Friday, 31 August 2012

Sesquicentennial of 2nd Manassas

This week marks the sesquicentennial of the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30 1862). Both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run were fought over pretty much the same ground in Manassas, Virginia, ending in victories for the Confederacy. General Robert E. Lee defeated Union General John Pope's forces, allowing the Confederacy to gain a foothold in the East. However, the march into Maryland ended in disaster for Lee. The Second Battle of Bull Run was said to be the catalyst for President Lincoln to plan the Emancipation Proclamation.

Re-enactors demonstrated some of artillery gun fire last saturday. Rob Griesbach, a Confederate re-enactor, stated that "we try to show that the war is [about] more than just slavery. Each soldier had a totally different reason for enlisting. They fought for their kids. They didn't fight for themselves."

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Richard III is buried under a car park...?

Archaeologists believe they have found the burial site of Richard III - located underneath a car park in Leicester. The King (who has survived through history as an evil, ugly character thanks to Shakespeare) died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The site of his grave became forgotten, and throughout the Tudor times he was hailed as a despot and a tyrant. The excavations begin this week, and archaeologists are also hoping to discover the remains of the church that housed the body of the King. The exact location is, naturally, hard to find, and scientists have been studying contemporary and modern maps to try and locate the site. Add this to the rumour that the King's remains were removed from the church in the c16th and thrown into a river further complicates the project. The excavations are supported by Leicester University.

Monday, 20 August 2012

In the shadow of Wounded Knee

This is a really interesting (and heart breaking) story of Native Americans at Wounded Knee - it's worth reading in its entirety, as I could never summarise this. I drove through there a few years ago, and it is one of the most upsetting places I have ever been to, a world away from the projected image of the US as a wealthy and prosperous nation.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The c19th version of "screw you"

J.W. Loguen, a former slave, fled his mistress in Tennessee to a life of freedom. He travelled up North to reside in Syracuse, New York, and sent several letters denouncing slavery that were published in William Lloyd Garrison’s paper, The Liberator. (Garrison was a radical abolitionist operating in Massachusetts). On the 27 April 1860, The Liberator printed a letter from Loguen’s former mistress, and there followed an extremely interesting, and ultimately kick-arse exchange:

Maury County, Tennessee, February 1860.
“To JARM:-  I write you these lines to let you know the situation we are in,- partly in consequence of your running away and stealing Old Rock, our fine mare. Though we got the mare back, she never was worth much after you took her;- and, as I now stand in need of some funds, I have determined to sell you, and I have had an offer for you, but did not see fit to take it. If you will send me one thousand dollars, and pay for the old mare, I will give up all claim I have to you... In consequence of your running away, we had to sell Abe and Ann and twelve acres of land; and I want you to send me the money, that I may be able to redeem the land that you was the cause of our selling, and on receipt of the above-named sum of money, I will send you your bill of sale. If you do not comply with my request, I will sell you to some one else, and you may rest assured that the time is not far distant when things will be changed with you..."
Sarah Logue

Loguen replied a month later.

“...You sold my brother and sister, Abe and Ann, and twelve acres of land, you say, because I ran away. Now you have the un-utterable meanness to ask me to return and be your miserable chattel, or, in lieu thereof, send you $1000 to enable you to redeem the land, but not to redeem my poor brother and sister! If I were to send you money, it would be to get my brother and sister, and not that you should get land...Be it known to you that I value my freedom, to say nothing of my mother, brothers and sisters, more than your whole body; more, indeed, than my own life; more than all the lives of all the slaveholders and tyrants under heaven. You say you have offers to buy me, and that you shall sell me if I do not send you $1000, and in the same breath and almost in the same sentence, you say, 'You know we raised you as we did our own children.' Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping-post? Did you raise them to be driven off, bound to a cofflein chains?...But you say I am a thief, because I took the old mare along with me. Have you got to learn that I had a better right to the old mare, as you call her, than [my master] had to me? Is it a greater sin for me to steal his horse, than it was for him to rob my mother's cradle, and steal me? If he and you infer that I forfeit all my rights to you, shall not I infer that you forfeit all your rights to me? ... Did you think to terrify me by presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with unutterable scorn and contempt. The proposition is an outrage and an insult. I will not budge one hair's breadth. I will not breathe a shorter breath, even to save me from your persecutions. I stand among a free people, who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights, and the rights of mankind; and if your emissaries and venders come here to re-enslave me, and escape the unshrinking vigor of my own right arm, I trust my strong and brave friends, in this city and State, will be my rescuers and avengers.
Yours, &c., J. W. LOGUEN.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An Olympic Legacy

