It had happened three times previously, at Yorktown, Antietam, and Gettysburg. The Confederate army had slipped away with no pursuit by Union forces. This time was to be different. After Lee ordered his Army of Northern Virginia to evacuate Petersburg under cover of a rainstorm and darkness, the Army of the Potomac picked up the scent and set off like a pack of wolves trailing a herd of deer. For the next 98 miles they would nip at the Rebel army’s heels, drawing blood, weakening Lee, until he was left with no recourse but to save further slaughter through surrender.
After ten months of trench warfare the Union had finally succeeded in breaking through Confederate lines at Petersburg and Lee ordered the withdrawal of his troops on April 2, 1865. The initial goal was to reach Sutherland Station and the Southside railroad. Union troops beat Lee there, seizing the railroad line and cutting off this vital supply lifeline. The following day, April 3rd, Lee’s army reached Namozine Church, where blue and gray cavalry engaged in a minor skirmish. Without supplies, Lee directed his men to forage for food over the next two days, between Namozine Church and Amelia Court House, a delay which allowed Union cavalry to effectively negate Lee’s head start. This was no tactical blunder on Lee's part. His men were literally starving.
Lee pushed his evershrinking army westward toward Amelia Springs, where the two cavalries skirmished again on April 5th. It was here the wolf pack dashed any remaining hope Lee might have habored that he could reach Danville. Thrust, block, parry, now one step ahead, the pack turned as he turned. Lee now set his sights on Farmville some 25 miles away and its promise of supplies. It was a place he’d never reach.
By following Route 360 out of Richmond I picked up the line of retreat about a third of the way through, near Amelia Springs. The land at this juncture is still wide open and sparsely settled and, but for heavy rains, would have provided Lee’s men with a comparatively easy march, as the ground rolls much like an ocean with gentle swells. Historical markers placed by the State of Virginia abound so it’s conceivable to follow the entire line of retreat without a map. You can also tune your radio to 1610 on the AM dial and listen to a narrative of the actions that took place along the route.
The most significant site before reaching Appomattox is Sailor’s Creek State Park. Although sporadic fighting followed, the action at Sailor’s Creek on June 6, 1865 was the last major battle between the Army of Northern Virginia and Army of the Potomac. Here Confederates and units of the Sixth Corps engaged in a game of Red Rover. Centering the Union Line, the Sixth Corps bowed backwards, but did not break, and, after a Union artillery barrage against an army lacking their own cannons, counterattacked. By outflanking the Rebel army on both sides of its line six Confederate generals, including Lt. General Richard Ewell, and an estimated three to seven thousand troops were compelled to raise their hands in surrender.
April 6th was also witness to a skirmish involving Longstreet’s Corps near Rice’s Station. Longstreet was able to maneuver his men across the Appomattox River at High Bridge, but it was here that Lee found his way to Farmville blocked. Fighting continued around High Bridge through the following day and it was on April 7th that Grant sent his first letter to Lee proposing the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Like a gambler down to his last dollar, Lee bet on reaching Appomattox Court House, but not before sending a response to Grant, requesting the terms of surrender. The odds of escaping and hooking up with Johnston in North Carolina were being reduced almost hourly and it was perhaps then that Lee realized the end lay near.
April 8th. All hope disappeared with the Union seizure of a supply train and 25 cannon at Appomattox Station. The spirit was sagging, but there was still pride and fight left in General John B. Gordon’s Corps on April 9th. His attack on Sheridan’s cavalry line was successful in pushing back the Union horsemen, but then Gordon’s men came face to face with the snarling bare fanged pack that comprised the vaunted Fifth Corps. Surrounded now on three sides, Confederate guns grew silent and three riders were sent out in separate directions, each bearing a white flag of truce. It was almost over. Along this trail, where the prospect of a jubilant victory and the haunting specter of a soul crushing defeat intertwined, the war was almost over.
Once again we turn our Blog over to our guest, Mary Blauss Edwards
, who picks up where she left off yesterday by continuing her biography of her uncle Erastus W. Everson of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry.
Erastus W. Everson
Erastus Everson and the Laurens County, SC Riot
In 1871, Erastus Everson was summoned by a government committee which was investigating the “Ku-Klux Klan conspiracy”. Erastus had worked for the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War throughout South Carolina, and had accumulated a great deal of experience regarding racial relations in the South. In particular, he was summoned for an experience he had after his duty in the Freedman’s Bureau, when he was working again for the army as an assessor. Erastus was an inadvertent witness to the Laurens County, SC riot in October 1870. He was to testify his belief that the riot was planned in advance in part by the Ku Klux Klan.
Erastus had to travel to Laurens county to purchase a horse for his boss. On the way over, he encountered a great deal of armed men. In the town, he inquired to a colonel who was stationed there with his troops, and was told that an election was occurring the following day, and advised to stay in town until the election was over. While staying at a hotel that night, he overheard a plot to throw the election that was to occur the following day, by capturing the ballot boxes, and starting fights with the state constables and any colored voters. He sent word to both the army colonel and his troops stationed in the town, as well as a note of warning to Mr. Crews, a colorful politician who led the local armed colored militia. Perhaps Erastus briefly saved the election day. Crew lined up his colored militia in his front yard, and white agitators called out threats, but no physical fighting occurred. Although tensions flared, the election went seemingly went smoothly. But it was not enough.
That night Erastus heard conversations and drunken boasts that the ballot boxes had been stuffed. But that was soon to be the least of Erastus’ worries. The following day, the infamous “Laurens County riot” occurred, in which thousands of armed riders came into the area, where brawling soon became deadly as the riot turned “into a negro chase”. Erastus ran outside to determine what was happened, and avoid the brawling and gunshots now spreading all over the area. Erastus fell in the street, and rolled out of the way of the chaos. Mr. Copeland, the general store owner, and mason, took in Erastus in the midst of the riot, and promised him a safe place to stay for the evening, and then Copeland soon left. Men came in and out of the house all evening, and some of them were bragging about the death of Wade Perrin, the most powerful black politician who had been elected the previous day. Erastus found himself in a difficult position – he discovered too late that he had been saved by Klan sympathizers. He could not escape into the night with the horse that he had purchased, because the roads were filled with vast amounts of armed men looking for a fight. After Erastus went to bed, a man called for him – it turned out to be Hugh Farley, a former Confederate officer who Erastus had dealt with a few years previous. Although a former enemy, Erastus considered him a gentleman, and when Hugh Farley promised to help Erastus get out of the area, Erastus took him up on the offer. They rode off into the night from Laurens County to Newberry County, almost 40 miles. Farley rode with Erastus and would often go ahead to picket groups of men along the way, then let Erastus pass. The rioting had spread throughout the entire county, with thousands of men searching for and causing trouble. Along the way, Erastus was threatened and almost shot several times. Through discussion with Farley on their journey, however, Erastus was soon horrified to discover that Farley was a probable Ku Klux leader. Once in Newberry, Erastus encountered a large group of men, several of whom he had formerly arrested as “bushwhackers” – who were not pleased to see “that God-damned Everson!” Farley had promised Everson safe passage, and then made Erastus Everson agree that he would make a statement supporting them later. He was to tell the government that the riot was necessary, and that no one was to blame in the matter. “I had promised Farley that if he would see me safe through, I would come down here and go before the executive committee of the reform party to make a statement, but I had to do things that a man would not ordinarily do. I went back on my word, because I could not do such a thing. I think, however, that I had no other way of saving my life. I know it, and so I have never been before that committee, and I never will go, because I cannot tell them what he wanted me to tell.” Once in Newberry, he was handed off to another man, but Erastus soon escaped and ran to the train tracks, where he caught a train. Aboard, he found three state constables who were escaping as well, along with Senator Owens. Erastus and the Senator hid in the mail-car privy, and made their way to safety.
