Category: Blog

“Don’t Forget your Soldier Lovers!” A Story of Civil War Valentines

“Don’t Forget your Soldier Lovers!” A Story of Civil War Valentines

Is materialism ripping out the heart of Valentine’s Day?

Every February, thousands of Americans lament the commercialism of this holiday with critical articles and tweets about modern consumerism. Some blame the pressures of social media on the rise in spending. And it is definitely rising; the National Retail Federation estimates that more than $20 billion will be spent on 2019’s Valentine celebrations. The creativity of advertisers is not to be undersold, of course, as enterprising executives have discovered how to widen the consumer market to include those who are currently unattached. “After the chocolates have been eaten and the flowers wilt, roaches remain thriving and triumphant. Give the gift that’s eternal and name a roach for Valentine’s Day.” That’s right, for fifteen dollars, you can name a roach after your ex and send them a digital certificate from the Bronx Zoo.[1]

Valentine’s Day advertisement in The New York Herald, January 27, 1863. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Some may be surprised to learn that St. Valentine’s Day, and all its commercialism, was alive and well during the bloodiest war of our nation’s past. Much like today, nineteenth-century advertisers and newspapers relentlessly warned their patrons that the holiday loomed. On February 11, 1864, the Holmes County Farmer newspaper in Ohio read, “We are reminded that Valentine Day is approaching. Tuesday next, the 14th inst., is set aside as the carnival of lovers. It is said the birds choose their mates on that day, and, it being leap year, it is expected all the marriageable girls will select their mates.”[2]

During the war, companies ran a number of Valentine ads that targeted women with loved ones off at battle. “Don’t forget your soldier lovers. Keep their courage up with a rousing Valentine. All prices. Six cents to five dollars each,” advertised Strong’s Valentine Depot in 1862. In 1863, New York City’s American Valentine Company promoted “soldiers’ valentine packets,” “army valentine packets,” and “torch of love packets.” In Washington D.C., Shillington’s likewise advertised packets specifically for soldiers, which “contains two superb sentimental valentines and elegant embossed envelopes; also comic valentines and beautiful valentine cards in fancy envelopes.”[3]

Valentine’s Day advertisement in The Evansville Daily Journal, February 11, 1862. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

In some cases, this collision of holiday and war was quite jarring. For example, in February 1862, Indiana’s Evansville Daily Journal described Main Street bookstores filled with card displays “large and varied enough to suit the tastes of all.” Immediately beneath this bulletin was a notice to the recently wounded and those in mourning: “Disabled soldiers applying for pensions, and the widow or heirs of soldiers who have been killed, or died in service, should call” began the section, followed by another notice related to “troops moving.” This newspaper column, flowing from one topic to the next, provides powerful insight into the daily experiences of the homefront. Yes, the war was about troop movements. Yes, the war included wounds, death, and pensions. But even as wives worried ceaselessly about the loss of husbands, scanning the papers for news, they also read advertisements and planned for their Valentine’s celebrations. Life did not stop in the midst of war. Neither did holidays. And advertisers knew it.[4]

Soldiers at war also remembered Valentine’s Day. Though they appear less likely to purchase formal Valentine’s stationery, original poetry and letters of love came home in abundance. One particularly special valentine came from Confederate soldier Robert H. King, who created a paper heart with a pen knife for his wife, Louiza. When opened, the seemingly random holes in the paper reveal two people separated from one another, crying.[5]

Robert H. King’s valentine for Louiza. Courtesy of the Library of Virginia.

On November 8, 1861, Robert had written to his wife, “it panes my hart to think of leaven you all” and signed his letter as many soldiers did, with “yours til death.” Ultimately, this would be true, and all Louiza would be left with was this paper heart. Robert died of typhoid fever near Petersburg, Virginia, in April 1863. She kept this valentine until her own death decades later, perhaps believing there is more heart in handmade.[6]

To return to our original question, are our contemporaries correct in their claim that materialism is ripping out the heart of Valentine’s Day? Perhaps not. At least in the nineteenth century, materialism was part of the holiday all along. When Sarah Woif married Sylvanus Emswiller of Shenandoah County on Valentine’s Day 1861, she likely was not thinking about advertisers, but rather, the love associated with the holiday. She certainly was not thinking about the fact that she, too, would become a widow in 1863 when Sylvanus died of pneumonia, fighting with the Second Virginia Infantry. Love, loss, celebration, heartache – they all swirled together in the Civil War. And the newspapers certainly reflected it.[7]


[1] Katherine Cullen, “Is love still in the air?” National Retail Federation, January 30, 2019,; “Name a Roach,” Bronx Zoo, accessed February 10, 2019,

[2] Holmes County Farmer, Millersburg, Ohio, February 11, 1864. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,

[3] The New York Herald, February 14, 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,; The New York Herald, February 7, 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,; The National Republican, Washington, D.C., February 8, 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress,

[4] The Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana, February 11, 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress,

[5] Robert H. King, Valentine to Louiza A. Williams King of Montgomery County, Virginia, undated, in Robert H. King Papers, 1861-1910, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

[6] There is a photograph of Eliza (c. 1910) within this collection. Her exact date of death is unknown. Robert H. King to Louiza A. Williams, November 8, 1861; ibid.

[7] George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War Database, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV.

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.

Author Interview: Timothy Williams

Author Interview: Timothy Williams

Our December 2018 issue featured top-notch work on the Civil War era, including a fascinating piece by Timothy Williams, titled “The Readers’ South: Literature, Region, and Identity in the Civil War Era.” We share below a recent interview with Dr. Williams, who is an assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon. Professor Williams works in the fields of intellectual and cultural history, focusing particularly on the nineteenth-century United States and the American South. He is currently researching and writing a new book, tentatively titled Civil War Prisons and the Intellectual Life of the Confederacy.

Thanks for speaking with us, Tim. Many of our readers have read your article in our December 2018 issue, but it would be useful if you could briefly summarize the focus and argument of your article.

Thanks for talking with me about the article! In short, this article considers the Civil War Era South from the perspective of its intellectual culture. I focus specifically on generally well-off young white men and women who made books and reading a regular part of their lives. I interrogated the archive not just for learning what these young people read, but how they read, why the read, when they read, where they read, and how they processed what they read. Muster readers will be interested in knowing that these readers were not nearly as concerned with their southern-ness as historians have been! Instead, these young men and women thought and acted very much like northern middle-class readers. They read for entertainment, of course, but also for their own moral and intellectual development. As a result of the latter, they were keenly aware of the morality of what and how they read. For example, they believed that reading history and biography taught useful moral lessons, but reading novels was a dangerous practice (one they denounced but also pursued eagerly). Surprisingly, I found that sectionalism did not have as strong of an effect on reading lives as some might presume. In the late antebellum period, some readers, of course, entirely eschewed northern authors, and others read them and critiqued them. But region was not the primary lens through which young southerners approached intellectual life on a daily basis. Even amid secession and war, the ingrained practice of reading for self-improvement that they cultivated in the prewar years continued to shape their experiences in a variety of settings, which I highlight at the end of the article. In all, I hope that the essay serves as an example of how cultural and intellectual history helps to uncovers how individuals lived through the era and how books and reading habits followed them across the “eras” historians have created around them.

Your article is a great example of the intersection of cultural and intellectual history, for sure. Early in the article you point out the common stereotype of white Southerners as illiterate. You write that “this trend persists in spite of a robust and growing literature examining authors and editors, publishers and booksellers, class and society, education and students, and both national and international contexts.” (565) Why do you think this is still the case?

That’s a great question! Maybe we’re not reading outside of our own subfields as we should. I thought about this a few years ago when I was on a conference panel with Sarah Gardner (@BookHistorian) and a very well-respected historian in the audience explicitly dismissed our work saying, “but we all know most southerners couldn’t even read.”  This statement really stuck; it simply isn’t true, we explained to the audience. But even if we are reading outside our sub-, sub-, subfields, then perhaps we haven’t done a good enough job within the field of showing how intellectual history—the history of ideas and their contexts—fits into the narratives we’ve established in social and political history. If all roads lead to secession and war in the way we teach the U.S. survey, for example, only certain elements of intellectual history get taught—the big texts and the big authors who wrote them. But who read these works? Who talked about them? Where? When? Why? This is where I think the study of “intellectual life” can be most beneficial because it moves the field away from canon into the social and political life of books and ideas.

