Category: Field Dispatches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid., 3, 4.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 5.

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

James Marten

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

Mudsills vs. Chivalry

Mudsills vs. Chivalry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael E. Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elodie Breck Todd. Courtesy of the Kentucky Digital Library.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

Angela Esco Elder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Sacco

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

A Transnational View of Medicine and Medical Practices during the Civil War

A Transnational View of Medicine and Medical Practices during the Civil War

Interest in the medical history of the Civil War has increased in recent years, not in small part due to Shauna Devine’s Tom Watson Brown Award-winning work, Learning from the Wounded.[1] Tens of thousands of U.S. and Confederate soldiers suffered some form of injury in the course of the Civil War. The war, as is often the case, provided an opportunity for medical professionals to experiment with better treatments, more rapid removal of soldiers from the battlefield, and the recovery of wounded men. While the Civil War is often told as an exceptional domestic story, the history of mid-nineteenth-century nursing and medical advances should not start on the wounded-covered banks of Bull Run, but in the filthy and vermin-covered barracks of the other major mid-century war, the Crimean War (1853-1856).

By the time the Ottoman and Russian empires started the next installment of their long ongoing conflict over Black Sea and Mediterranean dominance in 1853, military technology had changed dramatically. The minié ball, a lead-based projectile, caused significant wounds, often leaving parts of the fabric and the bullet itself in the body of the wounded, causing infection. Like in every war, soldiers suffered from cholera, dysentery, and gangrene.[2] However, the emergence of the telegraph and popularity of newspapers allowed the first war correspondent, William Howard Russell, to report on the dismal state of the field hospitals, forcing a change in thinking among both medical professionals and the public.

The British military hospital at Scutari, on the outskirts of Istanbul, was filthy, damp, and infested. Worse, the Inspector General of Hospitals, John Hall, urged his officers against chloroform, writing: “the smart knife is a powerful stimulant; and it is better to hear a man bawl lustily, than to see him sink silently into the grave.”[3] With the French sending a group of fifty charity sisters, the British asked Florence Nightingale, a former director of a sanatorium in London, to recruit a group of British nurses for Crimea. She arrived with twenty-four women in November 1854 and immediately requested “a thousand mops, fifty quart bottles of disinfectant, three thousand tin plates and thousand yards of toweling.”[4] By the end of the war, her work reduced the number of British deaths from sickness. Whereas the French lost 21,191 soldiers to disease, the British only lost 606. The British had made significant advances in the treatment of wounded soldiers; however, these lessons were soon lost to contemporaries. As a result, the majority of Civil War soldiers still suffered horrendously from wounds sustained.

Crimean War: Florence Nightingale and her staff nursing a patient in the military hospital at Scutari. Coloured lithograph, c. 1855, by T. Packer after himself. Courtesy of The Wellcome Library.

Nightingale laid the foundation for the modern nursing profession in both Europe and the United States. She wanted her nurses to be “sober, honest, truthful, trustworthy, punctual, quiet and orderly, cleanly and neat.” She reserved the profession for respectable women. She had no time for “excellent gentlewomen more fit for Heaven than a hospital.” She called for a dramatic revision of the medical service within the army.[5] However, her lessons and work, just like that of the soldiers in the trenches of Sevastopol, were quickly forgotten by contemporary military officials and politicians.

If the Crimean War tried to alter the medical world pre-American Civil War, so did the Wars of Italian Unification (the Second War of Independence in 1859 and Third War of Independence in 1866). Just like the events in Fredericksburg, Vicksburg, or Cold Harbor, many wounded soldiers in Italy remained untreated on the battlefield for days after the fighting ceased. During the Battle of Solferino, Franco-Italian forces assaulted the Austrian army. A bloodletting ensued and many soldiers remained on the field for hours, at times days. On June 27, having tried his best to help, Genevan businessman Henri Jean Dunant departed the region in disgust.

Dunant recollected, “The stillness of the night was broken by groans, by stifled sighs of anguish and suffering . . . Heart-rending voices kept calling for help. Who could ever describe the agonies of that fearful night.” The medical services were incompetent; the French army only had one doctor for every one thousand soldiers and no medical equipment. Dunant observed, “The poor wounded men . . . were ghostly pale and exhausted. Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupefied look. . . . Others were anxious and excited by nervous strain and shaken by spasmodic trembling. Some, who had gaping wounds already beginning to show infection, were almost crazed with suffering. They begged to be put out of their misery; and writhed with faces distorted in the grip of the grip of the death struggle. . . . Many were disfigured . . . their limbs stiffened, their bodies blotched with ghastly spots, their hands clawing at the ground, their eyes starting wildly, their moustaches bristling.”[6]

In October 1862, Dunant’s Memory of Solferino was published and Guillaume-Henri Dufour, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and commanding general of the Swiss Confederation forces in the recent Sonderbundskrieg (a civil war that tore the Swiss Confederation apart for a month in 1847) reached out to Dufour to humanize the face of war for wounded soldiers. Dunant, Dufour, and a few others decided to take their idea for an international relief organization to the International Charity Congress in Berlin in October 1863. To lend weight to their project, they established the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. Questions immediately arose about military doctors in uniforms being indistinguishable from fighting men and thus unprotected from enemy bullets or the treatment of wounded regardless of affiliation. In Berlin, Dunant invited interested parties for another meeting in Geneva.[7]

On October 23, 1863, representatives of sixteen countries were in Geneva. For four days, the delegations debated a list of ten articles which called for the creation of committees in the individual countries, advice to army medical services, preparation to enlist volunteer medical personnel on the battlefields (wearing armbands with a red cross distinguishing them as noncombatants), and the coordination of committees by the central body in Geneva. Out of this conference was born the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC. While these notions and opportunities did not reach the Civil War in time, the ICRC immediately found an opportunity to test their new accomplishments during the Dano-German War of 1864. Unfortunately, many on the ICRC’s accomplishments were neither new nor productive, leaving Nightingale worried that the ICRC would negate many of the changes in medical treatment and care she had pushed for during the past decade.[8]

The Dano-German War was almost over when on August 8, 1864, sixteen nations assembled in Geneva to ensure that hospitals, field stations, and medical personnel were considered neutral. There was disagreement regarding whether nurses were included in this neutrality. The United States had two unofficial representatives from the U.S. Sanitary Commission present, who faced much ignorance about their work and the advances in medicine during the Civil War. On August 22, 1864, those present, except for the United States and Great Britain, the two countries with the most experience in military medicine, signed the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, which institutionalized many of the already agreed upon stipulations. The conference also adopted the inversed Swiss flag as its symbol, which meant the organization was increasingly called the Red Cross.[9]

Picture of the signing of the First Geneva Convention by Charles Édouard Armand-Dumaresq. Reproduced in Henry Dunant, A Memory of Solferino (Geneva, Switzerland: ICRC, 2011), 98-99.