Erastus Everson, a conservative repulican who had taken seven bullet wounds during the Civil War for the Union, and then dedicated years of service to the Freedman’s Bureau, helping to protect the rights of newly freed slaves in the South, inadvertently had found that his life had been saved by Ku Klux Klan members or sympathizers. He broke his promise to them, however, and reported all that he heard during his stay and remarkable escape from the Laurens County.
Learn more about the Laurens County, SC riot here
We’re featuring a guest post today and tomorrow. I stumbled across a biography of Erastus Everson of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry written by Mary Blauss Edwards
, who I’m assuming is a great-great-great-niece, on her Web site. Mary, like me, chases dead people and had posted the bio on her very impressive Web page
. I’m still shaking my head as to how these thing happen, because it was purely by accident that I found Mary’s postings. She's very graciously consented to allow us to post her take on Erastus on our Blog.
Erastus W. Everson
Note: We had originally posted our own biography of Erastus as a prelude to Mary's, but deleted this on April 24th, as it detracted from Mary's writing. Now for Mary's biography of Everson.
Erastus W. Everson (1837-1897)
Erastus W. Everson was the eldest child of William F. Everson and his wife, Salome B. Crocker. He was born about 1837 probably in Hanson. Three years later, his brother Frederic O. Everson was born, followed by his sister Sylvania Everson. They grew up on Pleasant Street in Hanson.
In 1850, at the age of 13, Erastus was living in Hanson with his family, and a 17 year old servant (or boarder) named Fidelia Hunt. He and his siblings were attending one of the small schoolhouses in south Hanson. Next door to them, extended Everson and Crocker relatives had a small shoemaking shop, and Erastus’s father most likely worked here during the day. To the north of them them was the Baptist parsonage, where Asa Bunson, the Baptist clergyman lived. Across from the Everson family was Levi Thomas’s family (Levi Thomas’ son, Levi Zelida Thomas, was a 23 year old school teacher at the time, and would eventually have a Hanson school named in his honor).
In 1860, Erastus, now in his early twenties, had moved up to Dedham, where he was staying at a hotel in Dedham village while he worked as a copyist. The hotel hosted a wide variety of individuals and families. There Erastus probably interacted with the hotel keeper and his family, W.H. Crossman, along with his wife and three young children. Perhaps he briefly befriended Frederic Eley, a 21 year old law student, as well as a 35 year old wood carver and his family, a 30 year old physician and his family, and many more who moved in and out of the small hotel.
But war was coming. Erastus enlisted for the Civil War as a Sergeant on 16 April 1861 at the age of 24 from Dedham. He enlisted in Company A, 3rd Infantry Regiment Massachusetts (The Halifax Light Infantry) on 23 April 1861, and was mustered out on 22 July 1861. His brother, Frederick O. Everson, also enlisted as a Corporal on 16 April 1861 at the age of 21 in the same company as his brother on 23 April 1861 and was mustered out on 22 July 1861. Frederick did not enlist again, but Erastus was attracted to the army, and decided to provide more service. Erastus soon enlisted in Company H, 18th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts on 24 August 1861 and was then promoted to Full Sergeant 1st Class on the same day. A year later, he was promoted to Full Lieutenant 2nd Class on 01 August 1862. At the end of that month, he was wounded on 30 August 1862 at 2nd Bull Run, VA. He was then again wounded on 13 December 1862 at Fredericksburg, VA. Several months later, he was promoted to Full Lieutenant 1st Class on 25 February 1863. He was honorably discharged for from Company H, 18th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts on 10 December 1863, and the following day joined Company D, 20 Veteran Res. Corps, as a 1st Lieutenant.
In 1866, Erastus was assigned as the inspector general of the South Carolina troops for eighteen months, and was stationed in Charleston, SC, and an aid for the Freedman’s Bureau for three years, during which he traveled all over the state and made many acquaintances. One of his main tasks was to find and arrest “bushwhackers”, which were men engaging in guerilla warfare attacks during the Civil War, and also Reconstruction. From 1869-1870, Erastus was stationed in Anderson, SC as an assistant assessor, then he moved to Columbia, SC in 1870. In October of 1870, Erastus was present for the Laurens County, SC riot, in which he overheard plotting and tried to prevent presumed Ku Klux Klan activity. He narrowly escaped with the assistance of several men in the area, who he soon was horrified to discover were probably Ku Klux members, and therefore responsible for the riot. My next posting will deal more with this fascinating event in Erastus’s life.
Erastus was a skilled verbal negotiator and eloquent writer (and from his writing and interviews, a sense of humor!). After serving as a soldier during the Civil war and sustaining a total of 7 bullets, he served as an aid that was not involved in direct battles. He was commissioned by General Howard to the Freedman's Bureau, and spent the early part of the Reconstruction negotiating and inspecting issues regarding things such as black labor, abandoned plantation property. The Freedman’s Bureau was also very political towards the end of its time, encouraging blacks to vote for the Republican party and was disbanded in 1869, though Erastus preferred not to be “mixed up” with politics. He was a self-proclaimed conservative Republican and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln and the reconstruction efforts. After his time with the Freedman’s Bureau, Erastus became an editor for the Union, SC newspaper, which was a Republican newspaper. “It is considered a conservative newspaper up North. They are sending me letters all the time, thinking that I am going astray!.. I am not a radical at all. I am not a radical republican, and never have been; but I believe in fair play”. Erastus spent the rest of his life as a newspaper man, both in the role of editor and writer. The 1880 census lists him as the “editor of a newspaper”, and in 1894 he is listed as a “journalist”
While a wealth of fascinating documents exist regarding Erastus’s time with the army, it is more difficult to ascertain the state of Erastus’s marriage from the documentary evidence. On October 28, 1869, Erastus married Harriet Rebecca Fales in Dedham, MA. Harriet’s father had died when she was two, and she had lived with her widowed mother in Dedham. It is unknown how long their courtship had been, due to the fact that for the majority of the 1860s, Erastus was not in Massachusetts. They married in the midst of his commission as an assistant assessor for the army in Anderson, South Carolina. They are listed as living together in Anderson in the 1870 census, so Harriet moved down to South Carolina to be with him. The 1880 census presents a bit of a mystery, that either indicates a mistake made on behalf of the census takers, or that the Eversons were separated. Erastus is listed as living in Hanson with his 65 year old parents and his 14 year old niece, Ella Gurney, the daughter of his sister Sylvania (who died in 1866). He is marked under the column for single, not widowed or divorced. Harriet is listed as Harriet Everson, living with her mother Rebecca Fales in Dedham. She is noted as “married”. The Dedham census was taken on June 14 1880, and the Hanson census was taken on June 16, 1880. Perhaps Erastus was simply visiting his parents during this time, and the census takers in each town recorded incorrect information - the census taker is supposed to record who is living in the household, even if they are away on business, at school, etc. Certainly the census contains mistakes. Harriet died September 28, 1887 in Dedham at the age of 45, and is listed as the wife of Erastus Everson. They had no children together. Perhaps this was in part due to Erastus’ war wounds. In his pension application, he is listed as an invalid, but certainly he could walk, ride, and travel long distances, which he did for the Freedman’s Bureau, and when he was charged with arresting “bushwhackers”, although he claimed to be easily tired due to his wounds.
