May 22, 1856 State’s Rights

The issue of slavery had joined and become so intertwined with ideas of self-determination, as to be indistinguishable.

Since the earliest days of the Republic, those supporting strong federal government found themselves opposed by those favoring greater self-determination by the states. In the southern regions, climate conditions led to dependence on agriculture, the rural economies of the south producing cotton, rice, sugar, indigo and tobacco. Colder states to the north tended to develop manufacturing economies, urban centers growing up in service to hubs of transportation and the production of manufactured goods.

domestic-tariffs-at-the-souths-expense (1)In the first half of the 19th century, 90% of federal government revenue came from tariffs on foreign manufactured goods. A lion’s share of this revenue was collected in the south, with the region’s greater dependence on imported goods.  Much of this federal largesse was spent in the north, with the construction of railroads, canals and other infrastructure.

The debate over economic issues and rights of self-determination, so-called ‘state’s rights’, grew and sharpened with the “nullification crisis” of 1832-33, when South Carolina declared such tariffs to be unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the state. A cartoon from the time depicted “Northern domestic manufacturers getting fat at the expense of impoverishing the South under protective tariffs.”

Chattel slavery pre-existed the earliest days of the colonial era, from Canada to Brazil and around the world. Moral objections to what was really a repugnant institution could be found throughout, but economic forces had as much to do with ending the practice, as any other. The “peculiar institution” died out first in the colder regions of the US and may have done so in warmer climes as well, but for Eli Whitney’s invention of a cotton engine (‘gin’) in 1794.

It takes ten man-hours to remove the seeds to produce a single pound of cotton. By comparison, a cotton gin can process about a thousand pounds a day, at comparatively little expense.

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The year of Whitney’s invention, the South exported 138,000 pounds a year to Europe and the northern states. Sixty years later, Great Britain alone was importing 600 million pounds a year from the southern states. Cotton was King, and with good reason.  The stuff is easily grown, highly transportable, and can be stored indefinitely, compared with food crops.  The southern economy turned overwhelmingly to the one crop, and its need for plentiful, cheap labor.

25The issue of slavery had joined and become so intertwined with ideas of self-determination, as to be indistinguishable.

The first half of the 19th century was one of westward expansion, generating frequent and sharp conflicts between pro and anti-slavery factions. The Missouri compromise of 1820 attempted to reconcile the sides, defining which territories would legalize slavery, and which would be “free”.

The short-lived “Wilmot Proviso” of 1846 sought to ban slavery in new territories, after which the Compromise of 1850 attempted to strike a balance.  The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 created two new territories, essentially repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing settlers to determine their own direction.

This attempt to democratize the issue had the effect of drawing up battle lines.  Pro-slavery forces established a territorial capital in Lecompton, while “antis” set up an alternative government in Topeka.

78451229_783584_lIn Washington, Republicans backed the anti-slavery side, while most Democrats supported their opponents.  On May 20, 1856, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner took to the floor of the Senate and denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Never known for verbal restraint, Sumner attacked the measure’s sponsors Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois (he of the later Lincoln-Douglas debates), and Andrew Butler of South Carolina by name, accusing the pair of “consorting with the harlot, slavery”.  Douglas was in the audience at the time and quipped “this damn fool Sumner is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool”.

In the territories, the standoff had long since escalated to violence. Upwards of a hundred or more were killed between 1854 – 1861, in a period known as “Bleeding Kansas”.

The town of Lawrence was established by anti-slavery settlers in 1854, and soon became the focal point of pro-slavery violence. Emotions were at a boiling point when Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones was shot trying to arrest free-state settlers on April 23, 1856. Jones was driven out of town but he would return.

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Sack of Lawrence, Kansas

The day after Sumner’s speech, a posse of 800 pro-slavery forces converged on Lawrence Kansas, led by Sheriff Jones.  The town was surrounded to prevent escape and much of it burned to the ground.  This time there was only one fatality; a slavery proponent who was killed by falling masonry.  Seven years later, Confederate guerrilla Robert Clarke Quantrill carried out the second sack of Lawrence.  This time, most of the men and boys of the town were murdered where they stood, with little chance to defend themselves.

