UPCOMING PROGRAMS 2017
|May 4||Bill Cookman||William F. (Baldy) Smith: A Vermonter|
|Jun 1||Brady Hennigar||Why history? Why the ACW? Re-enacting. Buildup of the Union navy: all through the Eyes of our Youngest Member|
2nd from right: Lt. Col. Ely Parker (Seneca Nation)
Military Secretary to Grant - draft of surrender terms is in his handwriting.
Lee: "I'm glad to see one real American here."
Parker: "General, we are all Americans."
[Custer was not present. 14 Union, 2 Confederates actually present]
On the evening of March 1, 2017 the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston had the distinct pleasure of hearing a presentation by Brockville native Dr. Cheryl Wells, former Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wyoming. Over the past several decades there has been such a tremendous outpouring of books, articles, magazines, movies, television programs, and other material dealing with the American Civil War that it is difficult to imagine that there still might be some unexplored or lesser known field of enquiry within this whole field of study. It was surprising, therefore, to hear Cheryl make the case that there is work to be done in the area of American Indians and their role in the Civil War.
It is not that this subject has been entirely neglected. Cheryl referred to several recent works dealing with the subject. For example, Laurence M. Hauptman's Between Two Fires: American Indians and the Civil War published in 1995 took a look at the contributions made by individual natives and their tribes to the Union and Confederate causes. An older work, David M. Nichols' Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics came out in 1978 and dealt with Lincoln's handling of Indian affairs on the western frontier. Not surprisingly, winning the war with the Confederacy occupied most of Lincoln's time and attention and he tended to view Indian matters as an inconvenient distraction. Ari Kelman's 2013 book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek delves into one of the most notorious incidents of American frontier history and demonstrates how even the passage of a century-and-a-half has not assuaged the raw emotions generated by this horrendous event.
But in the general histories of the Civil War and the studies of individual campaigns and battles the Indians often remain, as Cheryl said, an "invisible" presence. Prior to the outbreak of war in 1861, Americans viewed the Indian nations as, at best, fascinating and romantic relics of a bygone era in human history and, at worst, savage heathens who deserved to be extirpated from the western lands to make way for the white man.
Cheryl spent some time discussing a group of Indian nations who tried, with some success, to go down a different path. These were the Five Civilized Tribes-the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek, and the Seminole-who occupied the territory now comprising the state of Oklahoma. Originally from the eastern United States, these tribes had been dispossessed of their original lands in the 1830s and forced to trek westwards by the encroaching tide of settlement and the edicts of the Federal government backed by the U.S. Army. Prior to their removal, these Indian nations practiced agriculture, lived in towns, and had a generally more settled mode of existence than many other more nomadic tribes with cultures based on hunting. Thus, once separated from their traditional woodland homelands and finding themselves banished to the western prairie frontier, the Five Civilized Tribes decided their best chance of survival lay in rejecting their 'native ways' and adopting the white man's way of life. Cheryl illustrated this point with several slides showing, for example, Cherokee Chief John Ross posing for a photograph dressed in a black broadcloth suit, and two-storey brick homes owned by members of the Five Civilized Tribes that were indistinguishable from those of well-to-do white citizens. Some of the Five Civilized Tribes even ran plantations and the total slave population in the Oklahoma Territory numbered about seven thousand.
Given their economic links and close geographical proximity to Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and other southern states, it was to be expected that the Five Civilized Tribes would decide to join the Confederacy when war broke out in April 1861. The Indians hoped that by supporting the Confederate cause they would gain some leverage with the Richmond government in order to negotiate a greater degree of freedom and independence within the new Southern nation once the day of victory arrived.
Cheryl explained how the ham-handed approach of the new Lincoln administration alienated the Five Civilized Tribes from their Great White Father in Washington and left them no option but to side with the South. In May of 1861 Secretary of War Simon Cameron decided to withdraw Union troops from the frontier forts in the Oklahoma Territory as he felt they were too distant to be supported, now that hostilities had commenced. He also decided to stop payment on the annuities from the Federal government that were due to the Five Civilized Tribes under treaty obligations on the grounds that these funds would likely find their way into the hands of the rebels. The result was that several regiments of Indians would fight for the Confederates at Pea Ridge and other early battles in the Western Theatre.
