Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

The Dixie Cafe, Reconstructed

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 18, 2015


As I mentioned in a comment on Kevin’s blog, I recently made a long road trip of almost 1,200 miles across Texas and back, mostly through rural counties and small towns, and saw only a handful of Confederate flags — literally, few enough to count on both hands. That’s a little surprising, given the assurances being made in some quarters about a widespread, popular, groundswell of support for the Confederate flag. Maybe it’s happening in other places, but not so much in Texas.

One place I expected to see a Confederate flag, but didn’t, came early in the trip, at Johnny Reb’s Dixie Cafe in Hearne. Sure enough, they changed their signage last month (above), dropping both the flag and the Johnny Reb reference in favor of a more generic Lone Star.

One of the restaurant’s partners, Sharon Zeig, said the change was simply a business decision that had “nothing to do” with the most recent controversy over the symbol, and had been planned for months. That’s undoubtedly true, but it’s also true that Confederate iconography doesn’t square anymore with promoting one’s business to the widest possible range of potential customers. You can ask Lloyd Bessinger about that. Now Dixie can focus on what they seem to do extremely well — namely, chicken fried steak and sweet tea.


Image via


Dick Dowling and the Immigrant’s Call to Arms

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 16, 2014



On Sunday I was honored to give the address at the 45th Annual Dick Dowling Statue Ceremony in Houston. It was a fine time, full of good cheer and warmth despite the rain (which I understand to be traditional to the ceremony, as well).

I had the opportunity to meet several descendants of both Dick Dowling and John Thomas Browne, the former Houston mayor and veteran who inaugurated the tradition of cleaning the statue every St. Patrick’s Day back in 1905. I would like to thank my hosts, the Miggins family, for the warm welcome I received and for the many years of work they’ve put into this project. Houston and Texas owe them a great deal.


Dowling Descendants Wreath Laying 720
Descendants of Dick Dowling gather for the placement of a memorial wreath.
Larry Speaking 720
Larry Miggins, founder of the annual statue ceremony, reflects on his tenure. Color guard from the John Bell Hood SCV Camp of Galveston.


Sunday’s ceremony, like the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, was dedicated to four Houston firefighters — Matthew Renaud, Robert Bebee, Robert Garner and Anne Sullivan — who lost their lives last year in a tragic event. The ceremony was also dedicated to Houston Fire Captain William Dowling, who was severely injured at the same time but survived. Captain Dowling, I understand, is a distant relation to Dick Dowling, which would not be a surprise, given the long family ties to HFD. Dick Dowling was one of the original members of Houston Fire Company No. 1, organized in April 1858. And it was Mayor “Honest John” Browne who, in 1895, oversaw the transition for the fire department from a volunteer force to a professional, paid city fire department.

Although I had not attended this event previously, I did know that lots of folks attend every year, and probably know Dick Dowling as well as one of their own family. As a result, I decided to pull back the focus of this address a little, and look more broadly to the reaction of Irish immigrant communities to secession and the coming of the war.


Dick Dowling and the Immigrant’s Call to Arms

The story of Irishmen in the American Civil War is one that gets a lot of attention. The fighting withdrawal of the 69th New York at First Manassas, the courage of the Irish Brigade at Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg, and the absolution given by Father Corby on the second day at Gettysburg are all well-known and rightly-revered stories.

The Irish immigrant Union soldier is a fixture, a stereotype, in popular culture, as well. In the film, Gangs of New York, one of Martin Scorsese’s long camera sequences follows a group of young Irish men tramping down the gangplank of their immigrant ship, being forced to make their mark on enlistment papers, being outfitted with a blue uniform and musket, and herded back onto a military transport headed for the South, with little idea of what they’re getting into. (One of the newly-enlisted Union soldiers inquires where they’re going, and when told Tennessee, asks, “where’s that?”) That was not the reality for most men, but it is a popular notion, deeply embedded in the remembrance of the war, and one played up at the time by Southerners, where newspaper editors and fire-eating orators heaped scorn on what they described as Lincoln’s “Hessians.” And then there’s Buster Kilrain, the one fictional character of Michael Shaara’s novel Gettysburg, whose iron determination and quiet advice to Colonel Chamberlain helped save the Union left flank on Little Round Top, in the face of repeated assaults by equally-determined Alabamians. Buster Kilrain is now such a fixture in the mythos of Gettysburg that visitors to the national cemetery there routinely ask staff members for directions to his grave.

