Category: Blog

Introducing Ann Tucker to the Muster Team

Introducing Ann Tucker to the Muster Team

Muster is proud to introduce Ann Tucker as a regular contributor.

Ann Tucker. Assistant Professor. Areas of Expertise: U.S. history, southern history, Civil War era, transnational history, nationalism.

Ann L. Tucker is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Georgia.  She earned her BA at Wake Forest University and MA and PhD the University of South Carolina.  Dr. Tucker’s areas of expertise include the US Civil War era and US South, which she examines through a transnational perspective.  Her research analyzes the influence of European nationalist movements and the age of nationalist revolutions on the development of the Confederacy and southern nationalism.

She is the author of Newest Born of Nations:  European Nationalist Movements and the Creation of the Confederacy, published by the University of Virginia Press (June 2020).  In Newest Born of Nations, Tucker argues that elite white southerners used their analysis of European nationalist movements to refine their vision of what a nation should be, to develop a sense that the South differed from North on issues of nationhood, and to legitimize their visions of southern nationhood during secession and the Civil War.

Her in-progress second project will extend her analysis into the Reconstruction era to examine how former Confederates’ international perspective on nationhood helped them remake their own sense of nationhood in the post-Civil War era.  The first portion of this research was published as “To ‘Heal the Wounded Spirit’:  Former Confederates’ International Perspective on Reconstruction and Reconciliation,” in Reconciliation after Civil Wars: Global Perspectives, ed. Paul Quigley and James Hawdon (Routledge, 2018).

We are excited to have Ann join our team. We are looking forward to her insights on Reconstruction and the international perspectives of the post-Civil War era as well as other topics.

Hilary N. Green

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

“It is no part of our duty to confound right with wrong”: Frederick Douglass and Ulysses S. Grant on Reconciliation and Its Pitfalls

“It is no part of our duty to confound right with wrong”: Frederick Douglass and Ulysses S. Grant on Reconciliation and Its Pitfalls

Speaking in New York City in 1878, Frederick Douglass had a warning for white northerners about how they remembered the Civil War. “Good, wise, and generous men at the North,” Douglass observed, “would have us forget and forgive, strew flowers alike and lovingly, on rebel and on loyal graves.” A group of white veterans had invited Douglass to speak at a ceremony commemorating Decoration Day—the holiday, later known as Memorial Day, for remembrance of the Civil War’s Union dead. In the shadow of Abraham Lincoln’s statue in Union Square, Douglass invoked Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address as he tried to arrest the drift of northern opinion and national politics. “There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget,” Douglass declared. “[W]hile to-day we should have malice toward none, and charity toward all, it is no part of our duty to confound right with wrong, or loyalty with treason.”[1]

Douglass’s words will resonate with many Americans today, after the divisive 2020 election and especially the trauma of the January 6 insurrection. We too hear invocations of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and calls for healing, unity, and reconciliation. At the same time, we hear worries that those appeals—sometimes made sincerely, but often cynically—will forestall a reckoning with the divisions and wrongs that landed us here. The post-Civil War years teach us the perils of heeding calls for reconciliation while ignoring those for justice. It also provides us, in Douglass’s 1878 speech, a powerful example of how to combine them

Matthew Brady, “Frederick Douglass,” Library of Congress

The backdrop for Douglass’s speech was another contested presidential election that has been in the news of late: the protracted 1876-77 electoral crisis. It ended with the installation of Rutherford B. Hayes as president and the ouster of the last Republican state governments in the South, amidst waves of terrorism and fraud. In Reconstruction’s twilight, Douglass struggled to recall white northerners to the Civil War’s emancipationist legacy of eradicating slavery and its traces in American life. But doing so brought the charge—shades of 2021—that he was an agent of division and disunity. “I am not here to fan the flame of sectional animosity, to revive old issues, or to stir up strife between races,” he declared, “but no candid man, looking at the political situation of the hour, can fail to see that we are still afflicted by the painful sequences both of slavery and of the late rebellion.”[2]

Douglass made his case not by rejecting reconciliation, but by echoing and recasting two of its most famous expressions from the Civil War era. One, noted above, came from the closing line of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Another is less well known today but was immediately familiar to Americans in 1878. “Let us have peace” was the closing line of Ulysses S. Grant’s letter accepting the 1868 Republican nomination for president and became a motto for his campaign. Douglass put it to his own use:

In the language of our greatest soldier, twice honored with the Presidency of the nation, “Let us have peace.” Yes, let us have peace, but let us have liberty, law, and justice first. Let us have the Constitution, with its thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, fairly interpreted, faithfully executed, and cheerfully obeyed in the fullness of their spirit and the completeness of their letter.

True reconciliation, for Douglass, required a clear-eyed reckoning with the causes of division and a firm commitment to remedy them. Both Lincoln and Grant had met that test. In the Second Inaugural, Lincoln meditated on the national sin of slavery as the cause of the war and pledged to pursue a “just, and lasting peace.” The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were the war’s settlement written into the Constitution, and Grant, as president, had used the U.S. Army to enforce them.[3]

Douglass’s vision of reconciliation was rooted in his Christian faith and found expression in his personal life as well as his politics. The abolitionist had attended the 1865 inauguration and immediately pronounced Lincoln’s address, with its reflections on God’s will and the meaning of the Civil War, a “sacred effort”—a phrase Douglass did not use lightly or loosely. The year before Douglass’s New York City speech, his impulse towards charity and forgiveness led him to visit his former enslaver Thomas Auld, now elderly and bedridden on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Although some critics, as Douglass later acknowledged, viewed that meeting as a “weakening” of his “life-long testimony against slavery,” he had not forgotten the wrongs he suffered from one who “made property of my body and soul.” But with slavery ended and Auld “stepping into his grave,” Douglass wished to meet “upon equal ground” for “a sort of final settlement of past differences.”[4]

Speaking at Union Square, Douglass recalled that visit and offered it as evidence that “there is in my heart no taint of malice toward the ex-slaveholders.” If formerly enslaved people lacked confidence in “the old master-class,” it was “due to the conduct of that class … since the war and since [their] emancipation.” And here was the rub. While he did not fault Hayes for “stepping to the verge of his constitutional powers to conciliate and pacify the old master class,” Douglass demanded that “some steps by way of conciliation should come from the other side.” Instead, “freedom of speech and of the ballot have for the present fallen before the shot-guns of the South.” The primary obstacle to reconciliation, in other words, was not wrongs that slaveholders and Confederates had committed in the past but wrongs that ex-slaveholders and ex-Confederates continued to commit in the present.[5]

