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The Ghost of Masonboro Sound

The people of the Masonboro Sound community southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, could hear in the distance the thundering cannon of an enemy fleet in January 1865 as it laid siege to Fort Fisher. After overwhelming the fort with millions of tons of shot and shell, “federal troops began to move inland, looting farms and houses as they went” as they re-asserted in North Carolina the political supremacy of the government in Washington.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Ghost of Masonboro Sound

“With the fall of [Fort Fisher], the Confederacy’s days were numbered. By late spring the four years of struggle were over. Gradually Masonboro men found their way home. Some were badly wounded, but all came back to do what John Hewlett had said he wished them to do – assist in building up the Kingdom of God at Masonboro.

It was late for plowing and planting, but there was no choice but to begin. Pine seedlings, briars, and honeysuckles had taken over the fields. Fish nets had rotted or disappeared altogether, and new ones had to be fashioned. Food everywhere was scarce, but persons on the sound fared better than most, they could find oysters, fish and shrimp at their doorstep. Some ex-slaves stayed to help them.

Many ex-slaves who had left plantations all over the Southland followed Yankee soldiers because they didn’t know what else to do. They became a burden to Northern armies, which could not care for them and feed them. Jim Irving, a South Carolina slave, followed Yankee soldiers to Wilmington, but soon found himself stranded in the city with nothing to eat and no way to earn anything. He met up with Elijah Hewlett, who told him to go with him down to the sound and he would give him work.

In a place such as Masonboro there would have to be a familiar ghost. And it would have to be in perhaps the oldest house on the sound. It was.

Sometime after the war, a soldier friend came to visit Dr. Anderson. He had been wounded in the war, had lost a leg, and had been fitted with a wooden leg. He was disturbed emotionally by his war experiences, and he would lapse into long silences. He would walk out on the pier and stand for hours, not moving, just gazing at the water.

The old pier was rotten and listing at a dangerous angle, but it was the habitual roosting place of a sad old egret, which, dull and gray like the weather at times, sat hunched over even in a blowing misty rain.

The old soldier often stood there looking just as forlorn and dejected as the sad old bird, and almost in the same spot. One morning the old soldier rose early and went out before the family was up. Hours later, they found him, lying face down in the water.

After that, members of the household thought they could sometimes hear the old soldier with his wooden leg thumping across the floor upstairs.”

(Between the Creeks, Crockette W. Hewlett and Mona Smalley, New Hanover Printing Company, 1971, excerpts, pp. 41-42)

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

The following is a very graphic and long account Nat Turner’s massacre of innocents in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831, during which he and his followers brutally murdered over sixty white citizens: women, children and old men. This tragic event led to severe restrictions on slaves, free blacks, and the ongoing emancipation of slaves that had been common in the South before 1831.  The South laid blame for the murders on Northern abolitionists who incited the slaves to such actions, and led to the South seriously reconsidering the value of political union with the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nat Turner’s 1831 Massacre

“With no large plantations, there were no large slaveholders, and [Southampton] county typified older communities where slavery was passing by personal manumission; the slaves and freed Negroes outnumbered the whites to make a potentially dangerous problem. To 6500 whites, there were 7700 slaves and 1500 freed Negroes. Slave and free, all Negroes lived in intimate proximity to the whites, a situation which did not exist on large plantations where overseers came between the masters and field hands. Field hands in that sense scarcely existed in Southampton County.

The most successful plantations were operated avocationally by professional men, doctors and lawyers, since the plantation represented the aspiration of everyone. In the same way, many of the plantation-conscious farmers supplemented their agricultural incomes by working as artisans in small enterprises. Such a man was Joseph Travis, the honest coach-maker.

He had apprenticed to him a sixteen-year-old boy, who shared the bedroom of Mr. Travis’ foster son, Putnam Moore. Mrs. Travis, whose first husband had died, had a baby by Joseph Travis. This small family had no house servants as such. The few colored families of slaves lived in a single cluster of buildings around the farmyard and there was no distinction between house people and field hands. There the whites and blacks, working together and virtually living together, shared an hourly and constant companionship, and knew one another with the casual intimacy of members of the same family. Though everybody worked hard, the slaves were held to a fairly rigid schedule.

Working five days a week from roughly sunup until sundown, they had Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. They were encouraged to grow garden crops for themselves on allotted plots of ground, either to fill out their diets according to personal tastes or for use in trade or barter. Skills were taught them and, as in other families like the Travis’ who could not afford to free their lifetime investment, sometimes a Negro worked out his freedom at a trade.

Great attention was given to their religious education. They went to the whites’ churches, where the Methodist and Baptist preachers of the peoples’ religion evoked fiery and wondrous images, and they developed their own preachers, who supplanted the whites’. Such a Negro preacher acted as Joseph Travis’ “overseer.”

The overseer of this little family plantation, bearing not even unintentional similarity to Simon Legree, merely acted for the owner with the few Negroes who worked on the farm. With Joseph Travis busy at his coach-making, somebody had to be in charge of the work, though The Preacher extended his leadership over the total lives of the three families in the Travis farmyard, and exerted considerable influence over other Negroes in the scattered community.

He always said that Mr. Travis was a very kind man, maybe even too indulgent with his people, and Mr. Travis regarded The Preacher as something of a privileged character. He had been born in the county of an African mother and a slave father, who ran away when The Preacher was a child. He had been raised by his grandmother, who worked on his religious education, and by his mother, who was deeply impressed with the child’s gift of second sight.

