The Ordeal of the Border States

NPS Primary Theme: The existence of divided populations in Border States (and in remote areas of some seceded states) had a profound impact on Union and Confederate strategy—both political and military. Each side undertook military and political measures (including brutal guerilla warfare) intended to persuade or sometimes conquer areas of divided loyalty. Each side suffered setbacks in the face of hostile moral and political views held by local civilians.

  • NPS Subtheme: Issues relating to civil liberties in wartime were particularly problematic in the Border States where the wrong words spoken at the wrong time could result in arbitrary incarceration.

NOTE: Please use the comments section below to chronicle your progress with this theme throughout the remaining weeks of the course. Begin by outlining how your group decided to work with the theme (e.g., assigning one theme to one person or dividing themes up between team members) and then outline in detail, at least once each week, the work that you have done toward crafting your three podcast proposals.


19 Responses to The Ordeal of the Border States

  1. Dianna Woolsey says:

    I’ve now made at least preliminary contact with all of my parks! Dennis Frye at Harpers Ferry has sent an enthusiastic response naming himself as a good contact person, and I’m working with Troy Banzhaf at Pea Ridge to find a good time for a phone call. Troy’s expressed some concern about whether PERI is the best site for our Border States themes — and since I’m struggling to make it connect to the stories I want to tell, I think he’s got a point — so I’m hoping a phone conversation will help sort out whether I should keep working with it. I have a backup plan if we decide that Pea Ridge isn’t working: Fort Scott, which, amazingly, no one is currently using for anything!

    • Dianna Woolsey says:

      A last-minute change! I will be using Fort Scott instead of Pea Ridge. (I certainly appreciate Troy’s willingness to be in contact with me, though!)

      Why Fort Scott? I’ve been looking for a Kansas/Missouri connection here; our other border states cover the eastern border area and the Virginia/West Virginia split but don’t address the incredible tension in the new western states or the terrible violence of the free-soil “debate”. I use “debate” in quotation marks because it’s the word I hear used to describe the situation, but it doesn’t really begin to conjure the raids and massacres that were such a major tool for expressing free-soil, pro-slavery, and abolitionist positions in these two states.

      Fort Scott is a perfect focus for this story. For one, the park contains two rival organizing centers — both former fort buildings sold after the army’s original abandonment — the free-state Fort Scott Hotel and the pro-slavery Western Hotel, which were loci for each faction to rally round its cause and plan violent and extreme actions practically across the street from its rival faction. During the war the site was Union-occupied but, it seems, not entirely on comfortable terms with the local community; this was probably also complicated by the refugees coming through from Missouri, who were predominantly pro-Union or in any case not pro-slavery. Interestingly, Fort Scott was collecting volunteers for an African-American army unit before the Union army was officially accepting African-American soldiers — the park website has this great quote from a mid-1862 bulletin: “Gen. Lane is still going on with the work of organizing two Colored Regiments, notwithstanding the refusal of the President to accept black soldiers…”

      This might be a more predictable site for this theme than Pea Ridge, but I also think it will be a richer window into the western states’ internal conflicts; the series of legislative compromises over the Kansas and Nebraska territories ripped Kansas apart in ways that are hard to imagine now, and it seems the proposing legislators either utterly failed to anticipate that or failed to have any sympathy about the consequences for western settlers’ lives. That’s definitely worth exploring up close. Greg’s already sent an initial message to FOSC for me, so when I contact them, I’ll get a better sense of the tangible resources available; it looks promising, though.

      • Dianna Woolsey says:

        I’m in contact with Fort Scott now! Barak Geertsen contacted me to say that he’d be my contact person for the site. I sent him an email today laying out what I have in mind for the site and asking for help identifying tangible resources. The hotels, as I mentioned above, would be great if they’re still present in a viewable form; I asked him whether they are.

        I also noticed a wonderful primary document referenced on the FOSC website: a letter from Sene Campbell, the fiancee of a pro-slavery agitator who was killed by an antislavery sniper after himself firing shots into a crowd of antislavery agitators, to the antislavery agitator on whom she blamed her fiancee’s death. She’s fiery (one sentence points out, “I am a girl, but I can fire a pistol”), she’s eloquently and unsurprisingly uncivil (“You [are] a minister of the devil, and a very superior one too. I have no more to say to you and your imps.”), and she’s also pretty certain that her beloved, who was hiding in a hotel window and firing unannounced shots into a crowd of his political opponents, was a righteous man in the eyes of god and nation and had never done a spot of wrong to any deserving human being in his life (including hiding in a hotel window and firing unannounced shots into a crowd of his political opponents). As I told Barak in my email, I don’t necessarily want to duplicate the park’s online interpretation and focus on the one primary source that is also available on the website, but the sheer number of things available in this letter makes it an extremely tempting tangible. I asked if he could recommend other primary documents in park holdings, but if not, I may not be able to resist using this one.