Meanwhile, Preston Brooks, Senator Butler’s nephew and a Member of Congress from South Carolina, had read over Sumner’s speech of the day before.  Brooks was an inflexible proponent of slavery and took mortal insult from Sumner’s words.

 

Preston Brooks (left), Charles Sumner, (right)

Brooks was furious and wanted to challenge the Senator to a duel. He discussed it with fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence Keitt, who explained that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing. Sumner was no gentleman, he said.  No better than a drunkard.

Brooks had been shot in a duel years before, and walked with a heavy cane. Resolved to publicly thrash the Senator from Massachusetts, the Congressman entered the Senate building on May 22, in the company of Congressman Keitt and Virginia Representative Henry A. Edmundson.

Caning of Charles SumnerThe trio approached Sumner, who was sitting at his desk writing letters. “Mr. Sumner”, Brooks said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.”

Sumner’s desk was bolted to the floor.  He never had a chance. The Senator began to rise when Brooks brought the cane down on his head. Over and over the cane crashed down, while Keitt brandished a pistol, warning onlookers to “let them be”. Blinded by his own blood, Sumner tore the desk from the floor in his struggle to escape, losing consciousness as he tried to crawl away. Brooks rained down blows the entire time, even after the body lay motionless, until finally, the cane broke apart.

states_rights_imgIn the next two days, a group of unarmed men will be hacked to pieces by anti-slavery radicals, on the banks of Pottawatomie Creek.

The 80-year-old nation forged inexorably onward, to a Civil War which would kill more Americans than every war from the American Revolution to the War on Terror, combined.

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April 27, 1865 Sultana

Sultana was the worst maritime disaster in United States history, though its memory was mostly swept away in the tide of events that April.  The United States Customs Service records an official count of 1,800 killed, though the true number will never be known.  Titanic went down in the North Atlantic 47 years later, taking 1,512 with her.

In April 1865, the Civil War was all but ended.  General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant on the 9th.  President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated five days later, and John Wilkes Booth run to ground and killed on the 26th.  Thousands of former POWs were being released from Confederate camps in Alabama and Georgia, and held in regional parole camps.

The sidewheel steamboat Sultana left New Orleans with about 100 passengers and a few head of livestock, pulling into Vicksburg Mississippi on the 21st to repair a damaged boiler and to pick up a promised load of passengers.

The mechanic wanted to cut a bulging seam out of the boiler and install a new plate, easily three day’s work.  Captain J. Cass Mason declined, for fear of losing his passengers.  He wanted the seam hammered back into place and covered with a patch, and he wanted it done in a day.

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The passengers Mason was so afraid of losing were former prisoners of the Confederacy, and Confederate parolees, returning to their homes in Kentucky and Tennessee.

The Federal government was paying $5 each to anyone bringing enlisted guys home, and $10 apiece for officers.  Lieutenant Colonel Reuben Hatch, chief quartermaster at Vicksburg and one of the sleazier characters in this story, had approached Captain Mason with a deal.  Hatch would guarantee a minimum of 1,400 passengers, and they’d both walk away with a pocketful of cash.

As it was, there were other riverboats in the vicinity.  Mason didn’t have time to worry about boiler repairs.

The decks creaked and sagged, as beams were installed to shore up the load.  Sultana backed away from the dock on April 24, with 2,427 passengers.  More than six times her legal limit of 376.

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This animation gives a sense of the size, of Sultana’s boilers

Sultana spent two days traveling upstream, fighting one of the heaviest spring floods in the history of the Mississippi River.  She arrived at Memphis on the evening of the 26th, unloading 120 tons of sugar from her holds.  Already massively top heavy, the riverboat now lurched from side to side with every turn.

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SS Sultana was equipped with four such boilers, mounted from side-to-side.  Massively top heavy, water would run from left to right as she lurched from side to side, water then flashing to steam and creating enormous surges in pressure

The crew must have exceeded allowable steam pressure, pushing all that load against the current.  Pressure varied wildly inside Sultana’s four giant boilers, as water sloshed from one to the next with every turn, boiling water flashing to superheated steam and back to water.