Cheryl then turned our attention north to Minnesota where she provided us with the background to the Dakota Sioux Uprising of August 1862. Here again a policy of callous neglect and indifference on the part of the Federal government led to an entirely avoidable tragedy. The Dakota Sioux had watched for years as the number of settlers in their lands increased while game for hunting and trapping dwindled. The winter of 1861-'62 had been harsh and those Dakota Sioux who cultivated plots of land found their harvest poor. There were storehouses of food and other supplies at the various Indian Agencies but the Dakota were expected to pay for these goods and this year the annuity payments from Washington seemed to arrive slower than usual. Many Sioux faced hardship and starvation while neighbouring white settlers were prospering.
The years of accumulated grievances suddenly boiled over and under Chief Little Crow the Dakota Sioux struck back against their oppressors and carried out attacks against isolated homesteads and settlements. Hundreds of whites were killed until the Union army finally suppressed the uprising, capturing about a thousand Sioux of whom 303 were sentenced to be executed. In reviewing the trial records, Lincoln reduced the number of the condemned to 39 of whom all but one were hanged on December 26, 1862: the largest mass execution in American history. As for Little Crow, he and his son with a small band of followers decided to move further westwards to the territory of the Plains Indians. But in July 1863 Little Crow was shot and killed out of hand, for by now the state of Minnesota was offering a bounty of $25 for Sioux scalps. Cheryl described how Little Crow's skull and scalp passed through the hands of various 'collectors' of Western memorabilia until his grandson finally secured a decent burial for the remains in 1970.
Finally, Cheryl told the story of the Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864 in which a column of about seven hundred Colorado Volunteer cavalry under the command of Colonel John Chivington attacked and wiped out an encampment of Cheyenne Indians under Chief Black Kettle. Black Kettle and his band, comprising many women and children, were caught totally unprepared. They thought they had come to an understanding with local U.S. Army officers that the Cheyenne had no hostile intentions and would be allowed to make their winter encampment along the banks of Sand Creek. But Chivington's Third Colorado Volunteers had been raised specifically for the purpose of fighting Indians and so they went charging into Black Kettle's camp despite the fact that the Indians were frantically waving the Stars and Stripes in a futile attempt to demonstrate that they were at peace with the whites. Cheryl told the story of the massacre in horrific detail. The Colorado Volunteers killed men, women, and children indiscriminately and butchered and mutilated their remains to obtain gruesome trophies. The victims numbered about 165. In 2014 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the massacre the governor of Colorado made a formal apology to the Cheyenne. However, Cheryl said the memory of the Sand Creek Massacre remains a raw and sensitive issue with present day Cheyenne, some of whom have recently sued the U.S. government for unpaid reparations that were promised them in 1865.
The obvious conclusion from Cheryl's presentation was that the Civil War was another tragedy for the Indians on the frontier. Many Indians were naturally inclined to favour the Union side but their offers to contribute to the Northern cause were rebuffed. "The Civil War is a white man's war," Ely Parker of the Seneca tribe was told when he presented himself at the War Department in Washington; his credentials as a civil engineer counted for nothing. Fortunately for Parker, he had a friend named Ulysses S. Grant who needed engineers on his staff and so summoned him to his headquarters where he served from Vicksburg onwards and was present at Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Indeed, the surrender documents were in Parker's polished handwriting.
But for the Indians on the western prairies and plains, the Civil War represented at best only a brief respite from the inexorable pressure of the white man's push to the Pacific. With the coming of peace in 1865, the surging tide of western settlements and expansion would return with renewed force and vigor.
Written by Tom Brzezicki
DESTINATION FOR OUR DONATIONS TO THE CIVIL WAR TRUST: 2017
Your executive met to discuss the options for this year's donation and is recommending property at Brandy Station: 244 acres with a matching ratio of 6.50 to 1: $190,000 total. Our other choice is property at Parker's Crossroads and Fort Donelson - properties rarely visited by we Upper Canadians, or Lower Canadians for that matter. We'll show the map at our upcoming meeting. In the course of the discussion, we discovered that we have never had a presentation on the Battle of Brandy Station so Paul Van Nest volunteered to tackle that at our January 2018 meeting. Please bring your cheques or cash to either of the next two meetings to add to our booksale totals for a sizable donation to this year's cause. Or mail cheques to Lloyd Therien, 1641 Grousewood Ln, Kingston ON K7L 4V3.