Erastus next appears in the 1894 Marshfield, MA Directory, seven years after his wife’s death. His residence is listed as “North, on Green’s Harbor” and his occupation as a journalist. Family legend says that Erastus was granted the land north of Green Harbor, and the small island on the river as a reward for his Civil War service. I would like to research more about this. When was he granted the land? Did he have a permanent residence here? Certainly by the 1890s he did. Here is a photograph of Erastus in front of his hunting shack with two hunting dogs, supposedly on the island which our family now owns:
Erastus died in 1897 in Marshfield at the age of 60, having lived a very colorful life. Family legend says the Marshfield island was passed to Sherman McClellan, but at the time of Erastus’ death, Sherman was only 11. Sherman, Roddy, and Lillian’s mother was Imogene Everson. Both Imogene Everson and Erastus Everson were great-grandchildren of Levi Everson and Eunice Briggs, so perhaps they were aware of their family connection, and the land was eventually handed to Sherman. It is also possible that Sherman bought the land later when he was an adult. Deed research would reveal the succession of ownership. That is a project for another time!
Part Two, involving Everson’s Post-War career will appear tomorrow.
I’m half-way through my latest commuting book, Scott Nelson and Carol Sheriff’s “A People at War; Civilians and Soldiers in America’s Civil War, 1854-1877.” I’m having a love-hate relationship with the book, because, at times, it reads like a textbook from American History 101, and then the authors redeem themselves by absolutely drawing me back in with their writing and subject matter. This is not meant to be a review of the book, that may come later. I did, however, want to share this little bit of trivia, which I found to be totally fascinating.
Gail Borden, Gilbert C. Van Camp, Philip Armour, and Gustavus Swift all got their start in the food industry by securing government contracts to provide items such as dressed pork and beef, evaporated milk, canned pork and beans, sausage, bologna, and a wide variety of canned fruits and vegetables to Union troops. Not only were their fortunes built on the idea of improving the gastronomic habits of soldiers, but all four companies survive today, although Van Camp, Armour, and Swift are all subsidiaries of ConAgra Foods, which also markets such items as Banquet, Chef Boyar Dee, Pam, Marie Callendar, Peter Pan peanut butter, Healthy Choice, and Egg Beaters. Think food isn’t big business, think again. ConAgra’s net profit last year was $533 million. Borden, Inc., which produces a wide variety of products, including everybody’s favorite household glue, had 1.10 billion in sales in 2006.
Still on the subject of food, the latest acquisition of 18th Massachusetts Infantry memorabilia arrived in the mail Tuesday. That item was the menu from the 18th Massachusetts Regimental Association Annual Dinner, held at Boston on Wednesday, August 26, 1891.
The menu featured Mock Turtle or Consommé Macaroni soup, followed by a course of Boiled Halibut with Hollandaise sauce. These guys knew how to eat, because I haven’t even gotten to the entrees yet. But I’m going to stop right here. How many of you know the ingredients to Mock Turtle soup? No fair looking it up! I'm the only one who can do that. My game. My rules. The “delectable” answer will appear at the end of this column.
The next items on the menu were Removes, featuring a choice of Roast Loin of Beef, Roast Chicken, or Boiled Leg of Mutton. Ok, I can see you’re starting to loosen your belt just a little. But remember, these guys were making up for the deprivation and lousy food they were subjected to while in the Army, even years later, so bring on the entrees! Lobster Croquettes, Potted Pigeons a la jardinière, Baked Spaghetti, Apple Fritters, and Chicken Salad. Now you’re really getting stuffed, but here come the waiters with the Sweets, Charlotte Russe with Roman Cream and Fancy Cake with Wine Jelly. And just when you think you can’t eat another bite, the dessert tray passes in front of your face, piled with bananas, peaches, plums, sherbet, and ice cream. And coffee! I can envision everyone leaning back in their chairs after the meal, pulling out cigars, lighting them, and saying Ah! Life is good.
If the 40th anniversary dinner schedule embraced the same format as that of the 41st held in Norwell, MA the next year, then what followed dinner was conducted on a more serious note. It was a time spent in reflection on events that had happened three decades before, when all those in attendance answered to the long roll and long marches. The places where they fought would have been called out: Yorktown, Second Bull Run, Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, the Wilderness, Bethesda Church, and Petersburg, among others. They would have recalled comrades who had fallen on the battlefield, died in prisons in the South, or of disease in the regimental and other hospitals sprinkled throughout the North. They would have mourned the names of those who lay in marked or unmarked graves. And they would have remembered the comrades who had died in the preceding year. Harvey Hayford in Norwood of Brights Disease; John Hughes in Taunton; Thomas Linehand at the National Soldiers Home in Togus, ME; Lemuel Pratt in East Bridgewater; Daniel Sales of paralysis in Fall River; Henry Shurtleff at Carver; Alexander Woodward of Consumption at Taunton; heart disease taking George Groves at Gilkey, Arkansas, Albert Jordan at Franklin, Edward Luther at Fall River, and Stephen Ryder at Middleboro. Consumption would have claimed James McKenney at Taunton, while Charles Wallis died at Chihauhua, Mexico due to chronic kidney disease. All a sobering reminder that after forty years the number of surviving veterans was shrinking and mortality was closer to claiming each of them as his own.
A moment of silence would have then prevailed, at which time all in attendance would have risen to their feet. They would not have needed a songbook, for all would have known the words written by General John H. Martindale that had been set to music by Charles Swett of the 18th Massachusetts Regimental Band. They would have sung it loudy, with tears welling in their eyes and pride swelling in their hearts.
When battle’s music greets our ear,
Our guns are sighted at the foe,
Then nerve the hand, and banish fear
And comrades, touch the elbow
Touch the elbow, comrades elbow
Elbow comrades, touch the elbow
Nerve the hand, banish fear
Comrades, touch the elbow
The answer to the question:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: Mock turtle soup is an English soup that was created in the mid-18th century as a cheaper imitation of green turtle soup. It often uses brains and organ meats to duplicate the texture and flavor of the orginal’s turtle meat.
