Posts from the ‘African-American’ Category

Oklahoma’s largest Civil War battlefield may become National Park

by Sean McLachlan 

1st Kansas Infantry was a black regiment with distinguished service at Honey Springs (Photo by farmalldanzil via Flickr)

The Honey Springs Battlefield Park in Oklahoma may become a new addition to the National Park Service, the Tulsa World reports.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said in a report that there’s “potential action” for “support designation of Honey Springs as a National Battlefield Park.” Now Oklahoma history buffs are scratching their heads over just what that means. The Tulsa World couldn’t get an answer.Hopefully that government-speak translates into real action. The Battle of Honey Springs was the largest Civil War battle in Oklahoma, which was the Indian Territory back then. The battle was notable in that white soldiers were a minority on both sides.

On July 17, 1863, a Confederate army was gathering at Honey Springs in order to attack the Union position at Fort Gibson. About four or five thousand rebels had assembled, mostly Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. More reinforcements were coming, so the Union troops at Fort Gibson, which only numbered 2,800, decided to attack before it was too late. The Union side was mostly black and Indian troops, some from the same tribes as the rebels.

After a night march, the Union army attacked the Confederate position in a pouring rain. The rain ruined much of the rebel gunpowder, and this helped decide the battle. Nonetheless there was enough powder left for the rebels to put up a hard resistance. After a few hours they were forced to retreat, having to burn part of their wagon train to keep it out of Union hands.

The Confederates lost 150 men killed, 400 wounded, and 77 taken prisoner. The Union lost only 17 killed and 60 wounded. The rebels lost control of the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River. This helped open up Arkansas for invasion and led to a Union army capturing Little Rock that September.

Prominent in the fight on the Union side was the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit of mostly escaped slaves that was the first American black regiment to see combat when they defeated a larger force of rebel guerrillas at the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 29, 1862. The victory made headlines across the country and helped dispel a widespread belief that black soldiers wouldn’t fight.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers fought in several engagements in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas yet they aren’t very well known. The justly famous 54th Massachusetts has inspired books, a monument, a movie, even a rap video, but the First Kansas remains largely forgotten. I’ve been sending a book proposal on the regiment around to publishers for a few years now, and despite being an established Civil War author I keep getting told there’s an “insufficient market” for the subject. Apparently the American public can only deal with one group of black heroes at a time.

Here’s hoping the Honey Springs battlefield will become a National Park and the First Kansas will get some of the recognition they deserve. Thanks to Jane Johansson over at the The Trans-Mississippian blog for bringing this to my attention. Jane blogs about all aspects of the Civil War west of the Mississippi and is worth reading.


Civil War exhibit at Library of Congress focuses on people

Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations shift into high gear
As Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations shift into high gear, the Library of Congress has kicked off its remembrance with “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection,” a special exhibition showcasing more than 400 Civil War-era ambrotype and tintype photographs.

By: Chuck Myers, McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A young girl gazes out with a fixed, forlorn expression from inside her gilded oval portal.

Attired in a simple stripe-patterned, black gown with mourning sleeves attached at her diminutive shoulders, she cradles a small picture believed to be of her father, a soldier, killed in battle.

The moment, captured in a photograph, cannot but tug at the heartstring of any onlooker. But what makes this particular impression exceptionally unique is its enduring emotive power — nearly 150 years after it was created.

This touching and rare image is found presently among a splendid array of American Civil War photographs on view here at the Library of Congress through Aug. 13.

As Civil War sesquicentennial commemorations shift into high gear, the library has kicked off its remembrance with “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection,” a special exhibition showcasing more than 400 Civil War-era ambrotype and tintype photographs.

The exhibit focuses on soldiers and ordinary people from the North and South who endured the hardships of the four-year conflict.

Drawn from some 700 photographs gifted to the Library of Congress by the Liljenquists, of McLean, Va., in 2010, this unique assemblage resulted from a concerted family effort over the past 15 years.

Jewelry businessman Tom Liljenquist and his three sons, Jason, 19, Brandon, 17, and Christian, 13, collected the photographs through online purchases and by calling on Civil War-era artifacts dealers in towns and cities primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“It’s just been a real labor of love collecting these photographs over the years, making the trips to Gettysburg (Pa.), Fredericksburg (Va.), Sharpsburg (Md.) and numerous other places,” said Tom Liljenquist.

Ambrotypes and tintypes are early photography processes developed in the mid-1850s. The ambrotype involved combining an underexposed glass negative against a dark background. The tintype was produced on a thin iron plate coated with photographic emulsion, which, when exposed to light, resulted in a positive image. Ambrotypes and tintypes frequently were presented inside a keepsake case or ornate frame.

