On Saturday, August 13, I’ll be one of the speakers at the 5th Annual Civil War Symposium in Jefferson, Texas. I’ve never been to the symposium before, but they’ve had some wonderful speakers in the past, and Jefferson itself is a great town, full of historic structures and a tremendous amount of history. It’s a steamboat town, which is like a railroad town, but better. (I kid, I kid!) My presentation is titled, “Captain Dave and the Yankees: A Tale of the Texas Blockade.” Other speakers include Mark K. Christ, “The Camden Arkansas Expedition of 1864;” Vicki Betts, “Pray for this War to End: The Civil War Letters of William Smith Herndon, 13th Texas Infantry, and Mary Louise Herndon, Tyler, Texas;” and Charles D. Grear: A Trying Time for All: Texas Indians During the Civil War.” Grear is a prolific author and (as we learned at the Houston CWRT) an effective speaker. I’ve never met Vicki Betts, but have corresponded with her, and she’s done yeoman’s work transcribing and cross-referencing many hundreds, probably thousands, of period newspapers and documents. This event should be great fun.
Then on Saturday, September 17, I’ll be giving a short address for Texian Navy Days at the Battleship Texas, at the San Jacinto Battleground in La Porte. The event there starts at 10 a.m., and should be done around 11:15 — plenty of time to explore the last surviving World War One dreadnought in the world.
Did you know that Helen Dortch Longstreet, the widow of Old Pete Longstreet, helped build B-29 Superfortresses during World War II? Neither did I.
Image: Life Magazine, December 27, 1943.
It’s an old saw 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 boats 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 some would have us believe.
_____________A version of this post originally appeared here on July 4, 2011.
Some of you will be familiar with the online newspaper archive that Vicki Betts, a researcher and librarian at the University of Texas at Tyler, has been diligently transcribing for years. It is a valuable resource, and deserves to be better known.
Vicki recently shifted the archive to a new, more reliable server, that should stand it in good stead going forward. The new address is:
This is the introduction to the new site:
The following files of transcribed articles from Civil War era newspapers are predominantly from the South, and focus on the homefront, including women, Confederate industry, and material culture. The scattered military articles usually relate either to camp life or to Texas units or events. These articles do NOT include foreign affairs, politics, monetary policy, or general battle accounts. All were gathered in the course of researching various topics of personal interest and do not reflect any systematized indexing.
The articles under “By Title” are listed by newspaper title and then within each file, chronologically. The articles under “Special Topics” have been pulled from those files, across newspaper titles, then arranged chronologically.
If these excerpts are to be used for published research, authors are urged to double check with either the microfilm or the originals to verify the transcription, especially when the quotations include numbers or proper names. The combination of the deteriorating ink and paper of Confederate newspapers and poor microfilming has made some issues difficult to read.
As usual, researchers are also encouraged to approach the “truth” in historic newspapers cautiously. Even more so than now, nineteenth century newspapers often expressed extremely partisan positions. Editors gathered reports and rumors from correspondents, travelers, and other newspapers, usually with little or no verification. At the same time, these papers do reflect what people of the period were reading and perhaps believing. As such, they remain a valuable source, used wisely.
Vicki has done a remarkable job compiling this resource, a slow and laborious process that has made research so much easier for the rest of us.
Saturday evening we went to see Free State of Jones. It’s a powerful and, in many places, a disturbing film. I may have more to say about it later, after I cogitate on it some. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to read both Christian McWhiter’s and Glenn Brasher’s reviews.
During the movie, watching the Knight Company grow and organize in the relative safety of the swamps, I was reminded of similar encampment that grew up here in Texas, deep in the Piney Woods, that I wrote about near the end of 2013:
Both desertion and men running from conscription was a big problem in Texas, as it was in other parts of the South during the war. I recently came across this account of using “Negro dogs,” bred and trained to hunt runaway slaves, to track deserters in East Texas. The place mentioned, Winter’s Bayou, runs through the Sam Houston National Forest, southeast of Huntsville. From the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, December 21, 1864, p. 1:
Update, June 27: Kevin Levin has his own review of the film over at The Daily Beast.
