Every year over a million visitors flood Adams County, Pennsylvania to tour the famous, or rather infamous, site of the Battle of Gettysburg. While most visitors primarily come to Gettysburg to learn about the battle, many leave with understandings of the unending impact of the Civil War on race relations. However, for a town that sparks such a progressive mentality in some, Adams County, and specifically Gettysburg, is often criticized for being ‘frozen in time,’ unwilling to keep up with progressive race relations after the battle ended. A panel entitled “Black Experiences in Adams County in the 19th & 20th Centuries” sponsored by the Adams County Historical Society and the Gettysburg College History and Africana Studies departments, addressed the importance of remembering this African American story. The panel included Gettysburg College Professor Scott Hancock, author Peter Levy, and Adams County residents Darryl Jones and Jane Nutter.
The Great Migration in the early 20th century shaped the nation as six million African Americans moved from the Southern United States to urban cities elsewhere. The experience of African Americans in Northern cities has been highly discussed in recent scholarship, yet often left unattended are rural areas like Adams County. More specifically, within Adams County, there is also a portion of the story left incomplete–the story of the African Americans who lived with the legacy of the Civil War years after the last shots were fired and the Gettysburg Address was delivered. In a town dedicated to preserving history, one will see acres of preserved land, hundreds of plaques, and over one thousand monuments placed throughout town; yet despite all of this preservation, hidden before the visitors’ eyes are the black experiences in Adams County in the years following the war.
The goal of this panel was to paint a picture of what life was like for African Americans in Adams County in the 19th and 20th centuries since so much of it is lost to history with only oral tradition to keep the memories alive. Gettysburg College is dedicated to educating youth, and according to Jane Nutter, this is nothing new. She explained how 49 years ago, in 1969, she was sitting in a lecture by renowned African American anthropologist Dr. Louis E. King in the exact building she was currently speaking in. Growing up, she and other young, poor African Americans would come to the College to expand their understanding about what was going on in the world. She expressed immense gratitude for these opportunities and challenged the audience to use these experiences to become enlightened and then enlighten others as well. Remembering a quote she heard at that lecture 49 years ago, she warned the audience, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
You do have to be carefully taught. In a country where the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection, it seems that all is well. However, upon hearing the testimonies of African American Adams County residents Jones and Nutter, it became clear that the Civil War did not end the struggles within the African American community. Though Jones admits they ‘had it pretty good’ growing up, he and Nutter both recognized the racial inequality that shaped their lives. Segregation marked many aspects of their lives from residency to education.
Concerning residency, African Americans were restricted to living on certain streets, all in the ‘Third Ward’ of Gettysburg. If attempts were made to live outside of the Third Ward, requests were never granted, and it was no coincidence. Nutter explained that it is painful to know the truth, but so important. The truth is, though African Americans were no longer enslaved, most African Americans in Gettysburg in the 1950s did domestic work for white families. Nutter’s mother did so, but she always made it clear to Jane that “I may be a maid, but I’m not a servant.” African Americans often found themselves having to advocate for themselves and the rights that should be naturally endowed upon them, as for all people. Adams County was one of the last counties in the country to get food stamps, something highly ironic for an agricultural community. Though great quantities of food were produced in the area, it was not accessible to the poorer residents who did not have food stamps. They only received food stamps once someone personally called officials concerning the issue. This delayed effort was largely due to resistance within the white community to food stamps, believing that they would be mostly for African Americans–an inaccurate assumption because most recipients were white.
When it came to education, there was also a delayed effort. York schools were only reintegrated in the 1950s, and though Jones and Nutter went to integrated schools, Civil Rights Era antipathy was evident. From resistance to being admitted into the gifted program to being discouraged from going to college, African Americans were often degraded by teachers and guidance counselors simply because they did not share the same color of skin. One’s heart could not help but ache when hearing Nutter recall a story of high school homecoming. She celebrated, remembering how her friend Missy was the first black homecoming queen in her high school, but her face turned grim as she recalled that when the photographer came to take a picture of the homecoming queen he said “you?” when he saw Missy. She called upon the audience to imagine Missy being their child and the immense hurt they would feel. While African Americans were no longer enslaved as they once were before the Civil War, they were still enslaved in an unequal society.
