Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Hari Jones Drops the Hammer on National Observance of Juneteenth

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 18, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

Update, June 24, 2018: Via Bryan Cheeseboro, Hari Jones passed away suddenly on Friday. While I differed with his view on Juneteenth as a holiday, he was a powerful and respected contributor in the Civil War history community. He leaves a space that will be impossible to completely fill.

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:

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.

One gets the idea that Jones’ beef with the NJoF and its director, Dr. Ronald Myers, is about something more personal than mere historical narrative.

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:

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.

It’s one thing to argue with another historian or community leader about the the historical narrative represented by a pubic 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?
_____________

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

Advertisements

Dallas Monument Bidder Identified

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 13, 2019

So now we know:

A Dallas-based law firm placed the winning $1.435 million bid for a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that the city put in an online auction almost two years after removing it from a state park [sic., city park].

Holmes Firm PC made the top offer for the bronze sculpture, according to documents from the Dallas City Council. It was among several Lee monuments around the U.S. that were removed from public view amid the fallout over racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

The firm, owned by Ronald L. Holmes, has not said what it plans to do with the statue or whether it is representing someone else who wanted the artwork depicting Lee and another soldier on horses.

Holmes’ firm, which was identified in the auction as “LawDude,” did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Dallas Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata said the city does not have any plans to auction other Confederate symbols and the money for sculpture would go back into its contingency fund.

The assistant city manager said a task force that reviewed the sculpture along with other monuments and places in Dallas named for Confederate leaders recommended finding a local museum or educational institution to take them.

“So, we’ve tried to find interested institutions and tried and tried and no one was interested,” Zapata said.

It will be interesting to see whether Holmes intends to keep and display the monument, or was actually a straw bidder for someone else.

_________

Image via Fox4, Dallas.

Cannister!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 8, 2019

It’s been a while since the last update, so here are a few quick stories that might be worth your attention.

  • Nautical archaeologists in Alabama have confirmed a find first tentatively reported last year, the wreck of Clotilda, the last slave ship known to have landed its cargo in the United States.
  • Cooper Wingert had a nice piece on the dilemma facing African Americans attached to the Confederate Army as they marched north into Pennsylvania in the Gettysburg Campaign in 1863 in the most recent issue of Civil War Times. You can read it here.
  • The City of Dallas sold the Robert E. Lee equestrian statue removed in 2017. The city had set a reserve price of $450K, to recoup its expenses in removing the sculpture; it apparently sold for more than three times that amount. I’ll be curious to see where it goes.
  • Bestselling author Tony Horwitz passed away suddenly in Washington, DC, while on a tour for his most recent book. Horwitz is probably best known for his 1998 work, Confederates in the Attic. Chris Mackowski from Emerging Civil War contacted Rob Hodge, the Civil War reenactor who played such a prominent role in that book, for his thoughts on Horwitz’s passing.
  • The State of Maine recently adopted “The Ballad of the 20th Maine” as its official State Ballad. Although the legislation passed without opposition, there was (of course) still some whinging that the lyrics “may be unfair to the South.” I’d bet my lunch money these folks were probably just fine with the lyrics of “Maryland, My Maryland.” Such dainty, precious snowflakes.
  • From the “Heritage, Not Hate” files, two people were charged with defacing a monument and art exhibit at the University of North Carolina back in March. Both are (or were) members of “Heirs to the Confederacy,” an activist group that has staged many protests over the university’s handling of the “Silent Sam” monument. Although the university said early on that they had suspects they were investigating, it probably helped that the two were photographed the day after the vandalism at another rally displaying a custom-made UNC flag matching the one stolen from campus on the same night as the vandalism (above, photo by Tony Crider).
  • The American Civil War Museum opened in Richmond last month to good reviews, merging the collections and roles of American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy. It’s an entirely different sort of museum. Here is Glenn Brasher’s review.

Got any more stories that I missed? Put ‘em in the comments below.

______

Decoration Day at Arlington, 1871

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on May 26, 2019

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.

“At Freedom’s Door” by Cooper Wingert

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 25, 2019

Some of you, like me, are looking forward to the release of Kevin Levin’s Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth late this summer. In the meantime though, there’s a lot of worthwhile material out there. Cooper Wingert’s cover story in the August 2019 issue of Civil War Times is one of those that’s worth your time.

