March 8, 1863  The Gray Ghost

Late on the night of March 8, 1863, a light rain was falling when Mosby’s Rangers formed up for a raid on Fairfax Virginia, known at that time as Fairfax Courthouse. 

Like fellow Virginian Robert E. Lee, the Howardsville lawyer John Singleton Mosby opposed the destruction of the Union but, when secession came, he stayed with his state.  Small and frail as a boy, Mosby was often the target of much larger bullies.  Years later in his memoirs, he’d write that he never won a fight.  It seems that John Singleton Mosby never backed down from one, either.

Mosby participated in the 1st Battle of Manassas (1st Bull Run) as a member of the Virginia Volunteers Mounted Rifles, later joining James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart as a Cavalry Scout.  A gifted horseman and natural tactician, information gathered by Mosby aided Stuart in his humiliating ride around McLellan’s Army of the Potomac in June, 1862.


The following year, Stuart authorized Mosby to form and take command of the 43rd Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, a regiment-sized unit operating out of north central Virginia.  These “Partisan Rangers”, 1,900 of whom served between January 1863 and April ’65, were under the command of Stuart and Lee and subject to their authority, but were not a traditional army unit.  Mosby’s Rangers shared in the spoils of war but had no camp duties, and lived scattered among civilian populations.

Known for lightning raids of the Virginia countryside, Mosby’s 43rd Cavalry would be called together to strike specific targets, dispersing afterward and making themselves next to impossible to run aground.  So successful were they that, to this day, parts of Virginia’s Piedmont region are known as “Mosby’s Confederacy”.

Late on the night of March 8, 1863, a light rain was falling when Mosby’s Rangers formed up for a raid on Fairfax Virginia, known at the time as Fairfax Courthouse.  Deep in the midst of several thousand Federal soldiers and only fifteen miles from the White House, Union Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton was sleeping in his headquarters.  Some sources indicate that he was “sleeping it off”.  The “Gray Ghost” entered the Union General’s quarters in the small hours of March 9, his rangers quickly overpowering a handful of sleepy guards.


Entering the bed chamber as others went to the stables and gathered horses, Mosby lifted the General’s nightshirt and slapped his bare backside with a sword. General Stoughton sputtered awake, demanding “What is the meaning of this!?” “General, did you ever hear of Mosby“, came the question.

Mosby himself later recalled, “There was no time for ceremony, so I drew up the bedclothes, pulled up the general’s shirt, and gave him a spank on his bare back, and told him to get up”.  Stoughton replied, “Yes, have you caught him?” “I AM Mosby,” said the Gray Ghost, “and I have caught You. Stuart’s cavalry has possession of the Courthouse; be quick and dress.


As prisoners came to the realization that they’d been captured by such a puny force, many melted into the woods, and escaped.  In the end, Mosby and his 29 rangers had captured a Union General, two Captains, 30 enlisted men and 58 horses, without firing a shot.  On hearing the story the next day, President Lincoln lamented:  “I can make another Brigadier in 5 minutes, but I can’t replace those horses”.


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March 6, 1857 Dred Scott

Dred Scott had lost at virtually every turn, only to win his freedom at the hands of the family which had once held him enslaved.

Dred Scott, his full name may have been “Etheldred”, was born into slavery in Southampton County, Virginia, sometime in the late 1790s.  In 1818, Scott belonged to Peter Blow, who moved his family and six slaves to Alabama, to attempt a life of farming. The farm near Huntsville was unsuccessful and the Blow family gave up the effort, moving to St. Louis Missouri in 1830, to run a boarding house. Around this time, Dred Scott was sold to Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon serving in the United States Army.

Dred & Harriet Scott’s restored quarters, at Ft. Snelling

As an army officer, Dr. Emerson moved about frequently, bringing Scott with him. In 1837, Emerson moved to Fort Snelling in the free territory of Wisconsin, now Minnesota. There, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson, a slave belonging to fellow army doctor and Justice of the Peace, Lawrence Taliaferro. Taliaferro, who presided over the ceremony, transferred Harriet to Emerson, who continued to regard the couple as his slaves. Emerson moved away later that year, leaving the Scotts behind to be leased by other officers.

