Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Acting Ensign Paul Borner, U.S. Navy

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 18, 2015

Edited03Recently I was able to acquire an original, Civil War-era CDV of a young man named Paul Borner (right). I am not generally a collector of items like this, but there were special circumstances in this case.

Borner was a junior naval officer, first an Acting Master’s Mate and then an Acting Ensign, on several U.S. Navy ships on blockade duty during the war. In May 1864, twenty-eight-year-old Borner was put in charge of a boarding party on the captured schooner Sting Ray. What happened next is described in Chapter 3 of the blockade-running book:

A lack of available ships prevented the U.S. Navy from maintaining an around-the-clock watch off the Brazos until the latter part of 1863, but attempts to get in and out of Velasco continued right through the end of the war. One of the more remarkable incidents there occurred in May 1864, when USS Kineo stopped and seized the schooner Sting Ray, nominally of British registry, some miles off the mouth of the river. Kineo’s commander, Lieutenant Commander John Watters, was suspicious of the schooner’s paperwork, which claimed she was sailing from Havana to Matamoros. Not wanting to delay Kineo’s return to the river mouth, Watters put a boarding party on board the schooner, under the command of Acting Ensign Paul Borner, with instructions to follow Kineo back to her station. (more…)

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Of Governors and Generals, Secession and Soap

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 9, 2011

Much has been written about Texas’ secession and the removal of Governor Sam Houston, who adamantly opposed leaving the Union. Houston, a dyed-in-the-wool Jacksonian Democrat, was a flawed man in many ways, but he was dead right on secession, and foresaw better than most the ultimate outcome of the conflict that the fire-eaters so blithely dismissed. But this account of Houston’s final visit to the governor’s office, clearly intended to ridicule the old war-horse, just leaves me sad. From the San Antonio Daily Ledger and Texan, April 15, 1861:

Deposition of Sam Houston.

The circumstances attended the deposition of Sam Houston, as Governor of Texas, were quite dramatic, and in some respects ludicrous and comical. The Convention of Texas, called by the loud voice of the people against the denunciations and opposition of Governor Houston, having passed the act of secession, and accepted and ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States, prescribed a form of oath to be taken by all the State officers. This oath included a renunciation of all allegiance to foreign powers, and especially to the Government of the United States, and a declaration of fidelity to the Constitution of the Confederate States. When the oath was proposed to Governor Houston, he peremptorily refused to take it; whereupon the Convention declared the office of Governor vacant; and Lieutenant Governor Clark, under the Constitution, having taken the prescribed oath, succeeded to the office. Governor Clark was not slow in entering upon the Gubernatorial functions, and proceeding to the Governor’s office, assumed the chair and entered upon the duties of the office. By and by, the deposed Governor came hobbling to his old office — Old Sam’s San Jacinto wound having broken out afresh, as it always does on occasions of political trial. Perceiving Governor Clark occupying the chair, Old Sam addressed him:

“Well, Governor Clark,” giving great emphasis to the title, “you are an early riser.”

“Yes, General,” replied the Governor, with great stress upon the military title of his predecessor, “I am illustrating the old maxim, ‘the early bird gathers the worm.’ ”

“Well, Governor Clark, I hope you will find it an easier seat than I have found it.”

“I’ll endeavor to make it so, General, by conforming to the clearly expressed will of the people of Texas.”

The General, having brought a large lunch basket with him, proceeded to put up various little articles of personal property, and to stow them away very carefully. Catching his foot n a hole in the carpet and stumbling, the General suggested to Governor Clark that the new Government ought to afford a new carpet for the Governor’s office, whereupon the Governor remarked that the Executive of Texas could get along very well without a carpet.

Approaching the washstand, the General called the attention of Gov. Clark to two pieces of soap — one, the Castile soap, was his own, private property; and the other, a perfumed article, was the property of the State, and added, “Governor, your hands will require the very frequent use of this cleansing article;” whereupon Gov. Clark, pointing to the washbowl, which was very full of black and dirty water, remarked, “General, I suppose that is the bowl in which you washed your hands before leaving the office.”

