Tag Archives: american civil war

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Are We Sleepwalking into 2018?

North-Korea-Kim-Jong-un-nuclear-Starfish-800967

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late great Yogi Berra once said “Déjà vu all over again, and as I wrap up the year and reflect on a number of things, I keep thinking about how much history can teach us about our own time, should we just pay attention to it. I have been continuing to do research and work on my future book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era” as well as my Gettysburg and Civil War text, and that continues to lead me to pure gold in the pursuit for truth, historical truth that is as relevant today as it was when it happened over a century and a half ago. Likewise I have increased my study of totalitarian leaders and movements as well as the military, political, social, and economic effects of entering into unadvised, aggressive wars.

The former, that is studying and writing about the Civil War era is something that I have been doing for a few years, but the latter: the study of authoritarian leaders and of ill advised wars of aggression is something that I have renewed beginning in 2016 with the emergence of Donald Trump, his followers, and the rapid decline of the Republican Party as anything other than a shill for the extremely wealthy and a convenient cover for white nationalists and other assorted enemies of the American Constitution and ideals forged over a period of more than two centuries of conflict and compromise, as well as assorted attempts to help the country meet those ideals in order to form “a more perfect Union.”

Sadly, the same issues that dominated America in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s and later following Reconstruction still dominate so much of our social, political and religious debate. Whether it is the voting franchise which many on the political right seek to restrict, the rights of women, blacks and other minorities, immigrants and the LGBT community, to any semblance of political, economic equality or social justice very little has changed. Not only that there are some political, media and religious leaders who argue for the unabashed imperialism of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism.

As it was then, much of this can be laid squarely at the feet of Evangelical Protestant and other conservative Christian leaders. A century and a half ago men who claimed to be Christian leaders led the efforts to support slavery, discriminate against women, persecute gays and promote imperialistic policies that would have embarrassed the founders of the United States. After the defeat of the Confederacy most of the same people used the same theology to disenfranchise and discriminate against African Americans through Jim Crow laws, as well as discriminate against minorities, women and gays all the while claiming to be the victims of persecution.

Before the Civil War many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously.”  This leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose other issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. Conservative Anglican theologian Alistair McGrath asks, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?”

But moving on from the issues of economic inequity, intolerance for minorities, and racism that still permeate there is the very real threat of war. When I speak about war I do not mean the never ending small wars of empire that the United States has been involved with since September 11th 2001, I mean massive, destructive, and bloody wars the likes that have not been seen since the Second World War. Unfortunately the leaders of nations, especially President Trump and Kim Jong Un seem to be a prisoners of their preconceived ideas and are sleepwalking into war, each acting as if the forces of destiny were controlling them and placing, as Christopher Clark wrote in his book about the outbreak of the First World War The Sleepwalkers:

“Here again is the tendency we can discern in the reasoning of so many of the actors in this crisis, to perceive oneself as operating under irresistible external constraints while placing the responsibility for deciding between peace and war firmly on the shoulders of the opponent.” 

As I watch events unfold and comment just how real that I believe the the threat of war is I am often met with disbelief. I really want to be wrong but I don’t think that I am, and the possibility that Trump, Kim Jong Un, or another actor whether intentionally or unintentionally bringing about such a war is all too real, and all of them are too blind to the horror that they will unleash. Clark wrote:

“the protagonists of 1914 were sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.”

The question is will we learn from history or make the same mistakes all over again? That is something to ask ourselves as we leave 2017 behind and enter 2018, a year that promises to be tumultuous and eventful, but which the history of is yet to be written. The That my friends is important, and why all of us must be engaged and not remain silent, there is too much at stake.

As a side note I want to I thank all of those who subscribe to this site, as well as those who follow my writings through Twitter or Facebook. The fact that so many people are doing this humbles me, thank you.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

The Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In October 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November the following year would be declared a day of thanksgiving. His words reflect the times. The nation was at war with itself. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting for the Union or the rebellious Confederacy had been killed or wounded in the two and a half years since South Carolinian militia had opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.