The news is filled with stories of protesters fighting for Confederate monuments to stand, something Nutter found troubling since African American schools and churches have often been torn down in silence. It is no secret that the Civil War did not free African Americans from the chains of their past and we cannot change the past; however, by being informed today, we can shape the future. We, as intellectuals and concerned citizens, have a responsibility to take this knowledge with us and use it to shape the world. As Jones explained, this is not some noble mission. It is just being a decent person, and “I’m hoping that because you’re in here [or reading this] that you are that already.”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2018 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Elizabeth Varon,
Associate Director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History and Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. A specialist in the Civil War era and 19th-century South, Varon is the author of We Mean to be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (UNC Press, 1998); Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy (Oxford University Press, 2003); Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 (UNC Press, 2008); and Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2013). Southern Lady, Yankee Spy won three book awards and was named one of the “Five Best” books on the “Civil War away from the battlefield” in the Wall Street Journal. Appomattox won the 2014 Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction, the 2014 Dan and Marilyn Laney Prize for Civil War History from the Austin Civil War Roundtable, and the 2014 Eugene Feit Award in Civil War Studies from the New York Military Affairs Symposium. Appomattox was also named one of Civil War Monitor’s “Best Books of 2014” and one of National Public Radio’s “Six Civil War Books to Read Now.” Varon’s public presentations include book talks at the Lincoln Bicentennial in Springfield, at Gettysburg’s Civil War Institute, and on C-Span’s Book TV. Her next book, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2018. Continue reading ““Give them liberty or give me death”: The Unionist Espionage of Elizabeth Van Lew: An Interview with Elizabeth Varon”
The Fourth of July is the most recognizable celebration of American identity. In the midst of the summer heat we wrap our homes in red, white, and blue; come together to watch fireworks; and celebrate the birth of our nation. In some parts of the world, however, American identity is represented by a different time and creed. Such is the case with the city of Americana in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where celebrations of the United States are overshadowed by Confederate memory. Some of our readers may have heard of the Confederados, a group of former Rebels who fled to Brazil in the aftermath of the Civil War to rebuild their dream of preserving the American South. But why did they choose Brazil, and how did they create an identity that is still present today?
In the last days of the war, Northern and Southern leaders turned their thoughts toward the nation’s future with the imminent Confederate surrender. Union politicians and military leaders wondered what they were going to do with the leaders of the rebellion; would they welcome back their former countrymen with open arms or take action against the traitors? Jefferson Davis and other Southern leaders carried on their cause, avoiding Union troops in hopes of re-establishing the Confederate Government. Some Confederates continued to fight, holding out against the Federals until they ran out of ammunition or escape routes.
At Appomattox, Grant offered a pardon to the Army of Northern Virginia; men returned home, as did officers, as long as they took an oath of loyalty and promised to never raise arms against the American people again. However, some Confederate leaders still fled. Many former officers had been members of the Southern gentry, so they took their families and what remained of their past lives and chose to find new homes in the hope of continuing the spirit of the old South. The aristocracy of the antebellum South had been shattered at the outbreak of the war, as Federal blockades prevented many plantation owners from exporting cotton and other goods, and as the war dragged on, the economy and population plummeted. Thus, some former officers and gentry had no interest in starting a new life in a devastated South where slavery was now illegal and they would not be able to reclaim the political and socio-economic status they enjoyed prior to the war.
Many former Confederates fled to Egypt and Mexico, but the largest group of Confederates settled in Brazil. Some wanted to put distance between themselves and the United States to avoid the eye of the Federal Government, while others hoped to find economic success. Those who went to Egypt looked to continue their military careers. However, Brazil was the ideal location for most of these families, as it was a planter’s paradise with rich soil and legalized slavery. Confederados and Brazilians both acquired slaves through importation as well as through domestic human trafficking. Experienced planters had the potential to regain the economic bounty that they had in the antebellum South, and some did, prospering for a number of years until 1888, when slavery was abolished in Brazil.
While they might not have achieved all their fiscal goals, the Confederates who fled to Brazil had much better lives than their counterparts who stayed in the states. Before 1865, Southerners’ slave-based economy not only granted them domestic economic dominance but also stood placed them at the forefront of the international cotton trade. The real reward for the former Confederates now in Brazil was that they could maintain their Confederate identities by continuing to exploit slave labor and bringing themselves back to economic prominence, whereas their American counterparts had to rely on free labor. Doing so, Confederados kept themselves closer to their prewar identities by continuing to use slave labor without any disturbance from the Brazilian Government, as the Emperor welcomed them in the aftermath of the war with open arms, recognizing the economic opportunities they brought with them to Brazil. With a government-sanctioned welcome, the Confederados could start the new life they sought.
