Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

When I was younger, I thought I would be a diplomat. When I graduated, I took the Foreign Service exam and later worked for former diplomats who were then consultants. Since I didn’t really know what skills I needed to become a diplomat, and realized quickly that my meagre bachelor’s degree in international affairs was not enough for such a position, I figured I needed to find out what exactly diplomats did and how they were able to achieve their goals. So I paid attention to how they spent their time, what they did with their money, and how they fit in the world.

These diplomats ranged along the political scale from liberal to conservative, yet, they were able to work together and achieve personal and professional success after their service with the government. I learned much from them.

Fast forward to today. At Steam at Harper’s Ferry I have a copy of an original Harper’s Weekly, dated November 26, 1859. There are comic illustrations in the back depicting John Brown holding a rifle and handing a now infamous pike to a black man who apparently wasn’t willing to go with Brown to fight. Another shows two black men discussing the ridiculousness of Brown’s actions by suggesting that Brown was not acquainted with the neighborhood of Harper’s Ferry, implying that blacks were relatively well-off and owned property and therefore didn’t need what Brown was offering. It is true that there were quite a few free blacks in Jefferson County in 1860.

Elsewhere in the paper is an article about Gerrit Smith, one of the soon to be named, Secret Six, and his apparent insanity, a theme which runs throughout narratives about Brown and his supporters.

“Some thirty years ago – then a young man of great promise, bouyant in spirits, and looking at the bright side of all the scenery of life, he was an unsuccesful candidate for the State Senate. That disappointment disturbed the heretofore ‘even tenor of his way,’ and tinged the future of his whole life. … From an ardent Colonizationist, he became an ultra Abolitionist; and his persuasive zeal for Temperance changed to coercive measures in favor of Prohibition. Of his ample fortune, he dispensed in aid of Abolitionism and Temperance with more liberality than wisdom. Both his perverted talents and his misapplied money injured the objects he sought to promote.

Mr. Smith has lived for nearly thirty years in a state of political hallucination. The delusion culminated last year, when, greatly excited, he devoted his time and money to a canvas which he believed was to result in his election as Governor, while every other person in the state knew that he was wasting his strength and means. …

The Harper’s Ferry insurrection was an attempt to carry the teachings of prominent Abolitionists into practical effect. It was foreshadowed in a letter from Mr. Smith to the ‘Jerry Rescuers.’ That he ever really intended slaves should rise, rob, and murder, we do not believe; but in speeches and letters heindulged in language which bears no other construction. Unfortunately, ‘Osawattomie Brown,’ driven to madness by Slavery oppression and outrage, was too ready to carry into practice the principles which others were only reckless enough to teach.”

Then in the very same issue, there is a small article about how important it is to exercise the voting franchise:

” ‘In good old colony times’ there was a law which compelled every body to vote. The recusants were roundly fined – upon principle that a citizen had no more right to be recreant to one social duty than another, and that least of all should he be excused for indifference to the most fundamental of the whole list.

It is very easy to ask, Why should a man vote if he don’t want to? But it is just as easy to ask, Why should he serve on juries, or do military duty, or to be taxed for schools, if he does not want to? And the answer is, that it is a common venture, and the voice of all is necessary for the moral weight and prestige, without which skepicism may endanger success. … Where men work with conscious sympathy, they work with a will, and produce results worth someting; and in a country of popular institutions, in which the welfare of the whole depends upon the proper administration of the government, it is the duty of every man to insist that his neighbor shall not shirk his share of the responsibility.

If a man have no opinion about men and measures – if he betray so little interest in the means by which personal liberty is secured and the ends of the government fulfilled – as to pride himself upon knowing nothing about the matter, then he is just the person to be bribed by interest or prejudice, and is so much bad material in the State.

An actual compulsory law to vote would be rather despotic, and the object sought might better be achieved in another way. But every young man in the country ought to understand that there is nothing more ludicrous and contemptible than the idea that it is ‘gentlemanly’ not to use the rights and fulfill the duties of a free man.”

