Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

A Beating in Fort Bend County

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 26, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

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The other day a commenter dismissed my argument about the importance of interpreting the historical evidence, and making a critical assessment of each bit of documentation that bears on a particular subject. Practicing history, I had said, requires making careful judgments about the sources at hand. “I make no judgments on [sic.] way or the other. . . ,” my correspondent assured me, “I just present the historical fact.”

I thought about that little bit of self-deception this weekend when I came across two accounts of the beating of Captain William H. Rock (right), the Freedman’s Bureau Agent at Richmond, Texas, late on New Years’ Eve, 1868. Captain Rock was appointed to the bureau in June 1866, and in January 1867 was assigned to the office in Fort Bend County, west of Houston. Fort Bend lay at the heart of Anglo Texas, being part of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, and was later home to several of the state’s largest plantations. At the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, slaves outnumbered free persons in Fort Bend County, two-to-one. By 1870, the ratio of “colored” persons to all others in Fort Bend was more than three-to-one.

One of the particular difficulties in writing about the Texas and the South in the immediate postwar period is that much of the press at the time was highly partisan, with individual newspapers closely aligned with specific political parties and candidates. During Reconstruction, Texas papers were particularly divided over the threat, and even the actual existence, of the “Ku Kluxes.” Some, like the Houston Union and the Austin Republican, spoke out early and vehemently against the group, while others insisted they were a myth, and argued that the violence and intimidation attributed to them were actually the work of Radical Republican groups like the Loyal League.

So here’s your chance to wade into two very different accounts of the same incident, published in different newspapers. How would you assess these two accounts? What might make you question the reliability of one or the other, and why? What makes your Spidey Sense tingle? What questions do you have after reading these, and how would you address them?

From the Houston Union, January 8, 1869

OUTRAGE AT RICHMOND, TEXAS

The Ku Klux Rampant! They assault and attempt to assassinate Capt. Rock, Agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau. – They leave him for dead.

From Capt. W. H. Rock, who has been living at Richmond, Fort Bend County, and acting as agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau for that county, we learn the following particulars of a most cowardly and brutal assault upon him upon the night of the 1st of January. The Capt. was first attracted by a noise about his premises, and glancing out of the window of his private room discovered a number of white men about his house. He immediately went from his private room to his office adjoining.  On opening the door he was knocked down by an unprincipled negro [sic.] named Tom Sherrard, who he afterwards learned had been employed by the Ku Klux to do the deed. After knocking the Capt. down, a couple of the Klan filed into the room, and standing between a colored man who had come to the Capt.’s rescue and the prostrate Capt., permitted the black ruffian to kick and beat him until it was supposed life was extinct. The names of the white men so far as known to Capt. Rock, who participated in this brutal assault upon a representative of the United States Government, are James McGarvey, Joe Johnson, and the Sheriff of the county, one J. W. Miles. The two former, with drawn six shooters, prevented aid from Capt. Rock’s friends, while the latter was heard to remark as they left the house, “it was well done,” supposing, of course, that Capt. Rock was dead. Life, however, was not extinct, and after departure of the murderous crew, his friends succeeded in caring for, and restoring him. Knowing that if it was found out he was alive, they would return, Capt. Rock secreted himself in a neighboring hen-coop, where he remained until next morning, when he made complaint to the chief justice of the county, but perceiving the signs about him and the information brought to him by trusty colored men, that his life would pay the forfeit of an appearance against the parties, Capt. R. concluded to leave the place. Accordingly, Saturday night  he secreted himself in the cabin of a friendly colored man, where he remained until Sunday night. In the meantime, the country round about was scoured, and every negro cabin entered and searched, but in vain. His hiding place was secure. While this secreted, word came to him that Capt. Bass, the County Assessor and Collector had made threats to shoot him on sight. Sunday night the 3d., he started to get across the Brazos. Monday night found him across, but without means to getting to Houston some thirty miles away., as the colored people in the whole neighborhood had been visited and their lived threatened if they gave him any assistance in escaping. Monday and Tuesday thus passed away, and as good luck would have it, a horse was procured and after riding all night the Capt., arrived safely in Houston covered with mud and disfigured and sore by bruises.

We are assured by Capt. Rock that the above statement is a true narrative of this great outrage and that it can all be sustained in a court of justice, or before a military commission. The colored men who all know the facts of the case, would not dare to testify in any court at Richmond without the presence of troops. One of them, expressing sympathy for Capt. Rock, was most cruelly beaten, and subsequently, at night, taken from his cabin and beaten until he was supposed to be dead, after which, tieing [sic.] a rope about his neck, he was dragged to an out of the way corner and left for dead.