If the goal of the Confederados was to keep Confederate memory alive, they were extremely successful. Confederate memory, or the version that Brazilians were exposed to, seems to have persisted to the present day with an annual festival held in Americana reflecting Confederate Memory the way Brazil remembers. Every year in Sao Paulo, the descendants of the Confederate immigrants meet to celebrate their heritage in ways similar to our own Civil War community. There are period-themed dances and other activities, and, of course, people wear the gray that their ancestors once did. We might recognize this from our own celebrations, such as reenactments and Civil War dances. Those who chose to flee to Brazil did not know what the process of reconstruction and reconciliation would look like in the 19th century or how they, as ex-Confederates, would be contested in history and memory 150 years later. There are parallels in modern-day Brazilian and American attitudes; in both countries, there seems to be a rallying cry to preserve history and heritage above all else, despite opposition claiming that we should not remember the Confederacy in such a positive light. When questioned about the issue of slavery, the residents of Americana had no response; they did not see slavery and the Confederacy as one and the same. Many claimed they did not want to make their ancestry political.
Over the last several years, the area of Sao Paolo has been plagued by a number of issues, namely illegal labor and immigration. The government raided a series of factories and warehouses where they found hundreds of Bolivian immigrants working in sweatshops in inhumane conditions. However, the people of Americana continue to keep the memory of their ancestors alive with Southern ballads and plenty of grey. At the same time, in their back yard, a form of modern-day slavery has taken hold, exposing the irony that over 150 years later, slave labor is used to try to bring economic prosperity to the area. Unfortunately it seems that the area of Sao Paulo is still grappling with the use of illegal labor as the government is still combating illegal labor and the issues of illegal immigration. While they do not wish to bring politics into their ancestry, if they are going to wear the grey and display Confederate memorabilia, they should be prepared to discuss the continuing issue.
Dawsey, Cyrus B. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil (Tuscolosa, University of Alabama, 1995).
On August 6th, 1863, a group of sixteen men gathered at the East Penn Railroad depot in Millerstown, Pennsylvania, now known as Macungie, a small farming community located about seven miles southwest of Allentown. The young men met that day to create a contract with one another in anticipation of the army conscription draft, scheduled to take place in a week’s time with men between ages twenty and thirty-five eligible for selection. They created the “Millerstown Club,” agreeing “that each member of the club has to pay the sum of fifty dollars on or before the day previous to the draft.” Should the misfortune of being drafted fall upon any members of the club, the money collected would be used either to hire a substitute to serve in the army in the club member’s place or to pay the “commutation” fee of $300 to free them from service entirely. Any signer of the contract who did not pay his share by the day before the draft would not be considered a member should he be drafted. This apparently happened in the case of three of the men, who have their names crossed out on the contract. The creation of the “Millerstown Club” reflected a strong desire to avoid the war among the draft-eligible men of the town.
Events throughout the previous year had brought the young men of Millerstown to this point. Congress passed the Enrollment Act on March 3, 1863 to provide fresh manpower for the thinning Union Army ranks, requiring all male citizens and citizenship-seeking aliens between the ages of twenty and forty-five to register by April 1 for potential drafts to come. The law proved wildly unpopular across the North, from “Copperhead” Peace Democrat strongholds in the Midwest to cities on the East Coast. The best-known example of resistance to the draft took place when rioting broke out in New York City on July 13-16, 1863. Rioters destroyed homes and property in the city before beating and lynching African Americans in anger over the government’s adoption of emancipation as a cause for continuing the war. They only dispersed when troops pulled from the Army of the Potomac shortly after Gettysburg arrived in the city. Exactly one month after the violence in New York started, the communities of rural eastern Pennsylvania prepared to face a draft of their own.
By August 1863, the people of Millerstown were no strangers to the military draft. Ten months earlier, in October 1862, several of the town’s men were selected to join the 176th Pennsylvania Infantry (Drafted Militia). This draft took place under the Pennsylvania State Militia Draft of 1862, prompted by the inability to fill President Lincoln’s summer call for 300,000 militia volunteers. Company A of the nine-month regiment mostly included men from Millerstown and the adjacent Lower Macungie Township. Despite the rancor that the state militia draft inspired throughout Pennsylvania–which included women and boys throwing hot water, sticks, and stones at draft enrollers in the coal mining regions–the Millerstown men who entered into service seem to have made the best of their situation. A letter written to Millerstown resident and future Pennsylvania College student A. Jacob Erdman by Orderly Sergeant Franklin Mertz in January 1863 tells of the regiment’s movement from Suffolk, Virginia to the North Carolina coast at New Bern. Mertz also related that “[O]ne hears no fighting and quarrelling in our regiment like one hears in many other regiments,” and that only six men of the unit were in the hospital at the time. Even with these reassurances from the front, though, the men in Millerstown in the summer of 1863 looked at the events of the last year and made plans to resist the draft.