The receipe: Take a large calf's head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then cut it into slices about the size of your finger, with as little lean as possible. Have ready three pints of good mutton or veal broth, put in it half a pint of Madeira wine, half a teaspoonful of thyme, pepper, a large onion, and the peel of a lemon chop't very small. A ¼ of a pint of oysters chop't very small, and their liquor; a little salt, the juice of two large onions, some sweet herbs, and the brains chop't. Stand all these together for about an hour, and send it up to the table with the forcemeat balls made small and the yolks of hard eggs.
I promise, after this post we’re out of Richmond and headed down the road toward Appomattox Court House. But what better way to wrap up this visit than to take a look at my final stop and the final resting place for over 75,000 people, Hollywood Cemetery. I’m only sorry that I visited before spring had a chance to fully chase away the dead of winter, because I imagine the cemetery to be gorgeous when everything is in bloom. In fact, to show the contrast, I’m providing this link to an absolutely terrific Web site, “Richmond, Then and Now,” and, in particular, their photo tour of the cemetery
The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.
James Monroe, Fifth President of the United States
The institutions under which we live, my countrymen, secure each person in the perfect enjoyment of all his rights.
John Tyler, 10th President of the United States
General, I have no division.
Go back! Go Back! And do your duty, as I have done mine, and our country will be safe. Go back! Go back! I would rather die than be whipped.
If the Confederacy fails, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a Theory.
To live and die for Dixie
Look away, look away, look away....Dixie land
It was real and not imagined. Feet shifted and there was obvious surprise registered on nearly everyone’s face. Mine included. No one seemed quite able what to make of our tour guide. Having averaged over two hundred tours a year for the past seven years, Abdur Ali-Haymes, a retired Army veteran, understands people are going to be puzzled by the fact that an African-American would lead them through the former Executive Mansion of the Confederacy.
Abdur grew up in Richmond. He was 11 years of age when he first walked up the steps and through the doors of the mansion. He remembered the docents seated behind a table in the foyer sat in silence and simply stared at him. This was Richmond, 1961. Blacks didn’t visit the Museum of the Confederacy. Finally, one woman rose and asked if he wanted to take a tour. He said yes and, taking him by the hand, the woman guided him through the exhibits, pointing out and giving him a detailed explanation of each relic. He was back the next Saturday, and the next, and the next, and every Saturday thereafter until graduating from high school. During each visit the same woman would guide him around the house, quizzing him about each object until he knew them all by heart. That same woman, the granddaughter of Robert E. Lee, would be in the audience when he received his high school diploma.
Children may be drawn by curiosity and the notion of acceptance, but Abdur’s story, as he tells it, is part of his lineage and heritage. His great-great grandfather was Colonel William Haymes, a veteran of the Confederate army and a man who fathered six children by Abdur’s great-grandmother. Curiosity drove me to research the Colonel and not to cast doubt or disparage Abdur’s genealogy, the only William Haymes I could find with a record of Confederate service was a Captain with Co. E of the 23rd Virginia Infantry, who after being taken prisoner at Carrick’s Ford, West Virginia on July 13, 1861, was paroled three days later and “sent home.” He was dropped from the Regimental rolls on April 21, 1862. Whether Haymes is Abdur’s ancestor remains to be seen, but if so, then the rank of Colonel may have been honorary, or he may have engaged in partisan warfare against local Unionists or Union troops.
Those facts aside, it was obvious to all that Abdur had a deep abiding affection and reverence for the mansion. He presided over the most dynamic, informative, and passionate presentation of a historical site that I have ever experienced. Quite simply, people left smiling and made a point of shaking his hand as they exited out the front door. In spite of the number of tours he leads each year, which probably involves answering the same questions over and over, it’s equally obvious that each tour is like a new journey for him and he’s eager to share his wealth of information with each visitor.
Each room of the mansion has been meticulously and faithfully restored to the time when the Jefferson Davis family occupied it, including original pieces of furniture and artwork. Even within the last ten years paintings and chairs are still making their way back to the house, donated by private citizens who had those objects in their possession for generations. The dining room, which used to be the Virginia room when the mansion housed the Museum of the Confederacy, recreates a meeting of Davis and Confederate generals around the table, replete with maps and documents. The first floor library houses fewer books than would have been present during the war, as Union troops who occupied the house removed many of the volumes as souvenirs. Abdur is quick to point out, though, that Union troops were respectful of the house during their five year stay. Even Lincoln, who toured the home after the fall of Richmond, showed respect by declining an invitation to the second floor living quarters. It’s interesting to note that Davis and his wife Varina broke with Victorian convention and slept in the same bed. This was in part due to Varina’s desire to be close by and attend to her husband when he experienced one of the blinding headaches that plagued him throughout his life, the result of an infection that left an impaired left eye.
Both White Houses were visited by the tragic deaths of children that catapulted their parents into prolonged periods of mourning. Willie Lincoln succumbed to typhoid fever on February 12, 1862, while perhaps even more tragically five-year-old Joe Davis died on April 30, 1864 after falling through a railing on the second floor portico.
Varina Davis was instrumental in helping to re-open the Executive Mansion as the Museum of the Confederacy in 1896. Davis himself would return to Richmond for a brief period after his 1868 release from Ft. Monroe before removing to Memphis, Tennessee and in 1878 settled in Biloxi, Mississippi. He remained unbowed and unrepentant to the time of his death in New Orleans in 1889.
Its once spacious grounds now having been swallowed up by the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, there was recent talk of moving the building to another site three miles away. This plan was abandoned, largely due to the prohibitive cost, with estimates for the relocation reaching into the millions, as well as the fear the building would lose its historical designation.
Outside on the front steps of the mansion, I waited to speak to Abdur. When the moment came I shook his hand and thanked him for the tour. He was gracious and thanked me for coming to visit “my house.”
The Museum of the Confederacy
I’ll begin by admitting a personal bias. I have a tough time wrapping my head around anything Confederate, including their battle flag, their re-enactors, or their Lost Cause theories. Much as the song “Dixie” can be hauntingly beautiful when performed slowly, I don’t wax nostalgic for the “sacred soil” or the pre-war “sunny South” as depicted in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind.” I do have sympathy for Southern civilians, both white and black, who were caught in the middle, but I do not mourn the loss of its antebellum institutions or its social mores. I don't equate the South’s attempt at secession with the idea of striking a blow for liberty or freedom. That secession was somehow a glorious cause does not compute in my brain when compared to, say, the Irish rebellion, America’s own break from Britain, Haiti’s bloody expulsion of the French, the 1956 Hungarian revolt against the Russians, the 1943 Jewish uprising against the Nazis in Warsaw, or Native American resistance to encroachment on their tribal lands.
