Category: Muster

Editor’s Note: June 2019 Issue

Editor’s Note: June 2019 Issue

Today we share a preview of our June 2019 issue, reprinting here the editor’s note by Judy Giesberg. To access these articles, you can purchase a copy of the issue or subscribe to the journal. It will also be available (in June) on Project Muse.


Readers of this issue will find essays that align over questions about border diplomacy and Civil War-era American expansionism, with an opening essay weighing in on when and why the war ended as it did and a review essay that reflects on the future of military history. In between there are spies, rogue diplomats, and double agents.

We begin with Andrew Lang’s Thomas Watson Brown Book Prize talk, “Union Demobilization and the Boundaries of War and Peace,” which joins the work of scholars like Gary Gallagher and Mark Wahlgren Summers in arguing that Civil War Americans did not bemoan the war’s civil rights shortfalls as much as recent scholars do. In the essay, as in his book In the Wake of War, Lang argues that because regular army men “viewed the momentous collapse of the Confederate state as the signal feat of national purpose,” they had little patience or stomach for serving as the agents of federal Reconstruction policy, the boots on the ground charged with administering the postwar era’s civil rights legislation and protecting freedmen from white insurgents. Their mission accomplished, these men in blue were concerned that a prolonged occupation would threaten democracy, or worse, destroy it. So, the postwar army quickly shrank, before regular army men’s fears for the nation’s democratic institutions could be realized and just as the democratic aspirations of black volunteers had been.

William S. Kiser’s essay, “‘We Must Have Chihuahua and Sonora’: Civil War Diplomacy in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands,” explores the tangled diplomacy of agents representing the United States; the Confederacy; and two northwestern Mexican states bordering New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. At issue were Confederate interest in opening up a supply line from Mexico that could sustain their invasion of New Mexico and, later, U.S. aspirations for a naval station in Mexico, but in the background, too, Apaches and an invading French army moving northward toward the border posed continued threats. This is a story of how “powerful nineteenth-century nations attempted to manipulate and reshape tenuous systems of political power in their weaker neighbors.” Expecting to easily lure local authorities into deals that violated official Mexican neutrality, Confederate and U.S. military men and self-appointed diplomats discovered, instead, that they came to the diplomatic table from a point of weakness as Mexican authorities played Americans off of each other and remained resolutely out of the war along Mexico’s northern border. It was a diplomatic miscalculation to think that local Mexican officials, facing a threat to their south, would abandon their national loyalties and seek to cut a deal with their neighbors to the north.

Patrick Kelly’s essay picks up this story where Kiser’s leaves off. Whereas U.S. diplomatic efforts in Mexico came to naught early in 1863, by June, French emperor Napoleon III’s army was in Mexico City, the Mexican national government was in exile, and the Confederacy anticipated reaping the rewards of a forthcoming alliance with France. The survival of the republics of Mexico and the United States hung in the balance as monarchy seemed posed to make a comeback in the Americas. These concerns weighed heavily on Lincoln as he sent troops to south Texas in October and were evident in the words he chose in the speech he delivered that November at Gettysburg. Lincoln opened that speech with words hearkening back to when the founders “brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Kelly reads these words as evidence of Lincoln’s continentalism. It was no accident, Kelly says, that “continent” appeared in the first line, for it reflected a “a powerful, if short-lived, moment of solidarity between the United States and the hemisphere’s Spanish-speaking republics articulated on both sides of the Rio Grande within the discourse of a politically united American continent.” In “The Lost Continent of Abraham Lincoln,” Kelly locates the Gettysburg Address in that moment, when liberal nationalists imagined a future in which new world nations stood in solidarity against the old and in defense of new world ideals of democracy, constitutionalism, and, importantly, antislavery. Having issued the Emancipation Proclamation earlier that year, Lincoln helped usher the United States into that league of nations. That this solidarity did not outlast the immediate threat that made it seem possible takes nothing away from the moment in which these sentiments were first expressed—it adds something.

Courtney Buchkoski’s essay, “‘Luke-Warm Abolitionists’: Eli Thayer and the Contest for Civil War Memory, 1853–1899,” explores the career of a lesser-known figure in the history of American abolition, a man who during the Kansas crisis briefly made something of a name for himself as founder of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, before he was eclipsed by the likes of Garrison and others. Espousing reform through colonization, Eli Thayer’s New England Emigrant Aid Company sought to effect emancipation gradually, by colonizing Kansas with right-thinking people. Convinced of the model first tried in Kansas, Thayer promoted it as a way to end slavery in Virginia and Texas and to prevent its spread to Central America; colonization could also solve the problem of polygamy in Utah and resistance to federal authority in the Reconstruction South. When he wasn’t endorsing American expansion as policy, he was cultivating it in archives, historical societies, and historic publications. For the rest of his life, Thayer remained an enthusiastic proponent of American expansion, “connecting the moral imperative of emancipation with the rise of American imperialism”; as such his is an important case study in considering the links between the Civil War era and the era of American expansion that followed. Whereas Thayer’s name did not survive into the twentieth century, his influence did.

Rounding out this issue, Andrew Bledsoe’s review essay gets to a question central to the field of Civil War studies, that is, the place of military history in it. In our pages and elsewhere, a number of historians have called out to scholars to recommit themselves to studying and writing about traditional military subjects and defended military history’s relevancy against detractors, real and often more imagined, in the field. This can be a tough sell as long as the field is associated with an obsession with “minutiae, military pageantry, (and) tragic-heroic-triumphalism.” In his review essay, “Beyond the Chessboard of War: Contingency, Command, and Generalship in Civil War Military History,” Bledsoe offers a two-pronged solution, focused on bringing back the “men on horseback,” the military commanders. To be sure, this is not a call for a new round of finding blame with or giving credit to the right generals; instead Bledsoe calls for a fresh round of empathy for men who, under extraordinary pressure, “could not always overcome the difficulties and obstacles they faced.” And by focusing on contingency, scholars can underscore that these men on horseback were just as often responsible for “command decisions [that] create[d] cascades of contingency” as they were responding to contingencies created by the decisions and actions of myriad others. In this way, Bledsoe imagines a military history that is fully and holistically integrated into our thinking and writing about the period.

As The Churches Go, So Goes the Nation?: Evangelical Schism and American Fears on the Eve of the Civil War

As The Churches Go, So Goes the Nation?: Evangelical Schism and American Fears on the Eve of the Civil War

On April 26, 2019, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) upheld the core components of a plan reaffirming and strengthening the church’s formal ban on the ordination of LGBTQ ministers and on the recognition of same-sex marriage.[1] This “Traditional Plan” was adopted at a special session of the General Conference the previous month, held in response to a decades-long internal dispute over acceptable expressions of human sexuality within the Methodist Church. Many delegates had hoped the church would remove the prohibition on same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy, allowing individual jurisdictions and churches to determine their stance on these issues. Now the denomination has entered a showdown phase: will conservatives remain within the UMC, as liberals exit en masse? Or will the liberal contingent of the church resist and drive the traditionalists away? Whichever scenario prevails, few disagree that some sort of denominational division looms on the horizon. Observers wonder what this denominational dispute foretells for a divided nation.

Commenters on the current controversy frequently draw parallels to events that took place 175 years ago in the Methodist Episcopal Church: a denominational schism over slavery. As in the present case, social changes outside the church (then a hardening of proslavery politics in the South and the rise of antislavery in the North, now a decades-long movement for gay rights) led to a fracture over the denomination’s formal stance on a controversial question. In both instances, factions within the denomination came to prefer schism to compromise over a moral and political issue. And then, as now, outsiders seek to find within the schism clues about the future of a divided nation.

The conflict over slavery had been brewing for decades. Between the 1790s and the 1830s, America’s evangelical denominations rapidly expanded, becoming the “principle subculture in American society,” but also facing growing pains as members from across the nation sparred over slavery.[2] Methodist abolitionists pushed their national General Conference to denounce slavery as a sin—to purify the church and “cleanse the skirts of her garment from ‘blood guiltiness!’”[3] At the same time, pro-slavery Methodists sought a definitive statement that slavery was not a sin, and specifically, that slaveholding clergy could continue to serve the church. Denominational moderates adopted what they hoped would prove a conciliatory strategy, condemning abolitionism, but also declining to directly assert that slavery was not a sin. This middle road did nothing to appease abolitionists and slaveholders within the church.

James Osgood Andrew, slaveowner and Methodist bishop. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Moderates anxiously condemned abolitionists for “intermeddling” with slavery, hoping they would back down to avoid schism.[4] But by the early 1840s, abolitionist Methodists—thwarted in their attempts at reform from within—chose the purity of their theological convictions over the unity of the church and withdrew from the General Conference. Their departure did not restore hoped-for harmony.[5] The proslavery contingent wanted assurance that the Methodist Episcopal Church was not “tainted with the bloodied principles of Abolition” and did not view slave ownership as a sin.[6] They found an ideal test in the appointment of a slaveholding bishop.

