Sebastian Page, who with Philip Magness wrote a recent study on Lincoln and colonization that stressed Lincoln’s continuing interest in colonization after the release of the Emancipation Proclamation, left a rather lengthy comment on this blog. Posting it there, I’ve also decided to post it as a separate blog post to call attention to it.
As readers of this blog may recall, there’s been quite a discussion about a proposal to erect a monument to United States soldiers at Olustee, site of a battle on February 20, 1864. While some of the debate over this monument may have to do with the precise location of the monument, the louder debate concerns whether any such monument should be erected at all.
Olustee is not a well-known battle. One of the more interesting facts concerning the clash is that the famed 54th Massachusetts of Battery/Fort Wagner fame participated in it. It’s also worth reflecting on the aftermath of the battle. As one Confederate cavalryman from Georgia recalled years later:
In passing over the field, and the road ran centering through it, my attention was first attracted to the bodies of the yankees, invariably stripped, shoes first and clothing next. Their white bodies looked ghastly enough, but I particularly notice that firing seemed to be going on in every direction, until the reports sounded almost frequent enough to resemble the work of skirmishers.
A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, “What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on”. His reply to me was, “Shooting niggers Sir. “I have tried to make the boys desist but I can’t control them”. I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, “That’s so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the niggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Pillow, and he was twenty three years old, that he had already killed nineteen and needed only four more to make the matter even, so I told him to go ahead and finis the job”. I rode on but the firing continued.
The next morning I had occasion to go over the battle field again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from palace to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head.
A very few prisoners were taken, and but a few at the prison pen. One ugly big black buck was interrogated as to how it happened that he had come back to fight his old master, and upon his giving some very insolent reply, his interragater drew back his musket, and with the butt gave him a blow that killed him instantly. A very few of the wounded were placed on the surgeons operating table-their legs fairly flew off, but whether they were at all seriously wounded I have always had my doubt.
I wonder whether anyone designing signage at the battlefield would like to include this information.
You can learn more about the battle here. One letter will draw especial notice, for it is from the man who supposedly first blew “Taps,” served at Gettysburg with Strong Vincent, and was now an officer in the 8th USCT … Oliver W. Norton.
A few weeks ago I posted several entries having to do with the Republicans, black rights, and northern racism. Basically, I’m arguing that a solid majority of Republicans came to advocate equal rights for African Americans both in the South and in the North, but that they discovered that basing their appeal on equality before the law did not fare well with the northern electorate. The vast majority of Democrats opposed black equality, and so did some conservative Republicans, many of whom were slowly finding their way back into Democratic ranks with the conclusion of the Civil War.
One of the questions sure to spark a sharp debate is the question of whether secession was constitutional at the time of the secession crisis of 1860-61. Yes, I know there’s an argument on whether secession’s constitutional today, but, frankly, that’s a different argument, given a few events such as Texas v. White (1869). To this day, however, people flatly declare that secession is or is not constitutional, followed by comments that suggest that they question the sanity if not the intelligence of anyone who holds a contrary view.
As a historian, what’s important to me is that Americans in 1860-61 disagreed over whether secession was constitutional. Some people said yes, some people said no. There had been much discussion of this issue ever since the framing of the Constitution itself, and no one emerged with an argument that was satisfactory to all. Continue reading
Today is the anniversary of the worst day in American history.
Yes, I know that it’s the traditional income tax due day, although that has been moved this year to April 18, because of a Civil War-related holiday: Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia. Traditionally that’s celebrated on April 16, but since that falls on a Saturday this year, DC employees have Friday off, which in turn moves tax day to the following Monday. And yes, the RMS Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg late the previous night. That tragic event led in turn to an equally tragic movie starring that kid from Growing Pains. Historical note: Henry Adams, the American historian who accompanied his father to London in 1861, had booked return passage on the ill-fated vessel.
Moreover, good things have happened on April 15. Today Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day.
Oh, I’m sure some people will point to what happened 150 years ago today, when Abraham Lincoln made his initial call for troops to quell a certain rebellion. But we all know that mobilizing state militia for ninety days was not going to be enough, although the call did have ramifications down the line as the clock was ticking on the expiration of this call as opposing forces converged at Bull Run.
And no, sad as it may have been, April 15 is not the worst day in American history because it’s the day that Lincoln died. Yes, that was a tragedy, at least to many people, although apparently not to all, then and now.
No, April 15 is the worst day in American history because Continue reading
Much has been said about the meeting between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, in Wilmer McLean’s parlor. Much less is said about their second meeting at Appomattox Court House, which took place on a wet April 10 in a field not far from what was to become known as Surrender Triangle. Yet that meeting was important in its own way, both in terms of what might have been as well as misunderstandings about what might have been.