All told, immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other nations made up about a quarter of the Federal army during the conflict, and nearly half of wartime enlistees in the Union navy.[1] The story of the Union war effort in the Civil War is one best told with an Irish brogue, or perhaps a Prussian akzent.

But the role of immigrants in the Confederacy’s war effort is less well known, less understood. In Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, about three-and-a-half percent of the soldiers were foreign-born, but half of those were native Irishmen. A majority of the foreign-born troops in Lee’s army were from Deep South states, and they were, on the whole, older than their native-born counterparts. They were quick to volunteer, as well; eighty percent of immigrants who served under Lee through the war enlisted in 1861, compared to just over half of those who were native southerners.[2]

Across the South as a whole, foreign-born free persons made up only a tiny fraction of the overall population, but here in Texas foreign-born persons constituted about one person in ten. The proportion was even larger in the cities, where the opportunities offered by fast-booming trade and commerce attracted men and women from foreign shores. If you were to walk the muddy streets of Houston in 1860, on the eve of the war, three free persons out of every ten had emigrated from some foreign land, and in Galveston the proportion was even higher – about forty percent of Galveston County residents were making their home in a country other than the one of their birth. One Irish-born Texas soldier, Walter Paye Lane, who had been born in County Cork, achieved the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army near the end of the war.[3]

Immigrants, or the sons of immigrants, have always made up a sizable proportion of this nation’s fighting men in all our wars since 1861; military service has long been the way newcomers have proved their patriotism and themselves to their new countrymen. In the South as in the North, Irish communities formed their own militia companies. These included the Emerald Light Infantry of Charleston, the Jasper Greens of Savannah, the Emerald Guards of Mobile, the Shamrock Guards of Vicksburg, the Montgomery Guards of New Orleans, and of course, Dick Dowling’s own Jefferson Davis Guard of Houston.[4]

Confederate soldiers had many individual reasons for enlisting, but Dowling and other Irishmen may well have seen the South’s secession through the prism of the ongoing struggle against the British Crown. The Montgomery Guards of New Orleans, for example, carried their Confederate flag on a pike alleged to have been used in the Irish uprising of 1798. Dick Dowling himself was an enthusiastic secessionist, having petitioned Texas Governor Sam Houston to convene a special session of the legislature to respond to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860. Houston refused, and was ultimately deposed as governor, but by then Dowling and the Davis Guard were off on an expedition to the mouth of the Rio Grande, to seize Federal property and arms along the border with Mexico.[5]

The majority of Irishmen who entered Confederate ranks, though, probably didn’t serve in companies or regiments composed of their Hibernian brethren. Much more typical is the case of John Thomas Browne, a native of Ballylanders, County Limerick, recently profiled by an Irish colleague of mine, Damian Shiels. Browne’s family emigrated to New Orleans in 1851, when John was only six. His father died soon after, and John’s mother Winnifred eventually moved the family to Houston. They were there in 1860, when fifteen-year-old John was clerking with the Houston & Texas Central Railroad.  When the war came he enlisted in the Second Texas Infantry but, perhaps because he was sole adult male in his household – keep in mind he was only sixteen when the war began – he was detached from the unit and assigned to work as a fireman on the railroad. It was hard, dirty, exhausting work, but nonetheless essential to the war effort.

After the war, Browne worked at a variety of jobs before going into a partnership with Charles Bollfrass to form a wholesale and retail grocery in 1872. At the same time he was building the business of Browne & Bollfrass, John Browne was also embarking on a political career, serving on Houston City Council before serving as mayor from 1892 to 1896, during which tenure he established the Houston Fire Department as a paid, professional force. “Honest John” Browne went on to serve twice in the Texas House of Representatives. When he died in 1941 at the age of 96, John Thomas Browne was said to be the last living Confederate veteran in Texas.[6]

John Browne left another important legacy, one that we celebrate here today. Because it was John Browne, the “Fighting Irishman,” who established the tradition of the annual cleaning of this monument in 1905, in a 109-year-old chain that remains unbroken to this day.

So while we gather today to commemorate Dick Dowling and the Davis Guards, let us also remember the other men, Sons of Erin like John Thomas Browne, whose military service earned neither medals, nor fame nor glory. They were men – some very young – who enlisted for reasons as varied as they themselves were, but yet with a common purpose, to serve their adopted nation and their fellow citizens, native-born and immigrant alike.

