Ringgold Finds a Civil War General

This past weekend the city of Ringgold, Georgia unveiled a Civil War statue dedicated to General Patrick Cleburne.  The connection to Ringgold seems tenuous at best as he was there only once in his life and only for a few hours at that. Cleburne took charge of an effective rear guard action at Ringgold Gap against elements of Joe Hooker’s Corps in the wake of the Confederate defeat at Missionary Ridge outside of Chattanooga in November 1864.  Let’s face it, Cleburne has always been an appealing Confederate military figure.  A number of biographies have recently been published, including Craig Symonds’s The Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne & the Civil War (University of Kentucky Press, 1997).  In addition, a graphic novel was recently published.  Cleburne has also bee painted by a host of Civil War artists.  He’s got the cool sobriquet, “Stonewall” which conjures up images of Jackson and he’s also got the whole Irish immigrant thing in his favor.  Clearly, he was a charismatic and talented division commander.  Better yet, he died in a blaze of glory in a forlorn assault at Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864.  But still, one could ask, why Cleburne?

No doubt, part of the appeal of Cleburne is his controversial, but widely misunderstood, proposal to arm slaves in exchange for their freedom.  At first glance, such a proposal singles out Cleburne as something of a progressive minded white Southerner who seems to be on the right side of history fighting for a government pledged to the maintenance of slavery and a society built on white supremacy.  The problem that most fail to understand about Cleburne and others who supported some version of the plan is that they were not, in any way, pushing for the abolition of slavery.  In fact, one way to understand Cleburne’s proposal is as a means of preserving the institution of slavery.  [Once again, I highly recommend Bruce Levine’s treatment of this debate in Confederate Emancipation (Oxford University Press, 2006).  The debate that raged throughout much of 1864 (and even earlier in the war) challenged some of the most basic assumptions of a slave holding society.  While Cleburne – and eventually Robert E. Lee himself – called for enlistment of slaves in exchange for freedom others believed that it was possible to compel slaves to fight for the Confederacy.  Cleburne and Lee understood, however, that slaves would make poor soldiers, but that observation no doubt was reinforced by their experience maintaining a cohesive fighting force.  They also had to deal with the growing evidence of large numbers of runaway slaves, some of whom were returning with the Union army by 1864.  How many white Southerners had difficulty coming to terms with the very idea that slaves desired to be free?  Didn’t part of the justification for slavery itself assume that slaves had achieved a kind of freedom through the paternalistic embrace of the master?

When I reflect on Cleburne’s proposal I can’t help but be impressed with the desperation of a division commander who clearly perceives the military challenges standing in the way of Confederate victory.  The recruitment of former slaves into the Union army reinforced the need for drastic action.  But that is how this plan must be undestood.  It was not a step toward emancipation, but as a means to achieve military victory.  That the Confederacy did not begin recruiting slaves into the army until it was too late suggests not only the controversial nature of the plan, but perhaps also how little Cleburne understood of his adopted “country”.

Gordon-Reed Wins 2009 Frederick Douglass Prize

6a00d41422e9546a47011017bf0748860e-500piNo surprise given that Annette Gordon-Reed seems to be rounding up all of the major history book awards for her recent study, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.  Although I read this book I thought that Thavolia Glymph should have won for Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge University Press, 2008), which focuses on the relations of southern black and white women.  The most interesting aspect of the study is her analysis of the use of violence by women of the planter elite against enslaved women.  Both books are well worth your time.  Congratulations once again to Professor Gordon-Reed.

Blogging Etiquette 101 (Day 2)

In our last class we discussed the importance of providing hyperlinks when responding to another blogger.  First, it is intellectually honest to do so; it provides context and allows the reader to judge for herself as to whether your criticisms are warranted; and it prevents readers from concluding that you are simply engaging in a bitter/personal attack for reasons unknown.

Today’s lesson will focus on the posting of comments by disgruntled readers whose commentary addresses a subject on another blog.  We will focus specifically on a comment that had been deemed inappropriate for publication, usually for reasons that are apparent in the comment itself.  Consider the following example.   The first thing that you will notice is that the comment has absolutely nothing to do with the post under which it is located.  Again, no context is provided by the blog host to explain to his readers why the comment made it through.  The reader is left to wonder why it has been posted at all.  In this example, however, a third party is referenced in the comment who happens to be another blogger and a frequent commenter.  Notice that this reader now has to defend himself apart from the narrative thread in which the discussion evolved.  That is unfortunate.  However, the most important reason why one should avoid this practice is because it prevents readers from concluding that you are simply engaging in a bitter/personal attack for reasons unknown.

See you next time when we will discuss…

Deep Thoughts By H.W. Crocker III (3)

This week’s installment takes us to the end of Part I in Crocker’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.  With Fort Sumter fired upon and Lincoln’s call for troops issued, Crocker leaves us with this little gem about the South and a looming war:

It was its martial prowess–its men born to the saddle and to arms, the military tradition of its aristocrats, and the raw-boned rebel yell of its small farmers, workingmen, and frontiersmen in which the South trusted.  It had never claimed to be an industrial power like the North.  It had disdained Northern efficiency in favor of manners and charm.  Yet when Lincoln’s armies crossed the Potomac, the South was ready with serried ranks of armed, equipped, and uniformed men led by more than competent generals.  The Federals would find that Southern fighting prowess was no trifling matter. (35)

Indeed.  Well, there you go.  Another installment from a book written for people who have very little interest in history.