycott of Lexington, initiated shortly after the city council there voted to bar all non-official flags from city-owned display poles, has had a dramatic effect on the city’s economy. They typically latch on to some bit of bad news about business in Lexington, and proudly claim credit for it. Most recently, they were crowing about a report that in June, Lexington had the highest unemployment in the commonwealth. But as I’ve pointed out before, actual economic data shows that tourism-related business in Lexington has been on the upswing all through the Flagger boycott.
Flaggers like Isenhour, Susan Hathaway, Brandon Dorsey and others are good at tossing off anecdotal examples of Very Bad Things happening in Lexington. But anecdotes aren’t data, and economic impact is rarely (if ever) reflected in a single datum point. It’s about trends. And, contra Isenhour’s assertion about unemployment, the overall trend is quite clear:
Since peaking in 2010, more than a year before passage of the city’s flag ordinance and the beginning of the Flagger’s boycott of the town, unemployment trends for Lexington, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole have all moved steadily downward.
There are some important takeaways here. The first is that unemployment in Lexington is high, higher than both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States as a whole, and it’s inordinately seasonal, spiking consistently every summer. But these are also patterns that have been consistent for years, well before the Virginia Flaggers began their boycott campaign. Any effect that campaign has on employment statistics for Lexington doesn’t appear to move the overall trends at all. The big picture is quite clear — unemployment in Lexington, as in Virginia and the rest of the country, is getting steadily better, not worse.
As for the recent talking point that Lexington had the highest unemployment rate in the commonwealth in June, that’s true, and it’s an unfortunate designation. But it’s also not really surprising, given that Lexington has had much higher unemployment than Virginia as a whole, going back to the winter of 1999-2000, when it shot upward and has never since come back down relative to the rest of the state. Again, this is not something attributable to the Flaggers; it’s been the “normal” course of things in Lexington for well over a decade. The Flaggers won’t tell you that. What else won’t they tell? Among other things, that that horrible peak unemployment in Lexington in the summer of 2014 (11.3%) was lower than the peak in 2013 (12.4), which was lower than the peak in 2012 (12.7%), which was lower than the peak in 2011 (13.8%), which was. . . well, you get the idea.
I don’t need to belabor the point, but the data is clear that when it comes to the effectiveness of the Virginia Flaggers’ boycott of Lexington businesses, they’re not only claiming credit for something they didn’t do; they’re claiming credit for something that hasn’t even happened. I honestly don’t know if they’re too dumb or lazy to see this for themselves, or know better but assume that their audience will believe anything that sounds good for their cause. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the effect is the same.
Anyway. I’m off to San Marcos to talk about how we identified a famous Civil War blockade runner wrecked here 150 years ago next February. Y’all be good to each other while I’m gone.
Crew of U-576. Ed Caram via NOAA.
You may have seen the headlines recently about the discovery, off the North Carolina coast, of the remains of U-576 (above), a Type VIIC U-boat sunk in 1942. It’s a remarkable discovery, made more so by the fact that one of her victims, the Nicaraguan freighter Bluefields, lies on the bottom less than 300 yards away. They don’t call that area the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for nothing.
A discussion came up on SHPG about U-576, and its declared status as a “war grave” that should not be disturbed. Gary Adams started the discussion, contrasting the case of U-576 to that of H. L. Hunley, and concluding that
if it had been any other boat [than a Confederate one] they would not disturbed it. You go to jail for diving on, tonging or retrieving artifacts on the USS Cumberland or the USS Congress, like the Arizona they went down under [the U.S.] flag.
Adams has presumably forgotten about the case of U.S.S. Monitor, of which large components have been removed, including the engine and the famous revolving turret — the latter with the remains of two crewmen inside. Like the crew of Hunley, who were buried with military honors and great ceremony in Charleston in 2004, the two men from Monitor were interred at Arlington in March 2013. So yes, “they” handled the wreck of a famous Union ship in much the same way “they” did Hunley.
Adams’ citing of the case of U.S.S. Arizona is also flawed. That vessel is considered to be an inviolable war grave today, but that designation came long after her destruction in December 1941. The Navy spent months extensively salvaging what was left of the battleship, and removed all the human remains they could find for burial in a conventional cemetery ashore. The human remains there now are there only because divers could not recover them in he 1940s. It wasn’t until 1950 that what was left of the ship was designated a memorial, and the current memorial structure, designed by architect Alfred Preis, did not open until 1962. So “they” disturbed U.S.S. Arizona, too.
A salvage diver emerges from the after magazines of U.S.S. Arizona, Pearl Harbor, October 1942. U.S. Navy photo.
Still — it’s important to look at some of the reasons that H. L. Hunley and Monitor were handled differently than U-576. So I thought I’d share some insights on why there cases were dealt with differently. I know that some folks will not be persuaded, and that’s fine. But there are different circumstances that should be acknowledged.
First and foremost, by international treaty, military vessels that have not been decommissioned or sold remain the property of the governments that employed them, or their successor governments, under the “Doctrine of Succession.” It’s up to those governments to decide if and how those wrecks should be dealt with. In the case of U-576, that’s the present-day Federal Republic of Germany, which issued a statement that it “is not interested in a recovery of the remnants of the U-576 and will not participate in any such project.” Germany’s boat, Germany’s decision.
