Category: Blog

Removing Slavery from Westward Expansion: Two Case Studies of Public Memorials in Missouri

Removing Slavery from Westward Expansion: Two Case Studies of Public Memorials in Missouri

The town of Marthasville, Missouri, is located about forty-five miles west of St. Louis. The oldest town in Warren County, Marthasville today is a quiet place with fertile farmland, a lakeside resort, and numerous wineries. Although I have lived in Missouri most of my life, I had never been to this place until fairly recently. I quickly discovered that residents of Marthasville are proud of their history. Dotted throughout this rural landscape are numerous historical markers celebrating the life of Daniel Boone—whose original gravesite was located two miles from downtown Marthasville—and the voyage of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Another historical marker explaining the history of Marthasville notes that the town was founded by Dr. John Young, who purchased more than 500 acres of land and named the town after his first wife, Martha.

It soon dawned upon me, however, that something was missing from this landscape. Dr. Young’s name rang a bell in my head, and at first I struggled to remember where I had heard his name. But then it hit me: Dr. John Young was a wealthy settler from Kentucky who had owned a large number of enslaved African Americans. The most notable of these African Americans was William Wells Brown, the famous abolitionist who went on to become a prolific writer and the country’s first black novelist with his 1853 book, Clotel.

A historical marker detailing the early history of Marthasville, Missouri, that fails to mention the famous abolitionist William Wells Brown, who lived in the town from 1817 to 1825. Photo courtesy of the author.

Of the seventeen years in which John Young owned Brown, eight of them (1817-1825) were spent in Marthasville. As Brown’s biographer Ezra Greenspan notes, Brown’s experiences distinguished him from other African American antislavery activists before the Civil War because he “grew in maturity as a participant in the great frontier drama unfolding across the interior of nineteenth-century North America. Move by move, he and his relatives were pushed westward . . . their master following the footsteps of Boone and other pioneer settlers.”[1] And yet, visitors to Marthasville today would have no idea that one of the country’s earliest civil rights leaders—a man that contemporaries compared to the likes of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass—had spent a number of his formative years in this small town.

Brown is not the only African American missing from the story of westward expansion in Missouri. In the city of St. Charles—a nearby suburb of St. Louis that lies on the Missouri River—a statue depicting Lewis and Clark figures prominently in a local park along the riverfront. Positioned in between the two men is “Seaman,” a dog that had been purchased by Lewis and accompanied the Corps of Discovery for the entire duration of their three-year trip. Notably absent from the monument is York, an enslaved man owned by William Clark who also accompanied the Corps of Discovery and played an important role as a scout, trader, and caretaker for the expedition. As far as I can tell, there are at least ten historical sites throughout the United States with monuments or statues that either depict or mention Seaman, while York only has two statues: in Louisville, Kentucky, and Portland, Oregon (Yorks Islands in Broadwater County, Montana, are also named for York).[2] The fact that a dog in the Corps of Discovery has more statues in his honor than an enslaved man (or any Indigenous people associated with the expedition) speaks volumes about the ways Americans have chosen to remember the interconnected stories of westward expansion, colonialism, and slavery before the Civil War.

The Lewis and Clark Monument and accompanying text in St. Charles, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the author.

A few conclusions can be drawn from these two historical icons in Missouri. First, while towns and cities throughout the United States frequently celebrate their “founders” and other early settlers through monuments and historical markers, the underlying historical actors who played their own roles in shaping the history of westward expansion—enslaved African Americans, Native Americans, and/or women who may have accompanied their white husbands in their travels—are often left out of the story. “Founders” monuments and historical markers often celebrate the image of heroic, “self-made” men who braved the dangers of a new frontier and helped create a new nation. That these same men contributed to growing conflicts over slavery’s westward expansion and eventual civil war is a point often ignored when told in a public history setting.

One reason for this silence is explained by my second conclusion: while historians have covered all aspects of slavery in the Deep South and Mid-Atlantic regions in recent years, the same cannot be said about slavery in the West. In her 2009 publication Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier, Lea VanderVelde argued that “although there is a very important increasing body of scholarship about antebellum southern slavery . . . there has been very little scholarship about frontier slaves.”[3] In the ten years since VanderVelde’s publication a range of studies has more closely examined slavery in wide ranging places such as the Northwest territory, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, and California.[4] Nevertheless there remains much work to bridge the gap and better demonstrate the interconnected history of westward expansion, slavery, and the Civil War. As Kristen Epps argues in her book Slavery on the Periphery, “enslaved emigrants found themselves participating in a westward movement designed to continue their enslavement on a structural level as well as a personal one.”[5]

How does your local community commemorate westward expansion in its public memorials? Let us know in the comment section.


[1] Ezra Greenspan, William Wells Brown: An African American Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), 12.

[2] “Seaman – Lewis’s Newfoundland Dog,” The Lewis and Clark Trail, 2011, accessed November 5, 2019,

[3] Lea VanderVelde, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 3.

[4] See Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010); Christopher P. Lehman, Slavery in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1787-1865: A History of Human Bondage in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011); Kristen Epps, Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016); Dale Edwyna Smith, African Americans Lives in St. Louis, 1763-1865: Race, Slavery, and the West (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2017); William S. Kiser, Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018); Stacy L. Smith, Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle Over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

[5] Epps, Slavery on the Periphery, 15.

Nick Sacco

Nick Sacco is a public historian working for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. He recently had a journal article about the Grand Army of the Republic published in the Indiana Magazine of History entitled "The Grand Army of the Republic, the Indianapolis 500, and the Struggle for Memorial Day in Indiana, 1868-1923" (December 2015). Nick also runs a personal blog about history, "Exploring the Past," at

“I Donte Want to Fight”: One Union Soldier’s Struggle with Duty

“I Donte Want to Fight”: One Union Soldier’s Struggle with Duty

Sketch of James M. Jones, taken from Asa Bartlett’s History of the Twelfth Regiment. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

James Madison Jones wanted nothing more than to be out of the U.S. Army. The young father had enlisted in the 12th New Hampshire Infantry in August 1862, but once he donned the blue uniform and left his family behind, Jones regretted his decision. He tried–and failed–to renege on his enlistment for the next eight months. But by April 1863, as the 12th New Hampshire prepared for a new campaign, Jones had seemingly given up. “I donte want you to worey about me,” the twenty-seven-year-old father of five wrote to his wife, Maria, “all i want you to do is to pray for me and pray in faith to the lord to hav mursey on me and spair my life.” “I hope and pray to the lord,” he continued, “he will sone [soon] bring this ware to a close and dliver me from this unholey place and send me home to you whare I can take some comfort.” Unfortunately, none of his heavenly pleas were answered. A week later Jones was dead, his life snuffed out by a shell at Chancellorsville.[1]

James M. Jones presents an intriguing case study; the sentimental or patriotic language that historians have traditionally used to suggest the ideological motivations of Civil War soldiers is notably absent from his correspondence. Jones’s anguished words instead portray a man who struggled to reconcile his conflicting obligations to both country and home.[2] This New Hampshire father’s difficulty in defining his soldierly duty – and his acute pining for his family – is a searing reminder of the impacts of military service on the well-being of families during the Civil War. Jones’s experience also shares a strong commonality with that of present-day American military families. “Although many service members anticipate deployments, eager for the opportunity to defend their country and utilize their training,” explains a 2016 RAND Corporation study of the effects of deployments on American military families, “few look forward to time separated from spouses and children.” There is little doubt that James Jones and his family would have agreed with those conclusions. A microstudy of Jones’s struggle to fulfill both his patriotic and familial duties therefore helps us establish a tangible link to the past. The benefit is not only a more empathetic understanding of the wartime experiences of Civil War soldiers, but also of the challenges military families face in our own society.[3]

