Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Virginia Flaggers, Manufactured Outrage and the UDC

Posted in Genealogy, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on March 16, 2012

The hot new topic this week in Confederate Heritage™ is an incident that happened last Saturday in Richmond, where the Virginia Flaggers, a group that protests perceived slights to the Confederate flag, was put off the property of the national headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, with the assistance of local law enforcement. You can watch a video of part of that encounter, above.

The video went viral on the Internet machine, as the kids say these days, among Confederate Heritage groups, spurred on by posts by folks like Billy Bearden and Mark Vogl. It prompted the vitriolic hyperbole one has learned to expect from such quarters, including comments like these, posted at the Southern War Room:

the guardians embrace treason

The South has been betrayed by her very daughters, the United Daughters of the Confederacy!

Sucking the breast of the PC crowd!

Well for me, they have Sold Their Soul To The Devil, they are Traitors Of The Highest Measure…

Maybe we could convince the UDC chapters to secede from the National Chapter.

If it sleeps with the enemy, acts like enemy, talks like the enemy…. It IS the enemy!

The SCV National & your camp…. Should have their hands around the necks of those that don’t up-hold the charge.

And of course, there’s the casual, sort-of-joking-but-maybe-not-really reference to lynching:

Well, we all knew what the founders did to treasonous leaders……..there was usually rope involved. The founding fathers would roll in they’re graves if they could see what we’ve allowed. Please understand I’m talking about federal leaders…..but some of our UDC are giving in to liberals and their ideas.

While Bearden, who argues that the UDC leadership are trying to “sell out their birthright!!,” claims to have witnessed the incident himself, he leaves no hint that Saturday’s confrontation has been one brewing for months, and one that went entirely according to script, at least from the perspective of the Flaggers. In fact, none of the righteous outrage over this incident acknowledges that was a long time coming, and in fact was set up by the Virginia Flaggers themselves — or at least one of the group’s leaders — knowing full well that they would be removed from the property by the police.

On Wednesday, UDC President-General Martha Rogers Van Schaick posted a lengthy response to the allegations being made by the Flaggers, including a detailed chronology of the UDC’s interactions with Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers, going back to late 2011. Van Schaick’s account makes it clear that the UDC had repeatedly declined to participate in, endorse or host any of the Flagger’s activities. Hathaway subsequently acknlowledged that “the account in the the statement today by Mrs. Van Schaick, with a few minor exceptions, is accurate, and in fact, is almost exactly as has been previously reported.” But she didn’t specify what her “few minor exceptions” were, so we’re left with is President General Van Schaick’s account as the only detailed description of the events leading up to Saturday. It’s long, but worth reading in detail:

On December 14, 2011, an email was received from Ms. Susan Hathaway by the UDC Office Manager requesting that the VA Flaggers be allowed to use two flag poles outside the UDC Memorial Building to fly one Confederate Battle Flag on each. The email was forwarded to me for action.

On December 26, 2011, I responded to Ms. Hathaway advising that Pelham Chapel is not a UDC memorial and that our involvement in this issue could be construed as a ‘political activity’ that would possibly put our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status at risk. I further advised that our Bylaws prevent our involvement in ‘political activity’ and for that reason; the UDC was unable to allow the use of the flag poles located on the front of our UDC Memorial Building. I reminded her that the First National Flag flies daily in front of the UDC Memorial Building in perpetual honor of our Confederate ancestors.

On Wednesday afternoon, March 7, 2012, Ms. Hathaway came to our building and asked to speak with me. Mrs. Lucy Steele, Chairman of the Memorial Building Board of Trustees (who was in the building on other business) and I met with Ms. Hathaway. The request was that they be allowed to ‘gather’ on the front of our property. She was advised that we would not allow that.

The request was then made to allow them to ‘gather’ on the back corner of our property. Mrs. Steele pointed out that the property at the back corner belonged to VMFA but that we did not have a problem with it but she would have to seek approval from VMFA.

