President Trump’s Civil War History

Drunk is probably the best way to be during this particular period of history, but comedy is a good fallback for the teetotals among us. Here’s Donald Trump’s less-than-eloquent take on the Civil War reenacted by the Daily Show.

Source: President Trump’s Civil War History |

Kennesaw Mountain Park growing

Some rare good news when it comes to preservation: Lawmakers in Georgia are debating expanding some of the states’ Civil War sites, including the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield!

The only site in metro Atlanta is Kennesaw Mountain, which had 2,593,725 visits in 2017 — making the Civil War battleground the 37th most-visited federal park site, ahead of Mount Rushmore, Bryce Canyon, Mount Rainier and Death Valley.

Source: Effort to expand Kennesaw Mountain, other Georgia parks faces hike

Political Violence

Mother Jones interviews Joanne Freeman, author of The Field of Blood, examining physical violence in Congress in the run-up to the Civil War. If the book is as fun as the interview, it promises to be a rollicking read!

That’s a great example both of the performative aspect of it and the ways in which it’s more than performance. Both North and South had an enormous response to the caning, partly because it came after a string of Southern attacks against Northerners, partly because of the brutality of it, and the fact that it took place within the Senate chamber itself—which Brooks tried to avoid. He tried to catch Sumner outside so that he could avoid precisely what happened, which is the symbolism of a Southern congressman striding into the Senate and beating an abolitionist to the ground. I remember reading through Sumner’s letters, and letter after letter after letter, from adults, from schoolchildren, [they’re] not even sure what to do with their emotions, talking about crying when they heard what happened. The power of that moment for Northerners is easy to underestimate.

The same goes for the other side of the equation. Many Southerners took abolitionism generally—and abolitionists specifically—as an insult, as well as a threat and a danger. There was a feeling that Brooks gave Sumner just what he deserved. Sumner had stood up and made a rousing speech attacking the spread of slavery into Kansas, had insulted the South, had even insulted a few Southern congressmen. So to many Southerners, their response was, “Thank you so much for defending our honor and our interests and silencing him.” There was one letter I found from a woman who was a Northerner, and I believe she married a Southerner, and she says in the letter, “If Brooks had done it anywhere but in the Senate and not over the head, then nobody would have any objections at all.”

Source: If You Think Congress Is Bad Now, You Should Hear About What Happened in 1838 – Mother Jones

‘Human lives were not of value’

I mentioned Douglas Blackmon in a previous post. Turns out his research is newly relevant again – a graveyard from one of Texas’ bigger prison farms has been unearthed during new construction. The Houston Chronicle spoke to Blackmon and other experts to discuss the history of these farms, what life was like, and some first-person accounts from afflicted inmates.

The convict-leasing system began in Texas and other southern states shortly after the Civil War, when officials realized they had a large population of prisoners to care for and very little money, according to author Donald R. Walker in “Penology for Profit,” a book about the Texas system.

The main income for the state came from property taxes, but poor collection and Texans’ hesitance to pay meant little money was coming in, according to Walker. When the Civil War ended, the state treasury showed a balance of over $3 million but only about $145,000 was considered valuable currency.

Politicians thought leasing the prison to outside parties could be profitable. Private individuals would make regular payments to the state for the services of convicts, while the state would oversee inmate care and supervision.

Source: ‘Human lives were not of value’: African-American remains awaken history of convict-leasing system – Houston Chronicle

An inside view of Lincoln’s war 

Here’s a name I’d not heard much before, but whose memoirs I am excited to find, now: Albert Chandler was one of Lincoln’s “Sacred Three” telegraph operators, and given the anecdotes proferred in this article, he was party to many of Lincoln’s tall tales and humourous stories. There’s a novel to be written (or possibly has been already) about Lincoln’s time in the telegraph office!

The Sacred Three deciphered each message and wrote it out in longhand, using a piece of carbon paper. The originals were dispatched to the appropriate offices and the carbon copies filed in a drawer in the order they arrived.

