Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Fall of Charleston” by Shovels and Rope

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 19, 2019
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Early on the morning of February 18, 1865 — 154 years ago yesterday — U.S. troops onshore and in the blockading fleet off Charleston noticed that the Confederates at Fort Sumter had not hoisted a flag above the battered remnants of the post. The monitor U.S.S. Canonicus moved slowly closer, and fired two rounds into the fort from her 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbores. The Union bluejackets waited for the inevitable response. Instead, there was only the sound of the wind and water.

The Confederates were gone. Charleston had fallen.

Shovels&Rope

Here’s a track from the album Divided and United by Shovels & Rope, the Charleston husband and wife duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. You can read more about them and their recording of “The Fall of Charleston” here, or hop over to NPR for a mini-concert. A contemporary broadside of the lyrics is available here.

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Oh have you heard the glorious news, is the cry from every mouth,
Charleston is taken, and the rebels put to rout;
And Beauregard the chivalrous, he ran to save his bacon—
When he saw General Sherman’s “Yanks,” and “Charleston is taken!” 

With a whack, rowdy-dow, 
A hunkey boy is General Sherman,
Whack, rowdy-dow, 
Invincible is he! 

This South Carolina chivalry, they once did loudly boast,
That the footsteps of a Union man, should ne’er pollute their coast.
They’d fight the Yankees two to one, who only fought for booty,
But when the “udsills” came along it was “Legs, do your duty!” 

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
Babylon is fallen,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
The end is drawing near! 

And from the “Sacred City,” this valiant warlike throng;
Skedaddled in confusion, although thirty thousand strong—
Without a shot, without a blow, or least sign of resistance,
And leaving their poor friends behind, with the “Yankees” for assistance!  

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
How are you, Southern chivalry?
Whack, rowdy-dow,
Your race is nearly run!

And again o’er Sumter’s battered walls, the Stars and Stripes do fly,
While the chivalry of Sixty-one in the “Last ditch” lie;—
With Sherman, Grant and Porter too, to lead our men to glory,
We’ll squash poor Jeff’s confederacy, and then get “Hunkydory!” 

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
How are you, neutral Johnny Bull?
Whack, rowdy-dow,
We’ll settle next with you! 

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GeneralStarsGray
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Well, He DID Make the Trains Run on Time. . . .

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 15, 2019

In case y’all were wondering when the self-appointed Defenders of Confederate Heritage™ were going to quit pussyfooting around and start openly embracing actual, honest-to-goodness fascists, that date is February 15, 2019.

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Make a Place on the Shelf for This One

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 31, 2019

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Kevin Levin, whose new book Searching for Black Confederates now has a cover and an August release date. It’s been a long time coming, this one.

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Moving Day at the MoC, and Other Stuff

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 27, 2019

Last week the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond began moving its collections from its old location in the middle of the VCU Medical Center to its new location at Tredegar, where a new, expanded exhibition facility will open in May 2019 under the aegis of the American Civil War Museum. The MoC closed that location to the public in September, although the adjacent “White House of the Confederacy” remains open for tours. Although this move has been an obvious and inevitable part of the consolidation of the MoC and the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar that was announced five years ago, and referenced many times since, the actual sight of moving vans outside the old MoC facility has set off the usual bluster and shouty nonsense it did back then. Longtime readers may recall that in August 2014 the Virginia Division of the SCV was soliciting funds to fight that merger in court;  I wonder whatever became of that, because as far as I know they never actually, you know, filed a lawsuit. So what happened to the money?

As Kevin notes, the Battle Flag taken down from the State House grounds in Columbia, South Carolina in 2015 has gone on display in the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, with an accompanying caption that completely ignores the events and rationale that led to its removal in the first place. Kevin calls this a “betrayal of the Charleston Nine,” and he’s right. I’ll add only two additional descriptors: cowardly and dishonest.

Also in South Carolina, the South Carolina Secessionist Party, which has been the most prominent and vitriolic heritage group in the state, has formally dissolved because — well, it’s not quite clear why. Based on a close reading of the article, it sounds like the group may have become too extremist for its long-time chairman, James Bessenger, who said that “the organization was taking a turn I didn’t want it to take.” Lie down with dogs, etc.

A few weeks ago the Texas State Preservation Board voted to remove the “Children of the Confederacy” plaque in the Capitol in Austin, which was done shortly thereafter. While the plaque had been the subject of controversy for some time, the move by the Preservation Board caught some folks off-guard. This past Friday, the board convened a meeting to discuss what should become of the plaque, and they got an earful from folks opposed to the move, particularly without having had a period for public comment before making their decision to remove it in the first place. In Friday’s meeting, the board ended up putting off a final decision on the disposition of the plaque until after a 90-day waiting period for public comment. Perhaps the way forward was suggested by Martha Hartzog of the UDC, who argued since the plaque was never formally gifted to the State of Texas, it should be returned to the UDC are the parent organization of the Children of the Confederacy group. That seems workable to me. (Full disclosure here: Martha is a friend of mine.)