Unlike the rioters in New York or others who fled to Canada or the deep backcountry to avoid being drafted, the members of the Millerstown Club decided to protect themselves from the draft legally. Perhaps they did so to avoid the unrest and destruction that had gripped New York City the previous month and to resist the draft while maintaining order in their community. Regardless, by showing a willingness to pay either a substitute or for a commutation fee, these men followed the lawful channels of resistance. Taking such measures would have been more likely to occur in Millerstown as well. A statistical analysis of legal and illegal draft evasion by Peter Levine found a small but still noteworthy correlation between higher levels of illegal draft evasion in July and August 1863 and congressional districts with higher levels of non-Republican voting, Catholics, and foreign-born residents. As a relatively old Protestant Pennsylvania German farming community, Millerstown would have been less likely to witness illegal methods of draft avoidance. The goal of the Millerstown Club to resist conscription legally thus fits well into the context of draft evasion at the time.
Another documentary trace of the Millerstown Club, though, shows that anti-draft support may not have been as strong in the town as the club’s formation would indicate. The members had also planned a fundraising campaign, as seen in a surviving document that was written to “honorably implore those of our fellow men of Millerstown, who are not subject to the impeding draft… to contribute to the aforesaid club, such sums of money as to them may seem to be a proper support for bearing expenses of those who will be drafted.” If this was indeed the form that members of the Millerstown Club used to solicit donations from the people of their community, it shows that perhaps the local anti-war sentiment was not strong enough to impact the decisions of those not immediately touched by the prospect of military service. The section for recording donations is blank.
The other residents of Millerstown may have drawn on a range of causes in their decision not to support the members of the Millerstown Club financially. Perhaps they did not believe in the anti-war movement enough to part with their own hard-earned money, or they may simply not have had the funds to give to the town’s young men. The other residents might also have looked at the bigger picture regarding the club’s method of resistance. Paying commutation fees still ultimately supported the federal government and the war effort, and perhaps they realized this and chose not to contribute on grounds that the Millerstown Club was not doing enough to resist the draft.
Any or all of these factors may have been at play in Millerstown, providing a stark contrast to the more fervent anti-war spirit demonstrated by the sixteen signers of the contract at the East Penn Railroad depot. The case of the Millerstown Club provides a fascinating example of how the theoretical concept of opposition to the war could crystallize into active resistance. The draft became an issue with which communities had to grapple, and its impact reverberated far beyond the streets of New York City and the farm lanes of eastern Pennsylvania across the North during the latter half of the Civil War.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2018 CWI conferenceabout their talks. Today we are speaking with A. Wilson Greene. Mr.
Greene recently retired from a 44-year career in public history. He spent sixteen years in the National Park Service, served as the first director of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (now the Civil War Trust), and was the founding director of Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, where he worked for 22 years. Greene holds a Masters degree in History. He is the author of numerous articles in scholarly and popular publications and six books, including his latest: A Campaign of Giants: The Battles for Petersburg, Volume 1, From the Crossing of the James to the Battle of the Crater (UNC Press, forthcoming).
The photo above does not seem like much, but the story behind it is incredible. On August 17, 1863, a man named Christopher Miner Spencer entered the White House, gun in hand. He was let in past the sentries and ushered in to meet with President Abraham Lincoln. Spencer was at the White House to show the president his invention, the repeating rifle. He had been trying to get it adopted by the United States Army with little success, so he decided to go to the man with the most power. Spencer showed Lincoln his gun, and the president was impressed by how simple it was. One could take it apart and put it back together in only a few minutes, needing only a screwdriver. Lincoln invited Spencer back to the White House so that they could test the rifle.
The next day, Spencer arrived around 2 P.M. Lincoln, Spencer, and a few others went out onto the Mall, near where the Washington Monument stands today, to do some target practice with the Spencer rifle. Lincoln took the rifle and shot, missing the target a bit. This shot can be seen on the lower right-hand side of the photo. The rest of his shots were right on target. While they were shooting some sentries ran over to them, yelling for them to stop firing. They did not realize they were yelling at the President until he stood up and looked at them. They apologized and hurried away as Lincoln remarked that they could at least have stayed and taken a few shots. After this, the shooters returned to the White House, and Lincoln gave Spencer his target to keep as a souvenir. The picture of that souvenir can be seen above.