Other outrages have been committed recently in this delectable town. Last Sunday a band of young rowdies went to the church where the colored people were holding [a] religious meeting, and literally drove them out, and broke up the meeting.

The teacher of the colored school in Richmond, has been driven away, and violence and treason stalks abroad in all its hideous deformity.

This is a terrible picture, and we shall be denounced for exposing it to the public; but the truth is not half told. In truth, there is not a loyal man in the town of Richmond. As an example, a prominent merchant there, named Greenwood, and the express agent, one Albertson, openly avowed they would spend their money freely to prevent the hired ruffian, Sherrard, from being brought to justice. We call upon the managers of the Express Company in this city to remove this man, who thus, by his means and influence, encourages the commission of outrages upon representatives of the Government.

Capt. Rock has often signified to the commanding General the necessity of stationing troops at Richmond. He has for a long time been cognizant of the disloyal disposition of the people there, and knew that as soon as the Bureau was discontinued the rights of the colored people would be utterly ignored, which he now informs us is the case. They are intimidated, brow beaten and worried, and unless a stop is put to it, a fearful outbreak ere long will be the consequence.

An official report of the state of affairs in Fort Bend county will be made by Capt. Rock to Gen. Canby, and we hope and trust the latter will send sufficient troops there to bring all concerned in this affair to justice, as well as protect the loyal men of the county from the malignant persecutions of the Ku-Klux cut throats.

The town where public sentiment permits such outrages as narrated above, should be put under military government and kept there until its return to good behavior makes it safe to remove it.

A week later, on January 16, 1869, Flake’s Bulletin in Galveston published a rebuttal signed by prominent members of the Richmond community, including two men implicated in the previous article, Sheriff J. W. Miles and Express Agent William H. Albertson:

ATTACK ON THE FREEDMEN’S BUREAU AGENT AT RICHMOND.

Special to Flake’s Bulletin.

Houston, Jan. 7 – Capt. Rock, lately in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau at Richmond, has just arrived in this city, having ridden from that place last night, in order to escape the pursuit of a band of desperadoes in that county. – He was attacked, badly beaten, and was left for dead. His present appearance is sufficient evidence of the treatment to which he was exposed. The outrage occurred on the night of the 31st ult. and the 1st. inst. The majority of citizens deplore the act, and assisted the Captain to escape.

Flake’s Bulletin, Jan. 8.

We desire to speak in defence of our county, and give a truthful account of the subject in the above extract.

Capt. Wm. H. Rock, Sub-Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, lived in this county for about two and a half years, and during that time was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens. Several decisions of his bore heavily with some, but they, as well as the public, were charitable enough to attribute the same to the evil machinations of the “ardent,” instead of any ill feeling that the Captain possessed; and towards the close of his administration it was often remarked that he had made about as good an officer of the kind as we probably could have gotten. Many regretted that his office compelled one who seemed so much a gentleman to associate with freedmen to the exclusion of whites.

Well, the Bureau collapsed, and when Captain Rock became free – no longer obedient to his masters – it was expected that he would assert his rights, and fully justify the good opinion that had been formed of him; but his actions on the event proved most conclusively that his just, and even willing disposition to deal fairly with the whites was caused alone from fear, and that the “nigger” was in him from the first, but for that aforesaid fear. Now comes the cause for which this Sabraite was forced to flee the land, as alleged above. During Christmas week Capt. Rock, having no further use for an office, converted his establishment into a ball room, and darkey maidens, accompanied by African beaux, held nightly revels to sweet sounds of music. It was at one of these lovely affairs that Tom Sherrod, a very worthy freedman, attended – not, however, without an invitation from “Captain and Mrs. Rock,” in writing. This last personage, a dark and bony [bonny?] Venus, formerly the property of one of our citizens. Previous to the time, Capt. R. had insulted the wife of Tom, yet he (Tom) went to the ball, was ordered out, and it is reported that Capt. R. drew upon his a double-barreled gun, and that Tom was acting in self-defense.

This may be so or not; certes that Tom demolished the valiant captain in the presence of the whole party. Now we firmly believe that no jury in the United States would have convicted this boy Tom, or any other man, for chastising the brute who insulted his wife, even had the charge been murder instead of simply assault.