Bishop James Andrew of Georgia owned at least fourteen slaves.[7] As delegates gathered for the 1844 General Conference, they prepared for a showdown over his controversial appointment. Northerners encouraged Andrew to resign, citing the interests of peace and unity. But southerners urged him to remain firm. They argued that his resignation would set a dangerous anti-slavery precedent. Ultimately, the General Conference voted that Bishop Andrew should resign from his office. The decision severed the increasingly tenuous bonds of the Methodist Church. Southern Methodist leaders, rejecting any threat to slavery, met in Louisville, Kentucky, in May of 1845 to organize a separate, pro-slavery, Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

The First Secession? Title page of a Northern Methodist history of the 1845 schism over slavery. Courtesy of Google Books.

As the Methodists worked out the terms of their division, slavery debates generated similar acrimony in the Baptist Missionary Boards. Baptists in the South feared that abolitionists had swayed the Boards against slaveholders, and the Georgia Baptist Convention tested the Foreign Mission Board in 1844 by requesting the appointment of a slaveholding missionary. Alabama Baptists quickly followed up, demanding that the General Board affirm that slaveholders were moral equals who had the right to “receive any agency, mission, or other appointment.”[8] When the Board declared that it could not appoint a slaveholder, Baptists in the South swiftly organized their own meeting. The result was a schism among American Baptists and the formation of the pro-slavery Southern Baptist Convention.[9]

Americans watched with anxiety as both the Methodist and Baptist churches divided. The schism seemed fearful symbols of a deep and unsolvable problem in American culture. They brought up deep-rooted fears about the stability of American democracy and national institutions. They appeared to be an ominous warning of what unresolvable conflict would mean and also seemed to propel the nation toward the disaster of secession.

Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster feared That schism foretold secession. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In a frequently re-printed exchange from Congressional debates over the Compromise of 1850, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun both drew on the recent schism to forecast the future. For each man, the divisions offered a lesson Americans ignored at their peril. South Carolina senator Calhoun explained that “the great religious denominations… originally embraced the whole Union” and that “the strong ties which hold each denomination together formed a strong cord to hold the whole Union together.” He saw the disintegration of the churches as both an alarming gauge of the state of the union and a powerful warning against attempts to end or limit slavery. Calhoun warned that political institutions would be the next to fracture. For his part, Webster, from Massachusetts, saw the division as a dire warning about the dangers of inflexibility and failure to tolerate the inevitable diversity that arose in a church that spanned the entire nation. He blamed the schism (and, by extension, the threat of secession) on men “with whom everything is absolute—absolutely wrong or absolutely right.” The exchange between Calhoun and Webster cemented the evangelical schisms in popular memory as at least partly responsible for the disintegration of sectional ties nationwide.[10] Certainly that was how both men viewed it. The Methodist and Baptist churches seemed to lead the nation toward a terrifying conclusion to the crisis over slavery: compromise abandoned and national institutions torn apart. The idea persisted through the Civil War. In 1864, one chronicler noted, “men in all classes of society freely lay the blame of this Rebellion at the door of the Church.”[11]

Implicit in the comparison of the current controversy in the Methodist church to the events of the 1840s is the suggestion that this potential schism is also hastening us along a path to a national cataclysm like the Civil War. Just as they did 175 years ago, Americans attempt to parse the controversy for clues to America’s future. But then, as now, the conflict in the church is a symptom of changes in the nation (and the world), not a cause. Divided churches did not divide the nation in 1861—both collapsed under the weight of the slavery controversy. Methodists fracture along different lines now—they are a global church with members around the world, many of whom oppose changes to the denomination’s stance on gay marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy.[12] The conflict in the church today does not foretell another civil war, but it does suggest that, as in the 1840s, Methodist responses to moral and political disputes may be growing too divergent for one church to contain.

 

[1] Jeremy Steele, “United Methodist Court Keeps Core of New LGBT Legislation,” Christianity Today, accessed May 10, 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/april/united-methodists-judicial-review-umc-traditional-plan-lgbt.html.

[2] Richard Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997), 1.

[3] Orange Scott, “Address to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church by the Rev. O. Scott,” 1836, in Emory S. Bucke, ed., History of American Methodism (New York: Abington Press, 1974), 30.

[4] James Flay to John McClintock, 1 March 1842, John McClintock Papers, MARBL, Emory University.

[5] Bucke, ed., History of American Methodism, 39-47, 84. See also Ira Ford McLeister and Roy Stephenson Nicholson, History of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America (Marian, Ind.: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing Association, 1959).

[6] James Flay to John McClintock, 1 March 1842, John McClintock Papers, MARBL, Emory University.

[7] Mark Auslander, The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011). Charles Elliott, History of the History of the Great Secession from the Methodist Episcopal Church (Cincinnati: Swormstedt & Poe, 1855), 295.

[8] John Stevens, Brief Historical Sketch of the Western Baptist Theological Institute (Cincinnati: D. Anderson, 1850), 33.

[9] Benjamin Franklin Riley, A History of the Baptists in the Southern States East of the Mississippi (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1898), 207.

[10] Church Topics in Congress,” Louisville Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer, July 10, 1850. Some historians have also argued that the disintegration of the churches hastened disunion. See C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the American Civil War (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1985) and Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[11] Robert L. Stanton, The Church and the Rebellion: A Consideration of the Rebellion Against the Government of the United States; and the Agency of the Church, North and South in Relation Thereto (New York: Derby and Miller, 1864), vi.

[12] Emily McFarlan Miller, “Why United Methodists Are Watching the Results of a Denominational Court Meeting,” Religious News Service, accessed May 10, 2019, https://religionnews.com/2019/04/23/why-united-methodists-are-watching-the-results-of-a-denominational-court-meeting/.

April Holm

April Holm is an Associate Professor of History and Associate Director of the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi. Her first book, A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era was published by Louisiana State University Press in the fall of 2017. Currently, she is researching a project on provost marshals and civilians in the occupied border region. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University.

2019 Draper Conference Review: “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War,” Part II

2019 Draper Conference Review: “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War,” Part II

Poster for “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War,” held at the University of Connecticut, April 19-20, 2019.

Day two of the 2019 Draper Conference brought four more panels, including a plenary session that concluded the proceedings. For my review of day one of the conference, see my previous post on Muster.

A panel on the topic of “Racial Terror and Violence” started off the morning block and questioned common assumptions about scholarly framings and documentary evidence from Reconstruction. Gregory Downs began with a provocative argument that challenged Eric Foner’s framing of Reconstruction as an “unfinished revolution,” namely that historians ought to consider the revolution finished in constitutional and military terms. Crystal Feimster turned attention to the experience of freedpeople in Louisiana—where Lincoln invested the greatest hopes and suffered the worst disappointment—and traced the complicated intersections of mutiny by black soldiers (as a form of self-defense) and of rape of black women by white soldiers (as a weapon of revenge). LeeAnna Keith explored how “Alabama fever,” specifically the use of violence by Democrats toward Republicans in Barbour County, was a central part of the political “redemption” of the state in 1874. Kidada Williams deployed the lens of critical trauma studies to question how we attribute “agency” to freedpeople. She highlighted how African Americans’ testimony during the 1870s congressional hearings about the Ku Klux Klan could “transcend historical context.” This panel pushed both historiographical and methodological boundaries and represents some of the most interesting interdisciplinary work happening in the field of Reconstruction studies.

The second morning panel on “Political Economy” brought together transnational strands in the study of Reconstruction with those centered on material and agricultural concerns. Ana Lucia Araujo considered the case of emancipation in Brazil, noting how arguments over reparations centered on land redistribution, offering a comparison to the U.S. experience. Sven Beckert conceptualized “Global Reconstruction” as part of a century-long process of post-slave societies around the world, pitting rural cultivators against industrial capitalists from the United States to India to England to Brazil. Kathleen Hilliard presented the petition of freedman Frank Spruill to obtain a tax exemption as part of a radical reimagining of economic life in the Reconstruction South. Ariel Ron explored the creation of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of a broader federal engagement with rural farmers in the Reconstruction South, reminding us that Abraham Lincoln once used scientific agriculture to dispute the pernicious mudsill theory of enslaved labor.[1] This panel effectively widened Reconstruction beyond the United States and raised contemporary, namely that of reparations for African Americans (more on this below).

