2019: 400 Years of American Slavery

2019: 400 Years of American Slavery

This year the United States is marking a sometimes overlooked, but historically significant anniversary. 2019 marks 400 years since the first slaves were brought to what would become the United States of America (aka the British colonies). The 1619 date is when the first African slaves arrived in the British colonies, captured from a Portuguese slave ship and brought to Jamestown by English privateers.

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Reporting from the SHA: Northern Civilians and the Occupied Wartime Confederacy

Reporting from the SHA: Northern Civilians and the Occupied Wartime Confederacy

In this panel presented at the 2018 Southern Historical Association meeting in Birmingham, AL the panelists focused on the experiences of northern civilians who traveled south into the Confederacy during the Civil War. The panelists were Paul E. Teed (Saginaw Valley State University) and Frank J. Cirillo (New-York Historical Society) with Caroline E. Janney (University of Virginia) presiding. Comments were provided by Michael T. Bernath (University of Miami) ad Paul A. Cimbala (Fordham University).

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The 14th Amendment to Black New Orleans

The 14th Amendment to Black New Orleans

The 14th Amendment was a part of Reconstruction history, but its effects and interpretations are still being debated. It was meant to engage the four million formerly enslaved people with its prevailing morality – the language of equal justice after the Civil War. This was quite meaningful to the people of New Orleans who brought some of the first suits in the nation to uphold the rights of African descendants.

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Historic Site Review: Frogmore Cotton Plantation, Natchez, MS

Historic Site Review: Frogmore Cotton Plantation, Natchez, MS

In the midst of conversation and debate about how to best interpret slavery at historic sites, I recently visited Frogmore Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. When my family signed up to take a tour of this working cotton plantation as part of our Mississippi River cruise, I was admittedly excited but with some trepidation. Viewing the experience through the historian’s lens, it could have been enlightening or terrible.

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"Come and Go with Us": Legacies of Union, Freedom, and Civil War at Yorktown

"Come and Go with Us": Legacies of Union, Freedom, and Civil War at Yorktown

Yet with their retreat, and the subsequent Union occupation of Yorktown for the rest of the war, the success of this siege had far more deep implications for the legacies of Yorktown and the Revolution.

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When Did Slavery Really End in the North?

When Did Slavery Really End in the North?

The perception about the United States in the period before the Civil War is that the North was “free” and the South was “slave.” Now, in some senses this division is accurate; certainly the two regions would end up going to war against each other for issues very related to this debate over slavery. However, the demise of slavery in the North was far more complicated that usually presented. It is certainly not the oversimplified story of slavery ending in the North after the Revolution, leading to a “free” region, as we sometimes see presented in classrooms.

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'A Most Dangerous Precedent:' Charting the Progress of Freedom in the Civil War

'A Most Dangerous Precedent:' Charting the Progress of Freedom in the Civil War

 Yet here we are, as Maury and her peers were, confronted with a people demanding recognition even without the protection or support of the law.  In this moment, freedom existed alongside slavery, making it all the more difficult to reckon with both for contemporaries and for historians. 

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Let’s Talk Openly About Slavery: Interpretation at Monticello

Let’s Talk Openly About Slavery: Interpretation at Monticello

Ok, so Monticello is not a Civil War site, they don’t interpret the Civil War in any way.  But the home of Thomas Jefferson does have a connection to the story we strive to tell: slavery.  And I was very impressed by the way they shared it.

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Sesquicentennial Spotlight: Richmond Occupied!

Sesquicentennial Spotlight: Richmond Occupied!

The Union army broke the Confederate lines at Petersburg early on April 2 after the engagement at Five Forks the previous day.  Lee knew the position was lost, and the army’s only hope was to move west to find reinforcements and supplies.  With the Confederate army moving west, Richmond was now exposed to the Union army.  That night the Confederate government and the troops left in the city evacuated in haste, taking the last open rail line to Danville, VA, which would be the last seat of the Confederate government.  Throughout the night into April 3, retreating Confederates set fire to portions of the Confederate capital, hoping to destroy supplies before the Union soldiers could reach them. 

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Could Slavery Have Died a Peaceful Death?

Could Slavery Have Died a Peaceful Death?

On January 31, 1865, the United States Congress narrowly passed an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery; that this was accomplished thanks to the American Civil War is undeniable. That destroying slavery became a primary goal of the Civil War, however, was not initially expected. Many northerners were extremely reluctant to abolish the institution. Only through the actions of enslaved men and women, a small group of abolitionists, and the interaction of U.S. soldiers with the brutal institution was the North compelled to focus on slavery. Which begs the question: Could slavery have been abolished without the Civil War?

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Hoping for Freedom

Hoping for Freedom

Dred and Harriet Scott hold hands in front of the St. Louis courthouse where they first sued for their freedom, and look forever through the famous St. Louis Arch.  While the arch specifically relates to the Louis and Clark expedition and westward expansion, it also represents for many the American Dream...

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Suing for Freedom: The Dred Scott Case

Suing for Freedom: The Dred Scott Case

In March 1857, the Supreme Court delivered a ruling that sent shock waves through the north.  In the Court opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roger Taney, slaves were not considered citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal Court, but more importantly Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.  For free labor/free soil advocates in the north, this was a major step backwards in the efforts to contain the spread of slavery. 

Everything centered on one man, a slave named Dred Scott. 

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Memorable Days: The Costs of War through the Eyes of a Free Black Woman

Memorable Days: The Costs of War through the Eyes of a Free Black Woman

1863, as we have noted, was a memorable year for Emilie Davis. A free black woman living in Philadelphia, Emilie celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation, twin Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and steps toward lasting change as northern states like Maryland chose to end slavery voluntarily. But 1863 was also a year of devastation for Emilie, one in which she would witness the deterioration of her family as a direct result of the new rights that came along with the Emancipation Proclamation.

This is the third installment of Memorable Days: the Civil War through the eyes of a free black woman. To read an introduction of Emilie, click here. To read her take on the Battle of Gettysburg, click here.

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