Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

A Beating in Fort Bend County, Cont.

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 29, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

Over the weekend I posted about the attack on Captain William H. Rock (left), the Freedman’s Bureau agent in Fort Bend County, Texas. Rock was a former USCT officer who joined the Freedmen’s Bureau in mid-1866, and spent two full years, December 1866 to December 1868, as the agent in Fort Bend County, one of the longest tenures in such a position in Texas. Christopher Bean’s 2008 doctoral dissertation, “A Stranger Amongst Strangers: An Analysis of the Freedmen’s Bureau Subassistant Commissioners in Texas, 1865-1868,” gives considerable insight on Rock’s service at Richmond, drawn from that officer’s correspondence with his superiors at the bureau. Rock comes across as a diligent and proactive agent, spending more time visiting the laborers on the farms and plantations of Fort Bend County than he did in his office, and working to adjust freedmen and -women to make the successful transition to cultural and political norms that, in times of slavery, had always been outside their reach.

It was a challenge, to be sure. As noted previously, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, there were almost exactly twice as many slaves in Fort Bend County as free persons, with only nine free colored persons in the entire county. By 1870, more than three-quarters of the county’s population was described as “colored.” Fort Bend had been a hotbed of Confederate sympathy; when (white, male) Texans went to the polls to vote on secession in early 1861, the vote in Fort Bend County was 486 to 0. The county sheriff, J. W. Miles, had reportedly been a private in the famously-rowdy Eighth Texas Cavalry, Terry’s Rangers, before being discharged for illness in 1862. Fort Bend County was a rough place, even for a man as seemingly diligent and earnest as William Rock.

For his part, Captain Rock went about his business mostly on his own. Unlike other agents of the bureau in Texas, Rock declined to be provided with a detachment of soldiers to assist in enforcing his authority — at least during the first months of his time in Richmond. It was subsequently reported that he had, in fact, requested a detachment later on, but it’s not clear if such was ever actually provided.

Following my last post, blogger Daniel R. Weinfeld left a detailed comment, remarking on the striking similarities between the official explanation of the attack on Captain Rock, and those that followed the murder of John Quincy Dickinson (right, 1836-71), the Jackson County, Florida Clerk of Court, in 1871. Dickinson, a former officer of the 7th Vermont Infantry and a former agent for the Freedman’s Bureau, was the senior Republican in the county, and a target for white Regulators looking to return the county to white, Democratic control during what became known as the “Jackson County War.” (More about Dickinson’s assassination here.) Weinfeld sees a remarkable parallel in the way both the Dickinson murder, and the assault on Captain Rock two years previously, were explained away by the local white community:

The “scenario” presented in Flake’s Bulletin conforms exactly with the same rationalizations/accusations made by Regulators at other times and places to justify assaults on Bureau officers and Republican officials in the South. . . . In the “investigation” [of Dickinson’s murder] conducted by the county judge, as reported by FL Democratic newspapers, allegations were made that (1) the assassin was a black man, who (2) was jealous over an alleged affair between Dickinson and a black woman and (3) that Dickinson had swindled local land owners out of their property at tax auctions. Otherwise, the papers asserted, Dickinson had been respected by his white neighbors! All this slander was vigorously denied by Dickinson’s friends and the Republican press. My research shows that Dickinson was without a doubt assassinated by Regulators waiting in ambush. The black man involved was likely hired by the Regulators as a lookout. Dickinson’s “offense” was his political activity as a Republican and his defense of voting and civil rights for African Americans.

It’s almost like the Regulators had a check list they passed around: implicate African American in committing the assault – check; accuse victim of sexually consorting with blacks – check; then allege financial improprieties by victim – check. . . . I’m also guessing that examination of the Democratic press over the previous two years would show that Capt. Rock was not so completely loved by local whites as Flake’s pretends, and that local whites had made insinuations about his conduct or partiality to blacks in the past.

There actually are plenty of hints as to some of what was going on in Richmond with Captain Rock, and the notion that (as was claimed after the attack) Rock “was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens” was patently untrue. As before, here are some contemporary news excerpts. We can all read the words, of course, but what do you read behind them?

Flake’s Bulletin, June 15, 1867:

We are informed by Lieutenant Rock, agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau of Fort Bend county, that the people of that county exhibited sentiments of perfect submission to the reconstruction laws, and a desire to abstain entirely from all participation in political matters, except that of voting for such union men as may be nominated. It would be well for them to give this sentiment public expression.

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867. Sheriff Miles, it seems, had physically attacked Captain Rock more than a year before the New Years’ Eve incident:

SHERIFF VERSUS CAPTAIN.

The Brazos Signal says Sheriff J. W. Miles, of Fort Bend, complained to Capt. Rock, Bureau Agent at Richmond, of unwarrantable interference with his duties. The Captain threatened the Sheriff with removal, and the latter replied that a whipping would follow. The removal order came, and the Signal tells the rest:

Mr. Miles has always been very prompt in the discharge of his duties, and suddenly remembering that he had promised the captain, hurried off in search of him., finding him near the Verandah Hotel. We only know the result of the meeting, viz: that Mr. Miles kicked and cuffed the captain in a manner unbearable, and the captain would not have been to blame in the least for resenting it on the spot. The affair was strictly personal, and we think the captain has too much generosity to involve the whole community in the difficulty.

Mr. Miles was arrested by the City Marshal, and gave bond for his appearance Friday morning, but not giving the captain due credit for generosity, he forfeited the bond by not appearing. The Captain will not certainly be harsh with Mr. M., as he showed no malignant intent. Fighting is supposed to be one of the principal ingredients of a soldier’s profession, and we think it is characteristic of any profession whatever, to look kindly on an amateur of marked ability. We hoot at the idea of the captain wanting Gen. Griffin, and the principal part of the army, to support him against an amateur, though he has shown himself unusually proficient. It is to be regretted, but we might as well laugh as cry. Captain Rock was tried before his Honor the Mayor and dismissed.

What do you make of the last paragraph, going on at length about Capt. Rock’s supposed fighting ability, “one of the principal ingredients of a soldier’s profession?” What’s the Brazos Signal saying?

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867

Fort Bend. – The Brazos Signal of the 31st ult., says:

A citizen wants to know what construction the registrars can place on the act of Congress, to register a negro [sic.] who has been tried and convicted of a felony, when they will not allow a man to register merely because he once superintended hands at work on the road. This, the gentleman informs us, is the case. That Capt. Rock asked the negro if he had ever been up before a court, and he told him all about it. Such work puzzles men that think they are loyal, they can’t see by “those lamps.”

Here is the total registration, up to Aug. 30th, of Fort Bend County, furnished us by Capt. Rock, fewer whites and more black votes than any other county in the state – 110 whites to 1198 blacks; total 1218; rejected only 28. We can’t register without crying; the office will close on the 6th. It is our duty to try.


An 1867 Harpers Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast, ridiculing both freedmen voting for the first time, and resentful, disenfranchised former Confederates.

Flake’s Bulletin, February 8, 1868, warning against planters being “fleeced” by the Freedmen’s Bureau.

In speaking of the aid offered by the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Galveston News says:

It is true that the planters are hardly pressed, and it is true that the bureau makes the offer of help without requiring interest. Yet the precaution taken for securing the principle and other things connected with it, should be looked into carefully before the offer is accepted. We frankly confess that some scheme for fleecing and oppressing the planters will be gotten up, in the hope that their great and pressing necessities will induce them to embrace it. And therefore we join the New Orleans Bulletin in advising the planters to examine every proffer of aid through the bureau with critical inspection before imposing responsibilities on themselves by its acceptance.

A man, named Wm. Shakespeare, once said something about “conscience making cowards of people.” Can the News remember the quotation?

And finally, from Flake’s Bulletin, January 20, 1869, giving a somewhat different account of the incident from the assailant, Tom Sherrard/Ross:

THE RICHMOND AFFAIR.

In the News of yesterday appears a card of R. J. Calder, Esq., County Judge of Fort Bend, half a column in length, in reply to a card of Capt. Rock, published in this paper. A gentleman requested us to copy the card of Judge Calder, which we are compelled to decline to do for the following reasons: First. Had Judge Calder desired its publication in Flake’s Bulletin, he would have addressed it himself to the bulletin, not to the News. Second. The card of Judge Calder is too lengthy. We have already published both sides of the affair, to wit: the card of Capt. Rock and the card of many citizens of Richmond, published in the 13th inst. But we append the affidavit of the negro [sic.], Tom Ross, the man who attacked and beat Capt. Rock, embraced in the card of Judge Calder:

STATEMENT OF TOM ROSS.