Ms. Hathaway then asked if the “No Trespassing” signs that had been posted recently were because of them and if they gathered on our property would the police be called. She was told that, as with any trespasser, we would call the police.

We explained to Ms. Hathaway that there have been instances of people sleeping under the bushes around the building. Recently during a work day, a man was seen crouching between the bushes and the building with binoculars which raised questions as to his intentions. The police were called at that time. “No Trespassing” signs were placed on our property in an effort to protect not only our building but our employees as they come and go, often times during early morning and evening hours.

On Saturday, March 10, 2012, during our Annual Spring Board Meeting, the VA Flaggers gathered on the sidewalk in front of the UDC Memorial Building. A short time later, they were observed leaning and perched on the cannons ignoring signs stating do not climb on the cannons. They then moved from the cannons to the steps leading to our building for a group photo. At this point, Mrs. Steele went out to ask them to move from the steps to the sidewalk – some moved immediately. Others remained on the steps. During this time, the Richmond City Police were called.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not the presence of the Virginia Flaggers on their property threatened the UDC’s tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) status. But whether on not the UDC had a good reason to reject the Flaggers is immaterial; they’re a private organization and they chose to do so. The bottom line remains: the UDC had (1) repeatedly denied the Flaggers authorization to use the UDC headquarters property, (2) explained that any such activity by the Flaggers would be considered trespassing, and (3) stated that such a circumstance would be handled according to the UDC’s usual practice, which is to call the Richmond Police Department. According to Van Schaick, Ms. Hathaway was told this in person at the UDC headquarters by herself and the Chairman of the Memorial Building Board of Trustees, Lucy Steele, on the Wednesday preceding the rally.

So, of course, the Flaggers went anyway. And the UDC did exactly what it said it would, which is to order them off the site and call the po-po. And then the Flaggers — without mentioning any of the events or discussions that had gone before — tossed it up on YouTube and various Southron social media sites. Dodging bullets…FROM BEHIND!  The guardians embrace treason!

It was a set-up, staged and orchestrated to make the Virginia Flaggers look like victims of PC oppression. It’s ludicrous. Oh, there are victims here, but they ain’t the Virginia Flaggers; they are President General Van Schaick, Chairman Steele, and other members of the UDC leadership who’ve made clear their unwillingness to get dragged into the dispute over the Pelham Chapel next door, and for their troubles have now been framed by the self-appointed Defenders of Southron Heritage™ as traitors to the memory of their Confederate ancestors, and made the target of “jokes” about lynching.

I haven’t posted much about the Virginia Flaggers, because until recently I was ambivalent about them. I like the idea of peaceful protest; in general, it’s a healthy thing. It’s small-d democracy in action. While I think the Flaggers are wrong about Lexington, I’ve also thought they had a legitimate case to make for the Pelham Chapel.

But they’ve also proved to be mendacious and dishonest in promoting their efforts, eager to depict themselves as victims, and constantly trying to stir the pot. Take this video from last fall on their YouTube channel, for example, titled “Black woman attacked for carrying Confederate Flag.” What “attack” are they referring to? The passerby on the street engages another Flagger, Karen Cooper, in a discussion about their protest. There’s no shouting, no name-calling; no one gets all in anyone else’s face — where’s the “attack,” exactly? It’s dishonest, self-serving navel-gazing, in which the True Southrons™ are always the victims. “Attacked,” really?

Then there’s this video, “Va Flagger Tossed off State Property at VMFA for Carrying “That” Flag! 2-18-2012,” where Flagger Jimmy Jones is set up to confront a security guard at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the main target of the Flaggers. The video is shot from a distance, but — by remarkable and fortuitous coincidence — Jones is wearing a mic to catch the dialogue with the guard. Perhaps the Flaggers were looking to record the security guard saying something incendiary, but the best they got was him saying, “because I said so.” Now there’s an outrage for you!

