Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year: From the New South

A bit of a New Years celebration here at AoT. This is a poem I came across during my thesis research that I've always loved. It's from the Lexington Observer & Reporter, owned and edited by W.C.P. Breckinridge, Colonel of the 9th Ky. Cav (CS), and lately (by the time of this poem) passed off to Confederate sympathizer George S. Ranck. The paper was a leading spokesman for the Kentucky Democracy, a New South booster, eventually a New Departure paper following Henry Watterson's lead, and one of the best sources I have for news and (favorable) opinion about anti-black militia and Kuklux activity.

Notice the "cut down in the prime of life" and "whipped but defiant" South imagery. And, of course, the section towards the end about guarding the "annals and altars of state" from the "wolf" is, going into 1869, a commentary on Kentucky's position on the upcoming 15th Amendment debate.

Lexington Observer & Reporter,
The 1st of January, 1869.

Looking backward for the glory,
Of a gilded summer dawn,
Down a weary waste of whiteness,
Down a dreary winter lawn.

Looking backward, down the shadow
Of an iron beaten way,
Whence the armoured TIME came silent,
On the animate to-day.

Oh, it startles human reason;
Oh, it withers human pride,
Looking backward, ever backward,
On the living things that died.
Tread lightly – tread softly – oh, merciful Time,
O’er the land of the sun, and the lemon and lime,

For leaves of the flowers so faded and strewn,
Were fair in the morning and fallen at noon.

Go back to the plane of your ice-hidden lakes –
Go back with your breath of the frost and the flakes,

Go northward, oh, season of winter and gloom,
From the emerald South and its odorous bloom.
Oh, better to die and be hidden away,
Than to live in the circle and sight of decay.

Our metals of life in their crucibles run,
When the pulses are red in the glow of the sun.

But come to the South with the ice of your heel,
And the channels are still and the currents congeal.

Go backward, oh, winter, go back to the lakes,
With your withering frost and your wandering flakes.
The bush is borne down, and the blossom is shed
And we gather to-day at the grave of the dead.

The course that is stark, and the body that’s cold,
Is a lick of the past to be lost in the mold;

And armies may go the sepulcher plain,
To laurel the bier of the body that’s slain,

But never again at the death of the years,
Will the heart of the Southron be lavish of tears,

Go seek in the far-reaching fields of his land,
For the shade of his column and capital grand;

Go look for the mosque of his worship and pride;
Go look for his brother go look for his bride;

Go look for all things he has cherished and loved,
The garden be haunted – the valley be roved,

And the desolate track, and the ravens that fly.
Will tell that the fount of the Southron is dry.

Time was, when a sentinel stood at the gate,
And guarded the annals and altars of state;

When the gleam of his eye and the glare of his blade
Kept the wolf in the covet afar and afraid;

When the good and the pure, and the noble and true,
Were all in the land that the sentinel knew –

Time was when the tyrant would blanch in the sight,
Of the column and arch of our temple of right,

When the marbles of state in their purity stood –
That our fathers had builded and hallowed in blood;

But time is long gone with the sands of the glass,
When honor was watchword, and virtue the pass.

Go banish the dust from your lexicons old
Ye people that glitter and seek to be gold;

Go back to the schools of your earlier days,
For their lessons of truth, and their patriot lays;

Go study the greatness, that tried in the fires,
Shone bright in the glory that covered your sires;

Go feel in the spell that encircles their graves
That tyrants and cowards are meaner than slaves.

Oh, men of the nation – oh, rulers and kings,
Do ye know that your riches and powers have wings?

Do ye know that the ashes ye scatter and spurn,
Must quicken in time, and arise from the urn?

Do you know that the gates where ye gather your tolls,
Are peopled with things that have pulses and souls?

Do ye dare from your source in the dust and the clods
To covet the robe and the thrones of the Gods?

Ye may look at the waves that go out on the sea,
And learn from the past, what your future will be;
But evening must come from the shadow at last
With a garment of gloom and a gathering blast.

Happy New Year from a still-defiant South!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Old Hickory's Ties to Chickamauga

I take pen in hand (well, keyboard) in order to peer into the lives of “Old Hickory’s” adopted family and trace their loyalties to the Union. General Andrew Jackson was an ardent Unionist but had several relations give their lives for the “Southern Cause.” It was Jackson who, during Thomas Jefferson’s birthday celebration on April 20, 1830, starred John C. Calhoun squarely in the eyes, and gave the resounding toast, “OUR UNION: IT MUST BE PRESERVED!” Although born in South Carolina, and a Tennessee emigrant, Jackson was willing to lay down his life and the lives of United States soldiers in order to keep the Union together. His adopted grandson (grandnephew in reality) and grandnephew gave their lives for the South at the Battle of Chickamauga.

Jackson and Rachel had no children of their own, but one cannot say they were childless. Children seemed to be scrambling all about the Hermitage and the White House during his presidential years. The couple adopted two children during their lives and acted as guardians for eight others. One of the adopted children was the son of Rachel’s brother, Severn Donelson, renamed Andrew Jackson, Jr, to honor his adopted father. The other adopted son was an orphaned Creek Indian named Lyncoya. Jackson adopted him during the Creek Indian war of 1813-14 and sent him to the Hermitage to be reared, but unfortunately, Lyncoya died in 1828, at the age of eighteen, as a result of tuberculosis. Andrew Jackson, Jr. married Sarah Yorke of Philadelphia in 1831, and they had a son, Samuel Jackson, in 1837.

The Jackson’s also added three nephews to their family in 1804. After another brother of Rachel’s died, John Samuel Donelson (1798-1817), Daniel Smith Donelson (1802-1863), and Andrew Jackson Donelson (1799-1871) came to call Andrew guardian. The best known of the three nephews was Andrew Jackson Donelson, who married Emily Tennessee Donelson and was his Uncle Andrew’s private secretary during his two terms as president. Emily Donelson acted as White House hostess for most of Jackson’s presidency, but she died of tuberculosis in 1836. One of the Children produced from this marriage was John S. Donelson.

John S. Donelson was born in the White House on May 18, 1832, and was standing at the bedside of his granduncle when the ex-president died in 1845. According to John's stepmother, Elizabeth, the dying Jackson called John to his side, "kissed him and gave him his blessing and parting admonitions [.] He told him not to weep for him[,] that he hoped to meet him in Heaven & that he must be a good boy, obey his parents, keep the Sabath[sic] holy, and not neglect his salvation." John cast his lot with the Confederacy on May 14, 1861, when he was mustered into Company E of the 154th (Senior)Tennessee Regiment as a 2nd lieutenant. His promotion to 1st lieutenant came in August 1861, and his appointment to captain occurred on June 27, 1862. Captain Donelson received a severe wound during the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862, and was subsequently killed on September 19, 1863, at the Battle of Chickamauga while serving on Brigadier Preston Smith’s staff as Acting Assistant Adjutant-General (A.A.A.G.). His effects were placed in his brother’s care but no record of his burial was documented. According to the Compiled Service Records (CSRs), Donelson’s captaincy had not been filled by December 1863, due to “the captain-elected” having “failed to pass ex board and appointment not made.”

General Jackson’s “grandson,” Samuel, was born at the Hermitage on June 9, 1837, to Andrew Jackson, Jr. and Sarah Yorke. He enlisted and was elected as the 1st lieutenant of Company G, 44th Tennessee Infantry on December 30, 1861, and received an appointment as captain on April 24, 1862. He too was wounded at the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro). Unlike his cousin, John Donelson, Jackson’s wound was recorded. He took a shot in the hand and was sent to Marietta, Georgia, to recover. His company’s muster roll recorded him as being “present” in May and June 1863. Like his cousin, Samuel Jackson took part in his final battle on September 19, 1863, at Chickamauga. Brigadier General Bushrod Johnson described the scene in his official report on October 24, by saying, “ The Forty-fourth Tennessee Regiment had Lieut. Col. John L. McEwen, jr., commanding, a gallant and able officer, who has rendered faithful and efficient service in our army, and 5 company officers wounded, 1 (Capt. Samuel Jackson) mortally.” Johnson goes on to say that “Captain Jackson, of the Forty-fourth Tennessee Regiment, has since died of his wounds. Known to me long and familiarly in youth and manhood as Capt. Samuel Jackson has been, I feel unable to do justice to his many virtues, his pure and admirable character, or his merits as an officer and a soldier.” Jackson’s CSR records he died on October 2, 1863, from wounds received at Chickamauga, but his gravestone at the Hermitage records his death as September 29. Samuel Jackson’s name was placed on the Confederate Roll of Honor on August 10, 1864, posthumously.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Watching the Death of an Army

As Lee said, it's that time of year again for the destruction of the AoT. And in the case of the Battle of Nashville, we are lucky to have a photographic glimpse into the battle as it is going on in real time. Photographer George Bernard documented U.S. troops -- those not engaged, that is -- watching the battle from their positions in the outer works. The LoC has fantastic .tiff scans of these photographs here, but these are some zoom-in and crop jobs that give us some neat detail.

