Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Contrarian

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Reflections” on my most resent blog entry and the related posts, I discovered that people who don’t know I write the African American Civil War Museum blog were reading it. One such person suggested that I was anonymous as a consequence of cowardice. My name is Hari Jones, curator of the museum. I really take offense to the criticism that my blog activity is monthly because I have never been better than a quarterly blogger. Blogging diverts my attention from researching. When it comes to my blogging skill set, it is not even sophomoric. It is elementary. But I have been compelled by the current situation to become somewhat more frequent.

As for my comments on Coates’ essay, I do believe I should have done a better job explaining the observation that his Civil War scholarship is sophomoric. Evident in the citations and observations presented in his essay, we get a rather eloquent regurgitation of the works of esteemed scholars and brilliant reiterations of obvious observations. The essay is like a “hip hop remix” with only contemporary rock and roll and absolutely no soul. Two of his three quotations of African Americans are through European American writers (Mary Livermore quoted Aunt Aggy, and Thomas Higginson quoted Corporal Thomas Long.). The African American most quoted in elementary school essays Frederic Douglass is the only person of African descent to get into the remix with a direct quote. Coates is too intelligent to remain sophomoric, so that criticism is temporal. (Yet, I am sure I shall remain elementary as a blogger.)

Also Coates failed to identify the failure of his Afro-centric education. The problem with telling this story accurately over the past twenty-two years, since the movie Glory, has not been the result of European American scholars who obviously suppressed and falsified the story for the first half of the 20th century. The problem is that those who seized the reigns of Afro-centric education failed to properly educate their students on this critical era in African American history. Coates as evinced in his own words is a poster child for that failure. And by ignoring that failure, his essay would be more properly named “How Whites Discouraged Blacks From Studying the Civil War.” But that is only part of the phenomenon resulting in relatively few African Americans studying the Civil War. As I often say, “the problem is not a ‘white’ conspiracy in the 21st century. It is simply the bad scholarship of persons of African and European descent.”

Now someone even referred to my commitment to excellence in scholarship as a “vendetta.” I would hate to give up my research time to pursue such a petty campaign. But I do get emotional when people fail to recognize the legacy of our African descent forefathers and contemporary leaders. If we mistakenly overlook the contributions of our contemporary leaders, who we know best, we cannot be expected to understand the legacy of our USCT ancestors and other Civil War freedom fighters. To overlook the Frank Smith Jr. of 2011 is to overlook the John S. Rock of 1861. My aggressiveness was motivated by my commitment to the legacy of America’s African descent patriots. With eloquence, Coates admits that he made a mistake of omission because of his unintentional oversight, an oversight that he has taken action to correct.

Another post I would like to address is the suggestion that my use of the phrase “black writer selected” alludes to tokenism. Coates knows his merits as a writer got him his position as a senior editor at The Atlantic. As a writer, he is no more a token to The Atlantic as Kevin Garnet is a token to the OKC Thunder. I will here iterate that I knew him to be “a gifted writer” before he got the position. He is indeed one of the best of the brilliant young writers that have experienced the magic of the You Street Corridor from the 1990s to now. As a lover of that legacy, I am proud to claim him as part of a You Street literary legacy that dates back to the 1890s. "Before Harlem" for Ta-Nehisi Coates, "there was You Street." We here on You Street love that he is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and we expect him to remember that there is an African American Civil War Memorial at 10th and You Street Northwest in Washington, DC.

Because of my harsh criticisms of inaccuracies, those who do not share my love for primary sources and accuracy have accused me of being a contrarian. Indeed, I am a contrarian when it comes to inaccuracies in history, intentional or unintentional. We should all be contrarians in those situations. Though embracing the label scholar, I am not by definition nor position an academic. I am however consistently critical of academics who endorse Juneteenth as it is currently promoted and explained, who endorse Glory as a story “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence” and who do not mention the accomplishments of African American soldiers during the Civil War, such as the capturing of Richmond. My criticism of Coates is consistent with my criticism of academics. Like many of them, he is a mature intellectual. Coates has addressed the issue of his oversight, and I expect his scholarship will improve to the unknown-to-me limits of his intellect. My prayer is that all Americans will become contrarians until we teach in our schools the accurate history of our nation and our world. Let there one day be no need for such contrarians as I.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Removing the Coat that Hides the African American Civil War Memorial

On National Public Radio (NPR) recently, the black writer that The Atlantic selected to explain why so few blacks study the Civil War declared that African Americans, at least to his knowledge, have no Civil War monuments. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist and senior editor with The Atlantic turned Civil War buff, was certainly feigning ignorance. As a Howard University student in the 1990s, he surely witnessed the construction of the African American Civil War Memorial a few blocks from his campus. Indeed, a little over a year ago he interviewed Frank Smith Jr., the director of the foundation that built the memorial. Why did Coates feign ignorance of the African American Civil War Memorial in front of a national audience? Did he really not remember the bronze statue named the Spirit of Freedom located on U Street in Washington, DC since 1998 and the Wall of Honor behind it with the names of over 200,000 Civil War freedom fighters of African descent?