And now we have this foolishness with the UDC. Hathaway claims she wasn’t looking to pick a fight with the UDC, and I doubt she’ll get one — if for no other reason, because the leadership of the UDC has consistently sought to avoid getting dragged into the rough-and-tumble over display of the Confederate Battle Flag, as is their right. The UDC had made their position very clear, well in advance. So why deliberately force a confrontation? Perhaps posing in front of the UDC headquarters was perceived as a win-win; if the UDC did nothing, the image might imply UDC support of the Flaggers; if the UDC had them removed from the premises (as warned, and as actually happened), the Daughters could be depicted as the unreasonable aggressors in the incident, arbitrarily bringing down the boot heel of the PC police (literally, police) on innocent protesters, just out to display their pride in their Confederate heritage. And of course, that latter narrative is exactly how the Flaggers ended up depicting it. It’s a spiteful, manipulative and cynical approach, but it works, at least for folks who aren’t paying attention.

Of course, that narrative only works when listener doesn’t know the long backstory of the discussions and communication that went on before last Saturday. President General Van Schaick managed to put the lie to that narrative when she provided the actual context of Saturday’s event, a context that Hathaway acknowledged is “with a few minor exceptions. . . accurate.” If the Virginia Flaggers — or rather, the leadership of the Virginia Flaggers — set out to make the UDC look bad, they only ended up making themselves look shrill and desperate. Somehow, I think the United Daughters of the Confederacy will survive.

If the Virginia Flaggers, and the larger Confederate heritage movement, really believed themselves to be under siege, they’d be trying to build alliances with others, not seek conflict with them. They’d look to find common ground with folks like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Museum of the Confederacy, and all the rest. But they don’t because, at some deeper level, folks like Martha Van Schaick, Waite Rawls and the rest are more useful as exaggerated, cartoon-like enemies, a common foe against whom the true believers can unite in shared resentment and carefully-stoked outrage. Even in the short time I’ve observed it, it’s clear that the Confederate heritage movement defines itself as much or more by whom they oppose, as by what they believe. It’s an ever-tightening spiral of anger and bile, and it won’t result in any positive outcome; it puts off people more than it attracts. It’s an approach that unites them, but also increasingly isolates them from the rest of American society — Southerners, Civil War buffs, the general public, everybody — and that’s a dead-end road. These folks may feel like they’re circling the wagons, but increasingly it looks like they’re circling the drain.

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Do You Know These Men?

Posted in Genealogy, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on March 8, 2012

My new post on the Civil War Monitor is up at, um, the Civil War Monitor.

In addition, Brooks Simpson has a new post up at the Library of America site on the first “Clash of Ironclads.” Good stuff.

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Texas Confederate Pension Files on Ancestry

Posted in Genealogy, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on February 15, 2012

As anticipated, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Confederate pension records are now available online at the subscription genealogy website Ancestry.com. Hard copies will still be available for order as before but, in keeping with a policy change last fall, researchers will be notified of the cost and must send in their payments before the library staff will make the copies. The actual cost is still appallingly, scandalously low.

The correct section at Ancestry is difficult to find, and is not yet indexed in their military pensions catalog. Use this link to go directly to that section, and be sure to select Texas for the state, as below:

The page reproduced above is a more-or-less random example from the files. It’s an affidavit in support of the 1913 application of Mary Ann McKinney of Mesquite, Texas. Her late husband, Eli Harris McKinney, had served in the 17th Alabama Infantry, and to support her application she submitted this affidavit from two men from Alabama who testified that Eli “was a good soldier and served as such untill [sic.] the close of the war.” (Eli’s CSR, available through Fold3, shows him enlisting in September 1862 and being surrendered with Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina in April 1865.) Eli had died in 1881, ten years after his marriage to Mary; she began receiving a pension in March 1914 and continued to receive  it until her own death in Ranger, Texas in August 1922. Mary McKinney’s application also provides an important reminder about Confederate pensions: they were issued by the state in which the applicant lived, not the state he was born in, or of the unit in which he served.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission had an efficient and inexpensive system for providing these materials before, but efforts to put these materials online (even on a paid subscription site) are really opening doors for both professional and avocational researchers. Records that used to take weeks or months to obtain by postal mail can now be retrieved in minutes. How damn cool is that?

