To Liberty, Honor, and…Cufflinks?: The Grand Army of the Republic

By Savannah Labbe ’19

Gar pin
Grand Army of the Republic cufflink. (via Special Collections at Gettysburg College)

Borne of the Civil War, one fraternal organization quickly assumed such great authority that it re-shaped cultural prescriptions of manhood, dictated the northern public’s memory of the war, and even influenced presidential elections. This organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), was formed in Illinois in 1866 by veteran Benjamin Franklin Stephenson and its number of posts in the United States quickly increased. In order to be a member, one simply had to be a Union veteran. By the 1890s, there were 7,000 GAR posts around the country; approximately 1.3 million men, half of all Union veterans, were group members. Members would have worn these cufflinks, or more commonly, the badge with the same image on it, as status symbols. They purchased these cufflinks and badges not merely so that they could have another piece of jewelry, but so they could show everyone that they were one of the heroes who fought for the Union, one of the brave soldiers who were now part of the most powerful veterans’ organizations in the United States. Being a member of the GAR meant one had participated in one of the greatest wars of modern times (so they thought). In addition, these accessories indicated that one had not only participated in that war, but that he had fought on the right side– the side of liberty and freedom. These cufflinks became a symbol of one’s martial manhood, proving that one had served with courage and honor while fighting for a just cause. In this way, the GAR promoted its own history of the war– what is now known as the Treasury of Virtue. Similar to the Lost Cause narrative, it promotes a biased interpretation of history, in this case from the northern perspective. According to this narrative, all northern soldiers were noble, honorable, and heroic men who triumphed because they fought for the righteous goal of emancipation.

The imagery on the cufflinks also served to highlight the ideas of moral righteousness and martial fraternalism that the GAR tried to foster within its members Lady Liberty can be seen in the background–yet another concrete reminder that Union veterans had fought for a virtuous cause. A soldier and a sailor clasp hands in front of Lady Liberty, which symbolizes fraternalism, one of the goals of the GAR tried to promote. These cufflinks would have made it easier for men to recognize each other as fellow brothers-in-arms: They would know immediately that the man they had just met had gone through the same experience they had and would understand it as no one else could. It is hard to relate the horrors of war to someone who has never been through it, and the GAR provided an outlet for former soldiers to express these horrors and know that those around them would understand and empathize, instead of simply pitying them. Amidst the fraternal comfort of the GAR, that strict veil of 19th century manliness could be pulled aside; veterans could realize that they were not the only ones who had felt scared in combat or had been wracked with guilt over killing a man. To help facilitate these connections between veterans, the GAR held local, regional, and national meetings in which they would sit around campfires singing war songs and telling stories. Not only did this serve as a sort of therapy for the men, but it also allowed them to reminisce and be proud of their actions and the fact that they were part of so great a cause at so important of an historical moment.

Two figures kneel before the soldiers on the cufflink. Scholars debate over who these figures are supposed to represent. Some believe they are two orphan children, while others believe they are slaves. Either one would make sense. The GAR set up a fund to help widows and orphans and they also helped set up many homes for orphans. These activities went hand-in-hand with another goal of the GAR– that of charity. The GAR believed that those who had fought and died for the Union deserved proper care for their families. The government was hard-pressed to provide pensions for veterans, let alone to provide for the families of the fallen, so the GAR took this task upon itself. By doing so, members set an example, showing that veterans and their families deserved to be rewarded for their sacrifice, and thereby declaring them members “worthy of charity.” It is also equally plausible that the figures in front are slaves because GAR members liked to promote an image of themselves as the liberators of the oppressed.

The GAR used its moral authority of being on the side of righteousness to try to control the memory of the war. The GAR funded many Civil War memorials and monuments in order to promote its version of history. For example, in Arkansas, a state divided in its loyalties and with many more Confederate monuments than Union ones, the GAR made sure to make its presence known. The inscription on one of the three GAR monuments in Arkansas proudly proclaims that the Union soldiers’ “sacrifices cemented our union of states and made our flag glorious forever.” Not only did the GAR remember the Civil War through monuments, but it also started the official tradition that came to be known as Memorial Day, (though many others, particularly Southern women, had been observing similar days since the war ended). Originally known as Decoration Day, the commander-in-chief of the GAR designated that May 30, 1868, would be a day for the decoration of Union graves. 31 states adopted Decoration Day as an official state holiday by the next year. This ensured that those who had sacrificed their lives for the Union cause would never be forgotten. In addition, it also served as a reminder that those living veterans who would proudly wear their cufflinks to these events to publicize their fraternal identity, deserved to be rewarded for their services.

In order to fight for what they believed veterans deserved, especially pensions, the GAR became a very political body. After the Civil War, it was difficult for a president to be elected or even win a primary without the endorsement of the GAR. The GAR became a political arm of the Republican party, lobbying for certain presidents and political candidates. It was not until 1885 that a Democrat, Grover Cleveland, was elected president. However, Cleveland was not able to win immediate reelection because he vetoed a pension bill, which made members of the GAR angry . The GAR was very concerned with the welfare of veterans, and because of this they focused their lobbying efforts on obtaining pensions for veterans and their families. When politicians vetoed or opposed pension bills they were sure to feel the wrath of the GAR. Before the formation of the GAR, soldiers did not really take a large role in politics. Americans held that the ideal soldier was first and foremost a citizen and as such they should not take a role in government affairs. Americans were all too familiar with the unruly armies in Europe who did not protect the citizens but instead fought for money and power. American soldiers tended to return quietly to private life after they were done fighting because of this fear. The GAR, in contrast, was openly political and fought for what they believed they were owed.

This cufflink was much more than just a piece of jewelry. It was a way for comrades to identify each other and immediately bond over shared wartime experience . As such, it promoted camaraderie, friendship, and healing among veterans. Those who wore it were immediately identified as a member of a heroic class, and the white, northern veteran became the new model of honorable manhood. This cufflink also helped the GAR shape the memory of the Civil War. Its symbolism reinforced the idea that the Union had fought a just war that had saved global democracy and liberated an entire race of people. Additionally, the monuments and the traditions that the GAR started helped to promote a distinctly northern memory of the war, its causes, and consequences . As is evidenced by the actions of those who proudly wore these cufflinks, the post-war years were not, contrary to popular belief, all about reconciliation and a “forgive and forget” attitude; both sides tried passionately, and for many decades, to assert their own particular memory of the war. While the GAR was a veterans’ organization, it also became a political lobbying group. For the first time since the American Revolution, citizen soldiers became a tightly organized interest group dedicated to reshaping the political life of the country. No longer retreating back into their post-war private lives, these veterans but became directly involved in national politics, fighting for the material benefits and respect they believed they deserved in return for their sacrifice.


Blight, David W. Race and Reunion. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Christ, Mark K. “Arkansas Listings in the National Register of Historic Places: Grand Army of the Republic Monuments.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 77, no. 1 (Spring2018 2018): 67-73. Accessed September 16, 2018.

