Category: Muster

“Jack My Dear,-Where the devil are you?” John Lothrop Motley, Otto von Bismarck, and the Civil War

“Jack My Dear,-Where the devil are you?” John Lothrop Motley, Otto von Bismarck, and the Civil War

Historians have rarely examined the German States’ reactions to the Civil War. Much has been said about German immigrants fighting in the war, German-American political leaders involved in community and political organization, and the nativist backlash in the United States; however, Central Europe’s perspectives are a blank page in English language scholarship.[1] As the archetypal political schemer of the era, Otto von Bismarck looms large in German politics and misconceptions continue to persist about where Bismarck may have gotten some of his opinions about the Civil War.

Photograph of John Lothrop Motley in the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

The answers may come through a deeper understanding of the relationship between the U.S. Minister in Vienna, John Lothrop Motley, and his friend from university, Prussian Minister President Otto von Bismarck. In August 1864, a peculiar meeting took place in Vienna between Motley and Bismarck. Bismarck had come to Vienna for the peace negotiations ending the Dano-German War, which started earlier that year over constitutional and royal succession questions in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein and resulted in a resounding military victory for the German allies. Bismarck and Motley enjoyed a trouble-free evening together; however, the self-absorbed Motley walked away with the impression that he had enlightened Bismarck regarding the events in North America. The two men shared a deep bond of personal friendship.

After having started his education at Harvard, Motley transferred to the University of Göttingen in 1831. Göttingen was one of the premier universities in the German states, whose faculty at the time included such respected professors as Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, historian Georg Gottfried Gervinus, physicist Wilhelm Eduard Weber, and theologian and orientalist Heinrich Georg August Ewald. At Göttingen, Motley encountered Bismarck for the first time. The two friends eventually transferred to the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin where Bismarck impressed with his drinking and sword-dueling skills, rather than his scholarship.[2] Apparently Motley was so drawn to Bismarck that he made him the main character of his unsuccessful novel, Morton’s Hope, or the Memoirs of a Provincial, which included an Otto von Rabenmarck.[3] The two friends reconnected every decade as Motley became a respected writer and historian.

In 1861, Motley’s friend Charles Sumner obtained a diplomatic post in Europe for his fellow Bay Stater. The two were lucky. The Lincoln Administration had initially intended to send Anson Burlingame to Vienna. However, the Austrian court had refused the appointment due to ties between Burlingame and the Hungarian rebellion of 1848. With Burlingame finding an abundance of opportunities in his new post at Beijing, Motley assumed the post in Vienna.[4]

In May 1864, Bismarck reached out to Motley, most likely remembering their friendship and revisiting the days of carefree fun. In an informal tone, Bismarck wrote his friend, “Jack My Dear,-Where the devil are you, and do you do that you never write a line to me? I am working from morn to night like a nigger, and you have nothing to do at all-you might as well tip me a line as well as looking on your feet tilted against the wall of God knows what a dreary colour.” Bismarck did not stop with this scolding of his friend to be a more active correspondent. He insisted that Motley should come for a visit to Berlin, proposing “Let politics be hanged and come to see me. I promise that the Union Jack shall wave over our house, and the conversation and the best old hock shall pour damnation upon the rebels.”[5]

Steel engraving of Otto von Bismarck, after a painting by Alonzo Chappel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It was a rather peculiar moment for Bismarck to remember his friendship and to express his desire to escape politics with his old college buddy for a few days. Just as Bismarck wrote to Motley, the international community had come together in London for negotiations on how to settle the Dano-German conflict. Motley did not leave his post in Vienna, but the two friends soon had another opportunity to reconnect in person.

During the peace negotiations, the two met and shared a peaceful evening together, allowing Bismarck to escape the political and diplomatic wrangling over the terms of the agreement. Motley recounted the meeting in a letter to his mother, “He thinks it about as possible to transplant what is called parliamentary government into Prussia, as Abraham Lincoln believes in the feasibility of establishing an aristocracy in the United States.”[6] The conflict in the United States of course became part of the conversation.

Motley’s wife dramatically recounted in a letter to their daughter, “Your father gave him [Bismarck], at his request, a brief but graphic sketch of our affairs, the causes of the war and the sole conditions upon which it would terminate, etc., etc. He was listened to with the greatest interest and respect, and Bismarck told him he was very glad to know his opinions which he accepted unequivocally and adopted and should use as his own when occasion required.”[7] The statement by Motley’s wife has created the perception that Motley enlightened Bismarck about the Civil War’s causes and that the Prussian adopted Motley’s views as his own.[8]

It is highly unlikely that a man of Bismarck’s shrewd diplomatic and political caliber would not have understood the causes of the Civil War by 1864. Newspapers in Berlin and all major cities of the German states covered the events in North America on an almost daily basis. The Prussian minister in Washington, Friedrich Freiherr von Gerolt had been in his post since 1844 and could provide Bismarck with remarkable insights. Furthermore, if the friendship between Bismarck and Motley was as deep as the “My Dear Jack” line indicates, then even in distant St. Petersburg, where Bismarck was stationed in 1861, the Prussian would have read Motley’s lengthy editorial in The Times of London explaining the Union cause and righteousness of the U.S. war effort.

As Bismarck was extremely eloquent in crafting his own personal history, often infusing myth and legend, a closer and critical examination of the relations with Central Europe is long overdue. Motley and his family encountered a good friend in Vienna in August 1864 and had a private evening. Bismarck likely humored Motley as he tried to escape ever so briefly the realities of diplomacy. While Motley’s correspondence is extraordinarily rich, one has to be careful as he occasionally overstates his importance. Even more, an over emphasis on Motley or Bismarck in Central Europe’s relations with the belligerents in North America, is problematic and assumes a reality that did not yet exist, such as Prussia’s success in the Wars of German Unification and thus dominance in German affair. The relationship between the two men reminds us of the multifaceted diplomatic relationship with Prussia, Austria, and the other German states, but also how much Bismarck’s Prussia and Motley’s post in Austria soon collided in a civil war similar to the one in the United States.