The temporary boiler patch exploded at 2:00am on April 27, detonating two more boilers a split second later.  The force of the explosion hurled hundreds into the icy black water.  The top decks soon gave way, as hundreds tumbled into the gaping maw of the fire boxes below.

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Within moments, the entire riverboat was ablaze.  Those who weren’t incinerated outright now had to take their chances in the swift moving waters of the river.  Already weakened by terms in captivity, they died by the hundreds of drowning or hypothermia.

The drifting and burnt out hulk of the Sultana sank to the bottom, seven hours later.  The steamers Silver Spray, Jenny Lind, and Pocohontas joined the rescue effort, along with the navy tinclad Essex and the sidewheel gunboat USS Tyler.  700 were plucked from the water and taken to Memphis hospitals, of whom 200 later died of burns or exposure.  Bodies would continue to wash ashore, for months.

Sultana was the worst maritime disaster in United States history, though its memory was mostly swept away in the tide of events that April.  The United States Customs Service records an official count of 1,800 killed, though the true number will never be known.  Titanic went down in the North Atlantic 47 years later, taking 1,512 with her.

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Despite the enormity of the disaster, no one was ever held accountable.  One Union officer, Captain Frederick Speed, was found guilty of grossly overcrowding the riverboat.  It was he who sent 2,100 prisoners from their parole camp into Vicksburg, but his conviction was later overturned.  It seems that higher ranking officials may have tried to make him into a scapegoat, since he never so much as laid eyes on Sultana herself.

Captain Williams, the officer who actually put all those people onboard, was a West Point graduate and regular army officer.  The army didn’t seem to want to go after one of its own.  Captain Mason and all of his officers were killed in the disaster.  Reuben Hatch, the guy who concocted the whole scheme in the first place, resigned shortly after the disaster, thereby putting himself outside the reach of a military tribunal.

Sultana Memorial at the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2010
Sultana Memorial at the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery in Knoxville, Tennessee, 2010

The last survivor of the Sultana disaster, Private Charles M. Eldridge of the 3rd (Confederate) Tennessee Cavalry, died at his home at the age of 96 on September 8, 1941. Three months before the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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.

April 16, 1866 Pleasant Paths

“Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

On April 16, 1866, the American Civil War was barely a year in the past.  An unknown widow brought her children to the Hiller Cemetery, near Carbondale, Illinois.  She and the children placed flowers on an unmarked grave, as several veterans watched from the steps of the nearby Crab Orchard Christian Church.

The group was struck by her simple gesture.  When the family left, the men gathered up wild flowers and so decorated the graves of their fallen comrades, as she and the kids had done. Word of the gesture soon spread, and it was agreed that a more formal act of Memorial should be carried out. A community wide event took place at Carbondale’s Woodlawn Cemetery on April 29, 1866.

212 veterans took part in that first ceremony, among them Major General John A. Logan, invited to give the keynote address.

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Two years later, General Logan was Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, in Washington DC. In March of that year, General Logan’s wife Mary visited several battlefields of the late war, in Virginia. While there, Mary Logan noticed a number of small flags, wilting flowers and other decorations, marking Confederate graves at the Blandford Cemetery, near Petersburg.

On her return, Mary expressed the opinion that the North should so decorate the graves of its fallen. Perhaps reminded of that earlier occasion near Carbondale, General Logan issued General Order No. 11, setting aside a date in May as an annual date “for the purpose of strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of Comrades who died in the defense of their country.”

Some two dozen communities claim the honor of having held that first Memorial Day, though it wouldn’t be called that until much later. For now, it was “Decoration Day”. The first large-scale observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

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The veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of General Robert E. Lee, was draped in mourning. A number of officials attended the event, including General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia. There were speeches and hymns, and then children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home joined with members of the GAR, in laying flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate alike.

General Logan’s order instructed all posts to decorate the graves of the fallen “with the choicest flowers of springtime”. “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance“, he wrote, “Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

So may it always be.

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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.

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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”.

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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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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.’

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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
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”. 

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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.

shipwreck-in-bermuda
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
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