The Galveston Daily News — which was actually composed and printed in Houston during the war — regularly ran notices of major auction sales of goods brought in through the Federal blockade. Most of the time, it’s impossible to tell whether these materials came into Galveston aboard ship, or perhaps were hauled overland from the Mexican border. Occasionally, though, the advertisements identified the sale with a particular vessel, giving modern researchers at least a partial manifest of that ship’s inbound cargo.
Such is this advertisement for cargo brought in aboard Banshee No. 2, which ran into Galveston in a daring daylight dash on the morning of February 24, 1865. This advertisement ran for several consecutive days in mid-March. Although private blockade runners at this time were required to devote at least half their capacity to materials consigned to the Confederate government, wealthy merchant Thomas William House (right, 1814-80) of Houston held much (or perhaps all) of the ship’s remaining cargo. Note, then, that these materials are all ultimately intended for private consumption and sale on the open market. The buyers at the auction would likely be small- to mid-sized merchants, and each of these lots would be divided and divided again –with a price markup each time — before reaching individual consumers.
CARGO OF THE STEAMER BANSHEE
On TUESDAY, 21st inst., at 10 o’clock, A.M.
BY ORDER OF T. W. HOUSE.
J. S. & J. B. SYDNOR,
J. S. and J. B. S. will proceed to sell, at the time mentioned, the CARGO of the STEAMER BANSHEE, consisting in part the following Goods, and many others that are not herein enumerated:
4,356 pairs LINEN TROWSERS
200 LINEN JACKETS
25 dozen CALF SKINS [boots?]
100 dozen FLAT CALF SKINS
3 pieces BROAD BLACK CLOTH
3 pieces NARROW BLACK CLOTH
5 pieces COLORED TROWSERING
311 dozen men’s Brown Cotton Half HOSE
150 dozen Women’s White Cotton HOSE
60 dozen Men’s Striped Half Hose
80 dozen Men’s Brown Cotton Half Hose
17 dozen Men’s Gray Cotton Half Hose
50 dozen Men’s Fine MERINO SHIRTS
45 dozen Women’s Fine MERINO VESTS
15 dozen Men’s Striped MERINO SHIRTS
15 dozen Nova Spun MERINO SHIRTS
5 dozen Assorted Striped Spun SHIRTS
100 dozen WHite and Mixed Dove Striped Cot. Hose
400 dozen Women’s Stockings
300 dozen Men’s SOCKS
200 dozen Children’s STOCKINGS
108 nests Strong TIN TEA KETTLES
3 dozen Glass LANTERNS
9 dozen TINDER BOXES, with Steels and Flints
1/4 dozen Japanned BATHS
3 dozen Brass PRESERVING PANS
3 dozen LAMPS
3 dozen PORRINGERS
9 Japanned PORRINGERS
3/4 dozen TEA KETTLES
72 nests SAUCEPANS and Covers
25 dozen Strong Tim CAMP KETTLES and Covers
1 Brass PRESERVING PAN
1/4 dozen Glass LANTERNS
1 dozen nests SAUCEPANS and Covers
1 Tin STILL and WORM — 1 gallon
1 Tin COPPER FILTER
1/4 dozen Japanned CASH BOXES, with Trays
1/4 dozen SPICE BOXES
1/2 dozen Tin OIL CANS
4 dozen TIN FUNNELS
A QUANTITY OF IRON POTS
170 Military BITS and CURBS
13 bales HARNESS HIDES
12 boxes SPERM CANDLES
100 gross Small BRASS BUTTONS
500 gross Large BRASS BUTTONS
150 boxes Price’s Belmont SPERM CANDLES
10 Barrels COFFEE
A few days later, on March 24, the Houston Telegraph reported on the sale:
The great auction sale of the Banshee’s cargo came off day before yesterday at Mr. T. W. House’s store, as per announcement. As is generally the case in such heavy sales many good brought all they were worth and others were sold at a heavy sacrifice. Some idea of the prices the goods brought may be gained from the following:
Children’s Hose were sold from $1.99 to 2.17
Men’s Hose, $1.75 to 2.30
Ladies’ Hose, $2.00 to 5.00
Gents’ silk undershirts per doz., $26.50
Gents’ Merino undershirts per doz., $10 to $12.00
Gents’ linen bosom shirts [per doz.], $15.00
Rio coffee, 30¢ per lb.
