Tag Archives: Civil War

Durham Days

We just got back from a long weekend in Durham, North Carolina, for a friend’s wedding. I had a great time bummin’ around the area while my wife was busy on bridesmaid duty. Had some barbecue, heard some blues, and took a few pictures…

at Ponysaurus Brewing:

at Carolina Soul Records, where I found some Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, and a Stax Records compilation:

at Stagville, one of the largest plantations in the antebellum South—this one was in the “Great Barn”:

I call this one “Freedom”:

And there was the unintentional irony of a Master lock on one of the preserved slave cabins:

The wedding reception was in a beautiful building near the Eno River State Park:

And our last stop before our flight home was Duke University’s “chapel”, which, come on, is actually a cathedral of epic proportions:

Jasper Adalmorn Maltby

Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.

“A friend of Grant’s is a friend of mine,” said Abraham Lincoln, probably. This quote (were it real) holds true today as we consider Jasper Maltby, an Ohio boy who like 99.9% of the Civil War upper echelon served in the Mexican War in the 1840s, and then moved to Galena, the stomping grounds of pre-glory Ulysses Grant. The Civil War erupted while working there as a gunsmith, leading him to join the 45th Illinois Volunteers, aka the “Washburn Lead Mine Regiment.” He was immediately bumped up from private to lieutenant colonel, which seems like a huge jump. Was Maltby really that awesome, or did they just throw out commissions like hardtack back then?

Regardless, Maltby fought with the 45th at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Vickburg, accumulating promotions and wounds concurrently. Also happening concurrently was the service of Jasper’s younger brother, William, who was a Confederate captain and prisoner of war. In one of those meta “civil war within the Civil War” situations, when Jasper found out his brother was imprisoned, he arranged for him to be brought to the newly conquered Vicksburg and placed under his charge. “Love you bro, so much so that I get to order you around again!”

Jasper served out the war in Vicksburg and remained there postbellum as the military mayor until he died in 1867 from yellow fever or cardiac arrest, or from having a too-massive beard. Seriously, look at that thing!

Up next on CCWN, the flip-flopping Amos T. Akerman.

(sources: 1, 2)

Flag Abuse

Responding to the anti-shutdown right-wing protest in front of the White House on Sunday (which featured the Confederate flag and a rebel yell), Ta-Nehisi Coates gets at something that has long gnawed at me:

If a patriot can stand in front of the White House brandishing the Confederate flag, then the word “patriot” has no meaning. The Nazi flag is offensive because it is a marker of centuries of bigotry elevated to industrialized murder. But the Confederate flag does not merely carry the stain of slavery, of “useful killing,” but the stain of attempting to end the Union itself. You cannot possibly wave that flag and honestly claim any sincere understanding of your country. It is not possible.

I am a Yankee through and through, born and raised in the liberal hotbed of Madison, Wisconsin, and a denizen of Obama’s Chicagoland. I’m self-aware enough to acknowledge my lack of understanding for the Southern mindset in all things politics and culture. But for the love of Ulysses S. Grant, I refuse to give any credence whatsoever to the belief that wielding the flag of Dixie so loudly and proudly represents a mere appreciation of “heritage” and “freedom” and not what it actually represents: treason.

Let’s not forget: Robert E. Lee and his Confederate military colleagues were traitors. Not grand heroes of a glorious rebellion against the forces of evil, as their past and present acolytes believe, but willing participants in a war against their own country. Lt. Col. Robert Bateman writes in Esquire that Lee, “as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin… after all, Lee killed many more Americans than Bin Ladin, and almost destroyed the United States.” It’s staggering to see Robert E. Lee, hero of Dixie, compared to Osama bin Laden, chief executive terrorist and national bugbear. As a genteel general Lee wasn’t a terrorist, but on both points Bateman is nevertheless correct: Lee willingly betrayed his solemn oath and went on to kill thousands more Americans than bin Laden ever did.

I think of Robert E. Lee because people today who wave the Confederate flag and tell the president to “put the Quran down” and “figuratively come out with his hands up” are him. They are him for inciting a destructive rebellion (Civil War, meet shutdown) that was 100% caused by their own party. They are him for scorching the earth to grandstand against laws they don’t like. They are not freedom fighters, nor righteous citizens. The Confederate flag stands not for freedom, but for the abuse of it. In their minds they are still Johnny Reb, fighting a battle that is long over yet insisting that his side won and remains the true keeper of the flame of freedom.