[1] The only significant works are in German. Enno Eimers, Preussen und die USA 1850 bis 1867 (Berlin, Germany: Dunker and Humblot, 2004); Michael Löffler, Preussens und Sachsens Beziehungen zu den USA während des Sezessionskrieges 1860-1865 (Münster, Germany: LIT Verlag, 1999)

[2] J. Gubermann, The Life of John Lothrop Motley (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijohoff, 1973); Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Lothrop Motley: A Memoir (Boston, MA: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1879).

[3] John L. Motley, Morton’s Hope: The Memoirs of a Provincial (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1839).

[4] David L. Anderson, Imperialism and Idealism: American Diplomats in China, 1861-1898 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986), 19.

[5] Otto von Bismarck to John Lothrop Motley, May 23, 1864, in The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley, ed. George W. Curtis (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1889), 2:160.

[6] Motley to his Mother, August 3, 1864, Ibid., 2:170.

[7] Mrs. Motley to Lily Motley, August 1, 1864, in John Lothrop Motley and His Family, ed. Susan Margaret Stackpole Motley, St. John Mildmay, and Herbert Alexander St. John Mildmay (New York: John Lane, 1910), 210, 214.

[8] Graf Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode, Germany and the United States of America during the Era of Bismarck, trans. Otto E. Lessing (Reading, PA: Henry Janssen Foundation, 1937), 62.

Niels Eichhorn

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

Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage and the Civil War Centennial

Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage and the Civil War Centennial

On March 30, 2019, a group of public historians will convene at the National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting to discuss the interpreter Freeman Tilden’s 1957 publication, Interpreting Our Heritage. My fellow NPS colleague Allison Horrocks and I created this conference panel to discuss Tilden’s ideas in historical context and contemplate the state of interpretation moving forward. We also built a website where readers can learn more by visiting In the meantime, I’ve been re-reading Tilden and thinking about the influence of Interpreting Our Heritage within the context of the National Park Service’s efforts to commemorate the Civil War Centennial from 1961 to 1965.

An NPS Park Ranger gives a tour of Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Interpreting Our Heritage came at an important moment for both the NPS and those interested in commemorating the Centennial. The book was published only four years after the NPS undertook a major reorganizational plan that saw the creation of an Interpretation division within the agency. Likewise, plans to commemorate the Centennial at major Civil War battlefields under the NPS’s management were starting to take shape at this time.[1] Interpreting Our Heritage was the first full-length study to examine the theoretical aspects of interpreting natural and cultural resources. The book became mandatory reading for NPS interpretive staff in the 1960s, and it remains an important resource for public historians today. While Tilden was not an expert on the history of the American Civil War, he cited examples from the war numerous times in Interpreting Our Heritage. Examining these references offers slight clues into how interpreters might have approached the task of telling stories about the Civil War to their audiences.

Tilden passionately argued that “information” was not the same as “interpretation.” He criticized previous programming at Civil War battlefields for being too detail-oriented and factual. “In the fifty years following the end of that fratricidal war, there was much emphasis, when the veterans and their children were visiting the scenes of each bloody combat, upon information. It was then a thrill to know, to recall, just where papa’s regiment had stood, by what road an advance or retreat was made,” according to Tilden. Now the time had come for a telling of the “great human story” that went beyond tedious military details. “The battlefield of our great fratricidal American war is not merely a place of strategy and tactics; not a place where regiments moved this way and that like checkers on the board; not merely a spot where something was decided that would lead to another decision.” Tilden preached, in other words, the importance of placing the human experiences of warfare front and center. It made little sense to present interpretations best suited for “a group of Civil War Roundtable enthusiasts” to a general audience experiencing the war’s history for perhaps the first time.[2]

When it came to interpreting historical content, Tilden presented what scholars today would describe as a “reconciliationist” view of the Civil War.[3] The conflict was, in his view, a battle of patriotic Americans fighting for equally valid causes. The meaning of these battles came from the fact that they were “made famous and treasurable by the acts of men and women, where the story is told of courage and self-sacrifice, of dauntless patriotism, of statesmanship and inventive genius.” The Civil War, argued Tilden, had been a tragic conflict between “armed men following their ideals to the valley of the shadow.” Learning stories of courage and patriotism would inspire contemporary Americans to have a stronger pride in their country.[4]

A Commemorative postage stamp from the Civil War Centennial, 1964. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tilden also sought to build historical understanding through connections between the past and the personal experiences of everyday people, what scholars today might describe as building a sense of empathy. He asked his readers to put themselves in Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s shoes: “[Arlington] was the scene of the great tragic moment when a man who loved the Union, and the United States army he had served, had to make a decision. Virginia was his mother. What should he do?” Tilden asked. “What, given all those circumstances, would the visitor have done?” He portrayed the Civil War elsewhere as a brothers’ war of divided loyalties. In discussing the Battle of Vicksburg, Tilden recommended using the story of the 11th Missouri Regiment (U.S.) fighting the 3rd Missouri Regiment (CSA) on the battlefield. He flippantly asked, “what difference does it make now, except to the researcher, who commanded these regiments?” The importance was that “some of these Missouri boys, now striving to kill each other, were once fed gingerbread and doughnuts from the same Aunt Nellie’s jar.” The role of NPS interpreters, then, was to make connections through the stories of heroic Confederate and Union soldiers.[5]

