Democracy, Civil Rights, and the American Military

Solicited by the Society for Military History

Saturday, April 17, 2021, 6:15 PM - 6:45 PM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: African American; Civil War and Reconstruction; Military

Papers Presented

"Governor Stanly is Played Out": Edward Stanly and the Union Army in North Carolina

Following a string of Union victories on the North Carolina coast in the spring of 1862, Corporal Joseph Barlow of the 23d Massachusetts entered the town of New Bern. There Barlow wrote to his wife expressing the hope that North Carolinians would welcome Union soldiers as liberators and that the state would quickly restore its allegiance to the Federal government. Yet Barlow and his fellow Union soldiers were immediately confronted with problems that would be familiar to veterans of recent American wars: the proliferation of guerrilla violence, a population that was frequently openly hostile to Federal forces, and the intermittent resumption of conventional military operations. Within six months, the increasingly frustrated Barlow came to believe that the only way to erase Confederate loyalties in eastern North Carolina was to burn every hamlet within reach of the Union army. It was in the eastern counties of North Carolina that Union soldiers and through them the Federal government first encountered many of the great civil and military challenges of both the war and Reconstruction. In May 1862, the Federal government undertook its initial effort at wartime reconstruction when it installed former North Carolina Congressman Edward Stanly as military governor, expecting that Stanly’s determination to protect Southerners’ constitutional rights, including slave-owning, would help restore Carolinians’ allegiance to the Union. Stanly’s tenure, however, was marked by a disputes with officers and rank-and-file soldiers who believed that Stanly fundamentally misunderstood the goals of the occupation. Moreover, these soldiers became convinced that Stanly was entirely ignorant of the importance of the local black population, who demonstrated their military value by providing key intelligence and labor. Within months, an exasperated Barlow expressed the sentiments of many of his comrades when he explained, “Governor Stanly is played out with the soldiers. We all believe that he is a Rebel.” In navigating the brutal internecine warfare that developed in eastern North Carolina, Union soldiers consistently struggled to find effective measures to win the support of the local population while simultaneously suppressing armed resistance. This called for a blend of beneficent and punitive military policies, predicated on local conditions and implemented in a decentralized fashion. Nevertheless, Stanly largely ignored advice from army officers and attempted to unilaterally implement policy with little regard for existing military conditions. Stanly’s stint as military governor, which lasted less than a year, provides a fitting lens through which to analyze civil-military relations and the proper balance of power between armed forces and civilian politicians in military occupations. A systematic examination of the letters and diaries of Union soldiers serving in this theater demonstrates that Stanly’s commitment to cajole Confederate sympathizers and cast aside loyal blacks alienated him from the very soldiers tasked with protecting his government. More importantly, the disagreement exposed divergent civilian and military assessments of both the proper methods and the goals of restoring order to the war-torn region, illuminating an inherent challenge that the United States, as a democracy that cherishes civilian control of the military, continues to confront in its modern conflicts and its efforts at nation building.

Presented By
Shane David Makowicki, Texas A&M University

"A Final Solution of the Negro Question": Southern Democrats, the New Navy, and the End of Reconstruction in America

Between the 1865 and 1883, as nations in Europe, Asia, and South America established navies of steel, the U.S. Congress refused to authorize construction of a single modern vessel of war. Democrats in the House of Representatives—especially those from the South and West—played crucial roles in this obstruction, establishing themselves as some of the fiercest opponents of naval expansion. In the mid-1880s, however, many southern Democrats flipped their stance. Abandoning their Democratic allies in the West, they teamed up with their recent archenemies in the Republican Party and became some of the House’s most radical proponents of modernizing the U.S. Navy. The classical adage, “in time of peace, prepare for war,” became their slogan and quickly became policy. With these southern Democrats on board and often at the helm, the House became the driving force for the first peacetime military buildup in U.S. history. The House forged the authorizations and appropriations that laid down the nation’s New Navy and prepared it for success in the subsequent war with Spain. For these southern Democrats, however, naval expansion was a means to another end: the establishment of “Home Rule” and thus the preservation of white supremacy in their home region. Establishing naval expansion as a bipartisan issue, these southern Democrats deliberately changed their national reputation from one tied to white supremacy and secession to one of moderation and reconciliation. While becoming symbols of the New South, though, they never lost sight of their racist objectives and used the image they formed through naval expansion to end the federal enforcement of Reconstruction. These southern Democrats demonstrated how fears of war have affected American democracy even during times of peace, and how American statesmen have used those fears to secure their own domestic policy objectives.

Presented By
Colin McConarty

Another Fight: The Combat Experience and the Emergence of Civil Rights Activists

During the cold and bleak December of 1944, the U.S. Army fought its largest battle in Europe against the Germans and the elements. SSgt Johnnie Stevens was crossing an open field in support of efforts to relieve the besieged garrison at Bastogne as a tank crewman in the all black 791st Tank Battalion. He was no stranger to the fear and exhaustion of combat, as his battalion had been involved in operations on the Western Front for the last couple of months. On this day his all black tank battalion was supporting a white infantry unit in the attack. While the U.S. Army had a strict policy of segregating units, on the front lines there was often de facto integration as different units operated in conjunction with each other in order to accomplish missions. Stevens’ tank was destroyed by German fire, and he was hit. While he was lying badly wounded in an exposed position, a white soldier broke from cover to rescue Stevens and was killed in the attempt. While this kind of selfless sacrifice and cooperation in the midst of combat was commonplace in WWII, it is notable here in that it was a white soldier who came to the rescue of a black soldier. This paper is part of a broader examination of connections between the bonding experience of combat and the origins of the Modern Civil Rights Movement, focusing on African American men who fought in combat. Black veterans, specifically combat veterans, became Civil Rights Activists precisely because of the experiences they had in World War II and Korea in the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy. The focus for this paper will be on the Army, and on combat engagements where segregation was challenged. When the all-black 761st Tank Battalion was in support of a white infantry unit, the personnel were thoroughly intermixed. Survival was dependent on close cooperation and combatants experienced first-hand what Parker refers to as “the possibility of black- white relations in which they were considered equals.” The paper will draw on both the methods of Civil Rights historians and military historians and focus on the experience of combat during the war and the impact on Civil Rights activists using records including official unit diaries, command logs, and other official records that can describe when these units were in combat, and the nature and intensity of this combat. Tying together the activist with his combat record, I will be able to analyze the combat conditions an activist experienced even if he left no personal record and find the instances of black personnel in combat and the instances of black and white cooperation in these combat situations.

Presented By
John Christian Ketcherside, Saint Louis University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: Angela M. Riotto, Army University Press

Presenter: John Christian Ketcherside, Saint Louis University

Presenter: Shane David Makowicki, Texas A&M University

Presenter: Colin McConarty