Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Hari Jones Drops the Hammer on National Observance of Juneteenth

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

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

 

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.

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June 2, 1865

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 2, 2018

The American Civil War ended one hundred fifty-three years ago today, with the surrender of the last major Confederate command, the Trans-Mississippi Department. Late on the afternoon of Friday, June 2, 1865, Generals E. Kirby Smith and John Bankhead Magruder boarded Commodore Benjamin F. Sands’ flagship, USS FORT JACKSON (above), anchored off Galveston. U.S. Brigadier General Edmund J. Davis, a lawyer from Laredo who had opposed secession and eventually cast his lot with the Union, was present to represent Federal forces. At 5:00 p.m., in Sands’s cabin, these men signed the document surrendering the Trans-Mississippi Department, the last major Confederate command to yield to the Union.

Three days later, after allowing sufficient time for word of the surrender to be passed to the few Confederate forces remaining in their defensive works up and down the coast, Sands boarded the light-draft CORNUBIA and, with USS PRESTON trailing behind, entered Galveston Harbor. Sands disembarked with a handful of naval officers—but no armed escort—and was met on the wharf by a Confederate officer, who accompanied them to the mayor’s office above the old city market, just one block from Hendley’s Row and the old JOLO watch tower. There, the mayor and Sands both briefly addressed a crowd of soldiers and civilians “who had assembled in considerable numbers.” Both men made assurances of their goodwill and urged the population to go about their business peaceably. Sands told the crowd that he carried a sidearm that day not out of any fear for his own safety but as a sign of respect for the mayor and local officials. Then, along with the mayor, Sands continued on to the old U.S. Customs House, where he “hoisted our flag, which now, at last, was flying over every foot of our territory, this being the closing act of the great rebellion.”

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Three Veterans

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 28, 2018

This Memorial Day weekend, I’d like to highlight three Civil War veterans interred here in Galveston. I don’t have a familial or personal connection to any of them, but I think of them as neighbors of mine, of a sort.

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Anderson

AndersonPortraitSmallCharles DeWitt Anderson (1827-1901) served as a Colonel in the Confederate army, and in the summer of 1864 was charged with the defense of Fort Gaines, on the eastern side of the entrance to Mobile Bay. After Admiral Farragut forced the entrance to Mobile Bay on August 4, Anderson found himself entirely cut off, besieged and under artillery fire from the land side of Dauphin Island and unable to have any effect on the Federal fleet, which had moved farther up Mobile Bay, out of range of Fort Gaines’ guns. Faced with demoralized Confederate troops inside the fort, Anderson surrendered on August 8. Given a choice of surrendering to the U.S. Army or Navy, Anderson turned over his sword to Farragut. One of Farragut’s last acts before he died in 1870 was to request that Anderson’s sword be returned to him. It came back to Anderson with the inscription, “Returned to Colonel C. D. Anderson by Admiral Farragut for his Gallant Defence of Fort Gaines, April 8, 1864.”

What fewer people know about Anderson is that he and his younger brother arrived in Texas as orphans, their parents having died on the ship en route to the Republic of Texas in 1839. They were adopted right there on the wharf by an Episcopal minster. In 1846, Anderson was the first cadet admitted to West Point from the newly-established State of Texas; his application letter was endorsed by U.S. Senator Sam Houston. Although Anderson did not graduate from the Point, he eventually received a direct commission into the Fourth U.S. Artillery in 1856, and served until resigning his commission in 1861. Anderson served longer as a U.S. Army officer than as a Confederate one; you can view a detail of an 1859 map drawn by Anderson of the area around Fort Randall, Dakota Territory, here.

In his postwar years he worked as an engineer on a variety of public works projects, and at the time of his death was serving as the keeper of the Fort Point Lighthouse here. William Thiesen, the Atlantic Area Historian for the U.S. Coast Guard, recently wrote about Anderson’s experience at Fort Point during the 1900 Storm, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Recall that, at the time, Anderson was in his seventies:

True to his mission, Anderson kept the light burning during the storm even though most ships by then were either adrift, out of control or washing ashore at points along the Texas coast. However, late that evening, floodwaters surged and carried off equipment on the lighthouse’s lower deck, including the lifeboat and storage tanks for fresh water and kerosene fuel. With seawater rising into the keeper’s quarters it seemed as if Fort Point Lighthouse was adrift on a stormy sea. With the wind speeds nearing 200 miles per hour, the lighthouse’s heavy slate roof began to peel away. Eventually, some of the flying stone tiles shattered the lantern room windows and the inrushing wind snuffed out the light for good.

