20 January 2009

President Lincoln & Persistent Myth


"Of course, Lincoln freed no slaves. That's the myth. His Emancipation Proclamation was a military measure to demoralize and destabilize the rebellious South; it covered states he did not govern but did not apply in slaveholding states that remained under his jurisdiction." ~ Leonard Pitts, Jr., Miama Herald, 1/18/09

Myths, myths, and more myths. The Civil War blogosphere is full of discussion about myths when it comes to the War Between the States. Of course, most of these are academic blogs, thus their emphasis applies the ever-present template of negating so-called "Southern" myths, i.e. Lee's Christian character, Jackson's Christian character, The Lost Cause, and the absolutely idiotic notion that Lee's iconic figure can be attributed solely to Lost Cause sympathizers in the South (more coming on that in a future post, though I've already shot that notion full of holes).

Now comes Miami Herald journalist Leonard Pitts, Jr. (Pictured above) to our rescue with some cold shower reality.

(Read Mr. Pitts's insightful piece here. Watch the video too.)

38 comments:

marcferguson said...

Richard,
apparently Mr. Pitts is unaware that the EP did in fact cover some areas that were occupied by Union troops, areas along the Carolina coast. Also, every slave that had already crossed Union lines, or would cross Union lines during the war was freed legally, and actually, by Lincoln's EP. That the EP didn't free any slaves is the real myth that needs to be exploded.

best,
Marc

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Marc. I don't think he's unaware. Those instances to which you refer were nominal and unintended consequences. Most scholars agree that the intent of the EP was not to free slaves, but simply to, in Mr. Pitts's words, "demoralize and destabilize the rebellious South."

Thanks for your input.

marcferguson said...

Richard,
I would hardly call these consequences "nominal," since hundreds of thousand of slaves were freed by coming within Union lines, and it opened the way for well over a hundred thousand freed slaves to become Union soldiers. And the claim that the primary intent of the EP was to aid the Union war effort is hardly novel, as you point out.

best,
Marc

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Not novel, but often overlooked when politicians use the symbolism of Lincoln.

Border Ruffian said...

marcferguson-
"...it opened the way for well over a hundred thousand freed slaves to become Union soldiers."
=============================

It should be noted that many of the former slaves were forced into Federal service.

The notion that they "volunteered in droves to fight for glorious freedom" is a great mythology perpetrated by the North and still proclaimed to this day.

cenantua said...

"It should be noted that many of the former slaves were forced into Federal service."

Border... "Many?!" You have yet to show with any numbers even that "some" were forced into Federal service.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

". . . the enlistment of United States Colored Troops (USCT)—both slave and free—began in earnest in February 1864. Loyal slave owners were to receive $300 for each slave who volunteered to the army, and fugitive slaves were pressed into the service. . . When black volunteering also declined, slaves and freemen were pressed into the service."

Source:
http://www.kylincoln.org/lincoln/africanamerican/emancipation.htm

And:

Although the Union Army is generally perceived as having helped liberate African Americans from slavery, there are terrible accounts of their assaults on black civilians, including the rape of black women. Thousands of contrabands lived in shacks, tents, and abandoned buildings that flanked army settlements; they cut wood for steamboats, picked cotton, and repaired railroads. They met with great prejudice, frequently went unpaid and unrewarded for their services, and confronted lice, tuberculosis, and smallpox. Ward notes that more than a quarter of the black laborers pressed into service in the Union Army in 1862–63 died. To replace them, the army sent press gangs on surprise raids on black churches, barber shops, parties, and picnics:

Source:
http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/015_02/2457
And:

http://books.google.com/books?id=SQO6fHpInk0C&pg=PA186&lpg=PA186&dq=slaves+pressed+into+union+army&source=web&ots=_L92sml92_&sig=q1HJ_JhZunCWwYCgFi3umYmljTo&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result

cenantua said...

Thanks Richard. I knew about the documentation that suggested that it be carried out, but is there any evidence that it WAS carried out, and is there any information as to numbers? This is what "Border" was unable to do in a much earlier comment that he made in a comment on my blog. I'm particularly interested in the one thing that you cite, about replacintg USCT soldiers by sending "press gangs on surprise raids on black churches, barber shops, parties, and picnics." I'm not disputing that this may have happened, but do you know if there is anything documented to show that this did happen? Accounts of former slaves, Union reports (more than likely "unofficial" in the form of letters or diaries), or otherwise?

