Category: Muster

Greetings from the New Editor

Greetings from the New Editor

Greetings JCWE community,


I am Robert Bland and I am excited to be joining this robust online community around Muster as the Journal’s incoming associate editor for digital content. As a prior contributor and longtime reader of Muster, I deeply value the digital world that has been curated by the past editors of the Journal of the Civil War Era. Here, I want to thank and acknowledge and thank Hilary Green for the tremendous amount of labor she has done to shape the most recent iteration of Muster.


By way of introduction, I am an assistant professor of history and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. A historian of the emancipation and Reconstruction, I am currently completing a monograph that examines the legacy of the political generation of teachers, Freedmen’s Bureau agents, and aspiring officeholders who travelled to the Lowcountry during the Civil War, established South Carolina’s postbellum Republican Party, and connected this new political world to a nascent, national Black public sphere. The site of a “long Reconstruction” that persisted into the first decade of the twentieth century, the Lowcountry anchored the production a generational countermemory that not only confronted the myths of the Lost Cause but also guided the archival practice of the scholars that built the modern field of African American history.


My passion for Civil War-era history emerged from a long, personal journey with the nineteenth century past. Growing up in Virginia Beach, I lived in the shadow of Fort Monroe and Hampton University. During my childhood, I heard countless stories of the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack. I was one of the last cohorts of high-school aged students in Virginia to experience the bizarre Lee-Jackson-King holiday. Before graduate school, where I trained with scholars who helped shape the modern story of emancipation, I taught high school social studies at one of the handful of schools in the United States named after a nineteenth-century Black officeholder.


In my role as incoming digital editor, I seek to continue the mission of making Muster the premier site for discussion of the Civil War era. Like my predecessors, I want to ensure that Muster remains a place where readers can encounter cutting-edge and original writing, author interviews, and reflections of the meaning of the long Civil War in our current moment. I seek to amplify a wide-range of voices and will try to make Muster a place where both established and early-career scholars can find their footing. Most importantly, I want this to be a place of community and decency where a large online public can gather and discuss important issues with intensity, good faith, and a sense of commonweal.


I look forward to beginning this journey with you. If you ever want to offer feedback or have an idea that you would like to pitch to Muster, you can reach me at


Onward and upward,


Robert Bland

Robert D. Bland is an Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Editors’s Note for June 2024 JCWE

Editors’s Note for June 2024 JCWE

This issue demonstrates the ongoing methodological breadth of the Civil War Era, as scholars bring numerous different ways of approaching history to reckon with the turbulent mid-nineteenth century in all its facets. This issue includes one research article, a book award talk, a roundtable, and a historiographic review essay, along with the sterling book reviews that anchor the journal and the field.

In her Tom Watson Brown Book Award address, R. Isabela Morales approaches the Civil War era through family history. Drawing from her prize-winning book, Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom, Morales discusses the relationship between family history and the broader political and economic dynamics that influence them. Demonstrating the sterling prose and eye for detail that the award committee noted, the essay is also a reminder of how narrative writing and individual human stories can bring the past to life.

In “‘We Died Here Obedient to Her Laws’: The Reception of Sparta in the Lost Cause and Confederate Memorialization,” Jase D. L. Sutton explores how white southerners turned to classical analogies to make sense of the Civil War and to develop the myth of the Lost Cause. Delving into under-studied but relatively common references to Sparta, Sutton argues that memory-makers utilized the Battle of Thermopylae to deflect blame for the Confederacy’s losses and defend the honor of Confederate soldiers. Lost Cause purveyors also explored Spartan analogies for Confederate women’s loyalty and sacrifice. He argues that such references not only advanced a specific Lost Cause narrative but also buttressed white southerners’ ongoing use of classical analogies to support their conservative vision of southern values.

Sarah Handley-Cousins moderated “Disability in the Civil War Era: A Roundtable.” Here, several historians and literature scholars discuss the growth of interdisciplinary disability studies and how scholars have brought insights from that field to the study of the Civil War era. They argue that the disability history framework helps us better understand the Civil War era by casting new light on critical issues such as slavery, emancipation, military service, federal bureaucracy, the home front, and veteran-hood. They also point toward areas for future research in material history and disability during the postwar era.

In our historiographical review essay, Brian P. Luskey analyzes scholarship on the cultural history of the North during the Civil War. In “The Union’s Culture Industry,” Luskey helpfully discusses recent work that has emphasized the wartime production, circulation, and consumption of products like newspapers, magazines, songs, minstrel shows, and pornography. More could be done, he argues, to investigate both how mainstream cultural producers operated (for instance, by marketing directly to soldiers) and also how people and organizations with relatively little economic power—for instance, enlisted men, or Black women who worked for the US war effort—became cultural producers in their own right. In the end, the essay reveals a great deal about northern cultural production during the war and urges historians to continue the work with an emphasis on how “culture” was constituted not just by words, images, and performances but also by material relationships.

This issue also includes the run of excellent book reviews that make the journal a crucial part of the field. As always, we are grateful to the editorial staff and our readers for making the issue a reality. 


Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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

Exit Interview with Hilary Green

Exit Interview with Hilary Green

What has been the most rewarding part of your time with Muster?

It has been rewarding to introduce the amazing work of more diverse Civil War era scholars to more diverse audiences of academic, K-12, and non-academic audiences. As such, I have been able to see more people engage with their work while simultaneously see collaborations and research blossom into fuller pieces.

How have you seen Muster change and grow in the past three years?