Having gathered up all his duds, Old Sam made a little farewell speech, very much in the style of Cardinal Woolsey [sic.], declaring his conviction that, as in the past, the time would soon come when Texas would call him from retirement, and he hoped Gov. Clark would be able to give as good an account of his stewardship as he could now render. Halting at the door, the General made a profound bow, and with a air of elaborate dignity said, “Good day, Governor C-l-a-r-k.” “Good day, General Houston,” was the Governor’s response. And thus the “Hero of San Jacinto” concluded his political career.

Old Sam deserved better. So did Texas.

____________

Image: Senator Sam Houston of Texas, 1859. Library of Congress.

John B. Gordon, “Faithful Servants,” and Veterans’ Reunions

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on November 14, 2010

Recently I came across a passage in General John B. Gordon’s Reminiscences of the Civil War (1903, pp. 382-84) that, while discussing the eleventh-hour decision of the Confederate government to enlist slaves as soldiers in the final weeks of the conflict, reveals a great deal about the nature of slaves’ other service in the Confederate army, and how they themselves sometimes presented themselves both during the war and decades later.

John Brown Gordon (1832-1904) was an attorney with no military experience when the war began, but he was elected captain of a company he raised, and by late 1862 had been promoted to the rank  of brigadier general. He quickly became famous for his bravery under fire, and was wounded numerous times.  He served throughout the war with the Army of Northern Virginia, eventually rising to the rank of major general (he claimed lieutenant general), and commanding the Second Corps of that army. Gordon saw action at most of the Army of Northern Virginia’s major engagements, including First Manassas, Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and the Siege of Petersburg. Gordon surrendered his command to another famous civilian-turned-general, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in April 1865. After the war, he fought against Reconstruction policies — allegedly as a leader of the Klan — and later served as a U.S. senator and as governor of Georgia. In 1890 he was elected first Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans, a post he held until his death.

In his memoir, Gordon describes the debate surrounding the proposed enlistment of slaves in the Confederate army in the closing weeks of the war:

Again, it was argued in favor of the proposition that the loyalty and proven devotion of the Southern negroes [sic.] to their owners would make them serviceable and reliable as fighters, while their inherited habits of obedience would make it easy to drill and discipline them. The fidelity of the race during the past years of the war, their refusal to strike for their freedom in any organized movement that would involve the peace and safety of the communities where they largely outnumbered the whites, and the innumerable instances of individual devotion to masters and their families, which have never been equaled in any servile race, were all considered as arguments for the enlistment of slaves as Confederate soldiers. Indeed, many of them who were with the army as body-servants repeatedly risked their lives in following their young masters and bringing them off the battlefield when wounded or dead. These faithful servants at that time boasted of being Confederates, and many of them meet now with the veterans in their reunions, and, pointing to their Confederate badges, relate with great satisfaction and pride their experiences and services during the war. One of them, who attends nearly all the reunions, can, after a lapse of nearly forty years, repeat from memory the roll call of the company to which his master belonged.

My emphasis. Like another dyed-in-the-wool, senior and well-connected Confederate general, Howell Cobb, Gordon discusses the proposal to enroll slaves as soldiers without making any mention of the supposedly-widespread practice of African Americans serving in exactly that capacity.

Far more important, though, is what he does say. Gordon’s description of enslaved body servants, and their ongoing attachment to the Confederacy, is essential. He notes that they “boasted of being Confederates, and many of them meet now with the veterans in their reunions, and, pointing to their Confederate badges, relate with great satisfaction and pride their experiences and services during the war.” This is a critical observation, and explains much of what is now taken as “evidence” of African American men serving as soldiers during the war. Advocates for the notion that large numbers of black men served as soldiers in the Confederate army routinely point to images of elderly African American men at veterans’ reunions and argue that those men wouldn’t have been present had they not been seen as co-equal soldiers themselves. As we’ve seen, the historical record, when available, can disprove that assumption. And now we have General John B. Gordon, Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans, writing exactly the same thing about what he saw around him, as the popularity of veterans’ reunions reached its peak. Gordon clearly takes pride in the former slaves’ commitment to the memory of the Confederacy — again, “faithful servants” — but he never credits any greater wartime service to them. Indeed, Gordon continues with an anecdote mocking the idea of such men being considered soldiers:

General Lee used to tell with decided relish of the old negro (a cook of one of his officers) who called to see him at his headquarters. He was shown into the general’s presence, and, pulling off his hat, he said, “General Lee, I been wanting to see you a long time. I ‘m a soldier.”

