Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“We don’t need to be opening old wounds.”

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on October 26, 2011

There’s been speculation brewing for a while now whether Governor Perry would take a position on the proposed Texas license plate promoting the SCV (right). On Wednesday, he gave his answer:

The Republican presidential hopeful was in Florida for a fundraiser and told Bay News 9’s “Political Connections” and the St. Petersburg Times that, “we don’t need to be opening old wounds.”

The plates have been requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a nonprofit Perry has supported over the years. They show the group’s logo, which is derived from the Confederate battle flag. . . .

But [rejecting the proposed license plate] was a departure from Perry’s past opposition to NAACP-led efforts to remove two plaques with Confederate symbols from the Texas Supreme Court building in Austin 11 years ago.

Then lieutenant governor Perry wrote to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a March 2000 letter obtained by The Associated Press that, “although this is an emotional issue, I want you to know that I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques, and memorials from public property.”

“I believe that Texans should remember the past and learn from it,” Perry wrote in the letter, obtained through an open records request.

One of the 11-inch by 20-inch bronze plaques featured the seal of the Confederacy, and the other the image of the battle flag and quotations from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They were eventually removed in coordination with the office of then Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Perry had waffled on the license plate question previously, simply saying its was a matter for the board to decide. That body will meet next month and may vote on the issue then. Last time it came up, a few months ago, the vote was 4 to 4, with one member absent. My thoughts on the license plate here.

I don’t think this helps Perry much, politically; it really is a no-win deal. His rhetoric in the past has pretty well established him (fairly or not) as a states-rights, secession-leanin’ sort of guy in his opponents’ eyes. To them, he’s already a caricature, and rejecting a license plate with the Confederate flag on it isn’t going to change that. On the other hand, certain folks have gone to great lengths to denounce Southern pols who, once deemed friendly to Confederate heritage issues, are seen to have become apostates in their pursuit of higher office.

Will Rick Perry be the next target of Brag Bowling’s ire?

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Update: Thursday’s print editions of the Houston Chronicle put this story on the front page, above the fold, all the way across. You know, the headline you see looking through the window of a newspaper vending box. This seems like a pretty small story in the larger scheme of things, but I guess it sells papers.

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Do (Ever-Higher) Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on September 26, 2011

Some folks may recall the case last year in South Carolina where Annie Chambers Caddell moved into a historically African American neighborhood, and put a Confederate flag on the front of her house. Her neighborhood’s origins go back to the close of the Civil War, when the area was settled by several former members of the 1st USCT, who’d been stationed there at the end of their military service. Caddell, who is white, argued she was honoring her Confederate ancestors; her neighbors, not surprisingly, see the flag as a symbol of something else entirely.

Inevitably there were protests against Caddell, and counter-protests in response (above). It got worse; someone reportedly threw a rock through Caddell’s front window. There has been inflammatory, over-the-top rhetoric on both sides. Not surprisingly, both sides have chosen to escalate the dispute.

Earlier this year, two solid 8-foot high wooden fences were built on either side of Annie Chambers Caddell’s modest brick house to shield the Southern banner from view.

Late this summer, Caddell raised a flagpole higher than the fences to display the flag. Then a similar pole with an American flag was placed across the fence in the yard of neighbor Patterson James, who is black. . . .

“I’m here to stay. I didn’t back down and because I didn’t cower the neighbors say I’m the lady who loves her flag and loves her heritage,” said the 51-year old Caddell who moved into the historically black Brownsville neighborhood in the summer of 2010. Her ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

Last October, about 70 people marched in the street and sang civil rights songs to protest the flag, while about 30 others stood in Caddell’s yard waving the Confederate flag.

Opponents of the flag earlier gathered 200 names on a protest petition and took their case to a town council meeting where Caddell tearfully testified that she’s not a racist. Local officials have said she has the right to fly the flag, while her neighbors have the right to protest. And build fences.

“Things seemed to quiet down and then the fences started,” Caddell said. “I didn’t know anything about it until they were putting down the postholes and threw it together in less than a day.”

Aaron Brown, the town councilman whose district includes Brownsville, said neighbors raised money for the fences.

