A record shattered on visitors

While visiting my folks in Illinois, I have been quiet on posting, though I do have some pictures, but that’s for another post. First, thanks to my good friend Dr. William Young on his first post on this blog. Beyond that wonderful item, I learned that I shattered the record for the busiest day by over 700 hits. Apparently, Father’s Day was the day to visit the site and specifically my post on the Medal of Honor during the war. Thank you readers for that wonderful surprise and fluke. I am still at a loss as to how it happened, but am not complaining. I will get a post up in the next day or so recounting some of the reenacting adventures I had this last month. On another note, please remember that this is the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which warrants a link to this cool song.

Book Review of Spain and the American Civil War 

Wayne H. Bowen. Spain and the American Civil War. Shades of Blue and Gray Series. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8262-1938-1. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. v, 188. $40.00.

Few historians of the American Civil War focus on the international history of the conflict.  Most Civil War studies are about political and military leaders, military campaigns, and battles.  By comparison there has been just a trickle of studies over the last fifty years devoted to the subject of diplomatic affairs.  And, yet, most historians agree that foreign intervention, by way of mediation or military action, would have greatly influenced the outcome of the war.

There are several modern surveys of Union and Confederate diplomacy.  These studies include Howard Jones’ recently published Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations (2010), Dean B. Mahin, One War at A Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War (1999), and the older David Paul Crook, The North, the South, and the Great Powers, 1861-1865 (1974) as well as his briefer version Diplomacy during the American Civil War (1976).  Early Union diplomacy is examined in Norman B. Ferris, Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward’s Foreign Policy, 1861 (1976) and The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis (1977).  Confederate diplomacy is covered in Frank L. Owsley’s classic King Cotton Diplomacy (1931) and the more recent Charles M. Hubbard, The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy (1998).  Union relations with Britain are the focus of many studies, including Brian Jenkins’ two-volume Britain and the War for the Union (1974-80), Howard Jones, Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War (1991), and Philip E. Myers, Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations (2008).  French foreign policy concerning the American Civil War is examined in Lynn Marshall Case and Warren F. Spencer, The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970) and Daniel B. Carroll, Henri Mercier and the American Civil War (1971).  French policy in Mexico is considered in Alfred Jackson Hanna and Kathryn Abbey Hanna’s Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy (1971) and Michele Cunningham’s revisionist study Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III (2001).  Little has been written on Spain’s involvement in the conflict other than James W. Cortada’s study Spain and the American Civil War: Relations at Mid-Century, 1855-1868 (1980).

Dr. Wayne H. Bowen, Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University, delivers us the most recent diplomatic history of the American Civil War.  In Spain and the American Civil War Professor Bowen explores Spanish foreign policy and Spain’s relations with the Union and Confederacy.  He stresses that efforts by the Confederacy to attract support from Spain has received little attention by historians “despite the advantages to both states that mutual assistance could have brought” (p.5).

Bowen describes how Spain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Leopoldo O’Donnell (1856, 1858-63), a former general, was in the midst of a political, economic, and military revival in the late 1850s.  O’Donnell was attempting to use the revived military and naval power of Spain to restore Spain’s prestige as a Great Power.  Spain had lost most of its American possessions in the Spanish American Wars of Independence (1808-33).  It had also survived two civil wars, the First Carlist War (1833-39) and Second Carlist War (1846-49) which challenged Queen Isabel II’s (1833-68) rule of Spain.  All that was left of the once extensive Spanish Empire was Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.  By the late 1850s, Spain’s military revival resulted in an active duty army of 115,000 troops with a reserve of another 85,000 men (p.38).  Madrid was also rebuilding its naval fleet, which had 170 new ships in the 1860s.  Most of these vessels were steamships with sails that were built in Britain, France, and the United States.  By 1860, Spain was the 4th largest naval power in the world in terms of firepower and displacement (p.47).

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Spain was pursuing an aggressive foreign policy and flexing its muscles.  Spain opted not to assist France and Britain in the Crimean War, but it sent six frigates and 1,000 troops from Manila to assist France in Cochin China in 1857.  Then, in 1859-60, O’Donnell deployed 38,000 troops to northwest Africa to defeat Morocco. Next, in April 1861, the Spanish government sent 3,000 troops from Cuba to occupy Santo Domingo (the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola).  Spain officially annexed the territory two months later, and increased the military strength in Santo Domingo to 20,000 troops by 1862.  In 1861-62, during the first year of the American Civil War, Spain joined Britain and France in a punitive military expedition against Mexico, forcing the Benito Juárez government to make good on its international debts.  The initial allied force consisted of 6,200 Spanish troops from Cuba, under the command of General Juan Prim y Prats, alongside 700 British and 2,000 French troops.  Spanish and British forces withdrew from Mexico after a few months, although French troops stayed, and eventually took Mexico City and established the Mexican Empire.

