Grand Army of the Republic, New York Post 160, Cazenovia, New York (near Syracuse), circa 1900
Source: blog.syracuse.com; collection of Angelo Scarlato
This is a wonderful photograph of an integrated post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which was an organization for United States (Union) veterans of the American Civil War. The post, New York post number 160, was located in Cazenovia, New York, which is near Syracuse. The picture was taken around 1900, roughly 35 years after the end of the war. The image of these black and white soldiers, with its staging of a black man holding the American flag in the center of the shot, has a poignancy which reaches over a hundred years of time, and touches me today.
These men might not have known each other during the war, because Union regiments were segregated. Although, during the course of the war, different soldiers from different regiments often fought alongside each other at particular sites. But GAR units like this one might have been the first opportunity for black and white soldiers to meet, greet, and perhaps, become friends.
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) show “History Detectives” devoted a program segment to a discussion of the photo, the GAR, and race in the Civil War. A transcript of the segment, which aired in July 2007, is here. Thanks to the blog Syracuse.com for providing the link and the photograph, and additional information.
I have another entry on this blog which discusses African Americans and the GAR here.
Photograph of Union Navy veteran William B. Gould with his six sons.
This photograph of the Gould veterans originally appeared in the NAACP’s magazine, Crisis, in December 1917. All of the sons were veterans of World War I except William B. Gould, Jr., a Spanish-American War veteran. William B. Gould, already in his 80s, is seated wearing his GAR uniform. Standing behind elder Gould are, from left to right: Lawrence Wheeler Gould, James Edward Gould, William Benjamin Gould, Jr., Ernest Moore Gould, Herbert Richardson Gould, and Frederick Crawford Gould. (GAR = Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans)
William B. Gould was born a slave, but that would not define him or confine him. By the end of his life, he would leave a legacy of service for which any American would be proud. And it seems his sons learned from his example.
Gould grew up in the North Carolina port city of Wilmington, NC (which is now famous for its movie industry and for being the hometown of NCAA/NBA great Michael Jordan). On September 21, 1862, Gould and seven other men liberated themselves from captivity by navigating a boat down the Cape Fear River. Gould and the others were picked up by the USS Cambridge, and he became a member of the ship’s crew.
Gould was literate, and kept a diary of his days as a Union sailor. One of his descendants, William B. Gould, IV, used that diary to form the basis of Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor. This is from the press release for the book:
The heart of this book is the remarkable Civil War diary of the author’s great-grandfather, William Benjamin Gould, an escaped slave who served in the United States Navy from 1862 until the end of the war. The diary vividly records Gould’s activity as part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia; his visits to New York and Boston; the pursuit to Nova Scotia of a hijacked Confederate cruiser; and service in European waters pursuing Confederate ships constructed in Great Britain and France.
Gould’s diary is one of only three known diaries of African American sailors in the Civil War. It is distinguished not only by its details and eloquent tone, but also by its reflections on war, on race, on race relations in the Navy, and on what African Americans might expect after the war.
The book includes introductory chapters that establish the context of the diary narrative, an annotated version of the diary, and a brief account of Gould’s life in Massachusetts after the war.
The elder Gould was clearly an inspiration to his sons. They enlisted in the US Army, and became part of the next generation of African American soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.
As an accompaniment to the book, Stanford University hosts the website Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor. The site features primary sources and photographs that tell the story of Gould in an interesting and compelling fashion. I very much enjoyed the site, and I look forward to reading the book. Highly recommended.0.000000 0.000000
Slavery and wartime, too, can make for strange bedfellows. Or just plain strangeness.
Consider the following Civil War “incident” that is at once bizarre, amusing, disturbing, outrageous and wonderful, but also, uniquely American. It raises all kinds of questions about race, slavery, and family; and about the authority of an occupying power to control, and even force certain behaviors on, an occupied population.
The story comes from Army Chaplain Henry McNeal Turner. As I mentioned in my previous post, Turner was a leader in the black church of Washington, DC, and part of the First Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. He was also a wartime correspondent for the Christian Recorder, a newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in which this story was published.
First, some backstory. It’s June/July of 1865. Several months earlier, Confederate General Joseph Johnston surrendered to Union General William Sherman in Durham, North Carolina, one of the steps in the end of the Civil War and the demise of the Confederacy. But going as far back as early 1862, the Union Army has captured and occupied various parts of the North Carolina coast. This includes Roanoke Island, the site of a large contraband camp/freedmen’s village.