“The community met and talked about the situation,” he said. “Somebody suggested that what we should do is just go ahead and put the fences up and that way somebody would have to stand directly in front of the house to see the flag and that would mediate the flag’s influence.”

Caddell isn’t bothered by the fences and said they even seem to draw more attention to her house.

“People driving by here because of the privacy fences, they tend to slow down,” she said. “If the objective was to block my house from view, they didn’t succeed very well.”

You can see where this is going; by this time next year, one side or the other will have put up a big-ass flag.

More seriously, this is just headache-inducing. The only people benefiting from this rancorous business are flagpole installers and the local lumber yard.

I don’t know what the answer here is. Caddell has a right to display her flag; her neighbors have a right to make their objection to it clear. But neither benefits from continually upping the ante, nor does it help to bring in outside groups and activists to use this case to fight a larger proxy battle for historical memory, as recently happened in Lexington. That only serves to harden the resolve of all concerned, by raising the purported stakes beyond what they actually are. I hope Caddell and her neighbors eventually come to some sort of resolution in this business. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, so long as all parties insist on following the tired script of action and reaction, and insist on having others fight their rhetorical battles instead of talking to each other like responsible grown-ups.

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Image (Original Caption): Brownsville Community resident Tim Hudson (right) tells H.K. Edgerton of Ridgeville he looks “ridiculous” in his Confederate uniform as he stands with outside the home of Annie Chambers Caddell Saturday, October 16, 2010. Brownsville community members marched past Caddell’s home to protest her flying of the confederate flag outside her home in the predominantly black neighborhood. Hudson was not a marcher in the protest group. Photo by Alan Hawes, postandcourier.com.

“The work of soldiers amounts to very little.”

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Technology by Andy Hall on August 16, 2011

Just two days before Arthur Fremantle toured the batteries defending the eastern end of Galveston Island, the Confederate military engineer in charge of designing and building the defenses wrote out his report for the month of April 1863, outlining the work accomplished to date, and some of the challenges still to be overcome. Colonel Valery Sulakowski (1827-1873, right) was a Pole by birth, and a former officer in the Austrian army. After emigrating to the United States in the late 1840s, he worked as a civil engineer in New Orleans. He’d met General Magruder early in the war, in Virginia, and after the island was recaptured from Federal forces on New Years Day 1863, set about expanding the island’s defenses. Sulakowski had the reputation of a strict disciplinarian but, along with another immigrant engineering officer, Julius Kellersberger, is credited with quickly expanding the fortifications at Galveston and making the island a much more defensible post than it had been during the first eighteen months of the war.

Sulakowski’s report, being essentially simultaneous with Fremantle’s observations, also give a better sense of what the British officer saw but declined to record in detail due to the sensitive military nature of the information. From the Official Records, 21:1063-64:

ENGINEER’S OFFICE, Galveston, April 30, 1863.

Capt. EDMUND P. TURNER,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Brownsville

CAPTAIN:

I have the honor to make the following report for the month of April, 1863:

Fort Point–casemated battery.–The wood, iron, and earth work was completed during this month; five iron casemate carriages constructed; the guns mounted; cisterns placed, and hot-shot furnace constructed. It has to be sodded all over, the bank being high and composed of sand. Two 10-inch mortars will be placed on the top behind breastworks.

Fort Magruder–heavy open battery.–The front embankment, traverses, platforms, and magazines were completed during this month; two 10-inch columbiads mounted. The Harriet Lane guns are not mounted, for want of suitable carriages, which are under construction. Bomb-proofs and embankment in the rear commenced and the front embankment sodded inside, top and slope. With the present force it will require nearly the whole of this month to complete it.

Fort Bankhead.–Guns were mounted and the railroad constructed during this month.

South Battery.–For want of labor the reconstruction of this battery was commenced within the last few days of the month; also the construction of the railroad leading to it.

Intrenchment of the town is barely commenced, for want of labor.