On the first night of January, 1869, there was a negro dance at Capt. Rock’s quarters in Richmond. I went to the dance, hearing that it was a free ball for the blacks. I remained there for a quarter of an hour, and then left. Returning a short time afterwards, I met Frances Lamar, a colored girl, who was kept by Capt. Rock as his wife. She was standing at the door; on seeing me she left and went to the Captain’s bed-room. Soon afterwards she and the Captain came out of the room; the Captain had a double-barreled shot gun behind him. The Captain approached me, and turning half-way round, said to me, “Take this,” meaning the gun. I stepped back from him, and told him, “I did not want it.” The Captain walked away and to some persons, and immediately approached me again. His woman asked him if he had heard what I said. On answering “no,” she told him that I said I did not want the gun. The woman had taken the gun from the Captain, and had it in her hand at this time. The Captain then said to me, “Do you see that door?” I answered “yes.” He said, “Then you take it, and that God d__n quick.” The fight then commenced by my striking him with my naked fist, having no weapon of any kind with me. While fighting, this woman attempted to shoot me with the gun, but was prevent by bystanders. The Captain getting the worst of it, I was taken off him, and I straightway left the house. No person had offered me money to whip the Captain, neither did I go there expecting a difficulty.

I was arrested and tried before a magistrate, Judge R. J. Calder, and fined $10 for fighting. I was born the slave of Judge John Brahsear, of Houston.

His
Tom  X Ross
Mark

The State of Texas, Fort Bend County. —–

Personally came and appeared before the undersigned authority, Tom Ross, a freedman, who, being by me duly sworn, says that the forgoing affidavit, signed by him making his mark, and all the statements and allegations therein contained, are true.

In testimony whereof I hereunto sign my name and affix my seal of office, this, 13th day of January, 1869.

R. J. Calder,
County Judge, Ft. Bend Co.

Here’s a fact that this news item omits: Judge Calder’s son, also named Robert James Calder, had enlisted on the same day, in the same company (Co. H), of the Eighth Texas Cavalry as Sheriff Miles (below). The two young men served together for a year before Miles’ discharge. The younger Calder was later made an officer, and was killed in action in January 1864. Does this fact have any relevance?


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A Beating in Fort Bend County

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 26, 2019

[This post originally appeared in 2011.]

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The other day a commenter dismissed my argument about the importance of interpreting the historical evidence, and making a critical assessment of each bit of documentation that bears on a particular subject. Practicing history, I had said, requires making careful judgments about the sources at hand. “I make no judgments on [sic.] way or the other. . . ,” my correspondent assured me, “I just present the historical fact.”

I thought about that little bit of self-deception this weekend when I came across two accounts of the beating of Captain William H. Rock (right), the Freedman’s Bureau Agent at Richmond, Texas, late on New Years’ Eve, 1868. Captain Rock was appointed to the bureau in June 1866, and in January 1867 was assigned to the office in Fort Bend County, west of Houston. Fort Bend lay at the heart of Anglo Texas, being part of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, and was later home to several of the state’s largest plantations. At the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, slaves outnumbered free persons in Fort Bend County, two-to-one. By 1870, the ratio of “colored” persons to all others in Fort Bend was more than three-to-one.

One of the particular difficulties in writing about the Texas and the South in the immediate postwar period is that much of the press at the time was highly partisan, with individual newspapers closely aligned with specific political parties and candidates. During Reconstruction, Texas papers were particularly divided over the threat, and even the actual existence, of the “Ku Kluxes.” Some, like the Houston Union and the Austin Republican, spoke out early and vehemently against the group, while others insisted they were a myth, and argued that the violence and intimidation attributed to them were actually the work of Radical Republican groups like the Loyal League.

So here’s your chance to wade into two very different accounts of the same incident, published in different newspapers. How would you assess these two accounts? What might make you question the reliability of one or the other, and why? What makes your Spidey Sense tingle? What questions do you have after reading these, and how would you address them?

From the Houston Union, January 8, 1869

OUTRAGE AT RICHMOND, TEXAS

The Ku Klux Rampant! They assault and attempt to assassinate Capt. Rock, Agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau. – They leave him for dead.

From Capt. W. H. Rock, who has been living at Richmond, Fort Bend County, and acting as agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau for that county, we learn the following particulars of a most cowardly and brutal assault upon him upon the night of the 1st of January. The Capt. was first attracted by a noise about his premises, and glancing out of the window of his private room discovered a number of white men about his house. He immediately went from his private room to his office adjoining.  On opening the door he was knocked down by an unprincipled negro [sic.] named Tom Sherrard, who he afterwards learned had been employed by the Ku Klux to do the deed. After knocking the Capt. down, a couple of the Klan filed into the room, and standing between a colored man who had come to the Capt.’s rescue and the prostrate Capt., permitted the black ruffian to kick and beat him until it was supposed life was extinct. The names of the white men so far as known to Capt. Rock, who participated in this brutal assault upon a representative of the United States Government, are James McGarvey, Joe Johnson, and the Sheriff of the county, one J. W. Miles. The two former, with drawn six shooters, prevented aid from Capt. Rock’s friends, while the latter was heard to remark as they left the house, “it was well done,” supposing, of course, that Capt. Rock was dead. Life, however, was not extinct, and after departure of the murderous crew, his friends succeeded in caring for, and restoring him. Knowing that if it was found out he was alive, they would return, Capt. Rock secreted himself in a neighboring hen-coop, where he remained until next morning, when he made complaint to the chief justice of the county, but perceiving the signs about him and the information brought to him by trusty colored men, that his life would pay the forfeit of an appearance against the parties, Capt. R. concluded to leave the place. Accordingly, Saturday night  he secreted himself in the cabin of a friendly colored man, where he remained until Sunday night. In the meantime, the country round about was scoured, and every negro cabin entered and searched, but in vain. His hiding place was secure. While this secreted, word came to him that Capt. Bass, the County Assessor and Collector had made threats to shoot him on sight. Sunday night the 3d., he started to get across the Brazos. Monday night found him across, but without means to getting to Houston some thirty miles away., as the colored people in the whole neighborhood had been visited and their lived threatened if they gave him any assistance in escaping. Monday and Tuesday thus passed away, and as good luck would have it, a horse was procured and after riding all night the Capt., arrived safely in Houston covered with mud and disfigured and sore by bruises.

We are assured by Capt. Rock that the above statement is a true narrative of this great outrage and that it can all be sustained in a court of justice, or before a military commission. The colored men who all know the facts of the case, would not dare to testify in any court at Richmond without the presence of troops. One of them, expressing sympathy for Capt. Rock, was most cruelly beaten, and subsequently, at night, taken from his cabin and beaten until he was supposed to be dead, after which, tieing [sic.] a rope about his neck, he was dragged to an out of the way corner and left for dead.

Other outrages have been committed recently in this delectable town. Last Sunday a band of young rowdies went to the church where the colored people were holding [a] religious meeting, and literally drove them out, and broke up the meeting.

The teacher of the colored school in Richmond, has been driven away, and violence and treason stalks abroad in all its hideous deformity.

This is a terrible picture, and we shall be denounced for exposing it to the public; but the truth is not half told. In truth, there is not a loyal man in the town of Richmond. As an example, a prominent merchant there, named Greenwood, and the express agent, one Albertson, openly avowed they would spend their money freely to prevent the hired ruffian, Sherrard, from being brought to justice. We call upon the managers of the Express Company in this city to remove this man, who thus, by his means and influence, encourages the commission of outrages upon representatives of the Government.

Capt. Rock has often signified to the commanding General the necessity of stationing troops at Richmond. He has for a long time been cognizant of the disloyal disposition of the people there, and knew that as soon as the Bureau was discontinued the rights of the colored people would be utterly ignored, which he now informs us is the case. They are intimidated, brow beaten and worried, and unless a stop is put to it, a fearful outbreak ere long will be the consequence.

An official report of the state of affairs in Fort Bend county will be made by Capt. Rock to Gen. Canby, and we hope and trust the latter will send sufficient troops there to bring all concerned in this affair to justice, as well as protect the loyal men of the county from the malignant persecutions of the Ku-Klux cut throats.

