Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Dead Confederates Blog, Now Cited by VDARE. . . .

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 1, 2020

Recently I discovered that one of my old blog posts about Frederick Douglass was cited by a fellow named Mike Scruggs, writing at VDARE. Scrugg’s short essay was a pastiche of tired and mostly-debunked tropes about Black Confederates, and the post he cited (and linked to) was one of mine that discussed Douglass’ well-known assertion from September 1861 that there were Black soldiers, “having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops,” in the Confederate army at the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. More specifically, my post discussed likely sources for Douglass’ claim, tracing fragmentary reports from the battlefield through nearly a dozen northern newspapers, with new details and embellishments added with each reprinting, until it appeared in at least two newspapers that Douglass likely would have read at home in Rochester, New York, including Horace Greeley’s New York Daily Tribune. Douglass was a wise and judicious man, but at the end of the day he was just as dependent on the contemporary press for his knowledge of current events as we are now. My essay was not just showing that Douglass was wrong on the facts, but explaining in detail how his error most likely came about.

VDARE is a white identity/white nationalist organization; its name comes from Virginia Dare, reputed to be the first English child born in what later became the United States. Scruggs’ essay isn’t even really about events that happened in 1861-65; it is, like so many other shouty, shallow claims about Black Confederates, simply another shot in the modern political- and cultural wars, as reflected in Scruggs’ title, “Hey, BLM—Why Didn’t Robert E. Lee’s Black Teamsters Desert After Gettysburg?” Scruggs’ Black Confederate narrative is, like most others, an attempt to whitewash the odium of chattel bondage from the history of the Confederate cause. Scruggs is using, as many others have before him, Frederick Douglass as a sort of rhetorical human shield to defend the Confederacy. One wonders if Scruggs has ever actually read much of Douglass’ writing, apart from what he’s seen on various butternut blogs and Facebook pages. (I think I know the answer to that one.)

The VDARE website thrives of white grievance, just as much of the Confederate Heritage™ movement does. Some of VDARE’s most popular article tags (see below) are “Anti-White Hates Crimes,” “War on Christmas,” “White Guy Loses His Job,” “Immigrant Mass Murder,”and “Camp of the Saints,” an infamous 1973 French dystopian novel about swarms of brown-skinned immigrants overwhelming Western Europe, that has become a literary touchstone for white identity movements, much as The Turner Diaries were for American militia groups thirty years ago.

Maybe I should be annoyed that this blog should be cited on VDARE, but mostly I’m amused – amused at the ineptitude of folks like Scruggs who, it seems, linked the first article he found that included the Douglass quote about Black Confederates, and never bothered to read the piece. Or maybe he did, and figured his own readers were too lazy or incurious to click through and read it for themselves. Both those things may be true.

Maybe I should add a tagline here, “as cited by VDARE!” Or not.

You can find Scruggs’ essay here (no, I’m not linking directly):


The Confederados

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 12, 2020

There have been a lot of articles over the years on the confederados, descendants of the southerners who emigrated to Brazil after the Civil War, hoping to recreate their plantation-based culture in a new region. This included slaveholding, of course, that remained legal in Brazil for another two decades after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in the United States. Most articles have been pretty shallow, treating the confederados like a quaint curiosity, a people and culture caught in a time bubble, a little part of the old Confederacy that survives in an out-of-the-way spot in the Southern Hemisphere. That’s a pretty silly notion, of course; the confederados of 2020 are Brazilians through and through, who attend a Confederate-themed festival every year. They’re like someone who puts on a kilt to go to a renaissance fair every year, but has never been to Scotland, and mainly knows Scots culture from repeated viewings of Braveheart. The annual Festa Confederada in Brazil is history-themed cosplay, Gone with the Wind meets the Carnaval in Rio.

More importantly, the confederados are now facing their own reckoning on issues of race — not the same ones we deal with here in the United States, but their own, very different racial structures and cultural traditions, that are unique to Brazil. It’s pretty fascinating:

Brazilians in recent weeks have demanded the removal of the notorious statue in São Paulo of a 17th-century settler who enslaved indigenous people. Protests for black equality have rumbled through several cities. And in Americana and Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, the cities founded by the Confederates, Brazilians who have never been to the United States are increasingly asking questions piercingly familiar to Americans: Where should the Confederacy be remembered — on a flagpole, or in a museum?

“My mind has been opened to the questions,” said [Marina Lee] Colbachini, 35, whose middle name pays homage to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. She attended the festival for most of her life, but has now stopped going. Despite worrying what her community might think, she has begun asking that the flag be taken down.

“It represents my family’s traditions,” she said. “But in the entire world, in the United States, they know what it also represents.”