In 2017 the City of Dallas removed a large equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park. Recently the city began removing the granite plinth on which it sat, prompting a new lawsuit by Warren Johnson, head of a group called “Return Lee to Lee Park.” (Johnson is apparently a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit over the removal of the statue itself.) Johnson claims that the removal of both the statue and the base violates his own First Amendment rights, which seems to me to be a non-starter; no government or organization is obligated to place or maintain a monument simply because Johnson (or you, or I) think they should. Johnson also argues that the City of Dallas is “exercising viewpoint discrimination against works of art,” which reflects a recent narrative among the heritage folks that Confederate monuments should be preserved irrespective of their subject or content, simply for their aesthetic properties as works of art. I honestly doubt that argument will stand in court, given the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Walker v. Texas SCV that states (and presumably their subdivisions, like counties and cities) have their own autonomy to decide what message they will convey through their own property.

Finally, in response to a posting about the Dallas lawsuit at the Southern Heritage News & Views, there are a long series of responses promoting the white identity movement, rancidly anti-Semetic tropes, and straight-up advertising for the Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. (Here’s a screen shot of that last one, in the event it gets taken down.) Useful to know who these folks are, what they believe, and who they are willing to have in their ranks.

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Happy Birthday, General!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 19, 2019

Today, January 19, we celebrate the birthday of a famous Confederate general: Edgar Allan Poe.

If you haven’t read it, and enjoy alt-fiction, I recommend Walter Jon Williams’ short story/novella, “No Spot of Ground,” available on Kindle. In Williams’ alternate history, Edgar Allan Poe does not die in a dissipated, incoherent condition in a Baltimore charity hospital in 1849, but recovers to conquer his alcoholism with the help of a wealthy Maryland widow, marries the widow’s beautiful young daughter, and founds a successful literary magazine. With the coming of the war, Poe goes south and obtains a commission as a Colonel in the Confederate army.

Poe is old for field command — just two years younger than Robert E. Lee, to the day — but he manages to advance in spite of his prickly relations with his fellow officers. Poe is personally brave enough, but hardly an heroic figure. As depicted by Williams, Poe is vain, dismissive of the skills of other officers, considering them to be his social and intellectual inferiors. They are, he believes, mere vulgar prose in contrast to his elevated poetry. Poe is utterly paranoid about their plots against him. Every burble of disorganization or mislaid communication in the field — things that a later generation would refer to with the acronym SNAFU –Poe views as part of a larger plot to make him look like an incompetent. Poe has little regard for the common Confederate soldier and, one imagines, the feeling is mutual. Poe imagines the entire Federal army facing him across the lines. Williams also gives the reader a glimpse of Poe’s obsession with romantic death, and his inability to move past the loss of his first wife, Virginia Clemm (1822-47), even though he assures himself he’s moved on. Unlike the Confederate officers of another recent bit of Civil War fiction, here Poe carries all the prejudices and attitudes of his day and place.

The main action of Williams’ tale takes place in late May 1864, when Poe unexpectedly takes command of George Pickett’s division at Petersburg, and moves with them into the line north of Richmond near Hanover Junction, just after the Battle of North Anna during the Overland Campaign. But much of the story is told in flashback, including a segment where Poe commands one of Pickett’s brigades in the famous assault on the third day at Gettysburg:

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The sound was staggering, the banging and the clanging of the guns, guns, guns, but fortunately Poe had nothing to do but keep his feet moving forward, one after another. The officers had been ordered to stay dismounted, and all had obeyed but one: Dick Garnett, commanding the brigade on Poe’s left, was too ill to walk all that way, and had received special permission to ride.

Garnett, Poe knew, would die. The only mounted man in a group of twelve thousand, he was doomed and knew it.

Somehow there was an air of beauty about Garnett’s sacrifice, something fragile and lovely. Like something in a poem. The cemetery, their target, was way off on the division’s left, and Pickett ordered a left oblique, the entire line of five thousand swinging like a gate toward the target. As the Ravens performed operation, Poe felt a slowly mounting horror. To his amazement he saw that his brigade was on the absolute right of the army, nothing beyond him, and he realized that the oblique exposed his flank entirely to the Union batteries planted on a little rocky hill on the Yankee left.