“Portraits of presidents Lincoln, Washington, and Grant” New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Half a world away, Ulysses S. Grant was having similar thoughts. When his presidency ended, Grant happily left its problems behind to embark on a 2-1/2 year long tour circumnavigating the globe. Accompanying him was New York Herald reporter John Russell Young, who interviewed the ex-president on their long voyages and published the results in a book entitled Around the World with General Grant. Like Douglass, Grant readily acknowledged reconciliation’s appeal, though for reasons less grounded in Christianity than in practical politics. Grant spoke from experience when he declared that the desire to “make everybody friendly, to have all the world happy” was an “emotion natural to the office” of the presidency. “There has never been a moment since Lee surrendered that I would not have gone more than half-way to meet the Southern people in a spirit of conciliation,” Grant declared.[6]

There was only one problem. Ex-Confederates never reciprocated with a willingness to respect African Americans’ rights or to conduct fair elections. “They have never responded to it,” Grant said. “They have not forgotten the war.” To be sure, a “few shrewd leaders like Mr. Lamar and others have talked conciliation,” Grant acknowledged, referring to U.S. Senator L. Q. C. Lamar. “[B]ut any one who knows Mr. Lamar knows that he meant this for effect, and that at least he was as much in favor of the old regime as Jefferson Davis.” A former Confederate and the author of Mississippi’s ordinance of secession, Lamar had indeed established a reputation for reconciliationist oratory, including an 1874 eulogy for Charles Sumner delivered in the U.S. House (a speech that helped win him a chapter in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage). But when Sumner’s Civil Rights Act—whose passage had been his dying wish—later came to the floor, Lamar voted against it (a fact that escaped JFK’s mention). Speaking at the dedication of Charleston’s John C. Calhoun monument in 1887, Lamar defended secession and Calhoun’s views on slavery. A year later, Grover Cleveland named him to the U.S. Supreme Court.[7]

Americans today—including the new president—can learn a number of things from this history. In his inaugural address, Joe Biden talked much of unity, and also of righting past wrongs. He did not, however, reflect on the relationship between those impulses towards reconciliation and justice, and how they can sometimes be in tension. Biden, a devout Catholic, might fight instructive here the example of Frederick Douglass. A man of faith whose conscience inclined towards forgiveness, Douglass knew from experience in public life how a call for unity could become an excuse to forget. His 1878 Decoration Day speech shows how to combine an appeal for reconciliation with a call to justice. Grant likewise understood that a “policy of conciliation” that was “all on one side” was doomed to fail. One other lesson, from the 18th president for the 46th: beware “shrewd leaders” on the other side who talk conciliation only “for effect.”[8]

[1] Frederick Douglass, “There Was a Right Side in the Late War,” in Frederick Douglass Papers: ser. 1, Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, ed. John Blassingame et al., 5 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979–92), 4:480-92; a typescript is also available in the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress, online at: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mfd.23011. See also the reports in the New York Times, New York Tribune, New York Herald, May 31, 1878. On Civil War memory, see David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

[2] Douglass, “There Was a Right Side in the Late War,” 485.

[3] Douglass, “There Was a Right Side in the Late War,” 485; Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865, online at: https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=38&page=transcript; U. S. Grant to Joseph R. Hawley, May 29, 1868, in Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, 32 vols., ed. John Y. Simon (Southern Illinois University, 1967-2009), 18:263-64, online at: https://msstate.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/USG_volume/id/21094/rec/19.  On the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, see Eric Foner, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (New York: Norton, 2019).

[4] Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself (Hartford, Connecticut: Park Publishing, 1881), 445-49, online at: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiuo.ark:/13960/t0dv8981z; David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 593-95.

[5] Douglass, “There Was a Right Side in the Late War,” 486-87.

[6] John Russell Young, Around the World with General Grant, 2 vols. (New York: American News Company, 1879–80), 2:359-60, online at: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/gri.ark:/13960/t9866xf3j.  For more on Grant and the memory of Reconstruction, see my piece in the December 2020 issue of the JCWE: “Remembering Reconstruction in Its Twilight: Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine on the Origins of Black Suffrage,” online at https://doi.org/10.1353/cwe.2020.0071.

[7] Young, Around the World, 2: 360.

[8] Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Inaugural Address, January 20, 2021, online at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/01/20/inaugural-address-by-president-joseph-r-biden-jr/; Young, Around the World, 2: 359-60.

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen West

Stephen A. West is associate professor of history at the Catholic University of America. He is author of From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1850–1915 (2008) and coeditor of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 3, vol. 2, Land and Labor, 1866–67(2013).

Responding to the Call: Engaging the Public in Conversations about African American Civil War Participation

Responding to the Call: Engaging the Public in Conversations about African American Civil War Participation

Located at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, refuge to runaway slaves for over two centuries of American slavery, and connected to North Carolina’s coastline by a complex series of waterways, Elizabeth City and its surrounding rural counties present a verdant landscape filled with unknown, unspoken, or unwritten African American histories. In response to the Journal of Civil War Era’s (JCWE) “call to action” to shine light on the “histories of African Americans, emancipation, and Reconstruction” that are too often neglected in the public sphere, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) history faculty and students and Elizabeth City community members  gathered on September 26, 2020 to fill that gap with education and conversation about African American Civil War participation in northeastern North Carolina.[1]

“Sergt. Bob” was Sgt. Frank Roberts, an Elizabeth City native and member of the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers, which was later renamed the 35th USCI. Drawing from the Fred W. Smith, Jr. Civil War Sketch Book, courtesy of the Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens Collection, New Bern, NC.