This is their monument, too.

[1] Michael J. Bennett, Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War (Raleigh: University of North Carolina, 2005), 12; Dennis J. Ringle, Life in Mr. Lincoln’s Navy (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 12.
[2] Joseph T. Glatthaar, Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served Under Robert E. Lee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2011), 57-58; ibid., 62-64.
[3] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1959), 173-74.
[4] Earl J. Coates, Michael J. McAfee and Don Troiani, Don Troiani’s Regiments & Uniforms of the Civil War (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole, 2002), 39; Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1943), 109-110.
[5] David T. Gleeson, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2013), 43; Michael Dan Jones, Dick Dowling and the Jefferson Davis Guard: Irish Patriots, Confederate Heroes (Michael Dan Jones, 2013), 35; ibid., 49-50.
[6] Damian Shiels, Irish in the American Civil War, “John Browne of Ballylanders, Co. Limerick: Confederate Veteran, Mayor of Houston, Texas,” September 20, 2013.



Norris White, Black Confederate “Brothers” and the “Flipside” to Glory

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on April 17, 2013

A while back, Kevin highlighted a news item on Norris White, Jr., a graduate student at Stephen F. Austin State University who was making the rounds last year, doing presentations and generally talking up the subject of African American soldiers in the Confederate army. Norris White seems to be serious and well-intentioned, and (thankfully) he’s no stream-of-consciousness performance artist like Edgerton. But being sincere is not the same thing as being right. For all his insistence that he’s using primary sources, White’s interviews seem to be little more than reiterating black Confederate rhetoric that the SCV has been asserting for years. While he insists on the importance of primary source materials — “100 percent irrefutable evidence — letters, diaries, pension applications, photographs, newspaper accounts, county commission records and other evidence” — there’s little indication that he’s looked carefully at the materials, or understands them in the larger context of the war and the decades that followed. It’s very shallow stuff he’s doing, hand-waving at a pile of reunion photographs, pension records and loose anecdotes and saying, “see? Black Confederates!” Anyone can do that, and plenty of people do.

It says a lot about the depth of his research that in interviews, White has repeatedly singled out two Texas Historical Commission markers as evidence of his much larger claims about “Black Texans who served in the Confederate Army.” These markers, one to Randolph Vesey (Wise County) and the the other to Primus Kelly (Grimes County), are worth closer examination for what they say, and what they don’t. I obtained copies of the historical marker files for both markers, that you can dowload here (Vesey) and here (Kelly). Both men, as was usual at the time the markers were set up, were explicitly and effusively lauded for their loyalty and sacrifice not to the Confederacy but as (in the case of Kelly), “a faithful Negro slave,” right there in the very first line of the marker.

The files are thin — the THC was less diligent about documentation in past decades than they are now — but neither file contains any contemporary documentation of its subject at all. Both amount to a recording of local oral tradition, which is vivid not though always reliable. Both accounts make it explicitly clear that the two men went to war as personal servants, Vesey to General William Lewis Cabell, and Kelly to the West brothers, troopers in the Eighth Texas Cavalry. But it’s very thin stuff to spin into a claim that “the number of black Texans who participated in the Confederate Army in the War Between the States may have been as high as 50,000,” which would be a figure substantially higher than the entire male slave population of Texas between ages 15 and 50 in 1860, which was a bit under 44,000. Claims like that on White’s part seriously undermine his credibility.

Vesey’s and Kelly’s stories, as reflected in the marker files, are well worth reading, and telling. In Vesey’s case, his wartime experiences with General Cabell probably paled in comparison with his being captured by Indians a few years later and being held prisoner for three months, until his release was secured by one of the legendary characters of the Texas frontier during that time, Britt Johnson.


Primus Kelly’s marker file, though, is much more interesting from the perspective of the advocacy for black Confederates, because included in the file is a 1990 article by Jeff Carroll on Vesey from Confederate Veteran magazine, the official publication of the SCV. The magazine article is a reprint of an article that first appeared in the Midlothian, Texas Mirror on May 31, 1990. Kevin has often suggested that the Confederate Heritage™ groups’ push to find black Confederates in the 1990s was, in part, a reaction to the success of the film Glory (1989), and its depiction of both African American Union soldiers. In light of that, it’s significant that Carroll’s article was originally published just six weeks after Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his role as Private Trip in that film, and moreover, was explicitly framed by its author as the “flipside”  to that work:


If you’ve seen the movie Glory that won so many awards then you’ve heard and seen part of the story of those “free men of color” who joined the Union army during the War-Between-the-States. They proudly wore the blue of “Mr. Lincoln’s Army” and performed their duties with honor. But, there is a flipside to this story and that brings us to Primus Kelly.