Following lunch, the conference resumed with a panel titled “Grassroots Reconstruction: Gender, Education, and Black Politics.” Justin Behrend examined how a continued discourse of re-enslavement reflected the great progress made in black political mobilization by the middle 1870s. Hilary Green took on Eric Foner’s “Twilight Zone” of Reconstruction (i.e., the 1880s) as a period during which African Americans’ gains in Richmond public schools, as reflected in the biracial Readjuster Party, promised social mobility, economic justice, and educational uplift. Christopher Hager asked how the illiterate understood texts and followed how particular phrases (e.g., “illiterate Negroes”) revealed widespread literacy among African Americans by 1900. Tera Hunter raised again the question of reparations and considered how the family unit, as constituted through marriage, could be a double-edged sword for African American women, since it insisted upon traditional nuclear families and reinscribed patriarchy. This penultimate panel, like those before it, moved the chronological reach of Reconstruction beyond 1877, insisted upon the continued relevance of discourses around education and especially literacy, and placed women at the center of major narratives of the era.[2]

The plenary session, titled simply “Reconstruction,” provided a chance for senior scholars in the field to reflect upon the meaning of the conference theme. Amy Dru Stanley noted the “strange legacies of Reconstruction” by investigating how the commerce clause of the Constitution empowered Congress to safeguard African Americans from violence. She traced how sex as a legal category disappeared from the Reconstruction Amendment, which presupposed an automatic willingness of wives to engage in sexual relations with their husbands: sex had become, in this rendering, a “commodity fiction.” Steven Hahn gave a paper on the transnational connections of Reconstruction, comparing the American experience to Britain, France, and Brazil. Following the argument in A Nation Without Borders, he found Reconstruction was central to American capitalist development well through the Progressive Era. Charles Postel figured Reconstruction as a dilemma of equality and noted how the process demanded a solidarity based on exclusion. His study of the Granger movement demonstrated a twin opposition to railroads and Reconstruction, which suggests how democratic impulses from below presaged a pullback from racial equality in the West. The plenary session thus concluded the “Greater Reconstruction” conference.[3]

Audience and participants at the Draper Conference. Photo courtesy of Ana Lucia Araujo.

The scholarship of an older generation of historians loomed large in the final session and across the conference as a whole. For starters, the phrase, “the Greater Reconstruction” deserves its historiographic context. In The Republic for Which It Stands, Richard White’s grand synthesis, the author notes that he “took the idea of the Greater Reconstruction” from Elliott West’s article “Reconstructing Race” (2003). West periodized the Reconstruction process as taking place over the years from 1846 to 1877 (incidentally, White framed the event only from the Civil War years until the middle 1870s). A question might be posed, then, whether this longer view of the Civil War Era disrupts other such historically significant moments (namely, those of the Gilded Age, the era of Jim Crow, or the New South). As the many papers of the conference have argued, placing African Americans at the center of the story of Reconstruction necessarily requires a reframing of the years that constituted the historical moment. Constructing narratives centered on the freedpeople themselves breaks new ground both in historical and historiographic terms. Yet, might these same reframings decenter African Americans from other historically significant moments in American history?[4]

Building upon past studies, historians should look to the most recent scholarship to understand the future of the study of Reconstruction. As noted in the previous post, the “Greater Reconstruction” framework can widen the story beyond the South, a project already well underway in the field. Scholarly works that could profitably contribute to this “Greater Reconstruction” approach, especially those about Native Americans, African Americans in the West, and African Americans in the North, would round out the story. In addition to those of several presenters at this conference, recent books by Heather Cox Richardson, Claudio Saunt, Lisa G. Materson, Kendra T. Field, and Millington Bergeson-Lockwood all point in this direction. As Eric Foner said in an afterword to another recently edited volume on Reconstruction, the “promise of reconceptualizing Reconstruction” beckons. If the “Greater Reconstruction” conference did not quite achieve the full extent of this promise, it made as good a start as any of which of I am aware.[5]

However, the happy truth of the historical profession is that no one conference can serve as the be all and end all of scholarship. History, Peter Geyl once quipped, is nothing if not “argument without end.” Indeed, the 2019 Draper Conference left me wondering: had the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the Reconstruction years yielded other such gatherings of historians? The answer is a resounding yes. In 2017, the Advanced Research Collaborative of the CUNY Graduate Center and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies sponsored “Emancipations, Reconstructions, and Revolutions: African American Politics and U.S. History in the Long 19th Century,” which once more challenged chronology as an organizing principle for Reconstruction. In 2018, the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) conference, “Freedoms Gained and Lost: Reinterpreting Reconstruction in the Atlantic World,” honored the sesquicentennial of South Carolina’s 1868 Constitution by assembling a similar cadre of scholars to discuss the legacies of the Reconstruction. One month prior to the Draper Conference, the Duke Center on Law, Race, and Politics, and the Law in Slavery and Freedom Project at the University of Michigan organized a conference, titled simply “Reconstruction,” that took a multi-disciplinary approach to the topic.

The recent PBS documentaries, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War and Boss: The Black Experience in Business, likewise debuted concurrently with the 2019 Draper Conference. Several popular histories of Reconstruction have also appeared in the past few years.[6] Thus, in both academic and public forums, the topic of Reconstruction has not been ignored; if anything, the era is poised for a resurgence in scholarly publications and the popular imagination alike.

Like many others, I left the 2019 Draper Conference wondering what a history of a truly “Greater Reconstruction” would look like. If we yet lack this elusive volume of American history, several recent edited collections, forums, and roundtables have offered numerous possible routes to exploring the idea further. [7] In my own view, the proceedings of this conference cohered sufficiently to warrant publishing an edited volume around the most provocative, ground-breaking of the papers. Until then, we wait with anticipation to see the many scholars at the “Greater Reconstruction” conference bring their work to full fruition.

 

 

[1] For a definition of “mudsill,” see Michael E. Woods, “Mudsills v. Chivalry,“ Muster (blog), Journal of the Civil War Era, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2018/12/mudsills-vs-chivalry/.

[2] For Foner’s “Twilight Zone” comment, see Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, episode 3, directed by Julia Marchesi (Inkwell Films and McGee Media, 2019).

[3] For more on these arguments, see Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in the Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 (New York: Viking, 2016); and the forthcoming books by Amy Dru Stanley, The Antislavery Ethic and the Spirit of Commerce: An American History of Human Rights (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, forthcoming); and Charles Postel, Equality: An American Dilemma, 1866-1896 (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, forthcoming).

[4] Richard White, The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 873; Elliott West, “Reconstructing Race,” Western Historical Quarterly 34, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 6-26.

[5] Eric Foner, “Afterword,” in After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South, eds. Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2014), 222. For the studies mentioned, see Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004); Claudio Saunt, Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of the American Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Lisa G. Materson, For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Kendra T. Field, Growing Up with the Country: Family, Race, and Nation after the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018); and Millington W. Bergeson-Lockwood, Race Over Party: Black Politics and Partisanship in Late Nineteenth-Century Boston (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

[6] For just one example of a popular history that engages the period of Reconstruction, see Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (New York: One World, 2017).

[7] For edited collections that have raised similar concerns, see Thomas J. Brown, ed., Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly, eds., After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2014); Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur, eds., The World the Civil War Made (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Carole Emberton and Bruce E. Baker, eds., Remembering Reconstruction: Struggles over the Meaning of America’s Most Turbulent Era (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017); the Journal of the Civil War Era’s forum, “Forum: The Future of Reconstruction Studies,” 2017, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies; and “A Muster Roundtable on the Fourteenth Amendment,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, July 9-14, 2018, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2018/07/a-muster-roundtable-on-the-fourteenth-amendment.

Thomas Balcerski

Thomas J. Balcerski is assistant professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University. He is the author of Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2019. You can follow him on Twitter at @tbalcerski.

2019 Draper Conference Review: “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War,” Part I

2019 Draper Conference Review: “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War,” Part I

On April 19 and 20, the University of Connecticut at Storrs hosted the 2019 Draper Conference on the topic of “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War.” The two-day event featured eight panels, consisting of thirty-one paper presentations and a keynote address.[1] All told, the conference revealed an incredible depth and breadth to the study of the era of Reconstruction and beyond. Given the recent debut of the PBS series Reconstruction: America After the Civil War (2019), it was timely as well.[2]

I was fortunate to attend both days of the conference, and in this and a subsequent post, I will provide snapshots of the various panels, broken out by day. These notes are by no means complete. Readers are encouraged to check out the #DraperConference2019 hashtag on Twitter for some incredible live tweets by conference participants and to watch the archived recordings made of several of the panels, and where possible, assess for themselves the summations presented here.[3]

Opening remarks by Dr. Manisha Sinha, who was instrumental in bringing these scholars together. Photo courtesy of Megan Kate Nelson.

That being said, I would like to start my review of “The Greater Reconstruction” conference by providing a sense of the animating logic of the event. Manisha Sinha, Draper Chair of American History at the University of Connecticut, organized the program. Accordingly, she provided opening remarks around a series of questions that framed the various panels that followed. Fortunately, too, Sinha participated in the closing plenary session and offered some initial thoughts about the cumulative significance of what had taken place (more on that in the next post). Without her guiding vision, this important reconsideration of Reconstruction could not have taken place.

