Perceptions Become Reality

Confederate memorials have received plenty of attention in the past few years. Critics say they represent a Jim Crow era and were intended to impose a white supremacy ideology. One blog post addresses an interesting question, why do most Union Civil War memorials not address slavery as a cause of the war? See that blog post here.

I think the answer is that most Union soldiers did not see their service as particularly entwined with the cause of ending slavery. But, the blog author makes a valid point, few Union memorials mention emancipation as a cause of the war and the soldiers’ service.

Memorials erected between 1870 and 1940 were not monolithic. They were not generally produced by some national organization with a national agenda. They were produced at the local level. Individual communities planned, fund-raised and erected these memorials to a war that affected more Americans than any war.

The blog author, Darren Barry, makes a remarkable statement:

In their physical manifestations and their inscriptions, Confederate and Union memorials generally paid nondescript homage to the soldiers who had periled or lost their lives in the war. While many Northern monuments touted guardianship of the Union as the main impetus for war, and Southern monuments conversely pointed to states’ rights, the question of whether or not this was a war to abolish slavery remained unclear.

The author is saying all Confederate memorials espouse states rights. He points to pages 35 to 39 of “Public Art of Civil War Commemoration” by Dr. Thomas Brown, professor of history at the University of South Carolina.

But, those pages do not say what Mr. Barry says they say. What Dr. Brown does say in those pages is that dozens of monuments mention states’ rights or local self-government. Others mention “constitutional government” or “constitutional liberty” as a motivation for the soldiers who were lost. Dr. Brown mentions that “simple obedience to duty” motivated their sons to serve. A “few” monuments borrowed or paralleled a poem by Harrison McKim, engraved on the tomb at Arlington:

Not for pause or reward

Not for place or rank

Not lured by ambition

Or goaded by necessity

But in simple

Obedience to duty

As they understood it

These men suffered all

Sacrificed all

Dared all and died

Yet, Mr. Barry concludes from this passage that Southern monuments – apparently meaning all such monuments – pointed to states rights. I tried to point out the error to the author, Mr. Barry. But, he insisted “few” means only a few monuments mentioned “obedience to duty.” Even so, his post does not say “some” or a “few” mentioned something other than states rights. His post indicates all Southern monuments mention states rights. Having viewed some dozen or more Southern memorials, I know that is not accurate. And, more importantly, for purposes of Mr. Barry’s otherwise fine post, his piece does not accurately reflect Dr. Brown’s writing. Mr. Barry, or someone at the JCWE blog, would not accept my comment to his blog. That is their right. Mr. Barry did reply to my second comment via email. But, his email simply insisted he had cited to Dr. Brown’s pages accurately.

And, thus, perceptions become reality.

Torn Red Flags Flying in the Rain

By 1864, the Confederacy could barely support its army. Thousands of men wore cardboard or rags for shoes. They only had boots if they could find boots that fit on a dead Union soldier. By June, 1864, the Union army under Gen. Sherman had driven Gen. Joe Johnston and the Army of Tennessee back, back and finally back to Atlanta. The Confederate army fought courageously and performed superbly for their limitations. But, they could not overcome Sherman’s huge advantage in numbers. No matter how many times they repulsed the Union soldiers, Sherman always found a way to turn the flank and force another retreat deeper and deeper into Georgia. Until they were finally in Atlanta on a hot July day in 1864.

In the Army, we all know that the most difficult maneuver is retreat. It is exceedingly difficult to coordinate between a rear guard force and the retreating column. And over all that effort hangs the deep, deep fear. Even the best troops will simply fall apart and flee. Consider the French after Waterloo. Some of the best troops in history, they had withstood 15 years of major, complicated battles. Yet, even they, in retreating from Waterloo gave in to their worst fears and simply ran. Cries of “Vive l’Emereur” were replaced by “Sauxe que peut!” (Every man for himself.). Napoleon himself simply disappeared from the battlefield. Marshall Ney, Napoleon’s great general, said the emperor “entirely disappeared” without notifying him or the other field commanders.

Or, consider King James II. After the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, he literally raced his carriage all the way to Dublin, a distance of some 60 miles. He made it to Dublin within hours of the defeat. Upon arrival, still flushed, he is said to have exclaimed to Lady Tirconnel on the steps of Dublin castle, “Madame, your countrymen run well.” He was saying the army ran from the enemy. Lady Tirconnel replied, “If so, I see your Majesty has won the race.”