James Jones was a shoemaker living in the town of Alton, a community on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, when he enlisted in Company A of the 12th New Hampshire Infantry in the summer of 1862. It is not exactly clear why he joined, but considering that fifty-nine men—including his brother Charles—enlisted in the same company, social pressures from his community might have played a role in his decision. Jones already had three young children at home, with Maria expecting another by the end of the year, so the promise of a steady paycheck may also have been alluring for the young father.[4]

Alton Bay, New Hampshire, c. 1890s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

But Private Jones almost immediately regretted his decision to enlist. Soon after arriving in Washington, D.C., Jones wrote his parents a letter full of longing for home. “You donte know how mutch i think of you all,” he scribbled from their camp on Arlington Heights. “I dremt of my famley last night i thought they came to see me and i wanted to [be] home with [them] and then i waked up.” The despair is even more palpable in Jones’s letters to Maria. “I would giv all that i hav got in the world if onley [to] bee at home with you and the Children but i cant so i will try to bee conted [content],” he wrote in December 1862. “I wish i could put my arms around you all,” he continued, “and hav a kis from you all i hope and trust the time will soon come when i can.”

Things got worse for James when Maria gave birth to twins (a boy and a girl) sometime in January 1863. Jones was frustrated at his inability to play the role of a new father. “I drempet last night i was at home and i thought i see the babyes and they was fat as hogs,” he told his wife not long after hearing about their birth. He recommended they name the boy after himself, and the girl Francis Caroline. If Maria did not like the names, Jones told her to “rite and let me no and i will try a gain.” In February 1863, while languishing in the cold at Falmouth, Virginia, Jones told Maria that “i think a grate deal about you and the children and i dremt that i was at home with you last night and see the babyes i wish that dream would com to pass sone [soon] donte you?”[5]

Unlike so many inexperienced Civil War soldiers, Jones was not naïve about what awaited him in combat. “I hope that we shant see eney battle a tall for i donte want to fight,” he wrote in October 1862. When the 12th New Hampshire first came under enemy fire during the battle of Fredericksburg in December, Jones’s courage understandably failed him. He abandoned his regiment and escaped to the safety of the rear. Jones’s regiment court-martialed him for desertion from duty while in front of the enemy and sentenced him to one month without pay. Although he dejectedly returned to the ranks, the traumatic battlefield experience convinced Jones that he needed to somehow find a way home.[6]

Sometime around Christmas of 1862, Jones tried to convince his younger brother, Samuel (who went by his middle name, Estwick) to take his place. Jones desperately offered “Eck” two hundred dollars (with one hundred and fifty dollars down), in addition to all of his bounty money and even his watch, to take over as his substitute. This incredibly generous offer – from a soldier who only made thirteen dollars a month and had six mouths to feed at home – affirms Jones’s desperation. “If it wont for my little famley i woodent give half so mutch to git of but i am in a worrey all of the time,” he told Maria. Jones became bitter when his brother would not bite on the offer, complaining to his wife that Eck would “dreather for me to stay hear and die than to do it for me.”

His next tactic was to declare family hardship. “Git moather to rite a letter for you over to Concord to the Govner,” he wrote to Maria in March 1863, “and tell him about how your case is and tell him all about your little children and that you cant take cair of them alone and tell him that he will col me home and you will pay him back the bounty that i drawed from the state.” If he had originally enlisted for the money, it was now clearly the last thing on Jones’s mind.[7]

Despite the candor of his letters, Jones still carefully guarded his intentions to leave the Army. “Donte let eney body no that i want to come home you must minde and not git bolde,” he warned Maria. He cautioned her not to “let eney body else see this,” because Jones feared the news would “go like hot cakes” at home and in the regiment. To publicly fail in his homecoming efforts, Jones would leave both himself and his family open to ridicule from their community for rebuking his commitment to his fellow soldiers and country. The bliss in returning home to his family, however, would likely have been worth the shame of evading his duty as a soldier.[8]

Chancellorsville battlefield. Jones was killed somewhere in the woods in front of the cannon. Photo courtesy of the author.

But James Jones never succeeded in leaving the Army on his own terms. By April 1863 he had given up; all that remained for him was to accept the consequences of his enlistment and reconcile his failures with himself. In one of his final letters home, Jones outwardly tried to do just this. He reasoned to his wife that if he had actually been successful in his efforts to get out of the Army, he would not “Git it paid up” and Maria “would haft to lose all the money that [she] hav got.” He therefore told her that he thought “it is best to let it rest for the present.” But had he actually personally reconciled his conflicting obligations to his nation, community, and family?[9]

As his regiment crossed over the Rappahannock River to offer battle to the Army of Northern Virginia, Jones still feared the consequences of his military commitment. “[He] had told me that he should be killed in this battle,” Sergeant O.F. Davis recalled years later, “and while we were lying by the brook [at Chancellorsville] a bullet struck between him and me, and I said ‘guess they mean us.’” As Davis remembered it, Jones was incredulous that the sergeant would “speak so heedlessly in the face of death” because he expected every bullet to be his “death messenger.” As the regiment advanced into a belt of woods atop a low ridge that morning, Jones was struck by a shell. According to those nearby, he remained standing long enough to reach into his pocket and remove his wallet and testament in an attempt to hand them to another nearby soldier. Before he could do so, Jones fell dead, his final message to Maria in his outstretched hands. In his final moments, James Jones’s duty remained to his family.[10]

The author would like to thank Marty Cornelissen and the Alton Historical Society for sharing the letters of James Jones and for assisting him in researching the 12th New Hampshire Infantry. The original letters are in the possession of a descendant, who self-published them. You can find the Alton Historical Society website at


[1] James Jones to Maria Jones, April 26, 1863, in James M. Jones III, ed., Civil War Letters of James M. Jones (Concord, NH: Town and Country Reprographics, 2008), 80-83.

[2] For a recent counterpoint to the well-entrenched historical interpretations concerning the motivations of Civil War soldiers, see William Marvel, Lincoln’s Mercenaries: Economic Motivation Among Union Soldiers During the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018).

[3] Sarah O. Meadows, Terri Tanielian, and Benjamin R. Karney, eds., The Deployment Life Study: Longitudinal Analysis of Military Families across the Deployment Cycle (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016), xvii.

[4] Asa Bartlett, History of the Twelfth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion (Concord, NH: Ira C. Evans, Printer, 1897), 485. Also see Marvel, Lincoln’s Mercenaries for further elaboration on economic motivations of Union soldiers.

[5] James Jones to “Farther and Moather,” October 8, 1862, private collection of Marty Cornelissen, Alton Historical Society, Alton, NH; James Jones to Maria Jones, December 26, 1862, January 30, 1863, Civil War Letters, 35-38, 50-53.

[6] James Jones to Maria Jones, October 22, 1862, Civil War Letters, 24-27; 12th New Hampshire Infantry Regimental Order Book, March 15, 1863, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, DC.

[7] James Jones to Maria Jones, January 30, 1863, April 1, 1863, March 15, 1863, Civil War Letters, 50-53, 74-77, 69-72.

[8] James Jones to Maria Jones, January 30, 1863, March 15, 1863, Civil War Letters, 50-53, 69-72; Peter Carmichael, The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 22.

