Tag Archives: Missouri

Saying Goodbye to the St. Louis Confederate Monument (For Now)

The Confederate Monument in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo Credit: KDSK http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2015/04/22/stl-mayor-wants-to-rethink-confederate-statue/26164443/

More than two years after former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced that the time had come for a “reappraisal” of the Confederate Monument that sits in Forest Park in downtown St. Louis, current Mayor Lyda Krewson has announced that the monument will be coming down within three weeks. The last I had heard about the monument’s status was in December 2015 when Mayor Slay’s “St. Louis Confederate Monument Reappraisal Committee” was unable to find a cultural institution in the area willing to accept the monument and the Missouri Civil War Museum’s lone bid was deemed inadequate by the committee. The monument’s fate was not discussed much further in 2016 and it fell off my radar, but with New Orleans taking recent action to remove four Confederate/Reconstruction monuments and new protests boiling at the St. Louis Confederate monument, Mayor Krewson is taking steps to expedite the process.

As a native-born and current resident of St. Louis, I find myself still unsure what the best path forward for this monument is. The protests of the monument are becoming a political liability for the city government. Leaving the monument as is does not seem to be a practical situation moving forward, especially since I’d imagine that most of the city’s majority African American population is opposed to the monument. I have doubts about the effectiveness of writing a wayside marker to “add context” to the monument, although the current monument text is historically inaccurate Lost Cause nonsense that should be removed. I have also been disappointed with the lack of public discussion about the monument’s future, which is a great contrast to more democratic processes taking place in Baltimore, New Orleans, and numerous cities in Virginia on their Confederate monuments. To my knowledge there have been no votes taken by city residents or the Board of Alderman, no public meetings for local residents to share their perspectives, and no effort to educate the city’s residents on the monument’s history by any cultural institutions, including those of us at National Park Service sites in the area. Mayors Slay and Krewson have basically taken matters into their own hands, for better or worse.

As I have previously stated, local communities should be empowered to determine what sorts of public iconography they want to recognize and commemorate in their public spaces. The people and events these icons represent should be reflective of that community’s values and be considered something worthy of honor. If a majority in the community don’t consider that icon worthy of honor or reflective of their values, then there are sufficient grounds for the community to discuss that icon’s future, whether that be remaining in the same spot, being moved to a cultural institution like a museum for added context, removed and obliterated, or some other solution. I personally am fine with removing the monument from Forest Park and am tired of the argument that removing any public historical icon is “erasing history,” especially when the history being removed is inaccurate. My preference would be for a cultural institution in the city to take on the responsibility of interpreting this Confederate monument in a respectful way that educates residents about our city’s rich Civil War history, but at this point I have little confidence in any institution to take on the responsibility of housing this political hot potato. So for now it seems like we’ll be saying goodbye to the St. Louis Confederate Monument as it heads to a warehouse somewhere.

Cheers

America’s A-La-Carte Relationship with Civil War History

In my last post I excerpted a Letter to the Editor in the August 4th, 1860 edition of the proslavery Missouri Republican from “Slaveholder.” The letter explained why voting for Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas for President was the only way for both the Union and slavery to continue peacefully in the United States. It was a fascinating plea against secession as a form of protecting enslaved property, and it highlighted the thoughts of many proslavery Missourians as the country spiraled towards war less than a year later.

In that very same issue of the Missouri Republican–on the front page, no less–the paper posted a comprehensive of listing of auctions and items for sale in St. Louis. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see a listing about a runaway slave and a couple listings from Bernard M. Lynch, the city’s most prosperous slave trader. One of those ads is for an enslaved boy “between ten and twelve years of age,” conveniently placed right next to ads for furnaces, steam engines, and other pieces of property.

I’ve been reading Historian Jelani Cobb’s essay on the four New Orleans Confederate monuments that have either come down or are slated to come down soon. I think we have to be careful about who we generalize as opposing the removal of these monuments and why they do so, but he makes the point that many protestors–some of which are making death threats against the city’s Mayor and/or using racist language and Confederate flags to intimidate the city’s African American population–are enamored with a glorified “a-la-carte relationship with history”:

the protesters who lined up to defend the monument wish to maintain an à-la-carte relationship with history. They have cloaked their defense of the monuments by presenting it as a recognition of the valor of the men who fought for the Confederate cause. But that excuse falls flat when recognizing, for instance, that there is no monument in New Orleans to the mass slave revolt that took place in 1811, when some two hundred men who had endured the brutality of bondage marched on the city, killing two white men and burning plantations as they went. This is not the version of valor recognized by the crowd before the Lee memorial, or those phoning in death threats to Landrieu’s office.

I feel like we have a tendency in the United States to glorify and valorize the nation’s soldiers, past and present, without assessing why they went to war in the first place. The exceptions to that theory are probably the Revolutionary War and World War II.