During this occupation, the Union is “the law.” A Colonel named Holman is acting as judge, jury, and… executioner… while he addresses “legal” and other interactions among the inhabitants in the east NC area under his control. Holman has asked Chaplain Turner to help mediate a case involving “morality”… Turner tells the story:
Roanoke Island is still the theatre of many interesting incidents. Every imaginable phase of characters, every question having… virtue, however hatched with uncertainties through the phantasm scope of suspicion, or open in the vulgar revelry of the unconscionable audacious, are ever and anon before the bar of adjustment… It is nothing uncommon to have reports of the dogs barking, and such trivial affairs, handed in at Head Quarters… Colonel Holman, however, listens to them all, passes judgment upon them, and the parties respectfully retire.
But here is a circumstance to which I most respectfully invite your attention. The narrative runs as follows: Near Edenton, (a place about one hundred mile from the island,) lives an old rich slave-holder, who in the days of southern rights wielded an immense power in that community, or, in other words, he was one of the lords of the land.
He visited Wilmington about twelve years ago, and there saw a very handsome mulatto girl, or rather lady, and conveyed to his country mansion, and admitted to the lofty honors of sacred concubinage. In that very wholesome situation she has remained ever since, giving birth to six children, all illegitimate production of purchased connection. Providentially, both of these individuals had business before the Colonel, and during the investigation the Colonel’s attention was called to their mode of living.
The matter was referred to the Chaplain for counsel and advice, as it was a subject of morality, who decided with the Colonel that he should marry her at once. But he (the slaveholder) could not see the point; he showed many reasons why it would not do to marry a colored woman, in that part of the country. He argued skillfully in the false logic generally produced by slave-owners; finally, he was dismissed, and left with an exultant sense of his victory over Yankee morality.
Colonel Holman, after weighing the matter again, sent for me and finding the parties already there, rose upon his feet, and commenced as follows: “Sir, (looking at the slave-owner,) I have talked to you as a brother and friend: you have had this woman twelve years acting as your wife; she, in the sacred honesty of a lady, has in return given to you, your country and your God, six children: you brought her away from her home, her relations and friends, as a man would convey his wife; you have also devoured the flower of her youth, and torn from her cheeks the flush beauties of maiden-hood; you have reaped and consumed these charms, which God gave her to find a happy partner in life, and make her existence pleasant to the grave, ay! and to an eternal future. You have desecrated the sanctity of the matrimonial institution by force and unjust authority.
“But your day is gone: this is my day, and this great nation’s day-and as an officer of the United States, invested with power to execute justice, and carry out the proclamations of the President,–I tell you and your comrades, I tell all in my military district, such conduct shall not be tolerated. You can take your choice, either marry the woman or endow her and her children with property sufficient to support them for life, or I will demolish everything you have, hang, shoot, or bury you alive, before you shall turn that helpless woman and your ill begotten children away to die, or to be fed by my country, and your property given to hellish rebels. You starved our prisoners to death, and murdered in cold blood the best men God ever made, to sustain your infamous rotten oligarchy, and now, to add insult and injury, you propose to turn out your children. By the eternal God, I will sweep you all with one blast.”
At this point he (slave-owner) raised his voice, and in a trembling voice said: “Colonel, you need not say anymore. I can’t marry Susie and stay here; but if you will allow me time to dispose of my personal property, I will take her and go to the North, or to Canada and there marry her; I will sell my lower plantation, but my upper one I will hold on to.”
“Well, “ said the Colonel, “do you promise in the presence of myself and the chaplain to marry Miss Susan?”
“Yes, sir, I will: for I know it is wrong to throw her and the children away, for Suse has been a mighty good gal.”
At this point we all shook hands over the prospects, and the court adjourned, to meet again when he gets ready to marry Susan and go North.
The floor is open – what are your thoughts on this?
Note: The text from Turner is in An African American Pastor Before and During the American Civil War: The Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner by Andre E. Johnson.
Author Ronald Coddington discusses his book “African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album,” with CivilWarMonitor.com.
In an earlier post, I talked about the book African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album by Ronald Coddington. The book features photographs of Civil War era African Americans – most of them members of the United States Colored Troops – along with a biographical sketch of the persons who are pictured. It’s the third book in Coddington’s “Faces of the Civil War” series. The first book features photos and stories of white Union soldiers, and the second features Confederate soldiers.
The video above is an interview with the Coddington, in which he discusses the process for creating the book, including the challenges he encountered and the insights he learned. The interview is conducted by Civilwarmonitor.com, the digital arm of The Civil War Monitor, a quarterly magazine about the history and memory of the Civil War.
