Update: All I can say is that if you are going to write a letter to my boss complaining about this blog at least take the time to proofread it.

I’ve never had to issue a formal disclaimer for this blog, but with the start of the new school year now seems like an opportune time, especially for a select few.  It goes without saying that the views expressed on this site are mine and mine alone.  I do not write in any official capacity as the department chair and as a history teacher at St. Anne’s – Belfield School, though I do write about my experiences in the classroom.  Civil War Memory has no official connection to my place of employment and the St. Anne’s – Belfield School does not endorse this site in any way.  The URL of this site is is not associated with the school and this website is financially maintained by me.

I hope that clarifies things.


If You Have a Problem With It, Eat It!

It’s hard to believe that this ridiculous story about a Confederate flag cake is still in the news.  There are legitimate issues having to do with the public display of the Confederate flag, but this is not one of them.   It looks like Winn Dixie has taken a slight financial hit as a result.  Actually, I have no idea whether there is a correlation.  The company pulled the cake after receiving a complaint and issued a public statement that this was an “error in judgment.”

If someone had a problem with the cake what they should have done was purchase it and eat it.  In fact, interested parties could have wrapped the purchasing, eating, and digesting of the cake around all kinds of symbolism.  Oh well, another wasted opportunity.  Move on folks, there is nothing to see here.


“They Learn Here to Despise Whites”

One of the books that I am currently reading is Julie Flavell’s When London Was Capital of America (Yale University Press, 2010).  It’s one of those books that allows you to shift perspective on an important period in American history.  In this case Flavell pushes her readers to acknowledge the political and cultural significance that London held for many Americans in the last decade before the Revolution.  I always remind my students that our tendency to view the colonists as Americans in waiting obscures the extent to which they tried desperately to remain British.  This book is fleshing out that idea for me.

Chapter 2 focuses on the challenges that slaveowners experienced when bringing their property to the metropolis.  American slaves were exposed to an entirely new set of conditions and influences, which, in turn challenged and reshaped the master-slave relationship.  Flavell structures this chapter around Scipio, who was the slave of Henry Laurens of South Carolina.  Scipio changed his name to Robert upon arrival in England.  The author uses Robert to discuss stories of runaway slaves as well as the Somerset trial, which resulted in the freedom of one slave.  None of this is new to me.  What is new to me is Flavell’s discussion of the influence of poor/destitute whites on the perceptions of American slaves:

Back in the colonies there was nothing to equal what Robert saw.  What buildings, what monuments, what dress, display and equipage!  The townhouses and the plantations of the Carolina rich only gave a foretaste of the reality.  But at the same time – what poverty, what deprivation!  Even the slave quarters at home probably did not prepare him for what he encountered on his solitary perambulations through the Great City.

What he saw were some of the  poorest white people in the empire, degraded, half-starved, stinking and desperate, stripped of all dignity, people whose conditions was enough permanently to change his idea of the white race. ‘[T]hey learn here to despise whites.’  So wrote a West Indian planter of the plantation slaves who were brought to London.

This got me thinking about the extent to which such an analysis may apply to the thousands of slaves, who were present in the Confederate army as personal servants and impressed workers.  We’ve discussed how different roles played by slaves in the army challenged and shaped the master-slave relationship, but how did the sight of poor whites contribute to this dynamic?  The sight of poor whites and yeoman farmers following orders and, at times, living in squalid conditions may have been a shock for slaves.  More specifically, the strict discipline imposed on enlisted men by officers, who were also their social and political superiors in peace time may have challenged slaves’ assumptions about their own place within the antebellum racial hierarchy.  How often did slaves see the kind of wartime discipline imposed on white men by other whites before the war?  I think this is something that needs to be analyzed much more extensively.

Just a few thoughts on this beautiful Sunday morning.


A Pension For a Vote

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of the help that I’ve received over the years from my readers. My Crater manuscript is filled with references shared by readers and my own thinking has been shaped by the rich commentary that follows many of the posts on the subject.  That continues as I begin my next book-length study of black Confederates.  Today I was contacted by NPS historian, John Stoudt, who came across the following reference in Ed Ayers’s book, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 1992).

The following passage comes in a chapter that examines the culture of elections during the postwar period and the manipulation of the black vote.

It usually took far more than such bullying, though to gain the votes of disaffected or apolitical blacks.  One Democrat wrote to North Carolina Senator Matt Ransom to solicit his support for a pension for “a very deserving honest old colored man  He is very destitute and unable to work and he certainly is deserving a pension (if any body is).  He votes the democratic ticket straight out and uses his influence for the democrats, and in the last election his vote and influence with that of twenty or thirty more colored voters saved the democrat party in my county.”  The white Democrat had promised his black ally that he would “do all in my power to get his pension for him.  I want him to have it and I want him to have it bad.” [W.H. Lucas to Sen. Matt Ransom, Jan. 6, 1892, Ransom Papers, UNC-SHC]

My question is whether it is possible to narrow down the type of pension that an elderly black man might have received in 1892.  According to James G. Hollandsworth Jr., former slaves did not begin to receive pensions for their time in the Confederate army until 1927.  Regardless of whether the pension had anything to do with the war itself, this should remind us that “black Confederate” pensions must be interpreted within the context of Jim Crow and white political control.  Black men, who applied for pensions based on their roles as servants/slaves during the war had to maneuver through this structure and the possibility of financial gain surely would have influenced how they responded on the official forms.  This passage also should caution us in drawing a direct connection between a pension form and the war.  It is possible that some pensions given to former slaves reflect the kinds of election practices described above.


Mac Wycoff on Richard Kirkland

[Part 1, Part 2, and John Hennessy’s assessment of the evidence]

Not too long ago I featured a guest post by Michael Schaffner on the subject of Richard Kirkland.  Mr. Schaffner did extensive research on Online sources related to the Kirkland story which left him with a number of questions re: the veracity of the story. I thought it was well documented so I decided to feature it on Civil War Memory.  I’ve also written a bit about our fascination with the Kirkland story.  In the end, while I’ve expressed skepticism about the story based on the available evidence I am much more interested in our continued attraction to this particular story.  It’s a wonderful case study for understanding how we, as a nation, have chosen to remember our Civil War.

Former National Park Service historian, Mac Wycoff, has done extensive research on the story and has written up his findings for a series of posts at Mysteries and Conundrums.  This is a must read for those of you who are interested in this story.  I suggest that if you have comments that you leave them with Mac’s post so that he can address them directly.  Finally, let me just reiterate that my goal in writing about Kirkland has never been to “debunk” or use the story to “attack” the South.  Such a suggestion is silly and not really worth acknowledging.  I use this site to ask questions.  If you are uncomfortable with the questions that I ask than you really need to find yourself another blog.