Obstructions in the main channel.–Since the destruction of the rafts by storm, before they could be fastened to the abutments, this plan of obstruction had to be abandoned for the want of material to repair the damage done. The present system of obstructing consists of groups of piles braced and bolted and three cable chains fastened to them, the groups of piles in the deepest part of the channel to be anchored besides. This was the first plan of obstructing the channel on my arrival here; but being informed by old sailors and residents that piles could not be driven on account of the quicksand, and not having the necessary machinery then to examine the bottom, it was rejected. Having constructed a machine for this purpose, it is certain that piles can be driven and are actually already driven half across. This obstruction will be completed and the chains stretched from abutment to abutment by the 10th of May. Sketch, letter A, represents the work.

Obstructions at the head of Pelican Island.–Two-thirds done. It will require the whole of May to complete this obstruction and erect the casemated sunken battery of two guns, as proposed in my last report. These works are greatly retarded by the difficulty of procuring the material.

Pelican Spit ought to be fortified, as submitted in my last report, with a casemated work. For its defense two 32-pounders and one 24-pounder can be spared. This work is of great importance, but it had to be postponed until the intrenchments around the town shall be fairly advanced.

The force of negroes [sic.] on the island consists of 481 effective men. Of these 40 are at the saw-mills, 100 cutting and carrying sod (as all the works are of sand, consequently the sodding must be done all over the works), 40 carrying timber and iron, which leaves 301 on the works, including [harbor] obstructions. The whole force of negroes consists, as above, of 481 effective, 42 cooks, 78 sick; total, 601.

In order to complete the defenses of Galveston it will require the labor of 1,000 negroes during three weeks, or eight weeks with the present force. The work of soldiers amounts to very little, as the officers seem to have no control whatever over their men. The number of soldiers at work is about 100 men, whose work amount to 10 negroes’ work.

Brazos River.–After having examined the locality I have laid out the necessary works, and Lieutenant Cross, of the Engineers, is ordered to take charge of the construction. Inclosed letter B is a copy of instructions given to Lieutenant Cross. Sketch, letter C, shows the location of the proposed works at the mouth of Brazos River.

Western Sub-District.–Major Lea, in charge of the Western Sub-District, sent in his first communication, copy of which, marked D, is inclosed. I respectfully recommend Major Lea’s suggestions with regard to procuring labor to the attention of the major-general commanding. I have ordered a close examination of the wreck of the Westfield, which resulted in finding one 8-inch gun already, and I hope that more will be found. Cash account inclosed is marked letter E; liabilities incurred and not paid is marked letter F.(*)

I have the honor to remain, respectfully, your obedient servant,
V. SULAKOWSKI.

My emphasis. “Major Lea,” mentioned in the last paragraph, is Albert Miller Lea, a Confederate engineer and staff officer who, after the Battle of Galveston four months before, had famously found his son, a U.S. naval officer aboard the Harriet Lane, mortally wounded aboard that ship.

Sulakowski’s report also mentions the importance of sodding the built-up earthworks, as the sand of which they were constructed would otherwise blow down in drifts. That technique was also used in the fortifications around Charleston, as in this detail (above) of a painting of Fort Moultrie by Conrad Wise Chapman. At the center of the image, African American laborers gather sand to be used in repairing the fort.
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Image: Detail of “Fort Moultrie” by Conrad Wise Chapman. Museum of the Confederacy.

Rosewood Cemetery Marker Dedication, Galveston

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 13, 2011

Update: A new reader asks about the title Dead Confederates juxtaposed with a story about an African American cemetery. It’s the name of the blog, which generally deals with the American Civil War, and I didn’t even realize how it would look. I hope folks will understand and not be offended, because that was not my intent. I apologize for how this looks, and hope readers will consider the blog as a whole, and not by this particular whiplash-inducing combination of phrases.

Tucked away in a nearly-impossible-to-find part of Galveston is Rosewood Cemetery, a burial ground for African Americans between 1911 and the last known interment, in 1944. Historical records identify 411 burials there, but only a handful of graves remain clearly marked. The site was originally a couple of hundred yards from the Gulf beach, but after the Seawall was extended past the site in the 1950s, and subsequent fill operations closed off the cemetery’s natural drainage, leaving the site subject to periodic flooding. Over time, grave markers succumbed to natural deterioration, vandalism or simply settled into the soil. Many of the markers that remain have been displaced from their original locations.