In keeping with the theme, each panel pushed the temporal and historiographic boundaries of Reconstruction. Day one opened with a panel on “The Legal History of Reconstruction” that featured an interdisciplinary gathering of historians and legal scholars. Pamela Brandwein brought attention to the state action doctrine as articulated in the Ex Parte Yarborough case (1884), and especially in the ruling of Associate Supreme Court Justice Joseph Bradley. Kate Masur connected the repeal of the black laws in the Old Northwest, prior to the Civil War, to the debates surrounding the Thirteenth Amendment in 1866. Christian Samito reminded us of another important truism, namely that the 1866 Civil Rights Act did not abandon an overarching commitment to federalism. John Fabian Witt challenged what he considered the last holdout of the Dunning School—the view of military authority as antithetical to civil rights themselves. Collectively, the opening panel effectively pushed back on the historiographic supremacy of the Cruikshank decision (1876) and the later Civil Rights cases (1883).

Panelists speaking on legal history. From left to right: John Fabian Witt (Yale Law School), Christian G. Samito (Boston University School of Law), Kate Masur (Northwestern), and Pamela Brandwein (University of Michigan). Photo courtesy of Ana Lucia Araujo.

The second panel took a biographical turn and patterned itself in the traditional mode of political history that has privileged male subjects. Yet like all good biography, the four presenters found broader meaning in their subjects’ respective lives. Stephen Berry presented the story of Prince Rivers, whom he playfully termed “the most important man you’ve never heard of,” a formerly enslaved African American from South Carolina whose career as a soldier, politician, and coachman paralleled the ebbs and flows of Reconstruction. Drawing from his forthcoming book on the Adams family, Douglas Egerton revealed how the life of Charles Francis Adams, Jr., descendant of two U.S. presidents, paralleled the rise and fall of a political dynasty and the Republican Party’s commitment to Reconstruction. Bruce Levine spoke about his forthcoming biography of Thaddeus Stevens and traced his “democratic radicalism” in his political course during the Reconstruction period. John Stauffer discussed his ongoing research into the life of Charles Sumner and stressed his famous phrase—“equality before the law”—finding that Sumner anticipated the later jurisprudence of Justice Louis Brandeis. By telling biographies, moreover, they reminded us that Reconstruction continued, at least in their subjects’ minds, for many years ahead.[4]

Following lunch, the third panel on the topic of “Western and Native American History” got underway. The topics shifted the terrain of Reconstruction west of the Mississippi and opened an important line of inquiry into how far the “Greater Reconstruction” concept might extend. Kendra Taira Field complicated narratives of Reconstruction as extending only to African Americans in the South by tracking her own family’s genealogy, one that included Native Americans and African Americans. Ari Kelman argued persuasively against the notion, popularized by Charles Francis Adams, Sr., that the advance of liberty and the consolidation of empire proceeded along parallel tracks and listed several episodes in the so-called Indian Wars of the West to underscore the point. Heather Cox Richardson connected the political history of the Republican Party to the expansion of western states; however, she finds that these states shared much in common with the former Confederacy in their handling of labor and race relations. Stacey Smith homed in on California, noting how African American suffrage in view of Chinese political exclusion reflected potentially important “political microclimates.” This panel, a welcomed change of direction, nevertheless came to stand as almost an outlier in the conference (more on this below).

The fourth panel, conglomerated under the title “New Directions in the History of Emancipation and Reconstruction,” advanced numerous areas of new research. Abigail Cooper drew attention to the continued valance of conjuring in the spiritual beliefs of African American cosmology and included recent anthropological finds from Camp Nelson in Kentucky. Jim Downs rendered a critical fabulation of how medical doctors during the Civil War utilized black bodies as incubators for smallpox inoculation. Carole Emberton reminded us of the emotional toll of encountering freedom among the “charter generation of freedom.” Amy Murrell Taylor emphasized the material lives of everyday people in the South and especially the fundamental need for shelter. Although covering disparate topics, all four papers plumbed new depths of African American interiority during the 1860s and 1870s. Theirs were social and cultural questions that incorporated localized viewpoints to reflect broader themes in the Reconstruction period.

Finally, Eric Foner delivered the keynote address, titled “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.” Following the publication of Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 in 1988, Michael Perman famously asked, “What is to be done?” Thirty years later, the question has been fully answered, as even the preceding panelists and even Foner himself continues to find new avenues of research. His current project paints with broad, presentist brush strokes: he begins with the premise that today’s driving political questions are Reconstruction questions. Foner reviewed how the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments originated in a “constitutional revolution” and traced their effects in the decades ahead. Designed for general readers, his forthcoming The Second Founding will surely provoke popular attention to the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction and continue to open, rather than close down, future investigations of the subject.[5]

Poster for “The Greater Reconstruction: American Democracy after the Civil War,” held at the University of Connecticut, April 19-20, 2019.

The 2019 Draper Conference continued with another full day of panels and presentations. But at the close of day one, an electric spirit filled the air. The four panels and the keynote address touched upon major methodological, chronological, and geographical fault lines in the historiography of Reconstruction. Here I will highlight two such strands that, in retrospect, appear especially important.

The first concerns the question of just how “great” the “Greater Reconstruction” concept should extend. As noted earlier, the third panel on Western and Native American History first raised this question. However, little seems to have been resolved by either that panel or the larger conference. If anything, the absence of Native American voices, and moreover attention to Native American history, limited this necessary discussion. In fact, during the plenary on the following day, Sinha offered her view that the story of African American Reconstruction in the South seems to stand separate from the history of the Indian Wars in the West. Perhaps, as Charles Postel later pointed out, this is because, in its own day, the term Reconstruction applied narrowly and exclusively to the southern theater. If historians insist upon a wider application, this neat historical association will be lost with it. And given the casting of Reconstruction in the recent four-part PBS Reconstruction documentary—one that has been critiqued for missing wider connections westward and northward—it will be a framing to which the public mind has not been exposed.

Equally, day one of the conference might lead one to suspect that Reconstruction consisted entirely of legal and political events, often conducted by white politicians in Washington, D.C. The voices of African Americans in the South appeared in passing, notably in the papers of Berry, Cooper, Downs, Emberton, and Taylor. Day two of the conference would correct the imbalance, but the mismatch raises a second major question about the “Greater Reconstruction”: whose story is it to tell?

Certainly, part of the complicated legacy of Reconstruction has been its use by later generations for political purposes. As the paper by Witt and the address by Foner reminded us, the remnants of the Dunning School, and its flawed view of Reconstruction as an abject failure, stubbornly cling to life in the popular mind. The telling of Reconstruction along a wider framework would speak in an inclusive, poly-vocal way, but what can be done to stamp out the last of the Dunning School’s pernicious effects?

In my own view, an emphasis on black political activism and black political leaders would center the narrative around questions of power, from which so much of the lived experience of African Americans in the South and more widely in the United States can be traced. Local political engagements are certainly important, yet the Reconstruction chronology might be profitably told alongside the longer story of black political power at the national level (i.e., through election to the U.S. Congress and in appointments to federal offices). For this reason, the expiration of the term of Representative George Henry White of North Carolina in 1901 might make for a fitting end to such a narrative.[6]

In the next post, I will continue my observations about day two of the 2019 Draper Conference.

 

[1] For the full program of speakers, see the conference program at http://www.cvent.com/events/reconstruction-conference/event-summary-33ded93de8984e5fb0d59029f690914d.aspx.

[2] Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, directed by Julia Marchesi (Inkwell Films and McGee Media, 2019). See also the helpful reviews by Millington Bergeson-Lockwood, “Facing The ‘False Picture Of Facts’: Episodes 1 and 2 of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, April 23, 2019, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2019/04/facing-the-false-picture-of-facts-episodes-1-and-2-of-reconstruction-america-after-the-civil-war; and Hilary N. Green, “A Long Retreat: Episodes 3 and 4 of Reconstruction: America After The Civil War,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, April 26, 2019, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2019/04/a-long-retreat-episodes-3-and-4-of-reconstruction-america-after-the-civil-war.

[3] For the various tweets using the official hashtag of the conference, see https://twitter.com/search?q=%23DraperConference2019&src=typd.

[4] Stephen Berry, The Black Prince: The Emancipated Life of Prince Rivers of South Carolina (Athens: University of Georgia Press, forthcoming); Douglas R. Egerton, Heirs of an Honored Name: The Decline of the Adams Family and the Rise of Modern America (New York: Basic Books, forthcoming); Bruce Levine, Thaddeus Stevens, Revolutionary (New York: Simon & Schuster, forthcoming).

[5] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988); Michael Perman, “Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: A Finished Revolution,” Reviews in American History 17, no. 1 (March 1989): 78; Eric Foner, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (New York: W.W. Norton, forthcoming). See also the excellent historiographic overview by John M. Giggie, “Rethinking Reconstruction,” Reviews in American History 35, no. 2 (December 2007): 545-555; and the review essay by Edward Blum, “Still Bloody, Still Tragic: The History of Reconstruction,” H-CivWar, June 2008, https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=14599.

[6] On this subject, see Philip Dray, Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008); Douglas R. Egerton, The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014); Luis-Alejandro Dinnella-Borrego, The Risen Phoenix: Black Politics in the Post-Civil War South (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016); and, for the later period, Mary-Elizabeth B. Murphy, Jim Crow Capital: Women and Black Freedom Struggles in Washington, D.C., 1920-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

Thomas Balcerski

Thomas J. Balcerski is assistant professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University. He is the author of Bosom Friends: The Intimate World of James Buchanan and William Rufus King, forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2019. You can follow him on Twitter at @tbalcerski.