The Museum of the Confederacy and the Confederate White House had not been on my radarscope during previous trips to Richmond. Maybe my attitude toward these shrines to the Confederacy was not misplaced. Attendance has been on the decline for years and the M.O.C. has given serious thought to closing its doors or removing to Lexington, Virginia. The State of Virginia recently appropriated $400,000 to the museum, but it remains to be seen if this will save the chronically ailing institution. Here’s an irony, though, which dates to the opening of the M.O.C. A 1936 Richmond Times-Dispatch article, commemorating the 40th anniversary of museum’s opening, noted “that of the average 13,000 visitors annually to the Clay and 12th Street building, a large majority come from north of the Mason and Dixon line… Up from the South--scarcely a twig has been broken or a blade bent in the trek to this greatest of all Southern shines as compared with the flow from Yankee-land.”
Yankees were not the only visitors though. Originally housed in the White House of the Confederacy, cobwebs, dust, mice, and insects were a constant source of irritation and concern during the first 80 years of its existence. The Regents and volunteer staff were famous for their annual spring cleanings, during which time the entire house would undergo a good scrubbing. The museum finally retreated to a new facility, built adjacent to the Confederate White House, in 1976, while the White House itself underwent twelve years of restoration. Today, both buildings appear lost, as they’re surrounded and dwarfed by the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center complex.
Allowing myself to drop biases and pre-conceived notions I made a visit to the M.O.C. and White House of the Confederacy on March 24th. In all the museum has the world’s largest collection of Confederate artifacts, ranging from decorative art objects, memorial artifacts, regulation and non-regulation flags, swords, firearms, uniforms, military accoutrements, buttons, paintings, sculptures, domestic items, and over 5,000 original images, including 2,500 cartes de viste. The entire collection is obviously not on display, but the first and upper floor had enough on display to satisfy anyone’s curiosity. A current exhibition on the Confederate Navy, including a scale model of the raider Shenandoah, is housed on the lower level. The library, which is not open to the general public, is a repository for 1500 prints, 400 maps, and 10,000 books and bound periodicals. Additional holdings include Lee’s written resignation from the U.S. Army, the Provisional Confederate Constitution, and papers authored by Jefferson Davis.
One case, that was of personal interest, featured the gray suit worn by Davis at the time of his capture at Irwinsville, GA on May 11, 1865. The accompanying text sought to debunk the myth that Davis was wearing “a hoopskirt, sun bonnet, and calico wrapper,” when his party surrendered to members of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry. According to one eyewitness, Davis was, in fact, wearing men’s clothing, and “Mrs. Davis' large waterproof dress or robe, thrown over his own fine gray suit, and a blanket shawl thrown over his head and shoulders.”
After visiting the museum, I reflected on the place it should hold in this modern day world. Based on the values I hold inside today, had I been alive in 1861 I would have been an abolitionist from the start and fought for the Union. But I also realize that had I been born in 1842 in Virginia, or North Carolina, or any of the other nine States that seceded, I might well have accepted the notion of slaves as sub-human, railed against Northern transgressions, and rallied behind the Bonnie Blue flag. And had I survived the war, I would have mourned the gallantry of dead comrades and a shattered landscape. And I would have taken solace in a shrine to our cause and defeat.
It's not for me to say whether the M.O.C. should remain open, close, relocate, or have another museum absorb its vast collection of artifacts. Time and money alone will dictate its fate. But I will say that regardless of what happens, those relics and documents deserve to be preserved. Like it or not, regardless of what the M.O.C. represents to each of us indivually, the entire collection is part of our national heritage. It should speak to us of where we once stood as a nation and, in spite of past sins, how we survived, and how far we have striven to become "one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The recent A.C.W.C.’s conference in Richmond finally allowed me the opportunity to visit their museum at the former Tredegar Iron Works. I actually visited twice over the weekend, taking a quick tour during the March 23rd evening reception held for the conference’s participants. I returned the following day for a closer look, gaining free admission thanks to the complimentary pass handed out as part of a goodies package distributed to conference attendees.
I have to admit Tredegar was not quite what I expected. I somehow thought it would be larger, more high tech, and have more artifacts on display. When you’re the new kid on the block you’ve either got to have extraordinarily deep pockets to acquire items, or rely on others to loan relics. At first glance the American Civil War Museum at Harrisburg, PA, another recent creation, eclipses Tredegar as a museum, both in terms of size, its displays, and the use of multi-media.
The use of technology doesn’t matter to me personally. Even though I own virtually every high tech gadget imaginable, I’m more inclined to low tech when it comes to museums. Multimedia does do a great job of summarizing events, but loses something in translation because of the need to appeal to the widest audience possible. If you have school groups or adults with minimal knowledge of the subject coming through your doors you want to keep them entertained while trying to get your message out, particularly when it comes to the Civil War.
Both the American Civil War Museum and American Civil War Center employ the use of printed and visual murals to trace time lines. Neither invented this concept, as it’s utilized by other museums. But where the two museums diverge goes straight to the heart of Tredegar’s mission. Slavery and the story of African-Americans is essentially relegated to a minor role at Harrisburg. At Tredegar that story gains equal footing with those of the Union and Confederacy, a very important distinction. Tredegar also compels you to slow down. If you take the time to read all the information, including the melamine booklets utilized at each station and watch the videos, your visit could last up to four hours. The planning, care, and research that went into the museum becomes much more impressive the more time you spend there. There's so much infomation, in fact, that a second, or perhaps even a third visit, is probably necessary to fully appreciate what the Center has done.
Tredegar is in a sense tackling the myth of Lost Cause and the idea the Civil War was fought over State Rights head on. And here it succeeds admirably, much more so than I expected, even after reading a number of newspaper reviews and press releases from the Museum itself. Tredegar is not attempting to sanitize antebellum America, Civil War era America, or the post-war reconstruction of America. To the contrary it is telling America not to forget it’s past, to take a deep look at the reality of where we’ve been, and potentially where we, as Americans, are going in the future.
The American Civil War Center has a very ambitious agenda. I would guess, and this is strictly my opinion, that the Center wants to become the pre-eminent Civil War institution. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Center has sponsored a number of conferences outside of Richmond and in the next year will hold others in Boston and Los Angeles. This is a far reaching agenda and vision, that goes far beyond what similar institutions offer. It’s a vision I agree with and one that will result in my taking out a membership in the Center.
The three posts on the American Civil War Center’s conference purposely steered clear of interjecting personal opinion. Now it’s time to tell you what I thought.
When I first received notification and information about the conference I was excited about the wide sweep of topics that were to be presented and the opportunity to hear distinguished panels of historians. I had never attended anything approaching the level of the Tredegar conference and anticipated it would be a valuable learning experience.
I’m into the “big picture” when it comes to the Civil War. The “big picture” mandates that in order to fully comprehend the war you have to understand how and why it happened in the first place, what occurred during, and its aftermath. If you believe the Civil War started in Charleston harbor and ended at Appomattox, or if your whole orientation is centered on the clash of armies, then I believe you’re at a disadvantage when comprehending the seminal event in American history.