But, running was not for the Army of Tennessee. But, running was not for the Army of Tennessee. The Battle of Atlanta lasted 36 days. Gen. Sherman would deny it after the war, but the truth is that during the battle, his army lobbed artillery shells into the city day and night. Union gunners would fire a few rounds in their spare time, apparently just because. Sometimes, after a particularly picturesque round, the gunners would exclaim, “All Aboard for Atlanta!” Officers would brag about how many houses they had destroyed that day. The Confederate breastworks were a mile beyond the city. So, the constant bombardment of civilians served no military purpose. The Battle of Atlanta was a very personal battle for its citizens.

So, one episode in the novel is not surprising. Margaret Mitchell, who researched her novel for a year before putting pen to paper, and who grew up in Georgia hearing stories of the war, tells us that when the Army of Tennessee came to Atlanta to assume battle positions, they came with torn red battle flags flying in the rain. They were worn and weary from 76 straight days of playing defense against overwhelming odds.  “… [T]heir horses starved scarecrows, their cannon and caissons harnessed with odds and ends of rope and strips of rawhide.” But, they did not enter the city disorderly or fleeing for their lives. They marched in good order, “jaunty for all their rags.”  The men called out rude gibes to the men not in unform. They still grinned and waved at pretty girls. The Atlanta crowd cheered them just as they would have in victory. For they knew, their boys had lost, but they were not beaten.


Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner 2011), p. 311-312

Alan Schom, One Hundred Days (New York: Ateneun Press 1992), p. 290-291

Russell S. Bonds, War Like a Thunderbolt (Pennsylvania: Westholme Publ. 2009), p. 211-216

In Loving Memory

It is a beautiful war memorial, cast in simple white marble, with the state symbol at the top. The St. Landry parish Confederate memorial is capped with a brown pelican, the state symbol of Louisiana. On the front or west face of the memorial are carved these words:


Fidelis Fortisimis

Erected by

The Louisiana Division of the U.D.C.


Gordon Chapter No. 4070 U.D.C.

Feb. 22, 1920

In Loving Memory

of the

Confederate Soldiers


The Principles of Our Forefathers

And the Heroes in Gray

Consummated by

Our Young Heroes


1861 – 1865

The memorial was erected in 1920, so it appears the women of the two chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy included veterans of War War I. Fidelis Fortisimis translates as “Faith is Strength” There are no words about states rights, slavery or Lost Cause. As with most Union and Confederate memorials, the builders sought to remember those who did not return from war in their best light, without politics.

Yet, the Southern Poverty Law Center describes this memorial as a “symbol of hate and white supremacy.” See SPLC website here.

We Air Hungry

Gone With the Wind won the Pulitzer prize in 1937, a different time than today. That was a time when we, as a country, sought reconciliation between two major regions of the country, North and South. But, now we tend to dismiss the book. Still, the novel does reflect much wisdom about the war. Margaret Mitchell grew up in Georgia listening to stories about the war from Confederate veterans and civilians who endured that most unendurable war. She also devoted a year to researching the time period before starting her novel. So, we should listen closely when she recounts what folks endured.

Early in the book she describes the “plow furloughs.” The Confederate army, unlike the Union forces, had a minimal draft. The CSA did have a draft, but it impacted few people. Soldiers knew they were needed. There were unending stories told about the rapacious Yankees from Tennessee, to Georgia to Louisiana, burning, stealing and abusing civilians. Yet, soldiers would receive letters from unschooled wives and children saying: “We air hungry.” “There won’t be no crop this year – there ain’t nobody to plow. We air hungry.” So, yes, many soldiers took a “plow furlough” and were gone for weeks. The regimental officer would see a big fight coming. He would write them. The officer would tell them to rejoin the regiment by a certain date and no questions would be asked. And, often, after fixing some fences, plowing some land, repairing the home, the soldiers would return to an army that sometimes could not feed them. Those soldiers knew. They knew there were so few soldiers, but the Yankees were coming all the same.

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner 2011), p. 287.

Gone With the Wind and the Lost Cause

Today, many folks cast the novel, Gone with the Wind, on the ash heap of Lost Cause literature. But, listen to Rhett Butler, attacking a militia officer at an Atlanta fund-raiser:

All wars are sacred,” he said. To those who have to fight them. . . .  But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles.  . . .  Sometimes the rallying cry is ‘Save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen!’ Sometimes it’s ‘Down with Popery!’ and sometimes ‘Liberty!’ and sometimes ‘Cotton, Slavery and States Rights!’”

GWTW, p. 230. Rhett is saying the Cause was not protection of liberty, but protection of slavery. Some may say well, those are not the true beliefs of the author, Margaret Mitchell. Rhett Butler was the bad guy, after all, sort of.

But, Melanie Hamilton Wilkes was certainly a protagonist. All the white characters were flawed in some way. But, not Melanie.

As Melanie, Scarlett O’Hara and others drive away from the bazaar, Mrs. Merriwether, a pompous battleax, expresses her fury. Butler had insulted all of them and the Confederacy! she exclaimed. Mrs. Merriwether blamed the Hamilton family for encouraging Rhett Butler to socialize with them.

Melanie listened for a time, but then the normally timid Melanie could listen no more. “I will speak to him again,” she said in a low voice. “I will not be rude to him. I will not forbid him the house.” She meant she would continue to allow his visits at the Hamilton home.

She won’t be rude to him, as her hands shook, because he said the same things her husband, then an officer in the Confederate army, was saying. Oh, Melanie allowed, Rhett said those things rudely. He said them at a musicale. But, they were still the same things the man they all respected, Ashley Wilkes, said. To forbid him for what he said, while her husband said the same things, would be unjust.

Melanie was the timid character. Ashley was the dreamy, sometimes unrealistic semi-hero. Margaret Mitchell was making a point. Her point was not the Lost Cause.


Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner 2011), p. 230-231.

The Passengers of the Ship, Challenger

Some unspecified number of passengers – men, women and children – from the ship Challenger shivered on the New Orleans levee from Saturday afternoon through Sunday night when J.C. Prendergast happened upon them. They were the tenants of the Viscount Clifden, of County Kilkenny. He paid for their passage to New Orleans. He told them food would be proved on the voyage. So, the passengers spent their meager funds on clothing, not on food. They starved during the two month voyage. Steerage passengers are supposed to provide their own food. The good Lord – Lord Clifden was one of the better landlords – was wrong about the food.

But for some humane New Orleanians, they would have continued to starve upon their arrival in the new world. Edward White provided them with seven dollars worth of bread, which they consumed ravenously. “Notorious” women from the ball rooms came to aid the young women of the Challenger early Sunday morning. Such was the arrival of more Irish immigrants. Most tried to arrive before winter. These immigrants did not.

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 26, 1849, p. 2, col. 1

July 4 at Vicksburg

For decades, Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate July 4. In 1945, as part of a wave of patriotism washing across the country, they held a “Carnival of the Confederacy.”  That celebration lasted a couple of years. Then in 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Vicksburg on July 4. And still, July 4 remained a subdued holiday in Vicksburg, through the late 1990’s.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. For 47 days, the small city of 5,000 endured the Yankee siege. Although reduced to eating rats and mules, the Confederates believed they could have held out another week. But, Gen. Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, believed Gen. Grant would offer better terms on July 4. Although from the North, Pemberton had sided with the Confederacy during the war. His two younger brothers both served in the Union army. But, the career US Army officer had married a woman from Virginia and had spent much of his career in the south.

The Civilians

The siege was tough on both the Confederates and the Federals. But, it was devastating for the civilians. Much of the town is situated atop hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river. Vicksburg was a thriving river port before the war. See above picture of the busy Vicksburg port. The union army was dug in, in the low lying areas surrounding the town. So, as they were shooting up hill, it was inevitable that the town bore the brunt of shot and shell.

Mary Longborough, a resident of Vicksburg, kept a diary that was later published as My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Her eyewitness accounts attest to many poignant incidents that occurred during the siege of the city:

“One afternoon, amid the rush and explosion of the shells, cries and screams arose—the screams of women amid the shrieks of the falling shells. The servant boy, George…found that a negro man had been buried alive within a cave, he being alone at that time. Workmen were instantly set to deliver him, if possible; but when found, the unfortunate man had evidently been dead some little time. His wife and relations were distressed beyond measure, and filled the air with their cries and groans.”