O’Leary, Cecilia Elizabeth. ““When Johnny Comes Marching Home”: The Emergence of the Grand Army of the Republic.” In To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism, 29-48. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

“The Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies (Main Reading Room, Library Of Congress)”. Loc.Gov. Last modified 2011. Accessed September 16, 2018.

“Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty”: The Bible as a Vessel for Remembrance, Guidance, and Self-Understanding during the Civil War

By Savannah Labbe ’19

The Bible of Lewis Tway


Courage, guidance, family, strength, self-understanding, and survival: These are just a few of the things that this Bible represented to the soldier who carried it. For Private Lewis Tway of the 147th New York Volunteers, this Bible provided a tangible link to all these things—a way to make sense of the at-times non-sensical chaos and carnage of war, a way to grow, learn, and adapt to the infinite physical and spiritual challenges of soldiering while still firmly rooting Tway in the foundational people and principles that gave his life meaning. Tway’s engagement with this Bible was never static; the evolution of that engagement, coupled with the multiple meanings that this Bible took on throughout the course of the Civil War were instrumental in shaping, and re-shaping, the man who carried it.

21-year-old Lewis Tway enlisted in the 147th New York in July of 1863, shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, and was discharged in July of 1865. The 147th saw heavy fighting in between: The Battle of the Wilderness, the Mine Run Campaign, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg were just a few of their major engagements. This Bible was carried through the carnage of those battles in Tway’s pocket. Soldiers had to carry everything with them wherever they went. Though merely a palm-sized New Testament, this Bible would have meant extra weight for Tway to carry, but he found it important enough to do so. Its black leather binding worn to brown in some places from constant use, the Bible conveys a sense of constant companionship and consultation for Tway. It has a latch in the front that Tway would have to consciously remove to open it, but he did so time and time again. On the front page, he wrote his name and his regiment, which would have served as a type of dog tag in the case of his death—no doubt a comforting notion to a soldier who would be fighting hundreds of miles away from home and family. It also had blank pages in it which Tway could use as a sort of journal and a place to reflect on his experiences of warfare.

The text of the Bible is very small, but Tway marked up a lot of the passages in it that resonated with him, even writing notes in the margins. Tway’s notes bear witness to the emotional and spiritual challenges he confronted as well as his evolving perspective on those challenges. For example, he circled in pencil, 1 Corinthians 15:20, which refers to the resurrection of Christ, and he writes the word “easter” next to it. He may have been reading this and remembering the comforts of home and how he attended Easter services before the war began, as well as how he celebrated the holiday with his family. Making such notations may have also been a way for Tway to get his mind off the horrors of war, by really thinking about and examining each verse and attempting to understand what they meant in the broader context of the Bible as well as the context of his life as a soldier. From instances like these it is obvious that Tway dedicated time to reading the small text of the Bible and reflecting on it and how its message intertwined with the realities of his daily life. As exhibited in Tway’s notations, Tway appears to have turned to the Bible for self-understanding and as a coping mechanism during some of what were likely the darkest, most confounding days of his life.

For men like Tway, the Bible was not simply a holy book, but a piece of home they could carry with them. Many men received their Bibles as gifts from family members or dear friends. While it is unknown how Tway received his Bible, he most likely got it before leaving home. Judging by how worn and well-loved the Bible looks, it was one of Tway’s most cherished possessions, perhaps one that was a reminder of who was waiting at home for him. While he was not married until after the war, he did have a sister that he was very close to and who was one of the few people he wrote to during the war. The Bible was a piece of home for Tway, a reminder of his sister and other loved ones for whom he was fighting, and who were waiting for him to come home. Along with this Bible, he also carried a picture of a little girl, possibly his sister, which would have complemented the Bible as a visual reminder of whom he was fighting for.

The weight of the Bible in Tway’s pocket also served as a reminder to keep the faith and resist the many temptations of army life, such as alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Religion, especially Christianity, was a powerful force in the lives of most 19th century Americans. They went to church every week and looked to the Bible for all forms of moral guidance and teaching. It was essential not to stray from those teachings, which was why so many soldiers, such as Charles O. Varnum of the 40th Massachusetts, were warned by their parents to be wary of temptation in camp. Such calls for caution were not unique to the Union. On the Confederate side, Carlton McCarthy’s likewise father said he would rather see his son dead than hear tales of his immorality. The army had long been known as a place of temptation and these fathers were correct in voicing concern over their sons’ moral health. The physicality of the book in Tway’s pocket served as a constant reminder from home to never stray from the teachings of the Bible that so strongly undergirded so many elements of Victorian society.

Tway also probably found himself looking to his Bible often for religious advice or guidance in the midst of a war where God often seemed quite absent amidst the constant and horrifyingly brutal deaths of friends and comrades, who succumbed not only to battle wounds but to debilitating diseases. Tway wrote in a blank page of his Bible, “where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” He may have been trying to fortify his own courage by reminding himself that constant faith in the Lord would liberate his own soul, both to perform great acts of courage in battle and to reach the gates of Heaven. However, by writing this notation in the midst of war, Tway may have been suggesting that he believed the spirit of the Lord was with the Union and on the side of liberty, and thus also with Tway, as a soldier in blue. His notation also may have referred to the liberation of slaves, as he joined the army after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Thus, Tway may have been reflecting on the political aims of the war through the lens of the Bible which, for many, imbued the Union cause with a comforting sense of sacredly ordained responsibility.

Like Tway, people on both sides of the conflict used the Bible as justification of their cause. The South tended to take a literal approach to the Bible, citing its many references to slavery as proof that God condoned slavery. The North tended to interpret the Bible less literally, saying that the characteristics of God as depicted in the Bible proved that He would not condone slavery. Due to passages found in the Bible, both sides believed that God was on their side and that He supported their cause. Indeed, not only soldiers, but entire armies felt that they were carrying out God’s will. For example, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Civil War song, is a deeply religious song written by a northerner who believed that the Union Army was doing God’s work. The North was on a Christ-like mission, according to the song: “As [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” The Bible was proof that the war and the killing necessitated by it were acceptable to God. Thus, the Civil War transformed the Bible into much more than a book that one looked to for moral guidance. It became a moral justification for all the killing and carnage that went along with the war. For the North especially, the war took on an increasingly religious cause, with the Emancipation Proclamation and the freeing of the slaves raised to a holy mission. Many northerners thus ultimately interpreted the war as a conflict fought under God’s will for the North and the Union’s great “democratic experiment ” to win and the oppressed to be freed, not merely a war to reunite the states.

Similarly, Tway seemed to have looked to the Bible for constant reassurance that his actions on the battlefield were indeed compatible with, and justified, by God. He marked Mark 10:17-20 in which a man asks Jesus what he has to do to achieve eternal life and Jesus answers that he must keep the commandments, one of which is not to kill. Tway was unable to keep this commandment during the war, but he seemed to have reconciled this fact both with the comforting knowledge that the cause in whose name such killing occurred was morally justified, and with other, specific verses in the Bible that gave more personal comfort. One of these, was Luke 15:7, which reads “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” As long as he repented, Tway knew he would still have a place in heaven. Tway was not the only soldier who worried about the apparent contradiction between soldiering and moral living; many dealt with immense guilt over the fact they had to kill their fellow human beings, even if they were the enemy. For these soldiers, the Bible provided moral guidance on how one could still achieve salvation.