Anderson had tried his best to maintain the light, but the flying glass had lacerated his face and driven him below. By late that evening, the quarters’ first floor had flooded, the wind had permanently extinguished the light, Keeper Anderson suffered from facial wounds and the storm surge had trapped the elderly couple on the second floor. With all hope lost, Anderson and wife Lucy made their way to the second floor parlor room, sat down and waited in silence for the floodwaters to take them away.

But the end never came. On Sunday morning, the Andersons emerged arm-in-arm onto the lighthouse gallery to see the human toll of the hurricane. The scene they witnessed beggars description. In a silent watery funeral procession, the ebbing tide carried away countless bodies from Galveston Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Anderson likely saw as much carnage, if not more, than at any time during his Civil War career. But, unlike the war, the storm did not favor one victim over another; instead, it took the lives of women and children as well as men.

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Robie

RobiePortraitSmallGeorge Frank Robie (1844-91) was a Sergeant in Company D of the Seventh New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, who won the Medal of Honor “for gallantry on skirmish line” during fighting around Richmond, Virginia in September 1864.

Robie originally enrolled in the Eighth Massachusetts Militia, a three-month unit, the day after the surrender of Fort Sumter in 1861. His service record gives his age at enlistment as 18, but other sources suggest he was a year younger. After being discharged, he enlisted in the Seventh New Hampshire in September 1861 as a Sergeant. He re-enlisted in the regiment in February 1864, and was appointed First Lieutenant in October. Although Robie was recommended for a medal during the war, his Medal of Honor, like many, was not actually awarded until June 1883 by resolution of Congress.

He moved to Galveston after the war, working as a clerk in a railroad office, but suffered from rheumatism that had first afflicted him during his service in Virginia. Robie returned to New England, and in 1884 was awarded a pension for disability. Robie subsequently returned to Galveston, dying here in 1891. To my knowledge, Robie is the only Civil War Medal of Honor winner interred in Galveston County. The Fitts Museum in Candia, New Hampshire, where Robie was born, holds Robie’s sword in its collection.

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Armstong

ArmstongPortraitSmallJosiah Haynes Armstrong (1842-98) was a Sergeant in the Third U.S. Colored Infantry. He was born free in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, enlisted as a Corporal on June 26, 1863 at Philadelphia, and soon thereafter was promoted to Sergeant. The Third U.S.C.I. spent the latter part of the war in the Jacksonville, Florida, area, although Armstrong became ill and was transferred to a military hospital in St. Augustine. Some time later, his company commander, who had heard that Armstrong was convalescent and working at the hospital as a cook, wrote to request that he be sent back to the regiment, as he would “be obliged to make another Sergt in [Armstrong’s] place, which, as he is an excellent non-com officer, I am loathe to do.”

After his discharge, Armstrong remained in Florida, where he became a member of the clergy in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He also served in the Florida State House of Representatives, representing Columbia County, in 1871, 1872, and 1875. He moved to Galveston in 1880, where he was pastor of Reedy A.M.E. Chapel here. Armstrong also served as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas, the African American branch of American freemasonry, from 1890 to 1892. He was ordained a Bishop in the A.M.E. Church in 1896, two years before his death at age 56.

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Anderson photo courtesy Col. Anderson’s great-grandson, Dale Anderson, and Bruce S. Allardice.

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Frederick Douglass on Decoration Day, 1871

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 27, 2018

On Decoration Day, 1871, Frederick Douglass gave the following address at the monument to the Unknown Dead of the Civil War at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a short speech, but one of the best of its type I’ve ever encountered. I’ve posted it before, but it think it’s something worth re-reading and contemplating every Memorial Day.

The Unknown Loyal Dead
Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Decoration Day, May 30, 1871

Friends and Fellow Citizens:

Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is, in the very air of this resting-ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle and all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is precious, priceless, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.

Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.

Those unknown heroes whose whitened bones have been piously gathered here, and whose green graves we now strew with sweet and beautiful flowers, choice emblems alike of pure hearts and brave spirits, reached, in their glorious career that last highest point of nobleness beyond which human power cannot go. They died for their country.

No loftier tribute can be paid to the most illustrious of all the benefactors of mankind than we pay to these unrecognized soldiers when we write above their graves this shining epitaph.

