Thursday, April 14, 2011

I'm a Little Late in Learning About Early

Daniel Crofts's post about Jubal Early on the Times's Disunion blog ( was the first I'd read about the "Bad Old Man" having been opposed to secession. Obviously, I should not have skipped the preface of Early's book about the war. Crofts tells us:
Viewed in retrospect, Early was the most improbable member of the anti-secession coalition that dominated the convention and that believed disaster would befall the Old Dominion if it left the Union. He worked tirelessly to promote a Union-saving compromise that would halt secession in the Upper South and oblige the Lower South to reconsider its reckless course.
From what I've read by Early and about him, however, he seemed a thoroughly disagreeable and stubborn old man, who who was just as skilled at advancing his own interests as he was at commanding men on the field of battle. Early was said to be hyper critical of his subordinates, and Henry Brown Richardson must have suffered when he served as Early's Engineering Officer during the long, cold winter of 1863, when the division was encamped east of Fredericksburg. Henry never complained, however, despite the heavy work load the old man laid on him. In Early's book he writes about the engineering work undertaken during that winter:
After a careful examination of the country, I proceeded to fortify the banks of the river at points likely to afford facilities for crossing, and I established a line of defence also along the main road running parallel with the river, where high embankments with cedar hedges on them afforded good cover for troops and excellent breastworks.... New roads were constructed in rear of the line of defence out of reach of artillery from the opposite bank, for the purpose of facilitating communication between the different positions, and two Whitworth guns... were placed on a high hill in rear of Port Royal…. We were compelled to haul our supplies in wagons from Guiney's Depot on the railroad, and as the winter was a severe one with much snow and rain, the country roads, which we had to use, became almost impassible from the mud, and we were compelled to employ the men for a considerable time in corduroying them at the worst places.
Of course, It was Henry who organized and supervised this work, but Early probably didn't even remember his name.
Crofts continues:
But once the war started, he committed to the Confederate States of America and never let go, becoming one of Robert E. Lee’s corps commanders by the last year of the war. Then, during the postwar era, he became the quintessential promoter of “Lost Cause” mythology, which airbrushed slavery as a cause of the conflict and instead celebrated the heroic fight by outnumbered white Southerners, who sought only to vindicate their honor and maintain their rights.
As promoter of the "lost cause" meme, he was probably no worse than many others. What confirmed my negative opinion of Early, though, was his association with the Louisiana State Lottery during the post war years of Reconstruction and Redemption. Early and General P. G. T. Beauregard provided a front of respectability for this organization by officiating at the drawings, while the Lottery's corrupt backers made millions on the backs of Louisiana taxpayers for a quarter century.
In 1890, Henry's brother-in-law, Edgar Howard Farrar of New Orleans, took a leading role at the Anti-Lottery Democratic Convention, which helped bring down the Lottery machine. But that's another story to be expanded in a later post.

The Rebel's Archives are Here, on this Beautiful Campus

Most of Henry Brown Richardson's family papers are archived at the Hill Memorial Library at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge shown in the gallery below. The LSU campus is one of the most beautiful I've seen.  Its giant oaks with their drooping limbs and moss is like a Louisiana dream. If you have a long research project, you can stay overnight at the Faculty Club.  The lunches there are excellent and not expensive.

One of the photos shows some of Henry's descendants in a conference room at the Hill Library as they prepare to donate some more papers


There are also a few of Henry's papers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Valuable Resource for Amateur and Professional Historians: The Civil War Book Review

While looking for something else on the internet I happened across The Civil War Book Review, which is hosted on the site of Louisiana State University's Hill Library. The Civil  war sesquicentennial now underway is bringing forth a stream of new books on the subject - so many that we will never have time to read them all, let alone the budgets to buy them or the shelves to hold them. In such circumstances, we desperately need the services of the distinguished reviewers - 58 of them in the Winter edition - which the CWBR has hired for us. We eagerly await the Spring issue.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Yankee's Conversion from Douglas Democrat to Solid Successionist

Russell McClintock's recent post in the NY Times Opinionator blog (here ) about Senator Stephen Douglas reminded me that Henry Brown Richardson had been a Douglas Democrat before he went to Louisiana. McClintock writes about Douglas's energetic efforts to avoid secession, and within that context, his support for Lincoln:
For both patriotic and political reasons, the Democratic senator had decided that his best course lay in a conspicuous display of public support for the incoming Republican administration — and in making himself a critical player in the last-ditch efforts to avoid civil war.
Douglas’s change was jarring for many observers; for years, and especially over the last several months, the belligerent, free-swinging senator had been blunt in asserting that the Republicans, with their irrational, reckless belief in racial equality and their self-righteous, moralistic attacks on Southern society, were no less to blame for the growing sectional crisis than the fire-eating Southern radicals. The previous August, referring to Andrew Jackson’s ferocious response to South Carolina’s defiance of federal law three decades earlier, Douglas had linked extremists on both sides of the slavery question with disunion when he thundered, “I wish to God we had an Old Hickory now alive, in order that he might hang Northern and Southern traitors on the same gallows.”
Yet Douglas was no fire-eater himself: his overriding goal was to save the Union, and to him, the only effective way to do this was through compromise. “I will not meditate war, nor tolerate the idea,” he pronounced in a fiery speech in early January 1861, “until every effort at peaceful adjustment shall have been exhausted, and the last ray of hope shall have deserted the patriot’s heart.” His reasoning captured the fears of millions, North and South: “War is disunion, certain, inevitable, irrevocable disunion. I am for peace to save the Union.”
Henry claimed to have little or no interest in politics, but his letters showed consistent sympathy for "The Little Giant" until the final months of 1860. He was probably circumspect about expressing these views in Louisiana, because many in the South considered Douglas to be a traitor. "The Little Giant" had incurred Southern enmity by his consistent support of the principle that local sovereignty must determine whether a territory or a state should be slave or free. Thus, according to his Freeport Doctrine, the Dred Scott decision could not be enforced in a territory opposed to slavery, because its citizens would never permit the exercise of police power necessary to support the peculiar institution. His ultimate act of "treason", however, came in 1858, when he led Congress to refuse admission of Kansas to the Union as a slave state, following a constitutional convention and referendum in that territory, which were tainted by fraud and misrepresentation.
Henry was a solid supporter of States Rights including the right to secede from the Union, but as one would expect from a Douglas Democrat, he doubted at first that secession was a wise policy. As secession fever swept the South, however, Henry, too, was caught up in the same current, and by mid April of 1861 found himself to be a committed citizen soldier of the Confederacy.
Henry was probably an ideal candidate for conversion to the Confederate cause, and the story of this conversion is treated in detail in my forthcoming book.