Bring On Governor John A. Andrew

I am scrapping the black Confederate book project. I just don’t have it in me to work on it anymore. There is nothing intellectually challenging about it and it only works to frustrate me when I think about some of the characters that I would have to address in the memory section. I’ve got an essay on the subject coming out in the December issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era and I may write up one long essay that covers a large chunk of research for another publication, but that’s it. I want to get my hands dirty again and actually figure something out. It’s on to Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew.

I’ve been thinking about Andrew for some time now, but reading through Thomas O’Connor’s excellent book, Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield, pushed me over the edge.

The lack of any biographical studies of Northern governors constitutes a huge gap in our understanding of a wide range of issues related to the Civil War. A study of Governor Andrew can shed light on the middle ground between self-emancipation among slaves and emancipation policies coming from Washington, D.C. I suspect there is also a good deal to learn about how the governor managed to stitch together a united front early in the war, especially given the ethnic profile of Boston and its surroundings.

For now I am going to try to take a bite out of one relatively narrow subject related to the war. I want to know how Andrew communicated with and helped to prepare the officers and rank-and-file from Massachusetts for the coming of emancipation. The question is directly influenced by Jonathan White’s outstanding new book, Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln, which challenges the long-standing assumption that the 1864 soldier vote constituted support of Lincoln, the Republican Party and emancipation. Massachusetts raised and fielded a large number of regiments at the beginning of the war and was at the forefront of the recruitment of black regiments by 1863. How did Andrew steer what many must have viewed as a radical and unacceptable course?

It’s a huge undertaking and right now my attention is focused on the new school year, which is fast approaching. Most of Andrew’s papers are located at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which is easily accessible as well as a huge number of related papers.

Time do some real history again.

About Kevin Levin

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31 comments add yours

  1. Kevin, I can certainly understand your fading interest in a book on the black confederate myth. But please keep in mind that by writing such a book you’d be making not just a scholarly contribution, but a contribution to the public discourse. Your proposed book on John Andrew would have a much narrower audience and impact, I think. In any case, best wishes on your research and writing.

    • Hi James,

      No doubt, but I just have no interest in the project. I’ve written plenty on this blog along with a few magazine and journal publications. Perhaps I will pick it up again, but right now the files are closed. Thanks.

  2. A biography of Andrew sounds like a great project to me. Good luck with the research, If it is even half as good as Remembering the Battle of the Crater it will be an excellent contribution. I must also follow your recommendation regarding Thomas O’Connor’s book- as someone who is spending quite a bit of time of late looking at New York Irish I am becoming increasingly interested in Boston’s experience, particularly with the Irish community. Both O’Connor’s book and your new project would be in the ‘must read’ category in that regard!

  3. I can understand the frustration. The concept of Black Confederates is really just a section on the continuing saga of the Lost Cause. Consider that research is done to study something that happened in the past. Black men did not fight for the Confederacy, so your research is not really about that, but rather how people a full century later have decided to create the Black Confederate myth in order to perpetuate the larger Lost Cause myth.

    A much more engaging topic to research would be the role black men played within the Confederate military. In the process of researching that you would be eliminating the Black Confederate myth of armed black men fighting for the Confederacy and replacing it with the factually correct reality of what black men actually did do and why they did it.

    • A much more engaging topic to research would be the role black men played within the Confederate military.

      I’ve already written two magazine articles on the subject and there are a number of good books that explore the various roles that African Americans played in the Confederate army. I recommend Jaime Martinez’s Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South and Joe Glatthaar’s Robert E. Lee’s Army as a great place to start. Thanks.

  4. Obviously, if your enthusiasm is gone, there is no reason to continue, but like several others I consider this sad news. I was looking forward to reading the book. Maybe the fire will get re-kindled in the future. Good luck w/ Gov. Andrew!

    • If I was still living in Virginia I might feel differently, but I really want to sink my teeth into a local project that connects me more with the community here in Boston. I’ve always been most interested in projects that connect me to local history.