There’s no indication that Carroll referenced any materials on Kelly other than the text of the marker itself, but he embellishes that text with all sorts of assertions that are completely unsupported. Take, for example, this passage from the marker:


At the outbreak of the Civil War, [John W. S.] West sent Kelly to take care of his three sons — Robert M., Richard and John Haywood — who joined the famous Terry’s Texas Rangers, where they served with distinction.


In Carroll’s retelling, this becomes:


Primus Kelly became the constant companion of John West’s three sons: Robert, Richard and John, Jr. Then came the War and all three boys joined Terry’s Texas Rangers. Primus refused to stay at home and when they boarded the train In Houston, he was there.


There’s a world of difference between “West sent Kelly” and “Primus refused to stay at home,” but it’s entirely typical of the way advocates like Carroll depict African American men’s involvement with the Confederate army; it’s always shown as voluntary choice, motivated by noble intent, never out of legal obligation or against their wishes.

The is no evidence in the historical marker files of Kelly’s relationship with the West sons, much less the suggestion that they were “constant companions.”  Carroll begins his essay by making the generalized claim that “custom often dictated that the sons of a slave owner received as their own property and slaves of their own age when they’ were children. They were daily and inseparable companions who shared the experience of growing up and became surrogate brothers,” and then paints that assertion right across Primus Kelly. He characterizes Kelly’s relationship with the Wests as that of “brothers” three more times in five short paragraphs, based (as far as I can tell) on no evidence whatsoever. We’ve seen claims like these made falsely before.




It’s also highly unlikely that Primus Kelly would have been an “inseparable companion” to any of the West brothers, given the difference in their ages. According to the 1870 U.S. Census (above), Primus Kelly was born about 1847, making him much younger than Robert (age 22 upon enlistment in 1861, giving him a birthdate of c. 1839), John (age 27 upon enlistment in 1861, birthdate c. 1834), or Richard (age 32 upon discharge in January 1863, birthdate c. 1831). Primus Kelly was about eight years younger than the youngest of the Wests, and in fact was barely into his teens when he accompanied the Wests off to war. He was not a childhood companion of any of these men, and the three brothers were living at Lynchburg in Harris County — almost 100 miles away from their father in Grimes County — at the time of the 1860 census.

Carroll’s description of the Wests is somewhat misleading, as well. According to the marker, Richard was reportedly wounded twice in battle and escorted all the way back to Texas by Kelly. Carroll repeats this claim, without question. But if this happened, neither wound is recorded in his compiled service record at NARA. What is recorded is that Richard was given a medical discharge for chronic illness not related to combat injuries in January 1863, nine months after enlisting. It seems very unlikely that during those nine months, Richard West would have been twice wounded so severely that he required an extended convalescence back home in Texas, and made the round journey twice, without there being a record of it in his file.

The three brothers did not enlist together, as Carroll suggests; Robert and John, ages 22 and 27 respectively, enlisted in September 1861, when the regiment was first being organized, while their older brother Richard, age 31 or 32, didn’t join the regiment until May of 1862. Carroll cites Chickamauga (September 1863) and Knoxville (November/December 1863) as fights in which Terry’s Rangers participated, but only Robert might have been present, as he was taken prisoner sometime during the latter part of 1863. Richard was medically discharged, and John was dead. Robert died in April 1905, his obituary appearing in the Confederate Veteran magazine in July of that year.

Kelly is said to have followed the Wests into action, “firing his own musket and cap and ball pistol.” There are many such anecdotes from the war, and they may well be true in Kelly’s case. There is a report in the OR (Series I, Vol. XVI, Part 1, p. 805) by a Union officer from the Battle of Murfreesboro, July 1862, that “The forces attacking my camp were the First [sic., Eighth] Regiment Texas Rangers, Colonel Wharton, and a battalion of the First Georgia Rangers. . . . There were also quite a number of negroes [sic.] attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.” But if this is one of the events that Kelly participated in, it underscores the argument that those men were camp servants following their troopers into action, rather than troopers in their own right.