In addition, the Bible also provided soldiers with temporary salvation from their present mental hell. Soldiers were constantly aware of the fact that they could die at any moment, which caused immense anxiety and depression for many. Tway became so preoccupied by the eventual reality of his own death, that he even wrote his own obituary after the war was over. This suggests that the war changed Tway by awakening him to the reality and eventuality of his own death. With death being a possibility every day during the war, Tway realized that it was similarly possible after the war and he made sure to take control of how he would be remembered. Many soldiers faced this same reality of possible death, especially before a battle; some looked to the Bible, praying that they would make it through safely, or praying for the strength to accept the Bible’s teachings about the preordained nature of death. Others looked to it after battle, as a way of coming to terms with the horrors they had witnessed and the carnage in which they had participated. For those on the verge of going into battle, carrying a Bible provided a sense that God literally was “by their side,” especially if one made it out of that battle alive and in one piece, which often caused immense gratitude towards God. The moral fortitude and sense of peace that many soldiers derived from the Bible also gave soldiers courage and the strength to face the prospect of death. This was especially necessary in a society where displays of cowardice could impugn both a soldier’s masculinity and sense of honor. Although Tway survived the war, he was wounded badly enough at the Battle of the Wilderness to receive a furlough so he could recover at home. The fact that he survived such a terrifying experience likely would have filled him with gratitude toward God and deepened the sense of personal closeness he felt to his Creator. Indeed, Tway likely clung to this very Bible not only during, but after his recovering as an act of devotion to God, who had saved his life.

Bibles were also used as momento mori, objects proving the soldier had died a “good death.” Achieving the “good death” was essential for 19th -century Americans. One was supposed to die at home, surrounded by family, and demonstrating a preparedness for death. It was believed that the last moments before death were reflective of what that person’s afterlife would be like. For instance, it was thought that if a person were to die screaming, they would be sentenced to perpetually scream in the afterlife. Screaming was a sign that the deceased was not prepared for death nor resigned to God’s will, so their place in heaven was uncertain. With soldiers fighting hundreds of miles away from home, and facing unimaginable horrors and prolonged suffering , the good death was hard to come by on the battlefields of the Civil War. Thus, surviving soldiers constantly struggled to justify the death of a fallen comrade when writing to his family. Families wanted to hear that their soldier had died a heroic death, and was calm and serene at the end, accepting of his fate. When no one was around to see how the soldier died, momento mori served as hints as to if the soldier faced death with bravery and acceptance or cowardice and denial—hints that fellow comrades could convey to family to comfort them in their grief. A Bible was an important momento mori because it showed that the deceased was a believer and had held onto his Bible until the last second, proving that he had accepted God’s will. If Tway had died during the war, his Bible would have helped assure his family that he had a place in heaven. Although Tway survived the war, his Bible likely still played an important role in how he remembered and internalized his wartime experiences. An active member in postwar veteran’ organizations, Tway clearly derived great pride and meaning from his military service. Such meaning was deeply shaped by the religious lens through which he had understood his soldiering experience and the war, its causes, and its consequences. His Bible had helped him, physically, morally, and spiritually survive the war and ensured that he could help contribute to the restoration of the Union and the liberation of four million souls.

Lewis Tway

As is evident, the Bible took on many meanings for Tway and many other Americans during the war, and it helped shape the wartime experiences and worldviews of soldiers in camp and on the battlefield. Tway used the Bible, as many other soldiers did, as a lens through which to view his experience and explain what was happening to him. The Bible was able to affirm for him that, while what he was doing was technically a sin, he could still earn a place in heaven should he kill in the name of liberty, and repent sufficiently for taking a life. For many other soldiers, the Bible provided the same comfort in the face of battle and possible death. It provided them with courage to face the ensuing carnage and an explanation as to why they deserved to live when so many of their friends had died. For these soldiers and Tway, the Bible helped shape their wartime experiences and provided them with hope, courage, and guidance amidst a kind of carnage and death they had never experienced before.


Faust, Drew Gilpin. “‘This Is My Last Letter to You’. (Cover story).” Civil War Times 47, no. 1 (February 2008): 28-35. Accessed September 3, 2017.

MacDonald, G Jeffrey. “Gettysburg Museum Looks at Faith Roles in Civil War.” The Christian Century 130, no. 17 (August 21, 2013): 17. Accessed September 3, 2017.

Miller, Randall M. “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis: A Comment.” Fides Et Historia 39, no. 2 (Sum 2007): 13-22. Accessed September 3, 2017.

MS-011: Lewis Tway Collection. Gettdigital: Civil War Era Collection, Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA. Accessed September 10, 2018.

Finding Meaning in the Flag: The KKK Era

By Olivia Ortman ’19

This post is the seventh in a series about the Confederate flag in history, memory, and culture. It offers one Fellow’s individual perspective as she investigates different sources and opinions. Read the first post here.

Image drawn by Arthur Szyck in 1949. Bubble in top corner reads: “Do not forgive them oh lord, for they do know what they do!” Bottom bubble reads: “Each negro lynching is a national disaster! Is a stab in the back to our government in its desperate struggle for democracy…”

In 1972, black Vietnam soldier, Frank J. Francis sat down for an interview with Forward, an African American newspaper in New Jersey. The purpose of the interview was for Francis to share his experiences with racism in the army. At one point, Francis began talking about the Confederate flag. He told his interviewer, “If anyone is familiar with the South, then one knows that throughout the South black people have been and are still being terrorized by such organizations as the KKK or the White Citizens’ Councils, extreme anti-black, racist organizations. These people use the Confederate flag as a symbol of their allegiance to the racist South and all of its anti-black policies.” Francis further shared that the flag was often displayed by white men; there were four Confederate flags in his company alone. The black soldiers found these flags highly antagonistic because, as Francis explained, that flag could only mean one thing: The presence of racist organization members and sympathizers. Even in Vietnam, Francis’s most concerning battle was the one he had to fight over his skin color . Others, however, would have a very different experience with the Confederate flag and its symbolism in those circumstances.

Francis’s association of the flag with racism was not unique; it followed a century’s worth of tradition. One of the first hate groups to adopt the Confederate flag as their symbol was the Carolina Rifle Club of Charleston, South Carolina. The group was formed in 1869 to defend the white race against “negro aggression.” Although their official flag was their state flag with a C superimposed over the palmetto tree, in the late 1870s, the club’s president boasted that it was “the first military body of white men which paraded in the streets of the city or the State, bearing arms…under the Confederate Banner, since the struggles of the War had ceased.” The South Carolina Rifle Club would be the first of many hate groups to carry the flag while preaching white supremacy.

