Sample Reflection

From US Diplomatic History, Fall 2020:

“A recurring theme in this chapter that I had not previously considered was the oversimplification of Stalin’s motives during the Cold War Era by the Truman administration and U.S. officials. The Truman administration seemed to believe that Stalin’s leadership style was merciless and “pathological” (according to Kennan as discussed by Herring), and that behind every action he took, there was an underlying motive for expansion and thus global hegemony (p.604). Secretary of Commerce, Henry Wallace, was the remaining official in the executive branch who disagreed with the “get-tough” approach and pushed for negotiation with Stalin. He believed that many times the U.S. provoked certain reactions from an insecure nation and that taking a hard line would only make the Soviets do the same. He had a falling out with Truman over how to engage with the Soviets and was fired in late 1946. In George Kennan’s Long Telegram, he spoke about dangerous Soviet behavior and bad intentions. Herring wrote that this “helped destroy what little remained of American eagerness to understand its onetime ally and negotiate differences,” (p. 604). Although one can never know for sure, after reading Herring, I now wonder if it is possible that the Cold War could have been prevented had the U.S. not refused to listen to differing opinions- like those of Wallace.


  • Good reflections engage both the content and the source, acknowledging how all sources have their own perspectives
  • Reflections should both summarize and analyze, using a combination of examples and snippets of quotation
  • Citation rules can be flexible for this types of informal reflections, but it’s always important to clarify for the reader where you are getting specific or quoted information.  Usually, a parenthetical reference to a page number or online source is enough.
  • Don’t be afraid to personalize these informal reflections with an occasional first-person pronoun, with a question of your own, or with or connection to a different class or to the modern day.  That’s not the right approach for formal essays assigned in this class, but it is acceptable for these exercises in thoughtful engagement.

The Life and Escape of Moses Roper- Revised

Moses Roper faced extreme adversity during his time as a slave. He was brutally beaten and tortured on a consistent basis and demeaned to a point that would break the average person, however not Roper. Separated from his mother at the age of six, Roper became determined to reunite with his family while attempting to break free from the shackles of slavery. Roper was taken from his birthplace of North Carolina by a man named Mr. Sneed. Sneed had difficult selling Roper as he had descended from a white father and half white mother, so he traded Roper to Mr. Michael, a man who made a living by purchasing slaves in northern territory and bringing them further south to sell. Roper moved between different slave owners and traders until he was finally sold to a man named Mr. Hodge. At the time, the narrative was meant to show the American people of the horrors of slavery and to make an argument for the freedom of all people. Today, Roper’s narrative allows for a deeper understanding of the physical, emotional, and mental effects the institution of slavery had on those enslaved, allowing for more extensive studies of this stain on the history of the United States of America.

Courtesy of Spartacus Educational

Hodge soon sold Roper to a slave master named Mr. Gooch who owned a plantation in Cashaw County, South Carolina. Mr. Gooch was a very cruel slave master who immediately began to beat Roper when he was unable to complete the unreasonable tasks that were bestowed upon him. While with Mr. Gooch, Roper determined that he was around the age of thirteen. It was at this age, after being threatened with floggings for an uncontrollable mistake, Roper made his first of many attempts to escape. Escaping from slavery was highly dangerous and could result in the severe injury and death of a slave. In his journal, Milton Polsky explains, “Running away was considered an unpardonable sin by the master class”(1). This knowledge of how masters dealt with runaway slaves was no secret to those enslaved, as Roper explains “When the slave runs away, the master always adopts a more rigorous system of flogging; this was the case in the present instance”(2). Not only did the slaves see what would happen upon being caught and returned, many experienced it. Yet Roper continued to try and try again. This speaks volumes to conditions under slavery. Roper describes his mind and spirit by writing, “Here again words are insufficient to describe the misery which both body and mind whilst under this treatment, and which was most dreadfully increased by the sympathy which I felt for my poor degraded fellow sufferer”(3).

This constant pain and suffering did not make Roper any less determined to achieve his ultimate goal of freedom. Unfortunately, Gooch recognized this vigor and determination of Roper and proceeded to break him down as much as possible. In her academic journal, “Revising Torture: Moses Roper and the Visual Rhetoric of the Slave’s Body in the Transatlantic Abolition Movement” Martha J. Cutter Writes, “Torture endeavors to dehumanize and render powerless its subjects; it also intends to shred human dignity and condense a person to a body in pain…”(4). During his second attempt at freedom, Roper was captured and imprisoned after he could no longer continue due to extreme hunger, prompting him to beg for food from a nearby house. Roper describes his treatment upon his return to Mr. Gooch;

In the morning after his breakfast he came to me, and without giving me any breakfast, tied me to a large heavy barrow, which is usually drawn by a horse, and made me drag it to the cotton field for the horse to use in the field. Thus, the reader will see, that it was of no possible use to my master to make me drag it to the field, and not through it; his cruelty went so far as actually to make me the slave of his horse, and thus to degrade me (5).

Courtesy of Documenting the American South

Torture Device used by Mr. Gooch; Courtesy of Documenting the American South

Roper went on to escape one final time before being sold. He made his way back to where he was originally taken in North Carolina by deceiving white men of his freedom. Here, Moses found his family, but remained near them for too long and was captured and returned back to Mr. Gooch. Upon his return, Moses was sold multiple times and found himself in the custody of Mr. Register. Register was a drinking man, which enabled the final escape of Roper. This escape lasted for almost sixteen months. During this time, Roper was traveled through much of New York but was unable to find a safe haven where he could work and live without the fear of being returned to the south.

Moses Roper eventually heard of a ship sailing to England from New York, and on November 29th, 1835, he reached Liverpool. He writes, “My feelings when I first touched the shores of Britain were indescribable, and can only be properly understood by those who have escaped from the cruel bondage of slavery”(6). Roper persevered from some of the most difficult and trying times imaginable, and he recorded his entire experience in an attempt to expose America to the cruel reality of slavery. Even by the end of his journey, Moses Roper highly regards the free institutions of the United States and hopes that “may America soon be indeed the land of the free”(7).

(1)  Polsky, Milton. “The American Slave Narrative: Dramatic Resource Material for the Classroom.”The Journal of Negro Education 45, no. 2 (1976): 169.

(2) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 15.

(3) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 20.

(4) Cutter, Martha J. “Revising Torture: Moses Roper and the Visual Rhetoric of the Slave’s Body in the Transatlantic Abolition Movement.” ESQ: A Journal Of The American Renaissance no. 3: 371 (2014). Project MUSE, EBSCOhost (accessed November 13, 2016).

(5) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 19.

(6) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 84.

(7) Roper, Moses, “A Narratives of the Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper From American Slavery: (Philadelphia: Merrihew & Gunn, 1838), 89.

Slaughter at Gettysburg: July 1st – 3rd, 1863 (Lengthened)



General Buford (Courtesy of Civil War Cavalry)

James McPherson, historian and author of several books including The Battle Cry of Freedom, stated that “Gettysburg proved a significant turning point in the war, and therefore in the preservation of the United States and abolition of slavery”.  His statement is well founded, as General Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac was able to inflict disastrous losses on General Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia that could not be replaced due to Southern manpower shortages.  Yet on many occasions over the three day battle, Confederate troops came close to victory; however, aside from acts of valor by Union troops, there were several factors that contributed to Confederate defeat:  poor reconnaissance and communication, strong Union defensive positions, poor and insufficient equipment, and strategic errors on the part of General Lee.

