Visit to the Civil War Exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society

Back at the end of October, I was able to check out Divided Voices: Maryland in the Civil War at the Maryland Historical Society. I must be honest and say that this is not a true exhibit review as I have not any knowledge of the budget, availability of artifacts, time or other constraints imposed by the institution. Also, regrettably photos were not allowed so I don’t have any for you in this post.

The exhibit had some really interesting artifacts even though I was impatiently waiting to see the 4th United States Colored Troops’ (USCTs) American flag. Among the artifacts I found interesting were a massive albeit tranquil painting of Harper’s Ferry; a carbine and pikes associated with John Brown’s 1859 raid at Harper’s Ferry, an original sock that had been worn by a Maryland soldier, and of course the 4th USCT flag.

The flag of the 4th USCT (you can see a treatment plan and images of the flag here) is one of less than 25 that still survive among banners carried by black soldiers during the Civil War. Additionally, this flag was rescued by Christian Fleetwood on September 29, 1864 in the battle of New Market Heights after a previous color bearer had been wounded. Fleetwood recalled:

It was a deadly hailstorm of bullets and it was not long before [Arthur Hilton] also went down, shot through the leg. As he fell he held up the flags and shouted, ‘Boys, save the colors!’ Before they could touch the ground, Corporal Charles Veal had seized the blue [regimental] flag, and I the American flag, which had been presented to us by the patriotic women of our home in Baltimore.

It was very evident that there was too much work cut out for our regiments. I have never been able to understand how Corporal Veal and I lived under such a hail of bullets, unless it was because we were both such little fellows.

 

After the Battle of New Market Heights, Major General Benjamin Butler commissioned silver medals by Louis Comfort Tiffany to present for bravery to 14 black soldiers including Fleetwood. The War Department eventually awarded the Medal of Honor to these same men. So as a long-time student and professional historian of the Petersburg Campaign, I was very excited to see this banner.

Overall, I think the exhibit was well done. Maryland residents had divided loyalties during the war and I believed that the text panels and objects did a good job balancing the Unionists’ sympathies and Confederate sympathizers. I also found that they did a good job in showcasing how close Maryland came to rejecting the 1864 state constitution that outlawed slavery and what the implications of that was in 1865 and beyond. It’s clear that this exhibit situates some “newer” themes of historical study such as maimed bodies and veterans issues which were not always glorious and neatly tidied up with the war’s end.

I think my only critiques were:

  1. I found the timeline of events hugging the wall to be useful; but, I was not sure when I was supposed to go toward the center of the exhibit space that was filled with women’s clothing and some soldiers’ clothing and ephemera.
  2. I wanted to know and see more related to Maryland women’s Civil War experiences. Many of the clothing items were on loan from other institutions or people (including a friend of mine). But I was not able to draw a direct line of why these items not a part of the Maryland Historical Society’s collection matter to Maryland women during the Civil War.
  3. There was a section on Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. In the text it said “Taney is best known for the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the inflammatory ruling that allowed slavery to spread into the United States territories and denied black citizens the same rights as whites.” I admit, I recoiled from the use “black citizens.” As a person of African descent, I readily admit I despise His ruling made it law that black people (including my family in nineteenth century America) were not nor intended to be citizens. I select these parts of the Chief Justice’s opinion:

 

The words “people of the United States” and “citizens” are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe the political body who, according to our republican institutions, form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the Government through their representatives. They are what we familiarly call the “sovereign people,” and every citizen is one of this people and a constituent member of this sovereignty. The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.

 

He went on:

 

In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted. But the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken.

They 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. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, which no one thought of disputing, or supposed to be open to dispute; and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern; without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.

 

I am very pleased that in the years since Taney died this country has changed and I (as a black person) can enjoy the rights of citizenship, but, black people during the Civil War were only residents (not citizens) of the United States due in large part to Taney and the associate justices of the Supreme Court.

  1. Lastly, I wished that the other USCT residents of Maryland who received a Medal of Honor had been mentioned somewhere near the 4th USCT flag. Of the black soldiers who received a Medal of Honor during the war, Decatur Dorsey, William Barnes, the aforementioned Christian Fleetwood, James Harris, and Alfred Hilton were all born in Maryland. Charles Veal was a resident of Maryland (though born in Virginia).

The exhibition opened in the spring of 2011 and will be up at least through spring 2015. Admission prices and hours of operation can be found here.

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Notes from the Front

I’ll soon have a new post about my recent trip to Baltimore; but, in the interim here are some news stories on a variety of issues:

The disgusting news that part of the Dachau Concentration Camp gate was stolen: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/pat-gate-dachau-concentration-camp-stolen-26638489 .

The more pleasing news that Prince William County, Virginia has successfully moved a historic home that once belonged to former slaves. While it is always preferred that a historic house remains in its historic setting, development pressures forced the building to be moved in 2004 and now to a place for its long term preservation. See more about that: http://www.insidenova.com/headlines/special-delivery-home-of-freed-slave-moves-to-montclair/article_df4d2d9c-62a2-11e4-aa6a-d79f017cf5a5.html .

