Category: Blog

“Playing at War:” A Pre-AHA 2022 Recorded Roundtable Conversation

“Playing at War:” A Pre-AHA 2022 Recorded Roundtable Conversation

Editor’s note: As part of the SCWH Outreach Committee’s effort to promote the work of early career scholars, this pre-AHA 2022 recorded roundtable showcases four contributing authors and two co-editors from the forthcoming edited collection, Playing at War: Identity & Memory in American Civil War Video Games (LSU Press).

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This recorded roundtable conversation convenes the co-editors and four contributing authors from the forthcoming edited collection, Playing at War: Identity & Memory in American Civil War Video Games (LSU Press), that analyzes the varied ways in which American Civil War-themed video games depict conceptions of American identity and historical memory. In an online roundtable discussion the editors and authors explore how their respective chapters and the overall volume contextualize the creation, reception, and evolution of video games and their content in relation to prevailing, competing, and evolving historical memories of the Civil War era in popular culture. Dr. Katherine Brackett delineates how Civil War era video game manuals tend to disregard current historiography to perpetuate vintage myths and understandings of that era in an often-deliberate appeal to the prevailing cultural identity and historical memory of the typical white, male Civil War gamer. Dr. Jonathan S. Jones discusses how Red Dead Redemption 2, a story of violence in the American West, sends an anti-racist message for players to learn about and reject Lost Cause and neo-Confederate ideologies, a timely message into today’s political context. Aaron Phillips explores how Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood (2009) engages the dynamic relationship between irregular violence in the American West and the legacies of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Dr. Kathleen Logothetis Thompson expounds upon the relationship between video game design, research accuracy, and compelling gameplay. Collectively, these four authors, in conversation with editors Patrick A. Lewis and James “Trae” Welborn, demonstrate the complex relationship between Civil War Era video games and shifting conceptions of martial identity and historical memory within American popular culture. In so doing the roundtable charges historians working outside historical game studies to engage more deeply and directly with video games as an important cultural medium in modern American society.

Moderators:

  • Dr. James “Trae” Welborn III, Associate Professor of History, Georgia College & State University
  • Dr. Patrick A. Lewis, Director of Collections & Research, Filson Historical Society

Panelists:

  • Dr. Katherine Brackett, Research Assistant Professor, Middle Tennessee State University
  • Dr. Jonathan S. Jones, Assistant Professor of History, Virginia Military Institute
  • Aaron Phillips, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Alabama
  • Dr. Kathleen Logothetis Thompson, Independent Scholar & Adjunct Instructor of History, Pierpont Community and Technical College (Fairmont, WV).

See the full conversation here.

Hilary N. Green

Hilary N. Green is an Associate Professor of History in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. She earned her M.A. in History from Tufts University in 2003, and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her research and teaching interests include the intersections of race, class, and gender in African American history, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, as well as Civil War memory, African American education, and the Black Atlantic. She is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Fordham, 2016).

“Deceive and Inflame the Masses”: Placing Blame for New Hampshire Civil War Draft Resistance

“Deceive and Inflame the Masses”: Placing Blame for New Hampshire Civil War Draft Resistance

Near midnight on a crisp October night in 1863, the brilliant fall foliage covering the flanks of the mountains in Jackson, New Hampshire, were suddenly awash in a bright glow. It was not an early dawn. The Forest Vale House, an inn nestled under the hulks of the White Mountains, was on fire. Two U.S. Army officers sleeping in the house awoke to a start and scrambled to escape the roaring flames, with one of them jumping from a third-story window. The conflagration consumed the four-story house and large stable, including the officers’ horses, wagons, and harnesses. Capt. Horace Godfrey, one of the Army officers, asserted in his report of the incident that “the fire was undoubtedly the work of an incendiary.”[1]

Birds eye photograph of Jackson, NH
Jackson, New Hampshire, circa 1890 (Library of Congress)

Godfrey, the Draft Enrolling Officer for the 1st District of New Hampshire, had good reason to believe an arsonist was the cause of his brush with death. The local residents had met him and his companion, Deputy Provost Marshal Hiram Paul, with open hostility since the two officers arrived in the mountains to serve draft notices for the district’s first quota of the 1863 Enrollment Act (which established the first national conscription). The fire at the Forest Vale House was the final straw. Fearful for their safety, Godfrey and Paul gave up on delivering their final four draft notices and retreated back down the long road to their headquarters in Portsmouth. Republican and pro-war newspapers in that port city and across the region disavowed this violence as dangerous and unpatriotic. They did not, however, place full responsibility on the then-unknown perpetrators. Editors instead blamed the inflammatory rhetoric of prominent anti-war Democrats (known as Copperheads) in New Hampshire and across the country, who they claimed had misled an easily influenced citizenry.[2]

The denigration of their Democratic political opponents was a clear objective of this pro-war reporting on the draft resistance; newspapers were, after all, organs of political parties with the goal of making partisanship essential to the lives and identities of American men. What is less evident, however, is if editors intentionally sought to portray the masses as naïve and easily manipulated. Whether intentional, or merely a by-product of their political goals, these newspapers still spread this message to countless loyal readers. The effects of a persistent message of a society unaccountable for its actions on the fabric of a democratic society seems ripe for further study.[3]

Black and white engraving of a large crowd in an office.
An image from Harpers Weekly depicting the draft in the provost marshal’s office of New York’s Sixth District (Library of Congress)

This tactic by the state’s pro-war papers in response to incidents of draft resistance actually began several months earlier. After the initial draft call for nearly 2,000 men in July 1863, restless and rowdy crowds had gathered in Portsmouth, the District’s largest city and where the draft was to be held. Capt. John S. Godfrey, the District’s Provost Marshal (and brother of Enrolling Officer Horace, who would escape the fire in Jackson) called for an extra contingent of soldiers and Marines from nearby Fort Constitution and the Portsmouth Navy Yard to safeguard his office and the administration of the draft. Several days of clamorous protests came to a head on July 16. The Portsmouth civilian police force arrested the supposed ringleaders of the mob. Members of the crowd apparently tried to free them, and in the confusion, someone opened fire. One policeman was shot through the hand and two other people were wounded in the fracas that followed, but no one was killed.[4]

Frank W. Miller’s Portsmouth Daily Chronicle tried to paint the mob as naïve citizens who had simply been led astray by influential anti-war politicians. The mob was “composed chiefly, as all mobs are, of low and ignorant” people, the newspaper claimed, that could be “easily excited to do desperate things.” Their path to violence began at a public meeting held earlier in the week by prominent local Copperheads. The Daily Chronicle asserted the meeting was designed to “denounce the government and encourage the rebellion,” and that eventually “the treasonable ball [had] kept rolling, gaining as it went,” with “the agitators continuing to foment the excitement” up until the shooting affair on July 16. Only the proper show of force from the miliary and the police had dispersed the deluded crowd, which “ran like sheep” back to their homes or to “the low groggeries from which, maddened by rum and inflamed by demagogues’ appeals, they had come forth.”[5]

Black and white photographic view of Market Street in Portsmouth, NH
Market Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, circa 1910 (Library of Congress)

When resistance broke out again in the district with the burning of the Forest Vale House in Jackson, pro-war papers continued the narrative they had established in July. A correspondent for the Boston Journal, who had been in Jackson at the time of the burning of the inn, penned an account that made its way into numerous papers across the state and into the minds of countless readers. The journalist ultimately did not regard “those ignorant fellows who commit the overt acts as so guilty as certain leading politicians in that region,” who had done a great deal to “deceive and inflame the masses.” The Oxford (Maine) Democrat[6] meanwhile, asserted that “the trouble [was] attributed to the influence of politicians rather than a disposition to resist on the part of conscripts.” The Exeter Newsletter similarly claimed that the townspeople’s ignorance contributed to their belief in the righteousness of their resistance, and their choice to treat the Army officers “quite uncivilly” upon their arrival in Jackson. Although the Boston Journal correspondent maintained that the government would still enforce the draft in Carroll County, he also warned that “a few desperadoes may be incited to [additional] deeds of violence by men who claim to be respectable.”[7]

The newspapers furthered the notion of a naïve public even in the portrayal of the victims of the draft resistance. Editors described Mr. Horace Goodrich, the proprietor of the Forest Vale House, as “a very quiet man, seldom discussing politics,” who even “refrain[ed] from voting in town affairs.” They claimed Goodrich had been born poor, but “by industry and good management had accumulated a handsome property,” most of which was destroyed in the fire. In other words, how could the offenders be so naïve to burn down the home of an honest working man, who had nothing to do with the draft and only provided lodging to weary travelers?[8]

Several weeks later, the officers returned to the mountains, this time accompanied by a large detachment of Invalid Corps soldiers from Portsmouth. The pro-war newspapers claimed a drastic change in tone and behavior of the area residents. With unsubtle exaggeration, a “looker-on” in Jackson informed the Dover Enquirer that when the soldiers arrived, the fiery rhetoric of the townspeople softened, and “up went the flag…open went the church for their shelter, and loyalty began to abound, which continued to such a degree, that men came in to get notices they were drafted.” Apparently, all it took was a proper show of force to easily persuade an impressionable public and enforce the draft.[9]

Photograph of soldiers standing in a line
Soldiers of Company H, 10th Veteran Reserve Corps (formerly Invalid Corps), April 1865 (Library of Congress)

These sentiments first spread by the press in 1863 continued to hold past the end of the war. In his official report of the draft nearly two years later, new District Provost Marshal Capt. Daniel Hall wrote that “from the beginning of the war, many persons in this District had held and declared the most disloyal sentiments.” Hall claimed that this was “a great degree instigated and encouraged by the treasonable utterances of prominent public men, and newspapers published within the District and the large cities of the North.” Hall, like the Portsmouth Chronicle at the time, attributed the unrest in Portsmouth in July 1863 to the meeting in the city held where residents were “harangued by disloyal persons inciting them to…violence against the Enrollment Laws and its officers.” Hall also believed that the actions of the mob “[covered] in disgrace all who participated in it or its spirit,” particularly “those prominent and respectable persons who sympathized fully with its object and really instigated and sanctioned it,” but managed to “shirk all entire and open participation in its crime.”[10]

Contrary to the writings of newspaper editors and draft officials, however, accountability ultimately fell to those who committed the crime. In November 1865, more than two years after the incident, the Oxford Democrat reported that two men, Joseph Libbey and Elias Nute, were finally arraigned on the charge of burning the Forest Vale House.[11]

[1] History of the operations of the 1st District of New Hampshire since its organization, June 18, 1865, MM1163 (Microfilm), Records of the Provost Marshal General Record Group (RG) 110, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; William Marvel, The Neighbors’ War: Conway, New Hampshire 1861-1865 (Conway, NH: Conway Historical Society, 2014), 111-112; “Copperhead Outrage in Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 15, 1863; “Riotous Proceedings About the Draft in Carroll County,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, October 17, 1863.