Gerrit Smith must have been insane, for in 1846, he called upon his friends to help him identify poor people to whom he could give away about 3,000 acres of land. He chose specifically amongst the poor to give the land to poor blacks because:

I could not put a bounty on color. I shrank from the least appearance of doing so: and if I know my heart, it was equally compassionate toward such white and black men as are equal sufferers. In the end, however, I concluded to confine my gifts to colored people. I had not come to this conclusion had the land I have to give away been several times as much as it is. I had not come to it, were not the colored people the poorest of the poor, and the most deeply wronged class of our citizens. That they are so, is evident, if only from the fact, that the cruel, killing, heaven-defying prejudice of which they are the victims, has closed against them the avenues to riches and respectability—to happiness and usefulness. That they are so, is also evident from the fact, that, whilst white men in this State, however destitute of property, are allowed to vote for Civil Rulers, every colored man in it, who does not own landed estate to the value of two hundred and fifty dollars, is excluded from the exercise of this natural and indispensably protective right. I confess, that this mean and wicked exclusion has had no little effect in producing my preference, in this case. I confess, too, that I was influenced by the consideration, that there is great encouragement to improve the condition of our free colored brethren, because that every improvement in it contributes to loosen the bands of the enslaved portion of their outraged and afflicted race.

What is the connection? If you pay attention to what is important by those who have some measure of power, or in my example, have positions you want to attain, purposes reveal themselves.

In 2012, there are voter identification laws winding their way through the country. By some counts, more than 30 states are introducing such legislation.

Let’s look at the spending. Another indication of how important voting is. No one would put up the kind of money being spent if that person did not take seriously that he or she had an obligation to “use the rights and fulfill the duties of a free man” or woman.

In 1859, perhaps the editors didn’t see the irony in this single edition of their newspaper. On one hand, ardent, fevrent advocacy supporting a man’s duty to vote, and on the other the apparent lunacy of those among them who were working to secure for others the same opportunity.

During my undergraduate days, I read both Ayn Rand and W.E.B. du Bois. At the time, I didn’t find it strange.

Ayn Rand (thanks to workingminds.com):  “The right to vote is a consequence, not a primary cause, of a free social system – and its value depends on the constitutional structure implementing and strictly delimiting the voters’ power; unlimited majority rule is an instance of the principle of tyranny.”

W.E.B. du Bois at Harper’s Ferry, August 1906:  “First, we would vote; with the right to vote goes everything: Freedom, manhood, the honor of your wives, the chastity of your daughters, the right to work, and the chance to rise, and let no man listen to those who deny this. We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now, henceforth and forever.”

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum with regard to voter identification issues, it is pretty clear that those currently in a position to make decisions about the country’s future are spending a lot of money to get your votes and some are working to change existing voting laws.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

The November 26, 1859 issue of Harper’s Weekly is available for sale at Steam at Harper’s Ferry.

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I love warm rainy days in Harper’s Ferry. Maybe because folks are hesitant to go back into the elements, they are willing to chat more about why they are visiting Harper’s Ferry on a particular day.

Today was such a day. I spoke to no fewer than three couples and a few individuals who were here commemorating an honeymoon, engagement or birthday here in Harper’s Ferry.

And we talked about Hill Top House.

On another hilltop, near Lake Placid, New York, lies John Brown’s grave.

On this day, July 21, 1896, three things happened at this site:

1.  Raising of the United States flag presented by State Excise Commissioner Lyman;

2.  The unveiling of a monument erected by the John Brown Association; and

3.  The formal acceptance by the State of the John Brown farm of 245 acres, recently deeded to New York by the association.

New York Herald Tribune 1896 JUL 22

Do you have any memories to share?

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This weekend is the Mountain Heritage Festival – June edition. I went today to get my twice a year kettle corn and check out the new vendors. I was pleasantly surprised with the new additions and would recommend checking it out. What are your thoughts on the new logo for the Festival? I was looking for the Mountain Man dollar off advertisements in the local newspapers – and he wasn’t there! Mountain Man can be seen wielding his hammer in the parking lot, thank goodness.

Earlier this evening (June 8), I attended a book signing with local historian and author Bob O’Connor at the Bolivar-Harper’s Ferry Public Library. I visited Winchester, Virginia for the first time on Wednesday, which was fortunate for me so that I could better understand some of the episodes Mr. O’Connor discussed during his presentation about his newest book, “A House Divided Against Itself”.

Steam at Harper’s Ferry will be having a new exhibit opening at the end of June – Gadgets, Guns & Gears. Looking forward to this one! Some really nice work has come our way.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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On more than one occasion, Frederick Douglass was on hand to remind citizens about sacrifices made on behalf of others in this country.

For example, on May 30, 1871, he spoke on Decoration Day, which is now known as Memorial Day, at Arlington  National Cemetery, saying:

“Friends and Fellow Citizens:

Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is, in the very air of this resting-ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle and all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is precious, priceless, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.”