Charles Bowles, the representative of the U.S. Sanitary Commission to the conference, wrote, “The result of the Congress is a treaty which, althou’ less than perfect, is far more than was really to have been expected. . . . Its grand test, future practicability, remains to be applied. To reconcile humanity with the exigencies of war, or inhumanity under another name, is a task of almost insurmountable difficulty. Its influence will be felt, and the justice of its principles acknowledged, and those who violate it will at least be morally accountable . . . It will be marked by the future historian as a forward step in the civilization of the nineteenth century.”[10]

Only after the Civil War did the Red Cross get an opportunity to test its operation and principles in wartime, during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. The one major battle at Königgrätz caused 30,000 Austrian casualties, versus 10,000 Prussian casualties. Prussia was entirely responsible for the care of all the wounded. Prussian stretcher-bearers wore the Red Cross as they carried wounded off the field. Chloroform was used during operations. The railroads carried the wounded back to hospitals in Prussia with local committees along the railroad providing the wounded on the trains with refreshments. In contrast, Austria was unprepared; five days after the battle Prussian volunteers found a primitive field hospital with 300 badly wounded and barely alive soldiers. There were 800 men already dead for lack of treatment.[11]

The many wars of the mid-nineteenth century dramatically highlighted the suffering among wounded soldiers on the battlefield. As a result, states and private individuals sought to improve the fate of the wounded. The Atlantic was more barrier then highway of information during the Civil War era. In the end, the emergence of nursing, the professionalization of medicine, and the creation of the Red Cross dramatically improved the suffering of soldiers wounded during battle. The battles of the mid-nineteenth century, including the American Civil War, forced this rethinking, but many of these advances came too late for over half a million U.S. residents killed by insufficient medical care in the war.


[1] Shauna Devine, Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014)

[2] Frank R. Freemon, Gangrene and Glory: Medical Care During the American Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 48-49

[3] Caroline Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross (London: HarperCollins, 1998), 30-32.

[4] Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert, December 21, 1854, in Florence Nightingale: Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, ed. Lynn McDonald (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010): 14:85-86.

[5] Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 32.

[6] Henry Dunant, A Memory of Solferino (Geneva, Switzerland: ICRC, 2011), 41, 44.

[7] Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 13-19.

[8] Ibid., 20-21, 30.

[9] Ibid., 43-45.

[10] Charles S. P. Bowles, Report of Charles S. P. Bowles: Foreign Agent of the United States Sanitary Commission, Upon the International Congress of Geneva, for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Sick and Wounded Soldiers of Armies in the Field, Convened at Geneva, 8th August, 1864 (London, UK: R. Clay and Taylor, 1969), 15.

[11] Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream, 53-55.

Niels Eichhorn

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

“Better men were never better led”: October 1864 and the Crisis in the Union Armies at Petersburg

“Better men were never better led”: October 1864 and the Crisis in the Union Armies at Petersburg

In early October 1864, Gen. U. S. Grant planned a trip to Washington. He believed that 30,000 to 40,000 troops were gathered in “depots all over the North” and wanted to “see if I cannot devise means of getting [them] promptly into the field.” Although he canceled the trip, his concern was well placed.[1]

The Army of the Potomac had begun the summer of 1864 with more than 100,000 men, but the massive casualties incurred during the Overland Campaign, along with the redeployment of some units, had left it with about 50,000 effectives at the end of the summer. Replacements did appear throughout the fall, but the Army of the Potomac was a very different organization than it had been three months earlier, and Union generals were almost as worried about the preparedness of their men as they were about the Confederates they faced across the wrecked Virginia landscape.

A lot was being asked of these men. Soldiers were constantly adjusting their lines, improving old earthworks, and destroying or modifying captured enemy works. Moreover, the wood and dirt fortifications, hard-used by the men, subject to heat and rain, and fouled by decomposing bodies and human waste, constantly had to be rebuilt. Others dug mines and countermines, while still others created primitive minefields by planting “torpedoes.” These major construction projects occurred during nearly constant skirmishing, scouting, and artillery duels. By early fall, insects, rats, lice, dirt (and, when it rained, bottomless mud) further plagued the men who were digging, fighting, and dying in the Union trenches.[2]

Fort Sedgwick near Petersburg. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Throughout the fall campaign, Grant and his generals fretted about the readiness of new recruits, frequently reorganized units, and, on occasion, delayed operations until a time when more battle-ready men were available. Gen. Winfield Hancock worried that his men, particularly replacements, were being asked to work too hard; “there are a good many recruits in the command whom we are trying to drill, and I have not allowed them to be worked within the last few days on that account.”[3] In early October, Gen. G. K. Warren, a famous worrier, warned that “We need time to get our new levies in order, and no matter how great the pressure, we cannot succeed with them till they have at least acquired the . . .rudiments of their drill and discipline.”[4] Gen. Nelson Miles complained that some of his regiments “are mainly composed of substitutes who have recently joined, and the frequency of desertions among this class of men renders it necessary that they be placed in positions where they can easily be watched and guarded.” In fact, Nelson wanted his new soldiers to be moved out of the trenches so they could be better trained and disciplined.[5]