The line between protest and rebellion is wide. Crossing that line requires a deliberate jump that most incidents of dissent don’t make (Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, I think, are included). Properly registering dissent in America is relatively easy. Elections are the clearest means of making one’s voice heard (although apparently these protestors don’t agree with that given their obduracy toward the legally enacted and upheld health-care act). When that doesn’t work, civil disobedience is next (see The Civil Rights movement). But once you make the leap from civil disobedience to contempt for the law, you’re dangerously close to the precipice into which our country fell once before.

The Dixie flag-wavers don’t seem to understand this. They’re off in la-la land where the Confederacy was a great place with “honor” and “heritage” before those damn Yankees ruined everything.

I’ve been to the South. The South has friends of mine. South, you’re no Confederacy. So why do you act like it?

Robert Barnwell Rhett

Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.

We’ve got ourselves a good ol’ fashioned fire-eater here. And like fire itself, this brand of demagogue was a useful tool only until it burned its wielder.

A lawyer by trade, Rhett entered public service in 1826 as a South Carolina state legislator and continued as state attorney general, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. Rhett came out loudly against President Jackson’s “Tariff of Abominations” in the 1830s, pushing secession before acceding to a “tyrannical” government:

Aye – disunion, rather, into a thousand fragments. And why, gentlemen! would I prefer disunion to such a Government? Because under such a Government I would be a slave – a fearful slave, ruled despotically by those who do not represent me … with every base and destructive passion of man bearing upon my shieldless destiny.

This, mind you, coming from a man who owned actual slaves. Rhett pushed for secession so hard that even John “Slavery Is A Positive Good” Calhoun wasn’t radical enough for him, which is like someone calling Ron Paul a moderate. But as this great New York Times profile of Rhett shows, that wasn’t even the guy’s best stuff. Through the Charleston Mercury, a newspaper he owned that was run by his son, Rhett spewed all kinds of obloquial, borderline slanderous “Rhett-oric” at Lincoln, Hannibal Hamlin, and the African slaves.

His secessionist dreams finally materialized in 1860 when South Carolina disunited itself after Lincoln’s election, prompting Rhett to help convene the Montgomery Convention that established the Confederate government and made Rhett a delegate. But like many a fire-eater who runs head first into the messy business of governing, Rhett soon became disillusioned by Jefferson Davis’ administration (Not seceded enough! Not fighting the Union enough! Wah!) and I’m guessing pretty pissed off by the war’s outcome. Though probably not as pissed off as dying from facial cancer in 1876.

Up next on CCWN, the traveled T. Morris Chester.

(sources: 1, 2)

Rutherford B. Hazy (In History)

Rutherford B(eardly) Hayes.

Rutherford B(eardly) Hayes.

Marching onward in my quest to read a biography of every U.S. president, I finally made it through Ari Hoogenboom’s  Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President. I confess to having held the same vague notions of Hayes that Hoogenboom writes he’s commonly known for: that he won the disputed 1876 presidential election, ending Reconstruction, and that he was just another forgettable (yet unforgettably bearded) president who fell through the cracks between Abraham Lincoln and the twentieth century.

But Rud, as he was known, is a perfect exemplar of the purpose of my biblio-presidential journey: to fill in the gaps of my U.S. history knowledge and give the lesser-known figures a fairer shake than high school textbooks give them. In the end I found Hayes to be a fascinating figure, whose presidency was as bland as his pre- and post-presidency years were compelling.

Hayes was raised in Ohio by a widowed mother and a strong-willed sister who both felt very protective of him. When twentysomething Rud was in Boston attending Harvard Law School, both women would constantly needle him about studying and finding a woman. I’m sure he was glad he took his time looking for a mate because the woman he married, Lucy Webb (the first First Lady to graduate from college), helped sway him away from his social-issue indifference toward support for abolition, temperance, and Christianity (though he could only latch onto very liberal Christian orthodoxy).