As long as we commemorate the Confederacy’s legacy purely in terms of its soldiers’ military service and frame the erection of Confederate monuments as an apolitical extension of that commemoration and nothing else, we will downplay the politics of why the Civil War occurred in the first place. And we will minimize the stories, experiences, and legacy of thousands of ten-year-old enslaved boys and girls who were sold out of slave pens in the Land of the Free while Lee and Beauregard marched to Dixie.

Cheers

A Missouri Slaveholder Predicts the American Civil War

I am currently doing research for a journal article on Missouri politics before the Civil War (more info on that is forthcoming) and came across this remarkable Letter to the Editor in the Daily Missouri Republican, which was actually the most popular Democratic newspaper in St. Louis. It would be really useful as a primary source in a classroom setting. The letter, written by “Slaveholder” and published on August 4, 1860, is a remarkable document for three different reasons:

  1. It demonstrates that the leading issue on the minds of Missourians leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War was the status of slavery, particularly its westward expansion into new federal territories. Just about every day in the newspapers slavery was the main topic of concern in the 1850s and early 1860s.
  2. It captures the concerns of proslavery border state residents who feared the election of Southern Democrat John C. Breckenridge as much as Republican Abraham Lincoln.
  3. In many respects it correctly predicts the consequences of the Civil War for Missouri. The state would experience the third most number of battles during the war (behind Virginia and Tennessee) and slavery would be abolished by the state legislature in January 1865, less than five years after this letter was written.

Here is an excerpt of the letter:

The Missouri Sons of Confederate Veterans Want You to Know that “Confederates of Color” Existed

Photo Credit: Civil War Memory

Photo Credit: Civil War Memory

Back in August Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory wrote a short blog post about the Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He mentioned that the MO SCV paid to have two billboards put up–one “near Kansas City” and one “outside St. Louis”–with three men posing in Civil War outfits, a Confederate flag in the background, a listing of the organization’s website, and a very strange question: “75,000 Confederates of Color?” I read Kevin’s post and subsequent comments while having a good laugh but didn’t think much about it after that.

Well, I just happened to have found the billboard “outside St. Louis” yesterday while driving on Interstate 70. It is located in High Hill, a tiny town of 200 people about an hour west of St. Louis, and can be seen when going eastbound towards St. Louis.

In recent years there has been a push within some quarters of the Civil War history world to suggest that there were thousands–if not tens of thousands–of African American men who voluntarily chose to serve in the Confederate military during the war. I’ve chosen to stay out of this particular conversation because I think Levin and a number of other Civil War bloggers have done a fine job of covering the topic. Kevin’s also got a forthcoming book on the myth of Black Confederates that I look forward to reading when it comes out. But what I do know is that historians generally acknowledge that a small number of blacks may have served in the Confederate military following the Confederate Congress’s passing of General Order No. 14 on March 13, 1865, a month before General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The act gave President Jefferson Davis the authority to “ask for and accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such number of able-bodied negro men . . . to perform military service.” But the idea that tens of thousands of African Americans slaves, much less 75,000 of them, voluntarily chose to fight for the Confederacy is simply wrong and without evidence. Suffice to say it would have been literally impossible for most enslaved African American males to voluntarily choose to fight for a government dedicated to their continued enslavement.

There are many reasons to explain the rise of this phenomenon. One is a simple misreading of so-called “Black Confederate Pensions” that some former camp servants received after the war. Since the United States government did not award pensions to former Confederate veterans in the years after the war, former Confederate states took it upon themselves to establish a pension system for former soldiers. But some of these pensions dollars also went to former black camp servants who could prove that they had rendered some sort of service for the Confederacy, be that building earthworks, cooking and cleaning, or attending to the needs of a white enlisted soldier. These pension records are sometimes misinterpreted to suggest that Black men were enlisted in the Confederate military and treated as soldiers at the time when in fact they were not. For example, our old friend George Purvis once attempted to argue on this blog that he could find “10,000 names and numbers [phone numbers???] of Negroes” based on his own misreading of these pension records, and, in an odd extension of this argument, suggested that it was actually black soldiers in the United States military who were forced to serve! In other situations I suppose the black Confederate argument emerges as a way of arguing that the war had nothing to do with slavery or, as seems to be the case of the Missouri SCV, to promote a preferred narrative of the war and boost membership in and awareness of the organization.

If the motivation of the SCV in raising these billboards is to promote awareness and support of the organization, why does the statement “75,000 Confederates of Color” end with a question mark? While High Hill gets tens of thousands of drivers on a daily basis driving through on Interstate 70, why is the sign located there and not closer to the St. Louis regional area, where upwards of three million people live and commute daily? And while we know that numerous Indian tribes and a smattering of other racial groups in small numbers supported the Confederacy during the war, how does the Missouri SCV come to conclude that the correct number of people of color who served in the Confederate military is 75,000? Why not 10,000, 100,000, or four million? Where is the evidence for this claim?