This episode might cause one to question why Spencer had to go to such lengths to get the army to adopt his weapon. By all accounts it was superior to the muzzle-loading weapons that were used for most of the war. It was shorter and could fire fifteen to twenty shots in one minute. This is five to seven times faster than muzzle-loaders, for which it was considered rapid fire if one could get off three shots per minute with a muzzle-loader. This rate of fire was not even really feasible, as it took a lot of time to reload, and the rifle was susceptible to over-heating. The Spencer rifle, however, could hold seven rounds, allowing one to shoot seven times before having to reload. Many saw the advantages of this. Spencer had shown his rifle to the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, in May of 1861, and the navy quickly bought more and more of his rifle; by the end of the war, they had 10,000. General McClellan also saw the advantages of this rifle, requesting them for his troops in 1861. The War Department would only give them to one brigade, Colonel Berdan’s 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, as they were very expensive. Local newspapers, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, pleaded with the government to adopt the weapon, believing that it would save more soldiers’ lives and asking for “the ordnance department [to] please take notice.” Entire brigades even bought them for themselves. For example, Colonel John Wilder appealed to his men of the 17th Indiana to contribute money for the purchase of Spencer rifles.
f everybody saw the advantages of these weapons, why were they not adopted much sooner? The answer lies with the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, James W. Ripley. Ripley was a veteran of the war of 1812 as well as the Mexican-American War. He was used to muzzle-loaders and resistant to change, thinking that smooth-bores and muzzle-loaders were much better than rifled muskets and breech-loaders. After all, as he remarked to Lincoln, “men enough can be killed with the old smooth-bore and the old cartridges, a ball and three buckshot.” He dismissed the Spencer as just another newfangled weapon, which was why Spencer had to go to Lincoln to plead his case. Lincoln quickly endorsed the Spencer rifle after he tested it and replaced Ripley with George D. Ramsey, causing orders for Spencer rifles to skyrocket.
While the army did start to adopt the Spencer rifle, it was mostly used by the cavalry. In addition, it was adopted in 1863, when the war was half over, even though it had been available since 1860. If it had been adopted before, how many lives could have been saved? The war may have ended earlier, and the causality rate could have been lower, as these kinds of rifles may have deterred the devastating charges seen so often in the Civil War. For example, there were 2,655 casualties as a result of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. This devastating charge may have been prevented had all of the Union troops been armed with Spencer rifles. The charge would have been seen as futile, and the men would not have been able to get so close to the enemy–as was often the case–because of the rapid and intense fire that the Spencer was capable of.
On the other hand, this type of gun had the possibility to increase casualties, as it could fire more shots quicker. It would also be difficult for the Confederates to use the Spencer if they captured it because it used a type of bullet that the Confederacy did not produce. It is impossible to tell what kind of difference the Spencer rifle would have made if it had been used earlier in the war, but this story could have important implications today. The United States Military has been using essentially the same rifle, the M4/M16, for over fifty years. This rifle really first saw action in the Vietnam War and has been around ever since. The M16 had a lot of problems in Vietnam as Robert Scales, a Vietnam veteran, describes. These problems were due to the gas system that the M16 has and that the M4 (a lighter version of the M16) still has today. The gun uses a gas-pressured system in which the gas produced from the fired bullet pushes the bolt back and causes the next round to cycle into the chamber. Since the bolt is a freely-moving part, any dirt or dust that gets into the rifle can cause the bolt–and consequently the rifle–to jam, which is very harmful when fighting in the types of environments that we do today. Is there something better out there, or is the army just resistant to change like it was during the Civil War?
Robert Scales believes there is something better out there. The AK-47 uses a piston-driven operating system in which the bolt is not a freely-moving part of the gun, so dirt or dust will not hamper its effectiveness. The AK-47 cannot just simply be adopted by the United States, as Russia is the only country that has perfected the manufacture of AK series rifle. The United States would have to buy them from Russia and rely on Russia for parts, which could be disastrous if the political situation soured and Russia cut off exports. However, it does show that there is something better out there. Can something similar be made in the United States? It is evident that the gun the United States Military uses today could be improved upon to be better suited to the type of fighting we see today. However, the question that remains: is the military resistant to change and all the costs that come with it, or are they just unable to find anything better made by United States manufacturers?
Before they were great Civil War generals, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were fathers. Lee had seven children, three sons and four daughters. Grant was the father of three boys and a single girl. Though they are intended to paint overwhelmingly positive portraits of the two men, their children’s words give us a sense of these two generals as fathers and the ways in which they reflected standard trends in fathering during the Victorian Era.
