A Legacy of Bravery: The Indian Home Guards in the Civil War

By Savannah Labbe ’19

Many may not realize that Native Americans played a part in the Civil War, just as they did in many previous American wars. Some Native Americans enlisted with regular infantry units, alongside white Americans. These Native Americans believed they could achieve better treatment by the government and keep their land if they enlisted. They also got paid and fed regularly in the army. They did face discrimination by white soldiers, who believed that these Native Americans exemplified the stereotype of the lazy, drunk Indian. However, such stereotypes were often proved wrong. The most notable example of this is Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, made up mostly of Native Americans, who showed their courage and strength in the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Petersburg, among others. In the South and West, most Native Americans tended to fight as separate auxiliaries. It was in this part of the country that most Native Americans had been forcibly relocated to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. Foremost among these Native Americans were the five “civilized” tribes, called so because they, for the most part, attempted to integrate into American society to gain respect and stop encroachment on their land. These tribes were the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee or Creek, and the Seminole, and they would come to play the biggest role in the Civil War among Native Americans, mostly because they could not escape it.

After the war started in 1861, the United States pulled all of its white troops out of the forts in Indian Territory to provide more manpower for the war in the East, leaving the Native Americans unprotected. In addition, when the government had relocated the Five Civilized Tribes, it had signed treaties promising to pay them a yearly amount of money. The tribes relied on this money to survive and provide services to their people, but in 1861 the government refused to pay them. This caused an ideological civil war within the tribes over which loyalty would serve them best. Some believed they should still keep their end of the treaty and side with the United States, even though the government had broken its promise. Others held that the treaty was now void and they should instead fight for the Confederates, as they had not broken any treaties. The Creeks, for example split in half.

Those with Union sentiment looked to Opothleyahola, who had been a prominent spokesperson and leader of the Creeks since their removal in 1830. Before the removal, he had been an advocate of the traditional ways of the Creeks and had opposed removal, but he eventually came to see that it was inevitable. He urged neutrality and encouraged the tribe to uphold its end of the treaty. Others, called the McIntoshes, disagreed and took a pro-Confederate stance. This group was named after William McIntosh, who was the son of a Scottish man and a Creek woman. Even though McIntosh had died many years before the Civil War, his descendants carried on his legacy and fought for the Confederacy.

In addition, many of the tribes that came to support the Confederate cause were originally from the South and had shared cultural ties. Some Native Americans even owned black slaves, believing this could help them assimilate into American society. Their slaves were forbidden to intermarry and were generally treated similarly by Native Americans as they were by whites. This still poses a problem today because many people of African American and Native American descent claim to be Native American, but some tribes do not accept them or recognize their status. In addition, a lot of these slaves were not freed at the end of the Civil War because the United States still, to some extent, saw them as separate political entities that did not have to abide by the Thirteenth Amendment. They became freed a year later when a treaty was signed between some Native American tribes and the government in which the Native Americans agreed to free their slaves. However, this did not stop these Native American nations from passing discriminatory laws, similar to Jim Crow laws and Black Codes, aimed at the newly freed African Americans that lived amongst them.

After the Union had abandoned Indian Territory in 1861, Confederates were quick to move in, scattering the remaining Native Americans who sided with the Union. They attacked Opothleyahola and his followers on December 26, 1861. Opothleyahola fled, reaching Kansas with no food and water and leaving the Confederates with control over Indian Territory. Those who had fled wanted to get back to their homes, and the United States saw its opportunity. Thus, the Indian Home Guards were formed. The Union did not have enough men to spare to fight the Confederates in Indian Territory, so they took advantage of the Native Americans who wanted their home back and had them fight for it in order to win the war. This decision did not come without controversy, however, as many in Kansas were afraid that giving weapons to Native Americans would cause them to turn against the state’s white citizens. They also thought Native Americans were inferior and would not be able to fight in the army.

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Indian Home Guards being sworn in. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

At first, the Indian Home Guards were under the overall command of a white officer, while individual companies had Native American leaders. Later, white leadership took over, as the majority of Native Americans were illiterate and unable to do the paperwork required of officers. However, they were still often used to lead their men in battle, as Native American soldiers were more likely to follow a fellow Native American leader. There were other problems with these units, though. Many had trouble adjusting to the army’s way of conducting warfare, which was much more regimented than they were used to, and there were a lot of desertions. In addition, some Native Americans treated their army-issued guns as their personal property and used them for sport or hunting. This lead to ammunition shortages in the already ill-supplied ranks, and the government had to take the cost of ammunition used for personal reasons out of the Native Americans’ pay.