Did Carroll set out to fictionalize Primus Kelly’s story? I don’t know, but to all intents and purposes that was the result. The end product is as much happy fantasy as fact. And even then, it wouldn’t matter so much were it not that other authors have gone on to cite Carroll, including Kelly Barrow’s Black Confederate. In fact, the article is a mess, in which even knowable, factual information is misrepresented. Under the circumstances, I actually think there is one other thing that this article could appropriately borrow from Glory, and it comes right at the very, very end of the movie:


This story is based upon actual events and persons.
However, some of the characters and incidents portrayed
and the names herein are fictitious, and any similarity
to the name, character, history of any person,
living or dead, or any actual event is entirely
coincidental and unintentional.



Like so much else that’s been written about black Confederates in the last 23 years, Jeff Carroll’s article takes a kernel of fact, churns it in a bucket with inaccurate or flat-out-false information and untethered speculation, to create a warm-and-fuzzy story that reassures the Confederate Heritage™ crowd that it was all good, and there’s nothing particularly troubling or complex about any of it — because, you know, they were like brothers. The thing that’s notable about it is that (1) it’s undoubtedly one of the earliest of its type, (2) it’s offered explicitly as a corrective to the narrative presented in Glory, and (3) it so fully expresses the modern talking points that define the push to relabel men who used to be called (as in Kelly’s case) “a faithful Negro slave,” into something far more palatable for modern audiences.

I understand why people want to believe this happy nonsense; it takes a raw, ugly edge off a time and place they have chosen to embrace tightly. What I don’t understand is how someone like Norris White would fall for it. Unlike most of the folks who peddle this stuff, White presumably has the academic background and the research skills to dig into the weeds of this stuff, and understand what the sources actually say. (A good place to start is acknowledging that an historical marker by the side of the highway is not a primary source.) He has the skills and resources to say something new, but instead repeats the same half-truths that have been circulating for decades.

Please, Mr. White, tell Randolph Vesey’s story, and Primus Kelly’s. But tell them fully and completely. Any damn fool can read off the text of a roadside marker and pretend that’s research. You’re better than that, Mr. White, so show us.




Memorial for U.S.S. Hatteras Crew Members

Posted in Education, Memory by Andy Hall on September 11, 2012

September 10, 2012. Fr. Stephen Duncan of Galveston, Texas conducts a memorial service for U.S.S. Hatteras Fireman John G. Cleary and Coal Heaver William Healy, who died in the battle with C.S.S. Alabama, January 11, 1863. This service, conducted over the wreck of Hatteras, is believed to be the first to honor these men, both of whom were Irish immigrants. The service marked the beginning of an intensive survey of the wreck conducted by a team of archaeologists and technicians assembled by NOAA, that will create a three-dimensional sonar map to document the storm-exposed remains of the USS Hatteras. The wreck itself will not be disturbed, and no artifacts will be recovered. The wreck is a protected site, and because the remains of the two crewmen were never recovered, the site is considered to be a war grave.


A memorial wreath and red and white rose petals scattered on the Gulf of Mexico at the site. I’ll have more to write about this project soon. In the meantime, here’s a NOAA press release providing the basic details. More Fr. Duncan here.


Why the SCV will Lose in Lexington, and Win in Texas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 12, 2012

Several weeks ago the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit in federal court in Roanoke against elected officials in the City of Lexington, in response to that community’s adoption of a new ordinance barring anything other than official U.S., Virginia and city flags being flown at public facilities downtown and on the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Concurrently, the Texas Division of the SCV is pursuing legal action against the state here, challenging the state’s rejection of a special license plate promoting the SCV. Both lawsuits lean heavily on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. While both these cases are only beginning their journey through the courts, and there are plenty of arguments yet to be made on both sides, I believe the SCV will lose in Lexington, but prevail in Texas. And the Equal Protection Clause lies at the core of both outcomes.

Lexington first. The lawsuit names the City of Lexington and eight individuals, in their “official capacity,” as defendants. These include Mayor Mimi Elrod, City Manager Jon Ellestad, and all six members of the current City Council. Mary P. Harvey-Halseth, a council member who voted against the ordinance, and David Cox, another member who was absent from the meeting, are also included as defendants. You can read the SCV’s federal complaint here (which includes the text of the new ordinance on p. 6), and the minutes of the September 1, 2011 Lexington City Council meeting here.