The debate has simmered for years. On one side is the Fraternity of American Descendants, the group that throws the annual party, tends to the Confederate cemetery grounds and promotes a Lost Cause orthodoxy reminiscent of the most ardent Confederacy apologists. On the other is the Black Union for Equality (UNEGRO), which has been leading a community charge to strip the festival of the flag considered by many to be a symbol of hate and repression.

In what might be the farthest outpost of the American culture wars, a new battle over the Confederate flag is only just beginning.

A mass exodus in search of land and slaves

The newspapers called it “Brazilian fever.” With the war lost, thousands of Southerners, fearful of living under Northern rule among freed slaves, were seeking other opportunities. Some pushed for Mexico. Others for Venezuela. But Brazil, which wouldn’t abolish slavery for another 23 years, proved to be the most attractive of countries.

Emperor Dom Pedro II, a fierce advocate of the South during the war, tried to induce their immigration, offering free transport, cheap land and an easy path to citizenship. Before long, Southerners sailed out from New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., for Rio de Janeiro. Eventually, between 8,000 and 20,000 immigrated.

“Move here and buy land,” Col. Charles Gunter urged in a letter to the Charleston Mercury newspaper in 1868. “We have here a beautiful place for our village, in the center of rich land, and on a grand river.”

But historians say one of the central draws was a country where Southerners could freeze time and continue a lifestyle that had been put to a violent end in the United States. In journals, one bragged about how inexpensive Brazilian slaves were; another lamented that they couldn’t bring recently freed American slaves to Brazil.

“They came to continue having slaves,” said Luciana Brito, a historian at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia. “They associated the existence of slavery in Brazil with the maintenance of a system of racial subservience.”

Brito and other historians have scoured letters, journal entries and deeds of sale. One researcher found that more than three-fourths of Southerners who wrote to the Brazilian government to inquire about immigration were slaveholders. At least 54 families bought at least 536 slaves upon entering Brazil. Using racial epithets, they expressed fears of an “African government” in Brazil, and black “rulers” in the United States.

“The confederados presented themselves as refugees of a devastated America,” said Jordan Brasher, a geographer at Columbus State University who wrote his dissertation on the confederado communities. “As the downtrodden, poor, defeated Confederate soldiers looking to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

“They also brought the ideology of white supremacy and racial terrorism from the United States South to Brazil.”

In one dark episode, two Confederate immigrants led a mob in the lynching of a police chief who had refused to track down escaped slaves — in front of his family. The confederados were also suspected of assassinating a Brazilian senator who supported emancipation.

In 1888, Brazil became the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, nearly a quarter-century after the United States. But interracial relations in the two countries were different. There were neither draconian racial distinctions in Brazil nor government prohibitions on intermarrying between races. The races mixed, yielding a country of extraordinary diversity. Over time, some confederados adopted new opinions on race.

“One of the changes most evidenced in the Confederados of my youth . . . was their belief in tolerance among the races,” Eugene C. Harter, who was raised among the confederados, wrote in a book about the community. “This they had acquired from the Brazilians.”

The confederados and their descendants assimilated and intermarried. English was largely forgotten. The towns become indistinguishable from their neighbors.

One of the few elements to remain was the yearly Confederate party, with its pageantry, its music and its flag.

And those last lines are the crux of the matter, for me. The confederados are not Confederates, and haven’t been for several generations. They’re Brazilians, who (like the rest of us) have to make their way in the twenty-first century.

Go read the whole thing.


Image: João Leopoldo Padoveze, president of the Fraternity of American Descendants of Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, poses at the Cemitério do Campo in April 2019. (Giovana Schluter Nunes)



Celebrating Independence Day in Vicksburg, 1877

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 4, 2020

[This post originally appeared in 2011]


It’s a common trope that the citizenry of Vicksburg, Mississippi, did not celebrate the Fourth of July until well into the 20th century. While it’s certainly true that the anniversary of the fall of that city to Grant in 1863 continued to resonate with Vicksburg residents down through the years, in fact the date was observed by plenty of local residents, white and black, even if the celebration was unofficial and somewhat more muted there than elsewhere. And they were celebrating it even when the war itself was a recent memory. From the Vicksburg Daily Commercial, July 3, 1877:

To-morrow being the anniversary of our Nations independence, all patriotic citizens of this great Republic are expected to observe it as a holiday. We desire to be reckoned among this class of patriotic citizens, consequently no paper will be issued from this office to-morrow. The glorious Fourth happens to come in hot weather this year, and we are glad to be able to observe it ‘neath the shade of country forests.

And a follow-up, on July 5:

The people of Vicksburg came nearer celebrating the glorious Fourth yesterday than they have done for several years. True, there was no general suspension of business, as indicated by closed doors, but so far as the profits of trade were concerned doors might as well have been closed, for the salesrooms were deserted almost entirely. Everybody was out of town, apparently, enjoying the holiday in some way. Several hundred people attended the Hibernian picnic at Newman’s Grove, and not withstanding the extreme heat, all seemed to enjoy the festivities of the day. The colored population turned out in large force, fully one thousand men of them going down the river on excursion bvoats to picnic-grounds, yet there were enough of them left in the city to form a very respectable procession of colored Masons, and a very large audience to listen to the oration of Judge J. S. Morris, and to assist in laying the corner-stone of King Solomon’s Church. There was no prolific display of fire-works on the streets, but occasional reports from fire-crackers and large torpedoes could be heard, accompanied now and then by a patriotic cry, “rah for the Fourth of July!” We do not wonder at the lack of patriotic enthusiasm displayed on our streets. No amount of patriotism could have induced any sane man to exert himself very considerably on such a day when the thermometer registered very nearly 100° Farenheit [sic.] in the shade. However, the observance of Independence Day yesterday, slight as some may have thought it, was yet sufficient to indicate the prevalence of a broader National sentiment and a determination to at least partially forget the past which renders the Fourth of July especially distasteful to Vicksburgers, and make it in future “The Day We Celebrate” as much as any other National holiday.

To be sure, the Fourth of July remained a bitter date for many Vicksburg citizens, for a long time. Undoubtedly there are some who still reject the date as one for celebration. But in this, as in so much else about the legacy of the war, the reality is more complex than the mythmakers would have one believe.


Argument Over.

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 28, 2020

Juneteenth, History and Tradition

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 19, 2020

[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.




Hari Jones Drops the Hammer on National Observance of Juneteenth

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 18, 2020

[This post originally appeared in 2011. Hari Jones passed away unexpectedly in 2018.]

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 public 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?

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

Coming to Terms with the Commodore

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 17, 2020

For the last few weeks I’ve avoided saying anything here about the removal, or in some cases, destruction of Confederate and other monuments in the civil unrest across the country, in aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Coming as I do from a background in museums and historical preservation (although I haven’t worked in that field for many years), I am immensely saddened by the destruction I’ve seen, even while I readily acknowledge that these monuments don’t represent their communities, or our collective values today as Americans.

As I said three years ago, the revanchist efforts to protect these monuments under state law, usurping the authority local governments had to control and maintain their own property, was like tying down the safety valve on a steam boiler — things keep chugging along just fine for a while, until in an instant and without warning, the entire thing blows up in your face. This explosion of anger has, unfortunately, been building for years, and now it threatens to sweep all before it, whether justifiable or not. This is shaping up to be a transformational moment in this country, and I don’t know how it will end.

I’ve thought a lot about the monument to Matthew Maury, the so-called “Pathfinder of the Seas,” on Monument Avenue in Richmond. Maury, unlike Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or Jefferson Davis, doesn’t owe his historical legacy or fame to his service to the Confederacy. The work that made Maury famous was mostly completed before the war, although (as with many scientific accomplishments), its value only gradually came to be appreciated over the following decades. I had always wanted to set Maury aside from the other Confederates memorialized on Monument Avenue for this reason, rationalizing that Matthew Maury, Confederate naval officer, was someone separate and apart from Matthew Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas. I wanted to believe that Maury’s Confederate service — unlike that of Lee, Jackson, or Davis — could be reasonably ignored as a simple happenstance, that’s not really relevant to Maury’s legacy.

Of course, that’s not true, and never was.

Penelope K. Hardy and Helen M. Rozwadowski, history professors at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and the University of Connecticut, respectively, have addressed this issue head-on. It’s not pleasant reading for folks like me who want to keep Maury on his pedestal.

Historical assessments of Maury’s life and work run the gamut from the hagiographic, exemplified by his first biography compiled by his daughter[2] and the several books to come out near the year that the Richmond monument was unveiled in 1929,[3] to more balanced critiques, whether focused on his work on naval reform, navigational improvement, or science.[4] Within the history of science, Maury is recognized for innovating new ways to represent knowledge about the ocean environment, such as his wind and current charts, to enable mariners to navigate more swiftly and safely.[5] His status as a scientist, however, has been highly contested. A previous generation of historians of science denied that Maury could be considered a scientist, both taking a cue from his contemporaries and rivals who did not consider him as part of the scientific community and also applying a rather presentist lens to the definition of science.[6] Other historians who remained critical of Maury’s own science recognized his influence on government support for science.[7] By contrast, scholars today are more likely to judge Maury’s participation in science in the context of contemporary practices, institutions, and judgements.[8]