It has grown in terms of the pieces developed but also how Muster became a venue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and new realities of conferencing, closure of archives, and politicalization of the Civil War era. Some pieces directly responded to current events, including a roundup of pieces contextualizing the failed January 6, 2021coup d’etat, monument removals, Civil War soldiers’ support animals, and even the ethics of colorizing historical photographs.

Both African American and white descendants have had a place to develop pieces showcasing their unique family histories for wider audiences. For instance, Holly Pinheiro’s interview with Michelle Mardsen, a descendant of the Rothwell family explored in The Families Civil War (UGA Press, 2022) was one of our most popular ones.

Teaching pedagogical posts have remained a constant presence, especially after COV19-19. But I truly marveled at seeing Muster posts cited in published works. These short pieces are quality public scholarship. As such Muster has remained a go to place for accessible Civil War Era scholarship that complements the articles, roundtables, and reviews of the JCWE.

What projects are you looking forward to exploring now that you are cycling off your tenure with the JCWE?

I am currently in the last stages of a second book manuscript exploring how African American communities remembered and commemorated the Civil War from 1863 to the present. It centers the ordinary memory work of men, women, and children from their porches to their churches and schools to the reenactment battlefield. Afterwards, I will develop a third book building on my campus history work at the University of Alabama and tell the collective biography of the enslaved campus laborers and their legacy in Reconstruction era Alabama.

What is one piece of advice that you would offer your successor?

While you are building on the past, remember to develop your vision for Muster through every post, contributor, and desired audience. Be encouraging. Be supportive of authors at all stages of their respective career. And be mindful of your vision for Civil War era scholarship cultivated through Muster.

What is one piece of advice that you would give a junior scholar who is thinking about writing a piece for Muster?

You should never be afraid to pitch a Muster post. With a broad readership, you will get invaluable feedback and exposure. These short pieces often serve as the first thought to larger projects and can be beneficial.

Hilary N. Green

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

Production by Enslaved Workers and the US GNP

Production by Enslaved Workers and the US GNP


Sad to say, the gulf between economic history and mainstream history is as wide today as ever.  Undoubtedly many forces have contributed to this state of affairs, but one historical breakpoint was the controversy over slavery during the 1970s, prompted by publication of Time on the Cross, by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, in 1974.[1]  Perhaps because of the subsequent divergence, when a new round of studies appeared some years later, written by historians specifically concerned with economic aspects of slavery, the authors drew very little on research by economic .

One claim in recent literature that is often repeated is that in the antebellum period, enslaved workers produced an outsized proportion of the total value produced in the U.S. economy – the Gross National Product (GNP).   A case in point is this statement on the website of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture:  “Men, women and children, pushed by the whip, produced cotton, rice, sugar and tobacco valued at well over half the gross national product.”[2]  The exhibit provides no source for this claim, but it seems likely to originate with Edward Baptist, who wrote: “All told, more than $600 million, or almost half of the economic activity in the United States in 1836, derived directly or  indirectly from cotton produced by the million-odd slaves.”[3]  Baptist’s calculation is egregiously exaggerated, conflating inputs with outputs and adding items that are not even part of GNP.  As such, it has been roundly criticized by economists.[4]  But what would be a more accurate answer to the question?

It is not an easy question to answer because there is no direct aggregate data on the value of the goods and services enslaved people produced. Because enslaved persons represented only about 12 percent of the US population in 1860, one might simply dismiss the “One-Half” claim out of hand as a physical impossibility.  To get closer to the answer, Paul Rhode recently constructed a bottom-up estimate of the aggregate value of goods and services produced by enslaved people, adding their share of each of the major staple crops, agricultural improvements, home production, and domestic service.[5] Applying the same methodology to each of the antebellum census years, Rhode’s results are summarized in Table 1.  The bottom-line conclusion is that the enslaved produced about the same share of GNP as their share of the population.  On the one hand, one might have expected the share to be larger, because the “labor-force participation rate” of the enslaved was higher. This is economics-speak for the fact that enslaved women were compelled to do field work, while enslaved children began work in their pre-teen years.  On the other hand, most of the enslaved worked in agriculture and domestic service, where the value of output per worker was lower than the economy-wide average.

The Rhode article may be compared to another recent article, co-authored by economist Mark Stelzner and historian Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History.[6]  The objective is the same: to estimate the value of goods and services produced by enslaved workers as a share of GNP.  But the approach is entirely different.  Lacking direct aggregate data on enslaved production, the authors reason that the expected value of that production should have been reflected in the market prices of enslaved workers.  On its face, this method epitomizes model-based theoretical analysis, complete with references to “rational economic agents in a perfectly competitive economy” (144) and “present value [asset] pricing theory” (145), exactly the features that historians so often find objectionable in economic .  The approach seems particularly questionable in that slave prices reflected expectations of production value across many years into the future, whereas the objective here is to estimate the value of production in one particular year (so that it can be compared to GNP).

Despite these issues, the Stelzner-Beckert results invite comparison with those of Rhode.  Table 1 presents both sets of figures.  (The range for Stelzner-Beckert reflects alternative assumptions for the discount rate: the interest rate at which future returns are “discounted” because of their remoteness in time.)  As may be seen, both studies find that the share of the GNP produced by enslaved people was about equal to, or slightly below, their share of the population.  To some degree at least, it seems reassuring that two such different approaches yield roughly convergent results.

The share of GNP produced by enslaved workers is of course only one item in the larger conversation about the place of slavery in US history.[7]  But when a topic engages a broad segment of the public, as slavery does, mistaken or misleading factoids can have great staying power.  We cannot expect to control or curtail this process, but awareness of basic magnitudes belongs in the knowledge sets of historians of all stripes.