During this period, the rise of industrialization and capitalism codified gender norms and altered the dynamics of family life. Fathers increasingly worked away from the home as the production of goods shifted from the hands of artisans to the hands of unskilled laborers. Men left the farm for factories, where they completed specialized tasks in the manufacturing process. New ways of producing goods cut costs and made these goods affordable for middle-class Americans. A new middle class ideal emerged, and central to that ideal was a father who could provide these material goods while his wife and children stayed home. The shift in priorities that resulted from the emerging capitalism changed the father’s role within the home. These changes were especially pronounced in the North but also appeared in the South in a more muted version.
As more men went to work outside the home, mothers came to occupy the central role in the family. It was during this era that the idea of “separate spheres” for men and women became firmly entrenched in American society. Both Grant’s and Lee’s families followed this typical model of the “ideal” Victorian family: their military service necessitated that their wives be the ones to care for and educate their children. However, while family life typically centered on the mother’s care and moral guidance, fathers continued to serve as the ultimate authority within the household, having the final say in disciplinary matters and teaching their children about morality and virtue.
Lee’s and Grant’s families confirm this generalization of fatherhood, particularly of the father as the disciplinarian. Grant’s wife, Julia, wrote in her memoirs, “Whenever [the children] were inclined to disobey or question my authority, I would ask the General to speak to them.” Robert E. Lee Jr. said that while he could sometimes circumvent his mother, “exact obedience to every mandate of my father was a part of my life and being at the time.” Yet, the means by which a father disciplined his children during this time were reflective of society’s greater emphasis on personal choice over external pressures.
In early America, the father typically managed his household in an authoritarian style, demanding obedience from both his wife and his children. In the mid-19th century, however, a child’s sense of social responsibility was expected to come from within, rather than from oppressive modes of discipline. According to his son, Frederick, Grant’s “usual method of correction was to show disapproval of our actions of his manner and quiet words.” This, he remarked, “was more effective with us than scolding or whippings would have been. We all felt consternation and distress when he looked with disapproval upon what we had done.” Robert Jr., too, feared the disapproval of his father. He wrote, “I never thought why, but was perfectly sure when he gave an order that it had to be obeyed.” Even when his father was away during his childhood, Young Custis Lee felt the weight of the responsibility to please his father. On most of the occasions when he acted up, he “could be managed by a gentle reminder that his father had left the family in his care.” The way that Grant and Lee disciplined their children is unlike the strict nature of the discipline we associate with them as generals. The disconnect between society’s emphasis on personal choice and the army’s more traditional means of keeping troops in line partially explains why officers in both armies struggled to discipline their men. Many soldiers, particularly volunteers, resisted the army’s erosion of their independence and personal choice. A similar resistance could arise in the home when sons grew older and began to assert their own independence and manhood by challenging the previously unquestioned authority of their fathers.
Though fathers remained the ultimate disciplinarians in the home, their role in the family shifted from an authoritarian one toward a more companionate relationship with their wives and children. Though wives were still subordinate to their husbands, the emergence of two distinct spheres for men and women ensured that husbands and wives would begin to work together as equals in the management of the household. At the same time, the culture’s emphasis on personal choice, as well as the diversification of means of earning wealth, meant that people were more likely to marry for love and attraction rather than to consolidate land holdings or political power. Outward displays of affection and emotion inside the home became a way for fathers to escape the strictness of life outside of it. Familial ties in the Victorian Era were usually rooted not in the authoritarian relationship of the past but in the mutual desire of fathers and their children for love and tenderness. While Lee was “very firm on all proper occasions, his children’s “greatest treat was to get into his bed in the morning and lie close to him, listening while he talked to us in his bright, entertaining way.” According to Frederick, Grant showed affection to his children through actions rather than words. He “bought his children many toys” and “liked to make them paper boats, which he would sail in the gutter after a rainstorm.” These images of Grant and Lee stand in sharp contrast to the ways in which they are typically remembered as firm, martial, masculine men. They remind us that Grant and Lee were not just incredible generals but were also ordinary men forced to make difficult decisions and grapple with the emotional effects of those decisions.
