Sunday, December 28, 2014

“Like a Sea of Blood”

Anonymous (A Kentucky Soldier)
From The War of 1812: Writings from America’s War of Independence

Two hundred years ago, on Christmas Eve 1814, British and American diplomats signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. Yet the war continued unabated because the news took six weeks to cross the Atlantic. The treaty arrived in New York on February 11, the Senate ratified it unanimously a week later, and fighting and skirmishes flared across the United States until the end of February, as word of the truce and treaty gradually reached combatants.

And so the war was officially over when one of its bloodiest battles took place. The previous summer, the British had begun planning an invasion of the Gulf Coast, and by mid-September Andrew Jackson knew something was afoot—but he wasn't sure where it would happen. When he and his soldiers dislodged enemy forces from Pensacola in early November, he learned from a merchant who had just arrived from Jamaica that New Orleans was the target. Jackson rushed to the city, reaching it on December 1, and mobilized its defenses.

Three weeks later, after delays navigating heavy barges in the shallow waters of Lake Borgne, British forces completed their landing on December 23 and established their headquarters eight miles below New Orleans on the Mississippi. A series of confrontations occurred during the next two weeks. The very night the British landed, Jackson led eighteen hundred men in a surprise attack that ended with a couple of hundred casualties on each side. Over the next two days additional British forces arrived, including Major General Sir Edward Pakenham, who assumed command and who launched an abortive attack on December 28. Another clash took place on New Year’s Day, but ended when the British ran out of ammunition.

The British forces vastly outnumbered the Americans, yet Pakenham did not seek to press his advantage, preferring instead to wait on artillery laboriously brought up from Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s ships. The delay allowed Jackson to establish formidable lines of defense below the city, and the inevitable cataclysm, which finally took place on January 8, ultimately cost Pakenham his life and resulted in a devastating loss to the British army. Our
Story of the Week selection, written by one of Jackson’s Kentucky riflemen, is a spellbinding and sometimes giddy account of this last major battle of the War of 1812.

In his preface to The Library of America’s collection, The War of 1812, Donald R. Hickey summarizes the significance of the American victory:

Jackson emerged from the war as an outsized hero, and his commitment to democracy and slavery as well as to territorial expansion and Indian removal epitomized the jarring forces that would shape the nation in the postwar era.

The victory at New Orleans was no less important because it transformed how the war was remembered. Americans boasted how they had defeated “Wellington’s invincibles” and “the conquerors of the conquerors of Europe.” They forgot the causes of the war and lost sight of how close the nation had come to military defeat and financial collapse. They remembered instead that they had beaten back an attempt to re-colonize the nation, that they had decisively defeated the conqueror of Napoleon and the Ruler of the Waves.
Note: One of the American soldiers in this account promises vengeance for “River Raisin.” In January 1813 American militia forces from Kentucky, led by Brigadier General James Winchester, attempted to protect settlers on the River Raisin in Michigan Territory but were defeated at the Battle of Frenchtown. Winchester surrendered his entire force. The British commander, unprepared to deal with so many prisoners, left the wounded under the protection of a small retinue. The next day Indians killed approximately thirty Americans; the slaughter became known as the River Raisin Massacre and served as a rallying cry for Kentucky soldiers for the remainder of the war.
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Col. Smiley, from Bardstown, was the first one who gave us orders to fire from our part of the line; and then, I reckon, there was a pretty considerable noise. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Eve

Washington Irving (1783–1859)
From Washington Irving: History, Tales and Sketches

“The company, which was assembled in a large
old-fashioned hall,” by British artist R. Caldecott
(1846–1886), from an illustrated edition of Old
Christmas: from the Sketch Book of
Washington Irving
(London, 1875).
Washington Irving has been widely (and not unreasonably) credited with importing Christmas to the United States. In a recent blog post, museum director Patrick Browne finds the source of the American Santa Claus in Irving’s satirical History of New York (1809): “By inventing a false tradition of Dutch settlers venerating St. Nicholas, Irving inadvertently gave rise to a very real tradition of Americans venerating St. Nick.” In addition, biographer Andrew Burstein remarks that Irving “had discovered disappearing holiday traditions among the English, and he thought they were too beautiful to lose,” and so he included several Christmas stories alongside such tales as “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819–20). “Within a decade,” Burstein concludes, “New Yorkers were greeting each other with Christmas wishes, and stores on Broadway extended their hours to accommodate shoppers.”

In 1875, sixteen years after Irving’s death, all four Christmas stories (with their prefatory essay) were published as a separate volume, Old Christmas, and the collection is still known to readers through the dozens of editions with that title—many illustrated by such distinguished artists as Randolph Caldecott, Cecil Aldin, George Hand Wright, and Peter Burchard. In the story sequence, the narrator Geoffrey Crayon has traveled from New York to England and meets Frank Bracebridge, who extends an invitation to enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas hosted by his father, “the Squire” of Bracebridge Hall. (One of Irving’s other holiday stories, “The Christmas Dinner,” was featured several years ago as a Story of the Week selection.)