[1] The book itself is Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974).  A critique by economic historians was Paul A. David, Herbert G. Gutman, Richard Sutch, Peter Temin, and Gavin Wright, Reckoning with Slavery: A Critical Study in the Quantitative History of American Negro Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).  For a recent overview, see Eric Hilt, “Revisiting Time on the Cross after 45 Years: The Slavery Debates and the New Economic History,” Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics 1 (2020): 456-483.

[2] Agriculture: Nature’s Harvest downloaded May 16, 2024.

[3] The Half Has Never Been Told (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p. 322.

[4]  For example, Alan Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, “Cotton, Slavery and the New History of Capitalism,” Explorations in Economic History 67 (2018), p. 13.

[5] Paul Rhode, “What Fraction of Antebellum US National Product did the Enslaved Produce?” Explorations in Economic History 91 (2024): 1-15.

[6] Stelzner and Beckert, “The Contribution of Enslaved Workers to output and Growth in the Antebellum United States,” Economic History Review 77 (2024): 137-159. Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014).

[7] For my take on the role of slavery in US economic growth, see “Slavery and the Rise of the Nineteenth-Century American Economy,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 36 (2022): 123-148.






Gavin Wright

Gavin Wright is the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History Emeritus at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1982. His book Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South (2013) won the Alice Hanson Jones Prize from the Economic History Association. Wright’s most recent publications are “Slavery and Anglo-American Capitalism Reconsidered,” Economic History Review (2020); and “Slavery and the Rise of the Nineteenth-Century American Economy,” Journal of Economic Perspectives (2022).

2024 Tom Watson Brown Book Prize Winner

2024 Tom Watson Brown Book Prize Winner

The Society of Civil War Historians and the Watson-Brown Foundation are proud to announce that Yael A. Sternhell is the recipient of the 2024 Tom Watson Brown Book Award. Dr. Sternhell earned the award for War on Record: The Archive and the Afterlife of the Civil War which was published in 2023 by Yale University Press. The $50,000 award is funded by the Watson-Brown Foundation in honor of Tom Watson Brown, a dedicated student of the Civil War.

Author standing in front of book shelves

In making its selection, the prize committee stated:

“This volume explores how the documentary collection best known as the Official Records was assembled by officials of the US government in a process that reflected embedded agendas, various priorities, assumptions about what to include and exclude, issues of organization, and other concerns that fundamentally shaped the most important documentary editing edition ever produced by a federal agency. Historians will have to wrestle with this revealing work and its implications for the writing of Civil War history; thanks to Sternhell’s trailblazing scholarship, they will never again view the Official Records in quite the same way.”

The Watson Brown Book Award jury consisted of Brooks D. Simpson (chair), Diane Miller Sommerville, Susannah Ural, and Tad Brown, President of the Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.

Dr. Sternhell will be honored at the SCWH banquet taking place this November during the 2024 Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association, held this year in Kansas City, Missouri.

Winner Biography

Dr. Yael Sternhell is associate professor of history and American studies at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South (Harvard University Press, 2012) and War on Record: The Archive and the Afterlife of the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2023). Her work has won awards from the Southern Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians and both of her books were shortlisted for the Lincoln Prize. In 2024-2025 she will be the Weinstock Visiting Associate Professor of History at Harvard University.

Hilary N. Green

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

Introducing the New Digital Media Editor

Introducing the New Digital Media Editor

The Journal of the Civil War Era is pleased to announce that Dr. Robert Bland will become the journal’s new Digital Media Editor in June. He succeeds Dr. Hilary Green, who served as Digital Media Editor since 2020. Dr. Bland is assistant professor of History and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee. He is a historian of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States with an emphasis on the African American experience and the postbellum South. His research and teaching engage questions of racial formation, electoral and cultural politics, and battles over historical memory. He is currently at work on a book project that examines the legacy of Reconstruction in the African American public sphere. The book explores the efforts of Black South Carolinians and their northern allies to preserve the last bastion of radical Republicanism in the South during the half century that followed the so-called Compromise of 1877. It illuminates a series of connections between grassroots struggles in the South Carolina Lowcountry over political patronage, disaster relief, and local schools and the simultaneous debate in the national Black press over how to contest the cultural and intellectual dimensions of the emerging Jim Crow order. His research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 We are excited to welcome Dr. Bland to the journal, and we thank Dr. Green for her outstanding service to the journal. She creatively guided the JCWE blog, Musterthrough the pandemic; stewarded our social media presence in a complex time, and expandedMuster’s readership. We are grateful for all her work and hope she won’t be a stranger.


Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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

Andersonville is Black History and Reconstruction History (even when the National Park Service Forgets)

Andersonville is Black History and Reconstruction History (even when the National Park Service Forgets)

Junior Ranger programs are popular educational activities at our national parks. Children complete a short exercise connected to the park’s theme and receive a badge. The best junior ranger programs provoke age-appropriate revelation about the big picture without merely simplifying the material presented to adults. Andersonville National Historic Site’s standing junior ranger program, “Captured! A Prisoner of War Story,” puts children in the shoes of U.S. prisoners of war. Kids make tough choices throughout the program about what to bring into prison and how to react to prison realities. At the end of the program, children draw cards and learn whether they survived Andersonville. About two out of three make it out alive.[1]

Booklet, hat and patches on a table top.
Junior Ranger booklet, badge, and patches, undated, National Park Service.

