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The First Lost Cause: Transnational Memory

The First Lost Cause: Transnational Memory

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

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

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

Cover of Esposición dirigida al supremo gobierno por los comisionados que firmaron el tratado de paz con los Estados-Unidos (Matamoros, Mexico: Antonio Castañeda, 1848). Available at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Esposición dirigida al supremo gobierno por los comisionados que firmaron el tratado de paz con los Estados-Unidos (Matamoros, Mexico: Antonio Castañeda, 1848), accessed at

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

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

[9] Robert E. Lee, General Order No. 9, April 10, 1865, available at

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

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

Niels Eichhorn

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

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Lee

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



[1] Gabriela Miranda, “Arizona state senator encourages Republican voters in Virginia to ‘Make General Lee proud’”, USA Today, 2 November 2021,

[2] Richard Fausset, “As Trump rises, so do some hands waving Confederate battle flags”, New York Times, 18 November 2016,; Eugene Scott, “Trump’s ardent defense of Confederate monuments continues as Americans swing the opposite direction”, Washington Post, 1 July 2020,; Jonathan S. Blake, “Republican legislators want you to think Confederate monuments aren’t political”, The Nation, 15 June 2017,

[3] Jane Coaston, “Virginia Republican just nominated an alt-right hero to run for Senate”, Vox, 8 August 2018,; “Corey Stewart Proud of Confederate Flag, Claims It Isn’t Racist (4/8/17)”, YouTube,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to the 2021 Anne Bailey Prize Winner

Congratulations to the 2021 Anne Bailey Prize Winner

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

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

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

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

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

James Marten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They acted quickly, powerfully, and decisively.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] “Discover the Network,” African American Civil Rights Network, available online at

[2] Sarah Traum, Bryan Corle, and Joseph Balicki, Documentary Study, Archaeological Evaluation and Resource Management Plan for 1323 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia, Final Report, May 2007, available online at

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

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

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

[6] “Contrabands and Freedman Cemetery, Site #44AX0179/VDHR #100-0121-1085,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, National Park Service, available at

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

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

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

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

[11] “Contrabands and Freedman Cemetery, Site #44AX0179/VDHR #100-0121-1085,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, National Park Service, available at

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

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

[14] “Alexandria Community Remembrance Project,” available at

Paula Tarnapol Whitacre

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

Captured Confederate Flags and Fake News in Civil War Memory

Captured Confederate Flags and Fake News in Civil War Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria DiStefano

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

The Long Travails and Promises of Black Border Crossing

The Long Travails and Promises of Black Border Crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Bill Chappell, “U.S. Border Agents Chased Migrants on Horseback. A  Photographer Explains What He Saw,” September 21, 2021, NPR,; Kevin Johnson, “DHS vows to have findings within ‘days’ in investigation of Border Patrol’s Treatment of Haitian Migrants,” September 22, 2021, USA TODAY,; Maureen Groppe, Joey Garrison, Rick Rouan, and Courtney Subramanian, “Biden Vows action for treatment of Haitian Migrants,” September 24, 2021, USA TODAY,

[2] Javonte Anderson, “Historians: Border Patrol Agent’s Treatment of Haitian Migrants Recalls Slavery-Era Whippings,” September 24, USA TODAY,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Mabinty Quarshie and Javonte Anderson, “Del Rio Migrant Crisis: How Did So Many Haitians End Up at the Southern US Border?,” September 21, 2021, USA TODAY,; Uriel J. García, “‘We Suffered a Lot to Get Here’: A Haitian Migrant’s Harrowing Journey to the Texas-Mexico Border,” October 1, 2021, The Texas Tribune,



Paul Barba

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

Fake News, Dirty Tricks, and Civil War Politics

Fake News, Dirty Tricks, and Civil War Politics

Today’s political discourse includes frequent talk of “fake news” (a term which seems to only occasionally mean actual trickery rather than simply unfavorable reporting). Meanwhile, partisan political concerns sometimes seem thick with racial hostility, appealing to voters’ irrational fears. None of this is new. During the Civil War a handful of efforts turned “fake news” into an art form and many partisan combatants proved shameless in appealing to white racism.

Near the close of 1863, as the two major parties were gearing up for the presidential election the following year, two journalists for the Democratic New York World concocted a bizarre and creative scheme. Shortly after the start of the new year, David Croly and George Wakeman anonymously published an ambitious 71-page pamphlet, entitled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White man and Negro.  Pretending to be a complex scientific treatise, Miscegenation described an idealized future where Blacks and Whites would intermingle without limitations, including unrestrained sexual relations across racial lines.[1]

The clever journalists – who even coined the word “miscegenation” for posterity – played a complex game. They hoped to convince White readers that abolitionist Republicans supported the pamphlet’s notions, even adding an Appendix with quotations from actual abolitionists, implying that those leaders had endorsed miscegenation. Binding their words directly to the upcoming election, Croly and Wakeman concluded that “whereas, the result of the last Presidential election [1860] has given the colored race on this continent its freedom, the next Presidential election should secure to every black man and woman the rest of their social and political rights.” Thus, a vote for Abraham Lincoln would be a vote for pure racial equality and enfettered racial intermingling.[2]  This rather brilliant piece of “fake news” attracted some attention in the national press and scored a huge victory for the forces of fraud when Ohio Democrat Sunset Cox – taken in by the fakery – delivered a speech before the House of Representatives denouncing the pamphlet.