A number of the “old-fashioned” traditions mentioned in “Christmas Eve” have survived until today: Christmas caroling from house to house, hanging mistletoe from the rafters, and burning a Yule log (or clog). Yet they were unfamiliar to Americans in 1820, so Irving had to explain them in the text or in footnotes. Irving’s story lists a number of games that have been forgotten or transformed—some of which seem potentially painful. “Hoodman blind” is now familiar to us as blind man’s bluff (or buff). In “shoe the wild mare” each participant sat on a suspended plank and tried to hammer its underside a given number of times without falling off. The victim in “hot cockles” was struck while blindfolded and then had to guess who did it. In “steal the white loaf,” a chunk of bread or cake was placed on the table and a designated person sat facing the table while others tried to steal the loaf without being caught or identified. “Bob apple” differs from the modern version: instead of floating in a tub, the apples were hung by strings from the ceiling. And in “snap dragon” revelers grabbed raisins from a plate of blazing brandy and extinguished the burning fruit in their mouths.

Irving also mentions a proscription that might strike some readers as peculiar: he is delighted that “minced pie” is available at the feast, “perfectly orthodox” so that he “need not be ashamed of my predilection.” Because mince pie (or “Christmas pie”) was long considered a Catholic tradition, many conservative Protestants considered it anathema; it was actually banned in 1657 during the English Civil War by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Council and it was still frowned on by some British citizens when Irving published his book. Within a few years such reservations were set aside by virtually everyone on both sides of the Atlantic, and mince pie became a popular addition to the Christmas meal.

Notes: The epigraph is from William Cartwright’s comedy The Ordinary (c. 1635). Also on the opening page, the Squire is said to prefer The Compleat Gentleman (1622) by Henry Peacham to the more recent Letters to His Son (1774) by Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth earl of Chesterfield. Both books concern manners, education, and (particularly the latter) keeping up appearances. The quote on page 926 about mongrels is from Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield; the lines following, about little dogs, are from King Lear. The footnote on page 929 contains a stanza from “Ceremonies for Christmas” (1648) by Robert Herrick, whose “The Night Piece, to Julia” is included in full a few pages later. On the last page, the narrator falls asleep to the sound of waits, or Christmas carolers accompanied by musicians.

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It was a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely cold: our chaise whirled rapidly over the frozen ground; the post boy cracked his whip incessantly, and a part of the time his horses were upon a gallop. “He knows where he is going,” said my companion, laughing, “and is eager to arrive in time for some of the merriment and good cheer of the servants’ hall.” . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Union Looters

Mary S. Mallard (1835–1889)
From The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It

This coming week (December 15–21) marks the 150th anniversary of the culmination of General William Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” On November 2, 1864, after Sherman captured Atlanta, he received Grant’s approval to proceed to the port city of Savannah, 250 miles to the east. Sherman’s army burned much of Atlanta and began the trek on November 15 with 62,000 troops, feebly opposed by no more than 13,000 Confederates, many of them state militia.

As Union forces worked their way across Georgia, few people outside the region knew much about their progress. President Lincoln told a crowd on December 6: “We all know where he went in at, but I can’t tell where he will come out at.” Sherman reached the outer defenses of Savannah on December 10 and captured Fort McAllister south of the city three days later. Confederate troops evacuated Savannah on December 20, and Union forces occupied the city the next day.

In the wake of Sherman’s army were groups of foragers and looters who became known as “bummers.” A series of engravings made after the war includes this description of the marauders:

All Sherman’s troops were not bummers, though the name has been made mistakenly to cover all. The “Bummers” were raiders on their own account, really deserters from their own proper ranks, made up of contributions by nearly every corps, division and brigade, who went off on independent foraging and plundering expeditions lasting from a day or two to several weeks. . . . Their conduct was irregular and punishable; but they were not molested by the officers because of their great usefulness.
One Georgia resident, Mary S. Mallard, left an eyewitness account of the bummers in her journal, which often reads like a page-turning thriller. At the time, Mallard was staying with her mother at the Montevideo plantation and her account conveys the terror, frustration, and anger of civilians who endured waves of intrusions by looting troops. While it is true that African Americans in the area suffered greatly at the hands of the bummers, Mallard’s assertion that none of the household slaves wanted to leave should be set against her husband’s petition to the Confederate commander at Savannah two years earlier, complaining that hundreds of slaves had already fled the county for the Union-held barrier islands or elsewhere and should be executed “for furnishing the enemy with aid and comfort and for acting as spies and traitors.”