The hate group most commonly associated with the Confederate Flag, the Ku Klux Klan, did not pick up the Confederate flag until much later. Although the KKK was formed in 1865 by a group of ex-Confederate soldiers, their connection to the flag was individual, not organizational. Several of the founding members had Confederate flags draped over their caskets when they died, denoting their involvement in the Confederacy, but the group itself did not specifically identify with the flag. Actually, since the early 1900’s, the KKK’s official flag has been, and still is to my knowledge, the U.S. flag. The group’s goal was to defend America, which (to them) meant enforcing racial segregation and black subordination at the time.

The first serious connection between the KKK as an organization and the Confederate flag was made in 1946. Stetson Kennedy, a labor organizer and investigator from Florida, went undercover to investigate a Klan in Atlanta. During the initiation ceremony, Kennedy noticed the presence of a Confederate flag draped across the altar. His description of the ceremony was featured in the May 27th edition of Life magazine, along with a story of the Klan’s attempted comeback.

Although there is nothing that explicitly states why the different Klan factions began incorporating the Confederate flag into their iconography, it was most likely a desire to identify with their Confederate ancestors. Historian John Coski explains that World War II had reinvigorated a sense of regional identification and the flag’s connection to a unique southern identity. The Klan’s adoption of the flag coincides with the end of World War II and an overall southern desire to connect with the flag. The Klan members in the 1940’s were also amongst the first generations of Klansmen not directly connected to the Civil War. The original founders of the KKK and many of the members of early Klans were Confederate veterans. These early members did not need the Confederate flag to be identified as men who fought to preserve a distinctly southern way of life . For later generations of Klansmen who had not fought in the Civil War, the flag provided a tangible connection to since-deceased Confederate soldiers, men whom Klansmen upheld as heroes.

The Klan’s connection to the Confederate flag would continue to grow throughout the 1950’s and beyond. By the mid-1960’s, the Confederate flag became almost synonymous with the KKK and white supremacy. Life magazine did a series of articles on the KKK throughout 1965, each one featuring prominent Klansmen standing in front of large Confederate flags. The first article was printed in the February edition and discusses several hate groups in America. The section dedicated to the KKK is preceded by a full-page image of Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton in full regalia posed in front of a very large Confederate flag. The magazine quotes other Klan members stating, “Fools, traitors, and Communists seek to mix our race with the blood of an inferior and cannibalistic black race,” as well as, more simply, “We’re against the niggers.” The implication could not be made any clearer. By posing a prominent Klan member in front of the flag, Life and Shelton were claiming the Confederate flag as a symbol for the KKK and therefore intertwining the flag with the group’s racist agenda.

Two months later, Life’s April edition featured a full article on the KKK alone. Halfway through the article, a Klan member is pictured holding a Bible and a copy of the Constitution and wearing a Confederate flag vest. Above the picture is the quote, “We love Negroes, in their place – like shinin’ shows, etc.” The May edition provides the most shocking connection to racism of all. Life covered the trial of Collie LeRoy Wilkins, a 21-year-old Klansman who murdered Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights advocate. Throughout the trial, Wilkins ranted and raved about his violent ideas concerning blacks and the whites that helped them. Regardless of these horrifying comments, the jury found Wilkins not guilty and set him free. What was the first thing Wilkins did upon release? Wilkins marched in a Klan parade where he proudly waved a Confederate flag to the applause of the crowd. Growing up in an atmosphere like this, it is no wonder that Frank Francis would see the Confederate flag as being solely a symbol of racist hate groups.

Imperial Wizard, Robert M. Shelton, signs autographs at a KKK rally in Hattiesburg, Miss. in 1965. The flag in the corner appears to be a Confederate flag.

Surprisingly, however, the flag was also used as the symbol of an anti-racist group. In 1970, just two years before Francis gave his interview, the newspaper Great Speckled Bird printed an article about a group calling themselves Young Patriots. The Young Patriots were young white activists based in Chicago who used community service to address issues of oppression within impoverished white communities. Although their primary focus was on poor whites, the Young Patriots used their work as a platform to foster a partnership with African Americans who were also being oppressed by rich whites. The group had modeled itself after the Black Panthers and actually worked very closely with the Panthers to spread acceptance and awareness of struggles faced by African Americans.

Members of the group were very proud to share photos of a rally held jointly with the Panthers in Chicago. In these photos, a Confederate flag hangs behind the podium right next to the Panthers’ flag. For these young white men and women, the Confederate flag represented their southern heritage and what they celebrated as a uniquely southern tradition of rebellion . The Young Patriots ignored the causes of the Civil War, reducing it simply to an act of resistance by southerners, therefore making the Confederate flag the ultimate symbol of resistance to authority. The group then used the flag as a connection between themselves and poor white southerners, visually stating that they all had distinct southern roots based in rebellion. By displaying the Confederate flag, the group hoped to rally impoverished whites to join African Americans in resistance against their mutual oppressors.

Support for the Young Patriots varied amongst African Americans. Those who supported the Black Panthers usually looked favorably upon the Young Patriots, although they acknowledge there were still some racist qualities that needed to be ironed out. Others who felt the Black Panthers were too militant typically classified the Young Patriots in the same category of radicalism. Although neither that article nor the other dozen articles I looked through specifically mentioned how African Americans felt about the group’s use of the Confederate flag, its continued use seems to imply a measure of acceptance from the African American community. The Young Patriots worked very closely with the Panthers and often displayed the Confederate flag beside the Panthers’ flag. Since the Panthers allowed this, they must not have been overly offended by the flag. Maybe the Panthers saw this as a small token of revenge against white southern supremacists: They were appropriating one of the most dominant pieces of those supremacists’ iconography and imbuing it with a message of black support in order to ultimately empower the African American community to defeat such racism. However, it is likely that the Confederate flag was still very jarring for African Americans unfamiliar with the Young Patriots . Most African Americans’ only experiences with this flag had been instances of hate and racism. For them, it was a symbol of oppression and white supremacy. Considering the pervasiveness of this interpretation of the flag, one can understand how wary many African Americans must have felt when confronted by the Young Patriots bearing the flag aloft. However, the group’s use of the flag proved that the flag’s symbolism was not, and never would be static and that – as is still true today – specific historical context matters when determining the flag’s multi-pronged messages.


“Great Order Will Not Die, Confederate Veteran Says.” Wisconsin Kourier (Washington, DC), December 26, 1924. Accessed April 14, 2018. KKK Newspapers.

“Interview with Frank J. Francis.” Forward (Fort Dix, NJ), February 1, 1972, 7th ed. Accessed April 5, 2018. Independent Voices.

Joye, Barbara. “Young Patriots.” Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta, GA), March 9, 1970, 10th ed. Accessed April 5, 2018. Independent Voices.

Kelley, Robert W. “Pictorial Summation of a Tragicomic Mistrial.” Life, May 21, 1965, 32-39. Accessed April 5, 2018.

“KKK.” Life, April 23, 1965, 28-35. Accessed April 5, 2018.

“October 28, 1965, Ku Klux Klan Rally in a Hattiesburg (Miss.) Field Featured on the Front Page of the October 29, 1965, Hattiesburg American. Speakers on Stage. Robert M. Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America, Signs Autographs.” October 1965. Moncrief Photograph Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. In Wikimedia Commons. June 22, 2005. Accessed September 16, 2018.