Those are all fruitful questions! One topic you address is how these young people thought carefully about genre. It made me wonder: to what extent were these anxieties about reading the “right kind” of literature tied to class identities?

Yes, these anxieties were deeply tied to class identities. Elite and middle-class southerners set the discourse around reading, which they offered in academies and colleges. These institutions were mostly, but not always, the provenance of social elites and intended for preparing young men for public life and young women for domestic life. Propriety figured prominently in how young men and women discerned appropriate reading material. But it is important to note that gender, of course, inflected these class identities. I use the example of Elizabeth Ruffin in the article because she explicitly acknowledged that a young woman of her standing ought not to read novels, but she nevertheless “devoured” them. Similarly, an elite southern man, imprisoned during the Civil War, acknowledged that it was inappropriate to read fiction in any other situation than captivity. In both cases, public propriety mattered both in terms of class and gender.

The role of gender is so critical, and your discussion of how gender shaped reading habits was particularly interesting. How did the literary lives of young men and young women differ? And, as a corollary, what differences did you find between Northern and Southern readers?

The literary lives of young men and women differed very little. They all read periodicals and newspapers, novels, and histories. They were all taught to read the Bible. Young men may have read more ancient Latin and Greek texts, however. The greatest difference, however, was in how they wrote about what they read. In the diaries and letters I examined for this article, for example, young men clearly wrote about sex and intimacy with greater candidness then young women. While the article does not explicitly compare northern and southern readers, the evidence I have studied from southerners does not look very different from artifacts of northern intellectual culture for young men and women. Here, I find common ground in the moral capital of reading that Thomas Augst outlines in The Clerk’s Tale  and the gendered world of young school girls in Mary Kelly’s Learning to Stand and Speak. Similarly, the concerns about morality of reading among the “gentlemen” versus the “roughs” in Lorien Foote’s book of the same title appear throughout the materials I’ve read of young southerners.[1]

We have a question from one of our Twitter followers, @loyaltyofdogs, who asks: “newspapers, especially for their coverage of the war and politics, were important to soldiers on both sides and to the civilian population. Did many young people read newspapers during the Civil War?”

Newspapers were staples of wartime reading for teenagers, to be sure. And not surprisingly, in writing about reading the news we also get a fair amount of sectionalism. Young southern prisoners of war, for instance, were not allowed to read southern papers and frequently commented on the mistrust of what we might call “fake news” in today’s political landscape.

Before we conclude, is there anything else you will like to say to readers about this project?

Yes! I want to say one thing about the evolution of this article. While writing about nineteenth-century southern college students in Intellectual Manhood (UNC Press, 2015)—how they read, wrote, and imagined their way to adulthood—I realized that there was plenty of literature out there about northern readers but very little about their southern counterparts, especially outside of studies of education. And those studies tended to focus on everything but reading. Yet as I read published and unpublished diaries of young southerner men and women, I began noting all the occasions they mentioned reading and thought that this was an important way to understand intellectual culture that hadn’t been explored very thoroughly. Around the same time, Beth Barton Schweiger’s important article, “The Literate South,” appeared in the third volume of the JCWE, which framed the need for a study not only on literacy but also the uses of literacy. So I am very much indebted to both Schweiger and the journal for facilitating this important conversation!

You are very welcome! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with our Muster readers.

If anyone has further questions for Dr. Williams, he is active on Twitter (@tjwwfu). The article he discusses here is available through subscription to the print journal and also thanks to our partnership with Project Muse.


[1] Thomas Augst, The Clerk’s Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand & Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic (Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Manhood, Honor, and Violence in the Union Army (New York: New York University Press, 2010).

A New Member of the Muster Team, Barton A. Myers

A New Member of the Muster Team, Barton A. Myers

Due to other commitments, our field correspondent James Marten has had to step down from his role at Muster. We will miss seeing his regular posts, but we wish him well in his future endeavors. In his stead, we are pleased to announce a new member of our Muster team, Barton Myers, who will be writing about soldiers, veterans, and military history.

Barton MyersBarton A. Myers is Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Ethics and History at Washington and Lee University and the author of the award winning Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 (LSU Press, 2009), Rebels Against the Confederacy: North Carolina’s Unionists (Cambridge, 2014), and co-editor with Brian D. McKnight of The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War (LSU Press, 2017). Dr. Myers received his B.A., Phi Beta Kappa from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Professor Myers has taught at Cornell University, the University of Georgia, and Texas Tech University, and before becoming a professor, he served as a public historian with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park where he led tours of some of America’s most historic battlefields. He is also a past nominee for the Rising Star Faculty Award given by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the recipient of a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for his research on violence, aggression, and dominance in American history. Dr. Myers’ work has been featured in the national media, including the Los Angeles Times, the Richmond, Sirius XM’s “The Michael Smerconish Program,” CSPAN’s “American History TV,” National Public Radio’s Virginia Insight, and the Civil War Monitor.

He lives in historic Lexington, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

He can be contacted about speaking engagements through his website, He also has a Facebook page: “The Art of Command during the American Civil War,”


What Academics Owe Activists: A Report on “Removing Silent Sam” at the AHA

What Academics Owe Activists: A Report on “Removing Silent Sam” at the AHA

As monuments to (and of) white supremacy, Confederate statues simultaneously re-embodied masculinity in white Southerners who failed their patriarchal society, christened future generations in Lost Cause mythology, and intimidated, punished, and policed the bodies of black Southerners.[1] It was no mistake that Confederate memorialization crested during two periods of intense racial violence and discrimination: the first during the consolidation of Jim Crow, in the 1890s through 1910s, and the second during the classical Civil Rights Movement, the 1950s and 1960s. This was the leitmotif of a Sunday morning session titled “Removing Silent Sam” at the recent American Historical Association meeting. Dr. Warren Milteer Jr. of UNC-Greensboro served as chair.

Dr. Adam Domby, Assistant Professor of History at the College of Charleston, began by sketching out the recent history of Silent Sam activism. Working with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, UNC-Chapel Hill dedicated the Confederate monument in 1913 as part of the first wave of memorialization meant to shore up Jim Crow. White supremacist Julian Carr enshrined this insidious motive in his dedication speech, which Domby located in the university’s archives in 2011. A Confederate veteran and alumnus, Carr recalled in the speech that soon after Appomattox, “I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” after she insulted a white woman.[2] This archival find coincided with the establishment of the Real Silent Sam Coalition, the progenitor of today’s movement. The Coalition created a moderate proposal that would contextualize and historicize Silent Sam through plaques and educational programming. Although administrators rejected this compromise, in 2015 activists did manage to force administrators to rename Saunders Hall—bearing the name of Klansman William Saunders—due to the fact that the Board’s own minutes revealed that it was precisely his leadership in the Klan that earned him the namesake.

The murder of Heather Heyer at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, brought a new urgency to the movement to take down Sam. As UNC-Chapel Hill PhD candidate and activist Alyssa Bowen reminded the audience, monuments cannot be conflated with history. In their mortar they freeze the social relations of their founding, becoming contemporary icons to likeminded white supremacists. In fact, as Bowen traced the intersection of historical events and Silent Sam activism since the 1960s, it became clear that one could anchor a course on racial discrimination and civil rights movements in America over the past century around Silent Sam alone. Bowen concluded by highlighting the wide range of racist iconography and honorifics still on campus, including thirty buildings named after white supremacists.

As Bowen observed, the continued presence of these structures on college campuses demonstrates that the fight against monuments like Silent Sam is bigger than a department, a school, a state, or even a region. To this point, Kenneth Ledford, a Germanist historian at Case Western Reserve University who attended the session, noted in the Q&A that the current debate about Confederate monuments stems from the fact that—contrary to Nazi Germany in World War II—the South never suffered a lasting total defeat. Previous scholars muzzled the likes of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Carter Woodson in favor of white academics steeped in Lost Cause mythology like William Dunning, Walter Fleming, and Ulrich B. Phillips. Consequently, there has been a slippage between the updated historiographical shifts ushered in during the 1950s and popular understandings of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In part, as Domby pointed out, this is because the plasticity of the Lost Cause provides such convenient cover for conservative attacks on social programs like affirmative action. How the public sees structural racism today hinges in large part on how it views the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow.