At the other end of the Union position, north of the James River, Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James was also going through growing pains. Butler complained of a group of about 300 “unorganized recruits” intended as replacements for a New York regiment. They seemed to have been sent by the War Department without orders or leaders; “the captains that have been commissioned have deserted them and cannot be found.” The men had elected their own officers, but had become “a mob.” Butler wanted them sent to their intended regiment so they could be integrated into “good companies.” “Otherwise, they are worse than useless for months.” This was apparently not the only time a group of reinforcements had appeared without clear directions. “We have suffered so much from these new organizations rendering men useless that I trust that where there is no organization we shall not wait for a mob to make one.”[6]

These desperate messages remind us that, despite our hindsight-influenced sense that the Confederacy was on its last legs by October 1864, that was not necessarily how Union commanders saw it. They doubted the capacity of their men to withstand the rigors of this new—to them—form of warfare, and seemed to be worrying that the effectiveness of the army had hit a tipping point. They had to make Grant and the War Department aware, through more negative than usual rhetoric describing their men, that winning the war required further investment in men and training.

But a decidedly different rhetorical style reflected another of the war’s imperatives. Butler bragged that at Chaffin’s Farm his 2500 black soldiers had “carried intrenchments at the point of the bayonet” that had previously stymied twice the number of white troops. “Treated fairly and disciplined, they have fought most heroically.” The same day he declared that he could break the Bermuda line between the Appomattox and the James Rivers “with 3,000 negroes” and asked for more black regiments.[7]

This flag, “One Cause, Once Country,” was the regimental flag of the 45th USCT, several companies of which fought with Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James at Petersburg. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Butler’s message to the “Soldiers of the Army of the James” on October 11 featured fulsome praise for the officers and men of every unit in his army, including the Third Divisions of the Eighteenth and Tenth Corps, both of which were comprised of black troops. “Better men were never better led, better officers never led better men,” Butler declared. In addition to congratulating dozens of white officers, he spent several paragraphs noting the heroics of black soldiers, from the private who bayonetted a Rebel officer trying to rally his men to the sergeant who led his company into the enemy’s works after their captain was killed. Several black soldiers were noted for their gallant action to take over for disabled color bearers, despite being wounded themselves. By the time Butler wrote his message, at least four of the companies in the Sixth U. S. Colored Troops were led by black sergeants after their officers had been killed or wounded, and several companies in other regiments also went into battle behind black sergeants. Butler ordered a “special medal” created in their honor.[8]

Butler was a famous self-promoter, and he drew glory from the excellent performance of black units that many commanders were reluctant to command. But he also knew that, even as the fighting qualities of white soldiers seemed to be on the decline, the black troops fighting for the freedom of their race needed to be seen as effective, showing high morale and leadership possibilities.

The war was, in fact, entering its final phase in the fall of 1864—but the generals could not be sure of that. As a result, they shaped their messages to illustrate the immediate needs of the army, arguing that the army’s poor condition required urgent measures and implying that victory could still slip away. But a few also highlighted the contributions of the black soldiers, hoping that the aftermath of the war for African Americans could be shaped by public recognition of their loyalty and courage.



[1] Grant to Gen. George G. Meade, October 3, 1864, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 51. Hereafter call the OR.

[2] Earl J. Hess details the growth of the entrenchments around Petersburg, and the lives of the men who built them, in In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), esp. 50-77.

[3] Hancock to Meade, October 15, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 238.

[4] Warren to Meade, October 1, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 20.

[5] Miles to Maj. H. H. Bingham, Acting Assistant Adjutant General, Second Corps, October 11, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 160.

[6] Butler to Grant, October 12, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 184.

[7] Butler to Stanton, October 3, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 65.; Butler to Grant, October 3, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 65.

[8] Gen. Benjamin Butler, “Soldiers of the Army of the James,” October 11, 1864, OR, Ser. 1, Vol. 42, Pt. 3, 161, 163, 167-170.


James Marten

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

The Other Lawrence Massacre: Sectional Politics and the 1860 Pemberton Mill Disaster

The Other Lawrence Massacre: Sectional Politics and the 1860 Pemberton Mill Disaster

Political polarization often magnifies the public significance of a tragedy. As Americans prepared for a bitterly contested presidential election in early 1860, a gruesome industrial accident in Lawrence, Massachusetts, reignited conflict between champions and critics of wage labor. Unlike the violent episodes of 1856 and 1863 in Lawrence, Kansas, the Pemberton Mill Disaster seemed distant from issues of sectionalism and slavery, but it quickly became a political Rorschach test: some viewed the calamity as evidence of the need for repentance or reform, while others regarded the smoking ruins as proof of the superiority of slavery.

Pemberton Mill, built in 1853 by John A. Lowell and J. Pickering Putnam, was one of Lawrence’s newest and largest textile mills. Lowell and Putnam sold out during the Panic of 1857, but prosperity returned under new owners George Howe and David Nevins, and New England textile output reached record levels in 1859. By 1860, the mill’s 650 looms devoured 30 tons of cotton each week and employed nearly 1000 people; most were women and girls, and many were Irish immigrants.[1]

“Ruins of the Pemberton Mills, at Lawrence, Massachusetts, the Morning after the Fall,” Harper’s Weekly 4, no. 160 (January 21, 1860), 33. Several images of the smoking ruins of the Pemberton Mills circulated widely in the American and European press, including this image which made the cover of Harper’s Weekly.