The town where public sentiment permits such outrages as narrated above, should be put under military government and kept there until its return to good behavior makes it safe to remove it.

A week later, on January 16, 1869, Flake’s Bulletin in Galveston published a rebuttal signed by prominent members of the Richmond community, including two men implicated in the previous article, Sheriff J. W. Miles and Express Agent William H. Albertson:

ATTACK ON THE FREEDMEN’S BUREAU AGENT AT RICHMOND.

Special to Flake’s Bulletin.

Houston, Jan. 7 – Capt. Rock, lately in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau at Richmond, has just arrived in this city, having ridden from that place last night, in order to escape the pursuit of a band of desperadoes in that county. – He was attacked, badly beaten, and was left for dead. His present appearance is sufficient evidence of the treatment to which he was exposed. The outrage occurred on the night of the 31st ult. and the 1st. inst. The majority of citizens deplore the act, and assisted the Captain to escape.

Flake’s Bulletin, Jan. 8.

We desire to speak in defence of our county, and give a truthful account of the subject in the above extract.

Capt. Wm. H. Rock, Sub-Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, lived in this county for about two and a half years, and during that time was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens. Several decisions of his bore heavily with some, but they, as well as the public, were charitable enough to attribute the same to the evil machinations of the “ardent,” instead of any ill feeling that the Captain possessed; and towards the close of his administration it was often remarked that he had made about as good an officer of the kind as we probably could have gotten. Many regretted that his office compelled one who seemed so much a gentleman to associate with freedmen to the exclusion of whites.

Well, the Bureau collapsed, and when Captain Rock became free – no longer obedient to his masters – it was expected that he would assert his rights, and fully justify the good opinion that had been formed of him; but his actions on the event proved most conclusively that his just, and even willing disposition to deal fairly with the whites was caused alone from fear, and that the “nigger” was in him from the first, but for that aforesaid fear. Now comes the cause for which this Sabraite was forced to flee the land, as alleged above. During Christmas week Capt. Rock, having no further use for an office, converted his establishment into a ball room, and darkey maidens, accompanied by African beaux, held nightly revels to sweet sounds of music. It was at one of these lovely affairs that Tom Sherrod, a very worthy freedman, attended – not, however, without an invitation from “Captain and Mrs. Rock,” in writing. This last personage, a dark and bony [bonny?] Venus, formerly the property of one of our citizens. Previous to the time, Capt. R. had insulted the wife of Tom, yet he (Tom) went to the ball, was ordered out, and it is reported that Capt. R. drew upon his a double-barreled gun, and that Tom was acting in self-defense.

This may be so or not; certes that Tom demolished the valiant captain in the presence of the whole party. Now we firmly believe that no jury in the United States would have convicted this boy Tom, or any other man, for chastising the brute who insulted his wife, even had the charge been murder instead of simply assault.

Upon the following day Captain R. made an affidavit that Tom had assaulted him with brass knuckles, and a warrant was issued for his arrest; in the mean time a distress warrant was issued, and Capt. Rock’s furniture, etc., was attached for house rent, and he left in charge of same – not being able to vacate on account of the wounds from which he was still suffering. That night, though, the attached articles were conveyed, under cover of darkness, to some unknown place, and the captain ditto, no one knows where, and few except his creditors care. He leaves many debts behind, due to both whites and blacks. The latter he deceived by telling them he was going to Austin after troops, while the former knew he was making tracks from the countless hundreds of dollars which were pressing him.

This is but a meagre account of all the acts of Captain Rock in this place, and we would have preferred his departure from our midst in silence, and would have done so except for the flagrant falsehoods contained in the above extract.

Since writing the above we learn that the freedman Tom was arrested and tried yesterday, and was fined ten dollars and costs.

C. H. Kendall, D. C. Hinkle, J. W. Miles, W. C. Hunter, Geo. O. Schley, E. Ryan, G. W. Pleasants, S. R. Walker, Ed. D. Ryan, W. Andrus, T. J. Smith, G. F’ Cook, J. P. Marshall, H. L. Somerville, R. F. Hill, B. W. Bell, G. M. Cathey, J. T. Holt, Chas. C. Bass, Alex Curr, Wm. Ryon, W. K. Davis, J. H. Hand, N. G. Davis, S. Mayblum, H. Jenkins, W. H. Albertson.

The statement of the foregoing extract is not true.

W. E. Kendall, B. F. Atkins

Why did not Captain Rock pay me his board bill, and settle with the Union League for money of theirs that he used for his own purposes?

W. P. Huff, Member Union League, Fort Bend Co.

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Image: The Freedmen’s Bureau at Memphis, c. 1868. William H. Rock CDV portrait via Cowan’s Auctions.

We Haven’t Learned a Damn Thing, Have We?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 18, 2014

Over at That Devil History, Jarret Ruminski suggests that the United States’ ongoing involvement in the Middle East, and especially Iraq, ignores the big lesson of Reconstruction in the post-Civil-War South — that nation-building is damn nearly impossible if the locals refuse to buy into it; they just have to wait us out:

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When the southern Confederacy surrendered to Union forces in 1865 after four brutal years of combat, American government and military officials were tasked with rebuilding a vast swath of U.S. territory — the South — that had been reduced to ruin during the conflict. This sounds simple enough, right? I mean, the Confederate South wasn’t Afghanistan; in 1861 it was still literally a part of the American nation, and not all of the southern states even seceded from the Union. But the ones that did secede found their world turned upside down in the wake of military defeat: much of their infrastructure was destroyed, tens-of-thousands of their men were dead, and, most significantly, their slaves were freed. And those freed slaves were bound to start agitating for, you know, political rights — and the South would have none of that.
 
In order to deal with the newly freed slaves and “reconstruct” the South back into the Union, the American government divided the South into five military districts occupied by U.S. troops, and it established a federal humanitarian aid agency, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands — better-known as the Freedmen’s Bureau — to help aid the former slaves’ transition to freedom. But American military and civilian forces in the South soon found that the local yokels were restless: white southerners remind defiant in the face U.S. forces attempts to rebuild their society according to rules hammered out in Washington D.C., and they remained especially hostile towards any attempts to integrate newly freed African-Americans into southern society as the political and social equals of whites.
 
So southern whites organized into irregular bands of paramilitary insurgent groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Leagues, the Red Shirts and others. These domestic terrorist groups waged a campaign of political intimidation, property destruction, and murder against freed people and northern Republicans across the South. They usually attacked at night using guerilla tactics to burn houses and assault blacks and political opponents of the southern Democratic Party. During the daytime they melted back into the civilian population, which often tacitly, and sometimes openly, supported the white supremacist insurgents.
 
U.S. forces tried to squelch these terrorist groups, and sometimes they succeeded. But in the long run, tamping down on southern insurgent violence and enforcing the rights of freed blacks always meant more violence, more troops, more political will, and more money – with no end in sight. A weary northern government and public eventually soured on this seemingly endless dirty war and gave up on reconstructing the South. By the late 1870s, the old-line white supremacists — many of whom had fought in the Confederate armies — were back in control of Dixie. Thus, after the Civil War, American forces found themselves caught up in a long-running conflict with local and national elements that was driven by ethnic factionalism and power-struggles over how political and economic resources were to be reorganized and controlled following a destructive conflict. The more things change…the more Americans try to nation-build.

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Ruminski’s analysis is as persuasive as it is depressing.

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The Klansman

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on July 14, 2013

DaffanLawrence Aylett Daffan (right, 1845-1907) is a collateral Confederate ancestor of mine, one of a few who left behind any detailed account of his wartime service. He led a remarkable life. His family moved to Texas from Conecuh County, Alabama in 1849. After his father died in July 1859, fourteen-year-old Lawrence went to work to help support his widowed mother, carrying the mails between Montgomery and Washington Counties, Texas, in 1859. Later, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, Lawrence was working as a wagoner. In the spring of 1862, shortly after his 17th birthday, he enlisted at Anderson, Texas in Company G of the Fourth Texas Infantry. He fought in the major engagements of his regiment, part of the famous Texas Brigade, including Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. It was in this last action that he received what he jokingly described as his only wartime injury, a very slight one, when a Minié ball struck his rifle and knocked him down. It was at Chickamauga, too that he witnessed the incident where John Bell Hood was wounded, that Daffan believed to be a case of friendly fire. Private Daffan was captured at Lenore Station in November 1863, during the Chattanooga Campaign, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner at Rock Island, Illinois.