When the owners’ attention was called to his precociousness, they encouraged him to read and gave him a Bible. He culled the Bible for predictions and prophesies which he used to impose his visions on his fellow slaves. He found portents in the sun and moon, portentous hieroglyphics in leaves and suchlike, and in general created of himself a mysterious figure of supernatural gifts.

The Preacher did not regard himself as a humbug in imposing on his fellows. He actually believed he could read signs in the sky. “Behold me in the heavens,” the Holy Spirit said to him, and he beheld and he knew. He knew the signs were directing him toward a holy mission. In the spring of 1828, he heard a loud noise in the heavens and, he said, “The spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it in and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be the last and the last should be free.”

The twenty-first of August was a Sunday, in the season when the white people spent the day away at camp meetings. In The Preacher’s cabin, his wife was fixing Sunday dinner for their child. In the woods below the fields, six of The Preacher’s disciples were gathered in the glen, where to a Sunday feast they added some of the apple brandy which was always handy to acquire. Only one of them belonged to Mr. Travis – Hark Travis, a magnificently and powerfully built black man. Two others, Sam and the ferocious Will Francis, belonged to one of Mrs. Travis’ brothers. As farms were relatively few in the sparsely settled and wooded country, all the Negroes were intimately acquainted.

The Preacher, after his custom of keeping himself aloof, joined the frolic in the middle of the afternoon, when several hours of feasting and drinking had his followers in receptive humor. From then until full night he coached them in the details of his predestined mission in which they were to be allowed to participate.

At ten o’clock they left the woods and silently approached the dark farmyard of the Travis house. All lights were out in the house where the family, tired from their trip to the camp-meeting, were asleep. In the farmyard stood a Negro named Austin, who joined them, and brought The Preacher’s band to eight.

The seven followers went to the unlocked cider press while The Preacher studied the situation. When the silent man returned, The Preacher directed Hark, the Apollo, to set a tall ladder against an upper story window sill. The Preacher climbed the ladder, stepped through the open window, and tiptoed through the familiar house down to the front door. When he opened it, his disciples crept in. The fearsome Will Francis held a broadax and one of the men gave The Preacher a hatchet. Without any other weapons, the eight men crept into the master bedroom, where Mr. & Mrs. Travis were asleep.

When The Preacher stood over them, he paused, looking on the face of the kindly man who had given him so many privileges. The other Negroes told him the leader must strike the first blow. After another pause, The Preacher struck suddenly and awkwardly down at the sleeping man.

The hatchet glanced off, giving a blow to the side of the head. Mr. Travis, startled into wakefulness, struggled out of bed, sleepily calling for his wife. When his bare feet touched the floor, Will Francis, with no confusion of purpose, brought the broadax down on his head in a single long stroke. Without another sound, Mr. Travis fell dead to the floor. Whirling, Will came down with the broadax again, and Mrs. Travis died in her bed without ever coming fully awake.

The sounds had not aroused the two sixteen-year-old boys – Mrs. Travis’ son, Putnam Moore, and the apprentice, Joel Westbrook – asleep in the same bed in a room in another part of the house. They were killed before they were awakened.

Last, The Preacher went into the baby’s room. He had often played with the child and fondled it, and the baby smiled at him when he woke up. The Preacher backed out, unable to touch the child, and sent in Will and another follower to knock the baby’s brains out against the brick fireplace.

With the house theirs, they took four shotguns, several muskets, powder and shot, and exchanged their clothes for garments of the dead men. To give a dash to their new costumes, they got some of the red cloth with which the top of the gig was lined and tore that into sashes to go around their waists and shoulders. The material gave out and they made other strips from sheets, which they dyed in the freely flowing blood. The Preacher felt that this unit was now ready to serve as the nucleus around which all the slaves of the county would rally.

With some of the force mounted on Travis’ horses, they went to the small farm owned by Mrs. Travis’ brother, who was also the brother of the owner of Sam and Will. This younger Mr. Francis, a bachelor who lived with his one slave in a single-room house, came to the door when Will and Sam called to him that they had a message from his brother.

When he opened the door they grabbed him. He was a strong man and he fought, calling to his loyal slave for his gun. One of The Preacher’s men shot Mr. Francis’s slave, Nelson, who managed to stagger to the back door and escape in the darkness to the woods. He started out to give the alarm to his master’s brother, the owner of Will and Sam, but he didn’t make it that far. Mr. Francis was finished off before Nelson had reached the woods, going down under repeated blows from the hatchet.

From there The Preacher’s band walked on through the night to the home of Mrs. Harris, a widow with several children and grandchildren. Unbeknownst to themselves as they slept, this family was spared through the agency of their slave, Joe, who joined The Preacher on the condition that his people be spared.

With their first recruit, the band descended on the home of the widow Reese, whose front door was unlocked. They killed her in her sleep, her son as he awakened, caught the white farm manager who tried to escape in the darkness. He got off with his life by feigning death, though he was forever after crippled.

By then other slaves, too frightened to defend the whites but unwilling to join the insurgents, had fled before the band, and nearby plantations were warned. Not willing to risk losing any of his eight followers, The Preacher changed his course.

At sunrise on Monday morning they reached the substantial home of the widow Turner…Mrs. Turner’s manager was already at work at the distillery beside the lane to the house. He was shot and stripped, his clothes going to the last recruit, the Joe who had saved his own people. Mrs. Turner and a kinswoman were awakened by the shot and came downstairs to bolt the door. The fearsome will battered the door down with several strokes of his ax, and the two women were grabbed in the hallway.