Lincoln kept abreast of all communications by reading the messages from the top down, in reverse chronological order. When he hit a message he had already read, Lincoln would say, “Well, I guess I have got down to the raisins.” When Chandler asked Lincoln what he meant, the president said it was the punch line of a story he’d heard about a girl who had overeaten one day. The binge had started with some raisins and ended with the girl becoming ill and starting to throw up. Eventually the girl exclaimed that her suffering was almost at an end, as she had “got down to the raisins.”

Source: Then Again: Randolph’s Albert Chandler had inside view of Lincoln’s war – VTDigger

Christianity and Slavery

Exploring the rift between Christian teaching and evangelical practice in America is a topic that is back in the news, but slavery was one of the first instances of this religious doublethink. Civil War buffs in the Boston area can partake in this interesting, student-run exhibit on now at Harvard.

Another work on display is Josiah Priest’s “Slavery, as it Relates to the Negro, or African Race.” Published in 1843, the book defends slavery using narratives from the Book of Genesis. Priest argued that God created black people to be slaves, citing Noah’s curse on his son Ham, who Priest claimed had black skin.

“It was quite the read,” said Richmond, who chose the book. “When I think of Noah, I think of Noah’s Ark and the flood. I don’t think of how Noah would be used to justify slavery in America. That was something that was really different for me.”

Source: A Harvard exhibit on Christianity and slavery – Harvard Gazette

Utah’s state constitution bans slavery — mostly

So it turns out Utah’s constitution still allows for slavery, “Except as a punishment for a crime.” This legal loophole was explored in great depth in the excellent Douglas Blackmon book, Slavery By Another Name. (The book was the basis of a PBS documentary, too.) A hundred and fifty plus years after the war ended, it’s amazing to note how slavery’s tendrils are still wound around American laws.

After the Civil War, former slave states leapt to take advantage of the exception carved out by the 13th Amendment, the ACLU of Colorado explained last year in its case for amending the state constitution. African Americans were imprisoned and forced to labor in convict leasing programs that pumped money into the state coffers; more than 70 percent of Alabama’s revenue came from the practice in 1898, the ACLU reported.

Source: Utah’s state constitution bans slavery — mostly. And Rep. Sandra Hollins says mostly isn’t good enough. – The Salt Lake Tribune

The Caffeinated Corps

Some of my favourite history books on the war are the ones dealing with daily life for soldiers or on the homefront. Here’s a fun article that would fit right in there, about the coffee addiction that fuelled the Union army.

Jon Grinspan, a curator at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, notes that coffee fueled the war between North and South. “Soldiers drank it before marches, after marches, on patrol and during combat.” Grinspan quotes a Union cavalryman who wrote that in the final month of the war, “We are reduced to quarter rations and no coffee, and nobody can ‘soldier’ without coffee.”

Reading through diaries and journals of Union soldiers, Grinspan found the word coffee was more prevalent than the words war, bullet, cannon, slavery, mother or Lincoln.

I particularly enjoyed this early version of the “troops on speed” practices such as were employed by the Nazis.

Grinspan states that Union General Benjamin Butler was aware of the effect caffeine had on soldiers and ordered his men to carry coffee in their canteens. He planned his attacks, in part, when his men were most caffeinated. Butler told a senior officer prior to a battle in October 1864 that “if your men get their coffee early in the morning, you can hold.”

The Union’s Mad Scientist

I knew about Thaddeus Lowe, chief of the Union Army’s Balloon Corps, but clearly I’ve never read about him in-depth, as most of these facts were new to me. Sounds like I have some entertaining research ahead of me!

There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.

The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service o

Source: Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect – We Are The Mighty

Merrimack Bell

Here’s an interesting article tracing the historical path of the USS Merrimack (later the CSS Virginia)’s ship’s bell.

The ship bell is one of several the museum has on display, Judge said, though it’s fairly rare to have one from the Civil War era. “Bells are very emotional artifacts to the Navy,” he said. “Symbolically, they’re very rich in meaning.”

“We’re preserving the heart of a ship,” added Max Lonzanida, spokesman for the museum.

Source: Glad you asked: Whatever happened to the brass bell salvaged from the USS Merrimack? – Daily Press