Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2019

[This post originally appeared here on June 19, 2010.]


“Emancipation” by Thomas Nast. Ohio State University.

Juneteenth has come again, and (quite rightly) the Galveston County Daily News, the paper that first published General Granger’s order that forms the basis for the holiday, has again called for the day to be recognized as a national holiday:

 
Those who are lobbying for a national holiday are not asking for a paid day off. They are asking for a commemorative day, like Flag Day on June 14 or Patriot Day on Sept. 11. All that would take is a presidential proclamation. Both the U.S. House and Senate have endorsed the idea.
 
Why is a national celebration for an event that occurred in Galveston and originally affected only those in a single state such a good idea?
 
Because Juneteenth has become a symbol of the end of slavery. No matter how much we may regret the tragedy of slavery and wish it weren’t a part of this nation’s story, it is. Denying the truth about the past is always unwise.
 
For those who don’t know, Juneteenth started in Galveston. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. But the order was meaningless until it could be enforced. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederacy had been defeated and Union troops landed in Galveston — that the slaves in Texas were told they were free.
 
People all across the country get this story. That’s why Juneteenth celebrations have been growing all across the country. The celebration started in Galveston. But its significance has come to be understood far, far beyond the island, and far beyond Texas.
 

This is exactly right. Juneteenth is not just of relevance to African Americans or Texans, but for all who ascribe to the values of liberty and civic participation in this country. A victory for civil rights for any group is a victory for us all, and there is none bigger in this nation’s history than that transformation represented by Juneteenth.

But as widespread as Juneteenth celebrations have become — I was pleased and surprised, some years ago, to see Juneteenth celebration flyers pasted up in Minnesota — there’s an awful lot of confusion and misinformation about the specific events here, in Galveston, in June 1865 that gave birth to the holiday. The best published account of the period appears in Edward T. Cotham’s Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, from which much of what follows is abstracted.


The United States Customs House, Galveston.

On June 5, Captain B. F. Sands entered Galveston harbor with the Union naval vessels Cornubia and Preston. Sands went ashore with a detachment and raised the United States flag over the federal customs house for about half an hour. Sands made a few comments to the largely silent crowd, saying that he saw this event as the closing chapter of the rebellion, and assuring the local citizens that he had only worn a sidearm that day as a gesture of respect for the mayor of the city.


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

A large number of Federal troops came ashore over the next two weeks, including detachments of the 76th Illinois Infantry. Union General Gordon Granger, newly-appointed as military governor for Texas, arrived on June 18, and established his headquarters in Ostermann Building (now gone) on the southwest corner of 22nd and Strand. The provost marshal, which acted largely as a military police force, set up in the Customs House. The next day, June 19, a Monday, Granger issued five general orders, establishing his authority over the rest of Texas and laying out the initial priorities of his administration. General Orders Nos. 1 and 2 asserted Granger’s authority over all Federal forces in Texas, and named the key department heads in his administration of the state for various responsibilities. General Order No. 4 voided all actions of the Texas government during the rebellion, and asserted Federal control over all public assets within the state. General Order No. 5 established the Army’s Quartermaster Department as sole authorized buyer for cotton, until such time as Treasury agents could arrive and take over those responsibilities.

It is General Order No. 3, however, that is remembered today. It was short and direct:

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865
 
General Orders, No. 3
 
The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
 
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.A.G.

What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.


The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in recent local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.

Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.

Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Ostermann Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin (right, 1827-78) of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.

Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.

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

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

Update 3, June 19, 2013: Freedmen’s Patrol nails the general public’s ambivalence about Juneteenth:

I suppose it gets ignored for the same reason we ignore Emancipation Day. To make a national fuss over it would require us to grapple with slavery and own up to freedom as a kind of national project, not a crystallized perfection handed down from men in powdered wigs.

Exactly right.

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Hari Jones Drops the Hammer on National Observance of Juneteenth

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 18, 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?
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h/t Kevin. Image: Juneteenth celebration in Austin, June 19, 1900. PICA 05476, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

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.

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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.

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?


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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.

What They Saw at Fort Pillow

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 12, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2012.]

While doing research on something else, I came across a couple of accounts of the aftermath of the Confederate assault on Fort Pillow, written by naval officers of U.S.S Silver Cloud (above), the Union “tinclad” gunboat that was the first on the scene. I don’t recall encountering these descriptions before, and they really do strike a nerve with their raw descriptions of what these men witnessed, at first hand.

These accounts are particularly important because historians are always looking for “proximity” in historical accounts of major events. The description of an event by someone who was physically present is to be more valued than one by someone who simply heard about it from another person. The narrative committed to paper immediately is, generally, more to be valued than one written months or years after the events described, when memories have started to fade or become shaded by others’ differing recollections. Hopefully, too, the historian can find those things in a description of the event by someone who doesn’t have any particular axe to grind, who’s writing for his own purposes without the intention that his account will be widely and publicly known. These are all factors — somewhat subjective, to be sure — that the historian considers when deciding what historical accounts to rely on when trying to reconstruct historical events, and to understand how one or another document fits within the context of all the rest.