Elizabeth City State University stakeholders were apt leaders for such a movement in North Carolina. Established in 1891 as the State Colored Normal School, ECSU is one of five public HBCUs in North Carolina and the only public university in the region. As a scholar whose research focuses on Black towns and institutions, I was drawn to ECSU in 2017 because its long history of service to a rural and majority Black region of North Carolina. Since arriving here, I have worked with my colleagues to establish space on campus dedicated to the study of the region’s rich African American history. We have recently won over half a million dollars from the National Park Service and the Institute for Museum and Library Services to rehabilitate a historic Rosenwald school building on campus for this purpose. On a personal level, ECSU’s location allows me to live and work on the North Carolina side of the swamp that piqued my interest in history and constantly inspired my imagination as teenager living near its Virginia border. Organizing and executing the “call to action” with my colleagues, Dr. Chas Reed (ECSU) and Dr. Hilary Green (University of Alabama and formerly of ECSU), provided an opportunity to dive deeply into the region’s Civil War era history, connect it to the landscape, and engage with the public about questions of memory and erasure.

Following the guidelines put forth by JCWE, we scouted locations, crafted signs, prepared short presentations, curated a list of lesser-known facts under the headlining question, “Did you know,” and prepared an accompanying social media campaign to document and share the day with a wider community. My preparation began with reading and assessing current scholarship on African Americans and the Civil War in the area and utilizing it along with public history and genealogical media to determine the locations for our action and create most of the materials that we would use at the event and on Twitter. My reading list included: Barton Myers, The Execution of Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 (2009); Alex Christopher Meekins, Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation (2007); Richard Reid, “Raising the African Brigade: Early Black Recruitment in Civil War North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review (1993); Richard Reid, Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War (2012); Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (1992) and websites like the National Park Service Civil War Database; and North Carolina GenWeb’s “U.S. Colored Troops Formed in North Carolina” webpage.[2]

Based on this research, we chose two locations in Elizabeth City for our action. We started the day near the intersection of North Poindexter and Burgess Streets. Today the site of Mid-Atlantic Christian University (MACU), this waterfront location served as the encampment for African American soldiers of the 1st United States Colored Infantry Regiment who were deployed there to build fortifications in August 1863. As it did wherever they went, the presence of Union troops attracted slaves seeking freedom and protection from their former masters. The majority of these escapees were sent by boat to Roanoke Island, a Union stronghold on the North Carolina coast. The able-bodied men, however, were either recruited to the USCT or employed as workers for the army. Before departing to Morehead City, NC, the troops took part in a raid against Confederate guerilla fighters in Chowan County twenty-eight miles south of Elizabeth City. A Civil War Trails marker, located in front of MACU and one of six in Elizabeth City, engages the public with this history.[3]

Our second location of the day was Mariner’s Wharf, one of several small public parks located along Elizabeth City’s waterfront. The busy wharf was the site of much Civil War activity. Black troops, free Black Elizabeth City residents, and those escaping slavery would certainly have comingled here both in August 1863 and again in December 1863 when a brigade of Black soldiers returned to Elizabeth City under the command of Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild. In a three-week-long expedition known as Wild’s Raid, this brigade freed most of the remaining enslaved people in Elizabeth City and the surrounding counties, some 2,500 people in total. After the war, the wharf was one of many downtown locations from which one could view the annual Emancipation Day parade organized by Elizabeth City’s Black community from the end of the war through at least the 1930s. These parades, which took place in early January to mark the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, were attended by Black and white Elizabeth City residents alike. They celebrated Black freedom, honored African American Civil War veterans, and showcased African American achievements since the war’s end. A marker commemorating Wild’s Raid was approved for placement in Mariner’s Wharf Park by the North Carolina Department of Transportation in December 2019.[4]

My collaborators and I divided the work of executing the day’s activities amongst ourselves. I led the presentation and discussion at MACU in front of the former USCT encampment. Together we looked for and found glimpses of the past, like old waterfront warehouse buildings, in the much-changed landscape. Using the refrains “Did you know?” and “We want more history,” ECSU students and local community members also read aloud from index cards I prepared containing pertinent facts about African American participation in the Civil War in North Carolina. At Mariner’s Wharf, Dr. Green took the lead and began by discussing Black Civil War veterans and Memorial Day and Emancipation Day parades filling the public space in the heart of Elizabeth City’s downtown during the height of the Jim Crow Era. This discussion segued into one about Civil War monuments, including a Confederate monument by the court house erected in 1911, decades after the commencement of Emancipation Day parades in the city. Dr. Reed, who could not attend in person, managed our Twitter communications throughout the day. He posted images, the text of the index cards, and boosted the day’s actions by using the official hashtag, “#WeWantMoreHistory.” His efforts ensured that our participation in this national event was chronicled and visible.

African American Civil War veterans from the 35th USCI and family members gather in Plymouth, NC, 1905. Plymouth is located about 50 miles south of Elizabeth City. Photo from North Carolina State Archives courtesy of North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Our preparation and outreach for the day demonstrate the importance of communitywide collaboration in ensuring that the roles African Americans played in the Civil War are widely known and part of the public discourse. We connected staff at MACU, the Elizabeth City Department of Parks and Recreation, and archivists at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC. We also connected with both the Civil War Trail Markers organization in Williamsburg, VA and local people in Elizabeth City who worked with this organization and the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Tourism Development Authority to get Civil War Trail markers placed in town. The event also allowed us to strengthen our existing relationships with regional collaborators like the Museum of the Albemarle. Twitter allowed us to connect with other historians, activists, local and national organizations, and interested individuals across the nation. Overall, the September 2020 event was a resounding success and one that will lead to future collaborations among North Carolinians who “want more history.”

[1] Kate Masur and Greg Downs, “Civil War History: A Call to Action,” Muster, published August 25, 2020, accessed December 28, 2020,  https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2020/08/civil-war-history-a-call-to-action/

[2] “The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database,” National Park Service, last updated May 14, 2015, accessed December 24, 2020,https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm and “U.S. Colored Troops Formed in North Carolina,” last updated October 28, 2020, accessed on December 24, 2020,   http://www.ncgenweb.us/ncusct/usct.htm.

[3] Barton Myers, The Execution of Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), 68; Alex Christopher Meekins, Elizabeth City, North Carolina and the Civil War: A History of Battle and Occupation (Charleston: The History Press, 2007), 87-88.

[4] Myers, 2, 4, 5, 77-81, 87, 162-163, n.4; Meekins, 104-114; The North Carolinian, Elizabeth City, NC, January 4, 1888; The Independent, Elizabeth City, NC, December 28, 1934; Jeff Hampton, “Civil War raid of black troops into North Carolina still stirs emotions,” The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Virginia, last updated February 16, 2020, accessed December 24, 2020, https://www.pilotonline.com/news/vp-nw-wild-raid-20200216-ajmehzdlsfgbdk5r22xscjb6ne-story; “Recently approved markers,”North Carolina Department of Transportation, last accessed January 8, 2021, https://www.ncdcr.gov/about/history/division-historical-resources/nc-highway-historical-marker-program/historical-marker-1 and “A-93: Wild’s Raid,” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, accessed December 28, 2020, http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=A-93.