When Lincoln wrote the text of the proclamation the war had shifted in favor of the Union. Vicksburg had fallen and Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania had been crushed by the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, and the Emancipation Proclamation had changed the tenor of the war. European leaders, pressured by their own people turned their backs on the Confederacy and brought a new source of manpower to Union ranks, men not motivated by money or simply patriotism, but their own freedom. Even so in the East the fall brought stalemate, and in the West more desperate battles were being fought in Tennessee and northwestern Georgia at Chattanooga and Chickamauga. In the North the Copperheads were agitating for peace at any price with the Confederacy while despite food riots, military setbacks, internal strife between various governors and the central government in Richmond, and the impossibility of foreign recognition; the leaders of the Confederacy plodded on in a war that they could not win.

By November of 1864 the Union military forces were bleeding Robert E. Lee’s Army to death following intense battles in the Wilderness In which Ulysses S. Grant’s armies drove the Confederates into a desperate defense around Petersburg. In the Shenandoah Valley Philip Sheridan’s troops had gutted the breadbasket of the Confederacy, and in the South, William Tecumseh Sherman’s armies had taken Atlanta and were preparing to blaze a path across Georgia and the Carolinas that would devastate those areas even as Admiral David Farragut’s fleet had defeated the Confederate defenders of Mobile Bay.

Lincoln’s words reflect the Union advantage during the stalemate of late 1863 but also look forward to the healing of the nation.

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

I think his words are worth pondering in an era where the nation is divided in so many ways.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, History

Some Civil War Reading for those Who Dare Question Trump, Kelly, and Sanders

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still appalled at the remarks made by President Trump’s Chief of Staff on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News propaganda broadcast the other night. In my view a man whose military career was marked by honorable service has destroyed his reputation over the past month in defending the indefensible words and actions of President Trump. In doing that he also went to where no knowledgeable person should go in his remarks about the Civil War and the traitorous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to Kelly the war was simply due to an inability to compromise, disregarding decades of compromise by slavery opponents beginning with the 3/5ths rule which allowed Slave States which had far fewer white citizens than Free States to count their slaves as 3/5ths of a person to increase their representation in the House of Representatives and many other compromises, all of which benefited slave owners, Slave States, and businesses in the South and North who all profited from slavery.

The fact that Kelly also defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a man whose life has been baptized in myth for a century and a half, and was backed up by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the previous words of the President who called the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis whose march in Charlottesville resulted in the deaths of one counter-protester and two Virginia State Troopers “good people.”

Like General Kelly I am a military and combat veteran of over 30 years of service, and though I didn’t know him at the time our careers crossed paths in 2000-2001 in the Second Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina. That being said I have more post-graduate education than the retired General, I am a historian, and I also have completed the same level of Joint Professional Military Education as Kelly. In addition my first book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, which hopefully will be published in the next year deals extensively with the subject of slavery and Southerner’s inability to compromise as the chief cause of the Civil War will show that I actually have the gravitas to tell the retired General, the Press Secretary, or the President, that on this subject they should not make idiots of themselves by spouting such moronic and historically unsupportable comments.

But I don’t want my readers to just take my word for it. Here is a reading list of reputable and non-politically ideological historians and their works which demonstrate my points. So here they are in no particular order:

Battlecry of Freedom by James McPherson which is the definite one volume treatment of the era. It is followed by Allen Guelzo’s Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War, and David Goldfield’s America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. But there are more…

Eric Foner’s “Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction”, David Blight’s Beyond the Battlefield: Race Memory, and the American Civil War, and Charles Lane’s The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction are equally important in understanding how slavery and racism were paramount issues in what caused the conflict and the events following it. Of course one cannot forget the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass when contemplating the causes of the war in regards to race and slavery. Meanwhile Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South helps readers to understand the domestic politics of the Confederacy. Likewise, Elizabeth Pryor’s Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee helps bust the myth of Lee using his own words.