But, you may say, herein lies the power of effective advertising! The billboard is provocative and challenges you to learn more by visiting the MOSCV.ORG website, where you can find the answer to this question. Fair point.

Well, I did just that today, and in the course of researching every nook and cranny of this website I can pass along to you that there is not a single resource on it to substantiate the claim that there were 75,000 “Confederates of Color” in the Confederate military during the Civil War. The lone piece of evidence the Missouri SCV offers is a 1903 newspaper article from the Confederate Veteran about one “Uncle” George McDonald, who is identified as “a colored Confederate veteran” but whose military assignment and regimental unit go unmentioned. There are no other primary source documents or references to reliable historical scholarship on the topic of “Confederates of Color” listed anywhere on the site.

Since there wasn’t much else on the Missouri SCV’s website about this topic, I opened up the most recent newsletter to see if there was any mention of the billboards there. Nope. There was news about recent Confederate flag rallies throughout the state, including one in the St. Louis area that I didn’t realize was organized by the Missouri SCV when I wrote this blog post about it last year. And there was a rather interesting editorial that included the following commentary:

As I am sure ya’ll are aware, our heritage is under attack from every angle imaginable. Our enemy our opportunists and they do not rest; NOR SHOULD WE. Even within our borders of our sovereign MISSOURAH, the flags of our ancestors have been removed from the sacred grounds of their final resting places and monuments to their memory are moved or relocated. The very sight or mention of anything Confederate sends college students scurrying for their “safe zones.” In St. Louis, the politically correct liberal bastion of insanity, the Confederate Memorial at Forest Park has been deemed unfit for common public view by the historically incompetent Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis. Mayor Slay wants the memorial out of Forest Park. His actions are tantamount to what ISIS is doing worldwide as they spread their version of hate.

Whoa, Nelly!

Is this approach really the best one for making your point and convincing others of your arguments? To be sure, I’m not interested in making blanket generalizations about the views and opinions of the Missouri SCV as a whole, but we learn a few things about the editors of their publications in this commentary. Obviously there is a tinge of contemporary politics underlying the SCV, particularly the belief that liberals can’t handle dissenting opinions (although this screed makes you wonder if these newsletter editors can handle dissenting opinions without going off the rails) and that places that lean liberal are bastions of “insanity.” Most interesting is the implied proclamation (to me at least) that a true Missourian supports Confederate heritage and proudly calls this state “Missourah” while the city of St. Louis is some sort of otherized foreign entity whose residents don’t represent that values of the state as a whole. What’s equally odd about all of this is how the SCV boldly proclaims on its homepage that it has taken steps to “[educate] the public about the ethnic diversity that existed in the Confederate ranks,” yet these newsletter editors have no qualms saying such nasty things about St. Louis, a place where, you know, many PEOPLE OF COLOR live.

(Also, just to clarify, Mayor Slay did not call for the Confederate Memorial at Forest Park to be removed, only that it was “time for a reappraisal” and a broader conversation within the St. Louis community about the merits of the monument remaining in Forest Park. Mayor Slay’s committee looked into finding an institution willing to take the monument without success and it remains in Forest Park today).

It’s never a dull day here in Missouri.

Cheers

Interpreting Lewis and Clark in St. Charles, Missouri

There remains much scholarly work to do when it comes to assessing the educational value of historical markers at public history sites. What do people take away from these markers? Do they even read them? What is an appropriate text length for a given marker, and how does the interpretive text writer balance the need to communicate historical content and nuanced interpretation while maintaining textual brevity? When markers accompany a controversial monument, statue, memorial, or other icon, do they ultimately provide an enhanced understanding of a given topic, or is it all a big waste of time? There are no easy answers and ultimately I have a love/hate relationship with the way most historical markers interpret history and provide educational value to viewers.

It’s been a really nice day today here in St. Louis, so I decided to take a stroll to nearby St. Charles, Missouri, to take a walk and look at a popular Lewis and Clark statue with accompanying historical markers. Downtown St. Charles is one of my favorite spots in the St. Louis area. Nestled along the Missouri River and not far from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the area offers numerous historic homes, museums, and markers that cover a range of local and state history. While there is a lack of historical materials interpreting the experiences of the area’s indigenous peoples, particularly the Missouri and Osage Indian tribes, I really like the fact that the sites in downtown St. Charles cover a wide historical time period ranging from early white European settlement and the 1804 Lewis and Clark voyage through St. Charles to the development of a railroad infrastructure and population boom in the last half of the nineteenth century. I took a few pictures while I was there:

A Lewis and Clark Museum in Downtown St. Charles.