In a well written article in The Atlantic entitled “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War,” Ta-Nehisi Coates shares his narrative on how he became a “Civil War buff.” He reports that his sojourn began three years ago when he read James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. Coates credits McPherson for his Civil War awakening. “Transfixed by the war’s central role in making democracy real, I morphed into a Civil War buff,” wrote Coates. He notes that he has subsequently visited battlefields in Tennessee and Virginia, but he does not however mention a visit to the National Archives in Washington, DC. Therefore, I conclude that he has not conducted primary source research at that important American repository.

Coates’ article is an intelligent and well-informed complaint against the American scholars who for over a century have argued that slavery was not a cause of the Civil War. His central argument is that European American scholars have misled and ultimately mis-educated African Americans on the Civil War and therefore blacks believe “the Civil War is a story for white people—acted out by white people, on white people’s terms—in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props.” Yet, most notably his article is a serious indictment of his Afro-centric education and the history programs at historically black colleges and universities(HBCUs), especially since he attended the HBCU that is heralded as the Mecca of those institutions. On the campus of Howard in the 1990s, Coates was known to boast that his Afro-centric education began at home long before he entered Howard. With this Afro-centric advantage, Coates rather condescendingly made fun of his fellow students who were awakened to Afro-centricity at Howard. By his own admission we now know that his Afro-centric education in the Coates’ household in Baltimore and at Howard was inadequate.

Awakened to this period of African American history by James McPherson, Coates notes that McPherson points out “that titans of American history like Charles Beard, Avery Craven, and James G. Randall minimized the role of slavery in the war; some blamed the violence on irreconcilable economic differences between a romantic pastoral South and a capitalistic manufacturing North, or on the hot rhetoric of radical abolitionists.” In 1935, W. E. B. DuBois noted that such “titans of American history” including William A. Dunning of Columbia University were engaged in such scholarship or rather “propaganda.” Certainly, a good Afro-centric education would have exposed Coates to the writings of DuBois. The failure of his Afro-centric education is disconcerting. Yet, even more disconcerting is his failure to address this failure.

However, Coates does admit that his teachers at home and at school failed to mention the critical role of African Americans in the Civil War. (DuBois does mention this role in his 1935 essay entitled “The Propaganda of History,” which is also the last chapter of his book Black Reconstruction in America, and Benjamin Quarles addresses their contributions in his 1953 book entitled The Negro in the Civil War.) Ultimately the failure of his Afro-centric upbringing and education was two-fold. One, his educators did not teach him that leading titans of American history were attempting to minimize the role of slavery as a cause of the Civil War even though leading African American scholars had written and published on the subject. Two, his educators did not teach him that African Americans played a critical role in the Civil War even though leading African American scholars had written and published on the subject. There is a trend here, the failure to recognize what African American scholars have been doing, that leads to a third failure that belongs solely to Coates. He fails to recognize the African Americans who have been “moving from protest to production, the burden of summoning our own departed hands, so that they, too, may leave a mark.” If a young black writer with a national audience ignores the work of those leaving that “mark,” then the problem is the education the young black writer turned Civil War buff failed to get and not the “titans of American history.” Indeed the titans of African American history recognized the contributions of African Americans in the Civil War and established a scholarly foundation on which we have built a memorial and a museum.

Coates is a gifted writer, but his scholarship on the Civil War is sophomoric. And if indeed he was exposed to the works of W. E. B. DuBois and Benjamin Quarles, and it is likely his father(founder of Black Classic Press) has republished some of their works, his lack of knowledge on what African Americans have been writing on this subject and doing to tell their story is appalling. Reading James McPherson, Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, watching the Ken Burn’s Civil War series, and walking battlefields are good beginnings for a Civil War buff. But to become a credible spokesman on why so few blacks study the Civil War, he should at a minimum recognize the African Americans who have taken on “the burden of summoning our own departed hands, so that they, too, may leave a mark.” They have spent many hours adding up to years studying primary sources. By imagining that they do not exist or rather intentionally ignoring that they exist, the three year-old Civil War buff with the help of The Atlantic and NPR as his pulpit becomes the “black” spokesman. This kind of behavior retards if not suppresses the telling of the African American story.