Which brings us back to the eyewitness accounts of Acting Master William Ferguson, commanding officer of U.S.S. Silver Cloud, and Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell of that same vessel.

Ferguson’s report was written April 14, 1864, the day after he was at the site. It was addressed to Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding officer of the Union’s XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee, then headquartered at Memphis. It appears in the Army OR, vol. 57, and the Navy OR, vol. 26.

 
U.S. STEAMER SILVER CLOUD,
Off Memphis, Tenn., April 14, 1864.
 
SIR: In compliance with your request that I would forward to you a written statement of what I witnessed and learned concerning the treatment of our troops by the rebels at the capture of Fort Pillow by their forces under General Forrest, I have the honor to submit the following report:
 
Our garrison at Fort Pillow, consisting of some 350 colored troops and 200 of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, refusing to surrender, the place was carried by assault about 3 p.m. of 12th instant.
 
I arrived off the fort at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 13th instant. Parties of rebel cavalry were picketing on the hills around the fort, and shelling those away I made a landing and took on-board some 20 of our troops (some of them badly wounded), who had concealed themselves along the bank and came out when they saw my vessel. While doing so I was fired upon by rebel sharpshooters posted on the hills, and 1 wounded man limping down to the vessel was shot.
 
About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed, and hailing the steamer Platte Valley, which vessel I had convoyed up from Memphis, I brought her alongside and had the wounded brought down from the fort and battle-field and placed on board of her. Details of rebel soldiers assisted us in this duty, and some soldiers and citizens on board the Platte Valley volunteered for the same purpose.
 
We found about 70 wounded men in the fort and around it, and buried, I should think, 150 bodies. All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered a terrible death in the flames could be seen.
 
All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen. Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter of our unfortunate troops.
 
Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.
 
As near as I can learn, there were about 500 men in the fort when it was stormed. I received about 100 men, including the wounded and those I took on board before the flag of truce was sent in. The rebels, I learned, had few prisoners; so that at least 300 of our troops must have been killed in this affair.
 
I have the honor to forward a list(*) of the wounded officers and men received from the enemy under flag of truce.
 
I am, general, your obedient servant,
 
W. FERGUSON,
Acting Master, U.S. Navy, Comdg. U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud.
 

Ferguson’s report is valuable because it is detailed, proximate in time to the event, and was written specifically for reference within the military chain of command. It seems likely that Ferguson’s description is the first written description of the aftermath of the engagement within the Federal’s command structure. Certainly it was written before news of Fort Pillow became widely known across the country, and the event became a rallying cry for retribution and revenge. Ferguson’s account was, I believe, ultimately included in the evidence published by the subsequent congressional investigation of the incident, but he had no way of anticipating that when he sat down to write out his report just 24 hours after witnessing such horrors.

The second account is that of Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell (right), a 20-year-old junior officer aboard the gunboat. Critchell’s letter, addressed to U.S. Rep. Henry T. Blow of Missouri, was written a week after Ferguson’s report, after the enormity of events at the fort had begun to take hold. If Ferguson’s report reflected the shock of what he’d seen, Critchell’s gives voice to a growing anger about it.  Critchell’s revulsion comes through in this letter, along with his disdain for the explanations of the brutality offered by the Confederate officers he’d met, that they’d simply lost control of their men, which the Union naval officer calls “a flimsy excuse.” Crittchell admits to being “personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels,” but also stands by the accuracy of his description, offering to swear out an affidavit attesting to it.

 
UNITED STATES STEAMER “SILVER CLOUD.”
Mississippi River, April 22nd, 1864.
 
SIR :-Since you did me the favor of recommending my appointment last year, I have been on duty aboard this boat. I now write you with reference to the Fort Pillow massacre, because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.
 
Our boat arrived at the fort about 7½ A. M. on Wednesday, the 13th, the day after the rebels captured the fort. After shelling them, whenever we could see them, for two hours, a flag of truce from the rebel General Chalmers, was received by us, and Captain Ferguson of this boat, made an arrangement with General Chalmers for the paroling of our wounded and the burial of our dead; the arrangement to last until 5 P. M.
 
