Perceptions of Emancipation in Gettysburg, Part Three

ECW welcomes back guest author Jon Tracey

The conclusion of a series (Part One, Part Two)

Henry J. Stahle, editor of the Democrat Gettysburg Compiler.

As seen in Part One and Part Two, Gettysburg was a border town caught directly in the midst of national debates on emancipation during the Civil War. In early July 1863, the small town became national news as the Union and Confederate armies dueled over the fate of the nation from the 1st to the 3rd. As the town struggled to put itself back together in the aftermath of the battle, the political duel continued. Now, however, the town had changed. On July 4th, Stahle was arrested by Union soldiers as a presumed spy charged with pointing out hidden troops to Confederates. As the editor of the Democrat paper, he was one of the most influential Democrats in Adams County, and his fiery rhetoric may have caused some to doubt his loyalty.[1] Though Stahle had likely been accused by a politically motivated Republican, this action shows the growing frustration against what some had called a “noted organ of treason.”[2] After signing a parole, Stahle was released as no charges were sent with him. Stahle returned to town and continued to serve as the editor of the Compiler. Though not punished militarily, his reputation remained damaged. The anti-Lincoln and anti-emancipation rhetoric continued through the war, and the Compiler continued to serve as the major Democrat paper. Yet, it no longer held the same power over the community as it once did as opposing papers grew more and more established.

The Sentinel began to more openly express ideas of racialized freedom and liberty. Mere weeks after the battle it returned to press, and printed a letter to the editor that stated “Slavery, in its nature, is the mortal antagonist of Democratic Institutions… Never, never may my eyes behold any country severed or united on the basis of human inequality.”[3] The battle and the realities of war had turned many in the town towards more radical beliefs. In October, it expressed joy that “Delaware, although a Slave State, is wheeling into the line of Freedom,” as it had recently endorsed the Emancipation Proclamation “in resolutions as strong as language can make them.”[4] No longer would the paper carefully avoid attacking slavery or praising emancipation. Instead, the attacks became more pointed against Democrats, slavery, and disloyalty. Formerly, the Sentinel wrote, members of the “so-called Democratic party” had to show “entire subserviency[sic] to the slave interest,” and this was still true even in the North. “No wonder that modern Democracy, with its admiration for slavery, and sympathy for treason, has become almost synonymous with infidelity and disloyalty,” it continued, “No man who values his fair fame should allow his name to be connected with it for a day.”[5] Supporting the Democrat party, supporting slavery, and being disloyal to the Union were seen as one and the same; to do one was to do all the others as well. Continue reading

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ECW on C-SPAN: Kevin Pawlak and the 1862 Loudon Valley Campaign

C-SPAN 3’s coverage of the 2020 ECW Virtual Symposium continues this weekend.

Kevin Pawlak’s talk on the Loudon Valley Campaign of 1862 debuts on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. ET, with a rebroadcast Sunday at 4:00 a.m. The full video will be here:

Also, Sarah Kay Bierle’s talk about the 1862 Confederate raid on Chambersburg will re-air this Saturday at 12:50 p.m. ET. That full video is available here:

As always, we extend our thanks to C-SPAN 3 for their ongoing support of ECW!

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Free ECW Podcast: An Interview with Harold Holzer

Harold Holzer discusses his new book, “The Presidents Vs. The Press,” with ECW’s Chris Mackowski.

Check out the new podcast which is posted for FREE on ECW’s Patreon account!

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Home Libraries: Truly Making it Home

I’ve moved three times over the past five years. Packing for the moves is always the most time-consuming part of the process, and it’s not all that bad. Except for the books. When my wife and I last moved, we went to the hardware store and got a bunch of 98-cent cardboard boxes to put the books in. By the time we were done, we had filled nearly 40 of those boxes, all of which had to be carried down three flights of stairs, loaded into the U-Haul, and then carried right back into the new apartment. To put that process in broad terms: it sucks. And yet, unpacking those boxes is usually the first thing I do when I get to the new apartment. Not only is it an easy way to get those 40 boxes out of the way, there’s a more sentimental reason, too. For me, home is where the books are.

Continue reading

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Perceptions of Emancipation in Gettysburg, Part Two

ECW welcomes back guest author Jon Tracey

Part Two of a series (Part One)

This print of Union soldiers sharing the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was just one situation supporters of the decree praised. (Library of Congress)

As noted in Part One, Gettysburg was a deeply divided community on the topic of emancipation. Early in the war, support of the controversial topic and preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was often outweighed by opposition.  On January 1st, 1863, the Proclamation came into effect, but the war of words continued. The Democrat Gettysburg Compiler, headed by the controversial Henry J. Stahle, vehemently opposed the action, slinging vitriol at Republican-leaning neighbors such as the Adams Sentinel.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation exempted border states such as Maryland who had not seceded, it went further than the preliminary proclamation did in other respects. It allowed the enlistment of African American men into segregated units and, importantly, it moved beyond calling emancipation merely a necessity and called it justice.[1] As the Proclamation came into effect, Democrat’s hopes of delay or repeal were dashed. Instead, they turned to criticism of the Proclamation’s effects – or the lack of any. The spring elections in 1863 served as a chance for voters to voice either their pleasure or displeasure for the Proclamation. The Compiler stirred local Democrats to oppose the “Black-Republican-Abolition party” and “convince the Abolitionists that the people of old Adams are still for the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was.”[2] Similarly, it criticized earlier Republican claims that volunteers would surge with news of Emancipation, and when they did not Stahle wrote that “it is high time our countrymen should see the hypocrisy of Abolitionism,” claiming that radicals did not have the bravery to fight for the cause themselves.[3] Finally, the Compiler often wrote that the Proclamation had no effect on the African American populations, claiming, “the negroes still remain quietly on the southern plantations…[and] the negroes within our lines show no passionate eagerness to fight.”[4] Returning to highly religious language, the Compiler called abolitionists “prophets of Baal” and pointed out that no holy luck had been granted to the nation; “The proclamation was issued- the bull against the comet has gone forth- and lo! as far as human discernment can penetrate, Heaven has not smiled upon their counsels.”[5] Through these claims of failure, Democrats hoped to convince their townspeople that Lincoln was wrong. Continue reading