The First Day of Battle                                              On June 30th, 1863, Confederate troops under General J. Johnston Pettigrew moved towards the town of Gettysburg in search of supplies.  It was not long before Pettigrew spotted Union cavalry south of the town, causing him to pull out and report to his superiors: General Harry Heth and General A. P. Hill.  Although the threat was believed to be local militia, on the morning of July 1st Heth sent his division, accompanied by General Pender’s, into Gettysburg to perform a reconnaissance in force; it was not long before they encountered Union troops entrenched along McPherson’s Ridge northeast of Gettysburg.  The “local militia” that Pettigrew had encountered the day before was in fact Union cavalry; an entire division under the command of General John Buford.  Having spotted the Confederates the day before, Buford had ordered his cavalry to dismount and set up a defense along McPherson’s Ridge where they hoped to stall the advancing rebel army until Union regulars could arrive.  At 7:30am on July 1st, 1863, the first shot was fired, marking the beginning of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War.[1]

General Reynolds (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

For several hours Buford’s cavalry held the advancing Confederates at bay.  In fact, Buford stated that one of his brigades under Colonel Gamble “had to be literally dragged back a few hundred yards to a position more secure and better sheltered.”[2]  Finally, at around 10am, General Reynolds, commander of the 1st Corp of the Union Army of the Potomac, arrived on the scene and his corps soon followed.  After a short briefing session with Buford, he began deploying his men, taking up positions starting on the Southwestern end of McPherson’s Ridge, extending Northeast across the Chambersburg Pike along McPherson’s Ridge and onto Oak Ridge, and then East to Barlow’s Knoll along the western bank of Rock Creek. Sadly, while ordering the attack of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, General Reynolds was shot and killed by a sharpshooter as he was shouting to his troops: “Forward men, forward for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!”  As he turned to look back, the sharpshooter’s round struck him in the back of the head, killing him instantly.[3]

Despite the death of General Reynolds, the 1st Corps and Buford’s cavalry had managed to temporarily hold the Confederates at bay, even successfully counterattacking in the case of Rufus Dawes’ 6th Wisconsin Regiment.[4]

Dawes at the Railroad Cut (Courtesy of Padre Steve’s World)

During a half-hour lull in the fighting from 11:30am to 12pm, the Confederates were able to bring of reinforcements, which included the rest of General Heth’s division, a second division from A. P. Hill’s Corps, under General Pender, and two divisions from General Ewell’s 2nd Corps;  Heth’s remaining brigades and general Pender’s division reinforced Heth to the Northwest of Union positions and Ewell’s divisions arrived from Carlisle to the North.  The Union Army too had brought up reinforcements, but not enough to match the Confederate numbers; the remainder of Reynold’s (now Doubleday’s) 1st Corps and two divisions of General Howard’s 11th Corps were all that arrived in time to face the resumption of the Confederate assault.[5]

At 1400 hostilities resumed as Confederate troops made attacks all along the Union front line.  Unfortunately, General Barlow of the Union 11th Corps had positioned his troops on what is now known as Barlow’s Knoll, creating a salient, or bulge, on the right flank of the Union line which opened the position up to attack from multiple directions.[6]  Barlow’s division soon crumpled and Early’s troops, who had engaged the Union right, soon began to roll up the Union lines.[7]  As the right flank collapsed, Confederate troops broke through Union positions on McPherson’s Ridge.[8]  These two events caused a general collapse of the Union front line, leading to a full scale retreat to Cemetery Hill to the southeast of Gettysburg.  Upon arrival, General Hancock took command of the Union troops had that escaped the rebel onslaught, famously noting that the positions the Union now occupied were, “…the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw.”[9]  The next several days would prove him right.

The Second Day of Battle                                                                                                               During the night of July 1st and the morning of July 2nd, General Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, positioned his troops in a fishhook shape, which extended south of Cemetery Hill along Cemetery Ridge, and east to Culp’s Hill where it then turned south again to Spangler’s Spring; Confederate positions mirrored Union lines to their northwest.[July 2nd: Blue Lines]  Early on July 2nd, the Union 3rd Corps, under General Sickles, was assigned positions anchored on the right of Cemetery Ridge and running south down to Little Round Top.  Seeing elevated ground to his front, Sickles made one of the most controversial decisions of the entire war;  against the orders of General Meade, Sickles advanced his Corps forward to positions spanning from the wheat field south and slightly east to Devil’s Den.[July 2nd, Union Troops Under Sickles] Sickles’ justification for his advance was that Confederate occupation of this ground would have made his originally assigned positions untenable, but his advance left his Corps overextended and forming a salient, just as Barlow’s division had on July 1st.[10]

In Sickles’ defense, his advance caught Confederate General Longstreet completely off guard.  Due to the absence of General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, the army’s primary reconnaissance force, the Confederates had no idea Union troops had been positioned anywhere further south than Cemetery Ridge.  Longstreet’s men were the first to learn of the arrival of Sickles’ 3rd Corps, and thus Longstreet was forced to extend his line further south to Warfield Ridge[11] [July 2nd, Confederate Troops under Hood and McLaws]; his attacks were delayed until 4pm that afternoon.[12]  Not only was Longstreet delayed, but Sickles’ positions, although not as strong as those originally assigned to him, were quite formidable.  Not only were Sickles’ troops positioned on elevated ground, but the terrain, especially around Devil’s Den and Little Round Top, was incredibly rocky which severely hampered the attacker’s movement and provided the defenders with ample cover.  Longstreet’s assault began with General Hood’s division hitting Union positions at

Confederate Sharpshooter at Devil’s Den (Coutesy of HistoryNet)

Devil’s Den and attempting to flank around Union lines via the currently undefended Little Round Top.  The fighting for Devil’s Den was fierce as Union troops under Brigadier General J. H. Hobart Ward attempted to halt the Confederate advance with the assistance of an artillery battery, but they were eventually overwhelmed.  After being driven out of Devil’s Den, Ward’s men briefly tried to make a stand in the valley between Devil’s Den and Little Round Top (known as the Valley of Death), but his brigade was soon sent into full retreat (Ward refers to Little Round Top as Sugar Loaf Hill in his report).[13]


Having pushed Union troops out of Devil’s Den the Confederates now faced an ever more treacherous obstacle: Little Round Top.  Having fought hard to take the elevated and rocky position of Devil’s Den, the Confederates now had to descend down into a small, open valley and assault a hill that was taller, steeper and just as rocky; however, until recently, Little Round Top had been undefended.  Had word of Sickles’ predicament had not reached General Sykes, commander of the Union 5th Corps, all may have been lost for the Union that day.  Upon hearing of the situation, Sykes dispatched his 1st Division to aid Sickles.  The first person to see the message was Colonel Strong Vincent of the 3rd Brigade, who, entirely on his own volition, ordered his men to Little Round Top.[14]  Vincent placed most of his regiments on the western slope to meet the Confederate advance from Devil’s Den except for the 20th Maine, under command of LTC Joshua L. Chamberlain, which was ordered to hold the southern slopes of the hill; the extreme left of the Union line. Originally about 1,000 strong, the 20th Maine’s years of service had left it with “28 officers and 358 enlisted men”.[15]  Miraculously, with the help of the infamous bayonet charge by the 20th Maine, the Union troops on Little Round Top were able to throw back the Confederate assault, ending hostilities on the left flank of the Union line.  Although they barely held, Chamberlain’s depleted regiment fought as many of 3 enemy regiments during the battle, which speaks strongly of Little Round Top’s defensibly.

Fighting at the Wheat Field (Coutesy of Paul’s Voyage)

Over an hour after the start of Hood’s attack (5:30pm), General McLaws began his assault on Union positions in the Wheat Field and Peach Orchard.  Union troops were able to hold off initial assaults, but were eventually forced out of both the Peach Orchard and Wheat Field with heavy casualties on both sides.  Union troops were driven back across Plum Run, some heading for Cemetery Ridge and others for Little Round Top.  The fighting was so heavy, that one Union battery was forced to retreat using a technique called “retire by prolonge”, in which the gun is continuously fired while it is being dragged away.[16]  During the retreat, General Sickles’ leg was mangled by a cannonball; it was later amputated and can be seen on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.[17]  Confederate troops eventually advanced as far as the Valley of Death, but were thrown back by a Union counterattack under the command of General Crawford.  Unable to hold the ground he gained, Crawford again withdrew to Little Round Top, putting an end to the day’s fighting in that sector at around 1930.[18]

Charge of the 1st Minnesota (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

To the north of McLaws, General Anderson’s division began its attack at 6pm, targeting Sickles’ right flank and Cemetery Ridge.  Union troops along the Emittsburg Road, many of whom had already been engaged in the fighting against McLaw’s division, were soon overrun and forced back to Cemetery Ridge.  One of Anderson’s brigades, under General Wilcox, almost made it through a gap in the Union line, but the heroic charge of the 262 men of the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment was able to successfully plug the gap and halt Wilcox’s advance.  During the charge, the 1st Minnesota suffered 82% casualties.[19]  Like Hood’s and McLaw’s, Anderson’s assault was also halted, and he ordered his men to fall back to Seminary Ridge.[20]

Culp’s Hill (Courtesy of Civil War Talk)

That evening, Confederate troops under General Ewell attacked Union positions on Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill on the northeastern bend of the “fishhook”.  Both attacks were unsuccessful, resulting in only mild gains at the base of Culp’s Hill and none on Cemetery Hill.[21]  Lee’s choice to keep Ewell’s corps positioned on the right flank of the Union front line is a controversial one, as it could do little good against the formidable Culp’s and Cemetery Hill’s.  Many historians believe that Ewell’s men could have been shifted over to assist in the assault on Cemetery Ridge.  As the attack there was extremely close to being successful, Ewell’s men would most likely have provided the push necessary to break the Union line; however, Lee’s indecisiveness in regards to Ewell’s Corps left it sitting on the Union right flank, where it remained for the rest of the battle, being of little use to the Confederate cause.  In Lee’s defense, the absence of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry left him fairly clueless as to the exact whereabouts of Union forces.  He knew Ewell had Northern troops sitting in front of him, but he didn’t know enough specifics to make a well-informed decision on the matter.[22]  What can be criticized is the Confederate’s assault itself; specifically the engagement of its divisions in peace meal, rather than simultaneously.  Had Culp’s Hill been hit at the same time as Sickles’ 3rd Corps, or perhaps even before, arriving Union reinforcements may have been sent to other parts of the line, which could ultimately have led to a collapse of the Union left flank.