There’s only one marker clearly identifying the person interred there as a former member of the military, that of World War I veteran Ben L. Scott (c. 1896 — Feb. 21, 1937). Many more burials there are of freedmen and -women who were born into slavery. William Lewis (c. 1840 — November 22, 1913) is almost certainly one of those.

Eventually the land including the cemetery passed into the hands of local developers John and Judy Saracco. The Saraccos, well-known members of the local community, were aware that the cemetery lay within the boundaries of their new holdings, and had the property surveyed to define its limits. The Saraccos then had the cemetery fenced to maintain its boundary while development went on around it.

In 2006, the Saraccos donated the Rosewood Cemetery land to the Galveston Historical Foundation, which now maintains the property. The formal re-dedication of the cemetery was held in June 2007. In January 2008, local Boy Scout Sean Moran raised money and organized a crew to construct a new rail fence to surround the cemetery property. That fence was destroyed nine months later, during Hurricane Ike, so Moran — by now a college student — raised yet more money and organized volunteers to re-install a new fence again in March 2010.

This coming Saturday, April 16 at 10 a.m., there will be a dedication ceremony for the new Texas Historical Commission Historic Cemetery marker for Rosewood Cemetery, on 63rd Street, just back from Seawall Boulevard. The Galveston Historical Foundation is still seeking information on persons interred at Rosewood; if you have any information on such persons, please contact Brian Davis at 409.765.3419 or brian.davis@galvestonhistory.org.

Two photos of the cemetery in 1999:

And pictures from last Saturday’s cleanup project after the jump:

(more…)

Of Governors and Generals, Secession and Soap

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 9, 2011

Much has been written about Texas’ secession and the removal of Governor Sam Houston, who adamantly opposed leaving the Union. Houston, a dyed-in-the-wool Jacksonian Democrat, was a flawed man in many ways, but he was dead right on secession, and foresaw better than most the ultimate outcome of the conflict that the fire-eaters so blithely dismissed. But this account of Houston’s final visit to the governor’s office, clearly intended to ridicule the old war-horse, just leaves me sad. From the San Antonio Daily Ledger and Texan, April 15, 1861:

Deposition of Sam Houston.

The circumstances attended the deposition of Sam Houston, as Governor of Texas, were quite dramatic, and in some respects ludicrous and comical. The Convention of Texas, called by the loud voice of the people against the denunciations and opposition of Governor Houston, having passed the act of secession, and accepted and ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States, prescribed a form of oath to be taken by all the State officers. This oath included a renunciation of all allegiance to foreign powers, and especially to the Government of the United States, and a declaration of fidelity to the Constitution of the Confederate States. When the oath was proposed to Governor Houston, he peremptorily refused to take it; whereupon the Convention declared the office of Governor vacant; and Lieutenant Governor Clark, under the Constitution, having taken the prescribed oath, succeeded to the office. Governor Clark was not slow in entering upon the Gubernatorial functions, and proceeding to the Governor’s office, assumed the chair and entered upon the duties of the office. By and by, the deposed Governor came hobbling to his old office — Old Sam’s San Jacinto wound having broken out afresh, as it always does on occasions of political trial. Perceiving Governor Clark occupying the chair, Old Sam addressed him:

“Well, Governor Clark,” giving great emphasis to the title, “you are an early riser.”

“Yes, General,” replied the Governor, with great stress upon the military title of his predecessor, “I am illustrating the old maxim, ‘the early bird gathers the worm.’ ”

“Well, Governor Clark, I hope you will find it an easier seat than I have found it.”

“I’ll endeavor to make it so, General, by conforming to the clearly expressed will of the people of Texas.”

The General, having brought a large lunch basket with him, proceeded to put up various little articles of personal property, and to stow them away very carefully. Catching his foot n a hole in the carpet and stumbling, the General suggested to Governor Clark that the new Government ought to afford a new carpet for the Governor’s office, whereupon the Governor remarked that the Executive of Texas could get along very well without a carpet.

Approaching the washstand, the General called the attention of Gov. Clark to two pieces of soap — one, the Castile soap, was his own, private property; and the other, a perfumed article, was the property of the State, and added, “Governor, your hands will require the very frequent use of this cleansing article;” whereupon Gov. Clark, pointing to the washbowl, which was very full of black and dirty water, remarked, “General, I suppose that is the bowl in which you washed your hands before leaving the office.”