A Lewis and Clark Museum in Downtown St. Charles.

A view along the Missouri River in Downtown St. Charles.

A view along the Missouri River in Downtown St. Charles.

A Historic Train Station in Downtown St. Charles. While some of the old tracks have been preserved, most have been replaced and the walkway is now park of the Katy Trail that runs through the entire state of Missouri.

A Historic Train Station in Downtown St. Charles. While some of the old tracks have been preserved, most have been replaced and the walkway is now park of the Katy Trail that runs through the entire state of Missouri.

Here are two pictures of the Lewis and Clark monument. The monument features William Clark (left), Meriwether Lewis (right), and Lewis’s Newfoundland dog “Seaman” (center).

lewis-and-clark-monument

lewis-and-clark-monument-up-close

The two historical markers for this monument leave much to be desired, in my opinion.

lewis-and-clark-monument-text-1

A number of questions arise in this first marker. The first and most important question is why does this topic matter? We learn that the Corps of Discovery is led by Lewis and Clark (and perhaps Seaman?), but we don’t learn why this expedition was organized, who organized it, why it came to St. Charles, or why we should care that any of this happened in the first place. Moreover, while the “brave men” of the Corps get an acknowledgement of their service, no mention is given to the enslaved labor that helped with the expedition, particularly Clark’s slave York. This marker seems primarily focused with acknowledging the various individuals and groups who worked to have the monument erected in the first place in 2003. The monument is very nice, but so far its educational value is rather dubious to me.

lewis-and-clark-monument-text-2

This second marker is nice but likewise lacks sufficient detail, in my opinion. We learn that the Corps of Discovery was here in May 1804 and that a ball was held for the expedition team while they were in town, but we still don’t know the purpose of this expedition except for a vague allusion to travels towards an “unknown West” (unknown to white Europeans, that is) and “great discoveries” they make on the trip, whatever those may be.

I don’t aim to denigrate anyone who may have worked on these marker texts. Rather, I aim to point out just how difficult it is to write historical marker texts that are educational, nuanced, and brief all at the same time. The work of putting these texts together is some of the most difficult work in public history.

What do you think? Would you change the text of these markers? How so?

Cheers

A Reading List on the Civil War in Missouri

Next month I’ll be taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Missouri State University on the Civil War in Missouri. History professor Jeremy Neely will be teaching the course, which you can sign up for here. I am really excited to learn something new about a topic that I’m very passionate about.

There is no syllabus or required reading for the class, but in preparation for it I wanted to put together my own list of resources that I’ve relied to inform my own understanding of the Civil War experience in Missouri. Please add your favorite reads and recommendations in the comments section.

Adam Arenson, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (Harvard University Press, 2011)

Albert Castel, General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West (Louisiana State University Press, 1968)

Bryce A. Suderow and R. Scott House, The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2014)

Daniel O’Flaherty, General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel (University of North Carolina Press, 1954)

Dennis K. Boman, Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Freedom and Security (Louisiana State University Press, 2011)

Diane Mutti Burke and Jonathan Earle, eds., Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border (University Press of Kansas, 2013)

Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (University of Georgia Press, 2010)

Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865 (Little, Brown & Co., 1955)

James Neal Primm, Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 1764-1980 (Missouri Historical Society Press, 1981)

Jeffrey L. Patrick, Campaign for Wilson’s Creek: The Fight for Missouri Begins (McWhitney Foundation Press, 2011)

Louis S. Gerteis, Civil War St. Louis (University of Kansas Press, 2001)

Louis S. Gerteis, The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History (University of Missouri Press, 2012)

Michael Fellman, Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1989)

Nicole Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era (University of Kansas Press, 2004)

Silvana R. Siddali, Missouri’s War: The Civil War in Documents (Ohio University Press, 2009)

William Garrett Piston and Richard W. Hatcher III, Wilson’s Creek: The Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It (University of North Carolina Press, 2000)

William E. Parrish, Frank Blair: Lincoln’s Conservative (University of Missouri Press, 1998)

Confederates At the Bridge

This past Saturday I attended a very nice wedding in Southern Illinois. The drive to the ceremony was like any other adventure through the Land of Lincoln (boring!), but a couple attractions along Interstates 70 and 64 caught my attention and prompt me to write yet another (and hopefully the last one for a while) post on Confederate iconography in American society today.

I started my drive in St. Charles county, Missouri, and within minutes of getting onto Interstate 70 I noticed a demonstration on a bridge above the highway with roughly fifteen men waving just about every Confederate flag that existed during the Civil War, from the “Stars and Bars” to the Battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and everything in between. The purpose of this demonstration was unclear; there were no signs identifying the group or a message stating their purpose. For this reason it’s hard to speculate this group’s motivations, but I have traveled on this road for nearly my entire life and have never seen such a demonstration before. You can’t help but wonder if the vocal backlash against Confederate iconography in the wake of the Charleston Massacre in June has something to do with it.