Andersonville NHS also hosts periodic Junior Ranger Days on select weekends. On Saturday, April 27, 2024, the park organized an event around the theme of “Life as a Civil War Soldier.” Their Facebook page indicated that children would “learn to drill as a Civil War soldier.” A photograph depicted a smiling boy dressed in a Confederate uniform and holding an Enfield rifle. Another advertisement showed Confederate reenactors relaxing around a campfire.[2]

The advertisement raised eyebrows. In addition to the image and the text, the event fell on a weekend loaded with Confederate symbolism. It took place one day after the anniversary of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to Major General William T. Sherman in 1865. A year later, that surrender day marked one of the first Confederate Memorial Days. In what was almost certainly a coincidence, the park’s event coincided with the local SCV observance of Confederate Memorial Day. “I can’t say whether children will actually be wearing Confederate uniforms, but that’s not really the point here,” Kevin Levin wrote. “Union soldiers didn’t drill at Andersonville. They starved. They fell victim to disease. They died.” Levin added that he suspected the park staff did not deliberately seek to disrespect the 13,000 U.S. soldiers who perish at the prison.[3]

Andersonville National Historic Site responded to public criticism ahead of the event. “The purpose of a living history event at Andersonville is never to glorify or make light of the events that took place here or in any way disrespect the men who suffered as prisoners,” an NPS representative added to the original Facebook post. “Our purpose is that by showing a small part of what Civil War soldiers experienced we will make a connection and spark an interest in learning that will last a lifetime.”[4] More than one critic asked whether the living history experience would include shooting prisoners for crossing the small wooden fence, or “deadline,” inside the prison.

Social media post with dates, time, events, and digital flyer included.
Andersonville National Historic Site, Facebook post, April 18, 2024, edited to include last paragraph, April 19, 2024.

At least one notable neo-Confederate personality praised the National Park Service for the event ahead of time. “Wonderful event being held at Andersonville Prison,” Monuments Across Dixie posted on X. “Children will learn how northern blockades and destruction of the South caused the Southern people to not be able to property feed northern prisoners. Oh the irony of northern war crimes effecting their own people.” Viewed more than 2,000 times, the poster connected the event to Confederate History/Heritage Month. It underscored fears by Levin and others that, despite the park staff’s stated intentions, the advertisement catered to the people in the past—and their sympathizers in the present—responsible for 13,000 dead U.S. soldiers.[5]

Monuments across Dixie, X post, April 19, 2024

The announcement and the social media skirmish that followed came and went as a flash. After a few hours’ reflection, it became clear that this Junior Ranger Day’s emphasis on Civil War drilling missed another important anniversary: the 1869 Decoration Day. While African Americans celebrated an Emancipation Day at Andersonville on January 1, 1869, they held a Decoration Day that April. Many of the same people—national cemetery workers, northern teachers, and African American students—were involved in both events. Future Decoration (and, later, Memorial) Days encompassed elements of freedom celebrations and remembrance days.

While the National Park Service observes Memorial Day each year, it has not commemorated its 1869 predecessor. This unfortunate omission continues despite the park’s concern for increasing African American visitation in a predominantly Black region of the country and its active national cemetery that increasingly reflects the diversity of the U.S. military. Decoration Day at Andersonville has been documented by historians, most recently by a team of researchers from the University of Alabama, the University of West Georgia, and Georgia Southwestern State University between 2017 and 2020. The resulting publication, In Plain Sight, centered African American history from the settlement of southwest Georgia through the Civil War sesquicentennial. From building the stockade and being imprisoned as U.S. soldiers to transforming the prison graveyard into a national cemetery, African American experiences were central to the place’s history. Yet it would be difficult for anyone visiting the park since its enabling legislation in 1970 to learn this history. Andersonville is Black history as well as the erasure and minimization of Black history.[6]

Hand drawn map showing a school and other places.
Detail of “Sketch of Andersonville, Ga. and Vicinity,” showing school at the old Confederate hospital and African American houses. “Cemetery File,” Entry 576, Box 3, RG 92, National Archives and Records Administration.

Andersonville’s Decoration Day in 1869 came amid waves of violence that characterized Reconstruction. At the beginning of 1868, at least two hundred freedpeople lived on the land leased by the Confederacy and seized by the U.S government at the end of the war. Adult men had registered to vote and participated in elections in November 1867 and April 1868. Adults and children learned to read and write at the “Sumter School,” a school established by the American Missionary Association in an old Confederate Hospital. Many families had loved ones employed by the U.S. government landscaping a larger national cemetery to replace the shoulder-to-shoulder burials of the prison graveyard. These monthly government jobs paid lower than local contracts negotiated by the Freedmen’s Bureau, but working at Andersonville had its benefits: it was not plantation work; there was a school; and since summer 1865, it had proven to be a safe refuge from planters and overseers. However, the new cemetery plan went against government instructions to minimize costs. When the Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs realized the scale and cost of the project, he directed local officials to change course. In a flash, most of the workers lost their jobs.[7]

Hand drawn map showing an old cemetery.
Detail of “Sketch of Andersonville, Ga. and Vicinity,” showing the layout of the never-finished new cemetery in relation to the old cemetery. “Cemetery File,” Entry 576, Box 3, RG 92, National Archives and Records Administration.

When most of the unemployed chose to stay at Andersonville, local whites sent an ultimatum to the Freedman’s Bureau. In July 1868, local authorities sanctioned—and participated in—a raid that evicted scores of unemployed men, women, and children from their homes at gunpoint. Those who remained or returned took caution, armed themselves, and posted sentries to ward off night raids by disguised men on horseback. Despite threats of being fired, Floyd Snelson and other cemetery workers organized a “Grant Club” and marched through the streets near the Andersonville depot in September. Making good on his threat, the cemetery superintendent, a Democrat, fired Snelson but reversed his decision later that afternoon. Elections that November were marked by violence and intimidation that suppressed Black participation. At the beginning of 1869, the Ku Klux Klan drove off a northern minister collecting depositions about the violence. In one small victory, cemetery workers took revenge on the superintendent by reporting that he was illegally renting out government mules.[8]

Ku Klux Klan threat, February 12, 1869, in Pierson, Letter to Hon. Charles Sumner, 18.