We then landed at the fort, and I was sent out with a burial party to bury our dead. I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evidently sought safety; they could not offer any resistance from the places where they were, in holes and cavities along the banks; most of them had two wounds. I saw several colored soldiers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bayonets; many of them were shot twice and bayonetted also. All those along the bank of the river were colored. The number of the colored near the river was about seventy. Going up into the fort, I saw there bodies partially consumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, anyway, there were several companies of rebels in the fort while these bodies were burning, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they chosen to do so. One of the wounded negroes told me that “he hadn’t done a thing,” and when the rebels drove our men out of the fort, they (our men) threw away their guns and cried out that they surrendered, but they kept on shooting them down until they had shot all but a few. This is what they all say.
 
I had some conversation with rebel officers and they claim that our men would not surrender and in some few cases they “could not control their men,” who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not. This is a flimsy excuse, for after our colored troops had been driven from the fort, and they were surrounded by the rebels on all sides, it is apparent that they would do what all say they did,throw down their arms and beg for mercy.
 
I buried very few white men, the whole number buried by my party and the party from the gunboat “New Era” was about one hundred.
 
I can make affidavit to the above if necessary.
 
Hoping that the above may be of some service and that a desire to be of service will be considered sufficient excuse for writing to you, I remain very respectfully your obedient servant,
 
ROBERT S. CRITCHELL,
Acting Master’s Mate, U. S. N.

Critchell’s note about the explanation offered by Confederate officers, who argued that the black soldiers “would not surrender and in some few cases [the Confederate officers] ‘could not control their men,’ who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not,” is worth noting. That was the excuse offered at the time, and it remains so almost 150 years later, for those Fort Pillow apologists who acknowledge that unnecessary bloodshed took place at all. Critchell observed at the time that “this is a flimsy excuse,” and so it remains today.

Critchell’s letter also seems to endorse retaliation-in-kind, “because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.” This urge is, unfortunately, entirely understandable, and we’ve seen that within weeks the atrocity at Fort Pillow was being used as a rallying cry to spur Union soldiers on to commit their own acts of wanton violence. Vengrance begets retaliation begets vengeance begets retaliation. It never ends, and it’s always rationalized by pointing to the other side having done it before.

It never ends, but it often does have identifiable beginnings. Bill Ferguson and Bob Critchell saw one of those beginnings first-hand.

_____________
Critchell letter and images from Robert S. Critchell, Recollections of a Fire Insurance Man (Chicago: McClurg & Co., 1909).

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2018

[This post originally appeared here on June 19, 2010.]


“Emancipation” by Thomas Nast. Ohio State University.

Juneteenth has come again, and (quite rightly) the Galveston County Daily News, the paper that first published General Granger’s order that forms the basis for the holiday, has again called for the day to be recognized as a national holiday:

 
Those who are lobbying for a national holiday are not asking for a paid day off. They are asking for a commemorative day, like Flag Day on June 14 or Patriot Day on Sept. 11. All that would take is a presidential proclamation. Both the U.S. House and Senate have endorsed the idea.
 
Why is a national celebration for an event that occurred in Galveston and originally affected only those in a single state such a good idea?
 
Because Juneteenth has become a symbol of the end of slavery. No matter how much we may regret the tragedy of slavery and wish it weren’t a part of this nation’s story, it is. Denying the truth about the past is always unwise.
 
For those who don’t know, Juneteenth started in Galveston. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. But the order was meaningless until it could be enforced. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederacy had been defeated and Union troops landed in Galveston — that the slaves in Texas were told they were free.
 
People all across the country get this story. That’s why Juneteenth celebrations have been growing all across the country. The celebration started in Galveston. But its significance has come to be understood far, far beyond the island, and far beyond Texas.
 

This is exactly right. Juneteenth is not just of relevance to African Americans or Texans, but for all who ascribe to the values of liberty and civic participation in this country. A victory for civil rights for any group is a victory for us all, and there is none bigger in this nation’s history than that transformation represented by Juneteenth.

But as widespread as Juneteenth celebrations have become — I was pleased and surprised, some years ago, to see Juneteenth celebration flyers pasted up in Minnesota — there’s an awful lot of confusion and misinformation about the specific events here, in Galveston, in June 1865 that gave birth to the holiday. The best published account of the period appears in Edward T. Cotham’s Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, from which much of what follows is abstracted.


The United States Customs House, Galveston.

On June 5, Captain B. F. Sands entered Galveston harbor with the Union naval vessels Cornubia and Preston. Sands went ashore with a detachment and raised the United States flag over the federal customs house for about half an hour. Sands made a few comments to the largely silent crowd, saying that he saw this event as the closing chapter of the rebellion, and assuring the local citizens that he had only worn a sidearm that day as a gesture of respect for the mayor of the city.


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

A large number of Federal troops came ashore over the next two weeks, including detachments of the 76th Illinois Infantry. Union General Gordon Granger, newly-appointed as military governor for Texas, arrived on June 18, and established his headquarters in Ostermann Building (now gone) on the southwest corner of 22nd and Strand. The provost marshal, which acted largely as a military police force, set up in the Customs House. The next day, June 19, a Monday, Granger issued five general orders, establishing his authority over the rest of Texas and laying out the initial priorities of his administration. General Orders Nos. 1 and 2 asserted Granger’s authority over all Federal forces in Texas, and named the key department heads in his administration of the state for various responsibilities. General Order No. 4 voided all actions of the Texas government during the rebellion, and asserted Federal control over all public assets within the state. General Order No. 5 established the Army’s Quartermaster Department as sole authorized buyer for cotton, until such time as Treasury agents could arrive and take over those responsibilities.

It is General Order No. 3, however, that is remembered today. It was short and direct:

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865
 
General Orders, No. 3
 
The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
 
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.A.G.

What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.


The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in recent local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.

Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.

Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Ostermann Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin (right, 1827-78) of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.

Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.

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

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

Update 3, June 19, 2013: Freedmen’s Patrol nails the general public’s ambivalence about Juneteenth:

I suppose it gets ignored for the same reason we ignore Emancipation Day. To make a national fuss over it would require us to grapple with slavery and own up to freedom as a kind of national project, not a crystallized perfection handed down from men in powdered wigs.

Exactly right.

______________

Hari Jones Drops the Hammer on National Observance of Juneteenth

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 18, 2018

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

Decoration Day at Arlington, 1871

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on May 26, 2018

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.

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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.

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2017

[This post originally appeared here on June 19, 2010.]


“Emancipation” by Thomas Nast. Ohio State University.

Juneteenth has come again, and (quite rightly) the Galveston County Daily News, the paper that first published General Granger’s order that forms the basis for the holiday, has again called for the day to be recognized as a national holiday:

Those who are lobbying for a national holiday are not asking for a paid day off. They are asking for a commemorative day, like Flag Day on June 14 or Patriot Day on Sept. 11. All that would take is a presidential proclamation. Both the U.S. House and Senate have endorsed the idea.

Why is a national celebration for an event that occurred in Galveston and originally affected only those in a single state such a good idea?

Because Juneteenth has become a symbol of the end of slavery. No matter how much we may regret the tragedy of slavery and wish it weren’t a part of this nation’s story, it is. Denying the truth about the past is always unwise.

For those who don’t know, Juneteenth started in Galveston. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. But the order was meaningless until it could be enforced. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederacy had been defeated and Union troops landed in Galveston — that the slaves in Texas were told they were free.

People all across the country get this story. That’s why Juneteenth celebrations have been growing all across the country. The celebration started in Galveston. But its significance has come to be understood far, far beyond the island, and far beyond Texas.

This is exactly right. Juneteenth is not just of relevance to African Americans or Texans, but for all who ascribe to the values of liberty and civic participation in this country. A victory for civil rights for any group is a victory for us all, and there is none bigger in this nation’s history than that transformation represented by Juneteenth.

But as widespread as Juneteenth celebrations have become — I was pleased and surprised, some years ago, to see Juneteenth celebration flyers pasted up in Minnesota — there’s an awful lot of confusion and misinformation about the specific events here, in Galveston, in June 1865 that gave birth to the holiday. The best published account of the period appears in Edward T. Cotham’s Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, from which much of what follows is abstracted.


The United States Customs House, Galveston.

On June 5, Captain B. F. Sands entered Galveston harbor with the Union naval vessels Cornubia and Preston. Sands went ashore with a detachment and raised the United States flag over the federal customs house for about half an hour. Sands made a few comments to the largely silent crowd, saying that he saw this event as the closing chapter of the rebellion, and assuring the local citizens that he had only worn a sidearm that day as a gesture of respect for the mayor of the city.


Site of General Granger’s headquarters, southwest corner of 22nd Street and Strand.

A large number of Federal troops came ashore over the next two weeks, including detachments of the 76th Illinois Infantry. Union General Gordon Granger, newly-appointed as military governor for Texas, arrived on June 18, and established his headquarters in Osterman Building (now gone) on the southwest corner of 22nd and Strand. The provost marshal, which acted largely as a military police force, set up in the Customs House. The next day, June 19, a Monday, Granger issued five general orders, establishing his authority over the rest of Texas and laying out the initial priorities of his administration. General Orders Nos. 1 and 2 asserted Granger’s authority over all Federal forces in Texas, and named the key department heads in his administration of the state for various responsibilities. General Order No. 4 voided all actions of the Texas government during the rebellion, and asserted Federal control over all public assets within the state. General Order No. 5 established the Army’s Quartermaster Department as sole authorized buyer for cotton, until such time as Treasury agents could arrive and take over those responsibilities.

It is General Order No. 3, however, that is remembered today. It was short and direct:

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865

General Orders, No. 3

The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there ro elsewhere.

By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A. . G.

What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.


The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.

Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.

Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Osterman Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.

Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.