Understanding Maury’s activities and convictions in the context of his time does not, however, suggest that historians of science should avoid or even consider as separate his deeply-held support of the institution of slavery. Consider, by analogy, the historical legacy of Francis Galton, who created modern statistical techniques in pursuit of his eugenics research. It is nonsensical to separate out his dedication to racist eugenics from his mathematical accomplishments, and indeed historians do not try to do so. Historians have noted that Maury’s scientific and naval work supported American expansionism and projection of power. In this, Maury participated in the widespread nineteenth-century (and earlier) effort to employ science in the service of empire, a strategy widely recognized by historians of science. However, historians of science have not sufficiently linked Maury’s science to his racist ideology.

Apologists for Maury might point to the fact that, although a Southerner and although he did in fact resign his commission in the US Navy to support the rebellion against the United States, he did not own slaves himself. While true, this ignores the vigorous and consistent efforts Maury made to support and extend the institution of slavery. Starting in the 1830s, Maury wrote a series of influential articles advocating naval reform and assertive American military policy that was rooted in his proslavery beliefs.[9] By the 1850s, he was pursuing a concerted program of publication and lobbying to encourage US exploration in South America, with the design of expanding the American system of racial slavery to that region.[10] Maury sent instructions to Lieutenant William Lewis Herndon[11], also a Virginian, as the latter set out to explore the Valley of the Amazon in 1851. While this was one of many such scientific expeditions to South America, and conducted in the style Susan Cannon called “Humboldtian science,” which involved gathering as much data as possible using as many instruments as one could carry, its explicit aim was to assess the region’s potential for commercial exploitation – an imperial project, but hardly an uncommon one at the time.[12] Maury’s instructions, though, conveyed his interest in a longer-term project of American – and specifically Southern – colonization of the region. Find out, he told Herndon, if the government of Peru will “permit American Citizens with their slaves to go there and colonize[,] what guarantee will it afford the Institution?”[13] He inquired too about Bolivia – though here he would be foiled by that country’s early abolition of slavery – but he saw Brazil as a particular opportunity. Brazil, however, anticipated American designs and, while allowing the scientific exploration that might make them appear progressive on the world stage, moved to solidify regional political alliances to prevent American ships accessing the country.[14]

Maury’s efforts to expand the slave nation outlasted his service in the US Navy. He spent much of the American Civil War in Britain as an official agent of the Confederate government, trying to buy ships to engage in commerce raiding against US merchant shipping. (A service which so angered the American merchant mariners who had crowd-sourced much of the data for his earlier Wind and Current charts that the Salem (Mass.) Marine Society turned the portrait they had hanging of him around to face the wall.) As the war went increasingly poorly for the South, Maury switched flags again, entering the service of Maximilian I of Mexico as imperial commissioner of colonization, assisting with a plan to literally establish a “New Virginia” in Mexico, where he arranged customs waivers, tax exemptions, and land grants to entice Southerners to move and to take their enslaved laborers with them to work new plantations.[15] Unwilling to return to the US in the immediate aftermath of the war because he feared arrest for treason, he continued his diplomatic efforts with Mexico, writing to friends back home with ongoing enthusiasm for the project. He was so unwilling to let go of the institution of slavery that his friends found it hard to convince him that emancipation was already a fact, and that formerly enslaved Americans would have no interest in moving to Mexico with their enslavers to perpetuate their bondage. In the end, he stayed in Mexico until Maximilian’s own regime collapsed, returning to the US only in 1868 and only after enough other Confederate officers had received paroles for their treason that he felt safe to do so.[16]


It pains me to say this, but Maury has to go, too.



Confederate Fabulist

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 5, 2020

I fear that peripatetic Confederate beard H. K. Edgerton has lost his mind. This story is more ridiculous in its finely-crafted dialogue and oh-so-perfect detail than the completely fabricated tale the Virginia Flaggers told about Rob “Electric Cattle Taser” Walker years ago, and I don’t believe a word of this one.

Dear Ms. Lunelle,

On this morning Monday, June 1, 2020 , don in the uniform of the Southern soldier as I existed my car with plans of posting the Southern cross on the overpass bridge of Interstate 240 West/ 26 East; a car with three men pulled in behind me , existing [sic.] their car .

“Mr. Edgerton”, one would exclaim, “we are Yankees from Minnesota, and first of all please understand that we mean you no harm, but because we respect you as a man of honor, we think it is time for you to come to an understanding of truth.”

