Tag Archives: USCT

The Press and the 1866 New Orleans Riots

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.52.56 PMThe New Orleans Riot on July 30, 1866, was the culmination of mounting tensions concerning the 1864 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black codes, and the Louisiana legislature’s refusal to grant suffrage to black citizens, many of whom were veterans of the Union army. More on that later. Today I offer the reactions issued by the press. Political allegiance comes through quite clearly in these two reports – one from Virginia and the other from New York. And both figure Andrew Johnson as the primary figure in the cause and outcome of this riot. Reading the two side by side makes for a nice comparison.

Charles Wynne in the Richmond (Va.) Times, August 2, 1866

RADICALISM, REVOLUTION, TREASON, and INSURRECTION in the Southern States have just received a death-blow at the hands of the President. His order to the military in Louisiana, which we publish elsewhere, crushes in the egg the atrocious Radical conspiracy to bring about an immediate war of the races at the South. It arrays, by an imperative order, the army against the [Republicans] and all others in rebellion against the existing State Governments and laws. There is no more temporizing with the vile incendiaries who have been instigating the negroes to organize regiments, clamor for equal suffrage, and overthrow, by force, the present State Governments.
It is a fact, as disgraceful and infamous as it is undeniably true, that these demoralized traitors and revolutionists have had the sympathies of not a few military officers holding important commands at the South. One of this class of Radical tools was, beyond question, the federal General to whose criminal remissness the late riots in New Orleans are justly ascribed.
He permitted an illegal assembly to convene composed of men whose objects were the disfranchisement of nine-tenths of the white inhabitants of Louisiana, and the enfranchisement of the negroes. He also allowed the streets of New Orleans to be thronged by shouting, yelling, malignant negro companies, armed and ripe for deeds of lawless violence. Sympathising with these negroes and their vile white associates, he failed to lend timely assistance to the State authorities. A white citizen of New Orleans was insulted and outraged by a negro procession, and an alarming riot at once commenced, which resulted in the loss of many lives.
The wicked and gigantic conspiracy, Andrew Johnson crushed by the order to which we have referred. The whole power of the Government of the United States is hereafter to be employed to annihilate these traitors.
It is providential that there is no disloyal Congress in session to break the force of this crushing blow at Insurrection, Rebellion, and Treason. The President is master of the situation at last, and the Radical satrap who refuses to obey the order of his commander-in-chief will now have his head sent spinning from his shoulders.
A splendid opportunity is offered to all the military tools of Thaddeus Stevens to indulge in harri karri. They must obey their master or rip themselves up. The dilemma is painfully embarrassing but should they elect the “happy dispatch’ the sabers of the squelched negro companies are at their disposal. It is the favorite weapon of the disgruntled Japanese officials when they disembowel themselves at the gracious command of the Tycoon.

Well…he certainly gets right to the point. Here is another take on the situation:

Horace Greely in the New York Tribune, August 1, 1866

If any doubts existed as to President Johnson’s connection with the massacre in New Orleans it will be removed by reading his dispatch to Attorney General Herron of Louisiana. This dispatch, written with the knowledge that loyal citizens of the United States were dying from wounds received y a rebel mob assumes the responsibility of the deed. The policy that prompted Mayor Monroe and his followers finds its inspiration in Washington.
This conclusion fills us with inexpressible sadness, but we cannot resist the facts. It is a dreadful thing to arraign the President of the United States as being in any possible sympathy with the unlawful shedders of blood, but when a plain fact is to be stated, the plainest words are the best. In the first place the President recognizes a usurped power to communicate his wishes. James M. Wells is the Governor of Louisiana, and the official representation of the State. To him the President should have spoken. But Gov. Wells, a duly elected Governor by rebel votes, has called this convention together and the President steps over the theory of State Rights, and sends his commands to an officer of his Cabinet – his Attorney General – one Andrew S. Herron – a conspicuous Rebel in the days of treason. The President directs him to call upon Gen Sheridan for “sufficient force to sustain civil authorities in suppressing an illegal or unlawful assemblies.” If the President really believes that States have rights, and Governors of States privileges, then his course in recognizing an officer of Gov Wells’s Cabinet as the proper authority to call out troops is a usurpation.
It is folly to use soft phrases in speaking of this appalling crime. The policy of Andrew Johnson engendered the demon fury which has shed blood in the streets of the Crescent City. His statesmanship has once more raised Rebel Flags in New Orleans. The time has come for the people to speak – and let it be in tones so distinct and unmistakable that even Andrew Johnson will not dare disobey the warning.

