The Peace Meeting That Wasn’t

In late February 1865 Major General Edward O. C. Ord met with Lt. General James Longstreet under a flag of truce. The subject was the exchange of prisoners … at least that’s how it began. After all, Ord and Longstreet knew each other in the prewar army, and getting together gave them a chance to catch up.

Before long the conversation shifted to the current situation. Longstreet was a realist: he knew that the Confederacy was in bad shape. So long as Jefferson Davis was in charge, however, a negotiated settlement seemed unlikely. Ord, who had little interest in emancipation, also longed for the war to end. In the discussion that followed wistful thinking gave way to imaginative solutions, and none more imaginative than what emerged.

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The Persistence of Myth in Confederate Heritage

As people reflect on William T. Sherman’s march through the Carolinas, it stands to reason that some folks hold dear to myths about the march, especially when it comes to certain claims about Yankee atrocities. So, for example, we aren’t surprised to see that a Confederate heritage blogger points to a famous letter, offering it without comment or analysis, as if the letter speaks for itself.

The document in question, as you might recall, was supposedly a letter from a Union officer, Thomas J. Myers, composed on February 26, 1865, at Camden, South Carolina. It professed to detail exactly how the Yankees went about their business of looting and destroying property. You can find it here, in the first of two posts that appeared on this blog in August 2012. Both that post and a followup post about another letter on the same topic examined certain troubling facts about both letters.

Note that these posts were published in August 2012. The post in question from Defending the Heritage appeared in November 2013.

Now, what are we to conclude from this? After all, we all know that certain folks who embrace Confederate heritage visit this blog often. They did not contest the discussion of the letter. They simply continue to embrace it as true. This suggests that to “defend the heritage,” one has no problem ignoring history, or fabricating it … as the fellow who runs Defending the Heritage has done before. So, are they stupid, ignorant, or dishonest? Or some combination of the above?

You tell me.

Just The Facts, Please: A Note on Recent Discussions About Black Confederates … or … Civil War Cultural Historians Are Freaking Out

My, isn’t that a long title.:)

A few days ago a friend of mine pointed me to John Stauffer’s essay on black Confederates, which, as noted, was a slightly updated rehash of a presentation he made in 2011.

The essay was problematic, to be kind, in two respects.

First, Stauffer clearly and deliberately mischaracterized the perspective of several people, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kevin Levin, and yours truly, on black Confederates. That’s simply scholarly malpractice, and I’m surprised that in ensuing discussions that some scholars who declare that they are all about various research approaches to history did not call him out on that. None of the people Stauffer targeted have ever argued that there were no black Confederates. Nor have they denied that there were not substantial numbers of enslaved blacks who accompanied Confederate armies in the field. All have acknowledged that some free blacks, many of them along the Gulf Coast (New Orleans stands out as the best example) volunteered their services as soldiers to the Confederacy in 1861. There are other instances of people defined as black in southern society who fit the definition of “soldier” held by the Confederates at the time (these scholars resist retrofitting 21st century definitions on 19th century service, as they should). And, of course, they note the debate over enlisting enslaved blacks in the Confederate army in 1864-65, as well as the Confederate policy of impressing enslaved blacks into military service as well as the presence of slaves accompanying their masters in Confederate ranks.

To say otherwise is to misunderstand, mischaracterize, misrepresent, or simply lie, or to demonstrate sheer scholarly incompetence. Why any reputable scholar would tolerate such behavior or seek to excuse it puzzles me.

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Why Worry About Lincoln’s Election?

At present I’m reading James Oakes’s The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War (2014). I think it is a provocative argument expressed succinctly about the intentions of Republicans when it came to slavery. I found especially educational his treatment of John Gilmer’s letter to Abraham Lincoln, dated December 10, 1860. In it Gilmer, a North Carolinian, asked Lincoln what he planned to do when he became president when it came to slavery. Continue reading

January 11, 1865: The End of Slavery in Missouri

We know that January 1865 was an important month in the history of the destruction of slavery in the United States. After all, it was in that month that the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the Thirteenth Amendment, which aimed to complete the eradication of chattel slavery in the nation.

In Missouri, however, representatives of the Show Me state had beaten Congress to the punch. On January 11, 1865, Missourians led by Charles Drake terminated the peculiar institution. Among those slaves now recognized as formally free, by the way, were the slaves of Colonel Frederick Dent, Ulysses S. Grant’s father in law. As the colonel apparently never transferred official title of any of his slaves to his daughter Julia, the correct date for the end of slavery in the Dent family is January 1865 (not the misguided claims that Grant had slaves after the war or that they were freed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment).

Learn more here.

Historians of emancipation often overlook state action (and inaction) during the war when it came to slavery and its end. In so doing those historians overlook the full story of emancipation, and tend to reinforce a Lincoln-Washington centered narrative (and overlook Lincoln’s role in supporting state-initiated emancipation).  Others know better.

It’s one of the shortcomings of the Civil War sesquicentennial that in focusing on battles, leaders, and soldiers, we miss so much else that tells us about Americans at war with each other. That bears on the current debate over American Civil War military history. It is well to remember that the history of a war is more than a study of battlefield events.