The African American Civil War Museum shares the African American experience in the Civil War by using primary sources. And with a critical analysis of the works of the aforementioned European American historians as well as the work of Benjamin Quarles, an important African American historian who taught at Morgan State in Baltimore for decades, we give lectures and seminars to educators. In our exhibit entitled “The Glorious March to Liberty: Civil War to Civil Rights,” we quote only history makers. We quote no scholars. If you were not there in the making of the history, you do not get a quote in our exhibit. We recognize the contributions of the African Americans who came before us, and we do not pretend to be the first to carry “the burden of summoning our own departed hands, so that they, too, may leave a mark.”

With the national attention garnered from NPR and The Atlantic, it would do our community, his community, great service if Coates became familiar with the work of the museum and the aforementioned African American scholars. He can begin by reviewing his own notes and videotape from his 2010 interview of the museum’s founding director Frank Smith Jr. To jog his memory, he can pay us a visit at our new site across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial. We’ve been getting visits from a lot of Civil War buffs who want to learn more about the African American experience in the Civil War.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Should America Celebrate Juneteenth Day?

American school children have been taught that President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves on January 1, 1863. However, Lincoln’ s Emancipation Proclamation only declared free slaves in the rebel states. There were fifteen slaveholding states in January 1863. The Proclamation applied to the ten states in rebellion, the ten states that were fighting a bloody war against the Lincoln led government in Washington. Therefore, Lincoln’ s proclamation had to be enforced by the military. Slaves in the rebel states were freed when federal authority was reestablished in those rebellious states by military force, and African Americans played a major role in the military victory that resulted in their liberation. African Americans who celebrate Juneteenth Day implicitly embrace the idea that the slaves were freed on January 1, 1863, and “ without any effort of their own.” Why do these celebrants accept as truth an inaccurate description of their own ancestors as “ inert recipients of freedom”? Most of them value the importance of knowing their history. Would they continue to celebrate Juneteenth if they knew their history? And why don’t they know their history?

In a 1935 essay entitled the “ Propaganda of History” , W. E. B. Du Bois wrote that influential European American scholars falsified the history of the Civil War in order to suppress the fact that the United States government, the Union, “ had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and established democracy.” The success of the propaganda campaign that Du Bois identified resonates today in the attempts to make Juneteenth Day (June 19) a national holiday. Over thirty states have made June 19 a state holiday, representing a major victory for the historians or rather the propagandists who deliberately falsified Civil War history to make African Americans appear to be “ inert recipients of freedom” who did nothing to free themselves.

The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) under the leadership of Ronald V. Myers aggressively seeks to make June 19 a national holiday. Announcing that Nevada had become the 39th state to establish June 19 as a state holiday, NJOF explained the significance of the Juneteenth. In this news release dated May 11, 2011, the explanation reads:

Juneteenth recognizes the day, June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to read General Order #3, announcing "all slaves are free" through the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. It took over two and a half years for the news to reach Southwest Texas, the last geographic area in America where slavery was practiced, creating the oldest African American freedom celebration and America's second Independence Day.

Let us closely examine the veracity of this statement and show how it’ s lack of historical accuracy aligns with the propaganda or simply the lies of those who have sought to suppress the history of how Americans of African descent freed themselves while saving the Union.

NJOF states, “ It took over two and a half years for the news [of President Lincoln’ s Emancipation Proclamation] to reach Southwest Texas.” Clearly implied is that the enslaved in Southwest Texas were doing nothing to free themselves between January 1863 and June 19, 1865, and clearly advanced is the description of the Negroes in Texas as woefully ignorant of events related to the bloody national debate. NJOF’ s statement is perfectly aligned with the deliberate lie of W. E. Woodward when he wrote: “ The American Negroes are the only people in the history of the world, so far as I know, that ever became free without any effort of their own.” To state that slaves in Texas did not get the “ news” that they were free until June 19, 1865 when Granger announced “ all slaves are free” is to assert that slaves in Texas (and in all the states where the Emancipation Proclamation applied) were freed “ without any effort of their own.”

Also NJOF purports that Southwest Texas was “ the last geographic area in America where slavery was practiced” and that slavery came to an end there when Granger read his order in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Galveston however is not in Southwest Texas. It is in Southeast Texas. The Union Army under General Nathaniel P. Banks captured Brownsville, Texas, which is in Southwest Texas, in November 1863. (See Harper’ s Weekly, November 28, 1863 at Also see December 12, 1863 article entitled “ The Texas Campaign” at See also January 16, 1864 article entitled “ Texas” at ) Five African descent regiments took part in this Union victory that resulted the Union Army occupying the southwestern tip of Texas for the duration of the war. These regiments became a part of the Union’ s occupation force in Southwest Texas from 1863 to the end of the war in 1865. (See National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors System (NPSSS): “ Search Regiments” and submit query for the “ Union” 85th US Colored Troops, 87th US Colored Troops, 95th US Colored Troops, 96th US Colored Troops and 97th US Colored Troops.) Two additional regiments of US Colored Troops were added to the occupation force in 1864. (See NPSSS and submit query for 20th US Colored Troops and 62nd US Colored Troops.)

