Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 12 Books: USCT Edition

Today I had the pleasure of reading Eric Wittenberg’s latest post over at his blog regarding what he considers the top 12 Civil War books of all time. Eric was inspired by Glen LaFantasie, who wrote his own top 12 list which you can find here. This, in turn, inspired me to put together my own list of what I think are the top 12 books about United States Colored Troops (although I should hasten to add that I am in no way putting myself in the same category as Wittenberg or LaFantasie). Since the literature pertaining to black soldiers is not as varied as Civil War literature in general, I will refrain from using the same constraints that both experts placed upon themselves in their selections.

I’m sure that some of you out there may disagree with my choices and, if that is the case, I’d love to hear your opinions as to which book you think should have made the list (but trust me – narrowing the selection to 12 was a very difficult process).

Now, without further ado, here is my top 12 list:

12. The Black Civil War Soldiers of Illinois: The Story of the Twenty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry by Edward A. Miller, Jr. Published by the University of South Carolina Press in 1998, this is one of the finest and most complete regimental histories of any USCT unit yet written. Dr. Miller consulted pension records, regimental papers, reports, and letters to trace the history of the 29th USCI (the only USCT unit raised in Illinois) from its recruitment in late 1863 through its combat experience with the Army of the Potomac, where it served in the rear guard during the Overland Campaign and finally saw action in the infamous Battle of the Crater. Miller goes on to chronicle the 29th’s consolidation into the 25th Army Corps and its service in the Appomattox Campaign and postwar service in Texas. By examining the extant records and looking at the demographics of the men who served in the unit, Miller paints a nearly complete picture of a USCT regiment in camp and on the battlefield.

11. The Black Phalanx: A History of the Negro Soldiers of the United States in the Wars of 1775-1812, 1861-‘65 by Joseph T. Wilson. This remarkable work was written by a veteran of both the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard and the 54th Massachusetts, and was first published in 1887 (when it sold for a whopping $3.00). Part II of the book offered the first history of African American service during the Civil War, and Wilson did an admirable job of compiling as many contemporary sources as he could in this volume (which is all the more interesting considering he was living in Virginia when he wrote the book). Wilson detailed the pervasive prejudice against black troops, their heroism on the field of battle, atrocities committed by Confederate soldiers against USCTs, and even compiled a list of black Medal of Honor recipients. As is the case when anyone is writing on a subject for the first time, The Black Phalanx serves as a compilation of source material rather than a comprehensive analysis. That being said, it is still very much worth reading.

10. Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers During the Civil War by Keith P. Wilson. This is hands down one of the most fascinating books I have read on the Civil War, let alone on African American soldiers. I’ve always been interested in the life of the common soldier, and Wilson’s work provides a detailed look at the camp life of black soldiers. The book offers a plethora of fascinating and little known facts (the 54th Massachusetts had a glee club?) and looks at training, discipline, the religious life of black soldiers and chaplains, and how the soldiers chose to spend their free time. Wilson – a native of Australia – says that the purpose of his book was to “describe the soldiers’ lives in their camps…bring into focus the emotional texture of military life, to describe the dreams, aspirations, ambitions, and desires of the common soldier…[and] to analyze the process of cultural change that occurred within the army camps” (p. xiii). The result is a fascinating work that any Civil War buff will want on their shelf.

9. After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans by Donald R. Shaffer. This 2004 offering from the University Press of Kansas takes a look at what happened to black Union veterans after the cessation of hostilities. Shaffer's work is based on a random sample of the postwar experience of 1,000 ordinary black soldiers, a look at 200 African American veterans involved in "notable activities" after 1865, and a special census taken in 1890 of surviving black veterans. The result is a complex tapestry of mingled hope, achingly slow progress, and the ugly realities of post war racism. Required reading for a complete understanding of the USCT experience.

8. A Regiment of Slaves: The 4th United States Colored Infantry, 1863 –1866 by Edward G. Longacre. Perhaps this book made it onto my list because it details the history of a unit that won its laurels at New Market Heights (four Medals of Honor went to the men of the 4th) and included the inimitable Christian Fleetwood. That said, however, the 4th USCI is certainly a very worthy topic for a regimental history. Not only did the 4th rack up an impressive combat record, it is also noteworthy for its social make up. Organized in Baltimore in the summer of 1863, the 4th USCI consisted of free men such as Christian Fleetwood (who read Greek, Latin, French, and Spanish) and former slaves, which presented a recruiting problem in a loyal state that still maintained the institution of slavery. Still, the 4th participated in the opening battles around Petersburg, was held in reserve at the Crater, helped construct the Dutch Gap canal, and won fame on the fields of New Market Heights. The unit took part in the expedition against Fort Fisher before being mustered out in Washington in 1866 (where Company E posed for one of the most iconic images of United States Colored Troops ever taken). Longacre does an admirable job and proves that there is ample source material sufficient to chronicle USCT units if you do enough digging.

7. Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Written by a militant abolitionist turned officer of the 1st South Carolina (later the 33rd USCT), this book was originally a series of essays that made it into book form in 1870. Higginson was hell bent on proving that former slaves could be turned into the equals of any white unit fielded by the Union army, and that military service was a key first step to black citizenship . The book has many high points such as Higginson’s account of reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his men and it contains eloquent observations such as his concluding sentence – “It was their demeanor under arms that shamed the nation into recognizing them as men.” While Higginson’s observations may seem outdated and his paternalistic attitude may grate against modern conceptions of race and equality, the reader should keep in mind that Higginson put himself at great risk during the war, since the Confederates would not have hesitated to make an example of an officer in command of black troops who hailed from Massachusetts and had fervently supported John Brown.

6. Freedom For Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era by Richard M. Reid. This 2008 work takes on the ambitious task of relating the history of four of the five African American units raised in North Carolina – the 35th, 36th, and 37th USCI and the 14th USCHA. Reid states that "the real value of this study lies in the fact that the activities, abilities, and utilization of these four regiments were sufficiently varied to encompass the experiences of most black soldiers" (326, 328). Mastering just about all of the primary source material on these four units, Reid not only gives a masterful account of their military service but he also delves into the realm of social history with a fascinating chapter that focuses on what happened to the service member’s families, especially those who sought shelter at the freedmen’s colony on Roanoke Island. Reid also examines what happened to these soldiers after the war during Reconstruction and reviews how veterans adjusted to life in a state that tragically fell under the control of former Confederates.

5. A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters From African American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865, edited by Edwin S. Redkey. Redkey’s 1992 compilation of 129 letters written to black and abolitionist newspapers forever put to rest Bell Wiley’s lament of a “dearth of letters written by the 200,000 blacks who donned the blue.” Redkey collected soldier letters written to the Christian Recorder, The Weekly Anglo-African, the Pine and Palm and other abolitionist newspapers from the period. Each chapter contains a substantial introduction and each letter or part of a letter is headed by a brief paragraph that gives essential information about the author and the events chronicled in the letter. The letters have a running theme of how African American soldiers saw soldiering as an opportunity to “elevate” their race and earn the rights and benefits of citizenship. They are often proud of their accomplishments, indignant at injustices that sprang from the Confederate army as well as their own, and confident of ultimate success. Noah Andre Trudeau mentions in the beginning of his chronicle of USCTs that Redkey’s book was a major influence upon his writing. The only down side to this otherwise marvelous collection is the unavoidable reality that letters written to newspaper editors were only written by the small portion of USCTs who could read and write. Furthermore, soldiers writing to their local newspapers tended to put a positive spin on their experiences and tell the readers what they already wanted to hear. Thus, there is a substantial portion of United States Colored Troops whose voices will remain forever silent.

4. Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, edited by John David Smith. This wonderful collection of 14 essays includes selections from authorities such as William Glenn Robertson, Noah Andre Trudeau, the late Art Bergeron, John Cimprich, and Keith Wilson among others. Some of the essays are short battle histories of the fighting that took place at Port Hudson, Milliken’s Bend, Olustee, the Crater, New Market Heights, and Saltville. Other essays examine the lives of USCT chaplains, black recruitment efforts in the Mississippi Valley, USCTs who fought in Tennessee, and an outstanding survey of the fortunes of the United States Colored Cavalry. While each scholarly piece can stand on its own, the essays are in chronological order and if the book is read from cover to cover this work will serve as an outstanding overview of black Union soldiers.

3. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau. Coming in at number three is Noah Andre Trudeau’s now-classic 1998 fighting history of the USCT. Trudeau did an amazing amount of research, taking up where Redkey left off by delving deep into the extant collection of letters, diaries, and pension records left by black troops and their officers. The result is a vivid narrative that brims with firsthand accounts and should forever put to rest the misguided notion that African Americans were passive and scarcely lifted a finger to secure their own freedom (an idea touted by William E. Woodward in 1928 and one that is still popular in Neo-Confederate and Southern Heritage circles). Unfortunately this book never achieved the acclaim of some of Trudeau’s other works. Perhaps the Sesquicentennial will remedy that.

2. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers by Joseph T. Glatthaar. Joe Glatthaar had the good fortune of publishing his study on the relationship between black enlisted men and their white officers right on the heels of the motion picture Glory. That being said, it has landed in the number two slot for a reason – it is the most detailed analysis yet written on said relationship. Glatthaar dispels the notion that all white officers who led black troops were mini Thomas Wentworth Higginsons or Robert Gould Shaws. Many officers thought poorly of their men, held the same racist views that permeated American society at the time, and could be extremely harsh on their men for what most would consider minor infractions. Moreover, many white enlisted men only sought the opportunity to serve in the USCT because they desired higher rank and the resultant pay increase that came with it (Glatthaar quotes one Illinois soldier who quipped, “I would drill a company of alligators for a hundred and twenty [dollars] a month”). However, the process by which white men were recruited and tested shows that, no matter what their motivations, the USCT provided some of the best trained officers to emerge from the Union war effort. The book goes on to examine recruitment, training, dealing with the racism and opposition, and the test of battle that many of these men faced. The book ends with an examination of occupation duty and the postwar careers of some of the men who fought in the USCT. While Glatthaar clearly achieved his stated goal of examining “the inner workings of…black commands, to investigate conduct, attitudes, and experiences among the participants” (p. x), my main quibble is that he rarely mentions the Army of the James, which just happened to be the fighting force with the largest concentration of black soldiers in the entire Union army. Why he did not investigate this neglected army is beyond me, but the book is still one of the very best in its field.

1. The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 by Dudley Taylor Cornish. It should come as no surprise that this book is still the standard introductory work on the subject of United States Colored Troops and that, even though it is 54 years old, it still has not been surpassed. When the book debuted in 1956, the struggle for civil rights was still raging and many of the popular titles on the Civil War made no mention of black troops whatsoever. Cornish’s assertion that “As a soldier in the Union army, the Negro soldier proved his manhood and established a strong claim to equality of treatment and opportunity” may have ruffled some feathers, but he provided the necessary data and statistical evidence to back up his claim. The book was well received in the scholarly community, and T. Harry Williams asserted that “The Sable Arm must be rated as a major study that throws new illumination on a neglected side of the war.” In the book, Cornish vividly describes the various forces and unique individuals who compelled the Lincoln Administration to adopt the controversial policy of recruiting free blacks and runaway slaves for military service, the formation of the 166 regiments that made up the United States Colored Troops , and the performance of those units in combat. Cornish set the bar very high and blazed a trail for those who devote themselves to the study of the African American contribution to Union victory. If you wish to deepen your understanding of the USCT, start by reading The Sable Arm. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Mighty Good Stocking Stuffer

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Commission is now offering their most recent signature conference, "Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory" on DVD.

Now I know what most of you out there are thinking – why would they release this on DVD when the conference was covered so comprehensively by this very blog? I mean, if it ain’t broke…

Joking aside, this two-disc set is out just in time for the holidays and would make a great stocking stuffer for that Civil War enthusiast in your family (assuming you were kind enough to invite him over this year – I know how annoying we can be). The Commission has done excellent work in promoting sound scholarship and has set the tone for how the Sesquicentennial should be commemorated throughout the nation. Compare their work with what’s happening in South Carolina today, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

For more information, visit the Commission’s home page here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

“The Question is Settled”

Today marks the 146th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Nashville. While most students of the Civil War are aware of the overall importance of this final hurrah for John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee, some might be surprised to learn that United States Colored Troops played an important part in this decisive Union victory. Moreover, that any black troops were allowed to participate in this fight at all should not be taken lightly – Union commanders in the Western Theater (William Tecumseh Sherman being one of the most vociferous and influential among them) considered USCTs untrustworthy for front line service and tried to limit their service to nothing more than manual labor. When the fighting was over at Nashville, however, Maj. Gen. George Thomas was overheard to say, “Gentlemen, the question is settled; negroes will fight.”

The battle itself was fought on Thursday and Friday, December 15 & 16, 1864. Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, commanding a Federal force of about 55,000 men, attacked and routed the Confederate army commanded by Gen. John B. Hood, which numbered fewer than 25,000. On December 2nd Hood had settled his army before Nashville, strongly entrenching what was left of his army along a series of hills south of the city. Since he didn’t have enough men to attack Thomas, Hood simply waited in his trenches for Thomas to attack him. Thomas obliged on the morning of December 15th.

The plan of attack called for the main assault to be directed against the Confederate left flank. A diversionary assault would be launched prior to the main effort, and it was in this diversion that many of the USCTs would “see the elephant” for the first time. They were commanded by a Pennsylvanian named Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman. Steedman’s subordinate, Colonel Thomas J. Morgan of the 1st Colored Brigade thought that all his men had to do that morning was clear out some lightly-manned Confederate rifle pits. As it turned out, Morgan was dead wrong. When his men attacked around 8 a.m. all was smooth sailing until they encountered a deep ravine near the cut of the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. At that point Confederate artillery and musket fire ripped into the ranks of the black troops from three different directions. One Confederate later recalled, “We had the negroes in our trap, and when we commenced firing on them, complete demoralization followed.” After several minutes of severe punishment, Morgan’s soldiers fell back to the Murfreesboro Pike, where they remained for the rest of the day. Even if the diversion itself had failed, the main effort against Hood was a resounding success and Thomas pursued Hood’s men until nightfall of the 15th.

Thomas was pressured to keep pressing Hood’s men, and thus launched follow-up assaults on December 16th. USCT units that had not participated in the first days fighting now had a chance to prove themselves. They went into the attack on the Confederate lines at Overton Hill, and once again they were raked with intense artillery fire (one survivor said that the air “seemed as full of the death-laden missiles as of hail in a driving hail storm”). Still, the black troops pressed on. The 13th USCT ignored the intense fire and advanced all the way up to the Confederate line. After one of the color-bearers was hit, a second one retrieved the flag until he was hit. Eventually five more men of the color guard stepped forward to rescue the colors one at a time – all would be shot down. One survivor later recalled, “The last color bearer shook the flag over the rebel works but it was snatched from his hand, and he was shot. Every one of the color-guard was either killed or wounded.” The 13th lost 40% of its strength in this assault. A Confederate who witnessed this attack said that he “never saw dead men thicker than” at Nashville.

Still, Union forces triumphed once again and the Army of Tennessee was destroyed as a cohesive fighting force. Humiliated Rebel prisoners found themselves guarded by black soldiers, a fate that many described with horror and anguish – the USCTs proudly standing guard over them served as a constant reminder that the old social structure that they cherished and fought for was no more.

While the United States Colored Troops who fought at Nashville could be proud of the part that they played in the victory, they still had to face the racism that prevailed in their own army. Indeed, many of the wounded from the battle received poorer medical treatment than their white counterparts, prompting Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas to proclaim, “Had these men been white soldiers, think you this would have been their condition?”

