The Late Night War

This Jimmy Kimmel Live skit about the Leno-O’Brien/NBC feud suggests that the Ken Burns-style documentary has become a permanent fixture in our cultural lexicon.  Other examples can be found here and here.  You will have to look closely, but when they get to photoshopping the famous photograph of Lincoln and McClellan in the tent at Antietam the audio doesn’t match the video.  It’s a funny little video.  By the way I am Conan supporter all the way.

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Executing Deserters in Civil War Times Magazine

On this cold and dreary January day I was pleasantly surprised to find complimentary copies of the latest issue of Civil War Times waiting for me when I arrived home.  This latest issue includes my article on Confederate executions.  The goal of the essay is to explore how Confederate soldiers, along with civilians, responded to these events throughout the war.  This is a condensed version of a much longer essay that I wrote for a graduate seminar back in 2004.  Since it’s not one of the more hot-button topics I thought it would make for an interesting magazine article.  I also wrote a 500-word sidebar on an execution that took place in Stonewall Jackson’s command in August 1862.  Since I didn’t get a chance to do so in the essay I want to acknowledge two sources that were extremely helpful with this shorter piece on Jackson.  The first is John Hennessy’s classic, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas and the other is Peter Carmichael’s excellent essay on the execution that appeared in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Vol. 111 [2003]).  Dana Shoaf did an excellent job editing the essay and I absolutely love the layout in the print version.  I also very much appreciate Dana’s enthusiasm when I first submitted the piece.  He has done an outstanding job since taking over as editor.  Luckily, if you can’t afford the print version you can read it Online.  I hope you enjoy it.  Comments are welcome if you manage to read through it.

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Commemorating Secession Without Asking Why

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is hoping to erect a monument commemorating the 170 South Carolinians who signed the ordnance of secession in December 1860.  The South Carolina division is proposing to install an 11 1/2-foot-tall stone memorial as the centerpiece of a 40-foot by 40-foot landscaped plaza at Patriots Point.  According to the news article:

The name of each of the signers and the wording of the secession document would be among the text and images engraved on each side of the monument.  Albert Jackson, chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ monument committee, called the secession debate and the subsequent unanimous approval of the ordinance “a significant action” for South Carolina. Most people are not aware of the history behind it, he said.

Mr. Jackson is no doubt correct that “most people are not aware of the history behind” South Carolina’s decision to secede from the Union within weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s election.  Here is South Carolina’s Ordnance of Secession:

AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the “United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

[click to continue…]

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Where Were All the Black Confederates in the Summer of 1864?

Thanks to Brooks Simpson and Ken Noe for participation in my most recent post on black Confederates.  Their thorough comments in response to a reader who put forward what he believed to be evidence for black Confederate soldiers is a clinic on how to engage in serious historical analysis.  I can’t tell you what it means to me to have such respected professional historians as regular readers of this blog.  You would also do well to check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s most recent post on the subject as well as the clever thought experiment over at Vast Public Indifference.

At one point in the discussion today Ken Noe offered the following:

I recently completed a project that required me to read the letters and diaries of 320 CS soldiers. They wrote a lot about slavery, slave labor in camp, their opposition to emancipation, and their mixed feelings about the 1865 Confederate Congressional debates over arming blacks. But not a one of them–not one–described black men fighting beside them as armed soldiers for the Confederacy. What I’d need are a lot of letters that did describe that. I’d also need evidence that the 1865 Confederate slavery debates never took place after all, because why debate the issue if black men were already soldiers in Confederate service? Finally, some official mention from the Confederate government before 1865 would help.

Before proceeding I want to mention that the project that Ken speaks of will be published shortly by the University of North Carolina Press and it promises to be a very interesting study.  All of Ken’s questions are relevant, but I was particularly struck by his emphasis on the lack of references to black Confederates from the men in his sample.  One would think that at some point a Confederate solider would acknowledge the presence of black soldiers rather than servants, teamsters, cooks, etc.  I don’t know one historian who has come across such a letter, though I assume that a few did serve or were able to pass as white soldiers.  [click to continue…]

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How Much for the Black Confederate?

[Hat-tip to Ta-Nehisi Coates]

Looks like I missed a very interestingAntiques Roadshow last night.  A descendant of Andrew Chandler brought in the original famous photograph of his great-great-grandfather and slave, Silas Chandler.  The piece was assessed between $30,000-$40,000, by the very capable, Wes Cowan of History Detectives fame.  This is one of the more popular stories floating out there in the crazy world of black Confederates.  Silas Chandler is regularly touted as one of the best examples of a black Confederate who fought for the cause.  The standard “neo-Confederate” line can be found here [warning: turn the mute button off first] and you can even buy a Chandler Brothers t-shirt from Dixie Outfitters.  The transcript of the appraisal as well as a video can be accessed here.

I was a little disappointed with Cowan’s interpretation, though I guess it could have been much worse in different hands.  Cowan should have responded immediately to the following from his guest:

The gentleman on the right is Silas Chandler, his slave, or as we’ve always called him, manservant. Andrew Chandler fought with the 44th Mississippi Cavalry, as did Silas. They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17, and they fought in four battles together.

Silas did not fight with the 44th Mississippi.  He was a slave.  And Silas did not join the Confederate army when he was 17.  He was a slave.  Cowan correctly identifies Silas as enslaved, but then goes on to ask the following: “And Silas actually received a pension from the Confederate government for his service during the war, isn’t that correct?”  No, it’s not correct.  The Confederate government did not issue pensions; rather, veterans were able to apply for pensions from the states in which they lived following the war.  However, Cowan fails to mention that while some slaves did receive pensions this did not signify status as a soldier.  The viewer is left to wonder whether Silas was indeed a soldier. I know, it’s an excusable mistake, but in this case it makes all the difference.

We need to be careful when it comes to telling these stories.  We need to be sensitive to the military records when determining service as a soldier as opposed to simply throwing words such as “service”, “fought”, “joined” around loosely as is typically the case.  More importantly, we need to be careful about imposing our assumptions about the relationships between these men.  I am happy that the descendants of these two men are now close friends, but that has absolutely nothing at all to do with understanding the master-slave relationship through Andrew and Silas Chandler.  We need to take care of our history.

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