“Stetson Kennedy Dies at 94; Infiltrated Ku Klux Klan.” The New York Times. August 28, 2011. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Suiter, John. “Black Panthers: The Algerian Festival, Police Decentralization, and Hard Words to Student Radicals.” Berkley Barb, August 8-14, 1969. Accessed April 14, 2018. Independent Voices.

Szyck, Arthur. “Do Not Forgive Them, O Lord, For They Do Know What They Do.” Cartoon. New Caanan, CT. 1949. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed April 14, 2018.

“The Fearmongerers.” Life, February 7, 1965, 71-77. Accessed April 5, 2018.

“The Ku Klux Klan Tries A Comeback.” Life, May 27, 1946, 42-44. Accessed April 5, 2018.

Remembering the Violence of Antietam

By Cameron Sauers ’21

Ranger Keith Snyder from Antietam National Battlefield delivering his program Saturday afternoon in Antietam National Cemetery. (photo via Cameron Sauers)

Saturday, September 8th, saw a powerful collaboration between the Civil War Institute, Antietam National Battlefield, Eastern National, and Shepherd University. Together, these organizations hosted an event titled “Remembering the Violence of Antietam” which had a morning session at Shepherd University’s Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education. Those fortunate enough to have secured a seat in the auditorium were treated to a thought-provoking and informative string of talks. The afternoon session took place at different sites around Antietam National Battlefield.

The day began in earnest with an insightful lecture from Amelia Grabowski, a Gettysburg College alumna from the class of 2013. Grabowski’s lecture, “The Making of the Angel of the Battlefield,” focused on Clara Barton , a school teacher and clerk in the patent office who became a nurse at the outset of the war. The lectured paid special attention to how Barton’s experience at Antietam field hospitals influenced her later work with the Missing Soldiers Office and the foundation of the American Red Cross. Clara Barton’s early life was illuminated for the audience, dispelling the common notion that Barton was some angel just dropped on the Antietam battlefield. One of the events in Barton’s early life that was highlighted was Barton’s experience nursing her brother to health for two years after he fell from a roof. This gave Barton the rudimentary knowledge of nursing that she would take to the battlefield with her.

Following Grabowski was CWI Director, Dr. Peter Carmichael, who delivered a talk entitled, “Where is the Blood? Imagination, Violence, and the Sunken Lane.” Dr Carmichael detailed the sanitization of the famous Alexander Gardiner photos of Antietam before public consumption. Gardiner’s original photos of carnage were stripped of their blood and gore before being published as woodcuts for Northern newspapers. This editing of the photos prevented Northerners from seeing the true carnage in Gardiner’s original photos of the battle. Dr. Carmichael also provided the case study of David Beam, who served in the 24th Indiana and fought at the Sunken Lane who wrote a series of emotional and revealing letters home in the days and weeks following Antietam. Carmichael’s example served to prove his point that Civil War soldiers were emotional and would share their feelings with those on the home front.

After concluding his talk, Dr. Carmichael introduced his good friend and newly appointed director of the Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia, Dr. Caroline Janney. Dr. Janney’s achievement as a Civil War historian is well known . She is the author of Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause and Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation. Janney’s lecture, “On this Field Died Slavery: Remembering and Reconciling at Antietam,” captivated the assembled audience. One of the fascinating aspects of Dr. Janney’s talk was her detailing of how many soldiers, both northern and Southern, did not want to go to Blue/Grey reunions because they did not want to tone down their rhetoric about the war’s causes. Blue/ Grey reunions were reconciliation meetings that sought to commemorate the valor of individual soldiers and units but ignored larger political forces of the war. Union veterans may have preferred to lambaste the South’s secession, but would have been hesitant to do it on Southern ground in front of Southern veterans.

Janney also made the interesting argument that Antietam is a memorial park to the Union itself because many veterans of the Battle of Antietam, especially those who did not fight at Gettysburg, viewed the battle as the triumph that ended slavery. Following the war, many soldiers would take great pride in the fact that their sacrifice and victory at the battle of Antietam led to the Emancipation Proclamation. After the war, this sense of pride would lead to clashes between Union and Confederate veterans over what caused the war and what ended it, especially as former Confederates developed the Lost Cause mythology . Janney ended with Robert Penn Warren’s quote, “in the moment of death the Confederacy entered upon its immortality ,” which was a perfect example of this new mythology. The Confederacy, when it surrendered, still had ardent supporters who were not yet willing to admit defeat. They vowed to perpetuate “the lost cause,” which promotes Confederate honor and dignity and attempts to manipulate the historical memory of the war. For example, a common example of the lost cause is to say that ‘states rights’ caused the war, instead of slavery, or to sterilize the horrors of the institution of slavery. The sense of awe in the room was palpable as seminar participants headed for lunch.

In the afternoon, visitors were treated to a unique talk from Dr. James Broomall, the Director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Assistant Professor of History at Shepherd University. Broomall admittedly stepped out of his comfort zone to deliver a lecture on James Hope’s paintings of the battle of Antietam. Broomall claimed to not be an art historian, but his speech had the audience (myself included) captivated by the subject. Broomall focused on how Hope’s return to the battlefield two decades after the battle inspired him to begin painting once again. The resulting works capture the field of Antietam at its most brutal – from the fighting near Dunker Church, to piles of bodies in the Sunken lane. Seeing how a painter remembered the violence at Antietam was an interesting contrast to how photography and monuments commemorated the violence. Broomall’s talk about painting the battlefield was especially helpful as seminar attendees headed out onto the battlefield.

After Broomall’s talk, a brave few ventured out in the rain for the first of two battlefield tours. Park ranger Brian Baracz’s tour, “Memory in Bronze and Stone,” built on the morning talks, especially that of Dr. Janney. Baracz focused on the monuments erected at Antietam and how their stories differ from Gettysburg’s battlefield. Antietam has less monuments on the battlefield than Gettysburg because many states wanted to put monuments only at Gettysburg and considered the monuments erected at Antietam to be second in terms of importance. Fortunately, the rain started to disappear towards the end of Baracz’s talk and held off for Keith Snyder’s tour. Snyder’s tour, “The Global Sacrifice for Freedom at Antietam National Cemetery,” expanded the day beyond the Civil War. Snyder detailed, for the assembled audience, the stories behind a few of the graves at the cemetery. Included were the graves of Civil War soldiers, African American soldiers who battled against segregation during the first World War, and soldiers who fought on both fronts during the second World War. Snyder’s tour was moving, and it was hard not to become emotional. Even Snyder struggled to hold back tears as he recounted powerful stories of heroism and sacrifice . One story that impacted me personally was the story of Staff Sgt. Maxwell Leo Swain who was killed at the battle of the Bulge on Dec. 19, 1944. Swain’s youth at age 19 years old when he died particularly resonated with me, being 19 myself. The tour was a thought-provoking and appropriate end to a day focused on the remembrance of sacrifice, and the far-ranging impact of battlefield violence.