The Third Day of Battle                                                                                                                     On the morning of July 3rd, Lee’s army was in a less than ideal situation.  Having failed to break Union lines the previous day, his adversary still held the vital high ground, but this time without the salient created by Sickles’ corps the day before.  Not only that, but by now the rest of the Union Army had arrived and had reinforced Union positions to the south around Little Round Top and Big Round Top.  Lee originally hoped to resume his attack on the left, but the events on Culp’s Hill that morning soon changed his mind.  At around dawn, Ewell renewed his assault, but, after six hours of intense fighting, the Confederates were repulsed and driven off Culp’s Hill entirely.[23]  Lee, who had been planning to use Culp’s Hill as a diversion to resume his attack on the Union left, was now forced to change strategy.  Instead of hitting the flanks as he had done the previous day, he would try for the Union center.  General Longstreet’s final division, commanded by General George Pickett, had arrived during the night; as it was the only Confederate division still fresh, Lee planned to take full advantage of it.  Pickett’s division, along with Pettigrew’s, Trimble’s and two brigades of Anderson’s, would assault Union positions on Cemetery Ridge by advancing from Seminary Ridge across just over a mile of open ground.  While a charge of this scale, and on open terrain, was bound to sustain heavy casualties, General Lee believed that Union forces in the center were weak.  Lee ordered General Longstreet to plan the attack, a task that he took on grudgingly.[24]

The battle opened with a massive artillery barrage by Confederate guns (around 150) on Cemetery Ridge, which lasted from 1pm to 2pm.  Union guns responded in turn, striking rebel artillery, as well as Confederate infantry concealed in the woods when shots went long.  At around 1400, General Longstreet received the following message from his artillery commander, Colonel Alexander:

“If you are coming at all, come at once, or I cannot give you proper support, but the enemy’s fire has not slackened at all.  At least eighteen guns are still firing from the cemetery itself. -Alexander”[25]

Pickett’s Charge (Courtesy of Roadboy’s Travels)

Filled with a sense of foreboding Longstreet gave a nod, as he was too distraught to speak, ordering the infantry forward.[26]  The men, some 12,500 of them, quickly formed up and began the assault, heading for a large grove of trees on Cemetery Ridge.  Unfortunately for the Confederates, the artillery bombardment had been ineffective.  Not only was it nearly impossible for Confederate gunners to tell if they were hitting their targets due to the massive amount of smoke caused by the bombardment, but their shells were of poor quality, causing many to detonate to late, or not at all.  It was not long before Union artillery began to take its toll, cutting large gaps in Confederate formations.  As they advanced, they came into range of Union muskets and their ranks were further decimated.  Most of the Confederate officers leading the assault were either killed or wounded.  In the instance of a Colonel Whittle, who had lost his left arm and been shot through the right leg in previous engagements, was hit in both of his remaining limbs.[27]  General Armistead’s brigade was able to successfully make it over the low stone wall that Union troops were positioned behind, but they were soon thrown back and Armistead was mortally wounded.  The Confederates began to retreat, pulling back across the field while still taking heavy fire; several infantry formations were cut off by Union troops and shot to pieces.  In total, the casualties Confederate casualties at Pickett’s Charge exceeded 50%.  Lee’s final assault had failed, and the Confederate Army would never again be strong enough to go on the offensive.[28]

There were two other engagements that day, both involving cavalry. To the east of Gettysburg at 11am, Confederate cavalry under General JEB Stuart engaged Union cavalry under General David Gregg and the infamous General Armstrong Custer at the Rummel Farm, which resulted in a Union victory.[29]  To the south around Warfield Ridge at 3pm, Union General Kilpatrick attempted to charge Confederate lines.[July 3rd: Kilpatrick’s Failed Charge]  The ground he chose was very rocky and contained several fences; his men were subsequently cut to pieces.[30]

Courtesy of History Channel

Conclusion                                                      Union victory at Gettysburg, in combination with the fall of Vicksburg the following day, is considered the turning point of the American Civil War.  The sheer number of casualties suffered by the Confederacy were simply irreplaceable, and Lee was never again able to take the offensive against the Union.  Even if Lee had won (say the left flank collapsed on July 2nd or Pickett’s Charge broke the Union center), it is likely that Lee’s invasion of the north would still have ended, as his army was at ~62% strength after the battle and in enemy territory with no way to easily replenish its numbers.[31]  However, defeat at Gettysburg could have cost the Confederacy the entire war.  Had General Meade acted decisively, it is very likely that the Union Army could have caught the retreating Confederates before they crossed the Potomac River and obliterated them.  Unfortunately, Meade was too cautious in his pursuit and missed the opportunity.  Lincoln was furious and Meade offered to resign after realizing his mistake, but, as Meade had only recently taken command, Lincoln refused to accept his resignation and Meade remained commander of the Union Army of the Potomac for the remainder of the war.

The battle of Gettysburg is the 4th deadliest engagement in American military history, with roughly 51,000 total casualties (23,055 Union and ~28,000 Confederate) after 3 days of fighting in an area just over 9 square miles.  Although only 7,863 Americans died compared to the 26,277 of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918, the 19,276 of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45, and the 12,513 of Okinawa in 1945,  Gettysburg lasted only three days while these other engagements lasted several months each.[32]  Not to mention, if adjusted for population, the battle of Gettysburg would have taken 25,809 lives had occurred in the same year as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which brings home just how devastating this three day engagement was, especially for the Confederacy, as they had seriously limited manpower compared to the Union.[33]  To this day, Gettysburg remains arguably the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and hopefully we will not soon forget it, nor the sacrifices that were made on those Pennsylvania fields.


[1] Harry W. Pfanz Gettysburg–the First Day, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 51-68.

[2] Pfanz, 68.

[3] Pfanz, 69-79.

[4] Pfanz, 109.

[5] Pfanz, 115-130.

[6] Pfanz, 227-238.

[7] Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003) 224.

[8] Pfanz, 269-293.

[9] David G. Martin, Gettysburg, July 1,(Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo, 2003) 284.

[10] Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg–the Second Day,  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 124.

[11] National Park Service. GETT_S2.pdf (n.d.): n. pag. National Park Service. National Park Service. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

[12] Pfanz, 176.

[13] J. H. Hobart Ward, “Brig. Gen. J.H. Hobart Ward’s Official Report For The Battle Of Gettysburg.” Civil War Home. N.p., 4 Aug. 1863. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

[14] Pfanz, 208.

[15] Pfanz, 232.

[16] Pfanz, 3.

[17] Pfanz, 334.

[18] Pfanz, 390-400.

[19] Pfanz, 410-414.

[20] Pfanz, 350-424.

[21] Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, comp. Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Mark the Positions of the Pennsylvania Commands Engaged in the Battle. Vol. 1. Harrisburg, PA: E. K. Meyers, 1893. Accessed November 28, 2016, 204, 424. [Google Books]

[22] Pfanz, 104-113.

[23] Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, 603. [Google Books]

[24]  James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America, (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1992), Accessed November 29, 2016, 388. [Google Books]

[25] Longstreet, 392. [Google Books]

[26] Longstreet, 392. [Google Books]

[27] Longstreet, 394. [Google Books]

[28] Longstreet, 394. [Google Books]

[29] “The Rummel Farm on the Gettysburg Battlefield.” The Battle of Gettysburg. Stone Sentinels, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

[30] Longstreet, 395. [Google Books]

[31] U.S. War Department, ed. “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.” Cornell Library. Accessed December 2, 2016.

