Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eww, Military History?

There was a recent discussion on one of the Civil War reenacting boards I read that asked about reenacting's and reenactor's reputations in academia. Now, there were the standard responses that living history should be taken more seriously because the physical experience of soldiering is something that cannot be experienced in a library (which, having done a bit of reenacting, I might be inclined to agree with), and that the sensory experience connects with the visitor in ways that books cannot (which, as a NPS interpreter I have to admit is the case). And for these reasons, living history (which I feel is distinct from the typical "sham battle" reenacting) is a quality tool that can be used by both academic and public historians to enhance public education.

But, straddling as I am with legs on both sides of the fence, I draw the line between the interpretative technique of "living history" and battle "reenacting" for one reason: battle reenactments haven't moved forward with military history. By and large those that participate in battle reenactments have not moved "beyond the battlefield" to understand how the military experience meshed with society, culture, and politics. Reenacting, to my mind, takes a beating from academic historians for the same reason that academic military historians are sometimes viewed with mistrust by some of their colleagues: there aren't great lessons to be learned in the minutia of military actions. Since the coming of social history, women's and African American studies, and a host of beneficial historical fields since the 1960s, academia has justly seen pure military history as an exercise in historical self-gratification, one that serves only the historian. But this is not new; it was being identified even by some veterans of the Civil War themselves. One of my tours this summer at Chickamauga dealt with noted advocate of racial equality and Lt. in the 105th Ohio Infantry, Albion Tourgee. In the unit history of the 105th, he commented on just this same thing...
The causes from which events result are often of greater consequence than the events themselves. Nations and peoples, like individuals, act always from motives; and collective motives, like personal ones, may be either good or bad. ... It is because of this that the comparative importance of historical events depends very little on their physical extent, but almost wholly upon the motives of the actors or the sentiment they represent.
The who-shot-who doesn't matter when there are the deeper issues that brought the belligerents onto the field in the first place to be explored. Today's academic military historian must make the case -- to both the university publishing houses and to their various departments -- that they reach beyond the battlefield and connect military events to broader trends in society, culture, politics, economics, etc. (it is for this reason that I identify myself as a social historian of the military). In Tourgee's terms, they have to examine those motives for which men went to war. Of course, Tourgee had thought that this would have come about much sooner. He didn't foresee how much the Lost Cause movement's focus on the battlefield would delay the onset of this broader military history that has only come in the last 25 years. He believed it would come much sooner. Nevertheless, he was correct in his observations and predictions on the eventual direction of military history...
History, in the past, has concerned itself with aggregations and events. It has told us how
"The King of France, with twice ten thousand men,
Marched up the hill, -- and then marched down again."
The history of the future will be more concerned to know why the "twice ten thousand" followed the crowned braggart "up the hill," than in the reasons that inclined them to march "down again," -- it will deal with the causes rather than with events.
Reenacting has not followed the academy into the "history of the future" or the "new military history." Reenactors are understood at large as gearheads, drillheads, and consumers of tactical trivia. Is that a fair judgment on everyone in the community? No. Does it apply to the vast majority? I think so. When reenactors start dealing intelligently "with the causes" (i.e. consuming the latest trends in academic scholarship, not cowboying your own explanations for why men fought the war) "rather than with events;" when they start asking "who" and "why" instead of "what" and "how" then they will start to get a place at the academic table. Until then, they are a relic of an earlier academy.

The photo is of yours truly (right) and fellow author Chris Young (left) doing living history at Chick-Chatt earlier this summer. He as a regimental adjutant and I a line officer. Ain't we dandy!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Imagined VS History

A short post to note about a strange incident today. I was called regarding one of our living history programs and was asked if there would be tents, after explaining that historically the two armies in the Chickamauga Campaign didn't really have a lot of tentage and that we discouraged their use, to be asked again if there would be tents, and when told no, they hung the phone up on me. Just very odd.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Causes from The Vidette

The Vidette was a camp newspaper for John Hunt Morgan's brigade. In one of their November of 1862 issues, the following appeared;
"It is a hard matter to get a Union man to acknowledge that this is an abolition war. He will say to you; 'If I thought this was a war for the abolition of slavery, I would not only lay down my arms which I have taken up for the defense of the Union, but I would go into the Southern army...many in the western states speak the same way. Now, any man who pretends to believe that this is not a war for the emancipation of the blacks, and that the whole course of the Yankee government has not only been directed to the abolition of slavery, but even to a stirring up of servile insurrections, is either a fool or a liar. "

The cause for fighting is pretty clear here for the men of Morgan's Cavalry.