Returning to Texas in July 1865, Daffan soon found a job as a brakeman on the Houston & Texas Central Railroad. The postwar decades were boom times for the railroads in Texas, which expanded rapidly. Daffan moved his way up steadily through the company, successively serving as conductor, train master, station agent, and, from 1889, superintendent of the railroad’s Second Division.

In 1872, he married a local girl from Brenham, Mollie Day, and together they had six  children, four sons and two daughters. All of their children survived to adulthood, all of them had good educations, and the eldest, Katie, became a noted author in her own right. Although he had little formal schooling himself, Lawrence Daffan valued education highly, and reportedly was an avid reader, though mostly of conventional tastes — Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and, of course, the Bible. He was active in a wide range of fraternal organizations, and especially dedicated to Confederate veterans’ activities, including the Hood’s Texas Brigade Association, an effort which earned him the honorific title of “Colonel,” which he carried proudly until his death.

Lawrence Daffan was seriously injured in a train derailment near Corsicana in September 1898, losing two fingers and being severely banged up. Though he recovered, his health was much more precarious after that. He stepped down as superintendent of the H&TC’s Second Division in 1904, to become General Agent for Transportation for the entire railroad, a position he held until his death. In January 1907, at the age of sixty-one, Daffan was suddenly taken ill at his office in Ennis. Carried to his home a few blocks away, he died there that evening. Obituaries were printed in newspapers across the state, and tributes, floral arrangements and formal resolutions from groups he belonged to were published in the paper. His funeral was one of the biggest events Ennis had seen. The H&TC ran special, free trains from Denison at the northern end of the line, and Houston at the southern, to Ennis to accommodate hundreds of mourners who came to town just to pay their last respects at the funeral.

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LADaffanOfficec1900BW
Lawrence Daffan as Superintendent of the Second division of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad, Ennis, Texas. c. 1900. This photo, and the one at top, are from Katie Daffan’s My Father as I Remember Him.

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Daffan was, by all accounts, a respected and admired member of his community — multiple communities, in fact: civic, professional and veteran. He was a self-made man in the best, 19th-century sense of the term, starting out after the Civil War as a twenty-year-old veteran with little education and few prospects, worked his way up to the top levels of his profession. He provided for his widowed mother, his siblings and his own family, saw to his children’s education, and worked for the growth and betterment of his community. He was, in almost every respect, an exemplar of 19th century success through hard work and dedication to traditional values of home, family and church.

He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Radical Reconstruction, Insurgencies, and the Concept of Dau Tranh

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on February 1, 2012

Atlantic commenter XinJeisan flags an interview with Ohio State University historian Mark Grimsley, conducted by Mike Few for the Small Wars Journal. It’s an interesting piece, because it effectively summarizes the course of Reconstruction in the former Confederacy, and also because it puts that struggle over political power in the context of other insurgencies in world history. Here, Grimsley argues that the level of violence in the South, while low compared to the wholesale slaughter that preceded it, was nonetheless one that today would be considered a war:

A more clunky response, since you mention social scientists, would be to point to the Correlates of War Study, which defines a war as any event that results in a thousand or more battlefield deaths each year.  If you substitute “deaths from political violence” for “battlefield deaths,” then several years during Reconstruction would come close to meeting this standard.  In Louisiana alone, for example, an estimated 2,500 people perished between 1865 and 1876.

My own state, Texas, provides another example. Grimsley notes that a disproportionate number of Federal troops posted in the old Confederacy during Reconstruction were in Texas, in part to guard the border with Mexico. Nonetheless, violence against African Americans and whites believed to be aligned with the Reconstruction government was commonplace. Even officers of the Freedmen’s Bureau were targets. I blogged recently about NARA’s “Discovering the Civil War” exhibition, currently at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the inclusion of a bound volume of incidents recorded by Freedmen’s Bureau officers, “Criminal Offenses Committed in the State of Texas, 1865-68.” According to the companion book to the exhibition, the three volumes of the set record some 2,000 separate incidents of white-on-black violence between September 1865 and December 1868, ranging in scope from simple assault to torture to murder. Many are clearly linked to the economic and social turbulence of Reconstruction — several incidents on this page are noted as being brought about by a dispute over wages, for example, while other cases are less clear — but there is no avoiding the conclusion that African Americans were common targets of violence during the period.


One page from the “Criminal Offenses Committed in the State of Texas, 1865-68,” listing reported attacks in September and October 1866. The descriptions of incidents (column 6) include “kicking a woman,” “assault & battery,” “beating woman with quirt on head, face & shoulders,” “cutting with a hatchet,” “shooting,” “fracturing skull” and “homicide.” Three of the twelve victims were women; all but one were black (column 8). All of the alleged perpetrators (column 5) were white. From the companion volume to “Discovering the Civil War.”

Grimsley continues, arguing that white Southerners’ efforts to reclaim power through violence and intimidation was mainly the work of local groups, and that the Klan was more akin to a brand than a top-down, operational structure:

Southern whites never created an insurgency in the Maoist sense of a centrally directed people’s war.  The Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan was a myth.  What you had instead was a complex insurgency of local groups who conducted terrorist campaigns of intimidation and assassination.  These efforts were uncoordinated but had the effect of undermining the Republican state governments.

Some of these groups operated under the guise of the Ku Klux Klan, but in most instances the Klansmen were effective only in curtailing attempts by African American families to assert some degree of economic independence.  Only in South Carolina did the Klan become a major threat to the state government.  The largest and best organized of these groups were the White Leagues in Louisiana, the Rifle Clubs in Mississippi, and the Redshirts in South Carolina.  The latter two succeeded in “redeeming” their respective states.  The first came close to doing so, and would have succeeded had the U.S. government rendered their efforts unnecessary, by abandoning Reconstruction and simply handing them Home Rule.

It’s important to understand that, in saying “the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan was a myth,” Grimsley’s making a point about the Klan as a unified command structure. Even though the Klan had a national leadership for purposes of recruitment and communication, the individual dens, as they were known, were largely autonomous. And even they comprised only part of the many groups that sprang up across the South to oppose and undermine the process of Reconstruction.

Finally, Grimsley pulls back to look at white Southerners’ response to Radical Reconstruction — terrorism, voter intimidation, political machinations — as part of a unified whole that, in concept, is not at all unique to the American historical experience:

The pattern of the Reconstruction insurgency closely corresponds with dau tranh, a Vietnamese term that literally means “the struggle” but has a much richer connotation. Dau tranh rejects the idea that insurgency should be confined to guerrilla warfare.  Instead it prescribes the exploitation of any and all means to achieve the desired objective.  If given access to the political process by the targeted government—as occurred during Reconstruction—an insurgency following the tenets of dau tranh does not accept the legitimacy of that process (as the targeted government hopes it will), but simply regards such access as an additional tool by which to undermine and overthrow the government.  Dau tranh employs social measures (in the context of Reconstruction, the ostracism of white southerners who supported or tolerated the Republican order), economic measures (the discharge of black laborers and boycotts aimed at uncooperative white merchants and planters), agitation and propaganda (the Democratic press), and paramilitary measures (intimidation and violence).  As one of its foremost interpreters has explained, “the basic objective in dau tranh strategy is to put armed conflict into the context of political dissidence. Thus, while armed and political dau tranh may designate separate clusters of activities, conceptually they cannot be separated. Dau tranh is a seamless web.”

It’s telling that dau tranh (or đấu tranh) has the same meaning as jihad in Arabic — “the struggle.” In Arabic, jihad has a wider meaning that’s not limited to violent conflict, as it is commonly misunderstood in the West. Further, Grimsley’s characterization of the Reconstruction-era Klan — “a complex insurgency of local groups who conducted terrorist campaigns of intimidation and assassination. . . operated under the guise of the Ku Klux Klan” — is not unlike a description of al Qaeda, Arabic for “the base.” Al Qaeda is a very real, and still very dangerous organization, but much of the violence committed in its name, particularly in the Middle East, is done by small groups acting on their own, with little or no involvement by the larger organization. The horrific London bombings in 2005 were inspired by al Qaeda and violent Islamist rhetoric, but the conception, planning and execution of the attack were carried out by terrorists acting on their own initiative within the United Kingdom. International inspiration, but local action. Take Grimsley’s quote from earlier in this paragraph (“a complex insurgency of local groups. . .”), swap out the name of the Klan for al Qaeda, and you’ve got a fair description of the organizational structure of international terrorism over the last decade.