This guy has always screamed "Western Fed" to me. The nonchalant demeanor, the decidedly unmilitary bearing. Also not that tent/hut city sprawling back in the distance, and the regiment after regiment's worth of rifles stacked off in the distance.

More on those troop positions in the background of the first fellow. How good are these guys at putting up abatis by now?

And the part of the war that tends to be left out: logistics, wagons, horses, and the non-glamorous stuff.
They say that the army life is one of great boredom punctuated by times of great excitement. Obviously, for these fellows with a ringside seat, this battle certainly provides that break from the mundane along with the added bonus of not getting shot at.
...and observing is not for the soldiers alone. This civilian/military mixed group is standing perhaps 10-15 yds. behind the others.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Death of the Army of Tennessee

Patrick posted a few weeks ago about the "birth" of the Army of Tennessee, and I thought it fitting that the date of its' death should be likewise noted. Today marks the 144th anniversary of the battle of Nashville. Although Joe Johnston would surrender a "Army of Tennessee", when you look at the order of battle, only one small corps was made up of what was left after Nashville and the disasterous retreat that followed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"All Men of Decency Ought to Quit the Army"

In honor of finishing up my essay, "'All Men of Decency Ought to Quit the Army': Benjamin F. Buckner, Manhood, and Pro-Slavery Unionism in Kentucky," for The Register last night, I decided to post Ben's letter to Helen, his fiancee, from which I took my title. It also happens to be one of his most concise (but certainly not only) articulations of his opinions about the propriety of African Americans as soldiers and the actions of the Lincoln administration.

Bowling Green, Ky.
Feby. 1, 1863

My Dear Helen,

I received a very long and interesting letter from you yesterday evening, and as the mails have at last commenced coming with some regularity, I shall doubtless have the pleasure of hearing frequently and of writing to you as often. I cant tell you when I am coming home as that depends on Col Hansons stay. When he comes I am going home on leave for a while, and just as soon as we are paid off I am going to try General Wright with a resignation.
The papers come quite regularly and we are very much edified by reading the proceedings of the Congress upon the Negro Soldier bill. All men of decency ought to quit the army if that bill becomes a law.
What is to become of Kentucky it is impossible to tell. All is dark in her future. I am sick at heart with the prospect before us. We who are in the army feel that we have been grossly deceived by the President and the party in power and what to do is the question that disturbs us all. We are all opposed to secession, and believe that it is no remedy for any of the evils that beset us. At the same time, we are uncompromising in our opposition to the infamous and disgraceful measures originated by the President & his party. The fact [is] that the Army and the Country are brought into disrepute both at home and abroad by the adoption of measures totally unfit for the accomplishment of any useful purpose. ...
Col Hanson’s time is up in the 5 or 6 of this month. You must be sure and keep me posted up as to your whereabouts for I dont want to have to go all over the Country hunting you up like I did before. I am going to send this letter by Capt Williams of Mt. Sterling[.] He is on duty in the Provost Marshall’s office, and is going home to see his wife. I hope to get my resignation through Genl Wrights head quarters. We are in disputed jurisdiction Rosecrans and Wright both claim us and having tried Genl Rosecrans I intend to try the other.
I hope soon to see you at any rate and we can then arrange for the future.
Goodbye the train is whistling & I have no time to write further [at] this time.

Ever yours

Though he had first stated his intention to resign back in June of '62 because of preliminary anti-slavery measures, the threat of social contamination-by-association with blacks in the military was too much for him to bear. Standing in integrated ranks was no way to preserve the "decency," honor, community esteem, or whatever else you might call it that a young lawyer needed to successfully build a practice and win a sweetheart. Of course, even had he stayed in the army he would have likely never seen, associated with, or formed alongside African American soldiers. But the pollution to the institution of the army and the country were too great to risk personal miasma.

Interestingly, just like Gorgas in the (apparently firebrand of a) post from the other day, he seems to suggest that despite the radical step taken by the Republicans, the USCTs would still be "unfit for the accomplishment of any useful purpose" as soldiers. But numbers might disagree with Ben. 23,000 black Kentuckians did things like relieve white troops from garrison duty, allowing the Ben Buckner-less 20th KY to return to active service the field in the Summer of '63 and again in '64.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Confederate Veteran on "How The Confederacy Armed its Soldiers"

Thanks to Kaelin for alerting me to this interesting article about Confederate industry from Confederate Veteran XXX, no. 1 (1922).

I was teaching my classes the other day about reading material culture as a primary source. For instance: a sun-faded, hand-sewn, jeans Confederate jacket can speak to raw material shortages and the labor of women behind the lines; an Atlanta arsenal cartridge box containing rounds from the Selma arsenal with powder from the Augusta works can tell us why Billy Sherman was so determined to stop the flow of supplies from the Confederate industrial heartland. Interesting, then, that we see in the pages of CV "How the Southern Confederacy developed a great industry in the manufacture of firearms and munitions while handicapped by the demands of active warfare is brought out in this article from the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, published while the World War was raging."

What's fascinating to me is that the CV would even publish such a thing. It smacks of the pride of the New South Men who sought capital and industry to restore the region to prominence while retaining the more conservative social structures of the Old South: racial, gender, and class hierarchy. I've always been of the opinion that if Gaines Foster is correct about the UCV being an town/urban professional phenomenon then we would see a significant amount of overlap in those professing the New South Creed and the shapers of Confederate memory.

" We began in April, 1861," wrote Gen. Josiah Gorgas, chief of ordnance of the Confederate army, in a monograph to President Jefferson Davis, "without arsenal or laboratory, or powder mill of any capacity, and with no foundry or rolling mill except in Richmond; and before the close of 1863, or within a little over two years we supplied them. During the harassments of the war, while holding our own in the field defiantly and successfully against a powerful enemy, crippled by a depreciated currency; throttled by a blockade that deprived us of nearly all the means of getting material or workmen; obliged to send every able-bodied man to the field; unable to use slave labor, with which we were abundantly supplied, except in the most unskilled departments of production; hampered by want of transportation of even the commonest supplies of food; with no stock on hand even of such articles as copper, leather, iron, which we must have to build up our establishments—against all these obstacles, in spite of all these deficiencies, we persevered at home as determinedly as our troops did in the field against a more tangible opposition. ... Steam was put in at the Charleston arsenal. The Mount Vernon institution was moved to Selma, nearer the district where the hardest cast iron in America was being turned into gun bores. Ancient field pieces of 1812 were replaced by new cannon from the Tredegar iron works in Richmond. ... Lead at the rate of nearly 80,000 pounds a month came in from the mines near Wytheville, Va., to be smelted in the new government plant at Petersburg. Battle fields were combed for gunstocks, bores, and bullets, with excellent results.

Notice how Gorgas downplays the potential contribution of slaves, pointing to their presumed inferiority and incapacity for skilled work, and without batting an eye can later point to Tredegar's contributions to the CS war effort while not acknowledging the slave labor that enabled that installation's success. But despite the racial assumptions which are largely inescapable from any source written in the 1920s, this remains a fairly sound introduction to Confederate industry. The conclusion is what I really enjoyed.

The Confederacy fell not so much because it had not been able to make arms, as because all the places where the arms were made fell before the Union armies.

Indeed, Harper's Ferry, Nashville, and eventually Atlanta would all suffer that same fate. But let us also keep in mind William Freehling's contention that the Confederacy had already lost the industrial war when it did not bring the manufacturing and transportation might of Baltimore, Louisville, and St. Louis into its ranks in 1861.

Chickamauga "Seminar in the Woods" 2009

For the past several years, Dave Powell, has been conducting indepth tours of the Chickamauga Campaign, and once again there is one scheduled for March 2009. I have been on these the past several years and they are very good. For more info,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How they fought at Chickamauga

Here is another account describing the way soldiers fought at Chickamauga, similar to what we have posted before, but with more descriptions of what they were using for breastworks. Enjoy.

