Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

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.

“Sponge, Load, Fire!”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 9, 2020
Today, Monday, is the 158th anniversary of the famous battle between Monitor and Virginia in Hampton Roads. So it seems like a good occasion to repost this account of the action by the Acting Chief Engineer of the Confederate ironclad, Henry Ashton Ramsay (1835-1916), originally posted here eight years ago.

Yesterday the Civil War Monitor presented another segment in the magazine’s “Voice from the Past” series, this one highlighting the account of Samuel Dana Greene, Monitor‘s executive officer, who commanded in that ship’s turret until forced to take over command of the ship when his captain, John L. Worden, was temporarily blinded by a shot from C.S.S. Virginia.

What follows here is another account of the action, this one from the Acting Chief Engineer of the Confederate ironclad, Henry Ashton Ramsay (1835-1916). Ramsay’s perspective on the action is unique; he probably knew the ship better than anyone else aboard, have spent most of the previous three years operating, maintaining, repairing and rebuilding the ship’s machinery. He’d joined U.S.S. Merrimac as Second Assistant Engineer at Panama in 1859, and sailed with her around Cape Horn. During this passage he reported to Merrimac‘s Chief Engineer, Alban C. Stimers. Engineer Stimers would later assist John Ericsson in constructing Monitor, and would serve as that ship’s Chief Engineer during the Battle of Hampton Roads.

Upon Merrimac‘s return to Norfolk, her engines were condemned and the ship laid up. There she remained until the spring of 1861, when she was burned to the waterline during the evacuation of the Navy Yard. When the war came, Ramsay cast his lot with the Confederacy, and soon found himself in Norfolk, working to convert the burned-out hull of Merrimac into a casemate ironclad.

While steaming out into Hampton Roads on the morning of March 8, Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, commander of the rebuilt ironclad, now rechristened Virginia, called Ramsey up to the pilothouse and asked him how secure the ship’s machinery was in the event of a hard collision. When Ramsay assured him that the boilers and engine well-braced, Buchanan replied, “I am going to ram the Cumberland.” Fifty years later, in an article for Harper’s Weekly, Ramsay  described what happened next:

The crux of what followed was down in the engine room. Two gongs, the signal to stop, were quickly followed by three, the signal to reverse. There was an ominous pause, then a crash, shaking us all off our feet. The engines labored. The vessel was shaken in every fiber. Our bow was visibly depressed. We seemed to be bearing down with a weight on our prow. Thud, thud, thud, came the rain of shot on our shield from the double-decked battery of the Congress. There was a terrible crash in the fire-room. For a moment we thought one of the boilers had burst. No, it was the explosion of a shell in our stack. Was anyone hit? No, thank God. The firemen had been warned to keep away from the up-take, so the fragments of shell fell harmlessly on the iron floor-plates.

We had rushed on the doomed ship, relentless as fate, crashing through her barricade of heavy spars and torpedo fenders, striking her below her starboard fore-chains and crushing far into her. For a moment the whole weight of her hung on our prow and threatened to carry us down with her, the return wave of the collision curling up into our bow port.

The Cumberland began to sink slowly, bow first, but continued to fight desperately for the forty minutes that elapsed after her doom was sealed, during which we were engaged with both the Cumberland and the Congress, being right between them.

We had left our cast-iron beak in the side of the Cumberland. Like the wasp we could sting but once, leaving the sting in the wound.

Our smoke-stack was riddled, our flag was shot down several times and was finally secured to a rent in the stack. On our gun-deck the men were fighting like demons. There was no thought or time for the wounded and dying as they tugged away at their guns, training and sighting their pieces while the orders rang out: “Sponge, load, fire.”

Virginia pulls away from U.S.S. Congress after setting her afire, March 8, 1862. Painting by Tom Freeman.

Virginia‘s score for the day included U.S.S. Cumberland, sunk, and Congress, abandoned and fully ablaze. Two more Federal vessels, St. Lawrence and Roanoke, had grounded themselves in trying to escape the guns of the ironclad. U.S.S. Minnesota had moved into shallow water where Virginia could not pursue, so the Confederate ironclad hauled off to her mooring at at Sewall’s Point. Ramsay continues:

All the evening we stood on deck watching the brilliant display of the burning [U.S.S. Congress]. Every part of her was on fire at the same time, the red-tongued flames running up shrouds, masts, and stays, and extending out to the yard arms. She stood in bold relief against the black background, lighting up the Roads and reflecting her lurid lights on the bosom of the now placid and hushed waters. Every now and then the flames would reach one of the loaded cannon and a shell would hiss at random through the darkness. About midnight came the grand finale. The magazines exploded, shooting up a huge column of firebrands hundreds of feet in the air, and then the burning hulk burst asunder and melted into the waters, while the calm night spread her sable mantle over Hampton Roads.