On May 30, 1881, again on Decoration Day, Frederick Douglass spoke on the 14th Anniversary of Storer College located in Harpers Ferry (full text version is available online. See Selected Research attached). One of the lesser quoted passages is this:

‘During his last visit to us in Rochester there appeared in the newspapers a touching story connected with the horrors of the Sepoy War in British India. A Scotch missionary and his family were in the hands of the enemy, and were to be massacred the next morning. During the night, when they had given up every hope of rescue, suddenly the wife insisted that relief would come. Placing her ear close to the ground she declared she heard the Slogan – the Scotch war song. For long hours in the night no member of the family could hear the advancing music but herself. “Dinna ye hear it? Dinna ye hear it?” she would say, but they could not hear it. As the morning slowly dawned a Scotch regiment was found encamped indeed about them, and they were saved from the threatened slaughter. This circumstance, coming at such a time, gave Capt. Brown a new word of cheer. He would come to the table in the morning his countenance fairly illuminated, saying that he had heard the Slogan, and he would add, “Dinna ye hear it? Dinna ye hear it?” Alas! like the Scotch missionary I was obliged to say ‘No.’ Two weeks prior to the meditated attack, Capt. Brown summoned me to meet him in an old stone quarry on the Conecochequi river, near the town of Chambersburgh, Penn. His arms and ammunition were stored in that town and were to be moved on to Harper’s Ferry. In company with Shields Green I obeyed the summons, and prompt to the hour we met the dear old man, with Kagi, his secretary, at the appointed place. Our meeting was in some sense a council of war. We spent the Saturday and succeeding Sunday in conference on the question, whether the desperate step should then be taken, or the old plan as already described should be carried out. He was for boldly striking Harper’s Ferry at once and running the risk of getting into the mountains afterwards. I was for avoiding Harper’s Ferry altogether. Shields Green and Mr. Kagi remained silent listeners throughout. It is needless to repeat here what was said, after what has happened. Suffice it, that after all I could say, I saw that my old friend had resolved on his course and that it was idle to parley. I told him finally that it was impossible for me to join him. I could see Harper’s Ferry only as a trap of steel, and ourselves in the wrong side of it. He regretted my decision and we parted.”

The Bucks County Gazette had an article about this event in its June 2, 1881 edition which said:

“On Decoration Day the Citizens of Harper’s Ferry had reason to wet their eyes. Fred Douglass, as part of the decoration ceremonies, delivered an historical oration on John Brown.  Quite a number of Confederates and Old Virginians gathered to hear him. Among the latter was Mr. Hunter, who was the State’s Attorney who prosecuted Brown. When Douglass had finished his oration, Mr. Hunter was one of the first to congratulate him.”

This weekend on Saturday, June 2, almost 131 years to the day of this historic speech, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Harpers Ferry National Historic Park are sponsoring an African-American Hike on National Trails Day.

Coincidence? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them!

The Hike is being held from 10:30 am until 2 pm

Linked below is a list of Selected Research to complement the hike. Steam at Harper’s Ferry features Victorian and Steampunk art and gifts. It also has original Civil War period newspapers, historic postcards and other Harper’s Ferry related items for purchase and on display.

Selected Research – African-American Hike

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I was late to the gallery this morning because of this special event by the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and co-sponsored by the Harpers Ferry Historical Association. Oh, well. It was worth it!

Not only were there books, but a Family & Youth Tent, an Archeology Discovery Tent, A Contraband Camp, music, guided tours and discussions. I don’t have a lot of material about the 1862 campaign in Harper’s Ferry, but I do have something related to contraband camps.

This image is an illustration from “The Soldier in Our Civil War” and depicts a New Year’s Contraband Ball at Vicksburg, Mississippi during the siege at Vicksburg.

Shortly after I found this illustration, I came across an article in The Spirit of Jefferson about contrabands in Harper’s Ferry.

On July 6, 2011, James Taylor, co-founder of he Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society was a guest speaker at a meeting of the Sons of the Confederacy. He talked about his family ties with Major General Nathaniel Banks, a Union commander who fought against Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at Winchester in 1862.  Mr. Taylor’s great grandfather,who was contracted to work for the Confederate Army at Winchester and had escaped to Berkeley County, was with the Union Army when they retreated back to the contraband camp at Harpers Ferry.

You can read more about this story in this Spirit of Jefferson article dated July 6, 2011.

The illustration and the Spirit of Jefferson article make more sense in context. Such context may be found in the book “News for All the People,” by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres, which is a fascinating account of not only the newspaper industry in the United States, but provides a particularly American history lesson.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

Steam at Harper’s Ferry has two illustrations depicting events at Vicksburg available for purchase.