But religion in the South had a profound impact on the war, principally because Southern religious leaders were in the forefront of the support of slavery and the push for secession, and Michael Snay’s Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South is one of a number of books that demonstrate the importance that pro-slavery and pro-secession leaders ascribed to Religion and their view that God had ordained slavery and created blacks as less than human.

Less known stories are told by Brian Jordan in his book Marching Home: Union Veterans and their Unending Civil War, and Noah Andre Trudeau’s Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War are especially important in light of the vast numbers of books that extol the Confederate Army and its soldiers.

If one wants to read collections of essays from individuals, politicians, and the press regarding the causes of the war and what happened afterward the must read collections include James Lowen’s The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, William Gienapp’s The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection and the New York Times collection Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War From Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation.

I could recommend quite a few more books and collections but I think this is enough for now. Reading books like these helps to discourage ignorance and makes one accountable for what they say about history, especially when people like Kelly, Sanders, and Trump, try to misuse it as a weapon to advance falsehoods and buttress unconscionable and unconstitutional ideas. I do have a draft of an article about Robert E. Lee that I will do some more work with before I publish it here, but honestly, the man is not one that any officer should aspire to be like, despite the myth that surrounds him.

Until tomorrow when I hope to be writing about what has been a great World Series I wish you a great night and day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

12 Comments

Filed under civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Tarnished Stars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was disappointed but not surprised when I read President Trump’s Chief of Staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly turn to false narratives of the American Civil War in an interview Fox New’s Femme Ideologue Laura Ingraham. Kelly described Robert E. Lee as an honorable man and said that the war was caused by a lack of compromise. Kelly’s description of both is mind boggling to me as a historian in 2017 because the narrative that he evoked was that of Jim Crow, the noble south, and Confederate revisionist history that began in the years after the war and became for many people the truth about the the war, its causes, and the men who led the Confederate armies in a war that was based on the expansion of slavery and the rejection of decades of compromise in which the Free States continuously surrendered their rights and freedoms to Slave Power.

Kelly’s comments surprised many military men, especially those who have some actual advanced education in history, as well as respected historians of the period who are not political ideologues. I fit in both categories. I am a career military officer and I am a historian. My first book, which hopefully will be published sometime next year, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, deals extensively with the subject. I found Kelly’s comments coupled with his continued refusal to apologize to a Gold Star Mother, and a Congresswoman who he lied about completely dishonorable and actions which stained his honor as a Marine. I can only imagine what Smedley Butler would say to Kelly, and based on what Butler said in his book War is a Racket I cannot imagine them being sympathetic to Kelly. Butler wrote:

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

In his defense of President Trump as well as his apology for the traitorous General Lee and the Southern Confederacy which valued slavery and race supremacy over the Union Kelly lost every bit of respect that I had given him. He has surrendered his honor to be a partisan hack for a politician who has shown no respect to the Constitution, the rule of law, or our form of government. Kelly may end up becoming, to paraphrase the words of Butler, a gangster for Trump. When I think of that my heart sinks, and I wonder why more officers cannot heed the words of Butler, or German General Ludwig Beck who said in opposing Hitler:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

I sign off tonight shaking my head sadly thinking about how John Kelly has forever tarnished his reputation, and if he continues down this path may help destroy the Constitution that with every promotion he has sworn to support and defend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under civil war, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Statues With Limitations: Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have written a number of articles about what happened in Charlottesville and I have promised to write something about the Confederate Monument controversy. Last night I posted an article about that controversy in light of one particular monument in Colfax, Louisiana, the site of one of the most brutal massacres committed in the name of White Supremacy in our nation’s history. I do hope that you read it and share it. 

Likewise I have I have posted quite a few articles and links to articles regarding what happened at Charlottesville and the subsequent debate about removing Confederate statues on my Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Today I am beginning a two part article dealing with my thoughts on the monuments themselves. This section is more of a background article before part two which will deal with my thoughts about the monuments themselves in the broader context of them, as well as other monuments not necessarily connected with the Confederate monuments. 

