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This is the archive for August 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm now in the midst of reading the third installment of Allan Nevins' eight volume "Ordeal of the Union" series. This one is titled "The Emergence of Lincoln: Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos 1857-1859." Good stuff that Nevins. Actually, in my opinion, more than just good stuff.

I wanted to share Nevins take on Stephen Douglas, because, short of reading a full length biography, it's the best summation of the Little Giant's role in American politics I've read, and also gives some idea of the Nevins' style of writing. Am I dropping a hint that people should consider buying these books? I haven't got a clue why anyone would think I was pushing Nevins on them. I mean, I'd no sooner recommend him then tell you a copy of "The Complete Gettysburg Guide" by J.D. Petruzzi and Steven Stanley is on its way.

"As a parliamentary combatant, the most impressive figure in the country was Stephen A. Douglas. A dozen years younger than Seward, five years junior to [Jefferson] Davis, he was still in his early forties when Buchanan was inaugurated; yet he was a political veteran, for he had been elected State's attorney in Illinois at twenty-one, and had been in Congress in Tyler's time. No man excelled him in riding the storm. He had been in the thick of the struggle for the Compromise of 1850, had labored ambitiously for the Presidential nomination in 1852 and 1856, and had given the country the most controversial measure of the decade in his Nebraska Bill. Indeed, ever since the day when, an ill-educated stripling of twenty with hardly enough law to write a simple instrument, he had hung up his shingle in the Morgan County courthouse, he had been ceaselessly fighting his way forward. He had two elementary articles of faith: he believed in the growth of the country - believed that, as it had pushed across the Mississippi, the plains, and the Rockies to the Pacific, it must continue to expand, either north or south; and he believed in popular self-government. When he flung himself into battle it was with tigerish ferocity. In an early run for Congress he had so enraged his opponent, the stalwart John T. Stuart, that this Whig candidate tucked Douglas' head under his arm and dragged him around the Springfield square. John Quincy Adams had stared in amazement when the five-foot Illinoisan, roaring out one of his first speeches in the House, had stripped off his cravat, unbuttoned his waistcoat, and with convulsed face and frantic gesticulation had "lashed himself into such a heat that if his body had been made of combustible matter, it would have burnt out." [Carl] Schurz watched him end his sentences like cannon balls, crashing and rending, into his opponents' ranks. Few were the Senators who dared stand against him.

"Yet Douglas's limitations were as striking as his gifts. His conduct was sometimes deplorably lax. Charles Francis Adams has left a graphic vignette of the man invading a sleeping care in 1860, whiskey bottle in hand and half drunk, to try to drag Seward out to address a Toledo crowd. One day Douglas might be leading his party in the Senate, the next be found with his arm about the neck of a crony in a Washington saloon. Deeply versed in political history, he was ill-informed in almost all other fields of knowledge. He had read little but lawbooks, debates, and government manuals, and had seldom found time for that deeper type of reflection which produces statesmen. A marvellously effective floor debater, he had no real power of abstract though, and no ability to present such general ideas as are associated with Hamilton and Jefferson, Calhoun and Webster. He had never produced a genuine state paper. While he grappled friends to him with hooks of steel, he taught them to act on practical expediency rather than far-reaching principle.

"Above all he was an improviser. His whole genius backed by irresistible person force, was for meeting practical situations with some rapidly devised measure, taking little thought of ultimate consequences, and trusting to the country's growth for remedying all defects. He had improvised as State's attorney and judge when he knew little law and no jurisprudence. He had improvised as a young Congressman supporting Polk and the Mexican War. He had improvised policies and bills; above all the reckless measure, the worst Pandora's box in our history, for organizing Kansas Territory. As he improvised he battled implacably, for he loved nothing more than political combat. The great weakness of the born improviser is that he oversimplifies the problem he faces and forgets that remote results are often far more important than the immediate effect. The great penalty paid by the born fighter is that he gradually accumulates a phalanx of enemies. Douglas by 1857 was a doughty champion, famous for his power to give and take blows, but he still had to reckon his final bill of profit and loss.

"The best trait of Douglas was his faith in the expansive energies of the American people. Europe, he had said, is one vast graveyard. "Here everything is fresh, blooming, expanding, and advancing. We wish a wise, practical policy adapted to our condition and position." He must be credited, too, with a fervent belief in the masses - in democracy. But he had a number of less happy traits. One was his chauvinism, for he constantly inveighed against the "tyranny" and "aggressions" of European nations, and showed no appreciation of our cultural debt to older lands. Another was his readiness in debate to twist logic, darken counsel, and even misstate facts. Still another was his constant exaltation of material considerations and depreciation of moral factors; the slavery question, he said on the eve of the Civil War, is exclusively "one of climate, of political economy, of self-interest." Finally, he often suffered from his headlong impetuosity.

"In 1857 the brightest pages of his brilliant career lay before him. His successful fight against a proslavery constitution for Kansas was to be one of the most gallant episodes of the time; and in 1860 he was to play a more farsighted and heroic role than any other Presidential candidate. But he lacked the capacity to plan, the patient wisdom, and the conciliatory gifts of a great national chieftain."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back on March 4th I had written a post about a visit to the African-American Civil War Museum in D.C. and had mentioned research conducted by Juanita Patience Moss regarding African-Americans who had served with white Union regiments. It was fascinating stuff, because, to paraphrase Stephen Ambrose, there was nothing else like it in the world. In all the reading I had done, including digesting three books on African-American service during the war, there was nothing in the literature to suggest blacks had served outside segregated regiments or had done more than perform manual labor as civilians for the army.

