Category: Muster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Stuckey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary N. Green

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

Welcoming Holly Pinheiro to the Muster Team

Welcoming Holly Pinheiro to the Muster Team

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

 

 2021 SCWH Conference Update

 2021 SCWH Conference Update

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

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

Nina Silber

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

Previewing the December 2020 JCWE Issue

Previewing the December 2020 JCWE Issue

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Flag, No State

No Flag, No State

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

Former Mississippi state flag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that banner down, ‘tis weary,

Round its staff, ‘tis dreary,

 

Furl it, hide it, let it rest;

For there’s not a man to wave it-

For there’s not a soul to lave it

In the blood that heroes gave it.

Furl it, hide it, let it rest.

 

Take that banner down, ‘tis tattered;

Broken is its staff, and shattered;

And the valiant hearts are scattered

Over whom it floated high.[9]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Sansing, “Flags Over Mississippi.”

[6] Sansing, “Flags Over Mississippi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Heroic Day You’ve Never Heard Of

The Most Heroic Day You’ve Never Heard Of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Crashing Monument and the Echoes of War

A Crashing Monument and the Echoes of War

The beeping of construction equipment pierced the morning air. The dull sounds of traffic and commuters interrupted by a backhoe in the middle of the park. Then, a groan and a creak, and the taut cable began its work. The column upon which John C. Calhoun’s likeness stood for more than a century then collapsed to the ground. An echoing boom not unlike the crack of artillery that once rained over Charleston almost 160 years prior.[1]

Statue on a marble column with buildings in background.
Calhoun’s monument stood silently over Marion Square for 124 years. Like the man himself, this reserved monument caused its share of conflict. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Visual reminders of Charleston’s past surround the now empty pedestal in Marion Square. Fort Sumter, where the first bellowing  shot of the Civil War was aimed, sits idly in the harbor. Less than a mile away, the towering white steeple of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church stands high in the skyline. Below, tour guides recount tales of the steeple being painted black during the Revolutionary War to shield it from British bombardment. The story paints a striking visual contrast to the white tower that stands today.[2]

While the sites of history are a driving force behind Charleston’s economy, its sounds have been lost to time or buried beneath the noise of a modern city. John C. Calhoun’s likeness stood over Marion Square, gazing down upon Calhoun St., towering above the greenscape it surrounds, but his memorial was silent. Silent until it fell this summer.

While the monument stood quietly over Marion Square, the public below was not so subdued in its response. In 1895, the News and Courier referred to the first statue as a “dreadful eyesore” and the African American community in Charleston immediately recognized the statue as a symbol of Jim Crow’s rise. Many critics took advantage of any opportunity to vandalize the monument, including using “the Calhoun Monument for target practice.” In 1894, an African American was even arrested for inadvertently shooting a white child while aiming at the statue.[3]

Criticism of the monument rose to new heights in 2015. A re-envisioning of public memory and memorialization was sparked first by the racially-motivated attack in 2015 at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston. In 2017, the Charleston Commission on History and the City Council agreed to amend the plaque at the statue, adding specific language defining Calhoun’s support of slavery. The new plaque was never installed. Controversy over public monuments and memorials continued in the coming years. The Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina State House grounds in response to the Mother Emanuel shooting. Tensions then reached new heights in 2017, when right-wing protesters violently marched on Charlottesville, VA protesting the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. The reckoning with public monuments gained new momentum in 2020, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.[4]

The monument’s collapse in 2020 provided the perfect allegory for the man it memorialized—as silent and reserved in death as he had been in his life and political career. Just as Calhoun’s elegant, yet divisive, rhetoric was overshadowed by the chaos and destruction of war inspired by his sectional oratory; the silent, inanimate statue sowed its own divisions that were eventually punctuated by modern noise and destruction.

The Cast-Iron Man—later immortalized in stone twice in Marion Square—was not known for loud or boisterous tones. Calhoun was “resistant to either emotional pleas or divine commands” and did not rely on them in his speech.[5] He did not present a fire and brimstone lecture on sectionalism and division, even as he began secession discussions in response to the Compromise of 1850.

