The first time I learned the story of the Bryan family and their Gettysburg farm was when I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. For Coates, there was something poetic about the fact that the climax of the Civil War’s bloodiest and most well-known battle—a moment forever enshrined in Confederate memory thanks to the likes of William Faulkner and Ted Turner—occurred on land owned by a free black man and his family. Pickett’s Charge—the greatest symbol of Confederate martial honor in the Civil War canon—had been repulsed on property that represented so much of what its participants fought to prevent: freedom, prosperity, and dignity enjoyed by African Americans.
The most well-known cemetery in Gettysburg is, of course, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Another cemetery in Gettysburg that receives less attention is the Lincoln Cemetery, currently located on Lincoln Lane. This small cemetery is home to around thirty Civil War veterans. Why were these men not buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, a cemetery created for all veterans of the Civil War? The answer: they were African-American. While they were allowed to fight for their freedom, even in death, these men were still not equal to the white soldiers they fought beside.
Some Union soldiers were willing to fight for abolition, but many did not believe in racial equality, even in the army ranks. The most famous of example of this is General William T. Sherman, who detested the freed slaves who followed his army as it marched through Georgia and South Carolina. He also had to be forced by Abraham Lincoln to allow black soldiers in his army, remarking in his memoirs that his army “preferred white soldiers.” The Civil War was also often seen in its immediate aftermath as a war about reunion, with the abolition of slavery being a necessary side effect. Burying African Americans next to white soldiers could therefore hamper reconciliation efforts between North and South, as cemeteries often became places of shared memory and reverence for both sides. With this in mind, it is not surprising that these veterans of the United Sates Colored Troops were not allowed in the main cemetery in Gettysburg, and another place for them to be buried was needed. The cemetery created to fill this need was what would eventually become Lincoln Cemetery.
In 1866, a group was formed for the express purpose of finding a good place to bury the community’s African American veterans. This group was called the Sons of Good Will, and it originally had three members: Basil Biggs, Nelson Mathews, and Thomas Griegsby, all of whom were African American. Biggs was also involved in reinterring bodies in the Soldiers National Cemetery, hired as a laborer by the government. This was a very lucrative opportunity for Biggs and others who wished to make money to pay for all the property that had been destroyed during the battle. Perhaps his experience doing this spurred him to create a similar cemetery for African American veterans of the Civil War.
In 1867, the Sons of Good Will bought a half-acre of land in a neighborhood located in what is still known as the “third ward” of Gettysburg, where African Americans were required to live–attempts to move out of it were always denied by the local government. It was on the outskirts of town, and as such, its residents were always subject to getting their land taken away as the town expanded. A prominent landowner in this part of town, Eden Devan, sold the first plot of land to the society for $60, to be paid in two installments. Most of the land that the cemetery was created from was bought from African American members of the community, just like this first half acre. The cemetery came to be known as the Good Will cemetery after the society that founded it. It would eventually house not only the thirty USCT veterans but also many members of the African American community.
In 1906, the Lincoln Cemetery merged with the other black cemetery in town, which was located near the AME Zion Church. The church no longer could afford to maintain their cemetery and appealed to the Sons of Good Will for help. This led them to the decide to disinter and reinter all the bodies in the Good Will Cemetery, which now became the only African American cemetery in Gettysburg. In addition, the town wanted the land that AME Zion’s cemetery was located on, and they pushed for the consolidation of the two cemeteries. In 1916, after the Sons of Good Will ceased to exist, due to the death of most of the members, so some of the land on Good Will Cemetery sat was sold to Lincoln Lodge 145, was an African American Elks Lodge. The members of this organization became the cemetery’s caretaker, especially in 1920 after all of the lots were sold and entrusted to their care. This is how it came to be known as the Lincoln Cemetery. The Lincoln Lodge was responsible for the cemetery until around 1934, when its last member became incapable of caring for it. After that, the care of the cemetery fell into hands of concerned citizens and members of the community.
As no one in particular was in charge of the cemetery, it fell into disrepair. This was a common problem in African American cemeteries everywhere, and it followed a pattern of destroyed African American cemeteries in towns whose white cemeteries were kept in pristine condition. In many instances, this pattern continues today. An example of this is in Richmond, Virginia. The African American East End and Evergreen Cemeteries there are overgrown with many headstones knocked over, while the nearby Oakwood Cemetery is kept in good condition, as the Virginia government provides money to the Daughters of Confederate Veterans for its upkeep. In a similar situation, the Lincoln Cemetery became overgrown, so much so that one could hardly tell that it was there. Often, people used the cemetery for parking. Headstones were knocked over, and the cemetery became a mess.
