Over at the Freedmen’s Patrol blog, there’s a discussion of a new plantation museum in Louisiana, and how it contrasts explicitly with the way such sites are traditionally presented to the public:
We marvel at the luxury. Docents tell us about the paint on the walls. [At Monticello] they point out where Jefferson knocked a hole in the floor of his foyer so the weights for his clock could go down as far as they needed to. You spend a few dollars to get in and a few more at the gift shop, making your offering at the patriotic shrine. . . . I think that the [subject of] slaves came up in passing at Monticello, with the docent waving off vaguely toward their quarters, but one goes to such a place to learn about the white dead president rather than the black dead slaves that gave them the wealth to fund their careers. Less famous plantations run to much the same experience. You can rent them out for weddings or parties. . . .
We take it for granted that the Holocaust Museum in Washington looks like a murder factory on the inside. We do just the opposite for plantations.
Powerful stuff that’s well worth your time.
A friend passed along this gem, a guide to “sporting” houses in Louisville for attendees of the 1895 Grand Army of the Republic Encampment. A typical entry:
Strangers Cordially Invited.
732 Green Street.
To the people that pay this city periodical visits Miss Mary needs no introduction, as those that visit her beautiful palace are so highly entertained that they are sure to pay her a return visit as often as they come to the city. She has a host of beautiful ladies who are excellent entertainers to assist her in making life well worth living to visitors to the Encampment and Races.
Finest brands of Wine and Beer.
I honestly can’t improve upon this.
This should be interesting:
Purging the Seas: Government Reaction to Piracy, 1600-2015
Governments have had a conflicting and complicated relationship with piracy through the centuries. When pirates attacked a rival nation’s merchant or naval fleets, governments turned a blind eye. Diminution of an enemy state’s commerce or navy could only be a positive affair – increased trade opportunities, markets for stolen goods, and a militarily weakened adversary. Yet, when pirates gazed away from enemy states and directed their attentions to the commerce or navy of their own nation, governments cast pirates as “enemies of all mankind” and engaged in naval and legal anti-piracy campaigns. Join Dr. Kim Todt and Dr. Elizabeth Nyman, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, as they explore government responses to piracy from the Golden Age through today’s arresting headlines.
Kim Todt is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette whose work focuses on the history of Early America. She is currently working on a book on the trading networks of Early America.
Elizabeth Nyman is the Anthony Moroux/BoRSF Endowed Professor of Political Science I at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is currently working on a book on international maritime conflict.
It’s always been interesting to me, the idea that modern pirates (e.g., off the Horn of Africa) are considered among the worst sort of criminals, but their counterparts from 300 years ago were suitable subjects for Disney. I’m as afflicted by that particular cognitive dissonance as anyone, I’m afraid.
It’s several months off yet, but I’m tentatively scheduled to speak on steamboats at the Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas on Saturday, September 12. This will be in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Kings of the River: Steamboat Transportation in the American South from the Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin. The exhibit centers on images of historic riverboats taken by Henry Norman, a photographer who worked in Natchez, Mississippi from 1870 until his death in 1913. Although they’re not from Texas, the Norman photographs are among the best available documenting steamboat technology, business and culture. This same collection of images, organized by Joan W. Gandy and Thomas W. Gandy, was featured in a really superb book published by Dover years ago. (I’ve just about worn out my second copy of the thing.)
I’ve given lots of talks based on my research for the steamboat book, but those have mostly been to local audiences who have some familiarity with Galveston and Houston, the 19th century rivalry between the cities, and their ties to maritime commerce. Temple, by contrast, is a railroad town, founded by the arrival of the by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad in 1881. It’s upward of a hundred miles from the normal head of navigation on the Brazos River, at Hidalgo Falls. The trick may be to show how, even in the decades after the war, river navigation in Texas was tied to the expanding network of railroads, and how much of the material used in building the railroads came up Buffalo Bayou by steamboat. To cite just one statistic, in 1880, the year before the railroad came to Temple, the boats of the Houston Direct Navigation Company hauled sixty thousand tons of rails from Galveston to Houston, destined for railheads inland — over 600 miles’ worth of 56-pound rail, by my estimate. The mass of railroad iron going upstream that year was nearly double the amount of cotton coming down.
Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. Good thing I’ve got six months to get ready.
Image: Passenger on the boiler deck of the big packet J. M. White, Natchez, c. 1880.
A few weeks ago Harvard historian John Stauffer published an essay in The Root entitled, “Yes, There Were Black Confederates. Here’s Why.” Stauffer’s essay was largely an expansion of a talk he gave in 2011, which itself reflected little more research than Googling around the web for well-worn anecdotes. Stauffer’s Root piece was mostly panned by historians who have closely studied the “black Confederate” theme, particularly by my blogging colleagues Kevin Levin and Brooks Simpson. Both continued that discussion through follow-up posts. I wrote about it as well, pointing out that Stauffer identified one of Frederick Douglass’ sources in 1861 as an African American man who claimed to have seen “one regiment [at Manassas] of 700 black men from Georgia, 1000 [men] from South Carolina, and about 1000 [men with him from] Virginia, destined for Manassas when he ran away.” Unfortunately Stauffer appears not to have followed up on the source of that quote, which actually appeared in the Boston Daily Journal and Evening Transcript newspapers in February 1862, roughly six months after Douglass wrote about them in his newsletter.
Douglass was making the rounds as a speaker that winter, and the man Stauffer cited as Douglass’ source had appeared with him at an Emancipation League at the Tremont Temple on February 5, 1862. That address must have given Douglass great satisfaction, as just fourteen months previously Douglass and other abolitionists had been forcibly ejected from that same venue on orders of Boston’s mayor.
But, as so often happens with historical research, nailing down the answer to one question raises several others. In this case, who was the “fugitive black man from a rebel corps” who gave the account of thousands of African American troops, organized into whole regiments, at Manassas? My colleague Dan Weinfeld, author of The Jackson County War: Reconstruction and Resistance in Post-Civil War Florida, decided to take on that question. He began by tracking down other accounts of Douglass’ speeches from this period as reproduced in Douglass’ Monthly newsletter. Sure enough, the March 1862 issue included not only the text of Douglass’ addresses, but also summaries of the remainder of the program. On February 12, one week after his speech in Boston, Douglass presented his program at Cooper Union (emphasis added):
At 8 o’clock, the [body] of the hall was nearly filled with an intelligent and respectable looking audience – The exercises commenced with a patriotic song by the Hutchinsons, which was received with great applause. The Rev. H. H. Garnett opened the meeting stating that the black man, a fugitive from Virginia, who was announced to speak would not appear, as a communication had been received yesterday from the South intimating that, for prudential reasons, it would not be proper for that person to appear, as his presence might affect the interests and safety of others in the South, both white persons and colored. He also stated that another fugitive slave, who was at the battle of Bull Run, proposed when the meeting was announced to be present, but for a similar reason he was absent; he had unwillingly fought on the side of Rebellion, but now he was, fortunately where he could raise his voice on the side of Union and universal liberty. The question which now seemed to be prominent in the nation was simply whether the services of black men shall be received in this war, and a speedy victory be accomplished. If the day should ever come when the flag of our country shall be the symbol of universal liberty, the black man should be able to look up to that glorious flag, and say that it was his flag, and his country’s flag; and if the services of the black men were wanted it would be found that they would rush into the ranks, and in a very short time sweep all the rebel party from the face of the country.
Although the man who “had unwillingly fought on the side of Rebellion” is not identified, evidence strongly suggests it was John Parker, the escaped slave who had served a Confederate artillery battery at Manassas. Just a few pages after the passage above, the Douglass Monthly reprints Parker’s “A Contraband’s Story” that had appeared earlier in the Reading [Pennsylvania] Journal. As Kate Masur noted in a New York Times Disunion essay in 2011, Parker had arrived in New York at the end of January 1862, where he was interviewed again about the Battle of Bull Run and Confederate losses there.
Notice in the Rochester, New York Union & Advertiser, February 12, 1862, announcing Douglass’ speech that night at Cooper Union, promising an appearance by “a rebel negro, in his regimentals, a deserter from Dixie.”