Melissa Stuckey

Dr. Melissa N. Stuckey is assistant professor of African American history at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina where she is leading a National Park Service- and Institute for Museum and Library Service-funded project to rehabilitate an historic Rosenwald school building located on campus. Stuckey is author of “Boley, Indian Territory: Exercising Freedom in the All Black Town,” (Journal of African American History, 2017) and “Freedom on Her Own Terms: California M. Taylor and Black Womanhood in Boley, Oklahoma” forthcoming in This Land is Herland: Gendered Activism in Oklahoma, 1870s to 2010s (University of Oklahoma Press, 2021). She is currently completing a monograph about the Black freedom struggle as manifested in Boley, Oklahoma.

Civil War Era Scholars Respond to January 6, 2021 Events and Aftermath

Civil War Era Scholars Respond to January 6, 2021 Events and Aftermath

January 6, 2021 was a historic day in the nation’s history.

Images of armed white men and women storming the Capitol Building carrying Confederate battle flags and other emblems flooded social media and television screens. Resulting in the death of two Capitol police officers, this twenty-first century contestation over Civil War history and memory has stunned the nation and the world. Within twenty-four hours, Civil War and Reconstruction era scholars have cogently and ably responded through a series of op-eds.

While not an exhaustive list, below are some recent publications offering context, teaching resources and clarity for seeking understanding on the events of January 6, 2021.

 

JCWE editors Kate Masur and Greg Downs “Yes, Wednesday’s Attempted Insurrection is Who We Are,” Washington Post, January 8, 2021.

Megan Kate Nelson, “1871 Provides a Roadmap for Addressing the Pro-Trump Attempted Insurrection,” Washington Post, January 7, 2021.

Keri Leigh Merritt and Rhae Lynn Barnes, “A Confederate Flag at the Capitol Summons America’s Demons,” CNN.com, January 7, 2021.

Clint Smith, “The Whole Story in a Single Photo,” The Atlantic, January 8, 2021.

Karen L. Cox, “What Trump Shares With the ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederacy,” New York Times, January 8, 2021.

Jelani Cobb, “Georgia, Trump’s Insurrectionists, and Lost Causes,” The New Yorker, January 8, 2021.

Eric Foner, “The Capitol Riot Reveals the Dangers From the Enemy Within,” The Nation, January 8, 2021.

Kellie Carter Jackson, “The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design,” The Atlantic, January 8, 2021.

Rachel Hartigan, “Was the Assault on the Capitol Really ‘Unprecendented’?: Historians Weigh In,” National Geographic, January 8, 2021.

Joshua Rothman, “Mobs of White Citizens Rioting Have Been Commonplace in the United States for Centuries,” The Hechinger Report, January 8, 2021.

David Blight, “How Trumpism May Endure,” New York Times, January 9, 2021.

Melissa DeVelvis and DJ Polite, “The Attempted Insurrection Was Only Part of the Right’s Anti-Democratic Playbook,” Washington Post, January 10, 2021.

Over the next few weeks, Muster will feature posts for understanding and teaching January 6, 2021 and its aftermath. If you are interested in contributing a piece for this Muster series, please consider pitching us an idea.

Hilary N. Green

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

Welcoming Holly Pinheiro to the Muster Team

Welcoming Holly Pinheiro to the Muster Team

We are pleased to announce the addition of a new correspondent to our Muster team, Holly Pinheiro, Jr. Holly is an Assistant Professor at Augusta University in the Department of History, Anthropology, and Philosophy. His research focuses on the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in the military from 1850 through the 1930s. Counter to the national narrative which championed the patriotic manhood of soldiering from the Civil War through the 1930s, his research reveals that African American veterans and their families’ military experience were much more fraught. Economic and social instability introduced by military service resonated for years and even generations after soldiers left the battlefield. His monograph, The Families’ Civil War, highlights how racism, in and outside of military service, impacted the bodies, economies, family structures, and social spaces of African Americans long after the war ended. This book is under contract with The University of Georgia Press in the UnCivil Wars Series, He also has started preliminary work for a second monograph that will examine all Pennsylvania born soldiers who trained at Camp William Penn. For Muster, he’ll be writing about the African American military experience, USCT veterans and families, and other topics exploring race and the African American experience during the Civil War Era.

 

 2021 SCWH Conference Update

 2021 SCWH Conference Update

The Society of Civil War Historians is very pleased to announce that, after the cancellation of our 2020 conference, we will be holding our first virtual conference on June 17-18, 2021.   The virtual format seemed the most sensible approach in light of the continued uncertainties of the pandemic and will make it easier for us to gather many of the 2020 presenters. We can already announce that the two previously scheduled plenary sessions will be part of our 2021 program:  a conversation on “The Civil War in Poetry and History” with former Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and Professor David Blight and “A Roundtable on Women and Gender in the Civil War Era”.  More details will be available about the format, the program, and the registration process in the new year.

In addition, a decision was agreed upon by the Advisory Board to hold the next in-person conference in June of 2022. Details of this conference, including the announcement of the members of the Program Committee, the exact dates in June, and the meeting’s location will be forthcoming early next year.

Nina Silber

Nina Silber is Professor of History at Boston University where she teaches classes on the Civil War, women and gender, and the American South. Previous publications include: The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900 (UNC Press, 1993), Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War (Harvard, 2005) and This War Ain’t Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America (UNC Press, 2018).

Previewing the December 2020 JCWE Issue

Previewing the December 2020 JCWE Issue

This is the first editors’ note we have penned since the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black people and people of color in the spring of this year, and since the uprisings for racial justice that these all-too-common murders have prompted around the globe. The Civil War era was a critical moment in the long struggle for racial justice. The editors wish to amplify the many strong statements of support for activists seeking to challenge the country’s longstanding commitment to white supremacy in policing, as in many parts of US life, including statements by the American Historical Association (endorsed by the Society of Civil War Historians), the Organization of American Historians, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and the Labor and Working-Class History Association. We aim to continue to use the journal and Muster to convey the historical roots of white supremacy, including anti-Black racism in particular, and to emphasize the agency, dignity, and effectiveness of people who struggled against it. Our aspiration is not only to illuminate the past but to participate in the construction of an antiracist profession, field, and society.