Having gathered up all his duds, Old Sam made a little farewell speech, very much in the style of Cardinal Woolsey [sic.], declaring his conviction that, as in the past, the time would soon come when Texas would call him from retirement, and he hoped Gov. Clark would be able to give as good an account of his stewardship as he could now render. Halting at the door, the General made a profound bow, and with a air of elaborate dignity said, “Good day, Governor C-l-a-r-k.” “Good day, General Houston,” was the Governor’s response. And thus the “Hero of San Jacinto” concluded his political career.

Old Sam deserved better. So did Texas.

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Image: Senator Sam Houston of Texas, 1859. Library of Congress.

McDonnell’s Office Silent on Civil War Month Proclamation

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 1, 2011

Readers will recall that, last September 24, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that beginning in April 2011, that state’s Confederate History Month will be replaced by Civil War in Virginia Month. Needless to say, he caught hell for it at the time, and months later there was still grumbling from the usual suspects. Here is what McDonnell said in September:

I was far less successful in capturing the full meaning of our history when, four months later, I issued a proclamation concerning Confederate History Month.  My major and unacceptable omission of slavery disappointed and hurt a lot of people, myself included. Young people make mistakes, and I suppose sometimes young administrations do as well.  Ours was an error of haste and not of heart.  And it is an error that will be fixed.

Next April our office will issue a “Civil War in Virginia” proclamation commemorating the beginning of the Civil War in our state.

This proclamation will encapsulate all of our history. It will remember all Virginians—free and enslaved; Union and Confederate. It will be written for all Virginians.

Well, it’s April 1, 2011. I called the Governor McDonnell’s office late Friday afternoon and the gentleman who answered the phone professed no knowledge one way or another whether such a proclamation would be forthcoming. He suggested I keep checking the website or sign up for e-mail notices to see when — and if — such a proclamation is made.

Update, April 6: The governor’s proclamation is out, and at first read, it hits just the right note:

Civil War History in Virginia Month

WHEREAS, the month of April is most closely associated with Virginia’s pivotal role in the American Civil War; it was in April 1861 that Virginia seceded from the Union following a lengthy, contentious and protracted debate within the Commonwealth, and it was in April 1865 that the War was essentially concluded with the South’s surrender at Appomattox. In the four years that fell between those momentous months, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy, and it was on Virginia soil that the vast majority of the Civil War’s battles were fought, in places like Manassas, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, New Market, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, locations now forever linked with the indelible history of this perilous period; and

WHEREAS, the largest wartime population of African-American slaves was in Virginia, yet through their own acts of courage and resilience, as well as the actions of the United States army and federal government, they bequeathed to themselves and posterity a legacy of freedom; and

WHEREAS, slavery was an inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War ended its evil stain on American democracy and set Virginia and America on a still-traveled road to bring to fruition the great promises of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy equally the blessings of liberty and prosperity; and

WHEREAS, the military leadership and tactics of Virginians like Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Union General George Henry Thomas are still studied, analyzed and discussed today; the heroism of brave individuals like William Harvey Carney, who was born a slave in Norfolk, gained his freedom through the Underground Railroad, and received the Medal of Honor for his valor as a Union soldier at the battle of Fort Wagner, inspires us through the ages; and the Commonwealth is the final resting place of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers; the many cemeteries in which they lie reminding us of the cost and pain of the War and telling the stories of those who fought; and

WHEREAS, following the War, Virginia began the difficult process of returning to a nation that was, in many ways, born within her borders; that transition was aided by the actions of leaders like General Robert E. Lee who set the strong personal example of reconciliation and grace crucial in helping the people of Virginia return peacefully to the Union, instructing Virginians to “….abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.”; and former Dinwiddie County slave Elizabeth Keckley who returned to Virginia as a guest of President Lincoln and expressed forgiveness and conciliation stating: “Dear old Virginia! A birthplace is always dear, no matter under what circumstances you were born”; and

WHEREAS, the General Assembly of Virginia created the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission in 2006 “to prepare for and commemorate” the Commonwealth’s participation in the war; and