Additional material published at the time strongly indicates that the man announced to appear with Douglass was, in fact, John Parker. He was speaking in the same area at the same time as Douglass. For example, on February 19, one week after the Cooper Union event, Parker was the featured speaker at a Presbyterian church across the Hudson River in Newark, New Jersey. “Parker was hired by his master to the rebels at the breaking out of the rebellion,” according to the Newark Daily Advertiser, and “has worked at Winchester, Richmond, and Manassas, and is in possession of facts and incidents which the public are invited to listen to.”
Parker told his story to many people, including giving an extended interview to the New York Evening Post. Parker’s account of Manassas is vivid but badly muddled; when asked how many black persons there were “in the [Confederate] army there, he asserts that there were “one whole regiment of free colored persons, and two regiments slaves among the white regiments, one company to each.” A few paragraphs later, though, he claims that the number of black Confederate regiments at Manassas had since increased to “twelve regiments of negroes in the vicinity of Bull Run and Manassas Junction” (emphasis original). These twelve regiments, Parker again states, “are distributed one company in a regiment,” a claim that makes no sense at all. A normal infantry regiment of the time consisted of ten companies of about a thousand men in aggregate; Parker’s description is profoundly unclear in terms of organization and numbers of men.
The rest of Parker’s account of First Manassas equally questionable. In his New York Evening Post interview he claimed to be “sartin” (certain) that there were 3,600 Confederate dead, and 4,000 Federals. His estimates were off by an order of magnitude; the actual numbers were around 387 and 460, respectively. He gave the number of Confederate wounded as about 5,400, which is several times the actual number.
Of course, Parker was not a trained soldier, and none of the press accounts during his speaking engagement explicitly characterize him as such. Throughout his interview with the Evening Post, Parker made it clear that while he served a Confederate gun in action, neither his sympathies nor those of his fellows lay with the Confederate cause. In his earlier interview with the Reading Journal, reproduced in the Douglass Monthly in March, Parker asserted that “we would have run over to their side but our officers would have shot us if we had made the attempt.” He claimed that “our masters tried all they could to make us fight. They promised to give us our freedom and money besides, but none of us believed them, we only fought because we had to.” To the New York Evening Post, he claimed that a slave from Alabama had been assigned by his master to serve as a sharpshooter, and in that capacity killed three Federal pickets. When he himself was killed soon after, it “was a source of general congratulation among the negroes [sic.], as they do not intend to shoot the white soldiers.”
An illustration from Harper’s Weekly, May 10, 1862, showing Confederate slaves being forced to serve a cannon at gunpoint. John Parker claimed he and other slaves were put in a similar position at the Battle of First Manassas, saying that “we would have run over to [the Federals’] side but our officers would have shot us if we had made the attempt.”
Parker said that he and the other slaves manning the guns adjusted the elevating screws to fire over the heads of Union troops during the battle at Manassas. Recounting a prayer of thanksgiving given after the Confederate victory, one full of “southern braggadocio and bombast,” Parker said that “the colored people did not believe him, nor that the Lord was on that side.” Parker predicted that many slaves would continue to serve the Confederate cause, for fear that “the Lord was on the side of the South, and that they had got to be slaves always.” As for himself, Parker said, he would turn his artillery piece on Confederate forces and “could do it with pleasure,” though he dreaded the prospect of ever being in another battle again.
Was Parker exaggerating his experiences for an audience that was eager to believe the worst about the Confederates? It’s certainly possible. Did Douglass, who appeared with Parker on stage and published his story in the Douglass Monthly, have doubts about the man’s account? We cannot know. But whether he was telling exaggerated stories about First Manassas or not, the best evidence of Parker’s feeling toward the Confederacy lay in the fact that he began his speaking tour soon after learning that his wife and two youngest children – a son, eight, and a daughter, six — had successfully escaped to Union lines and were now on free soil, where they were safe from any retaliation that might occur as a result of his speaking. Two older sons, seventeen and fourteen, remained in the South, the elder as an officer’s servant and the younger, sold off to another owner six months before the war. (Parker gives his owner’s name as “Colonel Thomas Griggs,” who was likely William T. Griggs [1828-83], who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia but served during the war as an enlisted soldier in the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry.) At the time of his interview Parker had been informed that his wife and two younger children had arrived in New York but had not been able to link up with them; when they were reunited, he said, he hoped they would all continue on to Canada because he was still “not quite sure of his safety here.”