When the dark and vengeful spirit of slavery, always ambitious, preferring to rule in hell than to serve in heaven, fired the Southern heart and stirred all the malign elements of discord, when our great Republic, the hope of freedom and self-government throughout the world, had reached the point of supreme peril, when the Union of these states was torn and rent asunder at the center, and the armies of a gigantic rebellion came forth with broad blades and bloody hands to destroy the very foundations of American society, the unknown braves who flung themselves into the yawning chasm, where cannon roared and bullets whistled, fought and fell. They died for their country.

We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice.

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to hat terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.

If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans; which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth; which has sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold, swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves and planted agony at a million hearthstones — I say, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?

The essence and significance of our devotions here to-day are not to be found in the fact that the men whose remains fill these graves were brave in battle. If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough on both sides to kindle admiration. In the raging storm of fire and blood, in the fierce torrent of shot and shell, of sword and bayonet, whether on foot or on horse, unflinching courage marked the rebel not less than the loyal soldier.

But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause. We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic. We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers. If today we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage, if the American name is no longer a by-word and a hissing to a mocking earth, if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.

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Image: Graves of nine unknown Federal soldiers in Pontotoc County, Mississippi. Photo by Flickr user NatalieMaynor, used under Creative Commons license. Text of Douglass speech from Philip S. Foner and Yuval Taylor, Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings.

Decoration Day at Arlington, 1871

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

As many readers will know, the practice of setting aside a specific day to honor fallen soldiers sprung up spontaneously across the country, North and South, in the years following the Civil War. One of the earliest — perhaps the earliest — of these events was the ceremony held on May 1, 1865 in newly-occupied Charleston, South Carolina, by that community’s African American population, honoring the Union prisoners buried at the site of the city’s old fairgrounds and racecourse, as described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.

Over the years, “Decoration Day” events gradually coalesced around late May,  particularly after 1868, when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a day of remembrance on May 30 of that year. It was a date chosen specifically not to coincide with the anniversary of any major action of the war, to be an occasion in its own right. While Memorial Day is now observed nationwide, parallel observances throughout the South honor the Confederate dead, and still hold official or semi-official recognition by the former states of the Confederacy.

Recently while researching the life of a particular Union soldier, I came across a story from a black newspaper, the New Orleans Semi-Weekly Louisianan dated June 15, 1871. It describes an event that occurred at the then-newly-established Arlington National Cemetery. Like the U.S. Colored Troops who’d been denied a place in the grand victory parade in Washington in May 1865, the black veterans discovered that segregation and exclusion within the military continued even after death:

DECORATION DAY AND HYPOCRISY.

The custom of decorating the graves of soldiers who fell in the late war, seems to be doing more harm to the living than it does to honor the dead. In every Southern State there are not only separate localities where the respective defendants of Unionism and Secession lie buried, but there are different days of observance, a rivalry in the ostentatious parade for floral wealth and variety, and a competition in extravagant eulogy, more calculated to inflame the passions than to soften and purify the affections, which ought to be the result of all funeral rights.

Besides this bad effect among the whites there comes a still more evil influence from the dastardly discriminations made by the professedly union [sic.] people themselves.

Read this extract from the Washington Chronicle:

AT THE COLORED CEMETERY

While services were in progress at the tomb of the “Unknown” Comrade Charles Guthridge, John S. Brent, and Beverly Tucker, of Thomas R. Hawkins Post, No. 14 G.A.R., followed by Greene’s Brass Band, Colonel Perry Carson’s Pioneer Corps of the 17th District, Butler Zouaves, under the command of Charles B. Fisher, and a large number of colored persons proceeded to the cemetery on the colored soldiers to the north of the mansion, and on arriving there they found no stand erected, no orator or speaker selected, not a single flag placed on high, not even a paper flag at the head boards of these loyal but ignored dead, not even a drop of water to quench the thirst of the humble patriots after their toilsome march from the beautifully decorated grand stand above to this barren neglected spot below. At 2 ½ o’clock P.M., no flowers or other articles coming for decorative purposes, messengers were dispatched to the officers of the day for them; they in time returned with a half dozen (perhaps more) rosettes, and a basket of flower leaves. Deep was the indignation and disappointment of the people. A volley of musketry was fired over the graves by Col. Fisher’s company. An indignation meeting was improvised, Col. Fisher acting president. A short but eloquent address was made by George Hatton, who was followed by F. G. Barbadoes, who concluded his remarks by offering the followign resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:

Resolved, that the colored citizens of the District of Columbia hereby respectfully request the proper authorities to remove the remains of all loyal soldiers now interred at the north end of the Arlington cemetery, among paupers and rebels, to the main body of the grounds at the earliest possible moment.