The A.C.W.C. conference fulfilled all my expectations and more, but I also came to conclusion that it would not have appealed to those who do not subscribe to the “big picture.” It’s probable all those “high falutin” lectures probably would have had you fidgeting in your seat. Quoting from post-conference literature, one person “found the talks to be too academic…except for the final session.”
I shared the opinion that the Saturday session, which focused on American memory of the war, was much more appealing to the audience, as evidenced by the fact the follow-up question and answer session was more lively. This was largely influenced by the presence of Gary Gallagher. As stated in the review of that session, Gallagher combined a dynamic and humorous presentation, but what also set him apart from many of those who presented was the fact that Gallagher didn’t simply stand at the podium and read a paper aloud. While he referenced his notes, he spoke to his audience in a less formal and seemingly off the cuff manner. This was in contrast to others who made no effort to engage their audience and simply read their papers. This is not a criticism, but rather an observation on delivery style. Aside from Gallagher I particularly enjoyed Richard Carwardine, Nina Silber, Sean Wilentz, David Blight, and Peter Onuf. Most disappointing was Wilson Moses, until he “redeemed” himself during the open forum.
The “high water mark” of the conference for me personally, though, was the opportunity to hear James McPherson. I admit to being awestruck by him, as, in my mind, he is the guru of all current Civil War scholars. Although I interacted, albeit briefly, with a number of other presenters, I truly perceived I was in the presence of greatness when given the opportunity to speak with McPherson one on one. Fawning aside, our research on the 18th Massachusetts Infantry owes an enormous debt of gratitude to him for directing us very early on in our research efforts to a collection of letters written by Captain Joseph Collingwood. He recalled the letters with a little prompting from me, saying they were a last minute addition to one of his books. Without the inclusion of those two sentences in his book it’s doubtful we would have discovered the interchange between Collingwood and his wife Rebecca.
The 2009 Tredegar conference is going to have a tough act to follow. According to the museum’s Director of Public Relations, Anedra Bourne, this year’s conference took about five months to plan. Some historians they had originally approached had to decline an invitation to present due to scheduling conflicts, including commitments to other conferences. Anedra anticipates planning for the 2009 conference will begin a year in advance.
If one thing can be said about The American Civil War Center, they are ambitious and embrace lofty purposes. That’s two things, but you get my point. The Center is not limiting its reach to Richmond, however, having sponsored programs in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Charlotte. Similar events are planned over the next year in Boston and Los Angeles, all in keeping with its mission to keep the Civil War in the collective American memory and instill the “big picture” in its conciousness.
My middle child was assigned a self study project. After much thought, he came up with two potential ideas, Dragons and the 18th Massachusetts.
I can’t tell you how happy I was that he picked my beloved 18th Mass.
So last night I took part in my first interview with him where he asked me close to 25 questions about the unit and what it and the soldiers went through. It was also pretty weird to sit there and want to overwhelm him with information that was stored and my brain but instead wait for him to ask specific questions.
It’s going to be a month long process and tonight was just the start. I left him with homework though, lots and lots of reading. Besides the short history of the 18th that appears on our website, he’ll have “Fighting with the Eighteenth Massachusetts” by Thomas Mann, and then his article “A Yankee in Andersonville”.
I really don’t know how it will end. Too be honest, I am scared to death I am going to completely force him away from anything dealing with the Civil War much less the 18th. I hope he gets bit by the same bug that myself, Donald and Steve has. Hopefully, I’ll get him to post a couple times during the next month with his progress.
I hope all of you will enjoy it as much as I am right now.
The Saturday session kicked off with the announcement that an agreement had been reached with Louisiana University Press to publish a book on the conference. That’s good news for those of you have followed my posts over the past three days, as you’ll have an opportunity to read the full texts rather than my very brief summaries. A video may also hit the airwaves in the near future as the conference was taped, although there was no indication as to any deal being struck.
Nina Silber, Gary Gallagher, and David Blight
, an Associate Professor of History at Boston University and author of seven books, her most recent title being Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the U.S.Civil War, batted leadoff.
Over time I’ve come to the sad personal realization the North accomplished little through its victory, save preservation of the Union. Silber and many historians have reached this same conclusion when posing the question as to which side won the peace. According to Silber “many declare a Confederate victory.” Although faced with the daunting task of rebuilding its economy, much remained unchanged. Power slowly returned to those who held power before and during the war, while for emancipated slaves, intimidation, Jim Crow, and sharecropping simply replaced shackles. Silber doesn’t let Northerners wiggle off the hook, though. Northerners “pioneered institutional racism,” and were comfortable in getting on with their lives, effectively turning a blind eye on the post-war South.
The women’s Suffrage movement, which traced its roots to the Abolitionist movement, grew in strength following the war. However, as Silber pointed out, Elizabeth Stanton Cady had one her of less than stellar moments when she complained that black males were being placed above white women.
The conclusion of the war also set America on an international course of flexing its muscles and the birth of American imperialism. One by one the Philippines, Hawaii, Haiti, and Central America came under the American sphere of influence. While slavery had been made illegal within its own borders, in many respects the United States simply the transplanted the system overseas. Now a “true” example of a Democratic nation, the United States could comfortably label turn-of the-century Russia a “slave mongering country.”
“Defeat and Memory” was the topic examined by Gary Gallagher
, a Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia. Gallagher is one of the most prolific writers and editors in the genre and by consensus emerged as the star of the conference through his dynamic and witty presentation.
With peace the South faced an uncertain future. “One in four” men of military age were dead. Carpetbaggers had invaded and former slaves were, by law, on an equal footing. How to explain five years of carnage that had turned the world upside down? You begin by explaining and showing that in the face of overwhelming odds there is no dishonor in defeat. You create the theory of the “Lost Cause,” and public monuments to your dead and living. Lastly you begin shaping the American outlook on the war. How better to shape American memory than to advance Robert E. Lee as the pre-eminent Lost Cause hero. You can talk about the noble Lee “without talking about slavery.” Lee “pushes all other issues off the table.”
According to Gallagher the “Lost Cause,” told from a former Confederate viewpoint, begins with Appomattox and works backwards in time. Under the realization they were beaten and society as they had known it was gone, they and the South were looking at a bleak future. The Lost Cause “deprecated” Grant and retrospectively bemoaned the overwhelming Northern resources. The Lost cause depicted a Confederacy “striving admirably” against a Union war machine, while up against disproportionate numbers. Slavery was simply dismissed as a peripheral issue. This was a war, according to the Lost Cause fought in defense of Constitutional principles.
In 1861, both Jefferson Davis and his Vice-President, Alexander Stephens, were unequivocal in stating slavery was the building block of the Confederacy. In his “Cornerstone” speech Stephens dramatically drove this point home.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [that all men are created equal]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth….
Both Davis’ and, in particular, Stephens’ post war writings “swung to Constitutional issues.” Stephens, in fact, later tried to play down his “Cornerstone” speech, claiming he had been misquoted, in spite of the fact that two different reporters recorded the speech in two different locations at two different times.
