Category: Muster

Treason Made Odious Again: Reflections From the Naming Commission, and the Front Lines of the Army’s War on the Lost Cause

Treason Made Odious Again: Reflections From the Naming Commission, and the Front Lines of the Army’s War on the Lost Cause

“So,” the man across the high-top cocktail table said, precise eye contact belying years of military bearing.  “What’s your role in all this?”

Fishing my nametag from behind my tie, I replied with all the authority someone five weeks on the job could muster.  “I’m the Naming Commission’s Lead Historian.”

“Oh,” he said, pausing and planning his words.  “Well, as a historian, how do you feel about changing the name of Fort Lee?  Isn’t it, sort of, erasing history, given all that Robert E. Lee did as a leader and a strategist?”

 It was the late summer of 2021.  I had been thinking about this question all that afternoon on my drive to Petersburg from Washington, DC.  I had also marveled, as always, at how with a few gallons of gas and a cup of black coffee, it had taken less than two and half hours to cover the same ground that accounted for more than two and a half months of vicious fighting in the Overland campaign of 1864.

“Well,” I offered, preparing myself to hear words in the neighborhood of woke, “it isn’t erasing history.  We should study Robert E. Lee, of course, but should we commemorate him as a military hero?  I mean, he was fighting against the United States, and for perpetual enslavement.  What would have happened if Lee had won?  What would our nation look like?”

For a moment, silence reigned. My plate of crudité felt like grapeshot in my hands.  Then the gentleman across from me, a Virginian and a decades-long veteran of civilian service to the military at Fort Lee, responded.  “That’s really interesting,” he said.  “You know, I had never thought of it that way.”

Crisis averted.  The irrepressible conflict dissipated.  The point was taken.  Somewhere, an angel playing The Battle Hymn of The Republic got their wings.

Two white men, one older and one younger, speaking in conversations.
Over the course of their service, the Naming Commission heard from thousands of Americans.  Here, Lead Historian Connor Williams and Major General Timothy Williams (no relation), Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard, discuss Confederate History at the Virginia War Memorial.  The Virginia National Guard was one of the many military organizations who conferred with and supported the Commission in its work.

Lest this vignette seem self-congratulatory, I desire no credit for any originality in my response.  Such talking points are the warp and woof of seminars, lectures, podcasts and books on Civil War memory.  Like all scholarship, they build on the efforts of others. I had most recently encountered the Lee counterfactual in Ty Seidule’s outstanding memoir Robert E. Lee and Me.[1]

But what struck me then—and has struck me again and again over the course of my work and reflections on the Naming Commission—was the sincerity with which the question was asked, and the ease with which the answer was accepted.  Both demonstrate how much Civil War memory has changed over the past thirty years, due to the efforts of generations of scholars, teachers, and activists.

That conclusion may seem surprising.  Whether sitting around oval tables of our seminar rooms or looking out office windows onto campus quads, it is easy to imagine a Southland full of neo-Confederates ready to revolt at any criticism of Jefferson Davis, and ready to march in defense of Robert E. Lee.  This is the sense one gets after watching documentaries like Civil War, or: Who Do We Think We Are?, reading coverage in the Atlantic Monthly, or simply reviewing news coverage on the contemporary curriculum fights in the state of Florida.[2]

To be clear, such adamant Confederate apologists certainly do exist, and are often the most vocal participants in any conversation.  One emailed me recently, suspecting “one of [my] favorite people in history is Joseph Stalin,” I “just do not like Southern folks,” and that I was “descended from the Cromwellian Puritans who fought [his] Cavalier ancestors in England.”[3]  A few others have called my cause “Marxist,” “Maoist,” “Fascist” and, always, “Orwellian.”  Missives like these make it seem like the South is a scary place indeed for folks seeking to change commemorations.

Yet my experiences with the Naming Commission indicate otherwise.  Over the last two years, I have found such e-mails are the exceptions that prove the rule.  And that rule is that no serious opposition has emerged to the Naming Commission’s work.  We started our work with the support of 87 Senators, and ended it with about that same share.[4]

In fact, in engagement after engagement with the communities on and surrounding Army posts throughout the South, conversations indicated the opposite.  The great majority of Americans the Naming Commission encountered were quite open to change.  In fact, given the chance to weigh in on a new namesake, they even became enthusiastic about the process.  They just had a few honest questions that needed answering before getting fully on board.

The first queries often involved simply wanting more knowledge about the old Confederate namesakes.  After all, where but in a Civil War graduate seminar does one study Henry Benning, Leonidas Polk, A.P. Hill, or even Braxton Bragg?  I specialize in the 19th Century United States, and still had to do some extra research on Edmund Rucker.[5]  Others—such as George Pickett, John Bell Hood, and John Gordon—had supporting roles in Ken Burns’ The Civil War, but still constitute specialized knowledge.  Only Robert E. Lee was really a star in our collective memories.

Thankfully, these men left a fairly clear paper trail.  While their respective Civil War Encyclopedia entries remain frustratingly placid, their words and actions are clear. Benning’s speeches to secession conventions played on racial fears when imagining a nation under Abraham Lincoln. He proclaimed: “we [would] have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything…give me death or pestilence sooner than that.” Hood’s letters to William Sherman professed how he and his compatriots would be “better to die a thousand deaths than to submit to live under you or your government or your negro allies.” Gordon even threatened to “exterminate” African Americans in a genocidal conflict. Each namesake made for fairly convincing evidence against their commemoration.[6]  So too did George Pickett’s war crimes, Leonidas Polk’s incompetence, and Braxton Bragg’s irascibility: the latter was almost fragged in the Mexican War.[7]

Even Robert E. Lee is not so marble as we might assume.  Gary Gallagher’s excellent scholarship on Lee’s virulent retort to the Emancipation Proclamation, which the general called “a savage and brutal policy” before sowing fears of black predation, almost always made folks reconsider “Marse Robert.”[8]  It was equally helpful to point out that of the eight Virginians who were U.S. Army Colonels in 1861, Lee alone resigned his commission.  He may have “followed his state.”  But he absolutely broke his oath.[9]

Ultimately, most Americans I met were fine jettisoning these honorifics to Confederates, especially after reading their self-professions of hatred towards the United States, their raw white supremacy, and ardent pro-slavery rhetoric.

Over the course of its work, the Naming Commission found more than 1100 Department of Defense assets requiring removal, renaming, or modification, including Army and Navy ships, building displays, Air Force recreation areas, unit insignias, and the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.”

The second line of questioning came straight from Burkean conservatism. Some Americans feared the Naming Commission was the first step down a slippery slope.  They worried this would start an avalanche of renaming.  It might initially just take down Lee and Pickett. But what if it widened to cover Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson?  Would it eventually careen into George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, obliterating every name they were raised to revere?  Here, one cannot point purely to paranoia.  Prominent op-eds have argued for those exact actions, and several highly publicized protests have spontaneously carried some of them out, causing us all to consider the extents to which commemorations should be changed.[10]

In response, I developed an accurate-if-pithy point, grounded in the overwhelming Congressional support for our work and the concurrent lack of controversy.  “If 87 Senators and 322 Representatives tell us to look at other commemorations, we will do that.  But right now, we’re just looking at Confederates.”  I still support that point.  The Naming Commission was a national project propelled by some and simply tolerated by others, but it nevertheless remains an inspiring example of bipartisanship.  Funneled through the political will of legislators, our actions were dictated by men and women representing the vast majority of Americans.[11]

At the same time, our moderate style mattered.  By and large, we cast our work not as parts of a broader revolution, but instead as acts of American patriotism.  Our rhetorical power amongst the undecided came not from selling ourselves as a progressive mission of inclusion, but rather as a battle against treason.  Confederates were unfitting for commemoration because of the immediate actions they undertook—killing United States soldiers, seizing United States property, and threatening our nation’s very existence.   Less frequently addressed were the broader themes of conservatism, white supremacy, and white grievance that often surround Confederate memory.[12]

In part, our charter made this approach inevitable.  By legislative mandate our point of exclusion was voluntary service in the Confederacy, and not support for enslavement or white supremacy.  Had we been tasked to end commemorations for anyone who had supported the practice of enslavement, the large majority of antebellum politicians would have been on our list.  A case could be made to include Abraham Lincoln.  Had we included those who supported white supremacist doctrine, virtually all white antebellum Americans would have made our list.  A case would have to be made to include Abraham Lincoln.

