Monday, January 19, 2009

Confederate Memorial Day in Texas

One of life's little ironies is that today in Texas is Confederate Memorial Day .....

Confederate Memorial Day

and MLK day too.

Now anyone who's got a brain and lives in Texas or the deep South KNOWS that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of hate like far too many believe. And this day is not a celebration as much as a rememberance of the soldiers who died fighting for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861-1865). It is a state holiday in some parts of the United States. That date varies from state to state, but it tickles my funny bone that today is also MLK day.

My own personal family irony is that we had kinfolk on both sides of the Civil War. My Great Grandfather Lucius Herbert Burdick's role in the Union army is detailed below:

Lucius Herbert Burdick served in the Civil War. He enrolled August 25, 1862, at Emporia, Kansas and was mustered into service at Fort Leavenworth, September 12, 1862, as a private, Company E, 11th. Kansas Volunteers. He was promoted to 2nd. Lieutenant at Benton Barracks, Missouri, Company H, 65th U. S. Colored Infantry, January 19, 1864. He transferred to Company B, November 4, 1864, then to Company F, same regiment, August 15, 1865, and became 1st. Lieutenant August 25, 1865, at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was mustered out of service January 8, 1867, at Baton Rogue as 1st. Lieutenant, Co. F, 65th. U. S. Colored Infantry.

The Sixty-Fifth Regiment was organized at Benton barracks, Missouri, from December 18, 1863, to January 16, 1864, as the 2nd regiment Missouri volunteers to serve three years. Its designation was changed to 65th regiment U. S. colored troops March 11, 1864. The 67th regiment U. S. colored troops was consolidated with it July 12, 1865. It was mustered out of service January 8, 1867. The Colonel was Alonzo J. Edgerton; Lieutenant Colonel, George Baldey, a. w. m.; Major, Francis Moore; Captains: Alexander D. Bailie, Jesse W. Palmer, John L. Frost, Thomas Montgomery, Judson W. Read, William N. Darnell, Albert F. Hunt, William P. Deming; First Lieutenants: Abnew Doane, Henry S. Wadsworth, William P. Wiley, Felix Sprochule, Oscar H. Violet, Lucius H. Burdick, Lysander S. Butler, Duran F. Kelley, William P. Aben, Charles B. Hutchins, James G. Vincent, Lewis Merriam; Second Lieutenants: none; Surgeon, John Fish; and Assistant Surgeon, David Stevens.

The use of colored troops was an experiment to which the Administration had been driven partly by the demands of the abolitionists and partly by sheer desperation, the supply of white manpower having slackened. The implications of this experiment were faced by few people, and there probably would be time enough to worry about them after the war had been won. At the moment the great riddle was whether it was possible to turn colored men into good soldiers.

Most of the ex-slaves were illiterate, used to servile obedience, and living (presumably) in deep awe of Southern white men. They were husky enough, and yet they somehow lacked physical sturdiness and endurance, and they had been held at the bottom of the heap for so long that they seemed to be excessively long-suffering by nature. Somewhere, far back in dim tribal memories, there may have been traditions of war parties and fighting and desperate combat, but these had been overlaid by generation of slavery, and most colored folks saw themselves as pilgrims toiling up the endless slopes of heartbreak hill - - pilgrims whose survival depended on the patient, uncomplaining acceptance of evil rather than on a bold struggle to overthrow evil.

That was the sticking point. The average Northern white man of that era might refuse to associate with the Negro and hold himself to be immeasurably the Negro's superior - - the superiority, of course, grew out of the natural order of things, and need not actually be proved - - but there was a war on and the country needed soldiers, and if Federal corpses were the price of victory, it hardly paid to be finicky about the original color of the corpses' skins. The real trouble lay in the assumption that while it was all right to let the Negro get shot it was foolish to expect him to do any serious fighting first.

A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we do not want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I am sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.

Most men felt the same way. In support of the belief it was pointed out that in many years of American bondage there had never been a really serious slave revolt. Even John Brown himself, carrying fire and sword below the Potomac, had been able to recruit no more than a dazed corporal's guard of colored followers. Surely this proved that even though slaves might not be happy with their lot they had no real combativeness in them?