“At Freedom’s Door” traces the experience of the thousands of “camp slaves” that accompanied the Confederate Army north into Virginia and Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg campaign. While Kevin’s book takes in the broad, sweeping view of African-Americans connected to the Confederate Army during the war, Wingert zeros in on the experiences and torn loyalties of men working as personal servants, cooks, and laborers with the Army of Northern Virginia in the summer of 1863. Wingert pulls details from the private correspondence of Confederate officers and soldiers, civilians, and whenever possible the enslaved men themselves. There are some familiar names here, first among them being Major General William Dorsey Pender, who commanded a division in A. P. Hill’s Third Corps. Pender left detailed accounts in his correspondence of his bondsman, Joe. Pender embodied the deep contradictions and attitudes that were probably typical of slaveholders like himself. Pender paid Joe well — although he appointed himself “treasurer” of Joe’s money — and deplored the mistreatment and neglect of enslaved persons he saw by other white officers. At the same time, he also didn’t hesitate to give Joe “a tremendous whipping” when he thought it necessary, explaining that “like most young negroes [sic.] [Joe] needs correction badly.” Pender would be wounded on the second day at Gettysburg near Cemetery Hill, and died two weeks later.

Pender, like most slaveholders, managed to convince himself of the deep and ingrained loyalty of enslaved men and women, and discounted any notion that they might have the desire and initiative to escape. When they did, Wingert points out, slaveholders usually embraced the long-held conviction that they only did so because they were influenced and corrupted by others, free African Americans or whites with abolitionist leanings. Men like Pender could scarcely credit that their bondsmen might act on their own courage and initiative.

Wingert’s article is a good read, especially in conjunction with Ted Alexander’s 2001 North & South article, “A Regular Slave Hunt: The Army of Northern Virginia and Black Civilians in the Gettysburg Campaign.” Together they help to fully flesh out the story of African Americans impacted by Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania – both those with the Confederate army, and those kidnapped by it.

_______

Forrest on Decoration Day, 1875

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 25, 2019

Today, Nathan Bedford Forrest is more popular than ever among the fans of the Confederacy. No doubt that’s because he’s come to represent unyielding defiance, whether in victory or defeat, in the face of the Yankee enemy. More than any other Confederate officer — certainly more than someone like Lee — Forrest is the modern face of the unreconstructed rebel, the pit bull of the Lost Cause.

Unfortunately, that image doesn’t entirely square with reality — at least near the end of the general’s life. From the Galveston Daily News, June 3, 1875:

Blank

In Memphis, last week, a number of Federal officers and soldiers participated at the decoration of Confederate graves. As a result, Generals [Gideon Johnston] Pillow and Forrest addressed a letter through the Memphis papers to surviving Confederate soldiers and veterans of 1812, Florida and Mexico, requesting them to participate in the Federal ceremonies on Sunday last [i.e., on Memorial Day]. From this letter the subjoined is extracted:

“However much we differed with them while public enemies, and were at war, we must admit that they fought gallantly for the preservation of the government which we fought to destroy, which is now ours, was that of our fathers, and must be that of our children. Though our love for that government was for a while supplanted by the exasperation springing out of a sense of violated rights and the conflict of battle, yet our love for free government, justly administered, has not perished, and must grow strong in the hearts of brave men who have learned to appreciate the noble qualities of the true soldier.

“Let us all, then, join their comrades who live, in spreading flowers over the graves of these dead Federal soldiers, before the whole American people, as a peace offering to the nation, as a testimonial of our respect for their devotion to duty, and as a tribute from patriots, as we have ever been, to the great Republic, and in honor of the flag against which we fought, and under which they fell, nobly maintaining the honor of that flag. It is our duty to honor the government for which they died, and if called upon, to fight for the flag we could not conquer.”

Blank

Forrest offers a lesson that some of his most ardent, present-day fans seem determined to ignore

_________

This post originally appeared at on the Civil War Monitor‘s Front Line blog, May 27, 2012.

generalstarsgray9

Efforts to Identify the Unkown Dead Continue

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 19, 2019

From Peter Maugle, writing at Mysteries and Conundrums, comes the story of efforts that continue — more than 150 years after the guns fell silent — to name the unidentified dead from America’s bloodiest conflict.