[2] Copperheads, also known as Peace Democrats, were members of an anti-war faction of the Democratic Party. Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA; Marvel, Neighbors’ War, 111-112; James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 600-611.

[3] Harold Holzer, Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), XVI-XXII; Elizabeth R. Varon, “Tippecanoe and Ladies, Too: White Women and the Party Politics in Antebellum Virginia,” Journal of American History 82 (September 1995): 504. For examples of misinformation and lack of accountability, see David Klepper, “Defense for some Capitol rioters: election misinformation,” AP News, May 29, 2021 (accessed November 5, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/dc-wire-donald-trump-health-coronavirus-pandemic-election-2020-b7e929bb8d49b77d0922eae7ad3794b7.

[4] Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA; “The Portsmouth Mob,” Portsmouth Morning Chronicle, July 17, 1863; “Rioting in Portsmouth,” Dover Enquirer, July 23, 1863; “Riot in Portsmouth,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, July 25, 1863.

[5] “The Portsmouth Mob” and “The Riot in Portsmouth,” Portsmouth Morning Chronicle, July 17 and 18, 1863; “Rioting in Portsmouth,” Dover Enquirer, July 23, 1863.

[6] Originally a Democratic paper founded by two former apprentices of Hannibal Hamlin, it had become solidly Republican by the Civil War.

[7] “Copperhead Outrages in Carroll County,” Littleton Peoples Journal, October 17, 1863; “Copperhead Outrage in Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 15, 1863; Oxford Democrat, October 16, 1863; “Copperheadism in Jackson,” Exeter Newsletter, October 19, 1863.

[8] “Copperhead Outrages in Carroll County,” Littleton Peoples Journal, October 17, 1863; “Copperheadism in Jackson,” Exeter Newsletter, October 19, 1863; “Riotous Proceedings About the Draft in Carroll County,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, October 17, 1863; “Copperhead Outrage in Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 15, 1863; “The Outrages in Jackson,” Portsmouth Morning Chronicle, October 13, 1863.

[9] Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA; “Letter from Jackson,” Dover Enquirer, October 29, 1863; “The Disturbance in Jackson,” Manchester Dollar Weekly Mirror, October 24, 1863.

[10] Operations of the 1st District New Hampshire, RG 110, NARA.

[11] “Fryeburg Items,” Oxford Democrat, November 17, 1865.

Nathan Marzoli

Nathan A. Marzoli is a Staff Historian at the Air National Guard History Office, located on Joint-Base Andrews, Maryland. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he completed a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in history and museum studies at the University of New Hampshire. Mr. Marzoli’s primary research and writing interests focus on conscription in the Civil War North—specifically the relationships between civilians and Federal draft officials. He is the author of several articles in journals such as Army History and Civil War History, as well as numerous blog posts.

Enslaved children, trauma, and “American Family Values:” A Recap of the 2021 Southern’s SAWH Keynote

Enslaved children, trauma, and “American Family Values:” A Recap of the 2021 Southern’s SAWH Keynote

Though attendees lamented their inability to meet up for drinks afterward, the Southern Association for Women Historians’ annual keynote remained an illuminating and fascinating event. Judith Giesberg’s address “‘I desire some information about my mother’: Henry Tibbs’ Search for His Mother and What It Can Tell Us about How Slavery Shaped American Family Values” raised important, if heartbreaking, questions about slavery, child-trafficking, and trauma with the use of digital archives.

Giesberg is the director of the Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, a digital archive of over 4,300 advertisements and letters that attempted to reunite Black families forcibly separated by slavery. Drawing on this archive, the digital humanities project reveals that these reunification attempts extended beyond the traditional patriarchal nuclear family. Many documents contain friends and grandparents searching for loved ones. It also shines light on a devastating fact: 46% of the database’s documents mention a mother, which indicates what Giesberg called a “routine and casual removal” of mothers from children. In fact, if historian Michael Tadman’s estimates are correct, one in three enslaved children under the age of 14 lost a parent to long distance sales. If one million slaves were sold, then 50,000 children were sold through the domestic slave trade, many of whom were sold alone. Thus, Giesberg showed, the story of U.S. slavery is the story of child trafficking in her captivating keynote address.

Henry Tibbs’ story took center stage in Giesberg’s keynote for what it revealed about childhood trauma and memory production. Tibbs’ wartime and postwar life can be traced through archival records: he rose to corporal during the Civil War and survived the horrors of the Fort Pillow Massacre, settling in Yazoo, Mississippi after the war. It was during this period that he began looking for his mother Hannah. On December 11, 1879, the Southwestern Christian Advocate in New Orleans published his request for information.

Newspaper text of ad
“Henry Tibbs searching for his mother Hannah,” Southwestern Christian Advocate (New Orleans, LA), December 11, 1879, Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, accessed December 16, 2021, https://informationwanted.org/items/show/1400

Henry Tibbs’ letter to the editor in search of Hannah detailed the traumatic story of his last meeting with his mother. Jailed by a slave trader to await his sale, the young Tibbs wept to the extent that the trader “told me if I would hush he would bring my mother there next morning, which he did.” When Hannah arrived, the trader cruelly forced her to choose Henry from a lineup. Hannah quickly and successfully identified her son and gave him “some cake and candy.” This, Henry Tibbs remembers, was “the last time I saw her” before he was sold, alone, from Virginia to Louisiana.

Tibbs provided as much information about his age and the names of enslavers and slave traders as possible; neither the names nor the dates were accurate. Giesberg discovered more likely matches due to geographical location and phonetically similar names from sources outside of Last Seen. She explained that reading and writing was illegal under slavery and thus the letter writers likely never saw their names in writing and relied upon their auditory memory instead. Furthermore, Tibbs was a young boy when he was sold and thus far removed from the event, which is why, Giesberg reasoned, many of his details were likely inaccurate. Giesberg was able to roughly approximate the year due to Henry’s details about his mother.

The gaps in Tibbs’ memory, Giesberg argued, are not only due to the significant passage of time but also the effects of trauma on a young child’s mind. Today we know that children often forget details of memories made during traumatic events but do not forget the trauma itself. Even if the memory is retained, trauma literally reshapes the brain, causing children to age more quickly or miss developmental milestones. This extremely traumatic experience of child trafficking and abuse affected, through the domestic slave trade in the U.S., roughly 50,000 children. What did this do to their memories and brain development? How did this hinder their ability to reunite with their beloved family members? Only 100 documents in the Last Seen digital archive recount a successful reunion. This does not necessarily mean that these are the only success stories, as some might simply not have been announced, but it does reveal the difficulties in recalling an event long past with enough accuracy to successfully locate a loved one.[1]

In the antebellum period, white abolitionists in the U.S. North often emphasized the depravity of the separation of enslaved families as evidence of the moral evils of slavery. Why, then, Giesberg asked, was this topic quickly dropped after the war by white Americans? Giesberg pointed to the romantic reunions and reconciliations occurring at the end of Reconstruction between white northerners and southerners in which they “came together as a nation” and thus abandoned Black southerners to the violence of Jim Crow. White publications celebrated the nuclear, child-centric family structure, obfuscating the attempts of freedpeople to reunite with loved ones and undo decades’ worth of trafficking. Giesberg argued that this timing was deliberate. The Black presses and their “Dear Editor” pieces presented a counternarrative to remind America that the “structural exercise in child abuse” of the domestic slave trade could not be resolved in a single generation.

Giesberg’s presentation was a masterclass in utilizing documents that are often unreliable to create stories that may remain forever incomplete, but no less significant. Despite these discrepancies, like Tibbs’ inability to recall the precise date and names of his abusers, Giesberg was able to provide an educated guess that allowed her to continue telling his story. The accessibility of this digital archive allows other historians, regardless of institutional access, to recreate similar stories. Giesberg’s use of the Last Seen database reveals how we can use these advertisements to understand how child abuse and cultural violence shaped America. In fact, Giesberg argued in the ensuing Q&A, family separations, such as those occurring at the United States-Mexico border and through ICE raids, are still central to the American story.

[1] These findings support Heather Andrea Williams’ work with the same advertisements. See Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2012). Chapter 5, Information Wanted: The Search for Family After Emancipation; and Chapter 6, Happiness Too Deep for Utterance: Reunification of Families are of particular interest.

Melissa DeVelvis

Melissa DeVelvis is an Assistant Professor of History at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia. She specializes in the nineteenth-century U.S. South, Civil War Era, and women and gender studies. Her book, Gendering Secession: White Women and Politics in South Carolina, 1859-1861, is under contract with Cambridge University Press. Follow her on Twitter at @develvishist.

Previewing the December 2021 JCWE Issue

Previewing the December 2021 JCWE Issue

As we write this editors’ note in summer 2021, we are hopeful that many in-person activities will soon resume, including the conferences, seminars, workshops, and writing groups that are so important to our collective work.