[32] “10 Deadliest Battles in American History.” History Lists. WordPress, 18 Mar. 2008. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

[33]”US Census Bureau Publications – Census of Population and Housing.” US Census Bureau. US Census Bureau Administration and Customer Services Division, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016; “Historical National Population Estimates: July 1, 1900 to July 1, 1999.” U. S. Census Bureau, 11 Apr. 2000. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.

Slaughter At Gettysburg: July 1st-3rd, 1863

By Tom Forte

NOTE:  Bolded text in paragraphs refers to Google map place marks

Introduction                                                                                                                                          James McPherson, historian and author of several books including The Battle Cry of Freedom, claims that,”Gettysburg proved a significant turning point in the war, and therefore in the preservation of the United States and abolition of slavery.” His statement is well founded, as General Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac was able to inflict disastrous losses on General Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia that could simply not be replaced due to Southern manpower shortages.  Yet on many occasions over the three day battle, Confederate troops came close to victory.  However, aside from acts of valor by Union troops, there were several factors that contributed to Confederate defeat:  poor reconnaissance and communication, strong Union defensive positions, poor and insufficient equipment, and strategic errors on the part of General Lee.

The First Day of Battle                                                                                                                     

General Reynolds (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The battle began at 7:30am on July 1st, 1863, when two Confederate divisions encountered a division of dismounted Union cavalry under General John Buford to the Northeast of the town of Gettysburg.[1]  The Union cavalry, though heavily outnumbered, held out until 10:00am when the Union 1st Corps, under General Reynolds, arrived on the scene to reinforce the hard-pressed cavalry.  Although he was able to stave off the Confederate assault, General Reynolds was killed while ordering the men of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment forward into battle [July 1: 10:40am: Death of General Reynolds]; “Forward men, forward for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of the woods!”, he was then hit in the head by a sharpshooter and killed instantly.[2]

At 2:00pm, the Confederate assault resumed, except this time reinforced by several more divisions.  The Union had brought up reinforcements as well, but they were still outgunned.[3]  Due to a salient (or bulge) created on the Union right flank by men under General Barlow [July 1: 2PM: Barlow’s Knoll], the right flank was soon broken and Confederate troops began rolling up the Union line.[4]  To add to the this disaster, Union lines along McPherson’s Ridge also broke around the same time, causing the Union Army to go into full retreat.[5]  In various states of disorder, Union troops were able to make it to Cemetery Hill to the southeast of Gettysburg.  General Hancock, who had been sent forward by the commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, General Meade, to take command of the Union troops engaged at Gettysburg remarked that Cemetery Hill was: “…the strongest position by nature on which to fight a battle that I ever saw”.[6]  The next several days would prove him right.

The Second Day of Battle                                                                                                              

Confederate Sharpshooter at Devil’s Den (Courtesy of HistoryNet)

During the night of July 1st, General Meade positioned his troops in a fishhook shape in order to take advantage of the extremely defensible high ground to the southeast of Gettysburg.[July 2: Blue Lines]  Early in the morning, General Dan Sickles, commander of the Union 3rd Corps, spotted high ground to the front of his troop’s positions, and decided to order his men forward to occupy it.  Sickles’ decision is one of the most controversial of the entire war, as his corps was now massively overextended and, like Barlow’s men the day before, formed an easily attackable salient in the Union lines.[July 2, Union Troops Under Sickles]  In Sickles’ defense, his choice to advance caught Confederate General Longstreet completely off guard.  Due to the absence of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, which served as the Confederate’s primary reconnaissance force, General Lee had very little idea of where the Union lines were; in fact, he didn’t know that Union troops had been positioned as far south as the territory the 3rd Corps occupied.  This development forced Longstreet to delay his attack until 4:00pm so he could maneuver his troops to properly assault the Union left flank.[7][July 2: Confederate Troops Under Hood and McLaws]  Although he was overextended and creating a salient, Sickles’ positions were quite formidable, as the terrain was both rocky and elevated, especially around Little Round Top and Devil’s Den, which gave the defenders a good vantage point and ample cover, while simultaneously hampering the attackers.

When Longstreet ordered his corps to attack at 4:00pm, things initially went well for the Confederates, although casualties were very heavy on both sides.  After heavy fighting, Union troops were driven out of the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard, and Devil’s Den.  At the time of the start of the assault, there were no Union troops on Little Round Top, and a brigade under Colonel Strong Vincent was scrambled to defend the hill against the advancing Confederates.[8]

Fighting at Little Round Top (Courtesy of Gallon)

On the extreme left flank, the depleted regiment of the 20th Maine was able to hold out against several Confederate regiments, winning the day with a famous bayonet charge: “Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel.  IT was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer.  As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge”.[9]

Charge of the 1st Minnesota (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

North of Little Round Top, the Confederate advance was barely halted at Cemetery Ridge after a desperate charge by the 1st Minnesota; it lost 82% of its men in the process.[10]  During the evening, attacks were also made against Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, but the Confederates only gained limited ground at Culp’s Hill and none at Cemetery Hill.[11]  Many historians believe that Confederate troops under General Ewell (those that attacked Cemetery and Culp’s Hill) would have been better off used elsewhere on the battlefield and, if shifted south, could have been the additional force necessary to break Union lines on Cemetery Ridge; but again, due to the absence of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry, Lee did not feel safe making a decision such as this one, and he paid dearly for it.[12] However, Lee’s choice to commit his units to battle in a piecemeal (one at a time) fashion can certainly be criticized. Had Lee had his corps attack simultaneously all along the Union front line, Union reinforcements may have been sent to the wrong locations and potentially allowed breakthroughs.

The Third Day of Battle

Pickett’s Charge (Courtesy of Roadboy’s Travels)

On July 3rd, Lee’s originally planned to renew his attack on the flanks, but that morning Ewell’s small hold on Culp’s Hill was lost and he decided to change his strategy.[13]  He would instead assault the Union center, which he believed would be less heavily defended than the flanks by this point in the battle.  General Pickett’s division had arrived during the night and it, along with the division of Generals Pettigrew and Trimble, would make the assault with a force of 12,500 men.  The attack began at 1:00pm with a massive artillery bombardment that lasted around an hour, then, at 2:00pm, the Confederates advanced.[14] [July 3: 1:00PM: Pickett’s Charge]  Unfortunately, due to the large amount of gun smoke and poorly made artillery shells, the bombardment was largely ineffective, and Union artillery quickly began tearing gaps in Confederate lines.  Once in range, the Union infantry opened fire.  One Confederate brigade was able to make it into Union lines, but it was soon repulsed and the Confederates were forced to retreat under a hail of lead.  For the Union Pickett’s Charge was won and, with it, the Battle of Gettysburg.


Courtesy of History Channel

Gettysburg, along with the fall of Vicksburg, is considered the turning point of the American Civil War.  The Confederate army was never able to fully recover from its defeat, forcing it to remain on the defensive for the rest of the war.  Even if Lee had won, it is likely he would have been forced to withdraw anyway, as his army was at ~62% strength following the battle and had no way to easily replenish his loses.[15]  Lee’s army could have been completely destroyed, by General Meade was too slow in his pursuit and the Confederate Army was able to escape.  The battle of Gettysburg is the 4th deadliest engagement in American military history, with roughly 51,000 total casualties (23,055 Union and ~28,000 Confederate with 7,863 total deaths) after 3 days of fighting in an area just over 9 square miles.[16]    To this day, Gettysburg remains arguably the most famous battle of the American Civil War, and hopefully we will not soon forget it, nor the sacrifices that were made on those Pennsylvania fields.

For a more detailed version of this post, click here  

[1] Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg–the First Day (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 51-68.

[2] Pfanz, 69-79.

[3] Pfanz, 115-130.

[4] Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003) 224.

[5] Pfanz, 269-293.

[6] David G. Martin, Gettysburg, July 1 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo, 2003) 284.

[7] Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg-the Second Day (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 176.

[8] Pfanz, 208.

[9] Joshua L. Chamberlain, “Gettysburg After Action Report, 6 July 1863”, Combat Studies Institute, 8.

[10] Pfanz, 410-414.

[11] Gettysburg Battle-field Commission, comp. Pennsylvania at Gettysburg: Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments Erected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Mark the Positions of the Pennsylvania Commands Engaged in the Battle. Vol. 1. Harrisburg, PA: E. K. Meyers, 1893. Accessed November 28, 2016, 204, 424. [Google Books]

[12] Pfanz, 104-113.

[13] Gettysburg Battle-field Commission, 603.

[14] James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, 1992) 392. [Google Books]

[15] U.S. War Department, ed. “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.” (Cornell Library).