Manila rope, 30¢ per lb.
Kentucky rope, 18¢ per lb.
Powder, $1.30 per lb.
Calf skins, $28 to $31.00
Galveston Daily News, February 28, 1865:
Galveston, February 25, 1865:
Editor News: The steamer Banshee arrived yesterday morning from Havana. About 25 shots were fired at her, while running in by the Yankee fleet, but without effect.
In his book Running the Blockade: A Personal Narrative of Adventures, Risks, and Escapes During the American Civil War, Tom Taylor devotes one of his latter chapters to his last run into the Confederacy, aboard the big runner Banshee No. 2. This steel-hulled paddle steamer, one of the best-known runners of the war, was built by Aitken and Mansell of Glasgow, measuring 252 feet x 31 feet x 11 feet, and 627 gross registered tons. (By way of comparison, Will o’ the Wisp was 209.5 x 23.2 x 9.7, and 117 grt.) She made a total of four round voyages into Confederate ports — three into Wilmington, North Carolina, and one into Galveston. Banshee No. 2 survived the war and returned to the U.K.
Banshee No. 2 was known in the Confederacy as a fast boat. In October 1864, the Columbus, Georgia Daily Enquirer repeated an item from an unknown Liverpool paper, describing a race between Banshee and a local mail steamer:
EXCITING RACE. — On Monday last, by special arrangement, a trial of speed took place from Holyhead [across the Irish Sea] to Kingstown [Dublin], between the mail steamer Ulster and the Banshee, a vessel built by Mssrs. Aitken & Mansell, of Glasgow, for a well known firm ib this town, for the purpose of running the blockade. The Ulster left the harbor of Holyhead two boats’ lengths ahead of the Banshee, which followed her out at 2:35 p.m. In ten minutes after this, the Banshee came gallantly alongside her opponent, and notwithstanding some loss of time, occasioned by heated bearings, she reached Kingstown fifteen minutes before the Ulster, making the passage from the harbor wall to Kingstown in three hours and twenty-five minutes, or at an average speed of over eighteen statute miles per hour, and carrying 280 toms of dead weight. The Banshee is [built of?] steel, and is 1,190 [tons] R.M., and is propelled by paddles driven by engines of 250 horse power.
Interestingly, in her last run Banshee followed the identical path that William Watson would about a month later, while serving as navigator for a screw steamer he called “Phoenix” in his book, but was probably Pelican. Banshee even grounded at about the same spot in the swash channel, although Taylor’s big steamer finally pushed over by wave while making the dash in daylight, while Watson had to wait silently, in darkness, while the tide rose enough to refloat his ship.
When Wilmington was on the point of falling [January 1865] there was nothing for it but to transfer our operations to Galveston, and to accomplish this I took the Banshee No 2 over to Havana with a valuable cargo accompanied by Frank Hurst, in order to make an attempt to run into Galveston: this proved to be my last trip, but it was far from being the least exciting. When all was ready we experienced the greatest difficulty in finding a Galveston pilot. Though, owing to the high rate of pay, numbers of men were to be found ready to offer their services, it was extremely hard to obtain competent men. After considerable delay, we had to content ourselves at last with a man who said he knew all about the port but who turned out to be absolutely worthless. We then made a start, and with the exception of meeting with the most violent thunderstorm, in which the lightning was something awful, nothing extraordinary occurred on our passage across the Gulf of Mexico, and we scarcely saw a sail — very different from our experiences between Nassau and Wilmington, when it was generally a case of “sail on the port bow,” or “steamer right ahead,” at all hours of the day.