I'm also aware of how slaves were turned away. I'm probably more familiar with this in relation to naval vessels operating in river operations. The lengthy account that you show above is pretty much what I have read in different academic works. However, in "popular memory" within pop culture, the belief is more absolute (and thereby inaccurate) that Union soldiers operated as the great liberation force providing excellent conditions for those who were liberated. I think little is known in pop culture (or acknowledged in public education... one can also argue that it is conveniently ignored), typically, about the conditions under which "liberated slaves" lived as contraband and refugees.

Of course, I think the worst incident (at least that I know of so far) was where Sherman destroyed a bridge to prevent slaves from trailing the army and, thereby, potentially slowing it down in operations. The Union army was, indeed, an army of liberation, but they were by no means ready, logistically or mentally (racially), to deal with the resulting liberation.

cenantua said...

Richard,

Pardon me for posting this hear, but I wanted to mention something about your current poll.

I think it's a great idea to create this type of poll, but I think you loaded the question considering the theme of your blog and the readership that I would suspect that you normally draw-in because of the way you present material. In terms of the way people perceive the matter through historical memory, you might get some results that are worthwhile to consider, but you won't be able to validate them. You really need to pose this question to a neutral study group (in fact, I'd be interested to see the results of such a survey). It would be interesting to see how John Q. Public views this.

You might have opened it up a bit more by presenting it in a different manner. Specifically, I'd be interested to see something like, "Confederate remembrance is protected as a form of free speech through the 1st Amendment. However, do you feel/perceive/believe that Confederate remembrance should be considered a right or a privilege?"

However, even the question I present should be asked in a neutral environment.

I only say this because I've encountered problems in wording of surveys used as a part of usability testing. No matter the subject matter, the wording of the question can skew the results.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

You are hereby pardoned.

"I think you loaded the question"

Its pretty straight-forward Robert. It's not rocket science. Loading would read something like:

Are "Confederate Remembrance" events a privilege granted by the corrupt federal government or a right protected by the 1st amendment written by our wise and righteous founders? (By the way, I just realized I misspelled privilege in the poll. How embarrassing.)

"However, do you feel/perceive/believe that Confederate remembrance should be considered a right or a privilege?"

Frankly Robert, I couldn't care less what people "feel" when it comes to my precious Constitutional rights. And neither do courts of law. I'm interested in facts, as are courts of law, at least that is the way it's supposed to work.

I do appreciate your input and make no pretenses that this poll in any way reflects the thoughts of John Q. Public. Nonetheless, your visit shows that I have a diverse group of readers.

Perhaps you could post that poll on your blog and we could compare results.

RGW

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

Regarding the pressing of slaves into the Union Army, all I intended to do was show that there is sufficient evidence/research out there that, in your words, "show with any numbers even that "some" were forced into Federal service."

I've never studied the issue other than in passing. You no doubt know more about it than do I.

RGW

cenantua said...

Richard, You said,

"Regarding the pressing of slaves into the Union Army, all I intended to do was show that there is sufficient evidence/research out there that, in your words, "show with any numbers even that "some" were forced into Federal service."

I understand, and my response was not written to suggest that you meant this post as a something other than that. I was just wondering if you might know something else that might add to this and help us look further into this topic.

cenantua said...

"Are 'Confederate Remembrance' events a privilege granted by the corrupt federal government or a right protected by the 1st amendment written by our wise and righteous founders?"

Oh, now that's just ultra loaded. :-)

"Frankly Robert, I couldn't care less what people 'feel' when it comes to my precious Constitutional rights. And neither do courts of law. I'm interested in facts, as are courts of law, at least that is the way it's supposed to work."

Actually, we should care, because it reveals that there are problems in the way the general public looks at history, but more importantly it could reveal how distorted the public perception in in regard to Constitutional law. Honestly, you do care, because you make arguments that show that you strongly disagree with public perception of specific things. Why wouldn't you care that someone had a distorted view of the rights of people?

