John C. Winsmith Names Names

deserter One of the things that I find particularly interesting about Winsmith’s letters home is the attention he gives to reporting on the conduct and overall well being of his men.  This is not surprising given his rank of captain and command of a unit raised in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Winsmith clearly assumed responsibility for his men and understood that family and friends on the home front would be interested in their progress.  You find references to the men under his command who were wounded or killed in battle along with instructions on how to forward back pay to next of kin in the case of the latter.  Other times Winsmith asks family members to check in on families with loved ones in his unit.

While Winsmith highlighted the bravery and sacrifice of his men, more often than not, the references to his men are in connection to their desertion from the army.  From the beginning of the war Winsmith struggled to maintain the integrity of his company.  He had little patience with deserters or conduct that fell short of the discipline and sacrifice that was necessary to achieve independence.  At times the list of names is long and in some cases the names re-appear over the course of the war.

It should have been obvious to me from the beginning as to why Winsmith went out of his way to list these individual names in letters to his father, mother, and sister.  No doubt, Winsmith hoped that these names would be passed through the community and ultimately tip local authorities and/or shame the individual and family.  Following Jefferson Davis’s amnesty proclamation to deserters Winsmith had this to say.

Well, everything is yet going on quietly with us.  My deserters are doing very well, and I hope their conduct may have impressed a salutary lesson upon them.  Bill Taylor says he will do the thing that is right now.  I expect they will all be thankful to the President that he has offered them pardon.  I see that deserters at home, except Harrison have repented of their conduct, and will come back with Lt. Bearden.  (August 7, 1863)

And a few days later he had this to say.

You are right in supposing that the deserters will be pardoned under the President’s proclamation; i.e. all who return within 20 days. I learn from your letter that Arch Harrison has delivered himself up and would return voluntarily to camp.  I have heard that Bob Bogan has taken to the woods again.  Lt. Bearden has not written me one word whether he has arrested Thomas and Smith.  The only one he has arrested is Taylor.  (August 10, 1863)

Depending on how this project proceeds it may be helpful to map out where the men referenced in the letters lived in relationship to the Winsmith home at Camp Hill.  Muster records may also shed light on whether there was any causal connection between this form of public shaming and desertion in his unit specifically.  Finally, in reference to the names that appear regularly it may be interesting to know whether Winsmith judged between his parents and sister as to who was more closely connected to the individual and family in question.

Gettysburg 1963

Those of you in the Richmond area should make it a point to check out Ray Carver’s one-man show, “Gettysburg 1963” which will premier at the Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church on Saturday February 23.  I was invited to participate in a panel discussion following the show, but the organizer didn’t realize that I no longer live in Virginia.  It’s times like these that I really miss the Old Dominion.  There is just so much going on in the Richmond area alone.

Here is a little taste to wet your appetite.

John Christopher Winsmith Rejects Secession and Embraces the Republican Party

Winsmith Letter CoverJohn Christopher Winsmith was what historian Jason Phillips refers to as a “diehard rebel.” Throughout the war, Winsmith never wavered in his enthusiasm for the cause.  He believed that it was incumbent on everyone in the Confederacy to make the necessary sacrifices in the army and on the home front.  In letters that routinely characterized the Lincoln and the Yankee army as “invaders” and “abolitionists” it is clear that Winsmith viewed the struggle as a war to protect slavery.  Winsmith’s father, who served in the state legislature in 1860, introduced the following resolution immediately after Lincoln’s election to the presidency:

That this General Assembly is satisfied that Abram Lincoln has already been elected President of the United States, and that said election has been based upon principles of open and avowed hostility to the social organization and peculiar interests of the slave holding states of this Confederacy.

The father fully supported the war effort by purchasing Confederate bonds as well as his sons efforts to earn promotion.

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Teaching Civil War Memory in Boston

Memorial Hall

It looks like next year I will once again be teaching my Civil War Memory course.  I’ve already begun to think about readings as well as class visits to Boston.  The class was very popular in Virginia and I especially enjoyed our tours of Richmond, including Monument Avenue, Hollywood Cemetery and Tredegar.  At this point I am hoping to organize two separate day trips.

Trip 1

Trip 2

We shall see whether it is possible to fit in two separate trips.  Either way, these are the places that I hope to have students think about in connection to the memory of emancipation and Union, the role of the citizen soldier in the war, and especially the remembrance of death and sacrifice.  Feel free to suggest additional sites.

