Another Walk in Arlington

Last February I had the opportunity to spend the better part of a day walking around Arlington National Cemetery. Mind you, a day is nowhere near enough to see all that one may see, but I had spent time there before, especially in the area around Arlington House, where many distinguished (and some undistinguished) Civil War era figures have been laid to rest.

For someone who has been doing a great deal of research in the Civil War/Reconstruction era, there are also gravesites to see that most visitors might overlook. Here are some of those gravesites.
DSC02278Daniel Ammen was a childhood friend of Ulysses S. Grant, and the friendship continued throughout their military careers. While Ammen’s brother Jacob attended West Point, Daniel entered the Navy, rising to the rank of rear admiral.

DSC02376But he never forgot his friend Ulysses: in 1871 he named a son after the 18th president.

DSC02339Joseph J. Reynolds was one of Grant’s classmates at West Point. He would see service both in the Civil War and on Reconstruction occupation duty.

DSC02286William W. Belknap commanded a regiment from Iowa during the Civil War. Later he would become Grant’s secretary of war, succeeding John A. Rawlins (who is buried not all that far away). In 1876 Belknap would resign his office in an effort to avoid being impeached for malfeasance in office in a rather colorful affair involving the sale of post sutlerships, an enterprise in which two of his wives (who happened to be sisters) were deeply involved.

P1100701And here’s Orville Babcock, who joined Grant’s staff during the Civil War and then joined his boss in the White House. Some people found him charming, but others believed he was calculating and more than a little corrupt. Surely Babcock’s involvement in the negotiations leading to the abortive annexation of the Dominican Republic and the Whisky Ring scandal suggest that there was a lot of smoke and, in the latter case, more than a little fire, and that’s just for starters. Yet Babcock kept a government job, and drowned of the coast of Florida in 1884 while doing his work as an inspector of lighthouses.
DSC02407Another one of Grant’s staff officers who got himself in trouble after the Civil War was George K. Leet, who was accused of corrupt activity in the New York Customs House. Grant did not stand by Leet as he had stood by Babcock, even if he came to regret supporting Orville.

DSC02336Less well known to all but a few researchers was another of Grant’s private secretaries, Culver C. Sniffen, whose autograph I’ve seen more than a few times (but he always signed documents “C. C. Sniffen,” so only now do I know his actual first name). I didn’t come looking for him, but here he is.
DSC02373And, to conclude this stroll through the cemetery, I bring you William F. “Baldy” Smith and family. At one time Grant thought a great deal of Baldy Smith, but later he had good reason to revise that estimation.

We’ll return to the cemetery another time.

Republicans and Black Suffrage During Reconstruction

Phil Leigh’s upset. Having had his essay on the Memphis Riots shredded in this blog, he complains that I’ve failed  “to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power.”

Generally speaking, that’s not the central question people choose to explore when they discuss the wholesale slaughter of African Americans, including US Army veterans, by an out-of-control white supremacist mob egged on by local leaders. But Mr. Leigh would rather not tell you whether white southerners who opposed Reconstruction killed African Americans for political advantage or simply because they were vile racists. After all, in his mind it was the murderers who were the victims, not the murdered.

Continue reading

A Massacre of History

On May 1, 1866, a mob of whites in Memphis, Tennessee, attacked blacks in the city. The violence continued through May 2 and ended only after federal forces intervened on May 3. By that time some forty-six blacks were dead, while only two whites died; five women had been raped, and a significant number of people were injured. You can read a summary of the event here. Blogger Patrick Young has written on both the riot and the events leading up to it.

So has Phil Leigh in a post that reminds us of his skills as a historian. Continue reading

Al Arnold Responds

Last night I received the following e-mail from Al Arnold:

Men, thanks for the attention to my ancestor, Turner Hall Jr. I do appreciate the “grain” of truth that you claim I hold to. Yet, I have made no claim to having a full kernel of truth. You are so correct that my ancestor was NOT a SOLDIER. No where in my book do I make that claim. I do explain that use of the word in the context of his story but in no way seek to elevate him beyond his status of a flunkie, slave or orderly. I don’t even take the official term of an orderly and apply it to him. So, as long as you know that I am perfectly find with him being a slave and if there was a term lower than that it would satisfy me well. As I take way more pleasure in a humble disposition than one of high and lofty elevations. I do appreciate your attention to this matter but wanted to make sure that I at least give you my input as you deal with the grains of this story. Again, thank you very much for your attention and know that it is ok as I have made no claim of him being a soldier. That is totally not the point of my book.