As bad as it was, Andersonville in 1868 could have been worse. In Camilla, only 75 miles away, African American marchers protested the ousting of twenty-eight Black representatives from the Georgia State assembly. White men shot down marchers in what became known as the Camilla Massacre. The Georgia Historical Society erected a marker acknowledging the murders in 2023.[9]

It was within this experience of violence that African American students at Sumter School, preparing for a spring examination, learned that white Georgians were planning to decorate the graves of Confederate guards on Tuesday, April 27, 1869. These rebel graves were adjacent to U.S. graves and on the outside of a small wooden fence. Students reached the cemetery at 7:30 a.m., shortly before sunrise. Preempting the Confederate mourners, students spread oak leaves and flowers on the 13,000 Union graves and the graves of Confederate guards. “The ladies and gentlemen who came during the day from Macon and Americus covered their soldiers’ graves with beautiful bouquets,” a northern teacher wrote, “but had none for the martyred sons of the Union.”[10]

Portrait of Black man in a dress suit.
Floyd Snelson, undated, Historic Dorchester Academy, Liberty County, Georgia.

Decoration Days were much bigger in the following years and involved thousands of people making their way to Andersonville. The 1869 Decoration stands out because it was performed after a year of firings, protests, threats, and violence. It was an act that could be interpreted in many ways. Was the placing of oak leaves and flowers on Confederate graves an act of forgiveness? Did it assert moral superiority? Was it a continuation of subtle subversion perfected under slavery but still applicable in the violence and recent backsliding of Reconstruction? Perhaps it meant different things to the scores of students who participated.[11]

Marching like soldiers is not the only way to implement experiential learning at Andersonville. The park hosts events at other times of the year, such as Memorial Day and Wreaths across America, focusing on the graves. Rather than duplicate these events, an experiential learning Junior Ranger Day in April could focus on the experience of African Americans at Andersonville in the Reconstruction Era. What was it like to go to school in an old Confederate hospital a year or two after the end of slavery and before statewide public education? Or it might encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of postwar workers at Andersonville. Who built the massive brick wall that surrounds the national cemetery or hauled in earth to raise and flatten the landscape? Who replaced wooden headstones, selected saplings, and planted grass? Why were the Confederate guards reinterred in Americus?

Developing engaging historical programming is more difficult than doing the research or writing the report. It will take more work to decide how to best present the findings of In Plain Sight, but that is a decision for the career professionals in the National Park Service. Perhaps living history is the best way to present this information. Or, perhaps, there are other interactive ways to learn about the past without trying to conjure it in dress and dialogue. At the very least, though, Andersonville NHS should not try to be just a Civil War site with drilling and cannon demonstrations, especially ones that seem to honor the Confederacy.

The Civil War history at Andersonville is as complex and tragic as anywhere else on this continent. Serious and honest reflection about its wartime history will wring out any nostalgia for the Civil War. If one looks for it, the site’s postwar history offers a crash course in Black experiences during Reconstruction in the Deep South. Andersonville is Black history and Reconstruction history even when the National Park Service forgets. It will be Black history and Reconstruction history when the National Park Service remembers. Let that day be soon.

[1]. Freeman Tilden, Interpreting our Heritage, 4th edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 34-35.

[2]. Andersonville National Historic Site, Facebook Post, April 22, April 24, 2024.

[3]. David Silkenat, Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 231-35; A. H. Stephens Camp 78, “Annual Confederate Memorial Service at Oakgrove [sic] Cemetery,” Sumter Secessionist (April 2024), pg. 1; Kevin M. Levin, “Playing Civil War at Andersonville Prison Camp,” Substack, published April 19, 2024.

[4]. Andersonville National Historic Site, Facebook Reply, April 19, 2024, to Facebook Post, April 18, 2024.

[5]. Monuments Across Dixie (@Across_Dixie), “Wonderful event being held at Andersonville Prison…,” X, April 19, 2024.

[6]. Evan Kutzler, Julia Brock, Ann McCleary, Keri Adams, Ronald Bastien, and Larry O. Rivers, In Plain Sight: African Americans at Andersonville National Historic Site, A Special history Study (National Park Service, 2020),

[7]. Return of Qualified Voters, Sumter County, Election District 13, July 8, 1867; digital image, ( : accessed May 22, 2017); citing Georgia, Office of the Governor, Returns of Qualified Voters under the Reconstruction Act, 1867, Georgia State Archives, Morrow, Ga.; American Missionary Association Archives, Boxes 26-32, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans; D. H. Rucker to Edwin M. Stanton, April 23, 1868, in “Cemetery File,” Entry 576, Box 3, RG 92, Records of the Quartermaster General, National Archives and Records Administration; [Montgomery C. Meigs] to J. M. Schofield, August 21, 1868, in “Cemetery File,” Entry 576, Box 3, RG 92, NARA; M. C. Meigs to R. Saxton, August 29, 1868, in “Cemetery File,” Entry 576, Box 3, RG 92, NARA; “Andersonville,” Boston Daily Advertiser, April 18, 1868, clipping in “Cemetery File,” Entry 576, Box 3, RG 92, NARA; See also Kutzler, et al., In Plain Sight, ch. 3.