What are your thoughts on Andrew Johnson’s policies and southern violence? I engage questions like this and many others in my new web-course on Reconstruction history. Check it out!

With compliments

Keith

Did I Forget Someone?

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 7.57.45 AMGreetings!

Well, in short, the answer is no. But allow me to explain. When I was conducting research on the commemorative efforts of Civil War veterans for my dissertation, giving papers on the topic, and years later, revising the diss for publication as Across the Bloody Chasm, I ran up against a good many people who found it potentially problematic that I wrote only of white Civil War veterans. They questioned: did I overlook, dismiss, or find their commemorative efforts not worthy of analysis? Of course I did not.

Let me assure you I greatly value and hold in the highest esteem the work of black Civil War Union veterans. I believe that there is much one can offer concerning their commemorations by way of investigation. But though many admonished that readers and reviewers would take me to task for leaving black veterans out of my story, I decided, with deliberate intention, not to discuss their commemorative culture.

I will note two reasons for this decision:

First, two historians have recently published excellent studies on black veterans. Donald R. Shaffer’s After the Glory and Barbara A. Gannon’s The Won Cause are both magnificent works that focus on black veteran struggles after the war, having won a sense of manliness as soldiers, and black and white comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic, the preeminent Union veterans’ organization.  While I contend that no book is the final word on anything, these two studies generally reflect my personal thoughts on black veterans (thoughts that resonate loudly in the archival record), and I do not feel (at least, not for now) that I could have added anything significant to build on what Shaffer and Gannon have already so elegantly accomplished.

Second, I was looking for the voice of the majority, in essence to learn if there was something crucial and overlooked that drove the general spirit of soldiers’ commemorations against a backdrop of national reconciliation in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. I believe it goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of the men who shouldered muskets in the Civil War were white. The Confederacy fielded  about o% (+/- .0001%) of their military age black men in combat roles, and the Union enlisted roughly 179,000 black fighting men to march into battle with the USCT and other black regiments – a shade short of 10% of the Union army. Combined, well over 3 million men served between 1861 and 1865. Clearly, black soldiers made up only a small fraction of the armies. Moving on, it made perfect sense that after the conflict black veterans would acknowledge slavery as the central cause of the war and celebrate emancipation as its consequence – no matter what anyone else said. Nothing surprising here.

My argument was with the predominating “reconciliationist premise” literature (David Blight’s work especially but also numerous others) that claimed white veterans put aside divisive issues in the name of an entirely benign and whitewashed reconciliation on southern terms.

With rare exception, they did not. In fact, many on both sides discussed with great vehemence war issues such as slavery and emancipation through any number of commemorative activities. And they went further than that, taking on highly volatile topics such as treason, tyranny, and the original intentions of the founders. Those who attended veterans’ gatherings or wrote narratives and recollections were bent on preserving memories, not whiting them out.

So it seems that white Civil War veterans – the majority of those who fought – did not dismiss war issues as readily as some scholars would have you think. They were perfectly willing to reconcile, but only on terms of their choosing – all the while acknowledging that the other side was profoundly wrong. As you might imagine, that did not work out so well. This is the story that I offer. You will have to read my book to see if I executed it successfully.

With compliments,

Keith

Frederick Douglass on Black Soldiers

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 10.35.22 AMOnce Lincoln gave the go ahead for the enlistment of black soldiers, prominent African Americans such as Frederick Douglass were asked to help with recruitment. Douglass was delighted and sent two of his sons to join the ranks of the now famous 54th Massachusetts. It quickly became apparent that black soldiers would not be treated equally with whites: less pay, no chance for advancement, and menial duty. Speaking to a group in Philadelphia, he explained that despite such treatment, the enlistment of black soldiers was a significant event.

“This is no time for hesitation…Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States. I say again, this is our chance, and woe betide us if we fail to embrace it.”

With compliments,

Keith