Lincoln in the Movies

This first video is perfect for a course on Lincoln and/or Civil War memory.  It provides a nice overview of how Lincoln has been interpreted in Hollywood movies and television since 1915.  The only reference that I was unfamiliar with is the recent short animation, Robot Chicken: Jedi in Chief, in which George W. Bush faces off against Lincoln.  Enjoy.

Why Non-Slaveholders Will Fight For Slavery

DeBow's ReviewThe comment thread following the last post reflects the difficulty of coming to terms with the way in which slavery united white slaveholders and non-slaveholders of the South by the end of the antebellum period.  It is commonly assumed that because the majority of white southerners did not own slaves they had no interest in maintaining their “peculiar institution”.  It is therefore a mistake to characterize the Confederate war as a war to defend slavery.

This is an argument that would have been soundly rejected by many white southerners, including Louisianan J.D.B. DeBow, who wrote the following in his Review in January 1861:

The fact being conceded, that there is a very large class of persons in the slaveholding States who have no direct ownership in slaves . . . I think it but easy to show that the interest of the poorest non-slaveholder among us is to make common cause with, and die in the last trenches, in defence of the slave property of his more favored neighbor…

I will proceed to present several general considerations, which must be found powerful enough to influence the non-slaveholder . . .

1. The non-slaveholder of the South is assured that the remuneration afforded by his labor, over and above the expense of living, is larger than that which is afforded by the same labor in the free States. . . .

2. The non-slaveholders, as a class, are not reduced by the necessity of our condition, as is the case in the free States, to find employment in crowded cities, and come into competition in close and sickly workshops and factories, with remorseless and untiring machinery. . . .

3. The non-slaveholder is not subjected to that competition with foreign pauper labor which has degraded the free labor of the North, and demoralized it to an extent which perhaps can never be estimated. . . .

4. The non-slaveholder of the South preserves the status of the white man, and is not regarded as an inferior or a dependant. He is not told that the Declaration of Independence, when it says that all men are born free and equal, refers to the negro equally with himself. It is not proposed to him that the free negro’s vote shall weigh equally with his own at the ballot-box, and that the little children of both colors shall be mixed in the classes and benches of the schoolhouse, and embrace each other filially in its outside sports. It never occurs to him that a white man could be degraded enough to boast in a public assembly, as was recently done in New-York, of having actually slept with a negro. And his patriotic ire would crush with a blow the free negro who would dare, in his presence, as is done in the free States, to characterize the father of the country as a “scoundrel.” No white man at the South serves another as a body-servant, to clean his boots, wait on his table, and perform the menial services of his household! His blood revolts against this, and his necessities never drive him to it. He is a companion and an equal. When in the employ of the slaveholder, or in intercourse with him, he enters his hall, and has a seat at his table. If a distinction exists, it is only that which education and refinement may give, and this is so courteously exhibited as scarcely to strike attention. The poor white laborer at the North is at the bottom of the social ladder, while his brother here has ascended several steps, and can look down upon those who are beneath him at an infinite remove!

5. The non-slaveholder knows that as soon as his savings will admit, he can become a slaveholder, and thus relieve his wife from the necessities of the kitchen and the laundry, and his children from the labors of the field. . . .

6. The large slaveholders and proprietors of the South begin life in great part as non-slaveholders. . . .

7. But, should such fortune not be in reserve for the non-slaveholder, he will understand that by honesty and industry it may be realized to his children. . . .

8. The sons of the non-slaveholder are and have always been among the leading and ruling spirits of the South, in industry as well as in politics. . . .

9. Without the institution of slavery the great staple products of the South would cease to be grown, and the immense annual results which are distributed among every class of the community, and which give life to every branch of industry, would cease.

10. If emancipation be brought about, as will, undoubtedly be the case, unless the encroachments of the fanatical majorities of the North are resisted now, the slaveholders, in the main, will escape the degrading equality which must result, by emigration, for which they have the means, by disposing of their personal chattels, while the non-slaveholders, without these resources, would be compelled to remain and endure the degradation. . . .

It would be a mistake to interpret this narrowly as the sole reason as to why soldiers fought.  As we all know, volunteers were motivated by a wide range of factors.  Rather, we should interpret DeBow and others as suggesting that slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike understood the consequences of defeat.

“It’s About Heritage”

reenactorsPeople forget that slavery existed in the whole country at the time, and less than 10 percent (of Confederates) actually owned slaves,” Waller said.

It must be about heritage because it certainly isn’t about history.