Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

While many minority groups have had their contributions and accomplishments during the Civil War recognized, one group of Americans has received little attention. Muslim Americans are rarely the focus of Civil War scholars and are typically viewed as a demographic relevant only to more modern history. This should not be the case. In fact, Muslim Americans have served in virtually every armed conflict in United States history and left their mark on every era, including the Civil War. A simple search using the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) reveals several names associated with Islam, including two Mahomets, two Hasans, three Rahmans, three Alis, 17 Saids, and 58 Hassans. In his Muslim Veterans of American Wars, Amir N. Muhammad theorized that as many as 292 Muslim last names appear in muster roles. Additionally, as many as 15% of African slaves brought to America are believed to have practiced Islam. While these summary statistics provide an overview of the scope of Muslim American involvement in the Civil War Era, their personal stories truly show their importance in shaping America.

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The 55th Massachusetts marches through the streets of Charleston in February of 1865. Published in the March 18, 1865 edition of Harpers Weekly. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Hajji Ali, an Ottoman camel driver, landed in Indianola, Texas aboard the USS Supply in 1856. Recruited by the U.S. government, he was to take part in one of the oddest military experiments in the pre-Civil War Era. A year earlier, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis convinced Congress to create the Camel Military Corps to patrol the newly acquired lands in the desert Southwest. When the camels arrived from the Ottoman Empire, they were met with awe and amazement from locals. The U.S. soldiers assigned to the new Camel Corps were equally bewildered and were unable to manage the exotic beasts. Enter Hajji Ali, nicknamed Hi Jolly by his American comrades. The first mission for the camels was to bring Lt. Edward Beale on an expedition searching for a possible Southern route for the transcontinental railroad. Sadly, and indeed ironically given the mastermind behind the creation of the Corps, the Civil War dashed any hopes for the future of the Camel Corps. Hi Jolly lived on, and became a local legend along with the dozens of camels that roamed the Southwest for years. Continue reading “Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War”

The Unknown Legacy of the 13th Amendment

By Danielle Jones ’18

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.

Convicts leased to harvest timber, 1915, Florida. Photo credit: The Hampton Institute/Photographer Unknown
Convicts leased to harvest timber, 1915, Florida. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “The Unknown Legacy of the 13th Amendment”

Sticking to His Plan: An Interview with Dedication Day Keynote Speaker LeVar Burton

By Annika Jensen ’18

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.

Mr. Burton graciously consented to a photograph and group hug with student Luke Frigon, the author, and Penny Isherwood's esteemed mother, Sam. Photo courtesy of the author.
Mr. Burton graciously consented to a photograph and group hug with student Luke Frigon, the author, and Penny Isherwood’s esteemed mother, Sam. Photo courtesy of the author.

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 BurtonMy 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”

A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Past: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

By Danielle Jones ’18

On September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened to the public after almost two decades of planning and more than a century of fighting for a memorial for African Americans. Starting in 1915, when a group of United States Colored Troops sought a memorial for their fallen soldiers, African Americans have worked to have their history remembered on a national scale. A congressional commission for a museum dedicated to African Americans was signed in 1929 by Calvin Coolidge, but the stock market crash in October prevented the museum from being built. The memorial was pushed to the back burner until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s galvanized the need for a museum again. In 1986, a joint resolution proposed by Representatives Mickey Leland of Texas and John Lewis of Georgia as well as Senator Paul Simon of Illinois marked the beginning of the modern fight for a museum dedicated solely to African Americans.

The representatives faced strong opposition from Congress about the museum. Perhaps the strongest opposition came from Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) who argued in 1996 that “once Congress gives the go ahead for African Americans, how can Congress then say no to Hispanics, and the next group, and the group after that?” Helms even went as far as stating that as long as he was in the United States Congress, there would be no museum. Despite this uphill struggle, in 2001 President George W. Bush signed House Resolution 3442, establishing a commission to develop a plan of action for the creation of the museum. In 2006, the location of the museum was finalized, and in 2009 the architectural group Feelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup was announced as the winner of the design competition held in January of that year. On February 22, 2012 the ground breaking ceremony for NMAAHC was held.

A view of the museum's stunning architecture. Photo credit: Douglas Remley / Smithsonian.
A view of the museum’s stunning architecture. Photo credit: Douglas Remley / Smithsonian.