Our issue features three research essays about men’s lives that touch on politics, ideology, and power. Daniel Crofts takes a new look at a famous diarist in “Sidney George Fisher and the Coming of the Civil War: How Southern Overreach Alarmed a Conservative Philadelphian.” An elite Philadelphian, Fisher had generally conservative political instincts. Yet he became increasingly troubled by southern politicians’ demands for dominance in the 1850s, eventually siding with the Republicans and, when war came, even supporting emancipation. The story of Fisher’s political evolution is a reminder of the diversity and contentiousness of the Republican coalition.

In “William Henry Trescot, Pardon Broker,” Cynthia Nicoletti follows Trescot, a South Carolina lawyer and politician (and historian), to Washington, DC, where he lobbied President Andrew Johnson to restore land to his state’s planter elite. Trescot entered directly into political negotiations about the future of land confiscated from Confederates during the war, using his legal savvy and political connections to discredit demands for land redistribution by South Carolina freedpeople and O. O. Howard, the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Tarik Yiğit explores Civil War veterans in Egypt in “Reconstructing the American under the Most Unimaginable Conditions: Civil War Veterans in the ‘Arabian Nights.'” Egypt’s leader, Ismail Pasha, sought American advisors after the war, and many U.S. and Confederate veterans were happy to oblige. Impelled by the chance to earn an income and an associated sense of manhood, Civil War veterans in Egypt contributed their skills in surveying, military training, and armed conflict itself. Many had known each other before the war, and Egypt became a site where Americans who had fought on both sides grappled with one another and with the Civil War’s legacies.

In his review essay, “The Common Soldier of the Civil War: His Rise and Fall,” Gerald Prokopowicz examines evolving scholarly interest in Civil War soldiers. Historical scholarship on the rank and file has been shaped by subsequent wars and by historians’ changing approaches to the past. What was once represented as a generalizable “common soldier” experience—at least for Confederate soldiers on the one hand and US ones on the other—has been shattered, but questions of why people fought endure.

With this issue, we say goodbye to our editorial assistant, Megan Hildebrand, a PhD candidate at Penn State, whose term is ending and whose excellent work we have appreciated tremendously. Edward Green is the new editorial assistant, and we welcome him to the team. We also express special gratitude to the authors, peer reviewers, and book reviewers who made time to contribute to the journal during the difficult months of the pandemic. We hope they and all our readers are faring well and that we’ll see one another soon.

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

The First Lost Cause: Transnational Memory

The First Lost Cause: Transnational Memory

The study of Civil War Memory has grown exponentially over the past decade. While Civil War history in general has taken a small transnational turn, memory studies continues to lag behind in that regard. Michael J. Turner’s 2012 work served as an early attempt for its exploration of the image of Stonewall Jackson in Great Britain and the raising of money in Great Britain for a Jackson statue in Richmond, Virginia.[1] By avoiding the international and embracing a rather insular perspective,[2] Civil War memory has overlooked some rather important aspect: the Lost Cause is not unique. Mexico dealt with its defeat in 1848 in a remarkably similar way to how the rebellious and defeated Confederates explained their failures, which challenges us to consider if the Lost Cause is archetypal for defeated nationalities in general.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Kevin Levin talk about his newest book, Searching for Black Confederates, at the Atlanta History Center. I remember Kevin facing the question after his talk how the United States is such an odd place where the losing side got to write history and how the Lost Cause imprinted its false stories on millions of people. Of course, if one (meaning historians and the public in general) assumes that only in the United States the losing side wrote a story of “victory,” one does advance an exceptionalism argument, which can be rather problematic. The United States, however, is not the only place where defeat was turned into some form of victory. Therefore, if the Lost Cause is not unique, comparative studies of Civil War Memory may reveal how in different ways the United States was part of a modern trend to memorialize wartime experiences.

The history and collective remembrances of the War between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 could not be any more different in the two respective countries. In the United States, it is simply the Mexican War and largely forgotten by the public today. For Mexicans, it is the Guerra de la Intervención Norteamericana and aspects of it are very much remembered, especially the child defenders of Chapultepec Castle who fought U.S. forces, in five cases to the death in defiance of orders to retreat, in defense of their academy during the battle by the same name from September 12 to September 13, 1847. These remembrances sustained both anger and resentment over subsequent generations. Pre-dating former Confederates’ efforts by seventeen years, Mexican military and political leaders had to explain their defeat to the public as well as seek vindication for themselves. They hoped to learn from the war in an effort to avoid such a dramatic disaster in the future. The new Constitution of 1857 and the creation of a stronger national identity were crucial in that regard. The effort to strengthen the ties between people and nation were remarkably successful as the French would find out in the 1860s when their forces faced a much stiffer Mexican resistance. This is obviously in contrast to the United States where Confederate nationalism continues but does not sustain a state that needs to defend against foreign invaders (unless of course one wishes to see Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement in such a light).[3]

Cover of Esposición dirigida al supremo gobierno por los comisionados que firmaron el tratado de paz con los Estados-Unidos (Matamoros, Mexico: Antonio Castañeda, 1848). Available at http://cdigital.dgb.uanl.mx/la/1020000857/1020000857.html

Mexican officers and politicians used the immediate post-war years to blame each other for the disastrous outcome of the war. However, the arguments promoted in a series of government reports most closely align with the Lost Cause narrative.[4] The Mexican politicians and military leaders believed like southern rebels that this was an unnecessary war that should not have happened in the first place. Like many ex-Confederates who claimed that they joined a cause to defend their home from invaders, so too did the Mexicans. In the words of Jubal Early, one of the architects of the Lost Cause, “I opposed secession with all the ability I possessed, with the hope that the horrors of civil war might be averted, and that a returning sense of duty and justice on the part of the masses of the Northern States, would induce them to respect the rights of the people of the South.”[5] Mexicans could not have said that any better. One of the government reports observed, “We do not hide from ourselves what Mexico, defending its own homes, could have done to repel the invasion, and we have very much in mind, like all Mexicans, the honorable examples that the history of our country offers in its good days.”[6] But the similarities, such as the perception of defending one’s home and the need to maintain honor in the face of an enemy invasion, do not end with assumptions about the war’s origins.

Where southern rebels believed in a warped reality in which the election of a Republican President would spell the end of slavery and bring abolition to the southern slave states, so too did Mexicans assume that there had been a plot in the United States that had long aimed to steal land from Mexico. Mexicans dated the plans for the steal back to the settlement of Texas by individuals from the United States. Manuel Crescencio Rejón even claimed that before Mexico had come into existence there were plans to wrest Texas away to the United States. He claimed that residents in Baton Rouge tried to instigate a rebellion in Texas against the Spanish monarchy. Even more, by the 1830s, Rejón claimed, there was a push to interpret the 1819 treaty between the United States and Spain as having included Texas and not drawn the boundary along the Sabine River as well as the support provided from the United States to the rebels in Texas.[7]The creation of conspiratorial enemies was fundamental to both Lost Causes.

Even in the presentation of their enemies the two Lost Causes offer similarities. Mexican authors presented the U.S. soldiers in the worst of lights. Not only was their appearance that of “common brigands and highwayman,” they “brought crime, anarchy, and fear.” The people from the United States from the Mexican perspective were “degenerate, duplicitous, and godless.” Even more, as historian Michael Van Wagenen notes, “authors championed the reputation of their army and found consolidation in the valor of the soldiers, who bravely faced overwhelming odds. Mexico had lost the war, they claimed, not because of cowardice but because of a lack of modern technology, army, and soldiers before a numerous, powerful foe.”[8]

These words should ring eerily familiar to Civil War memory scholars as they could have been said just as well by one of the early architects of the Lost Cause. In his final order to the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee stated, “the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources,” exactly like the Mexicans claimed years earlier. Lee was well aware of the “valour and devotion” of his soldiers, but also understood that all of this could not change the outcome.[9] Like Lee, Mexicans believed that they had to accept the peace or face the devastating continuation of the war and peace at worse terms.

A final comparison between the two Lost Causes lies with some of the youngest individuals involved in the war. Mexico was harder pressed to find heroic figures than rebellious southerners who had an abundance of them. However, both sides also fought battles where underaged soldiers showcased their heroism and faced death. For the rebellious South and promoters of the Lost Cause, the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and their charge at the Battle of New Market symbolize the commitment of even the young to the cause. Popularized by the film Field of Lost Shoes, the VMI supported and partially staffed battlefield park continues to foster the narrative of the Lost Cause highlighting the cadets’ sacrifices.[10]

White marble pillars with gray statues atop in war memorial.
Monument to the Niños Héroes in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, dedicated 1952.

Mexico too had its heroic children with the cadets of the military academy at Chapultepc Castle who defended their school during the battle of the same name. Even military histories of the war published in the United States mention the heroism of the young cadets as they embraced death in this pivotal battle on the edge of Mexico City. The Niños Héroes (Boy Heroes or Heroic Cadets) became enshrined in Mexican culture highlighting their willingness to give their last for the country. Both Lost Causes utilize children to foster their narratives of self-sacrifice and patriotism, as Van Wegenen says.[11]

While it is unlikely that Southern crafters and promoters of the Lost Cause were aware of the Mexican efforts to write their own Lost Cause narratives to explain why they had at least won a moral victory, the similarities between the two arguments are striking, even if there are differences as well, and it says much about the nation-defining and invigorating post-defeat process that both Mexicans and former Confederates went to such length to explain the disastrous outcome of war. Transnational and comparative history allows us to better understand unique characteristics of national narratives and challenge notions of exceptionalism. If something as quintessential as the Lost Cause is not unique and restricted to just the United States, how much more can we gain from studying the commemoration of the Civil War in an international frame?

 

[1] Michael J. Turner, Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2020).