Handwritten cursive writing on aged document.
Calhoun was neither able to write nor deliver his final speech to the Senate. He did, however, make his own visible revisions after dictating the speech to his secretary. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

In giving his most famous speech, his final statement before the Senate, on March 4, 1850, Calhoun was stone quiet. Weakened by chronically poor health, Calhoun instead relied on Virginian Senator James Murray Mason to deliver his remarks. As Mason began the address, “every senator listened with profound attention and unfeigned emotion; the galleries were hushed into the deepest silence.” This was not the scene of a Southern Fire-Eater rallying for war. Instead it carried the “impressive solemnity of a funeral ceremony.” Mason was, in a sense, delivering Calhoun’s eulogy before his own eyes and, quite possibly, eulogizing the Union at the same time.[6]

Calhoun “sat motionless in his chair, sweeping the chamber now and again with deeply luminous eyes.”[7]Silently watching over his comrades in the chamber, his own words sounded out beyond his seat, absent of his voice. He wrote that, if the North were unwilling to compromise on the addition of new territories to balance the divide between free and slave states the two sections should, “agree to separate and part in peace.” Northern “silence,” Calhoun continued via his proxy, would send a signal loud enough to the South that the Union would not and should not continue.[8]

Calhoun’s silent and feeble figure slipped out of the Senate chamber and later out of this world, passing only weeks after his final address. The 1850 Compromise passed. His quiet remarks laid the foundation for the explosion of war in Charleston.

Just over a decade after Calhoun’s death, the cacophony of war reigned over Charleston. In what the Citadel calls “first hostile shots of the Civil War,” the silence was first broken by Citadel cadets firing upon the Star of the West, a merchant vessel sent to resupply Fort Sumter. The regular noise of city life was replaced for the next four years by artillery bombardments at Fort Sumter, infantry assaults at Battery Wagner, and naval battles in the harbor.[9]

The sounds of this clash soon passed and Marion Square would return to more familiar duties. It served as a parade ground for the occupying federal troops. It hosted circuses and baseball games, including at least one game that got so out of hand that police had to disperse the rioting crowd with gunfire. The echoes of war, it seemed, again interrupted Charleston’s atmosphere.[10]

Under Calhoun’s watchful eye, Marion Square returns to its Antebellum duties, providing a parade ground for Citadel Cadets. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Calhoun’s steely gaze returned to South Carolina in 1887, 37 years after his final speech and death, as part of the Civil War culture wars. The state was reemerging from Reconstruction and Calhoun’s monument would not only memorialize the Cast-Iron Man but also remind the city of an era of Southern strength in national politics, instead of the federal occupation it had experienced for more than a decade after Confederate soldiers abandoned Charleston in February 1865.

The monument was installed at the center of the city, making Calhoun’s effigy the focal point of a growing and expanding Charleston. The statue set in stone the new order of the Southern government. White “Redeemers” had already set about undoing the democratic progress made during Federal Reconstruction and began systematically stripping African Americans of their newfound voting rights. Calhoun’s memorial was installed only five years after the state passed the “Box Law,” silencing African American votes “by requiring voters to place ballots in separate boxes.”[11]

When the “cannon fire and enthusiastic shouts” of the dedication ceremony fell silent, Marion Square was instead filled with the critiques of the monument and the sounds of pen knives steadily chipping away at its marble. Almost immediately, it became the subject of disdain in both the white and black communities in Charleston, albeit for entirely different reasons. White objections were predominately aesthetic. A Charleston cotton broker, Henry S. Holmes described the first monument as “a frightful sight to citizens passing over Marion Square.”[12]

For the African American community in Charleston, Calhoun’s monument was the physical embodiment of segregation.[13] In her memoir, Lemon Swamp and Other Places, Charlestonian Mamie Garvin Fields describes the African American reception to Calhoun’s first monument, writing that Calhoun’s likeness seemed to say, “you may not be a slave, but I am back to see you stay in your place.” Such a loud statement by the memorial was sure to cause a response and Fields and her neighbors set out to strike back, defacing the monument at any opportunity they had. “We used to carry something with us, if we knew we would be passing that way, in order to deface that statue—scratch up the coat, break the watch chain, try to knock off the nose.”[14]

Elevated to its new position nearly one hundred feet over Marion Square and out of harm’s way, the quiet statue stood watch for more than a century before its removal in late June 2020. Still reeling from the racially-motivated shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015, the city began efforts to reconcile with its destructive past. Shortly after the vote unanimously passed to remove the monument, a thunderstorm detonated across the Charleston sky.[15] The air in Marion Square undoubtedly echoed the sounds of January 1861, when the Citadel Cadets fired upon Union merchant ships in Charleston Harbor.

