Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“That is how slave revolts work.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 27, 2017

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall considers a proposal in Richmond, Virginia, to include Nat Turner in an anti-slavery monument:

Virginia had seen Gabriel’s rebellion in 1800 and Charleston, South Carolina had been rocked by the Denmark Vesey uprising in 1822. But critically, neither of these planned insurrections ever happened. The plots were uncovered before they could begin. Most of what we know about all these events either comes from whites or from the testimonies of free or enslaved blacks communicated through whites. They are often ‘confessions’ or under confinement, testimonies from people either facing death or trying to escape it. Most of what we know about Turner, his ambitions, goals, life history comes from a jailhouse interview conducted after he was captured by a lawyer named Thomas Ruffin Gray. Because of this, it is difficult to know how far along these plots were or, possibly, whether some of them were products of panics or paranoia among white slaveholders. But Turner’s rebellion was real and bloody. The write-up in the Richmond Times-Dispatch says Turner is “seen as a freedom fighter by many and a mass murderer by others.” The simple truth is that he was unquestionably both. That is how slave revolts work. . . .

Memorializing Turner or other slave rebels has simply been a step too far in the US, at least until now. In a sense, this is hardly surprising. The South is covered with monuments to men who fought a war to preserve slavery. They are only now starting to come down. Most still stand.

The state of Virginia executed Turner. The state must still consider him a criminal. He hasn’t been pardoned or exonerated. Now it’s memorializing him. That is a sea change and I suspect still a highly controversial one. There are many forms of slave resistance. Most are incremental and small – what the political scientist James C. Scott called the ‘weapons of the weak.’ The most tangible. The ones we know most about is running away.

But slave revolts are inherently violent and uncompromisingly brutal. That is hard for this country, which still honors a legal continuity with a long history of slavery, to grapple with. Because coming to the terms with the brutality of slave revolts brings the brutality and violence of slavery itself to the fore in a way America has seldom publicly faced. It’s like a tight and uncompromising algebraic equation. Honoring Turner means that his actions were laudatory and merit public memorialization. But his actions involved killing families and small children in their beds. If such actions, which are normally among the worst we can imagine, merit praise and public honor, the system they were meant to fight and destroy must have been barbaric and unconscionably violent beyond imagining. Very few of us would contest this description of slavery. But bringing Turner into the discussion of public commemoration will air these issues in a new (I think very positive) and jarring way.

I struggle with this, like Marshall does, like any thinking person does. It’s not easy to square this circle, and I suspect it’s not really possible anyway. What’s important is to have this discussion, which up to now mostly hasn’t happened. It’s high time it does.



Houston Civil War Round Table’s 2017-18 Campaign

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 15, 2017

The Houston Civil War Round Table’s 2017-18 Campaign kicks off on Thursday, September 21, with a presentation by Brian Matthew Jordan, author of the finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War. It should be a fine program, but it’s just getting things started for this year. In October, Gary Gallagher will discuss “Another Look at the Generalship of Robert E. Lee,” and in November Eric J. Wittenberg will present “John Buford at Gettysburg.” It’s one helluva roster, y’all:

Sept 21, 2017, Brian Matthew Jordan, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War (2017 Vandiver Award Recipient)
Oct 19, 2017,  Gary W. Gallagher, Another Look at the Generalship of Robert E. Lee
Nov 16, 2017, Eric J. Wittenberg, John Buford at Gettysburg
Dec 14, 2017, Dennis Trainor, VMI Cadets at New Market
Jan 18, 2018, Edwin C. Bearss, Brice’s Crossroads and Tupelo
Feb 15, 2018, Mark Christ, All Cut to Pieces and Gone to Hell’: Atrocities During the Camden Expedition
Mar 15, 2018, Scott C. Patchan, Second Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge
Apr 19, 2018, Lesley J. Gordon. The 2nd Texas at Shiloh
May 17, 2018, To Be Determined, Holding for 2018 Vandiver Award recipient

I hope many of you will be able to brave the Galleria-area traffic and attend. The Round Table meets for dinner the third Thursday of each month from September to May (except December when the meeting is usually the second Thursday in December) at the Hess Club to hear renowned speakers from across the United States. The Round Table welcomes members and guests alike to any meeting, but it is always necessary to make reservations by 6:00 pm the Monday before a meeting for Dinner or Lecture Only.