Steve Morin, a volunteer at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pores through the yellowed pages of an antique book, cross-referencing it with his iPad. Morin, a retired FBI research specialist and student of the Civil War, is attempting to determine the identity of an unknown soldier. He is not using DNA to perform this task, which makes it possible to ascertain the names of many World War II, Korean and Vietnam War soldiers whose remains had been anonymous. Instead, Morin is using a combination of rosters, books, and online resources to reveal the identities of these otherwise indistinguishable men.

The process can be tedious and frustrating at times, but Morin has the right mindset and background. Experience with the FBI instilled in him a conviction to get the facts straight. No stone is left unturned as Morin strives to make the most accurate identification possible. He scrutinizes enlistment and payroll records, unit rosters, pension applications, and a multitude of other sources. Morin must also take into account misspellings or misinterpretations of writing from over 150 years ago. He might consider if the letter “A” was perhaps misconstrued as an “H” on a crude grave marker, or if a soldier’s state of origin is supposed to be MA, ME, or MG? Sometimes the clues come together like a puzzle, and lead to a distinct probable identity. When a solid deduction is made based upon all available evidence, the outcome is denoted in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery records. The entries are never definitive, however, and always reflect a degree of uncertainty. And if there is insufficient evidence, the best course of action is to leave the status as “Unknown.”

Another researcher assisting with the identification project is Michael Taylor, a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Taylor was inspired to take on the task (in addition to his course load and other duties at the USNA), after he attended a tour of the Fredericksburg battlefield with his fellow midshipmen. The visit ended in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, where Michael was struck by the over 12,000 unknown graves. He asked park staff if there was any way to go about identifying these soldiers. The arduous and complicated process necessary to establish any semblance of positive identification was explained to Taylor, but it did not deter the midshipman. Within a week, Michael delved into digital resources provided by the National Park Service and came up with promising leads. Now, over a year later, Taylor’s work has resulted in almost one hundred corrections and probable identifications for these previously unknown Civil War soldiers. Taylor, the son of a Vietnam War veteran, feels, “All those who served this country deserve to be remembered.”

When the Army reburial parties went about their grim task over 150 years ago, it is remarkable to consider they made every possible effort to somehow identify the fallen. Even if it only entailed part of a name, or their state of origin, there was an expectation that the task would someday be completed. Despite not knowing if there would be enhanced recordkeeping or organizations established to administer these places, the conviction was there. Otherwise, why bother inscribing “W.A.W.” on a gravestone? Now, with vast archives and multitudes of records available at a few keystrokes, the seemingly impossible is viable. Persistent research allows us the opportunity to fulfill the aspirations of our forebears by finally identifying these Civil War dead.

__________

 

 

Charlottesville Update

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 1, 2019

Blank

The struggle over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville continues:

A Charlottesville judge on Wednesday revisited his ruling that two downtown statues of Confederate generals are war monuments. He also gave a loose timeline for the lengthy lawsuit over City Council’s votes to remove them.

Last week, Judge Richard E. Moore stated in a letter that the city’s statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are war memorials and therefore protected under state code.

“I find this conclusion inescapable,” he wrote. “It is the very reason the statues have been complained about from the beginning. It does no good pretending they are something other than what they actually are.”

The Monument Fund filed a lawsuit in March 2017, claiming the Charlottesville City Council in 2016 violated a state code section that bans the removal of war memorials when it voted to remove the statue of Lee. The suit was later amended to include the council’s Jackson vote.

Charlottesville City Councilors Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin and Mike Signer and former Councilor Kristin Szakos were all present in Charlottesville Circuit Court for the hearing Wednesday. Only former Councilor Bob Fenwick, who is being represented by different counsel, was absent.

On Wednesday, Moore expanded on the reasoning behind his recent order and clarified what he called “misconceptions” that the general public has reached.

While both the statues are clearly monuments and memorials to two Civil War veterans, as shown by their attire, Moore said, he clarified that only the Jackson statue could be taken definitively to be a monument to the Civil War, as well, pointing to the language on the statue, which lists three military engagements.

The Jackson statue was unveiled in 1921, and the Lee statue followed in 1924. Both were donated by philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire.

Because they are monuments to veterans and — perhaps in the case of Jackson — to the Civil War, as well, that brings them under the umbrella of the state code preventing the removal or encroachment of monuments to veterans and wars, Moore said.

“It has never been about whether I think they should be removed, whether the majority wants them removed or whether moving them would be helpful to certain parts of the population,” he said. “It’s about whether moving them would violate the state statute.”

