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!

More when the Governor takes the podium…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Questions For Speakers

If you are following the coverage of tomorrow’s conference on this blog tomorrow and have a question that you would like me to forward to one of the speakers, please email them to Please include the name of the speaker in the subject heading. Thanks, and I look forward to what will surely be a great conference!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gov. McDonnell Will Speak At Signature Conference

It looks like Governor Bob McDonnell will be addressing the crowd at the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission’s Signature Conference at Norfolk State University this Friday. I will be there blogging live and will do my best to summarize his remarks. The full story is included below.
Sept. 21--NORFOLK — Just months after he triggered a national racial brouhaha for neglecting to mention slavery in a proclamation on Confederate History Month, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell travels to Norfolk State University on Thursday to talk about slavery and the Civil War.
McDonnell issued the state proclamation quietly in April, but the document quickly sparked a racial firestorm nationwide because the word "slavery" was completely omitted. Even President Barack Obama chastised the Republican governor, who offered an apology a few days after the proclamation made national waves.
McDonnell had this to say at the time.

"The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed," McDonnell said. "The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation."

The proclamation was written at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and McDonnell said at the time that he wanted to use Confederate History Month to promote the looming anniversary of the Civil War.

"The Confederate History Month proclamation issued was solely intended to promote the study of our history, encourage tourism in our state in advance of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War and recognize Virginia's unique role in the story of America," McDonnell said in April.

Monday, September 13, 2010

See You In Norfolk

I am very happy to let you know that I have been asked to blog live from the upcoming Signature Conference of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission. The conference is entitled “Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory” and will be held at Norfolk State University on Friday September 24th.

For those of you who followed last year’s conference you will remember the excellent coverage provided by Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory. Kevin won’t be able to make it this year and suggested that I take his place, which I consider to be a tremendous privilege.

I will be summarizing and commenting upon the different panels and submitting the online questions to the panelists following each session. If you happen to be attending this conference, be sure to say hi if you happen to see me getting water for Jim McPherson :-)

Here’s what the schedule looks like for the day:

8:30 Greetings, Welcome Remarks

9:00 Opening Remarks by James O. Horton

"The Great American Contradiction"

9:15 Session I - "Race, Slavery, and the Civil War"

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

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

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

• Ira Berlin - African American Soldiers and the Struggle for Equality

• Bruce Levine - The Myth of Black Confederates

10:45 Break - submit questions for Q and A

11:15 Question and Answer with Session I panelists

11:45 - 1:20 p.m. Lunch break, with optional activities:

Facilitated Feedback Discussion Session

Local Sesquicentennial Committee Roundtable

Harrison B. Wilson Archives Gallery Exhibit

1:30 Afternoon Remarks by Dr. Horton

"The Unfinished Civil War"

1:45 Session II: "The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory"

• James McPherson - Slavery, Freedom, and the Union Navy

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

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

• Jean Fagan Yellin - Harriet Jacobs in the Refugee Camps

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

3:15 Break - submit questions for Q and A

3:45 Question and Answer with Session II panelists

4:15 Wrap-up and conclusion

4:30 - 5:30 Book signing with presenters - Wilder Performing Arts Center

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Perils of Preservation

While the nation’s attention is riveted upon the ongoing dispute over the proposed casino on the Gettysburg battlefield, another important battlefield has sat in obscurity for 145 years – the killing fields of New Market Heights.

Did you know that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the attempt to make the battlefield at New Market Heights a National Historic Landmark? The attempt was made between 1989 - 1990, led by an African American military veteran who wanted the ground where 16 USCT’s (14 African American enlisted men and two white officers) were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to be preserved and recognized. The reasons that this did not happen are illustrative of just how complicated and frustrating battlefield preservation can be.

It all started in 1989 when an organization called The Black Military History Institute of America, Inc. lobbied for preservation of the battlefield. From the records that I have copies of, the BMHIA sent two letters out on February 16, 1989. The first was to the Department of the Interior and it stated:

The deeds of these brave and valiant Black fighting men who participated in the struggle for the unity of our nation must no longer be allowed to go unrecognized. To correct this gross oversight, we are requesting that the Department of Interior, under the purview of its charter, take the following action:

a. Designate the New Market/Chaffin Farm area as a National Historic Landmark.
b. Resurrect the Dept. of Interior’s 1979 study to expand Richmond National Battlefield Park to include the New Market Heights Battlefield and Fort Gilmer Extension.
The same day a letter went out to then-Senator John Warner stating, “As we approach the 125th anniversary of the battle, prompt action is necessary if we are to demonstrate that the valiant efforts of these Black soldiers were not in vain.”