There might be flaws in the argument. It quite overlooked the fact that for many years the fabulous underground railroad had been relieving the explosive deterrent to slave revolt, for it took out of slavery precisely the daring, energetic, intelligent slaves who might have planned and let an uprising if they had been unable to escape. The argument also overlooked the fact that if American slaves rarely made any trouble the people who owned them were always mortally afraid that they would do so some day. The gloomy island of Haiti was not far enough away to let anyone forget that black men there had risen in one of the most bloody, desperate revolts in human history, winning their own freedom and practically annihilating the master race in the process. Oddly enough the general belief that colored men would not fight ran parallel with a conviction that they would fight with primitive viciousness if they ever got a chance.

Yet whatever prejudice might say, the hard fact now was that colored men were being enlisted as soldiers in large numbers and that there were times when it was impossible to avoid using them in combat. (The American Heritage Picture History of The Civil War, pp. 418-419.)

To this move the soldiers made a good deal of objection - - at first. Then they began to change their minds. They did not like Negroes, for race prejudice of a malignity rarely seen today was very prevalent in the North at that time, and they did not want to associate with them on anything remotely like terms of equality, but they came to see that much might be said for Negro regiments. For one thing, a great many enlisted men in the Northern armies could win officers' commissions in these regiments, and a high private who saw a chance to become a lieutenant or a captain was likely to lose a great deal of his antagonism to the notion of Negro soldiers. More importantly than this was the dawning realization that the colored soldiers could stop a Rebel bullet just as well as a white soldier could, and when he did so, some white soldiers who would otherwise have died would go on living. . . And so by the middle of 1863 the North was raising numbers of Negro regiments, and the white soldiers who had been so bitter about the idea adjusted themselves rapidly.

It seemed logical, after a time, to raise guard detachments from among the Negroes themselves, outfitting them with castoff army uniforms. Then it appeared that the immense reserve might be put to more direct use, and at last the government authorized, and even encouraged, the organization of Negro regiments, to be officered by whites but to be regarded as troops of the line, available for combat duty if needed. (Bruce Catton's Civil War, pp. 592-598.)

All of the colored troops were officered by white men, and these white officers listened, fascinated, to the campfire singing, and when they wrote about it they tried to tell why it moved them so deeply.

From the beginning it was realized that the effectiveness of colored troops would depend largely on the way the regiments were officered, and what would now be called officer-candidate school was set up in Philadelphia. Non-commissioned officers and privates in the Army of the Potomac could apply for admission to this school, and if recommended by their own officers and approved by an examining board they would get thirty days of training and then would be commissioned to command colored soldiers. The rank and file seems to have been of two minds about this arrangement. Some felt that it was a good idea, that the standards were high and the training thorough - - one man said he knew colonels in white regiments who could not get an examining board recommendation for a second lieutenancy - - but others believed that the examinations and instructions “were not practical, but scholastic and theoretical,” and that most of the men who commissioned were not up to their jobs.

Certain it was that these strange new regiments needed good leadership. They were reluctant to take orders from non-coms of their own color -- it was common to hear the complaint, “I don't want him to play de white man over me” -- and a company commander had to be careful to treat his sergeants with formal military courtesy, always addressing them by their titles and in general following precise Regular Army routine. The colored enlisted man who had a complaint or a problem was quite likely to try to by-pass his company officers and go direct to his colonel; and one of the colonels meditated on the reason for this: “The Negroes have acquired such a constitutional distrust of white people that it is perhaps as much as they can do to trust more than one person at a time.” He added that in training and disciplining the men it was vital “to make them feel as remote as possible from the plantation,” and that the habit of obedience was worthless unless the officer managed to instill a stout feeling of self-respect along with it. An officer of polished manners could do better with colored troops than with white volunteers, who preferred a certain roughness of manner in their officers.

In camp, the colored men made excellent soldiers. They picked up the drill quickly, learning it more easily than white recruits did. Some of the ordinary problems of army discipline seemed to be non-existent. Desertion was utterly unknown, and there was very little drunkenness. The men especially enjoyed practice on the target range.

As a general thing the Negro soldiers seemed to hold very little personal animus against their former masters. A white officer discovered, rather to his surprise, that they had neither hatred nor affection for the men who used to own them. They never mentioned their masters except as natural enemies, yet it was the class they hated, not the individuals in the class. They saw slavery, said this man, as “a wrong which no special kindness could right.”

All told, the Federals put more than 150,000 Negroes into uniform. Many of these regiments were used only for garrison duty, and in many other cases the army saw to it that the colored regiments became little more than permanent fatigue details to relieve white soldiers of hard work, but some units saw actual combat service and in a number of instances acquitted themselves well.
Other links of interest:

U. S. Colored Troops
Facts About U. S. Colored Troops

So all I can say is, whoever you honor today, I hope you go out and make this day a good one!

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