Back in Formation: Presenting the 2018-2019 CWI Fellows

By Olivia Ortman ’19

With the new academic year off to a racing start, the Civil War Institute Fellows are back and ready to muster in. Veterans, Ryan Bilger ’19, Savannah Labbe ’19, Jonathan Tracey ’19, and Zachary Wesley ’20 will be joined by new recruits, James Goodman ’20, Elizabeth Hobbs ’21, Benjamin Hutchison ’21, Benjamin Roy ’21, Cameron Sauers ’21, and Isaac Shoop ’21. Everyone is eager to begin working on their new projects and sharing history with all of you.

This year will bring exciting changes to the Fellows program. Some of our Fellows will continue working on Killed At Gettysburg, a digital history project that traces the lives and final footsteps of soldiers who fought and died here at Gettysburg. These Fellows will produce the first profiles of Confederate soldiers to be featured on the KAG website. Other Fellows will be using rare, original Civil War photographs to curate an exhibit on photography at Gettysburg that will be featured at the CWI’s annual summer conference. This group of Fellows will also be researching and several filming short video clips interpreting different parts of the battlefield, the memorial landscape, and the experiences of various soldiers and civilians who bore witness to the 1863 battle. These videos will be posted throughout the fall on our Facebook page, so be sure to keep an eye out for them!

Here on the blog, we will be taking on a slightly different interpretive focus as we shift our research and writing toward the study of 19th-century material culture. Writers will choose Civil War era objects that interest them and reflect on the broader social, political, and cultural context of that object. This approach to material objects will allow writers and readers to explore the Civil War era in a new light by learning about how the the objects that 19th-century Americans interacted with shaped the way individuals understood, visualized, and lived their lives. Likewise, students will study how 19th-century Americans shaped and reshaped the meaning of the objects themselves in important ways throughout their daily lives. Blog writers will also continue to keep you informed about the latest lectures and special events both on campus and around Gettysburg, as well as about their personal reflections on the various projects with which they have been tasked.

I hope you will continue to support the Fellows by reading their posts, sharing and liking pieces, commenting, and asking any questions that these posts might provoke. We students are learning right alongside you and enjoy any opportunity to engage in thoughtful discussion about the topics at hand.

With that, I present our 2018-2019 CWI Fellows!

Fellows 2018 to 2019[30251]

Thank you,

Olivia Ortman, Managing Editor

Trampling Mrs. Lee’s Roses: Union Soldiers at Arlington

By Savannah Labbe ’19

Mary Custis Lee

“I would not stir from this house even if the whole Northern Army were to surround it,” wrote Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, to her daughter, Eleanor Agnes Lee on May 5, 1861. The Civil War was still in its infancy when Mary Lee wrote this letter, having begun a month earlier on April 12, 1861. Her husband had already sided with the Confederacy but there had not been much fighting yet. Even still, Mary Lee’s life was changing and would continue to change irrevocably throughout the war, especially in relation to Arlington House. Arlington House was the only home Mary Lee had ever known. It had been her childhood home, built by her father George Washington Parke Custis in 1802, and was the home where she raised her own children. Little did she know that by the end of the month, she would be gone from Arlington House.

Arlington House is just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. It is two miles from the White House and not much farther from other important governmental buildings. If the Confederates had been allowed to occupy Arlington, they could potentially have shelled the White House from there. Of course, the Union could not allow this to happen. So, on May 24, 1861, 10,000 Union soldiers under the command of Charles W. Sandford occupied the Arlington estate. When they arrived, the Lees had already fled, leaving only their slaves behind to take care of the estate in their absence. Union soldiers occupied the grounds until 1862, when Lincoln issued the initial Emancipation Proclamation and slaves began to flood the D.C. area. So, in a highly symbolic gesture, a refugee camp for freed slaves called Freedman’s Village was set up by the Federal Government on the grounds of the house that belonged to a man fighting to uphold slavery. This camp turned into an expansive village, eventually including a chapel, hospital, and dozens of family homes. The government also sponsored workshops to help teach the freed slaves skills that would be useful in the labor force and in finding employment.

Not only was Arlington House made into a camp for former slaves, it was also made into a cemetery for Union dead. In 1864, the casualty toll began to increase dramatically. In May alone there were 44,000 Union casualties. Many of the wounded were sent to Washington hospitals to hopefully recover, although many succumbed to their wounds. At first, the dead were buried in the cemetery at the Soldier’s Home, a military retirement home in Washington D.C., but that was full by 1864. Another place was needed, and Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs suggested Arlington, as he believed the grounds there were perfect for that use. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton agreed, and on June 15, 1864, he issued an order declaring the Arlington grounds a military cemetery. Burials began swiftly after this order. Meigs personally oversaw the burial of 65 Union officers, including his own son, John Rodgers Meigs, in Mary Lee’s rose garden and ordered all burials after that to be done as close to the mansion as possible so that it could not be used as a residence again.

Even though the Union had taken great strides to make Arlington House its own, when the war ended, Mary Lee set out to get her house back. While the government has the right to seize property during wartime, under the concept of eminent domain, it still must provide just compensation to the landowner. The Lee’s were never compensated, though, because Arlington was seized under the authority of the Doolittle Act of 1862. The Doolittle Act was an attempt by the Union government to raise money for the war effort. It allowed government commissioners to assess and collect taxes on real estate in “insurrectionary districts” and then auction off the property if the tax was not paid. Arlington was assessed, and it was determined that Mary Lee owed $90.07 for the property. Mary Lee attempted to send a cousin, Phillip Fendall, to pay the tax in December 1863, but the commissioners said they would only accept payment from the landowner, Mary Lee, in person, meaning she would have to cross Confederate and Union lines to pay the tax. There was, however, nothing in the act that said the landowner must pay in person.

About a decade later, in1872, Mary Lee petitioned Congress for compensation, at the very least be paid for the property that had been taken from her. The proposal to pay her was resoundingly defeated by a vote of 54 to 4. Mary Lee died the next year, never seeing her house again after she had left it in May of 1861. Her son then took up the fight to get the house back. He sued the government officials that had seized Arlington, and his case went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

In 1882, in the case of United States v. Lee, the Supreme Court decided that Custis Lee was indeed the legal owner of Arlington House. Lee claimed that the government had violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment by claiming title to the land through an invalid land tax and not compensating Mary Lee for the land. The Supreme Court agreed with Lee, by a vote of 5 to 4, making it clear that the Constitution cannot be suspended during wartime. Lee was not as concerned with getting the actual property back as he was with getting the government to pay for it. With all the bodies and the controversy it would cause to have them disinterred, Lee agreed to the government’s proposal to purchase Arlington for $150,000 on February 7, 1883. Lee had gotten what his mother wanted all along, though she was not alive to see it.