The third evening after leaving Havana we had run our distance and, on heaving the lead, and finding that we were within a few miles of the shore, we steamed cautiously on in order to try and make out the blockading squadron or the land. It was a comparatively calm and very dark night, just the one for the purpose, but within an hour all had changed and it commenced to blow a regular “Norther,” a wind which is very prevalent on that coast. Until then I had no idea what a “Norther” meant; first rain came down in torrents, then out of the inky blackness of clouds and rain came furious gusts, until a hurricane was blowing against which, notwithstanding that we were steaming at full speed, we made little or no way, and although the sea was smooth our decks were swept by white foam and spray Suddenly we made out some dark objects all round us, and found ourselves drifting helplessly among the ships of the blockading squadron, which were steaming hard to their anchors, and at one moment we were almost jostling two of them; whether they knew what we were, or mistook us for one of themselves, matters not; they were too much occupied about their own safety to attempt to interfere
As to attempt to get into Galveston that night would have been madness, we let the Banshee drift and, when we thought we were clear of the fleet we steamed slowly seaward, after a while shaping a course so as to make the land about thirty miles to the south west at daylight. We succeeded in doing this, and quietly dropped our anchor in perfectly calm water, the Norther having subsided almost as quickly as it had risen. Having seen enough of our pilot to realise that he was no good whatever, we decided after a conference to lie all day, where we were keeping a sharp look-out, and steam handy and determined as evening came on to creep slowly up the coast until we made out the blockading fleet, then to anchor again and make a bold dash at daylight for our port. All went well; we were unmolested during the day, and got under weigh towards evening, passing close to a wreck which we recognised as our old friend the Will o’ the Wisp, which had been driven ashore and lost on the very first trip she made after I had sold her. Immediately afterwards we very nearly lost our own ship too. Seeing a post of Confederate soldiers close by on the beach, we determined to steam close in and communicate with them, in order to learn all about the tactics of the blockaders and our exact distance from Galveston. We backed her close in to the breakers in order to speak, but when the order was given to go ahead she declined to move, and the chief engineer reported that something had gone wrong with the cylinder valve, and that she must heave to for repairs. It was an anxious moment: the Banshee had barely three fathoms beneath her, and her stern was almost in the white water. We let go the anchor, but in the heavy swell it failed to hold; the pilot was in a helpless state of flurry when he found that we were drifting slowly but steadily towards the shore, but [Captain Jonathan W.] Steele’s presence of mind never for one moment deserted him. The comparatively few minutes which occupied the engineers in temporarily remedying the defect seemed like hours in the presence of the danger momentarily threatening us. When at length the engineers managed to turn her ahead, we on the bridge were greatly relieved to see her point seawards and clear the breakers. I have often thought since, if a disaster had happened and we had lost the ship, how stupid we should have been thought by people at home.
As soon as we reached deep water the damage was permanently repaired, and we steamed cautiously up the coast, until about sundown we made out the topmasts of the blockading squadron right ahead. We promptly stopped, calculating that, as they were about ten to eleven miles from us, Galveston must lie a little further on our port bow. We let go our anchor and prepared for an anxious night; all hands were on deck and the cable was ready to be unshackled at a moment’s notice, with steam as nearly ready as possible without blowing off, as at any moment a prowler from the squadron patrolling the coast might have made us out. We had not been lying thus very long, when suddenly on the starboard bow we made out a cruiser steaming towards us, evidently on the prowl. It was a critical time; all hands were on deck, a man standing by to knock the shackle out of the chain cable, and the engineers at their stations. Thanks to the backing of the coast, our friend did not discover us, and to our relief disappeared to the southward.
After this, all was quiet during the remainder of the night, which fortunately for us was very dark, and about two hours before daylight [on February 24] we quietly raised our anchor and steamed slowly on, feeling our way cautiously by the lead and hoping, when daylight fairly broke, to find ourselves inside the fleet, opposite Galveston, and able to make a short dash for the bar. We had been under weigh some time, when suddenly we discovered a launch close to us on the port bow, filled with Northern blue jackets and marines. “Full speed ahead!” shouted Steele, and we were within an ace of running her down as we almost grazed her with our port paddle-wheel. Hurst and I looked straight down into the boat, waving them a parting salute. The crew seemed only too thankful at their narrow escape to open fire, but they soon regained their senses, and threw up rocket after rocket in our wake as a warning to the blockading fleet to be on the alert.