  5. On the black Confederates, as my mom used to say, you can’t convince the invincibly ignorant with evidence.

  6. The black confederate thing was/is bullshit. I’d read a book about Andrew!

  7. This is just about the most inspiring post yet! I so look forward to being able to make these kinds of decisions for myself. The time will come, and it can happen, as you have just shown!! My choice to get a Masters was made after spending considerable time reading posts about whether or not it was “worth it.” My decision to go ahead was, I feel, based on solid evidence, and I know that, for me, it was the correct one. Still, years of my life have gone by and I have written for someone else, basically. I am a MUCH better historian now than I would ever have been if I had not undertaken the challenge, certainly. But I so look forward to the time when I can use all my newly-acquired skills on projects of my own choosing, and then, if I find I have run a vein to its end, choose again.

    Sir, a heartfelt Huzzah!

  8. Governor Andrew was an emancipators who wanted blacks freed in the South but kept out of Massachusetts.

    In September 1862 General Dix requested the governors of Rhode Island, Maine,and Massachusetts accept 2,000 black refugees from the South. Governor Andrew refused averring they should stay in the South where their “peculiarities of physical constitution” were better suited.

    He changed his tune in February 1864 by complaining to President Lincoln that he could not get enough “contrabands” sent to his state. But Lincoln recognized that Andrews merely wanted them to fill the draft quota, and not to settle in the state. In reply the President wrote “If…it be true that Massachusetts wishes to form a permanent home within her borders…I would not for a moment [hinder] them going.”

    • Hi Peggy,

      Thanks for the comment, but this is rather a simplistic view of Andrew and the broader issue of black recruitment. It’s one of the reasons why such a project is warranted.

      • Devastating truths about their hidebound mythologies usually look oversimplified to those who think denial is a river in Africa.

        • I simply pointed out that you provided a rather narrow and simplistic explanation. If that is “truth” than we clearly differ over what it means to engage in serious scholarship.

  9. There are history books that are “this happened, and then this happened,” and then there are “ideas” books, which force the reader to recast the way they think about an event. From what I’ve gathered from your Crater talk (alas, I’ve not had a chance to read the book yet, but I will), you are an “ideas” guy. If you can dispense with the black Confederates in an article and go to an ideas-based project, then I say right on.

  10. I’d be interested. This proposed project sounds like a good idea. Maybe you could find something that could help out poor Noah Andre Trudeau, who is now struggling to piece together Lincoln’s last days.

  11. I think an Andrew book is a great idea. The governors, and especially Andrew, were very involved in the internal politics of the Army which was such a major story line in the first two years of the war. In many ways it was a war within the war which was fought out over what the objectives of the war would be, how the war was to be prosecuted, and what was expected of generals in terms of how free they should be about incorporating their own views into dealing with these questions. The friction in 1861 between General Stone and Andrew is a case study in those issues. In many ways you can’t really know the war without knowing Massachusetts and South Carolina. Yes, this is a book well worth writing an reading.

  12. Very disappointing. No one will hate you for writing a biography of John Andrew, and the incoherent vitriol shoveled your way on a daily basis is one of our major sources of amusement. Alas, you have gone over to the safe side, and will now be seen only as the likable fellow you actually are. That sucks for us.

    • So sorry to disappoint you, John. Of course, there is nothing stopping me from occasionally commenting on the subject of black Confederates and knowing that it brings you and others some pleasure is all the more reason to continue to do so.

  13. It’s a good topic. As I said months ago, the BC thing looks to me like it peaked a while back.

    • I think you are right, Ken, though I don’t know if that alone constitutes a reason not to do it. I always thought of the topic as a way to gauge related issues around the sesquicentennial and how we think about and identify with the past.

  14. It takes a clear head to put a book project away.

    Andrew should be a rewarding and revealing subject. I put my toe in those papers at MHS and am certain you’ll find an enormous amount to work with. Looking forward to your progress reports here on the blog.

    • Hi Steve,

      I really appreciate the words of encouragement. Your book is on my research shelf and I suspect it will get a good deal of use. Let’s definitely try to meet when you are in town again.

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