Despite all these problems, the Native Americans fought hard for their homes, leading their white commander, William A. Phillips, to remark in his reports that he was “very much pleased with the conduct of the whole Indian force.” On July 17, 1863, at the Battle of Honey Springs, the Indian Home Guard, along with other troops, gained a foothold in Indian Territory. The battle, fought between 5,700 Confederates and 3,000 Union troops, is often termed the “Gettysburg of the West” because it was the last real Confederate effort to protect this territory. This made it much easier for the Indian Home Guards to eventually take back the whole area.

The capture of the Indian Territory was important to the Union effort, as it helped them take back land that had been lost to the Confederates, but despite the important role that the Indian Home Guards played in this effort, the treatment of Native Americans after the war was not reflective of this. No matter what side the Native Americans fought on, they were all treated alike and pushed off their land as Manifest Destiny and increased settlement took hold after the Civil War. Those who had fought for the Union cause were treated just the same as those who had fought for the Confederacy. Their land was increasingly shrinking and they became the target of U.S. military action. These Native Americans fought for their homes during the Civil War, only to lose them and be pushed off of them afterwards.

The Native Americans soldiers are not remembered and their contributions are not recognized. Instead, the Civil War’s end led into the Indian Wars, in which many of the tribes that had helped the Union win were slaughtered at the hands of the United Sates military. There are no monuments to these Native Americans. The only monument which is remotely related to Native Americans is that of the 42nd New York on the Gettysburg Battlefield. It has a teepee on it, but only because the regiment was supported by Tammany Hall, which was named after a famous Native American leader. While their legacy is not remembered by white Americans, it is no doubt remembered by the Native Americans themselves, who will always know how bravely their ancestors fought for their homes. Non-natives should also keep in mind the importance of the Indian Home Guard’s bravery, for they ultimately contributed to Union victory do but not receive the recognition they deserved.


Sources

Fischer, LeRoy. “Battle of Honey Springs | Oklahoma Historical Society.” Okhistory.Org. Last modified 2017. Accessed November 1, 2017.

Forgotten Warriors – Fort Scott National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service).Nps.Gov. Last modified 2017. Accessed October 23, 2017.

Parker, Nakia. “Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, And Citizenship in the Native American South, By Barbara Krauthamer (2013)“. Notevenpast.Org. Last modified 2013. Accessed November 1, 2017.

Rein, Chris. “The U.S. Army, Indian Agency, and the Path to Assimilation: The First Indian Home Guards in the American Civil War.” Kansas History 36, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 2-21. Accessed October 22, 2017.

 The War of The Rebellion, A Compilation of The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880. Accessed October 22, 2017.

Warde, Mary Jane, and Sarah Richardson. “A Civil War Within the Civil War.” Civil War Times 54, no. 2 (April 2015): 24-25. Accessed October 22, 2017.

Dennis Mahan’s Leadership and Tactics: How a West Point Professor Shaped the Course of the Civil War

By Nick Tarchis ’18

This summer, while doing research at Stratford Hall, I happened across the name of one West Point professor who quite literally taught every cadet who fought in the Civil War. It is fairly common knowledge than many of the war’s great commanders were classmates together at West Point. For example, the class of 1842 contained George McClellan, James Longstreet, and John Pope. Such commanders influenced the course of the war by drawing upon their West Point education, and while they may have held different military outlooks, they all drew upon the teachings of one man: Dennis Mahan, professor of mathematics as well as military and civil engineering. Thus, Mahan, a relatively unknown figure, had a direct impact on how the war was waged during some of its most crucial days.

Professor Mahan graduated at the top of his class at West Point in 1824 and began his teaching career almost immediately after. The U.S. government even sent him to France for a number of years to observe European tactics. While abroad, he saw how the French used forts and extensive defensive positions to protect their cities. His class on military science at West Point directly correlated onto the battlefield, one of his key points being the use of fixed fortifications and defenses in theatre. Mahan also stressed the importance of using the surrounding geography to an army’s advantage. By 1863, the war came to a head when George Meade and Robert E. Lee, both students of Mahan, clashed here at Gettysburg. From the beginning of the engagement, Mahan’s teachings were visible. For example, Lee famously used the mountains around Gettysburg to mask his movement from the Army of the Potomac. Culp’s Hill is another area where Mahan’s teachings were used, though it tends to be overshadowed by other areas of the battlefield.

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Dennis Mahan. Photo via National Park Service.

