Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Tracking Confederate Deserters in East Texas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 25, 2016

MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY stars in FREE STATE OF JONES

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Saturday evening we went to see Free State of Jones. It’s a powerful and, in many places, a disturbing film. I may have more to say about it later, after I cogitate on it some. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to read both Christian McWhiter’s and Glenn Brasher’s reviews.

During the movie, watching the Knight Company grow and organize in the relative safety of the swamps, I was reminded of similar encampment that grew up here in Texas, deep in the Piney Woods, that I wrote about near the end of 2013:

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Both desertion and men running from conscription was a big problem in Texas, as it was in other parts of the South during the war. I recently came across this account of using “Negro dogs,” bred and trained to hunt runaway slaves, to track deserters in East Texas. The place mentioned, Winter’s Bayou, runs through the Sam Houston National Forest, southeast of Huntsville. From the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, December 21, 1864, p. 1:
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Walker County, Nov. 24, 1864
 
Editor Telegraph – It is, I believe, generally known that gangs of deserters and “jayhawkers” have for some time, been congregated in the immense recesses of the almost impenetrable “Big Thicket.” Recently, however, the security of these foes to the Confederacy has been most unceremoniously disquieted, and their organization broken up. About 40 more of the “reserve corps,” under I know not what officer, accompanied by that redoubtable old bear hunter and soldier – Richard Williams – who, with a pack of negro [sic.] dogs, was impressed for the occasion, came upon the lurking place of the patriotic gentry above mentioned. Their chief rendezvous was on Winter’s Bayou, about ten miles below Col. Hill’s plantation, in the center of a cane break over a mile in width. Here in the heart of a wilderness, 30 miles every way in extent, the “jayhawkers” and deserters had taken up their abode, built comfortable shanties, cleared lands, planted corn, erected a tan yard for making leather of the hides of stolen cattle, and surrounded themselves with many of the appliances of civilization. But, alas! In an evil hour for these expatriated cowards and enemies of the South, our “Leather Stockings” (Williams) with marvelous sagacity, has tracked their foot-prints through the cane brake and thicket, and the fierce cries of his dogs warn him that the wolves are “at bay.” Instantly the “reserves” are launched upon them. But, although the deserters may rob the passing traveler, and plunder houses protected only by women and children, they can’t stand the cold steel in the hands of these true men.
 
They make only a show of resistance, and then “scatter.” Our bold “reserves” are generally too quick for them. Twenty-four were captured; four only of that gang escaped. Pretty good for the “first drive” of the “reserves,” and the indomitable Williams (he is an old 1835 soldier), certainly deserves the highest praise. I talked with Williams yesterday. He says there are yet, at another place in the think about twenty more deserters & c.
 
Your informant,
 
S.

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GeneralStarsGray

Friday Night Concert: Ralph Stanley, “An Uncloudy Day”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 24, 2016

Y’all have a good weekend.

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GeneralStarsGray

Canister! (Bad Behavior Edition)

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 23, 2016

Small items that don’t warrant full posts:

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  • The seditious clowns who seized a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in January and spent the next month fluffing themselves with the American flag on Facebook and YouTube are shocked, shocked that all that material is now being used as evidence against them.
  • There’s something a little rancid about holding a Confederate monument rally on Juneteenth. Whether these folks are deliberately acting like jerks, or just oblivious to history, is not clear. Maybe both.
  • In other news about Confederate monuments, the circuit court in Louisville has formally rejected the SCV’s challenge to the city’s plan to move the monument on the edge of the University of Louisville campus. The SCV had claimed that the monument was on state property, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of the City of Louisville, but the court found that the monument had been recognized as city property for at least 40 years. The SCV had also claimed that removal of the monument was prohibited under the rules of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, even though the monument had no designation by the commission, and in fact an application to the commission wasn’t filed until May 24, 2016, the day before the initial court hearing in the case. This may be part of the reason the case was dismissed “with prejudice,” which is judge-speak for “get the hell out of my courtroom.” Judges hate being played, y’all.
  • The Supreme Court of Virginia has declined to hear an appeal by local groups challenging the City of Danville’s removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Sutherlin Mansion, where Jefferson Davis stayed for several days after the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865. The Virginia Flaggers characterize this as a “small setback,” but it would appear to be the end of the road, litigation-wise, in the Virginia courts. We’ll have to see where it goes from here, if anywhere.
  • In separate cases in South Carolina and Virginia, people were arrested for bad behavior directed at groups displaying Confederate flags. In Charleston, a young woman allegedly broke off a pair of small flags from a vehicle belonging to a member of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, and ran off with them. When one of the party members began chasing her, her father allegedly grabbed the man to stop him. The woman has been charged with “malicious injury to real property,” and the father with simple assault.
  • In Richmond, a 21-year-old woman splashed sort sort of liquid in the face of someone participating in the Virginia Flaggers’ ongoing protest at the VMFA, and was subsequently arrested and charged with simple assault. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Flaggers went out of their way to extend thanks to the Richmond PD for arresting the person, but not to the VMFA security personnel who actually stopped the suspect and detained her until the po-po arrived.
  • And in Sandston (a suburb of Richmond), an African American woman parked her car in a residential neighborhood to visit a nearby yard sale. The owner of the home where she parked objected, and allegedly jammed some tree limbs into her car, damaging the windshield. When she went to his door, he allegedly responded by shouting racial epithets, waving a Confederate flag, and brandishing a shotgun. He went to jail, too.

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Got any more? Put ’em in the comments.

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GeneralStarsGray

 

 

 

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2016

[This post originally appeared here 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.


The 1857 Ostermann Building, site of General Granger’s headquarters, at the southwest corner of 22nd Street and Strand. Image via Galveston Historical Foundation.

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 Ostermann 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 or elsewhere.
 
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.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 recent 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 Ostermann 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 (right, 1827-78) 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.

Update, June 19: Over at Our Special Artist, Michele Walfred takes a closer look at Nast’s illustration of emancipation.

Update 2, June 19: Via Keith Harris, it looks like retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison supports a national Juneteenth holiday, too. Good for her.

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Hari Jones Drops the Hammer on National Observance of Juneteenth

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 18, 2016

[This post originally appeared on June 20, 2011.]

Hari Jones, Curator of the African American Civil War Museum, drops the hammer on the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and the organization behind it, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJoF). He argues that the narrative used to justify the propose holiday does little to credit African Americans with taking up their own struggle, and instead presents them as passive players in emancipation, waiting on the beneficence of the Union army to do it for them. Further, he presses, the standard Juneteenth narrative carries forward a long-standing, intentional effort to suppress the story of how African Americans, in ways large and small, worked to emancipate themselves, particularly by taking up arms for the Union. He wraps up a stem-winder:

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Certainly, informed and knowledgeable people should not celebrate the suppression of their own history. Juneteenth day is a de facto celebration of such suppression. Americans, especially Americans of African descent, should not celebrate when the enslaved were freed by someone else, because that’s not the accurate story. They should celebrate when the enslaved freed themselves, by saving the Union. Such freedmen were heroes, not spectators, and their story is currently being suppressed by the advocates of the Juneteenth national holiday. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves; it made it legal for this disenfranchised, enslaved population to free themselves, while maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution, and preserving the Union. They became the heroes of the Republic. It is as Lincoln said: without the military help of the black freedman, the war against the South could not have been won.
 
That’s worth celebrating. That’s worth telling. The story of how Americans of African descent helped save the Union, and freed themselves. Let’s celebrate the truth, a glorious history, a story of a glorious march to Liberty.

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Jones makes a powerful argument, with solid points. But I think he misses something crucial, which is that in Texas, where Juneteenth originated, it’s been a regular celebration since 1866. It is not a modern holiday, established retroactively to commemorate an event in the long past; the celebration of Juneteenth is as old as emancipation itself. It was created and carried on by the freedmen and -women themselves:

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Some of the early emancipation festivities were relegated by city authorities to a town’s outskirts; in time, however, black groups collected funds to purchase tracts of land for their celebrations, including Juneteenth. A common name for these sites was Emancipation Park. In Houston, for instance, a deed for a ten-acre site was signed in 1872, and in Austin the Travis County Emancipation Celebration Association acquired land for its Emancipation Park in the early 1900s; the Juneteenth event was later moved to Rosewood Park. In Limestone County the Nineteenth of June Association acquired thirty acres, which has since been reduced to twenty acres by the rising of Lake Mexia.
 
Particular celebrations of Juneteenth have had unique beginnings or aspects. In the state capital Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1867 under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau and became part of the calendar of public events by 1872. Juneteenth in Limestone County has gathered “thousands” to be with families and friends. At one time 30,000 blacks gathered at Booker T. Washington Park, known more popularly as Comanche Crossing, for the event. One of the most important parts of the Limestone celebration is the recollection of family history, both under slavery and since. Another of the state’s memorable celebrations of Juneteenth occurred in Brenham, where large, racially mixed crowds witness the annual promenade through town. In Beeville, black, white, and brown residents have also joined together to commemorate the day with barbecue, picnics, and other festivities.

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It’s one thing to argue with another historian or community leader about the the historical narrative represented by a public celebration (think Columbus Day), but it’s entirely another to — in effect — dismiss the understanding of the day as originally celebrated by the people who actually lived those events, and experienced them at first hand.

What do you think?
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h/t Kevin. Image: Juneteenth celebration in Austin, June 19, 1900. PICA 05476, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

“The cross was more important than the flag.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 14, 2016

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On Tuesday, Flag Day, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling on its members, collectively and individually, to repudiate the Confederate flag. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian who currently serves as head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote this about the decision:

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To understand the significance of this, one must note the “Southern” in “Southern Baptist Convention.” This doesn’t speak to geography; there are SBC churches in all fifty states. It speaks to history. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, over a controversy about appointing slaveholders as missionaries. The SBC was wrong, and more than wrong. The SBC of 1845, and for many years after, was in open sin against a holy God, and against those who bear his image.

This afternoon, the Convention voted, from the floor, to amend the resolution about the flag as it was reported out of the Resolutions Committee. The proposed resolution spoke about the way that many people fly the flag out of a sense of family history or honor. The Convention voted to strike that language. The committee version called for Southern Baptists “to limit” the display of the flag and to “consider” stopping flying it altogether. The Convention decided stronger language was in order.

In an amendment, offered by former SBC president James Merritt, himself a descendant of slaveholder, the Convention voted to say this: “We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

Does this change the game as it applies to the crushing issues of racial injustice around us? Of course it does not. But at the same time, we cannot dismiss this as just about symbols. Symbols matter.

The Convention recognized today what the flag represents, and what it says to our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. The flag hearkens back to a day when in order to justify idolatrous Mammonism, Southern religion wove a counter-biblical folk theology that stood on the other side of Jesus. The flag also points to years and years of domestic terrorism against African-Americans, often with threats of physical violence.

Like James Merritt, I’m a descendant of Confederate veterans too. But my family history is more complicated than just that. I’m a part of another family now, a bigger family that spans heaven and earth, a people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. The gospel frees us, as the Bible says, to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). The gospel calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What hurts one part of the Body hurts us all.

As I’ve said before, the Cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. Today, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, including many white Anglo southerners, decided the cross was more important than the flag. They decided our African-American brothers and sisters are more important than family heritage. We decided that we are defined not by a Lost Cause but by amazing grace. Let’s pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors.

And let’s take down that flag.

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My emphasis.

I grew up in SBC churches, and while I left many years ago, I long since internalized many of the basic ideas instilled in me in Sunday school, in the Royal Ambassadors (an SBC variant of the Boy Scouts), and so on. So it’s gratifying to see that Moore, one of the more influential evangelical voices in the United States, speaks candidly about both the SBC’s past and its future. As I said over at Kevin’s blog, the church needs to concern itself spiritual maters, not temporal ones.

Naturally, the usual suspects have chosen to set their hair on fire over this development (because that’s what they do), with some announcing they will leave (or have already left) the SBC. I say, let ’em go — if that’s where their priorities lie, they probably weren’t very good Baptists to begin with.

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Added, June 15: Check out the video above, via Kevin, of Jame’s Merritt’s motion from the floor at the meeting. “All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”

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Added, June 18: I knew they’d be upset about the convention’s resolution, but I didn’t really expect the heritage folks to completely cast off from reality in their efforts to delegitimize the SBC:

MooreIdiocy

Russell Moore was born and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi. As for Moore being “no conservative,” you can Google him your own self.

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GeneralStarsGray

National Cathedral Decides to Split the Baby

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 8, 2016

Lee Window

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You’d think that people in the religion business would have taken a lesson from King Solomon. But you’d be wrong:

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The National Cathedral window panes in question were installed in 1953 in order “foster reconciliation between parts of the nation that had been divided by the Civil War,” [former Dean Gary] Hall said last year, according to the Post. The statement announcing the removal of the Confederate flag portion of the window said the task force called to examine the flag’s presence in the church will revisit the question of the windows themselves in two years.

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This is idiocy. Either the National Cathedral should have windows dedicated to Lee and Jackson, or not. Either the church should honor the most prominent leaders of the Confederate military, or not.

I’m all for careful and deliberate decision-making, and if it takes two more years to come to a reasoned consensus on this, fine. But the windows themselves are the issue at hand, not some tiny vexillological element of them. And you can’t fix them — if indeed they should fixed at all — by pretending that Lee and Jackson weren’t actually Confederates.

Have the courage of your convictions, one way or the other, and get on with it.

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Image of Robert E. Lee window in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., via ABC.

GeneralStarsGray

 

Jutland

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 31, 2016

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Today, May 31, 2016, marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet. Jutland was something of a draw, tactically — and both sides claimed victory, of course — but it had significant implications for naval strategy through the end of the First World War. After Jutland, the German navy was hesitant to risk another major surface fleet encounter with the Royal Navy, and in early 1917 resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. This drew the United States into the war in April 1917, a move that eventually helped shore up the French and British armies in the closing months of the war.

Jutland was by far the largest battle fought between modern big-gun warships, with almost 60 battleships and battle-crusiers, and around 250 ships of all types involved in aggregate. It’s been fought and re-fought innumerable times by both professional and hobbyist wargamers. This 24-minute video that I mentioned a few weeks ago, makes a great summary of both the battle, and its consequences. Enjoy.

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GeneralStarsGray

Frederick Douglass on Decoration Day, 1871

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 30, 2016

On Decoration Day, 1871, Frederick Douglass gave the following address at the monument to the Unknown Dead of the Civil War at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a short speech, but one of the best of its type I’ve ever encountered. I’ve posted it before, but it think it’s something worth re-reading and contemplating every Memorial Day.

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The Unknown Loyal Dead
Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Decoration Day, May 30, 1871

Friends and Fellow Citizens:

Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is, in the very air of this resting-ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle and all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is precious, priceless, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.

Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.

Those unknown heroes whose whitened bones have been piously gathered here, and whose green graves we now strew with sweet and beautiful flowers, choice emblems alike of pure hearts and brave spirits, reached, in their glorious career that last highest point of nobleness beyond which human power cannot go. They died for their country.

No loftier tribute can be paid to the most illustrious of all the benefactors of mankind than we pay to these unrecognized soldiers when we write above their graves this shining epitaph.

When the dark and vengeful spirit of slavery, always ambitious, preferring to rule in hell than to serve in heaven, fired the Southern heart and stirred all the malign elements of discord, when our great Republic, the hope of freedom and self-government throughout the world, had reached the point of supreme peril, when the Union of these states was torn and rent asunder at the center, and the armies of a gigantic rebellion came forth with broad blades and bloody hands to destroy the very foundations of American society, the unknown braves who flung themselves into the yawning chasm, where cannon roared and bullets whistled, fought and fell. They died for their country.

We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.

If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans; which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth; which has sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold, swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves and planted agony at a million hearthstones — I say, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?

The essence and significance of our devotions here to-day are not to be found in the fact that the men whose remains fill these graves were brave in battle. If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough on both sides to kindle admiration. In the raging storm of fire and blood, in the fierce torrent of shot and shell, of sword and bayonet, whether on foot or on horse, unflinching courage marked the rebel not less than the loyal soldier.

But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause. We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic. We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers. If today we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage, if the American name is no longer a by-word and a hissing to a mocking earth, if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.

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Image: Graves of nine unknown Federal soldiers in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Photo by Flickr user NatalieMaynor, used under Creative Commons license. Text of Douglass speech from Philip S. Foner and Yuval Taylor, Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings.

Decoration Day at Arlington, 1871

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on May 29, 2016

As many readers will know, the practice of setting aside a specific day to honor fallen soldiers sprung up spontaneously across the country, North and South, in the years following the Civil War. One of the earliest — perhaps the earliest — of these events was the ceremony held on May 1, 1865 in newly-occupied Charleston, South Carolina, by that community’s African American population, honoring the Union prisoners buried at the site of the city’s old fairgrounds and racecourse, as described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

Over the years, “Decoration Day” events gradually coalesced around late May,  particularly after 1868, when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a day of remembrance on May 30 of that year. It was a date chosen specifically not to coincide with the anniversary of any major action of the war, to be an occasion in its own right. While Memorial Day is now observed nationwide, parallel observances throughout the South honor the Confederate dead, and still hold official or semi-official recognition by the former states of the Confederacy.

Recently while researching the life of a particular Union soldier, I came across a story from a black newspaper, the New Orleans Semi-Weekly Louisianan dated June 15, 1871. It describes an event that occurred at the then-newly-established Arlington National Cemetery. Like the U.S. Colored Troops who’d been denied a place in the grand victory parade in Washington in May 1865, the black veterans discovered that segregation and exclusion within the military continued even after death:

DECORATION DAY AND HYPOCRISY.

The custom of decorating the graves of soldiers who fell in the late war, seems to be doing more harm to the living than it does to honor the dead. In every Southern State there are not only separate localities where the respective defendants of Unionism and Secession lie buried, but there are different days of observance, a rivalry in the ostentatious parade for floral wealth and variety, and a competition in extravagant eulogy, more calculated to inflame the passions than to soften and purify the affections, which ought to be the result of all funeral rights.

Besides this bad effect among the whites there comes a still more evil influence from the dastardly discriminations made by the professedly union [sic.] people themselves.

Read this extract from the Washington Chronicle:

AT THE COLORED CEMETERY

While services were in progress at the tomb of the “Unknown” Comrade Charles Guthridge, John S. Brent, and Beverly Tucker, of Thomas R. Hawkins Post, No. 14 G.A.R., followed by Greene’s Brass Band, Colonel Perry Carson’s Pioneer Corps of the 17th District, Butler Zouaves, under the command of Charles B. Fisher, and a large number of colored persons proceeded to the cemetery on the colored soldiers to the north of the mansion, and on arriving there they found no stand erected, no orator or speaker selected, not a single flag placed on high, not even a paper flag at the head boards of these loyal but ignored dead, not even a drop of water to quench the thirst of the humble patriots after their toilsome march from the beautifully decorated grand stand above to this barren neglected spot below. At 2 ½ o’clock P.M., no flowers or other articles coming for decorative purposes, messengers were dispatched to the officers of the day for them; they in time returned with a half dozen (perhaps more) rosettes, and a basket of flower leaves. Deep was the indignation and disappointment of the people. A volley of musketry was fired over the graves by Col. Fisher’s company. An indignation meeting was improvised, Col. Fisher acting president. A short but eloquent address was made by George Hatton, who was followed by F. G. Barbadoes, who concluded his remarks by offering the followign resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:

Resolved, that the colored citizens of the District of Columbia hereby respectfully request the proper authorities to remove the remains of all loyal soldiers now interred at the north end of the Arlington cemetery, among paupers and rebels, to the main body of the grounds at the earliest possible moment.

Resolved, that the following named gentlemen are hereby created a committee to proffer our request and to take such further action in the matter as may be deemed necessary to a successful accomplishment of our wishes: Frederick Douglass, John M. Langston, Rev. Dr. Anderson, William J. Wilson, Col. Charles B. Fisher, William Wormley, Perry Carson, Dr. A. T. Augusta, F. G. Barbadoes.

If any event in the whole history of our connection with the late war embodied more features of disgraceful neglect, or exhibited more clearly the necessity of protecting ourselves from insult, than this behavior at Arlington heights, we at least acknowledge ignorance of it.

We say again that no good, but only harm can result from keeping up the recollection of the bitter strife and bloodshed between North and South, and worse still, in furnishing occasion to white Unionists of proving their hypocrisy towards the negro in the very presence of our dead.

The black soldiers’ graves were never moved; rather, the boundaries of Arlington were gradually expanded to encompass them, in what is now known as Section 27.  Most of the graves, originally marked with simple wooden boards, were subsequently marked with proper headstones, though many are listed as “unknown.” In addition to the black Union soldiers interred there, roughly 3,800 civilians, mostly freedmen, lie there as well, many under stones with the simple, but profoundly important, designation of “citizen.” The remains of Confederate prisoners buried there were removed in the early 1900s to a new plot on the western edge of the cemetery complex, where the Confederate Monument would be dedicated in 1914.

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more. . . well, you know. In part because that segment of the cemetery began as a burial ground for blacks, prisoners and others of lesser status, the records for Section 27 are fragmentary. Further, Section 27 has — whether by design or happenstance — suffered an alarming amount of negligence and lack of attention over the years. The Army has promised, and continues to promise, that these problems will be corrected.

As Americans, North and South, we should all expect nothing less.

____________________________________

Images of Section 27, Arlington National Cemetery, © Scott Holter, all rights reserved. Used with permission. Thanks to Coatesian commenter KewHall (no relation) for the research tip.

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