Daylight was then slowly breaking, and the first thing we discovered was that we had not taken sufficient account of the effects of the Norther on the current; instead of being opposite the town, with the fleet broad on to our starboard beam, we found ourselves down three or four miles from it, and the most leeward blockader close to us on our bow. It was a moment for immediate decision: the alternatives were to turn tail and stand a chase to seaward by their fastest cruisers, with chance of capture and, in any case, a return to Havana, as we had not sufficient coal for another attempt ;or to make a dash for it and take the fire of the squadron. In an instant we decided to go for it, and orders to turn ahead full speed were given, but the difficulty now to be overcome was that we could not make for the main channel without going through the fleet. This would have been certain destruction, so we had to make for a sort of swash channel along the beach, which however was nothing but a cul-de-sac, and to get from it into the main channel, shoal water and heavy breakers had to be passed, but there was now no other choice open to us.
By this time the fleet had opened fire upon us, and shells were bursting merrily around as we took the fire of each ship which we passed. Fortunately there was a narrow shoal between us, which prevented them from approaching within about half a mile of us; luckily also for us they were in rough water on the windward side of the shoal, and could not lay their guns with precision. And to this we owed our escape, as although our funnels were riddled with shell splinters, we received no damage and had only one man wounded.
But the worst was to come; we saw the white water already ahead, and we knew our only chance was to bump through it, being well aware that if she stuck fast we should lose the ship and all our lives, for no boat, even if it could have been launched, would have lived in such a surf. With two leadsmen in the chains, we approached our fate, taking no notice of the bursting shells and round shot to which the blockaders treated us in their desperation; it was not a question of the fathoms, but of the feet; we were drawing twelve feet, ten, nine, and when we put her at it as you do a horse at a jump, and as her nose was entering the white water, “eight feet” was sung out. A moment afterwards we touched and hung, and I thought all was over when a big wave came rolling along and lifted our stern and the ship bodily with a crack which could be heard a quarter of a mile off, and which we thought meant that her back was broken.
Approximate track of Banshee No. 2 entering Galveston on February 24, 1865. Full version here.
She once more went ahead; the worst was over, and after two or three minor bumps we were in the deep channel, helm hard-a-starboard, and heading for Galveston Bay, leaving the disappointed blockaders astern. It was a reckless undertaking and a narrow escape, but we were safe in, and after an examination by the health officer, we steamed gaily up to the town, the wharves of which were crowded by people who, gazing to seaward, had watched our exploit with much interest, and who cheered us heartily upon its success.
Banshee No. 2 sailed again in March, and short item in the Atchison City, Kansas(!) Freedom’s Champion of April 27:
The blockade runner Banshee, with one thousand bales of coton [sic.], arrived at Nassau, N. B., on the 30th ult. [March], from Galveston. She reports Galveston garrisoned by twelve hundred troops. Twelve Union ships were off the bar. Six steamers had sailed, recently from Havana for Galveston.
As would be expected, Banshee stopped at Havana before proceeding on to Nassau, so it’s not clear if her thousand bale-cargo represents her haul out Galveston alone. What is clear, though, is that by continuing on to Nassau, instead of refitting for a return to Texas, Banshee‘s owners showed their unwillingness to risk another run through the Galveston blockade.
Update, May 19.
After I posted this essay George Purvis, the author of the Negroes in Gray website, contacted the TSL again, asking for clarification on Peter Phelps. This was their reply, which he has also posted to the website:
In consulting with colleagues, it was discovered that the list of soldiers and widows believed to be African-American used to answer your previous question had been revised with the deletion of the name Peter Phelps and the addition of two other names.
We agree with your research that Peter Phelps is White. The additional names on the revised list are:
William A. Green Rejected of Burleson County
Turner Armstrong 38653 of Franklin County
We apologize for the incorrect information.
So we can call the case of Peter Phelps closed, I guess. For my part, I don’t think the TSL staff has anything to apologize for in this case; what they’d sent originally was an informal list, compiled by their staff over a period of time. It is what it is. It’s up to the rest of us to be careful and diligent consumers of historical information.
Recently one of the more outspoken online advocates for black Confederate soldiers (BCS) posted a link to a site that purports to list African Americans who, in one way or another, were part of the Confederate military effort during the Civil War. This person, who dismisses ideas like historical context, analysis and interpretation as “opinion” and “biased agenda,” insists that he’s only interested in “facts,” and has compiled this website in that vein. No interpretation, no discussion, no larger context. Just “facts.”