Defense of the Lost Cause has persistently floated above history under the cover of “free speech.” UNC-Chapel Hill PhD candidate and activist Lindsay Ayling detailed how this unfolds today. The same fascist white supremacist groups behind the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville—including the Aryan Brotherhood, the III%ers, and the League of the South—are those intimidating antiracist activists, often by violent means. Ayling shared disturbing examples of the vicious cyber harassment and police brutality she and others have suffered at the hands of these groups. Police sometimes allowed white supremacists to beat student activists with impunity. All this in the name of “free speech.”

Given the fascist groups cowering behind the First Amendment in order to attack student activists, Ayling’s presentation raised an urgent question for academics: what do we do when fascists leap off the pages of our monographs and spill onto our campus grounds? How might our scholarship and knowledge of historical context allow us to protect vulnerable populations in this fight against fascism and white supremacy? As Bowen put it, we need a clearer connection between what we do and how we live our lives.

This points to a larger issue that this panel addressed: we know these monuments reflect hate, but we fail to appreciate fully how they continue a long legacy of hostile spatial politics for students of color. Dr. Hilary Green, Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and an alumna of UNC, made this all too clear. As an African American, Green explained how Silent Sam’s presence feels like a personal betrayal by her alma mater. What do you do when an institution signals you are good enough for a doctorate, but then fails to understand the lasting effects of Confederate statues on campus? Or when white supremacists and their allies infiltrate and attack peaceful student activists? In one of the most effective and affective moments of the entire AHA conference, Green defiantly swore to Chancellor Carol Folt, “I will not be a silenced horse-whipped negro wench.” Green detailed how Sam marked the delineations of space that were not hers—how students of color avoided that part of campus altogether so as to escape its shadows. Confederate monuments are not a purely academic affair. Through them, the myths of the Lost Cause linger on, demanding obedience and silence from people of color.

The panel on “Removing Silent Sam” highlighted many ways scholars can support antiracist efforts, all of which remain important even in the wake of the recent resignation of Chancellor Folt and the removal of Sam’s pedestal. They can continue to teach the unequivocal truth of these statues and white supremacy. They can tweet out corrections of a falsified past. Whatever they do, they must amplify the voices of the vulnerable and exposed who dare to wrestle with a violent and dangerous legacy. On August 20, 2018, thanks to the courageous defiance of students armed with little more than moral imperative, Silent Sam fell. He crumpled like paper; now, may he boom like thunder.


[1] See, for example, LeeAnn Whites, The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995); Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).

[2] “Julian Carr’s Speech at the Dedication of Silent Sam,” Dr. Hilary N. Green, PhD, University of Alabama, accessed January 23, 2019,

Alex Hofmann

Alexander Hofmann is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago studying the histories of memory, violence, and the American South. His dissertation explores a culture of disembodiment that developed in the wake of the Civil War and produced distinct forms of violence through spectacle lynching.

Lessons from the Crimean War: The Augusta Arsenal

Lessons from the Crimean War: The Augusta Arsenal

In 1853 a conflict began that, for the first time since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, pitted most of the great powers of Europe against each other. What initially started as a conflict between the Russian and Ottoman empires quickly escalated to involve the western European maritime powers, Great Britain and France. New technology altered the fighting and forced adjustments to medical care.[1] While military planners quickly forgot most lessons of this Crimean War, turning the conflict into one of the century’s forgotten wars, the struggle had a profound impact on the Civil War. The architectural style and building plan of the Confederate Arsenal at Augusta, Georgia, illustrates a strong resemblance to the new Austrian Arsenal in Vienna, and in the absence of explicit written statement by Confederate authorities, this architectural transnational comparison highlights how Jefferson Davis’s government learned from recent European military experiments to ensure the Confederacy’s survival.[2]

Watercolor by Rudolf Alt of the Museum at the Vienna Arsenal in 1856. Courtesy of the Austrian Military Museum.

Initially, the new military achievements were supposed to benefit the United States. The U.S. government under Franklin Pierce determined to learn from the European conflict by sending officers to observe and report advances in military technology. On April 3, 1855, Major Richard Delafield, commander of New York City’s harbor defenses, received orders to head to Washington and report to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Besides Delafield, the same telegraphic order went to Captain George B. McClellan and Major Alfred Mordecai. Secretary Davis instructed the three men to visit Europe and report on the newest European military developments, including but not limited to uniforms, arms, fortifications, and transportation infrastructure.[3] The three men brought back valuable but frequently ignored information, published in voluminous reports over the next few years.

Blueprint of the arsenal from Richard Delafield, Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856 (Washington: G.W. Bowman, 1860).

Delafield had orders to inspect European production facilities for weaponry and report on new weapons technology, fortifications, bunkers, and others military advances. Much of his report and information came from the new Vienna arsenal. Besides talking about new cast iron technology and weapons, Delafield focused on the new arsenal building in Vienna. He commented that “no arsenal in Europe will compare with it in extent; none in which there is more unity of design.” He lauded the arsenal, calling it “perfect in all respects.”[4] The report included a detailed blueprint of the new arsenal and detailed descriptions, especially of the military and weapons museum:

Nearest to and parallel with the front is a richly ornamented two-story building of 130 by 30 toises (1 toise is about 1.9m), with projecting wings and center for a museum of ancient armor, arms, trophies, &c., &c., illustrative of the history of this branch of the art of war, with extensive arm racks as a store house for the small arms now being manufactured.[5]

In addition to the detailed report of the structures, Delafield noted that the arsenal could produce about “2,400 stand of arms per week.” He concluded in his report that construction commenced in 1851 and finished in 1856. “The cost is said to have been 7,900,000 florins, including 180,000 florins, the cost of the ground, containing 107 yokes of 1,600 square toises each. . . . The museum is calculated to hold in its wrought-iron racks 211,968 muskets.”[6] While the brief section on the architectural design of the Vienna Arsenal may seem of little importance, Secretary Davis seems to have remembered.

In September 1861, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, Josiah Gorgas, ordered the creation of a new arsenal at Augusta for both the manufacture of weapons and ammunition. Confederate authorities completed construction in early 1862. With the powder works and material in place, the facility was producing a large amount of materiel for the Confederate war effort between 1863 and 1865. The arsenal became a major producer of Confederate ammunition.[7]

Central Avenue, U.S. Arsenal, Augusta, Georgia. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The workshop building at the Augusta Arsenal bears strong resemblance to the Museum of Arms at the Vienna Arsenal. While the Augusta facility was only one story, except for the central and two outer wings, and far less ornate than the Vienna structure, the blueprint of the two buildings was remarkably similar. Unfortunately, available sources do not indicate whether Davis or the Confederate authorities directly relied on the Vienna Arsenal report in the construction of the site in Augusta. However, an architectural comparison indicates the strong similarity between the two sites. The builders in Augusta likely had some knowledge of the Vienna arsenal. This architectural comparison offers another avenue to explore transnational relations and exchanges during the mid-nineteenth century. Finally, despite the often-perceived agrarian and backward status of the Confederacy, the correlation between the two arsenals illustrates that the Confederacy paid attention to international, military achievements to use in their own struggle for survival.

The Crimean War signaled the arrival of modern warfare and offered keen observers an opportunity to learn important lessons.[8] Equipping an army with new weapons required new technology, which in turn required modern production facilities such as the Arsenal in Vienna. It is likely that the Confederacy used material from the Crimean War reports when constructing the Arsenal at Augusta and thus learned important lessons about modern military production facilities. In general, military planners did not embrace the lessons of the Crimean War, but the Augusta Arsenal is a refreshing reminder that transnational lessons were learned.


[1] Niels Eichhorn, “A Transnational View of Medicine and Medical Practices During the Civil War,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, November 13, 2018,

[2] I want to thank Park Historian James “Jim” Ogden at the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Military Park, who in his many public talks made me aware of the possible transnational comparison between the Augusta and Vienna arsenals.

[3] Richard Delafield, Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856 (Washington: G.W. Bowman, 1860), xiii-xiv. Also see George B. McClellan, Report of Captain George B. McClellan One of the Officers sent to the Seat of War in Europe in 1855 and 1856 (Washington, DC: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1857); Alfred Mordecai, Military Commission to Europe, in 1855 and 1856 (Washington, DC: George W. Bowman, 1860).

[4] Delafield, Report on the Art of War, 261.

[5] Ibid., 261.

[6] Ibid., 262, 264.

[7] Gordon A. Blaker, “From Powder to Projectile: The Production of Ammunition in Augusta,” in Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia, ed. C. L. Bragg, et al. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007), 132-156.