[2] There are a few other works that look at the image of Lincoln abroad, particularly in Great Britain, and often with a exceptionalism and America-philia approach: Gabor S. Boritt, Mark E. Neely, Harold Holzer, “The European Image of Abraham Lincoln,” Winterthur Portfolio 21 (Summer 1986), 153–183; Richard Carwardine, Jay Sexton, eds., The Global Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[3] Michael Van Wagenen, Remembering the Forgotten War: The Enduring Legacies of the U.S./Mexican War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 41.

[4] Dictamen de la comisión de la cámara de senadores del Congreso General sobre la aprobación del tratado celebrado por el gobierno de la Republica con el de los Estados-Unidos de Norte (Querétaro, Mexico: Imprenta de J. M. Lara, 1848), 4; Esposición dirigida al supremo gobierno por los comisionados que firmaron el tratado de paz con los Estados-Unidos (Matamoros, Mexico: Antonio Castañeda, 1848),

[5] Jubal A. Early, A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence, in the Confederate States of America (New Orleans: Blelock, 1867), v.

[6] Esposición dirigida al supremo gobierno por los comisionados que firmaron el tratado de paz con los Estados-Unidos (Matamoros, Mexico: Antonio Castañeda, 1848), accessed at https://www.memoriapoliticademexico.org/Textos/2ImpDictadura/1848-Exp-ComPaz.html.

[7] Manuel Crecencio Rejón, Observaciones del Diputado Saliente Manuel Crecencio Rejon (Queretaro: Impr. de J.M. Lara, 1848), chapter 1; Wagenen, Remembering the Forgotten War, 44.

[8] Wagenen, Remembering the Forgotten War, 45-46.

[9] Robert E. Lee, General Order No. 9, April 10, 1865, available at https://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/lilly/exhibitions_legacy/history/generaltext.html

[10] Barbara A Gannon, Americans Remember Their Civil War (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2017), 129.

[11] Wagenen, Remembering the Forgotten War, 6, 48-49.

Niels Eichhorn

holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Arkansas and has taught history courses at Middle Georgia State University and Central Georgia Technical College. He has published Liberty and Slavery: European Separatists, Southern Secession, and the American Civil War (LSU Press, 2019) and Atlantic History in the Nineteenth Century: Migration, Trade, Conflict, and Ideas (Palgrave, 2019). He is currently working with Duncan Campbell on The Civil War in the Age of Nationalism. He has published articles on Civil War diplomacy in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History. You can find more information on his personal website, and he can be contacted at eichhorn.niels@gmail.com.

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Lee

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Lee

On November 2, 2021, Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers tweeted her support for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. She encouraged Virginians to vote Republican and “Make General Lee proud.” While Rogers’ instruction attracted media attention, it is fully within the neo-Confederate nature of the modern Grand Old Party (GOP).[1] Confederate battle flags were a common sight at Donald Trump’s rallies. Trump, like many Republicans – most notably southern Republicans, who have produced a slew of heritage laws – is a staunch defender of Confederate memorialization.[2] Bitter-end defense of Confederate monuments has served as the cornerstone for numerous GOP campaigns in recent years, including Corey Stewart’s gubernatorial and senate bids in Virginia. Appearing at the 2017 Old South Ball in Danville, Stewart told supporters: “I’m proud to be next to the Confederate flag. That flag is not about racism…It’s not about hatred. It’s not about slavery. It’s about our heritage…Over my dead body…are we ever going to take down the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.” As a transplanted Minnesotan, Confederate commemorative culture offered him a way into the culture war conservatism endemic in the GOP.[3]

Tweet with words on a white background
Wendy Rogers encouraging Virginians to “Make General Lee Proud” (Twitter)

The contemporary relationship between Republicanism and Lost Cause memory is the culmination of historical transformations rooted in the civil rights era. From the end of Reconstruction through to the 1960s, the former Confederate states were largely loyal to the Democratic Party. There were exceptions, and in the 1950s – with Dwight Eisenhower as its presidential candidate – the GOP made some inroads in the Border South. However, the Deep South, aided by comprehensive restriction of black voting, continued to view Republicanism with disdain. Southern Republicans understood the necessity of convincing white voters that the GOP was no longer the party their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had loathed, because of its role during the Civil War and Reconstruction, if they hoped to rupture the “Solid South.” Pro-Confederate historical memory was a crucial part of their arsenal.[4]

As long as Republicans have worked to boost the party in the South, they have relied on historical references. For instance, during the New Deal era, Essie Messervy and Cornelia Dabney Tucker, activists in the South Carolina state party, invoked their Confederate ancestry – and in Messervy’s case, her grandfather’s service alongside Wade Hampton during Redemption – to reassure fellow white southerners they had nothing to fear from the GOP.[5] The scale of southern Republican activism, and, as a result, southern Republican engagement with Civil War memory, expanded significantly during the 1960s. This came as a result of growing white southern disaffection with the national Democratic Party’s support for black equality, in the context of the Civil War centennial and the concurrent civil rights movement.[6]

Southern Republicans during the 1960s tackled their party’s negative image head-on. Candidates such as William Workman, who ran for the Senate from South Carolina in 1962, and Rubel Phillips, who sought Mississippi’s governorship in 1963, toiled to convince white southerners that the contemporary GOP repudiated its Reconstruction heritage. In their highly conservative, arguably segregationist campaigns, Workman and Phillips did not refute Tragic Era caricatures of Reconstruction. Instead, they concurred with them, casting Democrats in the part of carpetbagger and scalawag. Phillips agreed with his Democratic opponent, Paul Johnson, that “the Republican party had its foot on the necks of Mississippians a hundred years ago.” “Today the shoe is on the other foot and the Democrats in Mississippi are doing exactly what the Republicans did 100 years ago” he countered.[7] While primarily encouraging Mississippians to ignore the GOP’s historic associations with Reconstruction, Phillips, like other southern Republicans, hoped to redirect white southern animosity away from the Republican Party of the past and towards the Democratic Party of the present

Attacks on the civil rights designs of John F. Kennedy’s White House were at the heart of southern Republicanism in this period. Southern Republicans hoped to harness white anger regarding civil rights advances, especially federally supported integration – such as the 1962 desegregation of the University of Mississippi (perhaps a precursor to the coded attacks on teaching “Critical Race Theory” central to Youngkin’s triumph). At an October 1962 rally, Workman thanked the band for playing Dixie. “I just hope that that song could be heard all the way from Oxford, Miss[issippi]. to Washington, D.C.” he thundered.[8] As southern Republicans increasingly mirrored southern Democrats in their rhetoric and positions, GOP campaigns adopted trappings common in Dixie politics. With the disavowal of Reconstruction and embrace of the Lost Cause, it was unsurprising that southern Republicans and their supporters felt comfortable waving Confederate battle flags or playing Dixie.  

While Workman and Phillips focused on removing the albatross of Reconstruction, James Martin, who challenged Alabama Democratic stalwart Lister Hill for his Senate seat in 1962, openly embraced pro-Confederate memories. Martin encouraged white Alabamians that a vote for him was comparable to the labors of their Confederate ancestors. He celebrated how “our forefathers in 1861 founded a new nation to fight for what they believed in.” “Today”, Martin asserted, “we cannot take up the rifle and bayonet, but we can fight back from the ballot boxes of the South.”[9] Martin regularly told voters to “go to the polls with a Rebel yell”, proclaiming that “the South will rise again” if he was victorious.[10] On the eve of polling day, Martin and the Alabama GOP held a rally at Montgomery’s state capital. A spotlight flashed to Martin standing on the star marking where Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the Confederacy’s president. Bounding down the steps to address supporters waving Confederate battle flags, he declared his victory would be “a drastic change” for Alabama, comparable to “the inauguration of Davis.”[11]

Bronze star inlay in light gray marble with dark gray marble about the top point.
The star marking where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated (Library of Congress)

Workman, Phillips, and Martin were all unsuccessful in their campaigns. Workman won 43 percent of the vote, Phillips 38 percent, while Martin was within a percentage point of defeating Hill.[12] Despite defeat, these were incredibly impressive showings given the one-party nature of these states and the century of history they were butting up against. The Republican Right was buoyed by the results, which tendered the possibility of a two-party South and reinforced the claims of GOP conservatives, especially Barry Goldwater, that white southerners were the party’s most fertile ground. Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, which ended in resounding defeat but saw five southern states vote Republican – largely thanks to the senator’s vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act – solidified the reorientation of the GOP towards racial conservativism and the white South. Richard Nixon built on Goldwater’s foundations with a successfully executed “Southern Strategy” during his 1968 and 1972 presidential runs.[13]

The responses of national, non-southern Republicans to the campaigns waged by their southern comrades would decide the road ahead for the GOP. Black and white liberal Republicans were horrified by the racial conservativism of Workman, Martin, and Phillips. However, more right-leaning Republicans acquiesced to their Lost Cause memories. In his 1964 presidential bid, Goldwater was comfortable with his southern supporters using Confederate memory. During a visit to Fayetteville, North Carolina, he was welcomed by supporters in replica Confederate uniforms, carrying a battle flag, and firing a Civil War-era cannon.[14] Goldwater also echoed the rhetoric used by southern Republicans to reframe white anger rooted in Reconstruction. He informed southern audiences that there was “nothing left…of the principles that your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers stood for in the Democratic Party”, encouraging listeners that he was “fighting for…the same things your fathers’ grandfathers fought for as Democrats.”[15]

The ultimate concession of the national party to the Lost Cause came in May 1970, as Spiro Agnew spoke at the dedication of Stone Mountain. Agnew praised the Confederate luminaries – Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis – depicted in granite. The appearance of a Republican vice president at a space associated with the Ku Klux Klan’s re-emergence, and his public praising of three men who went to war to preserve the institution of slavery, illustrated the willingness of Republican leaders to capitulate and abandon the party’s Lincolnian history for the sake of white southern support.[16]

 

Man standing at podium on stage in front of a mountain and engraved soldiers in background.
Spiro Agnew speaking at Stone Mountain, May 1970 (Georgia State University)

The line from James Martin to Spiro Agnew to Wendy Rogers is not difficult to draw. Southern Republicans in the 1960s employed Civil War memories in their efforts to realign the former Confederacy. National Republican leaders read the turbulent political winds and played on anti-civil rights, white backlash sentiments, acquiescing to pro-Confederate memories circulating in southern politics. The GOP was irrevocably transformed in the civil rights era, continuing the course charted by southern Republicans and their national allies by becoming increasingly racially conservative, ethnically homogenous, and southern. As conservative white politicians and voters, inside and outside the South, migrated to the GOP, the party of Lincoln became a safe space and breeding ground for the Lost Cause. Lost Cause memories offer shared culture war touchstones for a contemporary Republican Party which is overwhelmingly uniform in belief. This enables Republicans based outside the former rebel states, like Trump or Rogers, to wave battle flags or defend Confederate monuments without irony or introspection. Wendy Rogers encouraged voters to “Make General Lee proud.” Republican politicians, activists, and supporters have been busy transforming the party of Lincoln into the party of Lee ever since the civil rights era, when the emancipatory promises of the 1860s took a step closer to fruition. One can only wonder what both Lincoln and Lee would make of the Republican Party of today.