I continued my drive and eventually crossed over into Illinois on Interstate 64. As I neared Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County I observed yet another demonstration that included the waving of a Confederate flag! This time the group had a number of signs explicitly stating their message:

“IMPEACH OBAMA!”

“ISLAM IS NOT A REAL RELIGION!”

This time there were two flags being waved. One was an American flag. The other was a Confederate flag conveniently displayed right next to the Obama sign.

Waving an American flag makes sense in this context, even if you disagree with the message. Historically all sorts of political groups from the Second Ku Klux Klan to the Communist Party USA have used the American flag to symbolize their beliefs and give them validity. The fact that libertarians, conservatives, liberals, socialists, and communists find meaning in the American flag is a testament to the fluidity (and ambiguity) of our nation’s fundamental principles. By flying the red, white, and blue, the demonstrators at this bridge wished to appropriate the American flag’s symbolism to reflect their own values and ideological views. They wanted to show drivers that they are true American Patriots who care deeply about the state of their nation, which they believe is now imperiled because of the President.

But why fly a Confederate flag alongside the American flag and a sign calling for Obama’s impeachment? Why not fly just the American flag or, if necessary, a “Don’t Tread on Me” Sign? Would these demonstrators whip out a Confederate flag if they were protesting the actions of Presidents Reagan, Bush, or Clinton? These people believe they are losing their freedoms, and in a way the Confederate flag’s use has always symbolized the perceived loss of freedom. But given the Confederate flag’s long history as a symbol of opposition to Civil Rights legislation and racial equality, one can easily conclude that the flag was also there because the demonstrators’ dislike for our nation’s first black President stems at least in part from their racism. There is also something to be said about their mistaken belief that he is a practicing Muslim, but that’s a different topic for another day.

In the wake of the Charleston Massacre the economist Thomas Sowell was quick to warn against “trying to make up for the past with present-day benefits” from the welfare state. He expressed a desire to see the country repudiate racism, find a path towards national racial reconciliation, and come to terms with the results of the Civil War. Sowell, however, did not direct this message to the wavers of Confederate flags. He instead directed it to who he describes as “professional race hustlers” like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the Black Lives Matter Movement (which, ironically, has had a very limited public association with either Sharpton or Jackson). In Sowell’s rendering these hustlers are bent on perpetuating a new civil war within the country and destroying its history by renaming every memorial and landmark that is scared in our collective memory. And in a strange leap of logic, he concludes that the result of a victorious Black Lives Matter movement “could ultimately accomplish [Dylann Roof’s] dream of racial polarization and violence.”

There is certainly room for debate about the tactics and methods of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Veteran Civil Rights Activists from the 1960s don’t even agree about the effectiveness of the movement’s approach so far. And Sowell’s desire for national reconciliation and racial healing is a sentiment I share. But his hyperbolic warnings to the “race hustlers” lose their substance when white modern-day Confederates without an ounce of reconciliation in their souls go to interstate bridges on Saturday mornings to wave the symbols of a failed government whose cornerstone foundation was based on white supremacy. Are the people peacefully demonstrating at Black Lives Matter protests the actual race hustlers bent on perpetuating a state of war, or is it the people flying the Confederate flag under the ambiguous cloak of “heritage” who are the actual race hustlers still bent on fighting the Civil War?

It should go without saying that everyone has the right to freely express themselves and wave as many Confederate flags as they want at their homes or at bridges on top of busy interstates. Likewise, I have had my own criticisms of President Obama and don’t approach this discussion as an apologetic defender of his administration. It would be nice, however, if the people so proudly waving this flag could be a little more self-reflective about the history of their beloved symbol and its divisive nature. I wish people would care about the betterment of their communities and a more just society for all Americans as much as they care about their Confederate flags.

Cheers

Remembering Confederates at Forest Park

The Confederate Monument in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo Credit: KDSK http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2015/04/22/stl-mayor-wants-to-rethink-confederate-statue/26164443/

The Confederate Monument in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo Credit: KDSK http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2015/04/22/stl-mayor-wants-to-rethink-confederate-statue/26164443/

Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, is a favorite spot of mine in the downtown area. The park is more than 1,300 acres and houses some of the city’s most popular destinations, including the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri History Museum, and the annual Loufest music festival. It also happens to house three statues dedicated to Missouri Unionists Frank Blair, Franz Sigel, and Edward Bates, and one monument dedicated to the Confederacy and the men who fought for it. Few St. Louisians are aware of these markers, but a couple days ago St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay brought attention to the Confederate monument when he suggested on his blog that “it’s time for a reappraisal” to determine whether or not Forest Park is the most appropriate location for this monument. He has called on a “centennial reappraisal committee” (the monument was dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1914) to consider the merits of the monument. Another suggestion he makes that has not been picked up in local media is whether or not the drive leading up to the monument–“Confederate Drive”–should be renamed with something along the lines of “Freedom Drive” or “Justice Drive.”