Upon the following day Captain R. made an affidavit that Tom had assaulted him with brass knuckles, and a warrant was issued for his arrest; in the mean time a distress warrant was issued, and Capt. Rock’s furniture, etc., was attached for house rent, and he left in charge of same – not being able to vacate on account of the wounds from which he was still suffering. That night, though, the attached articles were conveyed, under cover of darkness, to some unknown place, and the captain ditto, no one knows where, and few except his creditors care. He leaves many debts behind, due to both whites and blacks. The latter he deceived by telling them he was going to Austin after troops, while the former knew he was making tracks from the countless hundreds of dollars which were pressing him.

This is but a meagre account of all the acts of Captain Rock in this place, and we would have preferred his departure from our midst in silence, and would have done so except for the flagrant falsehoods contained in the above extract.

Since writing the above we learn that the freedman Tom was arrested and tried yesterday, and was fined ten dollars and costs.

C. H. Kendall, D. C. Hinkle, J. W. Miles, W. C. Hunter, Geo. O. Schley, E. Ryan, G. W. Pleasants, S. R. Walker, Ed. D. Ryan, W. Andrus, T. J. Smith, G. F’ Cook, J. P. Marshall, H. L. Somerville, R. F. Hill, B. W. Bell, G. M. Cathey, J. T. Holt, Chas. C. Bass, Alex Curr, Wm. Ryon, W. K. Davis, J. H. Hand, N. G. Davis, S. Mayblum, H. Jenkins, W. H. Albertson.

The statement of the foregoing extract is not true.

W. E. Kendall, B. F. Atkins

Why did not Captain Rock pay me his board bill, and settle with the Union League for money of theirs that he used for his own purposes?

W. P. Huff, Member Union League, Fort Bend Co.

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Image: The Freedmen’s Bureau at Memphis, c. 1868. William H. Rock CDV portrait via Cowan’s Auctions.

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Dr. Leale’s Report

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on April 14, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2012]

This is pretty interesting — a researcher working at NARA, Helena Iles Papaioannou, discovered the original report of Dr. Charles A. Leale (right, 1842-1932), the first physician to reach Abraham Lincoln after he was shot at Ford’s Theater on the evening of April 14, 1865. Leale, who had just turned 23 a couple of weeks before, had seen Booth leap to the stage brandishing a dagger, and assumed that the president had been stabbed:

 
I commenced to to examine his head (as no wound near the shoulder was found) and soon passed my fingers over a large, firm clot of blood situated about one inch below the superior curved line of the occipital bone.
 
The coagula I easily removed and passed the little finger of my left hand through the perfectly smooth opening made by the ball, and found that it had entered the encephalon.
 

Leale organized the transfer of the president to the Peterson house across the street, and remained to assist after more senior physicians arrived to take over Lincoln’s care. Indeed, Dr. Leale may have been the only witness who was with Lincoln continuously from the first moments after the shooting until he died several hours later. Leale’s report had apparently been filed away for storage, and overlooked until it was discovered last month by a researcher with the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project.

The manuscript report is a fair copy, probably written out by a clerk in the Surgeon General’s office. You can download a 3.12MB PDF of the original, or read a full transcript after the jump:

(more…)

What They Saw at Fort Pillow

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 12, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2012.]

While doing research on something else, I came across a couple of accounts of the aftermath of the Confederate assault on Fort Pillow, written by naval officers of U.S.S Silver Cloud (above), the Union “tinclad” gunboat that was the first on the scene. I don’t recall encountering these descriptions before, and they really do strike a nerve with their raw descriptions of what these men witnessed, at first hand.

These accounts are particularly important because historians are always looking for “proximity” in historical accounts of major events. The description of an event by someone who was physically present is to be more valued than one by someone who simply heard about it from another person. The narrative committed to paper immediately is, generally, more to be valued than one written months or years after the events described, when memories have started to fade or become shaded by others’ differing recollections. Hopefully, too, the historian can find those things in a description of the event by someone who doesn’t have any particular axe to grind, who’s writing for his own purposes without the intention that his account will be widely and publicly known. These are all factors — somewhat subjective, to be sure — that the historian considers when deciding what historical accounts to rely on when trying to reconstruct historical events, and to understand how one or another document fits within the context of all the rest.

Which brings us back to the eyewitness accounts of Acting Master William Ferguson, commanding officer of U.S.S. Silver Cloud, and Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell of that same vessel.

