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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Head Quarters, District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona
Houston, Sept. 22, 1864
Brig. Genl J. M. Hawes,
Trains will leave Galveston hereafter on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Neither courier nor expressman will be permitted to go up by the trains, the mails will be delivered to the Conductor, who will also hand the mail from Houston.
When trains are about leaving Galveston, have a guard at the depot to prevent unauthorized persons from getting on board. Trains will also be overhauled at the bridge [connecting Galveston Island to the mainland] and persons without passes taken off.
Captain Smith of the Zephine is permitted to come to Houston upon the condition of changing his clothes at Virginia Point.
J. G. Walker
Maj Genl Cmdg
Zephine was a blockade runner from Havana that had arrived on about September 10. She was a large, iron-hulled sidewheel steamer built by Holland and Hollingsworth of Wilmington, Delaware earlier that year. According to Stephen Wise’ Lifeline of the Confederacy, Zephine carried out over a thousand bales of cotton on her return to Havana, turning a profit of more than $300,000 in gold — enough to pay for the ship, crews’ wages and the inbound cargo in one round voyage.
Images: Cotton train in Texas in the 1870s; Walker order via Footnote.com.
John Paul Strain is a successful artist whose specializes in Civil War subjects. His style is precise, with vibrant colors, but tends too much toward treacly sentimentality for my taste. He does, however, do “magic hour” lighting very well.
He doesn’t do much marine work, a genre that interests me greatly, but he did do one of a Confederate privateer, called “Cavalier of the Sea.“
By the summer of 1861, President Lincoln had placed into motion his plan to isolate the secessionist Southern States by imposing a blockade of their shipping ports. The South’s economy was based on “King Cotton” and trade with England and other countries. Four million English textile jobs relied on the importation of southern cotton, and in turn southern leaders would need immense amounts of arms and equipment from Europe to defeat the oncoming threat from the north. Blockade runners would become the lifeline of the Confederacy.
Before the Federal blockade was fully in place in the latter part of 1861, supplies were primarily carried across the Atlantic on sailing ships able to handle large quantities of goods. One ship could supply thousands of Enfield rifles and enough ammunition for 30 thousand troops in the field. As the blockade became more fully implemented, newer, faster and smaller steamships were utilized to elude Union vessels.
On May 28, 1861 Charleston received notification that it’s port was to be blockaded and that any ship approaching the city would be warned off or seized. A fifteen day grace period was to be given to neutral ships to leave the harbor. Undeterred, Confederate leaders went into action and readied war ships and privateers to counter the threat. The exploits of these bold sailors serving in the Confederate Navy, on privateers and supply ships became greatly romanticized in the newspapers as “Cavaliers of the Sea”.
Man, that composition seems familiar. . . .