Miscegenation constituted pure political trickery, engineered around an assumption about northern voters. Whatever northerners felt about the institution of slavery, Croly and Wakeman gambled that readers would recoil at the notion that Republicans envisioned a world of unrestricted racial integration.

Engraving of dancing Black and white adults at a formal event.
G.W. Bromley & Co, and Kimmel & Forster. Political caricature. No. 4, The miscegenation ball. New York City New York, 1864. Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

That September, with the election around the corner, New York’s Republicans gathered for a gala ball at the Lincoln Central Campaign Club. Immediately thereafter, the World – New York’s loudest opposition newspaper – published and distributed a large lithograph called “The Miscegenation Ball.” That image portrayed a sea of well-dressed dancing couples at the September 22nd event, with a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln overlooking the proceedings. A banner declaring, “Universal Freedom / One Constitution / Our Destiny/ Abraham Lincoln, Prest” filled an upper corner of the image. But the frolicking dancers crowding the dance floor dominated the lithograph.  All the men were White, and all their happy partners were Black women. A lengthy (thoroughly dishonest) caption explained that this was an accurate portrayal of the September 22 Republican event. Both the World and the New York’s Journal of Commerce regaled their readers with fake tales of the bawdy interracial ball; Democratic newspapers across the nation reprinted versions of these stories, sometimes referring to the lithograph.[3]

Both examples of “fake news” in the run-up to the 1864 election played on northerners’ fears of the inclusion of Black women and men into their homogenous societies. Neither the lithograph or the pamphlet described real Republican ideas or actual events. But the gamble by these political operatives was that they could stoke irrational fears about race in white voters even while presenting complete illusions.

[1] David G. Croly and George Wakeman, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White man and Negro (New York: H. Dexter, Hamilton & co., 1864).

[2] Croly and Wakeman, Miscegenation, p. 85.

[3] Forrest G. Wood, Black Scare (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), pp. 71-3, citing New York World, September 23, 26, 27, 28; New York Weekly Day Book, October 1, 8, 1864; Albany Atlas and Argus, October 1, 1864; Columbus Ohio Statesman, September 28, 1864, Wheeling (WV) Daily Register. September 29, 1864.





The Case for Posthumously Awarding André Cailloux The Congressional Medal of Honor

The Case for Posthumously Awarding André Cailloux The Congressional Medal of Honor

Now that a brigade of Confederate commanders has been hauled down from their pedestals, there’s scant consensus about what should take their place.

In Richmond, Virginia, monumentalizing social justice activists is all the talk.  Kentucky leans toward a rotating cast of deserving figures from across the spectrum.[1]

But in my adopted home of New Orleans, the tide has been running strong in favor of memorializing local worthies in the fields of music and cuisine.  They unite instead rather than divide us. In these toxic times that’s all to the good.  A similar spirit seems at work elsewhere.

But in our haste to retire symbolic tributes to the Lost Cause are we running the risk of silencing the Civil War?  It would be a travesty if such was the case.  The Civil War is the American Iliad, as essential as the Revolution to an understanding of how the country became itself.  It was when the United States experienced a new birth of freedom, when the frontiers of citizenship were expanded, and the country finally made up its mind that it was a unum rather than a pluribus.

Moreover, as David Blight has reminded us, before the subject of slavery and emancipation got sacrificed on the altar of sectional reconciliation in the waning years of the nineteenth century, the Civil War was chiefly remembered as an emancipationist narrative, not a paean to the Lost Cause.  So, we should be leaning into this memory rather than shying from it—now more than ever.[2]

It is not the place of historians to dictate who deserves memorialization in the public square.  That’s a decision best left to the democratic process where communities and elected officials make such determinations.  All we can do is suggest deserving candidates.  They are not hard to locate, not even in the old Confederacy.

But, for my money, André Cailloux, a Black captain of infantry in the U. S. Army, belongs at the head of the class.  He was killed on May 27, 1863, leading a foredoomed assault against impregnable Confederate works at Port Hudson, Louisiana, just upriver from Baton Rouge.