Ferguson’s report was written April 14, 1864, the day after he was at the site. It was addressed to Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding officer of the Union’s XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee, then headquartered at Memphis. It appears in the Army OR, vol. 57, and the Navy OR, vol. 26.

 
U.S. STEAMER SILVER CLOUD,
Off Memphis, Tenn., April 14, 1864.
 
SIR: In compliance with your request that I would forward to you a written statement of what I witnessed and learned concerning the treatment of our troops by the rebels at the capture of Fort Pillow by their forces under General Forrest, I have the honor to submit the following report:
 
Our garrison at Fort Pillow, consisting of some 350 colored troops and 200 of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, refusing to surrender, the place was carried by assault about 3 p.m. of 12th instant.
 
I arrived off the fort at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 13th instant. Parties of rebel cavalry were picketing on the hills around the fort, and shelling those away I made a landing and took on-board some 20 of our troops (some of them badly wounded), who had concealed themselves along the bank and came out when they saw my vessel. While doing so I was fired upon by rebel sharpshooters posted on the hills, and 1 wounded man limping down to the vessel was shot.
 
About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed, and hailing the steamer Platte Valley, which vessel I had convoyed up from Memphis, I brought her alongside and had the wounded brought down from the fort and battle-field and placed on board of her. Details of rebel soldiers assisted us in this duty, and some soldiers and citizens on board the Platte Valley volunteered for the same purpose.
 
We found about 70 wounded men in the fort and around it, and buried, I should think, 150 bodies. All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered a terrible death in the flames could be seen.
 
All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen. Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter of our unfortunate troops.
 
Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.
 
As near as I can learn, there were about 500 men in the fort when it was stormed. I received about 100 men, including the wounded and those I took on board before the flag of truce was sent in. The rebels, I learned, had few prisoners; so that at least 300 of our troops must have been killed in this affair.
 
I have the honor to forward a list(*) of the wounded officers and men received from the enemy under flag of truce.
 
I am, general, your obedient servant,
 
W. FERGUSON,
Acting Master, U.S. Navy, Comdg. U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud.
 

Ferguson’s report is valuable because it is detailed, proximate in time to the event, and was written specifically for reference within the military chain of command. It seems likely that Ferguson’s description is the first written description of the aftermath of the engagement within the Federal’s command structure. Certainly it was written before news of Fort Pillow became widely known across the country, and the event became a rallying cry for retribution and revenge. Ferguson’s account was, I believe, ultimately included in the evidence published by the subsequent congressional investigation of the incident, but he had no way of anticipating that when he sat down to write out his report just 24 hours after witnessing such horrors.

The second account is that of Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell (right), a 20-year-old junior officer aboard the gunboat. Critchell’s letter, addressed to U.S. Rep. Henry T. Blow of Missouri, was written a week after Ferguson’s report, after the enormity of events at the fort had begun to take hold. If Ferguson’s report reflected the shock of what he’d seen, Critchell’s gives voice to a growing anger about it.  Critchell’s revulsion comes through in this letter, along with his disdain for the explanations of the brutality offered by the Confederate officers he’d met, that they’d simply lost control of their men, which the Union naval officer calls “a flimsy excuse.” Crittchell admits to being “personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels,” but also stands by the accuracy of his description, offering to swear out an affidavit attesting to it.

 
UNITED STATES STEAMER “SILVER CLOUD.”
Mississippi River, April 22nd, 1864.
 
SIR :-Since you did me the favor of recommending my appointment last year, I have been on duty aboard this boat. I now write you with reference to the Fort Pillow massacre, because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.
 
Our boat arrived at the fort about 7½ A. M. on Wednesday, the 13th, the day after the rebels captured the fort. After shelling them, whenever we could see them, for two hours, a flag of truce from the rebel General Chalmers, was received by us, and Captain Ferguson of this boat, made an arrangement with General Chalmers for the paroling of our wounded and the burial of our dead; the arrangement to last until 5 P. M.
 
We then landed at the fort, and I was sent out with a burial party to bury our dead. I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evidently sought safety; they could not offer any resistance from the places where they were, in holes and cavities along the banks; most of them had two wounds. I saw several colored soldiers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bayonets; many of them were shot twice and bayonetted also. All those along the bank of the river were colored. The number of the colored near the river was about seventy. Going up into the fort, I saw there bodies partially consumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, anyway, there were several companies of rebels in the fort while these bodies were burning, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they chosen to do so. One of the wounded negroes told me that “he hadn’t done a thing,” and when the rebels drove our men out of the fort, they (our men) threw away their guns and cried out that they surrendered, but they kept on shooting them down until they had shot all but a few. This is what they all say.
 