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A New Season of Who Do You Think You Are?

Posted in Education, Genealogy, Media by Andy Hall on February 7, 2012

My teevee viewing for a long time since has been mostly restricted to current events and, as the general election season gets closer, political news. Regular entertainment television is not usually part of my schedule, but I’ve taken a shine to NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, a series that takes celebrities and goes digging for stories of their ancestors. (It’s apparently an adaptation of a British series.) Camera crews follow the celebrities around to different parts of the country and overseas to meet with various genealogists, historians and archivists who help them along in their discovery. The show has done several episodes that had a particular Civil War focus, profiling Matthew Broderick and Spike Lee, but there are other stories that are interesting, as well. Kim Cattrall, for example, uncovered some family secrets that were difficult to learn, but that she found important to know.

The third season of the show began last Friday with Martin Sheen, whose birth name is Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez. Sheen is probably known as much for his political activism as for his acting career. The Sheen episode focuses primarily on two uncles who, in the first half of the 20th century, fought in civil wars in their home countries. Sheen’s parents were both immigrants to the United States, his mother from Ireland and his father from Spain. His mother’s elder brother, Michael Phelan, fought in the Irish Civil War in the early 1920s for the Irish Republican Army against the National (or “Provisional”) government, headed by Michael Collins. His Galician father’s brother, Matias Estévez (right, with his family), fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War against the fascists under Franco. Both men found themselves on the losing side of their respective wars, and both ended up imprisoned by their fellow countrymen. There’s an even more remarkable discovery farther back in Sheen’s family tree, but you’ll just have to watch the episode for that.

One of the things I thought about while watching Sheen’s episode was that, while he felt an obvious natural affinity to those two men, each of whom had taken up arms for a political cause, and found themselves imprisoned for it (in Matias Estevez’ case, for years), there was no indication that Sheen saw their causes as explicitly his cause. There was no suggestion that Martin Sheen saw himself, personally, as obligated to carry on the fight against the current government of the Republic of Ireland, or go go on a loud, chest-thumping rant about Franco’s fascists. (Possibly because he’s still dead.) It seemed very different than the way some people view the legacy of their ancestors in this country, who fought through a much older conflict, now long past any living memory.

There are some things I don’t much like about Who Do You Think You Are?, all of which are probably due to the necessity of condensing complex stories into a 40- or 45-minute package of entertainment. They compress what would normally be months or years of research by an individual to an improbably short period of time. They use historians and archivists with access to records that, while presumably available to the public, are often obscure and not really accessible to non-specialists. They ignore the dead ends and false leads that are bane of any genealogical researcher. They sometimes take what I think of as a “maybe” finding and present it as an established fact. And inevitably, they tend to zero in on the ancestors who seem to have the most entertaining story, or the most relevance to the modern day celebrity, rather than the more mundane folks who much make up the bulk of that person’s tree.

But what the show does right, I think, makes up for those flaws. It makes the point rather well that prior generations lived lives as complex and difficult — often much more difficult — than our own. It conveys the notion that their stories need to be told, too. It makes doing that historical seem easy (much easier than it often is), and undoubtedly inspires a lot of people to try their hands at it. And that seems to me to be a worthwhile thing.

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“Having finished life’s duties, they rest.”