WHEREAS, from 2011-2015 a diverse and growing Commonwealth will host innumerable public events, lectures, re-enactments, seminars, and remembrances covering every aspect of the war, and no state is more closely connected to this pivotal period of American history, and therefore no state is better suited to host visitors seeking to learn about the Civil War, the Confederacy, slavery, emancipation and the full history of our United States, and for that reason Virginia encourages visitors from across the country and the world to visit the Commonwealth during this period,

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert F. McDonnell, Governor of Virginia, do hereby recognize April 2011 as CIVIL WAR HISTORY IN VIRGINIA MONTH, and urge all Virginians to participate in commemorations of the war’s 150th anniversary and reflect upon the lives of the courageous men and women of those difficult times by attending seminars and conferences, and by visiting battlefields, cemeteries, exhibitions, historical markers, libraries, museums and historical sites throughout the Commonwealth, and by taking part in a diversity of events and activities that highlight our shared history and heritage, as we strive to enact the vision laid out in the preamble to the United States Constitution of “a more perfect union.”

Good on Governor McDonnell. Let the fireworks begin — in every sense of the word.

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Image: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell addressing an audience at Norfolk State University on September 24, 2010, during which he announced that the state’s former observance of Confederate History Month would be replaced by Civil War in Virginia Month. Photo by Adrin Snider, Daily Press.

End of the Southern Strategy?

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on March 29, 2011

Politico has the story:

Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor and likely 2012 Republican presidential aspirant, has recently made a series of missteps involving race and the Civil Rights Movement. He seemed unclear about basic historical points.

But he has now made a forthright declaration about the events swirling around what some Southerners still call the War of Northern Aggression. “Slavery was the primary, central, cause of secession,” Barbour told me Friday. “The Civil War was necessary to bring about the abolition of slavery,” he continued. “Abolishing slavery was morally imperative and necessary, and it’s regrettable that it took the Civil War to do it. But it did.”

Now, saying slavery was the cause of the South’s Lost Cause hardly qualifies as breaking news — it sounds more like “olds.” But for a Republican governor of Mississippi to say what most Americans consider obvious truth is news. Big news.

Given that Barbour has managed over the last few months to step directly from cow pie to cow pie on the issue of the South and race, it’s interesting to see him make a statement that is both explicit and succinct, and seemingly not open to nuance or backpedaling. I don’t think this statement will help him much on the national scene, but we’ll see. He’s already catching hell from in some quarters over his statement that he’d veto a license plate honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest; this won’t help.

Update: That didn’t take long. The League of the South has branded Barbour a “quisling” for this statement, which it further described as “despicable.”

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North Carolina SCV Has Its Story; Is Sticking to It

Posted in Leadership, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on March 27, 2011

A couple of folks have pointed me toward a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, about efforts in Virginia and North Carolina, tied to the Civil War Sesquicentennial, to compile a more accurate count of each of those states’ war-related deaths. So far, researchers in North Carolina are estimating that state’s count as being roughly 20% less than the usually-accepted estimate of 40,000, while the total number of deaths now documented for Virginia troops is more than double an early count of around 15,000. (Be sure also to check out the additional features.)

It’s not surprising at all to me that modern researchers are coming up with different numbers than various compilers did 100+ years ago. What does surprise me is the disinterest in, or outright hostility to, the idea of doing such work in the first place:

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War beginning in mid-April, that small number could spark a big controversy between two states with rivalries that date back to the great conflict. Some Civil War buffs in North Carolina have already accused Mr. Howard of attempting to diminish the state’s heroism and the hardship it suffered. “Records were a whole lot fresher 150 years ago,” says Thomas Smith Jr., commander of the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, who is suspicious of Mr. Howard’s new count.

“I don’t care if Virginia has two people more who died, or a hundred more,” says Michael Chapman, a 55-year-old videographer from Polkton, N.C., who used to head up the local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp. He calls the recounts “irrelevant.”

I don’t buy the “fresher” argument at all. A written record is a written record, and remains as accurate or reliable (or not) over the passage of time. They don’t go stale; that’s why we archive them.