Late in the afternoon of January 10, 1860 – a cold, snowy Tuesday – around 600 workers were toiling in the mill’s six-story main building when the south wall collapsed and pulled the entire structure down with it. Onlookers rushed to free hundreds of people entombed in a mountain of brick, iron, wood, and machinery, but progress was slow. Around 9:30pm, a lamp overturned and ignited an inferno fueled by raw cotton and leaking oil.[2] The “whole mass of ruins has become one sheet of flame!” reported a journalist. “The screams and moans of the poor, buried, burning, and suffocating creatures can be distinctly heard, but no power on earth can save them.”[3] Trapped, a foreman tried to slit his throat rather than be burned alive. A girl caught in a machine ripped off two fingers to make a desperate escape.[4] Between 90 and 150 people died and scores more were seriously injured; among the dead was fourteen-year-old Margaret Hamilton, who arrived that morning for her first day of work.[5]

Inevitably, observers drew conflicting lessons from the horror. Ministers deemed it an act of divine judgment and a reminder to repent.[6] Soon, however, an inquest blamed human negligence, not heavenly wrath, for the suffering. Its report attributed the collapse to faulty iron supports, shoddy masonry, and excessive loads of machinery (recently added to maximize output) and named four engineers and architects as being especially responsible for the ghastly blunder, although none received any punishment.[7] The report absolved the mill’s past and present owners of culpability, but other observers accused them of sacrificing workers on the altar of profit. The New York Herald blamed what it called the “Lawrence Massacre” on cost-cutting capitalists who had killed and maimed over five hundred “white slaves of the North” by skimping on construction.[8] Long after 1860, critics ranging from pioneering feminist author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps to the Knights of Labor cited Pemberton Mill to illustrate capital’s inhumanity to labor.[9]

“The Building of the Pemberton Mills,” Vanity Fair 1, no. 4 (January 21, 1860), 56. Northern periodicals, like the New York-based Vanity Fair, blamed the Pemberton Mills disaster on business owners and contractors who settled for substandard building construction.

Responses took a peculiar twist in the South, where analysis of the tragedy became entwined with proslavery ideology. In the 1840s and 1850s, a vocal squad of southern theorists began to defend slavery as the best possible relationship between employers and workers of any race. They carefully avoided alienating nonslaveholding southern whites, but the abstract defense of slavery did percolate into popular publications.[10] Outraged by John Brown’s recent raid on Harpers Ferry and steeling themselves for a Republican victory in the looming presidential election, proslavery journalists pounced on the Pemberton Mill catastrophe to make provocative comparisons between wage labor’s brutality and slavery’s benevolence.

Some southern editors echoed northern criticisms of the wage-labor system they blamed for the catastrophe. The Richmond Daily Dispatch, for instance, applauded the New York Herald’s denunciation of Boston elites who excoriated slavery while sending northern millhands to be slaughtered on the factory floor. Tellingly, however, the Dispatch added its own overtly proslavery gloss to a passage attributed to the Herald but actually written by the Richmond editor, who savored the bitter irony that “the white slaves of Lawrence were massacred” while toiling to enrich “fine old Boston gentlemen” who had armed antislavery activists in Kansas and supported John Brown. Even as the “white slaves at Lawrence are mourning over their kith and kin slain by their philanthropic masters,” gloated the Dispatch, “the black chattels of the South are making merry with their holiday festivities.” The Virginian closed with a loaded question: whose lot – “that of the cotton picker in Georgia, or the cotton weaver in Massachusetts” – was “the preferable one?”[11] A New Orleans editor the same Herald article and opined that in the “strife between labor and capital in Massachusetts, labor has to endure what a Southern slave is never made acquainted with.”[12] The southern press transmuted the Herald’s bitter rebuke into an explicitly proslavery comparison between the northern and southern labor systems.

Even without northern inspiration, southern journalists wove proslavery arguments into coverage of the calamity. Three days after the disaster, a New Orleans editor carped that if it had occurred in the South, New England writers would have blamed it on slavery. In fact, he insisted, no “Southern master” was capable of the “fiendish cruelty” of northern capitalists who exposed operatives “of their own color and race” to dangerous working conditions.[13] From North Carolina came a similar argument couched in ostensibly innocuous terms. “Far be it from us to contrast slave labor with white labor in any offensive sense,” wrote a Raleigh editor. “But we must say that, as a general rule, there is more care manifested for the comfort and safety of black laborers in the South than is shown for white laborers in the North.” The latter had no masters to “bind up the broken limbs,” “provide for the poor cripples,” or care for them in old age.[14]

To be sure, none of these southern journalists openly endorsed the enslavement of white laborers. Their tone and timing anticipated the “whataboutism” rampant in modern American politics. But by weaving proslavery doctrines into their critiques of the society which produced the Pemberton Mill tragedy, southern editors escalated sectional strife as American voters anticipated a uniquely momentous election. Among those who visited Lawrence after the disaster was Abraham Lincoln, who passed through the somber town just days after giving the speech at New York’s Cooper Union which catapulted him toward the Republican nomination.[15] The Pemberton Mill disaster cast a long shadow over the climactic moments of antebellum politics.


[1] Alvin F. Oickle, Disaster in Lawrence: The Fall of the Pemberton Mill (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008), chapter 1.

[2] Ibid., chapters 2-3.

[3] Quoted in An Authentic History of the Lawrence Calamity (Boston: John J. Dyer & Co., 1860), 9.

[4] Authentic History, 15, 20.

[5] Oickle, Disaster in Lawrence, 38.

[6] Authentic History, 38-46.

[7] Oickle, Disaster in Lawrence, 91-109.

[8] “The Lawrence Massacre Again,” New York Herald, January 16, 1860.

[9] Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, “The Tenth of January,” Atlantic Monthly 21, no. 125 (March 1868): 346-362; George E. McNeill, ed., The Labor Movement (Boston: A.M. Bridgman & Co., 1887), 122-123

[10] Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders’ New World Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[11] ”The Lawrence Calamity,” (Richmond) Daily Dispatch, January 18, 1860.

[12] “Wholesale Slaughter of Northern Operatives,” New Orleans Daily Crescent, January 23, 1860.

[13] “Southern Slaves – Northern Operatives,” New Orleans Daily Crescent, January 13, 1860.

[14] “The Calamity at Lawrence,” (Raleigh, NC) Semi-Weekly Standard, January 18, 1860.

[15] Harold Holzer, Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 185-186, 190.