Another notable error in the NJOF press release is the proclamation that Southwest Texas was “the last geographic area in America where slavery was practiced.” Kentucky, Delaware, twelve parishes in Louisiana and seven counties in Virginia that were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation were, in fact, “ the last geographic area[s] in America where slavery was practiced.” (See the “ Emancipation Proclamation” .) In these geographic areas slavery did not come to an end until December 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. NJOF also claims that Juneteenth is “ the oldest African American freedom celebration.” However, based on events during the Civil War, Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia (April 16, 1862) was the first African American freedom celebration, therefore, the oldest such celebration related to the Civil War. (See National Archives Records Administration “ Featured Documents” .)

Without an appreciation of the facts related to emancipation, Ronald Myers and his foundation continues to lobby Congress in hopes of establishing Juneteenth Day as a national holiday. The foundation’ s premise for Juneteenth is clearly false. The official explanation of the historical significance of the day is fictitious. Therefore, Myers and his foundation are attempting to legitimize false history. Unwittingly, this African American organization is suppressing the empowering story of how Americans of African descent freed themselves while saving the Union. This African American foundation enthusiastically makes it appear that African Americans “ are the only people in the history of the world… that ever became free without any effort of their own.” Myers and his foundation perpetuate the false assertions of Woodward and others who have sought to conceal the accurate story. Woodward was clearly a propagandist who lacked integrity, and Ronald Myers as president of the NJOF is unwittingly a Woodward disciple.

The truth is that African Americans played a critical role in their own liberations, and this story needs to be told and celebrated. African American soldiers were instrumental in the Union gaining a stronghold in Southwest Texas in 1863; in capturing Charleston, South Carolina, the Cradle of Secession, on February 18, 1865; in capturing Richmond, Virginia, the Capital of the Confederacy on April 3, 1865; and in driving the Confederate governor of Texas and his army out of Texas, out of the country into Mexico on June 15, 1865, four days before Granger arrived in Galveston. Without knowledge of such historical facts, thousands of conscious African Americans celebrate Juneteenth Day. Knowledge of the successful efforts of victorious African American freedom fighters in the Civil War compels us to reject the history presented by Woodward and his unwitting disciples. Conscious men such as Myers are victims of a very successful propaganda campaign and are apparently unaware of the facts. Section two of the Nevada legislation calls on educators to advance the false statement that June 19, 1865 is “ when the last slaves in the United States were emancipated.” Consequently, a lie has become law in Nevada. How has this happened in thirty-nine states when the accurate history is easily accessible? It has happened because the propaganda campaign identified by Du Bois was successful in mis-educating many conscious African Americans, and these African Americans have successfully institutionalized a lie that suppresses the accomplishments of their own ancestors.

Du Bois wrote in his 1935 essay: “ One has but to read the debates in Congress and state papers from Abraham Lincoln down to know that the decisive action which ended the Civil War was the emancipation and arming of the black slave; that, as Lincoln said: ‘ Without the military help of black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.’ The freedmen, far from being the inert recipients of freedom at the hands of philanthropists, furnished 200,000 soldiers in the Civil War who took part in nearly 200 battles and skirmishes, and in addition perhaps 300,000 other as effective laborers and helpers.”

The victims, the mis-educated, must be made aware of the truth. And after being exposed to the truth they should cease and desist from advancing Woodward’ s lie by celebrating Juneteenth as the day when the last enslaved people got word that someone in Washington had freed them. Certainly, informed and knowledgeable people should not celebrate the suppression of their own history. Juneteenth Day is a de facto celebration of such suppression. Americans, especially Americans of African descent, should not celebrate that which suppresses the story of how our “ new birth of freedom” was conceived. We should celebrate the story of how America’ s enslaved freed themselves by helping to save the Union. Such freedmen were heroes not spectators, and their story is currently being suppressed by the advocates of the Juneteenth national holiday.