I don’t want to overstate this narrow analogy between modern, Islamist terrorism and the Reconstruction-era violence in the former Confederacy. But Grimsley’s observations are enlightening when it comes to viewing white Southerners’ efforts to push back against Radical Reconstruction. Political agitation, intimidation, violence and murder were all used, in concert and in parallel, to restore something akin to the status quo antebellum. In that sense, it’s remarkable how much the insurgency of white Southerners against the policies and supporters of Reconstruction resembles insurgencies elsewhere. As Mark Twain purportedly said, history doesn’t actually repeat itself, but sometimes it does rhyme.

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Image: Thomas Nast’s depiction of the driving forces behind the Democratic candidate in the 1868 presidential election, Horatio Seymour. The standing figures are (from left) a caricatured, cudgel-wielding Irish Catholic immigrant street tough, symbolizing the violence of the New York City Draft Riots of 1863; Nathan Bedford Forrest, brandishing a knife labeled “the Lost Cause” and a lapel badge inscribed “Fort Pillow”; and August Belmont, a Manhattan financier who’s shown waving a packet of money marked “Capital for Votes.” All three stand on the body of an African American man, a former Union soldier. Image via HarpWeek.com, which also has more detail on the image.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Joins the Klan

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on December 11, 2011

Nathan Bedford Forrest is always a popular subject in Confederate heritage, but that’s never been more true than it is today. He’s frequently featured in the secular trinity of Confederate heroes, alongside Lee and Jackson. And like those two – and only those two – Forrest has achieved the modern apotheosis of Confederate fame, having his own page of t-shirts at Dixie Outfitters.

But Forrest’s defenders often hold the line at one claim, that he was a prominent figure in the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan. Even as they struggle to rationalize the Klan of that period as a necessary counter against the supposed excesses of the Union League and other northern influences, they usually deny any involvement of Forrest in the Klan’s organizing or activities, except for the odd claim that Forrest, despite having no authority or connection to the group, successfully ordered them to stand down in 1869.

So did Forrest really join the Ku Klux Klan? Yes, he did. Was he really Grand Wizard of the group? Yes, he was. How do we know this? Because the old klansmen who were there tell us so.

(more…)

A Beating in Fort Bend County, Cont.

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 5, 2011

Over the weekend I posted about the attack on Captain William H. Rock (left), the Freedman’s Bureau agent in Fort Bend County, Texas. Rock was a former USCT officer who joined the Freedmen’s Bureau in mid-1866, and spent two full years, December 1866 to December 1868, as the agent in Fort Bend County, one of the longest tenures in such a position in Texas. Christopher Bean’s 2008 doctoral dissertation, “A Stranger Amongst Strangers: An Analysis of the Freedmen’s Bureau Subassistant Commissioners in Texas, 1865-1868,” gives considerable insight on Rock’s service at Richmond, drawn from that officer’s correspondence with his superiors at the bureau. Rock comes across as a diligent and proactive agent, spending more time visiting the laborers on the farms and plantations of Fort Bend County than he did in his office, and working to adjust freedmen and -women to make the successful transition to cultural and political norms that, in times of slavery, had always been outside their reach.

It was a challenge, to be sure. As noted previously, at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, there were almost exactly twice as many slaves in Fort Bend County as free persons, with only nine free colored persons in the entire county. By 1870, more than three-quarters of the county’s population was described as “colored.” Fort Bend had been a hotbed of Confederate sympathy; when (white, male) Texans went to the polls to vote on secession in early 1861, the vote in Fort Bend County was 486 to 0. The county sheriff, J. W. Miles, had reportedly been a private in the famously-rowdy Eighth Texas Cavalry, Terry’s Rangers, before being discharged for illness in 1862. Fort Bend County was a rough place, even for a man as seemingly diligent and earnest as William Rock.

For his part, Captain Rock went about his business mostly on his own. Unlike other agents of the bureau in Texas, Rock declined to be provided with a detachment of soldiers to assist in enforcing his authority — at least during the first months of his time in Richmond. It was subsequently reported that he had, in fact, requested a detachment later on, but it’s not clear if such was ever actually provided.

Following my last post, blogger Daniel R. Weinfeld left a detailed comment, remarking on the striking similarities between the official explanation of the attack on Captain Rock, and those that followed the murder of John Quincy Dickinson (right, 1836-71), the Jackson County, Florida Clerk of Court, in 1871. Dickinson, a former officer of the 7th Vermont Infantry and a former agent for the Freedman’s Bureau, was the senior Republican in the county, and a target for white Regulators looking to return the county to white, Democratic control during what became known as the “Jackson County War.” (More about Dickinson’s assassination here.) Weinfeld sees a remarkable parallel in the way both the Dickinson murder, and the assault on Captain Rock two years previously, were explained away by the local white community:

The “scenario” presented in Flake’s Bulletin conforms exactly with the same rationalizations/accusations made by Regulators at other times and places to justify assaults on Bureau officers and Republican officials in the South. . . . In the “investigation” [of Dickinson’s murder] conducted by the county judge, as reported by FL Democratic newspapers, allegations were made that (1) the assassin was a black man, who (2) was jealous over an alleged affair between Dickinson and a black woman and (3) that Dickinson had swindled local land owners out of their property at tax auctions. Otherwise, the papers asserted, Dickinson had been respected by his white neighbors! All this slander was vigorously denied by Dickinson’s friends and the Republican press. My research shows that Dickinson was without a doubt assassinated by Regulators waiting in ambush. The black man involved was likely hired by the Regulators as a lookout. Dickinson’s “offense” was his political activity as a Republican and his defense of voting and civil rights for African Americans.

It’s almost like the Regulators had a check list they passed around: implicate African American in committing the assault – check; accuse victim of sexually consorting with blacks – check; then allege financial improprieties by victim – check. . . . I’m also guessing that examination of the Democratic press over the previous two years would show that Capt. Rock was not so completely loved by local whites as Flake’s pretends, and that local whites had made insinuations about his conduct or partiality to blacks in the past.

There actually are plenty of hints as to some of what was going on in Richmond with Captain Rock, and the notion that (as was claimed after the attack) Rock “was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens” was patently untrue. As before, here are some contemporary news excerpts. We can all read the words, of course, but what do you read behind them?

Flake’s Bulletin, June 15, 1867:

We are informed by Lieutenant Rock, agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau of Fort Bend county, that the people of that county exhibited sentiments of perfect submission to the reconstruction laws, and a desire to abstain entirely from all participation in political matters, except that of voting for such union men as may be nominated. It would be well for them to give this sentiment public expression.

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867. Sheriff Miles, it seems, had physically attacked Captain Rock more than a year before the New Years’ Eve incident:

SHERIFF VERSUS CAPTAIN.

The Brazos Signal says Sheriff J. W. Miles, of Fort Bend, complained to Capt. Rock, Bureau Agent at Richmond, of unwarrantable interference with his duties. The Captain threatened the Sheriff with removal, and the latter replied that a whipping would follow. The removal order came, and the Signal tells the rest:

Mr. Miles has always been very prompt in the discharge of his duties, and suddenly remembering that he had promised the captain, hurried off in search of him., finding him near the Verandah Hotel. We only know the result of the meeting, viz: that Mr. Miles kicked and cuffed the captain in a manner unbearable, and the captain would not have been to blame in the least for resenting it on the spot. The affair was strictly personal, and we think the captain has too much generosity to involve the whole community in the difficulty.

Mr. Miles was arrested by the City Marshal, and gave bond for his appearance Friday morning, but not giving the captain due credit for generosity, he forfeited the bond by not appearing. The Captain will not certainly be harsh with Mr. M., as he showed no malignant intent. Fighting is supposed to be one of the principal ingredients of a soldier’s profession, and we think it is characteristic of any profession whatever, to look kindly on an amateur of marked ability. We hoot at the idea of the captain wanting Gen. Griffin, and the principal part of the army, to support him against an amateur, though he has shown himself unusually proficient. It is to be regretted, but we might as well laugh as cry. Captain Rock was tried before his Honor the Mayor and dismissed.