While they pleaded for their lives, Will went about his skillful work of execution on Mrs. Turner, and The Preacher pulled Mrs. Newsom, trembling violently, out of the door. He kept striking her over the head with a sword he had acquired. The edge was too blunt to kill the screaming woman and Will, turning from the corpse of Mrs. Turner, methodically finished off The Preacher’s victim with his ax.

They got silver there and more decoration for their costumes, and when they left the silent plantation at full daylight their number had spread to fifteen. They divided, those on foot under The Preacher swinging by the Bryant’s, where they paused to kill the couple, their child, and Mrs. Bryant’s mother, before joining the mounted force at the pleasant establishment of Mrs. Whitehead.

When The Preacher’s force got there, Mrs. Whitehead’s grown son had already been hacked to death in a cotton patch while his own slaves looked on. Inside the house three daughters and a child, being bathed by his grandmother were dead. Will was dragging the mother of the family out into the yard, where he decapitated her, and a young girl who had hidden was running for the woods. The Preacher caught her and, his sword failing him again, beat her to death with a fence rail. Another daughter, the only member of the family to survive, had made it to the woods where she was hidden by a house slave.

When they left the seven dead and mutilated bodies at the Whitehead’s, The Preacher’s band had grown and acquired more weapons and horses. They had also drunk more cider and brandy, and they moved boldly ahead to continue the massacre although they knew that the alarm was out by then. Several of the next small plantations in their line of march were deserted. The band divided again, with Will the executioner leading the mounted force toward the house of his own master, Nathaniel Francis, the brother of The Preacher’s Mrs. Travis and of the bachelor whose slave, Nelson, had been among the first to give the warning.

Though the warning had not reached the Francis plantation, a Negro boy had told Mr. Francis a wild tale of the slaughter of his sister’s family. Having heard nothing of The Preacher’s band, Mr. Francis and his mother were on their way to investigate the grisly scene awaiting them at the Travis household.

Two of Mr. Francis’ nephews, eight- and three year-old boys, were playing in the lane as the Negroes rode silently toward them. The three-year-old, seeing the familiar Will, asked for a ride as he had many times before. Will picked him up on the horse, cut off his head, and dropped the body in the lane. The other boy screamed and tried to hide, but they were too fast for him.

Henry Doyle, the overseer, seeing this, ran to warn Mrs. Francis. He was shot dead in the doorway of the house, but not before he had warned Mrs. Francis. A house slave hid her between the plastering and the roof in one of the “jump” rooms, and kept The Preacher’s band away from her hiding place by pretending to hunt for her. When the Negroes had gone on, the house slave of necessity among them, Mrs. Francis came down to find the other house women dividing her clothes, including her wedding dress. One attacked her with a dirk and another defended her. She escaped to join her husband and be taken to safety.

When the band left the Francis plantation, the alarm by then was general and the Negroes were beginning to get drunk. They headed for the road to the county seat. They found more deserted houses, where faithful slaves had left to hide their masters, and met other slaves who had waited to join the insurrectionists. At young Captain Barrow’s the warning had been received and the overseer had escaped, but Mrs. Barrow, a woman of beauty, had delayed to arrange her toilet before appearing abroad. She tarried so long that the Negroes reached the house before she left. Her husband called to her to run out the back door while he fought from the front.

In leaving, Mrs. Barrow had the same experience with her house slaves as had Mrs. Francis. A younger one tried to hold her for the mob, while an older one freed her and held the young Negro woman while her mistress escaped. In front, Captain Barrow emptied a pistol, a single-shot rifle, and a shotgun, and fought with the butt of the gun across the porch, through the hall, and into the front room. He was holding them off when a Negro on the outside reached through the window sill and, from behind, sliced his throat with a razor.

The Preacher’s men had great respect for Captain Barrow’s bravery. They drank his blood and spared his corpse mutilation. Instead, they laid him out in a bed quilt and placed a plug of tobacco on his breast.

It was ten o’clock Monday morning when they left there, and the two bands soon converged. They then numbered about fifty. The Preacher’s vision of a mass insurrection was coming true. White men were trying to form a force ahead of the band but some of the men, on seeing the bleeding and mutilated bodies of women, hurried back to their farms to hide their own wives and children. Hundreds of women and children were gathering in the county seat at Jerusalem, unaware that the band’s winding course was directed there.

On the way The Preacher’s formidable force passed more deserted places, but got its biggest haul at Walker’s country corner. A children’s boarding school was there and a large distillery, a blacksmith shop, and the wheelwright, and it had taken some time to gather all the people in the neighborhood. Before they could start for Jerusalem, the Negroes were on them. Some escaped to the screams of those being chased and butchered. More than ten were killed there, mostly children.

From the Walker massacre, the band headed directly for Jerusalem. By then eighteen white men had gathered with arms at some distance from the town, where four hundred unarmed people had collected. The Preacher’s band of sixty would have reached the town first except that his lieutenants overruled him when they passed the famous brandy cellar at Parker’s deserted plantation, three miles from town. They tarried there to quench their thirsts.

The eighteen white men came on them in Parker’s field and opened fire. In a short, pitched battle the boldest Negroes, leading a charge, fell, and most of the insurrectionists fled. The Preacher escaped with twenty of his most faithful followers, and headed for the Carolina border.

He was seeking new recruits then. They were slow coming in and victims were getting scarce. Late in the afternoon The Preacher, still supported by the Apollo-like Hark and Will with his broadax, allowed a single armed planter to hold off his band from a lady with two children. That planter’s family had already escaped to safety.