[16] “10 Deadliest Battles in American History” History Lists, WordPress, 2016.

General Sherman’s March to the Sea

General Sherman on Horseback
(Courtesy of

From November through December 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led his army through Confederate-controlled Georgia on what became known as his “March to the Sea.” Over the course of their two-month, 235-mile trek, Sherman, his officers, and their men, destroyed or burned numerous buildings deemed essential to the Confederacy. Sherman believed his march was not one of rash or hostile greed or hatred; rather, he saw it as a response to the changing nature of war. To him the Union was,  “not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and [we] must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [1]Sherman’s “March to the Sea” shows Union strategy and prowess at the end of the war – aiming for and achieving the decimation of Confederate territory in order to convince Southern citizens to stop backing the war effort.

An occupation and march such as this was almost impossible without the leadership of men such as Sherman. His armies were aided by his confidence, strength, and organization for much of the early part of their campaign. The wings of infantry under his command moved, as planned, along roads and pathways determined before the march even began and did so with little to no disturbance by enemy forces. The disorganized enemy’s inability to execute an effective defense allowed Sherman and his men to march to Savannah with minimal casualties. With little Confederate resistance, the army was also able to deliver the harsh reality of war to the Georgian towns and institutions that it came across.

But the tactics and the strategy of Sherman’s March require thoughtful consideration. Noah Andre Trudeau, in his in-depth study Southern Storm (2008), notes how careful planning and military ingenuity of the march was unparalleled. The fact that Sherman was able to march so many men over an unfamiliar terrain, sometimes without the benefit of well-defined roads; negotiate fifteen river crossings, each more than 230 feet wide[2]; transport the necessary food and supplies for 62,000 troops with just 2,000 wagons (half the number the similarly sized Army of the Potomac used in its assault on Virginia in 1862); and still manage to emerge unscathed from the rubble in the Confederate stronghold of Savannah, was astounding. Not only was Sherman able to navigate miles of enemy territory, but he was able to do so while being almost completely cut off from his supply base in Atlanta. By turning the nature of military strategy on its head and removing the necessity for consistent contact with a stable base, his foraging of Confederate property and efficient wagon techniques made his army a self-sufficient and mobile force for Confederate destruction.[3]

Agricultural production map produced for Sherman to orchestrate his march (Courtesy of New York Times Online)

To have executed such a march across enemy territory, and without the use of today’s GPS technology, Sherman was forced to consult maps. Yet printed maps had not been created to aid a march quite like his. According to historian Sarah Schulten, Sherman requested from Joseph Kennedy, the superintendent of the census bureau, a visual representation of data that had been compiled before the war. Sherman then looked for population centers, livestock, grain and cotton production estimates as well as road and rail locations and Kennedy’s maps enumerated these figures by county for Georgia. With the help of cartographers, Kennedy integrated the census data into a map that allowed Sherman to plan the best pathways for his campaign. These marching routes cut through counties that had high foraging prospects (with lots of grain, corn, livestock, rice and tobacco) and high output of Confederate-supporting products (things that could be sold or sent to support the war effort or help the confederate civilian population, i.e. cotton and sugar) that could be burned and destroyed. These maps also charted population; both white and enslaved. Presumably including slaves in these statistics was a way to insure that Sherman was able to do some emancipating as he marched his way through the towns, cities and counties. Without these maps, Sherman knew, looking back on his march, his process of surviving off the land would have been “[subject] to blind chance.”[4] Not only were these maps essential to his understanding of the lands he occupied but also essential to insuring the success of surviving without a direct connection to his supply base.[5]

Magnified detail of Map used by Sherman
(Courtesy of New York Times Online)

After the war, Sherman tried to quiet Northern fascination with his heroics by saying “I only regarded the march…as a ‘shift of base,’”[6] (meaning physical base of operations).  Yet, it is hard to deny the morale boost and invigoration his march had for the strength of Union soldiers in their fight for the preservation of the Union. General William T. Sherman and his “March to the Sea” was a well-planned and deliberate effort to cut off the supply bases of the Confederate Army in the South and, by doing so, slowly diminish the size and strength of the rebellion. The total destruction that Sherman’s forces brought on the cities they encountered served to force their residents to suffer the harsh consequences of war, and quickly diminished the popularity of the war effort in the South. While this plan was justified in the eyes of the Union government, many white Southerners viewed the destruction the destruction and violence as atrocities.  Later, this made positive relations after the war between the sections difficult to foster and even harder to maintain.



[1] William T. Sherman, Letter to Henry W. Halleck (Savannah), December 24, 1864. [Civil War Trust, Online]

[2] Noah Andre Trudeau, Southern Storm (New York, Harper Collins 2008), 536.

[3] Trudeau, 51-52.

[4] William T. Sherman, Memoirs, Book 2

[5] Susan Schulten, Sherman’s Maps, November 20, 2015 [New York Times]

[6] William T. Sherman, Memoirs, Book 2  [Southern Storm, Noah Andre Trudeau] 220.

Altered Images From the End of the War

Louis Masur begins the final chapter of his book, The Civil War: A Concise History (2011) with a powerful opening line: “On January 11, 1865, Robert E. Lee wrote a letter that would have been unthinkable three years earlier.”  The reference is to Lee’s endorsement for the use of black troops, a move that most Confederates had previously resisted.  But as Masur points out, the belated decision, finally approved in March 1865 (just weeks before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) demonstrated “perhaps” the “strength of Confederate nationalism” (76).  In other words, the question had always been which motivated Confederates more, a desire for their own political rights or the continuation of slavery?  In recent years, there has been an explosion of controversy over the particular subject of “Black Confederates.”  The debate mainly concerns whether they existed at all before the spring of 1865.  Here is one image frequently circulated over the Internet:

Black Confederates

But here is the original version of the same image, unaltered, showing that these alleged “Black Confederates” from 1861 were actually Union soldiers in training near Philadelphia in 1864.

Black SoldiersJerome Handler and Michael Tuite thoroughly dissect the manipulation of this image in their post, “Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph” (2005).

Altered Image by

Actual photograph, circa 1864








Altering images is not just a modern-day phenomenon.  Print-makers and illustrators in the nineteenth-century were just as creative and calculating. In fact, the banner image from this course website provides a good example of what might be called pre-photoshop photoshopping undertaken by a commercial printer in Philadelphia following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Here is what the image looked like that year:

Emancipation Banner

Yet here is what the original illustration looked like in January 1863 when Thomas Nast first drew it for Harpers Weekly:

Emancipation OriginalThe difference is more than just color.  Nast’s allegory for emancipation has now been subtly altered to give the martyred president a greater role.

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-emancipation.jpgEmancipation DetailSometimes significant changes are also sometimes accidental rather than intentional. Here is a different image that was misdated for years as 1864.  Yet this is actually a detail from a photograph taken in Washington DC in November 1865.  Students in History 117 should be able to explain why that seemingly small mistake matters quite a bit.


Believe it or not, it’s also possible to enhance images by altering them.  Here is a photograph taken at Fort Sumter on Friday, April 14, 1865.  That was a special day for the Union coalition –a kind of “mission accomplished” moment as Col. Robert Anderson returned with a delegation of notables, including abolitionists like Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and William Lloyd Garrison, to raise the American flag once again over the fort in Charleston harbor where the Civil War had begun almost exactly four years earlier.

Sumter 1865 DamagedNote the cracked glass plate from this seemingly ruined photograph now in the collection of the Library of Congress.  But look what happens to this image when it is digitized at a high resolution and then magnified.

Sumter 1865 Enhanced

That’s Rev. Henry Ward Beecher speaking on the afternoon of Friday, April 14, 1865, from what he called “this pulpit of broken stone.”  Originally, scholars, using magnifying glasses, thought that William Lloyd Garrison was perhaps seated on Beecher’s left.

Garrison 1865 Option 1But now we are confident at the House Divided Project that Garrison was actually seated in a special section on Beecher’s right, with other leading abolitionists and Lincoln administration notables.

Garrison 1865 Option 2

Garrison 1865 Detail

It was obviously a moving, reflective moment for Garrison, one captured in this detail image above from right after the ceremony and by the little known story of his visit the following morning to see the grave of secessionist icon John C. Calhoun.  You can read more about this episode here and here.  Sometimes people are surprised by the stories that slip out of public memory and don’t make it into standard textbooks.  The Garrison visit to South Carolina in April 1865 is certainly one of them, but another such lost tale involves a Dickinsonian named John A.J. Creswell, who was deeply involved in the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, which occurred in early January 1865.  Here is the image that appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper to celebrate that moment.