Union soldiers standing in front of Arlington House

The circumstances surrounding Arlington are all highly symbolic. The fact that it was turned into a camp for freed slaves was meant to send a message to Robert E. Lee, as were the bodies that were buried there. Housing freed slaves and burying Union soldiers on his property was a way of punishing Lee for his betrayal. The Union soldiers buried on his lawn served as a constant reminder of his responsibility in causing their deaths. The struggle that Mary Lee and her son went through to be justly compensated for their property shows that there were still lingering wounds and bad feelings between the North and the South, as Congress was not willing to admit legal fault to the family of an ex-Confederate. Now Arlington, the house so dear to Mary Lee, serves as a burial ground for soldiers of the United States—soldiers who were her husband’s enemies. Arlington can be seen as somewhat of a microcosm of the Civil War and its legacy. It was close to D.C., the capital of the Union, but was a highly contested area by both sides. Originally belonging to a Southerner, the North took it back during the war and it was highly contested even after that. In the courts, Custis Lee fought it out with the Federal government and he won a symbolic victory, but ultimately the government got what they wanted, to keep Arlington as a cemetery for Federal soldiers. Arlington’s legacy is complicated, much like the legacy of the Civil War.


Gaughan, Anthony J. “Taking Back Arlington.” Civil War Times 50, no. 6 (December 2011): 32-39. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Gaughan, Anthony J. “The Arlington Cemetery Case: A Court and a Nation Divided.” Journal of Supreme Court History 37, no. 1 (March 2012): 1-21. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Lee, Mary Randolph Custis. “Petition of Mary Ann Randolph Lee.” January 22, 1872. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Lee, Mary Randolph Custis to Eleanor Agnes Lee. May 5, 1861. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Poole, Robert M. “The Battle of Arlington.” Smithsonian 40, no. 8 (November 2009): 50-57. Accessed April 16, 2018.

Finding Meaning in Land

By Keira Koch ’19

This post is the final one of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

This summer, I had the privilege of interning at the Civil War Defenses of Washington, in Washington D.C.  The Civil War Defenses of Washington is unique within the National Park system. Unlike most historical and military parks, the Civil War Defenses of Washington has no central location or site. Rather, the park is made up of nineteen different fort sites used in defense of the city of Washington during the Civil War. What also makes this park unique is its relationship with the land and local terrain. Most of these forts were constructed through the strategic manipulation of land. Civil War soldiers molded the land to build earthen trenches, mounds, and hills. At many of the forts, these earthworks are the only structures that link these places to the Civil War.

Throughout the summer, I was asked to think about the relationship between objects and the people who use or used them. Through different human interactions, objects take on a life of their own, carrying hidden narratives, symbols, and meanings. In the context of the Civil War Defenses of Washington, it’s worthwhile to consider land as an object. At these forts, the land has been the main force that connects these sites to the Civil War. The land has both shaped and been shaped by the people who interacted with it. Much like buildings, artifacts, and memorials, the land has a narrative of its own, holding different meanings for different people.

Koch Fort Stevens
The land upon which Fort Stevens was built on holds a multitude of different meanings. Photo courtesy Keira Koch.

Fort Stevens is one of the many forts Civil War Defenses oversees. While the fort is heavily connected to the Civil War and the battle that was fought there, the land Fort Stevens was built on holds a multitude of different meanings. During its period serving as a Civil War Union fort, the land was directly linked to the military and war. To those who interacted with it, the land served as a stronghold and defense against Confederate forces. The land was also a battleground, a place where Union soldiers held off Confederate forces, squashing an attempt to invade Washington. To many, the land is a symbol of a Union victory as well as a sacred ground, where soldiers fought and died. However, before, during, and after the war, this land was also someone’s home.

A free African-American woman, Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, owned and lived on the land Fort Stevens was built on. In September 1861, Union troops took possession of her land and destroyed her home, barn, orchard, and garden to build Fort Stevens. During the destruction of her property, a man who is believed to be President Lincoln offered her words of comfort. To Mrs. Thomas, the land held a different meaning; it  symbolized the loss and destruction of her home as well as a place of union, a place where a president forged a bond with an African American woman. Mrs. Thomas’ encounter with Lincoln forever shaped her perception of the Civil War and the president. After the war, she spoke fondly of Lincoln and sold a portion of her land to preserve the remaining earthworks and establish a park.

The Civil War Defense of Washington uses the land Fort Stevens resides on to share both of these two narratives. This year the park just recently commemorated the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens. In September, another event will be held to remember Mrs. Thomas and her contribution to the war and local community. Through Thomas’s story, Fort Stevens continues to remind visitors of the complex relationships people have with the land and the various meanings and stories hidden within it.

Koch and Vega at the Battle of Fort Stevens Commemoration
Keira Koch and Emily Vega at the 154th Battle of Fort Stevens Commemoration. Photo courtesy Keira Koch.

The McLean House: Symbol of Reunification or Surrender Grounds?

By Carolyn Hauk ’21

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

While enjoying live music in a small coffee shop nestled in historic Appomattox, Virginia, a local asked me where I was from and what had brought me here this summer. Mine was a new face among the Friday night crowd and I expected some curious glances. However, when I explained that I was working at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, I was surprised to hear in return, “Oh, the Surrender Grounds”. This reference to the park – and the McLean House in particular – revealed one of the long-standing interpretations of the town’s events that still lives on today. Here, on April 9th, 1865 met two of the most skilled generals that ever led men into battle – with lasting implications for the nation’s future.

Two years prior, grocer and entrepreneur Wilmer McLean had moved his family to the small hamlet of Appomattox Court House to escape the war that had literally broken out in the backyard of his Manassas plantation. Originally a guesthouse in the Raine family tavern complex, the substantial brick McLean house reflects the well-traveled Lynchburg-Richmond State Road and the brisk stage-coach and hospitality businesses that helped to establish the village of Appomattox Court House in 1846. For the McLean family, this was now home – at least temporarily.

After nine months of laying siege to Petersburg, General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army finally pushed General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia west, resulting in the week-long pursuit known as the Appomattox Campaign. At each turn, Lee’s plans to secure rations and join with North Carolina Confederate forces were thwarted. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the Confederates lost two battles in the village. Finally, on April 9th, 1865, Lee and Grant convened in the McLean front parlor since it was Palm Sunday and the Courthouse was closed. In just over one and a half hours, the Terms of Surrender were written out by Grant and signed by Lee. As Grant had surmised, this triggered a series of Confederate surrenders that led to the official end to the Civil War.

For the Union, the McLean parlor symbolized victory — the beginning of the end of a tumultuous, four-year war. For the Confederacy, however, it meant something altogether different. During Reconstruction, the Southern war narrative would twist into a gallant, prideful story of resistance despite inevitable odds. For the Confederates, the McLean parlor did not represent defeat; rather, it was the surrender of the fight against their aggressors, the germ of what would become known as the ‘Lost Cause’. Semantics aside, for a few hours on that April afternoon the McLean parlor resonated with respect, humility, and humanity as two war-weary generals convened to bring about a peace in accordance with President’s Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “with malice towards none”.

In the years following Reconstruction, the events of Appomattox have been interpreted in polarizing ways. The war may have ended, but the cultural and political divide remains. Is the McLean House a national symbol of the reunification of our country or is it merely the Surrender Grounds? The battle, it seems, rages on.