 

 

[1] Gabriela Miranda, “Arizona state senator encourages Republican voters in Virginia to ‘Make General Lee proud’”, USA Today, 2 November 2021, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/11/02/make-general-lee-proud-arizona-senator-tells-voters/6248805001/.

[2] Richard Fausset, “As Trump rises, so do some hands waving Confederate battle flags”, New York Times, 18 November 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/19/us/confederate-flag-trump.html; Eugene Scott, “Trump’s ardent defense of Confederate monuments continues as Americans swing the opposite direction”, Washington Post, 1 July 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/01/trumps-ardent-defense-confederate-monuments-continues-americans-swing-opposite-direction/; Jonathan S. Blake, “Republican legislators want you to think Confederate monuments aren’t political”, The Nation, 15 June 2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/republican-legislators-want-you-to-think-confederate-monuments-arent-political/.

[3] Jane Coaston, “Virginia Republican just nominated an alt-right hero to run for Senate”, Vox, 8 August 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/6/13/17458452/alt-right-corey-stewart-virginia-gop; “Corey Stewart Proud of Confederate Flag, Claims It Isn’t Racist (4/8/17)”, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4rk6a1za4Y.

[4] There is extensive historiography on the growth of southern Republicanism during the civil rights era. See, for example, Earl and Mele Black, The Rise of Southern Republicans (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2002), Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields, The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[5] “New South Carolina Republican Party”, New York Herald Tribune, 15 October 1939; “Resolution offered by Mrs. Messervy for state rights” newspaper clipping, [1940?], Scrapbook, 1928-1962, microfilm R.174, Cornelia Dabney Tucker Scrapbooks, 1928-1967, South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, S.C.

[6] On the intersection of the Civil War centennial and the civil rights movement see Robert Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).

[7] “Rubel wants two parties”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 16 October 1963, p.16.

[8] “W.D. Workman speech at Walterboro First Congressional District Rally”, October 1962, General, Speeches, 1962, Elections, U.S. Senate, Johnston vs. Workman, Box 5, Campaign Files, William D. Workman Jr. Papers, South Carolina Political Collections, Columbia, S.C.

[9] “Martin, Hill foe, ‘Out For Victory’”, Dothan Eagle, 23 July 1962, p.1-2.

[10] “Cheering crowd hears Martin predict victory”, Montgomery Advertiser, 2 November 1962, p.1-2A; “Need for strong 2-party system”, Montgomery Advertiser, 29 September 1962, p.12.

[11] “Martin says victory ‘near’”, Birmingham News, 2 November 1962, p.29

[12] “Political Profiles of the States: Revised”, September 1965, Frames 230-281, Reel 4, Papers of the Republican Party, Part II, 1911-1980, Reports and Memoranda of the Research Division of the Headquarters of the Republican National Committee, 1938-1980, Reel 4, Frames 230-281, Roosevelt Institute for American Studies, Middleburg, Netherlands.

[13] Dan T. Carter, The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000); Joseph Crespino, Strom Thurmond’s America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

[14] “Johnson plan on poverty hit by Goldwater”, Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1964, p.8.

[15] “‘Whitewash’ charged by Goldwater”, Los Angeles Times, 18 September 1964, p.1-2; “Goldwater woos Dixie Democrats.” Washington Post, 17 September 1964, p.A6.

[16] “Agnew mellow in talk hailing Confederate heroes”, New York Times, 10 May 1970, p.69.

Congratulations to the 2021 Anne Bailey Prize Winner

Congratulations to the 2021 Anne Bailey Prize Winner

We are happy to announce that Jonathan Jones has been awarded the Anne Bailey Prize for 2021 for his dissertation, “Opium Slavery: Veterans and Addiction in the American Civil War Era.” The selection committee was chaired by Jane E. Schultz, Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, and included Kathryn Shively, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Andrew Lang, Mississippi State University. Jonathan’s dissertation Binghamton University was directed by Diane Miller Sommerville; the committee included Gerald Kutcher, Robert Parkinson, and cognate member Judy Giesberg of Villanova University. Jones is currently an assistant professor at the Virginia Military Institute.

Portrait of man standing in doorwayFrom the committee:  This project offers an intervention in disability and medical studies by investigating drug protocols administered to sick and wounded soldiers to arrest pain during the Civil War and then by charting the consequences of those protocols in the long postwar period.  In his research Jones finds an early opioid crisis that has never been recognized as such and that has crucial resonances with the 21st-century version of opioid overuse instigated by the pharmaceutical industry and an under-cautious medical establishment. It is not simply that Jones’s study of Civil War soldiers’ addictions has current sociomedical relevance, but in showing how addiction has been systemically and institutionally constructed, he provides a model and a cautionary tale about the perils of accusing veterans of moral weakness instead of the chemical dependency that was, in effect, perpetrated on them by 19th-century medical practitioners who were caught up in dangerous cycles of over-prescribing.  In this sense, Jones has brought modern medical knowledge of the pharmacopoeia to bear on what he terms the first national “epidemic” of opioid abuse. Given the last two decades of scholarship on war memory, Jones notes the absence and thus the irony of the dearth of studies about wartime addiction.

Weaving together difficult-to-negotiate asylum records as well as several underutilized medical archives, this project reaches across an interdisciplinary range of fields, including disability studies, the history of psychology, the history of memory and trauma, and medical ethics. Having used the case studies of nearly 150 opiate-addicted veterans, Jones explains how the historically recent digitization of so many 19th-century primary sources and his ability to cross-reference individuals in case studies with hospital databases made such a synthesis possible.  The opportunity to research the long-term effects of the postwar crisis provided insights not only into modern understandings of human psychology but also into the moral interpretation of psychological and physical debility.  Jones enters into the complex discussion of addiction as it was referred to by 19th-century observers as a form of ‘slavery,’ and he notes how this slavery undermined veterans’ health, wealth, and family intimacies.  With particularly new and incisive data sets, he shows how the children of addicted veterans were consigned to impoverished lives themselves.

Because many addicts were unable to work, they were subject to cultural assault in ways that exposed the limits of contemporaneous gender, race, and class identities, especially for those who were unable to hide the visible effects of their addictions.  Jones suggests that addiction was a gendered and raced phenomenon that fractured conventional notions about manhood, effeminizing men as weak, shiftless, and unworthy of citizenship—arguments that had been deployed to restrict the movements of women and blacks throughout the 19th century.  Not only were addicted veterans excluded from the celebration of American manhood that followed the war, but they might find themselves incarcerated in mental institutions or barred from residing in soldiers’ homes and applying for the pensions made available to throngs of able-bodied men.  In recounting the history of how patent medicine sales worked to ensnare addicts in regimes of restoring manhood and self-respect and of inebriety clinics that promised to cure inmates of their addictions (one even established by former Union Surgeon General William Hammond), Jones uncovers new information about veterans’ attempts to defend themselves and physicians’ reactions to the serious charges leveled against them. One consequence of the wartime over-prescribing of opiates to address the pain of so many sick and wounded bodies was that surgeons sought to reframe addiction as a medicalized affliction rather than an individual surrendering of character.

Ultimately “Opium Slavery” breaks new ground by constructing an innovative model of war disability that serves as a complement to brief recent studies by Sarah Handley-Cousins, Allison Johnson, and Guy Hasegawa. What separates Jones’s work from these others is his deep immersion into surgical perspectives that redefined addiction as a psychological impairment and not a life choice in the wake of the Civil War. This research has the power to broaden understandings of today’s opioid crisis by contextualizing it in another historical period, and it opens the study of military trauma to wider inspection in the worlds of medicine and psychology.  On its way to becoming an important monograph, “Opium Slavery” presents original scholarship based on an impressive and creative use of primary and secondary sources.

James Marten

James Marten is professor of history at Marquette University and a past president of the Society of Civil War Historians. The author, editor, or co-editor of over twenty books, including Buying and Selling Civil War Memory in Gilded Age America, Co-edited, with Caroline E. Janney (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2021); America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014), and Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

“As American citizens, we have a right….”: Death, Protest, and Respect in Alexandria, Virginia

“As American citizens, we have a right….”: Death, Protest, and Respect in Alexandria, Virginia

One of the newest—yet oldest—members of the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Network (AACRN) is the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial, first established in 1864 in Alexandria, Virginia.

The sites in the AACRN, created by Congress in 2017, “offer a comprehensive overview of the people, places, and events associated with the civil rights movement in the United States.”[1] So while the cemetery is a place of commemoration, the focus for the June 2021 designation focuses on the civil rights action that it precipitated.

That action began when hospitalized U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) successfully protested how they should be treated in their final sacrifice for the Union—their deaths.