“Ah? To what army do you belong—to the Union army or to the Southern army ?”

“Oh, general, I belong to your army.”

“Well, have you been shot ?”

“No, sir; I ain’t been shot yet.”

“How is that? Nearly all of our men get shot.”

“Why, general, I ain’t been shot ’cause I stays back whar de generals stay.”

This anecdote reinforces Gordon’s (and Lee’s) dismissal of the idea that the service of black men like the cook should be considered soldiers; what made the story amusing to both generals is that the man’s claim to status as a soldier was, to their thinking, preposterous on its face. To be sure, Gordon shows real affection for these old African American men who, in his view, remain loyal to the cause. Nonetheless, he can’t help but make gentle mockery of their pretensions to be soldiers. He never considered them to be soldiers in their own right, which is the point of heaping praise on them as “faithful servants.” Lee understood that, Gordon understood that, and Gordon counted on his readers in 1903 to understand that.

So why is that so hard to understand now?

Are Pardoned Confederates Still Confederates?

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on November 5, 2010

If a Confederate officer takes an oath of allegiance to the United States and the Union, has he forfeited his status as a Confederate?

That’s not a snarky comment or a rhetorical question — I’m entirely serious in asking it.

Not far from my home is the grave of Major General John Bankhead Magruder, a well-known Confederate officer and a local hero who commanded the Department of Texas during the middle of the war and organized the naval and land attack that retook Galveston from Union forces on New Years Day, 1863. After the war, and a brief stint in the service of Maximilian’s army in Mexico, Magruder settled in Houston, where he died in 1871. He was initially buried in there, but his remains were subsequently re-interred in Galveston’s Episcopal Cemetery.

At the end of May 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued a general amnesty for those who had served the Confederacy; under this amnesty, all rights and property (except for slaves) were to be restored upon taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Fourteen categories of persons were explicitly excluded from this blanket amnesty, including army officers above the rank of colonel. These excluded persons were required to submit a formal application for pardon, “and so realize the enormity of their crime.” While there was never any real doubt that the vast majority of former Confederates would eventually be eligible for pardon, Johnson was determined to use the pardon process to make manifest a point he mentioned often: “treason is a crime and must be made odious.” Over the next three years, the Johnson administration issued about 13,500 individual pardons.

Magruder applied for his pardon in November 1867, and included a letter of from Union Major General Carl Schurz, attesting to his loyalty. Magruder’s application was approved by Attorney General Henry Stanbery on December 9.


National archives, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67, via Footnote.com

Baltimore, Novr. 14th, 1867

To His Excellency
Andrew Johnson
President of the United States

Sir, as an officer of the Southern army with the rank of Major General, I am not embraced in the amnesty which Your Excellency has proclaimed.

The South submitted her interpretation of the Constitution to the arbitrament of the sword which decided against her — an I am now as loyal a citizen of the United States as any within their borders — I therefore apply for a pardon — As an officer, I have always endeavored to softne the rigors of War & there are no allegations to the contrary, against me, that I am aware of.

I have the honor to be very respectfully Your Obt Servt,

J. Bankhead Magruder

A pardon is not a small thing. A petition for pardon acknowledges and admits a serious legal or moral transgression on the part of the applicant; issuance of a pardon is a formal act of forgiveness, with the implicit understanding that the offense being pardoned is real, is ended and will not be repeated.

There’s no way to parse or explain away Magruder’s declaratory statement, written  in his own hand, that “I am now as loyal a citizen of the United States as any within their borders.” Major General Walker signed an even more explicit statement, that he would “henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder,” closing with, “so help me God.

Are these pledges of loyalty to be taken seriously? It would seem they must be; after all, the core values of loyalty, devotion and personal honor are some of the very things that motivate the desire to recognize these men in the first place. But they voluntarily, formally and explicitly rejected any allegiance to the Confederacy; it’s hard to see how they can still be legitimately considered Confederates. Certainly most Americans today would hesitate to honor an American soldier who formally renounced his American citizenship in favor of another nation’s.

Or should we assume that applying for a pardon and swearing ongoing allegiance to the United States — “in the presence of ALMIGHTY GOD” — was something they simply had to do to get along, and they never really meant it? That it was just what they had to do to get on with their lives? Path of least resistance? Doubtful.