The following year, Dr. Emerson married Eliza Irene Sanford, and sent for the Scotts to rejoin him in Fort Jesup, in Louisiana. Harriett gave birth to a daughter while on a steamboat on the Mississippi, between the free state of Illinois and the Iowa district of the Wisconsin Territory.

images (25)Dr. Emerson died in 1842, leaving his estate to his wife Eliza, who continued to lease the Scotts out as hired slaves.

Four years later, Scott attempted to buy his freedom for the sum of $300, equivalent to about $8,000 today. Mrs. Emerson declined the offer and Scott took legal recourse. By this time, Dred and Harriett Scott had two daughters, who were approaching an age where their value would be greatly increased, should they be sold as slaves. Wanting to keep his family together, Scott sued.

Ironically, Dred Scott’s suit in state court, Scott v. Emerson, was financially backed by three now-adult Blow children, who had since become abolitionists. The legal position stood on solid ground, based on the doctrine “Once free, always free”. The Scott family had resided in free states and territories for two years, and their eldest daughter was born on the Mississippi River, between a free state and a free territory.

The verdict went against Scott but the judge ordered a retrial, which was held in January, 1850. This time, the jury ruled in favor of Dred Scott’s freedom. Emerson appealed and the Missouri supreme court struck down the lower court ruling, along with 28 years of Missouri precedent.

By 1853, Eliza Emerson had remarried and moved to Massachusetts, transferring ownership of the Scott family to her brother, John Sanford. Scott sued in federal district court, on the legal basis that the federal courts held “diversity jurisdiction”, since Sanford lived in one state (New York), and Scott in another (Missouri). Dred Scott lost once again and appealed to the United States Supreme Court, a clerical misspelling erroneously recording the case as Dred Scott v. Sandford.

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the 7-2 majority opinion, enunciating one of the stupidest decisions, in the history of American jurisprudence:
“[Americans of African ancestry] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it”.

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Frederick Douglass

The highest court in the land had ruled that slaves were private property and not citizens, with no right to legal recourse. Furthermore, the United States Congress had erred in attempting to regulate slavery in the territories, and had no right to revoke the property rights of a slave owner, based on his place of residence.

The response to the SCOTUS opinion was immediate, and vehement. Rather than settle the issue of slavery, the decision inflamed public opinion, dividing an already fractured country, further. Frederick Douglass assailed Chief Justice Taney’s opinion, noting that:

“We are now told, in tones of lofty exultation, that the day is lost all lost and that we might as well give up the struggle. The highest authority has spoken. The voice of the Supreme Court has gone out over the troubled waves of the National Conscience, saying peace, be still . . . The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only power in this world. It is very great, but the Supreme Court of the Almighty is greater”.

Dred Scott, photograph circa 1857

The Supreme Court had spoken, but the Dred Scott story was far from over.  Eliza Irene Emerson’s new husband was Calvin C. Chaffee, a member of the United States Congress, and an abolitionist.

Following the Dred Scott decision, the Chaffees deeded the Scott family over to Henry Taylor Blow, now a member of the United States House of Representatives from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional district, who manumitted the family on May 26. Dred Scott had lost at virtually every turn, only to win his freedom at the hands of the family which had once held him enslaved.

For Harriett and the two Scott daughters, it was the best of all possible outcomes.  For Scott himself, freedom was short-lived.  Dred Scott died of tuberculosis, the following year.

Nationally, the Dred Scott decision had the effect of hardening enmities already nearing white-hot, increasing animosities within and between pro- and anti-slavery factions in North and South, alike. Politically, the Democratic party was broken into factions and severely weakened,  while the fledgling Republican party was strengthened, as the nation was inexorably drawn to Civil War.

Slaves Issues Plague the Democratic Party

The issue of Black citizenship was settled in 1868, via Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside …”

Dred Scott is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The marker next to his headstone reads: “In Memory Of A Simple Man Who Wanted To Be Free.”