First, as to the Confederate Monuments, my comments are not meant to impugn the lives of people’s ancestors. My family on both my paternal and maternal sides fought as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy even though their part of Virginia officially sided with the Union. One of them, the family patriarch on my paternal side was a slave holder who after the war refused to swear his allegiance to the United States and probably was a member of White Supremacist groups after the war. There is no doubt of what he fought for, and the fact that he was a traitor and remained a traitor to our country. I don’t know as many details about the maternal side except they were part of the same regiment, except that they were not subject to conscription and as such all volunteered willingly to fight against the United States. For that is a problem, I find it hard to honor their military service because it was against the United States. There are no records that I know of, no letters that they wrote which say what they thought, and they are not “mentioned in dispatches” (the manner in which the Confederate Army honored soldiers) for any particular gallantry, in fact the history of the regiment mentions that my paternal family patriarch deserted in February of 1865. 

I do draw a distinction between the kinds of men that served in the Confederate Army. In particular I make a distinction between those that were eager volunteers for the Confederacy and those who were unwilling conscripted in the Confederate Draft beginning in early 1862 because the Confederate Army could not get enough willing volunteers. These men were drafted, often against their will. Most had no means to pay for a substitute or did not have political connections. Interestingly one of the notable exemptions to the Confederate Draft were the men who were exempted  because they owned more than ten slaves or worked for someone that owned more than 20 slaves. This was known as the Twenty Slave Rule, which modified in Draft Law of 1864 to 15 slaves. As you can imagine many poor Whites who owned no slaves found the rule to be quite unjust, but privilege is just that, quite unjust. 

As a result the conscripts were frequently abused by the willing volunteers and frequently deserted. When found, most were summarily executed following a Drumhead Trial. As the war became more desperate, deserters were summarily exectuted without trial. Hundreds of deserters from the Army of Northern Virginia were executed in the last months of the war by the direct order of Robert E. Lee simply because they were trying to go home to their families who had been displaced by the advance of Sherman’s army in Georgia and the Carolinas. These men were victims of the war and secessionist leaders as much as anyone. If you read some of their letters they are heartbreaking. 

Those who volunteered to serve the Confederate cause, especially men who had been officers in the United States Army or Navy no-matter their reason for serving the Confederacy, their gallantry as soldiers, battlefield heroics, leadership skills, or tactical brilliance were traitors to the United States. Yes they were Americans, and many had served honorably before the Civil War, but that makes them no less traitors. After the war a good number of the survivors reconciled with the Union, opposed the growing myth of the Lost Cause, and took no part in subsequent violence or in implementing discriminatory measures against the now free Blacks. Among the most prominent of these men were Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, John Mosby, and Billy Mahone. I have no doubt that A.P. Hill would have joined them had he not been killed in action at the end of the war, and following the war his widow opposed Jubal Early and other proponents of the Lost Cause. Robert E. Lee himself did reconcile and opposed the use of the Confederate flags, uniforms, and monuments. I will explore Lee’s actions before, during and after the war in another article that I have already started to draft. 

Interestingly, very few monuments, except those on battlefields are dedicated to these men in the South, except from Robert E. Lee who ironically wanted no part of them. Nor are there monuments in the South to Southern officers who remained loyal to the Union during the war including Generals Winfield Scott, George Thomas, John Buford, John Gibbon, Montgomery Miegs, and Admiral David Farragut. 

Likewise there is another class of men who have to be considered when dealing with the Monument Controversy. These were the political leaders whose actions led directly to the deaths of three quarters of a million men, including hundreds of thousands of Southern men, and the destruction of much of the South. How even the most devoted Southerner who wants to honor their soldiers can tolerate monuments to these leaders in their back yards is beyond me. These were also the men who ensured that every state legislature made sure that the primary reason they gave for secession in their various articles of secession was preserving and expanding slavery, while maintain white superiority. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens noted in his Cornerstone Speech:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

There is a final group that needs to be considered. These were Confederate veterans, including notables like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as men who did not serve in the war who joined paramilitaries that terrorized and killed newly free blacks. There were others who established the Black Codes which were pre-Jim Crow laws that placed many former slaves into a form of slavery by other means, imprisoning them and making them forced laborers on plantations, and businesses, many owned by Northerners. 