[9] James Jones to Maria Jones, April 26, 1863, Civil War Letters, 80-83.

[10] Bartlett, History of the Twelfth Regiment, 345, 494.

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.

To Have and to Hold…or Not: Weddings, Independence, and the Civil War

To Have and to Hold…or Not: Weddings, Independence, and the Civil War

“Record-Low Marriage Rate,” based on data from the Center for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics System. Courtesy of economist Jay L. Zagorsky.

Even with the legalization of same-sex marriage, the U.S. marriage rate is the lowest it has been in at least 150 years, according to economist Jay Zagorsky of Boston University. Another recent study from Cornell University researchers concluded that the U.S. has “large deficits in the supply of potential male spouses.” Lead author of the article, Daniel T. Lichter, believes “marriage is still based on love, but it also is fundamentally an economic transaction. Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women’s educational levels on average now exceed their male suitors.” Shortage of suitors or not, the marriage rate of millennials (defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) is most certainly lower than previous generations; in 1960, 72 percent of adults were married, while today the rate is 50 percent. Put together, these statistics suggest the institution of marriage is changing.[1]

From 1861 to 1865, marriage likewise seemed to be changing for those living through the Civil War. Some white southern women felt particularly worried that there would be few suitors left by the end of it all. In 1863, unmarried Ardella Brown lamented, “If I Can get any Body to have me you Shall get to a weding But there is nobody a Bout here only Some old widiwers for all the young men has gone to the army.” While some women would use the war as an excuse to delay marriage, the shortage of eligible men did worry others who intended to become wives and mothers. As historian Drew Gilpin Faust elegantly put it, “a married woman feared the loss of a particular husband; a single woman worried about forfeiting the more abstract possibility of any husband at all.” Not only was marriage a key component of ideal, nineteenth-century womanhood, for most southern white women, it also provided a clear societal position in this time of uncertainty.[2]

“Soldiers’ Cemetery, Alexandria, Va.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

And so, as a somewhat unexpected consequence of wartime death tolls rising, wedding bells rang. From Virginia, Judith McGuire believed there to be “a perfect mania on the subject of matrimony” during the war, writing that “some of the churches may be seen open and lighted almost every night for bridals, and wherever I turn I hear of marriages in prospect.” Another young woman, Esther Alden in South Carolina, reflected, “One looks at a man so differently when you think he may be killed to-morrow. Men whom up to this time I had thought dull and commonplace…seemed charming.” In a changing world, some women increased their dedication to seemingly unchanging institutions, like marriage.[3]

Women were not alone in this desire to marry; many young men also sought wartime weddings, wanting the reassurance of wives awaiting their return as they marched toward an undecided future. On July 2, 1861, Frank Schaller of the Twenty-Second Mississippi Infantry sent a letter to his “dearest Sophy” in South Carolina, writing, “Every day I feel more reluctant to go into an uncertain life without having the consciousness of being yours entirely…Now prepare for it. I am in earnest.” Not only did he believe, “I could fight better & do everything better” as a married man, he also reflected on her future, “Should I fall, you could have at least the satisfaction to be a soldiers widow who I trust will only die in honor. Besides, though I know you do not want me to tell you this, some pension would insure you the prospect of a humble but honorable existence.” Frank would be shot, but he ultimately survived the war. For Frank, it was not just about emotional stability, but also economic stability for Sophy.[4]

Frank was not alone in his urgency to secure the label of marriage – take Georgia Page King and William Duncan Smith’s story, in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. Just three months into his courtship he wrote, “A war is fast approaching. Oh Let me claim you as my own! Let me have the right to protect you, and shield you by my earnest love.” Realizing Georgia might object to their rushed courtship, he urged, “Do not let, oh! do not let, any slight obstacles, or conventionalities, prevent you from being mine as soon as you can. We know not what may happen!” They married July 9, 1861. William died in Georgia’s arms on October 4, 1862, after sixty-seven days of dysentery. In a time when everything seemed uncertain, and everyone seemed to be declaring independence, Georgia claimed her own in choosing to marry William. As she explained to her brother, “I feared that you all might not approve—but my heart relented.”[5]

Unexpected matches brought on by ambiguity and emotion reached even Abraham Lincoln’s family, with Elodie Todd, little sister of Mary Todd Lincoln. Elodie sent a letter to her future husband in May 1861, writing, “Ever since I can remember, I have been looked upon and called the ‘old maid’ of the family, and Mother seemed to think I was to be depended on to take care of her when all the rest of her handsomer daughters left her, and I really believe they all think I am committing a sin to give a thought to any other than the arrangements they have made for me.” They had just met in February. Elodie was twenty, he was thirty-two, twice-widowed, and the father of two little girls. It was an unlikely match, and a surprising proposal, made even more surprising when Elodie decided, “But as this is the age when Secession, Freedom, and Rights are asserted, I am claiming mine.” She married him the following year.[6]

“Marriage at the camp of the 7th N.J.V. Army of the Potomac, Va.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 2019, women are more likely to claim independence not in the choice of marriage partner, but in the choice of marriage, period. Though the choices in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries may appear to be totally different, they are opposite avenues to the same path – choosing a future that best suits them. In a time of political and economic upheaval, some nineteenth-century women chose marriage in a search for stability, while today, some women delay marriage for similar reasons. If walking down the aisle, today many millennials do so with a combination of prenuptial agreements, cohabitation before marriage, and marriage at a later age (late twenties). Experts have also estimated that millennials are driving down the divorce rate as much as 24 percent since the 1980s. In short, fewer millennials are marrying, but those that do are staying married. While single white women of the Civil War era feared their chances for marriages would lessen, it turned out to be a false fear; “the vast majority (approximately 92 percent) of southern white women who came of marriage age during the war married at some point in their lives.” Today, with a percentage so much lower than this, it appears the institution of marriage is shifting again, with effects still to be seen.[7]


[1] Jay Zagorsky, “Why are Fewer People Getting Married,” The Conversation, 1 June 2016,; Daniel T. Lichter, Joseph P. Price, Jeffrey M. Swigert, “Mismatches in the Marriage Market,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 4 September 2019,; John Anderer, “Why are Marriage Rates Down? Study Blames Lack of ‘Economically-Attractive’ Men,” Study Finds, 5 September 2019,; Kim Parker and Renee Stepler, “As U.S. Marriage Rate Hovers at 50%, Education Gap in Marital Status Widens,” Pew Research Center, 14 September 2017,

[2] This post keeps all spelling and phrasing quoted from documents in its original form without including [sic], except for on occasions when punctuation has been converted to modern-day notations. For elite white women, Confederate loyalty/service replaced many of the other qualifications, like wealth, manners, and family lineage, in evaluating the worth of a suitor, according to Anya Jabour, “Days of Lightly-won and Lightly-held Hearts: Courtship and Coquetry in the Southern Confederacy,” in Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges, ed. Stephen Berry (Athens: University of Georgia Press: 2011); Ardella Brown to Cynthia Blair, 20 May 1863, Blair Papers, Duke University, quoted in Anya Jabour, Scarlett’s Sisters: Young Women in the Old South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 270; Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 151.

[3] Judith W. McGuire, 8 January 1865, Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War by A Lady of Virginia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 329; Esther Alden, quoted in Francis Butler Simkins and James Welch Patton, The Women of the Confederacy (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1936), 188.