So I went to the Negroes in Grey website and, clicking on the menu at upper left, selected “The States, The People.” A fly-out menu lists several states, including Texas, so I clicked there. Immediately I was presented a transcript of a letter (presumably to the site’s owner) from the staff of the Texas State Library, explaining that they have no comprehensive means of searching for African Americans in their files. They did, however, explain that the staff there had, over a period of years, compiled a list of sixteen applications in which either the applicant or his widow was believed by the staff to be African American, and included in the letter their names, counties and pension numbers. One that jumped out at me right away was Peter Phelps of Galveston County (No. 07720). Being a native of Galveston County myself, I determined to find out more about this guy. Who was Peter Phelps, and was he really a “Negro in Grey?”
Well, no. It turns out that Peter Phelps was a white man who married a mixed-race woman after the war, and it takes about two minutes with readily-available, online records to determine that. So what’s up with this “Negro in Grey” business?
In my recent post on the Lincoln assassination, and the common dismissal of John Wilkes Booth as a “madman” whose actions are both inscrutable and unconnected to the Confederate cause, commenter Corkingiron asked about how Booth’s actions were received at the time, in the South. It’s a great question; the American Experience documentary I cited in reply suggests that condemnation of Booth’s act was immediate and universal.
In fact, it was not.
Update: A new reader asks about the title Dead Confederates juxtaposed with a story about an African American cemetery. It’s the name of the blog, which generally deals with the American Civil War, and I didn’t even realize how it would look. I hope folks will understand and not be offended, because that was not my intent. I apologize for how this looks, and hope readers will consider the blog as a whole, and not by this particular whiplash-inducing combination of phrases.
Tucked away in a nearly-impossible-to-find part of Galveston is Rosewood Cemetery, a burial ground for African Americans between 1911 and the last known interment, in 1944. Historical records identify 411 burials there, but only a handful of graves remain clearly marked. The site was originally a couple of hundred yards from the Gulf beach, but after the Seawall was extended past the site in the 1950s, and subsequent fill operations closed off the cemetery’s natural drainage, leaving the site subject to periodic flooding. Over time, grave markers succumbed to natural deterioration, vandalism or simply settled into the soil. Many of the markers that remain have been displaced from their original locations.
There’s only one marker clearly identifying the person interred there as a former member of the military, that of World War I veteran Ben L. Scott (c. 1896 — Feb. 21, 1937). Many more burials there are of freedmen and -women who were born into slavery. William Lewis (c. 1840 — November 22, 1913) is almost certainly one of those.
Eventually the land including the cemetery passed into the hands of local developers John and Judy Saracco. The Saraccos, well-known members of the local community, were aware that the cemetery lay within the boundaries of their new holdings, and had the property surveyed to define its limits. The Saraccos then had the cemetery fenced to maintain its boundary while development went on around it.
In 2006, the Saraccos donated the Rosewood Cemetery land to the Galveston Historical Foundation, which now maintains the property. The formal re-dedication of the cemetery was held in June 2007. In January 2008, local Boy Scout Sean Moran raised money and organized a crew to construct a new rail fence to surround the cemetery property. That fence was destroyed nine months later, during Hurricane Ike, so Moran — by now a college student — raised yet more money and organized volunteers to re-install a new fence again in March 2010.
This coming Saturday, April 16 at 10 a.m., there will be a dedication ceremony for the new Texas Historical Commission Historic Cemetery marker for Rosewood Cemetery, on 63rd Street, just back from Seawall Boulevard. The Galveston Historical Foundation is still seeking information on persons interred at Rosewood; if you have any information on such persons, please contact Brian Davis at 409.765.3419 or email@example.com.