His newfound moralism continued into the Civil War, which he entered as a major in the Ohio 23rd infantry (fighting alongside future president William McKinley, who was a private in the 23rd, and James Garfield, a brigadier general and another eventual POTUS). In the Battle of South Mountain, Hayes led a charge and got shot in the left arm, fracturing his bone, but in a total Teddy Roosevelt move he stanched the wound and continued on in battle, eventually getting stranded between the lines. Seeing the end, he left notes for his family with wounded Confederate soldier nearby, only to be scooped up by his troops and brought to the hospital. Later in the war, Hayes earned plaudits from General Ulysses Grant that Hayes would brag about for the rest of his life: “His conduct on the field was marked by conspicuous gallantry as well as the display of qualities of a higher order than that of mere personal daring.”

After the war, Rud served in Congress and then as Ohio governor for two non-consecutive terms, the later of which he parlayed into the Republican nomination for president in 1876. Support of the 14th and 15th amendments and reform of the civil service/appointments system were Rud’s bread and butter during the campaign, which culminated in the “Compromise of 1877,” a.k.a. the most controversial election before 2000. The compromise boiled down to this: If Hayes were awarded the disputed presidency, he would agree to remove all remaining federal troops from the former Confederacy, thereby abandoning the fledgling Republican state governments in the South to the reemergent (erstwhile Confederate) Democrats. In exchange, the Democrats wouldn’t violently storm the inauguration in protest. Some deal. However, Hayes and the Republicans chose the presidency over the already withering GOP governments in the South and have earned scorn for ending Reconstruction ever since.

Rud’s presidency continued on, mostly filled with drama over Hayes’ attempted reform of how political appointments were dolled out — Hayes: The president should make appointments instead of Congress! Congress: No. — and more drama over returning to the gold standard, in addition to the drama over the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. (Two fun bits of trivia: Lucy Hayes hosted the first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1878 after Congress banished it from the Capitol grounds, and Rud hosted the 30-year-old Thomas Edison and his new phonograph.) But why the flippancy over Hayes’ single term? Because what he did after it was way more interesting.

In a nod to the third act of John Quincy Adams’ storied career, Hayes unleashed his very progressive views on race, education, and big business and became social justice crusader way before it was trendy. Among other things, he advocated for universal education as a means to ensure the suffrage and advancement of the recently freed yet woefully unsupported slaves. He served on the National Prison Reform Association board with the young New York state assemblyman Teddy Roosevelt and railed against  income disparity and the plight of the poor that corrupt monopolies exacerbated. He was a trustee of Ohio State University (a school he helped to found as Ohio governor) and endorsed the 24-year-old W.E.B. DuBois for an educational scholarship.

Judged strictly on his presidential tenure, Hayes doesn’t inspire much praise. He came about during a time when the party bosses held as much if not more political power and  control than the presidents did. I don’t think all forgotten presidents deserve to have their low reputation reconsidered (I’m coming for you, John Tyler), but viewed holistically I’d say Hayes deserves more than the middling (and slowly dropping) rank he often gets.

William Clarke Quantrill

Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.

If someone made a movie about William Quantrill, he’d be sorta like Lt. Aldo Raines from Inglourious Basterds but a Confederate instead of U.S. Army and probably not as funny and killing civilians instead of Nazis. (Tarantino film coming in 3…2…) Originally a schoolteacher in Ohio, Quantrill toiled for a bit in low-paying jobs, his family saddled with debt after his father died. As a teenager he took up gambling in Salt Lake City and got handy with a knife and rifle before returning to Kansas where he quickly turned to the life of a brigand, earning money through noble affairs like capturing runaway slaves cattle raiding. It was during this time when his erstwhile anti-slavery views soured quickly toward Confederate sympathy.

At the war’s start in 1861, Quantrill joined up with Joel B. Mayes, a Cherokee chief and Confederate major who taught Quantrill the Native American-inspired guerrilla warfare techniques he’d later employ to a deadly degree. He fought for awhile, but soon spun off his own guerrilla band of bushwhackers later known as the Missouri Partisan Rangers, aka “Quantrill’s Raiders.” The group made its infamous name in Lawrence, Kansas, hotspot of Union activity, when it raided the town to avenge the deaths of some the Raiders’ kin in a Union prison. They executed 183 men and boys from age 14 to 90, looting the town bank and making off to Texas, where the group split off into smaller companies.