[4] Frank Schaller, Soldiering For Glory: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Frank Schaller, Twenty-Second Mississippi Infantry, ed. Mary W. Schaller and Martin N. Schaller (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007), 44.

[5] William Duncan Smith, Savannah, to Georgia Page King, St. Simons, 10 April 1861, King and Wilder Family Papers [K-W Papers], 1817-1946, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia; Georgia Page King to Henry Lord Page King, 1 July 1861, K-W Papers, GHS.

[6] Elodie Todd to Nathaniel Dawson, 28 April 1861, quoted in Stephen Berry and Angela Esco Elder, eds., Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017), 22-24.

[7] Hillary Hoffower, “7 Ways Millennials are Changing Marriage, from Signing Prenups to Staying Together Longer than Past Generations,” Business Insider, 24 May 2019,; J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, and James Holland Jones, “The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns,” The Journal of Southern History 76, no. 1 (February 2010): 42.

Angela Esco Elder

Angela Esco Elder is an assistant professor of history at Converse College. She earned her doctorate at the University of Georgia, and the following year she was the 2016-2017 Virginia Center for Civil War Studies postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Tech. Her research explores gender, emotion, family, and trauma in the Civil War Era South. She is the co-editor of Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Hatred and Vengeance in the Classroom

Hatred and Vengeance in the Classroom

War generates powerful emotions and conveying those emotions to students presents numerous opportunities and a few pitfalls. More specifically, hatred and calls for vengeance inevitably accompanied (if they did not precede) the outbreak of war, and certainly the American Civil War was no exception to that rule. Students in Civil War courses typically learn a great deal about violence and destruction without necessarily understanding how the deployment of language and rhetoric—itself often violent—became part of the war’s narrative. My Fortenbaugh lecture from 2018, which was published in the September 2019 issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era, can be a starting point for such discussions, but there are also other opportunities for bringing such discussions into the classroom.

There are two obvious ways to do this. The first is simply to add some consideration of emotional language to lectures and discussions. For instance, students could learn something about how each side defined the enemy. Although this topic has not received extensive treatment in the literature, there is now enough historical work (not to mention voluminous primary materials) available not only to spice up a lecture, but also to raise important questions that have not been fully addressed by historians.[1] One could easily begin with a discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s moving appeal to his “dissatisfied fellow countrymen” to step back from the abyss of war: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”[2] Ask the students what each side was fighting for and whether those objectives either encouraged or tamped down expressions of hatred. Did such expressions appear more intense on one side or the other and which side was most responsible for spreading such sentiments? Were civilians or soldiers more likely to express strong opinions about the other side and call for vengeance in response to reported atrocities committed by the enemy? Did social norms, including religious values, temper or exacerbate the expressions of hatred? How did public and private comments differ, if at all?

Some of the most colorful and revealing expressions of hatred appeared in the press, and the available secondary literature is replete with quotations that could be readily brought into lectures and classroom discussion.   Instructors interested in exploring religious aspects of Civil War history will also find material on hatred and vengeance in religious publications and sermons—again with some good examples cited in the secondary literature.

Expressions of hatred and calls for retaliation also became part of wartime propaganda on both sides. Official statements and political speeches helped define the nature of the enemy and trumpeted enemy misdeeds. In areas of great internal conflict such as Missouri or East Tennessee, harsh words often led to violent deeds. Union soldiers complained that Confederate women expressed their hatred for the Yankees in particularly strong language, a fact often supported by women’s letters and diaries, so questions of gender often entered into the mix.

In dealing with soldiers’ sentiments, instructors might call attention to a seeming paradox. Soldiers certainly expressed hatred for the enemy, but there are also countless examples of fraternization between Union and Confederate troops including the assertion that if allowed to do so, enlisted men and junior officers could have easily settled matters between themselves. This could be a useful point for discussion and perhaps widen into the larger question of whether hatred ironically grew out of both sectional differences and shared history.

But it was not just hatred for the enemy that demands consideration. Expressions of racial animosity were very much a part of the war years in both sections. This could include fear of slave insurrections specifically, or more generally whether there would be retaliation against slaveholders. Again, there are some useful examples in the secondary literature cited in note 1. Racial animus in the northern states swirled around the question of enlisting black soldiers and more broadly around the emancipation question. Growing wartime partisanship intensified debates about the future of slavery and became connected to questions of loyalty in contests between Republicans and Democrats. Examples from abolitionists, Republicans of various stripes, and both War Democrats and Copperheads would drive home these points.

Here is just one example of a politician deploying the language of hatred and vengeance: “The people will never consent to any cessation of the war, forced so wickedly upon us, until the traitors are hung or driven into ignominious exile,” declared Wisconsin governor Alexander W. Randall. “The Supreme Ruler can but smile upon the efforts of the law loving, government loving, liberty loving people of this land, in resisting the disruption of this Union. These gathering armies are the instruments of His vengeance, to execute his just judgments; they are His flails wherewith on God’s great Southern threshing floor, He will pound rebellion for its sins.”[3] Equally intense expressions from Confederates would help students understand the deeply emotional language of the era.

Of course, students may have some difficulty dealing with disturbing expressions of hatred and calls for revenge. The language is often harsh, and instructors should tread carefully but also avoid sanitizing the topic. Yet some instructors will wish to go beyond lectures and discussions. So a second approach would be to have students research specific documents–whether speeches, editorials, sermons, letters, or diaries–that in turn expose them to some unfamiliar historical references and analogies. They might research the role of the press in reporting enemy actions and in demonizing opponents by reading both news accounts and editorials. Students might also explore some of the vast sermon literature produced in response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln that often directly engaged questions of hatred, vengeance, and the treatment of Confederate leaders.

A more challenging source but one worth exploring with stronger students is the Congressional Globe. In May 1862, for instance, there was a sharp exchange between a Democrat and a Republican in the House of Representatives over whether there was danger of Union war policies fostering southern hatred. These two speeches could provide both challenging and stimulating subjects for class discussion.[4] In mining the rich documentary sources, students will need to critically note who is speaking and to whom, on what occasion, whether the rhetoric is always to be taken literally.

Finding information on hatred and vengeance in the era of digital history is easier than ever, though the sheer volume of material can be overwhelming. Online access to hundreds of newspapers offers opportunities for looking at contemporary responses to particular events—such as calls for retaliation in the wake of the Fort Pillow massacre. Much of the published primary materials not yet digitized because of copyright restrictions either have no subject indexes or very poor ones. Some of these materials, however, may be searched through a database of indexes to primary sources (both books and periodicals) that I created initially for myself and my graduate students, but which is now available online through the University of Alabama Library. Here, students preparing research projects and simply wishing to sample a few primary sources can find a number of references to “hatred” and “vengeance.”

Studying wartime rhetoric, particularly that dealing with hatred and vengeance, will help students understand that bitter divisions and invective have long been a part of the American political landscape and give them some background for placing the political polarization of their own time in context.


[1] Randall C. Jimerson, The Private Civil War: Popular Thought during the Sectional Conflict (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), 124-79; Jason Phillips, Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 147-77; Jason Phillips, “A Brothers’ War? Exploring Confederate Perceptions of the Enemy,” in Aaron Sheehan-Dean, ed., The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 67-90; George C. Rable, Damn Yankees! Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), 95-117; George C. Rable, “Fighting for Reunion: Dilemmas of Hatred and Vengeance,” Journal of the Civil War Era 9, no. 3 (September 2019): 347-77.

[2] Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1954), 4:271.

