I wanted to share a quick update about my current research project, which has taken a pretty drastic turn. It was only a few months ago that I outlined a project about Port Royal that grew out of another project about Robert Gould Shaw. The ongoing pandemic has forced me to shift my attention owing to the inability to travel to various research repositories in South Carolina.
I don’t anticipate being able to travel to do research for at least 9 months, perhaps even longer.
Because of this I have decided to return to a project on Confederate captain John Christopher Winsmith. That name should be familiar to many of you. Over the years I have written about him on this blog and he is referenced numerous times in Searching for Black Confederates.
I first came across the roughly 250 letters that comprise this collection back in 2005 at the Museum of the Confederacy. I had always planned to either edit the letters for publication or write a biography. It’s an incredibly rich collection that addresses a wide range of subjects. Fifteen years later I’ve decided to go with trying my hands at writing a biography.
Winsmith was a diehard Confederate, who after the war joined the Republican Party, along with his father John Winsmith. The father called for disunion as early as the 1840s and introduced the first resolution calling for South Carolina’s secession following Lincoln’s election. His alignment with the Republican Party after the war led to an incident on his property in which he was confronted by the Ku Klux Klan and shot seven times. He survived.
A few months before his death in 1877 Christopher addressed a meeting of Republicans, in his home town of Spartanburg, in which he denounced the former Confederacy and his own part in it.
That story is worth telling in and of itself, but what clinched it for me is recently coming into possession of extensive documentation that focuses mainly on Christopher’s father. The collection was accumulated by a former resident of Spartanburg, who now lives out on the West Coast. Unfortunately, he has reached an age where he can no longer devote the time necessary to complete the project and as a result has decided to pass on the materials on to me.
It’s not every day that someone hands you extensive research files and notes.
After reading through the wartime letters again, along with the additional materials about the father, I realized that there is a compelling story to tell about a father-son relationship through war and Reconstruction.
I will eventually need to make a research trip, but between the wartime letters and additional materials about the father I have everything I need to start writing. This project has consumed my attention over the past few weeks and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
I promised myself that when I moved to Boston I would research something local related to the Civil War, but the history of the Confederacy and the South keeps pulling me back. Why fight it.