Nevertheless, black soldiers knew that every time they performed well in battle that this would have far reaching consequences beyond the battlefield. Every victory was a small step in the long road to citizenship and social equality. One of those steps was taken 146 years ago today.

USCT Order of Battle

Provisional Detachment (District of the Etowah) MG James B. Steedman

Provisional Division, BG Charles Cruft

1st Colored Brigade Col Thomas J. Morgan

14th U.S. Colored Troops: Ltc Henry C. Corbin

16th U.S. Colored Troops: Col William B. Gaw

17th U.S. Colored Troops: Col William R. Shafter

18th U.S. Colored Troops (battalion): Maj Lewis D. Joy

44th U.S. Colored Troops: Col Lewis Johnson

2nd Colored Brigade, Col Charles R. Thompson

12th U S. Colored Troops: Ltc William R. Sellon, Cpt Henry Hegner

13th U.S. Colored Troops: Col John A. Hottenstein

100th U.S. Colored Troops: Maj Collin Ford

1st Battery, Kansas Light Artillery: Cpt Marcus D. Tenney

Post of Nashville, BG John F. Miller

Garrison Artillery, Maj John J. Ely

Battery A, 3rd U.S. Colored Light: Cpt Josiah V. Meigs

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Grand Review Indeed, Part II

In the first installment of my review of the wonderful events surrounding the United Stated Colored Troops Grand Review Weekend in Harrisburg, PA last month, I covered the speakers and topics of the scholarly symposium that took place the day before the parade as well as the interesting experiences I had at a dinner for USCT descendants that night.

We’ll now shift our focus to the review itself, which began at 9 a.m. on Saturday November 6th. The parade had well over 100 USCT re-enactors, in addition to local high school marching bands, descendants of black Pennsylvanians who served in units, and the “100 Voices” – 100 young men who each represented one of Pennsylvania’s black soldiers.

The parade route had several stops where dignitaries and speakers would address the crowd and where local choral groups would sing Civil War era songs. Since it was a brisk day, whenever the parade would stop all of the recreated battle flags would continue snapping in the wind which created a beautiful effect which reminded me of the opening sequence of Gods & Generals. It was a stirring site to see so many USCT re-enactors marching in unison and I left Harrisburg very impressed with the way that the events had been organized and with the distinct impression that Harrisburg had just set the tone for Sesquicentennial Commemoration. Kudos to everyone involved with the Grand Review weekend and I am eagerly anticipating more great programs over the next four years.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Major General Ricky Bobby, Anyone?

[Hat tip to Brooks Simpson]

I trust all of you had a great Thanksgiving weekend and properly gorged yourselves on turkey, stuffing, and football as is the tradition in this great nation of ours.

I apologize for taking a hiatus from blogging, but I’ve had my hands full with several exciting – and time consuming – projects as of late.

Truth be told, I hadn’t really been following what was happening in the Civil War blogosphere for about two weeks. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of an 8 part mini-series that is being produced in the style of Band of Brothers entitled To Appomattox. Like many of you out there, I thought that no producer in his right mind would touch the subject of the Civil War after the disaster that was Gods & Generals.

Well, I thought wrong.

While the series is still in its infancy, the website offers some insights into the type of product that we might reasonably expect.

One of the most…um, shall we say… interesting aspects is that the producers have teamed up with NASCAR and are hoping to feature several stock car racers in the film (one is already slated to play John Gordon). Dr. Simpson has done a fine job of commenting on this odd pairing over at Civil Warriors, so I’ll refer you to his blog and leave it at that.

Not only is NASCAR associated with this film, so are several country music stars, including Dwight Yokam, Laura Bundy, and Kix Brooks of the musical atrocity known as Brooks and Dunn.

Combine the NASCAR and country music connection and it would be easy to start stereotyping – but to be fair, both Yokam and Brooks are playing Yankees (and for those of you who think Dwight Yokam can’t act, I refer you to his performance in Sling Blade).

Also, there is legitimate acting talent in the film. Paul Giamatti, Will Patton, and Bill Paxton are certainly not b-list actors (although the choice of Giamatti as James Longstreet just might baffle me till the day I die - let us pray that his beard will not resemble the deceased wildebeest that was duct taped to Tom Berenger's face in Gettysburg ).

In any case, if you review the actors and who they are portraying you will quickly notice that the cast is lily white – not a single African American cast member is listed because there are no African American characters as of yet.

And that’s deeply troubling.

When you see that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet, Albert Sidney Johnston, Joseph E. Johnston, Simon Bolivar Buckner (really?), and even Sallie Pickett are major characters in the film you’d think they could find room for, oh, say Frederick Douglass? Harriet Tubman? It’s not like these are lesser known figures in the history of the conflict – I’m not asking for Christian Fleetwood or Decatur Dorsey to make it into the film for crying out loud.

But so far there is no black presence in the film at all.

If we are treated to another depiction of loyal slaves and Stonewall Jackson as the “black man’s friend” like in Gods and Generals, then I fear that this could have a ripple effect for the forthcoming Sesquicentennial commemoration.

Like the tourists who flocked to Gettysburg to find out where Buster Kilrain was wounded after the movie Gettysburg was released, we might have families seeking out the emblems of the Lost Cause just because they saw a movie that had their favorite singer in it.

Then again, the producers might land some excellent African American actors who can help balance out the story and help viewers ponder the complexities of the war. You never know.

For now, I will hope that there is no underlying agenda to this film and remain cautiously optimistic that this mini-series will strive to place accuracy over mythology. I will hope that USCTs are not only given some role in the movie, but that they are portrayed accurately – not as ignorant objects of pity, but as competent fighting men who had the same capacity for cowardice and bravery as their white counterparts.

I will hope – but I won’t hold my breath.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Final Word on Bruce Levine & Black Confederates

For a blog that doesn’t normally receive that many comments to begin with, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people anonymously commenting on my post that detailed Dr. Bruce Levine’s talk on Black Confederates at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s Signature Conference on Race and Slavery.

Apparently some folks think that my summary of Dr. Levine’s talk is in fact my own commentary on the topic.

I have decided not to address any of these comments because they tend to do what the Black Confederate debate in general does – draw attention away from those African Americans who DID serve in large numbers during the Civil War.

However, the good folks at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission have posted Dr. Levine’s talk on YouTube for all to see.

So watch, and enjoy all you anonymous Lost Causers out there.

But consider this the END of the debate, at least on this website.

This blog deals with ACTUAL black soldiers who can be documented by looking at ACTUAL government and military documents and whose names and occupations can be found on the muster rolls of the ACTUAL units that they served in.

If you want to cry foul and indignantly rant about the thousands upon thousands of blacks who donned the gray, I’m sure Kevin over at Civil War Memory would LOVE to speak with you (you’re welcome, Kevin).

We deal in facts here at The Sable Arm.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Grand Review Indeed, Part I

Well, as most of you know I had the distinct pleasure of attending the festivities relating to the recent United States Colored Troops Grand Review Weekend in Harrisburg, PA.

I have to say, out of all of the events, lectures, and symposiums I’ve been to over the past few years, this one ranks right up there with the time I arranged to meet with the family of one of the New Market Heights Medal of Honor recipients. The three events I attended – the symposium “Rather Die Freemen than Live to be Slaves”, the White Carnation League Dinner, and the review itself – all exceeded the expectations I had when I decided at the last minute to make the trek up to my state of birth.

The first event that I attended was the aforementioned symposium which was sponsored by the Historical Society of Dauphin County, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and Pinnacle Health System. Things kicked off around 9:00 Friday morning and as the day progressed I was in constant amazement that this event was free.

This first speaker was Dr. James Horton, professor emeritus at George Washington University who spoke on the topic of “Slavery: The Great American Contradiction”. Much of this material was similar to what Dr. Horton spoke about at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee’s Signature Conference on Race and Slavery back in September. At the conclusion of his talk Dr. Horton mentioned that he is in the process of editing the diary of a soldier who served in the 8th USCT, which should be an incredible read to say the least. He also mentioned some fascinating research he is conducting on soldiers from what is now Hawaii who served in the Union army.