U.S.S. Congress explodes around midnight on the night of March 8-9, 1862. Battles and Leaders.

The Monitor arrived during the evening and anchored under the stern of the Minnesota, her lighter draught enabling her to do so without danger. To us the ensuing engagement was in the nature of a surprise. If we had known we were to meet her we would at least have been supplied with a solid shot for our rifled guns. We might even have thought best to wait until our iron beak, lost in the side of the Cumberland, could be replaced. Buchanan was incapacitated by his wound and the command devolved upon Lieutenant Jones.

Monitor arrives alongside U.S.S. Minnesota, late on the evening of March 8, 1862. Battles and Leaders.

We left our anchorage shortly before eight o’clock next morning and steamed across and up stream toward the Minnesota, thinking to make short work of her and soon to return with her colors trailing under ours. We approached her slowly, feeling our way cautiously along the edge of the channel, when suddenly, to our astonishment, a black object that looked like the historic description, “a barrel-head afloat with a cheese-box on top of it,” moved slowly out from under the Minnesota and boldly confronted us. It must be confessed that both ships were queer-looking craft, as grotesque to the eyes of the men of ’62 as they would appear to those of the present generation.

Virginia steams out into Hampton Roads, past the Confederate batteries on Craney’s Island. Battles & Leaders.

And now the great fight was on, a fight the like of which the world had never seen. With the battle of yesterday old methods had passed away, and with them the experience of a thousand years “of battle and of breeze” was brought to naught. The books of all navies were burned with the Congress, by a conflagration as ruthless as the torch of Omar. A new leaf had been turned, a virgin page on which to transcribe and record the art of naval warfare.

We hovered about each other in spirals, gradually contracting the circuits, until we were within point-blank range, but our shell glanced from the Monitor’s turret just as hers did from our sloping sides. For two hours the cannonade continued without perceptible damage to either of the combatants.

On our gun-deck all was bustle, smoke, grimy figures, and stern commands, while down in the engine and boiler rooms the sixteen furnaces were belching out fire and smoke, and the firemen standing in front of them, like so many gladiators, tugged away with devil’s-claw and slice-bar. inducing by their exertions more and more intense heat and combustion. The noise of the crackling, roaring fires, escaping steam, and the loud and labored pulsations of the engines, together with the roar of battle above and the thud and vibration of the huge masses of iron being hurled against us, altogether produced a scene and sound to be compared only with the poet’s picture of the lower regions.

Inside Virginia’s casemate during the action. From Blue Jackets of ’61: A History of the Navy in the War of Secession.

And then an accident occurred that threatened our utter destruction. We stuck fast aground on a sandbar.

Our situation was critical. The Monitor could, at her leisure, come close up to us and yet be out of our reach, owing to an inability to deflect our guns. In she came and began to sound every chink in our armor–every one but that which was actually vulnerable, had she known it.

The coal consumption of the two days’ fight had lightened our prow until our unprotected submerged deck was almost awash. The armor on our sides below the water-line had not been extended but about three feet owing to our hasty departure before the work was finished. Lightened as we were, these exposed portions rendered us no longer an ironclad, and the Monitor might have pierced us between wind and water had she depressed her guns.

Fearing that she might discover our vulnerable “heel of Achilles,” while she had us “in chancery,” we had to take all chances. We lashed down the safety valves, heaped quick-burning combustibles into the already raging fires, and brought the boilers to a pressure that would have been unsafe under ordinary circumstances. The propeller churned the mud and water furiously, but the ship did not stir. We piled on oiled cotton waste, splints of wood, anything that would burn faster than coal. It seemed impossible the boilers could long stand the pressure we were crowding upon them. Just as we were beginning to despair there was a perceptible movement, and the [Virginia] slowly dragged herself off the shoal by main strength. We were saved.

Before our adversary observed we were again afloat we made a dash for her, catching her quite unprepared, and tried to ram her, but our commander was dubious about the result of a collision without our iron-shod beak and gave the signal to reverse the engines long before we reached the Monitor. As a result I did not feel the slightest shock down in the engine-room, though we struck her fairly enough.

1886 chromolithograph of the Battle of Hampton Roads, by J. O. Davidson.

The carpenter reported that the effect was to spring a leak forward. Lieutenant Jones sent for me and asked me about it.

“It is impossible we can be making much water,” I replied,” for the skin of the vessel is plainly visible in the crank-pits.”

A second time he sent for me and asked if we were making any water in the engine room.

“With the two large Worthington pumps, beside the bilge injections, we could keep her afloat for hours, even with a ten-inch shell in her hull.” I assured him, repeating that there was no water in the engine and boiler rooms.