This is not to say that certain areas are more important or noteworthy than others, but much of the history of Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge already has a large scholarly following. For example, the Second Corps’ action on July 3rd has been the focus of numerous books every year–most recently Pickett’s Charge: A New Look at Gettysburg’s Final Attack by Phillip Tucker–while many facets of the battle still remain untouched. Pickett’s Charge often takes the spotlight when it comes to discussing the third day, but a considerable part of the battle centered around Culp’s Hill and culminated in a Confederate attack at dawn on July third. On that morning, Richard Ewell’s forces clashed with the Union 12th Corps commanded by George Greene, a descendant of the famed revolutionary general Nathaniel Greene and a classmate of Dennis Mahan. Greene clearly subscribed to Mahan’s philosophy of battle, as the Confederate attack was crushed against the Union’s strong fortifications and stymied by its defensive strategy. When the Confederates attacked, they were met with entrenchments that Union soldiers dug during the fighting. The troops were able to dig thanks to Greene’s strategy of shuttling troops from Cemetery Ridge up to Culp’s Hill and using these men to stave of the repeated attacks while others dug entrenchments. It was these defensive tactics that were vital to holding to Culp’s Hill, and if Greene and his corps had failed, the Union Army’s right flank would have collapsed in on itself.

After living and working in Gettysburg for almost four years, I have come to realize that there are many stories surrounding the battle and the war that go somewhat unnoticed to many of us. After all, visitors love to learn about Pickett’s Charge, and it is important to continue to interpret the popular parts of the battlefield. For example, Gettysburg National Military Park is meeting visitor needs by presenting three ranger programs this fall between Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top, and the Third day as a whole. It is important that we continue to tell the stories of these better-known sites, as it draws audiences in and makes them excited to learn more about the park and its history.

But stories like that of Dennis Mahan and his teachings also help us understand the war at a more detailed level. Due to time constraints and an overwhelming amount of content to cover in the classroom, the way Civil War history is taught can be confusing, and the maturation of leaders is a subject that we tend to save for figures like Lincoln and Grant. While some commanders definitely had an “X factor,” most were not born the strategists they became by the end of their careers. The great soldiers of the war honed their skills over a series of events. For many commanders, it began in the West Point lecture hall. Those young men then quickly found themselves in their first field test in Mexico. Not all of them stayed on a military track: Grant left the military and saw failures like the failed business and sickness that shaped him into the man we remember today, while Meade continued his military training and worked on topographical research. By the time the war started, Mahan’s students had a wide variety of experiences under their belts and began to piece together their lessons, a process that culminated in some of the greatest battles in American history.


Sources

Ranger Programs at Gettysburg.” National Park Service. Accessed October 31, 2017

Phipps, Michael. “Mahan at West Point, ‘Gallic Bias,’ and the ‘Old Army’”: The Subconscious of Leadership at Gettysburg.” National Park Service

Cullum, George. “Dennis H. Mahan.” Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Accessed October 31. 2017.

A City Divided: Cosmo Mackenzie and Baltimore on the Eve of Civil War

By Zachary Wesley ’20

Baltimore was a city of 215,000 inhabitants on the eve of the Civil War: 215,000 souls who would soon be torn by conflicting loyalties. One of these individuals, Cosmo Mackenzie, sat down on the evening of April 12, 1861, to write a letter to his brother, Collin. Despite the rainfall all day in Baltimore, Cosmo proclaimed “the war has opened at last and all is excitement here.” Throughout the city, Baltimoreans found themselves choosing between their identities as citizens of the Union and supporters of a Southern, slave-based society.

Not only Baltimore, but the entirety of Maryland found itself divided between Northern and Southern sympathies. George William Brown, the Mayor of Baltimore at the time stated that “Her [Maryland’s] loyalties were divided between the North and the South, with a decided preponderance on the Southern side.” But in which category did Cosmo belong? The fervently pro-Secessionist letterhead atop the paper seems to indicate the latter. The wording of the letter itself, however, may suggest otherwise. “I send you on this a sample of the ‘Secession Flag’ – you will see it looks a little like our Star Spangled Banner”.  An ardent secessionist would not include the possessive “our” in mentioning the American flag. However, when one looks a little further into the letter, we see that Cosmo Mackenzie seemed angered by the fact that the bombardment of Fort Sumter happened at all. “Had Lincoln taken the advice of General Scott all this would have been prevented,” Mackenzie declares in reference to the advice offered that the installation be left to Confederate forces. Cosmo’s misgivings towards Lincoln were far from unique in Maryland: 2,294 out of 92,502 total votes – just shy of 2.5% — were cast for Lincoln in the state. Continue reading “A City Divided: Cosmo Mackenzie and Baltimore on the Eve of Civil War”

Discovering the War at Home: Oakland Manor, George Gaither, and the Shipley Brothers