This issue includes three fine articles, a review essay, and book reviews. We are pleased to feature the first Anthony E. Kaye Memorial Essay, Robert Colby’s “‘Negroes Will Bear Fabulous Prices’: The Economics of Wartime Slave Commerce and Visions of the Confederate Future.” Colby’s article examines the buying and selling of enslaved people during the Civil War and argues that the confidence white southerners expressed in an ongoing and at times vibrant market in enslaved people reflected their expectation that the Confederacy would succeed. Campbell F. Scribner, in “Surveying the Destruction of African American Schoolhouses in the South, 1864–1876,” offers the first comprehensive study of attacks on Black schoolhouses in the closing years of the Civil War and Reconstruction and reveals the significance of violent assaults on education for the insurgency launched by ex-Confederates and their allies to regain control of the South. In “Remembering Reconstruction in Its Twilight: Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine on the Origins of Black Suffrage,” Stephen A. West centers the memoirs of Grant and Blaine in the now-expanding history of Reconstruction memory, arguing that the two men’s discussion of Black suffrage demonstrates the ongoing importance of questions of national authority and white Southern antidemocratic practices in Reconstruction memory. And in the issue’s review essay, “With ‘the Economics-of-Slavery Culture Wars,’ It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again” Christopher Morris examines the revived debate on the relationship between slavery and capitalism and the engagement or lack thereof between recent studies and the vast older literature.

We draw attention to recent changes in the composition of our team of associate editors. We are tremendously grateful for the work of the three editors whose terms have recently ended. Digital Editor Kristen Epps has moved to a new job as associate professor at Kansas State University and will now edit the journal Kansas History. Epps played a crucial role in developing Muster as the first permanent digital editor. In building Muster, Epps drew on prior work launched by editor Judith Giesberg and her graduate students Elizabeth Motich and Blake McGready. Epps, in turn, deserves great credit for Muster’s continued vibrancy and popularity as a place for engaged, serious, but still relatively informal discussion of important and timely issues in history and historical memory. Book Review Editor Rachel Shelden and Co–Review Essay Editor Stacey Smith both played key roles in sustaining the journal during the interim period between editors. Fortunately for us, Shelden remains an important part of the journal in her position as director of the Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State, and Smith continues to take an active role in an upcoming special issue.

We look forward to working with the stellar new editors who are joining us. Hilary Green, associate professor at the University of Alabama, is now our associate editor for digital projects and oversees Muster. Green’s incisive scholarly work on education and Reconstruction and her leadership in commemoration studies on campuses and elsewhere demonstrate her deep commitment to engaging with the past in academic and public venues, and we are eager to see Muster continue to develop under her leadership. The fruits of her work are already available in excellent Muster posts on the Movement for Black Lives, the battle over statues and commemoration, and other topics. Kathryn Shively joins us as associate editor for book reviews. Shively is an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, the author of excellent work on environmental and military history, and a clear voice for broadening the world of Civil War era studies. We can’t wait to see the vibrant and wide-ranging book reviews the journal will run under her guidance. Luke Harlow, associate editor for review essays, remains on the editorial team and will continue the fine work he and Smith have set in motion. As always, we are grateful to (and dependent on) the ongoing expertise of assistant Megan Hildebrand and managing editor Matthew Isham.

 

The War of the Rebellion a European-style War?: Latin American Comparisons

The War of the Rebellion a European-style War?: Latin American Comparisons

The War of the Rebellion in North America has brought forth a massive number of studies in military history. Very few of them are comparative in nature.[1] In addition, there does not seem to be a corresponding scholarly interested in the many civil wars and revolutions in Latin America during the mid-nineteenth century, at least not in English-speaking scholarship. While the Americas had inherited European military traditions, there were marked differences. If we truly wish to challenge the notion of exceptionalism, both of the United States and of the Civil War, we should not just look to Europe, but also to the South—South America that is.

Like Steven Hahn, I am using War of the Rebellion because it better recognizes that the Confederate States were an unrecognized, rogue state without international legitimacy.[2] At the same time, by thinking of the Confederate States in terms of a challenge to constitutional state power, it allows for comparison to similar challenges by political and military leaders in South America. Whereas Europe struggled to define nation-states in the many wars during the Civil War era, the states of the Americas struggled militarily and politically to define the contours of constitutional and federal state systems. Although the United States had much in common with the other states in the hemisphere, it looked increasingly more like Europe militarily.

During the Age of Revolutions, armies in the Americas were small and engagements rarely involved more than 15,000 combatants. In contrast, the battles of the Napoleonic Wars included around 200,000 soldiers. By the mid-nineteenth century, European battles, like Königsgrätz, involved as many as half a million soldiers. The battles of the War of the Rebellion were smaller than its European counterparts. The largest engagements in the United States, such as the Battles of Gettysburg and in the Wilderness, involved about 160-180,000 troops. The larger population in Europe, the more militarized states with their conscription systems, and the professional character of the European militaries contributed to the much larger battles. At the same time, both European and North American military planners hoped that by putting a large force in the field they could deliver one knockout blow. Nevertheless, the question remains were the battles of the War of the Rebellion in line with other battles in the Americas?

At mid-nineteenth century, internal conflicts plagued the Americas. The War of the Rebellion coincided with rebellions in at least the Argentinian Confederation, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela. In all these rebellions, the two sides disagreed about the political organization of their states, such as how much autonomy did provinces/states retain as their country embraced more centralized forms of governments. Despite the shared causation, the military situation was vastly different. U.S. generals and politicians initially assumed that one major engagement would end the rebellion in a few weeks, but these expectations did not pan out. Instead, it took almost four years and the lives of over 360,000 U.S. soldiers to suppress the rebellion. In some cases, like Peru, campaigns were long drawn out affairs but involved little fighting as commanders embraced an extremely cautious approach to their campaigns. In Argentina, however, the struggle between the Confederation and Buenos Aires in 1861 involved only one engagement, the Battle of Pavón.