Bowen believes that the Confederate States of America and Spain were “natural allies.”  He expounds that Spain was a more likely ally for the South than Britain or France.  Spain had kept slavery in its Caribbean territories while Britain rejected slavery in 1833 and France in 1848.  Spain and the United States had poor relations dating back to the American support for Spanish American Wars of Independence in the early nineteenth century.  The Monroe Doctrine (1823) was aimed at preventing Spain from reclaiming lost Latin American states.  Spain feared American expansionism, as well as US efforts to dominate Latin America and seize Spain’s remaining colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  The Spanish government was pleased to see the breakup and weakening of the United States in 1861.  Some of the Spanish elite, including Queen Isabel II, Prime Minister O’Donnell, aristocrats, and military leaders, were sympathetic to the Southern cause.  Spanish plantation owners in Cuba and business leaders identified with and supported the South.  Spanish newspapers cheered Confederate battlefield victories.  Spanish seaports in Cuba and Puerto Rico provided safe harbor for Confederate smugglers and blockade runners.

The Confederate States of America looked to Britain, France, and Spain to gain diplomatic recognition and possibly intervention during the American Civil War.  Spain, like Britain and France, declared neutrality in the American struggle, but gave belligerent rights to the South in June 1861.

Why wouldn’t Spain openly side with the South?  First, Madrid refused to grant diplomatic recognition and establish an alliance with the Confederate States unless Britain and France took the first step (p.75).  Spain, despite its growing economic and military strength, was too weak to take unilateral action against the North in support of the South.  Madrid would need to reply on much superior British and French economic, military, and political power.  As Bowen writes: “Defeating Morocco alone was one thing, taking on the United States, even as an ally of the Confederacy, was a task beyond the capacity of Spain in 1861” (p.60).  Spain, depending on French and British leadership in foreign policy, would take a wait-and-see approach.  Secondly, the author points out that there was mistrust between the Confederacy and Spain throughout the American Civil War.  Spanish leaders realized that the primary arguments for United States acquisition of Cuba in the 1850s had come from Southern politicians, the same men that were in charge of the Confederate government in the 1860s.  Southern politicians had frequently mentioned that “after the South broke from the Union, Cuba, Mexico, and Central America would naturally join or be joined to the new Confederacy as slave states . . .” (p.71).  As such, Spain, not trusting the South, kept its newest naval ships and best army regiments stationed in Cuba (p.76).  Third, Madrid had overstretched its military and naval resources, especially with the occupation of Santo Domingo.  An insurgency against Spanish rule in Santo Domingo broke out in 1862-63, and Spain had to keep 25,000 troops there fighting a costly guerrilla war for the next three years (p.99).  The conflict, the most important issue in Spanish foreign policy at the time, led to the downfall of the O’Donnell government.  And, finally, Union naval power and military strength, especially after 1862-63, deterred Spain from openly siding with the Confederacy.  The United States Navy could deploy a couple of ironclad warships and destroy Havana (p.118).

By late 1863, the Confederate States had lost realistic hope of European intervention in the American conflict.  The South shifted its primary diplomatic efforts from Britain to Emperor Napoleon III of France.  But, France, like Spain, was tied down in a conflict, the Franco-Mexican War (1861-67) and had other diplomatic concerns in the Polish Uprising (1863-64) and Schleswig-Holstein Crisis (1863-64).  Moreover, United States naval and military strength, along with battlefield victories in 1863 and afterwards, allowed the North to make diplomatic threats against France and Spain that needed to be and were taken seriously.

In Spain and the American Civil War Professor Bowen provides a much needed examination of Spanish foreign policy during the American crisis.  Most diplomatic studies of the American Civil War ignore Spain and its influence in the Caribbean Region.  The author stresses the mid-century revival of Spanish power and how Madrid became strategically overextended while trying to regain influence as a Great Power.  In doing so, he shows that Spain would have been of limited assistance to the South unless Britain and/or France diplomatically recognized and allied with the Confederate States.  This is an interesting study and should be on the reading list of every student and scholar interested in the American Civil War and international diplomacy in the mid-nineteenth century.  It is based on both primary and secondary sources.

Dr. William Young
University of North Dakota

Webinar on the Seven Days Battles

Today (Saturday, June 16), from 9am-noon (since it is in Massachusetts, I am assuming it is Eastern Time) the American College of History and Legal Studies will be live-streaming a round table discussion on the Seven Days Battles. It will be led by our founding dean, Civil War Historian and Pulitzer prize nominee Michael Chesson.