By Annika Jensen ’18

From my high school, which is majority African American, it takes only ten minutes to drive to Oakland Manor, a grand, sweeping 19th century-style stone house that sits in my hometown of Columbia, Maryland, a town made up mainly of apartments and identical suburban homes. Growing up, the manor was no more than a big, old building that hosted weddings and was somehow tied to my local history. Growing up, moreover, I did not realize the extent to which my hometown was tied to slavery and the Civil War; both seemed too far removed from a community that stressed diversity and inclusion throughout my childhood. However, after discovering a monument to the Confederate soldiers from Howard County, in which Columbia is located, I learned that Oakland Manor holds a historical narrative that I never knew existed so close to home. During the Civil War, it was the property of a cavalry officer who joined the Confederacy and owned three slaves–all brothers who joined the USCT and fought against their former owner’s cause. Ten minutes from my high school was sitting an opportunity to learn about and interpret slavery and the Civil War in my hometown.

The Confederate cavalry officer was George Riggs Gaither, a wealthy planter and slave-owner, and a descendant of the founders of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Gaither was born in Baltimore in 1831 to a prominent family (one that had been in Maryland since 1650) and resided in Oakland Manor, which he called “Bleak House,” after the contemporaneous Dickens novel. At least three black men were enslaved at Oakland Manor: brothers Mason, William, and Joseph Shipley. Before the start of the Civil War, Gaither formed a cavalry unit, the Howard County Dragoons, that consisted mainly of landed gentry, many of whom owned slaves, and spent most of its time drilling and parading for the locals.

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Captain George Riggs Gaither’s Howard County Dragoons were mostly landed gentry, many of whom owned slaves. Photo via Library of Congress.

The Dragoons sprung into action after the Baltimore Riots on April 19, 1861, as they were stationed in the city to help quell the violence and keep the peace. However, the Dragoons were soon asked to swear allegiance to the United States, and most refused, heading south to Leesburg where they split up into Company K, 1st Virginia Cavalry, Company M, 1st Maryland Cavalry, and Company K, 2nd Maryland Cavalry. Gaither himself joined Company K of the 1st Virginia on May 14, not even a month after the riots, and was promoted to Captain that July. Neither Gaither or his men specified why they left the Union after being asked to swear allegiance, but it is not unusual to think that a wealthy slave owner in a border state would have opposed President Lincoln’s administration and the actions taken to keep Maryland from seceding. Gaither could have been moved by his belief in states’ rights, his opposition to government control, or his adherence to the institution of slavery.

Gaither saw combat at 2nd Manassas (where he was captured and exchanged about a month later), Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and here at Gettysburg. Though Gaither himself was probably still in captivity at the time, the 1st Virginia Cavalry was indeed present at the Battle of Antietam, making it likely that some of the original Howard County Dragoons would have fought in their home state. The return may have been as bittersweet and complex as the Dragoons’ relationship to Maryland. While they likely held a tremendous amount of state pride, given that they were highly esteemed in Maryland society and were willing to risk danger or death to quell the Baltimore riots, they were now unwelcome in their home, a slave state polarized by pro-Union and pro-Confederacy sentiment. They entered Maryland not as successful knights returning from a crusade for their home state but rather as outsiders campaigning against fellow statesmen.

Gaither was forced to resign due to ill health in October, 1863. A year later, he was sent to Europe on a mission for the Confederacy, the nature of which is not known today. However, given Gaither’s economic and social status, as well as his post-war employment in the cotton industry, it might be speculated that he was sent to propose economic assistance for the Confederacy. On July 15, 1865, Gaither returned to Baltimore and signed an oath of allegiance to the United States, in which he agreed to “support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves.” He would never own property of the likes of Mason, William, and Joseph again. Riggs also wrote to President Johnson to ask for pardon, arguing that he had left the Union before Lincoln had “establish[ed] military lines” and no longer had any connection with the Confederacy. He was pardoned in September. Despite his former role in the Confederacy, Gaither became a cotton trader and an active member of the Maryland militia. He died in 1899.

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Oakland Manor. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In my research, I failed to find any detailed accounts of Gaither’s post-war life in Maryland. Given that he did come from a wealthy family, it is likely that he received financial support or simply had enough left over to reintegrate himself into society and kick-start his cotton-trading endeavors. A more complicated matter is his reception; Gaither left his home landed and well-respected and returned, to some, a traitor. While his family, friends, and business contacts may have held no resentment, given his recent pardon, other members of the community would not have found his time in the Confederate army so palatable. This can be concluded from Howard County’s voting patterns: in 1860, only 0-1 percent of Howard County voted for Lincoln, while in 1864, 40-50 percent voted for the incumbent emancipator. This data could represent an increase in abolitionist—at least Republican—sentiment, and thus, I have come to conclude that Gaither certainly would have had his enemies at home in Howard County.