I had some conversation with rebel officers and they claim that our men would not surrender and in some few cases they “could not control their men,” who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not. This is a flimsy excuse, for after our colored troops had been driven from the fort, and they were surrounded by the rebels on all sides, it is apparent that they would do what all say they did,throw down their arms and beg for mercy.
 
I buried very few white men, the whole number buried by my party and the party from the gunboat “New Era” was about one hundred.
 
I can make affidavit to the above if necessary.
 
Hoping that the above may be of some service and that a desire to be of service will be considered sufficient excuse for writing to you, I remain very respectfully your obedient servant,
 
ROBERT S. CRITCHELL,
Acting Master’s Mate, U. S. N.

Critchell’s note about the explanation offered by Confederate officers, who argued that the black soldiers “would not surrender and in some few cases [the Confederate officers] ‘could not control their men,’ who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not,” is worth noting. That was the excuse offered at the time, and it remains so almost 150 years later, for those Fort Pillow apologists who acknowledge that unnecessary bloodshed took place at all. Critchell observed at the time that “this is a flimsy excuse,” and so it remains today.

Critchell’s letter also seems to endorse retaliation-in-kind, “because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.” This urge is, unfortunately, entirely understandable, and we’ve seen that within weeks the atrocity at Fort Pillow was being used as a rallying cry to spur Union soldiers on to commit their own acts of wanton violence. Vengrance begets retaliation begets vengeance begets retaliation. It never ends, and it’s always rationalized by pointing to the other side having done it before.

It never ends, but it often does have identifiable beginnings. Bill Ferguson and Bob Critchell saw one of those beginnings first-hand.

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Critchell letter and images from Robert S. Critchell, Recollections of a Fire Insurance Man (Chicago: McClurg & Co., 1909).

Lee, Pickett, and Mosby

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 3, 2019

In 1870, not long before Robert E. Lee’s death, John Singleton Mosby visited him while both happened to be in Richmond. Mosby recalled accompanying George Pickett when the latter wanted to call on Lee, but didn’t want to do so alone:

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I met General Lee a few times after the war, but the days of strife were never mentioned. I remember the last words he spoke to me about two months before his death at a reception that was given to him in Alexandria. When I bade him good-by, he said: “Colonel, I hope we shall have no more wars.”

In March 1870, I was walking across the bridge that connected the Ballard and Exchange Hotels in Richmond and, to my surprise, I met General Lee and his daughter. The general was pale and haggard, and did not look like the Apollo I had known in the army. After a while I went to his room; our conversation was on current topics. I felt oppressed by the great memories that his presence revived and while both of us were thinking about the war, neither of us referred to it.​

After leaving his room I met General Pickett, and told him that I had just been with Lee. He remarked that if I would go with him he would call and pay his respects to the general, but he did not want to be alone with him. So I went back with Pickett: the interview was cold and formal, and evidently embarrassing to both commanders. It was their only meeting after the war.

In a few minutes, I rose and left the room, together with General Pickett. He then spoke to me very bitterly of General Lee, calling him “that old man.”​

“He had my division massacred at Gettysburg,” Pickett said.​

“Well, it made you immortal,” I replied.​

I rather suspect that Pickett gave a wrong reason for his unfriendly feelings. In May 1892 at the University of Virginia, I took breakfast with Professor Venable, who had been on Lee’s staff. He told me that some days before the surrender at Appomattox General Lee ordered General Pickett under arrest, I suppose for the Five Forks affair. I think the professor said he carried the order. I remember very well his adding that on the retreat Pickett passed them, and that General Lee said, with deep feeling: “Is that man still with this army?”​

___________

I don’t know if Mosby actually said to Pickett, “it made you immortal,” but that sounds a lot like Mosby’s clear-eyed bluntness.

Also, true.

“Sale of Government Property”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 27, 2019

My colleague, Matt Reeves, shared this news clipping with me today from the July 4, 1866 copy of Flake’s Bulletin in Galveston. It advertises the sale, at public auction, of numerous vessels seized by the U.S. government after the end of the Civil War. The vessels are in all different conditions, and located anywhere from Sabine Pass in the east, to Lavaca (“LaVaca”) on Matagorda Bay to the west, and at Liberty, some distance up the Trinity River from Galveston Bay. Most of the vessels are either sunk, or their specific condition is unlisted, but Col. Stell (sometimes spelled Stelle) was shown as being “in good running order.” That boat, that had been almost new at the beginning of the war, did indeed go back into service as a civilian steamer, and is listed as having been “lost at sea” on the last day of 1867. Whatever happened to Col. Stell, though, she must have been close inshore, though, because the wreck was the subject of a salvage claim heard at the U.S. District Court in Austin in the summer of 1868.