It’s important, Gallagher reminded his audience, that the South believed its chances of victory or at the least achieving a negotiated peace kept the war effort going to the very end. Not until Richmond fell and Lee surrendered at Appomattox did the South abandon this belief. Up until that time there was little discussion or acknowledgement the North would eventually wear down the South with its vast resources and the Confederacy would have to cry uncle.
Gallagher pointed out that Gettysburg is also central to the Lost Cause. The battle was “not as important” during the time of war, but “grew in significance after the war.” Gettysburg was the “Lost Cause moment,” the “High Water mark” of the Confederacy, when the failure of Pickett’s charge at the Union center doomed the entire South. Forget that the war continued for almost another two years. Gallagher pointed out that Ken Burns spent four times as much time on Gettysburg than he did on Vicksburg, further fixing Gettysburg as the epicenter of the entire conflict.
Another theme of the Lost Cause is a “united Confederacy, a united South.” This theme conveniently overlooks the fact that men deserted in droves and that large pockets of Unionists existed in every state but South Carolina.
The continuing power and influence of the Lost Cause is still very much mainstream. Lee has appeared on five postage stamps, most recently in 1995, and remains a more popular figure than U.S. Grant. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that references to the Lost Cause were removed from Virginia public school textbooks. “Gone With the Wind,” according to Gallagher, still exerts the most influence on America’s collective memory of the war.
The subject of black Confederate soldiers was also tackled. He argued there is little historical evidence to support the idea that large numbers of blacks were involved in combat for the Confederacy. He seemed somewhat amused by the fact that over time the numbers have steadily increased, from an estimated 20,000, to 60,000, and most recently the numbers bandied about are 100,000.
The Lost Cause is “retreating in the public sphere,” but “continues to be strong” in the private sphere. Gallagher concluded his remarks by stating the Confederates “who spawned the Lost Cause would be astounded at the longevity and power and pervasiveness of the Lost Cause.”
, a Professor of American History at Yale and author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, presented the final paper of the conference by speaking on emancipation and memory.
African-Americans were presented with a dilemma; “to forget or not forget, to look back or look forward.” Frederick Douglass saw emancipation as a “reinvention of America.” Alexander Crummel urged blacks to forget the past. Either was an uncomfortable position for many who heard the message. The dilemma was “how much to remind America of slavery?” How do you countenance the image of black slaves as “Sambo”, as “compliant?”
When the Museum of the Confederacy opened in 1895, speakers included Governor Charles T. Farrell of Virginia, while the Keynote address was delivered by Gen. Bradford T. Johnson. Johnson had helped lead the effort to establish the Lost Cause and referred to George Washington as the “first Rebel President.” The central point of his speech was that “mob democracy” was the norm in the North before the war, while the South was a “slave democracy.” He went on to define slavery as an “apprenticeship of inferior races.” Unbowed and unrepentant, Johnson concluded his remarks with the declaration that “the greatest crime of the 19th century was the emancipation of the Negro.”
The collective black memory of the Civil War was shaped in five ways, the first of which was that the black soldier, the 13th through 15th Amendments, and emancipation should be at the center of the nation’s consciousness. The second concept were the Biblical inferences that urged that blacks should set about “building a new Ethiopia,” either in Africa or the United States. The slave path was seen as a “dark voyage,” and was seen as a “shameful past.” Reconciliation, as promoted by Booker T. Washington, preached that blacks could build their place in American society through industrial education. Last was a tragic vision that spoke of the nation’s passage through a catastrophic upheaval and W.E.B. Dubois’ conclusion that there was “no exit from history.”
Blight pointed out that the first Memorial Day was created by blacks in Charleston, S.C. the day Lincoln was assassinated. The racecourse at Charleston had at one time been used as a Confederate prison. In the process of re-interring the bodies of Union prisoners who had been buried in shallow, mostly unidentified graves, blacks, led by children and preachers marched to the racetrack, where they paid homage to their fallen liberators and marked the occasion with festivities.
After lunch, which seemingly featured enough food to feed an entire brigade, and allowed time to view an exhibition on Pocahontas at the Virginia Historical Society, the afternoon session of the A.C.W.C.’s conference resumed with Richard Carwardine stepping to the podium.
Carwardine corrected a “minor” gaff by the session’s moderator, who had introduced him as an Englishman. A Professor of American History at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford University, he good naturedly pointed out that he was actually Welsh, adding he had grown up close to the town of Tredegar, and supposed that the Confederate Iron Works bore some relationship to the area he came from . While a number of his books have focused on the inter-relationship between religion and politics in America and Britain from the mid-1750’s to mid-1860’s, his biography of Lincoln
won the Lincoln prize in 2004. His talk, in fact, focused on Lincoln, the Republican Party, and the concept of Union.
At the time of Lincoln’s emergence as the Republican nominee, slavery was firmly entrenched as a Southern institution. Five years later the South’s “peculiar institution lay in tatters.” The irony, as Carwardine pointed out, was that secessionists had “visited” the carnage and wreckage upon themselves. Too, in the ruin and rubble of the post-war South, ensuring the economic and political rights of freed slaves would prove elusive with “no single answer.”
At the beginning of the war, the North had sought “to maintain the old Republic, no more, no less.” Eventually the North transformed its purposes to “loftier principles.” Lincoln personally saw the war as an opportunity to advance “the ideals and principles of the Founding Fathers.” Believing “no man could govern another without their consent,” his mindset paralleled radical Republicans, who labeled slavery “a National crime.” Quite clearly the nation “could not escape this sin.” This “moral order” was directly opposite to that adopted by Southern slaveholders. A free labor force, it was believed, kept the economy fluid, while slavery, which sustained the South, promoted stagnation.
The firing on Fort Sumter raised the issue in Lincoln’s mind as to whether popular government could survive against those seeking to rebel. Maintenance of the Union was paramount, not the emancipation of slaves, with the earliest priority given to retaining slaveholding areas within the Union. Throughout the conflict Lincoln’s course was “morally fashioned,” and elevated to a loftier purpose as the war progressed. It was a purpose the North would embrace and solidified Lincoln’s resolve not to rescind the Emancipation Proclamation.
George Rable, arguably best known for his book “Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!”
and professor of Southern History at the University of Alabama, followed with an examination of “Confederates as Patriots and Rebels.” Pointing out that the word has an inflammatory tone today and was a term of derision in 1860, “rebel” was embraced by Confederates as a source of pride.
In the spring of 1861 the Confederacy saw their cause as a hedge against Northern coercion and its leaders believed the world would “embrace slaveholding ideals.” Taking a page from Jeffersonian principles, the Southern aristocracy viewed themselves as the “last best hope of mankind.” Rabble argued that this position produced a “blinder like reality,” and it remained open to debate as to whether the North or South was most true to the ideals the Founding Fathers.