The next speaker was Hari Jones, who serves as the Assistant Director and Curator for the African American Civil War Museum & Memorial in Washington D.C. If you’ve never heard Hari speak before, do yourself a favor and find out where he’s speaking next and go see him. You will not regret it. His riveting presentation entitled “The USCT and Pennsylvania” traced the origins and history of all of the USCT units raised in that great state (the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 32nd, 41st, 43rd, 45th, and 127th in case you were wondering). Jones made a point of challenging some of the standard themes that get repeated over and over again (i.e. black soldiers were paid less than whites for the whole war, USCT units always got the dirtiest jobs dished out to them, etc.) and instead painted a picture of some elite, veteran fighting units that had earned the respect of their leaders and who could not attend the Grand Review in Washington because they were busy “finishing the job”. It was a very stirring lecture and was a highlight of the day for me.

Following Jones was Dr. Richard Blackett of Vanderbilt University who gave a fascinating talk on Thomas Morris Chester – a key organizer of the Pennsylvania Grand Review and the only African American war correspondent who wrote for a white newspaper (under an assumed name of course – Chester’s readers did not know he was black when they were reading his words). Chester wrote some great stuff on New Market Heights that will be featured in my book, but one thing I didn’t know about the man was that he was a lifelong proponent of colonization to Liberia and made numerous trips there during his lifetime. It turns out he fathered a son in Liberia and continued to support colonization even after the war was over.

The last presenter was Dr. James Paradis of Doane Academy who wrote a wonderful book on the 6th USCT called Strike the Blow for Freedom, which I highly recommend if you don’t already have a copy. Paradis chronicled the history of the 6th from its time at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia to its storied fighting history at Petersburg, Richmond, and Wilmington. He spent a good amount of time on New Market Heights, where the 6th lost roughly 57% of its strength.

At the end of the symposium the presenters came to the front of the room and entertained questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. All in all, it was a wonderful, scholarly event.

That evening I attended the White Carnation League Dinner, where I was honored to meet numerous descendants of USCTs. One woman in particular had an ancestor who served in the 22nd USCT (which was at New Market Heights) and I was fascinated to see that she had his picture and some of his army records with her. It’s not every day you get to see stuff like that. I also had the good fortune of being placed at the same table as Hari Jones and Dr. Blackett, who provided some fascinating table conversation!

The next morning was the review itself.

More on that coming soon…

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

See You In Harrisburg

I apologize for the recent paucity of posts, but things have been a little hectic in the Price household as of late.

That being said, I did want to take an opportunity to let you know that I am very excited to be attending the United States Colored Troops Grand Review in Harrisburg, PA this weekend.

I mean, what kind of USCT blogger would I be if I didn’t go to an event as cool as this, eh?

Anyway, the two main events that I am looking forward to attending are the symposium of Friday entitled "Rather Die Freemen than Live to be Slaves" featuring Dr. Michael Barton, Professor of American Studies and Social Science, Penn State University, Harrisburg; Hari Jones, Assistant Director and Curator, African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, DC; Dr. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; Dr. James M. Paradis, Doane Academy, Burlington, NJ; Dr. James O. Horton, the Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History, George Washington University, Emeritus. That’s quite a line up, and I’m especially hoping to get a chance to speak with Dr. Paradis since he wrote a regimental history of the 6th USCT, which fought at New Market Heights.

Friday evening I’ll be going to the White Carnation League Dinner, where the website alleges that “you will be treated to an intellectually challenging conversation with Dr. James O. Horton and Mr. Harold Holzer.”

I hope the website is right!

The next day will be the review itself, which will feature USCT re-enactors and the ancestors of actual USCTs. Dignitaries such as Governor Edward G. Rendell, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Bev Smith will be there to celebrate the occasion.

All in all, it should be a great event and it is my hope that many more events like this one will be held across the country as we head into the Sesquicentennial.

Friday, October 22, 2010

If You Happen to be in Richmond this Tuesday…

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar presents "Know-Nothings and Tea Parties: Midterm Elections Past and Present"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The rhetoric is heating up as Americans prepare to cast their votes this fall. How does the campaign trail of 2010 compare to that of the Civil War era? Join former Virginia Secretary of Administration Viola Baskerville, political historians Scott Nesbit (University of Richmond) and Rachel A. Shelden (University of Virginia), and Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro at the Virginia State Capitol for a fascinating look at the political process past and present. 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., House Room 3, Virginia State Capitol. Fee: $15

To purchase tickets, please call 804.780.1865 x10 or you can purchase at the event. www.tredegar.org

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Drones in the Great Hive

In June of 1865, Medal of Honor recipient Christian A. Fleetwood wrote a letter explaining why he chose not to re-enlist in the United States Colored Troops. Towards the end of the letter he expressed disappointment and disillusionment:

A double purpose induced me and most others to enlist, to assist in abolishing slavery and to save the country from ruin. Something in furtherance of both objects we have certainly done, and now it strikes me that more could be done for our welfare in the pursuits of civil life. I think that a camp life would be decidedly an injury to our people. No matter how well and faithfully they may perform their duties they will shortly be considered as 'lazy nigger sojers'-as drones in the great hive.
Fleetwood was concerned about the poor treatment that black Union soldiers were still receiving after the war. In the years immediately following the war, he repeatedly expressed fears that the contributions made by the United States Colored Troops would fade from public memory and that their heroic deeds would be forgotten.

In 1886, another former USCT – John C. Brock – wrote:
Examine our school histories, if you please, and you will find very little, if any, reference made to the fact that nearly 200,000 colored men shouldered the musket and went forth to so and die, that the foul blot of slavery might be forever erased from our national banner.
Well, it appears as if the fears of Fleetwood, Brock, and countless others are coming true – at least in Virginia history textbooks. The new 4th grade history book Our Virginia: Past and Present written by one Joy Masoff (who allegedly did most of her research on the World Wide Web) has a section about Black Confederates.

And it’s not just the usual “Oooh, look at this picture of Silas Chandler – see, there MUST have been Black Confederates!” type of palaver – Masoff writes “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.”


I could find no mention of whether or not the topic of black Union soldiers is discussed in the book (at least they're on the cover).

In the end, it might not even matter. If some blacks fought for the South and some blacks fought for the North, well…I guess they were just like the rest of the country – regular old folks who just happened to disagree on, uh…states rights, or tariffs – or something like that. I mean, they were all true Americans anyway, right? Why get bogged down in details?


As David Blight said in the Washington Post article that broke the story, “It's more than just an arcane, off-the-wall problem. This isn't just about the legitimacy of the Confederacy, it's about the legitimacy of the emancipation itself.”

Just when the Commonwealth recovers from the Confederate Heritage Month fiasco, this comes to the surface. Troubling, methinks.

For more on the story see here and here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hello, it’s good to be back.

Well dear readers, my 100th posting on this blog has come and gone and some of you may be wondering why there has been such a dearth of postings as of late.

So, without going into too much detail, here’s a brief synopsis of what my life has been like since the Signature Conference in Norfolk on September 24th.

Since then, I:

a. Gave a battlefield tour out at New Market Heights which was attended by around 20 folks;

b. Had a not-so-fun trip to the emergency room, which I am still unfortunately feeling the ill effects of;

c. Resigned from my position with Henrico County (the 26th will be my last day); and

And, all the while I have been plugging away at my New Market Heights manuscript, trying to ensure that the text will be as excellent and appealing as the maps (yes, master cartographer Steve Stanley has agreed to make the maps for the book).