Click on the link below to view the video related to this post:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


The United States Capitol Historical Society (USCHC) will host a symposium on “Emancipation during the Civil War” at the Capitol Visitors Center from May 5 -7, 2011. The title is of interest to me, but I will not attend this symposium because USCHC has selected an academic that either lacks primary source knowledge on the subject or lacks integrity when addressing the subject of African Americans in the Civil War. To adequately address the subject of emancipation, a scholar should possess knowledge on African Americans in the Civil War that evinces an intimacy with primary sources related to the subject.
USCHC has selected Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia as their keynote speaker to open the symposium on Thursday night, May 5, 2011. Gallagher has actually argued that the movie Glory is “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence” (see his June 2009 article in the Civil War Times). The fact that this Civil War expert made such a statement is clear evidence that he is either unfamiliar with the primary sources related to the subject or a liar. Either option is enough for me to boycott any event where he is brought in as an expert on emancipation during the Civil War, which pertains to the African American experience.
I am often asked why the well-documented experience of African Americans during the Civil War is still being suppressed while Glory is being promoted. Some believe that there is a contemporary conspiracy by scholars like Gallagher. I do not think there is such a conspiracy. I do believe, however, that their promotion of a Hollywood movie is a consequence of their poor scholarship. The movie Glory is obliviously fiction, and false statements are presented as truth in the postscript moving it even further out of alignment “with the historical evidence.” Gallagher and others continue to ignore such facts because they are ignorant of the facts. The conspiracy theorists believe that such ignorance is intentional.
Are scholars like Gallagher intentionally misrepresenting the experience of African Americans during the Civil War? The conspiracy theorists argue that surely these scholars aren’t ignorant of the facts. They do not believe that Gallagher really thinks the movie is “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence.” I disagree with the conspiracy theorists. I believe that Gallagher and other esteemed scholars are ignorant of the facts because they are simply victims of the conspiracy that was, a propaganda campaign that tainted the scholarship of our nation’s leading Civil War historians for over five decades.
In 1935 W. E. B. DuBois wrote in his essay “The Propaganda of History” that Northern scholars such as William Archibald Dunning of Columbia University had suppressed and falsified the history of emancipation during the Civil War because they were “ashamed they had to call on the black man to save the Union, abolish slavery, and establish democracy in the United States.” DuBois detailed the intentional suppression of this history. He identified institutions like Columbia and Johns Hopkins as being at the forefront of advancing the idea that “the Negro had done nothing to free himself.” This is still a popular notion among the well educated, especially among those who have the propensity to think African Americans were inferior or simply victims as a consequence of their conditions in the 19th century.
Leading African American scholars have done little or nothing to dispel the false images and grossly inaccurate history promoted by Glory because many of them were introduced to the military experience of African Americans in the Civil War by the movie. Accomplished scholars have told me how grateful they are to the moviemakers because they were not aware that African Americans had even fought in the Civil War before they saw the movie. They promote the movie twenty-two years after it premiered even though they know it is not “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence.”An African American scholar at Howard University told me that he recommends the movie to his students “because of its effort – however feeble – to portray the meeting of Northern and Southern blacks during the war.” Therefore, he is willing to take the images and concepts of a movie admitting that they are “feeble” to his students as images and concepts of instruction. The result is that he promotes poor scholarship instead of encouraging rigorous scholarship and analytical thinking.
Such “feeble” attempts, here meaning pathetic attempts, to teach history result in de facto propaganda and the appearance of a conspiracy to mislead or rather mis-educate. Gary Gallagher may indeed be an expert in some area of the Civil War, but his endorsement of Glory as “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence” is clear evidence that he is no expert on “emancipation during the Civil War.” The United States Capitol Historical Society will hold a symposium that is a “feeble” attempt to address “Emancipation during the Civil War,” and the attendees will leave with information that will make it more difficult for them to apprehend the truth. Such activities function as de facto propaganda, and for that reason I shall not attend the symposium.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Questions from a 7th Grader Major

This month, I had the pleasure of speaking at Coppin State University in Baltimore, Maryland. One of the attendees was an exceptionally bright 7th grader by the name of Ime Essien. After asking me some very good questions at the program, he sent me an email with more questions. I read his email at midnight and felt compelled by the eloquence of his request to reply immediately. I have included his email request along with his questions and my answers.

Dear Mr. Jones,

I am the seventh grader, Ime Essien, that came to your lecture at Coppin State University. Thank you for speaking with me about African American soldiers in the Civil War and for the Delany Group Reading List. Your lecture was amazingly helpful for my project. You also have a great knowledge and background about the Civil War. You gave me a lot of important information that I did not already know. I am working on the History Day Project about the success of using African American soldiers in the Civil War. Here are the interview questions I mentioned to you in the attached document. Some of the questions you have already answered in your lecture but I need to quote you in my research paper. I hope you have the time to read and respond to the questions. Thank you again.


Ime Essien

History Day Interview Questions

1. Why was the petition that Fredrick Douglass had for black [African descent] soldiers in the Union with black [African descent] officers was important for creating more African descent units?

