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.
On March 3, Gettysburg Rising–a group that encourages civic engagement by sharing information–hosted a forum on the Confederate flag. It drew a modest, yet eager crowd. The goal of the event was to create an opportunity for people to come together and share their thoughts and feelings about the flag. After Professor David Hadley delivered a brief history of the flag, the attendees took the mic.
One of the big themes during the ensuing discussion was time and place. While everyone disagreed on the specific circumstances, all agreed that the flag’s display was appropriate in some situations and unacceptable in others. Flags in museums were universally accepted by the group, as museums present a controlled setting where the history can be shared via accompanying informational plaques. On the other side, the flag’s use by white supremacist groups was deemed always inappropriate and offensive. When carried by these groups, there was no mistaking the flag’s message of hate. Everything in between – reenactments, historical sites, private property, merchandise – fell into different categories of acceptability for each person.
The question of whether the flag could be separated from Confederate ideals was also discussed. Anyone who reads the Articles of Secession must admit that slavery was a central factor in causing the Civil War. That’s not to say that individual Confederates weren’t fighting for other reasons, but the Confederacy itself was dedicated to slavery. As a symbol of the Confederacy, the flag necessarily championed slavery. However, many people in the room questioned whether the flag could be dissociated from the Confederacy and therefore from slavery. Take the case of using the flag to honor a dead Confederate ancestor: that ancestor is not the larger Confederacy, and the living relative is evoking a sense of personal history, not advocating for slavery. The group grappled with the question of whether the flag could be dissociated from slavery in this instance, or if the full sense of the flag’s symbolism must always be present.
When asked for suggestions on how the flag controversy could be solved, the room seemed to largely agree on the same tactics. The first proposal was that people needed a better education on the flag’s history. It’s hard to understand the full significance of something without knowing its background. The second proposal was societal shunning. The group also largely agreed that the government should not be involved in deciding when or where the flag is displayed. The public should thus decide when it is appropriate and essentially, perhaps relying on peer pressure and boycotting to keep people from using the flag inappropriately. It would be like society’s shunning of the N-word; although it is still used in some instances, that word has become mostly unacceptable in our world.
The most significant idea shared that night, however, was the importance of listening. When Professor Scott Hancock took a turn speaking, he explained how important it was to talk to each other about the flag. Although Professor Hancock’s research has led him to certain conclusions and opinions, he still actively seeks out other people’s thoughts. It’s important to listen to everyone’s views, even if those views go against your own, because this is the only way to truly understand the full meaning of the flag. Understanding is key to moving forward together in the flag controversy.
In the spirit of understanding, which was the motivating goal behind the forum, I hope that any of you that feel comfortable will use this post as an opportunity to share your own thoughts. I do want to set a few ground rules, though. Be respectful, no profanity, and no personal attacks. Also, this is a conversation, not a debate. You aren’t trying to prove each other right or wrong, simply exploring different thoughts on the flag. Here are some questions to get you started, but by no means do you have to answer all or any of them.
- When and where do you think displaying the flag is appropriate?
- Reenactments? Battlefields? Cemeteries?
- What are your thoughts of Confederate flag merchandise?
- What thoughts pop into your head when you see a Confederate flag?
- Can the flag be separated from the Confederate Cause in some situations?
- Any ideas of how we can move forward together on the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag?
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.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the fight over slavery played out in many different arenas, notably in Kansas and Nebraska. While Bleeding Kansas was arguably the most well-known and violent clash over slavery before the Civil War, there were others as well. One flash point over the question of slavery resulted from political unrest in Cuba. In the 1850s, Spain owned Cuba, an economically prosperous island with an economy based on African slave labor. However, Spain was under pressure from Great Britain to end slavery in Cuba, and because Spain was in enormous debt and was financially reliant on the British, who were morally opposed to slavery, the Spanish government began to take steps towards abolishing it. They started the process by counting how many slaves were on the island and how many each owner possessed. They also let slaves find other jobs, as long as they returned some of their earnings back to their owners.
These measures and the issues in Cuba frightened some Americans, including many Southerners, who feared “Africanization.” Africanization, or the prospect of the island and its government coming into the hands of newly-freed black citizens, was seen as a threat to the island’s white landowners as well as the United States itself. This kind of unrest in Cuba could spread, like a fire, to the United States. In addition, as James Buchanan–then the minister to Great Britain–wrote in the Ostend Manifesto that discussed the US-Cuba situation, Americans would be “unworthy of [their] gallant forefathers” if they allowed “Cuba to be Africanized and become a second [Haiti], with all its attendant horrors to the white race.” The United States felt they had to do something. Military filibustering, a type of irregular warfare used to incite a revolution or some form of political change, was going on in Cuba already. However, these efforts to overthrow Spanish rule of Cuba by force were not producing results, so the government under President Franklin Pierce decided to pursue a more public policy-oriented approach to the issue. Pierce then directed three of his European diplomats to meet in Ostend, Belgium to discuss options.