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February 17, 1864  My life Preserver

Author and adventurer Clive Cussler found the sub in 1995, buried in silt under 32′ of water. 

Civil War-era cartoon depicts Winfield Scott’s “Great Snake”

In the 1850s, the economy of the southern United States was mostly agrarian.  When civil war broke out in 1861, the Confederate states depended to a greater degree on imported manufactured goods, compared with the more industrialized states to the north.  For the Union, there was strategic advantage in cutting off this flow of manufactured goods.  So it was the “Anaconda Plan” was initiated, to choke off traffic to southern ports and harbors.

Few in the Confederacy understood the need to keep southern ports open, as well as the planter, legislator, and southern patriot Horace Lawson Hunley.

In 1861, Hunley joined forces with James McClintock and Baxter Watson to design and build a secret Super Weapon for the Confederacy.  A submarine.  The trio completed construction on its first effort, the Pioneer, that same year in New Orleans.  The team went on to build two more submarines in Mobile, Alabama:  the American Diver, and the last and most successful creation, the “Fishboat“, later renamed HL Hunley.

An oil painting by Conrad Wise Chapman, “Submarine Torpedo Boat H.L. Hunley, Dec. 6, 1863”

After a short sea trial in Mobile, the Hunley was put on a train and shipped up to Charleston, South Carolina, to help break the blockade.  Arriving on August 12, 1863, she was 40′ long by 4′ wide, displacing about 7½ tons.  She was designed for a crew of 8, with 7 operating a hand crank and the 8th steering the boat.

A test run on August 29 ended in disaster, when Skipper John A. Payne accidentally stepped on the lever controlling the diving planes, with the hatches open.  Payne and two others escaped, but the other five crew members went to the bottom.

confederatesA second crew tested the submarine on October 15, this one including Horace Hunley himself.  The submarine conducted a mock attack but failed to surface afterward, this time drowning all 8 crew members.

Despite those two disastrous test runs, there was no shortage of volunteers.  Once again, the Hunley was fished up from the bottom.

The original plan was to tow a floating mine called a “torpedo”, with a contact fuse.  They would dive beneath their victim and surface on the other side, pulling the torpedo into the side of the target.

images (21)Tide and current conditions in Charleston proved very different from those in Mobile.  On several test runs, the torpedo floated out ahead of the sub.  That wouldn’t do, so a spar was fashioned and mounted to the bow.  At the end of the spar was a 137lb waterproof cask of powder, attached to a harpoon-like device with which Hunley would ram its target.

Hunley made her first live attack run four miles outside of Charleston Harbor, on the night of February 17, 1864. Lieutenant George Dixon and a crew of seven attacked USS Housatonic, a 1,240 ton steam powered sloop of war, embedding the spar torpedo into Housatonic’s hull.  It must have been a sight to see.  The torpedo ignited a 4,000 lb store of black powder in the hull of the ship, exploding with a deafening roar and a towering column of flame that lit up the night.

Housatonic was gone in three minutes, killing five sailors.  What happened next, is a mystery.  The first successful attack sub in history, vanished.  The Hunley crew would not be seen again, for 136 years.

Forensic facial reconstructions techniques bring back the faces of the last crew of HL Hunley

Author and adventurer Clive Cussler found the sub in 1995, buried in silt under 32′ of water.  A painstaking, five year effort was launched to bring Hunley to the surface, and on August 8, 2000, HL Hunley returned to the light of day.  The sub was moved to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in the Charleston Navy Yard, and submerged in 55,000 gallons of chilled, fresh water, where scientists and historians worked on unlocking its secrets.

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There was an old rumor that Lt. Dixon left a girlfriend in Mobile, Alabama, a woman named Queenie Bennett.  She had given him a $20 gold piece, a good luck charm and token of her affection.  Dixon was shot in the hip at Shiloh, the story goes, a wound that should have killed him.  If the bullet hadn’t struck the gold piece in his pocket.