[8] Reid Holden, The Civil War and the Wars of the Nineteenth Century (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2006).

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.

The Grave and the Gay: The Civil War on the Gilded Age Lecture Circuit

The Grave and the Gay: The Civil War on the Gilded Age Lecture Circuit

This is our final field dispatch from correspondent James Marten. We have greatly enjoyed his contributions to Muster and it has been such a pleasure having him on our team. We will be announcing his replacement in 2019, so stay tuned!

For decades before and after the Civil War, thousands of lecturers, “elocutionists,” ventriloquists, and other performers toured the country, entertaining audiences in churches, fraternal lodges, opera houses, auditoriums, and countless other venues in towns large and small. Some of the best-known figures of the Civil War era traveled this circuit, often making hundreds of dollars per lecture. They included Frederick Douglass and Blanche K. Bruce, Anna Dickinson and William Herndon, Mary Livermore and John S. Mosby. In the 1880s and 1890s, these lectures provided one important thread of memory for the military history of the Civil War.

A notice of a Livingston appearance in Brooklyn in 1885. “Both Sides of Army Life,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 3, 1885.

Although he was not one of the “star” speakers on the circuit in the late 1880s, Rev. E. Livingston Allen, unlike most of his more famous colleagues, left a complete version of his lecture, which he self-published as Both Sides of Army Life: The Grave and the Gay. It provides a sense of what many of the military-oriented lectures would have been like. It is filled with rhetorical flourishes and alliteration, cadences that work far better when heard than when read silently, and italicized and capitalized passages marking important thematic and emotional points. One can almost imagine the red marks, underlines, and circles on the script from which Allen would deliver his public lectures. Taken as a whole, Both Sides of Army Life checks several “boxes” in what had become a common veteran’s memory of the war, focusing on the patriotism of the volunteers, memorable battle scenes, oddball soldiers providing comic relief, and reconciliation between the sections. Although it’s hard to know how often he gave the lecture, he did present it several times in New York and Brooklyn in 1885.[1]

Allen, a long-time Methodist minister in New Jersey and New York, was also active in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). At the age of eighteen he quit studying for the ministry to enlist in the Thirteenth New Jersey, serving as a corporal in Company K until the last few months of war, when he was promoted to sergeant. Although the regiment did not suffer heavy casualties–Allen himself was wounded three times–it did serve with distinction, fighting at Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Atlanta Campaign, and the March to the Sea.[2]

Allen’s talk began with several paragraphs on past wars and on Fourth of July orators who inculcated ardent patriotism and emotional attachment to the American flag: “All this with reference to the flag and eagle was sentiment; but it educated Young America patriotically.” Once the flag was attacked, “this sentiment was to become crystallized into the solid steel of military activity, and was to be proven the VERY EMBODIMENT OF INVINCIBLE FORCE!”[3]

Allen briefly described the assembling of “the boys” into the regiment and their rush to the Maryland front, where incredibly, they first loaded their guns as they went into battle at Antietam. Allen peppered his talk with military terminology, and with phrases that are a little jarring to read but which must have drawn audiences in with his dramatic use of repetition and alliteration: “As the gray dawn was pushing back the blackness of night, revealing the blue of day, we were ordered by the gray-haired Mansfield to push back the grey of treason and show the enemy the pure blue of loyalty.” The battle scene that followed was both particular to his experience yet also generic—similar scenes appeared in virtually every first-person account of combat. As the Thirteenth pressed forward, they passed a young soldier from the 107th New York, “with both limbs broken by a solid shot; and he, in his agony, knowing death must soon come, was calling, Mother! MOTHER! MOTHER! Brave hearts trembled–strong men wept–indescribable emotions swept over mind and heart–Forward! FORWARD! the command rose higher, and on we went.”[4] Most of the battle scenes offered similar drama and effects—his description of Chancellorsville captures perfectly the confusion on the Union right flank.

The monument to the Thirteenth New Jersey at Gettysburg. Courtesy of Stone Sentinels.

Allen’s talk featured a number of iconic facets of military reminiscences: rich, often funny characters, a no-hard-feelings approach to the enemy, and a few references to humorous incidents occurring at the height of battles–including a moment during a battle in Georgia when the regimental color guard (which included Allen) takes cover behind a rock and spends part of the battle eating blueberries. One fellow member of Company K, Sam C. Davis, who the “boys” inevitably nicknamed “Jeff,” was a “cross, crabbed, cranky, crusty, cantankerous” fellow–again, with the alliteration–who seemed most upset in the middle of crucial battle when a bullet ruined the fry pan crammed into his knapsack. Another of Allen’s stock characters, a German named John Icke, offered a little ethnic humor when Icke remarked on the quantity of rations provided in winter quarters in early 1863: “See vat Hooker feeds us mit: he is fattenen us up fur de schlauter-house.” Later in the war, the company gets a recruit named Young–nicknamed, of course, “Brigham”–whose uniform is ill-fitting and whose cap is worn at an awkward angle, and whose feet were so large that they kept the fire from warming him. Always hungry, he became the camp thief, stealing provisions from company stores at every opportunity, until he was caught, court-martialed, and fined.[5]

The reconciliationist impulse of the Gilded Age allowed Union soldiers to admire the bravery of their erstwhile enemies, which Allen does on several occasions. At Chancellorsville, in the face of concentrated rifle and artillery fire, the Confederates advanced “without flinching . . . close up the gaps made in their ranks, and, with their eyes, and hearts, and purposes fixed on the batteries, they reach the guns as the artillerymen fire the last shot, while the horses are being attached to take them away.”[6]

Allen’s narrative is shot full of striking images. There was the soldier who wills himself to make his escape by climbing onto a departing cannon despite two broken limbs; he’s found after the retreat finally stops, dead, but still clinging to the cannon. There is the soldier fined $10 a month for fleeing during a battle, who was convinced the bullets were singing “Where is he? Where is he?” while the shells called “That’s him! That’s him!” There is the sentry who sets off a commotion when he fires into the dark at what turns out to be an army mule, rather than an enemy patrol. Allen also includes set piece incidents that appear in many other narratives, included soldiers bravely rescuing wounded comrades and moments when survivors were powerless to help wounded men caught between the lines crying for help and water. And there is the obligatory scene of encountering a young slave, who ends up the butt of a soldier’s joke.[7]

After describing a few more oddball soldiers, Allen spends the bulk of the last few pages of the lecture on more serious subjects that captured the pathos of sacrifice by Union troops, the tragedy of the contraband refugees who followed Sherman’s army through Georgia, and the relief and pride the army felt when the war finally ended with the rebellion crushed. He finishes with a narrative of the regiment’s mustering out and welcome home, a report on the charitable and educational activities of the Grand Army of the Republic, and a tribute to the men and women who had supported the troops on the home front.

Allen lived into the twentieth century, although his date of death is unknown. He was reported to be in ill-health in 1892–he was only forty-eight, and it’s not clear if his health problems were related to his war-time injuries–but he was ministering to Methodists in Cape May Courthouse as late as 1902.[8] Although the pastor had spent a long life serving God, he, like many other Civil War veterans, had never forgotten the two or three years he had spent serving his country.


[1] Brooklyn Eagle, October 3, 1885; New York Times, October 18, 1885.

[2] Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Trenton, NJ: John L. Murphy, 1876), 658.

[3] Rev. E. Livingston Allen, Descriptive Lecture: Both Sides of Army Life, the Grave and the Gay (np: The Author, 1885), 1. Interestingly, James “Corporal” Tanner, a much more famous lecturer—and a non-commissioned officer who, like Allen, enlisted at the age of eighteen—used an almost identical title for his most popular talk.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid., 3, 4.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Minutes of the Fifty-Sixth Session of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (Camden: Gazette Printing House, 1892), 59; Churches of Salem County, New Jersey (Salem: Salem County Clerk’s Office, 2015), 100.

James Marten

James Marten is professor and chair of the history department at Marquette University. His most recent books are Sing Not War: Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (2011) and America’s Corporal: James Tanner in War and Peace (2014). He is a past president of the Society of Civil War Historians.

Mudsills vs. Chivalry

Mudsills vs. Chivalry

Writing home from Alabama in November 1863, an Ohio cavalryman celebrated the overthrow of the Southern aristocracy: “The mud sills of the North roam at will over the plantations, burn rails, forage on the country, and the negroes flock into our camps, leaving their lordly masters helpless and dependent,” he rejoiced. “Alas! for the pride and boasting of the chivalrous subjects of King cotton!”[1] He described not one, but two intertwined revolutions unleashed as slavery collapsed and elite pretensions crumbled. Especially illuminating was his triumphant reference to “mud sills,” a loaded term which connected wartime upheaval to antebellum politics.