There was a time when Cailloux was nationally hailed and locally canonized.   His New Orleans funeral had the feel of a massive civil rights protest, perhaps the largest the country had ever seen to that point in time, according to his biographer Stephen J. Ochs.  For more than a mile, on a sweltering day in late July 1863, Black New Orleanians thronged Esplanade Avenue under a cloudless sky to witness the funeral cortege carrying Cailloux’s remains to the Bienville Street cemetery.  Over thirty Black mutual aid societies joined the procession.[3]

Outdoor funeral procession
“Funeral of the Late Captain Cailloux, First Louisiana Volunteers (Colored),” Harper’s Weekly, August 29, 1863, 549.

In the words of Ochs, it was a heartfelt tribute to the “first black warrior-hero in the Civil War.”  Cailloux could lay claim to other important firsts:  in September 1862, his commission as one of the first Black officers in the history of the United States Army. But it was his outsize role in the first significant battle in which Black soldiers went on the offensive that truly sets him apart.   It is what makes him not just a Black hero, but an American hero, indeed, a saved-the-country hero and thus worthy of the highest honor accorded members of the armed forces, then and now.

In a year filled with momentous tipping points—a federal victory at Gettysburg; the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson and the opening of the Mississippi to Union control—Cailloux’s valor, and that of the Black troops he led in battle, electrified northern opinion and gave federal race policy a strong jolt.

Before Port Hudson, Black soldiers were recruited grudgingly and routinely sidelined digging trenches and latrines.  It was said that they weren’t manly, that they would cut and run when the fighting got hot. It was a lie. On numerous occasions they repelled Confederate surprise attacks. But that was while fighting for their lives on defense, so the libel lived on.  What happened that May morning on one of the Mississippi’s signature hairpin turns vanquished the slander. The mobilization of Black soldiers shifted into a different gear.  They weren’t universally sidelined guarding railroad spurs any longer. Growing numbers saw front line combat.[4]

This turn in federal policy had huge consequences.  Frederick Douglass, a tireless advocate of the recruitment of Black soldiers, saw them more clearly than anyone: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”[5]

In this great drama—which witnessed nothing less than the transformation of a War for Union into a War for Freedom—the significance of Captain André Cailloux’s last full measure would be hard to overstate.


He was born enslaved in 1825 in the downriver parish of Plaquemines,  gaining his freedom in Orleans parish in 1846 (probably through self-purchase).  The following year Cailloux married another ex-slave in a German Catholic church, then bought his mother out of slavery the year after that.  Within New Orleans’s tightly knit community of French-speaking free people of color (gens de couleur libres), he quickly made a name for himself.  Most had been born free. Four-fifths were of mixed-racial ancestry and lightly complected.  Cailloux was neither.  He boasted of being “the blackest man in New Orleans.”  He entered one of the three artisan trades in which the city’s free men of color were dominant—cigarmaking. Cailloux was athletic, sat a horse well, could hold his own in the ring.  He had a reputation for boldness and daring.  Before the war his peers elected him an officer in one of New Orleans’s numerous mutual aid and burial societies, the Friends of Order.[6]

Then the Civil War came and we find him in the vanguard of the free black community’s drive to revive a tradition of military service dating as far back as the early years of French colonialism.  In 1861, Black militiamen even became part of the local home guard under the aegis of Louisiana’s Confederate state government.  But it was not until September 27, 1862—five months after a Union flotilla’s arrival at the New Orleans levee, and five days following Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation—that a black militia force numbering more than 1,000 men was mustered into the United States Army for a term of three years.  Called the 1st Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards, it was the earliest officially sanctioned Black unit in the history of United States Army.[7]

Cailloux recruited and organized Company E.  He filled it with neighbors and members of his fraternal order.  Predictably, they elected him lieutenant.  Shortly afterwards, two additional regiments of the Native Guards were mustered into the US military.  All three regiments were singular in that their line officers—the captains and lieutenants who actually led men on the battlefield—were of African descent. The field officers, the majors and colonels who issued commands from the rear, by contrast were mostly White.  The sole exception at this time was the wealthy free Black planter Francis E. Dumas.  When Union forces arrived at New Orleans levee in the spring, he freed his enslaved labor force. When the Native Guards were mustered in, Major Dumas extended them the liberty to enlist.[8]

It’s no secret these early Black regiments were welcomed with less than open arms.  Local Whites slathered them with slurs and spittle. Union soldiers could be just as abusive.  Refusing to salute Black officers they met on the street, they swore they wouldn’t take orders from them, either.  But Cailloux was preternaturally different. One Union officer later recalled seeing him at the headquarters of the commanding general, Benjamin Butler, “in company with at least fifteen of our prominent military officers; and he was a marked personage among them all.” [9]

Still, Black officers were a novelty in the country’s armed forces. When Nathaniel P. Banks, another political general from Massachusetts, replaced Butler in December 1862, one of his first acts was to return them to the ranks or even get rid of them altogether. But because he failed to decommission them outright, several Black officers in the Native Guards regiments ignored his invitation to resign their commissions. Lieutenant Cailloux, soon to be promoted to captain, was among them.[10]


In late May 1863, Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant were maneuvering to place Vicksburg, Mississippi, under siege.  In a coordinated effort some 200 nautical miles downriver at Port Hudson, an army under the command of Nathaniel P. Banks was getting into position to assault another Confederate stronghold.  Six weeks would pass before those citadels fell, opening the corridor that had blocked Union passage on Mississippi and hindering the two halves of the Confederacy from coming to each other’s aid.