Legal claim for the wreck of H. L. Hunley, on the other hand, lies with the U.S. government, which assumed the assets of the “so-called Confederate States” under a joint resolution of Congress in 1870. and subsequently codified in June 1965 as part of 40 U.S.C. 310. Thus, Confederate shipwrecks are U.S. government property and, in most cases, assigned to the oversight of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command. United States’ boat, United States’ decision.
Under this arrangement, the Underwater Archaeology Branch reviewed, approved and participated in the recovery of both the Monitor artifacts and H. L. Hunley. They oversaw the work here on U.S.S. Westfield, and currently have oversight on the work being done on the ironclad battery C.S.S. Georgia at Savannah. This same arrangement also helps protect Confederate ships from plunder, notably the wreck of C.S.S. Alabama, which lies in French waters and was discovered in 1984, and subsequently excavated by a joint U.S./French team under international agreement.
One of Alabama’s guns, lying in French territorial waters. Image via CERES, the European underwater Research Center.
Admittedly, the Navy’s practice when it comes to wrecks where the presence for human remains is either known or presumed — which was the case for both Monitor and Hunley — has been less than absolute. The official policy provides a little discretionary leeway, saying in one place that “the United States Government does not grant [salvage] permission with respect to ships that contain the remains of deceased servicemen,” but also citing an act of Congress in the 19th century requiring “that any salvage must provide for the removal and proper burial of the remains of the crew.” As a result, the Underwater Archaeology Branch has the discretion to authorize the excavation and removal of wrecks that contain human remains, provided that there are compelling reasons to do so.
There’s no doubt in my mind that there were compelling reasons to so so in the case of H. L. Hunley. The amount of information gained about the design, construction, and operation of that unique craft since its recovery in 2000 is just phenomenal — and they’re not done yet. More important, though, by the mid-1990s the wreck itself had become extremely vulnerable to plundering. The boat was buried under several feet of sand, but at a depth of only 30 feet or so, within easy reach of any amateur diver. Worse still, numerous private individuals and groups, including treasure hunter E. Lee Spence and adventure novelist Clive Cussler’s group NUMA, either claimed to have found the boat or were actively looking for it. There’s no question that H. L. Hunley would be found and disturbed; it was simply a matter of when, and by whom.
The case for recovery of elements of U.S.S. Monitor was more controversial in the underwater archaeology community, not because of the prospect of disturbing human remains — sixteen men were lost when she sank on the night of December 31, 1862 — but because of the enormous amount of resources it would consume. The money would be better spent, they argued, on other projects, where more original knowledge might be gained; by contrast, many of the original drawings used to build Monitor still survive. Others countered that, well-documented or not, Monitor was both a unique vessel and of fundamental importance in the progression of maritime and naval technology, one of just a handful of genuinely ground-breaking vessels in history. Furthermore, they argued, Monitor was rapidly deteriorating on the sea floor, large sections of her hull having collapsed in the years since her discovery in 1974. In the end, the pro-recovery argument won out, with the ship’s engine being lifted in 2001 and the 120-ton turret the following year.
Illustration distributed by the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary to show the deterioration of the Monitor wreck site.
The big-picture takeaway here is every shipwreck is different in terms of their historical value, their vulnerability to destruction, and their prominence in society’s collective conscience. As a practical result, they end up getting treated differently. I think that’s probably the right approach, although I know others will disagree. And that’s fine, too.
Clearly, my own politically-correct education is lacking:
what became known as the u-boat was actually the second generation submarine plans snuck out of dixie just after the fall of richmond….hitler knew that the confederacy is illegally occupied and knew the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and my grandfather (the inventer of the jet fighter) in 1937 went to germany after the u.s turned his jet fighter idea down because it was “crazy and too stupid to work” and he met with hitler and shown the nazi high command his jet fighter prototype and test flew it and they bought it and the plans on the spot and in exchange my grandfather only asked for the recognition of the confederacy and military aid to liberate the confederacy which was agreed to….and only after war was declared on the u.s a u-boat was sent to north carolina where they were to meet with southerners who would be leading the liberation of the confederacy….but the sub never showed up
I had no idea. I really did not.
Via Michael Lynch, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea is coming soon to the big screen:
In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the whale ship Essex, one of the most harrowing tales of survival at sea every recorded.
At least for me. I’ve mentioned before how a relative of mine in the Fourth Texas Infantry, Lawrence Daffan, witnessed the wounding of General Hood at Chickamauga, and was sure that Hood had been hit by fire from other Confederate troops. Daffan wrote:
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.
Emphasis added. I’d never understood why the “new, standard uniforms” of the Texas Brigade would have caused such confusion, even for the ill-equipped Confederate troops in the Western Theater. Now, I find this in a discussion of the issue of new uniforms to Longstreet’s corps shortly before the battle:
Longstreet’s troops had recently been newly uniformed, consisting of a dark-blue round jacket, closely fitting, with light-blue trousers, which made a line of Confederates resemble that of the enemy, the only difference being the “cut” of the garments—the Federals wearing a loose blouse instead of a tight-fitting jacket. The uniforms of the Eastern troops made quite a contrast with the tattered and torn homemade jeans of their Western brethren.
The Texas Brigade was fired on by other Confederates because they were wearing blue uniforms. Simple as that.