Two photos of the cemetery in 1999:
And pictures from last Saturday’s cleanup project after the jump:
One hundred fifty years ago today, on March 19, 1861, this item appeared in the Galveston Civilian and Gazette Weekly:
New converts are proverbially overzealous and intolerant. A majority of the secessionists in Texas have become such within the past few months. While many of them are puzzling their wits for test oaths and means of punishing the non-conformists and luke-warm, and freely apply the epithet of traitor, and would gladly apply the punishment due to treason, to persons who voted as they themselves would have done a few months since, the Marshall Republican, which was a secession paper in 1859 and has continued so ever since, says:
Now that the election is over, we hope the friends of secession will exercise moderation and good feeling towards those who voted against the Ordinance. It is not only their duty to do so, but the highest considerations of patriotism enjoin it. We want union among ourselves, and we can achieve that desirable end in no other way than by conciliation, and the examples of these fraternal feelings, which one Southern man ought to express for another. It should be borne in mind, that all men cannot think alike. Those who voted against secession, no doubt thought they were doing right; and now that this act has been consummated, will give their [steadfast?] efforts to sustain the rights, honor and interests of the State. To all such as these we tender the right hand of fellowship. Let us bury all past dissensions, forget everything leading to alienation, and stand together as a band of brothers.
Beneath the flowery language of patriotism and allusions to Shakespeare, there’s no tolerance for dissent or remaining loyalty to the Union in this passage. None. Past mistakes can be forgiven — “those who voted against secession, no doubt thought they were doing right” — but there is no room going forward for any such lingering sentiment. The tone of this communication may be loftier than those of the Committees of Safety, but the message is the same: dissent will not be tolerated.
Image: Unidentified member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Marshall, Texas, c. 1861, Lawrence T. Jones III Texas photography collection at Southern Methodist University. The Knights were a secretive organization created in 1854, proposed to establish a slaveholding empire encompassing the southern United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America.
On Friday Kevin posted three wartime news items, provided by Vicki Betts, each relating to African Americans serving in different roles in the Confederate Army. Along with the news clips, Kevin issued a simple challenge: “you interpret.”
This reminded me of a similar news item I found recently in the local paper. From the Galveston Weekly News, April 29, 1862:
Arming the Negroes.
A letter from Navasota says:
Almost every company passing through this place has more or less negroes [sic.] in it armed and in the ranks. I find public sentiment unmistakably in favor of drafting 100,000 negroes into the army if the war continues over this summer. Combined with the white men in this climate and under proper regulations, they may be made an efficient body in this war of self-defence. If we do not have peace by the 1st of June, a call will be made to arm a portion of of the blacks to be drafted chiefly from the large plantations. The British armed them on many occasions, and it was the [ad?] that gave the British such superiority over the French in the last war.
So how should the historian handle this document? How much credence should be put to it? Are there any hard data in this short passage? “Almost every company” equates to how many, exactly? “More or less” means, what? What companies are these? Who are the officers? Can these claims be corroborated somewhere?
And that’s just the first sentence.
Looking at the whole passage, what’s its purpose? Why was it written and published? Why is it offered anonymously? What other events were going on just then that might have influenced the writer? Is the writer’s intent to report the composition of Texas military units, or to make a case for something else? Is this reporting, or advocacy? If the latter, does that cause concern about the accuracy of the description of black troops “armed and in the ranks?” Does it play to any particular beliefs or biases in the reader? Can any larger conclusions about BCS be drawn from this single document?
Have at it.
I started out on the cemetery tour (left, the grave of Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, U.S.N.). The tour got off to a late start, due to the prior commemoration ceremony running over-schedule. The ceremony was well done, and commendably non-partisan, with a C.S. reenactor color guard and a U.S. firing party. The cemetery tour itself was led by Linda McBee, who is rightly famous here for her unflagging work in documenting cemeteries around the county. It’s a personal labor for her; she’s a sixth-or seventh generation islander in some branches, and counts seventeen direct ancestors buried in just the one cemetery complex on the tour. I don’t know her personally, but I think I’d like her; I laughed a little at her no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to the subject. Asked if burials still occurred in the cemetery, she replied that they did, but rarely, when someone is interred in a plot still owned by the family. She added that her family is one of those that has a plot with spaces available, so if the need arose, “we’d stick ‘em in there.”
Ed’s tour of Civil War Galveston was first-rate, as usual; he added some large-scale maps and photos to his interpretation that help a great deal in visualizing the city in 1861-65 generally, and the Battle of Galveston specifically.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the reenactment, really. There were some efforts at re-enacting the Battle of Galveston thirty years ago, but I didn’t see those. This one was impressive, if for no other reason than it was necessarily up-close and personal. The reenactment was done more-or-less on the site of the actual fighting, which means smack in the middle of town, on a public street and adjacent parking lot. As you can see in the photos, it was all very up-close. There were some professional photographers who put themselves in the middle of it, and a few clueless tourists, but as far as I know the only injury was to the ego of a Confederate soldier who face-planted himself tripping over a curb. He quickly rejoined the fight.