As Glenn Brasher points out in his 2012 volume, The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom, Parker’s speaking tour and that of another former slave, William Davis, gave a boost to both the cause of emancipation and for the enlistment of black soldiers in the U.S. military. (Davis also spoke at Cooper Union, on January 15, 1862, four weeks before Douglass. But Davis had come from Fortress Monroe, and did not claim to have present at First Manassas, or to have served the Confederates in any military capacity.) Thousands of people had heard Parker, Davis, or Douglass speak on the subject, and many thousands more read about it in the New York and Boston area papers. “Allegations that Southerners were coercing African Americans into combat continued to be a regular feature in the speeches and editorials of emancipationsists,” Brasher writes. “In pushing for both emancipation and the recruitment of black troops, the abolitionist newspaper Principia maintained that the Confederates ‘have been fighting in close companionship with negroes, from the beginning!’ Southern blacks, the paper claimed, ‘are regularly drilled for the service. And the proportion of negro soldiers in increasing.’”
Douglass himself went on to promote Parker’s story in print, in the March 1862 issue of his newsletter, a few weeks after having made the lecture circuit in New York and Boston. Parker’s arrival in New York was fortuitous for Douglass and other abolitionists, and who pointed to Parker’s account as evidence of claims they had been making for months. Parker’s claims of vast numbers of black troops in Confederate ranks isn’t corroborated by contemporary sources, but whether they reflected a misunderstanding on his part, or an intentional exaggeration for an appreciative northern audience, matters little. The widespread belief in their existence in the first months of 1862 helped drive the national narrative that began with the appearance of the first “contrabands” at Fortress Monroe in 1861, the First Confiscation Act in August of that same year, and through the preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, that opened the door to enlistment of African American men in the Union army the following year. By August of 1863, Douglass would be making his case for equal pay for black soldiers to Secretary of War Stanton and to President Lincoln in person, within the walls of the White House itself.
Many thanks to Dan Weinfeld, who did the hard work of tracking down the source material for this post.
 Boston Evening Transcript, February 6, 1862, 1.
 Douglass Monthly, March 1862, 623.
 Kate Masur, “Slavery and Freedom at Bull Run,” New York Times Disunion blog, July 27, 2011.
 Rochester, New York Union & Advertiser, February 12, 1862, 1.
 Newark Daily Advertiser, February 19, 1862, 2.
 New York Evening Post, January 24, 1862, 2.
 Douglass Monthly, March 1862, 625; New York Evening Post, January 24, 1862, 2.
 Glenn David Brasher, The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2012), 78.; New York Times, January 16, 1862; Brasher, 78.
The folks at the Civil War Monitor will be releasing soon a special issue, The Civil War: A to Z. It’s a quick guide to some of the prominent names and topics related to the conflict. It would make a great reference for someone just starting out on their CW journey. This special issue does not come through regular subscription, and will be available on newsstands beginning around March 3. The Monitor will have online ordering available then on their website as well, at CivilWarMonitor.com.
More page samples after the jump:
Early on the morning of February 18, 1865 — 150 years ago today — Union 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.
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.
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!
This evening, February 17, marks the sesquicentennial of the fire that destroyed much of Columbia, South Carolina. It was, and remains, a hotly-debated issue as to who was responsible. I haven’t studied this event in detail, but I would like to point to posts by my fellow bloggers that take a closer look at the events in Columbia, and are worth your time.
This post from 2013, by my colleague Al Mackey, examines a variety of contemporary sources and points actions of the Confederate military authorities that contributed heavily to the destruction that followed, including bales of cotton stacked in the streets and set ablaze before Federal soldiers entered the city, and by looters at the railroad depot who set off a huge explosion of powder stored there. Al concludes,
As the best evidence tells us, the destruction of Columbia was a tragic accident. Retreating confederates set cotton on fire, and the burning embers were carried by the wind. Some cotton bales continued to smolder during the day, and the high winds whipped them into a blaze as well that evening, spreading more embers around. Some Union soldiers, drunk on the liquor provided them by well-meaning but mistaken civilians, set fires themselves, but the record shows that more Union soldiers tried to stop the fires but were unable to do so.