Resolved, that the following named gentlemen are hereby created a committee to proffer our request and to take such further action in the matter as may be deemed necessary to a successful accomplishment of our wishes: Frederick Douglass, John M. Langston, Rev. Dr. Anderson, William J. Wilson, Col. Charles B. Fisher, William Wormley, Perry Carson, Dr. A. T. Augusta, F. G. Barbadoes.

If any event in the whole history of our connection with the late war embodied more features of disgraceful neglect, or exhibited more clearly the necessity of protecting ourselves from insult, than this behavior at Arlington heights, we at least acknowledge ignorance of it.

We say again that no good, but only harm can result from keeping up the recollection of the bitter strife and bloodshed between North and South, and worse still, in furnishing occasion to white Unionists of proving their hypocrisy towards the negro in the very presence of our dead.

The black soldiers’ graves were never moved; rather, the boundaries of Arlington were gradually expanded to encompass them, in what is now known as Section 27.  Most of the graves, originally marked with simple wooden boards, were subsequently marked with proper headstones, though many are listed as “unknown.” In addition to the black Union soldiers interred there, roughly 3,800 civilians, mostly freedmen, lie there as well, many under stones with the simple, but profoundly important, designation of “citizen.” The remains of Confederate prisoners buried there were removed in the early 1900s to a new plot on the western edge of the cemetery complex, where the Confederate Monument would be dedicated in 1914.

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more. . . well, you know. In part because that segment of the cemetery began as a burial ground for blacks, prisoners and others of lesser status, the records for Section 27 are fragmentary. Further, Section 27 has — whether by design or happenstance — suffered an alarming amount of negligence and lack of attention over the years. The Army has promised, and continues to promise, that these problems will be corrected.

As Americans, North and South, we should all expect nothing less.

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Images of Section 27, Arlington National Cemetery, © Scott Holter, all rights reserved. Used with permission. Thanks to Coatesian commenter KewHall (no relation) for the research tip.

That Fight in Reno

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 25, 2018

After the president’s pardon of boxer Jack Johnson yesterday, I pulled out an article I wrote almost 30 years ago about his famous bout with Jim Jeffries in Reno in 1910, that secured him the heavyweight title. It’s easy to forget today what an upheaval that was at the time.

 

“Furious Fists Unleashed”

Jack Johnson did more than knock out Jim Jeffries in Reno in 1910. He challenged the way Americans looked at black boxers. When the “Great White Hope” fell in the 15th round, some perceptions were changed forever as well.

By Andrew W Hall

Everything seemed to change in 1910. Under the brilliant glare of Halley’s Comet, British suffragettes vandalized public buildings and assaulted members of Parliament. The year saw the death of King Edward VII, who had carried over into the 20th century traditional Victorian ideals of order and social place.

Across the Atlantic, the administration of President Taft found itself drawn into a bloody civil war in Nicaragua. Mexico, too, reeled under the first blows of revolution. And in a one-sided boxing match in Reno, Nev., a black fighter named Jack Johnson pummeled the old assumptions of innate white superiority in all endeavors. Not until the sinking of an unsinkable Titanic two years later would public confidence receive such a shock. Never again would the world be quite so stable, or quite so safe.

Though Johnson was never entirely comfortable with his spectacularly prominent place in the era’s headlines, he was a natural for the ring and almost guaranteed a spot in history as the first black heavyweight champion. Born Arthur John Johnson in Galveston, Texas, in 1878, Johnson quickly discovered the talent in his fists. He honed his skills while working on the port’s cotton wharves and soon fought his way through the local, illicit prizefighting circuit. By 1900, Johnson was fighting professionally in Chicago.

By 1903, Johnson held the black heavyweight title. On Dec. 26, 1908, he defeated the acknowledged white heavyweight titleholder, Tommy Burns, a Canadian. Johnson took home the gold belt, but his victory sparked a fierce debate in boxing circles. Was Johnson’s claim legitimate?

Burns had defeated Marvin Hart for the crown, but Hart had had the title voluntarily bestowed on him by Jim Jeffries, the reigning champ. Many of the boxing authorities who had not questioned the strength of Burns’ claim before his bout with Johnson now argued that, as Hart had not actually defeated Jeffries for the championship, Burns’ claim to the heavyweight title was shaky at best.