Plans floated through his mind. Take the endmost regiment and face it toward Yankees? But that would take it out of the attack. Probably it was impossible anyway. But who could guard his flank?

In the meantime Pickett wanted everyone to hit at once, in a compact mass, and so he had the entire division dress its ranks. Five thousand men marked time in the long grass, each with his hand on the shoulder of the man next to him, a maneuver that normally took only a few seconds but that now seemed to take forever. The guns on the rocky hill were plowing their shot right along the length of the rebel line, each shell knocking down men like tenpins. Poe watched, his nerves wailing, as his men dropped by the score. The men couldn’t finish dressing their ranks, Poe thought, because they were taking so many casualties they could never close the ranks fast enough, all from the roaring and the soaring of the guns, guns, guns. . . He wanted to scream in protest: Forward! Guide center! but the evolution went on, men groping to their left and closing up as the shells knocked them down faster than they could close ranks.

Finally Pickett had enough and ordered the division onward. Poe nearly shrieked in relief. At least now the Yankees had a moving target.

But now they were closer, and the men on the Yankee ridge opened on Poe’s flank with muskets. Poe felt his nerves cry at every volley. Men seemed to drop by the platoon. How many had already gone? Did he even have half the brigade left?

The target was directly ahead, the little stand of trees on the gentle ridge, and between them was a little white Pennsylvania farmhouse, picture-book pretty. Somewhere around the house Poe and his men seemed to lose their sense of direction. They were still heading for the cemetery, but somehow Garnett had gotten in front of them. Poe could see Garnett’s lonely figure, erect and defiant on his horse, still riding, floating really, like a poem above the battle.

The cemetery was closer, though, and he could see men crouched behind a stone wall, men in black hats. The Iron Brigade of Hancock’s Corps, their muskets leveled on the stone wall, waiting for Garnett to approach. . . .

And then suddenly the battle went silent, absolutely silent, and Poe was sitting upright on the ground and wondering how he got there.

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generalstarsgray

“Children of the Confederacy Creed” to be Removed from Texas Capitol

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 11, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott agreed Friday to remove a plaque in the state Capitol that rejects slavery as the underlying cause of the Civil War, bending after years of resistance by state Republican leaders in the face of Confederate monuments falling nationwide.

A unanimous vote by the State Preservation Board, which Abbott chairs, ordered the removal of the 60-year-old plaque that pledges to teach “the truths of history,” adding that “one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

The push to do this has been building for a while. Unlike other Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds in Austin, this plaque was not placed by actual Confederate veterans; it was put up in 1959, coincident with a lot of pushback against the growing Civil Rights Movement.

It’s notable, I think, that half of the six-member State Preservation Board, that voted unanimously for removal of the plaque, is composed of the three most powerful elected officials in the state, and all of them Republicans — Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Although the plaque itself is obscure and probably goes unnoticed by almost all of the thousands of people who visit the Capitol every day, it’s nonetheless an important milestone, evidence that now the rejection of Confederate iconography is bipartisan.

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h/t Al Mackey

Politico Tells a Warm, Fuzzy Story for Christmas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 30, 2018

There’s an article from Politco by Andrew Glass going around on social media, “All Confederate soldiers gain presidential pardons, Dec. 25, 1868.” It’s one of those pieces that news outlets prepare long in advance to be published over the holidays, when the beats they regularly cover are slow and the office is short-staffed.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson on this day in 1868 issued pardons to all Confederate soldiers who fought in that conflict. The president extended “unconditionally, and without reservation … a full pardon and amnesty for the offence [sic] of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late Civil War, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws.”

In his Christmas Day Proclamation, Johnson said his action would “renew and fully restore confidence and fraternal feeling among the whole, and their respect for and attachment to the national [e.g., federal] government, designed by its patriotic founders for the general good.”

I’m sure it seemed a good idea to post on Christmas, in the spirit of the season. But it’s a very misleading piece, in terms of history. Johnson was a Tennessee Unionist who, somewhat famously, had said soon after being sworn in as president that “treason is a crime, and all crime must be punished. Treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished.” Johnson never did have Lincoln’s sense of magnanimity in victory.

The Politico piece ignores this, and most importantly, omits any mention of Johnson’s actions regarding amnesty and pardons for former Confederates from the end of the war until December 1868. At the end of May 1865, 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. But fourteen categories of persons were explicitly excluded from this blanket amnesty, including army officers above the rank of colonel and naval officers above the rank of lieutenant, graduates of West Point and Annapolis, U.S. officers who had resigned their commissions to “go South,” civilians who had served as public officials in the Confederacy, and any civilian worth $20,000 or more in property. In short, the Johnson administration exempted from his general amnesty virtually everyone who played, or might have played, a significant role in supporting or promoting the Confederate cause. 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 his point about what he viewed as treason, and to underscore the deeply serious nature of that act. Over the next three years, the Johnson administration issued about 13,500 individual pardons. (There’s a whole section of them online at Fold3; you can see Nathan Bedford Forrest’s pardon application here [5MB PDF].) It was only after reviewing and granting these thousands upon thousands of pardons that Johnson, three-and-a-half years after the end of the war and with Ulysses S. Grant soon to move into the White House, granted a general pardon to any who remained.