No one knew if the story was true, until excavation started inside the sub.  Senior Archaeologist Maria Jacobsen found the coin, next to the remains of George E. Dixon.  “Some people may think this is a stroke of luck,” she said, “but perhaps it’s something else. They tell me that Lt. Dixon was a lady’s man, perhaps he winked at us yesterday to remind us that he still is”.

140214143335-07-hl-hunley-coin-horizontal-large-galleryOn the coin, clearly showing signs of having been struck by a bullet, are inscribed these words:


April 6, 1862

My life Preserver



If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 21, 1824 Stonewall

Today we remember Stonewall Jackson as a brilliant military tactician and Confederate commander, second only to Robert E. Lee.  Who knew that the man was also a civil rights leader.  Real history is so much more interesting than the political and pop culture varieties.

Cheers rang out in the streets of Washington DC, as General Irvin McDowell’s Army of the Potomac marched out to meet the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah, led by Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard.  The first major battle of the Civil War was joined on July 21, in what Confederates called the Battle of 1st Manassas, and the Federals called 1st Bull Run.

First Manassas July 21, 1861 SquareOn that July morning, no one had any idea of the years-long bloodbath that lay ahead.  35,000 Federal troops, 90-day recruits all, had arrived to crush a trifling force of rebels.  Then on to Richmond, the Confederate capitol, and the end of the uprising.

The atmosphere was festive, like a football game.  The upper crust of Washington society had turned out in their carriages.  There was wine and picnic baskets, society ladies and their beaus, congressmen and their families, all arrived to watch the show.

Green and inexperienced as they were, the fighting was at times confused, and could have gone either way.  The tide of the battle turned at 4pm, with the capture of Artillery Captain James Ricketts’ guns. An hour later the Union position began to disintegrate.  Soon, a disorderly retreat turned into a rout, a blue-clad stampede back to Washington, on roads clogged with panicked civilians, attempting to flee in their carriages.

The battle could have ended differently, when Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman struck the right flank of the Confederate defenders near Henry House Hill, collapsing the Rebel line and sending it into disorderly retreat.  The Virginia Brigade of General Thomas Jonathan Jackson came up at this point, taking a defensive position on Henry House Hill.  Brigadier General Barnard Bee exhorted his troops to reform, shouting “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians.”

Confederate General and VMI Professor Thomas Jonathan Jackson wore a blue uniform, at the Battle of 1st Manassas.  Note the 1st (of three) Confederate national flags, the “Stars and Bars”.

Some will tell you that Bee’s comment was meant to be pejorative, as in “Look at Jackson standing there like a stone wall!”  We’ll never know. General Bee was shot in the abdomen and died the next day.  The legend of “Stonewall Jackson”, was here to stay.

Born in Clarksburg Virginia on January 21, 1824, the boy lost his father at age two and his mother, five years later.  Largely self-educated, the future Civil War General went to live with an uncle.  As a boy, Jackson made a deal with one of his uncle’s slaves, to teach the man to read.  It was illegal at this time, to teach blacks to read, but Jackson was as good as his word, receiving pine knots in exchange for lessons.

Stonewall Jackson pictured astride his favorite mount, “Little Sorrel”

Thomas Jonathan Jackson was a devoutly religious man, said to fear only God.  “My religious belief teaches me” he said, “to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”

Jackson was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point New York, graduating in 1846 and serving in the Mexican-American war.  Returning to civil life in 1851, Jackson moved to Lexington Virginia, where he worked as a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (Physics), and instructor of artillery at the Virginia Military Institute.

Though himself an owner of African slaves from a family of slave owners, Thomas Jackson was well regarded among the free and enslaved blacks of Lexington.  This may sound paradoxical to the modern reader, but the players in this story were products of their time.  Not ours.

sjchurJackson believed that slavery existed because the Creator willed it.  His mission was to save their souls, by teaching them the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed.