6:00 – 6:45 PM: Social Hour with Cash Bar
6:45 – 7:30 PM: Dinner ($32.00)
7:30 – 7:45 PM: Meeting / Quiz / Raffle
7:45 – 8:45 PM: Guest Speaker

Lecture Only – Chairs are available for a small charge to persons who wish to attend the meeting without eating dinner. ($10.00)

The Hess Club’s address is 5430 Westheimer. The club is situated on the corner of Westheimer Way and Westheimer Court. Free, convenient, and handicap-accessible parking is across the street. Valet parking is also available.

The Hess Club
5430 Westheimer
Houston, Texas 77056
Phone: (713) 627-2283

Call Don Zuckero at (TwoEightOne) 479-OneTwoThreeTwo or email him at Reservations at HoustonCivilWar dot com by 6:00 PM the Monday preceding the Thursday meeting.


Texian Navy Days Postponed

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 1, 2017

From TNA President Jerry Patterson:

Admirals and Friends of the Texas Navy Association:

In light of the effects of Hurricane Harvey, the leadership team of the Texas Navy Association and the hosting Hawkins Squadron in Galveston have decided to cancel the Texian Navy Days events scheduled for September 15-17, 2017, to be rescheduled at a later date to be announced. As of Friday, September 1, evacuations are still underway in flooded areas in East Texas and Louisiana, and we’ve received reports of TNA members with significant damage to their homes and businesses. One critical vendor to the event had to cancel as a result of the storm, and we have not been able to follow up with others. A number of TNA members who had reserved a place at the event have been forced by the situation to cancel their plans.

Although we’re disappointed to have to make this decision, it’s the correct and necessary one. In addition to the logistical challenges brought about by Harvey, the storm has inevitably caused all of us to realign our priorities respond to our own needs, those of our friends and families, and those of our neighbors.

We will be making arrangements to refund those monies already paid to the TNA for registration, and will provide details on that soon. Reservations for lodging at Moody Gardens or other locations must be cancelled by each of you separately; the TNA has no control over that part of the process.

I would like to thank everyone who’s been involved in organizing this event across the TNA. Although we won’t be gathering as planned in two weeks, we believe that we’ve developed a blueprint for a successful event, and look forward to having it on the calendar again soon.

In the meantime, we appreciate your ongoing support, and look forward to corresponding with you again soon. We all face difficult days and weeks ahead but, just as our for-bearers in the Texian Navy did 180 years ago, with diligence and determination we will not only persevere, but thrive.

Jerry Patterson,
President, Texas Navy Association


CW Naval Paper Models Available

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 26, 2017

While looking for something else today, I happened on a collection of paper models by the late Magnus Mörck that are available for download as PDF files.

Individual models:

USS Cairo
USS Carondelet
USS Essex
USS Mendota
Blockade runner Teazer
US Perry (above)
USS Coeur de Lion
Transport Maple Leaf
USS Lehigh
CSS Albemarle

Not all of the links work. I haven’t printed out and assembled any of these, so I can’t speak to their quality, but looks interesting.


Duke Researchers: Hunley’s Crew Killed by Blast Wave

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 23, 2017

Four and a half years ago, the archaeologists announced that they had confirmed that when the Confederate submersible H. L. Hunley sank USS Housatonic in February 1864, the torpedo they used was still attached to a sixteen-foot iron pole attached to the bow of the boat. They were also able to corroborate that the remains of that copper torpedo match a contemporary drawing of a device claimed to be the same weapon, filled with 135 lbs of black powder. It was a landmark discovery in the process of investigating the wreck itself.