Continue reading “A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Past: The National Museum of African American History and Culture”

A Tale of Two Universities: Harvard and Georgetown Accept Their Ties to Slavery

By Alex Andrioli ‘18

The Washington Ideas Forum, a Washington D.C. hot-ticket event, reconvened for its eighth year on September 28th and 29th, 2016. Leaders in politics, policy, race and justice, education, science and technology, and even food met to share ideas and have meaningful conversations at the event hosted by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute. From Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Secretary of State John Kerry to author Chimamanda Adichie and chef and founder of Momofuku, David Chang, the best and the brightest were all in attendance.

On the second day of the forum, the national correspondent of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, conversed with the presidents of two elite universities: John J. DeGioia of Georgetown University and Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard University. The three talked about the roles of the universities in acknowledging and reconciling with their histories of slavery and discrimination.

The Washington Ideas Forum, Washington D.C. Photo taken by the author, September 29, 2016.
The Washington Ideas Forum, Washington D.C. Photo taken by the author, September 29, 2016.

Continue reading “A Tale of Two Universities: Harvard and Georgetown Accept Their Ties to Slavery”

Civil War Mythbusters: Grappling with the Lost Cause

Last fall, CWI Fellow (and now Gettysburg College graduate) Megan McNish ’16 shared this reflection on the experience of commemorating the Civil War in spite of having no family members who were in America during the conflict. A few hours later, we received a notification that someone had responded to the post. 

We receive many comments on the Gettysburg Compiler, and not infrequently do they come from adherents of the Lost Cause mythology. Few comments, however, have been as detailed and historically problematic as the one Megan’s post received. We invited the Fellows (past and present) to respond with their own comments to different parts of the argument, and now we are publishing their compiled responses along with the original comment. 

The text in the gray boxes below was originally published by the commenter as one long paragraph. We have divided it into sections (though maintained the original order) so that the Fellows’ responses could be inserted immediately after the sections to which they refer. We have also changed visible URLs into hyperlinks for the sake of aesthetic appeal. Apart from these tweaks, no edits have been made to the content, grammar, style, or spelling for either the Fellows or the original commenter. Not every possible critique of the comment is included below as each student was asked to hone in on one or two parts that they thought would most benefit from further discussion and context. 

Feel free to share your own impressions and reactions in the comment section. 

The comment begins:

I commend your passion on this subject and it is truly an honor to read about a youth that studies history. I would however like to set the record straight about the Civil War and the real reasons it was fought. This War just like many others throughout history were fought over greed. The South did not betray their fellow countrymen but rather the North oppressed the Southern states with unfair taxation and think about that for a moment UNFAIR TAXATION. Does that ring a bell think the Boston Tea Party.

Ryan Nadeau ’16:  What makes a tax unfair? Certainly, the case can be made for taxation without representation, as it was during the Revolution. By our standards of representative democracy, that’s just fine. However, prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the South had plenty of representation. In the Thirty-sixth Congress, which sat from 1859 to the opening days of 1861, the states of the Confederacy held twenty-four of the sixty-six seats in the Senate (two for each state) and sixty-six of two-hundred and thirty-eight seats in the House of Representatives. Admittedly, this number for the House seems unusually low– and it was. Had the South abolished slavery, they would have received significant increases to their political representation. The Three-Fifth’s Compromise, as outlined in the Constitution, recognized only three out of every five slaves towards the population of a state when accounting for representation. Continue reading “Civil War Mythbusters: Grappling with the Lost Cause”

An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A few weeks ago one of our readers posted a comment on one of our blog posts asking for a “best guess” as to when slavery would have ended in the South had the Confederacy been successful in winning its independence. There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as counter-factual history is just that: not factual. However, the question is an important one that deserves attention and at the very least can be used to explore some ways in which slavery can be contextualized in the Civil War era.

The Confederacy was founded on the idea of preserving the institution of slavery. The short-lived nation’s need for slavery was economic as well as social. Economically, the South depended on an agrarian economy driven chiefly by cotton production. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, required large labor forces to produce. Consequently, profit margins depended on decreasing the cost of labor. Therefore, cotton’s profitability–and thus the economy of the South–benefited immensely from slavery. A change in the workforce would have severely disrupted the status quo. Poor Southerners, who may not have owned slaves, also saw the economic trickle-down effects of slavery: wealthy planters required food, tools, and other goods to keep the system of slavery running, and of these supplies would be supplied by yeomen farmers and craftsmen. As a result, many white Southerners who were neither wealthy nor owned slaves were also economically invested in the institution of slavery.