Montpelier, the estate that belonged to President James Madison, has been given $10 million by David Rubenstein. $6.5 million will go to research and refurnishing the original house of President and Dolley Madison and another $3.5 million will go toward reconstruction of slave quarters that have long since vanished but have been investigated now for years through archaeology. See more about this exciting news: http://thegrio.com/2014/11/01/james-madison-slave-quarters/ .

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My List of Civil War Books

Some followers may be aware that some controversy came up recently regarding James McPherson’s list of scholars and scholarship regarding American history. My blogging friends, Kevin Levin, Megan Kate Nelson (part 1 and part 2), and Nick Sacco have all weighed in and some have challenged others to contribute their lists. By happen chance I was asked through a professional e-mail about some books to broaden one’s knowledge of the Civil War era. Yikes! A big task! Some people’s breadth of “Civil War” only means 1861-1865. I think increasingly, serious historians are pushing not only the period leading toward armed conflict, but looking beyond the land surrenders between April and June 1865.

I happened to already have a list of go-to books on the subject of US Colored Troops during the war and I added to that to send to the person inquiring about what to read. None of the books below include primary sources of edited letters, diaries, or memoirs (though I read many of them). My list lay categorized below:

The Black Experience Antebellum-Wartime:

  1. Jim Downs. Sick from Freedom.
  2. John Hope Franklin. From Slavery to Freedom. [Classic!]
  3. Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams. [Side note: I am recommending this and yet haven’t read it. I do want to and it’s on my to-do list; but glowing reports from many folks I know and trust and reviews show that Johnson has pulled out another well research and well written book.]
  4. Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. [This is probably my favorite book on this list. Whenever someone asks me about a book to read regarding black experience in America, I jump to say this one. The first page in the introduction should make anyone think twice about declaring slavery a wonderful and benign institution.]
  5. Ervin L. Jordan, Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia.
  6. Maurie McInnis, Slaves Waiting for Sale.

Politicians and Politics:

  1. Charles Dew. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. 
  2. Eric Foner. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.
  3. Eric Foner. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War
  4. Gerard Magliocca.  American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Wartime Battlefield Leaders and/or Their Followers:

  1. William J. Cooper, Jr. Jefferson Davis, American.
  2. Joseph Glatthaar. General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse.
  3. Elizabeth Brown Pryor. Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.
  4. Brooks D. Simpson. Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865.

Women During the War:

  1. Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention.
  2. Judith Giesburg, Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front.

United States Colored Troops during the War:

  1. Bryant, James K., II. The 36th Infantry United States Colored Troops in the Civil War: A History and Roster.
  2. Cimprich, John. Fort Pillow, A Civil War Massacre, and Public Memory.
  3. Cornish, Dudley T. The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861–1865.
  4. Dobak, William A. Freedom by the Sword: The United States Colored Troops, 1862-1867.
  5. Gannon, Barbara A. The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic.
  6. Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers.
  7. Humphreys, Margaret. Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the American Civil War.
  8. Miller, Edward A., Jr. The Black Civil War Soldiers of Illinois: The Story of the Twenty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry.
  9. Price, James S. The Battle of New Market Heights: Freedom Will Be Theirs by the Sword.
  10. Shaffer, Donald R. After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans.
  11. Smith, John David, ed. Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era.
  12. Trudeau, Noah A. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862–1865.

Memory Studies:

  1. Blight,  David. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
  2. Levin, Kevin M. Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

Miscellaneous:

  1. Edward Ayers, In the Presence of Mine Enemies.
  2. Drew  G. Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.
  3. Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War.
  4. Chandra Manning, What this Cruel War was Over.
  5. James McPherson. Battle Cry of Freedom. [Still the best one volume book on the war.]
  6. Daniel Sutherland, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War.

The Post-War Years:

  1. Eric Foner. A Short History of Reconstruction.
  2. Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household.
  3. Caroline E. Janney, Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations & the Lost Cause.
  4. Leon Litwack. Been in the Storm So Long.

So there goes my list. It’s not exhaustive but as far as an overview of the antebellum, wartime, and post-war periods I think it touches on a multitude of issues, certainly the ones I’m interested in. #HistorianChallenge taken and done with.

What do you think?

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What would you tell these people?

A few mornings ago, I think before I had even heard the alarm clock go off, I was bombarded by friends who were not pleased (and as it turned out, I and other sane people were not pleased) with a review of Edward Baptist’s latest book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American CapitalismThe review appeared in The Economist, which has since apologized for printing it.  In part the reviewer stated that Baptist wrote in a way that “almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” An image of Lupita Nyong’o who portrayed Patsey in the award winning film, “12 Years A Slave” was captioned “Patsey was certainly a valuable property.”

Slavery in the Atlantic World operated for centuries upon the labor of human beings from Africa and their descendants in the European division of North, Central, and South America into colonies as well as in the Old World (though to a far lesser extent). I am not going to here recount the details of enslavement across time and places; but, I will simply ask what would a defender of slavery say to these people who experienced the institution?