Flash back to July 15, 1998. Juanita Patience Moss was a member of the audience at a symposium held three days before the unveiling of the "Spirit of Freedom" monument in Washington to honor African-Americans who fought for the Union. Not only was the curtain to be raised on an 11-foot statue, but panels inscribed with the names of 209,145 soldiers and sailors were to be forever available for viewing by the public. Panel members felt good, the audience felt good. Finally, at long last, members of the Corps d' Afrique, United States Colored Troops, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry, the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, 8th Connecticut Infantry, and U.S. Navy were getting their due.

When the microphone was handed to Juanita during the question and answer period, panel members reacted with silence before one member finally rallied and, in response to her asking, "What about the black men who served with white regiments?," said matter of factly, "There weren't any." When Juanita produced documents showing her great-grandfather, Crowder Patience, had served as an undercook with the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, the nay sayers stuck to their guns. After all, how could they as experts on the African-American experience during the Civil War, the culmination of combined years of research, not be in the know? Ridiculous question, ridiculous hypothesis, and without doubt the documents in her possession were questionable at best. That, in a nutshell, was why Crowder Patience's name wasn't included on the memorial.

Juanita took the 'lady, you're all wet' rebuff in stride, convinced that if her great-grandfather had served in a white regiment there were others who had done the same.

While General Orders Number 143 authorized blacks to serve in segregated regiments, General Orders Number 323, issued on September 23, 1863 by order of Edwin Stanton, stated:

"That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause to be enlisted for each cook (two allowed by section 9) two undercooks of African descent, who shall receive for their full compensation $10 per month and one ration per day; $3 of said monthly pay may be in clothing.

"For a regular company, the two undercooks will be enlisted; for a volunteer company, they will be mustered into service, as in the cases of other soldiers. In each case a remark will be made on their enlistment papers showing that they are undercooks of African descent. Their names will be borne on the company muster-rolls at the foot of the list of privates. They will be paid, and their accounts will be kept, like other enlisted men. They will also be discharged in the same manner as other soldiers."

The key operative words here are "enlisted" and "soldiers," both of which appear twice, and "company muster rolls."

So what did Juanita find in the intervening years between 1998 and 2004 when she conducted research through the aid of the National Archives, Carlisle Barracks, the 30 volume "Roster of the Union Soldiers 1861-1865,", "Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies," the African-American Civil War Museum, the "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-1865," assorted histories and books, and site visits to numerous historical societies and libraries, as far as she could possibly take it, she found proof of men like Amos McKinney and Simon West serving with the 1st Alabama Cavalry, and four grandsons of Sally Hemmings in uniform with the 73rd Ohio Infantry, the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, and 1st Wisconsin Infantry. In total, the tedious work of laboring through countless military service records, allowed her to identify over 2,000 African-Americans clearly identified in writing as "Col'd."

Pages 75 through 112 of "Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments During the Civil War," published by Heritage Books, contains an alphabetized list of all those identified through her research. The list specifies the Regiment, branch of service, State, and Company. Of personal interest is the name of Bruce Anderson who served with Co. K of the 142 New York Infantry and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Pages 114 through 154 list these same soldiers arranged by State, starting with Alabama and Arkansas, working its way through Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania in the middle sections, concluding with Vermont, West Virginia, and finally Wisconsin.

The individual service records of these men show that while many were restricted to duty as undercooks, others served as teamsters and blacksmiths. A large number were exposed to combat and in those cases shell and bullet wounds are well documented. Some had the misfortune of being introduced to Andersonville, while others simply disappeared from all public record when they were captured, their fate sealed by a return to bondage.

The news of Amos McKinney's service being recognized by the Veteran's Administration with a government issued headstone on July 11, 2009 at Decatur, Alabama, which recently circulated on the Internet and a few Civil War related blogs, was preceded a year earlier by a similar ceremony held at Highland Park Cemetery in Warrensville, Ohio, which honored the aforementioned Simon Samuel West. Juanita's great-grandfather Crowder Patience, however, beat them both, when he was laid to rest in West Pittson, Pennsylvania in 1930. This former North Carolina slave, who later marched as a proud Civil War veteran, pensioner, and member of the Grand Army of the Republic in Memorial Day parades in his adopted home town, was fittingly recognized with a headstone and G.A.R. marker shortly after his internment.

Juanita's journey began when she discovered Crowder's military papers in a small tin kept by a great-aunt, who, during the 103 years of her life, had shared only fragments of her father's life. She confessed she had little information herself. "Juanita, back in those days we didn't ask our parents a lot of questions." It's history lost for the sake of stifling natural curiosity, while maintaining obedience and a respectful distance from those who brought you into the world.

Juanita is hoping that someone will pick up where she's left off. Maybe, just maybe, those efforts will someday pay off and 2,000 plus additional names will be added to a memorial on U Street Northwest, once known as "The Black Broadway," that serves as the main artery for a neighborhood named in honor of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

I had problems trying to add this link into the post on Juanita's book. That said, the book, " Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments during the Civil War," can be purchased by following this link.