This rare ambrotype photograph of an African-American soldier shows him seated with his family during the American Civil War. This vintage photograph is found in the exhibition, "The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection," at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., through August 13, 2011. (Library of Congress/MCT)

Picture-making forms

Both picture-making forms remained popular during the war, but eventually gave way to the roughly baseball card-size, albumen print cartes de visite (CDV).

“I guess the reason why we focused on the ambrotypes and tintypes was, well, the contrast, especially with ambrotypes, and the tonality, which makes them just works of art,” said Liljenquist. “And when the ambrotypes went to tintypes, a little something was lost, and when the tins went to CDVs, more was lost.”

Arrayed over six display cabinets, five representing Union individuals and one chock full of Confederates, the light-sensitive pieces vary in plate size, and sit arranged in tight tile-like ranks.

Striking intimacy

The images possess a striking intimacy that personalizes the conflict. Moreover, many of the pictures may denote the last record of some of the individuals.

Part of the viewing enjoyment lies in reading gestures that offer hints about the sitter’s personality. A shot of a seated Confederate, for example, shows him holding a rifle with his arms raised slightly, as if ready for action. Nearby, a possible rebel cavalryman appears more formal and distinguished, with rose tinting on his cheeks and gold accents on his collar and buttons. In another, a cigar protruding from an unidentified Union soldier’s mouth instills the view with a casual cockiness.

While many of the photos communicate a confident air, some suggest apprehension. An ambrotype of a wide-eyed young Union soldier clutching his rifle and sword conveys an uneasy feeling, perhaps about what may lie ahead for him on the battlefield.

Appropriate backdrops

Figures are posed before backdrops appropriate to their military service. One African-American Union soldier, for instance, stands proudly before a painted scene of artillery and a U.S. flag fluttering in the background.

Many of the subjects sat for photographers in a studio setting. Other works, such as the tintype of a Union soldier perched on an overlook on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, and another of Union soldier John E. Cummins standing by a horse, take on a more vivid air with their outdoors locations.

Most of the portraits highlight a single sitter. A few feature two or more subjects, including one exceptional gem in the exhibit.

An ambrotype of an African-American Union soldier presents him seated with his wife and two small children. A close inspection of his left lapel reveals a wonderful detail — a small round pin supporting the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

The compact nature of the presentation leaves little room for any accompanying text about the subjects. But a user-friendly touch screen interactive directly across from the photographs solves this dilemma.

Pick one of the six cabinet displays on view, and you’re on your way. Once a user finds an image of interest, he or she can zoom in and navigate around it for a greater detailed examination. Any available information about the person likewise appears with the selected photograph.

On this date: April 24, 1865 – Hancock issues proclamation

Major General Winfield Scott Hancock

On this date, 146 years ago – Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock ordered the following handbills printed and distributed to free blacks in the communities of Virginia and Maryland along the Potomac River. John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin, and David Herold, Booth’s accomplice, were still on the run after 10 days.




Washington, D.C., April 24, 1865

To the colored people of the District of Columbia and of Maryland, of Alexandria and the border counties of Virginia:

     Your President has been murdered! He has fallen by the assassin and without a moment’s warning, simply and solely because he was your friend and the friend of our country. Had he been unfaithful to you and to the great cause of human freedom he might have lived. The pistol from which he met his death, though held by Booth, was fired by the hands of treason and slavery. Think of this and remember how long and how anxiously this good man labored to break your chains and to make you happy. I now appeal to you, by every consideration which can move loyal and grateful hearts, to aid in discovering and arresting his murderer. Concealed by traitors, he is believed to be lurking somewhere within the limits of the District of Columbia, of the State of Maryland, or Virginia. Go forth, then, and watch, and listen, and inquire, and search, and pray, by day and night, until you shall have succeeded in dragging this monstrous and bloody criminal from his hiding place. You can do much; even the humblest and feeblest among you, by patience and unwearied vigilance, may render the most important assistance.

     Large rewards have been offered by the Government, and by municipal authorities, and they will be paid for the apprehension of this murderer, or for any information which will aid in his arrest. But I feel that you need no such stimulus as this. You will hunt down this cowardly assassin of your best friend, as you would the murderer of your own father. Do this, and God, whose servant has been slain, and the country which has given you freedom, will bless you for this noble act of duty.

     All information which may lead to the arrest of Booth, or Surratt, or Harold, should be communicated to these headquarters, or to General Holt, Judge Advocate General, at Washington, or, if immediate action is required, then to the nearest military authorities.

     All officers and soldiers in this command, an all loyal people, are enjoined to increased vigilance.