Now, armed with that knowledge, researchers at Duke University believe they’ve determined what actually sank the boat and killed its crew:

Speculation about the crew’s deaths has included suffocation and drowning, but a new study claims that a shockwave created by their own weapon was to blame.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina set blasts near a scale model of the vessel to calculate their impact.

They also shot authentic weapons at historically accurate iron plates.

They used this data to work out the mathematics behind human respiration and the transmission of blast energy.

Ms Rachel Lance, one of the researchers on the study, says the crew died instantly from the force of the explosion travelling through the soft tissues of their bodies, especially their lungs and brains.

Ms Lance calculates the likelihood of immediately fatal lung trauma to be at least 85 per cent for each member of the Hunley crew.

She believes the crippled sub then drifted out on a falling tide and slowly took on water before sinking.

‘This is the characteristic trauma of blast victims, they call it “blast lung”, said Ms Lance.

‘You have an instant fatality that leaves no marks on the skeletal remains.

‘Unfortunately, the soft tissues that would show us what happened have decomposed in the past hundred years.’

While I don’t have the scientific background to assess the Duke researchers’ methodology, this seems right to me, and I’ve long thought that whatever died happen must surely have killed or incapacitated the crew almost instantly.


Update, Wednesday evening: Here’s a paper from last year arguing that the crew of Hunley did NOT suffocate due to lack of oxygen. So that rules out one of the other major theories.


Update, slightly later Wednesday evening: The U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command isn’t so sure:

Navy researchers helping with the official examination of the Hunley have studied the blast wave theory and have their doubts, Naval History and Heritage Command spokesman Paul Taylor said.

“The Navy has already examined the concussive wave theory. We found it highly unlikely to have injured the crew, let alone caused their deaths,” said Taylor, who added the team had not had time to review Lance’s research. . . .

The official scientists working to preserve the submarine in a North Charleston, South Carolina, laboratory, had no comment on Lance’s research, said Kellen Correia, executive director of the Friends of the Hunley. Correia pointed out Lance had no access to the primary evidence from the current research into the sub.

Those official researchers continue their work on several ways the men could have died, including the notion that the submarine had a leak and could not surface, or that the crew ran out of oxygen while underwater.

So maybe something, maybe not. The “fish boat” has fooled people before.

h/t Bobby Hughes of the Ships and the Sea Museum in Savannah, Georgia.

Now Houston.

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 21, 2017

And now this:


A Houston man has been charged with trying to plant explosives at the statue of Confederate officer Richard Dowling in Hermann Park, federal officials said Monday.

Andrew Schneck, 25, who was released from probation early last year after being convicted in 2015 of storing explosives, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez said in a statement Monday.

Schneck was arrested Saturday night after a Houston park ranger spotted him kneeling in bushes in front of the Dowling monument in the park, Martinez said.

When confronted Saturday night in the park, he tried to drink some of the liquid explosives but spit it out, officials said.

The ranger then asked if he planned to harm the statue, and he said he did because he did not “like that guy,” according to a sworn statement submitted in federal court by an FBI agent investigating the case.

I and others have long argued that each community — whether it’s Houston, Charlottesville, Lexington, Danville, or any other — needs to find its own resolution to publicly-owned displays of Confederate iconography. I still believe that.

But as the saying goes, “life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” The measured, deliberate, and rational approach has been completely overtaken by events of the last few months, most particularly in Charlottesville. The real question at this point seems to be not whether or not monuments like this should stay, but what can be done with them when they, or at least a great many of them, end up being dismantled or relocated. It’s not longer a question of preserving these monuments in place; it’s a question of whether they can be preserved at all.

You can read my earlier posts about this monument here:

Dick Dowling, Kirby Smith, and the Future of Confederate Monuments

Dick Dowling and the Immigrant’s Call to Arms


Be Careful What You Ask For. . . .

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 14, 2017

Earlier this evening, a crowd pulled down a Confederate monument in North Carolina. Two thoughts:

First, the people who did this should be prosecuted.