Southern leaders viewed secession as a revolution, a concept supported by the Declaration of Independence. Even Robert E. Lee was quoted as saying “Secession is nothing but revolution.” But clearly the Southern Confederacy, while adopting most of the tenants of the United States Constitution, was not a democratic government. Jefferson Davis, as President, did not have to stand for election and an assessment of the Confederate cabinet led Rable to conclude, “Secrecy develops into a dictatorship.” While George Washington was elevated to deity status within the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis’ contemporary critics collectively deduced he “was no George Washington.”
Chandra Manning, an Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown, received a surprise before taking her turn at the rostrum. William Cooper, the session’s moderator, held up a copy of her first published book, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery and the Civil War
. It was the first time Manning had laid eyes on a copy. The book was an outgrowth of her doctoral dissertation and by her own admission took ten years to write.
Manning presented a comparative analysis of wartime nationalism. Confederate nationalism centered on race and loyalty, African-Americans envisioned their inclusion in American society, while Northern troops, who initially avoided issues of race, focused on saving the Union. The war’s progression made race and nationalism inseparable and profoundly altered the relationship between the two.
Confederate nationalism was connected to three separate propositions., the first of which was that the government in Richmond met Southern expectations of what government was supposed to do. It “protected white liberty almost like a possession;” there was minimal outside interference, and there was active promotion of the rights of whites to self-determination. The Confederacy was deemed better suited to serve the needs of white families than its northern counterpart, but as the war dragged on that commitment became strained through the institution of a draft which exempted certain classes of citizens and the impressment of crops for invaluable currency.
The survival of slavery was paramount. The destruction of slavery threatened to destroy the white man’s definition of being a white male, regardless of whether one was a slave owner or not. Without slavery there was no means of continuing white mastery over blacks.
One thing is certain when considering the American Civil War. Had the Confederacy prevailed the world as we know it today would be very much different. There’s little doubt that slavery would have continued in the South long after the cessation of hostilities, perhaps into the 1940’s or ‘50’s, and that two separate and distinct countries would exist within the present day borders of the United States. One can use their imagination to speculate on a host of altered historical and political scenarios, including the number of stars that would be depicted on the current version of the National flag. A Union victory ensured the United States continued on its seemingly pre-ordained path, ultimately emerging as the world’s pre-eminent military and economic power. Too, a Union victory, and the Constitutional amendments passed shortly afterward, allowed this country to shake off a world view label of hypocrisy, ensuring its founding documents and institutions were truly representative of all classes of men.
That the Civil War truly transformed America was the thesis explored during the American Civil War Center’s Conference held in Richmond on March 23rd and 24th. In the Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American Ideals, mirrored much of what is embraced by the A.C.W.C.’s museum at Tredegar, a balanced presentation of this seminal conflict from a Union, Confederate, and African American perspective.
James McPherson, as Keynote speaker, led off the conference and set the tone for what would follow over the next day and a half. This was not a conference slated to make its audience comfortable through discussions of military strategy or the success or failures of generals. Rather, McPherson began by declaring the war a “tragic irony,” with both sides fighting for what they perceived as “liberty’s ideals” first established by the American Revolution. North and South each saw a “sacred duty to uphold [those] principles” and fervently wrapped themselves in that legacy. The difference was that while the South deemed secession a “holy cause,” the North “ridiculed the 1776 ideals of the South,” declaring they were “a libel on the whole character of the men of 1776.”
McPherson pointed out that slave-holding interests, including the Presidency, the Congress, and Supreme Court, had dominated the country’s political landscape from its inception. Americans were painfully aware that past Republics had eventually dissolved and that revolutions aimed at democratizing Europe had been crushed. The Jeffersonian principle that America remained the “last best hope” of the world was embraced both north and south, yet contradictions abounded. Dual political and economic systems competed against the other, one predicated on slave labor, the other on free labor. Too, the drive for territorial expansion was promoted primarily by slave holding interests.
While men like William Cullen Bryant did not deny the South’s right to ferment revolution, Lincoln held secession, while a moral right, was not a legal right. Embracing the “last best hope” concept, Lincoln deemed it imperative to prove that “popular government was not an absurdity.” In his view, the very act of Secession threatened the Republican form of government.
As the conflict progressed into its third year, the war aims of the North changed. Whereas the initial goal had been toward maintaining the Union, by 1863 the wheels were set in motion to abolish slavery nationwide. African-Americans came to view Northern soldiers as liberators and “voted with their feet,” by abandoning Southern plantations and cities and taking refuge behind Union lines. Ultimately more than 200,000 blacks would bear arms under the National banner.
That the country had undergone and was to experience a greater transformation is no more evident than in the examination of Lincoln’s two inaugural speeches. In 1861 Lincoln invoked the concept of Union twenty times without reference to the idea of “nation.” His second speech was both transcendent and evolutionary, the ideal of “nation” supplanting that of “Union.”
While McPherson pointed out a Union victory left the Southern economy in shambles, national institutions such as the Post Office, a common currency, and the Freedman’s Bureau took hold, as well as the legacy of national unity. Likewise the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution ensured protections were extended on a nationwide basis to all men. The former two gains were permanent, while the latter gains were relatively short lived. President Andrew Johnson ordered the dissolution of the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1868, while the withdrawal of Federal troops from the South ten years later gave carte blanche to Jim Crow laws. It took another hundred years for African-Americans to be fully vested with voting rights and equal treatment under the law with regard to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.
McPherson concluded that the South, including both whites and blacks, was “probably better off than if they had won.” He wound up his remarks by intimating that as separate nations it’s highly unlikely that either would have established themselves as a world industrial or military power, or even the shining embodiment of democracy.
Peter Onuf, a Jeffersonian scholar and Professor at the University of Virginia, followed McPherson and traced developments in Antebellum America. Onuf unequivocally stated, “the American story begins with slavery.” Conceptually the United States thought it was modeling itself to the world as a democracy. The country looked toward the east, i.e. Europe, striving for recognition as a civilized nation, civilization then being centered on that continent.
The nation, though, had become “fractured” and “pluralized” following the American Revolution. The South embraced the concept of slavery as “a good,” while the North viewed slavery as a “relic of barbarism.” No dynamic, forward-looking nation could countenance slavery. The South, in turn, argued a “great Christian imperative” existed, that slavery somehow represented mankind’s best hope. The present and, more importantly, the future of the South rested on the future of slavery. The very thought that slavery would or could be eliminated was perceived as a threat not only to the safety of Southern whites, but would collapse its economy. The North, in contrast, recognized the United States would continue to maintain second class status among the so-called civilized nations, continue it’s reputation as a provincial backwater, and that equality with Europeans rested on it’s ability to eliminate slavery, a result that could only be achieved through war.
Wilson J. Moses, a Professor at Penn State, and Sean Wilentz, an Andrew Jacson scholar from Princeton, rounded out the morning speakers. I’m going to apologize to both Professors Moses and Wilentz,, because I didn’t take notes during their talks and rather than trying to recapture their words from memory I’ll simply state that Moses presented a wide-ranging overview of African-American inclusion in American society, including an assessment of W.E.B. Dubois’ writings, while Wilentz presented more views on Antebellum America.