Certainly it’s possible that some records available a century and more ago have since been lost or destroyed, but against that we now have easy access to electronic records, digital copies, online newspapers, easy cross-referencing, and indexed census rolls, which earlier generations never had access to. In my view, the benefits of the latter far outweigh the limitations of the former. No count will be absolutely accurate, of course, but there’s no question that researchers now have far better capability to do the work than did their predecessors in the 1860s. Unless there’s something very fundamentally flawed with the modern researchers’ methodology — which is not alleged — their work should be able to get us closer to the real answer, to the extent that it’s knowable at all.

Michael Chapman has weighed in on his state’s sesquicentennial program before, and shown himself to be somewhat less than even-tempered on the subject. (You really have to read through the whole comments thread to get the full effect.) But still, progress is progress, and this time he didn’t refer to those who have differing views as Nazis, or compare North Carolina Unionists to al Qaeda sleeper cells. Baby steps, Michael, baby steps.

What I don’t quite get is that these two men, one a current state commander in the SCV, and the other former local camp commander, are both dismissive (if not openly hostile) to this effort to get a more accurate count of their state’s war dead. To me, that’s a no-brainer. And while they may or may not be speaking officially for the North Carolina SCV, they do seem to offer their roles in that group as their authority on the subject. Their objections seem not to be methodological, but to the idea of doing the work at all.

Why would that be, exactly? And would they be opposed to this work if it were showing more North Carolina casualties, rather than fewer?

Update: The lead researcher on the North Carolina project, Josh Howard, notes in the comments below that the Leonidas L. Polk SCV Camp of Garner, North Carolina, and one of its members, Charles Purser, have actually provided substantial assistance in the effort to obtain an accurate count of North Carolina’s war dead. Credit where it’s due.

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Image: Captain Jesse Sharpe Barnes, Co. F, 4th North Carolina Infantry, killed on May 31, 1862, at Seven Pines, Virginia. Library of Congress.

Brief Updates

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on March 26, 2011

Things have been busy of late here, and postings limited. So here are a few quick updates.

If you haven’t heard, Kevin’s blog, Civil War Memory, was selected for digital archiving by the Library of Congress as part of their efforts to document the Civil War Sesquicentennial. How cool is that?

A week ago Friday, long after normal business hours, I e-mailed the Texas State Library in Austin to request a Confederate pension file. The official turnaround time is 4-6 weeks, but this Friday (five business days) I got an e-mail that the copies were already in the mail. Props to the library staff in Austin.

I’ve added two new blogs to the roll at right, Civil War Medicine (and Writing) and Notre Dame and the Civil War. Both are written by Jim Schmidt, a Civil War historian who’s published several very well-received works, including Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory, Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War, and the edited volume, Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine. Welcome to the blogroll, Jim. It’s because of people like Jim that my Amazon purchases ran to thirteen damn pages last year.

Finally, just up the road a ways, a Reconstruction-era Freedman’s settlement has been formally added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Image: Sketch of a “double-ender” Union gunboat by A. R. Waud. Library of Congress.

Southern Heritage Preservation Group: Straight-Up Plagiarism

Posted in Leadership, Media by Andy Hall on March 20, 2011

Corey Meyer has a new and lengthy post up at his place, taken from the Southern Heritage Preservation Group on Facebook. A member The president of that group, Gary Adams, posted a long-ish piece that argues that the prevalence of slaveholding was much more common in Southern households than the low single-digit percentages usually cited for Confederate soldiers. It sounded familiar, and it should — most of it is lifted verbatim from a comment I posted ten months ago (under a different user name) at Kevin’s blog. Indeed, it seems Mr. Adams was posting it on Facebook, without attribution, almost as soon as it went online at Kevin’s. I later expanded this material into a guest post at The Atlantic.

I appreciate that Mr. Adams found my writing on the subject valuable — valuable enough to appropriate and distribute as his own, in fact — but his actions cause one to question what else he’s putting out there under his own name. Adams notes that, when he presented similar arguments on other pro-Confederate Facebook groups, his hosts found his arguments offensive and removed his membership. I wonder whether this case of straight-up plagiarism will result in a similar action on the part of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group.

Update: I realize now that it’s unlikely that the Southern Heritage Preservation Group will take any censure or sanction against Mr. Adams, considering he’s that group’s president.

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