From an account of Chickamauga of Lt. Col. Henry Davis, 82nd Indiana Infantry;

"Our father was doing everything in his power to strengthen the line by forcing stragglers who were streaming past, singly and in groups, to lie down in line with his men, and by urging the men to pile up rocks, rails, logs, chunks, and anything and everything they could find for defensive breast works, when a general officer on horseback rode up to him (our father), leaned over, put his arm round our father's neck and with an oath said, "Old man, I love you". This happened between the charges of the enemy, and while preparing for their return. Our father did not know who this officer was nor his rank, except that he was a general officer, but I have always believed it was Pap Thomas himself."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Goodbye Mr. Bragg

Just to note that today was the 145th anniversary of Braxton Bragg's resignation from command of the Army of Tennessee.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Step Forward And A Step Back

I have recently been reading Martin Dugard's The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846-1848. Of course I eagerly went to see how many familar faces I could come across, including Captain Bragg. Well, we get a little bit of good, and the same old bad. In regard to Bragg, Dugard says, "The North Carolinian was a tyrant, despised by his troops for his fanaticicism about discipline and protocol. He had finished fifth in the West Point class of 1837, which had graduated more than a dozen future generals-a startling figure, given that it comprised just fifty men. Bragg was lean like a knife's blade, tall, with iron gray eyes, great bushy eyebrows, and a sharp, unshaven chin whose point was accentuated by whiskers extending down both sides of his face to the jawbone. He was prone to depression, hypochondria, boils, and chronic diarrhea. Strangely, despite all this, women found him to be extremely charming. Bragg could display a sly sense of homor to those he pursued. Among his men, however, such attributes might be spoken of but were never witnessed...Bragg's character was potentially assailable, but his ability and intellect were not. Actually, he was something of a military genius. Bragg's specialty was artillery...Bragg was adept at mobilizing and firing all of these weapons. Yet his favorite was the six pounder...,the smallest cannon in the modern American military arsenal."
Sadly it seems the author relied to heavily on Civil War writings about Bragg, without checking them. Although Bragg's health was never great, the list of maladies he lists come from the 1860s, not the 1840s. Also, the opinion of Bragg as a tyrant comes more from post Civil War writings. Bragg was more a problem with superiors than his men, of course there is the story of the "fragging", but no one ever checks the story out, to see that the soldier that tried that had tried to desert and had been punished by Bragg, if he had been such a tyrant, the soldier would have been executed. However, it is at least refreshing to see Bragg being given some credit for his ability, particularly in artillery. So you have to take the good with the bad.

Rally on the....errr...High Ground or the Military Crest

This past week being the 145th Anniversary of the struggle for Chattanooga, I thought it would be a good time to mention an new project of mine, one of the far too many I already have. This one though ties into some of the other accepted "facts" about Braxton Bragg. That being that the Army of Tennessee laid its trenches, if they could be called that (several accounts refer to them being on a foot or so deep, or even just rocks and logs piled up), on Missionary Ridge on the geographic crest instead of the military crest, a tremendous blunder. However, though this may be wrong thing to do, I have been taking notice of all of the other positions used by the AoT before and after that had their positions on the geo. crest, and it is surprising, even during the Atlanta Campaign a large number of the CS positions are on the geo. crest, Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, and others. So, now comes the struggle to see why.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some more for Mr. Bragg

Came across this on the 7th Mississippi Infantry website, , a thank you to Jamie Roberts for making this known to me. The following is from the diary of William J. Bass of the 7th.

This is from the diary entry for June 15th, 1864.

"The Army visited by General Bragg [as] he passed through our camp to General Walthall's Brigade, a great many followed after him [and] seemed to be anxious to see the face of their old commander. After reaching General Walthall's Brigade, loud cheers were heard for a speech from General Bragg who told them that he was no hand to speak, that the best speech he had ever heard was made by them in front of the enemy with their muskets and it would afford him much pleasure to be with us again on such an occasion. He said that he had been far from us, but he could assure us that we had not been forgotten by him."

Battle of Ringgold Gap

Today marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Ringgold Gap, the last battle in the struggle for Chattanooga, and the only CS victory. The battle was small, but for many of the men that fought there it was one of the worst engagements of the war, particulary for the men of the 7th Ohio Infantry. The 7th Ohio would enter the battle with 14 officers and come out with one, larger losses than they suffered at Gettysburg. This was also the battle that earned Patrick Cleburne his reputation, he would get the thanks of the Confederate Congress, of Braxton Bragg, and become known as the "Stonewall of the West". That would then play out a little over a month later with his attempt at issueing his proposal to enlist slaves in CS service.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Army of Tennessee!

Though we're not quite to our anniversary here at the blog, our namesake and (usually) subject is turning 146 today. Disappointed from the lack of success in Kentucky (though loaded down with the produce of the Bluegrass), Braxton Bragg reorganized his forces on November 20, 1862. In the process, he designated the army, the Army of Tennessee.

So, here's to the army's founder, its longtime commander, and our favorite figure here at AoT: "Bully for Bragg!"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A New Important Reference

A few days ago I received a copy of Bruce Allardice's CONFEDERATE COLONELS: A BIOGRAPHICAL REGISTER. This is going to be right up there with GENERALS IN BLUE and GENERALS IN GRAY. It gives short bios on every full colonel that served in the Confederate armies, excepting, of course, those that were promoted to General. Anyway, here is a small sample:

Field, Hume R. Born Sept. 11, 1834, Pulaski, Giles Co.,TN. Attd. KMI. Druggist in Giles Co. prewar. Md. Henrietta Cockrill, Capt. Co. K, 1st TN, May 2, 1861. Major, date not specified. Col., May 1, 1862. Regiment consolidated with 27th TN, Jan. 1863, with Field heading the combined 1st/27th. WIA Kennesaw Mountain. Led Gist's Brigade at Bentonville. Paroled May 1, 1865, Greensboro. Farmer in Union City, TN, postwar. Died June 17, 1921, Union City, of a cerebral hemorrhage. Buried East View Cemetery, Union City. Sam Watkins claimed Field, a crack shot, killed 21 Yankees by himself during the war and called Field "the bravest man, I think, I ever knew."

Rudler, Anthony Francis. Born Antoine-Francois Rudler June 14, 1820, Bitteschwiller, Alsace, France. Came to the US in 1845. Bookkeeper in Augusta, GA. Officer in Mexican War. Filibuster with William Walker. Rudler was Walker's second in command, and his imprisonment in Honduras became a local cause celebre. Unmd. Capt. Co. G, 3rd GA Inf. Bn., Sept. 29, 1861. Major, Oct. 31, 1861. Detached in 1862 to be IG on Kirby Smith's staff. Col., 37th GA (formed from the 3d Bn.), May 6, 1863. WIA Chickamauga and Chattanooga, the latter would disable him from further field duty. Arrested Oct. 1864 and sent home to await trial. Ordered to take charge of convalescents in Augusta, Jan. 31, 1865. Commanded posts of Washington, GA, and Columbia, SC, Feb-April 1865. Active in promoting postwar emigration to Venezuela. Died Aug. 7, 1871, Augusta. Buried Magnolia Cemetery. Rudler was never a popular officer (he was appointed, not elected, major, displacing an officer the troops had elected) but was respected for his "undeniable bravery."

There are similar entires for EVERY Colonel, so this is a very important resource. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Forrest High Follow Up

Here is a follow up to my previous post about the controversy over Forrest High School in Jacksonville, FL. As a side note, the local middle school is named afer JEB Stuart.

Forrest High will keep its name after two years of controversy, school board votes 5-2 to leave the name.