Still others, like John L. Sullivan, criticized Burns for crossing the “color line. “ Black fighters had been around for years, but no white champion had been willing to risk losing the crown to one of them. Clearly, Johnson would have to successfully defend his claim against an undisputed champion.

The prospect of such a bout electrified the American populace. Even those who did not ordinarily follow the sport were intrigued by the prospect of an interracial battle for unquestioned ring supremacy. Even before a challenger was chosen, the appellation “Great White Hope “ was applied to the figure who would return the reign over a gentleman’s sport to the Caucasian race. The stage was being set for a main event as divisive in its preparation as it would be bloody in its aftermath.

Eventually Jeffries, as the last “real “ heavyweight champion, agreed to return to the ring to battle Johnson. It would be a long trip. In the six years since he relinquished the prize belt, he had ballooned to 300 pounds. With former champ Jim Corbett guiding his training, Jeffries began a desperately grueling regiment to get back into shape.

The fight’s promoter, Tex Rickard, was a shrewd businessman. With the reluctant agreement of both fighters, Rickard did everything he could to exploit the white versus black angle, by implication selling the match as the ultimate test of true racial superiority. He almost promoted himself out of the business. Just two weeks before the opening bell in San Francisco, California Governor James N. Gillett decided that the bout was not going to be a simple exhibition match — as allowed under California law — but, in fact, a prohibited prizefight. Quickly, Rickard scrambled for a new site, picking the sporting town of Reno, Nev.

As the fight date of July 4 drew near, Jeffries became increasingly sullen and irritable. By contrast, Johnson seemed relaxed and easygoing, training or not training as he pleased. Reporters around Johnson’s training camp attributed his easy confidence to the notion that the black man did not have the capacity to anticipate beyond the present to his assured defeat. Johnson was “safe in his soul shallowness and lack of imagination;’ the newspapers reported. An estimated 20,000 people-almost all white-poured into the eight-sided outdoor arena on the Fourth of July. In the unlikely event that anyone in the audience was still unaware of the fight’s racial significance, a brass band clambered up into the ring and thumped away at what the Chicago Tribune’s reporter described as “patriotic tunes. “* Rickard, acting as referee, introduced the fighters. By prearrangement, they did not shake hands as they turned for their corners.

Johnson controlled the fight from the start. He was much faster than Jeffries and let the white boxer commit himself to a move before exploiting an opening. Johnson used his speed and agility to keep out of Jeffries’ reach. Time and again, Johnson would bob and weave away at the last moment, landing a powerful blow to Jeffries’ unprotected side. “Jeff “ had made his reputation with wild-swinging bullish charges. Johnson was the perfect foil for that technique, using almost delicate maneuvers to neutralize Jeffries’ attacks. Johnson was clearly in no hurry. He let Jeffries set the pace for his own defeat.

Jack London, correspondent for the New York Herald, had written that Johnson was a “master mouth fighter;’ keeping up a constant flow of witty banter and mild taunts with an opponent, his cornermen and the audience. There was a purpose to the tactic. It helped break the other fighter ‘s concentration. Whether it affected Jeffries was not clear. The White Hope remained silent, concentrating on a huge wad of gum he chewed throughout the match.

Johnson’s running commentary certainly affected Jeffries’ cornermen, though. Corbett, who had attached himself to the White Hope’s cause early, had a pet theory that, once enraged, blacks (and particularly Johnson) would become useless in the ring. From the first bell, Corbett screamed vulgar insults at Johnson, but the black fighter defused the taunts by feigning the ingratiating manner of the stereotypical Southern black man.

The madder Corbett got, the calmer Johnson became. Late in the fight, Johnson teased the former champ, “I thought you said you’d have me wild! “ Corbett didn’t get the joke.

The verbal jousting provided some sorely needed pleasure for Jeffries’ supporters. The fight was not going at all as predicted. There was one bright spot for them in the fourth round when Jeffries brushed the black fighter against the rope and opened his lip. As the blood streamed down Johnson’s chin, some in the crowd began shouting, “First blood for Jeffries!” They did not know that the former champion had opened a wound Johnson had received two days before.

From then on, virtually everything went against Jeffries. In the fifth round, he received a bad cut under one eye and another on the chin. In the sixth, Johnson slammed a powerful left into “Jeff’s” right eye, which immediately began to close.