Buchanan, along with minister to Great Britain J.Y Mason and minister to Spain Pierre Soule, were the three diplomats who would eventually pen the Ostend Manifesto. They concluded at their conference that it was in the best interest of the United States to purchase Cuba for as much as $120,000,000. Cuba was important to the United States economically, and it was in an important position, “[commanding] the mouth of the Mississippi.” This would be an advantageous deal to all parties involved, as the money would help Spain with the “overwhelming debt now paralyzing her energies” and give her extra money to modernize her economy by building railroads. The manifesto also strongly suggested that if Spain was not open to selling, they would be in “imminent danger of losing Cuba, without remuneration.” In other words, the United States would take it by force. Neither the Spanish nor the American governments acknowledged this document or officially recognized it, and Spain was not willing to sell. However, the document is important because it is an example of the United States’ justifications for continuing imperialism and an additional U.S. government endorsement of slavery. It is also an interesting example of “gunboat diplomacy,” in which the United States threatened force to get what they wanted. While the Manifesto was endorsed by Pierce to begin with, the uproar that it caused between the sections of the United States made him unable to recognize the document and forced him to distance himself from it. In addition, Pierce’s interest in Cuba was overshadowed by domestic issues, such as the problems in Kansas.
An interesting question arises from this issue: why was the United States so interested in Cuba when they had so much going on at home? Perhaps the president and other politicians were trying to distract people from the domestic strife, but Cuba could have erupted into violence between the North and the South just as easily. Northerners were angered by the manifesto, as it was a clear attempt by Southerners to spread slavery and increase their power in congress. While the South could gain much from Cuba, the North saw little potential, as the island would mostly be divided into multiple slave states. It seems that this episode in our history was a result of a Southern-dominated government. The South feared that a neighbor so close to them being free would possibly, in the words of the manifesto, spread the “flames” of insurrection to “seriously endanger or actually consume the fair fabric of our Union.” The memory of the Haitian Revolution, in which slaves freed themselves and rose up against the French, ended in 1804 and was fresh in Southern minds. This was exactly what Southerners feared–a slave uprising resulting in a new government led by former slaves. Such an uprising could spread and produce disastrous socio-political results in the southern United States. The best way to prevent such a subversion of power was to control Cuba, and thus, Southerners pushed the American government to buy it.
Despite Northern concerns, the government, most notably Franklin Peirce and his secretary of state, intended to build upon the expansionist legacy of James Polk. Hence, they continued to pursue their course on Cuba, and it cost them. In the 1854 mid-term elections, the Democrats lost their majority in the House and now had no hope of getting Congress to appropriate funds for Cuba. In addition, the Cuba issue, along with Bleeding Kansas, caused a split in the Democratic Party between Northern and Southern Democrats over the issue of slavery. This split proved irreparable and would continue to deepen during the Buchanan’s presidency. It would then help Lincoln rise to power in 1860, as the Northern and Southern Democrats each supported a different candidate, splitting the Democratic vote and making it easier for Lincoln to gain a majority. Because of the split in the party and growing Northern hostility to the measure, the idea of acquiring Cuba was dropped. However, there was much potential for Cuba to become another Bleeding Kansas as filibusters continued to try to annex Cuba by force. If these efforts had worked, or if Cuba had been purchased by the United States, the Civil War may have taken a different turn, starting earlier and erupting over the issue of Cuba. Even still, Cuba played a significant, but often overlooked role in the coming of the war. The Cuba question illuminates the valuable contributions that a more international or global approach to the study of the Civil War can reveal about this tenuous time in American history.
Ambacher, Bruce. “George M. Dallas, Cuba, and the Election of 1856.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 97, no. 3 (1973): 318-32. Accessed January 25, 2018.
Buchanan, James, J.Y. Mason, and Pierre Soule. “The Ostend Manifesto.” October 18, 1864. Accessed January 25, 2018.
Connolly, Michael J. ““Tearing Down the Burning House”: James Buchanan’s Use of Edmund Burke.” American Nineteenth Century History 10, no. 2 (June 2009): 211-221. Accessed January 25, 2018.
Urban, C. Stanley. “The Africanization of Cuba Scare, 1853-1855.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 37, no. 1 (1957): 29-45. Accessed January 25, 2018.