Memoirs and the Adventure of War pt. 2

A bit ago I started musing on why Confederate veterans in their postwar memoirs always seemed to go seeking adventures in '61, as John Jackman of the 9th KY put it, like so many Romantic Don Quixotes. Part One explored some of the instances when the "fun and adventure" motivation could have motivated soldiers, but here I want to show why I think this is a postwar creation as part of the glossing over of the war's causes.

What’s the point of understanding who the postwar memoirist was in 1861? It is to say that the postwar memoirist came from the set of men who had the most on the line in 1861. He was the one who was completing his studies, apprenticeship, or clerkship and was looking to start a business for himself soon. He was the one looking to get married in the next few years and start a family. He was the one who wanted to take advantage of the cheap land and need for professional men in the western territories. He was the one who wanted slavery extended into those territories so that he could make a profitable living there. He was the one whom Lincoln’s election (with its promise to corral slavery in the states where it already existed) most threatened. The memoirist was from a set of men that were fire-eating secessionists, who held secession rallies in towns and on college campuses, who joined militia units in the wake of John Brown’s raid, and who enlisted to fight for the Confederacy in the hopes that they might be able to extend their property rights into the Southwestern territories. The memoirist and his comrades fought for slavery, no two ways around it. Slavery’s prosperous expansion was both an Enlistment Motivation for the memoirist as well as a Sustaining one. If the Confederacy failed, his world would be turned upside down. His father’s economic security would crumble, their own plans to expand West, be fruitful, and plantation-ize the territories would go up in smoke. The memoirist can write about the entire war from wire to wire because he fought the entire war, wire to wire. The memoirist was a diehard because his old life was over if the war was lost. Memoirists like Marcus Toney didn’t give up the fight in 1865 either...he became a Kukluxer.

So, in the late 19th century, the memoirist found that having fought for slavery (and implicitly personal economic and social stability in their future lives) was politically inexpedient. It did not harmonize with the tone of sectional reconciliation that was currently being pushed by the UCV, the Southern Historical Society, et al. Hence, one of his underlying Enlistment motivations and one of his Sustaining Motivations, the expansion and preservation of slavery, was swept under the rug. The substance of the war, the pretext for the adventure, and the motivation that sustained them long after their thirst for martial glory was slaked, was quenched.

What has this done to our understanding of the Confederate soldier? Just like the rest of the Lost Cause interpretation that has whitewashed the war’s causes in favor of highlighting the military events. We understand the young Confederate enlistee not as a forward-thinking, big man on the make but as youthful innocents, too besotted with starry-eyed dreams of heroism to know what they were getting into. We forget the two years of military training that many of them had had in the wake of the Brown raid, we forget the filibustering experience of their older brothers and their officers, we forget the decade of growing conflict brewing as these men came of age. They become hollow allegories, representing lost youth. It’s a tearjerker and a tragedy, we are to feel sympathy for the South’s “Lost Generation” who willingly sacrificed themselves. An understanding like this flattens the Confederate soldier. He is no longer a complex human being with plans for the future, fighting to make a place for himself in a competitive world, but instead a fatalistically Romantic child-hero, free from sin and reproach.

Did the memoirists need to remember their fallen comrades as such? It likely helped ease the burden of their own survivors’ guilt. But in a larger sense, removing the political and racial issues of 1861 from the table promoted national (white) reconciliation, goodwill and amiable respect between North and South. It was this respect and removal of Republican oversight that allowed those same memoirists and their comrades free reign to rewrite state constitutions and pass legislation in the state houses and deny justice in the courts. The memoirist and his youthful, adventurous literary character helped usher in the era of Jim Crow. It took the country another half-century to reverse the legal segregationist course that the aging Civil War generation set us on in the 1890s as these memoirs were at the height of their popularity.

Unfortunately, it has taken historiography even longer. In recent years, historians have begun to cut through the mythology and see the carefully constructed memoir’s hero for what he was: a postwar creation of Jubal Early, Marcus Toney, and Sam Watkins that served the contemporary political and social ends of the white South. Today, those who continue to promote the “fun and adventure” thesis live in a past as false as Gone With the Wind. In one respect, by consuming, digesting, and promoting that image of the antebellum South, they participate vicariously in and implicitly support the post-Reconstruction campaign to reestablish the antebellum Southern power structure and disenfranchise blacks. Can we look past the “fun and adventure” now?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Toombs and the Resurrected Confederacy

Just how defeated and cowed was the Confederacy after the war? Did all Confederates go peacefully to their homes and begin to rebuild, or was there still animosity and a desire for independence in their hearts? We certainly know that the rash of racially motivated riots in cities throughout the South, the December 1865 insurrection scare, and the rise of groups like the Ku Klux Klan caused many loyal citizens (black and white, North and South) to be wary of former Confederates’ claims that they had accepted the results of the war and moved on. The South was still a tumultuous, dangerous, and violent place.