Michael E. Woods

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

Congressman Charles Hays and the Civil Rights Act of 1875

Congressman Charles Hays and the Civil Rights Act of 1875

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution dramatically transformed American society during the Reconstruction era. The amendments abolished slavery, established the concepts of birthright citizenship and equal protection of the laws, and granted all men the right to vote, regardless of color. For most members of the Republican Party, enforcing legal and political equality extended the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all races. These Reconstruction Amendments provided a tangible answer to the question of freedpeople’s status in American society following emancipation. Many moderates and conservatives in both parties, however, made a distinction between legal and political equality—which enabled men of all backgrounds the chance to participate in republican governance on an equal basis—and “social equality,” a shorthand term to describe the debate over racial integration in everyday life. These political leaders earnestly warned against any legislation covering the latter. They warned that such legislation would promote government overreach and the forced integration of black and white Americans in social situations.[1]

Not all Republicans felt this way about “social equality,” especially its black membership. The debate first emerged after Radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner introduced a bill on May 13, 1870, that would have outlawed racial discrimination in public transportation, facilities, schools, cemeteries, and in jury selection. The bill created a firestorm. As one Democratic newspaper in McConnelsville, Ohio, complained, Sumner’s legislation meant that “every man, woman and child, of the Anglo-Saxon or Caucasian race, going forth into public, must expect to encounter at every turn the man of African descent.” Anyone who understood “the superiority of the white over the black race” had a duty to fight “social equality with an inferior race.”[2] Sumner and his radical counterparts unsuccessfully lobbied another four years to get enough votes to pass a Civil Rights bill. During these debates, however, one unlikely ally emerged when Congressman Charles Hays of Alabama passionately spoke in favor of Sumner’s legislation. Hays’s eloquent speech to the House of Representatives on January 31, 1874, outraged the white South and troubled conservatives throughout the country, but his powerful challenge to bigotry and white supremacy in American society continues to resonate today.

Alabama Congressman Charles Hays. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hays was born in 1834 to a prosperous family in the black belt region of Greene County, Alabama. After his father died at a young age, Hays built upon his inheritance and expanded his investments in both land and slaves. By 1860—still at the tender age of 26—Hays owned more than two thousand acres of prime cotton-growing land, almost one hundred enslaved African Americans, and an estate valued at more than $112,000. He was a reluctant secessionist when Alabama first declared itself out of the Union, but after the firing at Fort Sumter he joined the Confederacy and eventually attained the rank of major.[3]

After the war Hays successfully sought a pardon from President Andrew Johnson and took a pragmatic approach to politics. More interested in a quick end to federal oversight of Reconstruction than rehashing the results of the Civil War, he joined the Republican Party. According to biographer William Warren Rogers, Jr., he soon became a prominent member of the Union League in Greene County. Hays was then elected to Congress in 1869 with strong support from black and white party members in Alabama’s 4th Congressional district.[4]

While Hays initially favored a speedy return to civilian rule in Alabama, the acts of political terrorism being committed by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan in the aftermath of the Civil War horrified him. He gradually moved towards the radical wing of the party. Hays supported enforcement legislation to punish the KKK and came to believe that Sumner’s push for racial integration in social situations was justified.[5] Although a terrible economic depression raged through the country in 1874 and dominated both newspaper headlines and Congressional debate, Hays nevertheless believed that the time was right to push the civil rights issue forward.

As Hays began his remarks to the House, he lamented that “passion and prejudice have ruled the hour” in the South. “I shall receive the censure of those who sit and worship in the temples of a dead past,” but it was his sacred duty to promote “liberty and freedom” for his black constituents in Alabama and elsewhere. Citing his former experience as a slaveholder, Hays stated that he knew African Americans were hard workers who were oppressed not because of their natural inferiority—which was a lie—but because of the “storms of hate” heaped upon them by white racists. “Newspapers, politicians, demagogues, and inciters of sectional hate” were promoting a false portrait of what a civil rights bill would bring to American society, according to Hays. In his view the purpose of such a bill “[did] not force anything” on white society other than “the right of the colored man to be the equal of the white man.”[6]

Hays then attacked the notion that black and white Americans could not associate together or enjoy the same rights and privileges. He noted that “thousands of the most intelligent men of the South” who now opposed the civil rights bill “were born and raised upon the old plantations. Childhood’s earlier days were passed listening to the lullaby song of the negro nurse, and budding manhood found them surrounded by slave association.” In other words, blacks and whites had intermingled and even lived together in the days of slavery without any fearful talk of “social equality.” What had changed? “Now that they are free and receiving the enlightenment of education,” the freedpeople were seen as a threat to the social order of white supremacy and “not entitled to the protection of society,” according to critics of the bill.[7]

“These Few Precepts in Thy Memory,” a political cartoon about the Civil Rights Act of 1875 by artist Thomas Nast, 1875. Photo courtesy of Princeton University.

Unlike many of his white contemporaries, Hays acknowledged that the South—indeed, even his own remarkable fortune—had been built on the backs of the enslaved. They had “molded our fortunes, built our railroads, erected our palatial mansions, and toiled for our bread” without compensation. Similar to other Lost Cause proponents at the time, Hays celebrated the “faithful slaves” (including his own) who stayed on plantations and refused to run away during the Civil War. But he again differed from prevailing notions by expressing his sincere “debt of gratitude to them” and stressing the importance of righting a historic wrong. In supporting civil rights, Hays pledged to do his part to “pay the debt” that had been incurred through generations of unrequited toil for the benefit of himself and his ancestors. He concluded his speech by pointing out that the white south’s continued resistance to federal authority was largely responsible for the creation of more civil rights legislation. They “would not listen to reason . . . [had] rushed blindly on in the wonted paths of prejudice and hate,” and failed to understand that “the past is gone, and the present is upon us.” Meeting the needs of the present ultimately meant granting “to our colored fellow-citizens every right that belongs to a freeman, and every privilege that is guaranteed them by the Constitution.”[8]

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by Congress and signed by President Ulysses S. Grant following the death of Charles Sumner. It would be the last civil rights law passed by Congress until 1957. The law was poorly enforced and widely criticized, however, and in 1883 the Supreme Court declared in the Civil Rights Cases that the law was unconstitutional. The court held that the federal government only had the authority to ban acts of discrimination by state and local governments, not private individuals and business owners.[9] Nevertheless, the legacy of Charles Hays’s words would endure and his arguments were utilized in future fights for civil rights in America.