The Times-Union Nathan Bedford Forrest High School's name will remain unchanged. The Duval County School Board voted 5-2 Monday to leave the name of Forrest High School, which honors the Confederate general, slave trader and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The decision ends two years of controversy over a possible name change. The vote to change the name of the majority black school split down racial lines, with board members Betty Burney and Brenda Priestly Jackson, the board's only black members, casting the two votes to change the name.Priestly Jackson and Burney said the school was named after Forrest in 1958 as a slap in the face to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education to integrate schools. "It was done to slap in the face integration and now the school itself is almost all African-American," Burney said. Board members voting to keep the name said energy surrounding the issue and the resources it would take the change the name are better suited to helping the school improve its academics. Forrest received an F on the most recent Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.Board member Kris Barnes, who wrote the agenda item recommending the rejection of the name change, said she had a problem that the issue was raised by the community instead of the students going to the school. Barnes said she wouldn't be able to understand the pain the name may cause blacks, but said she was frustrated so much time was being spent on a name of a school. "I would like the see it go through a process started by the student body," Barnes said. Board member Vicki Drake said she was displeased by the number of people who showed up at Forrest's School Advisory Council meetings to voice their concerns about the name change, but wouldn't come to the meetings to help the children at the school succeed. "The children didn't ask anybody to change the name of their school, the children asked for help to read and write," Drake said.Board member Tommy Hazouri agreed with Drake and Barnes. "For me in my heart, I think the great concern today is moving that school off the F chart," he said. "I believe that we should leave the name where it is. "The board voted after listening to more than two hours of public comment. About 100 people concerned about the name change attending the board meeting. The public's statements featured dueling histories and opinions of Forrest and his life. Opponents said removing Forrest's name was a step toward erasing Southern heritage and called Forrest a civil rights advocate and a good man

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Historical Fiction and the Civil War

Two recent events here at UK (trying now to put effigies aside) have got me thinking about the role of historical fiction and the Civil War. A couple of weeks ago, University of Georgia emeritus Dr. Charles Hudson gave a talk on the role of historical fiction in illuminating the often obscure world of Indians in the pre-white-contact South. An anthropologist by training, Hudson uses fictionalized dialogues between Spanish priests and Scottish backwoodsmen and the Indians whom each encountered (the Coosa in the first instance and the Cherokee in the latter). Hudson argued that historical fiction can fill in gaps in the historical, anthropological, and archaeological record, allowing a skilled author to illuminate a "history of a far older South" than the one normally associated with the Civil War era.

I relate this to understanding the Civil War because, well, I relate everyhting to the study of the war. But the real catalyst was that my US History to 1865 classes are reading The Killer Angels, perhaps the most popular piece of Civil War fiction and certainly so in the latter twentieth century. Not having read Shaara for a few years, I was struck at his characterization of North and South when I went back over it recently. Of the Army of Northern Virginia he writes, "It is Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Though there are many men who cannot read or write, they all speak English. They share common customs and a common faith..." The Army of the Potomac, on the other hand, "is a strange new kind of army, a polyglot mass of vastly dissimilar men, fighting for union. There are strange accents and strange religions and many who do not speak English at all. Nothing like this army has been seen upon the planet."

But is that correct? Is that a fair assesment of the armies? Would Joseph Glatthaar agree with Sharra's assertions? I don't think history supports these generalizations. The bigger question is: what happens when historical fiction no longer patches a skeletal documentary record, but contradicts scholarly understanding of the past? Hudson spoke to this during the Q&A. As the fiction is built upon the bedrock of scholarship, he said, when the understanding of the past changes, the "truth" of the fiction must therefore change.

But at the same time, as a work of art, of literature, historical fiction endures as a representation of the era that produced it. Hudson read a selection from one of his books, relating the story of the burial of the two stone idols at Etowah. He explicitly, he said, moved away from the documentable theories on their destruction and spun a mythological tale through the narration of The Raven, a Coosa priest. The Coosa, Hudson said, would not have remembered an academic analysis of the socio-political upheaval that caused them to abandon their gods, but would have instead remembered the emotion of it, the story of it, through their oral tradition. His brand of social anthropology which seeks to understand people as they understand themselves -- not as they are understood by others -- produces more of an impressionistic watercolor than a high-def photograph.

So too, I think, with Civil War memory. Postbellum generations of Americans (Northern and Southern) remembered the emotion, the feeling, the watercolor rather than the hard details which are being born out through historical research. So, then, is the study of Civil War memory history or anthropology? Art history? What does an 1880s memoir or a 1920s work of history tell us more about: the Civil War it discusses or the ways in which later peoples understand thier world and their past? Does the fact that The Killer Angels mischaracterizes the warring armies diminish its value? Or does the fact that it struck a chord in American society reflect its "truth" as percieved by many Americans? Which is more real today: historical reality or modern perception of reality? Which will prompt people to act? Do historians have a duty only to observe this cultural phenomenon or to realign the perception?

My classes will have the option to write on this theme in a short paper, and I'll be interested to see their responses. In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear any of your own.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bingham's Citizens: Antebellum Elections

Artist George Caleb Bingham gave us some of our best images of antebellum America. Perhaps one of his most famous is his painting of election day, part of a series including images of a stump speaking and the announcement of results. I particularly love this one, as it represents something that the overwhelming majority of the soldiers we study, Union and Confederate, would have been familiar with. Here we see a community of citizens on display. From the gentleman/candidate in the blue coat on the steps, doffing his tall beaver to a farmer for his vote, to the party men so plied with whiskey that they can no longer stand (but maybe can pull themselves together enough to pronounce for the Party's candidate), and the ever watchful party organizer sitting on the steps counting the votes and marking off his list of constituents as they come forward. All ranks of the citizen are here.

Who isn't here? Women, for one, are not. In Bingham's mind, this is a gathering of citizens, a gathering where women have no place. While women were important to shaping politics, they influenced decisions within the domestic sphere. African Americans are not present either, save for the one man dispensing drinks at the behest of his owner/employer (depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon you presume this to represent). In reality, women, children, and African Americans were present at elections, politics was entertainment and elections, speeches, and political parades were times for socializing. The entire community would have turned out for the election. Bingham, though, shows citizens: white, male, citizens. He wants to depict American democracy as it was, and by excluding noncitizens he did precisely that.

The fact remains, though, that even with citizenship restricted as it was, antebellum elections saw voter turnouts of 70-90% regularly. I know that at 5:50 (in the a.m.) when I went to the polls this morning there was already a 30 minute wait. I couldn't have been more proud of my fellow citizens there, in line before the sun came up. Let's hope that this election -- whoever you vote for -- can reinvigorate American democracy.

Most of us can't understand or experience much of what Civil War soldiers went through during the war. I will never feel the rush of adrenaline in combat, the pains of homesickness, the suffering and terror of an army hospital. But I can -- you can -- participate in this public ritual that both sides went to war claiming to defend.

Monday, November 3, 2008

More 1870s Election Commentary: Voter Misinformation

From this article: "Some local Democrats spoke out Tuesday after a fake flier was circulated this week that looked like a notice from the state Board of Elections telling people 'emergency regulations' require Republicans to vote on Tuesday and Democrats to vote Wednesday."

From another one: "It's too hard to vote in Kentucky." "Kentuckians must vow today that before the presidential election in 2012, we'll make it easier to vote. With polls open in Kentucky only 12 hours on Election Day — 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — too many voters get shut out.
For some historical perspective...

On Monday next, for the fourth time, you will have an opportunity to exercise a right under the highest privilege which a citizen has. Your right to vote as a man and citizen is guaranteed to you by the supreme law of the land. Your right to vote is protected by this law, and all who attempt to prevent, delay, or hinder you in the exercise of your right, can be punished UNDER THIS LAW, with very severe penalties. ... Your right to vote is as good as any one's. Your duty to vote is as imperative as any one's. Therefore, you should go to the polls and vote, letting no threats of any kind keep you from exercising your right. ... Go to the polls one and all of you, and STAY UNTIL YOU HAVE VOTED, then leave the polls that others may get to them. When you are at the polls no one has a right to drive or push you from them until you have voted. When you have voted it is your duty to give way that others may vote.
Follow our advice, and should any difficulty disturb the peace, no one, even your most bitter opponent, could not attach the least blame to you. We repeat: it is your duty to vote. ... It is your duty to do nothing that will interfere with the rights of others, nor to allow others to do anything that will in any compromise your rights. As good citizens you should do every thing in the interest of quiet and good order.

Lexington Kentucky Statesman, August 4, 1871.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Effigy 1870 & 2008

Yesterday morning an effigy of Barack Obama was found hanging by a noose from a tree on the University of Kentucky campus -- the campus where I study the history of racial violence and racism in Kentucky, the campus where I teach that same history to students. (link here) I presume that if/when the perpetrators of this are caught, they'll cry crocodile tears about being ignorant of the implications of their action, being ignorant of the history of racial inequality, violence, and lynching that has plagued this state since before emancipation. And I will be the first person to stand up and call "bullshit." Even for 18 year old freshmen, the weight that these images carry in American -- particularly Southern -- society is too great not to be noticed. Sure, there was the effigy of Sarah Palin hung recently, and we should too decry that as inappropriate. But the two acts ARE NOT equal. There is too much cultural baggage attached to the hanging of black men to not consider this an act of racial intimidation.