By “black” I understand that you are speaking of Americans of African descent. As a political scientist, I do not accept “black” as a scientifically and culturally accurate description of person of African descent. Therefore, I deleted the word “black” in your questions for the sake of cultural accuracy and good science. The difference in the terms is not simply semantics. It is a question of scientific approach and cultural accuracy.

Frederick Douglass’ petition was important in that it supported the requests of military commanders. Based on prudent military decisions, “necessary war measures”, Abraham Lincoln worked to get the legislative authority to raise African descent units because he
was made aware of their fighting abilities, and these highly motivated freedom fighters were needed to save the Union. Douglass helped in the legislative campaign or rather lobbying campaign. (See his editorial “The War and Slavery” which appeared in the Douglass’ Monthly of August 1861.) Frederick Douglass was important as the editor of a widely read journal. However, as a consequence of the physical and mental abilities of African descent soldiers, General U. S. Grant contributed far more significantly than any other lobbying campaign including Douglass’s. The 4Ls, Lincoln Legal Loyal League, provided very capable soldiers, guides, scouts and spies to Grant’s army during his Vicksburg Campaign. Many of these men were like their progeny today highly intelligent and elite athletes. William Howard Day, Martin Delany and Moses Dickson are the African Americans you should research in order to understand how these highly capable soldiers were recruited and trained. Delany opened a recruiting office in Chicago in 1863. He and John Mercer Langston were the most prolific recruiters of these elite soldiers/athletes. The African descent soldiers who fought with Grant in his Vicksburg Campaign provided the most important reason for more African descent units to be created.
There were less than 200 African descent commissioned officers during the Civil War. Soon after the organization of the first African descent regiments, there were African descent officers and noncommissioned officers who commanded troops in combat. According to the commanding officer of the 33rd USCI, initially organized as the 1st South Carolina, Colonel T. W. Higginson, Sergeant Prince Rivers was far more competent as a commander of patrols and raids than any of Higginson’s officers. (See Higginson’s book Army Life in a Black Regiment). Hundreds of African descent
noncommissioned officers were in de facto command of their troops on the company level. James Bronson, Powhatan Beaty, Milton Holland and William Pinn were noncommissioned officers who earned the Medal of Honor while commanding their companies at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. Two African descent regiments had African descent officers in command (Major Martin Delany 104th USCI and Lieutenant Colonel William Reed 35th USCI), but only one of those officers led his regiment into battle. Lt. Colonel Reed was the executive officer of the 35th USCI and was the acting-commanding officer of the regiment during the Battle of Olustee in February 1864. Reed was killed in action (KIA) on that Florida battlefield.

Major Martin R. Delany, commanding officer of the
104th US Colored Troops, was one of 149
African American officers during the Civil War.

2. What was the difference between the African descent units fighting for the Union and the Confederacy?

Your question assumes that there were African descent units fighting for the Confederacy. There is no official Confederate record that supports this assumption. There is some evidence that there were a small number of men of African descent who fought with the Confederacy, but the only unit of African descent in a Confederate state militia was the Louisiana Native Guards, led by Major F. E. Dumas and Captain A. Cailloux, both became Union officers. The Louisiana Native Guards witnessed acts of sabotage that degraded the defenses of New Orleans while on guard duty for the Confederacy. This regiment subsequently fought for the Union and liberty, like scores of other African descent regiments. The biggest difference, therefore, is that there is no Union unit of African descent that fought for the Confederacy, but there is a Confederate state unit of African descent that fought for the Union.

3. How was the Emancipation Proclamation an important influence for the Union?

General Grant observed that it added a “power ally” to the Union war effort. George Albright said that he was a runner for the 4Ls with the responsibility of taking the word to “secret gathering” that it was the day of the Jubilee and now time to aid the Union. Like the members of the 4Ls, the Emancipation Proclamation “added a powerful ally,” men who were eminently qualified to be soldiers, to the Union cause. African descent soldiers thus armed were made legal liberators by the Emancipation Proclamation. That would be like adding the top athletes in the NBA or NFL to your roster.

4. Why were African descent units created for the Union?

The rebellion of the Confederate States was militarily promising in July 1862. After the “greatest disasters of the war,” African descent units were organized “as a fit and necessary war measure to suppress said rebellion.” Abraham Lincoln states this in the Emancipation Proclamation. Therefore, African descent units were created to preserve the Union, the paramount objective of the federal government during the Civil War.

5. James H. Harris, an African American soldier, received the Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of New Market Heights during the Civil War. Were there any other African American soldiers in the Civil War to win an award?