The noise of its demolition that followed—first the calm and calculated removal of the stone figure, and then the fleeting collapse of the granite column—ended the city’s long history with Calhoun’s monument, while briefly reminding it of the sounds of a war he once influenced. Reporters on-site wrote that “Marion Square shook” as the steel cable pulled the column down from its now-empty pedestal. As the crashing column fell and then returned to silence, the small crowd of witnesses returned to their normal Wednesdays and the sounds of present-day life fell back over the city.[16]

His words had long since fallen beyond our ears, but his beliefs remained for generations. For decades, Calhoun’s figure silently watched over a city that struggled to grow out of the past that he once advocated. After a life in which Calhoun argued that slavery was a “good—a great good,”[17] his image watched over a city that grew and modernized. After his death, Charleston struggled with racism, and hosted countless Civil Rights demonstrations that included strikes, marches and speeches led by both Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. All of this under the watchful eye of his stone image.[18]

The removal of the monument may have briefly returned the sounds of destruction to Charleston’s ears but it also, as Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg so somberly stated, brought peace to the city.[19]

[1] Mikaela Porter, “In 21 Seconds, Granite Column That Held John C. Calhoun above Charleston Tumbled to Ground,” Post and Courier, September 03, 2020, Accessed September 01, 2020.  https://www.postandcourier.com/news/in-21-seconds-granite-column-that-held-john-c-calhoun-above-charleston-tumbled-to-ground/article_ea5a9238-e712-11ea-a826-03d4603d02cf.html.

[2] “St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (U.S. National Park Service),” National Parks Service, Accessed September 01, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/places/st-michael-s-episcopal-church.htm.

[3] Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of Confederacy (New York, NY: The New Press, 2019), 109.

[4] Fleming Smith, “Sparked by Protests, Campaigns Renew to Remove Calhoun Monument from Marion Square,” Post and Courier, June 4, 2020, Accessed September 17, 2020. https://www.postandcourier.com/news/sparked-by-protests-campaigns-renew-to-remove-calhoun-monument-from-marion-square/article_09fb3ae0-a66b-11ea-a37e-3742194576e3.html.

[5] Holley Ulbrich, “John C. Calhoun,” Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, March 06, 2003, Accessed September 01, 2020, https://uudb.org/articles/johnccalhoun.html.

[6] Hermann Von Hoist, “John C. Calhoun,” Internet Archive, January 01, 1883, Accessed September 01, 2020, https://archive.org/details/johnccalhoun04holsgoog/page/n10/mode/2up?q=1850. Digital copy of original 1883 publication. Added to the internet archive 14 April 2008.

[7] “John C. Calhoun’s Speech to the United States Senate against the Compromise of 1850, 4 March 1850,” The Library of Congress, Accessed September 04, 2020, https://www.loc.gov/item/mcc.009.

[8] “John C. Calhoun, Senator from South Carolina, Speaking before the Senate, March 4, 1850,” National Humanities Center, Accessed September 01, 2020, http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/ows/seminarsflvs/Calhoun.pdf.

[9] “War Between The States,” The Citadel, Accessed September 03, 2020, http://www.citadel.edu/citadel-history/war-deaths/war-between-the-states.html.

[10] “A Brief History of Marion Square, Part 2.” Charleston County Public Library, October 26, 2018, Accessed September 03, 2020, https://www.ccpl.org/charleston-time-machine/brief-history-marion-square-part-2.

[11]  Kytle and Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden, 106.

[12] Kytle and Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden, 108.

[13] Kytle and Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden, 105.

[14] Quoted in Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (London: Verso Book, 2014), 182.

[15] Victoria Hansen, “Calhoun Statue Overlooking Charleston Takes Time to Come Down,” South Carolina Public Radio, June 25, 2020, Accessed September 03, 2020, https://www.southcarolinapublicradio.org/post/calhoun-statue-overlooking-charleston-takes-time-come-down.

[16] Porter, “In 21 Seconds…”

[17] Ethan S. Rafuse, “John C. Calhoun: He Started the Civil War,” HistoryNet, May 02, 2019, Accessed September 03, 2020, https://www.historynet.com/john-c-calhoun-the-man-who-started-the-civil-war.htm.

Originally published in the October 2002 issue of Civil War Times Magazine.

[18] Lottie Joiner, “Charleston Church Shooting and a City’s Place in Civil Rights History,” Time, June 19, 2015, Accessed September 03, 2020, https://time.com/3928713/charleston-civil-rights-movement/.

[19] Ray Rivera, Patrick Phillips, “Crews Remove John C. Calhoun Statue from Marion Square,” WTOC. June 24, 2020, Accessed September 03, 2020, https://www.wtoc.com/2020/06/24/live-crews-removing-john-c-calhoun-statue-charlestons-marion-square/.

 

Justin Bristol

Justin Bristol is an educator and public historian in Savannah, GA. A graduate of both the University of South Carolina and Armstrong State University's (now Georgia Southern University) History programs, Justin has sought to make Savannah's past relevant to his students and museum guests through participatory and active experiences. Inspired by his museum and classroom experience, his ongoing research seeks to grow sensory connections between our modern sites and the events and people that make them historic.

But What of Union Civil War Monuments?: The Shortcomings of Northern Civil War Commemoration

But What of Union Civil War Monuments?: The Shortcomings of Northern Civil War Commemoration

As Confederate Civil War monuments continue to come under siege for their white supremacist representations of the nation’s most transformative conflict,[1] Union Civil War monuments and their inscriptions exist in an illusory realm of public approval. In fact, there is an inherent belief among many people that Union Civil War monuments––by their very nature––exemplify the antithesis of a proslavery racist South. As Thomas J. Brown points out, however, “[a]part from those that included the end of the Gettysburg Address, less than 5 percent of known Union inscriptions refer explicitly to the abolition of slavery as an achievement celebrated by the monument.”[2] By failing to acknowledge the Union victory as a long-overdue deliverance of the egalitarian principles under which the nation was founded, Northern Civil War monuments contributed to a collective historical ignorance that surrounded the war’s meaning and memory for decades. Rather than make a definitive statement on the Civil War’s emancipationist outcomes, the vast majority of Union monuments bypassed the issue of slavery altogether and instead expressed the war’s purpose in far more temperate terms.

Soldiers’ Monument, Fitchburg, Massachusetts

To be clear, Union and Confederate monuments do not offer homogeneous depictions of the Civil War. Northerners prided themselves on their victory over the South, and for the most part the public monuments honoring their sacrifices reflected that sentiment. Across the entire region, Union monuments in various constructs celebrated the preservation of the United States and the defeat of a rebellious South.[3] Still, in the frenetic postwar race to erect tangible interpretations of the war’s legacy, Northerners and Southerners found common ground. In their physical manifestations and their inscriptions, Confederate and Union memorials generally paid nondescript homage to the soldiers who had periled or lost their lives in the war. While many Northern monuments touted guardianship of the Union as the main impetus for war, and Southern monuments conversely pointed to states’ rights, the question of whether or not this was a war to abolish slavery remained unclear. In fact, anyone visiting Civil War monuments in either region was likely to get the impression that the war had nothing at all to do with emancipation.[4]

Although the past twenty plus years of Civil War scholarship has produced a significant number of memory studies, very few have focused exclusively on Union monuments and their inscriptions. Nevertheless, in the studies that do include analyses of Northern Civil War commemoration, two predominant themes have clearly emerged. In Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America, Kirk Savage asserts that in order to perpetuate the nation’s ingrained framework of white supremacy, Northerners and Southerners deliberately constructed monuments that disregarded the war’s emancipationist purpose.[5] Likewise, in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, David Blight argues that in the interest of maintaining a deeply-rooted antebellum racial hierarchy, soldiers’ monuments emphasized reconciliation and neglected the war’s abolitionist aims.[6] In contrast, scholars such as Gary Gallagher and Caroline Janney maintain that Union Civil War commemoration was hardly an exercise in rapprochement, and instead argue that Northern monuments exalted the Unionist cause.[7] More recently, Thomas J. Brown’s Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America “reframes” leading reconciliationist theories to argue that by the 1930s Civil War monuments reflected the county’s transformational adoption of military principles.[8]Differing historical interpretations notwithstanding, however, one thing remains true: the overwhelming number of Northern Civil War monuments make no reference to slavery whatsoever.[9]