[3] Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Civil War Messages and Proclamations of Wisconsin War Governors (Madison: Wisconsin History Commission, 1912), 63.

[4] Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2nd Sess., Pt. 3:2177. 2241.

George Rable

George C. Rable is Professor Emeritus at the University of Alabama. He is the author of six books on various Civil War era topics. He is currently working on a study tentatively titled, “The Politics of War: George McClellan, Abraham Lincoln, and the Army of the Potomac.” He is also continuously adding to his database of indexes to Civil War primary sources that may be accessed at

Author Interview: Joanna Cohen

Author Interview: Joanna Cohen

Our author interview from the September 2019 issue is with Dr. Joanna Cohen. Joanna is a Senior Lecturer in American History at Queen Mary University of London. Her article is titled “‘You Have No Flag Out Yet’: Commercial Connections and Patriotic Emotion in the Civil War North.” She is the author of Luxurious Citizens: The Politics of Consumption in Nineteenth-Century America (Penn, 2017) and is currently working on a project about property and loss in nineteenth-century America.

Thank you for speaking with us about your project! Many of our readers have read your article in the September issue, but could you briefly summarize the focus and argument of your article?

The article examines the great outpouring of commodified patriotism that accompanied the outbreak of Civil War in the north and asks: how did northern Americans feel about a patriotism that was stimulated by commercial productions and market networks? I look at everything from red, white, and blue jewelry to mass-produced sheet music, and in each case I find some cautiously and others creatively embracing the opportunities for emotional expression that these things offered. With these examples, I investigate how northern Americans, and especially women, tried to define a relationship between the marketplace and their emotions. Ultimately, I find that even as northerners embraced a market-based patriotism, they still maintained that true emotion could not be commercially produced. As such, I see here a moment where northerners created a modern subjectivity, one that relied on the idea that an authentic “self” needed to be kept separate from the marketplace.

One of the things I appreciate most about this article is how you demonstrate the value of “reading” material culture—like the jewellery and sheet music you mentioned just now. Can you talk a little about your process and methodology?

I love to start with the things themselves. For this article, I begin with the cartes-de-visite, the sheet music, and the thing that really excited me: the collar and cuffs fashioned out of the stars and stripes. Even without the object itself, images of objects, or even text descriptions of things capture my attention. I let the objects raise the questions: how would this have figured into someone’s life? What did it mean to them and how would they make those meanings. This is an approach that began for me with reading Arjun Appadurai in graduate school. His methodology, to follow the life of the thing, really made me think about objects in ways that I had never considered before. Then I start placing the object more firmly into the culture it exists in. I look for newspaper advertisements, broadsides, or magazine articles about the objects. I look in diaries and letters to see how people used them and what impact these things made in their life.

Digital resources have made an enormous difference to this method for me. I can keyword search for objects, to see how and when they appear in people’s lives. But I also read through whole documents to get a sense of how the objects exist in the broader material world. For this piece, I really wanted to think about the emotional dimension of the objects: an interest that has been stimulated by working at Queen Mary University of London, where my colleague Thomas Dixon runs the Centre for the History of Emotions. Because of that, I started thinking more carefully about how objects elicit and encapsulate emotional responses. The more I work on this, the more I find the paradox of modern objects fascinating: they are something that can be incredibly personal, even as they function as key pieces of a political economy that emphasizes their abstract nature and interchangeability. It is something I am taking further with my next project on property and loss.

On p. 382 you stated that Northerners typically believed that “the expanding realms of commercial society could not be expected to cultivate patriotic emotion. On the contrary, market relations counteracted the creation of nationalist sentiments.” Of course, they were living in an increasingly commercial world and during the Civil War people did make connections between the marketplace and their political values. This discussion resonates with a lot of readers, I would imagine, because we ask similar questions today—for instance, is wearing a bathing suit that has the American flag on it an act of patriotism, an act of disrespect, or something else? To what extent are these kinds of “patriotic” products just an opportunity for retailers to make money? These strike me as salient issues now. When it comes to the commodification of patriotism, do you see similarities between the Civil War North and America today? Have we resolved any of these issues?

The flag is a great place to start this conversation, because it still raises many of the same issues today, and many are still unresolved. The flag, especially in the U.S., is both a sacred and commercial object. It can exist in both these realms. Yet at the same time it continues to be an object that transgresses those boundaries that both individuals and society create regarding the division between the commercial and non-commercial worlds. That dividing line is constantly being policed by various different groups, and as they re-draw those lines they also shape new ideas about what parts of human life ought to be outside the market, or perhaps beyond its influence. For the nineteenth-century northerners I examined, their response was to try and keep the source of patriotic emotion beyond the marketplace. Today, I think more people are concerned that friendship and love have been subsumed by the marketplace – either because our relationships are being monetized by corporations through surveillance or because our emotions are being subject to commodification through algorithms. While I was writing this article, I read Eva Illouz’s wonderful book, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism, and the resonances struck me straight away. If anything, I think the problems nineteenth-century northerners were working on in the Civil War have only become more deeply entrenched.

That is fascinating, and her book sounds like a great resource! Throughout the article you articulate white women’s roles in supporting the war effort. What are some of the other ways that Northern white women demonstrated their patriotism, aside from sewing or flying the American flag? And what do you think this might teach us about gender dynamics on the homefront?

Drew Faust observed long ago that the Confederacy made a particular vision of womanhood one of the lynch pins of their nationalism. Faust then went on to observe how white women in the Confederacy challenged and even rejected those ideas, with catastrophic consequences for the southern nation. It was an article that reminded us that women are absolutely critical to the making (or indeed breaking) of patriotism. So, when I looked at what women in the north were doing, I saw how their decisions to use the marketplace to facilitate their patriotic contributions really impacted on how northerners understood their own nationalism. It made commercial activity, and especially consumption, a mark of civic virtue. As I argued in my book, Luxurious Citizens, Union victory convinced many northerners that freedom and capitalism were mutually reinforcing, not because of elite discourses on political economy, but, as this article shows, because they saw such a dynamic in action; and women were absolutely key to this development. So, in terms of what this shows us about the gendered dynamics of war, well, I would follow Stephanie McCurry and say that it reminds us that in unexpected ways, sometimes welcomed, war affords women a different kind of power to shape the nation and the state.

In the past decade scholars have paid more attention to the role of emotions, including Michael E. Woods, Nicole Eustace, and others. Where do you think your work fits within this field, and where do you think emotion studies will go from here?

There is no doubt I am drawing enormous inspiration from the work of scholars in this field. Nicole Eustace has been especially important for me, in terms of thinking about how to model an approach to the history of emotion and so has Susan J. Matt. I have also really enjoyed going back to the work of William Reddy, because I think he is someone who has drawn attention to the connections between emotions and political economy and that is the relationship that I would most like to explore in my future work.

But I have also been really inspired by the material turn in emotion studies. At a point when I was revising this article, I found a wonderful collection called Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions through History edited by Stephanie Downes, Sally Holloway, and Sarah Randles. At the time, I was in the midst of putting the finishing touches to a conference I organised with Zara Anishanslin at the McNeil Centre called “Coming to Terms,” a conference that looked at the visual and material culture of war in the Atlantic World. Throughout the conference, I was struck by just how many of the papers demonstrated the significance of material things to our emotional worlds. The emotions that objects create seem vital to me, because it is in that process that I can see a way to think about the connections between how people make the personal into political economy. That question seems so urgent to me at the moment. Never have we been more conscious of global capitalism as a system, and yet still people have to live within that system, and not only survive economically, but also make an individual identity for themselves within that structure. I want to examine how people do that, and how the possibilities and limitations of that process might ultimately change the system itself?