The Fourth of July is the most recognizable celebration of American identity. In the midst of the summer heat we wrap our homes in red, white, and blue; come together to watch fireworks; and celebrate the birth of our nation. In some parts of the world, however, American identity is represented by a different time and creed. Such is the case with the city of Americana in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where celebrations of the United States are overshadowed by Confederate memory. Some of our readers may have heard of the Confederados, a group of former Rebels who fled to Brazil in the aftermath of the Civil War to rebuild their dream of preserving the American South. But why did they choose Brazil, and how did they create an identity that is still present today?
In the last days of the war, Northern and Southern leaders turned their thoughts toward the nation’s future with the imminent Confederate surrender. Union politicians and military leaders wondered what they were going to do with the leaders of the rebellion; would they welcome back their former countrymen with open arms or take action against the traitors? Jefferson Davis and other Southern leaders carried on their cause, avoiding Union troops in hopes of re-establishing the Confederate Government. Some Confederates continued to fight, holding out against the Federals until they ran out of ammunition or escape routes.
At Appomattox, Grant offered a pardon to the Army of Northern Virginia; men returned home, as did officers, as long as they took an oath of loyalty and promised to never raise arms against the American people again. However, some Confederate leaders still fled. Many former officers had been members of the Southern gentry, so they took their families and what remained of their past lives and chose to find new homes in the hope of continuing the spirit of the old South. The aristocracy of the antebellum South had been shattered at the outbreak of the war, as Federal blockades prevented many plantation owners from exporting cotton and other goods, and as the war dragged on, the economy and population plummeted. Thus, some former officers and gentry had no interest in starting a new life in a devastated South where slavery was now illegal and they would not be able to reclaim the political and socio-economic status they enjoyed prior to the war.
Many former Confederates fled to Egypt and Mexico, but the largest group of Confederates settled in Brazil. Some wanted to put distance between themselves and the United States to avoid the eye of the Federal Government, while others hoped to find economic success. Those who went to Egypt looked to continue their military careers. However, Brazil was the ideal location for most of these families, as it was a planter’s paradise with rich soil and legalized slavery. Confederados and Brazilians both acquired slaves through importation as well as through domestic human trafficking. Experienced planters had the potential to regain the economic bounty that they had in the antebellum South, and some did, prospering for a number of years until 1888, when slavery was abolished in Brazil.
While they might not have achieved all their fiscal goals, the Confederates who fled to Brazil had much better lives than their counterparts who stayed in the states. Before 1865, Southerners’ slave-based economy not only granted them domestic economic dominance but also stood placed them at the forefront of the international cotton trade. The real reward for the former Confederates now in Brazil was that they could maintain their Confederate identities by continuing to exploit slave labor and bringing themselves back to economic prominence, whereas their American counterparts had to rely on free labor. Doing so, Confederados kept themselves closer to their prewar identities by continuing to use slave labor without any disturbance from the Brazilian Government, as the Emperor welcomed them in the aftermath of the war with open arms, recognizing the economic opportunities they brought with them to Brazil. With a government-sanctioned welcome, the Confederados could start the new life they sought.
If the goal of the Confederados was to keep Confederate memory alive, they were extremely successful. Confederate memory, or the version that Brazilians were exposed to, seems to have persisted to the present day with an annual festival held in Americana reflecting Confederate Memory the way Brazil remembers. Every year in Sao Paulo, the descendants of the Confederate immigrants meet to celebrate their heritage in ways similar to our own Civil War community. There are period-themed dances and other activities, and, of course, people wear the gray that their ancestors once did. We might recognize this from our own celebrations, such as reenactments and Civil War dances. Those who chose to flee to Brazil did not know what the process of reconstruction and reconciliation would look like in the 19th century or how they, as ex-Confederates, would be contested in history and memory 150 years later. There are parallels in modern-day Brazilian and American attitudes; in both countries, there seems to be a rallying cry to preserve history and heritage above all else, despite opposition claiming that we should not remember the Confederacy in such a positive light. When questioned about the issue of slavery, the residents of Americana had no response; they did not see slavery and the Confederacy as one and the same. Many claimed they did not want to make their ancestry political.
Over the last several years, the area of Sao Paolo has been plagued by a number of issues, namely illegal labor and immigration. The government raided a series of factories and warehouses where they found hundreds of Bolivian immigrants working in sweatshops in inhumane conditions. However, the people of Americana continue to keep the memory of their ancestors alive with Southern ballads and plenty of grey. At the same time, in their back yard, a form of modern-day slavery has taken hold, exposing the irony that over 150 years later, slave labor is used to try to bring economic prosperity to the area. Unfortunately it seems that the area of Sao Paulo is still grappling with the use of illegal labor as the government is still combating illegal labor and the issues of illegal immigration. While they do not wish to bring politics into their ancestry, if they are going to wear the grey and display Confederate memorabilia, they should be prepared to discuss the continuing issue.