 

While it’s hard to argue against Judge Moore’s ruling under current Virginia law, the law itself is bad practice. Local governments should be able to decide for themselves what to do on their own property.

_________

Photo by Zack Wajsgras/The Daily Progress

A Beating in Fort Bend County, Cont.

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 29, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

Over the weekend I posted about the attack on Captain William H. Rock (left), the Freedman’s Bureau agent in Fort Bend County, Texas. Rock was a former USCT officer who joined the Freedmen’s Bureau in mid-1866, and spent two full years, December 1866 to December 1868, as the agent in Fort Bend County, one of the longest tenures in such a position in Texas. Christopher Bean’s 2008 doctoral dissertation, “A Stranger Amongst Strangers: An Analysis of the Freedmen’s Bureau Subassistant Commissioners in Texas, 1865-1868,” gives considerable insight on Rock’s service at Richmond, drawn from that officer’s correspondence with his superiors at the bureau. Rock comes across as a diligent and proactive agent, spending more time visiting the laborers on the farms and plantations of Fort Bend County than he did in his office, and working to adjust freedmen and -women to make the successful transition to cultural and political norms that, in times of slavery, had always been outside their reach.

It was a challenge, to be sure. As noted previously, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, there were almost exactly twice as many slaves in Fort Bend County as free persons, with only nine free colored persons in the entire county. By 1870, more than three-quarters of the county’s population was described as “colored.” Fort Bend had been a hotbed of Confederate sympathy; when (white, male) Texans went to the polls to vote on secession in early 1861, the vote in Fort Bend County was 486 to 0. The county sheriff, J. W. Miles, had reportedly been a private in the famously-rowdy Eighth Texas Cavalry, Terry’s Rangers, before being discharged for illness in 1862. Fort Bend County was a rough place, even for a man as seemingly diligent and earnest as William Rock.

For his part, Captain Rock went about his business mostly on his own. Unlike other agents of the bureau in Texas, Rock declined to be provided with a detachment of soldiers to assist in enforcing his authority — at least during the first months of his time in Richmond. It was subsequently reported that he had, in fact, requested a detachment later on, but it’s not clear if such was ever actually provided.

Following my last post, blogger Daniel R. Weinfeld left a detailed comment, remarking on the striking similarities between the official explanation of the attack on Captain Rock, and those that followed the murder of John Quincy Dickinson (right, 1836-71), the Jackson County, Florida Clerk of Court, in 1871. Dickinson, a former officer of the 7th Vermont Infantry and a former agent for the Freedman’s Bureau, was the senior Republican in the county, and a target for white Regulators looking to return the county to white, Democratic control during what became known as the “Jackson County War.” (More about Dickinson’s assassination here.) Weinfeld sees a remarkable parallel in the way both the Dickinson murder, and the assault on Captain Rock two years previously, were explained away by the local white community:

The “scenario” presented in Flake’s Bulletin conforms exactly with the same rationalizations/accusations made by Regulators at other times and places to justify assaults on Bureau officers and Republican officials in the South. . . . In the “investigation” [of Dickinson’s murder] conducted by the county judge, as reported by FL Democratic newspapers, allegations were made that (1) the assassin was a black man, who (2) was jealous over an alleged affair between Dickinson and a black woman and (3) that Dickinson had swindled local land owners out of their property at tax auctions. Otherwise, the papers asserted, Dickinson had been respected by his white neighbors! All this slander was vigorously denied by Dickinson’s friends and the Republican press. My research shows that Dickinson was without a doubt assassinated by Regulators waiting in ambush. The black man involved was likely hired by the Regulators as a lookout. Dickinson’s “offense” was his political activity as a Republican and his defense of voting and civil rights for African Americans.

It’s almost like the Regulators had a check list they passed around: implicate African American in committing the assault – check; accuse victim of sexually consorting with blacks – check; then allege financial improprieties by victim – check. . . . I’m also guessing that examination of the Democratic press over the previous two years would show that Capt. Rock was not so completely loved by local whites as Flake’s pretends, and that local whites had made insinuations about his conduct or partiality to blacks in the past.

There actually are plenty of hints as to some of what was going on in Richmond with Captain Rock, and the notion that (as was claimed after the attack) Rock “was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens” was patently untrue. As before, here are some contemporary news excerpts. We can all read the words, of course, but what do you read behind them?