Update 2, June 27: I just realized that Vikki Bynum recently published an essay on this, “East Texas Unionism: Warren J. Collins, Big Thicket Jayhawker,” in Lone Star Unionism and Dissent: The Other Civil War Texas, edited by Jesus F. de la Tejas. 2016.
Y’all have a good weekend.
Small items that don’t warrant full posts:
- The seditious clowns who seized a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in January and spent the next month fluffing themselves with the American flag on Facebook and YouTube are shocked, shocked that all that material is now being used as evidence against them.
- There’s something a little rancid about holding a Confederate monument rally on Juneteenth. Whether these folks are deliberately acting like jerks, or just oblivious to history, is not clear. Maybe both.
- In other news about Confederate monuments, the circuit court in Louisville has formally rejected the SCV’s challenge to the city’s plan to move the monument on the edge of the University of Louisville campus. The SCV had claimed that the monument was on state property, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of the City of Louisville, but the court found that the monument had been recognized as city property for at least 40 years. The SCV had also claimed that removal of the monument was prohibited under the rules of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, even though the monument had no designation by the commission, and in fact an application to the commission wasn’t filed until May 24, 2016, the day before the initial court hearing in the case. This may be part of the reason the case was dismissed “with prejudice,” which is judge-speak for “get the hell out of my courtroom.” Judges hate being played, y’all.
- The Supreme Court of Virginia has declined to hear an appeal by local groups challenging the City of Danville’s removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Sutherlin Mansion, where Jefferson Davis stayed for several days after the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865. The Virginia Flaggers characterize this as a “small setback,” but it would appear to be the end of the road, litigation-wise, in the Virginia courts. We’ll have to see where it goes from here, if anywhere.
- In separate cases in South Carolina and Virginia, people were arrested for bad behavior directed at groups displaying Confederate flags. In Charleston, a young woman allegedly broke off a pair of small flags from a vehicle belonging to a member of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, and ran off with them. When one of the party members began chasing her, her father allegedly grabbed the man to stop him. The woman has been charged with “malicious injury to real property,” and the father with simple assault.
- In Richmond, a 21-year-old woman splashed sort sort of liquid in the face of someone participating in the Virginia Flaggers’ ongoing protest at the VMFA, and was subsequently arrested and charged with simple assault. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Flaggers went out of their way to extend thanks to the Richmond PD for arresting the person, but not to the VMFA security personnel who actually stopped the suspect and detained her until the po-po arrived.
- And in Sandston (a suburb of Richmond), an African American woman parked her car in a residential neighborhood to visit a nearby yard sale. The owner of the home where she parked objected, and allegedly jammed some tree limbs into her car, damaging the windshield. When she went to his door, he allegedly responded by shouting racial epithets, waving a Confederate flag, and brandishing a shotgun. He went to jail, too.
Got any more? Put ’em in the comments.
[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
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.A.G.
What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.
The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in recent local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.
Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.
Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Ostermann Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin (right, 1827-78) of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.
Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.
Update, June 19: Over at Our Special Artist, Michele Walfred takes a closer look at Nast’s illustration of emancipation.
Update 2, June 19: Via Keith Harris, it looks like retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison supports a national Juneteenth holiday, too. Good for her.
[This post originally appeared on June 20, 2011.]
