Tag Archives: Civil War

Evaluating the Civil War Sesquicentennial

First, let me apologize for the lack of posts. I had an idea prepared but real life made me reconsider posting. In fact, blogging in general has gone in a direction that I’m not interested in. So the posts will be much more infrequent which inevitably will mean some of you will forget about the blog. I am sorry about that.

That said, back in August I was on a panel with several other folks regarding an assessment of the Civil War 150th. I will maintain that I am tired of the narrative that the 150th was a “failure” simply because each event didn’t have 50,000 people at them. The 150th commemorations varied in scale, places, and indeed more people saw more about the Civil War than they did during the centennial. I know for one, no one in my family attended anything during the 1960s commemorations when they were still attending segregated schools in Southside Virginia. Yet, members of my family did join me on some programs during the 150th.

The 2011-15 commemorations and promotion had the benefit of not only print media and word of mouth, but social media platforms online.

The link to the conversation can be found here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?327502-2/discussion-evaluating-sesquicentennial and I welcome any sane feedback.



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Confederate Flag Controversy

“The Conquered Banner,” Library of Congress.

First, let me apologize for the lack of posts.

Secondly, let me say that the link below is the *ONLY* thing I have to say about the latest Confederate flag drama. There are many other bloggers (several of them I consider friends and/or great historians) who have long followed this. I have consciously opted to ignore it on this blog. However, it is hard to ignore these days. I know some people have asked me my opinion. I extend my thanks to my friend, Dana Shoaf, editor of the Civil War Times for asking me to share my thoughts.

My thoughts can be found here: http://www.historynet.com/embattled-banner-the-convoluted-history-of-the-confederate-flag.htm.

People are welcome to disagree but any profanity/racism/nastiness will not be approved in the comments.

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John Tyler Community College events and Related Thoughts

Readers in the Richmond, Virginia region might be interested to know that John Tyler Community College (at its Chester and Midlothian Campuses) are hosting twelve programs that are open to the public (and one more for the staff, faculty, and students of the college) during the month of February to commemorate Black History Month. The topics for the public are not your typical conversations of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks (who are great people to talk about but the experience of those of African descent cannot be reduced to three people). The flyer below gives you the details of the programs, including one I am doing on United States Colored Troops during the 1864-1865 Petersburg Campaign.

I recently found a powerful letter by Sergeant Thomas B. Webster of the 43rd United States Colored Troops which was written in December 1864 while the unit was stationed on the Bermuda Hundred lines (located in Chesterfield County). When people say (not the readers of my blog I know!) “History doesn’t matter.” Or “That’s something that happened 150 years ago!” we should consider how the past and present intersect. We have seen that these past several years when we think about the events in Florida, Missouri, New York City, Ohio, and the list goes on. We also hear on-going conversation about equality in pay for work performed. And Webster’s words should make us question the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key components of the Voting Rights Act nearly two years ago. I have placed my editorial notes in brackets “[ ].”

Sgt. Webster wrote:

“I hope that the day is not far distant, when peace and liberty shall extend over the whole of this distracted and bleeding country, and man shall be recognized as man, be he white or black.”

In his demands for equality and citizenship Webster exclaimed, “Have they [referring to black soldiers] not fought bravely at Port Hudson, Fort Pillow, Fort Pulaski [it’s unclear why he mentioned this as there were no black soldiers in the Federal army when Fort Pulaski was captured in 1862], and on the bloody fields of Virginia and Georgia, besides many other places? Yet, notwithstanding all the gallantry displayed by colored soldiers, there are a few men in our Northern cities, who do not want to give the colored man his equal rights. But these men do not rule congress. I hope that the day is not far distant, when we shall see the colored man enjoying the same rights and privileges as those of the white man of this country.”

Lastly, Sergeant Webster addressed the equal pay for equal soldiering crisis. “I recently saw an article in a newspaper, in reference to the colored soldiers in the army. Said article asserted, that the colored troops were to receive the same pay as their white companions in arms. This is one more step in the right direction.”

I am pleased to take part in this program, but, I can’t help but think that Sergeant Webster might be disappointed that there even needed to be on-going fights in the 1860s and beyond over access to quality (and truly equal) education. Why didn’t that come as a part of his military service? He may have wondered why Maggie Walker could not simply be an entrepreneur but also had to fight for women’s suffrage and be a civil rights activist in Richmond long before anyone though about Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. Undoubtedly he would have found these Virginians courageous, but if he were an observer in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he certainly couldn’t have helped but to think when all citizens would be treated fairly under the law and with respect as human beings.


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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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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.


  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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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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