What do you make of the last paragraph, going on at length about Capt. Rock’s supposed fighting ability, “one of the principal ingredients of a soldier’s profession?” What’s the Brazos Signal saying?

Galveston Daily News, September 5, 1867

Fort Bend. – The Brazos Signal of the 31st ult., says:

A citizen wants to know what construction the registrars can place on the act of Congress, to register a negro [sic.] who has been tried and convicted of a felony, when they will not allow a man to register merely because he once superintended hands at work on the road. This, the gentleman informs us, is the case. That Capt. Rock asked the negro if he had ever been up before a court, and he told him all about it. Such work puzzles men that think they are loyal, they can’t see by “those lamps.”

Here is the total registration, up to Aug. 30th, of Fort Bend County, furnished us by Capt. Rock, fewer whites and more black votes than any other county in the state – 110 whites to 1198 blacks; total 1218; rejected only 28. We can’t register without crying; the office will close on the 6th. It is our duty to try.


An 1867 Harpers Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast, ridiculing both freedmen voting for the first time, and resentful, disenfranchised former Confederates.

Flake’s Bulletin, February 8, 1868, warning against planters being “fleeced” by the Freedmen’s Bureau.

In speaking of the aid offered by the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Galveston News says:

It is true that the planters are hardly pressed, and it is true that the bureau makes the offer of help without requiring interest. Yet the precaution taken for securing the principle and other things connected with it, should be looked into carefully before the offer is accepted. We frankly confess that some scheme for fleecing and oppressing the planters will be gotten up, in the hope that their great and pressing necessities will induce them to embrace it. And therefore we join the New Orleans Bulletin in advising the planters to examine every proffer of aid through the bureau with critical inspection before imposing responsibilities on themselves by its acceptance.

A man, named Wm. Shakespeare, once said something about “conscience making cowards of people.” Can the News remember the quotation?

And finally, from Flake’s Bulletin, January 20, 1869, giving a somewhat different account of the incident from the assailant, Tom Sherrard/Ross:

THE RICHMOND AFFAIR.

In the News of yesterday appears a card of R. J. Calder, Esq., County Judge of Fort Bend, half a column in length, in reply to a card of Capt. Rock, published in this paper. A gentleman requested us to copy the card of Judge Calder, which we are compelled to decline to do for the following reasons: First. Had Judge Calder desired its publication in Flake’s Bulletin, he would have addressed it himself to the bulletin, not to the News. Second. The card of Judge Calder is too lengthy. We have already published both sides of the affair, to wit: the card of Capt. Rock and the card of many citizens of Richmond, published in the 13th inst. But we append the affidavit of the negro [sic.], Tom Ross, the man who attacked and beat Capt. Rock, embraced in the card of Judge Calder:

STATEMENT OF TOM ROSS.

On the first night of January, 1869, there was a negro dance at Capt. Rock’s quarters in Richmond. I went to the dance, hearing that it was a free ball for the blacks. I remained there for a quarter of an hour, and then left. Returning a short time afterwards, I met Frances Lamar, a colored girl, who was kept by Capt. Rock as his wife. She was standing at the door; on seeing me she left and went to the Captain’s bed-room. Soon afterwards she and the Captain came out of the room; the Captain had a double-barreled shot gun behind him. The Captain approached me, and turning half-way round, said to me, “Take this,” meaning the gun. I stepped back from him, and told him, “I did not want it.” The Captain walked away and to some persons, and immediately approached me again. His woman asked him if he had heard what I said. On answering “no,” she told him that I said I did not want the gun. The woman had taken the gun from the Captain, and had it in her hand at this time. The Captain then said to me, “Do you see that door?” I answered “yes.” He said, “Then you take it, and that God d__n quick.” The fight then commenced by my striking him with my naked fist, having no weapon of any kind with me. While fighting, this woman attempted to shoot me with the gun, but was prevent by bystanders. The Captain getting the worst of it, I was taken off him, and I straightway left the house. No person had offered me money to whip the Captain, neither did I go there expecting a difficulty.

I was arrested and tried before a magistrate, Judge R. J. Calder, and fined $10 for fighting. I was born the slave of Judge John Brahsear, of Houston.

His
Tom  X Ross
Mark

The State of Texas, Fort Bend County. —–

Personally came and appeared before the undersigned authority, Tom Ross, a freedman, who, being by me duly sworn, says that the forgoing affidavit, signed by him making his mark, and all the statements and allegations therein contained, are true.

In testimony whereof I hereunto sign my name and affix my seal of office, this, 13th day of January, 1869.

R. J. Calder,
County Judge, Ft. Bend Co.

Here’s a fact that this news item omits: Judge Calder’s son, also named Robert James Calder, had enlisted on the same day, in the same company (Co. H), of the Eighth Texas Cavalry as Sheriff Miles (below). The two young men served together for a year before Miles’ discharge. The younger Calder was later made an officer, and was killed in action in January 1864. Does this fact have any relevance?


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A Beating in Fort Bend County

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 2, 2011

The other day a commenter dismissed my argument about the importance of interpreting the historical evidence, and making a critical assessment of each bit of documentation that bears on a particular subject. Practicing history, I had said, requires making careful judgments about the sources at hand. “I make no judgments on [sic.] way or the other. . . ,” my correspondent assured me, “I just present the historical fact.”

I thought about that little bit of self-deception this weekend when I came across two accounts of the beating of Captain William H. Rock (right), the Freedman’s Bureau Agent at Richmond, Texas, late on New Years’ Eve, 1868. Captain Rock was appointed to the bureau in June 1866, and in January 1867 was assigned to the office in Fort Bend County, west of Houston. Fort Bend lay at the heart of Anglo Texas, being part of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony, and was later home to several of the state’s largest plantations. At the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, slaves outnumbered free persons in Fort Bend County, two-to-one. By 1870, the ratio of “colored” persons to all others in Fort Bend was more than three-to-one.

One of the particular difficulties in writing about the Texas and the South in the immediate postwar period is that much of the press at the time was highly partisan, with individual newspapers closely aligned with specific political parties and candidates. During Reconstruction, Texas papers were particularly divided over the threat, and even the actual existence, of the “Ku Kluxes.” Some, like the Houston Union and the Austin Republican, spoke out early and vehemently against the group, while others insisted they were a myth, and argued that the violence and intimidation attributed to them were actually the work of Radical Republican groups like the Loyal League.

So here’s your chance to wade into two very different accounts of the same incident, published in different newspapers. How would you assess these two accounts? What might make you question the reliability of one or the other, and why? What makes your Spidey Sense tingle? What questions do you have after reading these, and how would you address them?

From the Houston Union, January 8, 1869

OUTRAGE AT RICHMOND, TEXAS

The Ku Klux Rampant! They assault and attempt to assassinate Capt. Rock, Agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau. – They leave him for dead.

From Capt. W. H. Rock, who has been living at Richmond, Fort Bend County, and acting as agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau for that county, we learn the following particulars of a most cowardly and brutal assault upon him upon the night of the 1st of January. The Capt. was first attracted by a noise about his premises, and glancing out of the window of his private room discovered a number of white men about his house. He immediately went from his private room to his office adjoining.  On opening the door he was knocked down by an unprincipled negro [sic.] named Tom Sherrard, who he afterwards learned had been employed by the Ku Klux to do the deed. After knocking the Capt. down, a couple of the Klan filed into the room, and standing between a colored man who had come to the Capt.’s rescue and the prostrate Capt., permitted the black ruffian to kick and beat him until it was supposed life was extinct. The names of the white men so far as known to Capt. Rock, who participated in this brutal assault upon a representative of the United States Government, are James McGarvey, Joe Johnson, and the Sheriff of the county, one J. W. Miles. The two former, with drawn six shooters, prevented aid from Capt. Rock’s friends, while the latter was heard to remark as they left the house, “it was well done,” supposing, of course, that Capt. Rock was dead. Life, however, was not extinct, and after departure of the murderous crew, his friends succeeded in caring for, and restoring him. Knowing that if it was found out he was alive, they would return, Capt. Rock secreted himself in a neighboring hen-coop, where he remained until next morning, when he made complaint to the chief justice of the county, but perceiving the signs about him and the information brought to him by trusty colored men, that his life would pay the forfeit of an appearance against the parties, Capt. R. concluded to leave the place. Accordingly, Saturday night  he secreted himself in the cabin of a friendly colored man, where he remained until Sunday night. In the meantime, the country round about was scoured, and every negro cabin entered and searched, but in vain. His hiding place was secure. While this secreted, word came to him that Capt. Bass, the County Assessor and Collector had made threats to shoot him on sight. Sunday night the 3d., he started to get across the Brazos. Monday night found him across, but without means to getting to Houston some thirty miles away., as the colored people in the whole neighborhood had been visited and their lived threatened if they gave him any assistance in escaping. Monday and Tuesday thus passed away, and as good luck would have it, a horse was procured and after riding all night the Capt., arrived safely in Houston covered with mud and disfigured and sore by bruises.