So it was that Jackson and his wife established the Lexington Presbyterian Church Sunday School. There, contrary to state law. the pair taught African-American children to read and write, continuing to do so until Jackson went to war, in 1861.  The next time he would visit was to be buried there, in 1863.

Jackson’s military career reads like a timeline of his era.  The Great Train Raid of 1861.  Falling Waters. Bull Run (Manassas), 1st and 2nd. The Romney Expedition.  The Valley Campaign. The Seven Days’ Battles. The Northern Virginia Campaign. The Maryland Campaign, Harpers Ferry, Antietam and Fredericksburg.  And the last.  Chancellorsville.  The Virginia town where the story of Stonewall Jackson comes to an end.

Returning to camp on May 2, 1863, Jackson and his staff were mistaken in the rain and darkness for a Union cavalry force.   A nervous sentry from the 18th North Carolina shouted, “Halt, who goes there?”, and fired before things sorted out.  Frantic shouts from Jackson’s party trying to identify themselves were met by Major John Barry, who shouted, “It’s a damned Yankee trick! Fire!”  Several of Jackson’s men were killed on the spot, along with a number of horses.  Jackson himself was shot twice in the left arm, and once in the right hand.

Robert E. Lee wrote to the General, on learning of his injuries:  “Could I have directed events, I would have chosen for the good of the country to be disabled in your stead.”

There was no saving Jackson’s arm.  The limb was amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire, the following day  Jackson was moved to the office building at the Chandler plantation in Guinea Station.  General Lee complained, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”


By that time, Jackson was already developing a tightness in his chest, an early sign of pneumonia.

Before antibiotics, doctors could predict the hour of death, of pneumonia patients.  On May 10, eight days after being shot, Jackson was breathing his last.  “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.”

Dr. McGuire wrote the following account of Stonewall Jackson’s last words:  “A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, ‘Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks —’ then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’

CW-334 Last Tribute of Respect
“Last Tribute of Respect”, by Mort Künstler

In 1906, Reverend LL Downing raised money to install a memorial window in the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church of Roanoke, dedicated to Stonewall Jackson.  And to Reverend Dowling’s own parents, who as slave children had been educated in Jackson’s Sunday school.  It may be the only “black” church in the country, with a stain-glass window dedicated to a Confederate General.


CBS Sunday Morning did an interesting segment on the church and its window, amidst the current hysteria involving Confederate monuments.  Their article and the video, are linked here.

Today we remember Stonewall Jackson as a brilliant military tactician and Confederate commander, second only to Robert E. Lee.  Who knew that the man was also a civil rights leader.  Real history is so much more interesting than the political and pop culture varieties.

Feature Image, top, by 20th century artist and illustrator, N. C. Wyeth

January 13, 1997 Buffalo Soldier

After the war, the town of Sommocolonia erected a Memorial, to nine brave soldiers who gave their lives, that their brothers might live.  Eight Italians, and one American.

In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G, United States 10th Cavalry Regiment, was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on the trio. The two civilians were killed in the initial attack and Randall’s horse shot out from under him.

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Private John Randall

Cornered in a washout under some railroad tracks, Randall single handedly held off the attack with his revolver, despite a gunshot wound to his shoulder and no fewer than 11 lance wounds.

By the time help arrived, 13 Cheyenne warriors lay dead.  Private Randall was still standing. Word spread among the Cheyenne about a new kind of soldier, “who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair.”

167090-049-69103B80On July 28, 1866, the Army Reorganization Act authorized the formation of 30 new units, including two cavalry and four infantry regiments “which shall be composed of colored men.”

The 10th US Cavalry, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was the first unit of “Negro Cavalry”.  The 10th would soon be joined by the 9th, 24th and 25th Cavalry, all-black units which would come to be known as “Buffalo Soldiers”.

While several all-black regiments were formed during the Civil War, including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry depicted in the movie “Glory”, these were the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular Army.

ww1buffsoldThe original units fought in the American Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Border War and two World Wars, amassing 22 Medals of Honor by the end of WW1.