On thing I noticed was that although the battle reenactment attracted a big crowd, it didn’t have a particularly partisan feel. (One old guy, trying to be clever, shouted “blue-bellies go home!” No one else in the crowd even seemed to hear it.) There wasn’t much chest-thumping on either side, and examples of the Confederate Battle Flag — a hot-button point of contention if there ever was one — was not much in evidence. As at past events in which they participate, the Confederate reenactors didn’t carry it, I think by prior arrangement with the sponsors. There was no shortage of Confederate reenactors, either — they outnumbered the bluecoats four- or five-to-one — so if any declined to participate on that account, they weren’t missed. (And I honestly don’t whether it was present at the historical Battle of Galveston in any case.) There were fewer CBFs in the crowd than I might have expected, as well — I noticed three: one on a stick waved by some kid, a Dixie Outfitters shopper, and a biker from the SCV’s “mechanized cavalry.” But that was it. (Ed didn’t get any interruptions from his audience who set out to harangue him on some obscure point with him, either, which all of us on the tour greatly appreciated.)
Certainly the organizer of the event didn’t want anything controversial in this event, and I suspect has eased into commemoration of the Battle of Galveston very carefully over a period of years. There’s always a fine line to be drawn between history-as-it-was, and history-as-entertainment. The reenactment today was fun to watch, and I’m sure today’s events will be marked as a popular and fiscal success. But it’s good to keep in mind that it’s an entirely different animal from history.
More photos after the jump, approximately in order.
While going through microfilm looking for something else, I came across this editorial in the Galveston Weekly News, published on September 3, 1862 — several months after the Confederacy’s first Conscription Act, and shortly before passage of the second.
Conscripting Slaves. — The Telegraph of this city [Houston] is advocating the policy of conscripting slaves, to be employed in throwing up entrenchments and performing the other duties of soldiers. We think there are some very serious objections to such a policy. We do not propose to enter upon the discussion of the subject, but would here simply remark that by adopting such a policy we would seem to be following the example of the enemy, and they would not fail to justify the course they are now pursuing in filling up their armies with negro [sic.] recruits, by referring to the fact that we make conscripts of our slaves in order to strengthen our armies against them. The fact of our not putting arms in the hands of slaves, would not deprive their argument of its force, so long as the slaves are employed to the usual duties of soldiers, so that the 100,000 of them the Telegraph proposes to raise, will have the same effect as increasing our military force by just that number of white conscripts. We fear the argument would, at least, be sufficient with foreign nations, to justify the Federals in employing negroes in their armies, in the way they are now doing.
We also think the policy proposed would be seriously objectionable on the ground of its taking the slave out of his proper position, and the only position he can safely occupy in a slave country. We are moreover of the opinion that we have white men enough to achieve our independence without conscripting slaves to help us. And we further believe that our slaves can be much more profitably employed in agricultural, mechanical and manufacturing pursuits, under the supervision f white men. In these pursuits, their labor, if properly directed, will add more military strength to the country, by keeping our armies properly supplied, than by conscripting them.
My emphasis. Note that the editorial here objects to the formal enlistment of slaves even in non-combatant roles — “the fact of our not putting arms in the hands of slaves, would not deprive [the Federals'] argument of its force.” In the back-and-forth about this or that bit of “evidence” for the widespread enlistment of large numbers of African Americans as soldiers in the Confederate Army — much of which is either fundamentally misunderstood, self-contradictory, willfully misrepresented or flat-out fabricated — it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. The very idea of organizing slaves into military formations, under arms, was antithetical to the legal, social and racial fabric that defined the Confederacy and that put the Southern states on the path to secession. There were dissenting voices, to be sure, particularly as the war dragged on and the Confederacy’s military position became increasing perilous. But even in the closing weeks of the war, the very notion of enlisting slaves into combat service remained deeply, fundamentally offensive to many whose devotion to the Confederacy was without question. “Use all the negroes you can get,” Howell Cobb advised the Confederate Secretary of War in January 1865, “for all the purposes for which you need them, but don’t arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution.”