Mallard’s father, who had died the previous year, was Rev. Charles C. Jones, a Presbyterian clergyman and the owner of three plantations, including Montevideo. He was also well known for his writings on religion, including an influential volume titled
The Religious Instruction of the Negroes in the United States (1842), which posited the theological correctness of the institution of slavery, advocated the teaching of a Christian catechism to slaves, and warned against separate congregations for black and white worshipers. “The moral and religious improvement of two millions eight hundred thousand persons, must be identified with our individual peace and happiness, and with our national prosperity and honor,” he concluded. The family’s journals, letters, and other papers were published in 1972 as The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, from which this week’s selection is reprinted.

Notes: On page 524, Mallard mentions her brother Lieutenant Colonel Charles C. Jones (1831–1893), a Confederate artillery officer, and her niece Mary Ruth. Colonel Jones had been the mayor of Savannah at the beginning of the war. The Liberty Independent Troop (p. 526) was a mounted militia organized in Liberty County, Georgia, in 1778.
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Thursday, December 15th. About ten o’clock Mother walked out upon the lawn, leaving me in the dining room. In a few moments Elsie came running in to say the Yankees were coming. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Passages in the Life of a Slave Woman

Annie Parker (fl. 1852–1853)
From American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation

After the Sale: Slaves Going South (1853), oil on canvas by English painter Eyre Crowe (1824–1910). Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.
After Frederick Douglass established the weekly paper North Star in 1847, he struggled to keep it afloat. The business was saved when Julia Griffiths, whom he had met in England several years earlier, arrived in Rochester in 1849 to help manage the funds for the publication. Within two years the number of subscribers had doubled to 4,000 and Douglass was able to pay off his debts, including a mortgage, and separate his personal finances from those of the business. That year he also changed the name of the periodical to Frederick Douglass’ Paper. There was no other person to whom he was more “more indebted for financial assistance than to Mrs. Julia Griffiths,” he acknowledged in his Life and Times.* “She came to my relief when my paper had nearly absorbed all my means.”

Yet the close relationship between the publisher, who was married, and his business manager, who was not, was cause for gossip. Douglass angrily wrote an ally, “When the city, which you allege to be full of scandalous reports implicating Miss Griffiths and me, shall put those ‘REPORTS’ into a definite shape and present a responsible person to back them it will be time enough for me to attempt to refute them.” As Douglass’s political views increasingly diverged from those of former mentor William Lloyd Garrison, the latter published an attack filled with innuendos and condemned Griffith’s “pernicious influence upon him.” (Garrison later regretted “having implied anything immoral.”)

As William S. McFeely writes in his authoritative biography of Douglass, “there can be little question that the breaching of racial lines, rather than the breaching of conventional marital ones, was what caused the decibel range among antislavery people to reach the level of a screech. . . . Simply the sight of a black man escorting white women on the street was enough to raise hackles.” In one instance in New York, when Douglass was seen walking with Griffiths and her sister Eliza, he was attacked by a gang of white men and escaped serious injury only when a police officer came to his rescue.

Undaunted—and perhaps even emboldened—by the gossipmongers and critics, Griffiths stayed on for over six years as Douglass’s assistant and proved to be a mainstay of Rochester social circles. She became one of six cofounders and the secretary of the influential Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. To help raise funds for the organization, she came up with the idea for a gift annual, Autographs of Freedom, which collected stories, poems, and essays by antislavery writers. (Each piece was followed a facsimile of the author’s signature—thus the title.) Two volumes were published before Griffiths returned to England, and the books included original works by such dignitaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Theodore Parker, William Wells Brown, Catherine M. Sedgwick, William H. Seward, and Horace Greeley. Douglass himself contributed The Heroic Slave—a novella about slave revolt leader Madison Washington and the only work of fiction Douglass ever published.

Also included in Autographs were two pieces—a story and a poem—by Annie Parker, about whom nothing else is known. The poem, “Story Telling,” was a reprint from Douglass’s weekly and described a white mother telling her daughter a bedtime story about a “Southern maiden, with a skin of sable hue” who returned to an empty hut one evening and discovered that her five-year-old child had been sold. When she has finished her tale, the white woman looks at her own daughter, also five years old, and says she could “guess the anguish of that lone slave-woman’s heart.” Here we present “Passages in the Life of a Slave Woman,” Parker’s only known short story, which was written expressly for Autographs of Freedom.

* Griffiths was actually still single at the time; she would marry Henry Crofts in England in 1859.

Note: Readers might be confused by the slightly unorthodox use of quotation marks in the first paragraph. The story opens in media res with a sentence of dialogue spoken by Aunt Phillis and then employs a single open quotation mark (“She was never a favorite . . . ) to indicate that the remainder of the story is composed entirely of the rest of her narrative.

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“The slaves at Oak Grove did not mourn for poor Elsie when she died,” said aunt Phillis, continuing her narrative. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.