A while back I posted about a relative of mine who served as a Confederate soldier during the war, and later became involved in the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. I’ve also posted about postwar racial strife in Texas in the area around Richmond, west of Houston (here and here). One of the very important strengths of the recent film, Free State of Jones, is that gives serious attention to the struggles of the Reconstruction era, instead of simply ending the story in 1865. That’s how people in the 1860s actually lived their lives, moving from one period to another, without the benefit of a tidy wrap-up of the plot when the soldiers came home from the war. One period of hardship transitioned into another.
With that in mind, I’d like to direct readers to a new series of posts over at This Cruel War, giving Freedmen’s accounts of Klan activity in Texas during the postwar years. Kudos to Eric for compiling and posting these.
Congratulations to my friend and colleague Kevin Levin, who has inked a deal for his upcoming book, Searching for Black Confederates, with the University of North Carolina Press. As most all of you know, this has been an ongoing focus of Kevin’s research for years, and it’s good to see it now coming to fruition. The manuscript is scheduled for completion in August 2017, so I think we should see the finished product late next year or early in 2018.
Until now the discussion of black Confederate soldiers, such as it is, has existed almost entirely in the popular media and on the Internet. Academic historians have mostly ignored the topic, in part because they don’t perceive it as a significant question (the historical record is clear enough, for those who care to examine it), and probably because they don’t especially want to get subjected to the sort of vitriolic bile that gets directed at folks who call BS on what has becme a central, foundational belief of the True Southron™ folks. Kevin’s UNC Press book may encourage academic historians to wade into the fray, and in my view, it’s about damned time. While academic historians don’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, distracted by every flitty whim of popular culture that comes along, the black Confederate narrative has gotten enough traction over the last two decades that it warrants attention by the discipline.
It will be interesting to see what happens once Kevin’s book hits the stands. Will some proud Southron — Gary Adams, maybe, or H. K. Edgerton — respond as an actual historian would, and publish a similarly deeply-researched, analytical, peer-reviewed work through a competing university press? Or will they continue whingeing and fluffing each other on Facebook about how mean the politically-correct Yankees are being to them?
I’m pretty sure I know the answer.
“The First Texas Navy, 1835-1837”
by James P. Bevill
Nov. 3, 2016, 7:00 pm – 9:00 p.m.
Admission and Parking: Free
Rosenberg Library (Wortham Auditorium)
2310 Sealy Street (at 23rd)
Galveston, Texas 77550
This powerful presentation takes place in the throes of the Texas Revolution, as the provisional government of Texas scrambled to put together a naval force to wreak havoc upon the Mexican supply lines. Having first resorted to the use of privateers (state sponsored pirates), Texas was able to borrow money in New Orleans in early 1836, to secure the warships Liberty, Invincible, Independence and the Brutus.
This is the story of those four ships, and the role which was played by McKinney & Williams, the Allen Brothers, Captains’ Hawkins, Hurd, Thompson and Brown – and the significant contributions these aggressive men made on the high seas in the fight for Texas independence. Despite their heroic deeds, the navy soon found itself drowning in a sea of red ink, crippling the effectiveness of the fighting force as the flow of funds needed to maintain a strong military was quickly exhausted. This remarkable story of the first Texas Navy is triumphant, tragic and highly entertaining. It’s not to be missed. (Approximately 35 minutes).
James P. Bevill is a Senior Vice President for Wealth Management in the River Oaks office of UBS Financial Services. He is the author of The Paper Republic: The Struggle for Money, Credit and Independence in the Republic of Texas, a non-fiction work on the social and economic history of Texas from the colonial period through the annexation by the United States in 1846. He served as guest curator for the TNA-sponsored exhibit “Broadsides in the Gulf” at the Texas Seaport Museum and “On the Run” at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston.
His book was named as the 2010 winner of the Summerfield G. Roberts literary award by the Sons of the Republic of Texas, and as the Best Specialized book on U.S. Paper Money by the Numismatic Literary Guild at the ANA World’s Fair on Money in Boston.
Small stories that don’t warrant full posts of their own:
- Over at Emerging Civil War, Dwight Hughes has a great post up about U.S Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and his Assistant Secretary, Gustavus Fox, calling them “the dynamic duo of the deep and shallow.” It’s an apt appellation; what they accomplished together, each complimenting the other’s strengths, is remarkable.