You can either check it out via this link, or through the embed provided below.

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/11285871
Streaming Live by Ustream

Below is to participate in the chat:

http://www.ustream.tv/socialstream/11285871

More information is available here.

Apologies on the short notice, but I did not find out about this until two days ago and have been busy packing and traveling to Illinois to visit my folks, but I hope some of you are able to take in this interesting event.

Welcome to our newest contributor

I would like to welcome friend and fellow reenactor Den Bolda to the writing staff of this blog. Den brings a lot of great knowledge to the table in the realm of reenacting and material culture related to the war. Look for postings from Den in the near future and give him a hearty welcome.

Ask CWH: Calling all teachers

In light of my recent visit to Ellen Hopkins Elementary School to present on the war, I wanted to take the opportunity to reach out to educators that are likely getting to the Civil War in their history curriculum to ask questions about the war that they would like more information on. Any topic goes.

Teachers, if you are interested in using this site to enhance your Civil War curriculum, please use the comment section of this post to ask your question, or a question from your students. I, or one of my esteemed colleagues, will do our best to answer the question in a separate post. If you are interested in having students do brief writing assignments on the war as guest posts, please let us know and we can make that happen (I will edit the commenting on such posts to ensure safety). We look forward to your questions.

Bringing the Civil War to Ellen Hopkins Elementary School

On Wednesday, May 16, members of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry (Joe Camisa, Stuart Lawrence, Den Bolda, and I), also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, brought some of our gear and presented on the Civil War to an eager group of fifth grade students at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School in Moorhead, MN. Special thanks to Mrs. Cheri Puetz for allowing us the opportunity to come and talk with her students. It was a beautiful day and we were situated in the shade. We set up a tent, as well as our colors, and a small ground cloth with some soldier equipment on display. We also dressed and wore some of our gear. It was a lot of fun and we had kids from the lower grades coming up to us and asking us questions for an hour after school let out, which was really awesome. They were really excited by our stuff and if we did not need to return to Grand Forks so soon, we would have stayed longer. There were some good questions posed and the students came away with a great introduction to their study on the war. Below are photos taken from that day, courtesy of Mrs. Puetz.

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We’re five years old today!

Fifth BirthdayToday marks this blog’s fifth birthday. My little blog is just growing up so fast, as it seems like yesterday it was only a couple posts and an idea (couldn’t resist relating it to someone turning five). It also marks my 250th post as well. While I have not reached some of the goals I set out from last year, I am happy that I have been able to keep this site up with being busy with Ph.D. studies. I have covered some of the events related to the sesquicentennial of the war over the last year, as well as some of the excitement of reenacting (we have a great season lined up this summer). I have tackled a couple tough subjects, which have sparked some great discussion. We currently have over 150,000 hits and I hope to make 200,000 by year’s end. I am looking to get a couple new writers posting to the blog to keep the content a bit more regular, but with summer upon us, I hope to also get posting more often as well. Now having a laptop with a webcam, I hope to do a few video posts as well, so look forward to those. I want to thank you all for your readership and support.

Fun on St. Patrick’s Day

On Saturday (St. Patrick’s Day), several of us in the 5th Minnesota, Company D, also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, participated in the Fargo (ND) St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was a great time, as the weather was very nice, with the high in the low 70s, which for those of you not from the Dakotas is quite warm for March (usually we are dealing with snow still on the ground in some way and have had storms adding to the pack). Stuart and I drove down to rendezvous with our colleague Joe Camisa, who is in graduate school with us at UND and then on to meet up with the rest of the crew. Joe was quite a trooper, as he had driven all night from central Michigan and still managed to march with us.

The crowd was quite big and we marched behind the pipe and drum band, which was cool, especially when they played “The Minstrel Boy”, as we were “technically” going to portray the Irish Brigade (we’ll do that next time). We did a great job keeping our line tight at shoulder to shoulder and were able to keep in step most of the time. This was my first parade as a reenactor, but I participated in marching band in high school, so I am versed in marching for a parade. It was a good time and I look forward to doing this in the future. Below are some great pictures from the day (thanks to all who were able to take pictures).

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Though it is almost the end of the day, February 12 is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Though opinions on him range quite a bit, depending on one’s views on the war, it cannot be denied that he was one of our greatest presidents, facing a daunting challenge and seeing the nation through our bloodiest war, only to be cut down by an assassin’s bullet within days of the war’s conclusion (at least for the most part). The interest and scholarship recently blossomed on his 200th birthday in 2009, but there are still many who are interested in the life and accomplishments of this man from Illinois. In any event, Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

Dealing with comments on controversial topics

Today, I had to do something I have not done before on this blog, send a real comment to trash. Now, I have had my share of spam comments that get through, usually full of links, but I usually am welcoming of comments, as they are opportunities to discuss and debate, but this comment to my recent update on the Texas license plate controversy was too abrasive to be posted, as the email address included “Nsdap”, which is the abbreviation for the full name of the Nazi party. This sent up a red flag for me. The comment was also borderline white supremacist in its tone, so I had no choice, but to trash it, as such a comment would have only led to trouble.

