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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Home Libraries: My Civil War Bookshelf – The Macmillan Wars of the United States

While conducting the research for my dissertation I spent more time in one archival collection than any other, a collection that does not appear in a single footnote and provided almost none of the information I had hoped it might for the project I am now undertaking. But even as my time at the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma wound down and stacks of archival boxes filled with accounts of life in the frontier army appeared at my desk, I found myself drawn every morning to the papers of Robert M. Utley, a historian who wrote many of the books that sparked my interest in the military history of the American West. Utley’s papers comprise 42 linear feet of journals, correspondence, calendars, and manuscript drafts, as well as research files. I had selfishly hoped to expedite some of my own research by looking at Utley’s already completed research and picking up a few tidbits that would fill out my chapters. What I found instead, in his voluminous correspondence, was a remarkable synthesis of the history of the American army in the nineteenth-century West.

Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 9/21-9/27/20

How many shelves of Civil War books do you have in your home library/collection?

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An Interview with Harold Holzer on The Presidents Vs. The Press

I had the chance last week to interview historian Harold Holzer about his new book, The Presidents Vs. The Press. Although renown as one of the preeminent Lincoln scholars of today, Holzer has a background in politics and public relations, so the book is not really a departure for him (as anyone who’s read his excellent Lincoln and the Power of the Press already knows).

My conversation with Holzer is available now on the ECW YouTube page (see below for a link) and will be available later this week as an ECW podcast. Continue reading

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Week In Review: September 13-20, 2020

From “Back to School” to the Battle of Antietam, new podcast, and more, there’s an overload of content on the ECW blog this week. Catch up and enjoy the week in review… Continue reading

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