"I do appreciate your input and make no pretenses that this poll in any way reflects the thoughts of John Q. Public. Nonetheless, your visit shows that I have a diverse group of readers."

Granted, but are they all interacting with your content? Another objective of my current graduate program is to measure effectiveness of interactive communication on the Web. :-)

"Perhaps you could post that poll on your blog and we could compare results."

As I am also a practitioner of technical communication, this would be against my grain, as I think even the value of the results revealed in a similar poll in my blog might have the potential to be compromised. Personally, I think it would be interesting to put the question to a random sampling of college students to see what whether think Confederate remembrance, as a practice, is a protected as a right or was actually (in the historical sense) granted only as a privilege.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I was just wondering if you might know something else that might add to this and help us look further into this topic."

No, I don't. Sorry.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Actually, we should care, because it reveals that there are problems in the way the general public looks at history, but more importantly it could reveal how distorted the public perception in in regard to Constitutional law."

Yes, in the broader sense, you're correct. I was speaking specifically to the point whether "feelings", i.e. being "offended" makes any difference as to the intent of the right and whether or not courts should consider that in free speech issues.

"Granted, but are they all interacting with your content?"

Evidently not. Perhaps they are afraid to challenge me. Perhaps they have nothing to add. Perhaps they think I'm a fruitcake. Who knows?

cenantua said...

Noting that you have sitemeter on your site, I wondered if you actually took the time to consider your visitors individually and then compare that with the number who actually leave comments. In the end, it might surprise you to see how few do. I don't think I've ever seen a comment made from anyone outside the U.S.

As "1984" as it sounds, it is an interesting thing to consider when evaluating the impact of your presentation of content.

Oh no, now I'm really sounding like a techie!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

As is the case with most blogs, a very small % of visitors. take the time to comment. I just took a quick look at "who's on" my site and only see 2 visitors currently on from foreign countries:

One from Canada and one from New Jersey.

cenantua said...

"I just took a quick look at "who's on" my site and only see 2 visitors currently on from foreign countries:

One from Canada and one from New Jersey."

Now that's just "ha-ha-type" funny!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Sorry, I just could not resist.

marcferguson said...

I don't have it at hand to look up specifics, but Leon Litwack's _Been In the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery_ documents many instances of slaves essentially being pressed into the military. The mistake, in my mind, is to present this as the norm.

best,
Marc

cenantua said...

Thanks for the reference Marc. I also agree that this should not be presented as the norm. I'm getting to the point where fewer and fewer "norms" in Civil War studies is becoming the "norm." Certainly, I can imagine it as happening, but as to how often it happened, I imagine there is quite a bit left to consider.

Border Ruffian said...

marcferguson-
I don't have it at hand to look up specifics, but Leon Litwack's _Been In the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery_ documents many instances of slaves essentially being pressed into the military. The mistake, in my mind, is to present this as the norm.
==============================

If there were many instances it may well have been the norm.

"Officers in Command of colored troops are in constant habit of pressing all able-bodied slaves into the military service of the United States."

-Major-General Lovell H. Rousseau, Nashville, TN, 30 January 1864

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 32, part 2, p.269.

"A major of colored troops is here with his party capturing negroes, with or without their consent."

-Major-General John A. Logan, Huntsville, AL, 26 February 1864

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 32, part 2, p.477.

"...the Southern colored regiments with which the [54th] Massachusetts troops were brigaded were hardly a fair specimen of their kind, having been raised chiefly by drafting, and, for this and other causes, being afflicted with perpetual discontent and desertion."

-Col. Thomas W. Higginson, 33rd USCT (1st SC)

Army Life in a Black Regiment, p.303

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR:

Sounds like "many" to me.

RGW

cenantua said...

It sounds like "Border" makes the leap to assumption before he considers all of the information available.

You have accounts from three officers... three perspectives... Rousseau (in Jan. 1864), Logan (in Feb. 1864), and Higginson.

To what regiments were all three of these men exposed to, how long were they familiar with these regiments, and, the most important part, what percentage of all of the USCT troops were these three men familiar with? Without looking, in theory, I can even make the "assumption" that the three men were familiar with but a fraction of all USCT troops, but I don't do that because it is poor practice as an historian and even worse to try to convince others that I am right based on my assumption.

The quick jump to "many" is a gross assumption without considering all that is available and even the context in which the three statements were made. There is yet a significant amount of work to do before anything about this is to be considered as the "norm," let alone begin to present an argument.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

It's not a jump at all Robert. Simply a sampling. Logical conclusions can be drawn from such samplings, though more digging is in order.

cenantua said...

Conclusions made from poor samplings equate to poor conclusions. This is the weakness of the argument to suggest that this was a widespread practice, and again, the use of the word "many" is the problem. I'm not saying it didn't happen, but to what scale, a great deal more work needs to be done.

I can just as easily take three quotes from three different people who say they observed Confederates who clearly disobeyed Lee's orders upon entering Pa. in 1863, but is this sampling enough to sustain the argument that "many" did the same? Granted, it was done, but I can't assume that it was done by "many." I only know, from the evidence, that it must have been done by "some."

Border Ruffian said...

cenantua-
"It sounds like "Border" makes the leap to assumption before he considers all of the information available.

You have accounts from three officers... three perspectives... Rousseau (in Jan. 1864), Logan (in Feb. 1864), and Higginson

To what regiments were all three of these men exposed to, how long were they familiar...etc...etc"

===========================

Well, I am not surprised at your reaction.

If I had 10, 20 or 50 more accounts I am sure you would work just as hard at discounting them.
===========================

"The quick jump to "many" is a gross assumption without considering all that is available and even the context in which the three statements were made. There is yet a significant amount of work to do before anything about this is to be considered as the "norm," let alone begin to present an argument."
==========================

I haven't made a catalog of such statements (perhaps I should) but have seen enough over the years to be assured that "many" would be a correct description.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Perhaps Border will come up with more.

cenantua said...

"If I had 10, 20 or 50 more accounts I am sure you would work just as hard at discounting them."

"I am sure"

Making assumptions again, "Border?"

Like I said, I'm not saying it didn't happen, but to what degree, you haven't made a convincing argument to show that it was done on such a grand scale as to add the word "many" as an accurate form of description.

Again, like you, I can just as easily take the comments of three people who witnessed violations of Lee's orders in Pa. in 1863, and apply the word "many" to describe to others just how widespread the violations were.

Are you sure you want to go down that road?

marcferguson said...

I used the term "many" earlier when pointing out that Leon Litwack describes some accounts of slaves being pressed, or pressured, into enrolling. I can say that I meant nothing other than that I was aware of accounts, through Litwack, of this occurring. If I had been careful, I would have more accurately written that Litwack gave a number of accounts of such happenings. It is quite sloppy, in my opinion, to generalize from anecdotal accounts.

Marc

Border Ruffian said...

Here are instructions issued in two different military departments. The two covered a wide expanse of territory-

"....it is the intention of the Secretary of War that all able-bodied negroes that can be reached shall be taken to fill up the colored regiments.

At the same time it is desirable that we should make a wide distinction between the Southern citizens who have been loyal and those who have not; also a distinction between those who have not been loyal, but now express a voluntary willingness to return to their allegiance and employ their negroes in accordance with existing orders, and those who hold out in their acknowledgment of a Southern Confederacy. I would lay down, then, as a rule, that negroes who have belonged to persons of known loyalty only be recruited as free white persons are; that is, when they come and offer themselves. Of the second class they may be visited by recruiting officers and the option given them to enlist, and the able-bodied negroes of the third class of citizens may be taken possession [of] with or without their own consent.

All negroes who have not been employed in accordance with published orders may be taken to put in the ranks...."

Major-General U. S. Grant, Department of the Tennessee, August 28, 1863.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 3, Volume 3, p.735

*

"In view of the necessities of the military service, the want of recruits to complete the unfilled regiments in this department, the great numbers of unemployed colored men and deserters hiding about to avoid labor or service, and in consideration of the large bounties now paid to volunteers by the Government, General Orders, No. 17, dated headquarters Department of the South, Hilton head, S. C., March 6, 1863, is hereby amended to read as follows:

I. All able-bodied colored men between the ages of eighteen and fifty, within the military lines of the Department of the South, who have had an opportunity to enlist voluntarily and refused to do so, shall be drafted into the military service of the United States....

V. District provost-marshals are hereby directed to cause the arrest of all idle persons, and all persons within the military lines of their respective districts, either white or black, who have not proper and visible means of support, and to turn them over immediately to the general superintendent of volunteer recruiting service or his agents for conscription...."

Major-General J. G. Foster, Department of the South, August 16, 1864.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 3, Volume 4, p.621

cenantua said...

So, what do these orders tell us in regard to the numbers of those who may have been forced into ranks after the orders were issued? Answer: nothing.

Where are the official reports detailing the number of men forced into ranks by the individual regiments? Have you even bothered to look at the daily returns for the respective regiments ("Morning Order Books," for example)?

Have you bothered to look at the enlistment dates from a good cross-section of the regiments of the USCT troops and have you found inconsistencies in "enlistments" within specific regiments over specific periods of time? If you haven't done this work, will you even bother or are you content to make assumptions based on limited research?

So far, your "research" shows that you are not taking the steps necessary to make any well-founded estimations. There is a world of difference between armchair history and history that shows evidence of solid work in the "field." If you want your estimations to be taken seriously, you have a significant amount of work ahead of you, and much of that entails many months with your nose deep in the records that are available only in person at the National Archives (military service records being the one exception because of Footnote.com).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert:

The problem with this "academic approach" to a simple blog entry is that you (and others) often stray from the path of the original comment/rebuttal. You complicate matters far beyond the intent of the post/comment and often come off sounding rather condescending.

I think BR's original contention that "many of the former slaves were forced into Federal service" is supported by the resources he's quoted. We can debate what "many" means to various people, but BR's original comment is supported by the evidence and your last post comes off as an attempt to distract from that point.

RGW

Robert Moore said...

Richard,

I agree. This has strayed significantly from your original post. However, you opened the door for the different path by not wrangling "Border" back to the subject matter of your post. When "Border" made the following claim, the discussion took a turn...

"It should be noted that many of the former slaves were forced into Federal service. The notion that they 'volunteered in droves to fight for glorious freedom" is a great mythology perpetrated by the North and still proclaimed to this day."

Because the claim was made, it justified a response.

I agree that my responses to "Border" could be seen as condescending. However, whether the approach is academic or not, this is exactly the problem I have encountered in the way that some make arguments in relation to different CW related topics.

In lieu of making the claim "many," "Border" would do better by sticking to the fact that evidence shows that "it did happen," but to what degree it cannot be established without significantly more research.

No distraction intended; this is simply a series of responses to "Border's" claim.

Robert

marcferguson said...

The problem isn't really with the use of "many," which is vague and essentially meaningless unless put into some kind of comparative context. "Border's" point really wasn't that there were many instances of slaves being pressured or pressed into the military, but that the idea that a large number, perhaps an overwhelming number, of slaves freely enlisted in the U.S. army. He called it a myth that, as he put it that former slaves "volunteered in droves to fight for glorious freedom." He certainly has not demonstrated any such thing, though in my opinion his sarcastic phrasing renders his point almost meaningless and contains "many" implicit assumptions about the current state of historiography on the subject and the actual history of the events referred to.

Also, it isn't clear to me what he believes the excerpts from the OR's actually mean. If he believes that they show that it was the policy of the U.S. military to force all male slaves into the military, then I must confess that I don't see it. Read Grant's guidelines carefully, for example. My reading is that the only slaves to be taken without consent are those whose "masters" are still in support of the rebellion. It strikes me that this falls under the category of depriving the enemy of resources - the labor of these individuals.

Marc

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Also, it isn't clear to me what he believes the excerpts from the OR's actually mean."

I wouldn't parse the words to that extent. They mean what they say.

marcferguson said...

Richard,
It doesn't need any tricky parsing. The word "taken" does not necessarily mean "taken forcibly," and there is no reason to read it as such, in my opinion. One also "takes" what is freely offered. If the intent of the guidelines were to take all slaves with or without consent, then why is it necessary to specifically state that those of "Southern citizens" still supporting the Confederacy can be taken "with or without their own consent"?

Marc

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

We'll agree to disagree. I think you're parsing the words and getting beyond the original comment and assertion.