The old met the new during WWII, when 1st Sergeant Mark Matthews, veteran of the Pancho Villa Expedition, WW1, WW2 and the Battle of Saipan, was sent to train with the Tuskeegee Airmen.

In the end, Matthews would prove too old to fly.  A member of the Buffalo Soldiers Drum & Bugle Corps, Matthews would play taps at Arlington National Cemetery, always from the woods. Blacks of the era were not allowed at “white” funerals.

Mark Matthews

Matthews retired shortly before the Buffalo Soldiers were disbanded, part of President Truman’s effort to integrate United States’ armed forces.

In December 1944, the segregated 366th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division (colored), the Buffalo Soldiers, were fighting in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, in northern Italy.

On Christmas day, German soldiers began to infiltrate the town, disguised as civilians.  A heavy artillery barrage began in the early morning hours of the 26th, followed by an overwhelming attack of enemy ground forces.  Vastly outnumbered, American infantry were forced to conduct a fighting retreat.

1st Lieutenant John R. Fox, forward observer for the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, volunteered to stay behind with a small Italian force, to help slow the enemy advance.

From the second floor of a house, Lieutenant Fox directed American defensive fire by radio, adjusting each salvo closer to his own position.  Warned that his final adjustment would bring artillery fire down on his head, the soldier who received the message was stunned at the response. 1st Lt. John Fox’ last known words, were “Fire it.”

1st Lieutenant John Robert Fox deliberately called down American artillery on his own position

When American forces retook the town, Lieutenant Fox’ body was found with those of about 100 German soldiers.

Sandra Fox of Boston, his only daughter, was two-years old when her father went to war.

The King James Bible translates John 15:13, as “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.  After the war, the town of Sommocolonia erected a Memorial, to nine brave soldiers who gave their lives, that their brothers might live.  Eight Italians, and one American.

Sommocolonia Memorial

In a January 13, 1997 ceremony at the White House, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to the family of 1st Lt. John Robert Fox.

1st Sergeant Mark Matthews died of pneumonia on September 6, 2005, at the age of 111.  The last of the Buffalo Soldiers was buried with honors, at Arlington National Cemetery, section 69, grave #4215.

The rank of General of the Armies is equivalent to that of a six-star general, the highest possible operational rank in the United States Armed Forces.  The rank has been held only twice in all American history, once awarded posthumously to George Washington, and once to an active-duty officer, John J. Pershing.

Memorial Day celebration in Washington, D.C.
1st Sgt. Mark Matthews, the last of the Buffalo Soldiers

Then-1st Lieutenant Pershing served with the Buffalo Soldiers from October 1895 to May 1897 plus another six months in Cuba, and came to respect soldiers of African ancestry as “real soldiers” in every way.

As West Point instructor beginning in 1897, Pershing was looked down upon and insulted by white cadets and officers, aggrieved over Pershing’s strict and unyielding disciplinary policies.  The press sanitized the favorite insult to “Black Jack”. The name they called the man, was uglier still.

During WW1, General Pershing bowed to the segregationist policies of President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker.

It seems that John Joseph Pershing understood what the northeast academic and the Ohio politician had yet to learn, a principle that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would spell out, some fifty years later

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”. 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it too. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 30, 1863 The Confederate States of…Bermuda

“The opportunities for Bermudians to profit from blockade running were boundless… The Civil War proved to be the road to riches.”

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, it was the first of 11 states to do so. War broke out in April, and the Confederacy desperately needed ships for its fledgling Navy. It needed manufactured goods as well, goods which were no longer available from the industrialized North. The answer, in both cases, was Great Britain. While remaining officially neutral, England soon became primary ship builders and trade partners for the Confederacy.

For the British military, Bermuda had already demonstrated its value. Bermuda based privateers captured 298 American ships during the war of 1812. The place served as a base for amphibious operations as well, such as the 1815 sack of Washington, DC. British Commander Sir Alexander Milne said “If Bermuda were in the hands of any other nation, the base of our operations would be removed to the two extremes, Halifax and Jamaica, and the loss of this island as a Naval Establishment would be a National misfortune”.

slide_18President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation soon after taking office, threatening to blockade southern coastlines. It wasn’t long before the “Anaconda Plan” went into effect, a naval blockade extending 3,500 miles along the Atlantic coastline and Gulf of Mexico, up into the lower Mississippi River.