Quantrill’s last stand came in Kentucky in 1865 when he and a few remaining Raiders were killed in a raid, meeting at ignominious end at the age of 27. But his legacy lived on through one of his ex-Rangers named Jesse James, who used Quantrill’s hit-and-run tactics in bank robberies to great “success.” There also was established the William Clarke Quantrill Society, which is dedicated to “the study of the Border War and the War of Northern Aggression on the Missouri-Kansas border with an emphasis on the lives of Quantrill, his men, his supporters, his adversaries, and the resulting historical record.” In the South, the Civil War is known as the War of Northern Aggression; this may be my Yankeeness talking, but in Quantrill’s case the aggression was all his.

Up next in CCWN, the riled-up Robert Barnwell Rhett.

(sources: 1, 2, 3) (image)

Bringing Old Orthodoxies To A Boil

I just finished reading Fergus Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, a history of the Underground told through a series of vignettes. I enjoyed learning about the unheralded individuals of all stripes who served on the Railroad as “stationmasters” or support staff along the way. But one particular passage stood out for its relevance in today’s tempestuous times.

Some context: The Fugitive Slave Law, passed in 1850, was part of Congress’ infamous compromise of that year and was arguably the most controversial part of an already contentious piece of legislation. The Act imposed legal consequences upon those who aided in the escape of fugitive slaves to the North in order to support Southerners’ legal right to their slave property. But the Act’s draconian measures perturbed even non-abolitionists outside of the South, so much so that the law, according to Bordewich, “became a virtual dead letter” in the North.

This spirit of civil disobedience was not unique to the 1850s, as the book thoroughly illustrates; rather, it was who was being disobedient that was novel after the Act passed. Benoni Fuller, a county sheriff in Indiana—a nominally free state with a proslavery bent – had this reply for proslavery citizens who complained to him about the hundreds of fugitives coming through: “Let ’em!” What made Fuller’s response unique was that he wasn’t an abolitionist nor Underground Railroad stationmaster, but a Democrat, a member of the party of the South and of slavery. Bordewich’s conclusion: “Old orthodoxies were boiling away.”

That last line is what stuck out to me. Even then, before the Civil War had even been fought, the antebellum orthodoxy that said slavery had been and ought to remain a protected social and economic institution was beginning to crumble. While in many ways the orthodoxy continued for decades after slavery was constitutionally disallowed through Jim Crow laws and state-sanctioned discrimination, the idea that a Democratic sheriff who most likely disagreed with abolitionism in a state that was sympathetic to slaveowners would openly balk at implementing a proslavery law demonstrated that the culture was being changed, at least partially, by the Underground Railroad and its lofty ideals.

This is significant because culture changes very slowly. Perhaps it was the animus produced by the Civil War and the events that preceded it that accelerated the culture change, or perhaps it was the overarching sense of divine destiny promulgated by the Quakers and evangelicals who founded and propelled the abolition movement. Whatever it was, it all contributed to the heat that, as per Bordewich, was boiling away the old traditions.

Which got me thinking: what are the beliefs and conventions our culture holds today that are in the process of being “boiled away”? The attitude toward gay marriage is the first one that comes to mind; like the slavery proponents of old, opponents of gay marriage often cite Biblical precedence and the importance of tradition as reasons for keeping the status quo (as Fox News’ [!] Megyn Kelly recently pointed out). But old assumptions about gay people and marriage, especially in the last decade, have been slowly boiling away.

On the issue of slavery, things began to change when regular people, who were neither abolitionists nor slaveholders, started becoming exposed to the horrors and humiliations of slavery (often because of the fugitive slaves that came through their towns on the Underground Railroad). Similarly, opposing gay rights likely becomes more difficult when you merely know a gay person as a friend and can empathize with their struggle to win basic civil rights.

I wonder if the average slaveholding Southerner, knowing now in hindsight that the institution for which he fought and died would crumble and that he would be viewed dismissively as an enemy of what we now consider basic human rights, would still cling tooth and nail to his (at the time) legal right to own a slave. With this in mind, what are the chances our great-grandchildren will look back on this decade and cultural era and judge us harshly for clinging to unjust or flat-out wrong beliefs and dogmas for too long? What sort of blind spots can we see, without the benefit of hindsight, in our own lives?

Will we, for lack of a better phrase, be on the right side of history? For some, that won’t matter: They believe what they believe and that’s that. But for others, it’s an important question to keep in mind when pondering what you believe, why you believe it, and what societal good you do to support those beliefs.