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on January 16, 2012

About a year ago, I put up a post about Thomas Tobe, a free African American man from South Carolina who was conscripted to work at General Hospital No. 1 in Columbia, South Carolina during the summer of 1864. Tobe later received a state pension based on service he claimed with Company G of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry, Holcombe’s Legion. This latter claim is problematic, as there are no contemporary records verifying his attachment to that unit. Critical details are missing from the pension application, such as Tobe’s attested rank, and the men who swore as witnesses to his service were from different regiments. Tobe may well have been attached to that unit, perhaps as a cook, a personal servant or in a similar capacity, but there’s no direct evidence that he served as a trooper.

At the time of the post, I understood that Thomas and his wife Elizabeth were buried in the cemetery at Fairview Baptist Church, near Newberry, South Carolina. Recently I received confirmation of this from Kevin Dietrich, a member of the area SCV camp. Dietrich was out visiting cemeteries recently, looking for graves of persons from the Civil War era, and made a note of Tobe’s gravesite, not knowing anything else about him, just based on the dates on the stone. A Google search on Tobe’s name led Dietrich to this blog and my post on Thomas Tobe. Mr. Dietrich has generously consented to having his recent photos of the site posted here. The marble stone Thomas and Elizabeth share carries the inscription, “having finished life’s duties, they rest.”

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The NYT Visits the Museum of the Confederacy

Posted in Education, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on December 7, 2011

On of my readers, PH, passes along this recent review in the New York Times of the Museum of the Confederacy, and its ongoing effort to chart a new course, away from its founding as a shrine to the Lost Cause, to a more comprehensive, balanced view of the conflict, its  origins and its legacy. (Kevin has blogged on it as well.) Edward Rothstein makes a second visit to the MoC, and notes the shifting tenor of the institution’s public exhibitions and programs.

The Museum of the Confederacy embodies the conflict in its very origins; its artifacts were accumulated in the midst of grief. The museum’s first solicitation for donations, in 1892, four years before its opening, is telling: “The glory, the hardships, the heroism of the war were a noble heritage for our children. To keep green such memories and to commemorate such virtues, it is our purpose to gather together and preserve in the Executive Mansion of the Confederacy the sacred relics of those glorious days. We appeal to our sisters throughout the South to help us secure these invaluable mementoes before it’s too late.”

That heritage casts a long shadow over the institution. When I visited in 2008, slavery still seemed an inconsequential part of Southern history. And Southern suffering loomed large.

But changes have been taking place. Several tendentious text panels (in one, Lincoln was portrayed as having manipulated the South into starting the war) have been removed. And gradually, under the presidency of S. Waite Rawls III, the museum, while keeping its name, has been expanding its ambitions, trying to turn its specialization into a strength instead of a burden.

Nonetheless, Rothstein comes away feeling that, while the worst examples of the MoC’s old historical narrative are gone, there’s nothing yet that has taken their place:

The delicacy is strange. There is so much in the exhibition [“The War Comes Home”] that is illuminating about the war. And it isn’t that the Virginia Historical Society is embracing the Lost Cause. Far from it. But the institution is trying to take a path that will least offend those who do. Or is it suggesting with its questions that it would be callous to continue with finger pointing? After all, isn’t one man’s traitor another’s patriot?

The problem, though, is that the Civil War then becomes merely a tragic clash of two sides, each convinced of its virtue and fidelity to national ideals. That is not an embrace of the Lost Cause, but it leaves us a war with no higher cause at all.

Rothstein should be patient, I think. Museums are not shrines; they exist for education and research, and unquestioning hagiography is best left to others. The MoC in particular, with its unsurpassed collection of Civil War artifacts, documents, and images, is far too valuable a resource to give itself over to a fixed story of parochial, navel-gazing victimhood. Like every institution of its type, the Museum of the Confederacy is, and should be, always a work in progress.
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Image: “Museum of the Confederacy CEO Waite Rawls announced on Thursday [April 14, 2011] the museum’s plans for interior exhibits. Part of the plan includes bringing the uniform won by Gen. Robert E. Lee, of the Army of Northern Virginia, at the Appomattox surrender in April of 1865 (pictured at left). Also included will be the sword Lee brought to the surrender.” Via Lynchburg, Virginia News & Advance.