Today, the McLean House  is even more relevant as a monument to peaceful, humane conflict resolution. Here, two adversaries met face to face, as equals. They were not motivated by power, nor revenge, but by the greater good to put down arms, pick up pens, and “with malice toward none,” begin the process of putting to an end to one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.

Hauk McLean House
Carolyn Hauk ’21 in front of the McLean House at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Photo courtesy Carolyn Hauk.

Richmond National Battlefield Park

By Albert Wilson ’21

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

Richmond National Battlefield Park consists of thirteen sites around Richmond that document the battles for control of the Confederate capital. Several of the park sites feature earthworks; at Fort Harrison the earthen wall of the fort towers twenty feet over the ditch below, by the Totopotomoy Creek the earthworks have been eroded to barely a few inches in height. But the most infamous earthworks are on the Cold Harbor battlefield.

The earthworks that remain at this site are all original. Some are in pristine condition, all they are missing are reinforcement and header logs. Usually one is forbidden on earthworks, but there is a segment along one of the park’s trails where visitors are allowed to walk down through a segment of earthworks and get an impression of what fighting in these trenches was like. Forest had taken over much of the property. While the ground was clear land during the battle, today tree growth (and thus root growth) as well as leaf cover helps to prevent erosion of these earthworks in the sandy soil. It then becomes a challenge for visitors to imagine that battlefield not as a forest but as a open field, earthworks not as a line of earth but as a barrier crowded by soldiers.

Now the 1864 Overland Campaign had a two-fold goal for the Army of the Potomac: capture Richmond and destroy the Army of Northern Virginia along the way. The Confederates countered this by staying between the Union army and Richmond, and by digging earthwork defenses wherever their army stopped. Many Union soldiers feared (and found true) that once the Confederates were dug in, these earthworks were an almost impenetrable defense. The morning of June 3, 1864 finds the Confederates dug into earthworks with Richmond just 10 miles to their backs. At 4:30am, General Grant orders a frontal assault upon this line of earthworks that proves futile, as the Confederate defenders fire volley after murderous volleys into advancing Union soldiers. After the bloodshed of that morning, many Union soldiers were hesitant (if not outright refused) to advance again upon enemy earthworks, as the horrors of Cold Harbor were clear in their heads.

The earthwork remains are pivotal to the story of Cold Harbor, not just as a line of defense on June 3, but what these earthworks mean in the mythology of the Civil War. It is shortly after the Battle of Cold Harbor that the insult of “Grant the Butcher” begins appearing in newspapers unfriendly to the Lincoln administration. This attempt at slander accuses Grant of throwing wave after wave of troops into impenetrable Confederate lines because Grant did not care that greatly for the lives of his soldiers. Visitors to the park still repeat and still believe the line of Grant the Butcher over 155 years later. When discussing the battle, the easiest way to dispel this myth is putting the bloodshed into context. Grant suffered heavily, taking almost twice as many casualties as Confederate General Lee. But this battle’s casualty figure does not make it the bloodiest battle of the Overland campaign, and there are individual days of the Civil War bloodier than the two weeks spent at Cold Harbor. Grant would write in his memoirs “I have always regretted the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.” It is not hard to imagine the bloodshed when looking down range from the top of an earthwork line.

While some segments of earthworks seem impenetrable, other segments are quite vulnerable. About halfway through a tour, one comes to a spot where the line of earthworks is about 80 yards back from the crest of the hill. This is a poor position for earthworks because it provides a limited line of fire for the trench’s occupiers. Now on the morning on June 3, despite being ordered to attack, the Union divisions opposite this poorly positioned segment of earthworks failed to attack. So I end my tours with a what if- what if the Union army attacked that poorly positioned segment of line and broke through? The entire memory of the battle could have changed at that segment of earthworks; from a battle that was a vain assault on the part of the Union, to an attack celebrated as the victory that could have ended the war in June of 1864. Visually, one segment of earthworks is only distinguishable from another in terms of height, depth, and length. But each segment of earthworks presents examples on how the story of Cold Harbor is told, and how that story is remembered.

Wilson Cold Harbor trenches
View down a segment of Confederate earthworks on the Cold Harbor Battlefield. Photo courtesy Albert Wilson.

Andersonville’s Providence Spring

By Maci Mark ’21

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series. 

At Andersonville National Historic Site there is not much left of what was here in 1864 when this site operated as a prison, aside from the earthworks, which now have pleasant green grass growing on them. The petrified stumps of the original stockade do still remain in the ground, but otherwise the park is a quaint pretty scene of rolling hills with tall grass. The only visible indication of the horrors that prisoners suffered here is in the cemetery. The headstones of the prisoners have no space between them, they are placed exactly where the prisoners were buried shoulder to shoulder in trenches, 13,000 of them side by side. Most of the stones have names on them but about 400 do not. This is something distinctive about Andersonville, the fact that so many of those who died here are known. This is thanks to a paroled prisoner, Dorace Atwater, and the secret list of the dead he kept when working in the hospital and the dead house. But sadly, this list was destroyed in a fire that consumed Atwater’s home in the early 20th century.  Visitors frequently ask whether the museum has the Atwater list, but the best we can do is direct them to a book in the bookstore that has a portion of the list.

Our bookstore contains lots of books about Andersonville and the broader Civil War, and various knick knacks that visitors can buy to show that they were here. But there’s a common theme amongst much of our merchandise: the image of Providence Spring. It is on the magnet, the key chain, the pocket watch, post cards, and the pin, and there are even little bottles with labels where a visitor can collect water from the spring. Providence Spring is a spring that came up in August of 1864 and was deemed a miracle for the prisoners. The prisoners’ water source, Stockade Branch, was contaminated with human waste and oils from the Confederate guards’ camp before it even got to the prisoners. The prisoners would get sick from the water and would have to resort to digging wells (the Georgia water table is about 70 feet down and they only had spoons or broken canteens) or drinking from the stream. The prisoners had been praying for a miracle, in the form of clean water or exchange, and one came in a thunderstorm that broke down the stockade wall, bringing with it lightning that struck the ground and brought forth a spring. This spring had clean water that the prisoners could drink without getting sick. This was deemed a miracle, and in 1901 with the help of the Woman’s Relief Corps, the survivors of Andersonville placed a monument to the Spring which has become a popular symbol of the site.

The pathway leading to Providence Spring. Photo courtesy Maci Mark.

Park rangers at Andersonville NHS today explain that the spring was covered up when the Stockade was built and that the rains of August 1864 uncovered it. But there are still people who visit Providence Spring and believe that a miracle took place there. Providence Spring has many different meanings to those who visit it; for some it shows that the prisoners’ prayers were answered when they felt abandoned by their country, letting them die in prison. Others see how minimal improvements to the conditions at Andersonville – such as clean water – saved many lives. Whether or not Providence Spring is an accurate representation of Andersonville (could it better be represented by the reconstructed Stockade?), it has become one of its most popular and up-lifting stories in a place where 45,000 men suffered and 13,000 paid the ultimate price.