Please remember when commenting to not use foul language, or racial slurs, as they are not welcome here. Also, hard-core neo-Confederate posts that add nothing to the discussion and only serve to inflame will either be edited or deleted. I do this because I want this civility on this site that anyone, young or old, can view. I do not do this lightly, as I want to be balanced, but some things do go beyond common decency and need to be dealt with. Those of you who have posted good comments over the years, thank you and please continue to do so. Those who have yet to comment, please consider it, but watch what you say, as we can disagree, but be respectful as well. Thanks for your understanding on this.

Update to Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Thanks to some of my intrepid readers, who followed up on this story and commented to my earlier post on the controversial proposed SCV license plate in the Lone Star State. Initial stories on the situation indicated opposition to the plate by prominent Democratic politicians in the state, which led me to believe that there might be more to this than moral opposition to the Confederate flag and Confederacy.

However, I learned from one commenter (hat tip to David Woodbury, blogger at of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) that Gov. Rick Perry expressed opposition to the plate as well. This definitely changed the situation for the future of the proposal, as he holds great sway in the state and on the commission that determined its fate, which contained several Perry appointees. This held true, as the commission rejected the plate proposal, choosing instead to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which is certainly an institution and group of soldiers worth honoring with a license plate. However, this issue is likely not dead, as SCV will likely sue to have the plates issued. The group has successfully litigated in other southern states before on the plate issue.

My thoughts on this would be for the commission to communicate to the SCV the option for a Civil War license plate that is neutral, commemorating appropriately the 150th anniversary of the war with the silhouette of a soldier and the wording of the anniversary and the war. It would allow citizens to take their own meaning from the plate and the proceeds could be directed to preservation of Civil War related items and land, which would hopefully satisfy the SCV.

Thoughts on the Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Recently, several legislators in Texas came out against a proposed license plate in Texas designed to denote a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans.Their opposition revolves around the organizational logo of SCV, which features the battle flag, and is used in the plate design. Keep in mind that our modern conception of the Confederate flag is actually the naval jack (you can see this in a 19th century engraving of the CSS Albemarle from the US Navy’s history website on Confederate vessels).

The SCV states that the proceeds from the plates will go to marking Confederate soldier graves, build monuments, and preserve artifacts. Texas considered the idea as we are beginning the 150th anniversary of the war, but the board that approves plate designs is deadlocked in a 4-4 tie, with another vote coming on Nov. 10. Several other states in the South have such plates and while attempts have been made to stop them, SCV has successfully sued and received approval.

Now, as a descendant of a Union veteran and a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), I am wondering how many states now have or would adopt plates for our organization, as I would like to have one. I have no real problem with an SCV plate, so long as it is done in good taste, which looking at the design seems so. While Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee calls the flag a “symbol of intimidation”, it is an object and is only intimidating if used in that way and allowed to be intimidating. I do find it interesting that those speaking out against the plates seem to be only Democrats. What are their motivations for opposition beyond political disagreement?

While some aspects of the SCV do annoy me, they have the right to be recognized and share pride in their organization. I seriously doubt that too many people are going to pay that close of attention to an SCV license plate, as they should be focusing on the road. I hope other states will consider adopting some sort of commemorative plate for the 150th anniversary. What are your thoughts on this?

Digital history and the Civil War

As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.

I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:

Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.

Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.

One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.

I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.

Photos from Heritage Days

Like last year, we participated in East Grand Forks Heritage Days, providing a Civil War display. This year, we attended both days, and had extra help in Joe Camisa and Bud Mahnke, who provided their expertise on subjects as well. It was a bit crazy, as Stuart and I had just returned from Wilson’s Creek only a couple of days earlier. Except for a bit of wind and showers, it was fun, and we were able to do several firing demonstrations with the muskets, which the crowd seemed to enjoy. We even made the local paper The Exponent, which was fun. Below are photos from the day.

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Photos from Wilson’s Creek

I have been meaning to post pictures of my trip last month to Wilson’s Creek, which was covered here and here. Most of these pictures are from my camera, but a few are from Stuart’s and other folks, who posted them to Facebook. Overall, I will say I had a decent time, despite some issues at the event surrounding logistics and battle planning. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos.

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