[8]. Affidavit of Floyd Snelson, May 20, 1869, Letters and their enclosures received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1863–70, M1064, roll 0444, RG 94, Record of the Adjutant General’s Office, NARA; H. W. Pierson, A Letter to Hon. Charles Sumner, with “Statements” of Outrages Upon Freedmen in Georgia, and an Account of My Expulsion from Andersonville, Ga., by the Ku Klux Klan (Washington, D.C.: Chronicle Print, 1870); Kutzler, et al., In Plain Sight, ch. 3.

[9]. Georgia Historical Society, “Camilla Massacre,” accessed April 23, 2024,

[10]. “Georgia. The Work in Andersonville,” American Missionary 13, no. 7 (July 1869), 147-48; Kutzler, et al., In Plain Sight, ch. 3. Given the variability of Confederate Decoration Day and possibility of individual error in recording the event, it is possible this took place on April 26 instead of 27, 1869.

[11]. On Memorial Day at Andersonville, see Adam H. Domby, “Captives of Memory: The Contested Legacy of Race at Andersonville National Historic Site,” Civil War History 63, no. 3 (September 2017): 262–263; Kutzler, et al., In Plain Sight, chs. 3-4; American Missionary Association, Teacher’s Monthly Report, “Sumter School,” Sumter County, Georgia, March 1869, American Missionary Association Archives, Box 28, No. 22307, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans.


Evan Kutzler

Evan Kutzler is an Associate Professor of U.S. and Public History at Western Michigan University. He is the author of Living by Inches: The Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019) and co-author of In Plain Sight: African Americans at Andersonville National Historic Site, A Special History Study (National Park Service, 2020). He worked as a seasonal park ranger at Andersonville in 2015.

How the Federal Government Came to Control Immigration Policy and Why it Matters

How the Federal Government Came to Control Immigration Policy and Why it Matters

The Civil War and Reconstruction transformed immigration policy in the United States, marking the transition from a sub-national to a national policy for regulating the admission, exclusion, and removal of foreigners. Before that turning point, Congress played almost no role in regulating immigration, other than naturalization policy (for white people) and passenger acts setting conditions on ships. The Civil War eliminated some of the worst abuses of the old state-level system. Ironically, however, the newly empowered federal state created during Reconstruction could restrict immigration much more comprehensively than any state—as Chinese laborers soon discovered to their detriment.

In the era of slavery, states and towns used their police power to control mobility within and across their borders and set their own rules for community membership. In the Northeast, states and cities imposed taxes and bonds on foreign paupers. Ship captains passed along the cost to passengers in higher fares. Local jurisdictions deported the poor out state and sometimes overseas. In the Old Northwest (today’s Midwest), state and territorial governments used bonds and taxes to exclude and monitor free Black people. Southern states policed the movement of African Americans, both free and enslaved, and passed laws imprisoning black sailors visiting from other countries and from other US states.[1]These local measures rested on the states’ sovereign power to regulate their internal affairs. Insofar as they affected foreigners, they constituted the immigration policy of the United States in the antebellum era.

Historic official document allowing a free African American woman entry into Missouri.
Figure 1: As a condition of her entry into the state of Missouri, Lydia Medford, described as a thirty-year-old “washer,” entered into a bond of $10 with, with two men providing security for her good character and behavior. Washington University in St. Louis, Freedom Bonds Collection.

When it came to regulating mobility before the Civil War, local police power prevailed over federal commerce power. Defenders of slavery supported fugitive slave laws but resisted any other form of federal authority over mobility across and within their borders. If Congress had the power to control immigrant admissions, they feared, it could potentially use that power to  control the movement of free black people and perhaps even the interstate slave trade.Migration, in other words, presented a political and constitutional problem in a slaveholding republic.[2]

The Civil War, with the secession of eleven states from the Union and the abolition of slavery, removed the political and constitutional obstacles to a national immigration policy. Yet, in the absence of slavery, Congress would not have regulated—let alone restricted—immigration earlier. Even though the abolition of slavery cleared a path for the emergence of a national immigration policy, in other words, it did not make that policy inevitable.

Nobody before the end of the nineteenth century, not even the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, wanted to restrict European immigration numerically. Some nativists in the antebellum era called on Congress to extend the waiting period for naturalization, or to regulate migration by paupers, but to no avail. When the Supreme Court invalidated the immigration laws of New York and Massachusetts as violations of the Commerce Clause in Henderson v. New York(1875), state officials responded by demanding, crafting, and implementing a new federal law. The Immigration Act of 1882—the first general immigration law in US history—followed the model  set by the states, imposing a head tax on all passengers and excluding the most vulnerable. Yet admission was the norm for European immigrants throughout the nineteenth century, and it remained so until the 1920s.[3]

Chinese immigrants fell into a different category. In Chy Lung v. Freeman, decided simultaneously with Henderson in 1875, the Supreme Court invalidated a California immigration law taxing Chinese immigrants. A short-term victory for those who challenged the law, Chy Lung also signaled that Congress could exclude foreigners much more effectively than any state. Anti-Asian restrictionists pressured Congress to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which discriminated on grounds of race and class by barring Chinese laborers from entering the United States for ten years. The era of national immigration control was underway.[4]

It was at this time, also, that immigration came to be defined as a matter of national security In Chy Lung, the Court noted pointedly that allowing “a single State” to make determinations regarding entry and removal would allow that state to “embroil us in disastrous quarrels with other nations.” In Chae Chan Ping v. United States (1889)—better known as the Chinese Exclusion Case—the Court moved beyond the commerce power and ruled that authority to control immigration was inherent in national sovereignty. “Every nation, to preserve its independence, had to guard against “foreign aggression and encroachment,” Justice Field wrote in Chae Chan Ping. It did not matter whether the threat came from the actions of a foreign nation “or from vast hordes of its people crowding in upon us.”[5]