Dawsey, Cyrus B. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil (Tuscolosa, University of Alabama, 1995).
Dwyer, Mimi. “The Brazilian Town Where the American Confederacy Lives on.” Vice. February 5, 2013.
Esposito, Karina. “Confederate Immigration to Brazil: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Reconstruction and Public History.” Public History Review 22 (2015.)
Ibercio-Lozada, Lucas. “In Sweatshops, the ‘Brazilian Dream’ Goes Awry.” Reuters. September 1, 2013.
On Thursday, November 2nd, Howard University History Professor Ana Lucia Araujo visited Gettysburg College to give a lecture titled “Slavery, Memory, and Reparations: Coming to Terms with the Past When Monuments Are Taken Down.” The historian, author, and professor talked about the history of slavery as well as the concepts of memory and reparations. One form of reparations discussed recently has been the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States, which has been heavily debated for years.
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.
To Freeman Tilden, provocation was an essential ingredient to effective interpretation, and I tend to agree with that idea. Both my walking tour at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center and the interpretive exhibits at Chatham Manor utilize provocation in different forms, with different challenges and opportunities. Overall, the atmosphere of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is one that supports and encourages provocative thinking by visitors.
Just over a week ago was the 152nd anniversary of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Although that number may not be as big a deal as the 150th anniversary a few years ago, there was something else special about this year. For only the seventh time since 1865, April 9th fell on Palm Sunday, just as it did on the day that Grant and Lee met in the McLean House. Not only was I lucky enough to attend this commemoration, but I was able to revisit the job I held over the summer by volunteering that weekend. Arriving on Friday, I donned a volunteer uniform, attached my nametag from the summer, and walked out into the surprisingly cold air.
Luckily the weather was vastly improved on Saturday and Sunday, as hundreds of visitors flocked to the small village far out of the way of most tourists. Volunteers greeted visitors at the parking lot and helped to answer questions across the site. All weekend, interpretative programs were delivered on topics including Union General Philip Sheridan’s 1865 Central Virginia campaign, the United States Colored Troops at Appomattox, and the surrender proceedings themselves. Reenactors, both Union and Confederate, camped within the park, carrying out firing demonstrations to represent the fighting within and around the village and recreating the stacking of Confederate arms. Continue reading “Appomattox: 152 Years Later”
At around 5:20AM on March 4, 1861—Inauguration Day—the Senate voted 24-12 to pass a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would permanently preserve slavery in the states where it currently existed. If successfully ratified, it would become the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution—and hopefully avert the secession crisis and the impending Civil War. However, only six states had ratified the amendment by early 1862, and the amendment died soon after. The last attempt to stop the Civil War, an attempt which had been in the works since shortly after the presidential election, had failed.
Two potential reasons for its failure were the speed with which the secession movement acted and the inability of Southern moderates to realize the threat the movement posed. In the almost immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, the secession movement was rapidly gaining steam in the Deep South. Just days after the election, South Carolina’s state legislature called for a state convention. A month later, South Carolinians elected delegates to the convention, and two weeks later—on December 20th—South Carolina seceded from the Union. Many Northerners—convinced most of the pro-Secession voters were being brainwashed by radical politicians—did not take this movement seriously at first and Republicans in particular saw no need to do anything about it, least of all compromise.
This post is the fourth 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. Please feel free to engage with the author and the Civil War Institute community in the comments section. Read the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here.
Thus far we’ve talked about predominately white Union and Confederate views of the Confederate flag, so for my last piece on perspectives during the war I want to talk about the views of African Americans. For African Americans, especially, the Civil War was tightly intertwined with the matter of slavery. They realized that the outcome of the war would be instrumental in determining the fate of slavery as an institution and believed that a Confederate victory would be detrimental to the prospects of their freedom. If Southerners had their way, slavery would likely never die.
None express this better than Frederick Douglass, one of the most eloquent and influential African Americans of the time. In his newspaper, Douglass’ Monthly, Douglass printed a copy of a lecture he delivered on June 30, 1861. He stated that slaveholders “have written piracy and robbery upon every fold of the Confederate flag” and that “they are for slavery, and for all its kindred abominations.” Douglass leaves no room to doubt that the flag stands for human atrocities. He also sees no difference between slaveholders and Confederates. They are one and the same to Douglass and many other African Americans.