So we’re back to the first option: that these men willingly, voluntarily rejected any further allegiance to the Confederacy. How, then, can they now logically be honored for their loyalty to that defunct nation? There’s not an easy answer to this question; I don’t even think there is an answer that makes any objective sense. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask the question.

Encounters with Grant at Chattanooga

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on June 16, 2010


Grant (l.) and his staff on Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 1863. Library of Congress photo.

One of the great firsthand accounts of Texas troops in the Civil War is Val C. Giles’ Rags and Hope: Four Years with Hood’s Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (Mary Lasswell, ed.). The account of Sergeant Valerius Cincinnatus Giles is important to me personally because he served in the same regiment, the Fourth Texas, as one of my relatives. More significant still, Giles’ time is the unit matches my uncle’s almost exactly, from the formation of the unit to each man’s being taken prisoner during the Chattanooga campaign — Giles in late October 1863; my uncle about three weeks later. It seems likely that much of what Giles saw and did and heard was shared by other men in the regiment, including my relative.

Giles was captured during a confused skirmish in the early morning hours of October 29. After running smack into a big, burly German private of the 136th New York in the dark, Giles and about twenty of his comrades were rounded up and marched back behind Union lines.

We were marched back and halted near General Hooker’s headquarters. By that time it was daylight, and the whole earth appeared covered with bluecoats. I was a Sergeant at that time, and the only noncommissioned officer in our squad. I was ordered to report to General Hooker, and was escorted to headquarters, between two muskets. Hooker was rather a pleasant-looking man, and returned my salute like a soldier. Then he began to interrogate me. He asked me a hundred questions and wound up by saying that I was the most complete know-nothing for my size he had ever seen.

That evening we started to Chattanooga under a heavy guard. We crossed the Tennessee River about four miles below Lookout Mountain. Near the middle of the bridge we were halted and formed in one rank on each side, to let some General Officers and their escorts pass. General Grant and General Thomas rode in front, followed by along train of staff officers and couriers. When General Grant reached the line of ragged, filthy, bloody, starveling, despairing prisoners strung out on each side of the bridge, he lifted his hat hat and held it over his head until he passed the last man of that living funeral cortege. He was the only officer in that whole train who recognized us as being on the face of the earth. Grant alone paid military honor to a fallen foe.

Grant doesn’t mention this encounter with Giles and his fellows in his memoirs, but he does mention encountering Confederate troops in the field, apparently that same day:

In securing possession of Lookout Valley, Smith lost one man killed and four or five wounded. The enemy lost most of his pickets at the ferry, captured. In the night engagement of the 28th-9th Hooker lost 416 killed and wounded. I never knew the loss of the enemy, but our troops buried over one hundred and fifty of his dead and captured more than a hundred.

After we had secured the opening of a line over which to bring our supplies to the army, I made a personal inspection to see the situation of the pickets of the two armies. As I have stated, Chattanooga Creek comes down the centre of the valley to within a mile or such a matter of the town of Chattanooga, then bears off westerly, then north-westerly, and enters the Tennessee River at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This creek, from its mouth up to where it bears off west, lay between the two lines of pickets, and the guards of both armies drew their water from the same stream. As I would be under short-range fire and in an open country, I took nobody with me, except, I believe, a bugler, who stayed some distance to the rear. I rode from our right around to our left. When I came to the camp of the picket guard of our side, I heard the call, “Turn out the guard for the commanding general.” I replied, “Never mind the guard,” and they were dismissed and went back to their tents. Just back of these, and about equally distant from the creek, were the guards of the Confederate pickets. The sentinel on their post called out in like manner, “Turn out the guard for the commanding general,” and, I believe, added, “General Grant.” Their line in a moment front-faced to the north, facing me, and gave a salute, which I returned.

The most friendly relations seemed to exist between the pickets of the two armies. At one place there was a tree which had fallen across the stream, and which was used by the soldiers of both armies in drawing water for their camps. General Longstreet’s corps was stationed there at the time, and wore blue of a little different shade from our uniform. Seeing a soldier in blue on this log, I rode up to him, commenced conversing with him, and asked whose corps he belonged to. He was very polite, and, touching his hat to me, said he belonged to General Longstreet’s corps. I asked him a few questions—but not with a view of gaining any particular information—all of which he answered, and I rode off.