The Medal of Honor is earned. It is not “won.” There were 18 African American soldiers and 7 sailors who earned and received the Medal of Honor for acts of gallantry during the Civil War. The first African American to receive the Medal of Honor was the sailor Robert Blake on April 16, 1864.

6. Why was President Lincoln against African descent soldiers in the beginning of the Civil War?

From the primary source evidence, it is clear that President Lincoln supported the legislation authorizing the use of African descent troops. After Congress passed the required legislation, Lincoln’s War Department immediately moved to organize African descent soldiers and deployed them in combat. The reason why many scholars claim that he was against raising African descent regiments is because they are critical of him for not subverting the Constitution by ordering their recruitment at the beginning of the war and such scholars focus on almost humorous Lincoln statements to support their opinion, which is not supported by the records of Lincoln’s actions. Frederick Douglass admonished us to evaluate Lincoln’s commitment to the effort of emancipation by comparing what Lincoln says to what he does. Lincoln does support the legislation to arm men of African descent; Lincoln does deploy African descent soldiers in combat; and Lincoln does give them credit for helping to suppress the rebellion, saving the Union and winning the war. The evidence from official records is clear that Lincoln was not against arming men of African descent.

7. What was the effect of African descent units winning battles for the Union?

General John Alexander Logan wrote that the battle cry of African descent soldiers, “’Remember Fort Pillow!’ – inspired them to deeds of valor, and struck with fear the hearts of the Enemy.” (See The Great Conspiracy by John A. Logan.) Confederate soldiers near the end of the war who were defeated on many battlefields by African descent soldiers grew more reluctant to fight. They deserted at a very high rate.

8. What was the first African American unit in the Civil War?

The first African American regiment officially mustered into the Union Army was the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. However, the smallest “unit” in the Civil War army was a company. Therefore, Company A of the 1st South Carolina led by Sergeant Prince Rivers was the first African American “unit” in the Civil War.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Corrections to Prevent Advancing False Reports

The false reports often advanced by leading scholars have nothing to do with a conspiracy. They have everything to do with inaccuracies. Whenever we make inaccurate statements or whenever they are attributed to us, we must correct them if we are to apprehend the truth. Defending our mistakes misleads those who trust us. I don’t want to appear right. I really want to get it right. Therefore, I welcome being corrected.

There are scholars like Noah Trudeau, on my "Delany Group Reading List", who I do not believe have advanced false reports. I also have great respect for William Gladstone. There are others, however, who have. See the Civil War Times June 2009 and read the article on the movie Glory. Notably, I think the movie was a great advertisement for the service of African descent soldiers during the Civil War. However, whoever says that it “was almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence” is making a false report. (See Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Robert Gould Shaw.)

We all make mistakes and must be willing to correct those mistakes if we are in the pursuit of the truth. In an earlier blog entry, I wrote that “Sergeant William Carney received the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1863." I should have written May 23, 1900. If I attempted to argue that my mistake is correct, then I would have problems with me. I would indeed be advancing a false report in order to appear right. I was wrong, but that’s an easy one. At one time I thought that Mary Elizabeth Bowser was a spy inside the Confederate White House. I was wrong. James Henry Jones was the spy inside the Confederate White House. There is no evidence that Bowser worked in the Confederate White House. I hated to drop that report, but the facts as I understand them today have compelled me to drop it.

Recently, I read that 75% of the soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts were college graduates. I even read that I made such a grossly inaccurate statement. The person attributing that statement to me was quoting a newspaper article. If I ever said that I misspoke. However, I most likely said over 75% of the 54th Massachusetts was literate. Hopefully, in the near future, I will become a hard target when my book is published. Then I will have a better opportunity to correct my own inaccuracies with help of good researchers who love primary sources. I can’t wait to get it right.

Some have asked for the newspapers that reported the capture of Richmond by United States Colored Troops. I refer them to the Philadelphia Press and the Washington National Republican, which in the evening extra on April 3, 1865 reads:

Finally, in order to avoid advancing false reports, I would like to report that I was a sergeant in the US Marine Corps in July 1978. I enlisted in July 1976. Some bloggers have been advancing false reports about my being a captain in the late 70s. I was a captain in the early 90s. I want to ensure that such false reports are corrected.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Commemoration, Celebration or Protest?

Commemoration, Celebration or Protest?