Note that my original post said nothing about Turner Hall, Jr.’s actual status.

I’m going to assume that Mr. Arnold is responsible for the title of his book, which is

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Thus, if Mr. Arnold did not use the term “orderly,” who did?

I suspect that Mr. Arnold learned of my interest in his book through one of the regular readers of this newsgroup, upon whom I can depend to share what appears here with his friends and associates:

Jesse Sanford and Al Arnold 1

I have no response to claims that Mr. Sanford is in fact a mole planted by me to humiliate Confederate heritage advocates.

The issue of proof remains unanswered. I am eager to see what documentation and other evidence Mr. Arnold has in his possession to support his rendering of the life of his ancestor, Turner Hall, Jr. I am especially interested in how a slave from Mississippi was owned by a Tennessean before making his way over to Virginia. That should be one astonishing tale.

Another Black Confederate: Turner Hall, Jr.

We turn now to the newest story about a Black Confederate … one Turner Hall, Jr.

According to his descendant, Al Arnold of Jackson, Mississippi, his ancestor was once owned by Nathan Bedford Forrest, and then served as an orderly to Robert E. Lee. You can obtain his book here.

In addition to this website, Mr. Arnold has established a Facebook group and a Twitter account to spread the story.

Important if True … Wow.

According to a report about a New York Times report about a recent poll, nearly 20% of Donald Trump’s supporters oppose the Emancipation Proclamation (well, the issuing of “the executive order that freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government”).

Another 17% weren’t sure. So says the report.

Here’s the entire poll. I’m not sure I draw the same conclusions from this poll.

Verdun: 1916-2016

Today marks the centennial of the opening of the battle of Verdun on the Western front. Along with the Somme offensive of the following July, it’s become symbolic in the minds of many people as to the nature of the fighting in northeast France during World War I. Last June I visited the battlefield for the first time — a short introduction, if you will, to a place I had read about and thought about, but had not seen.

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In the months of fighting, with heavy artillery bombardments often the order of the day, entire villages and towns simply disappeared, leaving a cratered landscape that trees struggle to conceal a century later. So it is at Fleury-devant-Douaumont.

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This memorial chapel now marks that site.

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Nearby is a monument to the French soldiers who defended the area.

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The monument is of recent vintage, as this marker reveals.

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To the north is the far more imposing Douaumont Ossuary. If one chooses, they may peer through the windows of the building to see the skeletal remains of some of the 130,000 French and German soldiers who died during months of relentless combat and bombardment.

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Inside the names of more dead are shown along the walls in a space where everything turns blood orange red.

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Outside the rows of graves seem almost endless.

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Note the headstones. French colonial troops died here, too.

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Not too far away is a memorial denoting a tale that French soldiers were buried alive by one bombardment, with their bayonets marking where they had fallen.

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The entire battlefield is a graveyard. I did not observe any children pretending to play soldier.

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Several French forts remain in the area, including Fort Vaux, which the Germans captured.

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The French held Verdun at great cost. “They shall not pass!” became the rallying cry of the defense after the Germans took Fleury. And so they did not. But the statue reminds us of that cost.

Visiting World War I battlefields on the Western front is a distinctly different experience than visiting a Civil War battlefield — at least it was for me. One struggles to comprehend the ebb and flow of combat, often settling for looking at more bite-size portions of the field while relying on maps and the occasional panoramic view to help with the larger picture. But one is far more conscious of sacrifice and death, with cemeteries large and small scattered across the region. More than anything else, I’ll remember that, as well as the silence everywhere. You would never know from the solemn quiet how loud those battlefields once were … unless you listen carefully.