Advertisement for Col Stell running to the Trinity River, Galveston Daily News, 25 January 1867, p.4.

The 1866 auction notice is notable (and perhaps worth saving a copy) for two related reasons. First, obviously, it gives the status and likely fate of these vessels after the end of the war. But it also amounts a sort of inventory of Confederate vessels in Texas at the close of the conflict.

When the war ended, U.S. troops sent to occupy the South were followed closely by U.S. Treasury agents, whose job it was to locate, identify, and seize Confederate government property, either for transfer to the U.S. government, or to sell on its behalf. Apart from obvious things like military stores and equipment, this property was largely in the form of cotton. In the cash-poor Confederacy, the government had been accepting payment-in-kind for taxes and other debts owed by private individuals. Eventually government warehouses became full, and by late in the war Confederate treasury agents were simply going around to farms and plantations, tagging the bales as government property, to be collected and removed at some later date. The writer Ambrose Bierce had served during the war as a U.S. staff officer to General William Babcock Hazen, and for a time after the surrender he worked as a Treasury agent in Selma, Alabama, trying to locate and claim those Confederate bales for the United States.

So the second notable thing about this auction notice from July 1866 is that it lays out that these vessels, several of which I’d never heard of, were (by whatever evidence) deemed by the U.S. Treasury as former Confederate government property, and so forfeit to the United States. That’s what George W. Dent’s role here was — like Bierce’s in Alabama, to identify, seize, and sell former C.S property, and return its value to the Treasury.

And who was George Wrenshall Dent (1819-99, right)? He was the older brother of Julia Boggs Dent, and brother-in-law of General (and soon to be President) Ulysses S. Grant.

Some things never change, y’all.
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“Fall of Charleston” by Shovels and Rope

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 19, 2019
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Early on the morning of February 18, 1865 — 154 years ago yesterday — U.S. troops onshore and in the blockading fleet off Charleston noticed that the Confederates at Fort Sumter had not hoisted a flag above the battered remnants of the post. The monitor U.S.S. Canonicus moved slowly closer, and fired two rounds into the fort from her 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbores. The Union bluejackets waited for the inevitable response. Instead, there was only the sound of the wind and water.

The Confederates were gone. Charleston had fallen.

Shovels&Rope

Here’s a track from the album Divided and United by Shovels & Rope, the Charleston husband and wife duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. You can read more about them and their recording of “The Fall of Charleston” here, or hop over to NPR for a mini-concert. A contemporary broadside of the lyrics is available here.

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Oh have you heard the glorious news, is the cry from every mouth,
Charleston is taken, and the rebels put to rout;
And Beauregard the chivalrous, he ran to save his bacon—
When he saw General Sherman’s “Yanks,” and “Charleston is taken!” 

With a whack, rowdy-dow, 
A hunkey boy is General Sherman,
Whack, rowdy-dow, 
Invincible is he! 

This South Carolina chivalry, they once did loudly boast,
That the footsteps of a Union man, should ne’er pollute their coast.
They’d fight the Yankees two to one, who only fought for booty,
But when the “udsills” came along it was “Legs, do your duty!” 

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
Babylon is fallen,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
The end is drawing near! 

And from the “Sacred City,” this valiant warlike throng;
Skedaddled in confusion, although thirty thousand strong—
Without a shot, without a blow, or least sign of resistance,
And leaving their poor friends behind, with the “Yankees” for assistance!  

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
How are you, Southern chivalry?
Whack, rowdy-dow,
Your race is nearly run!

And again o’er Sumter’s battered walls, the Stars and Stripes do fly,
While the chivalry of Sixty-one in the “Last ditch” lie;—
With Sherman, Grant and Porter too, to lead our men to glory,
We’ll squash poor Jeff’s confederacy, and then get “Hunkydory!” 

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
How are you, neutral Johnny Bull?
Whack, rowdy-dow,
We’ll settle next with you! 

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Well, He DID Make the Trains Run on Time. . . .