Flake’s Bulletin, June 15, 1867:

We are informed by Lieutenant Rock, agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau of Fort Bend county, that the people of that county exhibited sentiments of perfect submission to the reconstruction laws, and a desire to abstain entirely from all participation in political matters, except that of voting for such union men as may be nominated. It would be well for them to give this sentiment public expression.

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867. Sheriff Miles, it seems, had physically attacked Captain Rock more than a year before the New Years’ Eve incident:

SHERIFF VERSUS CAPTAIN.

The Brazos Signal says Sheriff J. W. Miles, of Fort Bend, complained to Capt. Rock, Bureau Agent at Richmond, of unwarrantable interference with his duties. The Captain threatened the Sheriff with removal, and the latter replied that a whipping would follow. The removal order came, and the Signal tells the rest:

Mr. Miles has always been very prompt in the discharge of his duties, and suddenly remembering that he had promised the captain, hurried off in search of him., finding him near the Verandah Hotel. We only know the result of the meeting, viz: that Mr. Miles kicked and cuffed the captain in a manner unbearable, and the captain would not have been to blame in the least for resenting it on the spot. The affair was strictly personal, and we think the captain has too much generosity to involve the whole community in the difficulty.

Mr. Miles was arrested by the City Marshal, and gave bond for his appearance Friday morning, but not giving the captain due credit for generosity, he forfeited the bond by not appearing. The Captain will not certainly be harsh with Mr. M., as he showed no malignant intent. Fighting is supposed to be one of the principal ingredients of a soldier’s profession, and we think it is characteristic of any profession whatever, to look kindly on an amateur of marked ability. We hoot at the idea of the captain wanting Gen. Griffin, and the principal part of the army, to support him against an amateur, though he has shown himself unusually proficient. It is to be regretted, but we might as well laugh as cry. Captain Rock was tried before his Honor the Mayor and dismissed.

What do you make of the last paragraph, going on at length about Capt. Rock’s supposed fighting ability, “one of the principal ingredients of a soldier’s profession?” What’s the Brazos Signal saying?

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867

Fort Bend. – The Brazos Signal of the 31st ult., says:

A citizen wants to know what construction the registrars can place on the act of Congress, to register a negro [sic.] who has been tried and convicted of a felony, when they will not allow a man to register merely because he once superintended hands at work on the road. This, the gentleman informs us, is the case. That Capt. Rock asked the negro if he had ever been up before a court, and he told him all about it. Such work puzzles men that think they are loyal, they can’t see by “those lamps.”

Here is the total registration, up to Aug. 30th, of Fort Bend County, furnished us by Capt. Rock, fewer whites and more black votes than any other county in the state – 110 whites to 1198 blacks; total 1218; rejected only 28. We can’t register without crying; the office will close on the 6th. It is our duty to try.


An 1867 Harpers Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast, ridiculing both freedmen voting for the first time, and resentful, disenfranchised former Confederates.

Flake’s Bulletin, February 8, 1868, warning against planters being “fleeced” by the Freedmen’s Bureau.

In speaking of the aid offered by the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Galveston News says:

It is true that the planters are hardly pressed, and it is true that the bureau makes the offer of help without requiring interest. Yet the precaution taken for securing the principle and other things connected with it, should be looked into carefully before the offer is accepted. We frankly confess that some scheme for fleecing and oppressing the planters will be gotten up, in the hope that their great and pressing necessities will induce them to embrace it. And therefore we join the New Orleans Bulletin in advising the planters to examine every proffer of aid through the bureau with critical inspection before imposing responsibilities on themselves by its acceptance.

A man, named Wm. Shakespeare, once said something about “conscience making cowards of people.” Can the News remember the quotation?

And finally, from Flake’s Bulletin, January 20, 1869, giving a somewhat different account of the incident from the assailant, Tom Sherrard/Ross:

THE RICHMOND AFFAIR.

In the News of yesterday appears a card of R. J. Calder, Esq., County Judge of Fort Bend, half a column in length, in reply to a card of Capt. Rock, published in this paper. A gentleman requested us to copy the card of Judge Calder, which we are compelled to decline to do for the following reasons: First. Had Judge Calder desired its publication in Flake’s Bulletin, he would have addressed it himself to the bulletin, not to the News. Second. The card of Judge Calder is too lengthy. We have already published both sides of the affair, to wit: the card of Capt. Rock and the card of many citizens of Richmond, published in the 13th inst. But we append the affidavit of the negro [sic.], Tom Ross, the man who attacked and beat Capt. Rock, embraced in the card of Judge Calder:

STATEMENT OF TOM ROSS.