But Captain Gaither was not the only resident of Oakland Manor to serve in the Civil War. In November 1863, Mason, William, and Joseph Shipley, Gaither’s former slaves, joined the 9th USCT at Camp Stanton, Maryland. William was killed on August 14 or 15, 1864, in the skirmishes at Deep Bottom, Virginia. Mason and Joseph went on to fight at Chaffin’s Farm and Fair Oaks and were entrenched outside of Richmond before occupying the city on April 3, 1865. They survived the war and were mustered out on November 20, 1866. Mason and Joseph’s rise from slavery to occupying the Confederate capital represents a tremendous shift in opportunity from 1860 to 1865 alone; what would have been the white slave owner’s nightmare–an armed black man–was now the Shipley brothers’ manifestation of freedom. For them to fight against their former master’s cause, moreover, was a powerful demonstration of autonomy as well as the sweeping presence of African American soldiers fighting for the Union. The case that most interested and inspired me throughout the research process was that of William, one of the 9th USCT’s 46 enlisted men to be killed in action, whose death is a result of the fledgling freedom that he, along with his brothers and millions of other African Americans, finally achieved in life.

Thus, in the light of a controversy surrounding the removal of a Confederate monument from my county courthouse, I was able to discover a relatively unknown bit of local black history and learn more about divided sentiments in my hometown. The story of the Shipley brothers and Captain Gaither pushed me to think of the nature of Civil War memory and monumentation: why would Howard County, which saw a surge in Republican and abolitionist sentiment from 1860 to 1864 and now embraces diversity in its government, school system, and various communities, memorialize Gaither and not the Shipleys? How could the legacy of Oakland Manor be conceptualized in public education and used to teach our community about our local history? Why does all of this even matter?

To me, it matters because it presents a number of interpretive opportunities. Oakland Manor itself could be used as a teaching site to give Howard County residents an idea of what slavery and plantation life looked like in our community. Indeed, I think it would differ from our ideas of slavery derived from perceptions of the Deep South and bring the issue closer to home. It also presents the opportunity to discuss Reconstruction—how did Gaither manage post-war success despite his legacy as a slave owner and a Confederate? Moreover, Civil War memory is a hot-button topic in my town, as memory of the removal of the Confederate monument in front of the Howard County Courthouse is still fresh in our minds. How then, can we use both the Shipleys and Gaither in our dialogue about racial tolerance and monumentation? What does their story tell us about racial progress and regress in America?

Today, in addition to hosting weddings, Oakland Manor houses the old slave quarters and the Howard County Center of African American Culture, an older stone building that is presumed to have been the Dragoons’ garrison. The Civil War was much more a part of my town than I ever expected. Perhaps, in a few years, the stories of Mason, William, and Joseph Shipley will be told at my high school. Perhaps, in a few years, a resident will walk past Oakland Manor and think not only of its wealthy, 19th century owners, but of the slaves who left it to fight for freedom and justice.


Sources

9th Regiment Infantry United States Colored Troops.” National Park Service. Last modified February 26, 2015.

Baltimore: Its History and Its People, Volume II-Biography. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912.

Oath of Allegiance for Gaither, George Riggs, September, 1865. Amnesty Papers, Compiled 1865-1867. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Accessed via fold3.com.

Captain George Riggs Gaither.” Daily Observations from the Civil War. Last modified August 3, 2012.

Gaither, George Riggs. Letter to President Andrew Johnson, August, 1865. Amnesty Papers, Compiled 1865-1867. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Accessed via fold3.com.

Ingham, Daniel. “Joseph Shipley.” Maryland State Archives. Last modified August 21, 2013.

McNish, “‘Spare Your Country’s Flag’: Unionist Sentiment in Frederick, Maryland 1860-1865.” Gettysburg College Journal of the Civil War Era 6 (2016).

Moses, Ann Tyler. “Glimpses of Soldiers’ Lives: Captain George Riggs Gaither.” Library of Congress. Last modified July 2015.

Robby, F. “Oakland Manor Historical Marker.” Historical Marker Database. Last modified June 16, 2016.

“Died of the Spotted Fever”: The Spot Resolutions and the Making of Abraham Lincoln

By Ryan Bilger ’19

On December 22, 1847, the Speaker of the House of Representatives recognized a young, freshman congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln who wished to speak about the ongoing war with Mexico. The lanky, awkward, high-voiced westerner raised doubts regarding President James Knox Polk’s conduct in starting the war, proposing eight resolutions that challenged Polk to provide evidence for his stated reason for doing so. Polk had said that Mexican troops had shed “American blood on American soil” and forced his hand, but Lincoln challenged this assertion. Lincoln insinuated that the fatal encounter between Mexican and American troops had in fact occurred in a contested region between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, a region to which Mexico had stronger claims than the United States. With his demand that Polk prove that the exact location of the engagement had been on American soil, Lincoln’s proposals became known as the “Spot Resolutions.” This speech brought Lincoln into the national spotlight for the first time, and it proved key in the development of his future career.