I have mixed feelings about this effort, although I think the monument does a fine job of whitewashing the context surrounding the Confederacy’s origins and how the Confederates actually lost the Civil War:

“With sublime self-sacrifice, [Confederates] battled to preserve the independence of the States which was won from Great Britain and to perpetuate the constitutional government which was established by the fathers. Actuated by the purest patriotism, they performed deeds of prowess such as thrill the heart of mankind with admiration. ‘Full in the front of war they stood’ and displayed a courage so superb that they gave a new and brighter luster to the annals of valor. History contains no chronicle more illustrious than the story of their achievements; and although worn out by ceaseless conflict and overwhelmed by numbers, they were finally forced to yield their glory.”

It seems to me that if Mayor Slay considered the Confederate monument that big of an issue, he’d take the lead in calling for its removal without asking a committee of already busy people and institutions to get involved. Perhaps he’s trying to avoid coming off as heavy-handed by sparking discussion about the monument through a blog post and asking a committee to participate in the process. But what do you do with this monument if you remove it from Forest Park? Where will it go and how much money is it going to cost taxpayers to move it? Would the monument be appropriate in a museum setting? Removing the monument from Forest Park doesn’t change the fact that Missouri was a slave state with some Confederate supporters and a star on the Confederate flag. How do we talk about and interpret Missouri’s role in the Civil War and how might those interpretations change if we remove this monument? Do we run the risk of “forgetting” this part of our history?

Something else we need to consider here is that the Confederate Monument–and all monuments in general–tells us about the time in which it was constructed as much as it tells us about the period it wishes to commemorate. Why did the UDC want to include Forest Park within its vast commemorative landscape, and why did St. Louisians in 1914 embrace those memories as authentic and worthy of special commemoration? By understanding how monuments transcend any one particular moment in time, we can actually use this Confederate monument to discuss not just St. Louis in 1844 or 1864 but also 1914 and even 2014.

Renaming “Confederate Drive” might be easier from a financial perspective, but I don’t think you can change the street name unless you also do something about the monument. Renaming the street “Freedom Street” while leaving the Confederate monument in place would probably please Confederate apologists today, but it would send an odd message to the rest of St. Louis and visitors from all over the world who visit Forest Park. We all proclaim ourselves as advocates of “Freedom,” of course, but we oftentimes do not mean the same thing when we use that term.

What do you think?

Cheers

“Belle Missouri”

Following the firing of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 troops from the various state militias to recapture the fort and defend federal property. Some of these federal troops were ordered to Washington, D.C. to defend the nation’s capitol, but their route required dangerous travel through Baltimore, Maryland, which was a hotbed of secessionist sentiment at the time. When Union soldiers arrived on April 19, deadly violence broke out between troops and rioters in what is now referred to as the “Baltimore Riot of 1861.” James Ryder Randall, a pro-secessionist Marylander teaching in Louisiana at the time, was horrified by the specter of federal troops marching through the state and shocked by the death of a friend killed in the riot. Randall took pen to paper and wrote a poem titled “Maryland, My Maryland,” which advocated for the state’s secession from the United States and subsequent joining with the Confederacy. The poem was quickly put to music and became widely popular, so much so that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had his troops sing the song when they later crossed into Maryland in 1862.

“Maryland, My Maryland” includes several sharp digs at President Lincoln and his alleged tyranny:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant’s chain,
Maryland!
Virginia should not call in vain,
Maryland!
She meets her sisters on the plain-
“Sic semper!” ’tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Arise in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll
Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!

“Maryland, My Maryland” was later established as the official state song in 1939 (although there’s been plenty of debate about removing the song in recent years).

Not everyone was a fan of “Maryland, My Maryland,” however. I recently came across a response-poem-turned-to-song written by Howard Glyndon and set to music by Hermann Schneider around 1864 or ’65. “Belle Missouri” aimed to counter “Maryland, My Maryland” and elicit support for the Union war effort. More specifically, it aimed to remind Missourians of hard-fought battles and severe federal losses on Missouri battlefields like Lexington and Wilson’s Creek. It also sought to convince readers and listeners of Missouri’s patriotic loyalty to the Union (which, just like Maryland, was questionable depending on where you were in the state).

Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001702318/

Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001702318/

Here’s the poem/song in full, which was set to the “Maryland, My Maryland” tune and included in Glyndon’s 1864 publication Idyls of Battle and Poems of the Rebellion:

Arise and join the patriot train,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
They should not plead and plead in vain,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
The precious blood of all thy slain
Arises from each reeking plain.
Wipe out this foul disloyal stain,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

Recall the field of Lexington,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
How Springfield blushed beneath the sun,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
And noble Lyon all undone,
His race of glory but begun,
And all thy freedom yet unwon,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

They called thee craven to the trust,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
They laid thy glory in the dust,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
The helpless prey of treason’s lust,
The helpless mark of treason’s thrust,
Now shall thy sword in scabbard rust?
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

She thrills! her blood begins to burn!
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
She’s bruised and weak, but she can turn,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Lo! on her forehead pale and stern,
A sign to make the traitors mourn,
Now for thy wounds a swift return,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

Stretch out thy thousand loyal hands,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Send out thy thousands loyal bands,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
To where the flag of Union stands,
Alone, upon the blood-wet sands,
A beacon unto distant lands,
Belle Missouri, My Missouri!

Up with the loyal Stripes and Stars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Down with the traitor Stars and Bars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Now, by the crimson crest of Mars,
And Liberty’s appealing scars,
We’ll lay the demon of these wars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

But wait, there’s more!

“Howard Glyndon” was actually a pseudonym for Laura Redden Searing, a poet and journalist who lost her hearing after a bout of spinal meningitis at age 11.  A native of Somerset County, Maryland, Searing began attending the Missouri School for the Deaf in 1855 at the age of 16. She took an interest in poetry and literature while in school and was hired as an editorialist for the St. Louis Republican in 1860. Following the firing of Fort Sumter she was sent by the Republican to report on events in Washington, D.C. She used the Republican and her poetry to promote her pro-Union views and encourage loyalty to the Lincoln administration.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

After the war Searing wrote for various eastern publications that included the New York Times, the New York Tribune, and Harper’s Magazine. She lived until 1923, when she passed away in California at the age 84.

Many historians and Marylanders know of “Maryland, My Maryland.” Far fewer people know of Laura Redden Searing’s wartime response to that popular song.

Cheers

Missouri’s Western Identity During the Nineteenth Century

Thomas Hart Benton. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Thomas Hart Benton. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The recent and ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri, since the August death of Michael Brown have sparked a national (and international) interest in learning more about political, social, cultural, and economic conditions in Missouri. Countless articles, features, and op-eds in publications like the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Slate, and Vox have literally created a new writing genre best described as “Ferguson studies.” And, unsurprisingly, many of these writers have turned to Missouri’s history for context. One article within this growing canon, written by journalist Ryan Schuessler and recently published by AlJazzera America, argues that the roots of Missourians’ polarizing responses to Ferguson can be traced back to their contrasting interpretations and memories of the American Civil War.

Schuessler’s article–which is part Civil War history and part memory analysis–suggests that Missouri has long suffered from an identity crisis marked by two distinct “heritage groups” within the state. One is led by people who say “Missour-uh”: they consider themselves and their state as distinctly southern, are sympathetic to the Confederacy, and are working for the legal right to have the Confederate battle flag flown at various Civil War historic sites throughout the state. We also learn about the residents of Rosebud, Missouri, who greeted a group of NAACP demonstrators from Ferguson in December by raising the Confederate flag and leaving fried chicken, watermelon, and beer for them. While a Missouri Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) leader makes sure to distance himself from the Rosebud residents in the article, one notes the tension between the SCV’s stated desire to wave the flag as a way to honor the service of their Confederate ancestors and the Rosebud group’s waving of the flag to “greet” African American demonstrators making their way through the state.

The other heritage group, we are told, is led by people who say “Missour-ee” and consider themselves and their state to be of “Northern persuasion.” Within this group Schuessler highlights the efforts of several African American residents to commemorate the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the first United States Colored Troops unit to fight in the Civil War and largely composed of African American soldiers from Missouri.

Schuessler concludes that the “Missour-uh” and “Missour-ee” groups have fundamentally different perspectives about the Show-Me state and its history, and as a native Missourian I can attest that we’ve never arrived at a clear consensus about our identity, much less a correct pronunciation of the state’s name. But further reading and contemplation about these arguments lead me to conclude that the “Missour-uh-Missour-ee” divide is a flawed dichotomy that doesn’t do much to help us understand Missouri’s identity in historical context or within the myriad responses to Ferguson from residents today.

While it’s true that some Missourians during the nineteenth century identified themselves as having “southern” or “northern” persuasions, a number of Missourians considered themselves outside this paradigm. For example,Julia Dent Grant, wife of General and President Ulysses S. Grant, recalled in her Personal Memoirs an incident during the Civil War in which she explained her identity as a westerner to a group of Southern women in Holly Springs, Mississippi, while visiting her husband:

We were soon chatting pleasantly, when one said: “You are Southern, are you not?” “No,” I replied, “I am from the West. Missouri is my native state.” “Yes, we know, but Missouri is a Southern state. Surely, you are Southern in feelings and principle.” “No, indeed,” I declared. “I am the most loyal of the loyal.” (106)

What did it mean to identify oneself as a westerner in Missouri during the nineteenth century? An entire book could be written on the topic, but we can get a rough idea by looking at the example of Thomas Hart Benton, Missouri’s most famous antebellum politician whose likeness adorns National Statuary Hall at Capitol Hill today.