The 1st and 3rd regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards were on fatigue duty downriver in Baton Rouge when orders arrived to join Banks’s army at Port Hudson.  Two days later, following a twenty-five-mile march, they fetched up against the extreme left of the Confederate line.  Like every other brigade in Bank’s army, their backs were to the river.  Straight ahead loomed a network of artillery batteries and rifle pits dug in along a four-and-a-half-mile semicircle of high bluffs.  The terrain in between was laced with canebrakes and marshes, woods and ravines. Confederates, improving on nature’s obstacles, re-engineered a creek into a moat and planted abatis of sharpened tree branches.  But “by far the strongest part of the rebel works,” according to one Union officer, was the sector where the Native Guards were positioned:  in front of Confederate promontory reaching heights of 80 feet.  Lining the sawtooth crest were emplacements of heavy guns.  Just below the brow stretched a terrace of rifle pits.[11]

At the last minute the Native Guards were assigned a new brigade commander. Brigadier General William Dwight, a thirty-one-year-old scion of an ancient Massachusetts family, was an abolitionist at heart.  He wanted “to test the negro question,” he wrote his mother.  “I have had the negro Regts longest in the service assigned to me, and I am going to storm a detached work with them.  You may look for hard fighting, or a complete runaway.”  That was the good news.

There was bad news.  Dwight was a military incompetent and a spiteful martinet.  Just shy of graduating from West Point, he had been tossed from the academy for drunkenness and other conduct unbecoming an officer. He was also ignorant of the basic principle that commanders should at least reconnoiter their battlefields before going on the offensive.  When two of his colonels asked if he thought a frontal assault was feasible, he insisted, without ever having seen the ground for himself, that it was “the easiest way into Port Hudson.”  On Sunday, May 27, the morning dawned bright and clear. Dwight was in the rear, where he would remain for the duration.  By 7:00 a.m., when White units of Banks’s army launched the first of a series of futile attacks proceeding from the far right of the Confederate breastworks to the far left, General Dwight was already drunk.[12]

Cailloux’s unit, Company E of the 1st Regiment, was the color company, the unit tasked with carrying the regimental standards into battle. Standard bearers, usually sergeants, practically wore targets on their tunics.  They were in the forefront of the assault, and their banners became the point around which broken ranks rallied during the fog of battle.  It was those soldiers who drew the heaviest fire.  But so did the company commander who led the charge.  At Port Hudson that would be Captain Cailloux.  He was the obvious choice to wear this mantle.  The military code of “sublime courage”—the duty of line officers to rally their troops by displaying valor—came naturally to him. Ernest Hemingway called it grace under pressure.  Cailloux seems to have possessed it to an unusual degree.[13]

The morning of the battle, Cailloux inspected the ranks, exchanging pleasantries.  As his men clawed their way through woods choked with wisteria, he yelled words of encouragement.  Cailloux must have been stunned when they reached the clearing.  To the left lay a thick tangle of sharpened branches, to the right a swamp of cottonwoods and willows, and dead ahead those heavily fortified steep bluffs. To make it to the makeshift pontoon bridge thrown across the swollen creek the night before by Union engineers, the 1st and 3rd regiments would have to traverse 400 yards of nearly impassable terrain, then brave another 200 yards merely to reach the bluffs.

What went through Cailloux’s mind at this moment we can only speculate.  It was probably not how to stall for time, weigh his options, consult with immediate superiors over alternative strategies.   By this stage of the war, veteran officers had seen enough to appreciate how improvements in infantry firepower had rendered frontal assaults relics of the eighteenth century.  No less than their men, they were starting to balk at senseless orders to charge headlong into sheets of lead.  Instinctively, they advanced under the cover of the terrain, not in ranked orders.  Cailloux’s immediate superiors, the white colonels who questioned General Dwight about reaching Port Hudson by attacking these bluffs over open ground, were clearly harboring doubts.  Cailloux’s concerns would have met with sympathetic ears.

Cailloux never expressed any reservations.  They surely crossed his mind.  But what was the use of airing them if the result ended up being an I-told-you-so stereotype?  This much seems likely:  Cailloux wished for a long life, evinced scant interest in becoming a martyr for the sake of martyrdom, while wanting nothing so much as to vindicate the honor of Black soldiers. The libel that they were deficient in courage offended him deeply.  Dispelling it was one reason Cailloux joined the Union army.  It was why he and men like him seized the reins of their destiny.