[After camping that night,] . . . at dawn, The Preacher started for the large and handsome home of Dr. Blunt, one of the county’s few plantations of the legend, and on the edge of the district of yesterday’s triumph. Not seeking victims then, The Preacher wanted fresh supplies and recruits to put heart and strength back into the insurrection.

He reached the Blunts’ yard fence just before daylight. A precautionary shot was fired to see if the darkened house was deserted, as expected. Then the powerful Hark broke down the gate, and the group advanced toward the house, looking for salves to join them. The band was within twenty yards of the house when firing broke out from the front porch. Hark Travis, one of the original conspirators . . . fell wounded in the first volley. When The Preacher, shaken but grown desperate, tried to rally his force for an attack, another volley dropped two more. His men broke. At that moment, Dr. Blunt’s slaves came swarming out of hiding places, armed with grub hoes, and rushed the insurrectionists. The Preacher fled with his men, Dr. Blunt’s slaves rounded up several prisoners, including the wounded Hark, crawling toward a cotton patch.

Dr. Blunt, his fifteen-year-old son, and his manager had done the firing, while the women loaded single-shot rifles and shotguns. Before The Preacher’s men arrived, Dr. Blunt had given his own slaves the choice of fighting with his family or leaving. They chose unanimously to fight.

More in desperation than purpose [The Preacher] led the dozen remaining followers to retrace their triumphant steps of the day before. At the first plantation the Greenville County cavalry militia rode them down. They killed will, the ax-executioner, and killed or captured all except The Preacher and two others. The insurrection was over then, though the alarmed neighbors did not know it.

Following the Greenville cavalry, other militia units poured into the county during the next two days, and US Marines from Norfolk. The two men who had escaped with The Preacher were captured. Many who had followed the leader during the successful stages of Monday had returned to their homes. They were hunted down, some killed and others taken to jail. But The Preacher eluded them until the beginning of October.

While changing hiding places on another Sunday, he encountered a poor farmer in some woods. Like his neighbors, this Mr. Phipps was carrying a gun when he came upon the ragged, emaciated, and wretched-looking Preacher, who immediately surrendered.

No demonstration was made against The Preacher when he was brought to jail or when he and fifty-two others were brought to trial. Of these, seventeen were hanged and twelve transported. Of five free Negroes among them, one was acquitted, the others went to Superior Court, where one more was acquitted and three convicted. The Preacher confessed fully to his leadership and to the details of the murder of more than fifty white people.

With The Preacher’s execution, the case was closed and entered the record books as Nat Turner’s Rebellion.

In history, the unelaborated reference to “Nat Turner’s Rebellion” has been made so casually for so long that the tag has no association with the terror and horror of mass murder. Also, to the population of the United States today the slave insurrection in Haiti is a remote thing, part of the inevitable and the just march of events. But to the South, where white refugees had fled – at least one to Southampton County – the Haiti massacre was the dread reminder of what could happen to them. With Nat Turner, it had happened. The deep fear of the blacks’ uprising against them had been implemented. It was never to leave.”

(The Land they Fought For, Clifford Dowdey, Doubleday & Company, 1955, excerpts, pp. 14-22)

 

Generals Hasten to Join the Radical Fold

Radical Republicans favored the abolition of slavery not so much for their concern regarding the black race, but because it would devastate the South’s economic system and political status in the country. After the sack of McClellan, senior and aspiring commanders were swayed to either join the Radical Republican fold or to at least support Lincoln’s administration and Radical political goals. One Northern general complained that “commissions became political patronage and promotions the reward of partisan zeal.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Generals Hasten to the Radical Fold

“[With General George McClellan sacked,] Republicans rejoiced that the way was now open to gain political control of the army. Radicals were at first disappointed over the appointment of Ambrose Burnside, a friend of McClellan’s, to the command of the Army of the Potomac. But they took him under their protective wing when Burnside, fearing the wrath of the Committee on the Conduct of the War after the Fredericksburg disaster, assured committee members that he favored the abolition of slavery. Moreover, he announced, he was seeking to “inspire his fellow officers with a cordial hatred of the [South’s economic] system.”

But the task of winning over the army to Republican principles was no easy one; the men were sincerely fond of their dismissed commander. Republicans had to face a growing public desire for peace as well as McClellan’s highly successful presidential-boom tour of New England early in 1863. Struggling against the all-but-overwhelming circumstances, Republicans turned the full force of their propaganda upon the civilian public and redoubled their efforts to win control of the army.

[Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton and the Committee on the Conduct of the War waged unremitting war on McClellan sympathizers among the commanders. As part of this campaign the committee court-martialed Fitz-John Porter, ruined Charles P. Stone, discipline Irvin McDowell, and caused Buell’s dismissal. Constantly they worked to prejudice Lincoln against his Democratic commanders.

Others; alarmed by the committee’s success with McClellan and others, hastened to join the Radical fold. “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker was one of these; [Ben] Butler had already been converted. Ulysses S. Grant, savagely attacked for Democratic convictions, turned the assault aside by urging employment of Negro soldiers.

Warned first of the Radicals’ plans by his brother [John Sherman] and later informed by Halleck that the Radicals were working against him in regard to the “inevitable Sambo,” Sherman was scornfully indifferent. In 1864, he announced his unequivocal opposition to that pet project of the Radicals, the recruiting of colored regiments. “The Negro is in a transitional state, and is not equal to the white man” he wrote, “I prefer Negroes for pioneers, teamsters, clerks and servants, others gradually to experiment in the art of the soldier . . .”

