Ed Ayers Tells the Story of Richmond at TEDxRVA

This is a recent TED talk that took place in Richmond. I assume that the maps utilized in Professor Ayers’s presentation come from the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, which is an incredible resource.

Uploaded to Vimeo on December 10, 2013.

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Selling Black Confederates

staunton vindicator, black confederateFirst, I want to thank Robert Moore for passing along this little gem, which he found in the Staunton Vindicator (12/11/1863). After searching for additional information about the source I realized that another reader had passed it along back in 2011.

Fellow blogger and historian Andy Hall followed up with additional information uncovered at Footnote:

There are several pages of compiled records for Dick Slate with the 18th Virginia Infantry at Footnote, designating him simply as “drummer,” no rank given. He’s listed on “Field and Staff” rolls, with no specifics on formal enlistment or discharge. Men like like Dick Slate really seem to be betwixt-and-between in terms of their military status. Bill Yopp, for example, is now remembered (as designated on his headstone) as a drummer, although Bell Irvin Wiley, who actually met him, is very explicit that he was a body servant. Presumably he actually served both roles.

There was special measure during the war where the CS Congress authorized pay for slaves employed as musicians. This was, I suspect, a belated recognition that men were bringing their slaves along with them and employing them as musicians (e.g., Captain Thomas Yopp and Bill Yopp). Not clear to me that this pay went directly to the slave; as in other cases it may have gone to the master, who may or may not have passed it along.

Without clear documentation of formal enlistment or discharge, I wonder what official status Dick Slate actually had within his regiment, or if he was only carried on the rolls as a drummer at his master’s pleasure — which would be an entirely different sort of status than a soldier who was enlisted for a specific term — one year, three years, for the duration, which could not be broken without a formal process and review.

Quite a few of the men now identified as BCS were musicians — Bill Yopp, Henry Brown, Dick Slate — so the actual, official status of these men within the army is relevant to the discussion. Generally speaking, the laws passed by the CS Congress differentiate between non-commissioned officers, privates and musicians — implicitly identifying the latter as distinct and separate from the first two — but (for me at least) it remains a very confusing story that bears further digging.

Andy is likely spot on with his analysis of the available evidence. The Confederate Heritage crowd loves pointing to musicians as examples of loyal service among black Southerners. One wonders, however, how the sale of Dick Slate fits into this comforting picture.

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Before Challenging Fellow Historians…

Look, you gotta get your own ducks in order before you challenge fellow historians in the body of your text. More importantly, your publisher has a responsibility to put in place a process that ensures that those ducks are not decoys. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have happened in the case of a new book about Ulysses S. Grant and historians who have written about Grant published by Ted Savas.

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Elizabeth Varon Talks Appomattox and Historical Memory

One of the more interesting Civil War studies to be released this past year is Elizabeth Varon’s Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War. The book provides a nice counterpoint to Jay Winik’s very successful, but overly reconciliationist interpretation of the Civil War’s final act. Varon recently spoke about her book at the Miller Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. Below is a taste.

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“Southern History is a Custody Battle Still in Litigation”

In March I will co-lead a group of students on a 7-day trip through the South to explore the history and memory of the Civil Rights Movement. It should come as no surprise that Montgomery, Alabama is on our itinerary. In preparation for the trip we are putting together a collection of documents that offer different perspectives on how these communities are coming to terms with their pasts. This New York Times piece about the placement of new historical markers throughout the city will be included in that list.

But Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation. The Alabama Historical Association, which has its name on many of the historical markers around the state, confirmed the accuracy of the research but declined to sponsor the markers, citing “the potential for controversy.” (The markers were eventually sponsored by the state-run Black Heritage Council.) Todd Strange, the mayor of Montgomery, while acknowledging in a newspaper article several years ago that the sign referring to slave markets made him uneasy, gave the project his backing after a meeting with Mr. Stevenson.

I love the fact that the mayor admitted to feeling “uneasy” but still provided the necessary support for the project to move forward. These projects should make us feel uncomfortable. If they didn’t there would be little reason to carry through with it at all.

Sounds like there is a pretty intense backstory to all of this.

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