We glided past, leaving the Monitor unscathed, but got between her and the Minnesota and opened fire on the latter. The Monitor gallantly rushed to her rescue, passing so close under our submerged stern that she almost snapped off our propeller. As she was passing, so near that we could have leaped aboard her, Lieutenant Wood trained the stern-gun on her when she was only twenty yards from its muzzle and delivered a rifle-pointed shell which dislodged the iron logs sheltering the Monitor’s conning tower, carrying away the steering-gear and signal apparatus, and blinding Captain Worden. It was a mistake to place the conning tower so far from the turret and the vitals of the ship. Since that time it has been located over the turret. The Monitor’s turret was a death-trap. It was only twenty feet in diameter, and every shot knocked off bolt-heads and sent them flying against the gunners. If one of them barely touched the side of the turret, he would be stunned and momentarily paralyzed. Lieutenant Greene had been taken below in a dazed condition and never fully recovered from the effects. One of the port shutters had been jammed, putting a gun out of commission, and there was nothing for the Monitor to do but to retreat and to leave the Minnesota to her fate.

Captain Van Brunt, of the latter vessel, thought he was now doomed and was preparing to fire his ship when he saw the [Virginia] also withdrawing forward Norfolk.

It was at this juncture that Lieutenant Jones had sent for me and said: “The pilots will not place us nearer to the Minnesota and we cannot afford to run the risk of getting aground again. I am going to haul off under the guns of Sewall’s Point and renew the attack on the rise of the tide. Bank your fires and make any necessary adjustments to the machinery, but be prepared to start up again later in the afternoon.”

I went below to comply with his instructions, and later was astonished to hear cheering. Rushing on deck I found we were passing Craney Island on our way to Norfolk, and were being cheered by the soldiers of the battery.

Our captain had consulted with some of his lieutenants, and explained afterward that as the Monitor had proved herself so formidable an adversary he had thought best to get a supply of solid shot, have the prow replaced, the port shutters put on, the armor belt extended below water, and the guns whose muzzles had been shot away replaced, and then renew the engagement with every chance of victory. I remember feeling as if a wet blanket had been thrown over me. His reasoning was doubtless good, but it ignored the moral effect of leaving the Roads without forcing the Minnesota to surrender.

One of C.S.S. Virginia’s ensigns. This ensign was reportedly replaced with a variant with 11 stars during the March 9, 1862 action against U.S.S. Monitor. Time-Life, Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy.

As the [Virginia] passed up the river, trailing the ensign of the Congress under the stars and bars, she received a tremendous ovation from the crowds that lined the shores, while hundreds of small boats, gay with flags and bunting, converted our course into a triumphal procession.

We went into dry-dock that very afternoon, and in about three weeks were ready to renew the battle upon more advantageous terms, but the Monitor, though reinforced by two other ironclads, the Galena and the Naugatuck, and every available vessel of the United States Navy, was under orders from Washington to refuse our challenge and bottle us up in the Roads. This strategy filled us with rage and dismay, but it proved very effective.


Nikki Haley’s Butternut Bonafides

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 8, 2019

After the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (above) embraced and argued for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag that flew on the State House grounds, adjacent to the Confederate monument there. Haley was widely lauded in some circles for her supposed courage in challenging South Carolina’s traditional Lost Cause-y view of the Civil War, but in truth the circumstances were so horrific that virtually any governor, of either party, likely would have followed the same course she did. The pressure to take down the flag was overwhelming, and that outcome was probably inevitable.

Naturally, the Confederate Heritage™ folks lost their ever-lovin’ minds over the issue, and gave vent to the vulgar bigotry that’s always there, but is usually papered over with tired tropes about “honor,” “sacrifice,” and all the rest. It’s what they do.

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Haley was careful to say the right things, as dictated by the circumstances of the moment. At the time, she decried the state’s decision in 2000 to remove the flag from the State House itself, to its position by the monument.

“I think the more important part is it should have never been there,” she said. “These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain.”

Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, is the youngest current governor in the U.S. She is also the first woman and the first Indian American to serve as Governor of South Carolina.

Haley said the flag should be in a museum, a place that preserves history, not in a place where people gather to implement policies about the state’s future.

“There is a place for that flag,” she said. “It’s not in a place that represents all people in South Carolina.”

It should never have been there,” she said then. “Not in a place that represents all people in South Carolina.

That was in 2015. A lot has changed since then. Haley went on to serve for two years as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a position that these days is curiously both high-profile and of relatively little consequence. Having put that on her resume, and published her obligatory memoir ever-so-politely distancing herself from the excesses of the roiling kleptocracy that is the current administration, she’s looking out once again for the main chance. And that, apparently, includes re-embracing the Confederate Heritage™ narrative about the shooting. Haley may think of herself as being “the face of the New South” (right, in 2014) but she still speaks in the voice of the Old South:

Nikki Haley, who formerly served as the South Carolina governor and then as the Trump administration U.N. ambassador, blamed “the national media” for making a white supremacist’s 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers at a historic African American church “about racism.”