In the 1970s, the Gettysburg College service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega cleaned up the cemetery as one of their projects. Eventually, care of the cemetery was given back to the AME Zion Church, which appealed to the town to help with maintenance. The town agreed. The Lincoln Cemetery Project Association was established in the late 1990s to help preserve the cemetery and raise awareness of its existence. Now, there is a locked fence around the cemetery due to concerns of vandalism and a lack of respect for those buried there. The association also holds an annual Memorial Day service complete with a parade, and the cemetery is in much better shape than it has been over the years. There are also waysides around it that provide interpretation in order to help people learn about the history of the cemetery and understand that even though the USCT veterans buried in the cemetery fought for freedom and citizenship, they were still segregated in death. The Lincoln Cemetery Project Association works to preserve not only the cemetery itself but also its memory and the memory of African Americans who fought in the Civil War
This cemetery is interesting for many reasons, one of them being the fact that, despite its existence, two African American Civil War veterans were still allowed to be buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Why were these two allowed to be buried here when everyone else was denied access? One of these men was Charles Parker, a member of the 3rd USCT. He was originally buried in Yellow Hill Cemetery until 1936, when he was reinterred in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Yellow Hill Cemetery was located in Butler Township, and the surrounding area was home to a thriving African American community until it was abandoned in the 1920s. The cemetery was left without anyone to care for it, so many of the bodies in the cemetery were moved to the Lincoln Cemetery. Parker’s reinternment was part of Worker’s Progress Administration project to locate all the graves of Civil War soldiers. In Gettysburg and the surrounding towns, this job was taken up by Henry Stewart. When Stewart found Parker’s body, the Yellow Hill Cemetery was in serious disrepair, so the decision was made to move him to Soldier’s National Cemetery.
The story of Henry Gooden, the other African American man buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery, is more perplexing, however. Gooden died in 1876 and was reinterred in 1884. This raises many questions as to why Gooden was allowed to be buried there when only one other African American man was. There is scant information on Gooden. Perhaps he especially distinguished himself during the war. It seems unlikely that he would have been allowed to be buried there without anyone really noticing or caring, given the racial feelings of the day. Gooden was buried in the United States Regulars plot in Section D, as part of the prominent Civil War section of the cemetery, alongside white soldiers, with the same granite marker. He was given an equal place among the rest of the dead; the records do not provide an answer as to why this was so. Gooden’s case is an unusual one, as he was the one of the very few that was granted equality in death. In contrast, the African Americans in Lincoln Cemetery remained unequal, have largely been forgotten about, left behind by history, in a cemetery that was poorly taken care of for far too long. These men were good enough to fight beside white men, but only two were good enough to be buried beside them, a perfect example that freedom did not mean equality.
“Area Speaker Invited to Centre County.” September 17, 2005. The Gettysburg Times.
FREED WESSLER, SETH. “BLACK DEATHS MATTER. (Cover story).” Nation 301, no. 18 (November 2, 2015): 20-25. Accessed March 4, 2018.
“History.” Sons of Goodwill/Lincoln Cemetery. Last modified 2013. Accessed February 24, 2018.
Myers, Betty Dorsey. Segregation in Death. Gettysburg, PA: Lincoln Cemetery Project Association, 2001.
“Salute to USCT Set for November 19.” November 12, 2008. The Gettysburg Times.
Sherman, William T. The Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1889.
“1,565 Graves of Civil War Veterans Located.” October 17, 1936. The Gettysburg Times.
Last week, the Gettysburg College Africana Studies and Economics Departments sponsored the 12th annual Derrick K. Gondwe Memorial Lecture on Social and Economic Justice. This year’s lecture featured Dr. Edward E. Baptist, a Durham, North Carolina native currently teaching in the History Department at Cornell University. His lecture, “White Predators: Hunting African Americans For Profit, From the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act to Lee’s 1863 Invasion of Pennsylvania,” painted the picture of a centuries-long instinct among white Americans to police black Americans.
This year as a CWI Fellow, I’ve been doing a lot of research and thinking on Civil War memory, specifically that of Confederate memory. When doing this work, the question at the back of my mind is always: How should monuments, symbols, and other examples of Confederate memory be handled? This is a very difficult question, so up until now, I’ve left it alone, knowing that there would come a time in the future that I would sit down and wrestle with my conflicting opinions on the matter. A couple days ago, the Civil War Era Studies Department here at Gettysburg College sent out an email sharing the news that New Orleans had begun removing Confederate monuments and several other cities were thinking of doing the same. After reading this, I knew the time had come for me, and all of you, to join the discussion about Confederate Memory.