On September 17, 1861, the armies of Bartolomé Mitre, the governor of Buenos Aires, and Justo José de Urquiza, the commander of the forces of the Argentine Confederation, met in battle at the small hamlet of Pavón. The conflict was the most recent installment of a long and intermitted civil war over the role and place of Buenos Aires within Argentina. Buenos Aires did not wish to surrender its sovereignty and trade privileges. The battle was odd for Latin America. As one British minister reported, the national army was predominately cavalry while Mitre had a force predominately of infantry. Both armies were similarly sized with about 16,000 men each.[3] The size of the armies was roughly equivalent to the larger engagements in the Trans-Mississippi region, such as the Battle of Pea Ridge which involved about 26,000 soldiers or the Battle of Wilson’s Creek with its almost 18,000 combatants.

The battle unfolded in two stages. The fighting began with Urquiza’s cavalry charging, overwhelming, and chasing off the field the opposing cavalry. With the cavalry eliminated, Mitre brought his large infantry force to bear and overwhelmed Urquiza’s troops. Urquiza fled with only an escort of about fifty men and did not stop until he returned home in Entre Rios. Mitre withdrew the next day as well. Both sides claimed victory. Mitre boasted that he had forced the enemy infantry to flee from the field.  The Argentina Confederation claimed that Mitre did eventually abandon the battlefield and the Argentinian cavalry had practically annihilated the enemy cavalry.[4] There were no other large military engagements as Argentinian resistance collapsed. Ultimately, Mitre’s victory allowed for the unification of Buenos Aires and the Argentinian Confederation with a new more centralized government.

Similarly, Colombia’s federated state also suffered from rebellion when liberal and conservative forces clashed in 1860. The conflict started when the Provinces of Antioquía and Santander seceded from the New Granadan Confederation and the conservative government tried to remove the governors. Faced with this situation, Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, the governor of Cauca, rose up against the government. By early 1861, the New Granadan government had 9,000 men under arms.[5]

After much skirmishing around Cauca, Mosquera decided to advance toward Bogota and connect with another rebel army. Mosquera located a strong defensive position where he entrenched his force but the position did not allow Mosquera to use his cavalry. General Joaquín Paris Ricaurte, the commander of the government force, had 4,000 men for the defense of Bogota. On May 25, Paris finally attacked. Both sides had significant casualties without achieving a clear victory. Mosquera lost three generals, several officers, and over 1,200 men dead, wounded, or missing. The government forces had lost about 800 dead and wounded. After four days of eying each other uneasily, another skirmish resulted in the destruction of Mosquera’s reinforcements.[6] Considering only about 8,000 soldiers were involved in the battle for Bogota, this would have been a small battle in the War of the Rebellion. The contemporaneous Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861) involved about 40,000 troops.

These are only two examples, but it was fairly common that large scale military engagements in Latin America used such small armies. When compared to contemporary battles in North America or Europe, however, these Latin American engagements were more reminiscent of the fighting during the American Revolutions where smaller engagements like the Battle of Cowpens, which only involved about 3,000 soldiers, and larger battles like Saratoga or Yorktown involved about 16,000. The War of the Rebellion was unique for involving far larger armies than were common in the Americas. These engagements proved almost European in nature. Of course, the central irony is that many people in the United States, from Southern imperialists to the radical George Henry Evans, had always wished to avoid becoming like Europe, but on some level, they had become similar to Europe.[7]

 

[1] Stig Förster and Jörg Nagler, On the Road to Total War The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Brian Holden Reid, The Civil War and the Wars of the Nineteenth Century (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).

[2] Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 (New York: Viking, 2016), 4.

[3] Edward Thornton to Lord John Russell, September 7, 1861, Foreign Office: Political and Other Departments: General Correspondence before 1906, Brazil, FO 6, The National Archives, Kew, UK.

[4] Edward Thornton to Lord John Russell, September 22, 1861, Foreign Office: Political and Other Departments: General Correspondence before 1906, Brazil, FO 6, The National Archives, Kew, UK.

[5] Philip Griffith to Lord John Russell, January 1, 1861, Foreign Office: Political and Other Departments: General Correspondence before 1906, New Granada, FO 55, The National Archives, Kew, UK.

[6] Philip Griffith to Lord John Russell, May 30, 1861, Foreign Office: Political and Other Departments: General Correspondence before 1906, New Granada, FO 55, The National Archives, Kew, UK.

[7] Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 268; Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018); Claire M. Wolnisty, A Different Manifest Destiny: U.S. Southern Identity and Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century South America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2020).

No Flag, No State

No Flag, No State

Comedian Eddie Izzard once did a routine where he described the cunning nature of the British to “steal countries” by claiming they had a flag. He starts the bit by describing the British conquest of India and simulates a conversation between an indigenous person and a British soldier’s first encounter with each other. Izzard begins, “Well do you have a flag? No flag, no country. You can’t have one. Those are the rules that I just made up. Ha ha ha.”[1] To some, a flag is just a piece of cloth and to others it imparts significant social meaning. A flag may unify individuals working toward a common goal, provide a sense of identity or boast pride in one’s state. But a flag can also harken back to a time when civility was fraught with racial tension, as it was in the post-Civil War era. Controversies surrounding Confederate monuments, historically named districts and streets are flooding mainstream media across the country, including the state of Mississippi. Bearing the Confederate battle emblem, the Mississippi state flag served as a daily reminder of its participation in the Confederate nation led by Jefferson Davis. Its inclusion stood to demarcate a sense of nostalgia once expressed by poets during the Reconstruction era. Today, Mississippians perceive the state flag to be an affront to social justice. As a symbol, it marks the racialized attitudes of the past and continues to boast of that legacy when displayed over the state’s capitol building. The citizens said no more this summer. On June 30, 2020, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a law to retire and remove the state flag from all public buildings. The state currently remains flagless.[2]

Former Mississippi state flag.