“Mudsill” became a political catchword in 1858 thanks to an infamous speech by Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina. A separate southern nation, he proclaimed, would thrive, thanks to its control over cotton production and its stable social order. According to Hammond, every civilization needed a class of manual workers: “In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life,” he proclaimed. “It constitutes the very mud-sill of society.” Northerners consigned whites to this degraded status, but the South had “found a race adapted to that purpose” and built a society on the bedrock of black labor. “We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves….I will not characterize that class at the North by that term; but you have it; it is there; it is everywhere; it is eternal.[2]

Northerners, convinced that proslavery ideologues threatened the dignity and liberty of all working people, were outraged. Workers appropriated the mudsill label, transforming an insulting epithet into a badge of pride. Across the North, “high-spirited mechanics and laborers” organized “Mud-Sill Clubs” and urged workingmen to vote Republican in the 1858 midterm elections. A banner hoisted at one of Abraham Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas read: “Small-Fisted Farmers, Mud Sills of Society, Greasy Mechanics, for A. Lincoln.”[3] As Massachusetts Republican Henry Wilson recalled, Hammond “opened the eyes of [northern] men to the spirit, aims, and purposes of the Slave Power as perhaps no previous demonstration had been able to effect.”[4]

This “demonstration” shaped popular understandings of the crisis that followed A. Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860. Northerners readily attributed secession to the same elite class that espoused the mudsill doctrine. One Illinois soldier commenced his wartime diary by writing that the “slave olagarchy of the southern states…having lost their former political control of the government and not being minded to submit to the humiliation of sharing that control with the mud sills of the north…determined to suceed from the federal union and form a confederacy of their own based on the foundation rock of slavery.”[5]

E. Bowers and G.L.J., “Mudsills Are Coming: A New Army Song” (Boston: Russell & Patee, 1862). Songs like “Mudsills Are Coming” reminded northerners of the insulting implications of proslavery ideology and sustained their enthusiasm for the war. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Hammond’s epithet also spurred northern workingmen to enlist. “‘I am a mud-sill’ is now a common expression of the Soldiers who fight for liberty,” reported the New York Tribune in June 1861.[6] Patriotic songs and poems amplified this theme. The song “Northmen, Come Out!” encouraged recruits to come “Out in your strength and let them know/How Working Men to Work can go./Out in your might and let them feel/How Mudsills strike when edged with steel.”[7] The poem “March of the Mud-Sills” exhorted northern workers to vanquish southern oligarchs and reconstruct a truly democratic Union, so that “the class that built the nation, from their energy and skill/Shall be free to mould its progress by the edict of their will.”[8]

Northern recruits itched to prove themselves in combat. While idling on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862, one soldier wrote that all his comrades wanted was a chance to “teach the rebel scoundrels a lesson which will convince them that the ‘mud sills’ of the north are fully equal to any chivalry the F F V’s [First Families of Virginia] can produce.”[9] Battlefield victories were especially sweet for Union soldiers like Charles Harvey Brewster who relished seeing the “chivalry and the cream of everything in the United States…break and run like sheep before the Mudsills” at the Battle of Malvern Hill.[10]

Mudsill-related resentments also shaped Union soldiers’ interactions with southern civilians. They inspired some soldiers to assist fugitive slaves, not least because they savored opportunities to humiliate lordly masters. A New York artilleryman reported on a Virginia planter who boarded his transport ship in search of runaway slaves: blue-collar soldiers seized the “fine Virginia gentleman” and tossed him overboard. Imagine, the soldier wrote to his parents, “a F[irst] [F]amily [of] V[irginia] being tossed fifteen feet in the air, three times, by Union solders – Northern mudsills.”[11]

“The Pending Contest.” Published in 1864, this political cartoon depicts the Civil War as a battle between secession and popular rule. The caption throws the mudsill epithet back at the humbled secessionist, who laments: “I will kill him if I can, and yet, this Mudsill, whom I have despised as a mercenary coward, insulted, and would have trodden under foot, has proved to be a very giant in courage and resources.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Similar sentiments also goaded Union soldiers to target wealthy households for pillage and destruction. While campaigning in Mississippi, a group of Illinois volunteers spared the home of an impoverished Unionist and raided a larger estate owned by a Confederate matron who denounced them as “mudsills” and “Lincoln hirelings.” To the Illinoisans who emptied her larder, she was triply implicated by her wealth, allegiance, and conceit.[12]

Union vengeance against South Carolina aristocrats was especially severe. As William T. Sherman’s legions prepared to march into the Palmetto State in early 1865, Union General Henry W. Slocum mused that Sherman “will soon introduce his mud-sills of the north to the cream of southern aristocracy.” “The meanest private soldier,” Slocum added, “knows the history of this contest and the part played by South Carolina. She will pay a fearful penalty.”[13] Slocum was right. Weeks later, a Massachusetts officer surveyed with satisfaction the ruined homes of “rich, aristocratic, chivalrous, slaveholding” Carolinians who had started the war to “gratify their aristocratic aspirations…and to indulge in their insane hatred for us Yankee mud-sills.”[14]

Unionists expected that mudsill ingenuity would rebuild the South on a foundation of freedom and progress. “The South will yet blossom like the rose over the grave of slavery,” wrote one eager editor in 1864, “and ‘Northern mudsills, greasy mechanics, and small fisted farmers’ be the media through which her regeneration shall be accomplished.”[15] Some called for dividing plantations into small farms worked by northern mudsills and emancipated slaves.[16]

Reconstruction did not fulfill these hopes, but attention to mudsill rhetoric reminds us that words matter. Intending to celebrate southern strength, Hammond provoked a storm of northern fury that raged until much of the South lay in ruins. A generation later, an Indianan remembered Hammond’s speech as a turning point:

It is hardly possible to estimate the power which may be concentrated in a word, or a phrase. In March, 1858, in the Senate of the United States, the haughty J.H. Hammond christened the laboring men of the Free States as “Mudsills,” and the sneering and insulting epithet burned the quick sensibilities of the mechanics, the artisans, the farmers and the laborers of the nation, as molten lava might burn their physical frames, and they never forgot nor forgave the atrocious and cowardly insult, until they lit their pathway through South Carolina by the light of blazing homes and burning palaces.[17]

Living in a digital age in which we are bombarded by ephemeral text, it is worth remembering that words can stick, and ideas can take hold – and have consequences far into the future.


[1] “B” to Dear Harper, November 12, 1863, Gallipolis Journal, November 26, 1863.

[2] Cong. Globe, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., appendix, 71.

[3] Eugene Fitch Ware, The Lyon Campaign in Missouri: Being a History of the First Iowa Infantry (Topeka: Crane & Company, 1907), 33-34; “The Ground Tier Moved!” Lewisburg (PA) Chronicle, August 20, 1858; Bangor (ME) Whig, reprinted in the Randolph County (IN) Journal, August 19, 1858; James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 196-198.

[4] Henry Wilson, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 2nd ed., 3 vols. (Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1875), II, 550.

[5] William Wiley, entry for August 1862, in The Civil War Diary of a Common Soldier: William Wiley of the 77th Illinois Infantry, ed. Terrence J. Winschel (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001), 1.

[6] “Mud-Sills,” New York Tribune, reprinted in (Findlay, OH) Hancock Jeffersonian, June 14, 1861.

[7] “Northmen, Come Out!” Vanity Fair 3 (May 4, 1861), 215.

[8] [G.P. Stevens] “The March of the Mud-Sills,” Harvard Magazine 8, no. 68 (October 1861): 59-61.

[9] Charlie to My own darling wife, May 3, 1862, in Dear Friends at Home: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Sergeant Charles T. Bowen, Twelfth United States Infantry, First Battalion, 1861-1864, ed. Edward K. Cassedy (Baltimore: Butternut & Blue, 2001), 82.

[10] Charles Harvey Brewster to [?], ca. July 4, 1862, in Charles H. Brewster, When This Cruel War Is Over: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harvey Brewster, ed. David W. Blight (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992), 343.