Thank you so much, Joanna, for participating in this interview. To read the article, please subscribe to the journal or find it on Project Muse.

Call for Applications for Editor, Journal of the Civil War Era

Call for Applications for Editor, Journal of the Civil War Era

The George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center seeks applicants for Editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era for a five-year term beginning January 2020. The Editor is supported by a team of associate editors, as well as a managing editor housed at the Richards Center. The position requires support from the Editor’s home institution, which generally includes course release time and some level of administrative assistance. In return, the RCWEC provides a stipend and recognition of the Editor’s home institution as a sponsor of the journal.

The Journal of the Civil War Era is published by UNC Press in association with the RCWEC. It publishes the most creative new work on the many issues raised by the sectional crisis, war, Reconstruction, and memory of the country’s signal conflict, while bringing fresh understanding to the struggles that defined the period, and by extension, the course of American history in the nineteenth century. The journal offers a unique space where scholars across the many subfields that animate nineteenth-century history can enter into conversation with each other. Besides offering fresh perspectives on the military, political, and legal history of the era, the journal covers such disparate subjects as slavery and antislavery, labor and capitalism, popular culture and intellectual history, expansionism and empire, and African American and women’s history. For additional information please see:

Qualifications. Previous editorial experience and tenure are recommended. Other qualifications include:

  • A strong vision for the future of the journal and the field
  • Good organizational and managerial skills to oversee the editorial cycle, meet deadlines, and work with publishing professionals
  • The ability to attract established scholars in the field as contributors and reviewers
  • The ability to collaborate with members of an editorial team

Major Responsibilities. The Editor is responsible for the intellectual content, quality, and timeliness of the journal issues as well as the overall success of the journal. Specific duties may include but are not limited to:

  • Providing clear direction for the journal and its online presence
  • Working collaboratively with the Associate Editors and Managing Editor to create content and keep deadlines
  • Working closely with the team at UNC Press
  • Soliciting high-quality manuscripts from a diverse pool of potential authors
  • Selecting a sufficient pool of competent peer-reviewers and managing the peer review process
  • Appointing an Editorial Board to provide advice and counsel
  • Representing the journal on the Board of the Society of Civil War Historians
  • Representing the journal in outside venues and conferences

Application. Applicants should submit a CV, two letters of recommendation, and a proposal (5pp. maximum) that contains:

  • An assessment of the intellectual strength of the Journal of the Civil War Era as it now stands
  • A vision for the journal describing the challenges and opportunities it faces, future plans for the journal, continued development of online presence, and objective milestones for evaluation.
  • A description of institutional resources that addresses the feasibility of serving as Editor. Preliminary statements of institutional support from the applicant’s Chair and/or Dean are requested.

Search Procedure. Interested parties should request further information from the Director of the Richards Center by writing to Review of applications by the Richards Center Academic Advisory Board will begin November 15, 2019. Members of the Board and Director will conduct Zoom interviews in early December. The Board will make a recommendation to the Director thereafter. The successful candidate will be required to provide a letter from the sponsoring institution on its commitment of resources to the journal’s success.

Queen Victoria’s Speeches to Parliament: The Role of the Civil War in British Politics

Queen Victoria’s Speeches to Parliament: The Role of the Civil War in British Politics

At the opening of each Parliamentary session, the British monarch delivers a policy statement crafted by the Prime Minister, explaining the cabinet’s plans for the forthcoming sitting of Parliament. With Parliament prorogued until October 14, 2019, when Queen Elizabeth II is supposed to read Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s agenda to Parliament, we have a modern reminder about the traditionalism and ceremonial role of the monarch in British politics. As the British political system struggles with the antics of Boris Johnson, faces the disintegration of the Conservative Party majority, and crumbles from the utter disaster Brexit has become, we may look into the past when the United States suffered from rebellion, and how Queen and Prime Minister addressed the international crisis of the early 1860s, as a reminder of the always entangled history of British foreign and domestic relations.

The Queen’s Speech historically included not only an elaboration of domestic policy plans but also dealt significantly with foreign and imperial challenges. The speech offers a glimpse at what the British cabinet assumed the most important issues would be in the coming months This post refers to this as the Queen’s Speech, and will refer to Queen Victoria as the deliverer and speaker of the speech in a metaphorical sense, crediting her even after Prince Consort Albert’s death, when the Lord Commissioners read the Queen’s Speech for her. These speeches in the early 1860s indicate how important the United States and the southern rebellion was to British policy makers. A nuanced understanding of British foreign relations during the Civil War requires an appreciation of the various British foreign policy entanglements.

“Queen Victoria at the opening of Parliament, 1866. The Lord Chancellor reading the Royal Speech in the House of Lords,” Illustrated London News, c. 1866. Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.

On February 5, 1861, the Queen opened the new session of Parliament. Considering news required at least two weeks to cross the Atlantic, the British were not yet aware of the secession of Louisiana or Texas, nor aware of the formation of the Confederate States of America. Noting the state of peace in Europe, the Queen’s government hoped for a continuation, despite some uncertainties. At the top of the foreign policy concerns were Italian unification, the French peacekeeping mission to prevent further atrocities against Christians in Syria, and the continuation of the Arrow War in China. The rebellion in the United States followed Indian imperial issues and insurrectionary Maori in New Zealand.[1] By August, when the Lords Commissioners delivered the closing address in the House of Lords, the conflict in the United States had risen to second place, right after Italian unification and before the lingering concerns over Syria.[2] Therefore, when it came to British political attention, the United States in the first year of the rebellion had to contend with a number of other foreign policy crises. However, the uncertainty and fear of getting dragged into a maritime conflict–either because of the lack of policy directives, or the belligerent, Anglophobic policies of Secretary of State William H. Seward–forced the British government to initially pay close attention to the events in North America.[3]

The following year, having just resolved the Trent affair with the release of the Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell and a suitable apology, the Queen opened Parliament in February 1862. She noted her gratification with the “satisfactorily settled . . . restoration of the passengers to British protection.” Even more the Queen concluded, “The friendly relations between Her Majesty and the President of The United States have therefore remained unimpaired.” However, the Queen worried about the Americas. The offenses done toward foreigners in Mexico and the country’s refusal to honor foreign debtors had forced Spain, France, and Great Britain to join for a debt collection mission.[4] As a result, both the United States and Mexico were of grave concern. However, with the danger of getting dragged into the Civil War averted, the British had to closely watch their partners, especially France, as they tried to force Mexico to honor its foreign debt. In the rapidly changing political, diplomatic, and imperial environment of the early 1860s, British policy makers had to remain flexible and ever cautious to avoid committing to unpredictable adventures overseas.

By the time of the closing of Parliament, and only two months removed from the cabinet debate about intervention in North America, the Lord Commissioner noted the growing intensity of the war in North America, “but Her Majesty, having from the outset determined to take no part in that contest, has seen no reason to depart from the neutrality to which she has steadily adhered.” Also foreshadowing other issues later in the fall, the British government worried about “disturbances” in the frontier regions of the Ottoman Empire, which could challenge the post-Crimean War equilibrium.[5] With global tensions declining, the rebellion in the United States drew attention, but the crown’s desire to maintain strict neutrality remained.

