Tag Archives: American Civil War

The Way We Were ?!? Part One


There are two historical topics which I enjoy studying and am loathe to write about, ironically for the same reason. The first is RMS Titanic, and the second is the American Civil War or as it is known in the South, The War of Northern Aggression. The reason I do not like writing on these two topics is that they are fields of historical research where emotional attachment and opinion override evidence and logic. It is in these two fields of historical research where people make the strongest assertions that their opinion is not opinion but fact, and where the discourse between those of different opinions is the most disrespectful and caustic – at best. When all else fails, the intelligence of opponents is attack as if, you guessed it, these attacks (opinions) were also established fact demonstrated by evidence instead of what they really are, which is dogmatic opinions. And what are those opinions, really? In most (but not all) cases they are an attempt by someone losing an argument to bully an opponent into silence, or someone content to find “authorities” they agree with to mimic instead of researching the material themselves. This last group moves to the attack the quickest depending on how long their memory is. The fewer words of their hero they can remember, the sooner they launch into personal attacks.

Today I wish to discuss black (negro, colored, people of color, Afro-American, African-American, or whatever term your generation uses) who are veterans of the Confederacy. I am sure I will have something to say to upset everyone, at least a little bit.

I remember a long time ago I had an English teacher talking to me about essays. She said it is hard to prove a negative. You know what I mean, bigfoot doesn’t exist, space aliens don’t exits, God doesn’t exist (I’m not taking sides one way or the other on these, they are just examples). So, I am going to start with the negative “… did not happen,” side of this story and then move on to the “… it did happen” side of the story, and end with my analysis. Like I said, I’ll probably upset everyone a little, but if you read my articles two years ago on how I do research then you will not be surprised by my approach.

What got me started on this is an episode of The History Detectives on PBS. A show I thoroughly enjoy. You can go to www.pbs.org and watch this particular episode for yourself (aired October 11, 2011 : episode title “Chandler Tintype, Hollywood Indian Ledger, Harlem Heirs). It is one of the few programs on TV that I really enjoy, and I also like each of the show’s hosts. They all do very good work and their support team is very good at what they do. Wes Cowan hosted the segment I am going to use as my intro into this topic. Now, I need to be fair to Mr. Cowan, he is an appraiser and auctioneer, not a credentialed historian. But he does have a good foundation in history for his work, and (in my opinion) does an outstanding job on the show.

For those who do not know, viewers contact the show about an object they have. An object they know nothing about, someone told them about, or just something they want to know about that is or could be historical. The hosts then track down the historical evidence using primary source material to tell the owner what they have.

The part of this particular episode we are interested in is the first one and is about a Civil War photograph (not particularly rare), of two confederate soldiers (a little more rare), one of them black (ok, more rare), sitting side by side. Yup, this is very rare Andrew (white guy) and Silas (black guy) are sitting side by side. Normally even the union photos of blacks and whites always show the black man in a subservient position (standing behind the white guy or holding the reins of the horse the white guy is sitting on), never side by side as equals would be. The descendents of the two men explain the family history states the one man gave the other his freedom before the war started, and that they fought together in the same unit for the Confederacy.

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

There was also other questions they wanted answers to, but we are going to confine our discussion to Silas’ service in the Confederacy. So, these are the questions we will examine:

  1. Was Silas given his freedom before the war started?
  2. Did Silas fight as a Confederate soldier?
  3. If Silas did fight as a Confederate soldier, was he doing so as a slave against his will, or voluntarily as a freed man?

Mr. Cowan went to Dr. Mary Francis Berry, University Of Pennsylvania Historian, (who teaches the History of American Law, and the History of Law and Social Policy. She also advises students in African American History) to answer these questions.

Dr. Berry shared, quite correctly, there were free people of color who joined the militia at the beginning of the war, but those units never saw battle and were disbanded by the state legislatures not long into the war. She went on to say that Silas was not freed on the eve of the war, because in Louisiana it was illegal to give slaves their freedom by 1856.

Mr. Cowan and Dr. Berry go on to talk about the “myth of black Confederates.” When Mr. Cowan tried to say it not possible for Silas to fight for the Confederacy, Dr, Berry said it would be inaccurate to say there was no way they could not have fought, but they were not accepted by the Confederacy as soldiers. Blacks were used in supporting roles for the Confederacy (cooks, teamsters driving supply wagons, servants, construction and other support roles). It was also said that since these men were slaves, they were forced into service and did not have a choice in the decision of whether they would support the Confederacy or not. There support of the Confederacy was, in other words, compulsory.

Next, Mr. Cowan used the Civil War Roster web site, which is maintained by the National Park Service. This site listed Andrew was listed, but Silas was not listed. Mr. Cowan used this to support his conclusion that Silas did not fight for the Confederacy. He also checked the 1860 census for Chickasaw Parish Louisiana and found no listing of any freedmen in the Parish (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties). The pension that Silas received as a servant (slave) in the service of the Confederacy was explained as part of the “Lost Cause” justification common in the late 19th and early 20th century in the South as an attempt to justify the Civil War.

Next week we will discuss the side of the argument that there were freedmen and slaves who fought for the Confederacy. The third part of this series will be my analysis of the pro and con evidence given by the two sides.