[1] Allen Guelzo, Reconstruction: A Concise History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 88-89.

[2] “The Negro in Congress,” The Conservative, June 3, 1870; U.S. House of Representatives, “Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood – Legislative Interests,” U.S. House of Representatives, 2018, accessed August 2, 2018,

[3] William Warren Rogers, Jr., Black Belt Scalawag: Charles Hays and the Southern Republicans in the Era of Reconstruction (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1993), 1-13.

[4] Rogers, 14-44.

[5] Rogers, 62-64.

[6] 43 Cong. Rec. 1096 (1874).

[7] 43 Cong. Rec. 1096 (1874).

[8] 43 Cong. Rec. 1096-1097 (1874).

[9] The provision banning racial discrimination in public education was removed from the final version of the bill. For the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Civil Rights Act of 1875, see Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883). The full text of the decision can be seen at Harvard University, “Civil Rights Cases (1883),” 2018, accessed August 3, 2018.

Nick Sacco

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

Comparing Home Rule in Hungary and the U.S. South

Comparing Home Rule in Hungary and the U.S. South

Home rule, defined as the gaining of political autonomy, is usually associated with the struggle for autonomy in Ireland. Twice defeated, the Irish Republic claimed its independence before home rule took effect.[1] While the British debated home rule in 1886 and 1893, the U.S. South was working toward its own version of what may be seen as home rule. Removing the final vestiges of Reconstruction, former slave states had assumed internal control over social, political, and racial matters by 1900, with the Supreme Court’s affirmation of separate but equal in Plessy v. Ferguson, and the virtual elimination of African American voting in the South thanks to poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.

Where a comparison between Ireland and the U.S. South may seem fruitful, I want to instead suggest Hungary as an intriguing comparison of home rule’s implementation. In both countries, racial or ethnic groups assumed control by embracing racially or ethnically exclusionary policies. A comparison of these home rule experiences will help historians gain a better understanding of some of the racial and political problems associated with the failures of post civil war reconciliation.

Like the separatism of the southern states, Hungary had resented Austrian/Habsburg rule and had rebelled in 1848.[2] Their failure to gain their independence had placed Hungary at the mercy of the Austrians. However, Austria’s fortune declined as a result of diplomatic faux pas during the Crimean War and military setbacks against the Italian-French alliance in 1859, and again with the Prussian-Italian alliance of 1866. Nevertheless, like the former Confederate states during Congressional Reconstruction, Austria still ruled Hungary directly during the early 1860s, removing much political autonomy.[3]

Realizing the unsustainability of such direct governments, in 1864, the Austrian legislature (the Reichsrat) determined an accommodation with the Magyar (a Hungarian ethnic group) was in order, which would require major concession to the Hungarians.[4] This was a situation similar to the southern states, where the end of Reconstruction meant the slow abandonment of African Americans and the restoration of political power to white elites.

Ödön Tull’s Coronation of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth as King and Queen of Hungary on June 8, 1867. Courtesy of

Similar to the political compromise of 1877 in the United States, on July 18, 1866, Emperor Franz Josef invited the prominent Hungarian politician Ferenc Deák to Vienna to search for a compromise solution. The negotiations were successful and on February 17, 1867, the Hungarian parliament received permission to restore the historic Constitution of 1848, with some modifications. Hungary now had its own ministry, responsible to the Hungarian parliament.[5]

This compromise measure, called the Ausgleich, meant that henceforth Franz Josef ruled over Austria-Hungary: two states, two crowns, united in his person. Hungary contributed to the joint army and budget, but was independent in its domestic affairs. The Ausgleich was effectively an agreement between two “equal semi-sovereign states.”[6] The Austrian state had undergone dramatic constitutional revisions, similar to the United States as a result of the Reconstruction amendments and the reenvisioning of its constitutional relationship.[7]

In contrast to the U.S. South where home rule went hand in hand with the disenfranchisement of African Americans and Jim Crow segregation, Hungarians first instituted home rule and then used that newfound power to implement ethnically exclusionary policies. Hungary embarked on a policy of Magyarization by preventing non-Magyar minorities from accessing politic power. Hungary’s voting population, divided into fifty different categories and electoral districts, were gerrymandered to benefit the ruling Magyar class, very similar to the modern electoral maps of the United States. Even though less than half of Hungary’s population was Magyar, they occupied 90 percent of the parliamentary seats.[8] Gerrymandering districts to benefit ethnic or racial groups, and creating ethnic or racial categories to disenfranchise people, are tactics that were employed (and still are employed) with similar effect in the states of the former Confederacy.

However, ethnic or racial oppression did not end with disenfranchisement. The United States embraced an extensive system of racial oppression, and by the time of the Great War, Hungary had gained the reputation of being the Völkerkerker (dungeon of people) of Europe. Just like white Southerners, Magyar were under the assumption they were a “master race” superior to the backward “Slavic” people, who were mostly peasants.[9] However, there was a difference. Hungary created an environment in which people could shed their ethnic identity and take on the Magyar identity to become a full part of society. In contrast, most African Americans could not change their racial status to white. However, the principle of exclusion based on superiority racial superiority was the same.

At the same time that Jim Crow laws took effect and Southern states worked on gaining home rule,[10] the Hungarian home rule government forcefully implemented Magyarization. By 1880, Magyar instruction was compulsory. Telegraph and postal service exclusively operated using the Magyar language. The Magyar elite suppressed “any political or social movement which challenged the hegemonic position of the Magyar ruling classes.”[11] The main difference to the U.S. South was that Magyarization followed the granting of home rule rather than being part of the assumption of power.

Another point of comparison is commemorative. By the 1890s, irreconcilable Kossuthists had emerged and demanded once more the independence of Hungary.[12] The Ausgleich had been an unacceptable outcome for the old revolutionary leaders. Lajos Kossuth remained committed to independence and had not acknowledged the legitimacy of this compromise government. Just as Confederate veterans and emblems offered a rallying point for segregationists in the 1960s, Kossuth offered a symbol for those opposed to the legitimate government of Hungary and Austria.[13] Kossuth had not accepted Franz Josef as emperor, just like some Southerners never accepted defeat in the Civil War.

