Thursday, January 27, 2011

New To The Blogroll

1. African American Soldiers and Sailors – A treasure trove of information pertaining to United States Colored Troops, black sailors, and enslaved African Americans who sought freedom in North Carolina during the Civil War.

2. Civil War Emancipation – This blog should be downright spectacular, considering that it is authored by Dr. Donald Shaffer, who wrote a book that made it onto this blog’s Top 12 Books: USCT EditionAfter the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans. Dr. Shaffer’s stated purpose in maintaining his blog is to "1) commemorate important milestones in emancipation in the Civil War as their 150th anniversary arrives in the sesquicentennial; 2) discuss noteworthy publications on this subject; 3) comment on current events related to the Civil War and emancipation; 4) plus write on whatever else comes to mind that is appropriate."

3. Jubilo! The Emancipation Century – This blog’s stated purpose is to "cover the following topics: abolition, slavery, the Civil War, emancipation, the Reconstruction, and the Nadir."

4. The USCT Chronicle – Blogger Angela Y. Walton-Raji vows to "tell some of the missing stories of the Black Union Soldiers from Tippah County Mississippi, from Giles County Tennessee, from the states west of the Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, and Indian Territory."

Also, as I hope should go without saying, Dr. Brooks D. Simpson has created a new blog called Crossroads which has leapt into the forefront of the best Civil War blogs out there (pretty astounding when you consider he launched the blog in December…overachiever). It even made the list of the Top 30 Civil War Blogs by
And, while we’re on the topic of said list, I should hasten to add that this here blog was chosen to be among the top 30 as well, which is a tremendous honor.

If you had told me when I was 18 years old and devouring books like Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas and Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868 that my name would appear on a list with both of the pre-eminent historians who wrote those books, I would have told you to lay off the hash pipe and get a real job.

Now that this has become a reality, I can only be grateful for all of you who take the time out of your busy lives to read this blog.

All I can say is thank you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“Beast” Butler’s Finest Speech

History has not been kind to Benjamin Franklin Butler. In most general histories of the Civil War Butler comes across as the conniving political general who blundered his way to prominence, stole spoons, and insulted Southern womanhood to the point where Jeff Davis put a bounty on his head and he was referred to as “Beast.” Like him or not, however, Butler had a profound influence on the trajectory of the war. While most people are familiar with his famous “contraband” order at Fortress Monroe, his capture and subsequent occupation of New Orleans, and his tenure as the commander of the Army of the James, some may not be as familiar with his post-war career in the United States Congress during Reconstruction.

It was in that body, during the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1875, that Butler explained his transformation from a Democrat who supported Breckinridge during the election of 1860 and had very convention views on slavery, to a Radical Republican and supporter of equal rights for African Americans. By this point in his career, Butler always drew large crowds because his biting wit and sarcasm could enflame his Southern colleagues and you never quite knew when his grandiloquence would cause an uproar. (One of the finest examples of this kind of rhetoric came when he critiqued Southern objections to the act – “What are the objections made to this bill? The first objection stated on the other side is that this bill establishes social equality. By no means, by no means…I am inclined to think that the only equality the blacks ever have in the South is social equality; for I understand the highest exhibition of social equality is communication between the sexes…”)

On this particular day, however, Butler hearkened back to Thursday, September 29, 1864 – the Battle New Market Heights. According to Butler, it was the bravery he witnessed on that field of honor that convinced him that African Americans were capable of, and deserving of, equality and the benefits of citizenship. As he addressed the Congress he recalled:
I came into command…in Virginia in 1863. I there organized twenty-five regiments, with some that were sent to me, and disciplined them. Still all my brother officers of the regular army said my colored soldiers would not fight; and I felt it was necessary that they should fight to show that their race was capable of the duties of citizens; for one of the highest duties of citizens is to defend their own liberties and their country’s flag and honor. On the 29th of September, 1864, I was ordered by the commanding general…to cross the James River at two points and attack the enemy’s line of works…and there are men on the floor who will remember that day, I doubt not, as I do myself…I went myself with the colored troops, to attack the enemy at New Market Heights, which was the key to the enemy’s flank on the north side of James River. That work was a redoubt built on the top of a hill of some considerable elevation; then running down into a marsh; in that marsh was a brook; then rising again to a plain which gently rolled away toward the river. On that plain, when the flash of dawn was breaking, I placed a column of three thousand colored troops, in close column by division, right in front, with guns at “right shoulder shift.”