Strangely, though, I am not outraged; I am not livid. Perhaps I should be. Instead, I am disappointed; I am saddened. I am, frankly, embarassed. On Saturday I am going to Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn. to deliver a paper on the state-sanctioned racial violence of the Kentucky National Legion during Reconstruction. I am honestly nervous about having to hold my head up in front of my audience and deliver this paper. Does this undermine my credibility as a historian representing the University of Kentucky? How does the horiffic act of a member (presumably) of my institution cast me? Was it one of my students? One of my classmates? My paper's title is drawn from a Republican newspaper editor's sighing acceptance of his inability to stem the tide of the state's campaign of violence and lynching, every bit the equal of states in the former Confederacy. "So Goes Democratic Law in a Democratic State." I can begin to understand that Republican editor, a voice crying out in the wilderness, pointing to the racism in American society, despite our best attempts to hide it, to call it something else, to justify it in some way.

I think I will give a short preface to my paper, acknowledging the effigy and asking the audience to think about what Kentucky's history of racial inequality and violence -- or of inequality and violence toward any group -- may have to bear on this incident, on this election. I claim that insecurity brought on by the social chaos of slavery's end motivated this response. That economically unstable, socially precarious, and politically threatened young white Kentuckians lashed out against African Americans attempting to claim political equality. They claimed that a "Black Peril" was upon them, threatening to overtake everything they held dear. I claim -- and they claimed at the time -- that a political contest was about more than the office at stake. It was a contest for the soul of the state. Hopefully, then, the audience at this panel might start a conversation through the lens of history that bears meaning for today. This is what history does. This is why historians matter. They clarify the murky memories of the past, and provide examples of when society achieved great things and when it didn't.

I'll close with a quote from an item in Frederick Douglass's New Era from Aug. 18, 1870 commenting on the first election in Kentucky when blacks could vote. In the face of racism, the Democratic Party machine, and the bayonets of the militia, Douglass remains hopeful for a brighter, more equal, future. Hopefully Kentckians, Americans, can do the same today.

[White Kentucky] built their shanty on the sand bank of slavery, but the rising tide of freedom and equality has flooded back into the wretched hovel, and the whole organization has set to work with a "White Man's Party" mop, to sweep back the wave of human progress. They are doing their best. There is a splash and a spattering, but the tide ever rolls inward, and the great ocean of liberty outside shows the utter feebleness and futility of the effort. While they are vigorously mopping, the sand bank is melting away, and the whole structure will speedily cave in, or be carried out to sea, and engulphed beyond the hope of recovery. That tide is resistless.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Forrest Still Making The Headlines

Although covered recently by Kevin over at Civil War Memory, here is another story about the Forrest High courtesy of the AP.

Confederate general’s name may come off Florida school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nathan Bedford Forrest was a millionaire slave trader, a ruthless Confederate general, an early Ku Klux Klan leader — and the namesake of what is now a majority African-American high school.
After almost a two-year delay, the Duval County School Board next week will consider whether to change the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School to Firestone High, after the street it sits on. The board joins other Southern districts that have hotly debated whether to strip Confederate leaders’ names from schools and other buildings.

The squabble is part of the modern South’s never-ending soul searching over the Civil War and its legacy, a discussion that often finds Forrest at the center.
“This guy was a brutal monster,” said Steven Stoll, an adjunct sociology instructor at Florida Community College who is white and supports changing the name of the high school. “Why would you want to keep honoring a person like this? It is an insult to black people.”
Forrest is hardly the lone Confederate hero whose name adorns streets, buildings and other public projects, or used to.
But efforts to strip Confederates’ names and take down memorials to them have mostly been thwarted throughout the South, often after being denounced as part of an effort to remove all references to the Confederacy. In Hampton, Va., for example, attempts to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School and Jefferson Davis Middle School failed.
Some say Forrest’s deeds have been exaggerated and have to be considered in the context of the Civil War.
“Forrest was revered all over the world and his tactics are still studied today,” said Lee Millar, president of the General N.B. Forrest Historical Society in Memphis, Tenn. “He became a hero to all.”

Born poor in Chapel Hill, Tenn., in 1821, Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader, importing Africans long after the practice had been made illegal. At 40, he enlisted as a private in the Confederate army at the outset of the Civil War, rising to a cavalry general in a year.
Some accounts accuse Forrest of ordering black prisoners to be massacred after a victory at Tennessee’s Fort Pillow in 1864, though historians question the validity of the claims.
“He did not order a massacre. He did order wholesale killing, but I do believe he lost control of the battle and there were people killed who should not have been killed,” said Brian Steel Wills, a professor at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, who wrote a biography of Forrest.
In 1867, the newly formed Klan elected Forrest its honorary Grand Wizard or national leader, but publicly denied being involved. In 1869, he ordered the Klan to disband because of the members’ increasing violence. Two years later, a congressional investigation concluded his involvement had been limited to his attempt to disband it.
After his death in 1877, memorials to him sprung up throughout the South, particularly in Tennessee.
Forrest High School in Jacksonville opened as an all-white school in the 1950s, getting its name at the suggestion of the Daughters of the Confederacy. They saw it as a protest of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eventually integrated the nation’s public schools.
Now, blacks make up more than half of the student body.
Two 17-year-old seniors at the school say the consensus among students is to leave the name alone.
“As students, (the name is) not a big deal to us,” said Jamal Freeman, a black student who noted it would cost a lot to change uniforms for the band and sports teams, nicknamed the Rebels.
Sabrina Lampp, a white student, said a change “takes all the memories away.”
Jacksonville has three other schools named after Confederate generals, none as sensitive as Forrest.
“He got a bad rap,” said L.A. Hardee, a member of the board at Jacksonville’s Museum of Southern History. “He was an honorable man. People don’t take into consideration the times. It’s a Southern thing. They ought to keep the name.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Rifled Musket at Chickamauga

I am currently reading The Rifled Musket in Civil War Combat: Reality and Myth by Earl Hess. This is a very good book that really fills out the argument made by Paddy Griffith years ago, that the Rifled Musket did not change the battlefield. However, I am impressed by the healthy dose of statistics from Chickamauga. Here are some examples:

28th Alabama Infantry held up for 10 minutes in a firefight at 20 yards.

74th Indiana Infantry held its fire until there Confederates were only 60-70 yards away.

Wilder's Brigade, as were their usual tactic, let the Confederates get to within only 50 yards before opening fire.

Now the forested enviroment made an impact on these ranges to some degree, most soldier accounts claim initial visibilty was between 100 to 150 yards through the forest. This is still almost point blank range, literally waiting until you can see the whites of their eyes. So it really ties into why soldiers are fighting on their backs in this fight.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Battle as the Recruit Saw It

Trying to give some consideration to the military side of things, I pulled this article from the CS veteran's magazine Southern Bivouac that sheds some light on the rank and file perspective of combat. It's got some fantastic observations on soldiers in battle and in camp. It sums up a good deal of what we have read about the pre-battle and battle experience from other sources and has some great observations.

"The Battle As The Recruit Saw It"

The camp-fires threw their flickering rays over the bronzed faces of the men as they sat grouped around, and the shadows of the forest trees were lengthened on the sward. A few soldiers were dreamingly thoughtful of distant homes where other log-heaps were tossing their fitful flames also over a thoughtful dreamers, thinking and dreaming of the absent boy in the far-off Tennessee camp; some of the men were smoking, others engaged in absorbing games of cards, with hilarious accompaniment of jest and laughter, but by far the greater number, thoughtless of the future, careless of the present, and altogether apathetic to a degree characteristic of the Southern soldier, were simply doing nothing.

A courier gallops into camp, making his way through the contending lights and shadows to regimental headquarters. As he passes inquiring faces are turned toward him, and the exclamation, "Something's up, boys," passes from fire to fire, and -- all settle again to their pastimes, but soon to be interrupted by an order to "cook five days' rations and be ready to move at once." The woodman of each mess is soon busy with his axe, the mess-cooks are busily arranging their culinary apparatus, that is, shaking the mud from their gum coats, on which the dough is to be kneaded; the general "utility man" trots off with all the canteens within reach to the nearest branch; all are busy as bees and as the waning camp-fires dart out their struggling lines of light over the darkening grove, the rations are cooked and haversacked, and all save the camp sentries are sleeping, as only tired soldiers can sleep. With the first streak of morning light the "long roll" rumbles, and drowsy, hurrying, half-clad men fall in; then by twos the regiment threads its way through the wood and is soon on the road to "we know not where," but to a prospective battle even now sending hither its promises in the firing of the distant pickets.

The sound becomes nearer, clearer, more rapid than before; the command is quick-timed, the skirmishing in front is more exciting, couriers are dashing hither and yon; wagon-masters are urging their teams rearward, ordnance officers forcing their wagons forward, cavalry with rattling sabers galloping alongside and past the infantry, leave a cloud of dust trailing behind them; artillery under whip and spur are coming up in a run to secure a commanding knoll, ambulances are seen in solemn procession in the rear, and we are filed in on the right of the road and fronted in battle line with other commands that have preceded us; muskets are loaded, the firing in front still continues, skirmishing becomes rapid, then a lull. Our arms are stacked and we are rested "in place" and soon loll around, assume a look of confidence and indifference we do not feel and endeavor by light jests to shake off the nervous tremens produced by the popping of guns on the picket-line. A courier gallops by, then another, a third follows, soon an "orderly" hurries toward us from headquarters, the firing becomes spirited and nearer, our skirmishers are in sight, falling slowly backward, contesting inch by inch. Attention! Every man in his place, the skirmishers are forced nearer, we are moved forward to their support; the long dark lines of the enemy are seen to advance to the support of their skirmishers; the cavalry by a sudden dash debouch to protect the flanks, and then a "boom," a crush in the timbers, a shell whirring just over our heads proclaim the opening of the ball. The rattle of musketry becomes continuous, and our artillery responds to the enemy's guns.

The enemy comes steadily toward us. "Steady, men," still nearer. "Steady," "Ready," "Aim," "Fire," and a line of lurid flame leaps from our guns; "Steady," "Load at will," "Fire," "Fire at will." -- Crash, rattle, boom, shout, shriek of shell and wounded men, the smoke rolls upward and onward, filling the space intervening between the opposing forces, we fire at the smoke, and thus the battle goes on.

A soldier falls, another is struck, poor Sam is borne to the rear and mortally wounded; the ranks close up. "Forward," others fall, and are carried back; still the den of conflict continues and our captain's cry rises above the tumult. "Steady, men," "Fix bayonets," "Steady," "Charge," and then the Confederate yell rises above all other sounds of the raging conflict, bearing encouragement to our sorely-pressed brothers, and sending with it a terror to our foes. We yet press on in the charge; the enemy momentarily gives way; then grape and canister sweep our thinned ranks, and we in turn are forced back, then "forward" again, and so throughout the day, advancing, now receding like a tidal wave, and so struggling until night closes the contest. Our lines are reformed to converge to the main road like the closing of a huge fan, and we soldiers of the line are revolving in mind the anomalous state of affairs on which a victorious army is in full retreat.

Southern Bivouac, Vol. I, pp. 112-114, 1882.

The article is anonymous, though its author was clearly an Army of Tennessee vet. And though it is not about any battle specifically, that very vagueness lends the observations an almost universal applicability. The Bivouac was frequented by any number of veterans of the western campaigns, including some prominent figures like Fred Joyce, John Jackman, and Sam Watkins. Still, it hits on some essentials of the Civil War combat experience that all those fellows would have been more than familiar with. Personally, I think the sound effects and use of vocabulary sounds like Watkins, but maybe I read too much of him. Best part, in my mind, is the discussion of the preparation for battle, the hurried packing and gathering of one's earthly life in preparation to go into battle and possibly lose it.

Neat stuff, no? Is it realistic? Does it contrast with the "modern" fighting that we see, in some of our other posts here?

Monday, October 13, 2008

October 13th, 1864 Capture of Dalton, GA

Today marks the 144th Anniversary of the first major contact between the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee and USCT troops. After the fall of Atlanta, Hood began a northward movement in an attempt to force Sherman to abandon Atlanta. Hood struck at Sherman's supply line, the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and there were a number of small battles fought with Union garrisons along the way, the most notable being the Battle of Allatoona Pass on October 5th. Hood arrived in front of Dalton on October 13th, which was then garrisoned by a large detachment of the 44th USCT and a few companies of white troops totaling about 750 men, all under the command of the 44th's colonel, Lewis Johnson.
The town was surrounded by Hood and artillery placed on a ridge that overlooked the town and its garrison. Hood sent in a demand for unconditional surrender or risk the whole garrison be put to the sword, as his infantry prepared to attack, Pvt. William Bevins of the 1st Arkansas remembered, "While the artillery made ready the Texans passed the word down the line as though it came from General Cheatham, 'Kill every damn one of them,' which would have been carrying out their own threat of 'no quarter.'" Given the odds Johnson surrendered. The USCTs were seperated from their officers and soon forced to work tearing up the railroad, several incidents occured where at least six USCTs were shot down for refusing.
With the railroad broken again, Hood moved westward to the community of Villanow, along the way, Bevins recalled, "That evening the Texas command moved over to us. We heard them yelling and singing but did not know what had happened. They were guarding the negro prisoners, and were calling to us, 'Here are your "no quarter" negroes, come and kill them!" The poor negroes, with eyes popped out nearly two inches, begged, prayed, and made all sorts of promises for the future. They soon moved on out of sight....". At Villanow a pen was errected to house the 44th, and a call was sent out to locals to claim any of them who might have been runaways and the USCT officers were paroled and sent to Chattanooga. The stay at Villanow was short though and Hood continued moving westward. Over the next couple of weeks Hood would continue westward with the USCTs in tow. What remains a mystery is what happened to the majority of them, 350 would make it to the end of Hood's march to Florence, Ala, where they were sent work rebuilding railroads in Mississippi, Rev. Charles Quintard would recall seeing them, "I saw a number of Negroes captured at Dalton-some in the most distressing condition-evidently dying." A few made their escapes and made it back to what remained of the 44th at Chattanooga. Still others would have been claimed by their former owners, or those who said they were their owners. Still others died along the route, the exact numbers are lost to history.
One of the most haunting images of the Civil War comes from one member that would survive the whole ordeal, Hubbard Pryor. Pryor was a runaway from North Georgia who had joined the 44th in March of 1864, at which time two photographs were made of him, one in uniform and the other displaying the condition he arrived in.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Weary Life of a Soldier

Another letter from the collection I am working with currently. Major Benjamin F. Buckner of the 20th KY Inf. (US) writes to his fiancee Helen from Mississippi in the midst of the campaign in 1862. In this letter, he describes his appearance in the field -- no doubt greatly changed from the last time she had seen him off to war. Given Lee's posts this summer about Generals' appearance in the field, I figured this compliments (despite Buckner wearing Blue).

Camp Near Corinth Miss
May 24 1862
My Dear Helen,

Your idea of my personal appearance under the ___ circumstances is far
from correct. I wear a black wool hat, and my face is nearly of the same
color, my hair short, my mustache trimmed close, my whiskers cut off – beard of
about a weeks growth, (I have no time to shave oftener than once a week as you
may imagine, when I tell you that we have been in such a state of watchfulness
that I have not pulled off my sword for nearly two weeks)[.] My uniform
consists of a stiff pair of soldiers’ shoes minus the strings, a pair of coarse
army pants and a blouse without shoulder straps.
Actual service in the field dispels all the romance of soldiering. It is a
laborious drudging life for anyone of lower rank than Colonel, and I would
rather be a negro under Harrison Thompson (for the same length of time) than a
private soldier.

I think the last paragraph is fantastic. Because while Buckner serves in the Union army, he was still from a slaveowning family in Central Kentucky. So his comparisons, his worldview, his understanding of the essential meaning of drudgery is all drawn from that experience of growing up in a slave society. Harrison Thompson, as you may have guessed, was a large planter in Clark Co. Ky., Buckner's home county. These compairsons, this shared worldview, raise the question: how different are some of these Border State Unionists from their Confederate counterparts? The a later section of the same letter may shed some light on ideological differences. Buckner writes regarding a comment Helen's friend (and big-time Secessionist) Sally Moore had made. The comment was not recorded in Buckner's letter, but I gather it was something about hoping all the US troops would catch yellow fever from the Mississippi swamps.
I did not attribute it to any thing except that mania Secession which despite
her good sense, has taken possession of her mental faculties, perverting them
from the nobler purposes for which they were intended and which they [are] wont
to fulfill. I therefore dont hold her responsible for it, but hope on her account that she may be speedily convinced of the error of her ways. … Dont tell Sally any thing except that her remark was not offensives, as I really did not care a straw fact and like her too much to get angry with her about it.

Though Buckner believes secession is equivalent to madness, in the end he never questions Sally's (or any other secesh's) motives. Preserving slavery is, as his other letters reveal, his goal as well. He just understands the Constitution and the Union as the more secure, more conservative means of its preservation. And as wild and inappropriate a step as he believes secession to be, because he personally knows many of its proponents (including Helen and her family) and because, fundamentally, they fight for the same thing he can never bring himself to be angered at them. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

More to come from Ben later.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I hopped on our trusty Google Analytics this morning to see what the weekend traffic had been like for us, and boy was I in for a surprise. Apparently, one of our readers (and thanks go out to them) posted a link to my Co. Aytch recap onto Metafilter, resulting in a visitor spike of epic proportions. Here is the link to the thread, which contains some very useful comments and discussion. Some of it is rather critical (in a constructive way), and they actually make some fine points, particularly about my use of "demonstrate" vs. "hint at" or "suggest."

But, more word about our little to-do got out, and I never think that's a bad thing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Those boys of Co. D, 1st TN

To tie in with Patrick's posting on Company AYTCH, I thought I would share the following from Adelicia McEwen German's Reminiscences of a School Girl during the War Between the States:
...the elderly people shiver with apprehension, for many of them remembered seeing the soldiers march away to Mexico in the 'forties', where many of them lie today...Not so with the younger element; It was one long drawn out holiday for them. The drilling was constantly going on at the Fair Ground...Seated on the fence on a hill back of our house we had a fine view of the young athletic soldier boys, who with their blood at fever heat, responded so cheerfully to the commands of their officers, Captain James P. Hanner, Lieut. Cary Harris and Lieut John L. House. The drilling kept up through the Spring and they became very proficient in the handling of arms.
The 18th of May, 1861, was the day set for the Williamson Greys, as they were called, to depart for Camp Cheatham, to be drilled for actual service, A never-to-be-forgotten day with the mothers, sweethearts and friends.
Early in the day, the Company was drawn up in front of the Presbyterian church. After a prayer by the Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Morey, the soldiers were presented with a pocket testament. The thoughtless fellows, many of them, threw them in the mud puddles by the road side on their way to the station, others carried them through the war, and one was sent back from Atlanta, stained with the life blood of our young relative [Kit Ridley pictured here] who proved himself the 'noblest Roman of them all'. Three young men sacrificed their blood on their country's altar, Richard Irvin, Henry Walker, and Kit Ridley.
To return to the station...the company marched to the station looking very soldierly in their black pants with gilt side stripes, grey coats rimeed with gilt braid and brass buttons, a grey cap setting off their uniforms. An immense crowd had gathered at the station to say good-bye from all parts of the country. The train blew and the hour for departure had come, brave mothers clung to their sons, fathers, overcome with emotion, shook their hands in farewell, hysterical sisters screamed, shy sweethearts tried to conceal their tears with their bonnets. Altogether it was the most emotional and saddest scene I ever witnessed. As the train moved off, Lieut. House waved his hand from the rear platform asking that the people take care of the ones left behind, and pledging himself to do the same for their sons. Four years hard service proved the truth of his promise; the ones that came home were loyal to him as long as he lived.

It is interesting to note the careless disregard that many of the boys of Company D showed for the bibles that they were given, and for you uniform buffs another cool description.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Co. Aytch Recap

As Lee's last post noted, the 145th Anniversary of the battle of Chickamauga was celebrated this weekend. And it was celebrated in two distinct ways, on and off the Military Park. At the NPS site, all of your intrepid bloggers were employed in presenting a bang-up weekend of interpretive programming that our increased visitor traffic enjoyed. Down the road, however, the "big show" reenactment took a nosedive for the worse when nationally known neo-Confederate and advocate of the myth of Black Confederate soldiers, H.K. Edgerton took top billing in the "education" portion of the event. It was beyond a sham. Out of curiosity, I stopped in on one of H.K's sermons (for really I don't want to call them lectures or talks... scholars give those), and was unsurprisingly disgusted before a full five minutes were up. The contrast between the scholarly and professional character of the NPS events and the circus-like atmosphere of the reenactment was even apparent to many park visitors who we found were leaving to come be educated with the NPS. It truly was a fantastic weekend.

For my part, as Lee has also said, I put together a little living history event. I've still got many lessons to unpack from this one: which I think means it was a success. But here is a brief AAR. We started out intending to go far beyond the boundaries of living history at a Park that has had one of the strongest traditions within the NPS Civil War community. We sought to recreate the famous Co. Aytch in age, physical condition, "look," and attitude. And, though our numbers may have been small, we succeeded in all of these these regards. The small numbers, though, were an extreme benefit for us, as we were able to bring our audience up close to see exactly what a platoon of that famous company looked like. What it looked like in its entirety:

Essentially, we argued that if we are to tell the full story of Company H, 1st Tennessee Vol. Infantry then we must look beyond Sam Watkins' famous book. Though it is a fine starting point, it is and must be understood as a product of a particular race, class, and worldview unique to the 1880s. Drawing from other scattered writings by and about the 1st, we claimed that discussing the soldiers who volunteered and about whom Sam wrote was only telling a fraction of the story. Underlying every story about every character in Co. Aytch are the stories that Sam consciously excluded, hoping they would become lost. What about the men who didn't volunteer? We know that of the more than 1,000 men in the 1st Tenn. there were at least 50 slaves who accompanied them into the field. Of the 50, we know the names of just 3, one of whom, Sanker, belonged to Sam himself. Where did their narrative go? Why are they not in Co. Aytch? We made the contested claim that Sanker's, Wash Webster's, and Uncle Ike's stories deserve equal footing with those of Tennessee Thompson, Billy Webster, and Alf Horsley.

I can truthfully say that the most stunning part of the event -- for me at least -- was Emmanuel Dabney's presence in the role of my body servant. It was a presence that has not been seen on that field since 1863. That simple presence in the -- or more properly outside of the -- ranks of Co. Aytch was the first step to re-finding these individuals who were fully participant in the events that made up Watkins' narrative but that would be lost to time if we rely on Watkins' postwar memory. Reflecting on the programs we did this weekend with some other long-time Chick-Chatt'ers we agreed that this was the first time that an African American voice had been heard on that battlefield, certainly all the more important that it was one from the Confederate side, too. With the "big show" down the road playing host to H.K. Edgerton's sketchy (at best) claims, it was a high note for scholarship in the parks. The contrast couldn't have been greater, and that is exactly what we need our National Parks to provide.

Aside from the many lessons, fine programs, and hilarious times we had this weekend, there will be two related moments which will stick with me forever. Both involved reinforcing -- to me and hopefully to the audience to whom we were speaking at the time -- the basic inhumanity of slavery. One, as I was delivering a tactical talk and it came time to drop knapsacks I unslung mine and let it fall to the ground. Before I could finish my sentence and place it in the stack with the platoon's, Emmanuel had walked up -- eyes down and hands folded -- and moved it before I could say a word. I instantly knew that I had an opportunity to demonstrate the institution's cruelty here, and so I did not acknowledge his act, did not thank him for it, did not make eye contact, did not stop my talk. My own cruelty -- even to make a teaching point to the audience -- made me shudder inside. In another talk, as I paced up and down in front of the audience I took off my kid gloves and held them behind me for Emmanuel to take. Again without looking back, without saying a word, without acknowledging him in the least, I demanded his service and his loyalty. I denied him the choice of taking my gloves or not; I required that he did. And as I felt those gloves leave my hand, and as I continued my talk without missing a beat, I was sickened.

The point is not that Emmanuel was more than willing to do these things during our programs; the point is not that we dispensed with our master-slave roles once the crowds left. The point is that we got to the essence of living history this weekend. We demonstrated for the public the horrifying nature of that master-slave relationship that the battlefield had not seen since 1863. But this time we were not fighting to maintain it. We were fighting to educate a public that often does not -- can not -- grasp the basic dehumanization that that relationship forced. This time we were fighting to give these invisible characters their shot at making history at Chickamauga.

The question now is, how do we make this an every day experience for visitors at our National Park Service sites? How can we make these lessons not for special events, but for each and every visitor who walks through our doors?

Update: 2 things.
Link to my Co. Aytch research blog
Link to Authentic-Campaigner thread to see other participants' reactions.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Live Performance or 145th Anv. Chickamauga

This weekend, Sept 19-21 is the anniversary weekend for the Battle of Chickamauga. We have a lot planned from Living History Demos to book signings. For those of you who might want to see some of us in action, this is your chance. Here is a partial list of events, the full schedule can be viewed at under the Plan Your Visit section;

11 A.M. Saturday, Sept 20. I will be giving a tour of the left half of Longstreet's assault, that is mainly Hindman's Division.

2 P.M. Chris Young will be giving a tour about W.C. Oates and his 15th Alabama on Sept 20th.

6:30 P.M. Historian Jim Ogden will give a tour of Snodgrass Hill.

10:30 A.M. Chris Young will give a talk on Politics and War

1:00 P.M. I will present a talk about Braxton Bragg, examining the political climate within the army and discuss his supporters and detractors.

Throughout the whole weekend Patrick Lewis will be leading a program discussing the real Company H, 1st Tennessee Infantry. This will be the highlight program of the weekend, especially for anyone brave enough to head down to the battle reenactment (WHICH IS NOT AT THE BATTLEFIELD PARK). Patrick has assempled a group of young men to accurately represent the men of the 1st Tennessee in age and appearance, something that is EXTREMELY rare in living history.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Little Newt Update

A tiny tidbit to add on Little Newt, I recently went through his compiled service record, and found that he was captured in Montgomery on May 2nd of 1865, so the war ends there for him. Im still trying to find out what happens to him after the war and will post that when I find out.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Slow February In Bowling Green

As much as we normally focus on the exciting, fast-paced world of battles and heroics in the Civil War, we also have to remember that there were far more tedious and boring duties that kept both officers and men occupied during the war. Excerpt from the papers of Benjamin F. Buckner, a Kentucky lawyer turned Major of the 20th Ky Infantry. Expect to hear more about Ben in the coming months as I am writing a seminar paper on his politics and military service. More on that to follow, now we off to his report of February 1863 in Bowling Green, KY.

Bowling Green Ky Feby 7/63
My Dear Helen
I have been so busy for the last five or six day's that I have had not time to write Genl Mc--- has appointed me Provost Marshall of the town forces at this post and I have been engaged in the pleasant occupation of swearing secesh women to support the government, ferreting out thefts of government property, and convicting the fourth Kentucky Cavalry by the wholesale for drunkenness. It is quite laborious, but will soon be more pleasant. ...

I just enjoyed the idea of an entire regiment of cavalry getting tight "wholesale" on a pilfered stock of Kentucky's finest. Sometimes it takes fun bits like that to make a day grubbing in the archives a bit brighter.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Recollections of Slave Life in Murray County, Georgia

Thought I'd put out a link to the memoir of Levi Branham. An interesting view of Northwest Georgia life from the African American perspective. His story of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Caps provides a foil to my earlier post regarding racial violence in Northwest Georiga and Southeast Tennessee.

Preview... South Carolina and Kentucky on deck

As Lee said, the summer ending has brought a great transition for those of us in the academic world as well as in the Chick-Chatt sphere, so again our apologies for our slumping post count. I do have a number of post ideas that I want to work on in the coming weeks, so I figured some trailers might be in order

Lee and I made a trip to the South Carolina Low Country at the beginning of August which holds some promising post material. One I am particularly excited about is a small church in the village of Cainhoy outside of Charleston which was the scene of a Republican-Democrat clash during the election of 1876. We might even get a couple out of that. Lee could easily throw in a couple about the day we spent in Georgetown on the trail of Co. A 10th So. Ca.

Also, as I have a research seminar coming up this semester, look for some interesting posts about Kentucky politics during and after the war. I can't get too specific as to what I'll have, but I have found some neat stuff in newspapers that I want to write up too.

Bear with us, September should be a productive month!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Update...or where are we.

Dear Readers,
As you can tell we are in a slow period right now, actually it is just the opposite, all of us are swamped with activities outside of our beloved blog. So please be patent with us right now.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

And a quick jab at the Cavalry

Also as part of Cooper's letter he has this to say of the Cavalry, "they are generally a thieving and cowardly set of rogues with whom association is not all to be desired."

Braxton Bragg

Fellow AoT Blogger Chris Young passed this along to me yesterday, and thought I would share yet again another pro Bragg man. This time from a Louisianan, James Cooper of the 1st Louisiana Regulars. Cooper would write from Dalton on December 5th, 1863, "Genl Bragg took leave of us on the 2nd of this month a sad parting to us who have served with him during the whole war. We were attached to him personally, and regret his leaving because notwithstanding the abuse heaped upon him by the press of the country, we are satisfied that his course, though dictated by the patriotism that has characterized his whole career, will prove a serious blow to the country and our cause. We know the difficulties and embarrassments with which the bold hero has had to contend and the self sacrficing devotion with which he has struggled to overcome them; and yet, never turning aside to vindicate his course before a prejudiced people or to repel and expose the slanders of his enemies. Throughout the army I believe his loss severely felt and sincerely regretted."
So, add another one to the listing. The notion of the hatred of Bragg being so widespread is beginning to smell of conspiracy.

A Few D--D Fools Came Through

Recently, some of the blog staff were taking a tour of Elm Springs in Columbia, home of -- among others -- A.M. Looney, the original Captain of Co. H (Aytch), 1st Tennessee. Now, it is the SCV's headquarters and open for social events and touring. Well, we weren't expecting much out of the tour and were not disappointed, but in talking about the Maury Grays, our tour guide mentioned that "over 200 of them left and only a handful returned." And I called B.S. I had done some work with them in the CSRs and knew perfectly well that that was untrue. Untrue still -- or at least half true -- is how Sam Watkins wrote about the end of the regiment.
The day that we surrendered our regiment it was a pitiful sight to behold. If I remember correctly, there were just sixty-five men in all, including officers, that were paroled on that day. ... It was indeed a sad sight to look at, the old First Tennessee Regiment. A mere squad of noble and brave men, gathered around the tattered flag that they had followed in every battle through that long war.
Of course, Sam himself didn't see the end of the regiment, he stayed in Middle Tennessee after the disastrous winter campaign and took the oath in Memphis. But even the way the above is phrased is disingenuous. It implies that the rest of the unit were all killed or disabled, which , we find, is actually far from the truth. Running through the CSRs we find the real "what happened" to the men of Co. H. Of the 111 1861 Maury Grays we can see that by far the greatest source of attrition is being detached to other assignments and transferring to other units (and usually getting promoted in the process). This is followed in number by men being discharged usually for disability. Interesting among the discharges are those done in accordance with the Conscript Act of 1862, the famous "20 Negro Law" that exempted the family members of large slaveowners from military service, ostensibly to serve as pattyrollers guarding against the feared servile insurrection.
Note that those things that SRW rails against: men getting put in "bombproof" positions and going home on the "20 Negro" bill are prevalent among his 1861 comrades.
Then nearly half of the army was detailed for "corps" of some kind: "signal corps, engineer corps, ordinance corps, infirmary corps, sapper and miner corps, etc., etc., and when the private soldier saw all these corps put on detail and left him to do the fighting, he felt that our cause was lost. It made him sick of war, boys that had volunteered with him all get some kind of positions and left him to bear the brunt of battle. The first year there were eight in my mess. At were promoted...
No wonder that Sam felt "the common soldier" was left to fight the war alone, because he himself saw a disproportionate number of his fellows leave the firing line during the war. Compared to the men who leave the line through transfers, relatively few of the men of Aytch actually get killed, wounded and disabled, or die of disease. For all the fights they were in, the losses of the company were slight. In the revised edition of Aytch, we see that Sam was starting to recognize this. I think these sentiments come out as a result of some alienation from his old comrades and a big falling out in the late 1880s, but they speak more to the truth.
Now, what became of the original 3,200? I can tell you. They were all promoted to Captains, Colonels, Generals, Commissaries, and staff officers, scouts, spies, special details, and a few d--d fools came through.

We look at the men who join the unit later and find a changed picture indeed from the original MGs. Few of them can use elite family connections to get transferred away from the main line. We can see, though, that they don't stick with the fight to the end. A huge chunk of the conscripts desert the army, most of them in the Spring of 1863 after being conscripted in Febuary of that year. Though the later men were only 1/3 of the company's total strength, they make up nearly 3/4 of the company's desertions. One of the Maury Gray deserters, it must be remembered, is our own Sam Watkins. Look also at how many more of the later additions per captia were captured in battle, leading to questions about how willing they were to go over to the enemy.

There are some fascinating trends here that I want to explore further. Use the comments section to point out any you see.