Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“His name will be inscribed on the roll of true-hearted patriots”

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on April 19, 2011

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.

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Rosewood Cemetery Marker Dedication, Galveston

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 13, 2011

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 brian.davis@galvestonhistory.org.

Two photos of the cemetery in 1999:

And pictures from last Saturday’s cleanup project after the jump:

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“Those who voted against secession. . . thought they were doing right”

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on March 19, 2011

In February 1861, Texas voters went to the polls to vote on secession from the Union. The measure passed overwhelmingly, with 46,153 votes in favor, and 14,747 votes against.

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.


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“Every company passing through this place has more or less negroes”

Posted in African Americans, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on February 25, 2011

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.

Remembrance, Entertainment and History

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 8, 2011

This weekend was the 148th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Galveston. Events continue Sunday, January 9, but the weather’s supposed to be uncooperative, so I went today.

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.

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Missing the Forest for the Trees

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on December 12, 2010

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.”

Are Pardoned Confederates Still Confederates?

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on November 5, 2010

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.


National archives, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67, via Footnote.com

Baltimore, Novr. 14th, 1867

To His Excellency
Andrew Johnson
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.

“Neither courier nor expressman will be permitted to go up by the trains”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 29, 2010

At the height of the yellow fever outbreak in Galveston in September 1864, General Walker issued orders regarding travel by rail, as an adjunct to the quarantine he’d ordered six days previously.

Head Quarters, District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona
Houston, Sept. 22, 1864

Brig. Genl J. M. Hawes,
Galveston

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.

A Strained Composition

Posted in Media by Andy Hall on June 26, 2010

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. . . .


“Cavalier of the Sea” (l.) and 1877 Iron Barque
Elissa at Galveston, June 26, 2010.

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.

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