Author Interview: Caroline Janney

Author Interview: Caroline Janney

Our special issue in March 2019 on Civil War veterans includes an article by Caroline Janney, titled “Free to Go Where We Liked: The Army of Northern Virginia After Appomattox.” Janney is Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (2008) and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (2013), as well as co-editor with Gary W. Gallagher of Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign (2015). She serves as a co-editor of the University of North Carolina Press’s Civil War America Series and is the past president of the Society of Civil War Historians.


Thank you for participating in this special issue, Carrie, and also for chatting with us briefly. Many of our readers have read your article in this March 2019 issue, but could you briefly summarize the focus and argument of your article?

Most works on the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia end their story with the surrender on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox. An examination of the immediate post-surrender period, however, suggests that many of Lee’s men did not experience surrender as a definitive conclusion to their experience as Confederate soldiers. Because of Grant’s generous surrender terms, they dispersed from Appomattox more like soldiers than vanquished rebels. But their journeys also revealed the degree to which a substantial portion of Confederate civilians continued to support them even in defeat and highlighted the ways in which Confederates might continue to fight the results of emancipation. The disbanding of Lee’s army thus foreshadowed much of what would play out in the years to come as Confederate soldiers-turned-veterans continued to resist changes to the southern social and political order.

Your work is an excellent example of how, even with a topic as heavily researched as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, there is still room for historians to offer new insights. What inspired you to undertake this research?

I have long been interested in what happened to soldiers–both Union and Confederate–after the fighting stopped. That is what led me to spend so much of my career studying memory. But in recent years, I’ve continued to push back to the immediate postwar period, or in this case, perhaps even before the war was truly at an end. I initially thought I would write just an essay in a volume I was editing on how Lee’s soldiers made their way home after the surrender. But once I began the research, I realized the story was much more complicated and went in many more directions than I had anticipated.

The work that we do as historians is often like that, isn’t it? Research in archives can lead us in new directions. Which connects to another question I have for you. As I read your article, it struck me that it was probably challenging to locate a source base that could address these questions. Can you share what kind of methodological approach you used here?

When I began this project, I reached out to Patrick Schroeder at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. I can’t begin to thank him enough for all of the advice he gave me then–and continues to give me on a regular basis. He shared many of the park research files on “Going Home Accounts” of Confederate soldiers. That was my starting point. From there, I’ve continued to look for any diary, letter, or memoir that talked about the period after April 9, 1865–both in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac. Beyond the accounts of individuals, I have spent a great deal of time at the National Archives looking at a variety of records from Departmental ledger books to parole records. At NARA, Trevor Plante has been incredibly helpful in helping me to locate material.

You offer some fascinating stories of specific soldiers and regiments, including one that highlights how racial tensions between Confederate parolees and USCT soldiers escalated in the war’s immediate aftermath. What happened with Fenigan’s Florida brigade, and what makes that story significant?

After receiving their paroles at Appomattox, several members of Fenigan’s Brigade made their way to City Point where they hoped to take a steamer south to Florida. While waiting for a ship, they embarked on what would be the first of several murders of United States Colored Troops during their trip home. Each time, they managed to avoid getting caught. I argue that these murders underscored the degree to which wartime atrocities by Confederates against the USCT continued after April 9, 1865. The Confederate army had often disregarded and, in numerous instances, sanctioned the killing of African American soldiers. It should therefore come as no surprise that even after surrendering, these rebel soldiers continued to behave as they had prior to Appomattox.

Early in the article, you write that “the process by which Lee’s army would leave Appomattox served to embolden the sense that the Army of Northern Virginia had not been vanquished” (6). This connects, I think, to the popular myth that the Confederacy did not suffer a true military defeat—the United States merely had more resources and more soldiers. Do you think that these generous surrender terms in some way contributed to the development of this myth, which remains a part of Lost Cause ideology even today?

Although I do not fault Grant for his generous terms–he was doing precisely what Lincoln had asked of him in an effort to swiftly reunite the nation–the terms did allow Lee’s soldiers to quite literally walk away from the battlefield with a promise not to be disturbed by Union authorities. In other words, they would not be punished for their experiment in rebellion. They were not paraded through the streets of Washington as captives of war. They were not locked away in prison camps for years to come (as British soldiers surrendering at Yorktown had been). They were, as one of the men I write about observed, “free to go” where they liked. The terms, coupled with the firm belief that even if the armies had been defeated Confederate sentiment had not surrendered, absolutely informed the Lost Cause.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Just to remind them that there is often more to the story than we might initially think. Some of my favorite history books are those that tackle a topic that we thought needed little explanation. Sometimes asking what seem like the most obvious questions can lead to the most surprising stories.


Thank you, Carrie. That’s an important reminder, and we appreciate your participation in this conversation during this very busy point in the academic year. Readers, please feel free to ask her more questions on Twitter, @CarrieJanney.

A Long Retreat: Episodes 3 and 4 of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

A Long Retreat: Episodes 3 and 4 of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

No matter how “bitter the chastening rod,” to borrow from the Black National Anthem, the second part of the Henry Louis Gates’s documentary on Reconstruction shows how African Americans kept fighting well after the Compromise of 1877. Part two of this engaging documentary tackles the long retreat from Reconstruction (to read a review of Part one, click here). In what Eric Foner calls a “Twilight Zone,” the remaining two hours reveal African Americans who refused to abandon the promise of Reconstruction, even as the nation gave up on them legally, politically, economically, and culturally.[1]

Focusing on the transitional period of 1877 to 1896, the first hour of Part two (episode 3) examines the active and often violent dismantling of Reconstruction. Convict leasing, lynching, and sharecropping eroded the gains achieved by African Americans. These processes contributed to the culling of African American leaders and entrepreneurs who posed threats to Henry Grady’s New South vision, and they also limited future success by entrapping African Americans in either debt or prison labor camps. Moreover, the combined and often reinforcing consequences of Supreme Court decisions, Congress’s inability to curb the unraveling of Reconstruction-era Constitutional gains, and redeemed southern governments’ policies and laws, all contributed to the rise of the Jim Crow era and disfranchisement.

As with the first two hours of the documentary, Gates truly reveals African Americans’ resilience and their refusal to accept the loss of rights. The Exoduster movement, as explained by Nell Irvin Painter, shows how some African Americans responded with their feet, migrating to the American West.[2] Others chose to create all-black settlements and towns in southern states, while others continued to fight against the increasing injustices by turning to African American newspapers. Ida B. Wells actively used her pen to combat dominant rape narratives and perceptions of African American criminality as justifications for lynchings. As historian Jelani Cobb stated, these newspapers provided the first draft of African American history. With the death of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington’s ascendancy to national prominence could not prevent the attacks on civil rights that would not be successfully challenged until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The second hour of Part two (episode 4) focuses on the story’s nadir and the role of southern propaganda in achieving victory with the cultural redemption of Reconstruction. Through the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s construction of monuments, textbook campaigns, and other activities, the growing Lost Cause ideology created political legitimacy for the work of later segregationists, White Citizens Council members, and monument defenders following the unrest in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017. In addition to the legacy of UDC efforts, explained by Karen Cox and former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, Rhae Lynn Barnes explores the history of blackface and its popularity as contributing to the long cultural retreat of Reconstruction. By “blackening up their skin,” white Americans claimed cultural authority over black life, ranging from performances held at churches, schools, and theaters, to political campaign rallies.

African American Public School Photograph, c. 1900, Petersburg, Virginia. Courtesy of the author’s personal collection.

Despite this purposeful rewriting of Reconstruction, African Americans embraced photography and reclaimed their dignity and humanity. As a collector of early African American photography, I appreciated this portion of the documentary. These diverse photographs showcased the men, women, and children who persisted through living and documenting meaningful lives created at the turn of the twentieth century. Furthermore, W. E. B. Du Bois employed black photography as ammunition in the cultural war being waged with his “Exhibit of American Negros” at the 1900 Paris Exposition. George Walker and Bert Williams also reclaimed blackface and their cultural authority with the “Two Real Coons” performances. Through the Niagara Movement, National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP), and the New Negro Movement, African Americans kept fighting while finding restorative healing in segregated African American safe spaces. Yet, even these counter-resistance efforts could not stop white Americans from embracing D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of Nation (1915) and a national reconciliationist impulse grounded in not only whiteness, but also in the failure of Reconstruction.

As the Reconstruction moment draws to its ultimate conclusion in the documentary, African Americans and their radical white allies continued to imagine a different type of world. Rather than accept second-class citizenship, they kept fighting. The tastes of Reconstruction-era freedoms drove their sacrifice, activism, and demands for justice. Gates concludes that Reconstruction never ended but remains an unfinished revolution, in which the nation is still grappling with what it means to be a “multiracial nation with equality for all.”[3]

Overall, the second part of this four-hour, engaging, teachable documentary captures the complexity of the long retreat of Reconstruction. It brings to popular audiences the recent scholarship in Reconstruction studies and African American history. Gates, moreover, showcases the rich diversity of stellar scholars on screen. For once, white male scholars appear as the minority.