[11] Edmund Evarts to My Dear Parents, September 9, 1863, in Soldiers’ Letters from Camp, Battle-Field and Prison, ed. Lydia Minturn Post (New York: Bunce & Huntington, 1865), 191-192.

[12] Daniel O. Root, War Time Stories: An Illinois Soldier’s Civil War Experiences, ed. Richard A. Chrisman (n.p.: Trafford Publishing, 2011), 59-62.

[13] Quoted in Brian C. Melton, Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007), 193.

[14] Charles Fessenden Morse to [?], January 31, 1865, in Letters Written During the Civil War 1861-1865 (n.p.: Privately Printed, 1898), 210-212.

[15] “The Demand for Men,” Daily Union, reprinted in (Brattleboro) Vermont Phoenix, April 22, 1864.

[16] “Rewarding the Army,” Continental Monthly 2, no. 2 (August 1862): 161-165; Daniel M. Holt to My dear Wife, February 7, 1864, in A Surgeon’s Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D., ed. James M. Greiner, Janet L. Coryell, and James R. Smithier (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1994), 171-172.

[17] Corydon E. Fuller, Reminiscences of James A. Garfield with Notes Preliminary and Collateral (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1887), 309.

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.

The Electoral Politics of “Migrant Caravans”

The Electoral Politics of “Migrant Caravans”

Images of the “migrant caravans” heading north from Honduras, through Guatemala and Mexico and toward the United States, are now familiar to us all. There have been other “migrant caravans” from Central America in the past, but none have registered in American media and politics quite like the one that began in October 2018.

Why this particular migration received such attention has everything to do with timing and politics—and with a president heading into midterm elections who saw an advantage to be had and pounced with all his Twitter fury. Raising many familiar racialized tropes when it comes to immigration—crime! lost jobs!—this latest Central American migration was ultimately the Democrats’ fault, the president contended, and a vote for Republicans would be a vote to stop this approaching menace.[1]

Scenes like this at Fort Monroe prompted General Dix to appeal to northern governors to open their borders to black refugees. “Stampede Among the Negroes in Virginia—Their Arrival at Fortress Monroe,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 8, 1861. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

What happened in the fall of 2018 should be familiar to any historian of immigration in American history—the positioning of nativist attacks on migrants and refugees as a wedge issue in electoral politics—and examples of it stretch back into the nineteenth century (think: Know Nothing Party). But less familiar to historians of the Civil War era, perhaps, was a similar moment in the 1860s, when an attempted migration was also turned back right before a contested midterm election. This time, though, it involved tens of thousands of formerly enslaved men, women, and children from the American South looking northward to freedom.

It happened in the fall of 1862. Abraham Lincoln had just issued the Emancipation Proclamation publicly in late September, which decisively aligned the Union, and the Republican Party, with emancipation. By that time, many thousands of formerly enslaved men, women, and children, were congregating in refugee camps inside Union lines in the South, largely along the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas but increasingly in the Mississippi Valley and farther west into Kansas too. In the eyes of military commanders in these regions, Lincoln’s proclamation seemed to acknowledge the reality of what was happening around them but offered little of the concrete assistance they needed. A humanitarian crisis was escalating in their midst, which, depending on the officials’ sympathies, either distressed or annoyed them. All were searching for an answer to the same (and often-asked) question: What should we do with the people?

At Fort Monroe, Virginia, the commanding general, John A. Dix, thought he found an answer in the northern states. An anti-abolitionist Democrat with little sympathy for these refugees from slavery, Dix was most concerned with ridding his command of what he termed “a very great source of embarrassment” and returning his focus to what he believed were strictly military needs. Sending black refugees to the North would get them out of his way. So with the consent of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Dix identified nine northern governors whom he thought would be receptive and wrote first to the one he deemed most sympathetic—Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts. Andrew was not only an antislavery Republican but also the president of the Educational Commission for Freedmen. It seemed logical that he would open his state’s borders to the South’s refugees from slavery.[2]

Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts (left) and General John A. Dix (right). Courtesy of Wikipedia and the Library of Congress.

But Andrew thought differently. “I do not concur in any way or to any degree in the plan proposed,” Governor Andrew replied to Dix in mid-October. He argued that in the South they would be better positioned to fight on behalf of the Union (something he would later promote while organizing the 54th Massachusetts regiment). “If you are attacked,” he wrote Dix, “let the blacks fight to preserve their freedom!” Andrew went on to argue that “humanity” should compel the general to keep black people in the South. “The Northern states are, of all places, the worst possible to select for an asylum,” he argued, since ex-slaves are “inhabitants of a Southern climate,” with a “physical constitution” that would not be able to withstand “the rigors of our Northern sky.” He claimed to reject Dix’s plan “precisely because I do not wish the Negroes to suffer.”[3]

Andrew’s reasoning called on longstanding racist beliefs that people of African descent were better suited to hot climates—an assumption shared, notably, by proslavery ideologues too. Andrew was not alone among abolitionists in making such statements. A year before, as the first enslaved people made their way into Union lines, the Liberator quoted Henry Ward Beecher, among others, reassuring northern audiences that “Many people fear that if the slaves should gain their freedom, they would swarm at the North. Don’t you believe it. . . . the North Pole is not suited to the skin of the blacks.”[4] Never mind that enslaved people had for decades sought out cold, harsh climates—northern free states and Canada—in their pursuit of freedom. Andrew’s and Beecher’s statements instead made emancipation seem more palatable and the exclusion of black migrants seem natural, even divinely ordained—a reassuring sentiment for white northerners who long feared what would follow from the end of slavery. Competition for jobs? Miscegenation?

Yet such arguments also obscured the political calculations at the heart of Andrew’s position. Andrew, and other Republicans, knew full well that the midterm election coming in November 1862 could be a referendum on the Union’s emancipation policy. And he also knew full well that their opponents, the Democrats, would seize on any plan to ship refugees north as evidence that the worst fears of the white northern public were about to come true.[5] It was in large part to undercut Democratic fear mongering—to defuse black migration as a potent electoral issue—that Andrew rejected Dix’s plan and refused to open Massachusetts’s borders.

Secretary Stanton, under the same political pressures that fall, suspended other ongoing efforts to ship refugees north from the lower Mississippi Valley. And individual states ranging from Minnesota to Pennsylvania either enforced or proposed new wartime exclusion laws barring the migration of black people.[6] General Dix had little choice but to drop the issue. The official, northern resettlement of refugees by the federal government thus ended at this point, although some private organizations did undertake this work in the years ahead, and individual refugees did find ways of securing passes from military commanders—who remained, of all Union officials, the most friendly to their northern migration. Republicans, meanwhile, ended up losing congressional seats in the 1862 elections, though it is impossible to know to what extent the defense of northern borders stopped the party from losing more.

From that point forward, white antislavery northerners proved far more enthusiastic about a reversal of flows: rather than welcome black people to the North, they shipped, by the tens of thousands, barrels of used clothing, shoes, bedding, and garden seeds from the North to the South. Organizations ranging from Andrew’s Educational Commission for Freedmen, to the Friends Freedmen’s Association of Philadelphia and the Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission, raised enormous amounts of money for this purpose, with the expressed purpose of relieving the “immediate physical wants of the suffering and destitute.”[7]

But if refugee crises around the globe in the twenty-first century are any guide, then this flow of relief also played a role in limiting the movements of newly freed people—and supporting the political and legal work of excluding them from the North. As geographer Jennifer Hyndman has observed, destitute refugees tend to “become less mobile as humanitarian aid is able to cross borders more quickly.”[8] In the case of the Civil War, if the refugees could be helped in the South, would they need (or want) to move to the North? “Let them be protected in freedom in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama,” the Friends Review explained in 1862, and “those now there will remain there.”[9]

Humanitarian relief was thus an investment in containing black refugees in the South in the 1860s. But that is where this story departs from the electoral politics of 2018, as the current president, likewise determined to keep migrants in their home countries, has threatened the reverse: to cut off—rather than increase—foreign aid to places like Honduras and Guatemala. Either way, both moments tell a sobering story of how the movement of people of color, especially those without U.S. citizenship, has remained at the mercy of white politicians and their electoral ambitions across time.


[1] “ ‘It’s an Exodus,’” New York Times, October 26, 2018,

[2] This incident is described in more detail in Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 94-96; see also Jacque Voegeli, “A Rejected Alternative: Union Policy and the Relocation of Southern ‘Contrabands’ at the Dawn of Emancipation,” Journal of Southern History 69 (November 2003): 765-790.