To be clear, Confederates’ movements towards perpetual enslavement absolutely mattered, and remained at the forefront of every conversation.  One of the most empowering moments of my work was witnessing how a generation of schoolteachers and other mentors and guides have stamped out any vestiges of Lost Cause arguments amongst younger Americans.  Slavery is no longer “just a way of life,” an inevitable economic system, or (far worse) a “positive good.”  Virtually no one I encountered over two years of meetings entertained those notions, with the very few exceptions very much proving the rule.[13]  But our benchmark remained treason and insurrection against the United States. This leaves us with a paradox: one of the greater movements for monumental change throughout our recent history was enacted along one of the more conservative logics to do so.

One of the main arguments that the Naming Commission made and the American people accepted was that Confederates had committed treason by fighting and killing United States Soldiers and Sailors. As such, their commemoration was therefore especially inappropriate on military bases—including West Point and Annapolis—where America’s armed forces continue to train and sacrifice.

So, where has this work brought my thinking on Civil War memory?  To return to that moment at Fort Lee, the many others like it I encountered, and the similar ones all historians are likely to encounter, three main observations stand out.

First, historians should have more confidence that our decades of work fighting against the Lost Cause and highlighting Confederate treason really have paid off.  The 1993 Hollywood film Gettysburg could not be made today. Ken Burns is getting hard questions from professional historians and non-academics.[14]  It’s hard to envision Shelby Foote emerging as an icon in 2023.  Few Americans—especially those involved in spheres of politics or power—wish to defend an insurrection that committed treason for slavery.  Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly learned this the hard way.[15]  This does not diminish the horrific acts white supremacy can and does fuel, often somehow spurred by some sort of Confederate memory.  But it does mean that in a room of 75 lecture attendees, we should take motivation from the 73 who nod their heads in approval, and fret less over the two who stand up with loud questions.  For the majority of Americans, the Lost Cause has, increasingly, lost.

Second, we need to reflect that while many Americans condemn Confederates for both treason and slavery, amongst the undecided treason remains the more compelling argument.  For better or worse, I learned that the most compelling response to questions about the Commission’s work was not to cite the 1619 Project, defend Critical Race Theory, or evoke John Brown’s body.  Instead, it was to focus on the deeds of the Confederate namesakes themselves.  They led forces that killed more United States soldiers than the Nazis did, in a war that was—per capita—ten times deadlier for Americans than World War II, and twenty times deadlier than the European Theater.  Time and again, treason trumped all else in convincing Americans that men who had worn the gray did not deserve to be celebrated under the red, white, and blue.

Lastly, nuanced historical arguments really do matter.  Most Americans I met were ready to encounter the past as a complex place full of complicated issues, contingent decisions, and conflicted actors.  Reductive statements on universal “rightness” or “wrongness” will always divide us and inherently place some on the defensive.  But by bringing our peers into our history as it unfolded and acknowledging the contradictions of our past, we can evaluate our commemorations on a scale of “better” or “worse.”  This allows for individuals to interpret their own relationships to memory, while changing our commemorative landscape towards our highest aspirations for our future, and away from the most traumatic moments of our past.[16]

Ultimately, in reflecting on the Naming Commission’s work, a quote from Frederick Douglass looms up large, and proves incredibly—if belatedly—prescient.  In 1894, the great orator sought, amongst the rise of all-white reconciliations, to remind Americans of the true cause and course of the Civil War.  “Whatever else I may forget,” Douglass wrote, “I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery; between those who fought to save the republic, and those who fought to destroy it.”[17]

To an extent, we should always remain frustrated that it took 125 years to make our national memory meet that of Frederick Douglass.  But the Naming Commission also demonstrates that his vision is increasingly coming to pass, across large majorities throughout our nation.  This is a moment worth celebrating, and a cause worth keeping after, one nuanced and patient conversation at a time.

[1] Ty Seidule.  Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning With the Myth of the Lost Cause.  New York: McMillan Publishing, 2021, p. 235.

[2] For more, see Rachel Boynton (Dir.) Civil War (Or Who Do We Think We Are?). Boynton Films Production, 2021.  Also Clint Smith, “Why Confederate Lies Live On.” The Atlantic Monthly, June 2021.

[3] E-mail received by the author, titled “To the fake historian.” March 26, 2023.

[4] The Naming Commission’s Final Report to Congress was submitted in three parts during the summer and fall of 2022.  All were accepted by Congress without alterations, and have since passed to the Department of Defense, which is currently implementing all their recommendations.

[5] Indeed, scholarship on Rucker’s actions in the Civil War remain relatively unknown, and exist mainly thorough his mentions in dispatches and other official records.  A descendant has published a laudatory biography, The Meanest and Damnest Job, but even this remains grounded in reports and war documents.

[6] Henry Benning, “Speech to the Virginia Convention.” In Charles Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001. Letter, John Bell Hood to William T. Sherman, September 12, 1864.  In Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, vol. 2 (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1886), pp. 121–124.  John Gordon, “Sound Advice to Negro Voters.”  As reprinted in Columbia Daily Phoenix, Vol. 4, Page 2 (September 23 1868).

[7] Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me, 142-151.

[8] Letter, Robert E. Lee to James A. Seddon.  January 10, 1863.  The Lee Family Digital Archive (Web).  Accessed 20 April 2023.

[9] Seidule, Robert E. Lee and Me, 223.

[10] Among other news coverage, see Charles M. Blow, “Yes, Even George Washington.” The New York Times, June 20, 2020. Livia Gershon, “Controversial Teddy Roosevelt Statue Will Be Moved From NYC to North Dakota.”  Smithsonian Magazine, November 23, 2021. “Protestors Knock Down Roosevelt, Lincoln Statues in Portland,”, October 12, 2020.

[11] Connor O’Brien, “Senate Hands Trump His First Veto Override.” Politico, January 1, 2021.

[12] For more, see The Naming Commission, Final Report to Congress.  (Government Publication, September 20, 2022).

[13] One such opponent has been Dr. Ann Hunter McLean, who is leading a fringe group against the Naming Commission, and whose views were so controversial that they caused her requested resignation from Governor Youngkin’s Virginia Historic Resources Board. (Gregory Schnieder, “Youngkin Appointee Who Defended Confederate Statues Resigns From Board” The Washington Post. August 3, 2022.)

[14] Keri Leigh Merritt, “Why We Need A New Civil War Documentary.”  Smithsonian Magazine, April 23, 2013.

[15] Philip Bump, “Historians Respond to John F. Kelly’s Civil War Remarks: ‘Strange,’ ‘Sad,’ ‘Wrong.’” The Washington Post, October 31, 2017.

[16] For more on memory, history, commemoration, and reconciliation, see Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History.”  Representations: Special Issue, Spring 1989, 7-24.  See also Susan Neiman, Learning From the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil.  New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2019.  David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Historical Memory.  Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001. Carolyn Janney: Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation.  Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

[17] As quoted in David Blight, “‘For Something Beyond the Battlefield:’ Frederick Douglass and the Struggle for the Memory of the Civil War,” The Journal of American History 75, No. 4 (Mar., 1989): 1156-1178.