As context, Federal troops occupied Alexandria, across from Washington, throughout the Civil War. Wharves and railroad lines transported tons of supplies and thousands of soldiers in and out of the city. Thirty-two hospitals opened in confiscated, abandoned, or rapidly constructed buildings. Among them, L’Ouverture Hospital, built for non-white soldiers and civilians, opened in February 1864. Its wards soon filled with USCT patients, many from the Battle of the Crater. Dysentery and other diseases afflicted other patients. The Army was also officially responsible for providing support to the roughly 8,000 freedpeople who left enslavement to seek freedom in Alexandria.[2]

Dealing with the dead unfortunately grew in priority. In July 1862, Congress allowed for creation of 14 national cemeteries, including what was then called Soldiers’ Cemetery in Alexandria (now Alexandria National Cemetery).[3] By September, the Alexandria Gazette reported “one thousand interments in the Soldiers Cemetery in this place,” and about 18 months later, noted its expansion onto adjacent land.[4]

Black and white image of rows of headstones in a cemetery
Soldiers’ Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia, circa 1864. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-cwpb-03928

Freedpeople (known then as “contrabands,” since they were considered contraband Confederate property) were buried in an existing paupers’ cemetery until not an inch remained. “The contraband are literally packed away,” wrote white Quaker relief agent Julia Wilbur, who was told by a grave-digger that he had to place three or four bodies in each pit.[5] In 1864, the Army confiscated land belonging to Robert E. Lee’s lawyer to build a new “contraband burial ground.” It provided at least some dignity—a casket, wooden marker, and listing in a record book with the person’s name, age, and cause of death.[6]

But conflict brewed. The Superintendent of Contrabands, a white Connecticut minister named Albert Gladwin, had charge of the new cemetery. He ordered the burial of deceased USCT alongside Black civilians rather than fellow soldiers. No clear reason has surfaced why, although the order may have been caught up in bureaucratic wrangling between the Military Governor (to whom Gladwin reported) and the Quartermaster (responsible for Soldier’s Cemetery). As another possibility, Wilbur and others wrote about Gladwin’s disrespect toward Blacks; taking away the honor of lying in a military burial ground may have been part and parcel of this attitude.[7]

On December 26, 1864, one man too many was denied the military honor due him. When Gladwin ordered the hearse carrying Pvt. Shadrick Murphy to the contraband cemetery, the driver objected, although in vain. Word got back to L’Ouverture Hospital. It is unclear why Murphy’s interment proved the breaking point. With the fluctuating patient population, perhaps one or more men had entered the hospital who could turn dismay into action.

They acted quickly, powerfully, and decisively.

A petition was drawn up that asserted the right of a member of the USCT to the honor of a military burial. Within a day, it was signed by or on behalf of 443 men across the hospital’s wards. Each person’s name, rank, company, and regiment are listed.

Historic document with petition and signatures of signees
The petition circulated by USCT soldiers at L’Ouverture Hospital, December 1864. (Photo courtesy of author).

The petition’s author is not identified, but its message is clear, stating in part:

We are not contrabands, but soldiers of the U.S. Army, we have cheerfully left the comforts of home, and entered into the field of conflict, fighting side by side with the white soldiers to crush out the God insulting, Hell deserving rebellion.

As American citizens, we have a right to fight for the protection of her flag, that right is granted, and we are now sharing equally the dangers and hardships in this mighty contest, and should shair [sic] the same privileges and rights of burial in every way with our fellow soldiers, who only differ from us in color…[8]

 

When Surgeon-in-Charge Edwin Bentley received the petition on December 27, he sent it to Quartermaster J.G.C. Lee, who had responsibility for the military cemetery. The next day, Lee sent it to Quartermaster-General Montgomery Meigs with a letter of support. “The feeling on the part of the colored soldiers is unanimous to be placed in the military cemetery and it seems but just and right that they should be,” Lee told Meigs.[9]

Meigs agreed. Henceforth, the USCT dead would rest in Soldiers’ Cemetery. Moreover, in January 1865, the 118 soldiers buried in the civilian cemetery were disinterred and moved to the military cemetery. Of the 270 USCT buried in Alexandria National Cemetery, at least 23 had signed the petition.[10]

More recent action also merits designation of the Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial as part of the AASCN. After 1869, the markers of its approximately 1,700 souls deteriorated.  Vegetation and development took over the cemetery. The property changed hands several times. By the mid-1950s, a gas station operated on it, despite an earlier contract’s explicit prohibition not to use the land for an “automobile service station.”[11]

In the mid-1980s, its past reemerged. Plans to construct a bridge across the Potomac River required studies of the surrounding area, which encompassed the site. Documentary research found references to the cemetery that earlier city leaders had ignored; archaeological work, including ground-penetrating radar, found 541 graves. And  in 1995, a historian discovered the tattered record book in an Arlington County archive.[12]

Years of advocacy culminated in city investment to create the current-day Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial. Beige stones designate where graves were discovered. Art installations inspire and educate. Bronze panels are inscribed with each person’s name from the record book. A genealogist has, to date, connected more than 180 families with ancestors buried there.[13]

Fence in foreground with a bronze memorial in the background.
Freedman and Contraband Cemetery Memorial today. Beige stones on the grass and brick sidewalk mark where archaeological investigations found evidence of graves, which were left undisturbed. (Photo courtesy of author).

At the ceremony marking the AASCN designation in July 2021, Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, stressed the site’s role as one part of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project.[14] “The City of Alexandria has made a commitment to social justice in all branches of city government,” she said. “This important work, in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiative, strives to bring justice to the interpretation of Alexandria’s Black history. The honor by the National Park Service is a critical step toward that goal.”

 

[1] “Discover the Network,” African American Civil Rights Network, available online at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/civilrights/discover-the-network.htm

[2] Sarah Traum, Bryan Corle, and Joseph Balicki, Documentary Study, Archaeological Evaluation and Resource Management Plan for 1323 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia, Final Report, May 2007, available online at https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/archaeology/SiteReportTraum1323Duke.pdf

[3] Omnibus Act PL 165, Section 18, passed July 17, 1862, allowed President Lincoln “to purchase cemetery grounds and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in service of the country.”

[4] Alexandria Gazette, September 12, 1863, pg. 1; June 27, 1864, pg. 3.

[5] Julia Wilbur, May 15, 1863; February 5, 1864. MC. 1158, Box 4, Quaker & Special Collections, Haverford College.

[6] “Contrabands and Freedman Cemetery, Site #44AX0179/VDHR #100-0121-1085,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, National Park Service, available at  https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/100-1021-1085_Contrabands_and_Freedmen_Cemetery_2012_NRHP_FINAL.pdf

[7] Gladwin explained his burial methods in a letter to Military Governor John Slough on December 16, 1864, contained in Letters Received, 1862-1865, Records of the Military Governor of Alexandria, Records of the United States Army Continental Commands, RG 393, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For an example describing Gladwin’s attitudes toward African Americans, see Julia Wilbur to Anna M.C. Barnes, March 5, 1864, Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society Papers, 1848-1868, available at http://name.umdl.umich.edu/rochester.0001.061

[8] The petition is in Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Entry 576, General Correspondence and Reports Related to National and Post Cemeteries, NARA. For a transcript of the full petition and signatories, see Timothy Dennee and Lillie Finklea, “Convalescent Soldiers in L’Ouverture Hospital ‘Express Our View’ on Burial Location,” available at http://www.freedmenscemetery.org/resources/documents/louverture.shtml

[9]J.G.C. Lee to Montgomery Meigs, December 28, 1864, Quartermaster’s Office, Alexandria, VA, RG 92, Entry 576, NARA.

[10] Edward Miller, “Volunteers for Freedom: Black Civil War Soldiers in Alexandria National Cemetery, Part I,” Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Fall 1998, and “Volunteers for Freedom: Black Civil War Soldiers in Alexandria National Cemetery, Part II,” Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Winter 1998.

[11] “Contrabands and Freedman Cemetery, Site #44AX0179/VDHR #100-0121-1085,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, National Park Service, available at  https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/100-1021-1085_Contrabands_and_Freedmen_Cemetery_2012_NRHP_FINAL.pdf

[12] Wesley E. Pippenger, Alexandria, Virginia Death Records, 1863-1868 (the Gladwin Record) and 1869-1896. (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1995).

[13] Char McCargo Bah, Alexandria’s Freedmen’s Cemetery: A Legacy of Freedom. (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2019).

[14] “Alexandria Community Remembrance Project,” available at https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/blackhistory/default.aspx?id=106501

Paula Tarnapol Whitacre

Paula Tarnapol Whitacre is a writer and editor in Alexandria, Virginia. Her book A Civil Life in an Uncivil Time: Julia Wilbur’s Struggle for Purpose (Potomac Books, 2017) is a biography of a New York teacher who served as a relief agent in Alexandria during the Civil War. She is currently researching the intersecting lives of Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and the family of author Nathaniel Parker Willis. Her website and blog are at paulawhitacre.com.

Captured Confederate Flags and Fake News in Civil War Memory

Captured Confederate Flags and Fake News in Civil War Memory

Earlier this summer, after a decades-long fight that gained traction over the past four years, the city of Charlottesville finally removed its infamous statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. In doing so, Charlottesville joined the ranks of cities like New Orleans, Baltimore, and Richmond, southern cities that have removed their Confederate monuments in the last decade.[1] When his city began its monument removal, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney noted that statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders create a false history of the Civil War and its aftermath by honoring men who committed treason: “It’s the fake news of their time.”[2] Fake news has been inherent to the Lost Cause narrative since its inception, employed to justify the construction of Confederate statues and the deification of Confederates across the country. It has also played a key role in the history of another, often overlooked, variety of Confederate monument: captured Confederate flags.