While comprehensive in scope and content, the documentary is not perfect. Gates’s telling of this complex and misunderstood era still permits the silencing of black women’s activism within the National Association of Colored Women and even the rise of New Negro Womanhood, to favor a rather conventional narrative centered on the Niagara Movement and emergence of the NAACP. The Exodusters and all-black Western towns also allowed for the continued displacement of Native Americans. Yet, they are absent from Part two. The southern focus also ignores the complex experiences of the Reconstruction North, Midwest, and West. Despite these missed opportunities, Henry Louis Gates’s Reconstruction: America After the Civil War is a worthwhile update to previous documentaries. Regardless how stony the road, Gates demonstrates in this fine documentary the necessity of understanding Reconstruction and its legacy in the present.

 

 

[1] Each episode appears on PBS.org, at https://www.pbs.org/weta/reconstruction/episodes/.

[2] Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, episode 3, directed by Julia Marchesi (Inkwell Films and McGee Media, 2019).

[3] Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, episode 4, directed by Julia Marchesi (Inkwell Films and McGee Media, 2019).

Hilary N. Green

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

Facing the “False Picture of Facts”: Episodes 1 and 2 of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

Facing the “False Picture of Facts”: Episodes 1 and 2 of Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

In 1884, formerly enslaved African American author and newspaper editor T. Thomas Fortune wrote Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South, his analysis of the political and economic conditions in the South after the formal end of Reconstruction in 1877. He described the uncertain reality facing freedmen less than two decades after their emancipation. “There is no question today in American politics,” Fortune argued, “more unsettled than the negro question.” Fortune, a newspaper man himself, condemned the national mainstream press for not only failing to advocate for the rights of Black people, but also misrepresenting them as “incapable of imbibing the distorted civilization in the midst of which they live and have their being.” “Day after day,” Fortune explained, “they weave a false picture of facts—facts which must measurably influence the future historian of the times.”[1]

Sadly, the history of Reconstruction would for too long be based on these false facts and clouded by the fog of white supremacy. With few notable exceptions, until the second half of the twentieth century a narrative of unprepared freedmen, cruel and exploitative northerners, and southern nostalgia for the lost confederate cause dominated the story of Reconstruction in both academia and popular culture. From the 1950s through the present, historians worked to undo this narrative distortion, yet for many Americans the period remains one of the least understood in American history.

The PBS production Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, executive produced and hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., takes this new history and presents it as an engaging, thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching documentary. The film is divided into four, hour-long episodes, televised in two parts (all episodes are also available online). Part one tells the story of the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, a hopeful time during what W. E. B. Du Bois called African Americans’ “brief moment in the sun.” These were the tumultuous early years of rising hopes and daunting challenges. Part one concludes with the darkening horizon following the end of federal Reconstruction and the so-called redemption of white supremacist southerners.

Reconstruction is remarkable for its ability to tell the story of the past, while never losing its anchor in present day. Beginning with the tragic and racist slaughter of Black churchgoers in the 2015 massacre at Charleston’s “Mother” Emanuel AME Church, the film uses the story of Reconstruction to understand the persistence of white supremacist ideology and violence in America. What happened at Mother Emanuel was not a “singular horror,” but part of a tragic and dishonorable history of racism and violence going back to the end of the Civil War. “Violence,” historian Shawn Alexander explains, “goes side-by-side in American history to the creation of white supremacist racial ideology that has driven us from slavery all the way to the present day.”[2] The roots of Charleston, the film shows, start in Reconstruction.

Some of the most celebrated experts on Reconstruction guide the viewer through this history. Especially notable is the expertise of scholars like Martha Jones, Kidada Williams, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and others who push the study of Reconstruction forward with new knowledge of citizenship, the law, and the lived experience of African Americans during Reconstruction, especially that of African American women. The film, however, does not rely only on “talking head”-style commentary by academic experts to move the narrative forward. In several scenes, Gates interviews historians, descendants of Reconstruction era leaders, clergy, and lawmakers. He engages them in discussion of not just their knowledge of the past, but also what the history of the era means to them today. For the viewer, this provides an intimate connection to the past as witness to a casual conversation, providing an intimate present-day understanding of the resonance of the era.

In addition to the excellent commentary, Reconstruction makes powerful use of partially animated segments of black and white figures. These scenes typically illustrate primary testimony, showing moments of horrific trauma or violence, conveying the feeling of a nightmare or bad memory, Figures appear largely faceless, capturing not only the sense that the subjects could stand in for multiple events, but also the anonymity of the thousands of victims of atrocities for whom there is no record.

Reconstruction tells three intertwined narratives. It follows the story of recently freed men and women as they chart a future for themselves in a post-Civil War world. It also describes the ways the federal government dealt with the nation’s new post-war realities and contended with African Americans as a part of the American body politic. Finally, and overlaid over the whole story, is the creation and persistence of Confederate mythmaking that is going to influence deeply how the history of the first two themes is told.

Early in the first episode, Gates embeds African American agency firmly in the narrative of Reconstruction, and Black power and autonomy is celebrated throughout. “To a remarkable degree,” he states, “it was the slaves themselves” who were the catalysts of emancipation and ultimately the end of the Civil War.[3] Rejecting the former narrative that freedmen and women were passive pawns unprepared or unworthy of freedom, the documentary shows how almost immediately they went about searching for lost family members, building homes, acquiring land, starting businesses and institutions, and serving in elected office. The episode notes the importance of Black Civil War service as driving a new sense of pride and post-war empowerment. Yet, the freedmen and women faced severe challenges. Andrew Johnson, who replaced Lincoln after his assassination, thwarted attempts to redistribute slaveholders’ land. This undermined the struggle for Black economic independence, the fallout of which would continue for generations. Nevertheless, the rate of progress was remarkable. “There are not many moments in recorded human history,” Kimberlé Crenshaw concludes in episode one, “where a group that was so subordinated, so disposed, would within the spread of a decade actually be fully integrated into the highest echelons of political society—it’s almost like the decade advanced the possibilities of freedom one-hundred years.”[4]

The federal government was sometimes an ally and sometimes an antagonist to this quick progress. Rarely in United States history have the actions and events in Congress and the federal government had such an immediate and direct effect on the lives of its people. Episode one tells the story of how, soon after the end of the war, Congress passed amendments and legislation prohibiting slavery, establishing citizenship, and prohibiting racial discrimination in suffrage. They also passed laws limiting racial discrimination and attempting to curb racial violence. Yet, the federal government failed to go far enough to help freedmen and women gain an economic foothold, and the fate of future rights remained subject to the political will of elected officials.

Photo of Robert Smalls, Civil War hero and a proponent of Black rights during Reconstruction. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In many ways, however, it was African Americans themselves who made any progress at the federal level possible. Episode two focuses on how, as voters, they helped preserve a Republican majority in Congress, including Black senators and congressmen, and helped win Grant the White House. Especially poignant is the film’s discussion of Robert Smalls, the formerly enslaved, South Carolinian Civil War hero elected to the House of Representatives in the 1870s. Gates interviews his great-great grandson who recalls the importance of Smalls as a model for understanding African American successes of the era. “This is American history,” he tells Gates, “Robert’s story is a metaphor for this broader movement that empowered a whole race of people.”[5] Hard fought progress, however, would be undone nearly as quickly as it had come.

Episode two of part one ends in the late 1870s with the controversial compromise leading to the election of President Rutherford B. Hayes and the removal of federal troops from the south. The decline of the successes of Reconstruction by the end of the 1870s would be given a cultural and ideological defense by emerging white supremacist ideas that degraded African Americans and placed white southerners as the primary victims of the Civil War and its aftermath. Propaganda campaigns painted black leaders as ridiculous caricatures, Reconstruction as an utter failure, and elevated Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee to king-like status. These false narratives counteracted and undermined the realities of Black progress and ascendancy. As Shawn Alexander tells the audience, white attackers brutalized Black men and women “because they had been too successful…it flies in the face of the idea that [African Americans] are inferior.”[6]

Alfred Rudolph Waud, “The First Vote,” Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867. Courtesy of the Library of Virginia.

Coupled with an economic downturn that helped Democrats win northern elections, violent voter suppression propelled white Democrats into office across the South, immediately halting federal protections so necessary to prevent the slaughter of black citizens. As Gates closes the first two hours, “the success of Reconstruction depended on the will of the nation to hold the line against the forces of violence eager to undo it. As the nation’s will faltered, the rights of African Americans would be sacrificed to political expediency.”[7] Part one ends with the tragic collapse of formal Reconstruction and the dismantling of federal protection of Black rights and lives. Clinging tentatively to the hopes of the past, African Americans faced an uncertain future.