Unexploded Ordnance

The families pitched tents in the ravines for protection. One family and their Negro servant (to use the contemporary term) pitched a tent a few hundred yards from their house in one such ravine. In the morning, as young Lucy McRae woke, she watched as a spent artillery ball rolled into their tent. She screamed. Her mother shouted to Rice, the negro servant, to take down the tent. The mother, the various children and Rice dashed to a wooden bridge to get back to town. Rice dropped the tent. The mother dropped the basket with their meager provisions. They tried to stayed beneath a dirt embankment. Jumping behind trees, fences, diving into trenches, shells exploding over their heads. The children were crying, the mother praying. They finally approached the Glass Bayou bridge, indicting the edge of town. A mortar shell landed on the far end of the bridge. Mother shouted, “run!” The children all ran to their cave, where they felt safer. Finding their home later, they saw it had been struck several times, but remained intact. A minie ball had creased William’s, the father of Lucy, whiskers while he sat in the hallway of the house, but he was otherwise unhurt. This was day 34 of the siege.

See a picture of the hillside caves here.


A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 193-195.

A More Wretched Set of Human Beings

J.C. Prendergast, an native, of County Waterford, Ireland, published and edited the Daily Orleanian in New Orleans during the ante-bellum years. He was a complicated person. He was a Whig, yet favored immigration. He criticized the famine Irish immigrants, yet, he sympathized with them immensely. The paper loudly proclaimed in the first page of every issue that it was the “official journal of the Third Municipality.” Prendergast was proud of the “old Third,” a working class area teeming with German, Irish immigrants and other nationalities. But, it was always Ireland and her concerns that pulled at him.

The Mushroom Aristocracy

He often criticized the “mushroom aristocracy,” his term for the Irish immigrants who had come to the new world, had found success, but did not help the more recent arrivals. The famine immigrants started arriving by the thousands in 1849. To the prior Irish immigrants, the new, famine arrivals were a pitiable lot. They arrived with few possessions. They knew no one upon arrival. They wore clothing long out-dated, even by rural Ireland standards.

Prendergast would talk to these recent arrivals. One such encounter occurred on Feb. 18, 1849. That was a late arrival. Usually, they arrived by October. A more wretched set of human beings he had not seen for years. These were the recent passengers of the British ship, John Garrow. They arrived with no one to greet them, carrying all their possessions in boxes, laid across the levee. In those days, the New Orleans wharves were simple extensions from the levee. The levee was a rise of land, some 3-4 feet high along the edge of the Mississippi River. The passengers, he noted were still gathered the next day there on the levee with nowhere to go. It was a frosty day, said the editor. New Orleans generally has a temperate climate, but February will still see temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s (Farenheit).

A Cadaverous Countenance

Prendergast asked one man, of a “cadaverous countenance,” if they were going up river? Many immigrants would seek work upriver at the busy Mississippi river ports. Work was there, if they could just reach those upriver points.

“Oh no sur, God help us, we had barely what paid our passage to this country. To escape starvation in our own, and ye see, there is seven of us in family here. Only for some gentleman, God bless him, who I never saw before, we would have been dead, for he let us into this little house, without asking a ha’ penny for it” – which if he did, we hadn’t it to pay.” Prendergast explained the “little house” was a small shed on the ferry wharf. In it now resided the man, a wife, a mother and three children and their “miserable looking beds.” Another nearby ferry house was full of the recent female arrivals.

If they were crammed into those two little what sheds, they were much better than the remaining passengers, huddling on the batture, the space between the levee and the river’s edge, with nothing but their boxes to cut the icy wind.

The condition of these recent arrivals troubled Prendergast all the next day. He described them as “gaunt, half-naked, half-famishing wretches.” At evening time, he wound his way back to the levee. He found all the women and children had been taken to some kind person’s house. The men remained huddled around tiny fires, trying to star warm, there on the batture under the night sky. So, for one night at least, some had shelter.

Prendergast then let loose, criticizing the various Irish-American groups, the Emmet Club, the Shamrock Society, the Hibernian Society, and others who pledged thousands for Ireland’s freedom. But, Prendergast expected too much. There was just too many coming, who needed so much, for ad hoc fund-raising. Private philanthropy was just not enough. The city of New Orleans actually did much to help he impoverished arrivals. Individual Irish-American groups did raise funds for the destitute arrivals. In 1851, the Emmet Guards, an Irish militia, raised $481.50 for upriver passage for recent arrivals. That was enough to send 219 recent arrivals upriver to jobs and security. But, it was not enough for the tens of thousands who came, with nothing.


New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 19, 1849, p. 1, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 20, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

Earl Neihaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 27