ATLANTA CYCLORAMA BEING RESTORED
Atlanta's Cyclorama was closed in 2015 for 3 years of restoration work, totalling $35 million! It is an amazing painting, created by a number of German painters who did their work in Wisconsin in the 1880s. This one is the largest in the world, bigger than the one at Gettysburg. It is 100 m long by 12 metres high. The foreground is a diorama: carved figures of bushes, artillery and men which blend into the painting so subtly that they have to point out the line of demarcation. Unlike that at Gettysburg where viewers walk around a platform in the middle of the painting, at Atlanta the viewers sit on bleacher-styled seating and the platform turns the 360° while the commentary discusses what they are looking at. It depicts the Battle of Atlanta (actually the 2nd of five battles of Atlanta) to the east of the city. It is scheduled to be reopened in the fall of 2018. [This is an excerpt from The New York Times International Weekly, Mar 11-12, 2017, written by Paul Van Nest]
Our condolences to Gary McCabe on the passing of his son Scott. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 8th at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas' Anglican Church in Reddendale.
This book caught my eye when I was browsing the shelves at The Novel Idea bookstore, always a good place to find scholarly histories and biographies that the big box stores tend not to carry. According to the cover, Gerald Horne is the Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston and the author of over thirty books dealing with aspects of race, empire, culture, and colonialism from the 18th century up to the present day. Although Professor Horne's book does not deal directly with the American Civil War, it does touch upon that conflict and presents an interpretation of the causes of the American Revolution that supports the old Southern description of the Civil War as being a Second War of Independence, one in which the Confederacy claimed to be defending the original founding principles of the Republic that it accused the Union of abandoning.
A condensed version of the commonly accepted narrative of the American Revolution tends to go as follows. After the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ends the Seven Years War, the British government passes a number of measures to maintain the peace in its North American colonies. These include reconciling French Canadians to their conquered status by granting them protection of their Catholic religion and other legal rights, barring settlement west of the Appalachians to avoid provoking war with the Native Americans, and imposing taxes upon the American colonists to help pay for the recent victorious war of which they were the main beneficiaries. Prominent men in the Thirteen Colonies find these acts to be intolerable and an affront to their traditional rights and liberties under British law. When the Americans riot and resist, the British send troops to enforce the will of the Crown. The Americans muster their own forces and on an early spring day in 1775 war breaks out at Lexington and Concord. Six years later comes Yorktown and the British grudgingly acknowledge American independence by the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The collective genius of the Founding Fathers then devises a constitution of checks and balances to preserve their newly won freedom and democratic government. However, the problem of slavery is left unaddressed, a blemish on the body politic that is left for the future to resolve.
Professor Horne's retelling of the American Revolution is from a quite different perspective with the slavery issue squarely in the forefront. He begins his story in the late 17th century amid the islands of the Caribbean where Spanish, French, Dutch, and British colonists imported large numbers of black slaves to labour on their sugar plantations. Harsh treatment led the slaves to rise up against their masters in frequent bloody revolt, leading some planters to migrate to the mainland where they settled mainly in Virginia and the Carolinas. At this time British planters obtained their labour force through the Royal Africa Company, but in 1698 the British government, under pressure from the growing merchant class, threw open the slave trade to all comers. The result was a rapid increase in the slave population of the mainland colonies. In North Carolina the black population increased from 6,000 in 1730 to 65,000 in 1765, while in Virginia the number of blacks skyrocketed from 6,000 in 1700 to 120,000 by 1756. As early as 1734, there were close to 22,000 blacks in South Carolina, outnumbering the white population by about three to one.
White Americans lived in constant fear of slave revolts. Not only were Africans numerous and omnipresent in the daily lives of the colonists, but they seemed to have an uncanny ability to transmit information quickly over long distances. Some had arcane knowledge of plants, herbs, and poisons with which to practice against their masters, while others had command of several languages such as French, Spanish, or Portuguese. They were also strongly motivated to fight for their freedom and were fierce in combat when given the opportunity to bear arms in battle.
This last point was realized first by the Spanish and subsequently by the other colonial powers. Over time, the Spanish had allowed a class of free blacks to emerge in their New World possessions; moreover, the Spanish were also willing to grant freedom to slaves who were willing to fight on behalf of the King of Spain. Thus, British and colonial troops fighting in the West Indies during the War of Jenkin's Ear in the 1740s found themselves confronted with companies and even whole regiments of black soldiers marching under the gold and crimson banner of Spain. These units were also officered by blacks who conferred and consulted with Spanish officials on equal terms. Professor Horne emphasizes that Spanish policy towards their slaves was dictated by expediency and pragmatism rather than any high-minded humanitarian motives. Compared to other European powers, however, the Spaniards had "the cleanest dirty shirt" with regard to their attitude and treatment of their black subjects.
When examining the colonial period in British North America, historians usually dwell on the threat posed by New France to the expansionist aspirations of the Thirteen Colonies, particularly the competition for the lands of the Ohio River country in the mid-1750s. Professor Horne, however, assesses the Spanish colony in Florida centered around St. Augustine as a much more potent rival, mainly because of the beckoning haven it provided for escaping slaves from the north. The Spaniards were only too happy to welcome these refugees into their expanding colony where they could receive military training and take part in seaborne raids and other expeditions against their former masters. Indeed, the colony of Georgia was founded in 1733 as an all-white buffer zone between Spanish Florida and the British colonies to the north, although its slave-free status did not last long.
By the time of the Seven Years War, the British too had come to see that the thousands of Africans in Jamaica and their other West Indies settlements could be a prime source of military manpower. General Robert Monckton captured Martinique from the French in 1761 with the assistance of 3,000 black troops and a year later a contingent of blacks were instrumental in the capture of Havana. Indeed, some British officers found that free and slave blacks made better soldiers than white colonists, the latter of whom were incensed when black troops were given the same shares of captured spoils as they were. The British would later adopt a similar policy of arming blacks during the American Revolution, most notably when the Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, announced in November of 1775 that any slaves willing to enlist in the Ethiopian Regiment he was raising would be given their freedom.
Looking at the bigger picture, Professor Horne explains that as the 18th century progressed Africans were becoming accepted more and more in European society for their common humanity. He quotes one Scottish traveler in the West Indies who, after meeting a Jamaican man educated in England, concluded that "it is not color but genius and education that makes the man." Another British observer in the West Indies found that the French treated Africans as if they were "free people" and dealt with them "with such justice, favour, and complaisance that they have entirely won their hearts." By the 1770s there were anywhere from fifteen to twenty thousand Africans in the British Isles and the brutal treatment their kinfolk were receiving in the plantations of the southern American colonies helped kindle a growing abolitionist movement.
Meanwhile, the American colonists continued to behave in a manner that, as we would say today, placed them on the wrong side of history. Fearful of the ever increasing number of Africans in their midst, Americans resorted to floggings, brandings, and other barbaric measures to terrorize their slaves into submission. Those slaves found inciting revolt were usually executed, sometimes by being burned alive. Britons were repelled by such practices which they felt hearkened back to an earlier, less civilized time. When the idea was raised of creating seats in Parliament for members from the Thirteen Colonies, Edmund Burke expressed revulsion at the thought of rubbing shoulders with slaveholders.
Professor Horne states that the growing divide between the Thirteen Colonies and the administration of Lord North in London was reflected in differing attitudes and policies towards slavery just as it was in questions of taxation and representative government. As we all know, the colonists protested taxes on stamps and tea, but they were also angered by taxes on slaves. Americans felt an increasing sense of disconnect and even betrayal between themselves and the home country on the whole issue of slavery. Just as slaveholders were adopting more rigorous methods to deal with recalcitrant blacks, the British Parliament in 1772 passed a bill granting freedom to any slave who reached the shores of the British Isles, as if to say that British law no longer recognized the institution of slavery. A bill was even introduced proposing that slaves be granted the right of trial by jury, an anathema to colonists accustomed to a prototypical lynch law for offending blacks. And then in January 1775, only about three months before Lexington and Concord, came a bill in Parliament proposing outright abolition of slavery.
When the colonists took up arms against the Crown, they maintained they were doing so only to protect their traditional rights and liberties. The irony was not lost on the British public, and as Samuel Johnson famously quipped, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from among the drivers of Negroes." High flown rhetoric about inalienable rights, all men being created equal, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was only so much rhetorical obfuscation intended to hide the fact that the American colonists were willing to secede from the British empire in order to preserve slavery, just as their grandsons would be willing to secede from the Union less than a century later and for the same basic reason. Professor Horne is not alone in this position and he quotes fellow historian Michael Groth who states that, "in one sense, slaveholding Patriots went to war in 1775 and declared independence in 1776 to defend their right to own slaves."
Looking ahead to 1861, Professor Horne views the leaders of the Confederacy as echoing the concerns of the generation who fought the Revolution and concludes, in his unique non-academic writing style: "Defenders of the so-called Confederate States of America were far from bonkers when they argued passionately that their revolt was consistent with the animating and driving spirit of 1776."
Submitted by Tom Brzezicki
EXECUTIVE - 2016-17
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