By early 1863, Queen Victoria’s speech focused on the recently vacated Greek throne. The queen refused to let her son Alfred ascend to such a dangerous, revolution-prone monarchy. The “Greek Question” was closely tied to the larger “Eastern Question’s” containment of Russia. Nevertheless, the United States lingered as a topic and the Queen included the rather ironic statement that “Her Majesty has abstained from taking any step with a view to induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States,” a reference to the recent cabinet debate. In addition, the government worried about the impact of the blockade on cotton manufacturing, but the speech noted that “this suffering and this distress are rather diminishing than increasing, and that some revival of employment is beginning to take place in the manufacturing districts.”[6] When faced with the difficult decision to prioritize the “Eastern Question” or the rebellion in the United States, Great Britain always focused on the former as the greater threat.

Throughout the Civil War, the British government of Prime Minister Lord John Palmerston operated in the shadow of the Crimean War. Home Secretary Palmerston had been instrumental in drawing Great Britain into the conflict with Russia, which he oversaw and brought to an inconclusive peace as Prime Minister.[7] Throughout his political tenure, Palmerston desired to contain Russia’s autocratic political system. Even once the country suffered under what might be called a “Crimean War Syndrome,” causing a general desire to avoid another inconclusive war, Palmerston watched cautiously against any political or territorial advances by Russia into Europe or the Mediterranean. Despite his occasionally belligerent language toward the United States, Russian containment had priority.[8]

“Lord Palmerston making the Ministerial Statement on Dano-German Affairs in the House of Commons,” Illustrated London News, July 2, 1864. Courtesy of University of Southampton Special Collections.

When Queen Victoria delivered the opening speech in February 1864, North America was entirely absent and European issues took priority. The death of the Danish king and anxieties about the future of the Protocol of London of 1852, which had ended the First Schleswig-Holstein War predominated the speech, foreshadowing the Dano-German War that was about to destabilize the Jutland Peninsula. Like so many other instances, the Queen’s government desired peace. Despite the ever-increasing death toll in North America, the only other three foreign policy issues the Queen touched on were recent assaults of British subjects in Japan, the continued insurrectionary behavior of Maori in New Zealand, and the return of the Ionian Islands to Greece.[9] By the last year of the war, British attention had turned away from North America. With the Wars of German Unification destabilizing Central Europe, British political leaders worried that French and Russian ambitions could escalate the localized conflicts in Denmark (1864) and between Austria and Prussia (1866) into a general European war, prohibiting an unpredictable overseas engagement in North America.

These speeches by Queen Victoria offer a glimpse into the British political mind. Civil War historians have long argued about what British foreign policy regarding the Civil War, but these works hardly take into consideration the many British foreign entanglements, especially the adventurous French emperor and the “Eastern Question.” The Queen’s Speech, authored by her cabinet, allows readers to gain a better understanding of British foreign policy priorities. While the rebellion in the United States during the first two years ranked high on the list of British concerns, it was never alone and had to contend with other far-flung questions. During the crucial final months of 1862, when Civil War historians emphasize the British cabinet debate, the Queen and her cabinet looked east to Greece. The speeches offer a first step to reevaluating Civil War diplomatic relations within the larger British foreign policy entanglements.


An earlier version of this post failed to note that Queen Victoria did not personally deliver all of these speeches, due to her being in mourning for her late husband. We have edited the original to clarify this.


[1] Speech of the Queen, on the Opening of the British Parliament, Westminster, February 5, 1861, in British and Foreign State Papers, 1860-1861 (London: William Ridgway, 1868), 1-2 (hereafter BFSP).

[2] Speech of the Lords Commissioners, on the Closing of the British Parliament, Westminster, August 6, 1861, BFSP, 1860-1861, 3-4.

[3] For good studies on the subject see Norman B. Ferris, Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward’s Foreign Policy, 1861 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976); Howard Jones, Union in Peril: The Crisis Over British Intervention in the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); Phillip E. Myers, Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2008).

[4] Speech of the Queen, on the Opening of the British Parliament, Westminster, February 6, 1862, BFSP, 1861-1862, 1-2.

[5] Speech of the Lords Commissioners, on the Closing of the British Parliament, Westminster, August 7, 1862, BFSP, 1861-1862, 3.

[6] Speech of the Queen, on the Opening of the British Parliament, Westminster, February 5, 1863, BFSP, 1862-1863, 1-2.

[7] For works on the Crimean War see Orlando Figes, The Crimean War: A History (New York: Picador, 2012); Paul W. Schroeder, Austria, Great Britain, and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972).

[8] For more detail on how Great Britain prioritized the “Eastern Question” over North America, see Niels Eichhorn, “The Intervention Crisis of 1862: A British Diplomatic Dilemma?” American Nineteenth Century History 15 (November 2014): 287-310. The best study of Palmerston’s political identity and his views on liberalism vs. Russia is in David Brown, Palmerston: A Biography (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012).

[9] Speech of the Queen, on the Opening of the British Parliament, Westminster, February 4, 1865, BFSP, 1863-1864, 1-2.

Niels Eichhorn

Niels Eichhorn is an assistant professor of history at Middle Georgia State University. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Arkansas. His first book, Separatism and the Language of Slavery: A Study of 1830 and 1848 Political Refugees and the American Civil War, is under contract with LSU Press. He has published articles on Civil War diplomacy in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History.

Editor’s Note: September 2019 Issue

Editor’s Note: September 2019 Issue

The September 2019 issue is Judy Giesberg’s last as editor of The Journal of the Civil War Era. She has been integral to the journal since its first issue in 2011, and the editorial team would like to thank her for her pathbreaking service. We have been privileged to work with her during her four-year tenure as editor and greatly appreciate the groundwork she and founding editor Bill Blair have laid for the future of the field, through this publication. It has been a true pleasure, Judy. Thank you.

While the Richards Center searches for a new head editor this fall, we look forward to answering inquiries and receiving submissions.

This issue includes essays that offer new perspectives on Ulysses S. Grant and the Compromise of 1850. Two others focus on culture: one takes a fresh look at northern loyalty and patriotism, and the other considers northerners’ darker emotions. Together, these pieces attest to the vibrancy and diversity of Civil War era studies.

George Rable’s Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, “Fighting for Reunion: Dilemmas of Hatred and Vengeance,” starts out this issue. In a sequel to his Damn Yankees! which examined the vitriolic rhetoric Confederates used to describe northerners, Rable measures the depth and temperature of northern hatred of the Confederacy—by comparison, it was never very deep and at most tepid. According to Rable, northerners were slow to demonize Confederates, and when they did, they tried to identify those who really deserved it rather than those who were simply duped and deluded. In the end, Rable finds northern war rhetoric “vague, contradictory, and at times almost schizophrenic” in its denunciations of the enemy, something that makes sense, he reminds us, in a war aimed at reunification. In seeking answers to why northerners never called for vengeance on the South, Rable quotes the most recognizable phrase from Lincoln’s second inaugural: “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Rable’s essay may leave some readers wondering if some of the explanation also lies in the sense—which Lincoln expressed in the lesser known section of that speech—that the war was God’s vengeance on both sides for the sin of slavery: “He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of ‘American slavery’] came.”

