Yesterday’s post about the unveiling of three plaques honoring Virginia’s post-Civil War black politicians has me thinking about my old buddy, William Mahone. While Mahone is best remembered as the “Hero of the Crater” his role in launching and leading the state’s most successful third-party political movement has largely been forgotten. In Virginia it was intentionally ignored because what came to be known as the Readjuster Party (1879-83) was bi-racial. The arc from Mahone’s role in preventing a Union breakthrough outside Petersburg that left scores of black Union soldiers massacred on the Crater battlefield to creating an opportunity for the largest number of black Virginians to vote, go to school and serve in positions of local and state government just a few short years later could not be more striking. Could anyone in 1865 anticipate that it would be a former Confederate general who would bring Reconstruction to Virginia?
Is it time to recognize William Mahone publicly in some shape or form? I say yes, if for no other reason than it would help to bring into sharper focus a piece of Virginia’s history that places yesterday’s dedication in its proper context. In other words, post-Civil War Virginia makes absolutely no sense without a reference to Mahone and the Readjuster Party. It matters, not simply because it’s part of Virginia’s history, but because it has something important to teach us as well. The period following the official years of Reconstruction (1865-1877) did not inevitably lead to Jim Crow. Interracial cooperation was not only possible in the South between 1877 and the turn of the twentieth century but a reality for a few short years in Virginia. Virginia’s Reconstruction was not forced on it by “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” but by legitimate stakeholders, who believed that a brighter future could be forged for both races. Finally, there is something juicy about all of this being introduced by a former Confederate general. [click to continue…]
Update: Bonus Material Posted Below.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to cut and paste any longer from the “Gift That Keeps on Giving,” but this is just too good to be true. Gary Adams posted the following yesterday. Read the post in its entirety or continue here for the highlights.
Here is just a small sample of the responses from others in the group. [click to continue…]
Update: Click here for additional information from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission’s website.
The plaques include the names names of 24 African-Americans who took part in Virginia’s constitutional convention of 1867-68 and the names of 14 black people who served terms in the state Senate between 1869 and 1890. Two additional plaques list the names of 85 African-Americans who served in the House of Delegates between 1869 and 1890. Just the kind of heritage you want to see commemorated in the Richmond area. Read the story here.
Thanks to Dr. Michael R. Bradley who reached out to me yesterday to share some information he has collected about the 25th Tennessee Infantry which enlisted in Tullahoma, TN, in June 1861. The unit was raised in the Upper Cumberland area. Included in the list of original enlistees are twenty names, spread over seven companies , with each name followed by the note “Free Negro.” According to Dr. Bradley, each of these men was assigned rank and complete enlistment papers noting rank and pay drawn for three months are in the archives.
These names are also listed in “Tennesseans in the Civil War,” published in 1964 by the Tennessee Historical Commission, although no race is noted in that source. The 1860 census however lists each of the men as a free person of color. Here are the names:
- Co. A
Hale, John; Harris, James; Harris, William Alban; Rickman, Abner; Scott, Micajah
- Co. B
Alexander, Grunton B; Harris, Rufus
- Co. C
Burgess, William; Rickman, Joseph; Rickman Joseph A.; Scott, Alex; Worley, Rufus
- Co. D
- Co. E
- Co. G
- Co. H
- Co. I
Fields, James; Gibson, William; Oxendine, Levi–died and buried at camp ground; Walker, L.
This is fascinating regardless of what further inquiry reveals. I am curious as to whether these men remained in their units beyond the first three months. Dr. Bradley admittedly has not followed up on that question nor does he state anything explicit about these individuals or what their presence might mean more broadly. I look forward to reviewing copies of their enlistment papers that are now being forwarded to me. [click to continue…]
You might simply describe it as an elaborate chart. This infographic of the American Civil War is making the rounds today on various social media channels. It dates to 1897, though the directions on how to properly interpret the chart have not survived. Apparently, a wave of these infographics was produced at the end of the nineteenth century and I am sure that it fits into an interesting cultural history of visual representations of large periods of time. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about it, though I do see a loose connection with a Rankean optimism about the knowability of history.
You can click on the pic above for a high resolution image or you can play around with the zoom button at the Library of Congress. Enjoy and let me know if you figure out how to interpret it.