In an interview with Glenn Beck, Haley also said that the murderer, [the killer]* “hijacked” the supposedly virtuous nature of the Confederate battle flag.

“Here is this guy that comes out with his manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of,” she said.

“We don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. There’s always the small minority that’s always going to be there, but people saw it as service and sacrifice and heritage. . . .”

“Once he did that,” Haley said of [the shooter’s] attack, “there was no way to overcome it.”

“The national media came in in droves,” she continued. “They wanted to define what happened. They wanted to make this about racism, they wanted to make this about gun control, they wanted to make it about the death penalty.”

Well, no. Lots of people, in South Carolina and elsewhere, didn’t view the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of “service and sacrifice and heritage” — not in 1962 when it went atop the State House dome, not in 2000 when it was moved to the grounds, and not in 2015, and Nikki Haley damn well knows that. She knew it when she first ran for governor in 2010, and she knew it when she ran for re-election in 2014, when it was a major campaign issue in her race against her Democratic opponent, Vincent Sheheen. She won that election handily. Then came the Emmanuel AME killings, seven months later.

Haley now says the media — it’s always “the media” with these folks — “made this about racism.” This is unadulterated bullshit.

I read the killer’s “manifesto,” and viewed the dozens of pictures he posted with it, before his “Last Rhodesian” site was taken down. I kept copies, too, although I’ve never shared them. While only a few of the photos were posed with the Confederate Battle Flag, virtually all of them trace back to slavery, antebellum plantations, Confederate cemeteries — even a museum run by the SCV. He even had Confederate flag plates on his car. He was, in his own addled way, quite clear about his intent to target African Americans, and to start a wider war for the survival of the white race. Period, full stop.

Nikki Haley knows that white nationalism/-supremacy/-identity/-whatever-you-want-to-call it is widespread in the Confederate Heritage™ community; we’ve seen this over and over and over and over and over and over again. She herself witnessed it up close when the Klan organized a rally on the State House steps in Columbia to protest the removal of the flag from the grounds there.

In retrospect, everyone should’ve seen this coming. Haley herself telegraphed that her stated views in 2015 were, shall we say, flexible when she chose to preside over a reverential ceremony (above) to remove the flag that, she claimed, “should never have been there.” That’s not how you handle an object that, in your own words, causes “hurt and pain.”

Haley, of course, is laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential campaign. And she knows two things — (1) that the South Carolina Republican primary, that comes early in the primary cycle, will be make-or-break for her pursuit of the Republican nomination, and (2) that the Republican Party in South Carolina (“too small for a republic. . . .”) is going to demand her fealty to the tropes and deflections of the Lost Cause. That’s what she was doing the other day on Glenn Beck’s podcast, signaling to hard-core Republicans, and especially that subset of the far right that tunes in to Glenn Beck, that she’s all-in on perpetuating that narrative. It’s the media’s fault, this the inexplicable act of a single deranged person, no one ever associated that flag with racism, etc.

As I said, unadulterated bullshit.

There are many adjectives one can fairly apply to Nikki Haley; stupid is not one of the them. She knows what she’s doing, and is counting on Republican voters in South Carolina and elsewhere to have short memories. I wouldn’t bet against her being right about that.


* I have redacted the Charleston shooter’s name. You all know it anyway.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 28, 2019

For a while now I’ve been posting this well-known Thomas Nast cartoon from 1868, “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.” This year, though, I’d like to direct my readers to Pat Young’s detailed discussion of the work and the symbolism in it — there’s a lot there you may not have noticed.


Two Monument Stories

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 28, 2019

There were two news stories this week on the future of Confederate monuments in North Carolina and Alabama.

First, the University of North Carolina ceded the “Silent Sam” monument that had stood on the campus at UNC Chapel Hill to the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Under the terms of the agreement, the SCV will relocate the monument but not place it in any of the fourteen counties where UNC maintains a campus. In addition, UNC will establish a $2.5M trust fund, the proceeds of which can be used for limited purposes in maintaining the monument at its new location. The trust fund does not use public monies, and I suspect this part of the agreement was influenced by the Vanderbilt case from a few years ago, where that university paid the United Daughters the Confederacy a sum in exchange for removing the Confederate name or one of the buildings on campus.

In Birmingham, city officials had set up a wooden box obscuring a Confederate monument in 2017. After a drawn-out legal battle, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that that violated the terms of a state law that prohibits removal or alteration of monuments and memorials that had been in place for 40 years or more. The state law is one of several passed in recent years that prohibits alterations to monuments, even those (like Birmingham’s) that are on city, not state, property.