Perhaps a closer look at one of the few Northern monuments to candidly announce emancipation as a Civil War outcome will help further illuminate the deficiencies of the vast majority of those that did not. Erected in 1874, the Soldiers’ Monument in Fitchburg, Massachusetts represents a clear case of anti-reconciliatory monument building. Dedicated to those from Fitchburg who “SECURED THE UNITY OF THE REBUBLIC, / AND THE FREEDOM OF AN OPPRESSED RACE,” the Soldiers’ Monument announced to everyone who visited that the Civil War served the unmistakable dual purpose of safeguarding the Union and emancipating four million slaves from bondage.[10] As a small New England town with profound connections to its Revolutionary heritage, Fitchburg’s Unionist convictions were entrenched in the community. The town was also an epicenter of antislavery activism in the mid-1800s and many locals worked directly with prominent abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Weld, and a host of others. This abolitionist ideology mixed with the community’s memory of the Revolution to produce a Soldiers’ Monument that anchored Fitchburg’s Unionist and emancipationist understanding of the Civil War for decades.[11]

Soldiers’ Memorial, Worcester, Massachusetts

Just thirty miles down the road from Fitchburg in Worcester, Massachusetts, however, residents completely ignored the issue of slavery in their Civil War commemoration. This is telling as not only was Worcester a hotbed of abolitionism in the antebellum era, but fifteen African Americans from Worcester volunteered for service with the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry, twenty-two served in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, five joined the 55th Colored Regiment of Massachusetts, some served with Colored regiments in Rhode Island, and still others volunteered to fight in units outside of New England. Moreover, Worcester resident and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson took command of the 1st South Carolina Colored Infantry in November, 1862.[12] Yet, rather than build a monument that voiced the community’s support for emancipation and universal civil rights, Worcester’s Soldiers’ Monument was dedicated to the memory of the men who gave their lives “For the Unity of the Republic.”[13] Like all Civil War memorials, both the Fitchburg and Worcester Soldiers’ Monuments were intended to sustain a lasting memory of the community’s interpretation of the causes and consequences of the conflict. Although both communities saw the war––at least in part––as a battle for the abolition of slavery, only one of them chose to honor that objective in their monument.

Fitchburg’s adjoining town of Leominster, Massachusetts illustrates a slowly evolving change in the way that one Northern community dealt with the issue of slavery in regards to Civil War monument construction. Erected in 1866, just one year after the war ended, the Soldiers’ Monument in Leominster made no mention of either slavery or union. Instead of declaring any specific cause or outcome of the Civil War, the monument was simply dedicated in “HONOR TO THE BRAVE.” In 1998, however, the people of Leominster redefined the community’s understanding of the Civil War with a monument that commemorated the service of Oliver E. Hazzard, an African American resident who fought with the 54thMassachusetts Infantry. The monument not only features a sculpture of Hazard in his uniform, but it is also inscribed with language that clearly contextualizes the Civil War in emancipationist tones: “THIS MEMORIAL IS DEDICATED / TO HONORING THE MEMORY OF / ALL LEOMINSTER SOLDIERS / WHO SERVED WITH COURAGE / FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE. / WE MUST WE CAN AND WE WILL BE FREE.”[14]

Oilver Hazard Monument, Leominster, Massachusetts

Although Leominster was a place that fostered antislavery activity and often collaborated with abolitionists from Fitchburg and Worcester, the town did not imbue their Civil War monument with any emancipationist significance.[15]Rather, they chose to commemorate a generic version of wartime valor only. The timing of the 1998 Hazard Monument, moreover, is likely an outgrowth of the unyielding efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. This long delay in Leominster’s recognition of the abolition of slavery as a direct consequence of the Civil War demonstrates the glacial pace at which most Northern communities shifted their viewpoints, and further highlights the progressive mindset of the people of Fitchburg in the mid-nineteenth century.