We are assured by Capt. Rock that the above statement is a true narrative of this great outrage and that it can all be sustained in a court of justice, or before a military commission. The colored men who all know the facts of the case, would not dare to testify in any court at Richmond without the presence of troops. One of them, expressing sympathy for Capt. Rock, was most cruelly beaten, and subsequently, at night, taken from his cabin and beaten until he was supposed to be dead, after which, tieing [sic.] a rope about his neck, he was dragged to an out of the way corner and left for dead.

Other outrages have been committed recently in this delectable town. Last Sunday a band of young rowdies went to the church where the colored people were holding [a] religious meeting, and literally drove them out, and broke up the meeting.

The teacher of the colored school in Richmond, has been driven away, and violence and treason stalks abroad in all its hideous deformity.

This is a terrible picture, and we shall be denounced for exposing it to the public; but the truth is not half told. In truth, there is not a loyal man in the town of Richmond. As an example, a prominent merchant there, named Greenwood, and the express agent, one Albertson, openly avowed they would spend their money freely to prevent the hired ruffian, Sherrard, from being brought to justice. We call upon the managers of the Express Company in this city to remove this man, who thus, by his means and influence, encourages the commission of outrages upon representatives of the Government.

Capt. Rock has often signified to the commanding General the necessity of stationing troops at Richmond. He has for a long time been cognizant of the disloyal disposition of the people there, and knew that as soon as the Bureau was discontinued the rights of the colored people would be utterly ignored, which he now informs us is the case. They are intimidated, brow beaten and worried, and unless a stop is put to it, a fearful outbreak ere long will be the consequence.

An official report of the state of affairs in Fort Bend county will be made by Capt. Rock to Gen. Canby, and we hope and trust the latter will send sufficient troops there to bring all concerned in this affair to justice, as well as protect the loyal men of the county from the malignant persecutions of the Ku-Klux cut throats.

The town where public sentiment permits such outrages as narrated above, should be put under military government and kept there until its return to good behavior makes it safe to remove it.

A week later, on January 16, 1869, Flake’s Bulletin in Galveston published a rebuttal signed by prominent members of the Richmond community, including two men implicated in the previous article, Sheriff J. W. Miles and Express Agent William H. Albertson:

ATTACK ON THE FREEDMEN’S BUREAU AGENT AT RICHMOND.

Special to Flake’s Bulletin.

Houston, Jan. 7 – Capt. Rock, lately in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau at Richmond, has just arrived in this city, having ridden from that place last night, in order to escape the pursuit of a band of desperadoes in that county. – He was attacked, badly beaten, and was left for dead. His present appearance is sufficient evidence of the treatment to which he was exposed. The outrage occurred on the night of the 31st ult. and the 1st. inst. The majority of citizens deplore the act, and assisted the Captain to escape.

Flake’s Bulletin, Jan. 8.

We desire to speak in defence of our county, and give a truthful account of the subject in the above extract.

Capt. Wm. H. Rock, Sub-Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, lived in this county for about two and a half years, and during that time was regarded with favor by nearly all the citizens. Several decisions of his bore heavily with some, but they, as well as the public, were charitable enough to attribute the same to the evil machinations of the “ardent,” instead of any ill feeling that the Captain possessed; and towards the close of his administration it was often remarked that he had made about as good an officer of the kind as we probably could have gotten. Many regretted that his office compelled one who seemed so much a gentleman to associate with freedmen to the exclusion of whites.

Well, the Bureau collapsed, and when Captain Rock became free – no longer obedient to his masters – it was expected that he would assert his rights, and fully justify the good opinion that had been formed of him; but his actions on the event proved most conclusively that his just, and even willing disposition to deal fairly with the whites was caused alone from fear, and that the “nigger” was in him from the first, but for that aforesaid fear. Now comes the cause for which this Sabraite was forced to flee the land, as alleged above. During Christmas week Capt. Rock, having no further use for an office, converted his establishment into a ball room, and darkey maidens, accompanied by African beaux, held nightly revels to sweet sounds of music. It was at one of these lovely affairs that Tom Sherrod, a very worthy freedman, attended – not, however, without an invitation from “Captain and Mrs. Rock,” in writing. This last personage, a dark and bony [bonny?] Venus, formerly the property of one of our citizens. Previous to the time, Capt. R. had insulted the wife of Tom, yet he (Tom) went to the ball, was ordered out, and it is reported that Capt. R. drew upon his a double-barreled gun, and that Tom was acting in self-defense.

This may be so or not; certes that Tom demolished the valiant captain in the presence of the whole party. Now we firmly believe that no jury in the United States would have convicted this boy Tom, or any other man, for chastising the brute who insulted his wife, even had the charge been murder instead of simply assault.

Upon the following day Captain R. made an affidavit that Tom had assaulted him with brass knuckles, and a warrant was issued for his arrest; in the mean time a distress warrant was issued, and Capt. Rock’s furniture, etc., was attached for house rent, and he left in charge of same – not being able to vacate on account of the wounds from which he was still suffering. That night, though, the attached articles were conveyed, under cover of darkness, to some unknown place, and the captain ditto, no one knows where, and few except his creditors care. He leaves many debts behind, due to both whites and blacks. The latter he deceived by telling them he was going to Austin after troops, while the former knew he was making tracks from the countless hundreds of dollars which were pressing him.

This is but a meagre account of all the acts of Captain Rock in this place, and we would have preferred his departure from our midst in silence, and would have done so except for the flagrant falsehoods contained in the above extract.

Since writing the above we learn that the freedman Tom was arrested and tried yesterday, and was fined ten dollars and costs.

C. H. Kendall, D. C. Hinkle, J. W. Miles, W. C. Hunter, Geo. O. Schley, E. Ryan, G. W. Pleasants, S. R. Walker, Ed. D. Ryan, W. Andrus, T. J. Smith, G. F’ Cook, J. P. Marshall, H. L. Somerville, R. F. Hill, B. W. Bell, G. M. Cathey, J. T. Holt, Chas. C. Bass, Alex Curr, Wm. Ryon, W. K. Davis, J. H. Hand, N. G. Davis, S. Mayblum, H. Jenkins, W. H. Albertson.

The statement of the foregoing extract is not true.

W. E. Kendall, B. F. Atkins

Why did not Captain Rock pay me his board bill, and settle with the Union League for money of theirs that he used for his own purposes?

W. P. Huff, Member Union League, Fort Bend Co.

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Image: The Freedmen’s Bureau at Memphis, c. 1868. William H. ROck CDV portrait via Cowan’s Auctions.

“to distance oneself and one’s ‘tribe’ from atrocity and indelible shame”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 27, 2010

Guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf highlights a reader’s e-mail that seeks to explain Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s praise of the Citizen’s Council in his hometown of Yazoo, Mississippi, during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. (Within 24 hours, Barbour had issued a whiplash-inducing refutation of his previous comments, describing council as “indefensible.”) The Citizen’s Council (originally known as the White Citizens’ Council) was a white supremacist organization that, while stopping just short of advocating violence, worked to isolate and intimidate African Americans and others working in pursuit of voting rights, fair housing rules, and school desegregation (left). (The first known chapter of the White Citizen’s Council was organized in Mississippi in July 1954, less than two months after the Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down by the Supreme Court.) While Barbour sought to portray the virulently-segregationist Citizen’s Council as an opponent of the Ku Klux Klan the two organization were, in fact, working toward the same goal by different means, and even had overlapping membership; this was evident even at the time, when the Citizen’s Council was variously known as “the uptown Klan” or “the country club Klan.” Local councils were, in effect, a more reputable alternative to the Klan, and included in their membership many local political leaders and businessmen, which enabled the councils to legitimize their discriminatory practices and wield a range of economic and legal tools to intimidate their opponents.