Despite popular illustrations of women’s patriotism featuring women bent over in their chairs, knitting socks and stitching together homemade flags for the soldiers, Joanna Cohen’s essay, “‘You Have No Flag Out Yet?’ Commercial Connections and Patriotic Emotion in the Civil War North,” reveals that elite women in the urban North were very happy to buy these items, embracing “the opportunity to mingle commerce and patriotic feeling.” Indeed, some of the very same people who expressed concerns about a purchased patriotism shopped for patriotic stationary and explained away their purchases of machine-made socks and blankets for the soldiers as freeing them to do more work for the cause. Their embrace of a consumerist patriotism was a privilege of their class, and so Cohen’s essay will no doubt leave readers with questions about how other Civil War Americans understood the relationship “between emotion and market relations.” When folks like New York’s elite Woolsey family decided it was “more efficient” to buy supplies rather than make them, they were also rendering a judgement about time and its worth, to themselves and others. Cohen’s essay is a good reminder of how Americans’ relationship to capitalism and class underwent key changes during the war.

Although the scarcity of primary sources prevents our knowing much about Ulysses S. Grant’s early thoughts about slavery, historians have generally asserted that he was opposed to the institution throughout his life. In his essay, “‘I Was Never an Abolitionist’: Ulysses S. Grant and Slavery, 1854–1863,” Nicholas W. Sacco sets aside historians’ “unhelpful mythmaking” about Grant as always an antislavery man for a fuller picture of how Grant, like other military men, was converted to emancipation on the battlefield. To do so, Sacco digs into the sources documenting the Grants’ years at the Dent family’s White Haven plantation, where they benefited—even if they did not profit—from the work of several enslaved people. While among slaveholders, Grant acted comfortably like one, at one point appraising the value of a neighbor’s slaves and making decisions for his family based on securing his family’s enslaved property. The growing sectional conflict did not spur Grant toward a moral reckoning about slavery any more than did his own father’s strong aversion to the institution. Instead, as Sacco argues, it was the war that did that work. Whether or not you were convinced by Ron Chernow’s recent biography of Grant, you will find Sacco’s careful treatment to be imminently sensible.

Michael Woods closes out this issue with an essay reviewing the scholarship on the Compromise of 1850. Woods identifies three types of studies: celebratory accounts that focus on how the measure delayed the war and gave Republicans the chance to build support, an emerging critical approach that dismisses the act as an appeasement of aggressive southern slaveholders, and a third perspective that remains skeptical of the compromise’s reach. While the critics currently own the day, the skeptical approach fits well with new scholarship on the West, where the federal state had the greatest ambitions and the least authority. Woods’s essay is a welcome review of the origins and development of these three interpretative threads, and it provides a useful roadmap for where scholars might take things from here.

Robert Colby Announced as Winner of Inaugural Tony Kaye Memorial Essay Award

Robert Colby Announced as Winner of Inaugural Tony Kaye Memorial Essay Award

The Journal of the Civil War Era is pleased to announce that the winner of the Anthony E. Kaye Memorial Essay Award for 2019 is Robert Colby, a postdoctoral fellow at Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership and American Studies at CNU. His essay “’Negroes Will Bear Fabulous Prices:’ The Economics of Wartime Slave Commerce and Visions of the Confederate Future” will have the opportunity to be published in a forthcoming issue. The award will be given at the SCWH’s conference this coming June, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This biennial award honors Tony Kaye (1962-2017), a pioneering scholar of slavery who was integral to the journal’s founding. The award was created by the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State, The Journal of the Civil War Era, and the Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH), to honor Tony’s passion for putting scholars in disparate fields in conversation with each other. More information can be found here.

Congratulations again, Robert, and thanks also to the awards committee– Frances Clarke, Paul Escott, and Kelly Mezurek–for their commitment to this process.

Teaching with Raw Primary Sources: The Value of Transcription

Teaching with Raw Primary Sources: The Value of Transcription

The rhythms of academic life make August an opportune time to reflect on past teaching and to plan new lessons. Teachers of history at all levels appreciate that primary sources can pique students’ curiosity and introduce them to historical methods. Whether through the Document-Based Questions featured in Advanced Placement exams or the document readers often assigned in college-level courses, thousands of history students will pore over primary sources this fall. Yet while DBQs and published readers certainly provide hearty intellectual sustenance, they necessarily arrive pre-packaged, offering boneless and skinless fare which obscures the messier details of how historians make sense of the past. There is, however, a simple way to widen the menu: incorporate raw primary sources and make transcription the first step in the process of interpretation.

Six years ago, I decided to supplement a class discussion by distributing copies of a raw primary source that illustrated the intense backlash against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Browsing through my own research notes to find a suitable sample, I selected a letter written by Boston abolitionist Theodore Parker to New Hampshire senator John P. Hale in May 1854. The document, which is only a few sentences long and written in reasonably legible script, seemed appropriate for a 50-minute survey course, and I hoped it would provide a fresh alternative to the processed sources my students had been digesting all semester.

It did—and I’ve used the letter in every survey class I’ve taught since then. My students relish the challenges of interpreting nineteenth-century scrawl (and sometimes surprise themselves with their facility of comprehension), thinking about the author and recipient to make sense of the letter’s importance, and connecting the letter’s contents to the larger story of sectional conflict. The Parker-Hale letter presents a puzzle to solve (is that a “g” or a “j’? was it dated before or after the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law? who exactly was John P. Hale?) even as it puts a more individualized, humanized face on an amorphous “North.” It forces students to slow down, read carefully, and make educated guesses about specific words, using context to fill in gaps left by Parker’s sometimes unsteady hand and hasty phrasing. It presents them with a complete text, including the salutation and signature sometimes omitted from published documents, thus illuminating epistolary conventions and adding a bit of historical flavor. Most importantly, it makes reading an active rather than passive activity, a habit I hope students will carry with them long after graduation. By grappling with the letter, my students have learned something about the raw materials with which historians work.

Abraham Lincoln, Farewell Address given at Springfield, IL, February 11, 1861. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Whether presented as digital image files or photocopies—or, for students lucky enough to access them, original copies—handwritten primary source documents offer unique access to the past. Reading Lincoln’s farewell address to his Springfield neighbors is always a moving experience, but the raw immediacy of the original document helps to humanize the author and his audience.

This simple classroom activity can be adapted in all sorts of ways. In my advanced Civil War and Reconstruction course, I’ve asked students to transcribe a longer letter, written just after the caning of Charles Sumner, and to write a paper analyzing what it reveals about the escalation of sectional strife. This reduces the time constraint and enables me to assign a meatier source, but also introduces the pressure of a grade into the task. Other teachers might incorporate a transcription and interpretation activity into a quiz or exam, although advance preparation would likely be necessary. Instructors seeking to make transcription a regular feature of their early U.S. history surveys could assign Mark M. Smith’s Writing the American Past, a unique document reader which includes copies of texts in their original, handwritten format, along with the interpretive apparatus typically found in such volumes.[1] And while I have primarily used documents drawn from my own archival research, many online databases—including the Abraham Lincoln Papers—include images of raw sources alongside transcriptions, making them available to students in online and traditional courses alike.

The challenge and the joy of teaching history comes in no small part from the effort to make the past seem as relevant and as tangible to students as it does to historians. For teachers of Civil War-era history, the bountiful archive of handwritten sources can offer a feast for novice and advanced students alike.


[1] Mark M. Smith, ed., Writing the American Past: US History to 1877 (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2009).

Michael E. Woods

Michael E. Woods is Associate Professor of History at Marshall University. He is the author of Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border (Routledge, 2016) and Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which received the 2015 James A. Rawley Award from the Southern Historical Association. He is currently at work on a book entitled Arguing until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy.