Trading Views With Shelby Foote

I am writing to you about the avalanche of negative letters you received regarding Professor Gary Gallagher’s column about Nathan Bedford Forrest and Shelby Foote. I still agree with Ulysses S. Grant’s putative statement about Robert E. Lee, that never has such a noble man fought for such an ignoble cause. With regard to Forrest, it can be said that never in American history has such an ignoble man fought for such an ignoble cause.

About 13 years ago I had a delightful discussion with the charming Shelby Foote. I told him I thought he had a dangerous blind spot surrounding Nathan Forrest. I told him his view was dangerous because, while there are countless brilliant academics writing about the Civil War, none could match his skill at storytelling, and a good story trumps good history every time. He just smiled, clapped me on the back and said, “Apparently you are a man who does not appreciate a good story.”

I am certain that Professor Gallagher expected the slings and arrows one receives when speaking truth to power. The North won the military Civil War but has been slaughtered in the literary war. When I entered Princeton in 1964, I noticed that for Northern students the Civil War was just a few chapters from their history textbooks. But for Southern students, the war was a living event, redolent of the most intense emotions. I read somewhere that even though more soldiers from Kentucky fought for the North than the South, there are countless statues to Confederates in that state and only one to a person from the Union.

To this day, I have Southern friends who tell me the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery. Our communication usually ends when I send them the Mississippi secession documents, which list countless reasons for secession, all of them based on slavery— including the gem that God made black people able to work in the heat while white people are not able to do so. They were the same arguments I heard during the Civil Rights movement. Yet when George Wallace was inaugurated as governor, he did not proclaim “States’ Rights Now, States’ Rights Forever.” He said “Segregation Now. Segregation Forever.”

Keep up the good work, Professor Gallagher.

David Gould

Port Washington, N.Y.

Northern Bias in the Media

I found the article “Dark Days in the Southland,” by Stephen Budiansky in the December issue, very illuminating, both of the North and the South. If the piece is a fair representation of John Richard Dennett’s reporting for The Nation, I believe it shows there was just as much hatred of the South in the North as there was hatred of the North in the South. After such a long and bloody war, that is completely understandable. Dennett was, it seems to me, apparently concentrating on feeding the negative, anti-Southern prejudices and stereotypes, both black and white, that must have been widely held in the North.

That is my conclusion because there didn’t seem to be any positive, heartwarming stories of black and white Southerners pulling together to get through the hard times following the war. I have read such stories, and I don’t believe it was all as completely negative as represented by Mr. Dennett’s reporting. Nor do I doubt racial prejudice was just as strong in the North as in the South at that time. You only have to read about the actions and attitudes of General William T. Sherman and other Northerners to know that. Even today, there are still strong anti-Southern prejudices among some in the news media, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly negative re – porting of issues involving Confederate heritage.

Thankfully, those of us who love history and read magazines such as Civil War Times can offer a more fair and balanced representation of the war, its outcome and its impact on the America of today.

Michael D. Jones

Iowa, La.

Don’t Like the Recipe

Why was the Obama cupcake picture on P. 17 in the June issue? The text reveals no relevance to Civil War Times’ intended purpose. Why risk alienating subscribers? Thanks for an otherwise excellent issue.

Robert W. Eppler

Garland, Texas

Editor’s note: The “Obama cupcake picture” on P. 17 of the June issue also pictured Lincoln and was one of several news items included in a special section titled “Lincoln Bicentennial Briefs.” The purpose of the “Civil War Today” section is to provide information on Civil War–related topics that intersect with current events.

1st Black Regiment in the North

The article “Glory at Battery Wagner,” by Gerald Henig in the June issue, contained a reference to the 54th Volunteer Massachusetts as “the brainchild of Massachusetts Governor John An – drew, and the first black regiment raised in the North.” This is not correct.

The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry was organized at Fort Scott, in Kansas, on August 5, 1862, and mustered into Federal service on January 13, 1863. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized on March 30, 1863, and mustered into Federal service on May 13, 1863. The 1st Kansas fought its first battle at Island Mound, Mo., on October 29, 1862. Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861; therefore the 1st Kansas was the first African-American volunteer regiment raised by a Northern state, not the 54th.

I don’t know how many times I have seen this error in print, and each time I have to refute this erroneous statement. It would appear proper research is not being done.

Orvis N. Fitts, USNR (ret.)

Overland Park, Kan.

Not Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Glory Past

Gerald S. Henig wrote in his article “Glory at Battery Wagner,” about William H. Carney, the first black soldier to earn the MOH, that “Carney’s postwar life was hardly remarkable.”

Actually, Carney was appointed to a career position as a U.S. letter carrier, and became one of the first black letter carriers in the United States; he delivered mail in New Bedford, Mass., for 31 years before retiring from the U.S. Post Office department (referred to as the Postal Service after 1970). After his retirement, he was offered the job as messenger at the Massachusetts Statehouse.

Erik H. Swensen

Medford, Ore.

Forbidden Subject?

I was somewhat surprised to see the article about the 7th Cavalry versus the Ku Klux Klan in the June issue. This apparently is a forbidden subject in the school systems. I had never heard of this or similar incidents until I started reading Civil War Times. The magazine is an education in itself.

Jim Lomartire

Downington, Pa.

We’ll Keep at It

I’ve subscribed to Civil War Times for several years now. The June 2009 issue, in my opinion, is the best ever! I can’t put it down. Every article is very interesting.

John Way Jr.

Monroeville, Pa.

Frisby’s Boots Left an Impression

In the April 2009 issue of Civil War Times I was pleased to read about a distant member of our family in the sidebar titled “The Strange Tale of Colonel Frisby’s Boots,” part of Thomas G. Clemens’ article “Iron Brigade From the Empire State.” My great-grandmonther was a Frisbie. I have a large book, “The Frisbee-Frisbie Genealogy,” by Edward S. Frisbee D.D., copyright 1926, by Tuttle Company in Rutland, Vt.

Mr. Clemens states that “Frisby’s body was left on the field on Bull Run.” However, Dr. Frisbee writes, “his body was brought back to Albany and the funeral was held on the eleventh of September. The closing of all places of business, the streets crowded with citizens and the general expression of all classes attested to the esteem and the honor in which he was held.”

Dr. Frisbee used as his source Heroes of Albany, 1866, by Rufus Wheelswright Clark, D.D. Is it possible that Mr. Clemens’ sources are not accurate? Also there is no mention of the boots in Dr. Frisbee’s book. However, they could have been returned to the widow sometime later.

Rev. Patrick N. Kelly

Sons of the American Revolution

Lakeview, Ohio

Author Tom Clemens responds: The phrase “The body of our Col. was left on the field at Bull Run” was in quotations because it came from John Bryson’s memoir. At the time of the Battle of South Mountain, the information you reference from Heroes of Albany was not available to John Bryson and the men of the 30th New York. As far as they knew, the colonel’s body had been left on the field.

In fact, as Heroes of Albany makes clear, Colonel Frisby’s body was not re – covered for several days, long after the regiment had moved on. Thus, as far as Bry son knew, it was the truth. Thanks for giving our readers “the rest of the story.”


Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here