Running the blockade was no small or occasional enterprise. The number of attempts to run the Federal stranglehold have been estimated at 2,500 to 2,800, of which about 2/3rds succeeded. Over the course of the war, the Union Navy captured over 1,100 blockade runners. Another 355 vessels were destroyed or run aground.

runnerbritanniawilmCotton would ship out of Mobile, Charleston, Wilmington and other ports, while weapons and other manufactured goods would come back in. Sometimes, these goods would make the whole trans-Atlantic voyage.  Often, they would stop at neutral ports in Cuba or the Bahamas.

North Carolina and Virginia had long-established trade relations with Bermuda, 600 nautical miles to the east.

The most successful blockade runners were the fast, paddle wheeled steamers, though surprisingly little is known of the ships themselves. They were usually built in secrecy, and operated at night. One notable exception is the “Nola”, a 236-foot paddle steamer which ran aground on December 30, 1863, en route from London to North Carolina. Nola ran aground, attempting to escape threatening weather. She was wrecked near Western Blue Cut on Bermuda’s reefs, and remains a popular dive destination to this day.

The blockade runner “Nola” was known at various times as Montana, Gloria, and Paramount.

President Lincoln appointed Massachusetts native Charles Maxwell Allen Consul to Bermuda in 1861, where he remained until his death in 1888. There were times when it was a great job, I’m sure, but not in the early days. “There are a great many Southern people here”, Allen wrote in 1862, “14 came in the steamer ‘Bermuda’. They & their friends are down on me & have threatened to whip me”. People were getting rich running the blockade.  Allen estimated that one blockade runner alone, which sank after three voyages, generated a profit of more than £173,000.

Bermuda National Trust Museum

Today, the capital of Bermuda is Hamilton, moved across the island in 1815 from the old port of St. George, leaving the former capital in a kind of time warp, where you can walk down streets that look like they did 150 years ago. Portraits of Robert E. Lee and Confederate battle flags can still be found on the walls of the old port, beside paintings showing the harbor filled with blockade runners, lying quietly at anchor.

Once the office of Confederate Commercial Agent John Tory Bourne and Confederate Shipping Agent Major Norman Walker, today the Bermuda National Trust Museum tells the story of the island’s history, including Bermuda’s role in the American Civil War. The museum’s guide book explains: “The opportunities for Bermudians to profit from blockade running were boundless. Ships needed coal and provisions. Crews required lodging, food and entertainment between runs. Cargoes had to be unloaded, stored and reloaded, while crews and cargoes had to be ferried to ships lying at anchor. Bermudian pilots guided the ships through the reefs; those with skills as mates, carpenters, firemen and ordinary seamen signed on as crew. The Civil War proved to be the road to riches.

Sheryl and I traveled to Bermuda a while back, and visited the old port at St. George. At some point we learned about the maritime history of the island, as well. Making a living at sea in the 19th century was a dangerous business, so much so that one in ten of the married women living in Bermuda at that time, were widows.

It occurred to me that all those Confederate officers and enlisted men were spending a lot of time in Bermuda.  The possibility that followed soon morphed into a probability and then a certainty. At this point I can only wonder how many English citizens there are, residents of Bermuda and loyal subjects of the Queen, who can trace their paternity back to the Confederate States of America.

Bonnie Blue
‘The ‘Bonnie Blue’ flies over bonnie St George’s’ H/T Royal Gazette


December 27, 1865 Confederados

The numbers are hazy, but port records indicate that somewhere between ten and twenty thousand former Confederates moved to Brazil in the twenty years following the Civil War. A great uncle of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, was one.