The fact that this conclusion was based upon practical experience rendered it all the more distasteful to Radicals. Yet they dared not attack him openly; he was too successful.”

(Veterans in Politics, the Story of the G.A.R.; Mary R. Dearing, LSU Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 10-12)

Blue Not Marching with the Gray

Formed in 1866, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was allegedly the creation of a Dr. B.F. Stephenson who “undoubtedly envisioned his new veterans’ group as a tool to further the political ambitions of two Illinois Republicans, General John A. Logan and Governor Richard Oglesby.” They considered the GAR as a postwar voting machine to be lubricated with generous army pensions, political appointments and favors, to help ensure political control of the South after the war. Southerners despised the GAR as much as the infamous Union League, and Gen. Nathan B. Forrest told a Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper correspondent that the Ku Klux Klan had developed in Tennessee as a “protection against Loyal [Union] Leagues and the Grand Army of the Republic.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Blue Not Marching with the Gray

“To the close of the century Grand Army men, spurred to continued hostility by their [anti-South] textbook campaign, gave little evidence of friendliness for the South. The veterans’ press stimulated this enmity by angrily publicizing every aggressive rationalization of the Lost Cause, and other journals sometimes joined the attack.

On one occasion the Chicago Tribune, irritated because military institute cadets had paraded in Atlanta behind a Confederate flag, remarked that the city needed “the Grand Army to go there and show it the only flag behind which the cadets ever should march.”

These sentiments were reflected at GAR gatherings; former President [Rutherford B.] Hayes recorded with regret a disposition at the 1891 encampment “to scold the South – to discuss irritating topics in an ill-tempered way.” This was the encampment that objected to the federal purchase of Chickamauga battlefield and condemned the growing Southern penchant for erecting “Rebel” monuments. The National Tribune supported these objections with the complaint that the [Chicago monument to Confederate dead] would confuse the rising generation as to “plain matters of right and wrong.”

The Southern press replied to these attacks with charges that the Grand Army’s emphasis upon “patriotism” was merely a cloak for mercenary motives. The Memphis Commercial Appeal declared: . . . “the organization as a whole is one of the worst and most harmful that has ever existed in this country . . . [the GAR has prostituted] the noblest of emotions . . . to the basest ends. It has made a merchandise of patriotism and a commodity of valor . . .”

A plan formulated early in 1896 to hold a “blue and gray” parade in New York City as a July 4 demonstration of national unity clearly indicated the Grand Army’s attitude toward its former enemies. The New York press urged the project as a friendly gesture not only to the city’s ten thousand Confederate-veteran inhabitants but also to its Southern customers.

[When GAR commander in chief, Ivan N. Walker was asked for his endorsement of the parade, he] consented to permit the [GAR] members’ participation provided no Confederate flag appeared. [When Walker was informed] that the former Confederates would march in their gray uniforms . . . [he] declared the Confederate uniform as objectionable as the flag and announced, “We cannot, as an organization, join in any public demonstration and march with those who fought against the Union clad in a uniform which was shot to death by the Grand Army of the Republic, thirty years ago.”

(Veterans in Politics, the Story of the G.A.R.; Mary R. Dearing, LSU Press, 1952, excerpts, pp. 448-450)

The Revolution of 1787 Ends the Founders Union

Several attempts were made to revise or replace the original founding document, the Articles of Confederation, after their ratification in 1781. By the fall of 1786, a majority of Congress thought an amendment necessary to grant Congress the power to regulate trade, though members warned that a proposed constitutional convention might grant unlimited powers to a national government, and that such a convention would be dangerous to the liberties of the people. Two of New York’s three delegates to the convention were selected because of their opposition to any fundamental reform of the Articles; Virginia included in its delegation Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) and Patrick Henry, both of whom were outspoken opponents of centralized political power.  The nine States (of 13) that ratified the new Constitution seceded from the Articles of Confederation.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Revolution of 1787 Ends the Founders’ Union

“In proposing a second constitutional convention, [Elbridge] Gerry, [George] Mason and [Edmund] Randolph embraced the revolutionary decision of the convention to bypass the amendment procedures of the Article of Confederation. The convention delegates merely asked the members of the Confederation Congress to forward the Constitution to the States with a recommendation that the State legislatures call special conventions to assent to and ratify the Constitution. As soon as nine States had ratified the Constitution it would become operable among those [nine] States.

Gerry, Mason and Randolph accepted the basic outlines of that plan but wanted to allow the States to propose amendments to “be submitted to and finally decided on by another general convention” before the Constitution would finally become the law of the land [in nine States].

Under both proposals the Confederation Congress was being asked to act as an agent in its own destruction and the State legislatures, hitherto bastions of hostility to centralized power, to vest State conventions with the authority to adopt a new form of government that materially restricted their own powers.

Despite the enormity of these requests there was a considerable likelihood they would be approved . . . In addition, the membership of the [constitutional] convention and Congress overlapped significantly. Richard Henry Lee complained that this overlap was so great that “it is easy to see that Congress could have little opinion [of its own] upon the subject.”

Finally, the Federalists, as the proponents of the new Constitution chose to call themselves, seized the initiative. They had a concrete proposal and a clear-cut plan of action. The revolution of 1787 was well underway.