If you consider all of these things yet are not satisfied with the answers, perhaps that which you hold dear—for better and for worse—will one day be boiled away.

Gouverneur Kemble Warren

Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.

This guy had what you could call a complicated relationship with the Civil War. Before that, though, he graduated from West Point (duh) in 1850, second in his class, and joined the Corps of Topographical Engineers as a brevet 2nd lieutenant. As part of the transcontinental railroad surveys, Warren helped create one of the first comprehensive maps of the western United States, which led him through a big chunk of the unsettled Nebraska Territory before the war.

But at the outset of aforementioned war, Warren was back at West Point as a mathematics instructor when he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 5th New York Infantry. (Sidenote: can you imagine your college math professor leading a infantry regiment into battle?). Promoted to colonel in due haste, Warren and his warriors saw action at the Siege of Yorktown, the Seven Days Battles (where Warren was shot in the knee), the Second Bull Run, and Antietam.

A statue of Warren that sits atop Little Round Top at the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.

But it was Gettysburg that put a feather in his cap: “realizing the importance” of the Union’s exposed flank at Little Round Top, Warren earned acclaim and a promotion for his part in the defense of that hill on the second day of battle (today being its 149th anniversary). The rest of the war, however, wasn’t as nice to ol’ Gouv. General Philip Sheridan, notoriously fiery and impetuous, removed Warren from command after his regiment didn’t move as quickly as he wanted. Because Sheridan was BFFs with General (and soon-to-be President) Grant, Warren couldn’t do anything but resign his commission after the war and wait until Grant died to get official exoneration from wrongdoing.

As a final insult, Warren died, at 52, before the final report was published.

Up next on CCWN, the thickly political THURLOW WEED.

(sources: 1, 2) (images: 1, 2)

Jubal Early

Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.

There’s so much Civil War in this guy it makes me want to cry. “Old Jube” (as Robert E. Lee would later come to call him) and his brawny beard fought early and often in the war between the states, but for reasons you wouldn’t suspect from an eventual Southern fire-breather. But before all that silly war stuff, Early graduated from West Point in 1837 ranked eighteenth (like his Union counterpart Rufus Saxton) in his class of fifty. After a brief stint in an artillery regiment, Early took up law for a while before returning to the military for the Mexican War.

But when the war drums started beating in his home state of Virginia, Early was an unlikely opponent of secession; that is until Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to fight the South—that pissed him off mightily. Soon Brigadier General Early was on a greatest hits tour of all the key battles: Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg. He even spearheaded a Lee-ordered run on Washington D.C., which was eventually swatted back by General Grant’s reinforcements. The rest of the war was downhill for Early: defeated by Sheridan, he fled to Mexico and then to Canada, where he wrote his “Lost Cause” tinged memoirs about the “war of independence.”

Lucky for Early, upon his arrival back in the States the Southern-sympathizing President Johnson issued him a pardon, which allowed him to resume his law career.

Up next on CCWN, the glory-bound GOUVERNEUR KEMBLE WARREN.

(sources: 1, 2) (image)

Rufus Saxton

Part of the Cool Civil War Names series.

Saxton was, in the argot of youth, the bomb diggity. A Massachusetts native, his father was a transcendentalist, feminist, and abolitionist, which helped form Rufus’ anti-slavery sentiments from a young age. He graduated from West Point eighteenth in this class, then spent the rest of his antebellum days fighting the Seminoles in Florida, teaching at West Point, and surveying the Rocky Mountains for the Northern Pacific Railroad with none other than Mr. It’s-Everyone-Else’s-Fault, George McClellan.

And then, as the future Great Emancipator said, the war came. Saxton joined up with McClellan’s staff until partaking in what would become a pivotal moment in his career: leading a defense as brigadier general at Harper’s Ferry to push back Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah campaign. Saxton would receive the Medal of Honor for his work there, specifically for “distinguished gallantry and good conduct in the defense.”

But he didn’t stop there. Tasked with raising the first regiment of liberated slaves, Saxton put together the 1st South Carolina Colored Volunteers and helped organize the post-Emancipation recruitment of black soldiers. He continued along this line of work until the war ended, after which he gradually moved up the ranks before retiring to Massachusetts a colonel and all-around cool guy.

Up next in CCWN, the je ne sais quoi JUBAL EARLY.

(source: 1, 2)