Some digging in the 1870 and ’71 issues of Fredrick Douglass’ Washington D.C. New Era (and later the New National Era) may have some evidence of some lingering plans for the South to rise again. The first comes in a July 28, 1870 article, “Rebels Ready for Another Struggle,” and quoted the editor of the Griffin (Georgia) Star:

Then, again, there is another and a much greater hope looming up in the distance, and that is Southern Independence! ...we can not, unaided, achieve our own independence. Should Europe, however, engage in universal war, European possessions in America must become involved and through these complications the United States must inevitably be drawn into the contest. Then it will be seen and known that the South will join fortunes with any European power that will guarantee us freedom from the thralldom of the North.

That threat to rise with European help, of course, was made all the more real to Douglass' readership by the news of the Franco-Prussian War that flooded the columns that summer. The same unreconstructed thinking was present the next year as well. On July 20, 1871, the New National Era printed an interview with former Confederate politico Bob Toombs originally from the New York Herald.

“You have given up, however, all hope of making armed resistance to the United States Government?”

“Not at all. I don’t know but that it is about time for us to fight again. Our only hope is in ourselves; every party in the North abandons us. I never expected much from Northern Democrats since they deserted us at the beginning of the war, so I am not greatly disappointed. I know the men who are their leaders and they are just as unscrupulous as the Radicals [Republicans]....

“But you surely do not seriously mean that the war ought to begin again?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And you remember the bloodshed and misery which that must involve?”

“Yes; but what of it? I am not a peace man. There are many worse occupations for a gentleman than fighting. Besides, everything nearly in the way of political freedom has been won in battle....”

“When are you going to raise the standard of revolt?”

“Whenever a favorable opportunity occurs. We will wait until your people at the North are divided among themselves or are at war with some foreign power. The time will come, sooner or later. And these men” (here Mr. Toombs pointed to some farmers standing near by) “would fight again, to-day, if need be. You cannot conquer us except by killing us all off, and that would be an impossibility.”
The question that remains, in my mind is not whether the thing would have worked or not, Toombs himself admitted that it “would be a desperate undertaking, of course.” But I want to know, would “the farmers,” as Toombs designated the yeomen standing nearby, have fought? The “farmers” abandoned the Cause the first time around when crop production fell, promised salt failed to materialize, and families began to starve. Their need to provide for the folks at home and willingness to desert to do so drained the Confederacy just as the heat was really being applied by Union armies in late 1863 and 1864. But in the wake of the first five years of Reconstruction, would the nonslaveowning farmer have fought? Now that he could see African Americans socially and politically equal to and competing economically with himself, would he have been willing to fight again, and this time to see success? Many have argued the South was more united after Reconstruction than it was in 1861 or 1865; would that have told out in some hypothetical “Civil War, pt. II?” Would Missouri, Kentucky, or Maryland, with many slaveowners stinging from the Emancipation Proclamation and XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments have joined in on the fun, as well? Would the perceived indignity of racial equality have brought “the farmers” back into the fight?

Friday, June 6, 2008

General Thomas C. Hindman and Rep. Henry S. Foote

In July 1863, Major General Thomas Carmichael Hindman made his way across the Mississippi in order to take command of a Confederate division in Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Hindman had some serious allegations aimed at him prior to taking on his newly assigned duties as a division commander in Tennessee. One of his more famous critics was a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.

Hon. Henry S. Foote (MS) had a fairly interesting career in the United States Senate before entering the Confederate House in 1861. For example, he had once pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton during an altercation on the Senate floor over the compromise resolutions in 1850. Foote adamantly spoke out against President Jefferson Davis, General Braxton Bragg, and Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. In 1865, Foote noticing the end of the Confederacy was eminent, crossed into Union lines, made it to Canada, and sailed to London. After the Confederacy's collapse, Foote sailed back to the United States and moved to Washington, D.C., where he practiced law. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him as Superintendent of the New Orleans Mint in 1878. Foote died in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1880.

Thomas C. Hindman survived the war, only to be killed by an assassin's bullet on September 28, 1868. The motivation of the assassination was never determined, and he was buried in Helena, Arkansas.

Here is what the Hon. Henry S. Foote had to say about General Hindman in his book, Casket of Reminiscences (1874):

Perhaps the most cruel and atrocious conduct perpetrated by any of President Davis’ military servitors during the war was that practice by his especial favorite, General Hindman, in the State of Arkansas. I have formerly asserted, and my assertion has never yet been denied, nor can it be, that this person as his own formal report to the War Department evidenced, finding, as he said, that the very comprehensive provision of the conscription law were not quite comprehensive enough to suit his purposes, deliberately amplified them by proclamation; declared martial law throughout Arkansas and the northern portion of Texas, and demanded the services of all whom he had thus lawlessly embraced in his wide-sweeping conscription list. All who refused to obey his mandate, as he in terms confesses, were apprehended, subjected to trial by military court, appointed by Hindman himself; and when convicted, as a good many of them were, of an offense which he himself unblushingly acknowledges in this same official report was wholly unknown to the law of the land, he had them all executed; and going even beyond the example of the infernal Jeffreys himself in barbarity, he (as he also most ostentatiously declares, in the same report) took care to be personally present, that he might witness the dying agonies of his unfortunate victims. This man seized upon all the cotton and other property for which he had use, (as he boldly avows,) burned some, retained some, and appropriated a third portion to such purposes as he pleased. His cruelties were so enormous in Arkansas that it became unsafe that he should remain there longer, when he was brought across the Mississippi river under order of the Confederate War Department, made president of a court of inquiry for the trial of General Lovell, and, after having made such a report as was deemed to be necessary to the shielding of certain officials in Richmond from blame in connection with the capture of New Orleans, was immediately thereafter put in command of one of the largest divisions in the army of Tennessee, where he remained snug and comfortable until, running into collision with a more potential presidential favorite, the well-beloved Bragg, he was quietly relieved from command. I exposed all the enormity of this fiend in human form in open session of the Confederate Congress on more than one occasion, and took pains to have my exposition put in print, and yet I could not persuade Mr. Davis or Mr. Seddon to make the slightest notice of these outrageous enormities (395-396).

You Are No Brother Of Mine...

One aspect of the Civil War that is ingrained in our popular imagination is the tragic brother against brother aspect of the war, that men could be friends on the picket line and the next day they would try to kill each other. However, how true was this mindset? For some soldiers in the Army of Tennessee the notion of a brother's war was laughable. Captain Thomas J. Key of the Helena (AR) Artillery would note in his diary on August 5th, 1864;

"From Camp Sumter I received a letter from one of the Yankee prisoners whose name is Leroy L. Key, Sergeant in Company M, 16th Illinois Infantry, addressing me as his brother, He evidently has a brother with the same initials as mine, and his relatives are in the South, though he has betrayed all these and enlisted under the black banner of Abolitionism. He speaks of his mother and sister, and one, Lucy, of near Cahaba, Alabama. Leroy L. Key, you are no brother of mine, and if you were I would disown you; therefore I cannot correspond with you."

Leroy Key might have considered himself lucky to have been captured and not killed, On May 30th, 1864, the Macon Telegraph published a report from the Army of Tennessee, dated May 27th,

"Few prisoners were taken. Indeed, it is a subject of remark that the entire number taken since the first gun was fired in front of Dalton is surprisingly small. Truth is, the men are tired of taking them. They know the time of enlistment will soon expire, and the Yankee authorities would be slow to exchange for them veterans who are enlisted for the war, and are now smarting
under the indignities and cruelties which have been heaped upon them in prison, and chafing with impatience to be once again in the field. The intense hatred which we sometimes see expressed in the newspapers for Yankees is beginning to be felt by the entire army, rank and file, and they begin to feel that it is idle to take them prisoners and to divide rations with them."
Even though there were moments of charity, such as the truce that occured at Kennesaw Mountain, following the assault of June 27th, to remove the wounded and bury the dead, there were ugly moments. Captain B.J. Semmes noted, "Our men of Maney's Brigade, hearing their piteous cries for water, filled their canteens and advanced to give them water, and some were wounded by the enemy. One of my old brigade, Vaughns, was killed by a wounded Yankee officer whilst he was giving water to a wounded Yankee colonel, whereupon our men commenced firing upon their wounded and killed all in reach except those who crawled to our lines." Examples like this should make us reconsider exactly how civil combatants were to one another.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Linear Tactics at Chickamauga

For several weeks now, Patrick, Lee, and I have been discussing the usage of linear style tactics during the war, specifically at Chickamauga. I will let them comment on their research, but I found a very interesting account while doing some research for a tour I will be conducting concerning Brig. Gen. Matthew Ector's Confederate brigade and Col. Ferdinand Van DerVeer's Federal brigade. In 1913, Oscar P. Heath, a former member of Battery I, 4th United States Artillery, wrote a personal account of the Battle entitled "The Battle of Chickamauga: As I Saw It."

Many historians, myself included, used to picture these nice, neat, linear formations of men moving across fields and through woods, halting and trading volley after volley with their foes. Now, not saying this never occurred, but by 1863, most soldiers and their officers were more interested in self preservation and the preservation of their commands. Therefore, I submit this excerpt for your consideration.

Heath states, "...wavering under the awful slaughter in their rank they halted, and, delivering a deadly volley into our ranks, they threw themselves at full length on the ground, and lying on their backs so as to expose themselves as little as possible they loaded their muskets, then turning over and resting on one knee they delivered their fire, then threw themselves on their backs to load as before. Our infantry followed their example and for the next half hour an almost muzzle to muzzle (we were about fifty yards apart) musketry fire was maintained"(5).

Memoirs and the Adventure of War pt. 1

Was the “just for fun and adventure” justification for joining the army a postwar concoction? Did the memoirists writing in the 1880s and 1890s use this excuse as a way to get around discussing the real reasons they went to war in 1861? When we accept “adventure” as a valid reason for men to go to war in 1861, do we also accept the program of Lost Causeism and sectional reconciliation that helped obscure the underlying issues of race and slavery that drove the nation to war?

John Jackman of the 9th Kentucky told of his instant decision to seek the romantic life of a man-at-arms, and his narrative is similar to many veterans’ accounts.

I walked down to the get the daily papers, and as I was passing in, W[illiam] S[toner] said to me, “Let us go to Bloomfield to-night, and join the party going through to Dixie!” or something to that effect. I had scarcely thought of such a thing before; but in an instant my mind was made up, and I answered, “All right.” ... Taking nothing but a traveling shawl, I mounted and joined W.S. at his home. We were soon on the road, two modern Don Quixotes starting out to seek adventures.

My concern for the “fun and adventure” thesis is that – as many veterans today and yesterday will know – war stops being fun very, very quickly. To couch that in McPherson’s terms, adventure can be a fine Initial or Enlistment Motivation that gets men into the ranks but is far from a Sustaining Motivation that keeps them there. When the novelty wears off, the soldier had to have something to keep him in the service. Now, usually that something is “small group cohesion,” the loyalty to comrades built over time by combat veterans. But Civil War memoirists will universally note that they were not in combat before the rosy shine wore right off military life. There has to be something else, some bigger picture they were fighting for, that kept these men in the ranks.

We must note that when soldiers talk about yearning for the glories of the soldiering life, they couple those sentiments with discussion of public pressure. The small communities from which the Civil War soldier was drawn leaned heavily on its young men to serve in the military to prove themselves men. Military service was a natural rite of passage for a new generation of townies. So, Marcus Toney of the 1st Tennessee wrote that “The young ladies were as enthusiastic as the young men; and if they found a fellow lukewarm, he was threatened with a petticoat and was not allowed to hang up his had in their father’s hall.” Young men were supposed to crave the adventure of military service because proving themselves in that adventure would secure their place as marriageable men in the community. The “fun adventure” of military becomes much more meaningful and important to a man’s future when seen through this light.

But concern about your own marriageability and welcoming military rites of passage speak to a larger picture of the Confederate volunteer of 1861. Generally speaking, the postwar memoirist hailed from a very narrow antebellum demographic. He was in his early twenties in 1861, was well educated, was solidly middle- or planter-class, had great exposure to slavery (i.e. lived in a slaveowning household if not owning slaves himself), and enlisted early in the war. The older, married small farmer of the late 1861 and 1862 regiments did not usually write after the war, nor did he participate in memory-constructing groups like the United Confederate Veterans, which Gaines Foster has shown to be an urban, professional-class organization that included many memoirists and contributors to veterans’ magazines in its ranks. In many ways, that older man -- who, if anyone, can claim to have enlisted for protection of farm and family from invading Union armies -- has had his voice drowned out by the younger set who wrote more prolifically during and after the war. (This is not surprising, as Glatthaar has recently shown us that the 1862 volunteer was poorer and less educated than his 1861 counterpart)

So, what did the memoirist and his relatively affluent 1861 cohort have on the line that caused them to be the first in to the army and the last out? What is he obscuring when he talks only about desiring the grand adventure of war in his writings? How have these memoirs tainted our understanding of the 1861 Confederate volunteer?

Leave your answers in the comments, and see my own in in Part 2...