Coddington mentions that his desire to do the book came from a very brief interaction with a black woman who attended a talk he gave about his first book, the one that featured white Union soldiers. The woman looked through the book, told Coddington that there were black people who fought in the Civil War, and then just walked away. Right then an there, Coddington says, he knew he had to do a follow-up book that explored the black experience during the war. I think that woman would be more than pleased with the result.
The website “Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves” provides a list of slave-holding Chief Executives:
1) George Washington, 1st President, Virginia
2) Thomas Jefferson, 3rd, Virginia
3) James Madison, 4th, Virginia
4) James Monroe, 5th, Virginia
5) Andrew Jackson, 7th, South Carolina/Tennessee
6) Martin Van Buren, 8th, New York
7) William Henry Harrison, 9th, Virginia
8) John Tyler, 10th, Virginia
9) James K. Polk, 11th, North Carolina
10) Zachary Taylor, 12th, Virginia
*) James Buchanan, 15th, Pennsylvania
11) Andrew Johnson, 17th, North Carolina
12) Ulysses S. Grant, 18th, Ohio
Not all of these men owned slaves while they were president. Also, not all of them purchased slaves; they may have inherited them, or obtained them via marriage or gift. See the website “Which U.S. Presidents Owned Slaves” for more details.
President James Buchanan is on the list with an asterisk. According to one account, some time before becoming president, Buchanan purchased two slaves in Virginia from a brother-in-law, and immediately converted them to “indentured servants.” One slave served under indenture for seven years; the other — who was five years old when assumed by Buchanan – was indentured for 23 years. Both servants were female.
Of note is that seven of the persons on the list were from Virginia. Virginia was the most populous, and arguably the most powerful state when George Washington became the first president in 1789. According to the 1790 Census, Virginia had over 747,000 residents, of whom 292,000 were enslaved; the second most populous state was Pennsylvania, with over 434,000 residents. But by 1860, Virginia was only the seventh most populous state, behind New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Massachusetts.
The power of the slave states, as reflected in the number of slaveholding presidents as well as the number of congressmen from slave states in the House of Representatives, led to some resentment among people in the free states. The U.S. Constitution allots representation in the House based on population, and states that 3/5ths of a state’s slaves count in the population total. Because electoral college rules for electing presidents are based on Congressional representation, the slave population was a factor in determining the outcome of presidential elections. Some northerners felt that the slave states gained an unfair level of representation due to the use of non-citizens (slaves) in setting the count of House seats; they believed that representation should be based solely on the population of free citizens.
Some in the free states also complained about presidents and other politicians who were “Northern men with Southern principles.” These were men who were from the free states but championed the interestes and policies of southern slaveholders. This included men like president Pennsylvanian James Buchanan, who were derisively called “doughfaces.”
Marquett Milton, a Civil War reenactor, stands watch at the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC. He is portraying a member of the United States Colored Troops, which was a part of the Union army during the Civil War. He is wearing a skyblue greatcoat, which was used during the winter months. Milton is also a volunteer at the African American Civil War Museum, which is across the street from the Memorial.
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the (final version) of the Emancipation Proclamation, a copy of the document was on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC, from December 30, 2012, through January 1, 2013.
A group of Civil War re-enactors stood guard over the document for this photograph at the National Archives Facebook page. The re-enactors are from B Company, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, US Colored Troops.
African American Union Soldier with Pistol, circa Civil War era (1860s). It was very common for Civil War soldiers to take pictures with their firearms. Source: Library of Congress; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-11298; see more information about the photo here.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
- Second Amendment to the US Constitution
“The great object is, that every man be armed. [...] Every one who is able may have a gun.”
- Patrick Henry
“[if negroes were] entitled to the privileges and immunities of [white] citizens, …it would give persons of the Negro race… the right… to keep and bear arms wherever they want… inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the state…”
- Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, in the 1857 Dred Scott decision
“Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty; and should your constitutional rights at the close of this war be denied, which in the nature of things, it cannot be, your brethren are safe while you have a Constitution which proclaims your right to keep and bear arms.”
- Frederick Douglass, in an 1863 recruitment speech imploring black to join the Union army during the Civil War
The current debate about gun control, spurred by the Newtown Tragedy, causes me to reflect on the history of firearms access for African Americans. This history does not paint a pretty picture, but it adds a new perspective on our discussion of the right to bear arms.
A review of the history indicates that for over two centuries, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the national, state, and local governments have been engaged in a project to limit African Americans’ access to guns. This project was not conducted in secret; the people involved made it unequivocally clear that they did not want people of African descent to have firearms. Blacks with guns were seen as a threat to the safety, politics, and domination of the white majority, and the law was used to remove that threat. For African Americans, “gun control” has almost always been synonymous with “keep African Americans from getting guns.”