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Caption: Daguerrotype of Abraham Lincoln as Congressman-elect in 1846, by Nicholas Shepherd. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Lincoln’s Spot Resolutions provoked a storm of intense reactions from fellow politicians and newspapers alike. Many of these criticisms compared Lincoln unfavorably with the former holder of his Congressional seat, John Jay Hardin, who had served as a militia commander in the war with Mexico and had been killed in action earlier in 1847 at the Battle of Buena Vista. Missouri Congressman John Jameson, for one, responded in a speech of his own a few days later with the exhortation, “The gentleman from Illinois, from the Hardin and Baker district, took a strange position before the American Congress for such a Representative. Yes, sir; look back and see what your Hardin did.” The Illinois State Register gave Lincoln the nickname “Ranchero Spotty,” connecting him with Mexican guerrilla fighters who preyed on American soldiers that left camp alone. The Democratic Peoria Press heckled, “What an epitaph: ‘Died of the Spotted Fever.’ Poor Lincoln.” Even Lincoln’s friend and law partner, William Herndon, wrote to him criticizing his Spot Resolutions speech as “political suicide,” while gatherings of citizens in his home district in Illinois denounced his “base, dastardly, and treasonable assault upon President Polk,” labeling him “this Benedict Arnold of our district.” This outpouring of public sentiment contributed greatly to Lincoln’s defeat in his reelection bid the next year, putting a hold on his time in the national spotlight.

Though many people disagreed with the ideas expressed by Lincoln in his Spot Resolutions speech, others recognized his great capacity for oration. This sentiment permeated across the nation. The Missouri Republican wrote that the speech was “one of great power, and replete with the strongest and most conclusive arguments. He commanded the attention of the House, which none but a strong man can do.” The Baltimore Patriot opined that “evidently there is music in that very tall Mr. Lincoln.” In Massachusetts, a Solomon Lincoln wrote to his congressman that “[O]ur attention has been arrested in this quarter of the country by the able speech of Hon. Mr. Lincoln of Illinois made this session, in the House of Representatives, and it has been a source of gratification to those bearing his name to know that the old stock has not degenerated by being transplanted. On the contrary, it exhibits fresh vigor in the fertile soil of the West.” Lincoln’s speech won him acclaim from a range of outlets, a real achievement for a young, first-term congressman.

Abraham Lincoln may have only served one term as a congressman before his 1860 nomination for president on the Republican ticket, but in that brief time he put himself on the map with his Spot Resolutions speech. The speech was far from an unmitigated success, as it provoked a political firestorm that both failed to stop Polk’s war in Mexico and largely led to Lincoln’s defeat in his reelection campaign. It became such a memorable strike against Lincoln that in his debates with Stephen Douglas more than a decade later, the “Little Giant” would ask the audience its thoughts on Lincoln’s efforts “to dodge the responsibility of [the Republican Party] platform because it was not adopted in the right spot” and refer to him as “Spotty Lincoln.” Yet, the wide range of reactions from across the United States demonstrated that Lincoln had the power to craft his orations in such a way that they left a mark on people, an ability that proved highly useful in his later political career. The Spot Resolutions were thus integral in the making of Abraham Lincoln, perhaps ironically so for a man who would later preside over the most catastrophic war in American history. The elevation of his name into the national consciousness as a man of great ability and conviction at such an early point in his career set the stage for his eventual meteoric rise, culminating in his election to the presidency. As such, Lincoln’s Spot Resolutions speech deserves greater recognition among Civil War historians and enthusiasts alike.


Sources

DeRose, Christopher. Congressman Lincoln: The Making of America’s Greatest President. New York: Threshold Ed., 2014.

Fisher, Louis. “The Mexican War and Lincoln’s ‘Spot Resolutions’.” Washington: Law Library of Congress, 2009.

Greenberg, Amy S. A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013.

Merry, Robert W. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.

We All Bleed Red: African American Soldiers and the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery

By Savannah Labbe ’19

Years before the United States military was officially desegregated in 1948, African Americans fought alongside white men in the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. Most African American men that fought for the Union in the Civil War did so in United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) units, separated from white men. Because of this segregation, many black men, such as Andrew J. Williams of Industry, Maine, left home to find and fight with a U.S.C.T. regiment. Williams would not be accepted into a Maine regiment, or at least so he thought. His brother, Aaron E. Williams, decided to try his luck with the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, a white regiment. He mustered in on December 26, 1863 and served in Company G. He was not the only African American to join the 1st Maine, either. Lemuel Carter and Franklin Freemont from Bath joined, as did George Freeman from Brunswick. Carter and Freeman enlisted on January 5, 1864, while Freemont enlisted the day prior. They were all members of Company M.