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Jocko … a Racist Icon or Deliverer of the Oppressed?


image of lawn jockey

image of lawn jockey, the Jocko style (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most lawn jockeys today are white, but over 100 years ago most were black. There are two styles of lawn jockey, the Jocko (black) and the Cavalier Spirit (white). The Jocko is the lawn jockey that interests us now.

The jocko lawn jockey had exaggerated features; big eyes, flat nose, curly hair and large lips. The skin tone was often a gloss black and during the American Civil War, they were made of cast iron. Legend has it that the inspiration for the Jock lawn jockey goes back to an American Revolutionary War hero, under General George Washington, though no supporting evidence has been discovered yet.

Charles Blockson, the curator of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, states the Jockos were used in the underground railroad during the civil war. He goes on to state that a green ribbon tied to the statue meant it was safe and a red ribbon meant it was not safe. Mr. Blockson says that many people who do not know the history of Jocko have feelings of humiliation and anger when they see the statue.

Many people discredit the Underground Railroad affiliation because red and green signals meaning stop/go or danger/safe were not standardized until World War One. If it were not for Judge Benjamin Piatt and his wife, I would have to agree.

Judge Piatt built a house in what is today West Liberty, Ohio; in Logan County. Judge Piatt was also the father of Don and Abram Piatt. The two brothers built the Piatt Castles (Mac-O-Chee and Mac-A-Cheek) after the civil war. The Castles are open for tours from spring to fall. Mrs. Piatt was an abolitionists and Benjamin Piatt a circuit judge. Due to the Fugitive Slave Act, the judge could not associate with his wife’s abolitionist work. Mrs. Piatt used their home as a station for runaway slaves going to Canada. When the judge was away Mrs. Piatt put a small American flag in Jocko’s hand to show it was safe. When the judge was home Mrs. Piatt removed the flag so the conductor and runaway slaves would know it was not safe to stop.

Being an officer of the court the judge had to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and could not be aware of her activities. But of course the judge was no fool and was perfectly aware of his wife’s activities. To ensure he would remain ignorant of his wife’s activities he would always send a messenger to tell his wife when he was coming home.

You decide. Is Jocko an icon of racism or a deliverer of the oppressed?

In the future I will write more about the Piatt family and their wonderful castles.

English: Side of Mac-A-Cheek Castle, located o...

English: Side of Mac-A-Cheek Castle, located off State Route 245 east of West Liberty in Monroe Township, Logan County, , . Built in 1864, it and the nearby Mac-O-Chee Castle are operated as historic house museums. Under the name of “Abram S. Piatt House and Donn S. Piatt House”, the Piatt Castles are listed on the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Front and side of Mac-O-Chee Castle, ...

English: Front and side of Mac-O-Chee Castle, located off State Route 245 east of West Liberty in Monroe Township, Logan County, , . Built in 1864, it and the nearby Mac-A-Cheek Castle are operated as historic house museums. Under the name of “Abram S. Piatt House and Donn S. Piatt House”, the Piatt Castles are listed on the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Hunley Blue Signal Light


English: U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Fleagle, 1st B...

This is an example of flairs at night. Definately more visible than an oil lantern. (English: U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Fleagle, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment fire support officer, observes illumination rounds fired during Operation Tora Arwa V in the Kandahar province Aug. 2. The illumination rounds were fired from M777 Howitzers and are used to help illuminate a certain area the Soldiers need to see. (Photo credit: Wikipedia))

This is not one of the articles in the Hunley series, it is an apology. In my articles I always try to walk the fine line between sharing new information and “talking down” to my readers (I don’t like it when people do that to me either). People today are so very informed about a wide variety of subjects. The problem is that sometimes I forget that some things are not common knowledge. The Hunley‘s blue light is just such a case.

Some sources inter-change blue light and blue lantern. This is incorrect. The Hunley did have a lantern on board, but they did not use the lantern to give the famous blue light signal. At that time, blue light, was a term that described a signal flare that gave off a blue light. The blue light can be seen for about 4 miles at sea and a lantern can be seen for about 1 mile. Many people who searched for the Hunley also did not understand this difference, which led them to search for the Hunley in the wrong location.

Chris Rucker wrote a very good and surprisingly short article on this topic ( here is the link http://civilwartalk.com/threads/h-l-hunleys-blue-lantern-myth.64150/ ). Chris has conducted research using the orignal ingredients for the Civil War area flare, and shared his research on YouTube.com (the video titles are in his article). Chris’ research on this topic will be shared in a longer article in the first issue of Civil War Navy magazine.

I apologize that I was not more specific in my article. Thank you Chris for sharing your knowledge and efforts with us all.

HL Hunley Replica

HL Hunley Replica (Photo credit: www78)

H.L. Hunley - Downtown Charleston, SC

H.L. Hunley – Downtown Charleston, SC (Photo credit: Jason Barnette Photography)

Hunley

Hunley (Photo credit: sfgamchick)

first view of CSS Hunley since it sank in 1864

first view of CSS Hunley since it sank in 1864 (Photo credit: AN HONORABLE GERMAN)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica) (Photo credit: hyperion327)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica) (Photo credit: hyperion327)

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Our Other Hunley Articles:

The Submarine H.L. Hunley

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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