Most of us grew up learning that 600,000+ Americans were killed in the Civil War.  618,222 to be precise, more than the combined totals of every conflict in which the United States has been involved, from the Revolution to the War on Terror.  Recently, sophisticated data analysis techniques have been applied to newly digitized 19th century census figures, indicating that even that figure may be understated.

The actual number may lie somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000.


The cataclysm of the Civil War would leave in its wake animosities which would take generations to heal.  “Reconstruction” would be 12 years in the making, but some never did reconcile themselves to the war’s outcome. Vicksburg, Mississippi, which fell after a long siege on July 4, 1863, would not celebrate another Independence Day for 70 years.

In 1865, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil wanted to encourage domestic cultivation of cotton.  Men like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee advised southerners against emigration, but the Brazilian Emperor offered transportation subsidies, cheap land and tax breaks to those who would move.

Descendants of American Southerners wearing Confederate-era uniforms pose for a photograph during a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Santa Barbara D'Oeste, Brazil
Descendants of American Southerners wearing Confederate-era uniforms pose for a photograph during a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Santa Barbara D’Oeste, Brazil,

Colonel William Hutchinson Norris, veteran of the Mexican American War and former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and later State Senator, was the first to make the move.  Together with his son Robert and 30 families of the former Confederacy, Norris arrived in Rio de Janeiro on December 27, 1865, aboard the ship “South America”.

The numbers are hazy, but port records indicate that somewhere between ten and twenty thousand former Confederates moved to Brazil in the twenty years following the Civil War.  A great uncle of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, was one.

Confederate flag rally at Stone Mountain Park

Some of these “Confederados” settled in the urban areas of São Paulo, most made their homes in the northern Amazon region around present-day Santa Bárbara d’Oeste and a place the locals called “Vila dos Americanos”, and the inhabitants called “Americana”.  Some would return to the newly re-united states.  Most would never return, and their ancestors, Portuguese speaking Brazilians all, remain there to this day.

Confederados earned a reputation for honesty and hard work, and Dom Pedro’s program was judged a success by immigrant and government alike.  The settlers brought modern cultivation techniques and new food crops, all of which were quickly adopted by native Brazilian farmers.

Small wonder.  Mark Twain once wrote “The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with common things. It is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented”.

That first generation kept to itself for the most part, building themselves Baptist churches and town squares, while traditional southern dishes like barbecue, buttermilk biscuits, vinegar pie and southern fried chicken did their own sort of culinary diplomacy with native populations.

Slavery remained legal in Brazil until 1888, but this nation of 51% African or mixed-race ancestry (according to the 2010 census), seems more interested in understanding and celebrating their past, than tearing their culture apart over it.

Today, descendants of those original Confederados preserve their cultural heritage through the Associação Descendência Americana (American Descendants Association), with an annual festival called the Festa Confederada.  There you’ll find hoop skirts and uniforms in gray and butternut, along with the food, the music and the dances of the antebellum South.

There you will find the Confederate battle flag, as well.  It seems that Brazilians have thus far resisted that peculiar urge which afflicts Isis and the American Left, to destroy the symbols of their own history.


In 2016, the New York Times reported on the May celebration of the Festa Confederada, of Santa Bárbara d’Oeste:

‘“This is a joyful event,” said Carlos Copriva, 52, a security guard who described his ancestry as a mix of Hungarian and Italian. He was wearing a Confederate kepi cap that he had bought online as he and his wife, Raquel Copriva, who is Afro-Brazilian, strolled through the bougainvillea-shaded cemetery.  Smiling at her husband, Ms. Copriva, 43, who works as a maid, gazed at the graves around them. “We know there was slavery in both the United States and Brazil, but look at us now, white and black, together in this place,” she said while pointing to the tombstones. “Maybe we’re the future and they’re the past.”’

Brazil Confederates

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“A woman in a traditional hoop skirt walked past graves adorned with Confederate battle flags in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, Brazil. An annual celebration of the area’s many Confederate settlers was held in the cemetery last month”. Hat tip to Mario Tama/Getty Images, New York times, for this image