Thirteenth Amendment

You will notice the trio of men in the lower right hand corner, obviously prominent figures according to the illustrator.  We researched them here at the college and were thrilled to discover that one of them was a Dickinsonian.  It turns out that these are three congressman from the Mid-Atlantic (from left to right) Thaddeus Stevens, William D. Kelley, and John A.J. Creswell.  We used a detail from that image for the cover of our first House Divided e-book, which profiles Creswell, a Dickinson graduate and Maryland politician who became one of the nation’s most important wartime abolitionists.  Yet, he’s almost completely forgotten, not even mentioned in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” (2012), which concerned passage of the amendment.  You can download a free copy of Creswell’s biography, written by Dickinson college emeritus history professor John Osborne and college librarian Christine Bombaro, here.  Ultimately, that might be the best way to “alter” images from the end of the Civil War –by seeing old stories from new perspectives.

Forgotten Abolitionist New Cover

The scene at Congress on January 31, 1865 was reminiscent in some ways of an earlier scene involving a celebration of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.




Sergeant Prince Rivers receives the colors of the First South Carolina Volunteers, Port Royal, South Carolina, January 1, 1863 (Courtesy of the House Divided Project)

Sergeant Prince Rivers receives the colors of the First South Carolina Volunteers, Port Royal, South Carolina, January 1, 1863 (Courtesy of the House Divided Project)

This scene in Port Royal, South Carolina is very revealing at several levels, but as a study of the end of the war, it offers a poignant window into the revealing saga of Prince Rivers, a man who arguably is the most teachable figure from the Civil War & Reconstruction era.

Prince-Rivers Detail

Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave

Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, The Narrative of Asa-Asa, A Captured African. Edited by Thomas Pringle. London: Published by F. Westley and A.H. Davis, Stationers’ Hall Court, 1831.

Courtesy of Caribbean Literature

Courtesy of Caribbean Literature

Mary Prince’s remarkable life story in “The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave” portrays her horrific treatment as a slave in the West Indies and her life-long journey towards freedom. Her simple, yet effective, writing style gives readers a glimpse into the heartbreaking reality of being a female slave in the early 1800s. Mary experienced the worst of slavery including severe physical abuse and being torn away from her family as a young girl, however her resilience and determination throughout these events is something to be admired. Mary told her life story with the goal of spreading awareness about the horrors of slavery in order to debunk common misconceptions about slavery held by many English people and ultimately implement change [1].

Mary was born into slavery in Devonshire Parish, Bermuda and spent the majority of her life enslaved to a number of different masters in the Caribbean, including in Turks and Caicos and Antigua. When she was about 40 years old (c.1828) Mary moved to London, England with her master in hopes of becoming a free woman. Due to the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which banned British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, it was henceforth illegal for slaves to be carried on British ships [2]. Mary technically gained her freedom once landing in the United Kingdom, however her dependence on her master’s consent to maintain her freedom when returning to the West Indies combined with the fear of being in a new country resulted in her continuing to live as a slave for a number of years after arriving in London. The Slave Trade Act was passed with the idea of gradual emancipation and it was not until 1833 that a formal Emancipation Act was passed by Parliament [2]. Even then, the Act instilled a six-year apprenticeship system, in other words another form of gradual emancipation, that was not abolished until 1838 [2]. In 1828 if Mary were to return to the West Indies without proof of freedom she would most likely be forced back into slavery due to the laws of the time.

While the United States also banned the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, British colonies in the Caribbean had a greater dependence on the slave trade due to the high number of slave deaths that occurred [3]. In fact, the number of slave deaths was around one third greater in the Caribbean than the American South [4]. These deaths were common for a number of reasons including the harsh conditions of working on sugar plantations, the most common export of this area, disease, and malnutrition [5]. In addition, unlike in America, slaves were not increasing at the natural rate of reproduction due these large death tolls and the majority of imports being male [6].

Mary Prince’s narrative can be used as a basis of comparison between slavery in the British West Indies and the United States. One direct connection that can be made is the frequency in which slave families were separated. Mary was separated from her family when she was young and later separated from her husband, spending the majority of her life having to continually start over and form new relationships. While strong familial ties were evident in Mary’s narrative, stable slave families were more commonly formed on plantations in the United States than the Caribbean [7]. The mindset of plantation owners in the Caribbean was more focused on simply buying new slaves instead of encouraging those they had to form relationships and reproduce [5]. Despite not being able to legally marry in the United States many slaves started families and lived in constant fear of being separated from their loved ones [8]. Plantation owners made a lot of their money from selling their slaves, and around one third of enslaved children would experience some sort of separation from one and/or both of their parents at some point in their lives [8]. This familial separation was a great motivator to escape from slavery and become free in order to be reunited with ones family. Alternatively, if enslaved families were not separated, escaping from slavery would be quite difficult and they would be more likely to remain in slavery.

Mary’s narrative brought the brutality of slavery to those living in the United Kingdom and helped enlighten those who had previously been told that slaves in the West Indies and other British colonies were happy being enslaved. In the United Kingdom the West India Lobby was responsible for spreading propaganda about the benefits of slavery and claiming that enslaved people were happy with their current circumstances [2]. The West India Lobby benefitted greatly from the exports produced on slave plantations in the Caribbean, especially sugar, and wanted to prevent the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade from making progress [2]. To combat the efforts of pro-slavery groups the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, later the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, helped to publish pamphlets and slave narratives, such as Mary Prince’s, and set up anti-slavery speeches and petitions throughout the country [9]. Similar to the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe in the United States in 1852, “The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave” exposed slavery for what is really was and allowed people to hear a slave’s perspective on slavery [10]. As Mary made quite clear in her narrative “All salves want to be free – to be free is very sweet” [11].

[1] Williamson, Jenn. “Summary of The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, the Narrative of Asa-Asa, a Captured African.” Documenting the American South. 2004. Accessed December 6, 2016.[].

[2] “The 1807 Act and Its Effects.” The Abolition Project. 2009. Accessed December 7, 2016. [].

[3] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 85.

[4] Mintz, Steven. “American Slavery in Comparative Perspective.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Accessed December 7, 2016. [].

[5] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 90-91.

[6] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 84.

[7] Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, 98.

[8] Williams, Heather Andrea. “How Slavery Affected African American Families.” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe. National Humanities Center. Accessed November 13, 2016. [ htm].

[9] Oldfield, John. “British Anti-Slavery.” BBC History. 2011. Accessed December 7, 2016. [].

[10] “Impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Slavery, and the Civil War.” The National and International Impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 2015. Accessed November 13, 2016. [].

[11] Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related by Herself. With a Supplement by the Editor. To Which Is Added, The Narrative of Asa-Asa, A Captured African. Edited by Thomas Pringle. London: Published by F. Westley and A.H. Davis, Stationers’ Hall Court, 1831, 23.


Themes of Republicanism in Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery

Image of Booker T. Washington between 1905 and 1915 courtesy of the Library of Congress

Image of Booker T. Washington between 1905 and 1915 courtesy of the Library of Congress

Themes of Republicanism in Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery

Despite declaring that his life began in the “most miserable, desolate, and discouraging surroundings,”[i] Booker T. Washington’s narrative, Up From Slavery, is brimming with republican optimism and perseverance. Based on Washington’s narrative, after departing from the abhorrent institution of slavery, blacks had inherited republic ideals and aspects of Southern culture that defined their lives even after gaining their freedom.

Even while still enslaved in a Virginian plantation, Washington’s hunger for education was insatiable. After witnessing one of his mistresses attending school at a local schoolhouse, Douglas resolves that one day he will seek an education for himself. Republicanism placed a heavy weight on the value of education, which was seen as a deterrent for tyranny.[ii] As such, even nearly a decade after the founding of the Republic, men and women alike still attended school for the hopes of contributing to the virtuous republic through education; this desire for education was not lost on the slaves who observed this culture of seeking virtue through education.