Tilden also reinforced a mythic view of westward expansion that eliminated the presence of indigenous people from the historical narrative. He celebrated “the heritage from our fathers” in highlighting the Oregon Trail, a symbol of national expansion that “gives us the thrill that we belong.” Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin—itself a mythic creation—represented “the heroism of western pioneers.” Moreover, Tilden argued that “the fullest appreciation of unspoiled nature is found by those [visitors] who are willing to imitate in some degree the experiences of the pioneers,” a particularly ironic statement since forced Indian removal played a central role in the creation of some of the country’s most popular National Park sites.[6]

Finally, Tilden stressed the importance of finding happiness and beauty at natural and cultural sites, including Civil War battlefields. Interpreters at these sites were “middlemen of happiness” who highlighted the stories of “great men” at battlefields that in his mind were “shrines” to heroism, patriotism, and beauty. Their primary duties in this sense were “first, to create the best possible vantage points from which beauty may be seen and comprehended; and second, to do all that discreetly may be done to establish a mood, or sympathetic atmosphere.” For Tilden, visitors to these sites were, in a somewhat condescending tone, “wonderfully well-mannered and pathetically eager for guidance toward the larger aspects of things that lead toward wisdom.” They came to these sites with personal experiences but were, to a large extent, empty vessels waiting to be filled by knowledgeable interpreters.[7]

Interpreters looking at Tilden’s ideas sixty years later will most likely find them simultaneously insightful and debatable. Tilden’s calls for a better focus on the human side of war and programming that went beyond the mere conveyance of “information” still resonate today. While Tilden probably aimed to keep these stories focused on the (white, male) participants engaged in battle, interpreters today have expanded their narratives to include the stories of women, enslaved African Americans, and Native Americans during the war, both on and off the battlefield.[8] Promoting multiple perspectives in historical narratives has become a centerpiece of good interpretive practice today, and meaningful dialogues between visitors and interpreters are more highly valued today than in Tilden’s time. In any case, it is no longer enough to ask visitors to simply consider General Lee’s perspective, but also the perspectives of those who considered the entire Union their “mother.” It is no longer enough to highlight the divided loyalties of white residents in the border slave states but also the enslaved people whose loyalties were undivided as the Civil War increasingly became a conflict over slavery’s future. The mythic narrative of westward expansion to a vast, empty frontier that Tilden celebrated also seems out of place and inaccurate today.

Likewise, Tilden’s emphasis and on happiness and beauty—outgrowths of his desire for themes of sectional reconciliation and patriotism during the Cold War—is questionable. As NPS historian Edward Roach argues, “many resources that are significant and worthy of commemoration are not beautiful. There was no beauty in the battle of Gettysburg, a noisy, destructive, smelly, bloody mess. The Sand Creek massacre was just that . . . [Visitors] do not have to be in love with the story being told. They merely need to find it worthy of telling, worthy of being understood by more and more people.”[9] Perhaps now more than ever, interpreters at Civil War historic sites need to emphasize the harsh realities of warfare, as viewed from the multiple perspectives of the people who experienced the brutality of the Civil War firsthand. Ultimately Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage is an important resource for interpreters looking to hone their skills, but it is a product of its time. Its ideas must not be held to the status of dogma for those working at Civil War historic sites.


[1] Freeman Tilden, Interpreting Our Heritage, 3rd ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 35; Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011).

[2] Tilden, Interpreting Our Heritage, 24, 69.

[3] The term “reconciliationist” was coined by David Blight in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2-5.

[4] Tilden, Interpreting Our Heritage, 69.

[5] Ibid., 13, 15, 42-43.

[6] Ibid., 68, 77; Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

[7] Tilden, Interpreting Our Heritage, 12, 85.

[8] See discussions in James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, eds., Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Kevin M. Levin, ed., Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

[9] Edward Roach, “Edward Roach Case Statement,” Interpreting Our Heritage, 2019, accessed February 22, 2019,

Nick Sacco

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

Editor’s Note: March 2019 Issue

Editor’s Note: March 2019 Issue

Our March 2019 issue is a special issue on veterans, with Susannah Ural serving as guest editor. Below you will find her note of introduction. To access these articles, you can purchase a copy of the issue or subscribe to the journal. It will also be available (in March) on Project Muse.

In 2015, James Marten, Brian Matthew Jordan, Barbara Gannon, and Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh offered broad analyses of veterans within a national and global context in this journal’s first special issue on veterans. Their work reflected a strong body of scholarship that has continued to grow and enrich our understanding of veterans’ readjustment to civilian life, the challenges they faced as their age advanced and their health declined, and the battles they waged over how their service would be remembered and who would tell that story.

But for all of this rich scholarship, significant holes and flawed interpretations remain in our work on veterans, which this special issue seeks to fill. Scholars are well versed, for example, in the tensions that existed between northern civilians and Union soldiers who came home. But how did this relationship collapse? It began with eager, devoted aid workers volunteering time, energy, and capital to the plight of the soldier; with civilians raising funds for hospitals and supplies; with parades and meals prepared for men heading off to war. It ended in deeply entrenched resentment and miscommunication. That disconnect inspired Sarah Gardner’s article, which opens this issue. What caused such angst and such—from our perspective—coldness in civilian activists devoted to veterans in need? One source of that friction, Gardner observes, is Americans’ talent for honoring their battlefield dead and their habitual failure to care for soldiers who survive. Victorian concerns over the degrading influence of charity partly explains this failure, Gardner agrees, but her close study of a Pennsylvania chapter of the U.S. Sanitary Commission reveals something more. These were not simply Gilded Age reformers frowning at veterans who failed to meet society’s expectations. Relief workers truly struggled to reconcile their drive to uplift with their compulsion to maintain a stable society, but in the end, they sacrificed empathy in the name of stability.