On the first night of January, 1869, there was a negro dance at Capt. Rock’s quarters in Richmond. I went to the dance, hearing that it was a free ball for the blacks. I remained there for a quarter of an hour, and then left. Returning a short time afterwards, I met Frances Lamar, a colored girl, who was kept by Capt. Rock as his wife. She was standing at the door; on seeing me she left and went to the Captain’s bed-room. Soon afterwards she and the Captain came out of the room; the Captain had a double-barreled shot gun behind him. The Captain approached me, and turning half-way round, said to me, “Take this,” meaning the gun. I stepped back from him, and told him, “I did not want it.” The Captain walked away and to some persons, and immediately approached me again. His woman asked him if he had heard what I said. On answering “no,” she told him that I said I did not want the gun. The woman had taken the gun from the Captain, and had it in her hand at this time. The Captain then said to me, “Do you see that door?” I answered “yes.” He said, “Then you take it, and that God d__n quick.” The fight then commenced by my striking him with my naked fist, having no weapon of any kind with me. While fighting, this woman attempted to shoot me with the gun, but was prevent by bystanders. The Captain getting the worst of it, I was taken off him, and I straightway left the house. No person had offered me money to whip the Captain, neither did I go there expecting a difficulty.

I was arrested and tried before a magistrate, Judge R. J. Calder, and fined $10 for fighting. I was born the slave of Judge John Brahsear, of Houston.

His
Tom  X Ross
Mark

The State of Texas, Fort Bend County. —–

Personally came and appeared before the undersigned authority, Tom Ross, a freedman, who, being by me duly sworn, says that the forgoing affidavit, signed by him making his mark, and all the statements and allegations therein contained, are true.

In testimony whereof I hereunto sign my name and affix my seal of office, this, 13th day of January, 1869.

R. J. Calder,
County Judge, Ft. Bend Co.

Here’s a fact that this news item omits: Judge Calder’s son, also named Robert James Calder, had enlisted on the same day, in the same company (Co. H), of the Eighth Texas Cavalry as Sheriff Miles (below). The two young men served together for a year before Miles’ discharge. The younger Calder was later made an officer, and was killed in action in January 1864. Does this fact have any relevance?


_____________


A Beating in Fort Bend County

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 26, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

_______

The other day a commenter dismissed my argument about the importance of interpreting the historical evidence, and making a critical assessment of each bit of documentation that bears on a particular subject. Practicing history, I had said, requires making careful judgments about the sources at hand. “I make no judgments on [sic.] way or the other. . . ,” my correspondent assured me, “I just present the historical fact.”

I thought about that little bit of self-deception this weekend when I came across two accounts of the beating of Captain William H. Rock (right), the Freedman’s Bureau Agent at Richmond, Texas, late on New Years’ Eve, 1868. Captain Rock was appointed to the bureau in June 1866, and in January 1867 was assigned to the office in Fort Bend County, west of Houston. Fort Bend lay at the heart of Anglo Texas, being part of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, and was later home to several of the state’s largest plantations. At the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, slaves outnumbered free persons in Fort Bend County, two-to-one. By 1870, the ratio of “colored” persons to all others in Fort Bend was more than three-to-one.

One of the particular difficulties in writing about the Texas and the South in the immediate postwar period is that much of the press at the time was highly partisan, with individual newspapers closely aligned with specific political parties and candidates. During Reconstruction, Texas papers were particularly divided over the threat, and even the actual existence, of the “Ku Kluxes.” Some, like the Houston Union and the Austin Republican, spoke out early and vehemently against the group, while others insisted they were a myth, and argued that the violence and intimidation attributed to them were actually the work of Radical Republican groups like the Loyal League.

So here’s your chance to wade into two very different accounts of the same incident, published in different newspapers. How would you assess these two accounts? What might make you question the reliability of one or the other, and why? What makes your Spidey Sense tingle? What questions do you have after reading these, and how would you address them?

From the Houston Union, January 8, 1869

OUTRAGE AT RICHMOND, TEXAS

The Ku Klux Rampant! They assault and attempt to assassinate Capt. Rock, Agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau. – They leave him for dead.

From Capt. W. H. Rock, who has been living at Richmond, Fort Bend County, and acting as agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau for that county, we learn the following particulars of a most cowardly and brutal assault upon him upon the night of the 1st of January. The Capt. was first attracted by a noise about his premises, and glancing out of the window of his private room discovered a number of white men about his house. He immediately went from his private room to his office adjoining.  On opening the door he was knocked down by an unprincipled negro [sic.] named Tom Sherrard, who he afterwards learned had been employed by the Ku Klux to do the deed. After knocking the Capt. down, a couple of the Klan filed into the room, and standing between a colored man who had come to the Capt.’s rescue and the prostrate Capt., permitted the black ruffian to kick and beat him until it was supposed life was extinct. The names of the white men so far as known to Capt. Rock, who participated in this brutal assault upon a representative of the United States Government, are James McGarvey, Joe Johnson, and the Sheriff of the county, one J. W. Miles. The two former, with drawn six shooters, prevented aid from Capt. Rock’s friends, while the latter was heard to remark as they left the house, “it was well done,” supposing, of course, that Capt. Rock was dead. Life, however, was not extinct, and after departure of the murderous crew, his friends succeeded in caring for, and restoring him. Knowing that if it was found out he was alive, they would return, Capt. Rock secreted himself in a neighboring hen-coop, where he remained until next morning, when he made complaint to the chief justice of the county, but perceiving the signs about him and the information brought to him by trusty colored men, that his life would pay the forfeit of an appearance against the parties, Capt. R. concluded to leave the place. Accordingly, Saturday night  he secreted himself in the cabin of a friendly colored man, where he remained until Sunday night. In the meantime, the country round about was scoured, and every negro cabin entered and searched, but in vain. His hiding place was secure. While this secreted, word came to him that Capt. Bass, the County Assessor and Collector had made threats to shoot him on sight. Sunday night the 3d., he started to get across the Brazos. Monday night found him across, but without means to getting to Houston some thirty miles away., as the colored people in the whole neighborhood had been visited and their lived threatened if they gave him any assistance in escaping. Monday and Tuesday thus passed away, and as good luck would have it, a horse was procured and after riding all night the Capt., arrived safely in Houston covered with mud and disfigured and sore by bruises.

We are assured by Capt. Rock that the above statement is a true narrative of this great outrage and that it can all be sustained in a court of justice, or before a military commission. The colored men who all know the facts of the case, would not dare to testify in any court at Richmond without the presence of troops. One of them, expressing sympathy for Capt. Rock, was most cruelly beaten, and subsequently, at night, taken from his cabin and beaten until he was supposed to be dead, after which, tieing [sic.] a rope about his neck, he was dragged to an out of the way corner and left for dead.

Other outrages have been committed recently in this delectable town. Last Sunday a band of young rowdies went to the church where the colored people were holding [a] religious meeting, and literally drove them out, and broke up the meeting.

The teacher of the colored school in Richmond, has been driven away, and violence and treason stalks abroad in all its hideous deformity.

This is a terrible picture, and we shall be denounced for exposing it to the public; but the truth is not half told. In truth, there is not a loyal man in the town of Richmond. As an example, a prominent merchant there, named Greenwood, and the express agent, one Albertson, openly avowed they would spend their money freely to prevent the hired ruffian, Sherrard, from being brought to justice. We call upon the managers of the Express Company in this city to remove this man, who thus, by his means and influence, encourages the commission of outrages upon representatives of the Government.

Capt. Rock has often signified to the commanding General the necessity of stationing troops at Richmond. He has for a long time been cognizant of the disloyal disposition of the people there, and knew that as soon as the Bureau was discontinued the rights of the colored people would be utterly ignored, which he now informs us is the case. They are intimidated, brow beaten and worried, and unless a stop is put to it, a fearful outbreak ere long will be the consequence.

An official report of the state of affairs in Fort Bend county will be made by Capt. Rock to Gen. Canby, and we hope and trust the latter will send sufficient troops there to bring all concerned in this affair to justice, as well as protect the loyal men of the county from the malignant persecutions of the Ku-Klux cut throats.

The town where public sentiment permits such outrages as narrated above, should be put under military government and kept there until its return to good behavior makes it safe to remove it.

A week later, on January 16, 1869, Flake’s Bulletin in Galveston published a rebuttal signed by prominent members of the Richmond community, including two men implicated in the previous article, Sheriff J. W. Miles and Express Agent William H. Albertson:

ATTACK ON THE FREEDMEN’S BUREAU AGENT AT RICHMOND.

Special to Flake’s Bulletin.

Houston, Jan. 7 – Capt. Rock, lately in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau at Richmond, has just arrived in this city, having ridden from that place last night, in order to escape the pursuit of a band of desperadoes in that county. – He was attacked, badly beaten, and was left for dead. His present appearance is sufficient evidence of the treatment to which he was exposed. The outrage occurred on the night of the 31st ult. and the 1st. inst. The majority of citizens deplore the act, and assisted the Captain to escape.

Flake’s Bulletin, Jan. 8.

We desire to speak in defence of our county, and give a truthful account of the subject in the above extract.

Capt. Wm. H. Rock, Sub-Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, lived in this county for about two and a half years, and during that time was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens. Several decisions of his bore heavily with some, but they, as well as the public, were charitable enough to attribute the same to the evil machinations of the “ardent,” instead of any ill feeling that the Captain possessed; and towards the close of his administration it was often remarked that he had made about as good an officer of the kind as we probably could have gotten. Many regretted that his office compelled one who seemed so much a gentleman to associate with freedmen to the exclusion of whites.

Well, the Bureau collapsed, and when Captain Rock became free – no longer obedient to his masters – it was expected that he would assert his rights, and fully justify the good opinion that had been formed of him; but his actions on the event proved most conclusively that his just, and even willing disposition to deal fairly with the whites was caused alone from fear, and that the “nigger” was in him from the first, but for that aforesaid fear. Now comes the cause for which this Sabraite was forced to flee the land, as alleged above. During Christmas week Capt. Rock, having no further use for an office, converted his establishment into a ball room, and darkey maidens, accompanied by African beaux, held nightly revels to sweet sounds of music. It was at one of these lovely affairs that Tom Sherrod, a very worthy freedman, attended – not, however, without an invitation from “Captain and Mrs. Rock,” in writing. This last personage, a dark and bony [bonny?] Venus, formerly the property of one of our citizens. Previous to the time, Capt. R. had insulted the wife of Tom, yet he (Tom) went to the ball, was ordered out, and it is reported that Capt. R. drew upon his a double-barreled gun, and that Tom was acting in self-defense.

This may be so or not; certes that Tom demolished the valiant captain in the presence of the whole party. Now we firmly believe that no jury in the United States would have convicted this boy Tom, or any other man, for chastising the brute who insulted his wife, even had the charge been murder instead of simply assault.

Upon the following day Captain R. made an affidavit that Tom had assaulted him with brass knuckles, and a warrant was issued for his arrest; in the mean time a distress warrant was issued, and Capt. Rock’s furniture, etc., was attached for house rent, and he left in charge of same – not being able to vacate on account of the wounds from which he was still suffering. That night, though, the attached articles were conveyed, under cover of darkness, to some unknown place, and the captain ditto, no one knows where, and few except his creditors care. He leaves many debts behind, due to both whites and blacks. The latter he deceived by telling them he was going to Austin after troops, while the former knew he was making tracks from the countless hundreds of dollars which were pressing him.

This is but a meagre account of all the acts of Captain Rock in this place, and we would have preferred his departure from our midst in silence, and would have done so except for the flagrant falsehoods contained in the above extract.

Since writing the above we learn that the freedman Tom was arrested and tried yesterday, and was fined ten dollars and costs.

C. H. Kendall, D. C. Hinkle, J. W. Miles, W. C. Hunter, Geo. O. Schley, E. Ryan, G. W. Pleasants, S. R. Walker, Ed. D. Ryan, W. Andrus, T. J. Smith, G. F’ Cook, J. P. Marshall, H. L. Somerville, R. F. Hill, B. W. Bell, G. M. Cathey, J. T. Holt, Chas. C. Bass, Alex Curr, Wm. Ryon, W. K. Davis, J. H. Hand, N. G. Davis, S. Mayblum, H. Jenkins, W. H. Albertson.

The statement of the foregoing extract is not true.

W. E. Kendall, B. F. Atkins

Why did not Captain Rock pay me his board bill, and settle with the Union League for money of theirs that he used for his own purposes?

W. P. Huff, Member Union League, Fort Bend Co.

______________

Image: The Freedmen’s Bureau at Memphis, c. 1868. William H. Rock CDV portrait via Cowan’s Auctions.