“Durante vita”

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on October 11, 2011

A number of bloggers put up posts in anticipation of tonight’s History Detectives episode on the famous tintype image of Andrew Chandler and Silas Chandler. I was struck by two things watching the episode. First, this quote from Chandler Battaile, great-great-grandson of Andrew Chandler, on discovering that much of what he’d always understood to be true is contradicted by contemporary evidence:

I think it’s interesting to understand the place of stories in family histories. Obviously, the story that we’ve shared is one that is very comfortable, and comforting to believe. But without documentary evidence, it is a story. Our families’ histories have been, and will always be, deeply intertwined and evolving with the times.

That strikes me as a remarkably self-aware statement. I’ve found in my own family’s history cases where cherished family stories don’t stand up well to close examination in bright sunlight. But I think in the end, one is better for going through that process.

The second thing is the mention by Mary Francis Berry, that Mississippi law did not allow the manumission of slaves at the time of the Civil War. This is significant, because part of the Chandler oral tradition is that Silas had been freed at (or soon before) the beginning of the war, and went off with Andrew into the 44th Mississippi Infantry as a free man. While I wasn’t familiar with the Mississippi law, it’s not in the least surprising that this provision would be so. In my own state, it wasn’t just a law, it was actually written into the 1861 Texas Constitution, adopted immediately after the state’s secession. Under Article VIII, Slaves:

Sec. 1. The Legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves.

Sec. 2. No citizen, or other person residing in this State shall have power by deed, or will, to take effect in this State, or out of it, in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, to emancipate his slave or slaves.

Or as Professor Berry put it, referring to Mississippi, the “law made slaves, slaves for life: durante vita.”

Antebellum Texas was not a welcoming or easy place for free African Americans; it’s not surprising that in the decade 1850-1860, while the slave population of Texas more than tripled (58,161 to 182,566), the number of free blacks in the state actually declined, from 397 to 355 — not even enough to fill a typical middle school auditorium.
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Image: Andrew Chandler (l.) and Silas Chandler, c. 1861, via the Toledo Blade.

South Carolina Flag Dispute: Heritage vs. Heritage

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on September 28, 2011

In putting together my recent post on the rancorous neighborhood dispute over a resident’s display of a Confederate Battle Flag in an historically African American neighborhood, I made a passing reference to the fact that the community itself had been founded by former USCTs. In retrospect, I “buried the lede,” as they say, and gave that aspect of the story short shrift — it likely plays a much bigger role in how that community identifies itself, and in its reaction to Ms. Caddell’s display:

Among [Brownsville’s] founding families were at least 10 soldiers stationed to guard the Summerville railroad station at the close of the Civil War. They were members of the 1st Regiment, United States Colored Troops, part of a force of freedmen and runaway slaves who made history with their service and paved the way for African Americans in the military.

At least some of the men were from North Carolina plantations. When the war ended they stayed where they were, living within hailing distance of each other along the tracks. Some of them lived on the “old back road” out of town where outrage has erupted recently over a resident flying a Confederate battle flag. Their ancestors [sic., descendants] still live there.

It’s a striking note in a controversy over heritage that has raised hackles across the Lowcountry and the state.

The community’s past is an obscure bit of the rich history in Summerville, maybe partly because for years the families kept it to themselves. They were the veterans and descendants of Union troops, living through Jim Crow and segregated times in a region that vaunted its rebel past.

The great-great-grandfather of Jordan Simmons III was among them. But growing up in Brownsville a century later, all Simmons remembers hearing about Jordan Swindel, his ancestor, is that he was a runaway slave who joined the Army. The rest, he says simply, “was not talked about.” He didn’t find out about it until he was an adult doing research on the Civil War and the troops and came across Swindel’s name.