(The Politics of Opposition, Antifederalists and the Acceptance of the Constitution, Stephen R. Boyd, KTO Press, 1979, excerpt, pg. 15)

Corruption and Protective Tariffs in Postwar Washington

The shipping interests of New England, dealing in slaves and goods, sparked the initial war with England, and later New England manufacturer’s hunger for protectionist tariffs drove the South to create a more perfect Union among themselves. After Southern Representatives and Senators left Congress in 1861, the Northern Congress immediately voted high tariffs, land grants, and subsidies to its numerous wealthy patrons who spent lavishly in Washington. The Collis Huntington mentioned below is cast by historians as the consummate villain, and came to symbolize the greed and corruption of the Gilded Age. Much of his money came from defrauding the American taxpayer in Western railroad schemes. His stepson, Archer Milton Huntington, used his inheritance to purchase Gov. Joseph Allston’s plantation and several others just south of Murrell’s Inlet, SC in 1930 — and renamed Brookgreen Gardens.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Corruption and Protective Tariffs in Postwar Washington

“The descriptive powers of Washington correspondents had so captured the imagination of the American that some Republican journalists after the Panic of 1873 and the scandals later revealed considered it advisable to play down the brilliance of social life in the capital.

The lobbyists as a class, male and female, flourished [in Washington] as never before. The railroad magnates, hungry for public land grants and subsidies, bid against each other for the favors of politicians. Collis P. Huntington, promoter of the Central Pacific, came to Washington with $200,000 in a trunk for “legal expenses” to obtain a Federal charter. General [Richard] Franchot, his agent, spent $1,000,000 for “general legal expenses” over and above his salary of $30,000.

[Lincoln’s financier] Jay Cooke undertook almost singlehanded to underwrite the expenses of the Republican presidential campaign. The rewards, however, were commensurate.

In 1871 Thomas A. Scott received a 13-million acre grant for the Texas Pacific Railroad, and Jay Cooke obtained a grant of 47 million acres for the Northern Pacific in 1868. By 1870, four Western [railroads] had received as much public land as the combined States of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Even Speaker [of the House James G.] Blaine was heavily involved in the Fort Smith and Little Rock Railroad, shares of which he tried to sell to his fellow members of Congress.

The venality of Congressmen had become a by-word. “A Congressional appropriation costs money,” said Colonel Sellers in The Gilded Age. “A majority of the House Committee . . . was $40,000. A majority of the Senate Committee . . . say $40,000, a little extra for one or two Committee Chairman . . . say $10,000 . . . Then seven male lobbyists at $3,000 each, one femal lobbyist at $10,000 – a high moral Congressman or Senator here or there – the high moral ones cost more because they give a certain tone to a measure – say ten of these at $3,000 each. Then a lot of small fry country members who wouldn’t vote for anything whatever without pay. Say twenty at $500 apiece.”

Neither were the manufacturers of New England neglecting their special interests. John L. Hayes was lobbying among the members of Congress seeking for the continuation of the tariff on [imported] textiles to protect the mills of the North. The wool interests in the Middle West were endeavoring to increase the tariff on imported cloth, and the steel and iron magnates of Pennsylvania, headed by Representative “Pig iron” Kelley kept an anxious eye on the importation of steel rails from England; several of the charters granted to railroads specified that the rails laid down must be of American manufacture.

The tariff issue was, indeed, beginning to overshadow the “Southern question” as the fundamental concern of the Republican party.”

(The Uncivil War, Washington During Reconstruction, 1865-1878; James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 183;194-195)

Speaking the Language of Monuments

Historians record Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) leader General John Logan of Illinois as a creative political opportunist: a prewar Stephen Douglas Democrat who favored conciliatory measures toward the South to prevent war — but correctly sensing Radical Republican power he allied with them to keep his political star ascendant. Feeling slighted as West Point-educated commanders refused him promotions he developed an aversion to that institution; in the postwar he was known for his “bloody-shirt” oratory and catering to the pension desires of GAR veterans, serving as their commander for three terms. Logan’s postwar writings underscore the Republican Party ideology of containing slaves, and later freedmen, in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Speaking the Language of Monuments

“In short, the Grand Army [of the Republic] memory of the war represented the persistence into peacetime of the millennial, republican vision prevalent in the North before 1860 . . . [and this] older ideology of republicanism lived blissfully on in the campfires of the GAR until at least 1900.

In that view, the virtuous nation, saved until [Fort] Sumter from the ordinary travails of history, had come through the war purified of the blot of slavery and ready to lead the rest of the world into the sunshine of universal democracy. Despite the painfully obvious failure of Gilded Age America to live up to that vision, the Grand Army of the Republic (the name of the order itself is highly significant) strained to see the nation in those terms.

The past was the past, With the Republic secure, the saviors could return to lives as simple citizens. “There is not in human history, a case cited except ours, in which a million soldiers were, in a day, removed from belligerent to peaceful life,” Logan told the 1869 national encampment. “Probably, there is no government on earth, except our own, that would have dared try the experiment. I am confident there is no other in which such trial would be safe.”

These were not the words of realists trying to come to grips with a bloody and divisive war, nor those of militarists with a present-day political agenda. The members of the Grand Army had no such words in their vocabulary. Instead, the spoke the language of monuments.

[Logan announced] that “that the late war between the American States was the legitimate climax of several cooperating forces.” The North American continent, he wrote, was reserved for European civilization through “a marvelous ordering of events.” The Revolution, though it “arrested the attention of the world,” was actually the product of trends dating back “forty centuries.”