Public display of Confederate flags — as Brooks Simpson points out, there’s not just one — has long been a contentious issue in Lexington. Twenty years ago, the city tried to ban displays of the Confederate flag on public property, and lost their case in 1993 (Sons of Confederate Veterans, Virginia Division v. City of Lexington, Virginia, et al.,). At that time, the court ruled that the city could not prevent others

to wear, carry, display or show, at any government-sponsored or government-controlled place or event which is to any extent given over to private expressive activity, the Confederate Flag or other banners, emblems, icons, or visual depictions. . . .

The emphasis here is mine, and it’s central to the court’s decision. The ruling in 1993 is based not only on the First Amendment right of Free Speech, but also on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, that requires governmental entities to enact laws and policies in an equitable way, without making exceptions, good or bad, for any particular group. That’s clearly what the court had in mind when ruled that the Confederate flag could be displayed in any forum that “is to any extent given over to private expressive activity.” If you do it for one, you have to do it for another.

The Equal Protection Clause is important here because the First Amendment, on its own, is insufficient when it comes to government-sponsored or government-hosted expression. The First Amendment, by itself, is not enough. Freedom of Speech has never been absolute; it does not extend to libelous speech, or direct incitement to violence. And there’s nothing about the First Amendment that obligates Lexington to host on its property any private organization’s emblem or banner — not mine, not yours, and not the Virginia SCV’s. First Amendment concerns only become relevant here if the City of Lexington extends that privilege to some, but not others.

The City of Lexington understood this when crafting the ordinance to exclude all flags except those of select government entities — federal, state and local. The ordinance bars Confederate flags, but only because it bars all others, including those of the two universities in town, the Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee. There’s no question that, embarrassed by the conjunction on the calendar of Lee-Jefferson Day and the MLK federal holiday, they were seeking to find a legal way to resolve future conflicts, and so adopted an ordinance that would bar all other flags. That’s a calculation the city council in Lexington chose to make, and they’re on solid legal ground. Even one of the leaders of the “Virginia Flaggers,” a group that protests perceived slights to Confederate symbols and who’s an outspoken critic of the Lexington ordinance, acknowledged at the time of its passage that the “ordinance is air tight. I agree.

The Texas case, by contrast, presents an entirely different set of facts – namely, that the state already offers dozens of different plate designs for private organizations and causes. Like dolphins? There’s a plate for that. Proud of your alma mater? There’s a plate for that. Are you a Master Gardener? A Dallas Mavericks fan? Do you love red grapefruit? There are plates for all those things. Why, we have plates for schools that aren’t even in Texas. And that’s why, in my view, Texas will be unable to defend its decision last November to deny the SCV plates. If you do it for one, you have to do it for another. And when it comes to specialty license plates, Texas already does it for damn nearly everybody.

As it happens, my own county’s Tax Assessor-Collector, Cheryl Johnson, sits on the TxDot board that considers plates, and voted in favor of the plate the first time it came up for a vote. She later explained her vote by saying that the SCV “have sued before to get the license plate [in other states] and have won. I voted in favor because I didn’t think the state would win any lawsuit.” She’s right about that last part, in my view. (That first vote, in which Johnson voted in favor of the proposal, was a tie; she was not present for the November meeting where it was voted down, 8-0.)

The Lexington and Texas cases bear some similarities; both challenge governmental entities’ decisions to bar the Confederate Battle Flag from display on a public venue. Both lawsuits also base their core arguments on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But the specific facts of the two cases are miles apart. So long as Lexington continues to bar all outside banners, their ordinance almost certainly falls in line with the Equal Protection Clause, and so passes constitutional muster. Texas, on the other hand, has a years-long history of granting specialty plates to just about any organization that seeks one.

They haven’t got a legal leg to stand on.

Image: Virginia Flaggers rally in January 2012 at Hopkins Green in Lexington to call for the defeat of Mayor Mimi Elrod. Image via

For the Ferroequinologists

Posted in Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on April 29, 2011

Over at the Civil War Picket, Phil Gast mentions a proposal that would (sort of) reunite the Texas and the General, engines made famous in the “Great Locomotive Chase” in 1862. From the linked news item:

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, [Marietta, Georgia Mayor Steve] Tumlin said he’d like to display The Texas across the tracks from the historic Kennesaw House, in a parking lot managed by the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, or nearby.