2012 marks the one hundred year anniversary of (the part-Native American athlete) Jim Thorpe’s performance at the Olympic games. Thorpe won the pentathlon and decathlon in Stockholm in 1912, and on his return to New York, became a household name. Even the King of Sweden called Thorpe the “greatest athlete in the world”, and in the 1950’s Thorpe was rated the top athlete in a nationwide poll, way ahead of Babe Ruth. This is an incredible feat, considering that most Native Americans didn’t have the right to vote until 1924. After the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe became a champion in college football; but devastatingly his Olympic medals were taken from him because he played professional baseball before the international games. Thorpe’s medals were given back to his family posthumously (since his baseball career was not actually filed until a year after the Olympics), but another legal battle over the final resting place of his body is still being debated in court. Two towns in Pennsylvania originally laid claim to his body; these were combined to form the town ‘Jim Thorpe’ (which I went to four years ago). However, Thorpe's descendants from the Sac and Fox nation of Oklahoma are suing the town for refusing to return the body to them. Other family members demand the body stay in Pennsylvania. Currently, Thorpe’s body remains in a mausoleum with soil from his home in Oklahoma and soil sent from the Stockholm Olympics stadium...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A new museum to the American Revolution

Finally, a museum in the US will be dedicated to the American Revolution. I'm surprised there isn't one already, considering there are museums to barbed wire, spam and yo-yos... Perhaps the war is slightly more controversial than spam.

The museum will be built in Philadelphia, opposite Independence Hall, and already, artefacts are being collected from across the country (over 3,000 so far). There is a musket from the battle of Lexington, a soldier's canteen (one of only three surviving) and a powder horn that is inscribed "kill or be killed. Liberty or death". The star piece however is the tent that George Washington used during the entire war - think of the decisions he made under this!

Professor Gordon Wood, a scholar of the American Revolution, said "It's been a long time coming but I'm glad it's here...There have been museums for almost every conceivable event in American history or person in American history. But not for the American Revolution which is extraordinary when you think of the revolution as the most important event in our history."

The museum will open in 2015.


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Racial attitudes and cartoons...

At Hinton Ampner, the National Trust property where I work, there is a small statue of a black servant holding up a small bookcase. It's a caricature of course, but it speaks volumes about racial attitudes in the 1930's. (Typically, this subject is not touched upon in the house, and is a silent reminder of these attitudes.) During research for my dissertation, I came across some racist cartoons, broadcast in the US and the UK - some of them were even shown as late as the 1970's! The site below shows a few clips from these shows. It's uncomfortable viewing, but necessary.

This site is also very interesting - it explains the history of 'blackface', racial stereotypes that were used to mock African Americans. For my undergraduate dissertation, I wrote about the 'mammy' character, which was developed during slavery and is still used today in pancake boxes (I took this photo three months ago in D.C.). Apparently, this image has been 'updated' to show a hard working mother, but it's still pretty shocking. The site gives a really interesting account of the stereotypes and their use in films and television programmes.

The 'other' war in 1860's America

The link below shows a rather over-looked part of American history; while the nation was engaged in a great civil war (echoing Lincoln there), the Eastern Sioux tribe fought an offensive against the US in 1862. (2012 marks the 150th anniversary). The war began after a series of broken treaties with the government, and an enormous influx of white migrants continued to threaten the Sioux way of life. Hundreds were taken prisoner, and were taken to internment camps in Minnesota. Lack of food and warm clothing in these camps led to the deaths of hundreds of women and children. Lincoln oversaw the execution of 38 Sioux leaders, reducing the number from 300. This remains the largest mass execution in American history.