As many of you know, over at To the Sound of the Guns, Craig Swain has been sesquiblogging Sherman’s March to the Sea and up into South Carolina. In this post, he begins to lay out the evidence that some of the myths about the burning of Columbia simply aren’t true. Craig’s style is less confrontational than Al’s, but he reaches a similar conclusion about conditions in the city — that long before the first of Sherman’s troops entered the city, the scene there was one of chaos, violence and looting:
Even before the first “bummer” entered, a wave of lawlessness, looting, robbery, vandalism, and destruction was sweeping through the city. That wave may have arrived because the Federals were at the gates, but it was not composed of Federal troops. Lastly, Confederate authorities did little, and could do little, to counter the violence in Columbia. Their focus was withdrawing supplies, materials, and manpower from Columbia, not keeping order in the streets. The citizens of Columbia, while maybe not as a whole at least in part, responded to the Federal arrival by inviting celebration, and to some degree more rioting. Lastly, there is every indication that the Federal commanders attempted to bring the city in order. However, I do think everyone from Sherman down to [U.S. Colonel George] Stone underestimated the amount of lawlessness within Columbia on the 17th. The majority of the troops were posted well outside the city, leaving only one brigade to deal with the problems. And that in some ways enabled the disaster to come.
Craig follows up with an account from Federal troops from Missouri, describing the scene as they entered Columbia on the evening of the 17th:
Many of the men wandered up to Columbia, which place was on fire and burning up house after house; long lines of cotton bales had been strung through the main street, cut open and fired by the Confederates when they left; there were probably several thousand bales thus fired in the middle of the streets. The wind was blowing quite strongly, and great tufts of the blazing cotton were hurled here and there among the wooden buildings. It was at this time that some of our First Missouri Engineers, who had their homes and families despoiled in the region of Rolla, Missouri, gathered in bunches of this burning cotton and flung it down in various houses, as a slight revenge on the Confederates for their cruelty.
As Craig says, “we cannot disconnect the burning of Lawrence, Kansas from that of Columbia, South Carolina.” Reprisal begets reprisal; retaliation begets retaliation. We’ve seen this before.
The over-arching lesson in both Al’s and Craig’s essays is that the events in Columbia are a whole lot more complicated, and responsibility for what happened a whole lot more widespread, than many people choose to believe. But history tends to be like that.
The chaos witnessed in Columbia would be repeated in other southern cities as the Confederacy collapsed, including (on a smaller scale) in Texas, in Hempstead, Galveston, and Houston, among other places. Those events, that I’ll discuss another time, reflected a similar breakdown of law and order, by civilians and soldiers alike. Those events don’t get a lot of attention in the way people remember the war here. No mythology has built up around them, I suspect, because they were entirely indigenous in nature, and Uncle Billy wasn’t around to get blamed for them.
Thomas Chubb was a rather legendary and not-altogether-savory character in Galveston in the nineteenth century. He did have his moments, though. I recently came across this mention of him in the Palestine, Texas, Trinity Advocate, August 11, 1858, p. 1:
I wish I could identify the boat involved here, but the reference to “Capt. Scott” doesn’t flag anything so far.
Added: Re-reading this account, I don’t think it happened on a Texas boat, although the town whose newspaper it appeared in, is near the usual head of navigation on the Trinity RIver in east Texas. I had seen a previous reference to three-card monte being the hot new scam on the boats running between Galveston and Houston on Buffalo Bayou about this same time, but I don’t think this particular event was on either of those streams.
The 2015 Dick Dowling Statue Ceremony will be held this year on Sunday, March 15, at 1 p.m., on the esplanade at the intersection of Cambridge Street and McGregor Drive (near the Houston Zoo and the Texas Medical Center). This year’s keynote address, “How the Irish Became American: The Civil War and the Struggle for Irish Acceptance,” will be given by Brady Hutchison, faculty in the History Department of San Jacinto College.
I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at this event last year, and was impressed by the dedication and warmth of everyone I met. They’re some good people.