As the fight ground on, Jeffries began having trouble judging distance and timing, landing only a few blows to Johnson’s midsection. The black fighter backpedaled here and advanced there, egging on Jeffries by opening his guard. In the 11th round, Johnson crashed back Jeffries’ head with a series of rights that became a Johnson trademark. The motion was like that of a sewing machine. But if Jeffries were outclassed in speed and agility, his endurance remained. His right eye closing, his nose broken and his face bruised and smeared with blood, Jeffries kept staggering forward, flailing almost blindly.

To some observers, it appeared that Johnson was prolonging the fight just to watch Jeffries suffer. The black man’s taunts, no longer humorous, had a vindictive ring: “How do you feel, Jim? I can take you out when I want to, Jim. Does it hurt, Jim? “

In the 15th round, Jeffries continued to advance, now erect, now crouching into Johnson’s fists. A series of blows forced Jeffries back against the ropes, where he rolled away and struck the canvas. As promoter Rickard pushed Johnson back, Jeffries pulled himself to his feet. Another flurry of gloves and again Jeffries fell to his knees, once again pulling himself up at the count of nine. For the third time the black man knocked Jeffries down, this time leaving him sprawling over the rope. The Great White Hope’s cornermen climbed into the ring. The fight was over.

The amazing thing about the battle, in retrospect, was not that Johnson won, but that so many fans and sportswriters alike seemed convinced that Jeffries could not lose. Six years of comfortable retirement had left Jeffries a fat old man. The Jeffries of 1903 or 1904 might have had a fair chance against Johnson. In 1910, he had none. It is incredible that so many failed to see the inevitability of Jeffries’ defeat, and perhaps they did not want to.

The image of Jim Jeffries lying groggy on the ropes, smeared with his own blood and in the black shadow of Jack Johnson, however, was one ·that burned into the consciousness of many Americans, black and white alike. Weeks of prefight publicity had brought the nation to the edge of an emotional precipice; everything was riding on this fight. That no one in the national (white) press foresaw a Johnson victory made the event all the more devastating for “Jeff’s “ supporters, and the more joyous for Johnson’s. The racial violence that flared across the nation was almost as inevitable as the outcome of the fight itself.

Most of the violence was one-sided. In Little Rock, Ark., an argument on a streetcar about the fight left two black passengers dead. Near tiny Uvalda, Ga., black workers at a construction camp became involved in a gun battle with angry whites. No one knows who fired first, but the whites made several trips into town for more ammunition and chased fleeing blacks into the woods. Casualties: three dead, five wounded, all black. Three more died in Shreveport, La.

In Houston, a black man got too “uppity “ about Johnson’s victory and had his throat slashed from ear to ear for his impertinence. Black tenements in New York were torched with the residents inside. Attacks resulting in death or serious injury were reported nationwide-in Baltimore, Md., Cincinnati, Ohio, Los Angeles, Ca., and Pueblo, Colo. At least a dozen people died in the wake of Johnson’s victory. But if the violence directed against blacks was intended to quash any notions of equality blacks might have received from the fight, it had the opposite effect because it showed how seriously some whites considered the matter.

Before the fight, one newspaper’s sports editor had predicted that, in the event of a Johnson victory, the black fighter’s earnings would total $360,750 to Jeffries’ $158,000. Their actual earnings were far less, for the projections were based on royalties from exhibitions of films made at the fight. In the aftermath of the riots following the fight, many communities banned the films. Apparently tempers had cooled in the time it took to distribute the movies, though, for few disturbances were reported in the cities where they were shown.

Quietly slipping out of Reno on a special train, Johnson went on to a well-publicized and controversial career. It included three marriages to white women, an international flight from prosecution under the Mann Act, a term in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary and loss of the heavyweight crown in a possibly fixed match against Jess Willard in 1915. Jeffries returned to his alfalfa farm and, years later, grumbled that he’d been drugged before he climbed into the ring in Reno.

Whatever headlines they made after 1910-and Johnson, in particular, made many-neither fighter was ever able to rivet the attention of the world as he did at Reno. As fights go, the Johnson-Jeffries bout was one-sided, even dull. But the issues read into the match by promoters, sportswriters and fans ensured that whatever the outcome, this one fight would cause reverberations far beyond the ring, into the deepest beliefs and prejudices of the day’s dominant culture.