Hari Jones, Curator of the African American Civil War Museum, drops the hammer on the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and the organization behind it, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJoF). He argues that the narrative used to justify the propose holiday does little to credit African Americans with taking up their own struggle, and instead presents them as passive players in emancipation, waiting on the beneficence of the Union army to do it for them. Further, he presses, the standard Juneteenth narrative carries forward a long-standing, intentional effort to suppress the story of how African Americans, in ways large and small, worked to emancipate themselves, particularly by taking up arms for the Union. He wraps up a stem-winder:
Certainly, informed and knowledgeable people should not celebrate the suppression of their own history. Juneteenth day is a de facto celebration of such suppression. Americans, especially Americans of African descent, should not celebrate when the enslaved were freed by someone else, because that’s not the accurate story. They should celebrate when the enslaved freed themselves, by saving the Union. Such freedmen were heroes, not spectators, and their story is currently being suppressed by the advocates of the Juneteenth national holiday. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves; it made it legal for this disenfranchised, enslaved population to free themselves, while maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution, and preserving the Union. They became the heroes of the Republic. It is as Lincoln said: without the military help of the black freedman, the war against the South could not have been won. That’s worth celebrating. That’s worth telling. The story of how Americans of African descent helped save the Union, and freed themselves. Let’s celebrate the truth, a glorious history, a story of a glorious march to Liberty.
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.
On Tuesday, Flag Day, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling on its members, collectively and individually, to repudiate the Confederate flag. Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian who currently serves as head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote this about the decision:
To understand the significance of this, one must note the “Southern” in “Southern Baptist Convention.” This doesn’t speak to geography; there are SBC churches in all fifty states. It speaks to history. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, over a controversy about appointing slaveholders as missionaries. The SBC was wrong, and more than wrong. The SBC of 1845, and for many years after, was in open sin against a holy God, and against those who bear his image.
This afternoon, the Convention voted, from the floor, to amend the resolution about the flag as it was reported out of the Resolutions Committee. The proposed resolution spoke about the way that many people fly the flag out of a sense of family history or honor. The Convention voted to strike that language. The committee version called for Southern Baptists “to limit” the display of the flag and to “consider” stopping flying it altogether. The Convention decided stronger language was in order.
In an amendment, offered by former SBC president James Merritt, himself a descendant of slaveholder, the Convention voted to say this: “We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”
Does this change the game as it applies to the crushing issues of racial injustice around us? Of course it does not. But at the same time, we cannot dismiss this as just about symbols. Symbols matter.
The Convention recognized today what the flag represents, and what it says to our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. The flag hearkens back to a day when in order to justify idolatrous Mammonism, Southern religion wove a counter-biblical folk theology that stood on the other side of Jesus. The flag also points to years and years of domestic terrorism against African-Americans, often with threats of physical violence.
Like James Merritt, I’m a descendant of Confederate veterans too. But my family history is more complicated than just that. I’m a part of another family now, a bigger family that spans heaven and earth, a people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. The gospel frees us, as the Bible says, to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). The gospel calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). What hurts one part of the Body hurts us all.
As I’ve said before, the Cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. Today, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, including many white Anglo southerners, decided the cross was more important than the flag. They decided our African-American brothers and sisters are more important than family heritage. We decided that we are defined not by a Lost Cause but by amazing grace. Let’s pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors.
And let’s take down that flag.
I grew up in SBC churches, and while I left many years ago, I long since internalized many of the basic ideas instilled in me in Sunday school, in the Royal Ambassadors (an SBC variant of the Boy Scouts), and so on. So it’s gratifying to see that Moore, one of the more influential evangelical voices in the United States, speaks candidly about both the SBC’s past and its future. As I said over at Kevin’s blog, the church needs to concern itself spiritual maters, not temporal ones.
Naturally, the usual suspects have chosen to set their hair on fire over this development (because that’s what they do), with some announcing they will leave (or have already left) the SBC. I say, let ’em go — if that’s where their priorities lie, they probably weren’t very good Baptists to begin with.
Added, June 15: Check out the video above, via Kevin, of Jame’s Merritt’s motion from the floor at the meeting. “All the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”
Added, June 18: I knew they’d be upset about the convention’s resolution, but I didn’t really expect the heritage folks to completely cast off from reality in their efforts to delegitimize the SBC:
Russell Moore was born and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi. As for Moore being “no conservative,” you can Google him your own self.