Tumlin is asking the council to pass a resolution to make inquiries with the state, city of Atlanta and Cobb Legislative Delegation about a possible relocation of The Texas to Marietta, whether permanent or temporary. . . .

The General is now housed in The Southern Museum in Kennesaw.

Camille Russell Love, director of cultural affairs for the city of Atlanta, said The Texas is owned by Atlanta. It was moved to Atlanta’s Grant Park in 1911 and moved into the Cyclorama building in 1927, when that building was under construction.

Love, who is in charge of the Cyclorama, said no one has contacted her about moving the steam engine.

“My first question would be how could they get it out? Someone would have to dismantle the building,” she said.

Yeah, there are a few minor details to work through.

The proposed Texas locomotive display area (red shading) in Marietta, between the Kennesaw House museum and the dumpsters behind the Krystal Burger drive-thru. At upper right on the corner (black sign) is the Gone with the Wind Movie MuseumWhy, fiddle-de-dee!

It would be six different kinds of awesome to have those two locomotives together, but it’s pretty silly to move one, now miles away from the other, to a site slightly fewer miles away from the other. And the notion of putting a 155-year-old locomotive out in the weather — even under cover — should be a non-starter. It’s a big, heavy artifact, to be sure, but it’s still an artifact, and not replaceable. The pair need to be displayed together; if you’re going to put the Texas in a parking lot behind a burger joint, you might as well leave it in Atlanta. These locomotives both should be carefully preserved and interpreted, to inspire future Civil War bloggers as they’ve done for generations. For their part, I can’t imagine why Atlanta would want to give up the Texas. This really sounds like an idea that needs to incubate a while longer.

In the meantime, Friday is always a good day for Buster Keaton:

In other news, the good folks over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen asked about cross-posting Thursday’s piece on Confederate soldiers and the prevalence of slaveholding. Those guys are a smart, eclectic bunch, and I’m honored to share a little electronic real estate with them. I wear 7¼ in a bowler, thanks.

Dead Confederates recently passed 1,000 comments. Thanks to all of you who take time to write, and thanks especially for keeping things (mostly) civil. Given the consternation my writing seems to cause in some quarters, y’all may be surprised to know that in the nearly-a-year this blog has been online, I’ve only had to drop the ban-hammer on two parties. I’d like to think of that as a success.

Everybody have a great weekend, and keep the people of those areas devastated by tornadoes, particularly Alabama, in your thoughts and prayers.


Image: “Confederates in Pursuit,” by Walton Taber. Yuh, I know the Texas ran in reverse during the chase. I still like the image.

Slavery in Mexico: “nature’s God intended that it should be.”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on March 14, 2011

The Civil War day-by-day blog Seven Score and Ten has another great catch today — they seem to do a lot of that — from the Oxford Mercury [Mississippi] on the significance of Texas’ secession to the prospects for the expansion of the “peculiar institution” into Mexico:

Standing immediately between us and Mexico, her refusal to join us would have retarded the ultimate and inevitable conquest of that country.  But now five years will not have elapsed before at least all the north-western States of Mexico will be States of the Confederacy.  And the conquest of the whole of that country is only a question of time.  The introduction of African slave labor into Mexico is the one thing necessary to make it what nature and nature’s God intended that it should be.

That’s Manifest Destiny, the Slaveholder’s Edition.

But secession was all about tariffs, right?



Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on December 23, 2010

“Both killed in the war”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 7, 2010

This image, from the Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs Collection at Southern Methodist University, is labeled “Uncle Jim McMichael & Rufus Edwards – both killed in the war.” It was taken at the Lone Star Gallery of  Bartlett & Hooker on Market Street, in Galveston, probably around October 1861, at the time of their enlistment in the 10th Texas Infantry.

In the 1860s U.S. Census, John B. McMichael (b. c. 1836 in Alabama) was living on his father’s farm near Boonville in Brazos County, where Richard McMichael raised corn. John is listed in the census as a laborer, and could read and write. Richard McMichael does not appear to have owned slaves, but had a large family (including two adult sons) living on the place with him, which provided labor for the farm. Richard’s wife K. H. and his 18-year-old daughter Mary are described in the census as seamstresses, and probably did piecework to provide the family with extra cash.