That’s about it for now. I’m hoping to get some more information posted soon, but until then don’t be a stranger, ya hear?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ferro iis libertas perveniet

Medal of Honor Recipients for the Battle of New Market Heights, September 29, 1864:

Colonel Samuel A. Duncan’s Brigade:

Sgt. Charles Veal, 4th USCI – “after two bearers of the regimental color had been shot down, seized it close to the enemy's works and bore it through the remainder of the action”

Sgt. Alfred Hilton, 4th USCI – “the bearer of the national colors, when the color-sergeant with the regimental standard fell beside him, seized the standard, and struggled forward with both colors, until disabled by a severe wound at the enemy's inner line of abatis, and when on the ground he showed that his thoughts were for the colors and not for himself”

Sgt. Maj. Christian A. Fleetwood, 4th USCI – “when two color bearers had been shot down, seized the national colors and bore them nobly through the fight”

Lt. William Appleton, 4th USCI – “First man of Eighteenth Corps to enter the enemy’s works. Valiant service in desperate assault, inspiring Union troops by example of steady courage”

1st Sgt. Alexander Kelly, 6th USCI – “gallantly seized the colors, which had fallen near the enemy's inner line of abatis, raised them, and rallied the men at a time of confusion and a place of the greatest possible danger”

Sgt. Maj. Thomas Hawkins, 6th USCI – “though twice wounded brought the colors off the field”

Lt. Nathan Edgerton, 6th USCI – “when the color bearer was shot down, seized the colors and carried them forward, even after his own hand was pierced by a bullet which severed the flag-staff”

Colonel Alonzo Draper’s Brigade:

Sgt. Powhatan Beaty, 5th USCI – “in command, all their company officers being killed or wounded, and led them gallantly and meritoriously through the day”

Sgt. James Bronson, 5th USCI – “in command, all their company officers being killed or wounded, and led them gallantly and meritoriously through the day”

Sgt. Maj. Milton Holland, 5th USCI – “in command, all their company officers being killed or wounded, and led them gallantly and meritoriously through the day”

Sgt. Robert Pinn, 5th USCI –“in command, all their company officers being killed or wounded, and led them gallantly and meritoriously through the day”

Pvt. James Gardner, 36th USCI – “rushed in advance of his brigade, shot at a rebel officer, who was on the parapet cheering his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet”

Cpl. Miles James, 36th USCI – “after having his arm so badly mutilated that immediate amputation was necessary, loaded and discharged his piece with one hand, and urged his men forward; this within thirty yards of the enemy's works”

Pvt. William Barnes, 38th USCI – “among the very first to enter the rebel works, although himself previously wounded”

Sgt. Edward Ratcliff, 38th USCI – “thrown into command of his company by the death of the officer commanding, was the first enlisted man in the enemy's works, leading his company with great gallantry”

Sgt. James Harris, 38th USCI – “has a medal for gallant conduct in the assault of the 29th instant”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Now THAT, My Friends, is a Title!

While I was browsing through the display tables at Friday’s Signature Conference on Race and Slavery, I happened upon a flyer for a lecture that was taking place at the Greenbrier Library in Chesapeake, VA.

It was scheduled for the next day which, unfortunately, was the same day that I was set to give walking tours of the New Market Heights battlefield.

It wasn’t so much the content of the lecture that grabbed my attention, but the title.

Try this one on for size:

“Chaffin Farms/New Market Heights – September 29-30, 1864: The Mother of All Afro-Union Medal of Honor Battles”

I’m thinking my book just got a new title …

Stolen Legacy - Ta-Nehisi Coates - National - The Atlantic

Stolen Legacy - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Friday, September 24, 2010

Final Q&A Session

Q: Is there a difference in how people of different ages remember the war and why don’t more African Americans go to Civil War Sites?

A: Holzer – Stated that he fears that memory of the Civil War is evaporating among young students.

Blight – African Americans did not go to Civil War sites because for many years it was just the story of the “blue and the gray” being told – they had no vested interest due to a “segregated memory” of the Civil War.

Well, there have been other questions asked to the panelists but I have simply been unable to keep up with the pace of conversation. If you want the full experience, be sure to order a copy of the DVD (follow the Sesquicentennial Commission’s website for updates on when it will be released).

Overall, I think that this conference has been a smashing success, handling a very complicated and controversial subject with sensitivity and sophistication. As we head into the Sesquicentennial, the topic of slavery and race will no doubt stir up the usual firestorms of righteous indignation. Conferences such as this will be invaluable educational tools for what will hopefully be a very inclusive and diverse commemoration.

Many thanks to Cheryl Jackson of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and all of those involved in putting together a great Signature Conference.

My fingers are tired, so I’m going to sign off.

See you next year!

Dwight Pitcaithley - Addressing the Causes of the Civil War in Public History

Dwight T. Pitcaithley received his doctorate from Texas Tech University in 1976. He is a Professor at New Mexico State University, and has published in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, New Mexico Historical Review, The History Teacher, The Public Historian, Perspectives, Legacy, CRM, New Mexico Humanities, North & South, and The George Wright Forum. He wrote Let the River Be: A History of the Ozark's Buffalo River, National Park Service (1987); and has contributed chapters to Becoming Historians, University of Chicago Press (2009), Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory, The New Press (2006), Preserving Western History, University of New Mexico Press, (2005), Public History and the Environment, Krieger Publishing Company (2004); Myth, Memory, and the Making of the American Landscape, University Press of Florida (2001); Seeing and Being Seen: Tourism in the American West, University Press of Kansas (2001); Past Meets Present, Smithsonian Institution Press (1987).

Pitcaithley began by comparing and contrasting academic views on the causes of the Civil War with the public perspective – perspectives which are very much out of sync. He then relayed a story that most us of can relate to about an encounter he had with an individual who told him he ought to teach the “real” history of the war (i.e. it wasn’t about slavery because most Southerners did not own slaves, blah blah, whatever).

This is in part because of the work of the children of Confederate veterans (UDC, SCV, etc.) and the permanence of the Lost Cause narrative.

Pitcaithley also talked about a controversial meeting held by the NPS in 1998 in which the unspoken moratorium on discussing the causes of the American Civil War in National Parks was lifted. This sparked anger from very vocal groups who despised this “Yankee” interpretation of history. Even though Pitcaithley was able to muster a mountain of evidence that secession was indeed caused by slavery (including the minutes of the secession conventions in which the delegates made it very plain that they were leaving the Union because Lincoln was an abolitionist and the peculiar institution was threatened by his election) these cranks were unmoved.

Pitcaithley ended by stating that this issue will certainly come to a head as we delve into the Sesquicentennial.

Recommended Reading:

Edward L. Ayers. What Caused The Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Kenneth M. Stampp, ed. The Causes of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Jean Fagan Yellin - Harriet Jacobs in the Refugee Camps

Jean Fagan Yellin was born into a radical Midwestern newspaper family and earned her graduate degrees at the University of Illinois. A Distinguished Professor Emerita at Pace University, New York, she has edited Uncle Tom's Cabin and other classic American texts, and is best known for her work on the fugitive slave author and activist Harriet Jacobs. She published the definitive edition of Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, establishing the book as autobiography and Jacobs as its author; wrote the biography Harriet Jacobs: A Life (2004); and edited the two-volume Harriet Jacobs Family Papers (2008). Also the author of Women and Sisters and The Intricate Knot, she is a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. With her husband, she divides her time between New York City and Sarasota, Florida.

Dr. Yellin began with a survey of the life of Harriet Jacobs and Civil War refugees in general. Born into slavery to Elijah and Delilah Jacobs in 1813, Harriet Ann Jacobs grew up in Edenton, N.C., the daughter of slaves owned by different families. After a brief account Jacob’s owners and the distressing situation she found herself in, Yellin described her escape from slavery and how she lived in hiding for 6 years and 11 months. Jacobs then wrote of her account life as a slave entitled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. After publishing this anonymous work, she went to Alexandria, VA to help with contraband refugees. After witnessing the destitute situation of the slave refugees, Jacobs became a correspondent and advocate for them. Yellin mentioned that Jacobs was enthralled by the site of black soldiers and would have really enjoyed my blog (OK, well she didn’t say that last part but I’m sure it’s true).

After the war Jacobs and others who worked with black refugees were targeted by the KKK – an element of the story that Yellin says has nearly been forgotten. Most fitting for a discussion on memory.