This very limited examination of Northern Civil War monuments in central Massachusetts reveals three very different approaches to the question of slavery and how it was remembered within the context of the war. Because the Fitchburg Soldiers’ Monument represents an anomaly of Union Civil War commemoration, it also exposes an intentional forgetting in the great majority of all other Northern monuments. Over time, the abandonment of the Civil War’s emancipationist implications helped muddle the war’s true meaning. By emphasizing the preservation of the Union and ignoring the issue of slavery, most Northern monuments helped engrave an obscured memory of the war in both the landscape and minds of the nation. This deliberate erasure also hindered the ongoing struggle for racial equality in the United States. As such, a concerted effort by modern historians to determine why exactly so many Northern monuments disregarded the war’s fundamental issue of slavery will add considerably to our understanding of Civil War memory. In fact, studies that spotlight the shortcomings of Northern Civil War monuments will likely reveal as much––if not more––about the Civil War and its aftermath as those that focus entirely on their notorious Lost Cause counterparts.

 

[1] Alisha Ebrahimji, Lauren M. Johnson, and Artemis Moshtaghian, “Confederate Statues Continue to Come Down: Here’s What We Know,” CNN.com, last modified July 1, 2020, accessed August 21, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/09/us/confederate-statues-removed-george-floyd-trnd/index.html.

[2] Thomas J. Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration: A Brief History with Documents (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004), 37.

[3] Caroline Janney, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 106.

[4] Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration, 35-39.

[5] Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997).

[6] David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 199.

[7] Gary Gallagher, The Union War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 156-159; Janney, Remembering the Civil War, 106-107.

[8] Thomas J. Brown, Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 9.

[9] Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration, 37.

[10] Report of the Soldiers’ Monument Committee, of the City of Fitchburg (Fitchburg, MA: Printed at the Office of Henry F. Piper, 1874).

[11] On Fitchburg’s involvement in the American Revolution see, Rufus C. Torrey, History of the Town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts (Fitchburg, MA: J. Garfield, Printer, 1836), 63-85; J.F.D. Garfield, “Fitchburg’s Response to the Lexington Alarm,” April, 18, 1892, in Proceedings of the Fitchburg Historical Society and Papers Relating to the History of the Town Vol. I. (Fitchburg, MA: Fitchburg Historical Society, Sentinel Printing Company, 1895), 113-122; Doris Kirkpatrick, The City and the River (Fitchburg, MA: Fitchburg Historical Society, 1971), 105-113. On Fitchburg’s deep engagement with abolitionism and the antislavery movement see, Martha Snow Wallace, My Father’s House (Boston, MA: George H. Ellis Co., 1915); Martha E. Crocker, “The Fugitive Slave Law and its Workings,” June 18, 1894, in Proceedings of the Fitchburg Historical Society, 220-228; Kirkpatrick, The City and the River, 193, 235, 238, 259-271.

[12] Abijah P. Marvin, History of Worcester in the War of the Rebellion (Worcester, MA: Published by the author, 1870), 397-398.

[13] George Crompton, E. B. Stoddard, Charles A. Chase, Dedication of the Soldiers’ Monument at Worcester, Massachusetts, July 15, A. D. 1874 (Boston: Press of Rockwell and Churchill, 1874), 10.

[14] Thomas K. Hazzard, Diane M. Sanabria, Robert Cormier, Images of America: Leominster (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1999), 80. The author of this Blog post has verified in person the inscriptions on the Leominster Soldiers’ Monument and the Oliver E. Hazard Monument.

[15] Michael Bennett, Democratic Discourses: The Radical Abolition Movement and Antebellum American Literature(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 20; Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1898), 132.

Darren Barry

Darren Barry is an independent scholar and United States history teacher at Montachusett Regional High School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He has published works in the Historical Journal of Massachusetts and African American Culture: An Encyclopedia of People, Traditions, and Customs. Barry is currently working on a manuscript that explores the struggle of African Americans to reclaim their history, public image, and identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.