Is the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War a time to celebrate or to commemorate? For the British, the Fourth of July is no time to celebrate. Americans, however, view the day and the war that brought independence to the United States of America as a time and event to celebrate. For those who argue that the Civil War was not about slavery and elevate secessionist leaders as heroic figures, the Sesquicentennial is understandably a solemn commemoration. Those who resent such an elevation of these Rebel leaders are inclined to protest secessionist commemorations. Both groups are uninformed or ill informed on the activities of America’s African descent freedom fighters before and during the Civil War. Americans thus informed view the war as the event that brought “a new birth of freedom” to our young Republic, and for them the Sesquicentennial is indeed a time to celebrate. Therefore, with an understanding of the activities of these American freedom fighters, we can all find good reason to celebrate the commemorations of the secessions of the states that formed the Confederate States of America.

"Lincoln's Column"
After the election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States, African American laborers working on the construction of the U.S. Capitol dedicated this column to the president-elect.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Just over 150 years ago, Democrats in Ohio sought to nullify the results of the 1860 election because men of African descent, though prohibited by state law from voting, had voted for the Republican ticket. Solomon P. Chase was certainly capable of delivering such votes. Abraham Lincoln won the state’s electoral college by such a small margin that many Democrats believed it was the African American vote that gave the Republicans the state. This historical event was litigated, reported, confessed, ignored by mainstream historians and ultimately debated by those who were taught to ignore it whenever it was brought to their attention. Ignoring the fact that men of African descent voted in Ohio leads to a profound misunderstanding of the political activities, capabilities and intentions of Americans of African descent leading up to the Civil War.

Americans of African descent began preparing for a civil war years before Lincoln was elected. Dr. John S. Rock said on March 5, 1858: “Sooner or later, the clashing of arms will be heard in this country, and the black man’s services will be needed.” Rock declared that free and enslaved persons of African descent would be “wild with the enthusiasm caused by the dawn of the glorious opportunity of being able to strike a genuine blow for freedom.” When South Carolina secessionists called for a convention at Charleston in December 1860, Rock was certain the “clashing of arms” would soon be heard, and he rejoiced as the “glorious opportunity” emerged from secession.

On Christmas Eve, the South Carolina Convention passed a Declaration of Causes for Secession. They stated that the Republican administration that would take helm of the government in March believed “a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.” Determined to keep their profitable domestic institution, South Carolina’s political leaders “declared the Union heretofore between this State and the other States of North America is dissolved.” Quickly the South Carolina state militia moved to seize the federal forts in and around Charleston Harbor.

On the day after Christmas, Major Robert Anderson completed the transfer of his garrison from Fort Moultrie on the shoreline of Charleston Harbor to Fort Sumter in the harbor itself. South Carolina and other Southern states leaning toward secession responded to this movement of federal troops with outrage. President James Buchanan had promised that no such change in position would occur; thus, his Secretary of War John B. Floyd claimed that the move was against orders. Floyd was a secessionist sympathizer; and in a cabinet meeting on December 28, 1860, he almost came to blows with Attorney General Edwin Stanton over more than just the movement of the federal garrison to Fort Sumter. The next day Floyd resigned under accusations that he had sought to arm the secessionists by transferring weapons to Southern arsenals.

Frederick Douglass wrote that Buchanan had fostered “the state of disorder” and lacked the “virtue… to enforce the laws against the slaveholding women-whipping rebels of Charleston.” Douglass opined that the President was bound by oath of office to use force to keep South Carolina in the Union; but, he argued, Buchanan had virtually invited the slaveholding states to secede. Douglass stated that Lincoln would regard South Carolina “as one of the United States, and subject to the ‘Union, the Constitution and the laws.’” He also forecasted that the enslaved population of South Carolina would “prove the most serious check upon disunion.” Douglass viewed secession as an opportunity to end slavery while maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution and preserving the Union.

As the New Year of 1861 approached, Americans of African descent, such as Rock and Douglass, rejoiced for two reasons 1) Abraham Lincoln was about to take helm of the government and 2) South Carolina had seceded. They believed that Lincoln’s mission was to free the slaves, that South Carolina had to be conquered if the Union was to be preserved, and that their help would be needed to save the Union. Anxious young freedom fighters across the country waited to hear the “clashing of arms” and grew “wild with the enthusiasm caused by the dawn of the glorious opportunity” to strike for liberty.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Americans seeking to secure the blessings of liberty for the enslaved were indeed celebrating. It was like celebrating because you got into the sudden death championship game. It was time to celebrate getting the opportunity, but it quickly became time to practice, drill, study and focus. The rebellion was certain to become a war that if the defenders of the U. S. Constitution won, slavery would be abolished. The celebration corresponded with the New Year, and resolutions set the agenda for the year ahead. Celebrate, commemorate, or protest? Protest ignorance by helping the uniformed become informed. With understanding, let us commemorate and celebrate the Sesquicentennial together as citizens of our indivisible Republic. We are commemorating important historical events and celebrating our nation’s “new birth of freedom.”