USCT Captain Richard Etheridge Memorialized

Emerging Civil War welcome guest author George W. Hettenhouse

The Northern Outer Banks, a narrow strip of sand that extends from the Virginia/North Carolina border to Hatteras Inlet, NC, roughly 120 miles to the south, is full of history. The first English child born in the colonies, Virginia Dare, began her life on Roanoke Island. Hatteras Inlet was the location of the first Union victory in the Civil War, the first step in the Anaconda strategy to control the inlets and sounds on the Southern coast. After Burnside’s 1862 capture of Roanoke Island, the island became a thriving Freedman’s Colony. Some 40 years later the Wright Brothers would achieve powered flight from the sand dunes south of Kitty Hawk.

A lesser known historical figure from the area is Richard Etheridge. Born as a slave in 1842 on Bodie Island (now a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore), young Richard was raised alongside the children of his owner, John Etheridge. Though it was illegal at the time, he learned to read and write.

During the Civil War, Union General Butler’s attack in August 1861 quickly overwhelmed the earthwork Confederate Forts Hatteras and Clark at Hatteras Inlet while Burnside’s Campaign at Roanoke Island in 1862 made Etheridge a free man. Richard and 100 of his friends joined the 36th USCT; they had secondary roles early in the war, including guard duty at Point Lookout, Maryland. Later, the regiment, with Etheridge as a Sergeant, saw action in the Petersburg Campaign at New Market Heights. He was transferred west as a “Buffalo Soldier” in 1865 and received his discharge in 1866.

Upon returning to the Outer Banks, he resumed his livelihood of fishing and farming and became interested in civic affairs. In 1875, he joined the newly-formed U.S. Lifesaving Service at Bodie Island, serving as Surfman #6, the lowest position on the crew. The sea off of Cape Hatteras is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of storms and the close proximity of the Gulf Stream. (The USS Monitor went to the bottom there while being towed to Wilmington, NC in 1862.) In the early years of the Lifesaving Service, the politicized organization was criticized for its performance – 188 lives and a half-million dollars in property in a two month period. There was talk of annexing the LSS into the U.S. Navy.

A governmental review resulted in a reorganization and the appointment of the best surfmen in the service to positions of command. Etheredge was promoted to the position of Keeper at the Pea Island Station, becoming the only African American in a position of command in the service. White surfmen refused to serve under him, and Pea Island Station soon became an all African American crew.

c. 1890’s photograph of the crew at Pea Island Station. Etheridge is on the far left

Etheridge was aware of the attention his station was receiving and ran the station with military precision. On a terrible night in October 1896, the three-masted schooner E. S. Newman lost its sails and drifted 100 miles before driven aground off Pea Island in the hurricane. The captain had his wife and three-year old daughter aboard and sent up a distress signal. The station had already suspended operations because of the severity of the storm. Unable to launch a surfboat or to deploy a Lyle Gun, the situation seemed impossible. Two surfmen, the strongest swimmers, tied themselves to a line and managed to reach the wreck. With the line tied to the boat, the crewman rescued one person at a time, beginning with the child, as the crew on the beach pulled them ashore. After nine trips all aboard had been rescued.

Etheridge was regarded as the most courageous and ingenious lifesaver in the service. He served as the Keeper at Pea Island for twenty years, falling ill and dying at age 58 at the station in May 1900. The station continued to be manned by an all-black crew through World War II as German U-boats preyed on merchant vessels with supplies for European allies.

Etheridge and crew were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal in March 1996. A 154 foot Sentinel-class Coast Guard cutter, the USCGC Richard Etheridge, was launched in August 2012. Now, in February 2018, a newly-built bridge on Pea Island has been named the Captain Richard Etheridge Bridge. He is regarded as a local hero. He and his family are buried at the Pea Island Lifesaving Station memorial on the grounds of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Sometimes recognition can be slow in coming.

February 27, 1860: Lincoln at Cooper Union

On this day 158 years ago-February 27, 1860-Abraham Lincoln of Illinois delivered an invited speech at the Cooper Institute in New York City. Lincoln had gained a reputation and a following among some Republicans in 1858 when he skillfully debated Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois (a Democrat) as the two ran against one another to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Though Lincoln lost that election to the incumbent Douglas, he gained important exposure as a skilled speaker and an articulate voice against the expansion of slavery into the western territories. Lincoln wisely arranged to have the texts of the his debates with Douglas published, and by the time he arrived in New York City 158 years ago some thought he might be a potential Republican presidential candidate for 1860. The speech he delivered at the Cooper Institute, now commonly referred to as the Cooper Union speech, solidified Lincoln as a candidate in the minds of many. Less than three months later, the Republican National Convention nominated Abraham Lincoln as its presidential candidate.

The Cooper Union speech was over 7,000 words long, making it one of Lincoln’s longest speeches. Here are some of the key excerpts from the speech in which Lincoln persuasively argues against slavery’s expansion into the West. Notice, however, that he does not call for abolishing slavery where it exists or for an invasion of the South to free slaves-two of the most common complaints from southerners about Lincoln during the 1860 campaign.

Mathew Brady took this photo of Lincoln on the day of Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech-Feb. 27, 1860. (Library of Congress image)

“In his speech last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in The New-York Times, Senator Douglas said: “Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now.” I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry: “What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned?” … The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution, twenty-one—a clear majority of the whole—certainly understood that no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories; while all the rest probably had the same understanding. Such, unquestionably, was the understanding of our fathers who framed the original Constitution …”

“It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live”. And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live”, but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them. …”

“I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever our fathers did. To do so, would be to discard all the lights of current experience—to reject all progress—all improvement. What I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and most surely not in a case whereof we ourselves declare they understood the question better than we. …”

“If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can. But he has no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live” were of the same opinion—thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument. If any man at this day sincerely believes “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live”, used and applied principles, in other cases, which ought to have led them to understand that a proper division of local from federal authority or some part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so. But he should, at the same time, brave the responsibility of declaring that, in his opinion, he understands their principles better than they did themselves; and especially should he not shirk that responsibility by asserting that they “understood the question just as well, and even better, than we do now.”

Cooper Union in 2007. (Wikipedia)

“Let all who believe that “our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now”, speak as they spoke, and act as they acted upon it. This is all Republicans ask—all Republicans desire—in relation to slavery. As those fathers marked it, so let it be again marked, as an evil not to be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity. Let all the guarantees those fathers gave it, be, not grudgingly, but fully and fairly, maintained. For this Republicans contend, and with this, so far as I know or believe, they will be content. …”

“But you say you are conservative—eminently conservative—while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live”; while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new. True, you disagree among yourselves as to what that substitute shall be. You are divided on new propositions and plans, but you are unanimous in rejecting and denouncing the old policy of the fathers. Some of you are for reviving the foreign slave trade; some for a Congressional Slave-Code for the Territories; some for Congress forbidding the Territories to prohibit Slavery within their limits; some for maintaining Slavery in the Territories through the judiciary; some for the “gur-reat pur-rinciple” that “if one man would enslave another, no third man should object”, fantastically called “Popular Sovereignty”; but never a man among you is in favor of federal prohibition of slavery in federal territories, according to the practice of “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live”. Not one of all your various plans can show a precedent or an advocate in the century within which our Government originated. Consider, then, whether your claim of conservatism for yourselves, and your charge of destructiveness against us, are based on the most clear and stable foundations. …”

“Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. There is a judgment and a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast at least a million and a half of votes. You cannot destroy that judgment and feeling—that sentiment—by breaking up the political organization which rallies around it. You can scarcely scatter and disperse an army which has been formed into order in the face of your heaviest fire; but if you could, how much would you gain by forcing the sentiment which created it out of the peaceful channel of the ballot-box, into some other channel? …”

The February 28, 1860 edition of the New York Times reported on Lincoln’s address at Cooper Union the previous evening. (New York Times)

“When you make these declarations, you have a specific and well-understood allusion to an assumed Constitutional right of yours, to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. But no such right is specifically written in the Constitution. That instrument is literally silent about any such right. We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any existence in the Constitution, even by implication. …”

“Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. …”

“An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it. …”

“But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!” To be sure, what the robber demanded of me—my money—was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle. …”

“Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored—contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man — such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care — such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance — such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did. …”

“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

Thinking About These Photographs

Compared to the number of Civil War photographs of soldiers, civilians, camps, and battlefields, posed photos of horses are rare. Clicking through Library of Congress’s online archives, though, I found some real photographic gems in this category.

Looking closer at these photographs, I noticed some of them had one thing in common. In about half of the posed equestrian photos, a black man or boy controlled the horse or sat aside the animal. Honestly, I felt a little uncomfortable when I first made the observation. Was it a reminder of the racism and evolutionary comparisons plaguing the country that these men and boys were photographed with the animals?

However, as I continued thinking about this troubling subject I came to several conclusions as a researcher.

Labeled as Captain Beckwith’s Horse, 1863 (LOC)

First, horses – particularly in the military setting prior to the mechanized age of war – were considered noble and magnificent animals. Warriors and generals liked to be depicted on war steeds in classic military art and photography. (Just look up some paintings of Napoleon or other famous commanders to see what I mean). These photographs are posed. These are magnificent animals on display for the camera, and in three of these four photos there isn’t a white officer in the foreground.

Which leads to the next points…

An 1863 photo by Matthew Brady (LOC) Note: There are white officers in this photo, but the horse “on display” is controlled and steadied for the photograph by two African American men in the foreground.

Second, these photographs show Union officers’ horses. Thus, it is a reasonable conclusion that the men and boys caring for these horses were freedmen, possibly even Contrabrand (escaped slaves who took refuge in Union lines) who were able to find steady work as horse grooms. On some of the Southern farms and plantations, some slaves were skilled horse trainers, talented riders, and careful horse grooms. It would be natural for an escaped slave who had equestrian experience with horses to seek a job looking after horses, and a Union officer might be pleased to hire someone to look after his animal(s). Still, it’s in only one photograph that I found that a Union officer decided to officially get in the photo with his horse and groom.

Third, as a historian I’m not blind to racist attitudes prevailing during the Civil War era. However, I think an argument can be made: why didn’t the Union officer have his hired man prepare the horse for portrait and then come take the reins for the grand photographic moment? Answers likely vary in each situation. However, drawing on the projected images of warriors on horseback, that type of posed photograph might have appealed to the officer. And yet – the groom or trainer – stands or rides in the photographs…

Colonel M. Miller, 18th Missouri Infantry with his horse and horse groom (LOC) This is the “exception photo” in this set where an officer is prominently posed with the horse.

Fourth, there is nothing humiliating about the stances and poses of these freedmen. They stand proudly beside or in front of these horses, exerting a firm power over the animal. They aren’t crouching or tucked behind the animal. Likely, they groomed the animal for the photograph session. Animals – horses especially – often have a way of winning human friendship. Perhaps in a fast-changing and often cruel world, these horses were a steady friend and un-answering listener to these men and boys.

The young man who rides the horse takes a warrior’s stance. No, he doesn’t gesture grandly the way Napoleon does in the paintings. Rather, he is calmly in control, exerting his independence by working and managing the horse. In the photograph, this young man seems ready to take on the world and conquer his future.

General Rawlins’s horse taken at Cold Harbor, Va. LOC

Fifth, there is a strong possibility that these photographs of freedmen with the horses are the only images of these men. There is something wonderful about that. Their work was with the horses, and just like others, they were photographed proudly doing their jobs. At least we have photographs of these brave souls. If only we knew their names, where they were from, what struggles they had overcome, what challenges lay ahead of them… Some of the questions might be answerable with considerable research. Too often, the answers are forever lost, but at least we see their faces.

I don’t know what the photographer’s original thoughts or feelings were, but I know how I feel. Thinking it through, I’m glad we have these photographs. Without them, it would be easy to forget the incredible stories of freedmen and contraband who found work alongside the Union armies. Paid for their labor, these men cleaned, brushed, fed, watered, and saddled these horses. And one fine day they led the horse in front of the photographer’s camera. Perhaps they were surprised to be included in the image. Perhaps they expected a white officer to come and take the place of honor beside or astride the horse. Instead, they stayed and were photographed with the steeds, creating an image of men who worked hard and confidently hoped to take a traditional place of honor alongside the fabled military horses – ever ready to conquer life’s struggles and build a better world.

ECW Weekender: Frederick Douglass’s Grave & Rochester, NY

Looking for some historic sites to visit to remember the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass?

We were looking through our archives and found this post by Chris Mackowski, complete with a video and list of locations to explore. It would a perfect weekender trip anytime of the year, but especially during Black History Month.

On Location: Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass Grave (photo from FindAGrave; no known restrictions.)

Charles Dickens, America, & The Civil War

Charles Dickens, 1858

If you look at lists or letters or diaries mentioning reading material from the mid-19th Century in America, you’ll likely find a book or two by British author Charles Dickens – if that reader enjoyed novels. Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, Charles Dickens penned numerous short tales, serialized stories, and novels during his life, many delivering commentary on social struggles, reform movements, and life’s dark side through entertaining stories.

I’d always wondered about Dickens’s tales, had read an excerpt or short story here and there in high school and college classes, and realized his stories were popular during the Civil War with soldiers and civilians. However, it wasn’t until 2016 when I had a book-signing at Riverside Dickens Literature Festival that I got brave and started really exploring these stories. I wasn’t disappointed… So far, I’ve enjoyed reading or listening to several unabridged stories by Dickens – including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and (currently) A Tale of Two Cities. Film adaptions have introduced me to Our Mutual Friend and David Copperfield, and I hope to enjoy those books in the future too.

This year, as I was preparing for another year at Dickens Festival, I wondered what Charles Dickens thought about the American Civil War and his views on the American struggle for abolition and social reforms.

A trip to the library to retrieve three huge biographies and a couple hours later, I’d found some interesting answers. Since my initial questions revolved around the American Civil War and slavery, I’ll focus there, and this is far from a comprehensive study on this famous 19th Century author or his works. His journeys to the United States and his opinions about the Civil War lend some interesting perspectives though, illustrative of how some Europeans viewed the American conflict.

Charles Dickens, 1842

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) made two trips to the United States, the first in 1842 and the last in 1867-68. He had developed strong impressions of American society and democracy prior to his first visit and his experiences on that trip influenced his opinions of the United States for the remainder of his life.

As Dickens embarked for the voyage to North America in 1842, he left behind England’s workhouses, factories, grimy alleys, dark houses, orphans, prisoners, and general unhappiness that feature prominently in his literary efforts. Enthusiastically, he declared he wanted to see “the Republic of my imagination.”[i] Already, he was planning to keep a notebook of his American experiences and write several novels when he returned home; some of his touring goals included visiting prisons, bars, factories, houses of ill-repute, and police departments to see how crime and wickedness in a republic differed from his homeland. Initially, he also seemed slightly interested in American slavery, with a curiosity born of his interest in dark settings and tales and the juxtaposition of freedom and bondage in the still-relatively new nation.

American society and authors welcomed the British literary celebrity, wearying him with grand entertainments, public readings, parties, and receptions. Anxious to fete one of their favorite foreign authors, Americans overwhelmed Dickens with their opinions, handshaking, and crushing parties which were often themed after events or characters in his stories. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington City tried to out-do each other in their entertainments and literary reference. Along the way, Dickens jotted notes and made his touring visits to various factories and dark alleys, boasting in letters that he found plenty of ideas for stories.

Leaving Washington, Dickens crossed the Potomac River and rattled in a stagecoach as far south as Fredericksburg, Virginia, then caught a train to Richmond. Here, he saw slavery and visited a tobacco manufactory and a plantation.[ii] It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Unlike the orphanages, workhouses, jails, and back alleys. And yet the crowds welcomed him, often saying how his stories made them feel “a sympathy for each other – a participation in the interests of our common humanity, which constitutes the great bond of equality.”[iii] Repulsed, Dickens cancelled his plans to travel further south, instead heading for St. Louis, Cincinnati and other western cities, then going on to Niagara Falls and Canada before departing for Britain from New York.

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia. Painted upon the sketch of 1853

Despite his popularity with the American people, Dickens irritated some – particularly publishers – with his regular public mentions of copyright issues. Many publishers who were eager to make a profit and provide readers with the latest novels had little regard for the authors and even less interest in discussing international copyright laws. This lack of respect irked Dickens, and he returned to England with the impression than many Americans were simply greedy and out to make a profit in any way they could – whether that method was right or not.

Charles Dickens did write about his trip to the United States in American Notes. Significantly, his observations on slavery were mostly quoted from a previously published pamphlet by the Anti-Slavery Society.[iv] Whether his avoidance of writing a direct, personal opinion on the South’s “peculiar institution” stemmed from shock, horror, or a pragmatic approach that offended Southerners would not buy his latest books becomes a matter of debate. Privately, Dickens wrote about the United States, “This is not the Republic I came to see. This is not the Republic of my imagination.”[v] Dickens’s observations of the country would influence his thoughts on the Civil War.

A serial cover for Oliver Twist

As for America, Charles Dickens ended his 1842 visit as a celebrity, disliked by few and many of those among the Puritanical who disapproved of novels for a variety of religious or societal reasons. Still, the nation could not quite decide on one settled opinion of the British author. As one publication noted: “By one side he was pictured as the self-made man whose rapid rise in the world had not given him the time to learn all the fine points of good manners; by the other he was described as the struggling bread-winner, a man with ‘a wife and four children, whom his death may very possibly leave destitute.’”[vi] Whatever their opinions of the man, Dickens’s novels continued to sell well in the United States through the Civil War era and beyond.

Moving forward on the historical timeline, Charles Dickens watched the American Civil War unfold by following the news of the day as it reached England. Remembering his experiences and disgust over the copyright issues and greedy businessmen, Dickens implicitly supported the South, suggesting that the Northern calls for abolition merely masked a desire for some type of economic gain.[vii] Though startled by Southern slavery during his 1842 visit, he darkly suggested a lack of abolitionist fervor from the Union preservers, remarking in a private letter, “They will both rant and lie and fight until they come to a compromise; and the slave may be thrown into that compromise or thrown out of it, just as it happens.”[viii] Clearly, Dickens had formed dark opinions of the United States economically and morally – some of which had historical foundation while others were merely his impression of the situation.

Harper’s Weekly illustration of crowds buying tickets to hear Charles Dickens during 1860’s tour

Still, Dickens’s saga with the United States and the Civil War did not completely end on a dark note. From December 1867 to March 1868, he toured the country again, was received warmly, and gave so many dramatic readings to enchanted audiences that he nearly exhausted his already fragile health. Invited to the White House, Dickens met with President Andrew Johnson who was on the eve of impeachment in a difficult Reconstruction era presidency.

As Charles Dickens boarded the vessel to take him back to England, he carried with him photographs from Civil War battlefields. One way or another, he sent some of those photographs to Queen Victoria, giving her a glimpse of the tragedy of the American struggle. Charles Dickens spent the next several years making a farewell tour through the cities of Britain; in 1870 at the end of that tour, he was invited to meet the queen. She personally thanked him for sharing the photographs with her.[ix] Which photographs were they? Were they some of Brady’s work or another photographer’s? The source did not specify, but perhaps further research will give additional clues.

Charles Dickens’s relationship with the United States can best be described as tumultuous. Readers, society leaders, and literary minds loved him. Still, American attitudes, business practices, and slavery shocked the author, and as a writer who explored and relished dark stories, that is significant to note. In the end, Dickens seemed to semi-reconcile with America, visiting the country again during his final years.

It might be a stretch to say that Dickens or his writing strongly influenced any particular American cause related to the Civil War. However, like other reform-minded authors of his era, Dickens’s popularity meant that American readers explored novels and stories that made them think and feel. Perhaps Oliver Twist and his struggles seemed confined to London, but the feelings he and other Dickens’s characters evoked subconsciously built into the American minds a sympathy for the oppressed. Could it be argued that Dickens laid a mental and emotional foundation for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin which helped ignite a “great war”? Possibly.

A serial cover for “A Tale of Two Cities”, 1859

However, moving from the theoretical to the concrete, Civil War soldiers and civilians read Dickens’s writing. It provided entertainment on cold nights or summer’s quiet evenings. As one Confederate officer wrote home, “In our own tent we have been reading various books together, sometimes scraps of Shakespeare, & sometimes bits of choice novels, such as the “Tales of Two Cities.”[x]

It is possible that the photographs of battlefields which Dickens carried to London contained images of dead soldiers who had read his novels. Or at least the fields where his literary fans had fought and died. A strange thought, but entirely possible that the soldiers who fought each other on those bloody American fields had read and enjoyed books by Charles Dickens.

As I speed down a California interstate, heading to a speaking engagement or Dickens Festival this weekend, the quiet voice on an audio book recording will read A Tale of Two Cities. Though separated from the Civil War by long decades, I can still hear or read the tales that entertained soldiers and civilians in that by gone era. I, too, can shudder at the darkness in Dickens’s tales and plaintively hope for reforms in my own era. Perhaps literature is a stronger thread to the past than we fully realize.


[i] Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life, (New York: Penguin Press, 2011), Page 127.

[ii] Michael Slater, Charles Dickens, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), Page 185.

[iii] Ibid, Page 185.

[iv] Ibid, Page 177.

[v] Ibid, Page 175.

[vi] Ibid, Page 195.

[vii] Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life, (New York: Penguin Press, 2011), Page 325.

Peter Ackroyd, Dickens, (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1990), Pages 971, 1009-1010.

[viii] Michael Slater, Charles Dickens, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), Page  506.

[ix] Ibid, Page 609.

[x] W.G. Bean, Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), Page 104.

From ECW’s Archives: Port Royal Experiment

In 2015, Ashley Webb wrote a four part series for Emerging Civil War, discussing the Port Royal Experiment as a prelude to the Reconstruction.

We thought it was a series to revisit during 2018 Black History Month.

Port Royal Experiment – Setting The Stage For Reconstruction, Part 1

Port Royal Experiment – Setting The Stage For Reconstruction, Part 2

Port Royal Experiment – Setting The Stage For Reconstruction, Part 3

Port Royal Experiment – Setting The Stage For Reconstruction, Part 4