Now wait! I’m not taking any position (in this post, anyway) regarding gun access policy. I hope that no one who reads this piece will assume that I am advocating a particular viewpoint concerning gun rights and gun control issues.
What I do want to do, is provide an abridged and selective timeline of African Americans’ experience with bearing arms. There is so much to this story, it’s impossible to contain it all within one blog post – and this post is somewhat lengthy as it is. But for those who are not familiar with the subject, this will be informative and useful.
There is a sadly ironic, perhaps tragic aspect to this history. Guns have become the scourge of the urban landscape. So-called “black on black” crime has become endemic in certain communities, and guns are an unfortunate aspect of this. During the slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, laws left blacks relatively defenseless against a tide of racial terrorism; African Americans were outmanned and outgunned. But now many black communities are awash in guns, and instead of firearms being used for self-defense, they are being used for self-destruction. Sometimes the arc of history bends in the wrong direction.
For more information on this subject, two good “starter” pieces on this topic are here and here. A useful book on the subject is Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, 1866-1876 by Stephen P. Halbrook. But there are many other journal articles, books, and other references that are availble via Internet search for those who want to really get in depth on this subject.
I will begin at the middle of the 18th century, and go forward to the 21st century.
1779 During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress – which represents American colonists seeking independence from Britain – offers slave masters in South Carolina and Georgia $1,000 for each slave they provide to the Continental army. However, the legislatures of both states refused the offer. Apparently, the risk of arming slaves, who might want or demand freedom in exchange for their service, is more threatening than the British Army.
1792 Congress passes the Militia Acts, which limit service in militias to free white males. This restriction is prompted in part by fears that, as in the case of the Haitian slave revolt, free blacks will unite with slaves and use their guns and military training to mount an armed insurrection against slaveholders. The measures are interpreted as meaning that blacks cannot join the United States army.
1811 Hundreds of slaves, armed with guns, knives, and axes, become part of the largest slave rebellion on American soil, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The importance of taking arms is noted in the book American Uprising: American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen,
Baptized with the blood of his former master, Charles (the leader of the slave rebellion) and his men broke into the stores in the basement (of his master’s) mansion, taking muskets and militia uniforms, stockpiled in case of domestic insurrection. Many of the slaves had learned to shoot muskets in African civil wars, while others would fight mor efeectively with tha cane knives and axes they weilded in the hot Louisiana sun. As his men gathered weapons and shoved ammunition in bags, Charles and several of his fellow slaves cast off the distictive cheap cotton slave clothes and put on the (master’s) uniforms.
Unfortunately for the slaves, their revolt was beaten back by the superior force of local authorities, and they suffered a horrible punishment after the smoke cleared.
1831 Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The rebels kill over 50 white people, the highest number of fatalities caused by slave uprisings in the South. The rebellion was put down within a few days, but Turner survived in hiding for over two months.
After the rebellion, legislatures in the slave states passed new laws prohibiting the education of slaves and free blacks, restricting rights of assembly and other civil rights for free blacks, and requiring white ministers to be present at black worship services.
1831 Three states – Florida, Maryland and Virginia – enact laws which ban black ownership of guns.
Back in March, I mentioned that filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds fame, was working on a movie about antebellum slavery wrapped in the format of a spaghetti Western. That movie, Django Unchained, hits the movie screens today. The film stars Jamie Foxx in the title role, and the cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson.
This is one of the trailers for the film.
Wiki describe the genesis and plot of the film:
In 2007, Quentin Tarantino, speaking with The Daily Telegraph, discussed an idea for a form of spaghetti western set in America’s Deep South which he called “a southern,” stating that he wanted “to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”
In December 2009, Tarantino revealed that he had another project but wouldn’t reveal any details except that it was less epic in scale and in a different genre entirely from Inglourious Basterds and that he could finish it in a five to six month period of intensive writing. On May 2, 2011, it was confirmed that project was the “Southern” that he had talked about in 2007, with the title Django Unchained, featuring the revenge of a slave on his former master.
I want to give a hat tip to the CWMemory blog for highlighting the following video. It is from YouTube member “D Ennis,” and discusses what Southern Heritage and the Confederate Flag (also called the Confederate Battle Flag, or CBF) mean to him.
I have two thoughts on this video. First, I hope it’s not interpreted as meaning that the author is expressing intolerance for Southern heritage, or is saying, for example, that he’s against people being able to display the Confederate flag, if they so choose. He’s simply saying that, the Confederate flag means one thing to some people and another thing to him; and that his own view of Southern Heritage and the CBF is a legitimately Southern one.