Since its inception, the Mississippi state flag has been in a perpetual state of motion. For a period of nearly 30 years after the end of the Civil War, the state was technically flagless. It is rumored that in 1894, Governor John Marshall Stone brought it to the attention of the Mississippi state Legislature.[3] (Insert flag). A joint legislative committee sent Stone a description of the desired flag as follows:

One with width two-thirds of its length, with the union square in width, two-thirds of the width of the flag; the ground of the union to be red and a broad blue saltier thereon bordered with white and emblazoned with thirteen (13) mullets or five-pointed stars, corresponding to the number of the original States of the Union; the field to be divided into three bars of equal width, the upper one blue, the center one white, the lower one red; the national colors; the staff surmounted with a spear-head and battle-axe below; the flag to be fringed with gold, and the staff gilded with gold. [4]

Senator E.N. Scudder of Mayersville, a member of the Joint Legislative Committee for a State Flag, is believed to be the designer of the flag and it was signed into law by Governor Stone as the official state flag on February 7, 1894. Twelve years later, the law establishing the flag was repealed citing a legal oversight requiring the Legislature’s approval.[5] The 1906 repeal temporarily rendered the state without an officially approved flag. Nevertheless, Mississippians readily adopted the flag without much regard for this logistical error. In a 1924 address to the annual convention of the Mississippi Division, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Fayssoux Scudder Corneil, daughter of Senator Scudder, recalled “that her father designed the flag and included the Beauregard battle flag in the canton corner to honor the Confederate soldier.”[6]

For over one hundred years, the emblem has served as a cloth Lost Cause memorial. It had been a symbol of Southern pride for some, while causing pain for others. Several advocacy groups lobbied for an official change to the state flag. In 2001, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly defeated a referendum to change the state flag by a margin of 2 to 1.[7] This underscored the importance of the flag to many white Mississippians who refuse to let naysayers force them to upend their understanding of state history. And yet, this defeat reflected the desires of some but not all residents. Black and white Mississippians continued their efforts. They have rallied around the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and successfully pressured Governor Tate Reeves to respond to the people. At the end of June 2020, he signed the historic legislation that officially retired and removed all state flags across Mississippi public spaces.[8]

Here lies the issue for a state that wrestles with the nostalgia of the Civil War by some with those who endured the negative consequences of the symbolism imbued in the Confederate battle emblem. This ongoing debate is being held among historians, scholars, the general public and certainly within the school system. Inquisitive students are asking their teachers, “How did we get here? What meaning does a flag convey? Why has it taken 126 years to replace?” All of these critical questions transport us back to the era of Reconstruction and the often overlooked role of  poetry.

Reconstruction Era poets contributed to a Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War. Despite resulting in defeat, the poetic verses served to reignite the old sentiments which captured the hearts of white Southerners, both past and present. Rather than providing reconciliation for modern Southerners, the poems fueled the ongoing cultural wars that have become increasingly politicized today. In 1866, Anna Peyre Dinnies penned a poem entitled “The Confederate Flag” to mourn the loss of the war. The Louisianian poet wrote:

Take that banner down, ‘tis weary,

Round its staff, ‘tis dreary,

 

Furl it, hide it, let it rest;

For there’s not a man to wave it-

For there’s not a soul to lave it

In the blood that heroes gave it.

Furl it, hide it, let it rest.

 

Take that banner down, ‘tis tattered;

Broken is its staff, and shattered;

And the valiant hearts are scattered

Over whom it floated high.[9]

Dinnies waxed nostalgia for Southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War.  She romanticized the war and the men who fought for the Confederacy. The Confederate battle flag was, to many, emblematic of the courage displayed by Confederate soldiers.  Its incorporation to the state flag provided a lasting memory for generations of Mississippians to follow. Written over 150 years ago Dinnies’ poem captures the sense of loss expressed by current residents of Mississippi who are grieving the removed state flag while still obscuring those Mississippians who never accepted the Lost Cause legacy. As such, the Reconstruction era poem has resonance in the present debate.

The Summer of 2020 events ushered a new chapter in the history of the Mississippi state flag. Nationwide protests over the injustices that Black Americans face have rekindled debates. Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of Miss. Senator John Stennis, was commissioned to work with the legislature on developing the new state flag.[10] In an interview with the Carbon County News, she explained that “the reintroduction of the Confederate symbol in 1894 was a ‘giant reassertion of white supremacy’ and carried out in ‘response to Federal decisions that they didn’t agree with. Georgia did the same thing.’”[11] The resulting Stennis flag prototype, however, received mixed reviews. Supporters praised the removal of the Confederate battle emblem. Opponents professed their fears that the design continued to erase the state’s history. The issue of the Mississippi flag even extended beyond state borders. At the Red Lodge Broadway Flag Committee (RLBFC) virtual presentation with Laurin Stennis, one attendee voiced his opposition to the redesign process: “Every society or country has some issues in their past concerning their national symbols in their flag, every country has a skeleton in their cupboard.”[12] Another attendee countered: “Exclusivity is to all (but) is not demonstrated by a racist or derisive symbol and the American flag promotes unity.”[13] While prompting fierce local and national debate, the official selection process has continued.

One of two final flags designs considered by the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag.

In early September 2020, the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag submitted two final designs. Members of the committee voted on their preferred design in a non-binding public poll. Instead of the Stennis prototype, members chose a flag designed by Rocky Vaughan.  Referred to as the “New Magnolia Flag,” the final design was then sent to the governor and legislature.[14] Mississippians will voice their approval, or not, on the November 3rd ballot when the fate of the proposed redesigned state flag will be determined.  Until then, Mississippi will remain flagless once more.

[1] Eddie Izzard, “Dress to Kill,” filmed June 1999 at San Francisco, CA, stand up comedy routine, 1:54.08.

[2] Rick Rojas, “Mississippi Governor Signs Law to Remove Flag with Confederate Emblem,” New York Times, June, 30, 2020.

[3] David G. Sansing, “Flags Over Mississippi,” Mississippi History Now, a Mississippi Historical Society Online Publication, accessed September 5, 2020, http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/105/flags-; Historians widely accept sources which point to Scudder as the designer of the flag, though this is not explicitly stated.

[4] House Journal, 1894 (Clarion-Ledger Publishing Co., 1894), 193-194, 350-351.

[5] Sansing, “Flags Over Mississippi.”

[6] Sansing, “Flags Over Mississippi.”

[7] Anne Marshall, “Mississippi’s Confederate flag is gone- but a legacy of white supremacist policy remains,” NBCNews.com, July 1, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/mississippi-s-confederate-flag-gone-legacy-white-supremacist-policy-remains-ncna1232690/

[8] Marshall, “Mississippi’s Confederate flag is gone.”

[9] Anna Peyre Dinnies, “The Confederate Flag,” poem, 1866, accessed in the Newberry Digital Collection, https://dcc.newberry.org/items/the-confederate-flag.