At 10:00 a.m. six companies from the 1st Regiment and nine from the 3rd, formed a long battle line two ranks deep, one regiment behind the other.  They had been promised artillery support.  But two federal howitzers, after lofting a few cannon shots, fled the field upon receiving withering return fire. Company E left the forest in quick time, then doubled the pace.  Two hundred yards across that stubbled plain, they received fire from a smaller bluff on their left flank, followed by blasts of canister and grape shot and lead from the heavy guns and rifles to their front.  The men dove behind trees and into gullies.  Cailloux’s left arm, hit by a shell above the elbow, was left dangling like a broken branch in the wind. A raised sword in his right arm, he barked orders and curses in two languages. “Allons, mes enfants!” “Follow me!”  Many did, including the standard bearer, hollering and screaming.  Nearing the pontoon bridge, they stopped to take aim at the rifle pits and artillery emplacements dead ahead, then released a volley.

That was when “all hell broke loose,” and a sheet of Minie balls and “pieces of railroad iron twelve to eighteen inches long” tore through the ranks with devastating force. The regimental standard bearer, a sergeant named Anselmas Planciancois, fell instantly when a shell took off half his head, tore the flag in two, spattering blood and brain fragments on nearby comrades.  Two enlisted men, one of them an ex-slave who took a bullet in his left hand, caught the standards before they touched the ground, and wrestled for the honor to carry them.  Cailloux was approaching the pontoon bridge when a shell struck him in the head, putting him down for good.  Over killing fields shrouded in smoke and strewn with the dead and wounded, survivors made for a nearby willow grove. It was pandemonium.  “Accounts differ,” writes Stephen Ochs, “as to how many times the men reformed, charged, broke, and reformed again.”  Some say once.  Others put the number between three and six times.  It couldn’t have exceeded three advances. The actual fighting lasted in the neighborhood of an hour, if that. This was no ordinary assault. It was a suicide mission.

But the fighting was not over.  For hours on end, enemy artillery shelled the grove where the 1st regiment had reformed. “Our shots tore the fragile willows into fragments,” wrote one Confederate soldier, “and the splinters were probably as dangerous as our fire.” The brigade’s besotted commander, still cowering in the rear, insisted his regiments continue their attacks.  The colonels who received these insane orders quietly ignored them.

In every sector where Banks’s army stormed Port Hudson’s bluffs, the carnage was the same:  hundreds killed, thousand wounded.  But the place where Cailloux and his men had fallen, the aftereffects were appalling. The next afternoon, under a flag of truce, Union medics hastened to retrieve the wounded and bury the dead.  For some reason, the temporary truce didn’t cover this battlefield.  Confederate sharpshooters took advantage of the oversight to drive away Black soldiers who ventured out to gather their dead and wounded. When the stench became unbearable, the Confederate brass pled for a truce, that the putrefying bodies might be removed.  General Banks insisted there were no Union dead on that ground.  The corpses of the fallen, including Cailloux’s, continued rotting for another month under a scorching sun.[14]

“Statistics alone belied the punishment these men had suffered,” observes the late James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., in his indispensable history of the Native Guards. He quotes a captain in a New Hampshire regiment that had marched past Native Guards’ encampments the evening of the battle.  “They suffered severe losses,” he wrote, “and as we moved back at night to our quarters, we passed a little house on the road where a temporary hospital had been established for them, and at the back door of this house we saw a pile of considerable size of legs and arms which had been amputated from these poor fellows.”[15]

After the Port Hudson campaign petered out into a six-week siege, the 1st and 3rd regiments spent most of that time sheltering behind cotton bales while constructing breastworks. Not until after the fall of Vicksburg on July 4th and Port Hudson’s capitulation five days later were Cailloux’s remains recovered. The only identifying mark was a ring on a skeletal knuckle signifying membership in the “Friends of Order,” the black self-help society of which he had become an officer. His body was carried to New Orleans for a burial befitting a native son and military hero.[16]

As for the sequel, it was as consequential as the battle itself. The first to break the story was The New York Times.  Its reporter couldn’t get over the “skill and nerve” of raw Black troops, and the “hideous carnage” they bore up against.   Very few white solders would have had “nerve enough to encounter [such perils], even if ordered to.”  Above all, he singled out “Captain CAILLOUX of the First Louisiana … [who] died the death of a hero, leading on his men in the thickest of the fight.”[17]

It was an inflection point, one of those moments when history skips a beat.  Radical Republicans turned up the volume of their demands that the Lincoln administration throw more Black soldiers into battle.  As the wires thrummed with reports of Cailloux’s heroism and the battlefield valor of Louisiana’s Native Guards, some of them widely exaggerated, Northern opinion shifted dramatically.  The first time Lincoln and Frederick Douglass met in person at the White House, according to David Blight, the president looked him “in the eye and said, ‘remember that Millikens’s Bend, Port Hudson and Fort Wagner are recent events; and that these were necessary to prepare the way for this very [emancipation] proclamation of mine.’” But of the three, Port Hudson registered the loudest and made the biggest dent on national policy.[18]