Racism and slavery was at the heart of the war, and it was not just a Southern problem. Many Northern businesses and banks had a strong financial interest in slavery, and there was a strong anti-war, pro-Confederate movement in the North that fully approved of slavery, the post-war Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Likewise there were many Northerners who were just as racist before, during and after the war. There were and are still are many Sundown Towns in the North and states that were never a part of the Confederacy. In no way can Northerners be fully excused from the crime of slavery, nor can they be absolved of being as racist any pro-slavery Confederate or Jim Crow proponent. Some of these men have monuments built in their honor which likewise should be examined if we are going to talk about the Confederate monuments. 

As to the monuments themselves, the vast majority were erected after the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized the Jim Crow Laws and empowered the movement to disenfranchise blacks, to fire them from positions in Federal and State governments, and to use violence against Blacks to keep them in line. Almost all of the monuments which were erected between 1895 and 1930 were put up not to honor the men who served but to remind Blacks of their status. The same is true of the next major surge of monument building which occurred during the Civil Rights movement, again to demonstrate to Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, and many of these monuments were erected in places where no Confederate soldiers came from, and others which commemorate men who committed terrorist acts and murder against Blacks in the years after the war. In many case these monuments are located in cities and towns that are heavily African American. Two of these are no far from where I live in Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia. They have different histories which I think leads to a discussion about their context. 

So, that is some of the background. I’ve written a lot about slavery, secession, and Jim Crow and will put some of those articles out again, and tomorrow I will have my proposal on what I think should be done with the various monuments. This will take into the context each type of monument and how to respectfully deal with them and how people feel about them, both opponents and supporters. In looking at what I wrote here the series may well be more than two parts. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

4 Comments

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

“Time to Oblterate the Marks of Civil Strife and the Feelings of Oblivion the Feelings it Engendered”  


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post today because I have become weary of cyber-battles with neo-Confederates and Alt-Right Nazis. That is not to say that I won’t stop fighting them, but don’t have a lot of energy to put into this post because of those battles. I guess it could be worse, I could be tired because I had spent the day getting real bullets fired at me by these people’s Confederate and Nazi ancestors. I have been shot at in combat by Iraqi insurgents, and no it is not fun, especially when you are the only guy there without a weapon. That being said, my ancestors on both sides of my family fought for the Confederacy, and those on my paternal side were slave owners, Confederate officers, and unrepentant rebels who would not reconcile themselves to the defeat of the Confederacy. 

Unlike my ancestors, Confederate General James Longstreet was honest with himself and to the causes of the war. He wrote this in 1867:

“The surrender of the Confederate armies in 1865 involved: 1. The surrender of the claim to the right of secession. 2. The surrender of the former political relations of the negro. 3. The surrender of the Southern Confederacy. These issues expired on the fields last occupied by the Confederate armies. There they should have been buried. The soldier prefers to have the sod that receives him when he falls cover his remains. The political questions of the war should have been buried upon the fields that marked their end.” 

I am going to write about my rather nuanced view of statues dedicated to Confederate soldiers or leaders in the next few days. I had a really good, and lengthy discussion today with a fellow officer and friend about that subject. When I write it my words will probably not make anyone completely happy because I am not an absolutist in my views. While I reject what my ancestors fought for I also know that there were Confederate soldiers who were drafted against their will, Southerners like George Thomas and John Buford, who fought for the Union, and Northerners who fought political battles against Abraham Lincoln and wanted the South to win its independence because it would be good for business, and because they were as racist as the most rabid slave power secessionist. There were also Confederates who after their defeat, including James Longstreet, John Mosby, and Billy Malone who reconciled with the United States, recanted their secessionist views, and were demonized as if they were Judas Iscariot by the leaders of the Lost Cause cult because they did so. 

