Is Civil War News Reporting the News?

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Update: Eric Jacabson reports that no service records can be found for the Tennessee men listed below.  Can’t say that I am surprised.

Well, I guess if that simply means running stories from across the country without any concern as to whether the details of the stories are correct.  Yes, Cathy Gordon Wood, president of Giles County Chapter #257, United Daughters of the Confederacy, plans on honoring eighteen so-called black Confederates, but does anyone associated with this publication have any interest in whether the details of the story have any merit?  Just about every one of these stories that I’ve come across turns out to be bogus.  I wrote about this particular black Confederate bonanza a few weeks ago.

On Nov. 8 service the UDC plans on holding a traditional military funeral for the following men?  Ruffin Abernathy, 3rd Clark’s Tenn. Inf.; Maurice Adams Cleveland, Gen. John Adams’ staff; Tom Brown, Gen. John C. Brown’s staff; Fed Clack, Col. Calvin J. Clack’s staff; Daniel B. Coleman, Co. A, 6th Alabama Inf.; Jacob Coleman, Co. A, 11th Alabama Cav.; Mack Dabney, 3rd Clack’s; Whitlock Field, Col. Hume R. Field; Nathan Gordon, Co. E, 11th Tenn. Cav. and Co. A, 3rd Clack’s; Wash Harris, Cheatham’s Division; Southern Cross of Honor recipient Steve Jones, 1st Tenn., Wheeler’s Cav.; Richard Lester, Co. G, 3rd Clack’s; Robert Lester, Co. K, 8th Tenn. Inf.; And, Sam Maxwell and Neal Mitchell, units unknown; Giles Moore, 9th Alabama, Malone’s Cav.; Joseph Reynolds, unknown; and Matt Rivers, 11th Tenn. Inf.

I would love to know how many military service records we can find for these guys.  Ms. Wood has apparently found pension records for some of these men, but as we all know such records fail to tell us much of anything as to their wartime status.

Is the Real “Glory” Part of Our History of the Civil Rights Movement?

Just wanted to follow up with a few thoughts that didn’t make it into yesterday’s re-published post.  The pay crisis scene in the movie, Glory, is a significant moment in the film.  When the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts learn that they will be paid less than white soldiers protest erupts and leads to the tearing up of pay vouchers.  Tripp (played by Denzel Washington) leads the protest and represents the beginning of his transition to identifying with the rest of the men in the regiment.  Colonel Shaw’s (played by Matthew Broderick) decision to join his men by tearing up his own voucher symbolizes his growing identification with his men and their cause.  The scene fits neatly into the movie’s broader theme of triumph over adversity and the challenge of building unit cohesion.  This theme evolves throughout the movie in scenes involving white officers and black enlisted soldiers, between white and black enlisted soldiers, and even with the ranks of the enlisted black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts. [Click here if you are looking for an easy way edit YouTube videos.]

The climax of the movie involving the unit’s failed attack at Battery Wagner marks their final triumph over adversity and their collective sacrifice around the flag.  Thomas confidently declares that he will carry the flag in battle if necessary; Tripp dies while holding the flag and after rejecting an earlier offer from Shaw to carry it into battle; and Shaw falls after holding it briefly in the midst of a desperate attempt to rally his men just outside the fort.  The unit’s “Glory” not only comes through sacrifice, but in the movie director’s decision as to where and when to end the story.  The final scenes that include Shaw being buried with his men juxtaposed against Augustus Saint-Gaudens beautiful monument to the regiment leave the audience with feelings of national pride and a sense that the men did indeed triumph over adversity from within in order to take part in a war for freedom and against a government that would return them to bondage if successful.  The only story that was possible to tell in 1989, and perhaps even today, is one that fits within our understanding of who was right and who was wrong.  However, such simplistic moral distinctions usually come with a price tag and in the case of Glory it is in the way that facts/events are manipulated.

Continue reading “Is the Real “Glory” Part of Our History of the Civil Rights Movement?”

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment in Myth, Memory, and History

This post was published last year at this time and since my students are preparing essays on the subject I thought I might offer it once again.

glory-dvdcoverToday my Civil War classes finished watching the movie Glory, which is still my all-time favorite Civil War movie. Students enjoy the movie in part because of the heroic story of the unit and the performances by Denzell Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick. The movie does a very good job of addressing the discrimination faced by the 54th Massachusetts as well as their heroic performance at Battery Wagner in July 1863. Like all historical movies Glory gets certain things right and certain things wrong. One of the themes that the movie captures is the slow progress that Col. Robert G. Shaw experienced in learning to more closely empathize with his men as well as the gradual changes that took place among white Union soldiers as they questioned their own racial outlook in response to the battlefield prowess of black regiments like the 54th. This is an issue that my students recently read about in an article by Chandra Manning. As for problems, well, they abound throughout the movie such as the profile of the regiment, which is presented primarily as a unit of fugitive slaves. Most of the men were free blacks from Massachusetts. Other problems include the time frame for the raising and training of the regiment which began in 1863 rather than 1862 as well as the failure to acknowledge Shaw’s marriage at any point in the movie.

Continue reading “The 54th Massachusetts Regiment in Myth, Memory, and History”

Another Example of Black Confederate Gullibility

Following up on my last post I thought I might share this little gem from a site called, Confederate Digest. A quick perusal of the sidebar reveals the typical neo-Confederate texts that are a mainstay for those who believe in the existence of large numbers of black Confederates and who also believe that their existence is being suppressed by various groups.

This particular blogger came across a very short news item from the June 15, 1900 issue of the New York Times. [My guess is that given the political convictions of this particular blogger, this is the only instance in which something written in the NYTs is taken at face value.] The blogger prefaced his find with the following:

Here’s another interesting article I’ve found in the archives of the New York Times which tells of a Black Confederate Veteran. One such article might be overlooked, but the large multitude of such accounts which are constantly being uncovered indicates that today’s “politically correct” view of the Confederacy may not be historically accurate.

Here is the account:

DALLAS, Tex., June 14 – Two negroes, Henson Williams and his son William, were shot dead from ambush in Brazos County, while they were plowing in a field. Officers were searching for a white man who is believed to have shot them. The elder Williams fought through the Civil War as a soldier and made such a good record that he was a full member of the Confederate Veterans’ camp at Milliken. The old white Confederate soldiers are enraged at the assassination and threaten vengeance on the assassin when captured.

That’s it. There is no attempt to find a service record for this individual. Supposedly, he was a “full member” of the SCV, which in and of itself, tells us nothing about his official capacity during the war. We don’t even know who wrote up this short description of the murder. Is it really a reflection of “political correctness” to question these stories and to expect at least an attempt at analysis? I think those people who constantly refer to political correctness as a reason to believe or deny a claim in history simply have no ability to engage in anything that remotely resembles historical analysis.