Second, I think it’s important to understand how the video author’s feelings came to be. He associates the CBF with segregation and massive resistance, and there is a reason for that. During the Jim Crow/Civil Rights Movement/Massive Resistance Era, many whites associated their behavior with the CBF, and used the CBF and Confederate iconography as their symbol. Consider the famous 1963 inauguration speech of Alabama governor George Wallace, in which he invoked the Confederacy as follows:
Today I have stood, where once Jefferson Davis stood, and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again through history. Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.
Note that Wallace explicitly draws a straight line from the creation of the Confederacy to the continuation of racial segregation.
Images such as the following one (Wallace in front of the CBF) caused segregation and massive resistance to be conflated with the Confederacy, in the minds of a lot of folks.
Old Negro (former slave) with horn with which slaves were called. Near Marshall, Texas
Source: Library of Congress; Reproduction Number: LC-USF33-012186-M2 and LC-USF33-012186-M1; see more information about the photos here.
The above pictures were taken during the Great Depression, as part of the US government’s Farm Services Administration photography project of 1935–44. The project produced hundreds of pictures that depicted the lives, and struggles, of rural Americans.
The pictures, taken by Russell Lee in 1939, feature an unnamed black man who was reportedly born into slavery. (The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865. Assuming the person in the pictures was born in 1865, he would have been 74 years old. My own observation is that he looks good for his age.) He is holding a horn that, according to the photo caption, was used to call slaves to work… a grim reminder of what many Southern whites would recall as the good-old days. The picture was taken in Marshall, Texas, which is in northeast border of the state, and between Tyler, Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana.
I wonder why the man in the photo chose to keep this artifact? What memories did it stir in him? And what feelings does it stir in us today, if any?
One of the most popular entries on this blog is the list of monuments to African American soldiers who served in the Civil War. FYI, I have made some updates to that entry.
I have noted the existence of monuments in Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Virginia. Except for the monument in Portsmouth, Virginia, I have not done a ‘write-up’ of these monuments in my updated blog entry, but I have added links where the monuments are pictured or described. I have also listed several memorials and markers that, while not fitting my description of a monument, are nonetheless noteworthy objects that should be recognized.
Monument to New York’s 26th Regiment US Colored Infantry outside St. James AME Zion Church in Ithaca, NY. Source: “Rikers Island’s 26th U.S. Colored Troops on parade” at http://www.correctionhistory.org
In the original version of my blog entry, I stated that
I would only add that it is disappointing that it seems there is no USCT (United States Colored Troops) monument in the state of Louisiana. Records indicate that 24,000 of the USCT came from that state; no other state supplied more colored troops to the Union army. It would be great to see some action taken in the future to create a monument in honor of the service of that state’s African descent soldiers. (I am sure that there are at least one or two memorial markers to African descent troops in the state, although I haven’t come up with any yet from my review.)
I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong about this. There is in fact a monument in Donaldsonville, Louisiana which honors black troops who helped to defend Fort Butler against a Confederate attack in June, 1863. The monument sits next to a memorial to Confederate soldiers who participated in the Battle of Fort Butler. Donaldsonville is about 40 miles from Baton Rouge and 70 miles from New Orleans.
Union Monument at Fort Butler, Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Source: Redbird’s Markers at dualsportridersoflouisiana.com
If anyone knows of monuments to Civil War era black soldiers which I have not identified, please respond to this post, and I will update the list as time allows. I appreciate those of you who have helped me make what I believe is the definitive list of monuments to these men.
This is to let my readers know that, due to illness, I will be posting sporadically, if at all, to this blog over the next few months.
First though, I’d like to thank you all for coming to this site. This blog’s content is esoteric to be sure, but there have been times when I’ve gotten a surprising number of hits for certain posts. It lets me know that this labor of love is of value.
Unfortunately, my postings to the blog have been sporadic at times this year. In February, I was diagnosed with cancer. After several months of tests, discussions, and decisions, I decided to have surgery. I am currently in recovery from that, and due to reasons unique to my case, the recovery has been slow.
Needless to say, that has been impacted my ability to post to this blog. Once I have recovered fully, I intend to re-engage in posting content. Until then, I hope you all stay safe and well.
Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-124808 (click on the link for identification and other information)
This beautiful image, probably taken in 1899, is part of a collection of African American photographs assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition by scholar/activist W. E. B. Du Bois. The girl’s name is unknown. The picture was probably taken in the Atlanta, Georgia area.
The picture collection is maintained at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Many of the photos have been digitized and can be viewed on line – go here.