Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

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

Anticipating Lincoln

Posted in African Americans, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on October 23, 2012

On Sunday evening 60 Minutes did a story on Steven Spielberg and his upcoming film, Lincoln. Much of the interview focused on the way Spielberg’s childhood and relationship with his parents, particularly his father, has been reflected in his films. That’s pretty interesting in its own right, but I do wish more time had been spent on Lincoln.

As a filmmaker, Spielberg has never been known for complex characterizations or ambiguous moral messages. (Or realism.) This film is decidedly different in tone, something the director himself acknowledges. It’s not aimed at the summer blockbuster crowd:

Lesley Stahl: There’s not a lot of action. There’s no Spielberg special effects.
 
Steven Spielberg: Right.
 
Lesley Stahl: It’s a movie about process and politics. Have you ever done a movie even remotely–
 
Steven Spielberg: Never. Like this?
 
Lesley Stahl: Not even close.
 
Steven Spielberg: Never. No. I knew I could do the action in my sleep at this point in my career. In my life, the action doesn’t hold any– it doesn’t attract me anymore.
 
Narrator: With only one brief battle scene, the movie’s more like a stage play with lots of dialog as Lincoln cajoles and horse trades for votes.

Spielberg and his team made a pretty fascinating decision, to focus the film on the last months of Lincoln’s life and his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment, that abolished slavery throughout the United States. The Union military victory was clearly in sight at that point, and Lincoln was trying to make permanent the de facto emancipation brought about by the Emancipation Proclamation and the advance of Federal armies across the South. As we’ve noted before, Lincoln’s commitment to ending chattel bondage permanently by embedding it in the Constitution is evidenced by the fact that he signed the original text of the amendment as passed by both houses of Congress, even though the president has no formal role in approving or endorsing constitutional amendments. The Emancipation Proclamation gets lots of attention, but is also too often misrepresented as the be-all and end-all of emancipation, when it was (as any serious historian will tell you) a temporary, limited, wartime measure, a single, important milestone on the path to real, permanent emancipation. (A path, by the way, that begins with Spoons Butler’s 1861 “contraband” policy at Fort Monroe.) The Emancipation Proclamation is not Lincoln’s legacy; the 13th Amendment rightly is.

Then there’s this, which is an interesting approach, although not one I’m sure I agree with:

Narrator: Although Spielberg took great pains to be historically accurate, he made what some will see as a curious exception in this scene.
 
Steven Spielberg: Some of the Democrats that were voting against the [13th] Amendment, we changed their actual names. So if you go through the names that we call out on the vote, you’re not going to find a lot of those names that conform to history. And that was in deference to the families.

All of this effort and nuance will likely be wasted on the True Southron™ crowd, who are already carping about the film’s likely omission of black Confederates and predicting its dismal failure at the box office. I suspect most of them will refuse to watch the movie, though that will hardly stop them from complaining about its content, real or imagined. While history buffs will be arguing about details — whether this character actually said that, or whether such-and-such scene really happened or is a composite of several actual events — the Southrons will be more vaguely angered that the film exists at all, and that it depicts Lincoln as genuinely committed to ending slavery, willing to push the boundaries of his office and the political landscape to as much as he dared to accomplish that goal. That notion is an anathema to the Southrons, because it puts Lincoln, whatever else his faults, squarely on the right side of the great moral issue facing Americans in the 19th century. Instead they will rehash Lincoln’s casual bigotry against African Americans (true, although almost universal among white Americans in that day), and his willingness to consider voluntary recolonization of freedmen to Africa — an idea that long predated Lincoln’s public life and long survived him, as well. These are, after all, the people who can say with a straight face that Lincoln was “a bigger racist than I ever knew,” and more deserving of moral condemnation than their own ancestors who actually owned slaves. As I wrote several months back,

Confederate apologists often point to these ugly examples and say, “Lincoln believed so-and-so, ” or “Lincoln said such-and-such.” They do this reflexively, as a means of deflecting criticism of slavery in the the South. Such mentions of Lincoln are often narrowly true, but they miss the larger, and much more important, truth. . , which is that Lincoln himself changed and grew over time. The president who told “darkey” jokes also had Frederick Douglass as a visitor to the White House in 1863, the first African American to enter that building not as a servant or laborer, but as a guest. The president who’d said he would be willing not to free a single slave if it would preserve the Union also asked Douglass, in the summer of 1864, to use his contacts to get as many slaves into Union lines as he could before that fall’s presidential election, which Lincoln fully expected to lose. The chief executive who had toyed with the idea of re-colonizing former slaves back to Africa publicly suggested, just days before his death, that suffrage should be extended to at least some freedmen, specifically those who’d served in the Union army.

Lincoln Derangement Syndrome is very real, and Spielberg’s film is certain to push some folks over the edge. So don’t expect much effort from the Confederate Heritage™ crowd to take the movie on its own terms, or to acknowledge anything positive about the 16th president — just a lot of vague complaining about “PC Hollywood” or the “Lincoln myth,” and so on, without much reference to the specific content of the film itself.

For the rest of us, though, it’s looking like this is going to be a film that delves into a part of Lincoln’s life that’s never been brought to the big screen before. I sure it will give historians and bloggers much both to praise and criticize in the coming weeks. My hope is that, like Glory, Lincoln will be a film that, while containing inevitable small historical inaccuracies, will nonetheless tell a greater true story, will loom large in the general public’s understanding of the conflict and inspire a renewed interest in it.

I can’t hardly wait.

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Juneteenth, Historicity and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall 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.


Site of General Granger’s headquarters, southwest corner of 22nd Street and Strand.

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 Osterman 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 ro elsewhere.

By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & 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 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 Osterman 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 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.

General Order No. 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on June 19, 2010

Happy Juneteenth, everybody.

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