The Civil War, by removing the blot of slavery, had rendered the Declaration of Independence “the Magna Carta of all mankind, destined to last while the human race endures.” The main threat to [Logan’s] yeoman’s paradise was “class distinction,” both in the slaveholding South and at “aristocratic” West Point . . . [and] argued that the Southern slave system had been the legitimate child of monarchy.” Once cured, the country presumably could return to its pristine state, provided that “class distinction” did not come back to ravage it.” To avoid that fate, Logan wrote, the “restrictive, inadequate, and wholly un-American” military academies need to be overhauled in the interests of democracy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 192-198)

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed after the war and quickly became a powerful organization whose political might led historians to see it as a pension lobby or “bloody-shirt” Republican club. The membership sustained the postwar Republican Party and Glided Age political corruption that followed the war, and no Northern politician’s campaign was complete unless he received the blessing of the GAR. The organization maintained the view that they saved the Union and that the South was guilty of treason, though the Constitution clearly states in Article III, Section 1: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” means the States comprising the United States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

“A . . . theme that emerged from GAR memorializations of the 1880s was that the war had broad meaning, not to say a moral, that transcended individual combat experiences. With occasional exceptions . . . the authors of the personal war experiences left the moral unstated. But in campfire speeches and war lectures, the repeated lesson was one of national salvation: the war had maintained the Union.

Prewar social and economic differences between the sections, issues of free labor and political power in the West, and especially the questions of blacks and slavery received scant mention in celebrations of the war’s outcome. Instead, the grand achievement of the Northern armies had been to rescue the indivisible nation as it had existed before . . . The war was a mission accomplished; the nation, something maintained intact rather than something greatly changed. It was a rhetoric pf preservation.

Both Civil War armies invoked republican traditions; both pointed to the same Revolutionary symbols. The other great influence on popular historical thinking during the antebellum years was evangelicalism . . . in the North, evangelical crusades against sin, culminating in the antislavery movement, drew on images of battles and the Apocalypse.

Yankee reformers pictured it as the crossroads of history. Armageddon, a climatic struggle from which the nation would emerge redeemed. Hymns urged patriots to march; ministers spoke of millennial change. No longer was the Republic seen as an entity formed at the beginning; it needed to be actively saved, not passively preserved. History was to be shaped, not studied, for examples of virtue.

At the same time, the overwhelming importance of the Republic’s preservation required permanent and public commemoration. Veterans proclaimed the message of national preservation in Congress, where on pension questions they drew pointed inferences regarding the duty of the nation to its saviors. And in city after city, new monuments refuted in stone any notion of the Civil War’s “pastness.”

As long as ex-Confederates did not question the moral lesson of the war, they were treated cordially – in fact, they were sometimes contrasted favorably with “loyal” noncombatants. Especially after 1880, [GAR] posts and encampments occasionally socialized with veterans from the other side.

[In 1894], white Northerners and white Southerners were engaged in a veritable love feast of reconciliation, complete with Blue-Grey reunions, Lost Cause nostalgia, and Confederate war monuments (including the first to be permitted at Gettysburg).

When it came to drumming the lessons of the war into the next generation, however, the ex-Confederates were doomed forever to play the heavy, always on the side of error, always vanquished by the hosts of the righteous. In the words of GAR commander William Warner, “we were eternally right and . . . they were eternally wrong.”

The line dividing cordiality from hostility ran between those actions (such as lecture invitations) that implied only sociability between former foes and those (such as the erection of Confederate monuments and waving the Confederate flag) that seemed to be aimed at subverting the message of national salvation.

Union veterans commonly expressed the division by saying that while the former rebels might be fine fellows, their principles were, and always would be, wrong. In 1874 [a Massachusetts veteran] . . . objected to the decoration of Confederate graves on Memorial Day by saying “he had nothing but the kindest feelings toward those who fought against us . . . but . . . let it be understood that we distinguish between loyalty and disloyalty; the latter is the treason against which we fought, and the former we pay respect and tribute to.”

In 1891, [GAR CIC] John Palmer allowed that the Confederates had been gallant and said the GAR was willing to accept them as fellows “on the broad grounds of American citizenship and unconditional loyalty.” But he went on to denounce several GAR men who had marched in Atlanta parade that included the Confederate flag. In New York a GAR member was dishonorably discharged for toasting Jefferson Davis at a Southern banquet.

In general, Grand Army posts objected most strenuously to those behaviors or symbols that implied honor to the Confederate cause – a flag, a monument, a toast to a president, flowers on a grave. Nor was it with the proper exegesis of battles, for those conflicts were by definition one-time only events. The worry was not so much about the lauding of individual Confederates (unless they were symbolic individuals such as Davis), for they would die eventually.

Instead, GAR posts worried about transmitting the moral of the war to the next generation intact. If monuments were to call forth “public valor and virtue in all coming time,” the lessons of war could not be subject to historical change. And if the virtue of the Union was to be timeless, so must be the infamy of the Confederacy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 181; 186-188-190-192)

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

Though indicted for treason, Jefferson Davis’s enemies feared his trial as they recognized him as one of the ablest constitutional scholars in America.  After his death in 1889, his wife Varina could not maintain their home in Mississippi and moved to New York to earn a living as a writer. There she wrote a lengthy biography of her husband, and Davis admirer Joseph Pulitzer gave her a weekly column in the New York Sunday World with an annual salary of $1500. When she passed in 1906, Varina Howell Davis was given a heroine’s military funeral and placed beside her husband in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

“The saddest lot of all was that of the symbol of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Benjamin, Mason and Slidell were hateful to the North, but they were beyond the law’s long arm. Davis had to bear the brunt of Yankee wrath – which included becoming the scapegoat for the assassination of Lincoln. The popular song with the refrain “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree” was almost euphemistic; the most horrible forms of Oriental torture were what the South’s enemies had in mind.