However, education was not something that was readily available to blacks. Even after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves were in a significantly disadvantaged position. Despite the promises freedom held, it also came with an independence that had not previously existed under the rule of a master. On this matter, Washington wrote, “In a few hours the great questions with which the Anglo-Saxon race had been grappling for centuries had been thrown upon these people to be solved. These were the questions of a home, a living, the rearing of children, education, citizenship, and the establishment and support of churches.”[iii]

However, this socioeconomic disadvantage did not impede the perseverance and progress of blacks like Washington. Staying true to the republican ideal of upward mobility and the “self-made man,”[iv] Washington begins work in a salt mine operating in Malden, West Virginia. While working, Washington finds himself in a culture that operates largely outside of social institutions, and which therefore adopts a lifestyle of roughness which Washington equates to immorality– “Drinking, gambling, quarrels, fights, and shockingly immoral practices were frequent.”[v] The practices that Washington describes are likely similar, if not identical, to the rough leisure activities practiced by whites that lived in backcountry areas similar to the black community in which Washington found in Malden, WV. These practices adopted by poor residents of isolated backcountry localities were an exercise which prepared its practitioners for “a violent social life in which the exploitation of labor, the specter of poverty, and a fierce struggle for status were daily realities.”[vi]

Although these practices were common among poor, back country blacks, there were groups of newly freed slaves, one of which was Washington, who desired a culture of education and earnestness. While working in the salt mines, Washington managed to acquire one of a copy of Webster’s Blue Back Speller, a book that had burgeoned in popularity after the Revolutionary war, selling around 3 million copies by 1783[vii]. Nearly a century later, the book still provided a means of education to members of the republic seeking an education. Determined to receive a formal, higher education, Washington used the money he saved from working in the salt mines to attend the Hampton Institute. Having “resolved to let no obstacle prevent [him] from putting forth the highest effort” to seeking an education and giving to his community, Washington earns his keep at Hampton by proving his worth as a skilled janitor. Washington explains his reasoning behind his eagerness to earn his keep through labor, something which he noted that other freed slaves had chosen to give up for good; Washington knew that education was inseparable from labor and he valued labor for “labour’s own sake and for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings.”[viii] In describing his time at Hampton, Washington’s narrative is rich with the republican ideals of removing paternalistic and dependent relationships from the country and instead cultivating a culture of independence and individual liberty.[ix]

Even after the immediacy of his emancipation, Washington continued to play the role of the ideal citizen of the republic by seeking an educated and virtuous life. Despite having little to give other than his time, effort, and knowledge, Washington became philanthropist by supporting initiatives to educate native Americans and fellow blacks at the Hampton Institute and the Tuskegee Institute, respectively. Washington’s greatest legacy is arguably the Tuskegee Institute, a facility aimed towards instilling the republican qualities of earnestness, virtue, and appreciation of labor in the less fortunate, albeit freed, blacks of the South.[x]

[i] Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography (New York: Skyhorse, 2015), 12.

[ii] Gordon S Wood, The American Revolution (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 122.

[iii] Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, 28.

[iv] Wood, The American Revolution, 121.

[v] Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, 32.

[vi] Elliot J. Gorn, “‘Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch’: The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry,” The American Historical Review 90 (1985): 22, accessed August 29, 2009.

[vii] Wood, The American Revolution, 124.

[viii] Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography, 68.

[ix] Wood, The American Revolution, 125.

[x] Emma Lou Thornbrough, Booker T. Washington (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1969), 37.

Escape of William and Ellen Craft

William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; 
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery,(London 1860)

In the early 1840’s slavery in the South was thriving and millions were trapped in its horrific way of

Courtesy of Google Images

William and Ellen Craft (Courtesy of Google Images)

life. One married couple, having endured lives of slavery, decided this wasn’t the way they wanted to live, a decision that would lead to a long journey for freedom. This couple was William and Ellen Craft. William was the son of two slaves from Macon, Georgia, a small city in the center of the state. At an early age his family was split up, after his master sold his parents, a brother, and a sister to separate owners. William was sent out to work as an apprentice for a cabinetmaker, a job that would earn him little money for his work. At the age of sixteen, William’s master took out a mortgage to help expand his farm and cotton business. However, when repayment was due, the master was without the proper funds, and the bank took William and his younger sister as compensation. William was sold to the cashier at the bank in Macon, and he allowed to continue working at the cabinet shop. His sister, however, wasn’t so lucky and she sold off to a farmer far away. A few years later, his wife, Ellen, moved to Macon with her owners family, and she worked as a house servant. Ellen was born in Clinton, Georgia and was the daughter to her master, Major James Smith. She was given away as a wedding gift by the master’s wife as a way of getting rid of the evidence of her husbands infidelity.  The master’s wife often became upset when guests would mistake Ellen as one of her children due to her fair complexion.

In Macon, William and Ellen met and immediately fell in love. Ellen wouldn’t marry William at first because she didn’t want to start a family in slavery–remembering the pain of her mother they were separated. Eventfully, after coming to the conclusion they would be enslaved for the rest of their lives, they got married. After living in slavery as a married couple for two years, they decided to start a family. However, they also wanted their freedom. They knew that they only had one option, to escape to the North.

In order to escape, Ellen had to pretend that William was her slave, and that she was travelling with him as his owner. They would use this disguise in order to travel to Philadelphia, in the free state of Pennsylvania. Because of Ellen’s fair skin tone, it would be easy to pass her off as white. However, in the South it wasn’t customary for a white woman to be traveling alone with a male slave, and this would bring a lot of unneeded attention to the couple. For this plan to work, Ellen realized that she would have to dress up as a man. In the days before the escape, William went out to buy men’s clothing for Ellen to wear. He would have to shop at odd hours of the day because, in Georgia, it was illegal for whites to trade with slaves without the permission of their master. However, many shop owners would still sell to slaves for the money and if no one was around. After they collected all the pieces of clothing, they then asked their masters for some time off. After their requests for leave were granted, the couple were sure that the few days off would allow them to get a head start on their escape and create some space between them and their masters before they realized that they were trying to escape. During Christmas time it wasn’t uncommon for slaves to ask their masters for a few days off to be at home with their families. When the day of the escape arrived, Ellen got into her disguise and the Craft’s set off to the train station. They took the train from Macon to their first destination, Savannah, Georgia. After getting their tickets Ellen sat in the white-only train-car, while William sat in the colored car. While sitting against the window, Ellen was approached by a man, a good friend her owner, and he sat next to her. The man tried to start a conversation with Ellen but she ignored him, hoping not to give herself up. Resulting from her silence, a nearby man suggested that maybe she, or rather “he,” was deaf, causing the man to leave her alone. When they arrived in Savannah, the Craft’s boarded a steamboat to Charleston, South Carolina, their next stop. On the boat, Ellen made conversation with a military officer who was also traveling with a slave. The military officer was shocked by how nice Ellen was to her slave, and called in his slave to show how they were supposed to be treated. “You will excuse me, Sir, for saying I think you are very likely to spoil your boy by saying ‘thank you’ to him. I assure you, sir, nothing spoils a slave so soon as saying, ‘thank you’ and ‘if you please’ to him.”(Craft 50)[1]

Courtesy of Pinterest

Photo of Ellen Craft Dressed as a man (Courtesy of Pinterest)

When they arrived in Charleston Ellen and William got a room at a nice hotel where other slaves were also working. Here, William would strike up a conversation with these slaves who became very emotional when talking about their life in slavery and their freedom.”Gorra Mighty, dem is de parts for Pompey; and I hope when you get dare you will stay, and nebber follow dat buckra back to dis hot quarter no more, let him be eber so good.”(Craft 54) [2] The next day, they boarded a steamboat to Wilmington, North Carolina, however, before boarding, they first had to get by the Customs- House in Charleston. It was here that travelers had to sign their name and with whom they were travelling into the customs book. Ellen, being a slave, could not write and faked an injury to her hand so that someone else would have to sign her signature. At first the plan backfired, as the officer inside the customs house refused to sign Ellen’s name. However, the situation was quickly defused when the military officer who Ellen had conversed with before stepped up to say that he knew the her, or rather “him”. The captain of the steamboat overheard the conversation and signed the book for Ellen. This allowed the Craft’s to advance in their journey. They would then travel from Wilmington, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia to Washington, D.C. and then to Baltimore without any incident. Baltimore would be their last stop in a slave state and their final obstacle before entering freedom. They were set to leave Baltimore on Christmas Eve of the year 1848. At the train station they ran into trouble when a man pulled William off the train and demanded to see his master to show proof of documentation for Northern travel. Just when the couple thought their plan was ruined, the conductor of the train told the officers that he had been with them since Washington, D.C., and the officers at the station then let them board the train. The Craft’s would finally reach Philadelphia and their freedom the next day, on Christmas.