Large statue hoisted in air by large crane.
Removal of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee Statue, September 2021 (NPR)

During the Civil War, Federal regiments captured and brought home hundreds of Confederate battle flags. Some are maintained by Northern states to this day, which has made them a unique type of monument. Minnesota, for example, famously refuses to return a flag captured from the 28th Virginia Infantry at Gettysburg, creating a strange situation in which a northern state owns, and has occasionally displayed, a Confederate banner. In the immediate aftermath of the war, little attention was paid to these trophies. Indeed, some captured flags vanish from the historical record almost immediately after their capture. By the 1880s, however, as the nation emerged from Reconstruction, some legislators began to understand the symbolic significance of flag returns and, by the end of the decade, it was a controversy making headlines across the country. The heart of the conflict was a 1887 Executive Order issued by President Grover Cleveland that mandated battle flags held in federal custody be returned to the states from which they originated. In theory, returning captured flags would strike a reconciliatory tone, signaling to both sides that wartime was over. In practice, it was met with near-universal disdain. Northerners saw it as a cowardly concession to a South they had not yet forgiven; ex-Confederates considered it an insult, a political misstep, or simply an empty gesture.[3]

Then, as now, high tempers led to reckless journalism. Both Southerners who wanted their flags back and Northerners who vehemently opposed the idea claimed the endorsement of a particularly polarizing figure: Jefferson Davis. Soon after the original order was issued by the Cleveland administration, the New York Sun reported on a letter allegedly sent by Davis in which he argued that “the order of the War Department to return the captured flags to the late Confederate states was a violation of all known military precedents,” and went on to say that the flags should be returned to the states that captured them.[4] This was a fairly radical stance for an ex-Confederate to take; even most conservative Southern newspapers had admitted to wanting the flags back if they could get them. For Davis to come forward with the notion that the captured flags belonged to the victors was news indeed. There was only one problem: the letter was fake news.

From the beginning, there was some doubt as to its authenticity. One Minnesota newspaper ran the letter with a note stating, “it may be that the above letter is not authentic.”[5] Soon, the public caught on to the fabrication, and Southerners were, predictably, outraged. The Staunton Spectator wrote that “such conduct is unpardonable,” and, a few days later, published a Davis letter of its own.[6] In that letter—which was also carried by the Sun—Davis wrote that “to retain as a point of pride a flag captured in battle by either the Union or Confederate soldiers would be equivalent to renewed exultation of triumph by one or the other, and surely not a step toward the restoration of peace.”[7] Davis, echoing other Southern papers, noted that the South had not requested the return of the flags, but still saw the gesture as one of goodwill and reconciliation, a potential recognition of the “nobility” of the Confederate cause.

The fact that both factions sought to claim Davis’ endorsement displays the extent to which he still held political and cultural power, twenty years after the end of his administration. If the first letter was the truth—if Davis did believe that the flags should remain with their captors—then Northern claims were vindicated. If even the president of the Confederacy admitted that the North had a legitimate right to the flags, then Northern claims of virtue gained considerable momentum. It would be a ratification of Northern nobility from the heart of the Confederacy, an endorsement of what Robert Penn Warren dubbed the “Treasury of Virtue,” the North’s self-imposed sense of righteousness that made them the guardians of national morality.[8] On the other hand, if Davis believed the flags should be returned, then the reconciliation gained ground. According to their very own Jefferson Davis, the ex-Confederates were loyal Americans, and the Northerners were standing on a soapbox condescending to them rather than getting on with rebuilding a nation.

The two sides of the Jefferson Davis incident are the same two sides that exist in contemporary monument debates. On one hand are certain, mostly white, Southerners who want their flags flown and their statues erected as monuments to their heritage. On the other side are those who feel that monuments to such people represent a deification of the values for which they fought. This is still the great underlying truth of Confederate flag debates: Neoconfederates see Northerners as patronizing, hypocritical outsiders who don’t respect their heritage, and many Northerners see the pro-flag faction as backwards, ignorant, and racist —in large part because the flag stood for, and still stands for, treason and white supremacy. Each side feels misunderstood, misheard, and mistreated, contributing to the cyclical nature of these conflicts. For the most part, neither side is particularly interested in exploring the fundamental racial aspects of the conflict; instead, it is purported to be entirely a question of heritage and memory. Our contemporary debates about Confederate monuments, whether they are statues in Charlottesville or flags tucked away in a Minnesota archive, are not, ultimately, very different from the debates of over a century ago.

Group photo of five uniformed soldiers standing and one officer sitting in a chair.
First Minnesota Volunteers (Minnesota Historical Society)

Every few years, the state of Virginia asks the state of Minnesota to please return that Confederate flag, the one that the Minnesotans captured at Gettysburg in 1863. Minnesota, so far, has never shown any interest in doing so.[9] The flag was captured on the third day of the battle by the Minnesota First, a regiment that had, the day before, suffered extreme casualties in a near-suicidal charge to hold the Union line. According to some accounts, the regiment saved the battle, and the Union.[10] Today, the flag is imbued with a new mythology, one of Union heroism and Minnesotan sacrifice, and the state is determined to hold on to its trophy. In 2000, responding to a request to return the flag, Governor Jesse Ventura summed up the state’s policy quite succinctly: “Absolutely not. Why? I mean, we won.”[11]

[1] David Mistich, “After Removing Two Confederate Statues, Charlottesville Officials Vote to Take Down a Third,” NPR (July 10, 2021).

[2]“The History and Future of Confederate Monuments,” CBS News (July 12, 2020).

[3]  Caroline Janney, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 225.

[4] “A Letter From Jeff Davis,” The Sun (June 24, 1887). Library of Congress.

[5] “Jefferson Davis: An Alleged Letter From the Ex-Confederate Chief,” St. Paul Daily Globe (June 24, 1887). Library of Congress.

[6] “A Forged Letter Purporting to be Written By Jefferson Davis,” The Staunton Spectator (June 29, 1887). Library of Congress.

[7] “Mr. Davis on the Flags,” The Staunton Spectator (July 6, 1887). Library of Congress.

[8]  Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War (Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1960), 59.

[9] Kathy Sawyer, “Capture the Flag,” The Washington Post (April 23, 2000).

[10] Richard Moe, The Last Full Measure (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1993), 29.

[11]“Ventura Won’t Give Flag Back to Virginia,” Chicago Tribune (Feb. 29, 2000).

Maria DiStefano

Maria DiStefano is a student of American history at the University of Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in the intersection of history, memory, and education systems.

The Long Travails and Promises of Black Border Crossing

The Long Travails and Promises of Black Border Crossing

On September 19, 2021, Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Paul Ratje published vivid images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback forcefully corralling Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas.  When the images spread on social and news media, with commentators spotlighting the swinging leather strap in one agent’s hand, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised his office would respond with “tremendous speed and tremendous force.”  President Joe Biden offered his own public condemnation: “It’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay.  They will be investigated.  There will be consequences.”[1]

Historians have been quick to highlight the striking similarities between the images captured by the AFP photographer and those vividly painted in the testimonies of Black people enslaved in the 19th-century United States.  For some, the images conjured up the mounted, whip-wielding “patter rollers,” who struck fear into the hearts of the enslaved, especially those who grew old enough to share their personal narratives to New Deal program journalists during the mid-to-late 1930s.[2]  Of all the memories that endured the test of time, those of slave patroller violence – usually forged during childhood – remained poignant.  As Green Cumby remembered, “If de patter rolls cotch you without de pass…, you better wish you dead, ‘cause you would have yourself some trouble.”[3]

Photo of Sam Jones Washington, 1937. Washington was another former slave who highlighted the terror of slave patrollers in his testimony to a Federal Writers’ Project interviewer. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Del Rio images do more, however, than provoke the mid-19th-century terrorism of enslavers and enslaver-proxies in their quest to immobilize and subordinate enslaved Black communities across the U.S. South.  Perhaps more directly, the photographs remind us of the long, varied history of Black border crossing to and from Texas.  The Haitian migrants are by no means the first Black refugees to seek solace beyond the border, and their crossings certainly were not the first to unsettle government officials.  Since at least the 18th-century, Black border traversing in Texas has confounded state-building efforts, exposing both the ongoing violence of colonial (and postcolonial) communities and the inevitable porosity of imperial and national boundaries.[4]

Some of the earliest instances of Black border crossing likely occurred during the middle part of the 18th century, as far back as 1751, when Spanish officials contemplated the policy of liberating Black fugitives who escaped to Texas from French Louisiana.[5]  At the time, Spanish Texas was more a place of imperial instability than an obvious refuge for escapees, as both ambiguous colonial policy and the pronounced influence of Indigenous communities mitigated coordinated slave catching or extradition.  Within this context, fugitive esclavos were resourceful and adept. Whether they sought sanctuary among the Texas missionaries or banded together on their own in the woods, their efforts drove yet another wedge into Spanish-French relations.  Their border traversing stalled bureaucrats, frustrated colonial governors, and offered them at least a measure of relief from direct enslaver violence.[6]

In the decades that followed, after France ceded their Louisiana possessions to Spain, the imperial borders between the territories blurred.  This may have streamlined extradition processes for Spanish officials and enslavers, but Black fugitivity persisted nonetheless.[7]  When Louisiana switched colonial monikers yet again – from Spanish to French and finally to American – at the start of the 19th century, the imaginary borders of empires and nation-states became as untenable as ever.  Populations rapidly increased.  Communities moved and consolidated.  Production accelerated.  Goods flowed as never before.  Inter- and intra-community violence abounded.  And enslaved Black people took advantage.[8]  Even when Black freedom became as tenuous and uncertain as it had ever been in the borderlands – amid the mid-1830s Anglo-American slaveholder-led rebellion against Mexico – Black fugitives found ways to disrupt the prerogatives of their enslavers, enslaver-proxies, and sympathetic Mexican officials alike.[9]