It had the universal appeal of a 19th-century adventure story, with a hero in white and a villain in black. On a hot Independence Day afternoon in Reno, Jack Johnson, Jim Jeffries and Tex Rickard changed the sport of boxing – and America – forever.

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Mail Contracts for Texas, 1858-62

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 12, 2018

This is neat. This is a notice from the federal government, seeking bids on contracts to carry the U.S. Mail throughout Texas for a four-year term, 1858 – 62. Assuming that many or most of these contracts were eventually awarded, this gives a very detailed look at how overland travel was organized here on the eve of the Civil War. Routes, schedules, frequency – it’s all laid out here.

If you read much at all about transportation networks in the 19th century, particularly in the West, it becomes immediately apparent how important these mail contracts were to operators of stagecoach lines, riverboats, and railroads. While contracts for carrying the mail would not support a company’s operation by themselves, they often did provide a regular, reliable source of revenue that made the difference between profit and loss for the company. There were significant marketing advantages to having a mail contract, as well — it lent an air of prestige, speed, and reliability to the company. Failure to meet the terms of a contract could similarly cause headaches for a transportation company, as I noted in my riverboat book:

 

The U.S. Mail route through Galveston and Buffalo Bayou to Houston was a particularly important one and often at the center of controversy. Galveston was a primary terminal for one of the main transcontinental mail routes, one that began in New Orleans, went by coastal steamer to Galveston, then overland to San Antonio, El Paso, Santa Fe and points farther west, all the way to San Francisco—total contractual transit time from the Crescent City to Frisco was twenty-five days.

Galveston, though, was seen by many as a problem and came to be known as a bottleneck in the fast and efficient transport of the mail. Galveston’s monopoly on mail coming in from the rest of the United States was a source of deep annoyance for both citizens and newspapermen, who charged that publishers on the island were using their influence to hold newspapers coming in from other parts of the country for several days, allowing the Galveston publishers the ability to go to print first with the latest national news. This frustration led to many customers avoiding the U.S. Mails altogether, sending valuable parcels and shipments by way of one of the private express companies that sprang up to carry mail and valuable packages along their own routes, generally overland. . . .

John Sterrett and Frederick Smith bid successfully for a $20,000 mail contract in 1858 [No. 8509 highlighted above] that required them to provide mail service between Galveston and Houston six times per week. This was likely the largest single contract and route out of Galveston, including as it did not only mail destined for Harrisburg and Houston but also points north and west of the Bayou City. With the requirement for mail service six days every week, it was also the most regular and frequent. The Houston Navigation Company was well established by this time, so Sterrett and Smith likely had little trouble meeting the terms of the mail contract. Nonetheless, there were critics always ready to pounce, as when, just a few weeks after Sterrett and Smith won their contract, complaints were being made about Sterrett’s failure to deliver the mail as expected. The Galveston Civilian and Gazette came to Sterrett’s defense, pointing out that it was the first time in twenty years that he’d failed to carry the mails, and even in this case, it was a trip outside the strict terms of his contract. Sterrett, the Civilian and Gazette pointed out, “has been running between Houston and Galveston nineteen years, and in that time has made four thousand trips between the two places. Every man who has ever travelled in Texas knows him, and very few who have ever made a trip with him but tell their friends to do the same thing. Justice requires us to say there are other boats in the Houston trade that will compare well with steamboats anywhere; but Capt. Sterrett always manages to command the best one.”

 

The newspaper’s claim that Sterrett had, in nineteen years on the route, made the passage between Galveston and Houston some four thousand times averages out to about three one-way trips in every five days. Although the exact number cannot be known, the newspaper’s estimate in Sterrett’s case is entirely plausible.

Click to embiggen. From the Palestine, Texas Trinity Advocate, Feb 17, 1858, p. 2.

Steve Perry: Thanks for the Slavery!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 8, 2018

A history of Rome and Floyd County, state of Georgia, United StaA few years ago I wrote up a profile on Steve Perry of Rome, Georgia. Perry was better known in his later years as “Uncle Steve Eberhart,” and was a fixture at Confederate reunions across the South for more than 20 years. Although there were a number of old African American men who attended and performed — there’s really no other word for it — at such reunions, Perry was distinctive. Although he was not a large man physically, Perry always stood out because of the outlandish costume he wore, that usually included a battered top hat decorated with feathers and brass epaulets with miniature flags in them. Often he carried one or two live chickens (right) to highlight his role as a forager during the war.