Major General U.S. Volunteers

Commanding Middle Military Division

Harriet Tubman’s Story Told; Part of County Library’s Civil War Series

The Local Commotion Walking History company tells stories from Harriet Tubman’s life at Monmouth County Library’s Eastern Branch.

By Lisa Smoltino, Holmdel Patch, Monmouth County, N.J.

The soulful sounds of a freedom song rang through the air when Harriet Tubman made a dramatic entrance and began to tell her story. The audience sat with rapt attention.

“Conversations with Moses: Harriet Tubman,” was presented Saturday at the Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury. Tubman was interpreted by actor  Tracy Grace. She appeared with Tubman’s biographer, Sarah Bradford, played by Kati Beddow Brower.

Kati Beddow Brower as Sarah Bradford and Tracy Grace as Harriet Tubman. Credit Lisa Smoltino

Both women are actors with Local Commotion, started by Kati Beddow Brower in 1993, to “integrate performance with education, going beyond the scope of historical text.” Brower does this by taking excerpts from history, usually with a focus on women’s history, and bringing them to life complete with characters and historical dress.

For “Conversations with Moses,” Brower played Sarah Bradford, a friend of Harriet Tubman who eventually went on to write her biography. The performance had Bradford and Tubman reuniting after the Civil War, discussing Tubman’s life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland, and never learned to read or write, as it was prohibited for slaves to receive any type of education. She was born into a large family, but sadly, was disconnected from her sisters when they were sold to master in the Deep South.

As Grace recounted this tale, she embodied the raw emotion of someone who didn’t know childhood and witnessed their family torn apart. The emotion was poured out in the spiritual song “Motherless Child.” The deep soul in both Grace’s and Brower’s voice took the audience back to a time of where suffering blended with hope.

At the age of 24, Tubman, having experienced backbreaking work in the fields since she was a young child, finally managed to escape from the grips of slavery. She made her way north through the Underground Railroad, and was so moved by it, she felt it was her mission in life to return and help others find their way to freedom.

Over the course of her life, Tubman returned nineteen times to help those still in bondage. Throughout her trips, she helped free over 300 oppressed people from slavery. Her work was so notorious that slave owners put a $40,000 bounty on her head.

Tubman got her nickname “Moses,” because of the code song she used when returning to plantations to help free slaves. The song was “Let My People Go,” performed in a moving rendition by Brower and Grace.

During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman worked as a nurse and a spy for the Union Army. It was during this time that Tubman was involved in a mission with the Army to disrupt supply lines and free hundreds of slaves. The mission was a success, thanks to Tubman’s shrewd skills, and 800 slaves found their way to freedom.

After the discussion of important moments in Harriet Tubman’s life, Brower and Grace shared a few more songs with the audience. They sang what were called “learning songs,” which were used by slaves who were banned from traditional learning. They also took time for a question-and-answer period from the audience.

Local Commotion Walking History performs many historical events to help share history in unconventional methods. For more information on their mission and a list of events, stop by to see them at

Family ties refocus Civil War discussion

Written by DeWayne Wickham 

This article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of The Tennessean.

I see it in a far more personal way.

While I’m convinced that the underlying cause of the Civil War was the South’s determination to perpetuate slavery, in a narrower sense it is, for me, a family matter in which the central figure was my grandfather, Trevillian Wickham. He didn’t fight in the Civil War, though nearly 200,000 blacks served in the Union Army. He wasn’t born until 1890.

The son of a slave named Casius Wickham, who was born in 1847 in Hanover County, Va., my grandfather is my most enduring history lesson on the Civil War. He was named Trevillian after a train depot not far from the plantation where his father once lived. Called Trevilian Station, it was the scene of a major cavalry battle in 1864. (The spelling was changed to Trevilians or Trevillians after the war.)

Among the Union generals in that fight was George Armstrong Custer, whose Michigan cavalry unit clashed with Virginia cavalry troops commanded by Gen. Williams Carter Wickham. The Confederate general was the patriarch of Hickory Hill, a 3,200-acre plantation in Hanover County, a short distance from the Louisa County battleground. At its peak, the plantation had 275 slaves. One of them is believed to have been my great-grandfather, Casius Wickham.

Knowing all of this connects me and my family to the Civil War in ways that are far more personal than the view many historians have of this great conflict. It also helps me make sense of my grandfather’s fascination with Camden Station, a railroad hub in Baltimore where he worked as a porter when I was a young boy.

Once, when my grandfather took me there, I heard him and some of the other black men who worked menial jobs at the station talk about how “Abraham Lincoln used to come through here.” It was for them a matter of great pride that the president who set off a series of events that ended slavery had been in the same space that they occupied.