The middle-class ideal was a family in which the father worked to provide for his family and allowed his wife and children to stay at home. Unfortunately, this ideal was not attainable for most families. Working-class fathers had no choice but to send their wives and children to work in factories in usually terrible conditions. The exploitation of children in factories led to calls for reform and the emergence of ideas about the sanctity of childhood. These ideas prompted adults of all classes to take a greater interest in the well-being and education of children. Moral obligation and deep affection demanded that parents involve themselves in their children’s education. Though mothers took primary charge of their children’s education, the Lee and Grant children recall their fathers taking active roles as well. Robert Jr. wrote that on many occasions, his father would help him with difficult arithmetic by going through the problems step-by-step. Frederick Grant recalled fondly the times when Grant would read aloud to his family from classics like Oliver Twist and the works of Charles Dickens. Fathers were also responsible for teaching their children the strict moral code of the Victorian Era, as well values like “purity, honest, truthfulness, and consideration of others,” which Grant, according to his son, taught his children by example. Considering the emphasis on separate spheres for men and women during this time, it is no surprise that fathers’ interactions with their children were colored by perceptions of gender norms. Fathers encouraged their sons to pursue activities associated with masculinity. Both Robert E. Lee Jr. and Frederick Grant confirmed this image of the Victorian Era father. Grant was “so anxious that his boys be strong and manly, and took the greatest interest in our sports and pleasures.” Lee, too, took a great interest in his sons’ physical activities. He monitored their progress in sports like horse riding and swimming. Both men encouraged their sons to uphold values traditionally associated with masculinity from a very early age. Frederick wrote, “My father…would not tolerate timidity in his small boy, and a display of it meant an unhappy hour for him, and me also.”
A father’s relationship with his daughter was often incredibly important in Victorian America. However, as family members negotiated their social and gender roles in a war-torn and increasingly capitalist society, this relationship took on a different dynamic that in had in the past. Fathers were more inclined to treat their daughters as companions, and both increasingly relied on the other for love and affection. In one sense, this relationship was a way for fathers to maintain a sense of stability in a family unit that was increasingly out of their control, though “power over daughters now came less from authority than from paternal love.”
Both Grant and Lee were incredibly close with their daughters. Grant’s only daughter, Nellie, was said to be his favorite child, and Lee referred to his daughter, Mildred, affectionately as “Precious Life.” The relationship between fathers and daughters in the North and South was a familiar constant that served to preserve a sense of the old social order. In the South, these relationships took on political significance. The legitimacy of fathers’ authority over their wives and daughters served to “naturalize subordination” and, therefore, help justify the subordination of African Americans under the slave system. The political significance of the father-daughter relationship in the South perhaps ensured that this relationship would more closely resemble the paternalistic one of previous generations than it would for Northern families. In the North, close and more companionate relationships with strong fathers seemed to produce self-assured daughters who were more willing to strike out on their own. It was sometimes mentioned in the press that Grant’s daughter, Nellie, “was too fond of partying, staying out late and doing other things teenagers are prone to do.” In 1874, Nellie married against Grant’s wishes and moved to England with her husband. While in the past, marriage often meant separation from their fathers, daughters in the Victorian Era maintained strong bonds with their fathers. Nellie communicated with her parents very frequently and sometimes spent summers with them, even after her marriage. She remained extremely close to her father for the rest of his life. Upon learning of the severity of his illness, she rushed to the United States. Grant, though he was dying at that point, met his only daughter at the dock when she arrived.
As typical relationships between fathers and their children evolved, physical proximity became a central element of conceptions of family. The practice of sending children to boarding schools declined, indicating the preference for parental involvement on a more daily basis. In fact, two of Grant’s children, Nellie and Jesse, lasted only a few days in boarding school before returning home. Unfortunately, war threatened families’ abilities to remain physically together. Grant and Lee both longed to be physically close to their families. In 1861, Lee wrote to his daughters, “I wish indeed I could see you, be with you, and never again part from you.” Grant’s wife, Julia, wrote that Grant “wrote me many times, urging me to visit him…which I, at length…decided to do. He desired the children to accompany me.” It is true that Grant often implored his wife to visit him, as long as he determined that the place and time was safe. Frequent letters and visits to camp were just two of the ways that families resisted the separation wrought by war.
In many cases, fathers and sons went off to war at the same time. All three of Lee’s sons served in the Confederate Army, and Lee’s youngest son wrote that whenever he had the opportunity to visit his father, Lee would “talk to me about my mother and sisters, about my horse and myself…I think my presence was very grateful to him, and he seemed to brighten up when I came.” Grant’s son, Frederick, though only twelve years old, accompanied his father on several campaigns. As much as possible, families tried to bridge the separation by keeping each other informed. Lee wrote to his wife, “I have not laid eyes on Rob since I saw him in the battle of Sharpsburg…Custis has seen him and says he is very well, and apparently happy and content.” Lee and Grant exchanged frequent letters with their wives and children, and their families followed their military movements through the newspapers.