 When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget it's human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget its human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"”

Confederate War Etchings: Adalbert J. Volck’s Visual Depiction of the Confederate War Effort

By Savannah Rose ’17

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy utilized art to convey their sentiments regarding different aspects of the war. Most Civil War enthusiasts often recall drawings and cartoons by Thomas Nast when they think about political cartoons of the 19th century. Nast drew numerous cartoons for the Northern newspaper Harpers Weekly, commenting frequently on the Confederate States of America, the Civil War, as well as the political corruption of the era. Nast grew in fame across the Union, but the Confederacy, too, had its share of political cartoons and drawings that criticized the Northern war effort. Though not very popular during the Civil War, Adalbert J. Volck created political cartoons that resonated strongly with the Confederate war effort and the Lost Cause following 1865.

Adalbert Johann Volck was born on April 14, 1828 in Bavaria, Germany. As a young child, his parents decided that their son should focus on the sciences, sending him to the Nuremburg Polytechnic Institute. During his spare time though, Volck spent countless hours with a group of artists where he learned the basics of drawing and etching. He moved on to the University of Munich, where he once again studied science but longed to further his art career which led to him making use of Munich’s art academy to continue to develop his skills. While in Munich, Volck participated in the rising political revolution in early 1848, causing him to flee Bavaria for New York City.

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Adalbert J. Volck drew numerous drawings and cartoons to aid the Confederate war effort. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Confederate War Etchings: Adalbert J. Volck’s Visual Depiction of the Confederate War Effort”

From Post to Park: The Fort Monroe National Monument

By Kaylyn Sawyer ’17

The Civil War Institute will be celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this spring with its brand new “Find Your Park Friday” series. Inspired by the NPS #FindYourPark campaign, the series will challenge our fellows to share their experiences exploring America’s national historical, cultural, and natural resources through trips and internships with the NPS. In our sixth post,  Kaylyn Sawyer takes a look at the history of her park.

I was 11 years old when I made my first visit to Fort Monroe for a military ID card. This small Army post, I was told, would have a shorter line than the more familiar and populated Langley Air Force Base. Although already interested in Civil War history, I didn’t know much about the fort’s story, and I had no idea that I would return in seven years for my first history internship. Finally, I didn’t know that Fort Monroe had been targeted for closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). Concerned about preserving the Fort’s historic integrity amidst calls for economic development, local citizens mobilized in collaboration with leaders across all levels of government to guide Fort Monroe’s transition from post to park.

An aerial view of Fort Monroe. Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.
An aerial view of Fort Monroe. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “From Post to Park: The Fort Monroe National Monument”

The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

William Link
Bill Link. Image courtesy of the University of Florida.

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 William A. Link, the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. Link’s publications include: A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870-1920 (UNC Press, 1986), The Paradox of Southern Progressivism 1880-1920 (UNC Press, 1992), Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (UNC Press, 2002), and most recently, Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

CWI:  What were the defining elements of the New South?  What were some of the major forces and players who helped to create the New South?

LINK: Henry W. Grady, newspaper editor and publicist, perhaps became best known for popularizing the concept of the New South. In 1886, speaking before a distinguished group of northerners in New York City—which included Gen. William T. Sherman—Grady explained how a New South arose following the end of the Civil War. “We have let economy take root and spread among us as rank as the crabgrass which sprang from Sherman’s cavalry camps,” he declared, “until we are ready to lay odds on the Georgia Yankee, as he manufactures relics of the battlefield in a one-story shanty and squeezes pure olive oil out of his cotton-seed, against any downeaster that ever swapped wooden nutmegs for flannel sausages in the valleys of Vermont.” The New South, a term in common usage during the period after Reconstruction up until the early 20th century, became both an ideological construct and a social movement. It was a device, above all, serving to describe how the region was open for business to northern investors. According to Grady’s New South, adopted in what amounted to a social movement by promoters and boosters to define the South differently, the region was no longer dependent on slavery, fully reconciled to the Union, but also fully invested in the principle of white supremacy. Continue reading “The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link”

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