“Your race are nothing but a bunch of traitors to your region, and no white man likes a traitor. And your race has written the book on it. Our Northern ancestors tried to warn their Southern brothers that your people would someday sell them out, and fall for anything for a promise or a trinket. And by god they did just that after the Civil War .

Now let us fast forward to the 21st Century . Because of men like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, white men tolerated the infidelities with our white women for decades because there weren’t many of you. And, then the rift raff of your race began migrating Into Minnesota in large numbers bringing with them their wicked ways; dope dealing, prostituting our young girls, desecrating our landscapes while we watched with a sense of hopelessness.

Your race does not deserve the sympathy, or forgiveness that our Southern white brothers have always tried to give them, or the honor you implore they have earned beside them.

And, now just look as they are being used by communist to destroy the country. You should put that flag down, and tell your people to go back to Africa before our Southern brothers turn on them for what they have done. They have forgiven you Negroes for way too much, and your ignorance will no longer save you.

And the time is fast coming that we in the North no longer need you to do our bidding. And, thank them for justifying the burning of the UDC building in Richmond. It is finally almost done for the South; thanks to you darkies. We are done here. Have a nice day.”

I was flabbergasted, and just climbed back into my car pondering what I had just heard. God bless you!

Your brother,


That man needs help.


Book Review: Farragut’s Captain: Percival Drayton, 1861-1865

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 31, 2020

Peter Barratt, Farragut’s Captain: Percival Drayton, 1861-1865 (Lulu Publishing Services, 2018).

Percival Drayton and I are old acquaintances, of a sort. I first encountered him two decades ago when doing research on the Civil War blockade runner Denbigh. That ship had a spectacular career in the Gulf of Mexico, running first between Havana and Mobile, and later between Havana and Galveston. Denbigh’s ability to avoid capture or destruction was a matter of ongoing annoyance to the U. S. Navy’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron and its commander, Admiral David G. Farragut. Denbigh turns up a number of places in the U.S. Navy’s official correspondence, and through tracking these down I came to “meet” Farragut’s Flag Captain, Percival Drayton.

Drayton is an interesting, if not unique, character for a number of reasons. He was not only a southerner – Farragut himself was born in Tennessee – but part of the extended Drayton family of South Carolina, planters and politicians of the first order in that state in the decades before the war. (The family seat, the 18th century plantation at Drayton Hall, is a popular attraction outside Charleston today.) I had often wondered about Percival Drayton’s decision to remain in the U.S. Navy in 1861, when many of his colleagues resigned their commissions and “went south” to fight with their native states, but it was never a question for Drayton, and his loyalty to the United States never falter. Early in the war, at the Battle of Port Royal in November 1861, Percival Drayton found himself engaging shore batteries under the command, he later learned, of his own brother, Confederate Brigadier General Thomas F. Drayton. “Brother against brother” is a common and trite reference to the conflicts within families during the war, but if the Draytons’ case it was literally true. Though his family’s wealth and influence in South Carolina were built (like so many others) on the institution of slavery, Percival Drayton came to despise both the practice and the rebellion it had brought about, and fought as vigorously to defeat the Confederacy as any of his contemporaries, ashore or afloat.

(Although they never met again after the war began, Percival and Thomas corresponded and reconciled quickly after its conclusion. Thomas had been wiped out financially during the war, and during his final illness in 1865 Percival made a last-minute amendment to his will, leaving his brother $30,000 from his own estate.)

Drayton needs also to be remembered as one of the U.S. Navy’s first monitor commanders, who worked out many of the deficiencies and issues with the first generation of those turreted warships. Drayton was a gunnery specialist, a protégé of both Admirals John A. Dahlgren and Samuel DuPont, and played an important part in shaping the U.S. Navy’s use of those ships in 1862 and 1863.

Peter Barratt has crafted a detailed and nuanced portrait of Percival Drayton, who finally gets his due recognition in this short biography. Barratt draws on a range of sources, and provides a comprehensive bibliography that includes substantial additional annotations and side notes. The one real criticism I have of Farragut’s Captain – and it’s a big one for me – is that it lacks an index, something that impedes somewhat its use as a reference.

Nevertheless, Farragut’s Captain is an important biography of U.S. naval officer who’s often been overlooked, hidden in the shadow of other, more prominent figures. It will make a fine addition to anyone’s library on the U.S. Civil War on naval history.

3½ of 4 Stars


Flash Book Sale at Savas-Beatie

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 28, 2020

Friends, Ted Savas is having a 25% off flash sale at Savas Beatie on in-stock works by Eric Wittenberg — nine of them, I think. The sale runs through roughly midday, Saturday.

Use the promotional code “PHD”