By examining the metamorphosis of soldier to veteran—a puzzling process when, in the cases of most Confederates, there was no formal demobilization—Caroline Janney’s essay spotlights another gap in our understanding of veterans. Janney follows the soldiers of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from Appomattox Court House through the post-surrender period, tracing moments of continued military order and discipline as soldier-veterans journeyed home as companies and even brigades. But that discipline was tenuous and often went unenforced by officers who, Janney observes, had no official authority and who, along with their men, resented the myriad symbols of what Union victory wrought: the unraveling of slavery, debilitating poverty, and armed occupation by both white and black Union soldiers.

Kurt Hackemer shifts our attention to Dakota Territory as he seeks to understand what drove veterans west after their Civil War service. Scholars have tied this movement to military service, but until now there has been little evidence to support such claims. Through a close statistical analysis of a special census of more than six thousand veterans, he finds that some men were escaping lingering wartime trauma after especially hard service, but in other veterans, Hackemer uncovers patterns of mobility that started before the war. In these cases, prewar experiences affected veterans’ postwar lives as much as their military service. We should not, Hackemer warns, grant too much causation to a war that was a brief, though exceptionally intense, period of a veteran’s life.

Mississippi’s Confederate home—known as “Beauvoir”—inspired my own essay. Beauvoir challenges historians’ understanding of Confederate veteran facilities as places where aging men sat in fading gray uniforms, isolated from society, and waiting to die. That flawed narrative is the result of an overreliance on a Lost Cause framework to interpret these homes. My close analysis of the gender and racial diversity of Beauvoir’s residents and administrators at this state-funded, state-run facility reveal that New South modernization and segregation shaped Beauvoir just as much as its Lost Cause roots.

Ian Isherwood closes this special issue with a review essay that brings two fields awash in veteran studies in conversation with one another. In a carefully crafted thematic analysis of the scholarship on Civil War and First World War veterans, Isherwood offers his thoughts on three key themes in the literature on both wars—service, suffering, and survival—and highlights areas ripe for comparison that will, we hope, encourage scholars in both fields to take inspiration from one another and lead to future collaborative efforts.

This special issue tests our sweeping conclusions about Civil War veterans by looking at discrete communities of veterans and the relief workers who hoped to help them. In each essay, readers will find new approaches to studying veterans’ diverse experiences. More to the point, they will encounter finely grained explorations of how veterans and those who lived and worked with them adjusted to postwar life as individuals and families, as communities of soldier-veterans, and as independent organizations rallying to address veterans’ frequently changing needs. These essays open up our thinking about veterans to acknowledge both the prewar and the extended postwar experience, pushing us well into the twentieth century.

We hope this issue inspires explorations into the untold ways veterans and those who cared for them adjusted to postwar life. These adjustments varied over time and space, reminding us that the veteran experience was a complex one. The burgeoning scholarship is promising and inspiring, and it is demonstrating new ways to think about the lasting effects of civil war.

Susannah Ural

Susannah Ural is Professor of History and co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. She specializes in nineteenth-century America, with an emphasis on the socio-military experiences of U.S. Civil War soldiers and their families. Dr. Ural's latest book is Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit (LSU, 2017).

“Don’t Forget your Soldier Lovers!” A Story of Civil War Valentines

“Don’t Forget your Soldier Lovers!” A Story of Civil War Valentines

Is materialism ripping out the heart of Valentine’s Day?

Every February, thousands of Americans lament the commercialism of this holiday with critical articles and tweets about modern consumerism. Some blame the pressures of social media on the rise in spending. And it is definitely rising; the National Retail Federation estimates that more than $20 billion will be spent on 2019’s Valentine celebrations. The creativity of advertisers is not to be undersold, of course, as enterprising executives have discovered how to widen the consumer market to include those who are currently unattached. “After the chocolates have been eaten and the flowers wilt, roaches remain thriving and triumphant. Give the gift that’s eternal and name a roach for Valentine’s Day.” That’s right, for fifteen dollars, you can name a roach after your ex and send them a digital certificate from the Bronx Zoo.[1]

Valentine’s Day advertisement in The New York Herald, January 27, 1863. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Some may be surprised to learn that St. Valentine’s Day, and all its commercialism, was alive and well during the bloodiest war of our nation’s past. Much like today, nineteenth-century advertisers and newspapers relentlessly warned their patrons that the holiday loomed. On February 11, 1864, the Holmes County Farmer newspaper in Ohio read, “We are reminded that Valentine Day is approaching. Tuesday next, the 14th inst., is set aside as the carnival of lovers. It is said the birds choose their mates on that day, and, it being leap year, it is expected all the marriageable girls will select their mates.”[2]

During the war, companies ran a number of Valentine ads that targeted women with loved ones off at battle. “Don’t forget your soldier lovers. Keep their courage up with a rousing Valentine. All prices. Six cents to five dollars each,” advertised Strong’s Valentine Depot in 1862. In 1863, New York City’s American Valentine Company promoted “soldiers’ valentine packets,” “army valentine packets,” and “torch of love packets.” In Washington D.C., Shillington’s likewise advertised packets specifically for soldiers, which “contains two superb sentimental valentines and elegant embossed envelopes; also comic valentines and beautiful valentine cards in fancy envelopes.”[3]

Valentine’s Day advertisement in The Evansville Daily Journal, February 11, 1862. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

In some cases, this collision of holiday and war was quite jarring. For example, in February 1862, Indiana’s Evansville Daily Journal described Main Street bookstores filled with card displays “large and varied enough to suit the tastes of all.” Immediately beneath this bulletin was a notice to the recently wounded and those in mourning: “Disabled soldiers applying for pensions, and the widow or heirs of soldiers who have been killed, or died in service, should call” began the section, followed by another notice related to “troops moving.” This newspaper column, flowing from one topic to the next, provides powerful insight into the daily experiences of the homefront. Yes, the war was about troop movements. Yes, the war included wounds, death, and pensions. But even as wives worried ceaselessly about the loss of husbands, scanning the papers for news, they also read advertisements and planned for their Valentine’s celebrations. Life did not stop in the midst of war. Neither did holidays. And advertisers knew it.[4]

Soldiers at war also remembered Valentine’s Day. Though they appear less likely to purchase formal Valentine’s stationery, original poetry and letters of love came home in abundance. One particularly special valentine came from Confederate soldier Robert H. King, who created a paper heart with a pen knife for his wife, Louiza. When opened, the seemingly random holes in the paper reveal two people separated from one another, crying.[5]

Robert H. King’s valentine for Louiza. Courtesy of the Library of Virginia.

On November 8, 1861, Robert had written to his wife, “it panes my hart to think of leaven you all” and signed his letter as many soldiers did, with “yours til death.” Ultimately, this would be true, and all Louiza would be left with was this paper heart. Robert died of typhoid fever near Petersburg, Virginia, in April 1863. She kept this valentine until her own death decades later, perhaps believing there is more heart in handmade.[6]

To return to our original question, are our contemporaries correct in their claim that materialism is ripping out the heart of Valentine’s Day? Perhaps not. At least in the nineteenth century, materialism was part of the holiday all along. When Sarah Woif married Sylvanus Emswiller of Shenandoah County on Valentine’s Day 1861, she likely was not thinking about advertisers, but rather, the love associated with the holiday. She certainly was not thinking about the fact that she, too, would become a widow in 1863 when Sylvanus died of pneumonia, fighting with the Second Virginia Infantry. Love, loss, celebration, heartache – they all swirled together in the Civil War. And the newspapers certainly reflected it.[7]


[1] Katherine Cullen, “Is love still in the air?” National Retail Federation, January 30, 2019,; “Name a Roach,” Bronx Zoo, accessed February 10, 2019,

[2] Holmes County Farmer, Millersburg, Ohio, February 11, 1864. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,

[3] The New York Herald, February 14, 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,; The New York Herald, February 7, 1863. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress,; The National Republican, Washington, D.C., February 8, 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress,

[4] The Evansville Daily Journal, Evansville, Indiana, February 11, 1862. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress,

[5] Robert H. King, Valentine to Louiza A. Williams King of Montgomery County, Virginia, undated, in Robert H. King Papers, 1861-1910, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

[6] There is a photograph of Eliza (c. 1910) within this collection. Her exact date of death is unknown. Robert H. King to Louiza A. Williams, November 8, 1861; ibid.

[7] George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War Database, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV.

Angela Esco Elder

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

Author Interview: Timothy Williams

Author Interview: Timothy Williams

Our December 2018 issue featured top-notch work on the Civil War era, including a fascinating piece by Timothy Williams, titled “The Readers’ South: Literature, Region, and Identity in the Civil War Era.” We share below a recent interview with Dr. Williams, who is an assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon. Professor Williams works in the fields of intellectual and cultural history, focusing particularly on the nineteenth-century United States and the American South. He is currently researching and writing a new book, tentatively titled Civil War Prisons and the Intellectual Life of the Confederacy.

Thanks for speaking with us, Tim. Many of our readers have read your article in our December 2018 issue, but it would be useful if you could briefly summarize the focus and argument of your article.

Thanks for talking with me about the article! In short, this article considers the Civil War Era South from the perspective of its intellectual culture. I focus specifically on generally well-off young white men and women who made books and reading a regular part of their lives. I interrogated the archive not just for learning what these young people read, but how they read, why the read, when they read, where they read, and how they processed what they read. Muster readers will be interested in knowing that these readers were not nearly as concerned with their southern-ness as historians have been! Instead, these young men and women thought and acted very much like northern middle-class readers. They read for entertainment, of course, but also for their own moral and intellectual development. As a result of the latter, they were keenly aware of the morality of what and how they read. For example, they believed that reading history and biography taught useful moral lessons, but reading novels was a dangerous practice (one they denounced but also pursued eagerly). Surprisingly, I found that sectionalism did not have as strong of an effect on reading lives as some might presume. In the late antebellum period, some readers, of course, entirely eschewed northern authors, and others read them and critiqued them. But region was not the primary lens through which young southerners approached intellectual life on a daily basis. Even amid secession and war, the ingrained practice of reading for self-improvement that they cultivated in the prewar years continued to shape their experiences in a variety of settings, which I highlight at the end of the article. In all, I hope that the essay serves as an example of how cultural and intellectual history helps to uncovers how individuals lived through the era and how books and reading habits followed them across the “eras” historians have created around them.

Your article is a great example of the intersection of cultural and intellectual history, for sure. Early in the article you point out the common stereotype of white Southerners as illiterate. You write that “this trend persists in spite of a robust and growing literature examining authors and editors, publishers and booksellers, class and society, education and students, and both national and international contexts.” (565) Why do you think this is still the case?

That’s a great question! Maybe we’re not reading outside of our own subfields as we should. I thought about this a few years ago when I was on a conference panel with Sarah Gardner (@BookHistorian) and a very well-respected historian in the audience explicitly dismissed our work saying, “but we all know most southerners couldn’t even read.”  This statement really stuck; it simply isn’t true, we explained to the audience. But even if we are reading outside our sub-, sub-, subfields, then perhaps we haven’t done a good enough job within the field of showing how intellectual history—the history of ideas and their contexts—fits into the narratives we’ve established in social and political history. If all roads lead to secession and war in the way we teach the U.S. survey, for example, only certain elements of intellectual history get taught—the big texts and the big authors who wrote them. But who read these works? Who talked about them? Where? When? Why? This is where I think the study of “intellectual life” can be most beneficial because it moves the field away from canon into the social and political life of books and ideas.

Those are all fruitful questions! One topic you address is how these young people thought carefully about genre. It made me wonder: to what extent were these anxieties about reading the “right kind” of literature tied to class identities?

Yes, these anxieties were deeply tied to class identities. Elite and middle-class southerners set the discourse around reading, which they offered in academies and colleges. These institutions were mostly, but not always, the provenance of social elites and intended for preparing young men for public life and young women for domestic life. Propriety figured prominently in how young men and women discerned appropriate reading material. But it is important to note that gender, of course, inflected these class identities. I use the example of Elizabeth Ruffin in the article because she explicitly acknowledged that a young woman of her standing ought not to read novels, but she nevertheless “devoured” them. Similarly, an elite southern man, imprisoned during the Civil War, acknowledged that it was inappropriate to read fiction in any other situation than captivity. In both cases, public propriety mattered both in terms of class and gender.

The role of gender is so critical, and your discussion of how gender shaped reading habits was particularly interesting. How did the literary lives of young men and young women differ? And, as a corollary, what differences did you find between Northern and Southern readers?

The literary lives of young men and women differed very little. They all read periodicals and newspapers, novels, and histories. They were all taught to read the Bible. Young men may have read more ancient Latin and Greek texts, however. The greatest difference, however, was in how they wrote about what they read. In the diaries and letters I examined for this article, for example, young men clearly wrote about sex and intimacy with greater candidness then young women. While the article does not explicitly compare northern and southern readers, the evidence I have studied from southerners does not look very different from artifacts of northern intellectual culture for young men and women. Here, I find common ground in the moral capital of reading that Thomas Augst outlines in The Clerk’s Tale  and the gendered world of young school girls in Mary Kelly’s Learning to Stand and Speak. Similarly, the concerns about morality of reading among the “gentlemen” versus the “roughs” in Lorien Foote’s book of the same title appear throughout the materials I’ve read of young southerners.[1]

We have a question from one of our Twitter followers, @loyaltyofdogs, who asks: “newspapers, especially for their coverage of the war and politics, were important to soldiers on both sides and to the civilian population. Did many young people read newspapers during the Civil War?”

Newspapers were staples of wartime reading for teenagers, to be sure. And not surprisingly, in writing about reading the news we also get a fair amount of sectionalism. Young southern prisoners of war, for instance, were not allowed to read southern papers and frequently commented on the mistrust of what we might call “fake news” in today’s political landscape.

Before we conclude, is there anything else you will like to say to readers about this project?

Yes! I want to say one thing about the evolution of this article. While writing about nineteenth-century southern college students in Intellectual Manhood (UNC Press, 2015)—how they read, wrote, and imagined their way to adulthood—I realized that there was plenty of literature out there about northern readers but very little about their southern counterparts, especially outside of studies of education. And those studies tended to focus on everything but reading. Yet as I read published and unpublished diaries of young southerner men and women, I began noting all the occasions they mentioned reading and thought that this was an important way to understand intellectual culture that hadn’t been explored very thoroughly. Around the same time, Beth Barton Schweiger’s important article, “The Literate South,” appeared in the third volume of the JCWE, which framed the need for a study not only on literacy but also the uses of literacy. So I am very much indebted to both Schweiger and the journal for facilitating this important conversation!

You are very welcome! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with our Muster readers.

If anyone has further questions for Dr. Williams, he is active on Twitter (@tjwwfu). The article he discusses here is available through subscription to the print journal and also thanks to our partnership with Project Muse.


[1] Thomas Augst, The Clerk’s Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand & Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic (Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Manhood, Honor, and Violence in the Union Army (New York: New York University Press, 2010).

A New Member of the Muster Team, Barton A. Myers

A New Member of the Muster Team, Barton A. Myers

Due to other commitments, our field correspondent James Marten has had to step down from his role at Muster. We will miss seeing his regular posts, but we wish him well in his future endeavors. In his stead, we are pleased to announce a new member of our Muster team, Barton Myers, who will be writing about soldiers, veterans, and military history.

Barton MyersBarton A. Myers is Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Ethics and History at Washington and Lee University and the author of the award winning Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865 (LSU Press, 2009), Rebels Against the Confederacy: North Carolina’s Unionists (Cambridge, 2014), and co-editor with Brian D. McKnight of The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War (LSU Press, 2017). Dr. Myers received his B.A., Phi Beta Kappa from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Professor Myers has taught at Cornell University, the University of Georgia, and Texas Tech University, and before becoming a professor, he served as a public historian with the National Park Service at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park where he led tours of some of America’s most historic battlefields. He is also a past nominee for the Rising Star Faculty Award given by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and the recipient of a Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for his research on violence, aggression, and dominance in American history. Dr. Myers’ work has been featured in the national media, including the Los Angeles Times, the Richmond, Sirius XM’s “The Michael Smerconish Program,” CSPAN’s “American History TV,” National Public Radio’s Virginia Insight, and the Civil War Monitor.

He lives in historic Lexington, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

He can be contacted about speaking engagements through his website, He also has a Facebook page: “The Art of Command during the American Civil War,”


What Academics Owe Activists: A Report on “Removing Silent Sam” at the AHA

What Academics Owe Activists: A Report on “Removing Silent Sam” at the AHA

As monuments to (and of) white supremacy, Confederate statues simultaneously re-embodied masculinity in white Southerners who failed their patriarchal society, christened future generations in Lost Cause mythology, and intimidated, punished, and policed the bodies of black Southerners.[1] It was no mistake that Confederate memorialization crested during two periods of intense racial violence and discrimination: the first during the consolidation of Jim Crow, in the 1890s through 1910s, and the second during the classical Civil Rights Movement, the 1950s and 1960s. This was the leitmotif of a Sunday morning session titled “Removing Silent Sam” at the recent American Historical Association meeting. Dr. Warren Milteer Jr. of UNC-Greensboro served as chair.