- It looks as though the legal fight over the Confederate flag at Sutherlin Mansion in Danville has come to an end. The site was host to Jefferson Davis’ government for several days in April 1865, after he
skedaddled fromevacuated Richmond. The mansion is now home to the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History, that began pushing to remove the flag displayed on the grounds two years ago. After the city council voted to remove the flag in August 2015, a local group backed by the Virginia Flaggers and other Confederate Heritage™ folks filed a lawsuit in state court, arguing that removal of the flag violated state law. A district court disagreed, the state supreme court declined to hear an appeal of the case this past June, in what the Flaggers called “a small setback.” The plaintiffs asked for a reconsideration by the full court, which has now also been declined. Expect more nuisance flags to be set up by the Flaggers around Danville in the coming months because, unlike swaying public opinion or changing institutional policy, that’s something they’re actually good at.
- I hate to suggest that anything good can come out of something like Hurricane Matthew, but Saturday afternoon center of the storm swept along the North Carolina coast, over Cape Fear and the site of the recently discovered wreck of the blockade runner Agnes E. Fry. It will be interesting to see if the storm scoured the site, exposing more of the wreck than was previously visible. That’s how the wreck of Will o’ the Wisp was located and identified here at Galveston after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
- Hurricane Matthew did expose some Civil War-period artillery ammunition (above) at Folly Beach, South Carolina, near Charleston. Pretty cool.
- Nate Parker’s new film about Nat Turner’s rebellion, Birth of a Nation, was always going to be controversial by virtue of its subject matter. And it didn’t help that Parker had once been tried (and acquitted) for sexually assaulting a student when he was in college, who subsequently committed suicide. But according to reviews by historians collected by my colleague Michael Lynch, the movie is also pretty much crap as far as history goes, too.
- Speaking of the Virginia Flaggers, I have no idea what this meme of theirs is supposed to accomplish. How many of their supporters actually plan on voting for the Clinton/Kaine ticket next month? I’m guessing you could count them on one hand, even after playing with illegal fireworks. The Flaggers like to argue that this person is not a Virginian, or that person is not a Virginian, but it’s worth noting that Tim Kaine was (1) elected to the Richmond City Council, (2) elected mayor of Richmond, (3) elected governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and (4) elected to represent that state in the U.S. Senate. How many of the “real” Virginians among the Flaggers have ever done any of those things, much less all of them?
- And finally, Historians
Got any more? Put ’em in the comments.
Update, October 10: Over at To the Sound of the Guns, Craig Swain offers more thoughts on the shells found at Folly Beach. Some early news reports referred to them as being Confederate munitions, but that ain’t necessarily so:
This site appears to be on the northern end of Folly Island. Several Federal batteries stood in that area, guarding Lighthouse Inlet (and in July 1863, were used to support landings on Morris Island). Archaeological surveys of the area have documented well some of the battery locations (as the gentleman in the video notes, the location was known by locals as a place where fortifications stood). Hopefully this find will add to that knowledge. Given the location, on eroded beach, it appears sufficient effort was made to document that context. Perhaps this will spur further archaeological examinations in the area.
The woman at center, in the light colored sundress and glasses, is Debbie Sidle, leader of the Mid-South Flaggers and one of the most prominent Confederate Heritage organizers in the Deep South. She has put together some of the better-known events in Mississippi, and is currently stirring the pot over the University of Mississippi’s rejection of Confederate symbols. Debbie Sidle loves the Confederacy, and she loves black people who love the Confederacy, like H. K. Edgerton the late Anthony Hervey, a man from Oxford, Mississippi, who adopted a Confederate persona to highlight his (somewhat unfocused) critique of modern America.
Her tolerance and mutual respect for African Americans in general seems to be limited, though (nastiness after the jump):
One of the earliest detailed accounts of what has since become known as the “Great Locomotive Chase” appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in July 1865, in an article by John S. C. Abbott called, “A Railroad Adventure.” Enjoy, and have a great Sunday.
Following is the prepared text of my address on Saturday at San Jacinto for the 2016 Texian Navy Day observance aboard U.S.S. Texas (BB-35). It’s a commemorative speech, rather than an informational one, so it’s long on rhetoric, which is a little different from the research-based presentations I’m used to giving. Nevertheless, I did try to make sure that the points made were on a solid historical footing, which is not always the case when it comes to Texas and Texans.
I’d like to thank Dead Confederates reader Boyd Harris, who serves as Lead Interpreter at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, for helping guide me on relevant source material on the battlefield and the Texian campaign of 1836. I’d also like to thank Texas Navy Admirals Ron Brown and Bob Steakley for adhering to a tight timeline for the ceremony — the event was scheduled for an hour, but we were done in forty-two minutes flat, something that is best appreciated on a steel deck in the bright, late-summer sun. For further reading on the Texas Navy during this period, I recommend Lone Star Navy: Texas, the Fight for the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shaping of the American West by Jonathan Jordan, and The First Texas Navy by John Powers, both published in 2006.