 

Could you tell this woman that she was better off enslaved?

 

Detail of a South Carolina woman. Library of Congress.

Detail of a South Carolina woman. Library of Congress.

Could you tell this man that he was better off living in a system that often did not allow him to protect his wife and children? Mother? Sister? Friends?

 

Detail of Virginia man. Library of Congress.

Detail of Virginia man. Library of Congress.

Could you tell this child that she was more valuable enslaved?

 

Detail of a Richmond, Virginia girl. Library of Congress.

Detail of a Richmond, Virginia girl. Library of Congress.

How honest could you be about how these children got their light skin?

 

Rebecca, Charley & Rosa, slave children from New Orleans. Library of Congress.

Rebecca, Charley & Rosa, slave children from New Orleans. Library of Congress.

I read Melvin Collier’s post tonight that really struck me from the honesty contained in a death certificate. When Nancy Cole died in 1914, her son noted that he could not hazard even a guess as to the names of his mother’s parents because she “was bought from a slave trader in 1845 aged 14 years.” How would Nancy Cole feel knowing that in 2014 there could be anyone who could say or hint that “slavery wasn’t that bad?”

 

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C-Span 3 Re-Airing Program

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the lack of posts; but, as many of you know I have been consumed with 150th anniversary events. Thus I have not done much traveling this summer and summer is nearly over. Oh well.

You can however check again this Wednesday, August 20th on C-Span 3 (http://www.c-span.org/schedule/?channel=3) for the 150th anniversary commemorative program that took place at the Crater battlefield which plays at 8PM. Then around 9:15, the program I gave at the Civil War Institute this year about the United States Colored Troops (USCTs) at the Crater will air. Finally, at 10:15, Kevin Levin’s (of Civil War Memory) program will air.

If you’re busy on Wednesday night, an early to bed person, or a TV news person, you can always catch the USCT talk I gave on the C-Span website.

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Civil War Institute Talk Now Online

Followers who were busy on July 4th and 5th can now view my talk online. I thank my friend Pete Carmichael for asking me to come, the wonderful staff of the Civil War Institute for their work in organizing (especially Diane and Allison), and those who participated in asking questions and continuing this and other conversations at CWI a couple weeks ago.

I have since gotten very nice comments from friends and strangers and I appreciate those too.

To view: http://www.c-span.org/video/?319539-2/us-colored-troops-battle-crater

In this medium, the conversation can continue for those who wish to do so.

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“Just to clarify…”

As I continue to think about the recent Civil War Institute and the talk I delivered on the US Colored Troops’ actions at the Battle of the Crater, I received audience reaction at the conference, have seen one blog post since CWI, and have received various notes on some articles I’ve written recently about white Union troops turning against black Union troops on July 30, 1864. At this point, my research has turned up two accounts of this. The first comes in the form of William Taylor, 100th Pennsylvania Infantry, one of the units in the thick of the battle. Taylor wrote a letter the day after the battle in which he said in part [I’ve italicized the pertinent sentence]:

“The result of yesterdays operations were the killed and wounding of about (3,000 my guess). The loss in our division is 900. The negroes lost most as we shot them ourselves, when they commenced backing. We took a few hundred prisoners, but lost probably twice as many. We gained no ground that we did not have to give up, and the day closed on the 9th Corps considerably demoralized. The old soldiers of it are getting ashamed of it. They are not numerous to redeem the vast amount of poor material that has been put in it. As to the negroes I think they did tolerable well – none but veterans could have been held in the place they were put and it was wrong to put them for the first time in such a bad fix. As to running off – the first two men who ran were two Generals. Why blame the niggers for doing so too? Some of them only fell back as far as the destroyed fort, and were there still fighting when the last man got in that we saw. A rumor came (I know not how} that on finally giving up the ground at the fort, the rebels rushed in and bayoneted every one there, even the wounded, both black and white. I don’t state this as a fact – only a rumor. “

The letter is part of Taylor’s wartime correspondence which has thankfully been digitized by the College of William and Mary. You can read all of his correspondence here.

The second piece of evidence of this comes from George L. Kilmer,14th New York Heavy Artillery, which was also heavily engaged as infantry at the Battle of the Crater. Writing in 1887 for The Century magazine he said in part:

“It has been positively asserted that white men bayoneted blacks who fell back into the crater. This was in order to preserve the whites from Confederate vengeance. Men boasted in my presence that blacks had thus been disposed of, particularly when the Confederates came up.”

Fortunately Google Books has this issue available online.

The Crater after the war

Clarification is an ironic title for this post. It is impossible to ascertain how many white Union troops killed USCTs as the battle was so chaotic. Many more letters and memoirs come from Confederates describing their rage regarding the United States Colored Troops being deployed against them. Nevertheless, clearly some white Union troops did engage in this activity which ended up pitting the USCTs against white Union troops and the Confederates in the final stage of the Battle of the Crater.

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