Funeral procession for Lajos Kossuth in Budapest, April 1, 1894, reprinted in Zeffiro Ciuffoletti, Das Reich der Habsburger 1848-1918 – Photographien aus der österreichisch-ungarischen Monarchie (Vienna, Austria: Verlag Christian Brandstätter, 2001).

Somewhat comparable to the twenty-thousand residents who wished farewell to Jefferson Davis in New Orleans five years earlier, when Kossuth died hundreds of thousands participated in funeral parades around the country, among them veterans of the 1848 struggle with their ragged battle flags.[14] Politician Julius Justh gave a powerful eulogy for Kossuth, saying “In Louis Kossuth, we mourn one of the greatest, most honorable, and most selfless figures of history. He is not only our dead, but the dead of humanity . . . for the services of Kossuth were larger, worldwide in significance, immortal.”[15] Southerners could hardly have stated the importance of their cause and leaders any better. Just like Confederate veterans who accomplished more off the battlefield and in death, so too did Kossuth achieve more in death as a symbol of resistance than he every did alive.

When the United States disintegrated into separatist rebellion, the country faced a deadly struggle that did not end in 1865. As white southerners reasserted their political, social, and economic influence, they removed protections and benefits from the African American community to create a white supremacist environment, culminating with statues to Confederates, Jim Crow segregation, and the exclusion of African Americans from the polls. By 1900, the U.S. South had gained home rule. Like the U.S. South, Hungary experienced a separatist rebellion in 1848. By 1867, Hungary gained home rule in the Ausgleich. Just like the racism permeating the Southern states, so too did the Hungarians embrace a conviction of racial superiority that lead to a vigorous Magyarization campaign. While oppression and home rule in the United States lasted until the 1960s, and arguably are still ongoing, the Great War changed everything for Hungary, though it did not end its xenophobic, supremacist attitude. A comparison of these two home rule situations illustrates the failures of post-Civil War reconciliation within the transatlantic state system.


[1] Alan O’Day, Irish Home Rule, 1867-1921 (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1998).

[2] See István Deák, The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 1848-1849 (London: Phoenix Press, 2001).

[3] For more, see Gregory P. Downs, Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

[4] Robert Bideleux and Ian Jeffries, A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change (London: Routledge, 1998), 338.

[5] Arthur J. May, The Habsburg Monarchy: 1867-1914 (1951; New York: Norton Library, 1968), 34-35.

[6] Edward Crankshaw, The Fall of the House of Habsburg (1963; New York: Penguin, 1983), 239-240, 294.

[7] See recent Muster posts on the Fourteenth Amendment by Christopher Bonner, Andrew Diemer, Hilary Green, Aaron Astor, and Martha S. Jones; all links appear in the introduction, Martha S. Jones, “A Muster Roundtable on the Fourteenth Amendment,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, July 9, 2018,

[8] Bideleux and Jeffries, History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change (New York: Routledge, 1998), 364-365; May, 42-43.

[9] Crankshaw, 298.

[10] See Stephanie Cole and Natalie J. Ring, eds., The Folly of Jim Crow: Rethinking the Segregated South (Arlington: University of Texas, 2012).

[11] Bideleux and Jeffries, 363, 367; May, 261-262, 374.

[12] May, 267.

[13] John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006).

[14] Donald E. Collins, The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).

[15] May, 346-347.

Niels Eichhorn

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

Long Haired Sixties Radicals

Long Haired Sixties Radicals

Louisa was fifteen when the revolution began, and her enthusiasm was undimmed when she wrote her memoirs sixty years later. She recalled the spectacle: houses illuminated with candles, bells ringing, tar barrels burning, flags waving. Most of all, she remembered the people. “I can never forget how those men used to look standing on some impromptu platform,” she wrote, “with the wild light of the bonfires on their faces, and their hair which men wore longer in those days, blown back from their faces by the wind, or the energy of their own movements.” Their vitality still thrilled her: “such light in their eyes! So much hope and so much courage.”[1]

These stirring scenes might evoke a campus protest in 1968, but they came from South Carolina in December 1860. Louisa McCord Smythe was the daughter of writer and lawyer David J. McCord and Louisa McCord, an accomplished author, fierce proslavery theorist, and ardent secessionist. Smythe’s recollection reminds us that secession was especially popular among younger southern whites.[2] It demonstrates that although secession was a defensive, reactionary move, it also inspired hope among those who saw the Confederacy as what historian Michael T. Bernath has termed a “moment of possibility” – an opportunity for change of all sorts, from improving women’s education to stemming the tide of democracy.[3]

“Edmund Rubbin [i.e., Edmund Ruffin].” Born in 1794, Edmund Ruffin was an early and vocal proponent of secession and fired one of the war’s first shots in April 1861. Although much older than many other long-haired secessionists, Ruffin’s hairstyle marked his identification with their cause. As the Confederacy collapsed around him in 1865, the luxuriantly-maned fire-eater committed suicide. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It also illuminates a largely neglected visual signature of secessionist politics, a hirsutal affirmation of everything Smythe’s neighbors were celebrating: long hair.

Trimmed, wavy hair was fashionable for white men in late antebellum America, so those with longer locks stood out.[4] Not all were fire-eating disunionists, of course, but during and after the 1860-1861 secession crisis, particularly in cities along the troubled Union-Confederate border, long hair marked the class, section, and ideology associated with secession. From Virginia to Arkansas, secessionists, many in their twenties and thirties, sent a political message just as powerful as that of a century later. In the 1960s, long hair signaled a provocative, bodily challenge to behavioral norms and political elites.[5] In the 1860s, secessionists’ long hair made a comparably defiant statement, albeit on behalf of preserving, not subverting, the South’s peculiar social and political hierarchies. Unionists and secessionists alike identified long-haired men as members of the “chivalry”: the notoriously radical and vehemently proslavery southern elite. The image became a stereotype familiar to reporters, law enforcement officers, and anyone seeking to clarify regional difference.