While my grandfather talked about how his work at Camden Station connected him to Lincoln, he never mentioned his linkage to the Wickhams of Hanover County or his connection to the Battle of Trevilian Station, which Union troops lost. And he never said anything to me about another chapter of the Baltimore station’s history that unfolded shortly after Lincoln was sworn in as president.

On April 19, 1861, a mob of Southern sympathizers attacked federal troops marching through Baltimore. They were on their way to Camden Station to take a train to Washington to reinforce the capital. The first casualty of this clash —and of the Civil War — was Nicholas Biddle, a black man who was the personal aide of the unit’s commander.

Maybe my grandfather didn’t know this bit of history. But his connection to the place where it happened — and my family’s connection to one of the South’s wartime commanders — makes the memory of the Civil War more of a personal reflection than a sterile journey down history’s lane.

DeWayne Wickham is a columnist for USA TODAY and Gannett News Service. E-mail

Blacks stay away from 150th-anniversary Civil War events; National Park Service reaches out

Article by: BRUCE SMITH, Associated Press Updated: April 15, 2011 – 2:19 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. – As cannons thudded around Charleston Harbor this week in commemoration of the start of the war that extinguished slavery, the audiences for the 150th-anniversary events were nearly all-white. Even black scholars lecturing about black Union troops and the roots of slavery gazed out mostly on white faces.

The reasons blacks stayed away are not exactly a mystery: Across Dixie, Civil War commemorations have tended to celebrate the Confederacy and the battlefield exploits of those who fought for the slaveholding South.

But the National Park Service is trying to make anniversary events over the next four years more hospitable to black people.

“We’re trying to broaden the story to go beyond the battlefields to the home front and to talk about 150 years later, if much of the reason for the war was freedom for enslaved people, how far have we come?” said Carol Shively, a spokeswoman for the Park Service sesquicentennial in the Southeast.

The anniversary of the April 12, 1861, bombardment of Fort Sumter that plunged the nation into its bloodiest war was marked in Charleston on Tuesday by hundreds of people. Only a few blacks attended a pre-dawn concert of period music or were on hand for a ceremony re-creating the first shot a few hours later. One of the black people present was a Union re-enactor who threw a wreath into the water and then saluted.

“I think it’s very painful and raw” for blacks to attend such activities, said the Rev. Joseph Darby of Charleston, who is black and was not there for the Fort Sumter commemoration. “If you’re going to be authentic in the way you re-create it, it would be hard to filter out the triumphal air of the firing on Fort Sumter.”

On Wednesday, the Park Service sponsored events about blacks outside its Fort Sumter tour boat dock. It included lectures on slavery and on the Union 54th Massachusetts, the black unit depicted in the 1989 movie “Glory” starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. But out of about 50 people attending the lectures, there was only one black, a woman who declined to be interviewed.

Dot Scott, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said even such programs may not be enough to get blacks involved in 150th-anniversary events.

“It’s almost like celebrating with the enemy,” she said. “I personally began to have a feeling of why would I want to be a part of it?”

The national NAACP has said the activities should neither romanticize the South nor ignore that slavery was the principal cause of the war. Both Scott and Darby credit the National Park Service with working hard to make events inclusive.

Earlier this year, the Park Service worked with Kennesaw State University in Georgia to conduct focus groups with blacks on the Civil War. Some of the participants worried that the Civil War as taught in the South reflects only the Confederate view and that the history of blacks is misinterpreted.

“We need to overcome the shame and embarrassment of slavery — to see humanity” in the stories told by the parks, one participant said.

This week in Charleston “we presented the most historically accurate depictions of the American Civil War,” said Park Service spokeswoman Nancy Gray. “We didn’t count demographics, but we presented to the public and invited our diverse groups, and we know those who did attend learned a little more about the Civil War.”

In Charleston alone during the next four years, there will be commemorations of Robert Smalls, a slave who commandeered a Confederate steamship, of the Emancipation Proclamation, and of the retaking of Charleston by Union troops.

Joe McGill, who gave the lecture Wednesday on the 54th Massachusetts, said he wasn’t surprised by the turnout and that generally when he gives lectures, the audience is mainly white. But he thinks more blacks should attend 150th-anniversary events.

“When you have the same celebration 50 years prior to this we were a missing element ago because we were involved in a bigger fight,” he said, referring to the civil rights movement. “Now if there is an element of the story being told that we should challenge, we need to challenge those things.”

Darby, the minister, said one sure way to interest more blacks in the commemorations would be to remove the Confederate banner that has flown on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia since the Civil War centennial.

“There would be a lot of black folks who would come out if our Legislature would in 2015 officially decide the war was over and take the flag down,” he said.

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