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News From Steam At Harper’s Ferry

For Immediate Release: 4/30/2012
Contact: Cynthia – 304-885-0094 or info@steamatharpersferry.com
John Lamb – jwilliamlamb@gmail.com

Legendary Steam Gun Is Focus of Event at Steam At Harper’s Ferry
Author of Book on Winans Steam Gun to Presents Its History and Sign Copies of Book

Steam powered weapons are a staple of steampunk literature, art, and fashion, but in 1861 Harper’s Ferry played a part in the story of the “Winans” Steam Gun. “Its tough to imagine Harper’s Ferry as enemy territory, but in May 1861, Federal troops captured a steam gun, allegedly built by Maryland industrialist Ross Winans as it was being transported to Harper’s Ferry” says John Lamb, author of A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War. “ The men captured with it hoped to sell it to the Confederate troops there.”

While the gun never made it to Harper’s Ferry, Lamb will share its story with patrons of Steam at Harper’s Ferry on May 6. “Steam is a steampunk art and gift shop. What better place to share the story of such an outlandish, but entirely real Civil War device?” Lamb says. “Steampunk is a literary, artistic, fashion, and musical movement that starts with Victorian aesthetics, keeps things steam powered while taking technology and society in different directions. While contemporary to us, its roots go back to the 19th Century.”

 “One of the frequent themes of steampunk literature, is inventors toiling in obscurity on their creations – that is a pretty fair synopsis of the steam gun’s creation by Charles Dickinson and William Joslin,” Lamb says. What started as an effort to build a hand powered “centrifugal” gun by the men, grew into a steam powered weapon that rocketed to national prominence in the wake of the April 19, 1861 Baltimore Riot.

The gun’s menacing appearance and its arrival on the public stage at the height of anxiety after the riots helped bury its true origin, and forever linked it to noted Maryland industrialist Ross Winans through newspapers at time and through many books and historical articles over the years. While the basic facts of the story were talked about at the time, they soon faded from memory, according to Lamb. “Newspaper articles around the 50thanniversary (1911), helped bring out the story of its last days,” Lamb says. “During the 100th anniversary (1961), a replica was built for a reenactment of the gun’s capture. In 2007, Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel put the idea of the gun to the test. My book, published in 2011, continues the gun’s 50 year cycle of returning at key anniversaries for another round of publicity.”

Lamb’s interest in the gun was sparked when he found an engraving of it while working on another project in the early 1990s. “My curiosity about it began simply – what was it, was it dangerous? What happened to it? The more source materials I read, the less sense it all made – with good reason – the accepted account of events had little to do with what really happened.” Lamb says. “I worked on it here and there as I could and slowly a more complete account of the gun emerged. Being on Mythbusters spurred me to complete my work and put out a book, which came out in 2011. I have really enjoyed uncovering the true story of the Steam Gun, and am looking forward to sharing it with gallery guests at Steam at Harpers Ferry.”

If You Go: Historical Presentation/ Book Signing with John Lamb, Author of A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War, 2-4 p.m., Sunday, May 6, Steam at Harper’s Ferry, 180 High Street, 1B (on the stairs), Harper’s Ferry, WV, 25425. For more information visit, http://www.steamatharpersferry.com, call 304-885-0094 or send an email to info@steamatharpersferry.com

About John Lamb

John W. Lamb, author of A Strange Engine of War: The “Winans” Steam Gun and Maryland in the Civil War works in communications and development in the non-profit sector, is interested in Maryland’s Civil War history, 19th Century technology and shapenote singing, and appeared on the Discovery Channel’s *Mythbusters* series episode regarding the Winans Steam Gun. He lives in Harrison, Tennessee, with his wife and 3 children.

About Steam

Steam at Harper’s Ferry is a Victorian/Steampunk themed art gallery and gift shop located in the historic lower town of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. Steam at Harper’s Ferry has quarterly openings and features local and regional artists.

John W. Lamb
Author, Historian, and Development Professional
Harrison, TN, USA

The book is available for purchase at Steam at Harper’s Ferry.

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Please join the Bolivar and Harpers Ferry community for an Art Walk this coming weekend which will extend along Washington and High Street, from Bolivar to Harpers Ferry’s lower town. There has been a great response and, with fingers crossed, the Art Walk will be an annual event.

Over the past several weeks, participant and artist information has been posted here and on facebook. There is an interactive Map on Google.

Please refer to the Art Walk notes post for further information.

Events don’t come any more “grassroots” than this, and I want to thank everyone who took a chance and volunteered to participate.

I’m looking forward to seeing all the wonderful work!

Art Walk brochure

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