John McMichael enlisted in Company F of the 10th Texas Infantry in Houston on October 13, 1861. It appears that his older brother William enlisted at the same time; both men signed up for the duration of the war. (William was captured with his brother at the Battle of Arkansas Post (Fort Hindman) in January 1863, and was paroled at Camp Douglas, Illinois in April of that year. He rejoined the Confederate army later as part of Granbury’s Brigade, fighting Sherman’s army during its march northward from Savannah. William McMichael received a slight head wound in fighting around Jonesboro, Georgia in 1864. He surrendered with Johnston’s army and in late April 1865 was finally paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina.)

Sergeant John McMichael was captured at Arkansas Post in January 1863. He was paroled at Camp Douglas with his older brother and, ill with pneumonia, was transferred to City Point, Virginia. Released on April 7, 1863, he was immediately admitted to the General Military Hospital at Petersburg, Virginia. He died there on May 8, 1863. His belongings were inventoried as one pair of shoes, $4; two shirts, $4.50; one overcoat, $5; one blaket, $2, and $104.45 in cash.

Rufus Edwards appears in the 1860 U.S. Census as “Ruphus Edward,” age 20, living in Brazos County. He was living at the time with 30-year-old Samuel Edward — presumably an older brother — who worked as an overseer for Henderson Hardy, a large Brazos County farmer. Hardy owned fourteen slaves, while Samuel owned three in his own right. Rufus Edwards shared the Boonsville post office with the McMichaels, and likely knew them before the war. Edwards enlisted in Company F of the 10th Texas Infantry at Houston on October 13, 1861, along with the McMichael brothers. At the time of their enlistment, the 10th Texas was encamped at Virginia Point, at the northern  end of the rail trestle connecting Galveston Island to the mainland. Edwards and John McMichael probably went into Galveston at this time to have their picture made at the Lone Star Gallery.

Edwards remained with his regiment in the Trans-Mississippi, and in June 1862 was hospitalized with an undetermined illness for a time at Brownsville, Arkansas. With the McMichaels, he was captured at Arkansas Post (above) in January 1863, imprisoned briefly at Camp Douglas, and paroled at City Point on April 7, 1863. It appears that he rejoined the 10th Texas, as his service record indicates his promotion to 3rd Sergeant of Company F in March 1864.  Although Edwards’ death is not detailed in his surviving service record, the Memphis Daily Appeal (being published in Atlanta at the time) of June 4, 1864 lists Edwards as being killed at the Battle of Pickett’s Mill on May 27.


Special thanks to commenter John Blair for pointing me toward corrected information on Sgt. Rufus Edwards. Looking at historical maps from the General Land Office, it appears that Henderson Hardy’s place was in the southern part of Brazos County, near where a rail line would be built after the war, and the settlement of Welburn established. By the early 1970s, that settlement was known as Wellborn, where I lived as a kid. I rode Mr. Morgan’s rural school bus on back roads over Hardy’s old farm every morning. The echoes of the Civil War are never far away.

Images (top to bottom): Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs Collection at Southern Methodist University; Confederate soldier service records via; Frank Leslie’s The Soldier in the Civil War, 1893.

Camps Las Moras, C.S.A.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 27, 2010

Harper’s Weekly, June 15, 1861:

We publish on page 375 a picture of a REBEL ENCAMPMENT IN TEXAS, from a sketch sent us by a gentleman whose secessionist views are beyond question. He writes : After the surrender of San Antonio by General Twiggs, State troops were organized in order to take possession of the forts occupied by the U.S. Army. The above is a true picture of a portion of said State troops encamping on the Las Moras, near Fort Clark, on their way to the upper posts (Hudson, Lancaster, and Davis). The picture ought to speak for itself. We need not remind that the “U. S’s” and the ” Q. M. D.’s” imply their former owners; and add, furthermore, that no white man in these diggins will be astonished to see the poor Mexicans do all the “hauling of wood and drawing of water,” the Dons being engaged in smoking cigarritos, eating sardines, drinking Pat’s “favorite,” superintending the killing of a stray pig, etc., etc. A lineal descendant of Montezuma stands sentinel, by order No. 1 : “Put none but true Southerners on guard tonight !”

Las Moras was located in West Texas, near present-day Brackettville. The upper image, from March 1861, is labeled (upper right) as “the first war sketch rec’d by Harpers” (Library of Congress). The image below is the sketch as published in June (via