Dr. Adam Domby, Assistant Professor of History at the College of Charleston, began by sketching out the recent history of Silent Sam activism. Working with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, UNC-Chapel Hill dedicated the Confederate monument in 1913 as part of the first wave of memorialization meant to shore up Jim Crow. White supremacist Julian Carr enshrined this insidious motive in his dedication speech, which Domby located in the university’s archives in 2011. A Confederate veteran and alumnus, Carr recalled in the speech that soon after Appomattox, “I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” after she insulted a white woman.[2] This archival find coincided with the establishment of the Real Silent Sam Coalition, the progenitor of today’s movement. The Coalition created a moderate proposal that would contextualize and historicize Silent Sam through plaques and educational programming. Although administrators rejected this compromise, in 2015 activists did manage to force administrators to rename Saunders Hall—bearing the name of Klansman William Saunders—due to the fact that the Board’s own minutes revealed that it was precisely his leadership in the Klan that earned him the namesake.

The murder of Heather Heyer at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, brought a new urgency to the movement to take down Sam. As UNC-Chapel Hill PhD candidate and activist Alyssa Bowen reminded the audience, monuments cannot be conflated with history. In their mortar they freeze the social relations of their founding, becoming contemporary icons to likeminded white supremacists. In fact, as Bowen traced the intersection of historical events and Silent Sam activism since the 1960s, it became clear that one could anchor a course on racial discrimination and civil rights movements in America over the past century around Silent Sam alone. Bowen concluded by highlighting the wide range of racist iconography and honorifics still on campus, including thirty buildings named after white supremacists.

As Bowen observed, the continued presence of these structures on college campuses demonstrates that the fight against monuments like Silent Sam is bigger than a department, a school, a state, or even a region. To this point, Kenneth Ledford, a Germanist historian at Case Western Reserve University who attended the session, noted in the Q&A that the current debate about Confederate monuments stems from the fact that—contrary to Nazi Germany in World War II—the South never suffered a lasting total defeat. Previous scholars muzzled the likes of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Carter Woodson in favor of white academics steeped in Lost Cause mythology like William Dunning, Walter Fleming, and Ulrich B. Phillips. Consequently, there has been a slippage between the updated historiographical shifts ushered in during the 1950s and popular understandings of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In part, as Domby pointed out, this is because the plasticity of the Lost Cause provides such convenient cover for conservative attacks on social programs like affirmative action. How the public sees structural racism today hinges in large part on how it views the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow.

Defense of the Lost Cause has persistently floated above history under the cover of “free speech.” UNC-Chapel Hill PhD candidate and activist Lindsay Ayling detailed how this unfolds today. The same fascist white supremacist groups behind the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville—including the Aryan Brotherhood, the III%ers, and the League of the South—are those intimidating antiracist activists, often by violent means. Ayling shared disturbing examples of the vicious cyber harassment and police brutality she and others have suffered at the hands of these groups. Police sometimes allowed white supremacists to beat student activists with impunity. All this in the name of “free speech.”

Given the fascist groups cowering behind the First Amendment in order to attack student activists, Ayling’s presentation raised an urgent question for academics: what do we do when fascists leap off the pages of our monographs and spill onto our campus grounds? How might our scholarship and knowledge of historical context allow us to protect vulnerable populations in this fight against fascism and white supremacy? As Bowen put it, we need a clearer connection between what we do and how we live our lives.

This points to a larger issue that this panel addressed: we know these monuments reflect hate, but we fail to appreciate fully how they continue a long legacy of hostile spatial politics for students of color. Dr. Hilary Green, Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and an alumna of UNC, made this all too clear. As an African American, Green explained how Silent Sam’s presence feels like a personal betrayal by her alma mater. What do you do when an institution signals you are good enough for a doctorate, but then fails to understand the lasting effects of Confederate statues on campus? Or when white supremacists and their allies infiltrate and attack peaceful student activists? In one of the most effective and affective moments of the entire AHA conference, Green defiantly swore to Chancellor Carol Folt, “I will not be a silenced horse-whipped negro wench.” Green detailed how Sam marked the delineations of space that were not hers—how students of color avoided that part of campus altogether so as to escape its shadows. Confederate monuments are not a purely academic affair. Through them, the myths of the Lost Cause linger on, demanding obedience and silence from people of color.

The panel on “Removing Silent Sam” highlighted many ways scholars can support antiracist efforts, all of which remain important even in the wake of the recent resignation of Chancellor Folt and the removal of Sam’s pedestal. They can continue to teach the unequivocal truth of these statues and white supremacy. They can tweet out corrections of a falsified past. Whatever they do, they must amplify the voices of the vulnerable and exposed who dare to wrestle with a violent and dangerous legacy. On August 20, 2018, thanks to the courageous defiance of students armed with little more than moral imperative, Silent Sam fell. He crumpled like paper; now, may he boom like thunder.


[1] See, for example, LeeAnn Whites, The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995); Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).

[2] “Julian Carr’s Speech at the Dedication of Silent Sam,” Dr. Hilary N. Green, PhD, University of Alabama, accessed January 23, 2019,

Alex Hofmann

Alexander Hofmann is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago studying the histories of memory, violence, and the American South. His dissertation explores a culture of disembodiment that developed in the wake of the Civil War and produced distinct forms of violence through spectacle lynching.

Lessons from the Crimean War: The Augusta Arsenal

Lessons from the Crimean War: The Augusta Arsenal

In 1853 a conflict began that, for the first time since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, pitted most of the great powers of Europe against each other. What initially started as a conflict between the Russian and Ottoman empires quickly escalated to involve the western European maritime powers, Great Britain and France. New technology altered the fighting and forced adjustments to medical care.[1] While military planners quickly forgot most lessons of this Crimean War, turning the conflict into one of the century’s forgotten wars, the struggle had a profound impact on the Civil War. The architectural style and building plan of the Confederate Arsenal at Augusta, Georgia, illustrates a strong resemblance to the new Austrian Arsenal in Vienna, and in the absence of explicit written statement by Confederate authorities, this architectural transnational comparison highlights how Jefferson Davis’s government learned from recent European military experiments to ensure the Confederacy’s survival.[2]

Watercolor by Rudolf Alt of the Museum at the Vienna Arsenal in 1856. Courtesy of the Austrian Military Museum.

Initially, the new military achievements were supposed to benefit the United States. The U.S. government under Franklin Pierce determined to learn from the European conflict by sending officers to observe and report advances in military technology. On April 3, 1855, Major Richard Delafield, commander of New York City’s harbor defenses, received orders to head to Washington and report to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Besides Delafield, the same telegraphic order went to Captain George B. McClellan and Major Alfred Mordecai. Secretary Davis instructed the three men to visit Europe and report on the newest European military developments, including but not limited to uniforms, arms, fortifications, and transportation infrastructure.[3] The three men brought back valuable but frequently ignored information, published in voluminous reports over the next few years.

Blueprint of the arsenal from Richard Delafield, Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856 (Washington: G.W. Bowman, 1860).

Delafield had orders to inspect European production facilities for weaponry and report on new weapons technology, fortifications, bunkers, and others military advances. Much of his report and information came from the new Vienna arsenal. Besides talking about new cast iron technology and weapons, Delafield focused on the new arsenal building in Vienna. He commented that “no arsenal in Europe will compare with it in extent; none in which there is more unity of design.” He lauded the arsenal, calling it “perfect in all respects.”[4] The report included a detailed blueprint of the new arsenal and detailed descriptions, especially of the military and weapons museum:

Nearest to and parallel with the front is a richly ornamented two-story building of 130 by 30 toises (1 toise is about 1.9m), with projecting wings and center for a museum of ancient armor, arms, trophies, &c., &c., illustrative of the history of this branch of the art of war, with extensive arm racks as a store house for the small arms now being manufactured.[5]

In addition to the detailed report of the structures, Delafield noted that the arsenal could produce about “2,400 stand of arms per week.” He concluded in his report that construction commenced in 1851 and finished in 1856. “The cost is said to have been 7,900,000 florins, including 180,000 florins, the cost of the ground, containing 107 yokes of 1,600 square toises each. . . . The museum is calculated to hold in its wrought-iron racks 211,968 muskets.”[6] While the brief section on the architectural design of the Vienna Arsenal may seem of little importance, Secretary Davis seems to have remembered.

In September 1861, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, Josiah Gorgas, ordered the creation of a new arsenal at Augusta for both the manufacture of weapons and ammunition. Confederate authorities completed construction in early 1862. With the powder works and material in place, the facility was producing a large amount of materiel for the Confederate war effort between 1863 and 1865. The arsenal became a major producer of Confederate ammunition.[7]

Central Avenue, U.S. Arsenal, Augusta, Georgia. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The workshop building at the Augusta Arsenal bears strong resemblance to the Museum of Arms at the Vienna Arsenal. While the Augusta facility was only one story, except for the central and two outer wings, and far less ornate than the Vienna structure, the blueprint of the two buildings was remarkably similar. Unfortunately, available sources do not indicate whether Davis or the Confederate authorities directly relied on the Vienna Arsenal report in the construction of the site in Augusta. However, an architectural comparison indicates the strong similarity between the two sites. The builders in Augusta likely had some knowledge of the Vienna arsenal. This architectural comparison offers another avenue to explore transnational relations and exchanges during the mid-nineteenth century. Finally, despite the often-perceived agrarian and backward status of the Confederacy, the correlation between the two arsenals illustrates that the Confederacy paid attention to international, military achievements to use in their own struggle for survival.

The Crimean War signaled the arrival of modern warfare and offered keen observers an opportunity to learn important lessons.[8] Equipping an army with new weapons required new technology, which in turn required modern production facilities such as the Arsenal in Vienna. It is likely that the Confederacy used material from the Crimean War reports when constructing the Arsenal at Augusta and thus learned important lessons about modern military production facilities. In general, military planners did not embrace the lessons of the Crimean War, but the Augusta Arsenal is a refreshing reminder that transnational lessons were learned.


[1] Niels Eichhorn, “A Transnational View of Medicine and Medical Practices During the Civil War,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, November 13, 2018,

[2] I want to thank Park Historian James “Jim” Ogden at the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Military Park, who in his many public talks made me aware of the possible transnational comparison between the Augusta and Vienna arsenals.

[3] Richard Delafield, Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856 (Washington: G.W. Bowman, 1860), xiii-xiv. Also see George B. McClellan, Report of Captain George B. McClellan One of the Officers sent to the Seat of War in Europe in 1855 and 1856 (Washington, DC: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1857); Alfred Mordecai, Military Commission to Europe, in 1855 and 1856 (Washington, DC: George W. Bowman, 1860).

[4] Delafield, Report on the Art of War, 261.

[5] Ibid., 261.

[6] Ibid., 262, 264.

[7] Gordon A. Blaker, “From Powder to Projectile: The Production of Ammunition in Augusta,” in Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia, ed. C. L. Bragg, et al. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007), 132-156.

[8] Reid Holden, The Civil War and the Wars of the Nineteenth Century (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2006).

Niels Eichhorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid., 3, 4.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 5.

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

James Marten

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

Mudsills vs. Chivalry

Mudsills vs. Chivalry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael E. Woods

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