Connor Williams

Connor Williams is an advanced Ph.D Candidate at Yale University, where he is jointly a member of the History and African American Studies Departments. From 2021 to 2022, Connor took a leave of absence to work as Lead Historian for the Naming Commission—the organization created by Congress to identify all Department of Defense Assets commemorating Confederates or the Confederacy, and to make a plan for their removal, renaming, or modification. Over two years, the Commission met with thousands of Americans, toured ten military installations in the southern United States, and identified more than 1100 Defense assets to be renamed. The most high profile of these were nine defense installations like Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, and Fort Hood, but they also included vessels, street names, monuments, building displays, insignia and other paraphernalia. Congress accepted the Commission’s final reports without modification in September 2022, and the Secretary of Defense gave his complete and enthusiastic endorsement. By legislative mandate, all these assets will be renamed by the end of 2023. Connor has since returned to Yale, where he is in the final steps of finishing his doctorate. Although the Naming Commission wrapped in October 2022, he continues to write, and speak on how his experiences intersected with broader issues of Civil War history, memory, education, commemoration, and its role in public policy. He also continues to advise defense entities on the Naming Commission’s rationales and recommendations via a gratuitous services agreement. He welcomes questions or comments at

Editors’s Note for June 2023 JCWE

Editors’s Note for June 2023 JCWE

Our June issue reinforces our sense that the field of the Civil War Era remains a wide-ranging, creative site of engaged scholarship. The pieces in this issue span from slavery to the present day, delving into concrete historical details and the persistent narratives that shape our encounters with the past.

In his Tom Watson Brown Book Prize address, Sebastian Page explains the origins of his book, Black Resettlement and the American Civil War, relating his discomfort with many aspects of the historical profession. He concludes with a discussion of how received narratives of Lincoln’s presidency and of abolition itself continue to shape the questions historians ask and, by extension, the scholarship they produce.

The participants in a roundtable on studying slavery on campus are likewise engaged in challenging received narratives. Historians Hilary Green and Adam Domby assembled a group of scholars who are researching and publicizing their campuses’ relationships to slavery, bringing forward histories of people and events that have been either covered up or forgotten entirely. Contributors offer reports from the field and a call to press forward with work that should, Green and Domby write, include not just research and writing but also “working with constituent communities (descendants of enslaved people, local black and other marginalized communities affected by the campus, alumni, students, faculty, et cetera) to ensure equity in admissions, scholarships, hiring, and future campus planning.”

In a research article, John Quist analyzes the career of Michigan editor Theodore Foster, a Liberty Party supporter who became a Republican in the late 1850s. Quist contributes to an ongoing conversation about how to characterize the politics of white antislavery Northerners, particularly as their views changed over time. He argues that Foster shifted during wartime and its aftermath from abolitionism to an accommodation with political antislavery and racism, concluding that Foster’s evolution should lead us “to reexamine white abolitionists’ long-term commitments to racial equality, to reevaluate the distinctions between abolitionism and the Republican Party’s antislavery message, and to recognize that abolitionists could be more easily transformed than the society they hoped to change.”

Frank Towers rounds out this eclectic issue with a wide-ranging historiographical essay on cities and Reconstruction. Adopting an expansive chronological frame, Towers reminds readers of interdisciplinary scholarship in urban history that developed from the 1960s to the 1980s and suggests that historians of the Civil War Era could fruitfully return to that body of work for insights and ideas. That scholarship suggests, in particular, that cities can be viewed as agents in their own rights. They are not simply places where things happened but also a particular kind of human formation that, itself, produces novel dynamics, solidarities, and structures of power and inequality.

We are as always indebted to associate editors Hilary Green, Luke Harlow, and Katy Shively, who are constantly soliciting essays and reviews, editing writing, and helping produce this journal, as well as to Matt Isham and Heather Carlquist Walser, who keep the wheels turning under challenging circumstances.

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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

JCWE Appoints New Associate Editors

JCWE Appoints New Associate Editors

We’re delighted to introduce two new associate editors of the journal: Megan L. Bever and Catherine A. Jones. Bever will serve as book review editor, while Jones will serve as review essay editor.

Megan Bever is associate professor of history and chair of the Social Sciences Department at Missouri Southern State University. She received her PhD in History at the University of Alabama in 2014 and is author of At War with King Alcohol:  Debating Drinking and Masculinity in the Civil War (UNC Press, 2022) and has co-edited two collections: The Historian behind the History:  Conversations with Southern Historians (University of Alabama Press, 2014) and American Discord:  The Republic and Its People in the Civil War Era (LSU Press, 2020). Her current project examines interpretations at state and local Civil War sites in Missouri and its border regions.

Catherine Jones is associate professor in history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she teaches courses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, the history of children and childhood, and the American South.  Her book, Intimate Reconstructions: Children in Postemancipation Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2015), received the Grace Abbott Book Prize, Society for the History of Children and Youth. She is currently working on a book project related to the incarceration of children after emancipation in the American South.

We also say a very fond farewell to our two departing associate editors: Kathryn Shively and Luke Harlow, who have completed their terms. Over the last several years, Harlow and Shively have stewarded their sections with aplomb. Shively kept the book review section humming, even during the depths of the pandemic when publishers were having difficulties obtaining and mailing out books. Shively creatively solicited reviews from a diverse array of scholars and ensured that the journal was featuring a broad cross-section of books on the Civil War Era. Harlow commissioned and edited terrific review essays on topics ranging from digital humanities to slavery in Native communities, working closely with authors to develop these informative and wide-ranging pieces. We also thank Northwestern Ph.D. student Mikala Stokes, who has assisted Shively with the book review section for the past two years.

We wish Kathryn, Luke, and Mikala the very best as they continue on with their own exciting projects, and we look forward to working with Megan and Catherine!

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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

The Many South Carolinas in the Americas

The Many South Carolinas in the Americas

In recent years, the transnational turn in Civil War scholarship has finally started to include Latin America. While Mexico with the French-Mexican Conservative Alliance has long attracted a significant amount of scholarship, the rest of Latin America has not. Recent works by Evan Rothera and James Sanders offer glimpses into the Latin American connections and possible comparisons. From a transnational perspective, it is refreshing that both deal with the overlooked subject of Reconstruction.[1] At the same time, like with most global, transnational, and comparative works, we must be cautious and avoid making the United States the center around which Latin American changes revolve, or focusing too heavily on those leaders obsessed with the United States in Latin America. In this brief essay, I suggest an expansion of the already existing Euro-Atlantic world literature to include the entire Atlantic.

We should not forget secessionism when exploring comparisons with Latin America. Around the mid-nineteenth century, states were fragile entities and ill-defined. There was much conflict about the political organization of states, their constitutional framework, questions of who belong to the nation, the uncertainty regarding the power balance between states/provinces and central authority, and between executive and legislative branches of government. While in the United States, we are familiar with how these fragilities and questions eventually escalated the relationship between the United States and South Carolina, I want to suggest that South Carolina was not an isolated case in the Americas. By understanding that dissatisfaction and rebellion were common place as states evolved and matured, we gain a better understanding of the challenges state builders in the Americas faced during the nineteenth century. Secessionism in Peru and Argentina reveal how the United States was part of the American state experiment and not separate from it.

Peru and specifically the southern province of Arequipa illustrate the contested process of state and nation building during the nineteenth century with Arequipa proudly holding on to its separate identity. Created initially by the region’s indigenous people, the Spanish conquerors eventually took over the town of Arequipa. During the wars of independence, the province and city of Arequipa remained largely uninvolved and Spanish occupied until Peruvian independence in 1824. Ironically, it was Arequipa that became the rebellious province during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Historian Thomas Love observed that “Arequipeños’ [have an] inflated, exceptionalist sense of themselves.”[2]Something we could easily say about South Carolinians, Alabamians, or Texans in the antebellum United States.

While the social differences—slavery—between Arequipa and South Carolina are significant, there was much that united the two provinces. Like white South Carolinians, Arequipeños had a reputation of being quarrelsome. Arequipa was at the forefront of the political upheavals that plagued Peru during the 1850s and 1860s. When Domingo Elías challenged the national government of José Rufino Echenique, it was the rebellion in Arequipa province that turned the tide against Echenique. Elías had taken issue with Echenique’s financial policies. He viewed  the payment of War of Independence damages and debts as a form of government corruption. Offering even more possibilities for comparative analysis, Arequipa suffered its own internal civil war during the Liberal Revolution of 1854 with factions loyal to Castilla fighting Echenique’s troops.[3] However, loyalties to one leader or the other could be brief as Arequipeños looked after their interests first.

Final Attack on Arequipa on March 7, 1858. Sala Castilla, Museo Nacional de Historia, Lima.

As the victorious Ramón Castilla settled into the Peruvian presidency, his local opponent Manuel Ignacio de Vivanco return from exile in Chile in 1856. Popularly supported by the population in Arequipa, Vivanco pushed the province into open rebellion against Castilla. Arequipeños’ anger centered on Castilla seemingly having forgotten his heritage now that he was in power and working on the centralization of Peru with the political, economic, and national elite in Lima. After nine months of siege operations, Castilla’s men attacked the capital of Arequipa and emerged victorious. Vivanco again departed into exile, but locals remained loyal to him.[4] Local identities mattered especially when provincial interests clashed with centralization attempts. These events parallel similar struggles in the United States during the 1850s.

Arequipa remained a problem for Peru. In 1865, the province once more rebelled over the peace agreement with Spain following the two years of hostilities between Spain and Peru/Chile. Ironically, Vivanco, Arequipa’s favorite, helped to craft the peace treaty. The rebellion forced the Peruvian government into renegotiations. Two years later, in 1867, the province was once more in rebellion over reforms to bring secularization to Peru.[5] As Peru struggled with questions of centralization, political reform, and defining the national identity of the country, Arequipa resisted changes by violent means, a common occurrence in Latin America and similar to what South Carolinians had done between 1830 and 1870.

In contrast to Peru, Argentina faced a significantly different situation, but one akin to the United States from Independence to the Civil War. Both countries suffered from the ill-defined relationship between states/provinces and the central authorities. For decades after its independence, the country suffered from military conflict as the provinces of Buenos Aires resisted any integration efforts into the Argentinian Confederation. The conflict between Federales (federalists) and Unitarios (centralists) did not end with the new Constitution of 1853 which formally created the Argentinian Confederation.[6]

Just like the U.S. Constitution, after which the Argentinian one was modeled, the new Confederation faced immediate problems and secession. Buenos Aires refused to accept the new constitution and an almost decade long conflict followed. While South Carolina seceded because of the issue of slavery, Buenos Aires’s secession centered on the new constitution’s free trade and free navigation clauses that would have dramatically impacted the commercial elites of Buenos Aires. New Argentinian Confederation President Justo José de Urquiza established his government in Paraná and worked to integrate Buenos Aires. Lacking the financial prosperity of Buenos Aires, the Confederation struggled during its ten-year existence. Conflict between the Confederation and Buenos Aires was continuous but there were also frequent revolutions in the various provinces of the Confederation adding to political instability.[7]

The assassination of the San Juan caudillo (military strong man) Nazario Benavídez in 1859, instigated by Buenos Aires, caused civil war. The Confederation Congress asked Urquiza to return and bring stability. In the meantime, Buenos Aires’ military leader Bartolomé Mitre went on his own campaign and after two years of fighting the two met in battle at Pavón, on September 17, 1861. The victory opened the door for Buenos Aires to dominate the new centralizing republic of Argentina as the Confederation government collapsed—here the rebellious and separatist provinces had won.[8]

Guardia Nacional de Buenos Aires leaving the city for the Battle of Pavón by León Pallière published in Crónica Argentina.

These two brief sketches hardly do justice to the complicated environments faced in both countries. However, Arequipa and Buenos Aires were not isolated. Cauca, Panama, Cartagena, Northern Mexico, and many other provinces in the Americas rebelled in similar fashion as states across the continent experiment with new constitutions and national identities. Where South Carolinians rebelled against what they viewed as an intrusive imperial power ruled by a sectional president, people in provinces across the Americas could relate to these fears. While we could quarrel if the American Civil War was truly a civil war, some of these conflicts in the America, such as the one between Buenos Aires and Argentina were civil wars with the winning side taking over the government of the state. At the same time, conflict over centralization, political power, and national identity were common and there are many fruitful comparisons to explore that promise to illustrate that South Carolina’s or even the U.S. South’s experience in general were not unique occurrences in the Americas during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

[1] Evan C. Rothera, Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States Mexico and Argentina, 1860-1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022); James E. Sanders, “Hemispheric Reconstructions: Post-Emancipation Social Movements and Capitalist Reaction in Colombia and the United States,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 22 (2023), 41–62.

[2] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 2-3.

[3] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 92-93.

[4] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 93-94.

[5] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 94-95.

[6] Evan C. Rothera, Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States Mexico and Argentina, 1860-1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022), 7.

[7] Nicolas Shumway, The Invention of Argentina (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 214-249

[8] Nicolas Shumway, The Invention of Argentina (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 214-249

Niels Eichhorn

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

Interview with Bryan LaPointe

Interview with Bryan LaPointe

Today we share an interview with Bryan LaPointe, the 2021 winner the 2021 Anthony E. Kaye Memorial Essay Award. His article appearedin the March 2023 JCWE, titled “A Right to Speak: Formerly Enslaved People and the Political Antislavery Movement in Antebellum America.” LaPointe is a PhD candidate in history at Princeton University. His research connects runaway enslaved people’s activism and the growth an antislavery politics. He reframes antebellum political history around the experiences and political sensibilities of the enslaved Americans.

What interested you in the topic?

I’ve always been generally interested in the intersection of slavery and nineteenth century American politics. The recent upsurge in studies on abolitionism and antislavery politics in particular has also deeply shaped my understanding of that relationship. Early on in graduate school, I kept coming across passing references to various runaway and formerly enslaved people campaigning for antislavery political parties. Intrigued, I decided to dig deeper to see what these figures were doing and saying as they engaged with political abolitionism. I found that numerous former and fugitive slaves were using their past experiences of slavery to highlight the importance of antislavery politics. More than that, their political activism, I argue in both this article and my larger dissertation project, proved central in growing the antislavery political movement and even in redefining politics itself during the antebellum period.

I appreciate how you discuss both formerly enslaved men and women escapees and their influence in the growth of antislavery politics. As you conducted your research, was there an interesting source, person, and/or development that shaped your conclusions?

One of the most important runaway enslaved political figures was Henry Bibb, who campaigned heavily across the northern states for the Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the 1840s. He figures prominently in the article because of the powerful ways he connected his enslavement, and that of the millions of other American enslaved people, to the need for a political movement to combat slavery. During my research, I came across a small collection of Seymour Treadwell letters at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library. He was one of the white antislavery political activists with whom Bibb often lectured in the mid-1840s. While none of the letters are by Bibb himself, they reveal his intricate scheduling details and the importance white activists placed on Bibb’s political role. He as a fugitive slave was one of the Liberty Party’s “great magnets,” one letter indicated. This source and Bibb’s ardent political activism showed how significant and almost indispensable runaway enslaved people were to the antislavery political cause.

What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain for either their own teaching or future research?

We know a great deal about how formerly and runaway enslaved people served as significant figures in abolitionism generally, because of their ability to testify personally to slavery’s violence. But those who became involved in formal antislavery politics did that and more. They shared their personal stories of slavery’s horrors to underscore the political nature of enslavement, connecting their experiences to northern politics in order to sway white Northerners to vote and support antislavery political coalitions. They made their personal struggles, and those of other enslaved people, potent political rallying cries to bring an intimate and visceral understanding of slavery to antislavery politics. I hope readers come away with an appreciation for how some former and runaway slaves were central political activists. We cannot fully understand the rise of antislavery politics, and thus the transformations of northern politics and the coming of the Civil War, without accounting for formerly enslaved people’s political activism.

After this interesting article, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project?

I’m currently finalizing my dissertation, after which I’ll begin the process of turning it into a book manuscript. But my tentative second project involves the political and social histories of runaway enslaved people from the United States who settled in British Canada during the nineteenth century. Many fugitive and formerly enslaved African Americans found refuge in Ontario in this period (including Henry Bibb), especially after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. They built activist communities in Windsor, Buxton, Chatham, and St. Catherines, all while contributing to the international fight against slavery and its influence. Building on previous work by scholars like Robin Winks and Afua Cooper, this project will explore the activist individuals and families of those smaller communities, and how their political impact influenced the larger hemispheric struggle for abolition and equality.

Thank for these responses! We can’t wait to read more of your scholarship!

Hilary N. Green

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

Interview with Elizabeth Varon

Interview with Elizabeth Varon

Today we share an interview with Elizabeth Varon, who published an article in the March 2023 JCWE, titled “The “Bull-Dog” in Istanbul: James Longstreet’s Revealing Tour as US Minister to Turkey, 1880–81.” Varon is the Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. As a historian of the Civil War era, she is finalizing a critical biography of James Longstreet.


I appreciate how you examine how you explore James Longstreet’s post-Civil War career and his role as a U.S. Minister to Turkey.  What interested you in the topic? 

This is the question I am most excited about answering, as it allows me to share something most of the readers of my work don’t know about me.  My father Bension Varon, who passed away a few years ago, was Turkish, a Sephardic Jew from Istanbul (whose family fled Spain in the 15th century and settled in the Ottoman empire; Varon is a Spanish name). He was an avid amateur historian who, after concluding his career as an economist at the World Bank, published extensively on his own heritage and on Ottoman history.  The fact that Longstreet’s already unlikely postwar career had an Ottoman chapter is part of what attracted me to his story, as it allowed me to delve a little into Turkish history, to get a new perspective on places in that country that I had visited many times, and to connect my academic pursuits to my father’s.

I was also drawn to this story by an interest in the global turn in Civil War studies, and a desire to get up-to-speed on that literature, and by curiosity about diplomatic history.  My husband and UVA colleague Will Hitchcock is a historian of foreign relations and I’ve heard a lot over the years about how fascinating diplomatic dispatches and the like are, so it was exciting to use some of those sources myself.

As you conducted your research, readers will appreciate how you deepen our understanding of Longstreet’s enduring efforts to sustain Republicanism during Reconstruction. Was there an interesting source and/or development that shaped your conclusions?

My forthcoming book argues that Longstreet’s extensive postwar oeuvre—his memoir, articles, speeches, dispatches, congressional testimony, militia reports, published letters, and many, many extensive interviews with the press–constitute a sustained intervention in American public life.  In these and other sources, Longstreet ruminated at length on the issues of loyalty and treason, victory and defeat, progress, and reaction—and his distinct voice can help us understand both the transformative changes and the entrenched inequities of the postwar period.

So it was less a particular document or moment that shaped my conclusions than a desire to analyze the full spectrum of his public commentary and trace the shifts therein.

What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain for either their own teaching or future research? 

First of all, that it can be productive to take a new look, using new analytical and technological tools (like digital databases), at a familiar figure or topic.  Longstreet has been studied extensively but there are essential parts of his story that have not been told.  His tour as minister to Turkey is one, but the major focus and contribution of my book will be to use his life as a window in race relations, and to explore the broad range of his interactions with African Americans.

A second takeaway is that biography as a genre is an effective way to reach a broad readership, and that biographies can make arguments and intervene in debates.  My Longstreet book will make a series of arguments, about the achievements of but also the fault lines within the Republican coalition in the South during Reconstruction, and about the extent and limits of reconciliation not only between the North and South, but also among Southerners.

After this interesting article, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project? 

My Longstreet biography will be published by Simon & Schuster this coming November. I find that it is salutary to start tinkering with a new project as one is wrapping up the current one—it helps you let go and move on!  So I am starting to tinker with the idea of writing a biography of the amazing Clara Barton.  Her life, and the records she left behind, are monumental—frankly, I am a little intimidated by the prospect of taking this on.  But a Barton biography would allow me to return to women’s and gender history as research focus, and to delve more deeply into the topic of Civil War medicine.

I am also interested in returning to the subject of the secession crisis and am contemplating writing an article that historicizes the “slavery vs. states’ rights” framing of the debate over Civil War causality; that very dichotomous framing, I think, has not only distorted our view of the past but also had political purposes and consequences.

Thank for these responses! We are eagerly awaiting your forthcoming biography on Longstreet!

Hilary N. Green

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

Author Interview: Camille Suárez

Author Interview: Camille Suárez

Today we share an interview with Camille Suárez, who published an article in the March 2023 JCWE, titled “A Legal Confiscation: The 1851 Land Act and the Transformation of Californios into Colonized Colonizers.” Camille Suárez is an assistant professor of history at CalState LA. As a historian of the US West, she focuses on the history of California, the Mexican American experience, and the environment. At present, she is finalizing her first book manuscript.

Thanks for participating in this interview, Camille. What interested you in the topic? 

When I began working on nineteenth century California, I was struck by the absence of Californios from the narrative and the lack of scholarship that explored their complex role and motivations in California politics. I wanted to understand the political motivations behind Californios’ political decisions. For example, what can we learn when we investigate Andrés Pico’s support of state division in 1859 independent from pro-slavery Southern supporters’ motives? With Mexican land grants, in particular, I wanted to understand how Californios attempted to negotiate an extralegal land seizure that violated their treaty rights. As I looked at Californio sources, it became clear to me that there was a larger story to write about state making and the encounter between two cultures that, I would argue, shapes present-day racial logics in California and the United States.

I appreciate how you examine Anglo-American and Californio settlers’ efforts to establish legitimate landholding practices according to their culturally specific racial logic.  As you conducted your research, was there an interesting source, person, and/or development that shaped your conclusions? 

A portrait of elite Californios Pablo de la Guerra, Salvador Vallejo, and Andres Pico taken in 1865. Courtesy of the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library.

The life and archival record left by Pablo de la Guerra has been integral to my conclusions, that is why he is a central actor of the article! De la Guerra’s remarks at the 1849 California Constitutional Convention helped me understand why Californios would ally with Anglo-American settlers immediately after a war conquest. When the delegates discussed citizenship rights, Anglo-American delegates attempted to exclude Californios on the basis of whiteness; and as a delegate, de la Guerra questioned the American definition of whiteness because he saw Californios as included in the category, even if Anglo-Americans didn’t. Rather that push back against this definition of whiteness, de le Guerra attempted to perform his whiteness or superiority by making clear that he also believed that people of African descent ought not to be considered full citizens. As a settler class, Californios attempted to perform their superiority by upholding settler and racial regimes. I think understanding this strategy has allowed me to uncover de la Guerra’s and other Californios’ rationale and goals in their dealings with Anglo-American settlers and other racialized groups.


What are the key takeaways that you hope that readers might gain for either their own teaching or future research? 

When teaching the late-nineteenth century, I hope after reading the article one feels ready to highlight the role Californios performed in California becoming a US state. I also hope other scholars pursue work that recovers the Mexican national and Indigenous voices that shaped the politics and social worlds of the region after the US-Mexico War, and well into the Reconstruction Era. With my research, I hope to highlight the political power that a variety of people wielded to abet or challenge the settler state.

After this interesting article, what’s next? Can you provide our readers with a preview of your current research project? 

At the moment, I am finishing up my book manuscript, tentatively titled Colonial State Making: The Conflict Over Race, Land, and Citizenship in California, 1846 – 1879. Colonial State Making is a history of multiracial state-making in California that considers state makers beyond white settlers. In the manuscript, I center Californios, as an elite settler class, and demonstrate their central role in cementing US authority in the region and the making of a racial hierarchy that privileged whiteness. In addition to centering Californios, I make efforts to highlight the varied efforts, such as that of Black American communities, to reject the imposition of a racial hierarchy in a free state.

I am also working on an article about Reconstruction Era California, that I think would be of great interest to JCWE readers. In this article, I parse through Californio actions, mostly that of Los Angeles-based Californio, Antonio Coronel, to aid the state Democrat Party during Reconstruction. I wanted to better understand why the California State Legislature refused to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the roots of the state’s anti-immigrant policies. In Los Angeles and Santa Barbara County, the Californio electorate played a crucial role in Democrat electoral victories. Elite Californios, like Coronel, made speeches on behalf of the Democrat Party and explicitly rejected the multiracial project of Reconstruction. By looking at Spanish-language sources, I think we get a better sense of how and why California rejected Reconstruction and embraced white supremacist polices in the late nineteenth century.

Thank for these responses!

Hilary N. Green

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

Researching Northern Black Families’s Civil War: An Interview With Michelle Marsden

Researching Northern Black Families’s Civil War: An Interview With Michelle Marsden

When I began examining the lived experiences of northern United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers, I thought it was critical to emphasize their lives and familial dynamics beyond their time in the U.S. Army.  My book-The Families’ Civil War: Black Soldiers and The Fight for Racial Justice-details northern freeborn families battling for racial and gender equality before and after the existence of the USCT regiments.[1] Taking this long chronological approach provides an essential historical intervention to both public and academic discourse by illuminating the lives of people that are usually portrayed as the audience member hearing Frederick Douglass’ speech of the “Eagle on the Button” as essential to providing African American manhood and citizenship claims while seeking to destroy slavery simultaneously.[2] It is long overdue to center on those African Americans to acknowledge how they were significant agents of social change. More specifically, these working-class freeborn northern African Americans were responsible for saving the U.S., defeating the Confederacy, ending slavery, and seeking a more equitable society.

After a presentation at a Philadelphian-based institution, these points became more critical when I received an email from an individual researching their family. The email writer was Michelle Marsden (who has studied her family’s history for thirty-years)[3] She is also a descendant of the Rothwell family (including Elizabeth and Alfred) that my monograph examines. Through that and numerous other conversations, I have a deeper appreciation of how studying history can empower African American families to know that their families were important historical figures. To that end, I have the privilege of interviewing Michelle on why it is vital to center on African American families, like the Rothwells, to fully understand the complexity of U.S. and Civil War Era history.



HP: Scholars have often relied on well-documented and famous Black people, like Frederick Douglass, to understand the Civil War era. But why do you think examining people, like your kin, would add even more depth and complexity to understanding Black people throughout the Civil War era?

MM: Leaders in the community of free people of color are essential to our understanding of the Civil War era. While we know that Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth stood at the forefront of the abolitionist movement and worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery, there is also a need to explore the experiences of other northern free people of color. Records indicate that my family, the Rothwells, moved from Delaware to Pennsylvania in 1851 as my fourth great-grandfather, Isaac Rothwell, Sr., worked as a free man of color in the fishing industry. Even though he was already a free person of color, Delaware was still a state that endorsed slavery. His move slightly northward from New Castle, Delaware to Chester, Pennsylvania a year after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, tells a story that deserves scholarly attention.

By researching and sharing histories like his, we gain a more nuanced view of the Black family’s experience. There is a good chance that location and proximity to slavery affected their decision-making. Many northern free Blacks, like my family, had to create a delicate balance between employment, and resistance to a system that could have risked their family’s safety. As boatwrights, our family worked on ships that sailed between slave states and northern free states. There is an oral history of the Rothwells using their knowledge of the ships that they worked on to help hide Black people seeking freedom. Research on Harriet Tubman and how she used Black sailors for this very purpose has been documented. By examining the life of average citizens like Isaac Rothwell, Sr., who may have assisted the abolitionist movement in personal ways, we learn much more about the experiences of Black America and the African American family.

HP: In your opinion, what is the potential harm of primarily focusing on the experiences of freedpeople while simultaneously minimizing the historical significance of working-class freeborn northern African Americans?

MM: If one is to study the self-liberated and freeborn Black community in the North but only focus on the journey of those that were fortunate enough to become prosperous with a public voice and platform, then the disadvantage is that we see the African American experience from a very myopic point of view. Clearly, everyone’s journey northward or generational history in the North would have been different. By expanding into the lives of those from various socio-economic backgrounds, we gain the ability to learn about the myriad of hardships they endured and the successes they accomplished in spite of the racial and gender discrimination prevalent in the Civil War era.

A scholarly investigation such as this would also work to eliminate stereotypes and expand the perception of northern free people of color. Prior to doing my genealogical research, for example, I assumed that freedom itself issued African American access to a public school education. I naively thought that simply living in the North meant schools were prevalent and readily available to all northern Black communities. What I have found is that this was not necessarily the case. Some of my Rothwell ancestors were sent to the Soldier’s Orphan School at Bridgewater, located in Bucks County, PA. While it was publically self-proclaimed as a safe haven for those that became fatherless as a result of the Civil War, this particular school for Black children was documented as one that existed under dilapidated conditions. The Black children suffered from the lack of maintenance to the physical building as well as the lack of consistent, adequate staffing. This is just one example of how an in-depth study of northern Black communities would give us detailed information about the lives of those that lived in this era. We could benefit from learning how they used grit, culture, tradition, family, and faith to survive.

HP: How do you, on a personal level, process seeing important aspects of American history (such as Black military service) knowing that your relatives’ firsthand experience?

MM: Conducting genealogical research for the past thirty years has allowed me to see my family’s journey within the complexities of the larger story of America. I see them as part of the evolution of this country. Their fortitude and willingness to fight to end the institution of slavery inspires me. Two of my great-great-great-grandfathers, Isaac D. Rothwell and Geroge Potts, in addition to two of my great-uncles, Alfred and Samuel Rothwell were all free men of color. Each one enlisted in the U.S. Army for the Civil War between July 4 and July 20, 1863.  The Bureau of Colored Troops was formed at the end of May and only started their Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recruitment in June. If the oral history is true about my fourth great grandfather Isaac Rothwell Sr using his sailing expertise to help hide Blacks seeking freedom, then this means that he was part of the underground railroad. Having that value system and perhaps sharing it with his family, would help to explain why his sons Isaac D. Rothwell, Alfred Rothwell, Samuel Rothwell, and their neighbor George Potts enlisted into the U.S.C.T. so quickly. All of the men became members of the 3rd United States Colored Troops and served in various companies.  According to the enlistment papers, Isaac D. joined Company G at age 19, Samuel, whose name was misspelled as Rothville, Ruthville, and Rathwill in his military files, joined company H at age 19, and George Potts joined Company G at age 16.

