Silas Chandler Makes the Cover of Civil War Times

Civil War Times (February 2012)

I just received my author copies of the latest issue of Civil War Times, which should hit newsstands any day now.  As you can see Silas Chandler made the cover.  I love the fact that he is pictured alone and out from behind the shadow of Andrew Chandler.   It’s powerful.  Kudos to whoever made this decision.  What Myra Chandler Sampson and I tried to do in this short article was tell as much of the story from Silas’s perspective as possible rather than the mythical story that has come to dominate popular memory.  That narrative’s treatment of Silas as a loyal slave and/or soldier is little more than a self-serving attempt to ignore or minimize the place of slavery and race in the Confederate war.  He has a much more interesting story to tell if we are only willing to listen.

Myra and I want to thank Dana Shoaf and the rest of the editorial staff for their hard work and for their agreeing to take on this manuscript.  I have no doubt that their inboxes will be flooded in a matter of weeks.  I can already anticipate the reaction.  This is my third feature article in CWT in the last year and I have nothing but the highest praise for the work they do.  Finally, congratulations to Civil War Times on this their 50th anniversary.  Included in this issue are articles by Harold Holzer, Scott Patchan, and Jacqueline G. Campbell.  They also published an essay by Glenn Tucker on James Longstreet that originally appeared in their very first issue, which I think is a great idea.

Newt Gingrich’s Crater

Update: After hearing from one of my readers I decided to pick up a copy of the book and write a detailed review for a major publication. Stay tuned.

One of my readers was kind enough to forward a review of Newt Gingrich’s new co-authored book, The Battle of the Crater: A Novel.  I am not a fan of Mother Jones, but the review is actually quite interesting and clearly reflects that politicization of one of the most racially significant battles of the Civil War.  No, I have not read the book and I don’t have any intention of doing so.  Consider the following:

The novel is intended in part to honor the black regiments that saw action at the Crater and help correct the narrative that says they cost the North the battle. (In fact, they nearly won it.) But in correcting one narrative, it whitewashes another, because none of the rebels we meet in Crater carry with them much animus to black soldiers. The only Confederate we see in any level of depth is a former journalist who, as a matter of principle, never owned any slaves. Our rebel points out, accurately, that not all black POWs were murdered—but that’s sort of splitting hairs when you consider that battlefield accounts describe white Confederates bashing in the skulls of surrendering and wounded black soldiers “like eggshells.”

I guess this is just what one would expect when the goal is to attract the African American community while at the same time not alienating white constituents, who are not likely to be interested in reading about how Confederates responded to the presence of an entire division of United States Colored Troops.  It’s not as if the authors didn’t have access to archival records; in fact, I came across the “eggshell” reference more than once in the course of my own research.

The significance of the battle for Confederates (both slave and non-slaveowners alike) has everything to do with its racial aspect.  Even a cursory glance at the archival record demonstrates that they did not make any effort to conceal what they did and why.  They wanted their loved ones back home to understand just what was at stake in the event of Confederate defeat.  It’s not just Confederate attitudes that appear to be ignored, but by Union soldiers as well.  Their response to the participation of the 4th Division was mixed as opposed to the consensus achieved by Confederates, but you can find plenty of blame and racial invective hurled in their direction.  [Of course, I go into great detail about all of this in my forthcoming book on the Crater.]

How far will Newt and Forstchen go to tailor a story to meet the demands of a presidential campaign?

Instead, the authors veer in the other direction. Gingrich and Forstchen even craft an imaginary scene in which General Robert E. Lee, the embodiment of Southern honor, instructs his subordinates to make clear that black soldiers at Petersburg are to be treated like any other opponent. But there’s no historical evidence that Lee gave any instruction of the sort. Nor did Lee intervene in the immediate aftermath, when his army pushed to return black POWs to their former masters.

Even in the world of historical fiction this takes things way off the deep end.  There is no exaggeration in the passage quoted above.  At no point did Lee intervene in the immediate wake of the battle when it is likely that the largest number of black soldiers were massacred nor did he attempt to prevent the return of prisoners to former masters.  Why?  Because in the wake of emancipation and a protracted defense of a civilian population in Petersburg the July 30 battle reaffirmed nightmarish images of defeat at the hands of armed black men.

I guess none of this helps much in Newt’s presidential bid.

Robert E. Lee on Robert H. Milroy or Emancipation

Lincoln Writing the Proclamation of Freedom

I am really sorry to have missed last weekend’s “Years of Anguish” event in Fredericksburg organized by John Hennessy and including Gary Gallagher, Peter Carmichael, and Jeff McClurken.  Apparently, at some point during his presentation Gallagher commented on Lee’s views on slavery and emancipation with a reference to his January 10, 1863 message to James Seddon:

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Flagging a Symbol Into Oblivion

Old Soldiers' Home in Richmond, Virginia

Here is another story concerning the public display of the Confederate flag, this time in the former capital of the Confederacy of Richmond, Virginia.  A small, but dedicated group is protesting the removal of a Confederate flag from the grounds of the Confederate War Memorial Chapel, which sits on ground owned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  The chapel was at one point part of a camp for Confederate veterans, known as Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1, also known as the “Old Soldiers’ Home.”  In 1993 permission was given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by the VMFA to lease the building, which is when, as I understand it, the Confederate flag first went up.  In 2010 the lease was renewed with the stipulation that the flag be removed on the grounds of research done by museum staff showing that the flag had never been displayed when the building was in use by Confederate veterans.  The following local report adds some context:

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Are License Plates Confederately Correct?

Harper's Weekly, September 17, 1864

It should come as no surprise that the Sons of Confederate Veterans attributes yesterday’s unanimous decision by the Texas DMV as another attack on Confederate symbols and “Southern Heritage” more generally.  It may surprise you to learn, however, that the leadership of the SCV at the turn of the twentieth century likely would have viewed yesterday’s decision as a victory.

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