By the mid-19th century, Black fugitivity and border traversing had become a scourge to Anglo-American Texas, the obvious limits of enslaver authority.[10]  “All we had to do was walk,… and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande,” Felix Haywood explained during the 1930s. “In Mexico you could be free.”[11]  Contemporaries claimed that the number of Black escapees to Mexico from the United States reached into the several thousand.[12]  The fact that some Black fugitives collaborated with displaced Mexican peones – border interlopers in their own right – only heightened the danger they posed to an ordered, White supremacist society.[13]  Naturally, enslavers and their allies responded by violating the supposed “sanctity” of the U.S.-Mexico border to re-enslave their runaway property. In one of the more infamous border-traversing incidents of the era, James Calhoun Callahan marched across the Río Grande with over 100 men to attack a well-known Black settlement, fought back a defensive force of 200 Mexican servicemen and their Native allies, and occupied the town of Piedras Negras, another home to Black escapees.  Although Callahan and his men were largely unsuccessful in their slave-hunting operations, before returning to Texas they set Piedras Negras ablaze, devastating the prominent Black refuge.  The 1855 Callahan expedition, conducted without official sanction, was ostensibly a retaliatory mission against resistant Lipan-Apaches – who were border traversers themselves – but the implications and message of his invasion and other slave-hunting activities were clear: only certain kinds of border crossings, by specific kinds of people, were permissible and righteous.[14]  By the 1860s, the inability of U.S. federal forces to halt the flow of Black bodies beyond their frontiers was yet another reason the (slave) State of Texas rejected the Union.[15]

C.E. Bonwill, “Our Mexican frontier – cotton press at Piedras Negras, on the Rio Grande, the centre of the rebel trade,” 1864. Piedras Negras was a key node in the Black freedom network in Mexico during the first half of the 19th century. During the U.S. Civil War, Confederates used the town to traffic cotton across the border to maintain the lucrative, slavery-based trade, despite the Union naval blockade. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today, the impetus for Haitian border crossing lies more in structural disparities, globally instituted neoliberal policies, and persistent anti-Black racism rather than immediate escape from the personal violence and exploitation of White supremacist enslavers.[16]  Haiti’s existence, of course, stands as a monument, albeit an imperfect one, to slave resistance, and it would be grossly disingenuous to suggest that the struggles the Haitian people face in the 21st century, in Haiti itself or at the U.S.-Mexico border, have nothing to do with Haiti’s 300-year history of anti-Black slavery.  But there’s no need to elaborate those connections here.  U.S. Border Patrol agent responses to Haitian border traversing draw as much from a long internal history as from a foreign one.  State borders, whether they be national or colonial, exist not as static demarcations of territorial boundaries but as articulations of power.  The terms of border crossing – who can cross, when, and how – are historical; they reflect the changing imperatives of those in power, as well as the challenges they face to maintain it.  Sometimes, those challenges are a necessary path to an elusive freedom.

[1] Bill Chappell, “U.S. Border Agents Chased Migrants on Horseback. A  Photographer Explains What He Saw,” September 21, 2021, NPR, https://www.npr.org/2021/09/21/1039230310/u-s-border-agents-haiti-migrants-horses-photographer-del-rio; Kevin Johnson, “DHS vows to have findings within ‘days’ in investigation of Border Patrol’s Treatment of Haitian Migrants,” September 22, 2021, USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/09/22/photos-border-patrol-using-horse-reins-whips-prompts-dhs-probe/5812845001/; Maureen Groppe, Joey Garrison, Rick Rouan, and Courtney Subramanian, “Biden Vows action for treatment of Haitian Migrants,” September 24, 2021, USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/09/24/biden-promises-consequences-border-agents-treatment-migrants/5841644001/

[2] Javonte Anderson, “Historians: Border Patrol Agent’s Treatment of Haitian Migrants Recalls Slavery-Era Whippings,” September 24, USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/09/24/border-conflict-haiti-migrants-slavery/5820033001/.

[3] Testimony of Green Cumby, in Federal Writers’ Project, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves, Typewritten Records Prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938, Assembled by the Library of Congress Project Work Projects Administration for the District of Columbia Sponsored by the Library of Congress (Washington, 1941), “Texas Narratives,” Volume XVI, Part 1, 260.  For all of the published narratives, see https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/about-this-collection/.

[4] On the porosity of borders, see, for example, Jorge Bustamante, “Demystifying the United States-Mexico Border,” Journal of American History, Vol 79 (1992): 485-90.

[5] Ultimately, a Spanish war council argued that the policy, advocated by the Texas governor in 1751, was not “advisable, honest, or decorous… as this would serve to incite the anger of the French and to provoke… war.” Proceedings of the Junta de Guerra y Hacienda, January 21 and 22, 1754, Bexar Archives Online, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, https://briscoecenter.org/projects/bexar-archives-online/.

[6] The Spanish Royal Decree of September 24, 1750, for instance, promised liberation of fugitives from Protestant empires, but local officials still felt bound to established extradition law, especially when the “offender” moved from Catholic empire to Catholic empire.  Opinion of the Marqués de Aranda, April 5, 1758, Bexar Archives Online; Bram Hoonhout and Thomas Mareite, “Freedom at the Fringes? Slave Flight and Empire-Building in the Early Modern Spanish Borderlands of Essequibo-Venezuela and Louisiana-Texas,” Slavery & Abolition, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2019): 62, 71; Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), 148.

[7] See, for instance, Luis de Blanc to Manuel Múñoz, April 26, 1793, Bexar Archives Online.  For an astute discussion of Black fugitivity and “the unpredictable movement of Black bodies,” see Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 108-24.

[8] On the economic and demographic changes of the period, see Andrés Reséndez, Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 51, 70-73, 93-123; Andrew J. Torget, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformations of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 28, 35-36; Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 144-51; John Craig Hammon, “Slavery, Settlement, and Empire: The Expansion and Growth of Slavery in the Interior of the North American Continent, 1770-1820,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2012): 175-206.  On the violence of the era, see Folsom, Arredondo, 69-76, 87-94; Donald E. Chipman and Harriett Denise Joseph, Spanish Texas: 1519-1821, rev. ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 246-52;Thomas W. Kavanagh, Comanche Political History: An Ethnohistorical Perspective, 1706-1875 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 155-58.  For examples of Black fugitivity in the early 19th century, see: Nemesio Salcedo to José de Yturrigaray, January 23, 1805, Bexar Archives Online; Dionisio Valle to Juan Bautista de Elguézabal, September 19, 1805, Nemesio Salcedo to Manuel Antonio Cordero, November 4, 1805, August 14, 1806, and July 6, 1807, Francisco Viana to Manuel Antonio Cordero, July 29, August 12, September 10, and October 11, 1807, and May 1, 1808, Testimonies of fugitive negros Juan Luis, Margarita, Luis, Narciso, Ambrosio, Luis, and Perri, January 21, 1808, all in Bexar Archives Manuscripts, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin; Hoonhout and Mareite, “Freedom at the Fringes?,” 73-77; James David Nichols, The Limits of Liberty: Mobility and the Making of the Eastern U.S.-Mexico Border (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018), 58-67.

[9] Max Floman, “The Long War for Texas: Maroons, Renegades, Warriors, and Alternative Emancipations in the Southwest Borderlands, 1835-1845,” The Journal of the Civil War Era, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Mar. 2021): 40-42.

[10] Alice L. Baumgartner (South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War [New York: Basic Books, 2020]) even argues that Black border crossing in Texas contributed to the sectionalism that led to the U.S. Civil War.  Also see Nichols, The Limits of Liberty, 118-22, 134-43, 155-61; Sean M. Kelley, “‘Mexico in His Head’: Slavery and the Texas-Mexico Border, 1810-1860,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Spring, 2004): 709-23.

[11] Testimony of Felix Haywood, FWP “Texas Narratives,” Part 2, 132.

[12] Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier: With a Statistical Appendix (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co., 1857), 323-25; The Texas State Times (Austin), June 2, 1855.

[13] Texas State Gazette (Austin), September 2, 9, 23, and October 14, 1854, and December 12, 1857; Standard (Clarksville), September 9, and October 21, 1854; Nichols, The Limits of Liberty, 162; Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez, River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands (Durham: Duke University, 2013), 185

[14] Ronnie C. Tyler, “The Callahan Expedition of 1855: Indians or Negroes?,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Apr., 1967): 574-85; Nichols, The Limits of Liberty, 170-88, 196-201; Baumgartner, South to Freedom,212-13.  For other (including Hispanic) slave-hunting efforts along the border, see Jerry Thompson, Tejano Tiger: José de los Santos Benavides and the Texas-Mexico Borderlands, 1823-1891 (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2017), 74-75.

[15] This was articulated at the 1861 Texas Secession Convention.  William Winkler, ed., Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, 1861 (Austin: Austin Printing Company, 1912) 34, 62-64.  After the war, many defeated White Southerners believed their sanctuary lay south of the border.  See Todd Wahlstrom, The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015).

[16] Mabinty Quarshie and Javonte Anderson, “Del Rio Migrant Crisis: How Did So Many Haitians End Up at the Southern US Border?,” September 21, 2021, USA TODAY,https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/09/21/what-led-haitian-nationals-migrating-u-s-southern-border/8419170002/; Uriel J. García, “‘We Suffered a Lot to Get Here’: A Haitian Migrant’s Harrowing Journey to the Texas-Mexico Border,” October 1, 2021, The Texas Tribune, https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/01/haitian-migrants-texas-mexico-border/.

 

 

Paul Barba

Paul Barba is an assistant professor of history at Bucknell University. He graduated with a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2016. His first book project, tentatively titled Country of the Cursed and the Driven: Slavery and the Texas Borderlands, tracks and analyzes the multiple forms of slaving violence that emerged, dominated, and intersected throughout Texas from the early eighteenth century into the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is currently under contract with the University of Nebraska Press. Prior to Bucknell, Dr. Barba served as a managing editor at the Journal of Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos.