Thursday evening I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Houston Civil War Round Table, for a talk given by Rick Eiserman, an indefatigable researcher when it comes to the subject of Hood’s Texas Brigade, titled “Will the Real Private Joe Joskins Please Step Forward?” “Joe Joskins” was the author’s name on one of the earliest memoirs of service in the brigade, written at the very end of the war in June 1865. The memoir, which was long thought to have been lost, is so vivid and detailed that the late Col. Harold B. Simpson cited it twenty-nine times in his classic work, Hood’s Texas Brigade: Lee’s Grenadier Guard, even though there’s no record of a Joe Joskins serving in the brigade, or any other Texas unit. Rick’s journey in trying validate the authenticity of the memoir, and to determine the real identity of “Private Joe Joskins,” is a wonderful tale of how diligence, persistence and a little bit of good luck make for for great history writing.
I’ll be speaking next month at the Houston CWRT, on the subject of blockade running on the Texas coast. My talk will highlight the intertwined stories of Dave McCluskey and Paul Börner, whose paths crossed violently on the deck of McCluskey’s blockade-running schooner, Sting Ray, one Sunday morning in the spring of 1864 a few miles off the mouth of the Brazos River. It’s a tremendous honor to be invited to present to the Houston CWRT, given the stature of many of their speakers, folks like Ed Bearss, Caroline Janney, Gary Joiner, and Stephen “Sam” Hood. (And those are just this year!)
My talk is on Thursday evening, December 10. Meet-and-greet starts at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 and the presentation beginning around 7:45. There is a $30 charge for dinner and the presentation, or $10 for the presentation only — but come for dinner. The meeting is held at the Hess Club, 5430 Westheimer, about a mile west of the Galleria. Allow a little extra time for traffic, but it’s worth it when you get there. Important: If you’re going to attend, please let the Houston CWRT’s Facilities Chairman, Don Zuckero, know at (281) 479-1232 or e-mail him at Reservations-at-HoustonCivilWar-dot-com by 6:00 p.m. the Monday preceding the Thursday meeting. This is important to ensure sufficient food and seating is available.
Hope to see you there!
If any of y’all are in the Houston area, I’d love to meet you at the Houston History Book Fair & Symposium this Saturday, November 14. Admission is free, and it’s a great event that highlights local history writers and their work.
Houston History Book Fair & Symposium
Saturday, November 14, 2015, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Historic Julia Ideson Building
550 McKinney Street in Downtown Houston
There’s a great list of speakers presenting on their work during the day. I’ll have copies of both my steamboat and blockade-running books for sale ($20 ea., two for $35, three for $50, and 4+ at $15 ea.). If you already have a copy, or want to order one online ahead of time (at a bigger discount than I can make), bring that and I’ll be happy to autograph it. But mostly I’d like to meet and talk to folks. If nothing else, the book fair is a great place to pick up some holiday gifts for friends and family.
Hope to see y’all there!
This post originally appeared on June 8, 2011.
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:
- Reading the death warrant to Wirz on the scaffold, LC-B817- 7752
- Adjusting the rope for the execution of Wirz, LC-B8171-7753
- Soldier springing the trap; men in trees and Capitol dome beyond, LC-B8171-7754
- 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:
The annual InLight Richmond will transform the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts next weekend. But perhaps the most electrifying reveal will be the wholesale transformation of the Confederate Memorial Chapel. . . .
It will become a focal point of InLight, with the artists planning to turn the memorial into a trippy funhouse full of disorienting light, sound and shadow.
“By illuminating and amplifying the building and visitors’ presence within it,” Dombroski tells Style, “we will create a heightened sensory experience that invites investigation and introspection.”
The artists plan to install several cinema-grade lights on tall stands to illuminate the exterior of the chapel. The interior will be illuminated solely by the light cast through the stained-glass windows. An array of shadows will form on the ceiling, walls and floor. . . .
Dombroski says the sound of a visitor’s step will be emitted seconds later by a speaker behind the pulpit. Visitors’ shadows will dance around the pews.
“All art work has the potential to be political, even if it’s Disney-like,” says InLight juror Alex Baker, director of Fleisher/Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia.
I like my history with a side order of iconoclasm, and I don’t think old Confederates — or anyone else — ought to be thought of as departed saints. But a “trippy funhouse?” “Disney-like?” That’s just ludicrous.
I wondered whatever happened with this story:
In an unusual legal maneuver, the district attorney in this suburb of Atlanta has won indictments against 15 supporters of the Confederate battle flag, accusing them of violating the state’s anti-street gang ordinance during a confrontation with black partygoers in July, the district attorney said on Monday.
Prosecutors say that members of the group, which calls itself “Respect the Flag,” threatened a group of African-Americans participating in an outdoor party on July 25. A cellphone video of part of the episode shows several white men driving away from the party in a convoy of pickup trucks with the Confederate battle flag and other banners, including American flags, fluttering from the truck beds. . . .
The Douglas County district attorney, Brian Fortner, a white Republican elected to the office in 2014, announced the indictments in a news conference Monday morning. Each of the 15 was indicted on one count of making terroristic threats, and a second count of unlawfully participating in “criminal gang activity.”
Mr. Fortner said that the Georgia statute upon which the second charge is based, the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, is “worded very broadly to deal with any type of activity that occurs with a group that’s organized that commits a crime.”
“We respect the rights of all citizens to exercise their First Amendment right,” Mr. Fortner said. “But we’re going to require them, when doing that, to respect the rights of all of the citizens to feel safe and secure.”
Keep in mind that truck rallies like this one have been organized and heavily promoted as a venue for expressing southern pride and heritage. Are these repulsive fools really the ones taking a stand for southern heritage?
Update, October 16: On Thursday, the district attorney who obtained the indictments in this case issued a press release, explaining how those charges were formulated:
Recent press reports have made prominent references to the fact that, at the time the alleged offenses occurred, some of the accused were displaying the modern adaptation of the “Confederate battle flag,” which was a flag used to identify some units of the army of the former Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. This case is not about the display of that flag. Federal courts repeatedly have held that individuals have the right under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to publically [sic.] display that flag. . . .
In Count 1, the accused are charged with a violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. The accused are charged specifically with being part of an organization, association, or group called “Respect the Flag”, which was composed of three or more persons who were associated in fact. This organization, association, or group, whether formal or informal, is alleged to have engaged in criminal gang activity by committing the offense of terroristic threats as alleged in Count 2 of the indictment.
In Count 2, the accused are charged with having committed the offense of terroristic threats. The accused are charged specifically with unlawfully threatening to commit a crime of violence to individuals who were attending a party at 9037 Campbellton Street, Douglasville, Georgia, with the purpose of terrorizing those individuals and in reckless disregard for the risk of causing such terror.
The New York Times article I linked previously makes clear that this is an unusual application of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, which has been on the books in one form or another since 1992, and was upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2009. Its use in this case will likely be challenged, and that’s fine. I don’t know the ins and outs of Georgia law well enough to make any predictions on how that will fall out. But if these jackasses did anything like what’s been alleged, they absolutely should be prosecuted and, if convicted, go to jail.
There are a few events coming up on my speaking schedule that I’d like to share with you.
On October 23-25, my blockade-runner book will be part of the Book Festival at the Texas Archaeological Society annual meeting in Houston. My presentation will be Saturday, the 24th, at 9 a.m. There will be several interesting authors there, including Roger Moore and Douglas Mangum, who will be presenting on a edited collection that they contributed to, The Archaeology of Engagement: Conflict and Revolution in the United States:
Dana L. Pertermann and Holly Kathryn Norton have assembled a collection of studies that includes sites of conflicts between groups of widely divergent cultures, such as Robert E. Lee’s mid-1850s campaign along the Concho River and the battles of the River Raisin during the War of 1812. Notably, the second half of the book applies the editors’ principles of conflict-event theory to the San Jacinto Battlefield in Texas, forming a case study of one of America’s most storied—and heavily trafficked—battle sites.
I’ve never known much about Lee’s military campaigning in Texas before the Civil War, so this should be informative. Roger has been a lead archaeologist on the Battle of San Jacinto, and a few years back located what is believed to be the site of Colonel Almonte’s surrender. I’m looking forward to hearing more about that, as well.
On December 10, I’ll be speaking at the Houston Civil War Round Table on the intersecting blockade activities of Captain Dave McClusky and U.S. Navy Acting Ensign Paul Börner. It should be great fun. The HCWRT is a low-key group, but they have some great speakers and I’m honored to be part of their schedule this season. Other speakers this season include Ed Bearss, Caroline Janney, Gary Joiner, and Sam Hood.
Then, on Saturday morning, December 12, I’ll be speaking at the History Center for Aransas County in Rockport on the blockade-running activities on the Texas coast, particularly around the Aransas Pass area. I was able to get a little of that in the book, but there’s probably a lot more to tell.
It should all be great fun.
For 20 years, amateur diver Bob Butler searched the murky waters of the Pee Dee River for cannons he knew had been jettisoned from a Confederate warship shortly before it was scuttled in advance of surging Union troops at the end of the Civil War
He found one in 1995 as he dove near U.S. 301 on the Florence-Marion county line. He discovered another in 2006. He was on hand seven years later as a member of the Pee Dee Research and Recovery Team when the third cannon was located.
On Tuesday, Butler watched with quiet satisfaction as a team from the University of South Carolina raised the cannons from the muddy bottom of the river, some of the final remnants of Union Gen. William Sherman’s march through the Carolinas in 1865.
“We brought a little bit of South Carolina history to the surface today,” Butler said. “This closed the book on a lot of history. It’s really special.”
Kudos to all involved.
On Monday, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson appeared at an event with racing legend Richard Petty. While there, Carson was asked about the Confederate Battle Flag:
Carson told the AP that NASCAR fans should continue flying the flag “if it’s private property and that’s what they want to do.”
He also acknowledged the flag remains “a symbol of hate” for many black people and compared it to the Nazi swastika.
“Swastikas are a symbol of hate for some people, too. And yet they still exist in museums and places like that,” Carson said, describing the decision about flying the flag “a local issue.” `’If it’s a majority of people in that area who want it to fly, I certainly wouldn’t take it down.”
So, Carson takes the position that (1) people can fly it from their private property, (2) whether or not to display it elsewhere is a local decision, and (3) it’s a “symbol of hate” for many, comparable to the Nazi swastika.
Naturally, the SHPG folks see Carson’s statement as suggesting support for the Virginia Flaggers:
I’d like to hear from the Virginia Flaggers about this news report. This stance sounds like Ben Carson supports the roadside battle flag strategy.
Reading comprehension: what is it?
Today, Thursday, is World Maritime Day. I recently received this infographic on modern-day piracy around the world, and efforts to combat it. Although it’s presented in a fun format, it contains some useful information about what remains a serious problem in some parts of the world. You can view a slightly larger version here.
This graphic was sent me by Tom Murphy of Nature’s Water Ltd., a water treatment and filtration company in Ireland. Thanks for the graphic, Tom!