Soon after arriving in the city the Craft’s made friends with a man named Robert Purves who was a wealthy business man from Philadelphia. He introduced the Craft’s to another man named Barkley Ivens, a farmer from the countryside. Mr. Ivens invited the Crafts over for dinner one night where they met his daughters. During dinner, over conversation, the Craft’s revealed that they could not read nor write. The daughters jumped at this opportunity and began giving the two lessons, beginning with how to sign their names. In 1829, a law passed in Georgia that banned slaves from learning how to read and write.[3] This law was similar to those in southern states at the time. Learning how to sign their names was important to the Craft’s, because it allowed them to sign their names on things such as important documents, a true symbol of their freedom.

The Craft’s only made Philadelphia home for a short time, after being advised to leave the city by other abolitionists. While Pennsylvania was a free state, racial tensions were ever growing. Being on the border of the Mason-Dixon line meant that Pennsylvania was the first place that runaway slaves were stopped when coming up from the south. With the influx of people within the city of Philadelphia, came an increase in crime rates. The judicial system also showed prejudice against African Americans, as a their sentences was usually much harsher than a white man’s when they had committed the same crime.[4] This lead to a negative stigma about African Americans and would often lead to racial hate crimes.

The abolitionists suggested that the Craft’s move up Boston where the community is much more tolerant of colored people. The Craft’s obliged and made Boston their home for the next two years until 1850, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed by congress. The Fugitive Slave Act allowed masters to go after the runaway slaves who had already escaped into free territories. The Craft’s learned that their former master sent agents to find and return the two to Macon. Upon hearing this, the Craft’s knew that they were no longer safe anywhere in the U.S., and decided that it would be best to move to England to ensure their safety. With the help of some friends, the Craft’s eluded the slave catchers to begin their journey to Liverpool, England. There, the Crafts fulfilled the promise they made from the beginning which was to have children who were born free. In 1870, the Craft’s returned to the United States, and decided buy a farm outside of Savannah, Georgia. A few years later, the Craft’s, with the help of some investors, opened the Woodville Co-Operative Farm School where they taught and employed former slaves. The school was short-lived because the funds to run the school ran out by 1876. After this, the Craft’s retired to a quiet life, and lived out their days with their daughter in Charleston. [5]


[1] William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; 
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, (London 1860). 50.

[2] William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; 
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, (London 1860). 54.

[3] Fields, Tara. “A Brief Timeline of Georgia Laws Relating to Slaves, Nominal Slaves, & Free Persons of Color.” A Brief Timeline of Georgia Laws Relating to Slaves, Nominal Slaves, & Free Persons of Color. N.p., Feb. 2004. Web.
[4] Harper, Douglas. “Racism in Pennsylvania.” Racism in Pennsylvania. N.p., 2003. Web.
[5] Waggoner, Cassandra. “Craft, William and Ellen (1824-1900; 1826-1891) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.” Craft, William and Ellen (1824-1900; 1826-1891) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. N.p., n.d. Web.


Elizabeth Keckly (1818-1907), Success in Manumission

Keckly, Elizabeth. Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House New York: G. W. Carleton & Co., Publishers, 1868. 371 p.

Courtesy of Fleischner, page 18.

Elizabeth Keckly’s story is a remarkable one. Her life is important to discuss when analyzing the act of manumission, which is when a slaveholder decides to free their own slaves. Elizabeth Keckly was a loyal slave for many years to master Colonel A. Burwell [1]. Her fidelity in service to her slaveowners was recognized and honored through Lizzy Keckly and her son’s liberation. The spelling of her name speaks to her strength and her ability to find independence and individuality in a life that was oppressive in its majority. Elizabeth Keckly spelled her name differently than how it appears in history books and most published articles, and how even Abraham Lincoln’s wife spelt it [2]. “Lizzie Keckley” is the spelling most commonly seen. However, she herself would sign her name “Elizabeth” or “Lizzy Keckly.” Thus in this blog post, much like Jennifer Fleischner’s book, Elizabeth’s name will be spelt as “Lizzy Keckly” in order to restore her voice in history and present Lizzy how she presented herself [3].


Courtesy of Fleischner, page 19.

The reasons for a slaveholder to decide to free his or her slaves varied upon the owner [4]. In some cases, slaveholders exercised the act of manumission because a slave had surpassed a capable age to effectively execute the labor that needed to be completed on the plantations and were no longer of best use to their slave owners [5]. In other cases, similar to Keckly’s situation, freedom was granted due to loyalty, service, or good behavior. Originally, when Keckly asked her master for freedom, he refused [6]. Her motive for requesting liberation was because she did not want her son to be born into slavery like she was [7]. Keckly’s son “came into the world by no will” of her own [8]. “One-half of my boy was free, and why should not this fair birthright of freedom remove the curse from the other half… Much as I respected the authority of my master, I could not remain silent on a subject that so nearly concerned me” [9]. Her son was of mixed-race, however Keckly did not want her son to live a mixed-life; she wanted him to only know freedom [10].

Sexual relations between masters and slaves was common This created a population of slaves that had become “visibly whiter” [11]. It is possible that due to this relationship that her master felt guilty about owning one of his own children. However, this is not explicitly indicated. According to her memoir, it was Keckly’s loyalty and servitude to the her masters for decades that explained why her owner eventually decided to liberate Keckly and their son. She was strategic with her requests for freedom. When her master told her he would pay for her to run away and take the ferryboat, she refused by showing loyalty in this moment [12]. In addition, she stated that she wanted to earn the money to buy her and her son’s freedom, which attests to her pragmatism, drive, and level-headedness in obtaining the “upward mobility” she sought [13]. She was able to borrow, and repay through dressmaking, $1,200 in exchange for her and her son’s freedom. That amount of money is equivalent to about $27,000 today [14].

Her life is the story of a woman who did not back down; she persevered for years and eventually became a freed woman, a successful businesswoman, and even became a close confidant to Abraham Lincoln’s wife [15]. Even through all of the years of torture and both mental and physical brutality, Lizzy Keckly was resilient and held onto the belief that “it will be all silver in heaven” [16]. Her experience with Mr. Bingham specifically speaks to her strength and resilience; “she did not scream; she was too proud to let her tormentor know that she was suffering” [17]. Keckly demanded to her master as to know why she had been “flogged” and beaten by Mr. Bringham, who was not even her own master. When she stood up to Mr. Burwell’s son during this demand, she experienced more torture. However, this did not break Keckly, but rather made her stronger. By the third time Mr. Bingham “flogged” her, he was the one to break down, cry, and ask for forgiveness. Keckly’s perseverance through these brutal ordeals helped future slaves that came across Mr. Bingham or were owned by him as it is believed that after this last incident, Mr. Bingham never abused another slave again [18].

Keckly was unlike most slaves as she stood up for herself. Even if she was afraid, she did not let her fear of punishment get in the way of what she wanted to know or what she wanted to accomplish. Many slaves were unsuccessful in their attempts to be granted manumission [19]. In some cases, slaveholders would pass away before being able to fulfill their manumission and liberation agreements. In other cases, some slaveholders would simply fall through on their deals; it varied on the slaveowner [20]. However, Lizzy Keckly’s loyalty, pragmatism, and optimism for a brighter future allowed her to persevere and obtain freedom for herself and her son. Due to her loyalty and her resilience, she lived a unique and remarkable life and died in 1907 as a free woman [21].

[1] Keckley, Elizabeth, Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868, republished 1988).

[2] Jennifer Fleischner, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 4.

[3] Fleischner, 4.

[4] A bond for the manumission of a slave, 1757, The Gilder Lehman Institute of American History.

[5] A bond for the manumission of a slave, 1757.

[6] Keckley Elizabeth, 46.

[7] Keckley Elizabeth, 47.

[8] Keckley Elizabeth, 47.

[9] Keckley Elizabeth, 48.

[10] Fleischner, 4-5.

[11] Fleischner, 5-6.

[12] Keckley Elizabeth, 48.

[13] Fleischner, 6-7.

[14] “A Slave’s Life,” EyeWitness to History, (2007); Keckley Elizabeth, 49; McNally, Deborah. “Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907).” Blog. Accessed November 07, 2016.

[15] “A Slave’s Life,” EyeWitness to History, (2007).

[16] Keckley Elizabeth, 3.

[17] Keckley Elizabeth, 31-37.

[18] Keckley Elizabeth, 31-37; “Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907).” Blog. Accessed November 07, 2016.

[19] Rowe, Linda. “Manumission takes careful planning and plenty of savvy.” (Williamsburg: Interpreter, 2004).

[20] Rowe, Linda. “Manumission takes careful planning and plenty of savvy.” (Williamsburg: Interpreter, 2004).

[21] “A Slave’s Life,” EyeWitness to History, (2007); “Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907).” Blog. Accessed November 07, 2016.