Second, the folks who pushed hard in North Carolina (and other states) for legislation that prevents local governments from moving or altering Confederate monuments on their own property need to acknowledge that in doing so, they’ve made incidents like this MORE likely now, not less. Had Durham County been able to deal with this issue directly, this monument might well have been moved rather than destroyed.

These laws to “protect” monuments by preventing local communities from making their own decisions about them are a bit like tying down the safety valve on a steam boiler — it works great for a while, but it only lasts so long until the whole damned thing blows up.



The Rancid Circus Comes to Charlottesville

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 9, 2017

It’s still three days until the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, and it already seems to be unraveling in a mass of name-calling, accusations of bad faith, and blustery posturing by the groups involved. These include the League of the South, the Traditionalist Workers Party, the Kekistan Militia, the Three Percenters, Oathkeepers, Identity Evropa, the Nationalist Socialist Party, and various local self-described “militia” groups with names like “KK and the Pirates” and the “Fraternal Order of Alt-Right.” They’re arguing over whether open carry is allowed or not (and who really has the stones to defy the law if it’s not), whether or not the City of Charlottesville revoked their event permit, and whether or not they should move to a new, larger venue as ordered by the city or remain in the original, cramped location.

Some of these groups insist that they don’t have any political alignment or affinity with the Richard Spencer crowd, and are only there to show their support for the principle of Free Speech. None of them, as far as I can tell, have ever rallied to support the principle of Free Speech on behalf of Black Lives Matter or any group or cause on the left side of the political spectrum.

This event is nominally a rally in support of preserving Confederate monuments under threat in Charlotseville, but no one believes that’s what’s really going on here. The event is being promoted heavily on forums like Stormfront. Several heritage groups, including the Virginia Division of the SCV, denounced this event weeks ago.

AirBnB has cancelled the reservations of customers who they believe are going to Charlottesville to attend the event.

Both the Rutherford Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank and legal resource center, and the ACLU have weighed in on the City of Charlotteville’s handling of this clusterfnck.

The local organizer, self-described “citizen journalist” Jason Kessler, appears to under a lot of stress, and posts unhinged, profanity-filled selfie video streams every time something goes wrong. In one of them he claims he’s being followed by a gang of trans women — and ZOMG he’s not even in a public restroom!

The evolving Charlottesville clown show is being covered in regular posts at the satirically-named Restoring the Honor blog (some language NSFW), that has been exposing the ties between the “Heritage not Hate” folks and white nationalist extremists for a while now. This morning, Restoring the Honor is asking, “Is Unite The Right going to be the Nazis’ Altamont?”

It’s gonna be interesting, y’all.


Tour USS Monitor Turret this Week Only

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 7, 2017

Sorry for the late notice on this, y’all. I hope slots are still available.

Behind-the-scenes tours with historian John V. Quarstein, Director of the Monitor Center, will be available for the public the week of August 7! See below for select times.

Tours include a walk through the award winning Ironclad Revolution exhibit, a behind-the-scenes look at the Batten Conservation Complex, a chance to go inside the turret tank and come within inches of this iconic object, and the ability to handle some rarely seen USS Monitor artifacts. Tours are $100 per person and may be booked online below.Tours are not suitable for children under the age of 10 and are limited to 10 people at a time. Don’t miss this chance to see conservation in action!Tour times, with links to register online:


Things that Go “Boom!”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 5, 2017

My colleague Chubacus from posted this image, subsequently identified by CWT user lordroel, of U.S. Navy tests of a spar torpedo at Newport, Rhode Island on September 11, 1871. The note on the back of the image gives the size of the charge as 160 lbs, about 20% more than used by the Confederate submersible H. L. Hunley in sinking USS Housatonic in February 1864. It was a steam launch very much like this that sank CSS Albemarle.

Presented in both flat and 3D anaglyph formats.

You can visit Chubacus’ photography blog here.