[3] Taylor, Embattled Freedom, 95.

[4] “Henry Ward Beecher on the War and Negro Catching,” Liberator, July 19, 1861.

[5] On the emancipation politics surrounding the 1862 election, see Louis P. Masur, Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 150-168.

[6] Leslie A. Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 102-104; Voegeli, “A Rejected Alternative,” 773, 777-778, 786; “The Rights of Colored Citizens,” Friends Review, March 7, 1863.

[7] Taylor, Embattled Freedom, 157-178; Minutes of the Western Yearly Meeting of Friends (1865), 41, Friends Collection and College Archives, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana.

[8] Jennifer Hyndman, Managing Displacement: Refugees and the Politics of Humanitarianism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 58-59.

[9] “Emancipation and Immigration,” Friends Review, September 6, 1862.

Amy Murrell Taylor

Amy Murrell Taylor is Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the History Department at the University of Kentucky. Her most recent book, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps, was published by UNC Press in November 2018. She is also the author of The Divided Family in Civil War America (UNC Press, 2005), and co-editor, with Michael Perman, of Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Cengage, 2010).

1818-2018, The Mary Lincoln Bicentennial: Sisterhood and the Civil War

1818-2018, The Mary Lincoln Bicentennial: Sisterhood and the Civil War

Mary Lincoln, 1846 or 1847. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Just over two hundred years ago today, on December 13, 1818, Mary Ann Todd came into the world screaming. Or at least, we assume she came into this world screaming, as most babies do. It was a rainy Sunday in Lexington, Kentucky. Mary’s mother Eliza likely sent for the midwife. Together, the women would have laughed, cried, and worked through the labor in a female experience, a female world not yet dominated by male doctors. The midwife would have encouraged Eliza, and perhaps offered some mulled liquor, until the big moment of Mary’s arrival.[1]

When she married Abraham Lincoln, she dropped the Todd, and would sign her name Mary Lincoln for the rest of her life. Her life and legacy would be haunted by thousands of interpretations and misinterpretations. Mary the sane, Mary the insane, Mary the devoted wife, Mary the calculating manipulator. She shopped too much, cried too much, complained too much. After losing two sons, she turned to spiritualism, holding as many as eight seances in the White House. Then her third son passed, and later, her fourth would send her to an Illinois asylum. She later deemed it a “cruel persecution by a bad son” and to obtain her release, she secured the services of Myra Bradwell, one of the few female lawyers of the time.[2]

Lincoln Family in 1861, painted by F. B. Carpenter, engraved by J. C. Buttre, 1873. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

But to her core, she cared about family. A family she loved, a family she lost, a family that lay shattered around her. We can imagine the movie of her life, with scenes flickering by – Mary in 1842, courting a tall and talented backwoods lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. In 1860, the wife whose husband reportedly ran home yelling “Mary, Mary, we are elected!” after he learned that he had won the presidential election. In 1862, a mother, miserably consoling her eleven-year-old son Willie, as he lay dying of typhoid fever. And on April 14, 1865, that fateful night she held her husband’s hand as he laughed at a line in the theatre, unaware of the gun to his head.[3]

Mary had five Confederate sisters – a source of joy, grief, embarrassment, and anger throughout the war.  Through a study of Mary Lincoln and two of her Confederate sisters, we can see how gendered tensions of the war played out within a household.  After all, Mary was many things, but before she became a Lincoln, she was a Todd.

Emilie Todd Helm. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society Collections.

During the war, Mary dropped a newspaper in the midst of reading bad news and said, “Kiss me, Emilie, and tell me that you love me.  I seem to be the scape-goat for both North and South.”  Emilie, an adored little sister of Mary, had a husband who had just died defending the Confederacy. Even so, the Lincolns welcomed her into the White House, as family.  Political alliances prevented them from speaking as freely as Emilie would like, but she felt for Mary and wrote, “we weep over our dead together and express through our clasped hands the sympathy we feel for each other in our mutual grief.”[4]

But not everyone who encountered Emilie would put aside their alliances. Emilie was, after all, a widow of the enemy. “Well, we whipped the rebels at Chattanooga and I hear, madam, that the scoundrels ran like scared rabbits,” jabbed Senator Ira Harris of New York when he visited the White House. Answering “with a choking throat,” Emilie retorted, “It was an example, Senator Harris, that you set them at Bull Run and Manassas.” After a failed attempt to get a rise from Mary, Harris returned to prodding Emilie and informed her “if I had twenty sons they should all be fighting the rebels.” Forgetting where she was but not her Confederate loyalties, Emilie responded, “And if I had twenty sons, Senator Harris, they should all be opposing yours.” When the incident was relayed to Abe, he chuckled that “the child has a tongue like the rest of the Todds.”[5]

Longing for home and believing “my being here is more or less an embarrassment,” Emilie decided it was time to return to Kentucky. Emilie left, with an invitation for her to return and a pass to do so. She took advantage of this in 1864 when she needed a license to sell six hundred bales of cotton. Lincoln refused. Emilie, after all, still had not signed an oath of loyalty and remained an outspoken Confederate. Pledging her loyalty, Emilie believed, would bring dishonor to her dead husband’s memory. So she angrily returned to Kentucky and penned a searing letter. Mary would never see or write her again.[6]

In the fall of 1861, another Todd sister, Elodie, lamented, “Surely there is no other family in the land placed in the exact situation of ours and I hope will never be [another] so unfortunate to be surrounded by trials so numerous.” Elodie was living in Selma, Alabama, and was engaged to be married to a Confederate officer, Nathaniel Dawson.[7]

Elodie Breck Todd. Courtesy of the Kentucky Digital Library.

In a letter to Nathaniel, Elodie describes Mary’s reaction to the engagement. Mary “receives the news seriously and writes me a long letter on the subject of matrimony and adjoins me that I am a great deal better off as I am. She ought to know as she committed the fatal step years ago, and I believe another such letter would almost make me abandon the idea.”[8]

Despite her sister’s objections, Elodie would ultimately say yes. “How singular that I should be engaged to the sister of Mrs. Lincoln,” Nathaniel wrote, “I wish you would write her to that effect so that in case of being taken prisoner I will not be too severely dealt with.” For Elodie, the Todd family drama is not a singular oddity but a tragedy. Though clearly committed to the Confederacy, she refused to let anyone speak ill of the Lincolns in her presence and admitted reflection on her family’s situation sometimes left her unable to get out of bed.[9]

But even as Elodie defended Mary and her husband, she also expressed private dismay and frustration over Mary’s wartime actions. After reading a newspaper that claimed Mary spoke poorly about her brother David, Elodie wrote to her fiancé, saying, “I do not believe she ever said it and if she did and meant it she is no longer a sister of mine nor deserves to be called a woman of nobleness and truth…What would she do to me, do you suppose? I have as much to answer for.” Nathaniel responded, “I do not believe that Mrs. Lincoln ever expressed herself as you state about your brother David. If she did, it is in very bad taste and in worse temper and unlike all the representations I have seen of her character…How deplorable is this fratricidal war. Two brothers met in the battle of Manassas on opposite sides and are now here in the hospital, both wounded.”[10]

We often talk of this war as brother vs. brother, but what of sister vs. sister? We often study the reconciliation efforts of soldiers at battlefield commemorations after the war, but what of the women whose fierce sectional hatred burned for more than four years? Exploring sisterhoods reminds us, if nothing else, that women experienced war in a variety of ways. By delving in and allowing these women their individualities, we broaden and deepen our understanding of the female world. If we grant, as we now do, that women did critical cultural work in prosecuting the war and interpreting its meaning, we must pay greater attention to the way they went about their work, including how they resolved disputes. Indeed, we should consider the way the war continued on as a conflict between women and within households. After all, this was a situation that Mary knew so well.


[1] I presented a version of this post at the Mary Todd Lincoln Bicentennial Symposium, hosted by the Mary Todd Lincoln House and University of Kentucky in November 2018. Other participants included Catherine Clinton and Jennifer Fleischner–conversations with both strengthened this piece, for which I am grateful.

[2] As quoted in Jean H. Baker’s 2008 preface, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008).

[3] Walter B. Stevens, A Reporter’s Lincoln (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society, 1916), 46.