I said: “That work must be taken by the weight of your column; not a shot must be fired;” and to prevent their firing I had the caps taken from the nipples of their guns. Then I said, “Your cry, when you charge, will be, ‘Remember Fort Pillow!’” and as the sun rose up in the heavens the order was given, “Forward!” and they marched forward as steadily as if on parade.
Butler then goes on to detail the assaults made by his friend Charles J. Paine’s Division upon the New Market Line. As I mentioned before, Butler had a price on his head and therefore did not go forward with his men. When the victory was won, however, he rode to the front and left the following account of the carnage that he witnessed:
It became my painful duty, sir, to follow in the track of that charging column, and there, in a space not wider than the clerk’s desk…lay the dead bodies of five hundred and forty-three of my colored soldiers, slain in defense of their country, and who had laid down their lives to uphold its flag and its honor as a willing sacrifice; and as I rode along among them, guiding my horse this way and that way lest he should profane with his hoofs what seemed to me the sacred dead, and as I looked on their bronzed faces upturned in the shining sun to heaven as if in mute appeal against the wrongs of that country…feeling I had wronged them in the past and believing what was the future of my country towards them…I swore to myself a solemn oath, “May my right hand forget its cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever fail to defend the rights of these men who have given their blood for me and my country this day and for their race forever!” and, God help me, I will keep that oath.
In this speech Butler reveals that it was seeing the aftermath of the battle of the New Market Heights that turned him into an ardent supporter of African American rights.

He concluded his remarks with the following admonition:
Now, Mr. Speaker, these men have fought for their country…they have shown themselves our equals in battle; as citizens they are kind, quiet, temperate, laborious; they have shown that they know how to exercise the right of suffrage which we have given to them, for they always vote right; they vote the Republican ticket, and all the powers of death and hell cannot persuade them to do otherwise. They show that they knew more than their masters did, for they always knew how to be loyal. They have industry, they have temperance, they have all the good qualities of citizens, they have bravery, they have culture, they have power, they have eloquence. And who shall say that they shall not have what the Constitution gives them – equal rights!
With this stirring conclusion, he took his seat. His vivid depiction of the fighting that took place at New Market Heights and the change it wrought in his thinking makes this one of the most revealing and important speeches that Ben Butler ever gave. After Butler and authors like Joseph T. Wilson, George Washington Williams, and William Wells Brown ceased speaking and writing, the Battle of New Market Heights was virtually forgotten for almost a century.

Let us hope that is not the case as we steam full speed ahead into the Sesquicentennial.

Oh, and do you know how followed up Butler’s speech on the House floor that day? Robert B. Vance -the representative from North Carolina, who also just happened to be the brother of  Zebulon Vance.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Me, Danno (Please?)

I was going over my calendar today and noticed that I don’t have any speaking engagements booked until September, so I thought I’d put out a public notice beg…er, um…asking my beloved readership to feel free to ask me to come and speak to your round tables, historical societies, GAR posts, sewing guilds, and what have you. Heck, I’ll even speak to your local SCV post, although that might make for some awkward interactions (I’ve done it before, though…once). My current work involves sitting at a desk all day writing, so I’d greatly appreciate any opportunities to further hone my public speaking abilities! I’m hoping that things will pick up in August when the book comes out, but until then…

Here’s what I’ve got lined up thus far:

September 23, 2011Henrico County - Gateway to Richmond, 1861 – 1865 Symposium

October 13, 2011 – Killer Angels Book Discussion, Tuckahoe Library, Richmond

April 19 – April 22, 2012National Council on Public History & Organization of American Historians Joint Meeting: Roundtable Discussion, “Civil War Battlefields: Imagining Possibilities after 150 Years” with Peter Carmichael, Joan Zenzen, Robert Sutton, & Ashley Whitehead

Friday, January 7, 2011

Looking Forward

Well, we’re off and running with the Sesquicentennial and already here in Virginia we’re seeing even more controversy surrounding the way textbooks portray the Civil War era. That being said, I’ve perused the web over the past week and have come up with the following calendar of events that pertain (directly or indirectly) to United States Colored Troops. If I missed anything, please let me know and I will gladly post an update.


4 VA Grand Opening of exhibit “An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia”. Virginia Historical Society. 428 North Boulevard

11 VA Lecture, "African Americans in the Civil War," at the Lucy Corr Village, 6680 Lucy Corr Blvd, Chesterfield. 7 pm. Free. 804-751-4946.

12 MD Lecture, “The African American Civil War Experience,” at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick. 11 am. Free with museum admission. or 301-695-1864.

18-20 FL Reenactment of the Battle of Olustee at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park near Lake City. Camps, demonstrations and music all weekend plus artillery night firing Friday evening and battles at 3:30 pm Saturday and 1:30 pm Sunday. $7/person weekend ticket. 877-635-3655 or

19 VA Lecture, “African-Americans in the Union Navy,” at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News. 1 pm. Free with museum admission. 757-596-2222 or

19 VA Film showing, “Glory,” at the Virginia War Museum in Newport News. 1 pm. Free with admission. 757-247-8523.

26 Washington D.C. Association for the Study of African American Life and History. 85th Annual Black History Month 2011 Luncheon and Featured Authors' Event. 1:00 PM. Renaissance Hotel. Guest speakers include historian Lerone Bennett, Jr., Executive Editor Emeritus, Ebony Magazine; event honorary co-chair Dr. Frank Smith, former DC Councilman and current Director of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum.

28 MD Lecture, “African American Surgeons of the Civil War,” at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick. 11 am. Free with admission. 301-695-1864 or


5-6 VA “The Civil War on the James Tour” 9525 Deep Bottom Road

12 VA Car-caravan tour “1864 Bermuda Hundred Campaign” leaves from Henricus Historical Park, 251 Henricus Park Road, Chester (south of Richmond). 10 am–1 pm. $8. 804-751-4946 or


9 VA Car-caravan tour, “1864 Bermuda Hundred Campaign,” leaves from Henricus Historical Park, 251 Henricus Park Road, Chester (south of Richmond). 10 am–1 pm. $8. 804-751-4946 or


21-22 VA Reenactment, “Fort Pocahontas,” camps, demonstrations, fort tours and battles each afternoon at the historic Civil War fort on the James River between Richmond and Williamsburg near Route 5. Latest details:


19 VA “Juneteenth” celebration with stories of black sailors in the Union blockade. At the Colonial Courthouse in Gloucester. 2-4 pm. Free. 804-693-2355.


23 VA "Henrico County - Gateway to Richmond, 1861 - 1865", 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Henrico Theatre, 305 E. Nine Mile Road, Highland Springs, 23075. The kickoff event for the Henrico County Sesquicentennial Committee's commemoration, bringing together nationally-renowned authors and experts for a discussion of the crucial role played by Henrico County in the American Civil War. Includes talk on New Market Heights.

24 VA Encampment and Exhibits. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Tree Hill farm, 6404 Osborne Turnpike, Henrico, VA 23231. The event will include a ceremony to honor those who were Medal of Honor recipients for valor on Henrico soil and feature living history demonstrations and exhibits from leading Civil War organizations.

24 VA “Voices of Freedom” Program in honor of New Market Heights Medal of Honor Recipient James Gardiner. Gloucester 6509 Main Street. 804-693-2355

29 VA Workshop, “Researching Your African American Ancestors: Genealogy to 1870,” at the Library of Virginia, 800 E Broad St, Richmond. 10 am-noon. Free. Registration required: 804-371-2126.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year’s Day, 1863

The following diary account comes from Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s famous book Army Life in a Black Regiment. Higginson was a fiery abolitionist before the Civil War and once fighting had begun he was appointed to command the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment (African Descent). His account of the celebrations that took place on the day that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect serves as a touching reminder of how 148 years ago today many considered the new year to be the year of Jubilee.

January 1, 1863 (evening).

A happy New Year to civilized people,—mere white folks. Our festival has come and gone, with perfect success, and our good General has been altogether satisfied. Last night the great fires were kept smouldering in the pit, and the beeves were cooked more or less, chiefly more,—during which time they had to be carefully watched, and the great spits turned by main force. Happy were the merry fellows who were permitted to sit up all night, and watch the glimmering flames that threw a thousand fantastic shadows among the great gnarled oaks. And such a chattering as I was sure to hear whenever I awoke that night!

My first greeting to-day was from one of the most stylish sergeants, who approached me with the following little speech, evidently the result of some elaboration:—

"I tink myself happy, dis New Year's Day, for salute my own Cunnel. Dis day las' year I was servant to a Gunnel ob Secesh; but now I hab de privilege for salute my own Cunnel."

That officer, with the utmost sincerity, reciprocated the sentiment.

About ten o'clock the people began to collect by land, and also by water,—in steamers sent by General Saxton for the purpose; and from that time all the avenues of approach were thronged. The multitude were chiefly colored women, with gay handkerchiefs on their heads, and a sprinkling of men, with that peculiarly respectable look which these people always have on Sundays and holidays. There were many white visitors also,—ladies on horseback and in carriages, superintendents and teachers, officers, and cavalry-men. Our companies were marched to the neighborhood of the platform, and allowed to sit or stand, as at the Sunday services; the platform was occupied by ladies and dignitaries, and by the band of the Eighth Maine, which kindly volunteered for the occasion; the colored people filled up all the vacant openings in the beautiful grove around, and there was a cordon of mounted visitors beyond. Above, the great live-oak branches and their trailing moss; beyond the people, a glimpse of the blue river.

The services began at half past eleven o'clock, with prayer by our chaplain, Mr. Fowler, who is always, on such occasions, simple, reverential, and impressive. Then the President's Proclamation was read by Dr. W. H. Brisbane, a thing infinitely appropriate, a South Carolinian addressing South Carolinians; for he was reared among these very islands, and here long since emancipated his own slaves. Then the colors were presented to us by the Rev. Mr. French, a chaplain who brought them from the donors in New York. All this was according to the programme. Then followed an incident so simple, so touching, so utterly unexpected and startling, that I can scarcely believe it on recalling, though it gave the keynote to the whole day. The very moment the speaker had ceased, and just as I took and waved the flag, which now for the first time meant anything to these poor people, there suddenly arose, close beside the platform, a strong male voice (but rather cracked and elderly), into which two women's voices instantly blended, singing, as if by an impulse that could no more be repressed than the morning note of the song-sparrow.—

"My Country, 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing!"

People looked at each other, and then at us on the platform, to see whence came this interruption, not set down in the bills. Firmly and irrepressibly the quavering voices sang on, verse after verse; others of the colored people joined in; some whites on the platform began, but I motioned them to silence. I never saw anything so electric; it made all other words cheap; it seemed the choked voice of a race at last unloosed. Nothing could be more wonderfully unconscious; art could not have dreamed of a tribute to the day of jubilee that should be so affecting; history will not believe it; and when I came to speak of it, after it was ended, tears were everywhere. If you could have heard how quaint and innocent it was! Old Tiff and his children might have sung it; and close before me was a little slave-boy, almost white, who seemed to belong to the party, and even he must join in. Just think of it!—the first day they had ever had a country, the first flag they had ever seen which promised anything to their people, and here, while mere spectators stood in silence, waiting for my stupid words, these simple souls burst out in their lay, as if they were by their own hearths at home! When they stopped, there was nothing to do for it but to speak, and I went on; but the life of the whole day was in those unknown people's song.

Receiving the flags, I gave them into the hands of two fine-looking men, jet black, as color-guard, and they also spoke, and very effectively,—Sergeant Prince Rivers and Corporal Robert Sutton. The regiment sang "Marching Along," and then General Saxton spoke, in his own simple, manly way, and Mrs. Francis D. Gage spoke very sensibly to the women, and Judge Stickney, from Florida, added something; then some gentleman sang an ode, and the regiment the John Brown song, and then they went to their beef and molasses. Everything was very orderly, and they seemed to have a very gay time. Most of the visitors had far to go, and so dispersed before dress-parade, though the band stayed to enliven it. In the evening we had letters from home, and General Saxton had a reception at his house, from which I excused myself; and so ended one of the most enthusiastic and happy gatherings I ever knew. The day was perfect, and there was nothing but success.