One could go on.  Cailloux’s gallantry galvanized the National Negro Convention that convened in Syracuse in October 1864, for example.  Frederick Douglass himself was the presiding officer.  Delegates had gathered there to gin up support for the 13th amendment and for the right of Black men to vote.  When James Ingraham, who had assumed command of Company E, stepped onto the floor carrying the 1st regiment’s tattered colors “stained with the blood of the brave Cailloux,” the hall exploded in loud cheers and applause. This was the convention that begat the enormously important Equal Rights League.  The Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments have several antecedents.  The formation of this Black pressure group was one of them.[19]

Congress has set an exceedingly high bar for receiving a Medal of Honor, and justifiably so. The standard is conduct beyond the call of duty.  Commanding officers are supposed to take the lead when advancing against enemy fire.  But when they continue advancing in the face of a meteorite belt, in spite of clear evidence a prudent retreat was not just advisable but defensible, the case seems almost cut and dry.  Then there is the consideration that his sacrifice had a hand in altering the war’s trajectory.  Anything less than awarding André Cailloux’s a posthumous Medal of Honor somehow seems inadequate.

The timing couldn’t be better.   In four years of bloody conflict, Confederate forces never got closer than six miles of the US Capitol.  The recent spectacle of flag-waving neo-Confederates turning the Congress into a crime scene should serve as a reminder that bad history too often makes for bad politics.  The country has been saved before.  It wasn’t under the banner of the Stars and Bars, but the regimental standards of Captain André Cailloux and his color bearer.[20]

[1] Madeleine Carlisle, “Confederate Monuments and Other Disputed Memorials Have Come Down in Cities Across America. What Should Take Their Place?” Time, July 28, 2020.

[2] David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), 1-6.

[3] Stephen Ochs, “The Rock of New Orleans,” The New York Times, July 31, 2013.

[4] Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Longman, Green and Co.: New York, London, Toronto, 1956), 132-3.

[5] Quoted in James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 564.

[6] Stephen J. Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest: André Cailloux and Claude Paschal Maistre in Civil War New Orleans (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 9-66, 80.

[7] James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 1-21.

[8] Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 68-72, 81.

[9] Hollandsworth, Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards, 29-32.  The quotation appears in Marcus Christian, “Captain Andre Caillous—the Rock,” in the Marcus B. Christian Collection, Earl K. Long Library, The University of New Orleans (with thanks to Mary N. Mitchell for retrieving this article).

[10] Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 122-25.

[11] Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 128-39; Hollandsworth, Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards, 48-53.

[12] Hollandsworth, Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards, 52-3 (for the quotations); Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest,140-41.

[13] Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 141-44.

[14] The best accounts of the doomed charge are Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 144-49; and Hollandsworth, Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards, 53-7.

[15] Quoted in Hollandsworth, Jr., The Louisiana Native Guards, 58.

[16] Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 152.

[17] “Important from Louisiana,” The New York Times, June 13, 1863.  See also Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 149-50.

[18] Quoted in Blight, Race and Reunion, 17.  See also Cornish, Sable Arm, 142-3.

[19] Stephen Ochs, “The Rock of New Orleans.” Also, Ochs, A Black Patriot and a White Priest, 223-5.

[20] For their advice and counsel, he wishes to thank Jason Berry, Steve Goodell, Steven Hahn, Howard Hunter, Patrick Maney, Stephen Ochs , Rebecca Scott, Randy Sparks, and Michael Wayne.












Lawrence N Powell

An emeritus professor of history at Tulane, where he taught for nearly forty years, Lawrence N. Powell has published books and articles on the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Holocaust. His most recent book is The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

“I remember that Jasper Gray told me that he had herded sheep in Australia”

“I remember that Jasper Gray told me that he had herded sheep in Australia”

In 1906, Oscar Nelson, a local African American living in Tennessee, provided testimony on the extraordinary life of Jasper Gray, a United States Colored Troops (USCT) veteran, of the Thirty-First United Colored Infantry (USCI). Gray was a man whose entire life—in bondage and freedom—was one of constant physical movements and changes. In numerous instances, each step Gray took allowed him to redefine how he self-identified. By traversing spaces that spanned the Southern and Western hemispheres, Gray announced that he was there—as an African American man—demanding the recognition of his dignity, humanity, and his cultural citizenship on a global scale. His physical declarations occurred during periods that often frame African Americans as victims of systemic racial oppression rather than seeing them as agents of change fighting, in a multitude of ways, for equality.[1]

The lives of many enslaved people (and later freedpeople) were usually marked by continual change, often with physical movements being a key component of their experience. Numerous scholars, including Chandra Manning, denote how enslaved people frequently circumvented the oppressive structures through their physical movements (both temporarily and permanently) to claim agency over their lives, humanity, and personal bonds to others.[2] In the postwar, scholars, including Heather A. Williams, denote how freedpeople seized upon their freedom to move throughout the South seeking to reconnect with dislocated kin that slavery stole from them.[3] Their collective scholarship highlights how African Americans were never complacent as many whites created and maintained an evolving system of racial discrimination that sought to dehumanize and destroy African American bodies, lives, and families.

Jasper Gray was a unique example of an African American man whose travels and declarations, throughout his life, illustrate his enactment of the General Strike, through his self-liberation and then enlistment into the Thirty-First USCI. After the Civil War, Gray’s understand of the revolutionary moment empowered him in ways that have been obscured by focusing on white oppressors.[4] To be clear, Jasper Gray is not a representative case. Still, his life is another example of how African Americans, like others, did not have a singular experience. Instead, Gray illustrates the multiple forms that agency manifested. Ultimately, Jasper Gray reveals that the Civil War provided a sense of freedom that stretched far beyond the limits many people, including scholars, envision.

Before the Civil War, Jasper Gray spent his entire life in bondage. During that time, he shifted locations throughout Tennessee, including his birthplace in Knox County, as three different slaveowners claimed Gray as their property. By the fall of 1863, the Civil War enveloped Tennessee (which initially claimed neutrality) as Confederate and U.S. armies battled in Chattanooga, much to the dismay of slaveowners. It was in this moment that Gray’s life forever changed. As historians Amy Murrell Taylor and Joseph P. Reidy note, enslaved African Americans, such as Gray, defined freedom and citizenship in the middle of a war zone. Moreover, that emancipation process involved large swath of space.[5]

Group of Black men sitting on lumber and standing in pose for a group photograph.
Courtesy of Camp Nelson National Monument NPS.

Through his own volition, Gray self-emancipated (in a state where the Emancipation Proclamation had no authority). He traveled nearly two hundred eighty-four miles to Camp Nelson in Nicholasville, Kentucky.[6] His actions, along with many others, illustrate his participation in a labor strike that allowed enslaved people to demand the recognition of their humanity and cultural citizenship (or cultural belonging). After signing a labor contract with the U.S. Army, Gray claimed agency to work as a freeman and wage-earning laborer. By signing a contract, men such as Gray had their humanity acknowledged by the U.S. Army, giving them the ability to enter a legally binding contract, as people, who paid them regulated wages for their labor, which aligns with the work of historian Chandra Manning.[7]

Rather than remain in Camp Nelson and enlist in a Kentucky USCT regiment, as many freedmen in the area did, he left the military base after three months and continued northward. Gray never revealed his motivation(s) for leaving Camp Nelson. However, his decision to go illustrates that he wanted to define freedom, on his terms, as he avoided enlisting in Kentucky. It is also possible that he chose to leave Camp Nelson where some military officials listened to white Kentucky slaveowners. Ultimately, he traveled over 773 miles to Long Island, New York, where he enlisted in the Thirty-First USCI on April 14, 1864. To enlist, he passed through two other states, where USCT recruitment was well underway, to join in a New York regiment. As scholars note, his enlistment reinforced his demands for cultural citizenship, in addition to demonstrating citizenship duties as soldiers.[8]

Gray stated that his birthplace was New York City, New York, to claim agency over his identity further. Perhaps Gray falsified his origin to receive an enlistment bounty that only freemen were eligible to get. Alternatively, maybe he did it as a declaration that Jasper Gray was a new man. Expanding on historian Adam Domby’s argument of lies as an analysis, Gray recreated historical narrative that gave him agency.[9] Thus, whatever Gray’s motivations for changing his birthplace, the result is that he took control over his identity, and his movements made it possible.

During his eighteen months in service, Gray traversed the Confederacy armed as a purveyor of freedom for enslaved people.[10] His movements were physical articulations that he and the world around him fundamentally changed. Moreover, Gray was an active participant in ending the Civil War. For instance, his regiment was a part of a contingent that chased Robert E. Lee’s forces to Appomattox Court House, where Gray witnessed Lee surrender.[11]Participating in this pivotal moment reveals how Gray’s movements, as part of the regiment, were crucial in ending slavery and forcing Lee to admit defeat, even though imagery and conversations often ignore the involvement of USCT regiments.

When Gray’s military service ended in November of 1865, his thirst for travel persisted. As a USCT veteran and freeman, Gray continued to seize upon opportunities to move and travel in ways that defied white societal attempts to keep Black people (especially freedpeople) tied to southern land, via vagrancy laws.[12] Furthermore, Gray’s actions where demands of his American citizenship and humanity and not his former status as an enslaved man.[13] His wanderlust, a quality sometimes attributed to white veterans, influenced his continued exploration of the world as a free man, this time making way westward to California.[14] However, rather than look towards the Pacific Ocean as the end of his journey, Gray boarded a ship and first headed to the independent state of Hawaii and later reached Australia. Unfortunately, Gray never discussed his time in Hawaii. Still, by visiting the independent nation, a freeman symbolically declared his independence as he visited Hawaii. Gray resided in the Land Down Under for two years while working as a sheepherder. Eventually, Gray returned to the U.S., making his way back to Tennessee in 1869.

