Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

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”


Decoration Day at Arlington, 1871

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on May 25, 2020

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:


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:


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.


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.

Frederick Douglass on Decoration Day, 1871

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 24, 2020

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.


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.