Extra Credit: Slavery By Another Name

The documentary Slavery By Another Name delves into the oppressive and horrid conditions that African Americans endured for over 80 years after the fall of slavery at the Civil Wars end.[1] The topic focused on the exploitative system setup in the South that allowed white men with power on both local and state levels to confine and imprison innocent blacks. After unjustly arresting these Americans, the prisoners could be rented out to companies and individual land owners for dollars a month. The conditions shown in the film are a testament to the pain and suffering inflected on innocent African Americans well after the so called fall of slavery that died with the Old South.

The years following the American Civil War were hard indeed. After the nations bloodiest conflict a period of Reconstruction ensued that was aimed at healing this divided country. Yet blacks who had won their freedom through their own feet, a Union gun, or by patience in the coming Northern victory were in many ways still chained to Southern society. I always knew because of research and reading that African Americans of this time, stretching from 1865 to the Second World War, had a hard up hill battle for not just equality but for basic human rights. But this documentary opened up just how bad conditions really could be for a black person during that time, especially in the “New South”.

Jim Crow laws and share cropping seem to be for ever connected with the South and the place in society that whites tried to put blacks. Yet because debtor prisons were abolished the process of arresting people for unpaid court fines and the like then renting the convict out to a third party, seems to have been for the most part swept under the rug. This modern injustice of white washing history is barely the tip of the ice burg.  The true crime is with the acts themselves.

From the film an African American could be arrested on a made up charge of owing money or not keeping up with a crop quota and so on. Once the person was charged a court fee was given and if the person in question could not pay, a second party could pay the bill and in effectively have the right to rent the arrested person. This form of neo-slavery allowed companies to rent the convicts as well and place them into inhumane conditions where death or serious were likely. After seeing the pictures and hearing the words of those that suffered in these conditions it became clear that this practice was completely based on a system that aimed to subjugate free people.

A link the documentary made between that time in American history and the modern era, was  the number of African Americans arrested then and the stigma of today, where black citizens  are more likely to go to prison. the large number of arrests from those 80 years  manifests today as a social bias toward African Americans and jail time. So effectively a system that spawned from the death of slavery is still at the forefront of American society, just out of sight but close enough to be remembered.

[1]. Slavery By Another Name, DVD, Directed by Sam Pollard, ( 2012; PBS)


Confederate Cavalry in the Civil War

During the American Civil War new and old battlefield tactics were utilized at engagements across the nation from Virginia to Arkansas. Napoleonic tactics that dated back to the early 19th century were adopted by both Union and Confederate armies, involving masses of ranked companies that clashed with deadly results. A standard function of the cavalry was to support the infantry with flanking maneuvers around the enemy or with full frontal assaults. These up front cavalry engagements with infantry lines would soon prove detrimental to the horsed units very early in the war. The Southern cavalry proved to be the more adaptive of the two sides. Having to adjust to superior Union numbers and the deprivation of supplies, Confederate cavalry evolved with war time necessity.

Because the Civil War was primarily fought in the Southern United States, Confederate cavalry was essential to armies that needed to defend a vast swath of territory. Were as the Union cavalry unites were spaced out across the nation on into the western territories, rebel cavalrymen were already in the region at stack. This allowed for quick unit formations early in the war even if southern cavalry had to bring their own horses.[1]  Confederate cavalry was equipped well as could be, with carbines being the prized weapons of riders. Pistols and shotguns were also utilized with great effect in skirmishes and raids.[2] With improvements in weapons designs, like the rifling of barrels, cavalry could be picked off by infantry easier than in earlier decades   and at greater distances.[3] A   man on a horse silhouetted against the sky or back drop was a clear target, resulting in high officer deaths on either side.

As unconventional gruella warfare became a staple of southern strategy in deterring Union forces headed south, the further one went West the more gruella warfare was used. Because of the distance from Richmond cavalry units in the Trans-Mississippi region helped make up for the lack of support from the Confederate capital. Raiding convoys moving to supply Union forces, cavalry killed two birds with one stone; by preventing supplies reaching northern hands the southern raiders replenished their own stores.[4] On September 19, 1864 in the Indian Territories an Indian Brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. Stand Watie hooked up with Col. Richard Gano’s cavalry from Texas that then proceeded to attack and take 250 wagons of supplies bound for the Union Fort Gibson. This take alone was worth one and a half million dollars.[5] Beyond raiding, scouting, honor guards, and picket duty were all tools in the cavalry’s toolbox.