The reader writes:

As a Southerner born in the late 1960s, I’ve always struggled to understand what happened in the civil rights era back home. To be precise, I’ve struggled to grasp how my people — white people — understood events.  I’m from an extremely minor part of the Deep South, so insignificant that to my knowledge, it hasn’t been accounted for in the major histories of the era. The thing is, you can’t really ask older white folks what happened. If they’re willing to talk about it at all — which most aren’t, a reticence that may come from a reasonable certainty that they will be judged unfavorably by their children and grandchildren — it’s usually in a defensive, dismissive way. When Haley Barbour said the other day that he doesn’t remember things being all that bad in Yazoo City, where he grew up, I heard the voice of my parents’ generation. How many times in childhood did I overhear those people talking about how decently “we” treated “our nigras.” It may be hard for people not raised in this culture to understand it when I say that this kind of thing was not said with conscious malice (though it was obviously malicious in its content, not only because it constituted a denial of history, but shows the lingering sense of white paternalism and indeed ownership of black folks). When I was younger, I used to think this was evil, uncut. I don’t think that anymore. I think it instead speaks to the human capacity to distance oneself and one’s “tribe” from atrocity and indelible shame. . . .

My point, re: Barbour’s controversial remarks, is that I am neither surprised by them, nor do I hold him in as much contempt for them as many pundits seem to. I don’t mean to defend his remarks, but for me, I can place them in context. I don’t think he’s bullshitting, frankly. I think he’s wrong, absolutely; but I’d bet money that Haley Barbour is just like his contemporaries in my hometown, including my parents: they have genuinely convinced themselves that things were Just Fine Here, because it’s a way of dealing with extremely painful history without having to deal with it. And it’s a way of being able to look on all the nice older folks you grew up loving and respecting without having to reckon with the fact that they did horrible things to their black neighbors, either actively or by standing passively by. I remember what a shock it was to me as a teenager who was starting to read about the Civil Rights movement, to look upon the faces of older white people in church, men and women I had grown up loving and respecting, and to know (because I had been told) that that kindly gentleman there had been a Klansman back in the day, and that this one in the third pew on the right had participated in a lynch mob decades earlier. You think: “These are not the kind of people who do things like that.” But they did! Yet it’s easy to follow this emotional logic: “I wouldn’t be friendly with people guilty of such moral horrors, but obviously I am friends with these people (and even love and respect them) — therefore, things couldn’t have been as bad as the history books say, at least not here.”

It’s worth reading the whole thing. This writer’s perspective rings very true, and in some ways reflects my own experience. I also think it goes far to explain the willful blindness of the Southron Heritage™ movement, that vigorously denies, minimizes or rejects any historical interpretation that suggests a moral censure on the Confederacy, either collectively or on individual soldiers. It’s exactly the same mindset; Haley Barbour’s re-imagining of the 1960s is the same sort of rationalization modern-day Confederate apologists apply to the 1860s. They will acknowledge the evil of slavery in the abstract, but (1) quickly assert that their particular ancestors didn’t own slaves, and so have no personal connection to it (or responsibility for it), and (2) attempt to deflect or diffuse censure for the “peculiar institution” by pointing to New England’s historic involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, the mistreatment of immigrants and others in Northern factories, the role of Africans themselves in the slave trade in Africa, and so on. Above all, they will contort themselves into knots to claim secession and the war was about anything — tariffs, some vague philosophical argument for states’ rights, anything — other than what the secessionists themselves explicitly said it was.

Neither will modern-day Confederate apologists acknowledge any responsibility — not even a shared responsibility, much less being a prime mover — in the war itself. That, too, was all the North’s fault; it is a matter of faith that the armed conflict that followed South Carolina’s secession was “forced” or “tricked” on the South by Lincoln — even though the shooting actually started almost two months before he took office. The twists of logic here are remarkable as well; I saw it recently asserted that Major Anderson’s evacuation of his command to the still-unfinished Fort Sumter, a few days after South Carolina’s secession, was “the first act of aggression,” even though he did so to avoid a direct, military confrontation with the armed secessionists and, in the process, ceded to them the complete, well-stocked coastal battery of Fort Moultrie, the South’s first military “victory.” (While the notion that Lincoln “forced” or “tricked” the South into firing on Fort Sumter may seem to mitigate the South’s responsibility for it, and all that followed, it’s also an insult to those Southern military and political leaders behind it — Ruffin, Beauregard, Pickens, Wigfall, et al. — because it credits them with neither the ability to recognize they were being “tricked” by a supposedly bumpkin, backwoods lawyer from Illinois, nor for having the free will and agency to refuse to walk into that devil Lincoln’s “trap.” Seriously — the Sumter “crisis” played out over more than three months, so it’s not like anyone involved didn’t have time to think about the consequences of his chosen course of action. But I digress. . . .)

Friedersdorf’s correspondent goes on to argue that “one way to deal with one’s personal, or communal guilt, in the face of collective moral collapse, is to claim victimhood, displacing the blame onto others and renouncing one’s moral agency.” This, too, is readily apparent in the Southron Heritage™ movement; they wallow in being the victim. A hundred fifty years ago they were the innocent victims of radical abolitionists, the Black Republicans, “Beast” Butler and William Tecumseh Sherman; now they’re the innocent victims of politically-correct bloggers, weak-kneed politicians, liberal academics and “racist” organizations like the NAACP. The tenacity with which they cling to this victimhood is made all the more stark by their assertion, in almost the same breath, of their ancestors’ uniquely-Southern combination of courage, rugged individuality, determination and strength. They were strong, but nonetheless remain perpetually defeated; they were morally righteous, but removed themselves from the Union to protect the institution of slavery; they stand for the rights of the states and the individual, but revere a national government that claimed its own supremacy over the member states and imposed on its citizens the heavy hand of the national government sooner than did the Union. It’s victimology of the highest order, one that gains its resilience more from emotion and resentment than logic or historical evidence.

As a Southerner, and a descendant of Confederate soldiers, of slaveholders and at least one elected official who supported secession, I understand the gut-level desire to distance oneself and one’s ancestors from the undeniable sins of the past, and to take comfort from the notion that while someone, somewhere was guilty of those things, my relatives weren’t. But it’s a comforting self-delusion; as Ta-Nehisi Coates once observed, it’s like the abandoned child who imagines his absent parent is actually an astronaut, off on some exciting, secret mission to outer space. It’s comforting, maybe psychologically necessary, but a lie just the same. It’s not history — either collective or individual — which is often very ugly, and involves people doing things, saying things, and fighting for things their descendants really would rather not be forced to acknowledge. It’s a hard thing, but we have to do it. As I’ve said before, were owe it to those men and women to acknowledge and recognize them as they were, not as we’d like them to have been. To acknowledge with candor their failings, limitations and misdeeds is difficult, but to my thinking, it’s preferable to creating an alternate fantasy. That’s no way to honor one’s ancestors.

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Image: Cartoon from the December 1955 issue of The Citizens’ Council, Jackson, Mississippi, via here.

Simkins Hall Update

Posted in African Americans, Education, Leadership, Media by Andy Hall on July 15, 2010

From the Houston Chronicle:

The University of Texas’ governing board voted unanimously this morning [Thursday, July 15] to rename a dormitory and park named after former leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. . . .

The new names will be Creekside Residence Hall and Creekside Park.

The dormitory, built in 1955 on the banks of Waller Creek, was named for William Stewart Simkins, who taught at the law school from 1899 to 1929 and previously had been a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida.

The park had been named for Simkins’ brother, former UT regent Judge Eldred Simkins, who also was involved with the Klan.

Good move. Some have argued that changing the name of the dorm is an attempt to cover up or deny an ugly historical fact — “history is history,” they say. That’s wrong. This move is exactly the opposite, in that it exposes a more complete view of both the Simkins brothers and the University of Texas in the first half of the 20th century. Professor Simkins contributed a great deal to the early university. That is widely recognized, and will not change. But he brought with that a shameful and hateful advocacy for racial violence and intimidation. He never repudiated that; in fact, he reveled in it. That is not something that should be honored, and you cannot honor the man without honoring the whole man. And in the Simkins brothers’ case, theirs is a deeply disturbing legacy.