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Home Libraries: Tending the Groeling Library

A corner of my workspace

Anyone reading this who doesn’t love books? I thought not! But a book can be a harsh mistress. At some point, they can become overwhelming. The deaths of my parents–bibliophiles both–made it very clear that leaving my books for someone else to deal with is probably not a good idea. So–I have been cleaning and organizing. Covid-19 has provided a perfect opportunity. Continue reading

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Who Tended to the Dying Arthur MacArthur?

Arthur MacArthur while serving as governor of the Philippines.

ECW welcomes guest author Charlie Knight

In his last few moments of life, Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur recounted the Atlanta Campaign in front of dozens of veterans of his former regiment, the 24th Wisconsin Infantry. Just as he began to describe the action at Peachtree Creek fought on July 20, 1864, he was stricken by what in modern terms would be called a hemorrhagic stroke, which left him dead at the podium. And although there was nothing that doctors could do for him, history has perhaps overlooked the physician, one of them at least, who sought to aid the fallen general.

MacArthur had been looking forward to the regimental reunion in Milwaukee in September 1912 for some time. He had been out of the army – really the only career he had ever known, except for a very short experiment as a lawyer – for three years. Although he had risen to the rank of lieutenant general and commanded a division in the Philippine-American War and afterward served as military governor of the islands, it was during the years 1862-1865 that the young officer had truly proven himself. The chance to refight old battles and relive past glory with his former comrades certainly appealed to MacArthur.

Beginning the Civil War as adjutant of the 24th Wisconsin, Arthur distinguished himself in nearly every engagement in which the regiment participated. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga in November 1863. He was wounded at Franklin and credited with saving the Union army from defeat there. He finished the war as a colonel, one of the youngest in the entire Union army. Continue reading

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Perceptions of Emancipation in Gettysburg, Part One

ECW welcomes back guest author Jon Tracey

Part One of a series

1858 map of Adams County. (Library of Congress)

Before the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a battlefield, it was simply a small town in south-central Pennsylvania within Adams County. A mere 7.5 miles from the Mason-Dixon Line and slavery in Maryland, inhabitants were well aware of their borderland status. Before immortality in song, story, and memory hard-earned through strife, death, and destruction, they were a normal town like any other. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, townspeople debated the merits and risks of abolition. In September 1862, Lincoln’s preliminary Emancipation Proclamation gave them much to talk about, and the town became more divided along political lines than it already was. Before the battle of Gettysburg, Democratic Gettysburg Compiler run by editor Henry J. Stahle fought with the more Republican-leaning Adams Sentinel on the battlefield of public opinion. By examining the debates that the men of Adams County and Gettysburg held about the risks and benefits of emancipation both before and after the battle of Gettysburg, there is much to be learned about perceptions of the Emancipation Proclamation. Though it is lauded today and was supported by some in 1862, many average patriotic Americans held serious misgivings about it during the Civil War.

The 1860 election results show the political divide in the community. Though Republican Abraham Lincoln won the county, his count of 2,724 only barely beat Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas’ 2,644 votes by a thin margin of 80.[1] Lincoln had promised not to interfere with slavery in states where it existed, but there were fears that his election would divide the country. Douglas had run on a position of popular sovereignty, allowing individual states to decide whether to be a slave or free state. In Gettysburg itself, Lincoln received 259 of 484 votes, a thin majority.[2] However, this victory did not mean that Gettysburg was filled with abolitionists. The small difference of supporters indicates many citizens of this border county and small town held strong southern or Democrat sympathies. Continue reading

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A Statue That Really Ought to GO!

There is a gilded fiberglass statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest off Highway 65 in Tennessee, just south of Nashville. It is on Bill Dorris’s property. Bill Dorris is a realtor in Nashville, Tennessee. When interviewed about his statue and its subject by Nashville Public Radio, Dorris said that “slavery was the first form of social security. Think about it. It was a cradle to the grave proposition. They never had it so good as far as job security. It wasn’t the best but it had benefits.”[1] I guess that might be one way to look at slavery—or not. The statue was designed by the late sculptor and well-known White Separatist and League of the South founder Jack Kershaw. Kershaw is also remembered for being one of the defense team members for James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Of all the statues of Confederate heroes, villains, women, enslaved people, horses, and dogs, this has to be the worst statue anywhere. It ought to go away! Continue reading

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Home Libraries: A Salty Civil War Library

Back in the 90’s, Judi and I loved cruising beautiful Virginia country byways and rural towns always seeking that musty little used-book store. She headed for the garden section and I, of course, made a beeline for the Civil War shelves. Collected a lot of good books that way, but not many on the naval side of the war, which is my particular passion.

However, one fine day in Fredericksburg, I found a first edition of Admiral Raphael Semmes’s superb Memoirs of Service Afloat in original leather boards and beautifully re-backed spine. Another trip produced a first-edition set of Battles and Leaders with minor fire damage to the covers.

That got me started: first editions concentrating on but not exclusive to naval topics, some from stores but most from antiquarian dealers online. Unfortunately, there are not so many of those old bookstores anymore. Continue reading

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