These African American soldiers fought alongside white men in the fierce battles that the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery took a part in. The 1st Maine started off as an infantry regiment, the 18th Maine. However, they had spent so much time drilling with artillery that they were re-designated as an artillery regiment on January 6, 1863. While the 1st Maine had been mustered into service on August 21, 1862, they had not left the state come May of 1864. They finally left later that month and saw their first action near Fredericksburg on May 19, 1864. The 1st Maine was involved in many of the well-known battles of the later war, but they are best known for their efforts at Petersburg, where they were responsible for breaking through the center of the Confederate lines on the first day of the siege. They did not have much battlefield experience and had little idea what it would mean to charge towards the center of a heavily fortified line. They soon found out. The 1st Maine lost over 50 percent of its men, killed and wounded, in this charge, the single greatest loss of any regiment in one action; 632 out of 900 men became casualties. The regiment also participated in the Battle of Sayler’s Creek, the last major battle of the war in Virginia, where they captured many prisoners three days before Robert E. Lee surrendered. They returned to Bangor and were mustered out on June 6, 1865, with only 1,761 men returning from the original 2,202.

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Soldiers surround a bombproof shelter during the siege of Petersburg, 1864. Photo via Library of Congress.

 

One of the men that did not return with the 1st Maine was Aaron Williams. He fought at Petersburg and took a gunshot wound to the arm on June 18, 1864. He survived these wounds only to die on January 21, 1865. Sources differ on how he died. According to the history of the 1st Maine, entitled The First Maine Heavy Artillery, 1861-1865, Williams died of “exhaustion from overwork.” Other sources report that he died of disease. Lemuel Carter survived the war, dying in Brunswick, Maine on January 31, 1891. Freeman also died in Brunswick, Maine on January 8, 1887. He had survived gunshot wounds to the hand and foot at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Freemont survived the war as well. While these men “were of African descent,” as the history of the 1st Maine puts it, they were still allowed to fight alongside white men, and one even sacrificed his life for the Union cause. The white men of the 1st Maine were aware that Williams and the others were African American but accepted them anyways, knowing that they would fight and die just like any other man in the regiment. The story of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery is a curious and rare one, but it is proof that men of all races fought alongside each other in the Civil War, and that race does not make a difference in a soldier’s ability to fight and die for his country.

The unusual circumstances surrounding the 1st Maine provides a lot to think about in terms of race relations during the Civil War. Although some African Americans could pass as white and join white regiments, this was not the case with the men of the 1st Maine, as their enlistment papers listed their complexions as dark or black. The recruiter knew they were African American, as did the men who fought alongside them. These African American men served in a combat role and were not simply laborers, as two of them were wounded. Regardless of whether or not they were strictly combat soldiers, however, they still shed blood or otherwise sacrificed for the Union cause.

It is hard to tell how the white men of the 1st Maine felt about having African American men in their regiment; just because they were allowed to fight does not mean they were liked or respected. In addition, Northerners could be just as prejudiced and racist as Southerners during this time period. For example, Walt Whitman, a prominent New York poet, believed that African Americans were less evolved and did not deserve the right to vote, even comparing them to baboons. The Maine men might have welcomed African Americans into their ranks if only in the hope that they would be the ones to take a bullet first. Thus, the fact that the 1st Maine was unique in allowing African American men to fight does not necessarily mean these soldiers were necessarily more tolerant and accepting than the rest of the country.

However, it may be the case that the Maine men were more progressive than the rest of the country. Perhaps because there were so few African Americans living in Maine at the time race was not as big of an issue. Either way, it is important to ask just how these men managed to be accepted into a white regiment at a time when this was strictly forbidden. What made these men so different and special that their recruiting officer was willing to risk going against policy and potentially threaten the cohesion of the regiment by allowing them into the ranks? One may never know how these four African Americans became part of a white regiment, but these questions are important ones to ask, and they complicate the traditional narrative of African American involvement in the Civil War.


Sources

Frank, Michael. “Whitman’s Multitudes, For Better and Worse.” Nytimes.Com. Last modified 2005. Accessed September 27, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/18/books/whitmans-multitudes-for-better-and-worse.html?mcubz=0.

Hudziak, Mark. “On June 18, 1864, the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Suffered the Greatest Single Loss of Any Federal Unit.” America’s Civil War vol. 10, no. 2 (May 1997): 8. Accessed September 9, 2017. http://ezpro.cc.gettysburg.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9703301614&site=eds-live.