One sometimes hears, when skeptics point out the dearth of contemporary primary sources from the Confederate side that describe African Americans serving in the ranks, under arms, recognized as soldiers by their officers and their peers, that the practice was so commonplace, so unremarkable, that it simply wasn’t commented upon. It’s suggested that the Confederate Army was racially integrated to such a degree no one thought to mention it. Such a claim reflects a deep ignorance — or deep dishonesty — about the most basic reality the Confederate States: it was a nation succinctly, accurately and unabashedly described in the Weekly News‘ editorial as “a slave country.”
If a Confederate officer takes an oath of allegiance to the United States and the Union, has he forfeited his status as a Confederate?
That’s not a snarky comment or a rhetorical question — I’m entirely serious in asking it.
Not far from my home is the grave of Major General John Bankhead Magruder, a well-known Confederate officer and a local hero who commanded the Department of Texas during the middle of the war and organized the naval and land attack that retook Galveston from Union forces on New Years Day, 1863. After the war, and a brief stint in the service of Maximilian’s army in Mexico, Magruder settled in Houston, where he died in 1871. He was initially buried in there, but his remains were subsequently re-interred in Galveston’s Episcopal Cemetery.
At the end of May 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued a general amnesty for those who had served the Confederacy; under this amnesty, all rights and property (except for slaves) were to be restored upon taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Fourteen categories of persons were explicitly excluded from this blanket amnesty, including army officers above the rank of colonel. These excluded persons were required to submit a formal application for pardon, “and so realize the enormity of their crime.” While there was never any real doubt that the vast majority of former Confederates would eventually be eligible for pardon, Johnson was determined to use the pardon process to make manifest a point he mentioned often: “treason is a crime and must be made odious.” Over the next three years, the Johnson administration issued about 13,500 individual pardons.
Magruder applied for his pardon in November 1867, and included a letter of from Union Major General Carl Schurz, attesting to his loyalty. Magruder’s application was approved by Attorney General Henry Stanbery on December 9.
Baltimore, Novr. 14th, 1867
To His Excellency
President of the United States
Sir, as an officer of the Southern army with the rank of Major General, I am not embraced in the amnesty which Your Excellency has proclaimed.
The South submitted her interpretation of the Constitution to the arbitrament of the sword which decided against her — an I am now as loyal a citizen of the United States as any within their borders — I therefore apply for a pardon — As an officer, I have always endeavored to softne the rigors of War & there are no allegations to the contrary, against me, that I am aware of.
I have the honor to be very respectfully Your Obt Servt,
J. Bankhead Magruder
A pardon is not a small thing. A petition for pardon acknowledges and admits a serious legal or moral transgression on the part of the applicant; issuance of a pardon is a formal act of forgiveness, with the implicit understanding that the offense being pardoned is real, is ended and will not be repeated.
There’s no way to parse or explain away Magruder’s declaratory statement, written in his own hand, that “I am now as loyal a citizen of the United States as any within their borders.” Major General Walker signed an even more explicit statement, that he would “henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder,” closing with, “so help me God.“
Are these pledges of loyalty to be taken seriously? It would seem they must be; after all, the core values of loyalty, devotion and personal honor are some of the very things that motivate the desire to recognize these men in the first place. But they voluntarily, formally and explicitly rejected any allegiance to the Confederacy; it’s hard to see how they can still be legitimately considered Confederates. Certainly most Americans today would hesitate to honor an American soldier who formally renounced his American citizenship in favor of another nation’s.
Or should we assume that applying for a pardon and swearing ongoing allegiance to the United States — “in the presence of ALMIGHTY GOD” — was something they simply had to do to get along, and they never really meant it? That it was just what they had to do to get on with their lives? Path of least resistance? Doubtful.
So we’re back to the first option: that these men willingly, voluntarily rejected any further allegiance to the Confederacy. How, then, can they now logically be honored for their loyalty to that defunct nation? There’s not an easy answer to this question; I don’t even think there is an answer that makes any objective sense. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the question.