The first question that I ask myself when thinking about how to handle Confederate Memory is what the people want. Confederate monuments have a variety of owners. In some cases, the monuments are owned by a private organization or individual who put them up, in other cases, the city, state, or federal government may own them. The same goes for the land they are on. If owned by individuals or private groups, it’s their choice what happens. When the monument or land belongs to the local government, as is the case with the New Orleans monuments, it should be the people’s choice what happens. Although the city council of New Orleans voted 6 to 1 to remove several monuments, the residents didn’t get the chance to vote. For many issues, allowing the council to take care of matters on their own is fine; the people elected them because they trusted them to make the right decisions. In matters that generate a lot of public concern, though, residents are usually asked to vote. We vote on taxes, why not on monuments? If the majority of city residents agree with the removal of a Confederate symbol or monument, remove it and say no more. If the majority of residents are against the action, however, it doesn’t seem right to disrespect their wishes. The popular vote in New Orleans may have agreed with the removal of the monuments, but without that formal vote, we can’t know for sure.
On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, declaring slavery illegal in the United States. Or so it seemed. The second line of the Amendment, and the most oft unknown, states that slavery can still be used as a form of punishment for crimes, and this practice became widely used as a part of southern backlash to Reconstruction Era policies. After the end of the Civil War, many southern states struggled with rebuilding their infrastructures and government systems. In order to avoid falling into more debt, many of these states turned towards the convict lease system, which claimed that the state prison could lease out its convicts to local companies, usually in industries such as mining, lumbering, and railroad building, to not only house prisoners inexpensively but also regain the means of labor they had with slavery before the Civil War. By adopting the convict lease system, southern states were able to earn revenue and control the suddenly free black population of the South, and with the development of black codes, these states were able to legally disenfranchise African Americans up until the 1930s when Alabama became the last state to abolish the convict lease program.
Many historians and history textbooks will say that the 13th Amendment was passed to abolish slavery. While this sentiment is true, there is more behind the reasoning than traditionally taught. Many in Congress believed that slavery was detrimental to white laborers in the South because slaves were seen as a long term investment, and white laborers were unable to make advancements because slavery was less expensive in the long run. Therefore, by abolishing slavery, they would even out the playing field, and whites would have more opportunities. For southern elites, the abolition of slavery meant the loss of a major working force, and because racism had not ended with the end of the Civil War, southern states looked to create a system that would enable them to maintain a steady work force as they began rebuilding and industrializing their states. The states turned to convict leasing, an idea that was not unique to the period after the Civil War but grew exponentially in the Reconstruction Era.
The week before Dedication Day I had the privilege of interviewing keynote speaker and Emmy Award-winning actor LeVar Burton, who has starred in Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Reading Rainbow. I knew this was the perfect opportunity to engage in a serious dialogue about race, as the most dramatic and consequential presidential elections had been decided just a week previous, and I was thrilled when Mr. Burton answered all of my questions with poise and understanding, charging head-on into difficult but immensely relevant topics. The messages he conveyed are powerful and will stick with me as I navigate the political climate of the next four years (and beyond), and his call to action has encouraged me to seek meaningful and effective ways of promoting tolerance and pursuing change. I know his words will have the same effect on many of you.
I extend my sincerest thanks to Mr. Burton not only for agreeing to be interviewed, but for giving all of us something to think about. Here is what he said.
The Gettysburg Compiler: Considering the historical significance of Gettysburg and the role of race in the Civil War, how can we create and foster dialogue about race on campus after this month’s election results?
LeVar Burton: My decision since [the election] has been to rededicate myself to the work I consider my life’s mission. In the service of that, I’ve promised myself that today and tomorrow and Saturday and every day I am able, for the remainder of my life, to speak my truth. Having grown up a black person I have often times held my tongue when I wanted to say what was in my heart for fear of offending the majority population. However, the difference between where we are now and Lincoln’s time is the majority population is no longer the majority. This country has changed dramatically. The Civil War and the necessity for Lincoln’s address in Gettysburg was in response to a changing America, even then. Continue reading “Sticking to His Plan: An Interview with Dedication Day Keynote Speaker LeVar Burton”
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Jason Phillips, the Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University. He is the author of Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and the editor of Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). He is currently at work on a second book, Civil War Looming: A History of the Future, which examines how Americans anticipated the Civil War and how those prophecies ultimately shaped their experiences and memories of the war.