Uncle Alfred, who served in Company D, enlisted at age 26 and was the oldest of the four men.  He was the first one to volunteer even though he knew he would be leaving behind a wife, and three children. Unfortunately, he also has the misfortune of being the only one of my ancestors to die in the Civil War. As the regiment served at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, Alfred Rothwell was shot during his garrison duty. In his pension file, there is a copy of the letter that was to be delivered to his wife in the event of his passing. Other records in his pension file show how his widow Elizabeth and children James, Isaac, and Hannah suffered greatly after his death. The men in the 3rd USCT saw action at Fort Gregg on Morris Island, South Carolina, Marion County, Florida, and mustered out in Jacksonville, Florida. I am grateful for all of their sacrifices and look for ways to honor their legacies.

When I look at American history I also feel a personal connection to this era because I have also studied how these four men helped to free those that were enslaved on the other side of my family tree. Without knowing each other, my great-grandfather Peter Vaughters was a direct beneficiary of the acts of the USCT regiments and the end of the Civil War.  He was unfortunately born into the institution of slavery in Carnesville, Franklin County, Georgia in 1852. By the time the war ended, he was a thirteen-year-old young man working on the Vaughters plantation with two other young, forced laborers. His mother, Clary, was sold away from him when he was three. Hiram Vaughters died intestate and the family sold Clary to balance the debts that they owed. Fortunately my great grandfather Peter and my 2nd great grandmother Clary were given the chance to reunite and share the same home as mother and son at least once again before her passing. According to the 1880 Franklin County census of that year, Peter brought his mother to live with him, his wife and three sons. Over the years they continued to live near the old plantation in Franklin County, Georgia. When I encounter American history in an academic, or even in a public cinematic platform, these are the people and moments that I think about. I place the stories of my ancestors’ lives into the narrative of what I learn about America.

HP: Why should a Community Care perspective be something that scholars need to consider when conducting their research?

MM: Looking at the community is essential to form any depth of understanding of a historical era. Genealogists often look at the neighbors, places of worship, local events, and  possible support systems that an ancestor would have had in order to gain a broader view of their life. Knowing the time period, and the location of the family on a farm, or in a city or town can help reveal their story. How close or far away they lived to historical happenings can speak to the stress, anxiety, or tensions of a community. In order to move beyond the single narrative, everything matters when we look back in time.

HP: What advice would you give to others who might be interested in researching their own family history? 

MM: My advice for anyone who wants to learn about their past is to start with your oldest living relative and ask questions. Listen and document everything they have to say. If possible, use today’s technology to help you record their life story. In addition to the elders, I would talk to aunts, uncles, parents, and cousins. Anyone who is willing to share should have their history documented.

Then, I would build a family tree. This can be on paper or on a digital platform. As you add names and dates, try to find the relatives in public archives. This can range from U.S. or state census records to tax digests and old newspapers, town histories and records for local places of worship. Next, I would tell them to learn about the historical significance of the various time periods. Re-examine American history, but specifically from the lens of their ancestors. Learning local, and national context adds to our ability to build empathy, and appreciation of the past.

Finally, I would tell them to share what they’ve learned with their family members. Use family reunions, newsletters, or even online platforms to help all of the descendants understand how the path of their ancestors led them to who they are today.


As this interview has shown, studying history is ever-changing and can also be very personal to the descendants of the people we learn and discuss. USCT regiments must remain critical historical figures that fundamentally reshaped U.S. history in numerous ways. As historians (including Kelly D. Mezurek and William Seraile) demonstrate, northern free African Americans lived complex lives that need to be the center of scholarly analyses.[4] Moreover, it is time to stop over-emphasizing enlistment rhetoric to understand USCT soldiering and instead focus on enlisted men and their kin (in and outside their military service). Doing so will (hopefully) illustrate to USCT descendants, like Michelle Marsden, that we remain grateful for their families’ sacrifices and profound impact on our society.

[1] Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr., The Families Civil War: Black Soldiers and The Fight for Racial Justice (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2022), 1-12. For more insight on northern USCT familial studies see: James G. Mendez, A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War (New York: Fordham University Press, 2020); Douglas R. Egerton, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America (New York: Basic Books, 2016).

[2] Frederick Douglass, “Another Word to Black Men,” Weekly Anglo-African, March 17, 1863.

[3] Michelle Marsden, “My Trip to Uncover a Family Mystery from 1852,”, February 14, 2020,, Accessed on 3/1/2023; Michelle Marsden, “Discovering African American Heroes in My Family Tree,”, February 23, 2023,, Accessed on 3/1/2023.

[4] Kelly D. Mezurek, For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2016); William Seraile, New York’s Black Regiments During the Civil War (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr.

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

Editors’ Note for March 2023 JCWE

Editors’ Note for March 2023 JCWE

Welcome to the first issue of the 2023 volume of the Journal of the Civil War Era. The issue features three research essays and a review essay that highlight the journal’s broad geographical, chronological, and topical coverage. We present articles that take us from the antebellum North to California to Indian Country and to the Ottoman Empire, and that tackle antislavery politics, dynamics of race and status in overlapping empires, and patronage politics and international diplomacy.

Bryan LaPointe’s article, “A Right to Speak: Formerly Enslaved People and the Political Antislavery Movement in Antebellum America,” is the winner of the 2021 Anthony E. Kaye Memorial Essay Award. LaPointe demonstrates that on the lecture stump, formerly enslaved men often drew on their own experiences to incite moral outrage among Northern largely white audiences. While freed women were rarely political speakers, they shaped politics through their interactions with white male politicians, who often spoke of their plight to elicit audiences’ sympathies. LaPointe’s piece contributes to our growing understanding of how, through channels other than voting, Black Americans influenced politics in the antebellum north.

Antebellum California is the subject of Camille Suárez’s essay, “A Legal Confiscation: The 1851 Land Act and the Transformation of Californios into Colonized Colonizers.” Suárez examines the way elite Californios—who were of Spanish and sometimes Native origin and owned land in California before the US-Mexico War—tried to forge alliances with Anglo-Americans in the early days of statehood. Portraying themselves as gente de razón who were entitled to land and political rights based on their Christianity and “civilized” modes of behavior, elite Californios were disappointed to discover how many Anglos saw them as their inferiors. Adopting an innovative turn of phrase, Suárez argues that the Californios thus became “colonized colonizers,” in an article that examines struggles over land claims in the state courts.

In “The ‘Bull-Dog’ in Istanbul: James Longstreet’s Revealing Tour as US Minister to Turkey, 1880–81,” Elizabeth R. Varon takes us to the post–Civil War period, when former Confederate general James Longstreet served as US minister to the Ottoman Empire. Joining other recent investigations into American foreign policy during Reconstruction, Varon uses Longstreet’s tour as minister to shed light on the complicated career of this unusual Confederate-turned-Republican. As minister, Longstreet engaged with complex questions of US-Ottoman diplomacy, including US efforts  to protect missionaries. Longstreet’s tenure in Istanbul and his return to Georgia to become a US marshal suggest both the power of his commitment to postwar Republicanism and the relative powerlessness of the Republican Party to project its force onto the South or the world.