Born in North Carolina and serving as an aide-de-camp to General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812, Benton settled in Missouri after the war and helped usher the passage of the 1820 Missouri Compromise that established Missouri as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and prohibited slavery in all Louisiana Purchase territory north of the 36 30′ parallel (Missouri’s southern border). Although Benton and General Jackson’s relationship cooled during and after the War of 1812, Benton shared Jackson’s disdain of banks and paper currency, arguing that the Bank of the United States made “the rich richer and the poor poorer.” He became known for his efforts to cancel the Bank’s charter and was a leading Jacksonian Democrat in Congress throughout the 1830s and early 1840s. He was also a slaveholder who defended the right to own slaves in states where it was already legal.

Following the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the acquisition of a large amount of Western territory that formerly composed almost half of Mexico’s land, however, Benton found himself increasingly at odds with his fellow Democrats, both north and south. In 1847 Pennsylvania Democrat David Wilmot, in the hopes of making the west an area exclusively for white settlement, proposed that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist” in any territory acquired from Mexico. South Carolina Democrat and Senator John Calhoun created a “Southern Rights” doctrine in response to the Wilmot proviso, arguing that slave property couldn’t be distinguished from any other property protected under the fifth amendment and that any effort to ban slavery in these new territories threatened the “self-preservation” of Southern society. Benton opposed the further extension of slavery, but he took issue with both sides, dismissing the Wilmot proviso as unnecessarily divisive within the Democratic party while criticizing Calhoun’s hardline stance on slavery. When Calhoun called out Benton for not standing in solidarity with other Senators from slave states, Benton responded by saying that he was “in the right place . . . on the side of my country and the Union.”

For the remainder of the 1840s and into the 1850s Benton called for federal funding to establish a national road built with both macadamized roads and iron railways (through St. Louis, course) to connect new western territories with the rest of the country. He sought moderation and compromise on the slavery question, which he considered a distraction from his national road agenda:

We read in Holy Writ, that a certain people were cursed by a plague of frogs, and that the plague was everywhere. You could not sit down at the banquet table but there were frogs, you could not go to the bridal couch and lift the sheets but there were frogs! We can see nothing, touch nothing, have no measures proposed, without having this pestilence thrust before us. Here it is, this black question, forever on the table, on the nuptial couch, everywhere!

Fellow Missouri Democrats who supported Calhoun’s “Southern Rights” doctrine criticized Benton’s advocacy of political moderation on slavery and infrastructure improvements through federal funding. After future Missouri governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and his allies issued the “Jackson Resolutions” in opposition to Benton’s policies, Benton accused Southern Democrats of encouraging disunion. Benton was later denied a sixth term in office following the 1850 elections, and after successfully running for the House of Representatives in 1852, lost again in 1854 after opposing Congress’s effort to repeal the Missouri Compromise.

Benton’s legacy as a Missouri politician and his identification with westward expansion defy the “Missour-uh-Missour-ee” split, as do the many Missouri “Benton Democrats” who embraced his beliefs in the antebellum years. Those beliefs included the defense of slavery at home but opposition to its westward expansion in new territories, federal funding for national infrastructure projects, a belief in Missouri as a western state linking the rest of the country together, and a strong loyalty to the Union combined with staunch opposition to secession. The fact that Missouri’s identity as a western state has been lost today tells us much about the ways Missourians have chosen to remember their role in the Civil War.

With regards to the “Missour-uh-Missour-ee” split today, it should be easy to see the shortcomings of thinking that the responses to Ferguson can be neatly broken down into two camps composed of Confederate and Union heritage groups. Is there a connection between the memory of the Civil War and Ferguson today? I’m sure there is. Raising a Confederate flag in front of a group of African American demonstrators would be pointless otherwise. But focusing on the actions of a small minority of Confederate apologists in Rosebud or elsewhere still blinds us to the pervasive racism we see all throughout Missouri from all sorts of people. Here in the St. Charles/St. Louis area the large number of white people who support putting up a #PantsUPdontLOOT billboard in Florissant and who drive trucks with signs like “Mike Brown was a thug” (which is code for another term) do so while pronouncing the Show-Me state as “Missour-ee” and waving U.S. flags on their front porches. Indeed, for all of the talk about Missouri’s ongoing identity crisis, its collective inability to deal with a troubling legacy of racism in government policy and social practice remains.

Cheers