One can debate whether Johnson’s approach was the correct one, whether the leaders of the Confederacy “got off easy,” or whatever. But what’s not debatable is that even if there weren’t going to be the trials for treason that many in the North wanted to see, the Johnson administration took the actions of Confederate leaders very seriously as a legal matter, and obligated them to go through at least a pro-forma acknowledgement of their offense.

The Politico piece, like so many, completely elides that fact, one made quite clear to all involved at the time, and in doing so maintains a happy fiction that the Civil War was just a big ol’ misunderstanding, let bygones be bygones, hands-across-the-wall, etc. It’s the sort of essay that contributes to the general public’s deep misunderstanding of the conflict and its aftermath, and doubly unfortunate that it comes from a news outlet that (fairly or not) considers itself knowledgeable about the currents and undercurrents of modern politics.

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Image: “President Andrew Johnson Pardoning Rebels at the White House”, Harper’s Weekly, October 14, 1865

 

A Different Sort of “Black Confederate”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 12, 2018

Via Michael A. Schaffner, from John Mead Gould’s History of the First-Tenth-Twenty-Ninth Maine, on marching through Opelousas during the Red River Campaign:

We noticed many able bodied white men in the town, and learned that they escaped army service by being ‘black’ in the eye of the law; — the law’s eye is sharper than ours, that is sure.

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Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 22, 2018

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Image: Harper’s Weekly, 1869.

Is a Wirz Execution Photo Misidentified?

Posted in Media, Technology by Andy Hall on November 10, 2018

A repost on the 153rd anniversary of the event.

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Henry Wirz (1823-1865) remains one of the most controversial figures of the American Civil War. Reviled in the North for his role as commandant of the notorious Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia, Wirz was tried in the summer of 1865 in Washington, D.C. and condemned to death. He was hanged on November 10, 1865, on a scaffold set up in the courtyard of the Old Capitol Prison (below), on what is now the site of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wirz continues to have many supporters, who argue that he did the best he could to care for the Federal soldiers imprisoned at Andersonville, with the very limited resources he had at his disposal. The Confederacy, they argue, had not sufficient means to care for its own population, much less enemy prisoners, and point to hard conditions in Northern prisons, where lack of resources was far less a problem, in response. They also point out that one of the key witnesses in the prosecution’s case against Wirz was apparently an imposter, who could not have witnessed the things he testified to under oath. Nearly a century and a half after his death, efforts are still being made to exonerate Wirz and restore his reputation.

This post isn’t about any of that.

Wirz’ execution was the subject of a famous sequence of four photographs, now part of the collection of the Library of Congress, taken by Alexander Gardner. The sequence of the photos, as indicated by both their captions and catalog numbers, is usually given as follows:

  1. Reading the death warrant to Wirz on the scaffold, LC-B817- 7752
  2. Adjusting the rope for the execution of Wirz, LC-B8171-7753
  3. Soldier springing the trap; men in trees and Capitol dome beyond, LC-B8171-7754
  4. Hooded body of Captain Wirz hanging from the scaffold, LC-B8171-7755

The four images were taken from three different locations (below). The first two appear to have been taken from the roof of the prison kitchen (Point A), looking diagonally across the yard where the scaffold is set up. For the image of Wirz’ body hanging from the beam, Gardner moved the camera to the left, and to a higher position to get a clearer view of the body in the trap (Point B). Gardner may have also wanted to frame his shot to capture the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background. For the shot labeled “springing the trap,” the camera is again at a lower position, similar to the height of Point A, but still further to Gardner’s left (Point C), again with the dome of the Capitol in the background. Gardner’s framing of these last shots is not subtle.


Plan of the Old Capitol Prison, showing the approximate positions of Gardner’s camera during the Wirz execution sequence. The plan is undated (from here), but shows the facility during its use as a prison during and immediately after the Civil War, 1861-67.

After looking closely at these images, though, I believe that these last two are transposed chronologically; the third image, labeled “springing the trap,” is properly the last image in sequence, and shows Wirz’ body being lowered from gallows into the space below the scaffold. The evidence – and somewhat graphic images of the hanging – after the jump:

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