One of the things I came to understand about Perry was that he appears to have treated his “Uncle Steve Everhart” role as something of a character, separate and distinct from Steve Perry. “Eberhart” was, in effect, a stage name. While making public appearances at Confederate reunions, men like Perry typically went out of their way to embrace the “happy slave” stereotype of African-Americans central to the Lost Cause. They were cheerful, obsequious, and above all grateful for the beneficence of their “white folks.” All of this is well-known to anyone who has looked closely at contemporary accounts of their appearances Confederate reunions.

But knowing all that, I was still surprised to come across this short clip of Steve Perry speaking to the newsreel camera at a reunion, said to be at Biloxi in 1930. Although I’d read a number of interviews with Perry, it was the first time I heard his voice. It was apparently an unusual occasion for him too, because he took the opportunity to play his role in the Lost Cause narrative to the hilt (at about the 1:00 mark):

 

“[unintelligible] southern white man, my race would have been in the jungles of Africa today, ignorant as any wild beast. He brought me over here, and made a human out of me!”

“Made a human out of me,” in the form of chattel property. Yuck. No wonder he was so popular at reunions, and was considered to be a “mascot” of the Floyd County UCV camp in Rome.

I used to think that Steve Perry/Eberhart was slyly ridiculous. Now I suspect he was just ridiculous ridiculous.

______

Would-Be Dowling Monument Bomber Pleads Guilty

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 2, 2018

The Houston man arrested last summer for attempting to blow up the Dick Dowling monument near the Houston Zoo has pleaded guilty:

Shackled in an olive green jail uniform, Andrew C.E. Schneck, bent forward with his hands in handcuffs, pleaded guilty to willfully attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property in violation of federal law. A federal prosecutor dismissed a sentence enhancement, related to the harm an explosion could have caused, that could have allowed for a longer prison sentence.

The 26-year-old with a history of concocting homemade explosives told U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. he was pleading guilty voluntarily and understood he was giving up rights by doing so.

Then the judge asked him to explain his thinking at the time: “Mr. Schneck, I’d like you to tell the court what was going on that day?”

Explaining himself

Schneck paused for nearly a minute and then asked the judge to repeat the question.

He said,“Well uh … I … well, the material … I purchased the batteries and the timer myself from commercial sources. The explosive compound I manufactured myself.”

The look on the judge’s face appeared to indicate his answer wasn’t sufficient.

Schneck continued, saying, “The intent was to damage the statue significantly.”

After several minutes of questioning, the judge said he found Schneck capable of entering a plea. He faces five to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 at his sentencing, which the judge set for June 22.

Outside the courtroom Schneck’s attorney Philip Hilder said, “He pleaded guilty because he recognizes his actions and accepts his responsibility and wishes to move on. He has some health issues that we are dealing with that contributed to the event.”

Schneck spent several months of his detention at an intensive inpatient program. He told the judge he is taking mood stabilizing medication under the direction of the detention facility.

Schneck graduated with a degree in chemistry from Austin College in Sherman and had a penchant for experiments, according to a source familiar with the case.

He was convicted in 2014 of storing explosives for which he earned five years of probation.

Following the 2017 attempted bombing in Hermann Park, agents returned to the neighborhood to search the home in Southhampton Place, near the Museum District, where Schneck lived with his parents.

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The Odyssey of the CSS Stonewall

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on April 21, 2018

The Late Unpleasantness: A Civil War Blog

Some friends and I were discussing the Civil War the other day—a common topic.  The subject came up, when did the war end?  “On April 9, 1865, of course, when Lee surrendered to Grant,” said one.  “No,” said another, “when Jo Johnston surrendered to Sherman in North Carolina.”  “No, No, you’re both wrong,” said a third, “it was in Texas in May.”

The CSS Stonewall in drydock, probably in France during construction.  Millers Photographic History of the War vol. 6. The CSS Stonewall in drydock, probably in France during construction. Millers Photographic History of the War vol. 6.

“You’re all wrong,” said I.  “The last Confederate troops to lay down their arms weren’t any of those.  It was the Confederate Navy that was the last to surrender, or at least two of their ships.”  And therein hangs a curious little tale or two.

Close up view of the Stonewall in drydock.  Millers Photographic History of the War, Vol. 6 Close up view of the Stonewall in drydock. Millers Photographic History of the War, Vol. 6

There was the CSS Stonewall, for example…

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