Recommended Reading:

Jean Fagan Yellin. Harriet Jacobs: A Life. Cambridge: Basic Books, 2004.

Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, & Leslie S. Rowland, eds. “Life and Labor within Union Lines” in Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War. Edison: The Blue & Grey Press, 1997.

Harold Holzer - The Image of the Emancipation Proclamation in Art and Memory

Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, serves also as co-chairman of the U. S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, appointed by President Clinton. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 35 books on Lincoln and the Civil War era. Among them are The Lincoln Image, The Confederate Image, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln as I Knew Him, Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Civil War in Art, The Lincoln Family Album, Lincoln on Democracy (co-edited with Mario Cuomo), which has been published in four languages, and Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President, which won a 2005 Lincoln Prize. His latest books are: Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 (2008), which won the Barondess/Lincoln Award and the Award of Achievement of the Lincoln Group of New York; The Lincoln Anthology (2009), a Library of America collection featuring 150 years of great writers on the subject of Abraham Lincoln; and In Lincoln’s Hand (2009), featuring Lincoln’s original manuscripts with commentary by distinguished Americans; and Lincoln and New York (2009), the catalogue of a New-York Historical Society exhibition for which he served as chief historian. Holzer has also written more than 425 articles over the past 35 years in both scholarly and popular publications, and contributed chapters and prefaces to 30 additional volumes. He has won many research and writing awards, most recently the National Endowment Medal from President Bush in 2008. A former journalist, and political and government press secretary (for both Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo), Holzer has served as an executive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1992. He and his wife, Edith, who live in Rye, New York, have two grown daughters and a grandson.

Dr. Holzer examined the image of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation starting with the earliest editions. He did this via a PowerPoint presentation, so this summarization will not do it justice.

Holzer began with some of the earliest lithographs of the Proclamation and showed how they were very unpopular at the time. He compared these with Southern images of Lincoln cutting a deal with the devil as he signed the proclamation.

After Lincoln’ assassination, images of the Emanciapton Proclamation grew in popularity. Holzer showed a great lithograph that showed the cabinet meeting where Lincoln unveiled his proclamation. For some reason, General Grant is in the meeting, pointing at a map. This artist apparently needed money later on, so he created a Confederate version in which he superimposed Jefferson Davis and his cabinet into the print and replaced Grant with Lee.

The irony, of course, is that Jefferson Davis is holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in his hands!

Holzer closed with several modern images of President Obama and the Lincoln Memorial.

Recommended Reading:

Allen C. Guelzo. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, & Frank J. Williams. The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

David Blight - John Washington; How, When, Where and Why Emancipation Happened

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, joining that faculty in January 2003. He previously taught at Amherst College for thirteen years. As of June 2004, he is Director the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. During the 2006-07 academic year he was a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars, New York Public Library. Blight is a frequent book reviewer for The Washington Post Book World, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe and is one of the authors of the bestselling American history textbook for the college level, A People and a Nation. His book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), received eight awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. Blight’s most recent book, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation, was published by Harcourt in 2007.

Blight began by speaking briefly on the commemorations that came before the 150th and how the most important speech given was the “Dream” speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial.

He then shifted to the subject of his paper, john Washington of Fredericksburg, VA. Born in 1838, Washington was a talented young slave who was hired out to a tobacco factory in Fredericksburg and then got work in a tavern in Richmond. Washington came back to Fredericksburg in the winter of 1861-62 and became engaged, getting married in early 1862. He then worked as a hotel manager. He was there when the Federals arrived in April of 1862. Blight related the story of Washington pouring a round of shots for the black workers of the hotel and toasting the Yankees. When asked by a Union officer if he wanted to be free, his response was “by all means” (a true master of understatement).

Blight then told of how he had the opportunity to talk to Washington’s 90 year old granddaughter who, after he explained that he was publishing her grandfather’s memoir of slavery, stated – “don’t call me on Wednesdays during Grey’s Anatomy”!!!

Recommended Reading:

David W. Blight. A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2007.

John Washington and Crandall A. Shifflett. John Washington's Civil War: A Slave Narrative. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

James McPherson - Slavery, Freedom, and the Union Navy

James M. McPherson was born in North Dakota and grew up in Minnesota, where he graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1958. In 1963 he received a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. From 1962 until retirement in 2004 he taught American history at Princeton University, where he is now the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History Emeritus. He is the author of 15 books and editor of another 10 books, most of them on the era of the American Civil War and Reconstruction. His books have won several prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize (1989) for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, a Lincoln Prize (1998) for For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, and a second Lincoln Prize (2009) for Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. He has received a number of other awards, including the Pritzker Prize for lifetime achievement in military writing. In addition to his membership in several professional associations and historical preservation societies, he is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is now working on a book about the navies in the Civil War.

Dr. McPherson began by telling the familiar story of Robert Smalls, the slave from South Carolina who famously escaped from slavery by stealing a steamboat and piloting it into Union lines. He then stated that this famous story was by no means unique.

McPherson told of 15 slaves who had escaped to the Union Navy just weeks before Small’s celebrated exploit. He then told of Butler’s famous “contraband” decree at Fortress Monroe and how modern day images of contraband slaves escaping into Union “lines” tend to portray slaves escaping on land to the Union army – not by water to the Union Navy. Using the Official Records, McPherson detailed many instances were contraband slaves hailed Union gunboats to come and set them free. This grew to be so common that Gideon Welles (Secretary of the Navy) allowed the young men in these groups to serve in the Union Navy. Thus blacks were allowed to serve in the military in the navy a full year before they could serve in the army.

McPherson made sure to stress that the navy during the Civil War was by no means a free-thinking group of abolitionists, and he pointed out Admiral DuPont and his aristocratic family lineage. DuPont was pro-slavery and noted that none of his officers had voted for Lincoln. Yet still, the demands of war caused them to adapt to the vagaries of war and they were soon singing the praises of the African Americans serving on their vessels.

This paved the way for the Emancipation that would come one year later.

Recommended Reading:

Barbara Tomblin. Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2009.

Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Rowland. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867: Series 1, Volume 1: The Destruction of Slavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Afternoon Remarks by Dr. Horton – The Unfinished Civil War

The afternoon session will now turn its gaze to the memory of the Civil War.

Dr. Horton started by telling a story about a lecture that he gave at Harper’s Ferry called “Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War” that was attended by a large number of Confederate re-enactors. He said it was evident that the “rebs” in the crowd did NOT like the fact that he was saying that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War.

Since there were slaves in the North and the Border States, Horton asserts that some people have a very hard time believing that the war was fought over slavery. He quoted John S. Mosby’s famous post war comment that admitted that war was indeed fought over slavery to the crowd.

He said that people know that there was a Civil War, but they don’t understand the complexity of what caused the war and how that still affects the nation today.

Dr. Horton then introduced the next panel.

Congratulations John Hennessy!

Kudos to John Hennessy for receiving the first Award of Excellence from the Honorable William J. Howell of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission! Hennessy received the award for all of the planning that he has done behind the scenes for the upcoming commemoration and, if you happen to know John, you’ll know that nobody deserved the honor more than he does.

Q&A Regarding Black Confederates

Q: Who’s most responsible for promulgating these myths?

A: Confederate Heritage organizations determined to prove that slavery wasn’t a cause of the Civil War and that slavery “really wasn’t that bad.”

Q: Who benefits from this?

A: Once again, Confederate Heritage organizations and their websites, which all say the same things. He mentioned the famed “black Confederate” photo – which is the header of this blog – (he says it’s the Louisiana Native Guard, but it’s actually troops at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia, PA). A Defense Department web page even promulgates the myth of black Confederates, which Dr. Levin says proves the need to aggressively go after these myths.

Bruce Levine - The Myth of Black Confederates

Bruce Levine is the J. G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has published three books on the era of the Civil War. The first, entitled The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of Civil War (Illinois, 1992), examines immigrants' reactions to slavery and the sectional conflict in America. The second, entitled Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War (Hill & Wang,1992; revised 2005), explores the social, economic, and political causes of the war. The third, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (Oxford, 2005), analyzes the Confederacy's desperate, last-minute attempt to win the war by enlisting and emancipating its own slaves. Confederate Emancipation received the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship and was named by the Washington Post as one of the year’s ten best books. Levine’s next book describes the destruction of slavery and the South's slave-based society during the Civil War.

Dr. Levine began by stating that “one of the most energetically propagated of all Civil War myths” is the myth that large numbers blacks served in the Confederates army. According to this myth between 10,000 and 100,000 African Americans served in the Rebel army. Those who make these claims do so to back up their idea that most blacks supported the southern Confederacy, according to Dr. Levine.

Levine surveyed the reality of those African Americans who found themselves supporting the Confederate war effort and stated that their cases were well known in academia.

They were not, however, soldiers. Not until March of 1865 did the Confederate government consider arming their slaves.

Levine gives many examples of soldiers and citizens who pushed for black enlistment and were harshly rebuffed by the Jefferson Davis administration. He asserted that Confederates were stubborn on this issue because they were fighting to preserve slavery both in theory and practice. To let African Americans serve in the military would undermine their views that blacks were inferior. They were also afraid that if they banded blacks together it would offer them the perfect opportunity to escape. He cited John Beauchamp Jones as stating that there were no blacks serving in the Confederate army.

Levine then reviewed Davis’s decision to arm blacks late in the war and the firestorm of controversy that it caused. He said that those black recruits who were raised were kept under close supervision at Confederate prisons!

He concluded by mentioning a quote from one Confederate that large numbers of black soldiers serving in the Rebel army was a “species of madness.”

Recommended Reading:

Kevin M. Levin. Searching For Black Confederates in History and Memory (forthcoming).

Bruce Levine. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Bruce Levine. “Black Confederates and Neo-Confederates: In Search of a Usable Past” in James and Lois Horton, eds. Race, Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory. Ed. New York: The New Press, 2006.

Ira Berlin - African American Soldiers and the Struggle for Equality

Ira Berlin was born in New York City in 1941. He attended New York public schools and the University of Wisconsin, where in 1970 he received a doctorate in history with high honors. He teaches at the University of Maryland, where he served as Dean of Undergraduates and Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. He presently is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of History. Ira Berlin has served on the Advisory Board of the National Archives, the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, the Council of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History, and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute. He has been a consultant to Ken Burns's "Civil War" documentary, the Smithsonian Institution, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the New York Historical Society. In 2000, President Clinton appointed Ira Berlin to the Advisory Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2002, he was inaugurated President of the Organization of American Historians. With other members of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, Ira Berlin is a co-editor of Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (1992) and Families and Freedom (1996), and Remembering Slavery: African-Americans Talk about their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation. His study of African-American life between 1619 and 1819, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Mainland North America, was awarded the Bancroft Prize for the best book in American history by Columbia University; the Frederick Douglass Prize by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute; the Owsley Prize by the Southern Historical Association, and the Rudwick Prize by the Organization of American Historians. Generations of Captivity: A History of Slaves in the United States (2002) has been awarded the Albert Beveridge Prize by the American Historical Association and the Ansfield Wolf Award. In 1999, the Humanities Council of Washington named Ira Berlin Outstanding Public Humanities Scholar of the Year. In 2002, Ira Berlin served as president of the Organization of American Historians and in 2004 he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Berlin looked at the revolution in African American life during the Civil War, specifically that which happened to African Americans who served in the US Army. He stressed how radical the transformation that took place in the lives of black Americans was and how it was even more remarkable due to how quickly it occurred.

He surveyed the Emancipation Proclamation and the early recruitment of black soldiers. He spoke of how the experience of being a soldier was ambiguous in its affects on African American life. These soldiers went in with the promise of equality from the Lincoln administration, but this promise was quickly broken. They were told they could fight and initially were not allowed to – and when they did, he asserts that they were treated as “cannon fodder.”

Black troops were denied equal pay, which was discussed throughout the black community as a slap in the face. However, Dr. Berlin stated that black soldiers would eventually win over time.

This victory created a sense of optimism and hope in the African American community, especially to the soldiers who returned home with high expectations. These men became leaders in their community and then – sadly – become targets of white rage after the war.

Still, Dr. Berlin says that the black military experience during the Civil War was critical in the discussion of the transformation which occurred when the “world was turned upside down” during the Second American Revolution.

Recommended Reading:

Christian G. Samito. Becoming American Under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Ira Berlin, ed. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867, Series II: The Black Military Experience. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Joseph T. Glatthaar. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990

Edwin S. Redkey. A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army 1861-1865. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Edna Greene Medford - The Quest for Black Rights in the Midst of War

Dr. Edna Greene Medford is Associate Professor and former director of the Department of History’s graduate and undergraduate programs. Specializing in nineteenth century African-American history, she teaches courses in Civil War and Reconstruction, Colonial America, the Jacksonian Era, and African-American history. Dr. Medford was educated at Hampton Institute (VA), the University of Illinois (Urbana), and the University of Maryland (College Park), where she received her Ph.D. in history. She lectures widely to scholarly and community-based groups and has presented to international audiences on topics that range from Alexis de Tocqueville to community-building among American free blacks in Civil War-era Canada. Professor Medford has served as the Director for History of New York’s African Burial Ground Project since 1996, and edited the project’s history report. She has published more than a dozen articles and book chapters on African-Americans, especially during the era of the Civil War. Her publications include The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views (with co-authors Harold Holzer and Frank Williams). Professor Medford serves as a faculty mentor to the Ronald McNair Scholars and has been the faculty sponsor for the campus chapter of Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society for the last 19 years. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of National History Day, Inc., a member of the Lincoln Forum and the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia, and serves on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission’s Advisory Council. She served as a member of the Scholars’ Advisory panel for the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Education Committee of the Education Center at Mount Vernon Plantation. She has appeared on several segments of the History Channel’s “Civil War Journal” and on a number of C-SPAN programs. She is the 2006 recipient of the “Outstanding Graduate Faculty of the Year Award” for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (awarded by the Graduate Student Assembly). Her research awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to complete a study of community-building across international boundaries among nineteenth century African Americans and African Canadians.

Dr. Medford’s paper examined the quest for civil rights waged by African Americans during the Civil War, not only in the South but throughout the country.

She stared by looking at Illinois as an example of a “free” state that was amenable to slavery and severely restricted black rights. During the war, African Americans waged a fight in Illinois for the repealing of the state’s “black codes”, finally winning in February of 1865.

She then looked at African Americans who waged a fight for the improvement of black schools and those who fought for black enfranchisement – especially for those who served in the army. She then examined the Syracuse National Negro Convention which demanded the full benefits of citizenship for all blacks in America.

She concluded by looking at John Rock and his activities on the Supreme Court.

Cassandra Newby-Alexander - Waterways to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in Hampton Roads

Norfolk native Cassandra Newby-Alexander received her B.A. from the University of Virginia and her Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary in May 1992. Since then she has focused much of her research and writing on the history of African Americans in Virginia. Her publications have appeared in edited books and major biographical series, such as the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Her co-authored books, Black America Series: Portsmouth (2003) and Hampton Roads: Remembering Our Schools (2009), were the first to examine the history of African Americans in Portsmouth and the emergence of public schools in the Norfolk area. She also co-edited a book based on a democracy conference held at Norfolk State University during the 400th Anniversary of the nation’s founding entitled, Voices from Within the Veil: African Americans and the Experience of Democracy (2008).Currently, Dr. Newby-Alexander is working with two other historians on a city-commissioned history of African Americans in Norfolk, Virginia entitled, I Too, Sing Norfolk (anticipated publication in late 2009). Her next project, which will be the first one to examine the Underground Railroad in Virginia, is tentatively entitled “Waterways to Freedom: Virginia and the Underground Railroad.” This project will connect with a March 2009 workshop that focuses on the Underground Railroad in Hampton Roads, sponsored by Norfolk State University and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Dr. Newby-Alexander mentioned how most slaves who escaped on the Underground Railroad escaped via ship, and that some of these activities took place in Hampton Roads. Ships leaving Norfolk went to places in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania which made Hampton Roads a perfect place for the Underground Railroad to conduct their activities.

She mentioned that the reason for slaves escaping had mainly to do with large slave sales and that this would prompt some slaves to escape to avoid sale or to join loved ones who had been sold recently. She had several slides that showed the immense value of female saves due to their ability to reproduce and the value of skilled male slaves.

Using slides that showed newspaper clippings from the period, Dr. Newby-Alexander showed how slaves in the Norfolk area would escape in groups – as an example she told the story of a local church that sent a large portion of its congregation to Canada via a ship leaving Hampton Roads.

This led to widespread fear in the local white community of slaves escaping which made them amenable to secession when the American Civil War commenced.

Spencer Crew - The Role of the Underground Railroad as a Cause of the Civil War

Spencer Crew has worked in public history institutions for more than twenty-five years. He served as president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for six years and worked at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution for twenty years. Nine of those years he served as the director of NMAH. At each of those institutions he sought to make history accessible to the public through innovative and inclusive exhibitions and public programs. His most important exhibition was the ground breaking “Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915 – 1940” which generated a national discussion about migration, race, and creating historical exhibitions. He also co-curated “The American Presidency A Glorious Burden” which is one of the Smithsonian’s most popular exhibitions. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has attracted worldwide attention because of the quality of its presentations and focus on race, interracial cooperation, and issues of contemporary slavery. Crew has published extensively in the areas of African American and Public History. Among his publications are Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915 - 1940 (1987), and Black Life in Secondary Cities: A Comparative Analysis of the Black Communities of Camden and Elizabeth, N.J. 1860 - 1920 (1993). He co-authored The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden (2002) and Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives (2002).Crew is an active member of the academic and cultural communities, serving on many boards that work to generate enthusiasm for history among the general public. He is the Past Chair of the National Council for History Education and serves on the Board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as the Nominating Board of the Organization of American Historians. He graduated from Brown University and holds a master's degree and a doctorate from Rutgers University. In 2003 he was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

Dr. Crew discussed the Underground Railroad as a cause of the Civil War. He mentioned a comment from a governor of South Carolina who mentioned the Underground Railroad as one of the grievances against the North and abolitionists in general.

Levi and Catherine Coffin were Dr Crew’s first examples of those involved in the Underground Railroad. There were also a large number of African American “conductors” such as Harriet Tubman.

He challenged the notion that the activities of the Underground Railroad were clandestine and behind the scenes. He mentions a famous slave rescue in Boston and the escape of Henry “Box” Brown as examples of famous activities that were conducted on the national stage. Garrison’s Liberator is also replete with examples of individuals writing about the activities of the Underground Railroad, according to Crew.

Southerners viewed these activities as a threat to their property rights, which pushed them to eventually break up the Union. The image of the “content slave” that Southerners loved to tout was directly challenged by the slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad.

Crew asserted that this was one of the main factors in secession.

Recommended Reading

David W. Blight, ed. Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory. Smithsonian Books in association with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2006.

Fergus M. Bordewich. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

. Blaine Hudson. Encyclopedia of the Underground Railroad. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2006.

Dr. James O. Horton – Opening Remarks

James Oliver Horton is the Benjamin Banneker Professor Emeritus of American Studies and History at George Washington University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Brandeis University in 1973 and taught at George Washington University for 31 years before retiring in 2008. He is also Historian Emeritus at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, and during Spring Semesters, Visiting Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii. From 1998 to 2000 Professor Horton worked with the White House Millennium Council, acting as “historical expert” for then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. He traveled with the First Lady's "Save American Treasures" bus tour of historic places in the summer of 1998 and accompanied her on a tour of historic sites in Boston in the winter of 1998. In the fall of 2000, he was appointed by President William Clinton to serve on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, of which he is still a member. In 2004-5 Professor Horton was the President of the Organization of American Historians, and in May, 2005 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Wagner College. In February of 2005 Professor Horton was honored with the “Living Legend Award” by the African American Museum of Boston. In 2006 Professor Horton was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. In the spring of 2009, the University of Hawaii presented him with its “Distinguished Alumni Award.”
Dr. Horton kicked things off by examining the question of slavery as America’s great contradiction.

He started with Revolutionary America, where the same man who wrote about the notion that “all men are created equal” held 150 human beings in bondage and that the British noticed this hypocrisy as America cried out for independence.

Once America won its independence, Horton examined the compromises regarding slavery that went into the Constitution and pointed out that slavery was not strictly a Southern institution. Slaves produced cotton which became more and more economically important. In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin and by 1820 cotton was more valuable than any other commodity being exported from the country. This led to the South’s staple crop being important not only to the nation’s economy but the world’s economy. At the same time, the majority of US presidents were slaveholders. Horton pointed to James Knox Polk as the greatest example of this. He then stated categorically that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War (and that he knows that that would be considered controversial in some circles).

Horton then went on to introduce the first panel of speakers and the importance of the Sesquicentennial Commemoration.


Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (New Press, 2006) co-editor with Lois E. Horton

The Landmarks of African American History (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Slavery and the Making of America (Oxford University Press, 2004) the companion book for the WNET PBS series of the same name to air in February of 2005, coauthored with Lois E. Horton

Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America (Rutgers University Press, 2001), coauthored with Lois E. Horton.

In Hope of Liberty: Free Black Culture and Community in the North, 1700-1865, (Oxford University Press, 1997),coauthored with Lois E. Horton. Oxford University Press nominee for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in History.

The History of the African American People (Smithmark Publishers, 1995), co-edited with Lois E. Horton; (paper edition, Wayne State University Press, 1997)

Free People of Color: Interior Issues in African American Community (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993).

City of Magnificent Intentions, A History of the District of Columbia (Intac, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1983), Pilot Series editor.

Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North (Holmes and Meier Publishers, New York, 1979, Second edition, 2000), coauthored with Lois E. Horton.

Governor Bob McDonnell – Opening Remarks

As the governor takes the podium, it should go without saying that many in this crowd are mulling over the controversy caused by his Confederate History Month proclamation. That being said, he did receive a standing ovation when he came up to the podium. He made sure to congratulate the NSU football team, which is very galling to me because it reminds me of the thrashing my Pitt Panthers received at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes last night.

I digress.

Early in his speech he wryly remarked, “This is not going to be easy – I know that from personal experience” and then paused for laughter, which the crowd seemed to enjoy. He later referred to his Confederate History Month proclamation’s omission of slavery as “unacceptable” and called it a “mistake”.

He remarked that he was excited for what should prove to be a richer conversation over the next four years of the Sesquicentennial commemoration. He mentioned an upcoming proclamation from his office that will honor all participants of the Civil War – Union, Confederate, and African American

He made sure to stress the diversity of Virginia’s population and how the commonwealth has made much progress since the Civil War. He mentioned milestones in black history – the first African American Governor, an African American Chief Justice, and the Civil Rights memorial.

He stated that the central lesson to learn from the Civil War was that until the war concluded, the notion that all people are created equal was dishonored by the institution of slavery. It “left a stain on the soul of the state and the nation.”

He also remarked that 150 years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War – the anniversary is time to embrace its lessons and celebrate unity.

He concluded by stating that Virginia has emerged strong, vibrant and diverse. In all, his remarks were candid, honest, and well received.

Checking In...

Well, I made it! I must say that the L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center at Norfolk State University is a beautiful facility and perfect for a conference like this. Mayor Paul D. Fraim is currently speaking on the importance of this conference and how Norfolk is a perfect venue for this discussion. Remember, if you have any questions for the speakers, e-mail them to jprice1@live.com!

More when the Governor takes the podium…