As fathers, Lee and Grant were just two examples of shifts in parenting that occurred during the 19th century. Broad societal changes such as the rise of capitalism altered family dynamics and challenged fathers’ total control of their households. In a rapidly changing world, fathers used emotional expression in the home to escape the rigidity of public life and resist the disruption of civil war. Above all, fathers in 19th century America, like Lee and Grant, expressed their love for their wives and children and hoped that it would be returned. Images of Grant and Lee as fathers are valuable because they help us view these two generals, who have been immortalized and so often vilified, as ordinary men. Grant and Lee were imperfect generals and fathers, and they were products of the societies in which they lived.
Block, James, The Crucible of Consent: American Child Rearing and the Forging of Liberal Society, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).
Frank, Stephen, “Rendering Aid and Comfort: Images of Fatherhood in the Letters of Civil War Soldiers from Massachusetts and Michigan,” Journal of Social History, 26 (1) (1992).
Grant, Frederick Dent, Ulysses S. Grant Association Newsletter, April 1869, Accessed at http://www.granthomepage.com/frederick_dent_grant.htm.
Grant, Frederick Dent, Missouri Republican, 1912, Accessed at http://www.granthomepage.com/frederick_dent_grant.htm.
Howe, Lewis, George Washington Custis Lee, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 48(4) (1940) 317-327.
Lee Jr, Robert E. Lee, My Father, General Lee, (New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1960).
McCurry, Stephanie, Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Ramold, Steven J., Baring the Iron Hand: Discipline in the Union Army, (Dekalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010).
Rose, Anne C., Victorian America and the Civil War, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Stone, Lawrence, “Family Values in a Historical Perspective,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Harvard University, November 16th and 17th, 1994.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2018 CWI conferenceabout their talks. Today we are speaking with Kent Masterson Brown. Mr. Brown is a Lexington, Kentucky-based historian and attorney who has
practiced law for forty-three years. He was the creator and first editor of the national magazine, The Civil War, and is author of many books, including Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander (University Press of Kentucky, 1998); The Civil War in Kentucky: Battle for the Bluegrass State (Savas Publishing Company, 2000); Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Pennsylvania Campaign (UNC Press, 2005); One of Morgan’s Men: The Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry (University Press of Kentucky, 2011); and The Confederacy’s First Battle Flag (Pelican Publishing, 2014). Most of Kent’s books have been featured selections of the History Book Club and Military Book Club; Cushing of Gettysburg, Retreat From Gettysburg, and One of Morgan’s Men have also received numerous national awards. His current book project, George Gordon Meade and the Gettysburg Campaign, will go to press in early 2018. Kent is also President and Content Developer for Witnessing History, LLC. He has written, hosted, and produced numerous award-winning documentary films for public and cable television, including: “Long Road Back to Kentucky”; “Retreat From Gettysburg”; “Bourbon and Kentucky: A History Distilled; Henry Clay and the Struggle for the Union”; “The Southern Cross; Unsung Hero: The Horse in the Civil War”; “Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West”; and “ ‘I Remember The Old Home Very Well’: The Lincolns in Kentucky” (all of which were Telly Award recipients). “Unsung Hero” was also nominated for an Emmy Award. Kent was the first chairman of the Gettysburg National Military Park Advisory Commission and the first chairman of the Perryville (Kentucky) Battlefield Commission, a seat he held for eleven years while overseeing the expansion of the Perryville Battlefield. He currently serves as a director of the Gettysburg Foundation.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming
2018 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Steve T. Phan, a Park Ranger and historian at the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Prior to his arrival at CWDW, Steve worked as an intern and park guide at Richmond National Battlefield Park, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, and Rock Creek Park. A military history scholar of the Civil War era, Steve’s research focuses on military occupation, operational command, fortifications, and the Western Theater during the Civil War. He is the author of several articles about Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Civil War and is currently writing a guide book for the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Steve is also continuing his work on an extended research project about the Union Army First Corps and the life of General John F. Reynolds. He holds a Masters degree in American History, with a concentration in Public History.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming
2018 CWI conferenceabout their talks. Today we are speaking with William Marvel, an independent scholar of mid-19th-century American History. Marvel is the author of eighteen books, including most recently, Lincoln’s Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers, which is due for release by LSU Press in the early fall of 2018. Some of Marvel’s additional publications include: Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton (UNC Press, 2015), A Place Called Appomattox (UNC Press, 2000), and Andersonville: The Last Depot (UNC Press, 1994), for which he won a Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman History Award, and the Malcolm and Muriel Barrow Bell Award. He has also written a four-volume history of the Civil War that was published by Houghton Mifflin between 2006 and 2011. Mr. Marvel is currently working on a biography of Fitz John Porter.