CWI: What obstacles—physical, emotional, political, social, financial, cultural—did the Confederate veteran face upon returning home, and how did he seek to deal with them? In what ways did Confederate veterans’ expectations of returning home match with the reality of the homecoming experience, and in what ways were they unprepared for or confounded by the realities of their homecoming?
PHILLIPS: As your question suggests, defeat stared Confederate veterans in the face in every facet of their lives. Failure was a physical, emotional, political, social, financial, and cultural fact that confronted and confounded returning rebels. Patrick Gilmore’s song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” encapsulated how Confederates anticipated their homecoming. Communities would welcome returning heroes with fanfare. Church bells would peal with joy. Reality mocked such dreams. But if Confederates were unprepared for defeat, they were also unprepared for federal leniency. Many rebels expected the government to punish treason. The Confederate rank and file didn’t fear personal imprisonment or execution, as their generals and political leaders did, but they dreaded disfranchisement, confiscation of property, and a prolonged military occupation of the South. What happened was far less severe, and that federal leniency in 1865 emboldened Confederate veterans to resist Radical Reconstruction years later.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Anne Marshall, Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University. Marshall’s most recent publications include Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), and “The Jack Burden of Southern History: Robert Penn Warren, C. Vann Woodward, and Historical Practice,” in Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South, ed. by Jason Phillips (Louisiana State University Press, 2013).
CWI: What role did memory, memorial associations, and the prolific creation of Civil War monuments play during the Reconstruction era?
MARSHALL: The efforts of both former white Confederates and white Unionists to commemorate the memory of the dead and surviving soldiers played a significant role in helping the American public deal with the trauma of war. Monuments and veterans associations became about much more about honoring the past, however. They also served as an effective way to shape the present during Reconstruction. Union veterans associations like the Grand Army of the Republic served as an advocacy group within the Republican Party, while black Union veterans often drew upon their service in the U.S. Army as grounds for obtaining and retaining the rights of citizenship in the post-war era. Most notably, white southerners created an entire worldview surrounding the concept of the Lost Cause, which they wielded to turn back the tide of federal Reconstruction and maintain white supremacy. In many ways, the very different aims of memorial groups who channeled the memory of the Civil War toward different ends became a way of continuing to fight the war in culture and in policy well after the fighting on the battlefield was over. Continue reading “Southern Reconstruction and Constructed Memory: Anne Marshall Talks Veterans, Heritage Groups, and Reconcilation”
Last spring, my friends told me that it was the perfect time to get into Civil War reenacting. “The 150th is over,” they said, “No one is going to care about the Civil War anymore, so everyone will be selling all their stuff.” Somehow, this bit of insider trading information meant more to me than just bargain brogans and frock coats.
For many, indeed most, the Civil War ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865. For reenactors and amateur historians today, the Civil War ended last April with the 150th Appomattox events or maybe even last May with the 150th anniversary of the Grand Review in Washington D.C. And then it was over. The four year frenzy concluded as if the spring of 1865 was the end of America’s great 19th century identity crisis. Yet in a broader sense, the Civil War lasted much longer than its affixed truncation date of April 1865, and its sesquicentennial commemoration should likewise project well into the next few decades. Victories like the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and the Civil Rights Bills of the postbellum era should be celebrated just as much as the victories at Gettysburg and Antietam. Likewise, the tragedies of the Colfax Massacre and the founding of the Ku Klux Klan should be remembered just as well as the assassination of President Lincoln.
As early as the 1850s, the game of baseball was being referred to as “our national game.” At a time when the nation was being ripped apart at the seams, it served as a relatively new symbol of national identity. Baseball did not fully reach its unifying potential until after a bloody war that pitched North against South. However, these reconciliationist qualities did not strike at the heart of all Americans.
Civil War soldiers often turned to baseball between battles. George Putnam, a Union soldier fighting in Texas, recalled a game that had to be cut short due to a surprise Confederate attack.
“Suddenly, there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack…was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.”
Abraham Gilbert Mills, a sergeant with the 165th New York Volunteers (Duryea’s Zouaves), carried a bat and ball with him in addition to his rifle and accoutrements. He also participated in a Christmas Day 1862 baseball game at Hilton Head, South Carolina before a crowd that numbered as many as 40,000 – more than can fit in Fenway Park to watch a Boston Red Sox game today. Continue reading “Our Reconciliationist Pastime: How Baseball Contributed to the Reunification of White America”