While the first half of Reconstruction tells an impactful story and rebuts the previous narrative of the Lost Cause, it remains largely confined to Southern states and limited to a fairly standard revisionist narrative. Recently historians have pushed the study of Reconstruction in exciting new directions not addressed in the film. Historians like Heather Cox Richardson, who appears in the film, push the geographic boundaries to look at places beyond the former Confederacy, like the American West. Others have shown how women’s rights and American labor organizing expanded at unprecedented rates during this same period. The Journal of the Civil War Era’s forum on the future of Reconstruction studies is an excellent place to start.[8]

These limitations, however, are less critique than points for further exploration. Reconstruction provides an engaging reexamination of what Gates calls a “chaotic, exhilarating, and ultimately devastating period.” It provides an effective preamble for the stark erosion of Reconstruction, Black freedom, and American democracy that continues in the second two hours of the film. The film is a powerful counter-force to the “false picture of facts” that proliferated and continue to have a hold on how many Americans understand the era. It captures with stark images and commentary the lost opportunity, the failure of which we are continuing to reckon with today.

 

 

[1] T. Thomas Fortune, Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics in the South (New York: Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, 1884), 13-14.

[2] Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, episode 2, directed by Julia Marchesi (Inkwell Films and McGee Media, 2019).

[3] Reconstruction, episode 1.

[4] Reconstruction, episode 1.

[5] Reconstruction, episode 2.

[6] Reconstruction, episode 2.

[7] Reconstruction, episode 2.

[8] “Forum: The Future of Reconstruction Studies,” The Journal of the Civil War Era, accessed April 21, 2019, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies/.

Millington Bergeson-Lockwood

Millington Bergeson-Lockwood is a historian of African American history, race, law and politics. He received his PhD from the University of Michigan in 2011. His book, Race Over Party: Black Politics and Partisanship in Late Nineteenth-Century Boston was published with the University of North Carolina Press in 2018. His article “‘We Do Not Care Particularly About the Skating Rinks’: African Americans Challenges to Racial Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodation in Nineteenth-Century Boston, Massachusetts” was awarded the Richards Prize by the Journal of the Civil War Era for best article published in 2015.

The Multiple Meanings of Military Occupation: A Report from the OAH

The Multiple Meanings of Military Occupation: A Report from the OAH

The United States’ prolonged military engagement in the Middle East has given new prominence and urgency to occupation studies across a wide range of disciplines, including our own. Taking seriously the need to contemplate and reckon with the multiple meanings of military occupation, a panel at the Organization of American Historians’ 2019 meeting, “Between Occupation and Liberation: Negotiating Freedoms across Three Centuries of American Military Occupations,” conceives of “occupation” as a distinctive category of analysis, encouraging scholars to compare race and gender across time and space.

The panel commenced with Lauren Duval’s (American University) paper, “Liberty’s Limits: British Military Occupation and Civilian Freedoms in the American Revolution,” a preview of her book manuscript. In August 1777, a British captain and a local apothecary knocked fists. Far more than a simple street brawl, court martial proceedings revealed the fight as a battle over domestic space and the labor within that space. British occupation during the American Revolution, Duval contends, brought the war home to civilians, disrupted hierarchies, disordered households, and challenged the patriarchal authority of civilian men. The absence of husbands and fathers, coupled with the presence of the British army, gave women and the enslaved an opportunity to change their life’s circumstances by negotiating labor or having social relations with British officers. As hierarchies crumbled, however, traditional means of protection eroded as well, leaving women exposed to sexual abuse or abandonment. According to Duval, occupation was not “a bid for freedom” but rather a period of intensive renegotiation where women and the enslaved could leverage their labor and status amid the chaos of war. Women especially were still held in a position of subordinate dependence, but amid the destabilizing forces of occupation, they could decide who they wanted to be dependent upon.

Andrew F. Lang’s (Mississippi State University) “Emancipation, Martial Discipline, and the Problem of Military Citizenship in the United States Colored Troops’ Civil War” examines the contested place of the United States Colored Troops within the narrative of occupation. According to Lang, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation relegated African-Americans to permanent auxiliary positions behind the lines. Segregated and removed from the battlefield, garrison posts “placed African American troops on the threshold of slavery’s death and within a new birth of racial discrimination.” While fighting to end slavery, African-American soldiers experienced new forms of discrimination in the army. These soldiers, Lang maintains, protested their role as garrison troops, protested pay discrepancies, and protested disciplinary inequalities. Indeed, protest emerges as the central theme of Lang’s argument. Refusing to be subjected to the army’s racial hierarchies, African-American soldiers wanted to be recognized and treated like the citizen-soldiers they were, not like the hirelings or laborers that army policy perceived them to be. Seeking a chance to prove themselves as men and citizens on the field of battle, these soldiers challenged what they considered direct violations of a citizen-soldier’s contract. Most means of resistance were non-violent, but peaceful protest sometimes failed. And, when it did, some African-American soldiers turned to mutiny. It was, Lang concludes, a limited victory. In June 1864, the army instituted an equal-pay provision for all soldiers, regardless of race. While still largely confined to garrison duty, “it appeared that they could successfully undermine the restrictive stigma authored in Lincoln’s Proclamation.”

Moving into the twentieth century, “Occupation’s Diaspora: Alonzo P. Holly and the Global Black Freedom Struggle” uses one individual’s life to consider the broader implications of the United States occupation of Haiti during the 1920s. Placing the Haitian diaspora in an international context, Brandon Byrd (Vanderbilt University) argues that occupation “certainly led to Haitian critiques of Western ‘modernity’ and calls for a return to African culture, [but] it also resulted in new forms of internationalist politics and thought.” As a man well-traveled and well-educated, Holly’s cosmopolitan life took him to Port-au-Prince, New York, London, and Miami. Having spent his life immersed within these African Diaspora communities, Holly actively opposed the United States occupation of the Caribbean and, as an opposing force, advocated for collective black internationalism. Byrd argues that this particular from of black internationalism emerged directly from the experiences of occupation, which had magnified the lingering problems associated with American imperialism. According to Byrd, occupation was, to borrow a phrase from W.E.B. DuBois, “but a local phase of a global problem.” And as such, global problems—racism, imperialism, colonialism—could be addressed at the local level.

Moving beyond the scope of their papers, these scholars placed occupation in the broader historiographical conversation during the session’s closing remarks. Facing a daunting, but revealing audience question—Why occupation?—these scholars contended with the meaning, possibilities, and limitations of “occupation” in American history. Seizing the question, Lang deemed occupation central to American martial, political, and cultural life. It is and was, he argued, an “uncertain but necessary” period “needed to achieve particular goals.” On the flip side of the same coin, leaders were uncertain just how to go about achieving those goals. Emerging from the maelstrom, created by uncertain and undefined objectives, was great dynamism on the ground. Participants, such as African American soldiers and freedmen, had ample room in which to act and redefine their social, political, or cultural roles. As Civil War garrison and auxiliary troops, Lang noted, African-American soldiers were behind military lines—intentionally kept far from the battlefield and far from a chance at battlefield glory—but that, in turn, left them as the vanguard of occupation. Given their unique position as the frontline occupation force, these blue-clad soldiers collapsed slavery from their place inside the South. What was intended by Washingtonians to be a conservative measure instead transformed into a powerful political force in the fight for emancipation. As a “contest of power” and “generative force,” occupation temporarily redefined the meaning of Civil War and Reconstruction for the overwhelming majority of the population. Concluding his remarks, Lang astutely declared that “occupation is normal in the American context, but also exceptional.” Building upon these same themes, Duval emphasized fluidity within the Revolutionary Era household. So, too, as did nineteenth-century soldiers in the USCT, absentee patriarchs, emboldened women, and stirred slaves negotiated and renegotiated their household roles, gender relations, and working conditions during the eighteenth-century British occupation. Diverging from his fellow panelists, Byrd portrayed occupation as a mirror magnifying societal problems, such as oppression, hierarchies, imperialism, colonialism, and other points of conflict on a global scale. And, by illuminating these social, political, and economic woes, occupation presented an opportunity for real change—a chance, however fleeting, for national absolution and redemption.

While defining occupation differently, and rooting their analysis within their own particular field of study, each panelist nonetheless portrays occupation as a fluid and defining moment of untold possibilities and endless potential—a moment worthy of extensive analysis. Few scholars today would disagree. But what, I wonder, about the instance when the troops, be it red-coated British, blue-clad federals, or civilian-clothed officials, took their leave. Then what? Do the changes so greatly fought for and so dearly paid for vanish into the peacetime abyss? The aftermath of occupation was a topic the panelists only briefly mentioned in their admittedly time-constrained presentations. Yet, post-occupation backlash does, in fact, underscore the powerful potential of occupation by demonstrating the strength needed to contain the forces of change unleased by war and its aftermath.