On April 6, 1865, Robert E. Lee watched as his army was smashed at Sayler’s/Sailor’s Creek (oh, yes, another battle that goes by many names). “My God! Has the army been dissolved?” he asked as he saw what remained of his Army of Northern Virginia come toward him. That bad moment soon passed, but one wonders what impression remained.
The following day the Confederates made their way through Farmville. Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, who met with Lee that day, reported, “The straggling has been great, and the situation is not favorable.” That evening, Lee opened a dispatch that had been drafted hours before in Farmville. It was a letter from Ulysses S. Grant, calling on Lee to surrender.
Over the next thirty-six hours Lee pondered what to do. He rejected Grant’s first offer, observing that he did not believe further resistance was “hopeless,” an observation open to question. Still, he was curious as to Grant’s terms, suggesting that perhaps pride and pragmatism were wrestling in his mind and heart. Grant’s reply outlined the terms he would reduce to paper in Wilmer McLean’s parlor and proposed a process to arrange for the terms. For a moment pride won out: Lee snapped in his reply, “I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army,” he declared. Then pragmatism regained the upper hand, because Lee was willing to meet Grant on April 9, for his counterpart’s “proposal may affect the C. S. forces under my command & tend to the restoration of peace.”
What exactly was Lee trying to achieve? Each expression of defiance was followed by a expressed willingness to negotiate. Within hours it was evident that the vise was closing, and the following morning it would become painfully evident. The emergency seemed apparent to all, and one wonders what was to be gained once Grant revealed his terms. After all, as of the morning of April 9 (and people forget this), Lee’s offer to meet that day was still open, and he had yet to receive a response from Grant. The notion that Lee chose to negotiate only after assessing the situation on the morning of April 9 is wrong; Lee was approaching the location where he had proposed to meet Grant when he received Grant’s reply, in which Grant said that he had “no authority to treat on the subject of peace.” It was at that point that Lee sent a note saying that he was willing to meet “in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose” — that purpose being surrender. When it looked as if there would be a fight anyway, Lee wrote a second time to “ask for a suspension of hostilities”–apparently the man who had stood on the process of how to request a truce at Cold Harbor now found it difficult to ask for one himself–”pending the adjustment of the terms of the surrender of this army.”
It must have hurt to write that message. And yet it is worth asking what was going through Lee’s mind during the last three days. What other option did he really have? Or was it a case of just finding it a little too difficult to accept the end? For in delaying to act as he finally did, Lee’s indecision resulted in the deaths of more of his beloved men and might indeed have led to a horrendous bloodbath on April 9 had messages not made their way back and forth in timely fashion.
What do you make of Lee’s behavior, keeping in mind that we know know that the story about Lee discussing (and declining) the chance to continue the war as a guerrilla operation is a rather bad misreading of the sources?
Today marks the 149th anniversary of the opening day of the battle of Shiloh. To my way of thinking, the memory of the battle (a process that started while bodies were still being buried) is an interesting one, because most of the issues, at least from the Union side, were already framed within days of the battle.
Contrary to myth, Henry W. Halleck had always planned to journey to Pittsburg Landing once Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio linked up with Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Halleck looked for this large army to make its way south to Corinth to take that critical railroad junction. His greatest fear was that Grant might get involved in some sort of battle or go off on his own prior to his arrival, and so he sought to restrain Grant from probing south. After all, Grant had gone on to Fort Donelson on his own after the fall of Fort Henry, and we all know how that worked out.
If Abraham Lincoln made a choice that he knew might risk war in 1861 when he decided to resupply the garrison at Fort Sumter, Jefferson Davis made a choice that ensued the commencement of hostilities. There were alternatives before him. He could have allowed Fort Sumter to be resupplied; he might have ordered the commander of Confederate forces at Charleston, Pierre G. T. Beauregard, to fire on the relief expedition; or he could choose (as he did) to authorize firing on Fort Sumter itself. The first choice would have prolonged the stalemate in Charleston Harbor; the second would have been a repeat of the Star of the West incident in January 1861, when South Carolinians fired upon a vessel approaching Sumter to resupply and reinforce the garrison; the third was clearly the most provocative and confrontational response.
Much is made of the notion that Lincoln somehow forced Davis’s hand. Continue reading
In April 1861 Abraham Lincoln made a choice to resupply Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Harbor. In so doing he was fully aware that he risked having the convoy fired upon by Confederate forces in and around Charleston. He also knew that he risked having the fort attacked by those same Confederates.
We know that Lincoln could have made a different choice, because he considered alternatives. He had done so for weeks.
Given Lincoln’s commitment to reject secession, why did he make the choice he made? What other choices were there? Did he make the right choice?