Lest We Forget

This video is part of a series on the Civil War in Arkansas.  It focuses specifically on commemorative activities and monuments to the Civil War dead in that state.

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Everything is Bigger in Texas

Even the number of black Confederate soldiers.  How many?  Norris White Jr. speculates that 50,000 men “served” in the Confederate army from Texas, though he has only “documented” 7,500.  Mr. Norris came across evidence of these black Confederates while working on an M.A. thesis on Buffalo soldiers in the history department at Stephen F. Austin University.  Along the way we get the same tired and confused statements that reveal very little, if any, understanding of the broader historiography and an inability to acknowledge crucial distinctions.

This is embarrassing on a number of levels.  The article itself is poorly written.  The history department at Stephen F. Austin is referenced in a way that I suspect it would correct if it had the opportunity, and Mr. Norris is clearly misinformed about the subject of how blacks were utilized for the Confederate war effort.  Let’s take a closer look.

“Their voices have been omitted from the pages of history,” White said.

This is simply not true.  There is an incredibly rich body of scholarship that explores the various roles performed by blacks in the Confederate army.

Much attention has been given in movies such as “Glory” and in books and articles written by prominent U.S. military and Civil War era historians to the exploits and heroics of black soldiers serving in the Union forces, White said, but he added that “very little observance, if any, has been given to their counterparts in the Confederate Army.”

This is a common claim made by folks who become fixated on black Confederates.  The United States army utilized black soldiers so there must have been a “counterpart” in the Confederate army as well.  What is lost in this move are the salient differences between the debates in the United States and Confederacy that led to their use as soldiers – in 1863 for the former and in the final weeks of the war in 1865 for the latter.  Even more to the point, it fails to acknowledge in any way the place of slavery in the Confederacy.

He found that black Texans served in the Confederate Army in many diverse capacities, such as infantrymen on the battlefield, personal body servants, teamsters or laborers.

This is where Mr. Norris and many others reveal their inadequacies as serious historians.  I have no idea how many black “infantrymen” or black enlisted soldiers were discovered, but body servants, teamsters, and laborers did not “serve” as soldiers.  These distinctions are absolutely crucial if one is to have any hope of making sense of this subject and it is completely lost on Mr. Norris.

Primary sources, White said, are “100 percent irrefutable evidence — letters, diaries, pension applications, photographs, newspaper accounts, county commission records and other evidence that give primary insight” that blacks were in the Confederate Army.  For example, White found a Texas historical marker in Wise County that states Randolph Vesey was a respected Negro citizen and homeowner who served during the Civil War as body servant and voluntary battle aid to General W.L. Cabel of the Confederate Army.

First, I am not sure how the discovery of a marker is the kind of example that you want to highlight after supposedly traveling “30,000” miles across the state searching through archives.  Randolph Vesey was surely not  a “counterpart” to any USCT.  One was free, the other enslaved.  That a graduate student in history will complete his studies not understanding this fundamental point is truly disturbing.

What I find sad is that even after all of this supposed research conducted by Mr. Norris, all we get here are the same old claims that are commonly found to have been cut and pasted from one black Confederate website to another.  There is nothing new here or anything that points to any serious thinking about this topic.  In fact, there is nothing in this article that you haven’t read hundreds of times in similar articles and countless websites.

How is it that all these people are making the very same discovery couched in the very same language?

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Battlefield Preservation or Destruction at Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg

Update: The above image of the proposed trails was made available by John Spangler of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

Here is a story that should concern all of you about the integrity of the Gettysburg battlefield.  The Lutheran Seminary had embarked upon the construction of a historic trail that looks to threaten some of the most important ground from the fighting on July 1, 1863.  Behind the scenes some preservation groups have expressed reservations, but this story needs to go public and the Civil War community needs to make the Seminary folks aware that their plans for the future are intrusive and a threat to the historic resource that they are committed to protect.  The Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation held a public information session a few days ago only after the project had commenced and damage had been done to the landscape.  From what I am hearing the panel was unable to address how they reconciled the destruction of the land with their preservation mission.  Their plans also include the construction of trails on the western face of Seminary Ridge.  The Lutheran Seminary cannot simply fall back on the position that this is private property since this project has been partly funded by federal funds.

I don’t know all the details, but at the least the SRHPF should be able to answer questions from those people worried about preservation about how this project will impact the physical landscape of the battlefield.  Below are a few pictures that were sent to me that show some of the construction (or destruction) that has already taken place.  Let’s get the word out.

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“It Almost Sounds Like Nazi Germany”

I am usually not surprised to see Civil War-related stories about the continued debate about the Confederate flag or questions about secession make the AP, but this one has thrown me for a loop.  Rodney Steward’s new book, David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity, examines the Confederate policy of sequestration, which was passed in response to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that allowed for the confiscation of property of those deemed to be disloyal.  David Schenck was one of the agents or receivers for the Confederate government in North Carolina.

Receivers moved to seizing property owned by anyone felt to have Northern leanings.  In one case, property was seized from a North Carolina widow whose son lived in California and was considered an enemy alien. In another, a man who owned Wilmington property was delayed for a time on the Outer Banks behind Union lines. When he finally returned home, his property had been seized and he was turned over to the local military authorities as being a Union sympathizer.

That usually meant people were hanged, Steward said.  “Receivers could order people to give account of their property. And if they find what they are looking for — and even if they don’t sometimes and just made it up — they could issue a writ to seize the property and sell it at auction,” he said.  Much of the property is thought to have gone to the people who turned in neighbors. A large part also ended up with the receivers or an inner circle of ultra-nationalists like Schenck, who left extensive diaries, Steward said.

“In his diary, if you read between the lines, if people complain about the war it’s because they are disloyal and they lack virtue — they are not true to the cause. It almost sounds like Nazi Germany,” Steward said.  Schenck writes about building a new house in Lincolnton “at the precise moment that the economy of North Carolina and the Confederacy wasn’t just getting bad, the bottom was literally falling out,” Steward said.  He estimates Schenck personally seized as much as $50,000, about $2 million in today’s money.

While the Act of Sequestration was to compensate Southerners who had lost property to the Union, Steward says he’s not found any evidence money went to reimburse people.  And he wonders how many New South fortunes may have be built on money taken from fellow-Southerners. The system, he said, hurt the Southern cause at a time when it needed support from everyone.  “I think sequestration in the long run had the effect of crushing the will and creating a profound sense of disillusionment,” he said.

I have to admit that I do not know much about this specific Confederate policy, though it does fit into a broader picture of a centralized government in Richmond that intruded into people’s lives in myriad ways during the war.  Most people today know little about these policies since the Confederate government is commonly thought to be the last bastion of states rights or limited government in the history of the United States.  Even a cursory understanding of the history of the Confederacy is sufficient to call such a picture into question.  Perhaps that is why this particular article has gone viral.

Steward’s book grew out of his dissertation, which he wrote at Auburn University under the direction of Ken Noe.  I suspect it’s worth reading. :-)

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Civil War Memory on Acid

This soldier’s troubles only get worse following his decision to desert from the army. Call it, Civil War memory on a bad acid trip.

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