Spanning geographical boundaries and over three centuries, these excellent scholars offer compelling interpretative frameworks and methodological approaches for the future of occupation studies, approaches that will, no doubt, influence scholars of mid-nineteenth-century America as they continue to grapple with the ramifications of the Civil War. It was, as panel chair Gregory P. Downs (University of California, Davis) noted in his opening remarks, a Saturday 8:00am panel that was “well worth not hitting the snooze button” for.

Tracy Barnett

Tracy L. Barnett is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia and a Digital Humanities Research Fellow for UGA’s eHistory. Her primary research interest is the cultural history of the mid-nineteenth-century South and she is fascinated by male behavior—especially the bad and unsavory varieties. Her dissertation, “Armed, Drunk, and Dangerous: White Paramilitary Violence in the Civil War Era South,” is a study of white paramilitary organizations, firearms, and alcohol from the 1840s to the 1870s. She also has a forthcoming article, “Mississippi ‘Milish:’ Militiamen in the Civil War,” that will be published in Civil War History.

“Where the spiders are”: Law, Economy, and the North at the Coming of the Civil War

“Where the spiders are”: Law, Economy, and the North at the Coming of the Civil War

At this year’s meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in Philadelphia, participants heard from leading slavery historians at a panel titled “Kidnapping, Capital, and Slavery: Rethinking the North in the Civil War Era.” This panel explored how the kidnapping of free African Americans from Northern free states affected law and politics, intertwined with the life of cities like New York, and influenced the opinions of white Northern voters as the Civil War approached. Richard Blackett, of Vanderbilt University, served as chair.

Caleb McDaniel (Rice University) began the panel by noting that reparations have become a topic of discussion in the lead up to the 2020 election, particularly by Democratic candidates, but that some journalists and pundits believe feasibility and implementation are concerns. He mentioned an article in the New York Times four weeks ago by David Brooks, which was a surprisingly sympathetic response to the famous Ta-Nehisi Coates article in the Atlantic, both titled, “The Case for Reparations.” This reminded McDaniel of an 1878 article in the New York Times which asked the same question, “What would happen if restitution for freed slaves was required?” There had been debate over compensating slaveholders after the Civil War, which had then been prohibited. Then, McDaniel turns to the subject of his forthcoming book, Sweet Taste of Liberty, the “true story” of Henrietta Wood, born in 1818 Kentucky. She was sold around age fourteen, then again at twenty, living for a time in New Orleans before being taken to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she obtained freedom papers in 1848. In 1853, Wood was tricked by her employer into entering a carriage that crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. There she was kidnapped by a local deputy named Zebulon Ward, who sold her into slavery. Wood lived in Mississippi briefly, before being taken to Texas to prevent her being emancipated. In 1869, she returned to Cincinnati, where she filed suit for kidnapping and lost wages. The case went to federal court in 1878 and the jury decided in Wood’s favor. This led to the Times article, which stated, “we would close the chapter,” but Henrietta Wood reopened it. This story, McDaniel told us, is important because of its place in the larger context: it is representative of the experiences of formerly enslaved people, in terms of their legal battle for recognition, recompense, and ultimately, citizenship.

To provide context for Wood’s story, McDaniel also mentioned the case of Solomon Northup, whose memoir (12 Years a Slave) was published in 1853. Abolitionists petitioned for restitution for Northup, which helps place his case in a larger struggle for reparations. McDaniel noted that Wood’s case takes place in the borderlands of the Ohio River Valley, where kidnapping was a present danger—she was born on the southern side of the Ohio River, a geographic closeness that resulted in a constant threat of kidnapping. In 1829, another case, of a man named Samson, who sued for kidnapping and false imprisonment, was brought to court, and decided in 1830 in his favor. The cotton trade, suggested McDaniel, was an inducement for kidnapping, due to the profits possible. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which carried a light burden of proof on the part of slaveholders, also provided opportunity for sheriff’s agents to conspire with kidnappers. McDaniel also mentioned the case of David Young, who escaped to Ohio in 1850, was recaptured and sold, and who eventually became a state legislator. “Revolutions can go backwards,” however, as McDaniel reminded us, and the retreat during Reconstruction affects the significance of Wood’s legal victory, as well as raising the question of whether it was a triumph, versus what she had endured. McDaniel concluded that no one questioned the plausibility of Wood’s story; the surprise was that her suit succeeded.

Jonathan Wells (University of Michigan) next spoke, centering his discussion on the New York kidnapping club, which took actions to return runaway slaves and kidnapped free(d) persons into slavery. The extent of kidnapping in New York was obscured, but anger over kidnappings in the North affected the debate over slavery, and this places African Americans in the center of arguments over Civil War causation. Wells cautioned the need to separate illegal kidnapping from legal (if immoral) recovery of runaways. The courts in the North had to balance the “invasion of free state borders” and support of Southern slavery with their legal requirements. In 1832, sixteen slaves in Virginia stole a boat and headed for New York City. The slaveowner appealed to New York’s government and police, which could claim nearly anyone as the potential runaways. This started the New York kidnapping club. In the summer of 1832, children started disappearing at the rate of more than one per week. One seven-year-old, Henry, was taken from his school in Manhattan. There was no proof of his being a fugitive, but the court recorder, Riker, had him remanded. Henry was eventually released. Henry’s story shows that anyone could be targeted, that slave catchers and kidnappers were always lurking, and that recovery of fugitives was made easier due to complicity in the New York courts. This created turmoil in New York and raised a “Northern fury.” Voters had seen slavery as a Southern problem until its slaveowners invaded the north to recover slaves. Mobility across the border had become easier, as no wall would prevent the desire to move for better conditions for one’s self and family. This resulted in placing black citizenship rights at the center of the sectional conflict.

Maria Montalvo (Newcomb College Institute) spoke on the case of Isaac Wright in New Orleans. This case centered on the selling of a free man by someone who knew he was free. An estate administrator, working for Wright’s former owner, brought suit due to this action in bad faith and sought reimbursement. The lawsuit was between two men who used to own Wright, Wright was neither plaintiff nor defendant, but his story nevertheless speaks to how courts treated formerly enslaved people. The case allows historians to recover experiences where it is difficult to do so due to the limits of sources, to use what is available to expand the image. Wright’s free family originated in Virginia and moved to Pennsylvania for more opportunities. Wright’s mother signed a contract for him to become an apprentice, and he moved to New York for some time. In 1838, while working on a steamboat, the substitute captain imprisoned Wright and had him sold. They were given false backgrounds and tortured into presenting it as truth.

To sum up the discussion, Adam Rothman (Georgetown University) offered comments and evinced the need to “go where the spiders are” in order to disentangle the elements of the discussion, and not to simply “reproduce abolitionist discourse.” Rothman suggested that we should distinguish between kidnapping as an experience, a crime, and a rhetorical device; and that the three papers show the importance of agents of the state in the kidnapping and enslavement of free people of color. A question from the audience noted that Southern law created a legal fiction to enable freedom suits. While laws were passed to limit restitution, the kinds of cases brought to court were broadened from wrongful imprisonment to lost wages.

The work presented by this panel adds to our understanding of the ways in which the law worked both in support of and against slavery. Both sides of the fight created legal tools—sometimes fictive—in order to press their aims. In addition, it suggests the need to further engage with the role of capitalism both in the development of slavery and work against it. The multiple ways in which incidents described as “kidnapping” were understood and used is also of interest. Overall, the panel fits neatly with other recent scholarship on the question of the role of the economy and legal system in the coming of the Civil War.

Katie Lowe

Katie Lowe is a student in an interdisciplinary master's degree program at Towson University in Maryland. Her interests lie in the intersection of history, geography, and political science, especially with regard to nineteenth century America. She is currently working on a project focusing on urban spaces, the environment, and public health. She hopes to pursue a PhD in history and an MD in the future.

Changes at Muster HQ

Changes at Muster HQ

We are pleased to announce the addition of a new field correspondent to the Muster team! Please join us in welcoming Michelle Cassidy, who will be contributing posts on Native Americans in the Civil War era, starting sometime later this spring. Dr. Cassidy is an assistant professor of history at Central Michigan University. She received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan in 2016. Her current project emphasizes the importance of American Indian military service to discussions of race and citizenship during the Civil War era. She has presented her research at numerous conferences, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, Ethnohistory, and the American Historical Association. Her article in the Michigan Historical Review, “‘The More Noise they Make’: Odawa and Ojibwe Encounters with American Missionaries in Northern Michigan, 1837-1871,” explores how Anishinaabe cultural logic, leadership, and perceptions of spiritual power shaped Native life in the mid-nineteenth century and influenced some Anishinaabe men to enlist in the Union army. Dr. Cassidy can be contacted at cassi2m@cmich.edu.

We also have another change to our list of field correspondents. Maria Angela Diaz will no longer be writing for us on a regular basis, but we wish her well on her future projects, including her manuscript, currently titled Saving the Southern Empire: The Gulf South, Latin America, and the Civil War. Her work brings an important perspective to discussions of race, gender, and class in the Gulf South during this period. Thank you, Dr. Diaz, for your service to Muster.