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 15, 2019

In case y’all were wondering when the self-appointed Defenders of Confederate Heritage™ were going to quit pussyfooting around and start openly embracing actual, honest-to-goodness fascists, that date is February 15, 2019.

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Make a Place on the Shelf for This One

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 31, 2019

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Kevin Levin, whose new book Searching for Black Confederates now has a cover and an August release date. It’s been a long time coming, this one.

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Moving Day at the MoC, and Other Stuff

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 27, 2019

Last week the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond began moving its collections from its old location in the middle of the VCU Medical Center to its new location at Tredegar, where a new, expanded exhibition facility will open in May 2019 under the aegis of the American Civil War Museum. The MoC closed that location to the public in September, although the adjacent “White House of the Confederacy” remains open for tours. Although this move has been an obvious and inevitable part of the consolidation of the MoC and the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar that was announced five years ago, and referenced many times since, the actual sight of moving vans outside the old MoC facility has set off the usual bluster and shouty nonsense it did back then. Longtime readers may recall that in August 2014 the Virginia Division of the SCV was soliciting funds to fight that merger in court;  I wonder whatever became of that, because as far as I know they never actually, you know, filed a lawsuit. So what happened to the money?

As Kevin notes, the Battle Flag taken down from the State House grounds in Columbia, South Carolina in 2015 has gone on display in the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, with an accompanying caption that completely ignores the events and rationale that led to its removal in the first place. Kevin calls this a “betrayal of the Charleston Nine,” and he’s right. I’ll add only two additional descriptors: cowardly and dishonest.

Also in South Carolina, the South Carolina Secessionist Party, which has been the most prominent and vitriolic heritage group in the state, has formally dissolved because — well, it’s not quite clear why. Based on a close reading of the article, it sounds like the group may have become too extremist for its long-time chairman, James Bessenger, who said that “the organization was taking a turn I didn’t want it to take.” Lie down with dogs, etc.

A few weeks ago the Texas State Preservation Board voted to remove the “Children of the Confederacy” plaque in the Capitol in Austin, which was done shortly thereafter. While the plaque had been the subject of controversy for some time, the move by the Preservation Board caught some folks off-guard. This past Friday, the board convened a meeting to discuss what should become of the plaque, and they got an earful from folks opposed to the move, particularly without having had a period for public comment before making their decision to remove it in the first place. In Friday’s meeting, the board ended up putting off a final decision on the disposition of the plaque until after a 90-day waiting period for public comment. Perhaps the way forward was suggested by Martha Hartzog of the UDC, who argued since the plaque was never formally gifted to the State of Texas, it should be returned to the UDC are the parent organization of the Children of the Confederacy group. That seems workable to me. (Full disclosure here: Martha is a friend of mine.)

In 2017 the City of Dallas removed a large equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park. Recently the city began removing the granite plinth on which it sat, prompting a new lawsuit by Warren Johnson, head of a group called “Return Lee to Lee Park.” (Johnson is apparently a plaintiff in a separate lawsuit over the removal of the statue itself.) Johnson claims that the removal of both the statue and the base violates his own First Amendment rights, which seems to me to be a non-starter; no government or organization is obligated to place or maintain a monument simply because Johnson (or you, or I) think they should. Johnson also argues that the City of Dallas is “exercising viewpoint discrimination against works of art,” which reflects a recent narrative among the heritage folks that Confederate monuments should be preserved irrespective of their subject or content, simply for their aesthetic properties as works of art. I honestly doubt that argument will stand in court, given the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Walker v. Texas SCV that states (and presumably their subdivisions, like counties and cities) have their own autonomy to decide what message they will convey through their own property.

Finally, in response to a posting about the Dallas lawsuit at the Southern Heritage News & Views, there are a long series of responses promoting the white identity movement, rancidly anti-Semetic tropes, and straight-up advertising for the Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. (Here’s a screen shot of that last one, in the event it gets taken down.) Useful to know who these folks are, what they believe, and who they are willing to have in their ranks.

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Happy Birthday, General!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 19, 2019

Today, January 19, we celebrate the birthday of a famous Confederate general: Edgar Allan Poe.

If you haven’t read it, and enjoy alt-fiction, I recommend Walter Jon Williams’ short story/novella, “No Spot of Ground,” available on Kindle. In Williams’ alternate history, Edgar Allan Poe does not die in a dissipated, incoherent condition in a Baltimore charity hospital in 1849, but recovers to conquer his alcoholism with the help of a wealthy Maryland widow, marries the widow’s beautiful young daughter, and founds a successful literary magazine. With the coming of the war, Poe goes south and obtains a commission as a Colonel in the Confederate army.