[10] Alastair Baker, “Mississippi flag debate unfurls pros and cons,” The Carbon County News, https://www.carboncountynews.com/content/mississippi-flag-debate-unfurls-pros-and-cons.

[11] Baker, “Mississippi flag debate unfurls pros and cons.”

[12] Baker, “Mississippi flag debate unfurls pros and cons.”

[13] Baker, “Mississippi flag debate unfurls pros and cons.”

[14] “Mississippi Department of Archives & History,” “State Flag Commission Picks New Magnolia Flag for November Ballot,” accessed September 2, 2020. https://www.mdah.ms.gov/news/state-flag-commission-picks-new-magnolia-flag-november-ballot.

The Most Heroic Day You’ve Never Heard Of

The Most Heroic Day You’ve Never Heard Of

When I first heard of the Civil War Day of Action led by the Journal of the Civil War Era, I was ecstatic and excited at the prospect of bringing forgotten and ignored history to people. I also knew my location. It would be 156 years almost to the day of a ferocious Civil War battle marked by heroism, sacrifice, leadership, and triumph. September 29th, 1864 was the greatest day in African American military history. A day that the U.S. military and the entire nation should remember and celebrate. It, however, has not except for a few avid historians. The battle of New Market Heights has been lost to history because the vast majority of those soldiers who fought it were Black.

Several United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments fought against the Confederate army defending Richmond, Virginia in the fall of 1864. Composed of both free and former enslaved men these regiments formed the nucleus of the Union attack that fateful September morning. They fought bravely. After a hard struggle, those USCT regiments forced the enemy to retreat. Due to almost 160 years of Lost Cause historiography, racism, and intentional forgetting, most Americans have no knowledge of this Civil War battle and the pivotal role African American soldiers played. It is time to remedy this reality.

After President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863, many Black men flocked to the colors and enlisted in the Union Army. Thousands turned out to enlist across the North, even more from the seceded Southern states joined up. Led by white officers, the soldiers who fought at New Market Heights had been in the Army for over a year when the battle took place. By September 1864, they were now grizzled veterans and professional soldiers who were well trained, disciplined, and would be a part of the army that ultimately won the Civil War.

The idea of Black Americans fighting for the Union was a child of many fathers. Union generals, like John C. Fremont and Benjamin Butler, led the way by forming units of former enslaved men to fight the Confederacy as early as 1861. President Abraham Lincoln and government officials admonished them. By 1862, the cry from abolitionists, the northern Black communities, and stressed state governors needing to fill their quotas convinced Lincoln to change policy. Once emancipation was introduced, Federal officials formed Black regiments and recruited men in earnest. Almost 200,000 Black men were brought into military service and helped to secure a United States victory.[1]

In all, over 180 regiments would join the United States army to fight for not only the Union but to prove themselves as men. They also fought for the freedom of their families. Many would make up an entire corps of the Army of the James, which participated in Ulysses S. Grant’s assaults on Richmond and Petersburg.[2]

Early on the morning of 29 September 1864, USCT regiments from the Union Army of the James moved into position to attack Confederate defenses to the Southeast of Richmond, a place called New Market Heights. These units included the 4th and 6th US Colored Infantry Regiments, who would make the main assault that day.[3] The enemy was well entrenched behind fallen trees and trenches, and the Four Mile Creek ran parallel to their lines. Through the mist Union forces moved forward, got caught in the defensive line and took heavy fire from rifles and cannon. The unsupported first regiments fell back to regroup. More USCT units joined the attack and pushed forward through the trees. Private James Harris and First Sergeant Edward Ratcliff were the first to reach the trenches. Ratcliff took over the command of the company after his commanding officer was killed. First Sergeant Powhatan Beaty of the 5th USCI did the same.[4] Private James Gardiner, a member of the 36th USCI, mounted the parapet in front of the trench, shot a Confederate officer and ran him through with his bayonet before waving his comrades forward. Corporal Miles James of the 36th USCI had his arm mutilated by an enemy shot yet continued to load and fire at the enemy. Others like Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood saw their fellow comrades fall and pushed forward, seizing the regimental colors and carrying them the rest of the fight. By mid-morning the trenches were clear and the Confederates retreated to another defensive line. In the attack hundreds of men were killed or wounded, including captured Black soldiers executed by Confederate defenders, and fourteen Black men would earn Medals of Honor for their gallantry.[5]These USCT regiments played a key role in destroying the Confederacy during 1864 and 1865.

While lauded by their leaders at the time for their bravery and martial skill, USCT soldiers were given little to no formal recognition during or after the war ended. With the resurgence of white supremacist governance in the South, Jim Crow laws, and Lost Cause historiography, post-Civil War recognition of their deeds disappeared altogether. The Civil War as taught to generations of Americans became solely a white man’s war with USCT contributions erased from history.

Today, the New Market Heights battlefield is made up of private homes, small farms, and a county water treatment plant. The battlefield land is not protected like Gettysburg or Chickamauga. There are no monuments to the various USCT units or states involved. There is one historical marker located hundreds of yards west of the actual battlefield. Another newer marker has been placed along the road by the creek. The American Battlefield Trust has preserved a small portion of the battlefield where only white soldiers fought on. The lack of educational placards, maps, and an interpretive center discourages visitors. It’s among the many forgotten Civil War sites and has become lost to popular memory. Although Civil War USCT scholarship and the contribution of African Americans has increased over the years, the battlefield and those who fought there are still ignored.

It is now my mission to actively remember. It must become our mission. Through our efforts, we must ensure that their sacrifices for Union and for freedom are never forgotten again on subsequent anniversaries of their noble deeds.

[1] See Douglas, R. Egerton, Thunder At The Gates, The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America (New York: Basic Books, 2016).

[2] Edward G. Longacre, Army of Amateurs, General Benjamin F. Butler and the Army of the James, 1863-1865 (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1997).

[3] Edward G. Longacre, A Regiment Of Slaves, The 4th United States Colored Infantry, 1863-1866 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

[4] Versalle F. Washington, Eagles On Their Buttons, A Black Infantry Regiment In The Civil War (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).

[5] James S. Price, The Battle of New Market Heights, Freedom Will Be Theirs By The Sword (Charleston: The History Press, 2011).