Cartoon by Thomas Nast published in Harper’s Weekly on April 1, 1882, a month before the Chinese Exclusion Act became law. At the “Temple of Liberty,”  a soldier reads from a huge document labeled “US Passport” to a forlorn Chinese immigrant in traditional garb with an exaggerated queue. The soldier’s uniform and the fortress evoke imperial Europe, while the caption rebukes the United States for abandoning its tradition as a haven of liberty and a refuge for all.
Figure 2: Cartoon by Thomas Nast published in Harper’s Weekly on April 1, 1882, a month before the Chinese Exclusion Act became law. At the “Temple of Liberty,” a soldier reads from a huge document labeled “US Passport” to a forlorn Chinese immigrant in traditional garb with an exaggerated queue. The soldier’s uniform and the fortress evoke imperial Europe, while the caption rebukes the United States for abandoning its tradition as a haven of liberty and a refuge for all. “E pluribus unum (except the Chinese).” Chinese in California Virtual Collection: Selections from the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

In Chae Chan Ping, the Supreme Court assigned power over immigration to the “political branches” of the federal government—Congress and the executive—which could admit or exclude foreigners as they saw fit, with minimal interference by the courts. On the basis of this plenary power, rooted in Chinese exclusion, the national government has since controlled US immigration policy as, in the first instance, a matter of national security.[6]

States and cities today can no longer determine whom to admit, exclude, or deport from the country. Any attempt to do so intrudes on federal power, as established by 150 years of law. But local jurisdictions can and obviously do continue to regulate immigrants’ lives after arrival. Many of them support federal immigration policies, cooperate with national agencies such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or call for more restrictive and punitive laws. Texas’s recent SB4 law has precedents in California’s Proposition 187 (1994) and Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) (2010). Measures like these deliberately blur the lines of authority and seek not just to regulate immigrants within states but to deter immigration per se.[7]

Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting in Arizona v. U.S. (2012), pointed approvingly to the antebellum laws “restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted criminals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks.” As a sovereign state, Scalia claimed, Arizona had “the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory.” The majority disagreed and struck down most of SB 1070’s provisions, though they upheld the power of state police to investigate immigration status.[8]

While states and cities cannot defy federal immigration law, neither can the federal government order them to participate in enforcing that law. Many local jurisdictions today seek not to monitor or expel immigrants but to integrate them and protect them from federal surveillance. There are clear echoes here of the personal liberty laws of the antebellum era, which operated as a state-level counterweight to oppressive national power.

The real counterweight in the nineteenth century, however, came from the opposite direction. The Civil War and Reconstruction decisively tilted the balance of power away from states toward the federal government in the name of racial justice. Although Chinese immigrants remained ineligible for US citizenship, their American-born children were birthright citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment. That amendment also extended equal protection and due process not just to citizens, but to all legally resident persons under the jurisdiction of the United States, including unnaturalized immigrants. The expanded federal government that protected these new rights, however, also secured control over immigration policy and proceeded to regulate and restrict immigration to an extent beyond the reach of any individual state.

[1] Hidetaka Hirota, Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017); Kate Masur, Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction (New York: Norton, 2021); Michael A. Schoeppner, Moral Contagion: Black Atlantic Sailors, Citizenship, and Diplomacy in Antebellum America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

[2] Kevin Kenny, The Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic: Policing Mobility in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023).

[3] Henderson v. Mayor of City of New York, 92 U.S. 259 (1875); Kenny, Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic, 112–20; 191–93, 205–06; Hirota, Expelling the Poor, 181, 184–92; Mae M. Ngai, Immigration and Ethnic History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2012), 4.

[4] Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 276 (1875); Kenny, Problem of Immigration in a Slaveholding Republic, 193–94; Texas Senate Bill No. 4, An Act Relating to the Enforcement … of State and Federal Laws Governing Immigration (2017). In March 2024, US Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar cited Chy Lung in her argument before the Supreme Court seeking to block Texas’s SB 4 law, which criminalizes unauthorized entry into the United States. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the same point about the danger of individual states controlling national borders in a press release on March 19 responding to the Supreme Court’s refusal to block SB 4.

[5] Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 276 (1875); Chae Chan Ping v. United States 130 U.S. 581 (1889).

[6] This plenary power doctrine provided the basis for a national immigration policy in the United States. In Trump v. Hawaii (2018), the Court upheld the so-called travel ban on Muslim immigrants based on the precedent set in Chae Chan Ping 120 years earlier.

[7] California Proposition 187, Illegal Aliens Ineligibility for Public Benefits Verification and Reporting Initiative Statute (1994); Arizona SB 1070, The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (2010).

[8] Arizona v. U.S. 567 U.S. 387 (2012).


Previewing the March 2024 JCWE

Previewing the March 2024 JCWE

Questions of slavery, freedom, and violence are at the heart of this journal issue. For decades, historians have described how enslaved people during the Civil War saw new possibilities for escape with the presence of US military forces nearby, and how profoundly their actions shaped the course of the war and the dynamics of postwar freedom. The articles published here advance our understanding of these crucial dynamics, contributing new insights about the lives of enslaved people, emancipation and military occupation in the border states, the impacts of postwar violence on the process by which US presidents are elected, and the history of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has come to epitomize organized white supremacy in the United States.

