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.

Dallas Monument Bidder Identified

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 13, 2019

So now we know:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image via Fox4, Dallas.

Cannister!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 8, 2019

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

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

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

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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.

“At Freedom’s Door” by Cooper Wingert

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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Forrest on Decoration Day, 1875

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 25, 2019

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

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

Blank

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

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

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

Blank

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

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

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Efforts to Identify the Unkown Dead Continue

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 19, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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Charlottesville Update

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 1, 2019

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The struggle over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Photo by Zack Wajsgras/The Daily Progress

A Beating in Fort Bend County, Cont.

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

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flake’s Bulletin, June 15, 1867:

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

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

SHERIFF VERSUS CAPTAIN.

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

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

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

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

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RICHMOND AFFAIR.

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

STATEMENT OF TOM ROSS.

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

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

His
Tom  X Ross
Mark

The State of Texas, Fort Bend County. —–

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

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

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

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


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