Now he’s at work on a book about his family and the Brownsville heritage. Other 1st Regiment surnames in the community include Jacox, Berry, Campbell, Edney and Fedley.

Simmons, 64, has lived through some history of his own. He was one of the South Carolina State University students injured in the infamous 1968 Orangeburg Massacre. He too served in the U.S. Army, a 29-year veteran who fought in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne infantry and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He now lives in Virginia.

It overwhelmed him to see his great-great-grandfather’s name on the wall of honor three years ago when he visited the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Pvt. Swindel fought in four battles in nine months in 1864, from Florida — where he was wounded — to Honey Hill, S.C. Simmons wishes he would have sought out that history when he was younger.

As I said previously, neither side in this dispute seems much interested in letting go of this game of one-upsmanship. The historical circumstances surrounding the town’s founding don’t change the core legal issues at hand, but given that the Southron Heritage folks routinely dismiss criticism of the Confederate Flag as “political correctness” or as unfairly tarnishing an honored symbol of the Confederacy with its use by hate groups, it’s interesting to see a case where the protestor’s case against the flag is so explicitly based in the very same “heritage” argument that the flag’s proponents righteously embrace.  For at least some local residents, pushback against the CBF is every bit as grounded in the history of the American Civil War, and honoring one’s ancestors, as Ms. Caddell’s display of it. For them, it’s personal, and for exactly the same reasons.

I don’t know what the answer here is. What is clear, though, is that there’s an historical dimension to this case — very real and very valid, by the same “heritage” standard that the folks in (say) the South Carolina League of the South embrace for themselves — that needs much wider dissemination, and it plays a big role in how that community thinks and feels and reacts.
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Image: Soldiers of the 1st USCT on parade. Library of Congress.

The Third Assistant Engineer

Posted in Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on September 5, 2011

In response to my recent post on Monitor‘s turret, one of my readers writes:

One photo of all but one officers in chairs, shows at viewer’s left, seated before the turret, my Woollen kinsman, USS Monitor 3rd Asst. Engr. Robinson Woollen Hands, sitting atop a jury-rigged stool of two Monitor armored deck-light covers. He perished at his engine-room duty station when the Monitor foundered. His memorial stone is at Baltimore. The enlisted of the Monitor survivors group, the Starboard Watch Society, voted Robinson the most beloved of all the officers by the enlisted.. The first item recovered from the deep that identified the wreck as thee USS Monitor, and not just a monitor class vessel, was not the earlier lantern, but the armored deck-light cover.  Possibly Robinson is sitting on the one first one recovered from the deep?

My correspondent goes on to say that Hands’ brother, George Washington Hands, Jr., was a captain in the Virginia infantry and “considered Robinson a traitor and never bespoke Robinson’s name again.” Their father, George Sr., was the civilian master of the steamer River Queen that was the scene of the famous meeting between Lincoln, Sherman, Grant and Porter in the closing days of the war.

It’s quite amazing how many stories there are like this; there’s the story of Edward Lea and his father Albert, the former a U.S. naval officer on the Harriet Lane and the latter an engineer officer on Confederate General Magruder’s staff at the Battle of Galveston. And of course Farragut’s Flag Captain, Percival Drayton, son of a prominent South Carolinian family who, early in the war, participated in a naval bombardment of forts commanded by his brother Thomas.

“Brother against brother” was too often literally true.


Robinson W. Hands’ memorial stone in Baltimore, via Find-a-Grave; a deck porthole cover like one of those Hands is sitting on, recovered from the wreck site, via National Geographic.
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Image: Officers of U.S.S. Monitor, July 9, 1862. Front, l. to r.: Robinson W. Hands, Edwin V. Gager. Seated, l. to r.: Louis N. Stodder, George Frederickson, William Flye and Daniel C. Logue and Samuel Dana Greene. Standing, l. to r.: Albert B. Campbell, Mark T. Sunstrom, William F. Keeler, and L. Howard Newman of U.S.S. Galena. Library of Congress photo; identifications from The Monitor Chronicles.