Max Sigler has worked months on the Texas. Image via Civil War Picket blog.
Over at Civil War Picket, Phil Gast has a neat post up on the restoration of Civil War locomotive Texas, that formed the trailing component of the “Great Locomotive Chase” in 1862. The challenge in this case is what colors to paint the restored locomotive — something similar to the bright, colorful (but unknown) livery she carried when new in 1856, and likely still in 1862, or the dull, black finish she had by the 1880s, when she was rebuilt to her present configuration? (Texas remained in service until 1907.) It’s an interesting question, without an easy or obvious answer. Check it out.
Speaking of the Great Locomotive Chase, have you read Russell Bonds’ Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor? What are you waiting for?
Last week I stopped by the Historical Census Browser at the University of Virginia Library, to find this notice posted there:
Due to a recent intrusion by hackers, further security concerns, and data that is both outdated and contains transcription errors, our Historical Census Browser site is being closed. It will remain up in its current state (search working, maps not) through the end of 2016, but will likely be turned off completely after that date. Our librarians recommend that you use Social Explorer, a site that has current and correct data (along with additional data) and that allows mapping of search results.
This is a pretty big deal to folks who use census data. I’ve used this resource numerous times over the last few years, and it’s proved to be very valuable not just for data on the population, but also on manufacturing, the economy, religious institutions, and so on. The library is directing users to Social Explorer, which seems to be a versatile tool, but data from before 2000 is locked behind a paywall that requires either a personal membership (around $500 annually), or access through a subscribing institution.
The loss of this tool at UVa sucks, bad. Does anyone know of another source of county-level census data, preferably in electronic format, for the 19th century?
Joseph sold to (not Muslim) slave traders in the Book of Genesis.
There’s an essay making the rounds, “Political Correctness Strips the South of All Vestiges of Slavery While Ignoring Islam’s Contribution,” by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel James G. Zumwalt. Zumwalt, who writes about the Middle East and Islam at Breitbart, goes through a list of recent controversies regarding Confederate symbols, including the name change to dormitory at Vanderbilt and decision to drop “Dixie” from the play list by the band at Ole Miss, but his main point here (as with most of his recent writing) is to remind us all that ZOMG the Muslims are coming! Even superficially, Zumwalt’s grasp of history is tenuous, like his claim that Muslims were the “originators” of the slave trade. That might surprise people familiar with the story of Joseph from Genesis 37:2-36, that predates the founding of Islam (and Christianity) by many centuries.
There are a bazillion essays like Zumwalt’s out there, and they’re really not worth a lot of attention. I only mention this one because he cites one of my blog posts as support for his screed. About two-thirds of the way through he writes (my emphasis):
Few Confederates were actual slave-owners. The debate continues as to how many were. For Texans, the numbers vary from a low of 2 percent to a high of 36 percent. Furthermore, other motivations existed for fighting, including states rights and territorial expansion.
This is simply not true, and a complete misreading of what I wrote. There is no substantive “debate” about the incidence of slaveholding across Texas or the South among historians who’ve studied it in a serious way; as I explain at length, the “low of 2 percent” Zumwalt mentions is based on a deliberately misleading — to the point of outright dishonesty — claim made by heritage groups about Confederate soldiers from Texas, in an effort to disassociate them from the “peculiar institution.” In fact, census data collected the summer before the war began suggests that about one-quarter of all free households in Texas owned slaves. This squares pretty well with Joseph Glatthaar’s analysis of slaveholding in the Army of Northern Virginia, who found that in the first year of the war about one in ten enlisted men in the ANoVa were slaveholders personally, another one in ten came from slaveholding households, and more than half of the officers owned slaves.
On the other hand, maybe a more succinct response to his assertion that “few Confederates were actual slave-owners” is, “but all the important ones were.”
Furthermore, Zumwalt’s assertion that “other motivations existed for fighting, including states rights and territorial expansion” is one with an extremely short half-life, just long enough to ask, “for what purpose?” The states that seceded were indeed interested in states’ rights — to protect the institution of slavery, “the greatest material interest of the world,” — and territorial expansion, where “the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave. . . does not stop short of the banks of the Amazon.”
The essay Zumwalt cites is one I wrote back in the early days of this blog, and it’s proved to be one of the most-frequently-accessed entries I’ve done. I’m glad of that, because I think it’s one of the more important pieces I’ve written here, although I suspect that a lot of people are drawn to it by the title, which is a quote that the essay itself is actually refuting. No matter. But I do wish that folks like Colonel Zumwalt would take the time to fully digest what I have to say, and think on it, before dropping in a link as a citation as supposed documentation for something I never actually said.