Robert E. Lee, who as so many statues in his honor including the one in Charlottesville that the Neo-Nazis supposedly went to defend, made this comment regarding such things, he was not in favor of them because he did not think it wise to keep open the wounds of war. He said:

“I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.” 

The neo-Confederates would be wise to heed to his words and those of James Longstreet. 

But I’ll leave that until I write that article. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

6 Comments

Filed under civil rights, civil war, ethics, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Robert Smalls and Freedom

Robert Smalls 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am going to be busy the next couple of days working on some things for my literary agent that hopefully will help my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era move towards publication. So for the next few days I will probably post very short articles of re-runs of older ones. This is an article that with a few minor changes that I posted here a year ago, and since today is the 155th anniversary of the act I thought it would be a good time to re-post it. I hope that you enjoy it. 

There are some people and events that are important but get swept up in broader historic events and today we remember the anniversary of an act of daring that led to freedom. This is the story of Robert Smalls, a slave in Charleston South Carolina. Smalls was hired out to work with the money going to his master. He worked in a number of jobs, but as a teenager fell in love with the sea. He went to work as a slave worker on the city’s waterfront where he started as a common dockworker, became a rigger, a sailmaker, and finally a wheelman, which basically was a ship’s pilot, since slaves were not permitted that title. Even so his abilities and knowledge of Charleston harbor well well known and respected by ship owners. 

The CSS (later USS) Planter 

When South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy went to war, Smalls was assigned as wheelman of the CSS Planter, a small and lightly armed transport. On the night of May 12th and 13th of 1862, Smalls took advantage of all three white officer’s absence ashore, by putting into effect an escape plan he had worked out with the other slave crew members of Planter. Smalls and seven other slaves got the ship underway, with Smalls donning the captain’s uniform and a straw hat similar to the captain’s. In the darkness the ruse was perfect, no Confederates ashore suspected anything as Planter stopped to pick up the escaped slaves family members at another wharf before Smalls sailed out past the range of the Confederate shore battery guns to surrender to the USS Onward. Smalls present the U.S. Navy with the ship, her cargo, which included four artillery pieces intended for a Confederate fort in the harbor, but more importantly a Confederate code book and charts showing the location of deadly undersea mines and torpedoes that had been laid in the harbor. 

Smalls quickly became a hero. Congress voted him and his crew the prize money for the ship, and he met with Secretary of War Stanton to argue the case that blacks should be allowed to serve. Smalls’ story helped convince Lincoln of allowing African Americans to serve in the United Staes forces. Smalls served as a civilian pilot working for the Navy and and the Army, serving in numerous battles. He was the pilot for the experimental ironclad USS Keokuk when that ship was heavily damaged by over 90 hits at Charleston. He was responsible for getting the ship safely out of range of the  Confederate batteries before she sank, thus saving many crew members. 

He then was reassigned to the USS Planter, now assigned to the Army. The ship got caught in a crossfire between the Union and Confederate forces and Planter’s captain ordered the ship to surrender. Smalls objected, knowing that any African American caught serving Union forces would not be treated as prisoners of war, but either returned to slavery or executed by order of the Confederate Congress. Smalls took command of the vessel and steered her out of harm’s way. He was appointed Captain of the ship and was present for the ceremonial raising of the American flag over Fort Sumter in April 1865. Smalls was the first African American to command a ship in the service of the U.S. Military.

After the war Smalls got an education and when the 14th Amendment was passed ran for office, serving in the South Carolina legislature and as a member of Congress. He fought against changes to the 1895 South Carolina Constituion that disenfhchised African Americans and codified the Jim Crow laws which had be upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. 

In 1889 Smalls was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort and served in that office until 1911. He also was director of a black owner railroad, and helped publish the black owners Beaufort Standard newspaper. He died in 1915 at the age of 75. 

Small’s courage and his fight for freedom, as well as others who did so should not be forgotten. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy