John Singleton Mosby on Slavery and the Cause of the Civil War

Screen shot 2014-03-08 at 9.05.26 AMWe all know about John Singleton Mosby, right? Yes indeed – the storied  “Gray Ghost” commanded the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry – aka Mosby’s Raiders. He was known for lightning raids and quick getaways…in other words he drove the Yankees nuts.

Mosby fancied himself a straight shooter (in more ways than one) and after the war had no problem speaking his mind – even on the controversial subject of slavery.

In a 1907 letter to Samuel Chapman, he wrote:

People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her Secession proclamation – because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding.

Now if that is not straight to the point I do not know what is. And this from a former Confederate! Now the good people of the South (the white ones, anyway) for the most part looked down on this kind of talk. Mosby had some other problems, too. He supported Ulysses S. Grant for President. This audacious move earned him the title “alien” in at least one southern state – as he informed a Charlottesville acquaintance. I am sure he was called much worse.

Anyway – I’ll admit that Mosby was the exception not the rule when it came to former Confederates and their stance on the “slavery as a cause” argument. I just wanted to point out that not all Rebels thought alike.

With compliments,


A Drive Through Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles

Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 9.38.05 AMWhile clicking around on the Internet Archives website for some useful film footage I stumbled across this great six-minute film plate of a drive through Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles in the 1940s. Studios would shoot shorts like these for background footage in feature films. Most of the apartment buildings, retail structures, and Victorian homes are long gone – though I did catch a glimpse (at 2:20) of City Hall in the distance. There is no sound on this film so you will have to use your imagination. And if you pay attention, you will see that the film crew is being followed by a pair in a black sedan. I wonder who was in it…

With compliments,

Californians Are SO Nice

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 8.38.34 AMI love the West! Especially here in California – we’re just so nice and generous and caring. Well…not really. But back in the 1880s, when some good folks were planning a home for destitute Civil War veterans, the idea was to suggest that something was different about the proposed home here in the Bear Flag Republic. In my quest to determine what Union veterans thought about the West, I have begun to uncover a few things. Here is what one San Jose newspaper had to say about the idea of a home –

The plan, as we understand it, is a wider and even more humane one than that of those excellent “Soldiers’ Homes” in the East, where in one large building the veterans are gathered into a male colony, to receive the benefits of which they must be separated form their families. There is something very shocking in this idea, which originated with the English Poor Law Unions, of separating in their old age husbands and wives because they are guilty if the single crime of poverty. An institution will be provided for the single veterans and small cottages, each with a little tract of land, will be allotted to those veterans who are still blessed with the society of their wives whose hearts used to grow faint and their eyes dim as after some great battle they scanned the list of “killed, wounded, and missing.”

So are the people of California thinking that those back East are somehow colder, more callous, less sensitive to the needs of those who saved the Union? This is actually a very intriguing question but one at this point I am unable to answer. Let’s just say this. It certainly seems from other things that I have been reading that Union veterans who settled West are tending to think of themselves as westerners – and are interpreting and commemorating Union from a western perspective. At least some of them are.

In the nineteenth-century sectional reorientation that recast a nation divided between old and new…East and West, veterans who made their way to California suddenly found themselves with lots to talk about. Aren’t you interested in what they might say next??

With compliments,


James A. Garfield on Partisanship, Treason, and the 1868 Elections

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 7.54.45 PMIn 1868, as presidential and congressional races heated up, partisans on both sides invoked the Civil War to further their (or others’) political campaigns. In the Republican camp, that wasn’t all that hard to do. Jefferson Davis was a Democrat, most prominent Rebels were Democrats, and yes…the man who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat too.

Of course there were loyal Democrats as well – so Republicans did their best to discredit them by making the obvious association.

I recently came across this letter written by James A. Garfield in October, 1868. Garfield had served as a major general in the Union army, spent nine consecutive terms as a Republican congressional representative from Ohio, and eventually was elected (in 1880) the 20th President of the United States – where he served only 200 days before he fell to an assassins bullet.

In 1868, Garfield was trying to convince one of his former Union army comrades – prominent Democrat William S. Rosecrans –  that supporting a Democrat for the House of Representatives was a heinous mistake – perhaps as odious as supporting treason. Rosecrans had moved to California after the war and was heavily involved in land development in Los Angeles…where he also became a key Democratic Party spokesperson. The following letter is a great example of a former Union soldier “waving the bloody shirt,” as it were, to make as argument.

“I cannot look upon your present political affiliations with out keen sense of regret – for it seems that the leaders of the Democratic party are so blinded by the fury of partisan feelings that they are quite ready to be led by the old secession rebel element of the south. Our good friends Gen. Schenck is fighting a desperate battle with the Democracy of the District – who are running Valandingham for Congress – I cannot for a moment suppose that were you here – you would differ with me in my purpose to so all in my power to defeat the traitor whom you and I sent through our lines – and electing his stead the Union soldier who helped save the Republic.”

So those who had fought to save the Republic always had this card up their sleeve – and would play it out regularly.

One last thing – someone came after me the other day for not posting footnotes when I quote original research. I have mentioned on several occasions that I would provide my sources to anyone who asked – just send me a note. But for the record, my snarky friend…

James A. Garfield to William S. Rosecrans, Oct 7, 1868, Box 12, Folder 71, Rosecrans Papers, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

With compliments,


The First Academy Awards

Screen shot 2014-03-02 at 9.43.23 AMIt’s Oscar night here in Hollywood and the town is all a flurry. I have to admit, I get pretty excited myself – the ceremony is right down the street from my house and well, being a Hollywood type and all (snicker), I like to join in the revelry. Naturally, the history of the event interests me. So while many in the rest of the country are lambasting Hollywood for its superficiality and botox injections (by the way folks…you are the ones who flock to the movies and buy the fanzines so shut up. Really…it’s irritating) I’ll offer a just a little on the first ceremony.

The very first Academy Awards ceremony took place at a private dinner in the Blossom Room at the Screen shot 2014-03-02 at 9.44.55 AMRoosevelt Hotel in Hollywood (just a block west from where the ceremony takes place today) in May, 1929. Douglas Fairbanks hosted the event, which honored films made in 1927 and 1928. There were 270 people in attendance and the award presentations lasted just under 15 minutes. Wow…things have certainly changed.

And in case you are interested, the Best Picture nod went to Wings, a 1927 WWI fighter pilot drama starring Clara Bow, Charles Rogers, and Richard Arlen. You can check out the rest of the winners HERE.

With compliments,