Yankees in the Attic

Posted in Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on July 2, 2011

Not my attic, as it happens, but my wife’s. It’s hardly a surprise, but it’s good to be able to confirm specific names and dates, rather than some vague understanding passed down by oral history. It appears that her great-grandfather’s two older brothers, James Bradley Ridge and George B. Ridge, both fought for the Union during the Civil War. Bradley, aged about 17, enlisted in Co. K of the 5th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on July 21, 1861, and served with the regiment until discharged on July 5, 1865. His older brother George, age about 19, enlisted in the same company in January 1862, and served through the end of the war. He was promoted to Corporal in June 1865, and mustered out of the regiment on July 19, 1865 at Alexandria, Virginia.

The 5th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was originally composed of companies formed in response to that state’s governor’s call for volunteers in April 1861. These units were disbanded after Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops in May 1861, and reorganized themselves as the First Regiment, Colt’s Revolving Rifles, with famed gun maker Samuel Colt as their prospective colonel. The new regiment was quartered on the grounds of the Colt Patent Fire Arms Company at Hartford, but when Colt determined that the regiment should enlist as regulars, the new recruits refused. So the First Regiment of Colt’s Revolving Rifles was disbanded (again) and immediately reformed (again) as the 5th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. And they never did get their Colt Revolving Rifles.

As part of the Army of the Potomac, the 5th Connecticut took part in Pope’s campaign in northern Virginia, and were heavily engaged at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. On that day Pope’s army ran smack into that of Stonewall Jackson. After initially pushing back the Confederate line, a swift counterattack by A.P. Hill’s troops turned the course of the action late in the day. The 5th Connecticut, in the thick of the fighting near a local landmark known as “the cabin” (below), lost 48 men killed or mortally wounded, 67 wounded and 64 captured, or 179 of the 380 men present — 47.1% casualties. The regimental history notes ruefully that these losses were “as large as all the rest of its battle service put together,” and among the highest of any Connecticut regiment during the entire war.


“Charge of Union troops of the left flank of the army commanded by Genl. Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain,” by Edwin Forbes. Library of Congress.

The regiment was present at Second Manassas (Bull Run), and the following year in the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns. After Gettysburg, the regiment was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, where in 1864 it participated in Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. According to its regimental history, the 5th Connecticut led the column of Sherman’s army that marched into Atlanta on September 2, 1864, after that city’s surrender:

September 2d. We all move forward toward the city of Atlanta, leaving our tents standing. Our regiment has the advance, and the Fifth Regiment Connecticut Veteran Volunteers have the honor of being the first Union regiment to march through the streets of the city of Atlanta. We have certainly earned the honor, for we have made a long and tedious campaign, having been 112 days and nights continually under fire, sleeping many nights in the trenches, fighting at every opportunity, always holding the ground and routing those opposed to us, and finishing the campaign with great honor to ourselves, to the State and to the General Government.

General Sherman says that we will rest in the city for thirty days, and I believe him.


Federal troops occupy former Confederate defensive works at Atlanta. A diarist in the 5th Connecticut recorded on September 10, 1864, “have visited the lines of fortification built by ourselves and the rebels around this city, and also looked around the city. Terrible destruction by shot and shell everywhere.” Library of Congress.

The 5th Connecticut went on to participate in Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” and in fighting up through the Carolinas in 1865. Bradley Ridge was reported missing after the Battle of Averasboro in North Carolina in March 1865, but eventually returned to the regiment. (I have not yet received his CSR, so don’t know the specifics, or if he was captured by Confederate forces.)

That particular line of my wife’s family has a long tradition of military service — her grandfather was gassed with the AEF during World War I, her dad served in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, her brother flew on medical evacuation missions during Desert Storm, and so on. Now that list goes a little farther back, still.

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