Northerners regularly associated long hair with southerners, especially those of elevated rank and extreme politics. In his autobiography, Bostonian Charles Francis Adams, Jr., recalled that Lucius Q.C. Lamar, a fierce secessionist congressman from Mississippi, “looked the Southern college professor – lank, tall, bearded, long-haired, and large-featured.”[6] A newspaper correspondent covering Abraham Lincoln’s March 1861 inauguration described the audience as a massive crowd of “old and young, of male and female,” with “but few Southerners, judging from the lack of long haired men in the crowd.”[7] A wartime passenger on an Ohio River steamboat looked askance at a “very Southern looking young man with long hair, and an extensive display of very suspicious looking jewelry,” who was denouncing Lincoln as a racial egalitarian.[8] To a Union prisoner of war, Confederates in Charleston were “long haired secession devils.”[9] Perhaps no one epitomized the secessionist image better than Roger A. Pryor, a Virginia politician and newspaper editor who traveled to South Carolina to press for an immediate attack on Fort Sumter in hopes that this would propel his own state out of the Union. Contemporaries regarded the long-haired and heavily armed Virginian as “the very embodiment of Southern chivalry.”[10]

Roger Atkinson Pryor, 1828-1919. A generation younger than Ruffin, Roger A. Pryor was an equally ardent secessionist who worked as a newspaper editor and diplomat before serving in Congress and later in the Confederate Army. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Authors used the long-haired secessionist image to spice their narratives or vent their anger, but for Unionists who risked imprisonment or execution to ferret out information along the dangerous border, identifying friends and foes was deadly serious. Albert D. Richardson, a New York Tribune correspondent who was later captured and then escaped from a Confederate prison camp, read Kentuckians’ loyalties in their appearance – including their hair. The “sinewy, long-limbed mountaineers” passing through Louisville were likely on their way from eastern Kentucky to Indiana to enlist in the Union army, while the “pale, long-haired young men” heading the other direction were obviously Confederate recruits.[11]

Hairstyles even offered vital clues to Allan Pinkerton, the famous detective who uncovered a plot to assassinate president-elect Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore en route to Washington in early 1861. Pinkerton recalled that Barnum’s Hotel was the “favorite resort” of Baltimore’s southern sympathizers, and he identified them by their hair. During the evenings, “the corridors and parlors would be thronged by the tall, lank forms of the long-haired gentlemen who represented the aristocracy of the slaveholding interests.”[12]

“The rebel chivalry as the fancy of ‘My Maryland’ painted them; as ‘My Maryland’ found them.” This cartoon was printed in the pro-Union magazine Harper’s Weekly in 1862. It mocks the ostensibly exaggerated pretensions of the secessionist “chivalry” and depicts two stereotyped images: the secessionist as flowing-haired cavalier and the secessionist as mangy ruffian. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Pinkerton believed that the plot’s mastermind was Cypriano Ferrandini, a Corsican barber who worked in the hotel basement. Allegedly, Ferrandini had proclaimed that the “hireling Lincoln shall never, never be President,” and declared his readiness to die “for the rights of the South and to crush out the abolitionist.” Pinkerton depicted Ferrandini as “a fitting representative of so desperate a cause,” complete with “black eyes flashing with excitement, his sallow face pale and colorless and his long hair brushed fiercely back from his low forehead.”[13] Ferrandini was never charged with a crime, but Lincoln passed through Baltimore under cover of night to evade his long-haired would-be assassins.

From flappers’ bobbed hair to the forced haircuts inflicted at Indian boarding schools, hairstyles are closely tied to our identities and our ideals. After the Civil War, secessionists’ hairstyles were largely forgotten, though they are echoed in the southern outlaw image which, like other recent long-haired figures, emerged in the 1960s.[14] Ironically, the style of the chivalry was reborn among the rural working class.

[1] “Louisa McCord Smyth Recollection,” South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

[2] Peter S. Carmichael, The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); William L. Barney, The Secessionist Impulse: Alabama and Mississippi in 1860 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974); Henry James Walker, “Henry Clayton and the Secession Movement in Alabama,” Southern Studies 4, no. 4 (Winter 1993): 341-360.

[3] Michael T. Bernath, “The Confederacy as a Moment of Possibility,” Journal of Southern History 79, no. 2 (May 2013): 299-338; John F. Kvach, De Bow’s Review: The Antebellum Vision of a New South (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013).

[4] Amy D. Scarborough, “Hairstyles and Head Wear, 1820-1859,” in José Blanco F., ed., Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe, 4 vols. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016), II, 151-152.

[5] David Farber, The Sixties: From Memory to History, new ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 274-276, 281-282; Gael Graham, “Flaunting the Freak Flag: Karr v. Schmidt and the Great Hair Debate in American High Schools, 1965-1975,” Journal of American History 91, no. 2 (September 2004): 522-543.

[6] Charles Francis Adams, Charles Francis Adams, 1835-1915: An Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 47.

[7] “Inauguration Ceremonies of the President Elect,” Cadiz (OH) Democratic Sentinel, March 13, 1861.

[8] Silas, “From ‘Down the River,’” Evansville (IN) Journal, December 24, 1862.

[9] Charles D. Duncan to Dear Father and Mother, March 31, 1865, in John E. Duncan, “The Correspondence of a Yankee Prisoner in Charleston,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 75, no. 4 (October 1974), 220.

[10] “Glorious Defense of Sumter!!” New York Tribune, April 19, 1861.

[11] Albert Deane Richardson, The Secret Service: The Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1865), 164.

[12] Allan Pinkerton, The Spy of the Rebellion (New York: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1884), 59.

[13] Ibid., 63-64.

[14] Kirk Hutson, “Hot ‘N’ Nasty: Black Oak Arkansas and Its Effect on Rural Southern Culture,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (June 1995), 185-211.

Michael E. Woods

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