Scouting was an essential operation that allowed for an army to locate an enemy force or to remain hidden from its prying eyes. Being fast and maneuverable a man and a horse could run circles around a foot soldier given the terrain was not to rough. When an area needed to be defended or taken before an opposing company could, cavalry could form picket lines very rapidly. A quick example of this would actually be from the Northern cavalry that held up General Robert E. Lee’s forces at the Battle of Gettysburg’s start.[6]

As the war drove on and bodies were stacked high, Southern cavalry found itself facing over whelming Northern numbers. After the fall of Vicksburg on the 4th of July, 1863 rebel horsemen in the Trans-Mississippi region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and the Indian Territories found themselves alone  cut off from the rest of the Confederacy.[7]  As the war went on in the Eastern theater, the southern leaders in the West turned to more gruella warfare to support the southern cause.

[1] Katcher, Philip. 1986. American Civil War Armies (I): Confederate Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry. London: Osprey Publishing Ltd. P.35

[2] Katcher, p. 37-40

[3] Miller, David.2001. The Illustrated Directory of Uniforms, Weapons, and Equipment of the Civil War.  London: Published by Salamander Books

[4] Bailey, Anne; Sutherland, Daniel. Civil War Arkansas: Beyond the Battles and Leaders. University of Arkansas Press Fayetteville, 2000

[5] Steele, Phillip; Cottrell., Steve. 2000: Civil War in the Ozarks. Published by Pelican Publishing Company, Grena, Loisiana

[6] Foote, Shelby. 1986. The Civil War a Narrative vol.s. I-III. New York, published by A Division of Random House

[7] http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/vicksburg.html

Southern Coastal Life and the Effects of the Anaconda Plan

Over 3,000 miles of coast makes  up the Southern seafront. From Virginia on the east coast down to Texas along the gulf, the southern shoreline is truly a magnificent stretch of beach that has helped to sustain the populations that have made the region their home, wither in the 19th century or the 21st. During the American Civil War this coast played a vital role in the Norths military strategy of strangling the South by means of the Anaconda Plan[1]. By cutting off the coast, the northern navy effectively stopped or severely hampered Confederate  naval operations throughout the South, along with cutting trade to the outside world further weakening the Confederacy as a new nation. But besides the grande scale of the blockade and its military importance to the Northern leadership, I ask what effect did it have on the civilians living along the blockaded or occupied southern coast.

To have a better in-depth look into this topic,  the broad picture must be refined to a specific area. Early on in the Civil War the city of New Orleans was taken and occupied after May 1, 1862 by Union forces starting their trek up the mighty Mississippi.[2] Southern Louisiana became a battleground and civilians living in that region quickly felt the pains of a disrupted life.  New Orleans at the wars beginning was alive with military parades and cheering crowds but soon after its occupation the population was under new military authority. The civilians both poor and wealthy then faced life under a conquering force, that to many of New Orleans residents had come down to Dixie for one purpose, to destroy their southern way of life.  For New Orleans its time in Dixie had ended and was  governed by a man they called the devil or in most cases “the Beast” for his mistreatment of southerners in the city. Major General Benjamin Butler became the commander of Union forces in the city, and during the time he was in command of the city he had William Munford, a local citizen executed for cutting down a U.S. flag before the cities capture. This was on the drastic end of what southern citizens could have experienced.[3]

Heavy handed laws and oppressive authority may have been the norm for occupied New Orleans but the region around it felt the sting of invasion and blockade differently. the blockade created shortages of food and supplies that crippled coastal populations. Even the food staples of the poor south, ham and corn  became harder to find and starvation spread as the Confederacy slowly rolled back against a tide of blue. This happens to be the time period when chicory coffee became a substitute for the real thing in the deep south. And lets say it has an acquired taste.

In short the Anaconda Plan blockaded all trade and supplies to the Confederate coast. The people living along the shore found themselves locked away from the sea, a vital source of food from fishing and from the wealth of commerce. Still it was the poorer side of society that was hardest hit. New Orleans had to endure a tyrannical general and bad coffee, but around the seashore others starved.

[1. Masur, Louis P. The Civil War: A Concise History. Oxford University Press. 2011p. 26]

[2. Foote, Shelby The Civil War: A Narrative Fort Sumter to Perryville vol. 1. Vintage Books A Division of Random House, New York. 1986. p.354]

[3. Hills, Albert Gaius. Edited by Gary L. Dyson. 2013. A Civil War Correspondent in New Orleans: The journals and Reports of Albert Gaius Hills of the Boston Journal. Published by McFarland and Company, Inc.]