[4] Katherine Helm, The True Story of Mary, Wife of Lincoln (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1928), 224-233; John L. Helm, Frankfort, Kentucky, to Emily Todd Helm, January 20, 1864, Emilie Todd Helm Papers, 1855-1943, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, Kentucky.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Elodie Breck Todd to Nathaniel Dawson, September 1, 1861, in Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, ed. Stephen Berry and Angela Esco Elder (Athens: University of Georgia Press), 183.

[8] Elodie Breck Todd to Nathaniel Dawson, May 26, 1861, in Practical Strangers, 69.

[9] Nathaniel Dawson to Elodie Breck Todd, May 16, 1861, in Practical Strangers, 46.

[10] Elodie Breck Todd to Nathaniel Dawson, July 23, 1861, in Practical Strangers, 139; Nathaniel Dawson to Elodie Breck Todd, August 3, 1861, in Practical Strangers, 157.

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.

The Mystery of William Jones, An Enslaved Man Owned by Ulysses S. Grant

The Mystery of William Jones, An Enslaved Man Owned by Ulysses S. Grant

On March 29, 1859, Ulysses S. Grant went to the St. Louis Courthouse to attend to a pressing legal matter. That day Grant signed a manumission paper freeing William Jones, an enslaved African American man that he had previously acquired from his father-in-law, “Colonel” Frederick F. Dent. Described as being “of Mullatto [sic] complexion,” five foot seven in height, and aged about thirty-five years, Jones now faced an exciting, but arduous life journey in freedom.[1] As fate would have it, William Jones would become the last enslaved person ever owned by a U.S. president, while Ulysses S. Grant holds the strange distinction of being the last of twelve presidents in U.S. history to have been a slaveholder.

The manumission of William Jones written in Ulysses S. Grant’s handwriting on March 29, 1859. Photo courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

From 1854 to 1859, Grant struggled to support his family as a hardscrabble farmer in St. Louis, Missouri. During this time he grew fruits, vegetables, grains, and oats at White Haven, an 850-acre plantation that was the childhood home of his wife, Julia Dent Grant, and owned by his father-in-law. Enslaved labor did most of the work at White Haven, and at some point Grant acquired ownership of William Jones.[2] Beyond these basic facts, the relationship between Grant and Jones is riddled with ambiguity. When did Grant acquire Jones? Did he pay money for Jones, or was he a “gift” from his father-in-law? Why did Grant feel the need to acquire a slave in the first place? Why did he free him? What sort of work did Jones do for Grant and his family? What was the relationship between the two men like? Unfortunately the single primary source document for historians to analyze—the manumission paper written in Grant’s own hand—fails to convey reliable answers to these questions. Further complicating matters, Grant never mentioned Jones again in any of his existing papers or in his famed Personal Memoirs. And perhaps the biggest question looming over the entire discussion is “what happened to William Jones after he was freed?”

As an interpreter at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, I face visitor questions about William Jones on a daily basis. While I often struggle to give satisfactory answers to these questions, I have taken a great interest in trying to provide some sort of answer to the last one. After all, Jones should not exist simply as a footnote in Ulysses S. Grant’s life story (as he is so often depicted in popular Grant biographies) but as an individual with his own thoughts, experiences, and struggles both in slavery and in freedom. To that end I have endeavored over the past year to research what may have happened to Jones after his manumission. In the course of my work I have made two important, but very tenuous, discoveries about William Jones.

The first concerns where Jones may have settled once he became free. In a time before the invention of the telephone, major cities throughout the United States published city directories that listed residents’ names, home addresses, and occupation. In the course of looking through the 1860 St. Louis city directory online I found a listing for “Jones William (Col’d)” in the directory. His listing states that he worked as a horse driver and was living at rear 100 Myrtle Street, which was very close to the St. Louis riverfront and is now part of the grounds at Gateway Arch National Park. (“Rear” refers to an outbuilding or small home in a back alley.) Further research in the directory found that Jones was living with five other free people of color in the same house, while a man named Herman Charles who worked in the furniture business was living at the main home. He was most likely renting out the rear home to Jones and his cohorts.[3]

A screenshot of the William Jones listing in the 1860 St. Louis City Directory. Photo Courtesy of Rollanet.

Does this listing represent the same William Jones that was freed by Ulysses S. Grant? Unfortunately, there is no listing in the 1860 federal census for a William Jones of African American descent living in downtown St. Louis. On the one hand, it was common—both then and now—for census-takers to miss residents during the surveying process.[4] Moreover, it is entirely plausible that Jones would have opted to stay in St. Louis. Only two percent of the city’s population was enslaved by 1860, and a small but thriving community of 1,500 free blacks lived and worked in St. Louis as barbers, blacksmiths, cooks, dockworkers, hotel and restaurant workers, and laborers.[5] Where else would Jones have been able to quickly settle and start working, especially if he had any other family to support? St. Louis may have been his best option at the time. On the other hand, a census listing would have confirmed the age of the William Jones listed in the directory and helped confirm if he was the same person previously owned by Grant. That “William Jones” is such a common name further complicates matters. Without a census record the city directory listing is therefore compelling but inconclusive.

A map of St. Louis in 1857. The red square notes where 100 Myrtle Street was located at the time. Today it is part of the grounds at Gateway Arch National Park. Photo courtesy of the author.

The second insight concerns court records from the St. Louis Courthouse. On May 6, 1861, the court records indicate that a “William Jones (Col’d)” was arrested with several other free blacks for not having their freedom papers. Like other slave states throughout the South, Missouri law assumed that African Americans were enslaved unless proven otherwise. When African Americans received their freedom in Missouri, they were required to apply for a “freedom license,” post a bond between 100 dollars and 1,000 dollars, and demonstrate to the court that they were “of good character and behavior, and capable of supporting [themselves] by lawful employment.”[6] Sometimes a benevolent slaveholder would pay the bond, but often the person being freed was held responsible. Grant’s financial troubles while living in St. Louis would have most likely prevented him from posting Jones’s bond in 1859. In any case, the William Jones arrested in 1861 was publicly whipped on the steps of the courthouse for his indiscretion and ordered to leave Missouri within three days. Gateway Arch National Park Historian Bob Moore originally found this court record and stated in an email to staff at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site that he believes it was the same William Jones that was freed by Grant, but nevertheless staff at both sites recognize that the evidence once again cannot fully corroborate the claim one way or the other.[7]

Other research I conducted proved frustrating and led to dead ends. I looked at the military records of more than 250 black soldiers named “William Jones” who served in United States Colored Infantry units during the Civil War without finding one who matched the description for height, complexion, and age listed in the 1859 manumission paper. Likewise, while there are multiple listings for “William Jones (Col’d)” in St. Louis City Directories from 1861 to 1865, it is nearly impossible to confirm if they are the same one previously listed in 1860. Furthermore, there is no William Jones of African American descent listed in the 1870 federal census for St. Louis. My research continues in earnest, but like many enslaved African Americans, the story of William Jones’s life in freedom is shrouded in mystery. As Fredrick Douglass once stated, “genealogical tress [sic] do not flourish among slaves.”[8]

Where else should I look for information on William Jones? What research have you done on enslaved African Americans and their transition to freedom? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.



[1] The original manumission paper is housed at the Missouri Historical Society. A transcription of the document is located in John Y. Simon, ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 1:1837-1861 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1967), 347.

[2] National Park Service, “Slavery at White Haven,” Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, April 2, 2018, accessed October 26, 2018,

[3] “Kennedy’s 1860 St. Louis City Directory,” Rollanet, 2007, accessed October 24, 2018,

[4] Pew Research Center, “Imputation: Adding People to the Census,” Pew Research Center, May 4, 2011, accessed October 20, 2018,

[5] National Park Service, “African-American Life in St. Louis, 1804-1865,” Gateway Arch National Park, 2018, accessed October 26, 2018,; Lorenzo J. Greene, Gary Kremer, and Antonio F. Holland, Missouri’s Black Heritage, Revised Edition (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993).

[6] The mention of William Jones is in the St. Louis County Record Book 10, “May 6, 1861,” 333, Gateway Arch National Park Archives, St. Louis; Ebony Jenkins, “Freedom Licenses in St. Louis City and County, 1835-1865,” Gateway Arch National Park, 2008, accessed October 26, 2018,; Kelly Kennington, In the Shadow of Dred Scott: St. Louis Freedom Suits and the Legal Culture of Slavery in Antebellum America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017).

[7] Robert Moore, email to Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site Staff, November 10, 2017.

[8] Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York: Miller, Orton, & Mulligan, 1855), 34.

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