To cover their bases, the BMHIA also sent a request to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Historic Resources for a state highway marker to be placed near the battlefield.

In the meantime, local landowners began to dispute the claims that the Battle of New Market Heights was fought on their ground. Not only did they dispute the location of the battlefield, they also disputed the date of the battle. They maintained that the battle took place on Signal Hill, north of route 5 (historic New Market Road) even though a cursory examination of the maps made by the Army of the James in October of 1864 clearly shows the battlefield to be south of the road. In retrospect this seems ludicrous, but these landowners were apparently willing to twist the facts to make sure that the historic battlefield of New Market Heights would not be preserved.

To combat the claims of the local landowners, the BMHIA enlisted the help of Ed Bearss, Chief Historian of the National Park Service, writing him on October 4, 1989. However, it appears that the institute was not given a place at the table when meetings and deliberations were held concerning the NHL nomination. Still, the movie Glory had been released in December of 1989 and it was hoped that the BMHIA could capitalize on the renewed public interest in African American participation in the American Civil War

Not hearing from Senator Warner’s office, Governor Douglas Wilder received a letter on April 6, 1990.That same day the BMHIA complained that “To date, it is our opinion that efforts to resolve this controversy have not been done in an unbiased and impartial manner.”

Finally, in June of 1990 a memorandum was released that stated the following:

The NHL nomination is dead; it will not be pursued any further by the NPS because of near-unanimous owner opposition…The NPS and the county and Warner’s office are all aware that the battle happened to the south of Route 5, not on Signal Hill. Most of the land where the battle really occurred is in the hands of the opponents….
The property owners...contend that the battle really happened farther to the east and a week or so earlier than everyone else thinks, Bearss and Richard Sommers (author of Richmond Redeemed) being "everyone else."
Thus ended the battle for making New Market Heights a National Historic Landmark.

In 1993, a roadside marker was placed on Route 5 to mark the site of the battle. This was accomplished with the assistance of the BMHIA.

Thankfully, there have been renewed talks about preserving what is left of the battlefield at New Market Heights.

Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia’s Third District has requested $10,000,000 for a New Market Heights Memorial & Visitors Center, stating that "The funds will be used for land acquisition, site preparation and toward construction of a memorial and visitor’s center at New Market Heights, adjacent to the Richmond National Battlefield Park in Henrico County, Virginia." It remains to be seen what will become of this effort.

In the meantime, the portion of the battlefield where the USCTs made their charge against Confederate defenses south of Route 5 has been preserved by the County of Henrico and remains dormant and undeveloped. Part of this land was destroyed by a gravel pit that was converted into a large pond before the County purchased the land. The remainder is nearly inaccessible due to the propensity of Four Mile Creek to flood and overflow the dirt road that leads to the site. Henrico County has plans to devlop the site and erect a monument to the USCTs and on September 25th I’ll have the honor of leading a special tour of the site for the 146th anniversary of the battle.

Unfortunately, some of the land that has not been protected is about to be lost forever due to a developer who refused to listen to a local preservation group. In a sense, it seems as if the Battle of New Market Heights is still being fought. The Civil War Preservation Trust listed New Market Heights as one of America’s Top 10 most endangered battlefields (see here).

Pictured below are some of the remaining earthworks located on County property.

As the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War quickly approaches, let us hope that the protected land is turned into a place where generations of Americans can come and celebrate the courage that was shown there on September 29, 1864. In the meantime, make sure you support your local preservation group as much as possible.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Head “Over There”

So what do you do when you’ve got a lot on your plate, you feel overwhelmed, and you’re constantly chasing your tail?

Why, start another blog, of course!

As many of you know, I have a new exhibit opening up on September 16th that has to do with the First World War. This led me to start another blog entitled Over There so that I can share my passion for this topic and post some of my research as well.

Check it out when you get a minute and let me know what you think!

And while you’re hopping around the blogosphere, be sure to check out Robert Moore’s new post about the WWI Centennial.