Focusing on Missouri, Iain Flood’s “Proving Disloyalty: Enslaved People and Resistance in Missouri’s Guerrilla Households” demonstrates enslaved people’s intimate familiarity with enslavers’ households in an area where most slaveowners were relatively small farmers. This intimacy meant they could be coerced into supporting pro-Confederate guerrilla networks but also that they had information that could be valuable for US forces. Flood shows how enslaved people created a “second supply line” by carrying intelligence out of guerrilla households and into the hands of US soldiers. Army officers recognized that value of such information and promised freedom in exchange.

In “Reconstruction, Racial Terror, and the Electoral College,” Michael W. Fitzgerald and Mark Bohnhorst offer a new history of Reconstruction-era debates about the selection of presidential electors. Absent a clear mandate in the US Constitution, antebellum states increasingly codified the idea that electors were chosen by popular vote, not by the legislature. But in 1868, amid white southerners’ violent campaigns to suppress the Black vote, Florida canceled its presidential canvass and had its legislature select electors, and Alabama considered doing the same. These developments prompted the introduction in Congress of a sixteenth constitutional amendment that required popular selection of electors. Although the amendment enjoyed bipartisan support and passed the Senate, it died in the House. Fitzgerald and Bohnhorst’s account helps us understand a part of the American constitutional order that, unfortunately, has become newly relevant since the chaotic 2020 election.

Katherine Lennard’s article, “Brother Dixon: College Fraternities and the Ku Klux Klan,” uses the life of Thomas Dixon Jr. (1864–1946) to discuss the complex interpenetration of secret societies, white college fraternities, and the Ku Klux Klan in the years after the Civil War. Dixon, who wrote popular and controversial novels glorifying the Klan in the early twentieth century, was a member of the fledgling Kappa Alpha fraternity at Wake Forest College. Lennard demonstrates that Dixon’s stories about the Klan drew heavily on the iconography of white college fraternities and on their exclusionary, intimidating practices. In representing the Klan this way, Dixon distanced it from its original incarnation as a lawless, pro-Confederate, white supremacist organization and made it appear more familiar to members of the college-educated white elite across the United States.

In his review essay, “Possessed: Understanding the Lives of Enslaved Americans,” Christopher Bonner provides a sweeping examination of recent scholarship on slavery and enslaved people, with an emphasis on the crucial question of how historians balance attention to structure with focus on the agency of the enslaved. Bonner points to Stephanie Camp’s Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (2004) as an essential work that has informed much subsequent scholarship on how enslaved people managed to make meaning, find pleasure, and leave traces of their lives in circumstances where their choices and actions were drastically constrained. Bonner’s essay will help readers understand current dynamics in the field and appreciate the significance of continuing to try to understand how enslaved people experienced the world.

We are pleased to announce a number of editorial transitions. This issue is the last to which Luke Harlow contributed as associate editor of review essays and Kathryn Shively as associate editor for book reviews. Harlow served in that role for five years, demonstrating his commitment to a broad view of the field and to careful editing in essays like Chandra Manning’s state of the field on religious history to Alaina Roberts’s essay on the history of Black people in and around the Five Tribes of Oklahoma to Cameron Blevins and Christy Hyman’s review of digital history work. Harlow extended his time in the position to help the editorial team manage the challenges of the early years of COVID. Shively oversaw the book review section for three years and heroically continued to solicit books and find reviewers—with unstinting attention to diversity in both the books we reviewed and the reviewers we invited—even in the depths of the pandemic. Each was a complete pleasure to work with, and we are immeasurably grateful for their service to the journal. We wish them the very best as they move on to other projects. From 2021 to 2023, Mikala Stokes, a PhD candidate at Northwestern, assisted Shively with the book review section, supported by funding from the Northwestern University Department of History. Stokes now moves on as well, and we applaud her as she works toward completion of a dissertation on Black men, family relationships, and political activism in the antebellum North.

We are delighted to welcome Catherine Jones (UC Santa Cruz) and Megan Bever (Missouri Southern State University) as review essay editor and book review editor, respectively. As we write this editors’ note, Bever and Jones have been in position for a couple of months already. We are excited for their continuing contributions. Finally, we thank Edward Green, a Penn State PhD candidate, for stepping in as editorial assistant over the summer, and we welcome Heather Carlquist Walser back into the role she ably filled earlier in our tenure.

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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

Beyond the Book Review: A Conversation with Chad Pearson

Beyond the Book Review: A Conversation with Chad Pearson

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of recorded interviews between the JCWE book review editor and the authors of the works reviewed in the journal.


Those who study the Civil War and Reconstruction are all too familiar with acts of terror, especially those committed by white vigilantes bent on securing Democratic political dominance and white supremacy. In Capital’s Terrorists: Klansmen, Lawmen, and Employers in the Long Nineteenth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 2022), Chad E. Pearson examines Reconstruction-era violence through the lens of labor suppression and finds continuity between the goals and tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations, such as Law and Order Leagues and Citizens’ Alliances, who used violence to combat organized labor. In this interview, Chad Pearson, who is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Texas, discusses his study with Megan Bever, book review editor for the Journal of the Civil War Era. Professor Pearson discusses the study’s broad chronological scope—it reaches back as far as the Second Seminole War and extends into the twentieth century—his case study approach, which takes the reader far beyond the Reconstruction South to Missouri, Idaho, and Pennsylvania. In addition to discussing the role of the Klan in violently reining in disaffected laborers, Pearson also discusses how Civil War service and free labor ideology wove their way through the late nineteenth-century managerial organizations that benign-sounding language of open shops and citizenship to disguise acts of terrorism.

The full recorded discussion can be found here.