In a review essay, “Black Slaves and Indian Owners: The Continuous Rediscovery of Indian Territory,” Alaina E. Roberts charts historians’ approaches to the history of Native peoples of the US South over the last century. Scholars have become increasingly interested in Native people’s ownership of slaves and in the perspectives of the people of African descent who were enslaved by Native groups and later became free in Indian Territory. Providing a helpful resource for readers looking to deepen their understanding of the field, Roberts also links the past with the present by reminding readers of continuing conflicts about the tribal membership of descendants of freedpeople in Indian country.

We are pleased to publish the usual complement of book reviews that range across many areas embraced in the Civil War Era. We are, as always, grateful to the associate editors and to the article authors, book reviewers, and peer reviewers who keep the journal in working order. We also thank Penn State PhD candidate Ed Green, who in the summer of 2022 completed his term as graduate assistant to the journal, and we wish him well with his dissertation. We’re delighted to welcome Heather Walser as the new graduate assistant, and we congratulate managing editor Matt Isham on the new addition to his family. 

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

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

Civil War Historians and Terminology: Diplomatic History

Civil War Historians and Terminology: Diplomatic History

As historians of the Civil War era, we are all extremely familiar with the growing desire of using appropriate terminology in our scholarship and the pushback that such terminological changes have brought. We saw this when the Army University Press abandoned the term “Union” in its publications.[1] Slavery scholars had similar conversations regarding the use of enslaved versus slave, and other words surrounding the institution of slavery.[2] Or even more profoundly, there has been a growing conversation of what to call this conflict. We continue to use the term American Civil War, but as Steve Hahn and others have suggested contemporaries favored the more accurate description War of the Rebellion since the rebels had no intention of taking over the entire country but wanted to establish their own nation-state.[3] These debates are about using the most proper, accurate, and appropriate terms that communicate a more precise sense of past events and people. A debate worthwhile having.

However, one topic has not seen similar discussions but all too often creeps into the scholarly, even specialist literature, of the international relations of the Civil War era. Historians frequently use the modern terminology of ambassador when talking about foreign representatives in Washington, D.C. during the 1860s. While we certainly want to be cautious about using the terminology of the period when it comes to African American or Native American representatives, we need to acknowledge that the modern term ambassador is incorrect for mid-nineteenth century Atlantic relations. The modern usage of ambassador that people are familiar with dates to a 1957 conference streamlining international relations. We should strive to use the best, most accurate, and proper language in all areas of Civil War era scholarship.

Over the past ten years, I have heard conference presentations and commented on manuscripts that have used the term ambassador to talk about the foreign representative in the United States or from the United States during the 1860s. Joseph Fry, for example, identifies the British and French representatives in Washington, Lord Lyons and Henri Mercier respectively, as ambassadors.[4] Similarly, Don Doyle in his acclaimed The Cause of All Nations incorrectly upgrades the British, French, Spanish, and even Mexican representatives in Washington to full ambassadorial statues.[5] Maybe both scholars were thinking about a future Lord Lyons as he would be the ambassador of Great Britain to France for twenty years from 1867 to 1887. However, nobody in Washington held the title ambassador. While it may help modern, popular audiences, the terminology is incorrect and presents a false level of relationship.

When we talk about nineteenth century diplomatic relations and terminology there is actually a well-developed and treaty-enshrined system and language. These terms are not imaginary creations or were used interchangeably, these were actual titles and representatives were insistent on them. The Treaty of Vienna of 1815, which ended the European wars and territorial changes that had started with the French Revolution and escalated during the reign of Napoleon I, had established a four-tier hierarchy among diplomatic representative.[6]

At the very top sat the ambassador, who was classified as the personal representatives of their respective sovereign. The physical space that housed an ambassador was an embassy. These appointments were reserved for the European monarchies amongst each other. For example, France had an ambassador in London, Berlin, and Vienna. However, some of the smaller European monarchies, such as the German states, did not accredit full ambassadors.

The second tier occupied the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary (often simply minister or occasionally envoy for short). These representatives physically occupied a legation, not an embassy, as their home and place of business interaction. These officials were government representative and often had special negotiating powers to make bilateral agreements. Less common was the ministers resident. Smaller states usually used this title for their diplomatic representatives. The implication is that the government sent a minister, sometimes with a special mission, and he took up residence in that town or state. And finally, there was the Chargés d’affaires, or Chargé for short, who served as aid to ambassadors and ministers with the same powers those two ranks include. Chargé are usually left in charge when their direct superior leaves for short or extended periods of time. All these four titles were enshrined and formally employed signaling the relationship statues between two countries.

Group of men dressed in suits and hats in front of a waterfall.
W. J. Baker, Secretary of State William Seward and a delegation of diplomats at Trenton Falls, New York, 1863. [Utica, New York: W. J. Baker] Library of Congress.

When the Lincoln Administration took office in March 1861, the vast majority of foreign representative in Washington were ministers, second tier representatives. There were of course Lord Lyons from Great Britain, Henri Mercier from France, Eduard Andreevich Stoeckl from Russia, Friedrich Freiherr von Gerolt from Prussia, and Georg Ritter von Hülsemann from Austria. Other European powers too had ministers: Roest van Limburg from the Netherlands, Don Gabriel Garcia y Tassara from Spain, Joaquim C. de Figaniere è Morào from Portugal, Giuseppe Bertinatti from Italy, and Edouard Blondeel von Cuelebrouk from Belgium. From South America, there were A. J. de Yrisarri from Guatemala and San Salvador, Luis Molina from Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and Miguel Maria Lisboa from Brazil. The only Ministers Resident was Rudolph Schleiden representing the Hanseatic City of Bremen. In addition, there were four Chargé W. de Rasloff from Denmark, Matías Romero from Mexico, Rafael Pembo from New Granada, and F. S. Asta from Chile. During the war, Lyons, Gerolt, Schleiden, and others took brief vacations at home, their respective Chargé took care of business during the minister’s absence.[7]

The United States was not considered a first-tier state during the mid-nineteenth century. Foreign relations were not on the ambassadorial level until the country grew and considered imperial projects. Before 1893, all foreign officials of the United States were ministers. In 1893, the newly inaugurated Grover Cleveland administration decided to upgrade the relationships with Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy to the ambassadorial level. It is also worth noting that the U.S. relationship with for example the Netherlands remained on the envoy level until 1942.[8] After the Second World War, all foreign relations were uniformly ranked on the ambassadorial level to avoid this tiered power relations, at least in theory.

Therefore, as we work on a better terminology for the Civil War era, we should also remember that some terms have very specific meaning. While a modern reader of a popular history book may struggle with the concept of a minister, it is the correct term, and we need to use it. To call Charles Francis Adams, Sr. an Ambassador of the United States gives modern audience a sense of his role; but it also presents an incorrect level of relationship between the United States and Great Britain. It would have created a major consternation in the relationship between the two countries. We need to talk about terminology and search for the most accurate words in our writing. There are some instances where bending to modern demands distorts, however. Let’s avoid the word ambassador in our Civil War era writing.

[1] “Publisher’s Note on the use of Civil War Terms,” Army University Press,

[2] Graeme Wood, “Just Say ‘Slavery’: Involuntary relocation and enslaved person are misguided euphemisms,” The Atlantic (July 11, 2022),; P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al., “Writing about Slavery/Teaching About Slavery: This Might Help,” crowdsourced document,

[3] Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 (New York: Viking, 2016), 4-6; Gaines M. Foster, “What the Name ‘Civil War’ tells us,” Journal of the Civil War Era Muster Blog, September 11, 2018,

[4] Joseph A. Fry, Lincoln, Seward, and US Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019).

[5] Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

[6] Report of the International Law Commission covering the work of its ninth session, 23 April—28 June 1957,

[7] “The United States Government,” The American Register and International Journal 1 (July 1861), 45.

[8] “Ambassadors vs. Ministers,”

Niels Eichhorn

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