The life of Jasper Gray is unique from most USCT veterans, and arguably many African Americans in general, at the time. Nevertheless, he is a compelling case study of a man who, using physical movements, refashioned himself across multiple states and nations on his terms. On land and sea, Gray made people witness his demands and demonstrations of citizenship—in and outside of the military. He was not a politician, skilled orator, or an entrepreneur. However, he was a freedman with a level of mobility that gave him agency over his life, even as racial discrimination continually attempted to stop him.

[1] 1906 Deposition of Oscar Nelson, in Jasper Gray’s pension file. Thirty-First USCI. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (hereafter pension file.)

[2] See Chandra Manning, Troubled Refuge: Struggling For Freedom in the Civil War (New York: Vintage Books, 2017).

[3] See Heather A. Williams, Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016

[4] This piece heavily leans on the collective scholarship of historians W.E.B. Du Bois, Manisha Sinha, Robin D.G. Kelley, and Steven Hahn to argue that Jasper Gray’s political emancipation from bondage and postbellum racial hierarchies becomes clearer. See W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935; New York: The Free Press, 1999); Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017); Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: The Free Press, 1996); and Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

[5] Joseph P. Reidy, Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twillight of Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019); Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys Through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

[6] 1895 Deposition of R.F. Boyd, in Jasper Gray’s pension file.

[7] See Manning, Troubled Refuge.

[8] See Paul D. Quigley, The Civil War and the Transformation of American Citizenship (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018).

[9] Adam H. Domby, The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2020).

[10] After the Thirty-First USCI departed New York, the regiment stayed in the Eastern Theater, mainly in Virginia, until May 1865. From May 1864 to May 1865, the regiment took part in the Battle of Cold Harbor; siege operations at Petersburg and Richmond; military operations at Fort Sedgewick, Hatcher’s Run, and Weldon Railroad; and the pursuit of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Appomattox Court House. Afterward, the regiment remained in Texas until November of 1865.

[11] 1895 Deposition of Jasper Gray, in Jasper Gray’s pension file.

[12] See Elizabeth Stoudeur Pryor, Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship Before the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of Chapel Hill Press, 2016).

[13] See Martha Jones, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

[14] See Paul A. Cimbala, Veterans North and South: The Transition from Soldier to Civilian after the Civil War (Santa Barbara: Prager, 2015).

Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr.

Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of History at Furman University. He received his bachelor’s degree (2008) from the University of Central Florida. Later, he earned his master’s degree (2010) and doctoral degree (2017) from the University of Iowa. His research focuses on the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in the military from 1850 through the 1930s. His monograph, The Families’ Civil War, is forthcoming June 2022 with the University of Georgia Press in the UnCivil Wars Series.  You can find him on Twitter at @PHUsct.

Women and Gender History of the Civil War Era: A Roundtable

Women and Gender History of the Civil War Era: A Roundtable

We are delighted to publish three essays on women’s history of the Civil War Era by three leading scholars in the field. This roundtable draws on a lively session at last summer’s Society of Civil War Historians conference. Together these pieces provide a wide-ranging assessment of the field as a scholarly endeavor and its translation into teaching, both through textbooks and in K-12 classrooms.

Our Women and the War, from Harper’s Weekly, September 6, 1862

Nina Silber’s essay, “Introductory Remarks: The Study of Gender and the Civil War,” asks what has changed in the field since the indispensable book she co-edited with Catherine Clinton, Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War (1992). Silber describes important developments, particularly in scholarship on African American women, and identifies some intriguing questions that remain understudied.

Judith Giesberg anchors her piece, “Why We Should Forget the Civil War,” with a quotation from a 2002 essay by Thavolia Glymph: “From any perspective, women’s history remains the least studied and analytically sophisticated aspect of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  For a period that witnessed the most voluminous outpouring of writing by and about women of any in American history. . . this seems on the surface an odd result.”[1] Giesberg proceeds to describe the growing body of scholarship in the field, including books that have been widely lauded and won multiple awards. Nevertheless, she points out, recent surveys of the Civil War Era, many of them designed for teaching, still largely ignore women and their history. Why is this so, and what can be done about it?

In “The Gendered Consequences of Legislation Targeting Critical Race Theory,” Fay A. Yarbrough reminds us that teaching the history of women and gender remains intensely political. Taking us to Texas, where she teaches, she reveals how a new state law barring the teaching of certain “concepts” focuses not just on race, but on sex as well. Her piece concludes the roundtable with the urgent reminder that women’s history itself is under attack in many places and that “we do not and should not write only for other academics.”

[1] Thavolia Glymph, “The Civil War Era,” in ed. Nancy A. Hewitt, A Companion to American Women’s History (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2005).

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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