Shaw, Horace H, and Charles J House. The First Maine Heavy Artillery, 1861-1865. Salem, MA: Higginson, 1903. Accessed September 10, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=G50dAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA330&lpg=PA330&dq=aaron+williams+first+maine+heavy+artillery&source=bl&ots=_DqHEjMp75&sig=CuKJnxLMPjKofZKbteu6bfzTEvs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiR2Ir-oYnWAhWJx4MKHQ8CDikQ6AEIRjAI#v=onepage&q=aaron%20williams%20first%20maine%20heavy%20artillery&f=false.

Swartz, Brian. “Some Mainers Broke Racial Barriers In ‘White’ State Regiments.” Bangor Daily News. Last modified 2014. Accessed September 10, 2017. http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/11/news/some-mainers-broke-racial-barriers-in-white-state-regiments/?ref=comments.

A Medal of Distinction:  Remembering the Montford Point Marines 

By Matthew LaRoche ‘17

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Montford Point Marines. Bronze replica medal. 1.5 in. replica of the Congressional Gold Medal designed by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver, Don Everhart and awarded collectively to the Montford Point Marines on June 27, 2012 in the U.S. Capitol. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award issued by Congress for distinguished achievement. Approximately 600 Montford Point Marines have received their medals. On loan courtesy of Dr. Deborah M. and Stephanie C. Smith, USMC Colonel (Ret.).

In the century that followed the Civil War, Jim Crow wormed its way into the heart of every American institution—including the military. Despite the illustrious tradition laid down by black servicemen in the Civil War, the racial norms of the post-war years worked to beat their successive generations back into the shadows. Many branches—including the Marine Corps—entirely banned African Americans from serving. Even traditionally inclusive institutions, such as the often short-handed Navy, relegated blacks to menial roles. Beginning in 1893, they could serve only as cooks and cleaners aboard U.S. ships.

Continue reading “A Medal of Distinction:  Remembering the Montford Point Marines “

The Emblem of the XXV:  A USCT Corps from Petersburg to Appomattox

By Jonathan Tracey ‘19

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

25th Corps. Corps badges. These pins were worn by members of an all-black unit formed late in the war which had the distinction of being the first to enter Richmond. Corps badges like these were used to easily identify units on the battlefield. Each corps had a unique design, and each division a different color—red for the first, white for the second, blue for the third, and sometimes green for the fourth.

Pictured here are three corps badges for the Union XXV Corps. Beginning in 1863, most corps in the Union Army adopted symbols so it would be easier to distinguish different commands from each other during the height of battle. In addition to the symbol distinguishing what corps a soldier belonged to, badges were also color-coded to denote divisions. Generally, red would mark the first division, white the second, and blue the third. The XXV Corps adopted this shape, sometimes worn as a square, although usually seen pinned on as a diamond.

Continue reading “The Emblem of the XXV:  A USCT Corps from Petersburg to Appomattox”

“I long for the time to come when you will come home”: A Letter to a USCT Soldier from His Wife

By Laurel Wilson ‘19

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Lucinda Lawrence to Husband. Envelope. Lucinda wrote to her husband Canny on April 1, 1865. Conditions for their family and the families of other USCT were dire. Since their last exchange of letters, the commander of the camp where she drew rations had decided to cut back. The Army now only provided food for her child. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

Just as the experiences of African American soldiers during the Civil War went under-recorded and underrepresented, so too did the hardships suffered by their wives and children behind the lines.

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On the Periphery of War: Sutlers, Luxuries, and the USCT

By Jon Danchik ‘17

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Sutler’s Token. This coin would be used as credit with a sutler, or vendor, who followed the Union Army, selling a range of luxury items from toothbrushes and soap to tobacco, cheese, and custom identification tags. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.

The Civil War caused an unmistakable strain on production and the allocation of resources in the North as well as the South. In order to keep armies in good order, a steady influx of supplies was needed, leading to shortages of food on the home front and in places like prisoner of war camps. The armies were typically well-fed, and many rations commonly consisted of small amounts of coffee, salt pork, and hardened bread called “hard-tack.” While enough to keep one from starvation, rations could hardly be described as appealing, and soldiers spent much of their time in camp devising new and innovative ways to make them more appetizing. Foraging for supplies yielded resources for combatant armies, but the practices of foraging depended on different commanders’ interpretations of official policies and unofficial social contracts. Soldiers were capable of living off of the land, and sometimes taking supplies from hapless farmers at the point of a bayonet was the only way to stay well-fed. Clearly the rationing system had its downsides.

Continue reading “On the Periphery of War: Sutlers, Luxuries, and the USCT”