Make your way over to Vast Public Indifference for a fascinating series of posts on the naming of enslaved and free blacks after Confederate heroes.
The Richmond Dispatch included a great deal of commentary that referenced the presence of black soldiers in the battle to both warn its readers of possible dangers and as a means to maintain support for the war effort. By including such detail readers on the home front were made aware of the dangers that black soldiers represented and, by extension, the threats posed by their own slaves. According to one editorial, “Negroes, stimulated by whiskey, may possibly fight well so long so they fight successfully, but with the first good whipping, their courage, like that of Bob Acres, oozes out at their fingers’ ends.” The attempt to deny black manhood by assuming they were “stimulated by whiskey” to fight reinforced stereotypes while the reference to “whipping” took on a dual meaning between the battlefield and home front as a way to maintain racial control. In addition, the North’s use of black troops allowed the newspaper to draw a sharp distinction between “heartless Yankees” who brought themselves to a “barbarous device for adding horrors to the war waged against the South” and “Robert E. Lee, the soldier without reproach, and the Christian gentleman without stain and without dishonor.” Highlighting Lee’s unblemished moral character highlighted his role as the Confederacy’s best hopes for independence, but also served as a model for the rest of the white South to emulate as the introduction of black troops represented an ominous turn.
The Richmond Examiner not only acknowledged the execution of black Union soldiers, but went a step further and encouraged Mahone to continue the practice in the future:
We beg him [Mahone], hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded, and come shouting “no quarter,” shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work, which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is, until every negro has been slaughtered.—Make every salient you are called upon to defend, a Fort Pillow; butcher every negro that Grant sends against your brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.
“If Grant had a drinking problem, the answer to your question could be that he was willing to sacrifice thousands of more men due to the fact his judgment was impaired by alcohol.” – Richard Williams [scroll down for comment]
Thousands of more men compared to what exactly? Compared to someone who is best remembered as the embodiment of civilized warfare?
Robert E. Lee’s Casualties (1862-1865)
- Seven Days battles – 20,204
- Second Manassas – 9,000
- Sharpsburg – 13,000
- Chancellorsville – 13,000
- Gettysburg – 21,000
- Overland Campaign – 31,000
- Petersburg Campaign – 28,000
Ulysses S. Grant’s Casualties (1861-1865)
- Battle of Belmont – 3,100
- Forts Henry and Donelson – 2,700
- Shiloh – 13,000
- Vicksburg – 4,800
- Chattanooga – 5,800
- Overland Campaign – 38,000
- Petersburg Campaign – 42,000
Yesterday I mentioned that beliefs about Grant and alcohol typically have something to do with larger issues. Williams’s comment is a case in point. If it can be shown that Grant had a serious enough problem with alcohol it might provide evidence for another long-standing belief, which is that he needlessly sacrificed his men in battle. The image of “Grant the butcher” provides the perfect foil against Robert E. Lee who embodies the martial characteristics of the Virginia cavalier. Does anyone doubt that this is exactly who Williams had in mind in his implicit comparison. As the argument goes Lee fought a traditional war of virtuous generals and civilized tactics while Grant and Sherman ushered in a new era of warfare that anticipated the blood baths of the twentieith century.
My noting Lee’s casualty statistics should not be interpreted as an attack of any kind. I tend to agree with Gary Gallagher’s analysis of Lee as a modern general who understood the importance of offensive, but costly operations as representing the best strategy given issues related to infrastructure, manpower, and the expectation of the civilian population. Still, one might conclude that Grant’s casualty figures demonstrate that he did indeed needlessly sacrifice his men in battle. Of course, you do not have to be an alcoholic to order large numbers of young men to their deaths. You could just as easily be a Virginia gentleman.
It’s difficult to deny that the image of women in the work of contemporary Civil War artists tells us much more about the individual artist than the reality of women’s lives or the way those lives were transformed during the Civil War. I pick on Mort Kunstler quite a bit, but his characters beg for analysis and often ridicule. Such is the case with his most recent offering, “Autograph Seekers of Bel Air.” One could even go so far as to suggest that in a great deal of the Civil War print culture women don’t even exist outside of the gaze of men or, in this case, fawning over men – usually Confederates. Historians of the Lost Cause have noted the role that women played in support of the Confederate cause and their admiration for Confederate chieftains such as Jackson, Stuart, and most importantly, Lee. Of course, while there is a great deal of evidence to support such claims, it also offers a very narrow view of women that obscures class distinctions and the hardships that they faced throughout the conflict.
I recently finished reading Stephanie McCurry’s lead essay in the newly-published collection, Wars Within a War: Controversy and Conflict Over the Civil War (UNC Press, 2009). McCurry focuses on poor soldiers’ wives who took steps to organize in response to an increasingly encroaching Confederate government which left them with serious food shortages and unprotected from the Federal army and slaves. In her analysis, McCurry uncovers interstate communication and organization that led to food riots in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, Salisbury, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia and Mobile, Alabama. According to McCurry, the extent that the war politicized women involved a renegotiation of their relationship with the state.
McCurry’s essay (part of a larger and much anticipated book project) represents a small piece of a much larger story about women during the Civil War that historians have uncovered over the past few decades. Much of this literature has redefined what we know about women, their roles, and the consequences of the war on the place of women in the polity. It would be silly of me to inquire into the absence of these women in contemporary Civil War art. Most of these images tell us very little about the lives of Southern white women during the war, though they tell us a great deal about how white men today choose to depict them or what they hope their customers (white men) will want to purchase. And that is their purpose. They reaffirm an image of women as apolitical and submissive in the presence of men and a world where gender roles have been solidified. Northern women may have pushed for the suffrage, equal pay, and other anti-discrimination laws, but not white Southern women. They have always been content to worship and serve at the altar of men.
Just kidding Ken, but congratulations nonetheless on securing a priceless Civil War document. See the story here.