The indignities began when Davis was captured by federal troops . . . [and] the humiliation was no worse than the physical rigors that followed. The Davises were thrown into a dark prison van. Their belongings, from gold to baby clothes, were looted and Northern troops snatched away food intended for the Davis children. The soldiers exposed themselves to Varina Davis.

En route to prison, the Davises received one touching gesture while locked in a hotel room in Savannah. The black waiter who brought their food tray hid, under the cover, a bunch of beautiful red roses and tearfully expressed his sorrow at what had happened to the Davises and to the South.

While the family remained in the hotel, Davis was taken incommunicado to Fort Monroe in Virginia, a stronghold known as the Gibralter of the Chesapeake. Not wanting to take any chances, the federal commander there surrounded Davis with an entire garrison of troops and locked him in heavy chains in a viewless, tiny cell.

His only furniture was an iron cot, his only utensil a wooden spoon, his only rations unchewable boiled beef, stale bread, and water. Squeaky-shoed soldiers marched around him twenty-four hours a day; we was never allowed a private moment. Guards even stood around him when he used the portable toilet that was brought into his cell. Davis’s only company was a mouse he made his pet.

Davis, always a sick man, nearly wasted away. He had been indicted for treason, but was never brought to trial. Habeas corpus and all other basic rights were denied, and he was left to languish in the darkness.

Davis was the only Confederate leader who remained incarcerated – he was doing penance for the entire South. In 1868, after even Northern sentiment was outraged at his unusual punishment, he was freed and reunited with his family. For his dignity under the most horrid of conditions, he won a martyr’s reputation throughout the South, giving inspiration to the thousands suffering through the abject poverty of the postbellum period; any stigma of having lost the war was lost.

Their sons all died, the first in an accidental fall from a balcony, another of diphtheria, and the third of yellow fever. Their daughter, Varina Anne, or “Winnie,” had been crowned by Southern war veterans as the “daughter of the Confederacy.” However, she alienated the entire South when she fell in love with a Harvard-trained Syracuse attorney whose grandfather had been a prominent abolitionist. The affair killed her father in 1889, and nearly 15,000 thronged to his funeral. Davis had outlived nearly all his enemies and had become a symbol of heroism to both North and South.

Out of respect, Winnie called the marriage off and never wed.”

(A Class By Themselves; the Untold Story of the Great Southern Families, William Stadiem, Crown Publishers, 1980, excerpts, pp. 130-132)

Republicans and Panamanian Secession

The postwar Republican party in 1903 was not unfamiliar with exporting revolution for commercial and party purposes as it had supported revolts in Hawaii in 1887, which ended in the overthrow of Hawaiian sovereignty in 1898. The Columbian government would not move fast enough for Roosevelt the First, and the machinery of regime change was put into motion.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Republicans and Panamanian Secession

“On November 3, 1903, a group of revolutionaries led by Manuel Amador staged a bloodless uprising in Panama City and succeeded in severing the province of Panama from the Republic of Columbia of which it had been an integral part. Under normal circumstances such political upheavals in Latin America would have caused little comment in the United States, but the Panama revolution was in no sense a normal affair.

An agreement had already been made with the New Panama Canal Company to purchase the rights of a defunct French corporation that earlier had attempted to construct a canal through the isthmian jungles; but all efforts to obtain a new grant of authority from the Columbian government proved to be unsuccessful, so unsuccessful, in fact, that there seemed to be little immediate hope that the United States would able to accomplish its self-appointed task of joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Guided by motives of self-interest, the independent Republic of Panama would offer no impediment to the work of American engineers . . . In sum, the Panama uprising was, to all outward appearances, a most satisfactory revolution.

Viewed in the light of other developments, however, the whole Panama affair carried suspicious markings of American imperialism.

In the first place, the Roosevelt administration, in its anxiety to obtain Columbian approval of a suitable canal treaty, had exerted the most obvious sort of pressure on that government. During the spring and summer of 1903 Roosevelt had personally referred to Columbian officials as “inefficient bandits,” “contemptible little creatures,” and “homicidal corruptionists.”

He even threatened that country with action that “every friend of Columbia will regret” in the event some favorable solution was not soon reached.

In the second place, key figures in the Roosevelt administration had been exceedingly intimate with some of the leading figures in the Panamanian revolution. William Nelson Cromwell, an attorney for the New Panama Canal Company, for example, had contributed $60,000 to the Republican national committee in 1900 and through it gained an entry to the highest circles of that party.

Finally, the course of the United States government prior to and during the . . . revolution was open to suspicion of the gravest sort. An official of the State Department had sent an unfortunate inquiry to the American consul at Panama City asking about the uprising several hours before it occurred. Did this mean that the United States government had known in advance about the outbreak and had assisted the revolutionary party in planning it?

By like token, how did it happen that the USS Nashville arrived in Colon on the evening of November 2 and, on the day following the revolution, landed United States Marines there to prevent Columbian troops from seizing the Panama Railroad?

Above all, why did President Roosevelt recognize the new republic on November 6, receive [the new] minister from Panama on November 13, and authorize the signing of a canal treaty on November 17? Had Roosevelt personally engineered the revolt?

Certainly there was plenty of circumstantial evidence pointing towards the complicity of the American government; and although the Panama incident was still shrouded in secrecy, if the Democrats could uncover a few of the real facts underlying it both President Roosevelt and the Republican party would, in all likelihood, be faced with a scandal so infamous that political disaster must inevitably follow.”

(Arthur Pue Gorman, John R. Lambert, Louisiana State University Press, 1953, excerpts, pp. 297-300)

 

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