Poe is old for field command — just two years younger than Robert E. Lee, to the day — but he manages to advance in spite of his prickly relations with his fellow officers. Poe is personally brave enough, but hardly an heroic figure. As depicted by Williams, Poe is vain, dismissive of the skills of other officers, considering them to be his social and intellectual inferiors. They are, he believes, mere vulgar prose in contrast to his elevated poetry. Poe is utterly paranoid about their plots against him. Every burble of disorganization or mislaid communication in the field — things that a later generation would refer to with the acronym SNAFU –Poe views as part of a larger plot to make him look like an incompetent. Poe has little regard for the common Confederate soldier and, one imagines, the feeling is mutual. Poe imagines the entire Federal army facing him across the lines. Williams also gives the reader a glimpse of Poe’s obsession with romantic death, and his inability to move past the loss of his first wife, Virginia Clemm (1822-47), even though he assures himself he’s moved on. Unlike the Confederate officers of another recent bit of Civil War fiction, here Poe carries all the prejudices and attitudes of his day and place.

The main action of Williams’ tale takes place in late May 1864, when Poe unexpectedly takes command of George Pickett’s division at Petersburg, and moves with them into the line north of Richmond near Hanover Junction, just after the Battle of North Anna during the Overland Campaign. But much of the story is told in flashback, including a segment where Poe commands one of Pickett’s brigades in the famous assault on the third day at Gettysburg:

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The sound was staggering, the banging and the clanging of the guns, guns, guns, but fortunately Poe had nothing to do but keep his feet moving forward, one after another. The officers had been ordered to stay dismounted, and all had obeyed but one: Dick Garnett, commanding the brigade on Poe’s left, was too ill to walk all that way, and had received special permission to ride.

Garnett, Poe knew, would die. The only mounted man in a group of twelve thousand, he was doomed and knew it.

Somehow there was an air of beauty about Garnett’s sacrifice, something fragile and lovely. Like something in a poem. The cemetery, their target, was way off on the division’s left, and Pickett ordered a left oblique, the entire line of five thousand swinging like a gate toward the target. As the Ravens performed operation, Poe felt a slowly mounting horror. To his amazement he saw that his brigade was on the absolute right of the army, nothing beyond him, and he realized that the oblique exposed his flank entirely to the Union batteries planted on a little rocky hill on the Yankee left.

Plans floated through his mind. Take the endmost regiment and face it toward Yankees? But that would take it out of the attack. Probably it was impossible anyway. But who could guard his flank?

In the meantime Pickett wanted everyone to hit at once, in a compact mass, and so he had the entire division dress its ranks. Five thousand men marked time in the long grass, each with his hand on the shoulder of the man next to him, a maneuver that normally took only a few seconds but that now seemed to take forever. The guns on the rocky hill were plowing their shot right along the length of the rebel line, each shell knocking down men like tenpins. Poe watched, his nerves wailing, as his men dropped by the score. The men couldn’t finish dressing their ranks, Poe thought, because they were taking so many casualties they could never close the ranks fast enough, all from the roaring and the soaring of the guns, guns, guns. . . He wanted to scream in protest: Forward! Guide center! but the evolution went on, men groping to their left and closing up as the shells knocked them down faster than they could close ranks.

Finally Pickett had enough and ordered the division onward. Poe nearly shrieked in relief. At least now the Yankees had a moving target.

But now they were closer, and the men on the Yankee ridge opened on Poe’s flank with muskets. Poe felt his nerves cry at every volley. Men seemed to drop by the platoon. How many had already gone? Did he even have half the brigade left?

The target was directly ahead, the little stand of trees on the gentle ridge, and between them was a little white Pennsylvania farmhouse, picture-book pretty. Somewhere around the house Poe and his men seemed to lose their sense of direction. They were still heading for the cemetery, but somehow Garnett had gotten in front of them. Poe could see Garnett’s lonely figure, erect and defiant on his horse, still riding, floating really, like a poem above the battle.

The cemetery was closer, though, and he could see men crouched behind a stone wall, men in black hats. The Iron Brigade of Hancock’s Corps, their muskets leveled on the stone wall, waiting for Garnett to approach. . . .

And then suddenly the battle went silent, absolutely silent, and Poe was sitting upright on the ground and wondering how he got there.

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