        I’ve also requested a couple of sources from the library: “Fort Scott: courage and conflict on the border” by Leo Oliva and “War to the Knife: Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861” by TH Goodrich. I feel pretty good about the resources I have for this park!

  2. Dianna Woolsey says:

    I almost forgot to update on Harpers Ferry. We can check back in with Special Order 191: here we are at the objective it named, and what we find is intense destruction with both armies ruining valuable parts of the site rather than allow them to be used by the other side. The civilian population, like CK Thomas above, has almost completely withdrawn because to stay here is to be in the middle of extremely close and constant war.

    The video that JM Rudy linked to above contains what might be an interesting way to talk about John Brown’s Raid (which is skipping backward in time, but I think that’s going to be inevitable): the story of Isaac Gilbert’s family, the only slaves liberated by the raid, albeit in an indirect and rather odd way. As the person covering Emancipation as well, I’d like to let some of my stories in this theme reflect back on the things that have been covered in those podcasts (or foreshadow them, depending on the order they’re going to be presented). I think this one presents an interesting set of questions for both the border state experience and the struggle for emancipation: here in these states that weren’t deeply embedded in the South, where it didn’t feel certain which side they were on or what condition of slavery or freedom would obtain after the war, what were African-Americans trying to do about their legal status while the war was going on around them? In this case, they were exploiting every loophole of their divided state and society that looked like it might get them free. Is it an unsupported assertion to say that wouldn’t have been possible in Mississippi the way it was in Maryland?

    • Dianna Woolsey says:

      I got a great email back from Dennis Frye at Harpers Ferry this week, suggesting some powerful tangible resources to draw on (the Potomac River bridge, the Roeder confectionery, Annie Marmion’s journal, the Provost Marshal’s office and Charles Moulton’s associated book “Rambling Jour”, Rice C. Bull’s writings on the army hospital, and, interestingly, a contraband camp). Dennis pointed out that any single one of them could make up a podcast and then some, so I’m going to have to choose. The three that are really calling to me are the bridge (that was the bridge that was destroyed and rebuilt 8 times during the war, and Dennis points out that it’s a major and powerful piece of in-person interpretation for the site), Charles Moulton’s book (in which he talks about the experience of martial law and civilian restriction, which is an important piece of the border state experience that I’m not touching on elsewhere), and the contraband camps — I absolutely can’t resist tying that to my emancipation theme and the growth of the Roanoke Island freedmen’s colony from a contraband camp.

      I’ve requested the Moulton book through inter-library loan, so I’ve yet to get a clear sense of what’s in it, but from what Dennis says it sounds like a rich resource for accessing the first-person experience of being squeezed and interrupted by the military necessities of a border site. I don’t think I’ll have time to give much depth to the bridge and Moulton’s writings and the contraband camp, so I may focus on the first two and let the contraband camp be a side note that will point the listener back to (or forward to) my Fort Raleigh story.

      I can’t stress enough how helpful Dennis’ email was — I was almost completely at sea for this site because of the sheer amount of history there is to grapple with. He did a great job of pulling out for me a few angles and resources that can be used to represent the whole in a meaningful way.

  3. Dianna Woolsey says:

    To what Amy has already said about Pea Ridge, I’d add a few thoughts. The uneasy correspondence between the goals of Missouri and those of the Union and Confederacy is something I’d like to discuss in some detail; it’s a good example of the checkerboarding of sympathies in these border states. Pea Ridge interprets on this and I’d like to draw together some of the things they already point out; for instance, the Missouri State Guard participated with the Confederate forces in this battle, but Price (the commander of that guard) insisted that his participation was only about liberating his state and not about serving the Confederacy. (The Union armies participating at Pea Ridge, the park points out, were actually organized mostly along ethnic loyalties, with German soldiers following German commanders because they were German as much as because they were Union, so the array of loyalties represented by this one military clash were pretty varied and odd.)

    I’ve been wondering if I can sensibly talk about guerilla warfare in the context of this park — it’s not in Missouri or Kansas, exactly, which were the states for which I would really want to talk about the bushwhackers, jayhawkers, and other dubious volunteer units. But that opportunity for pseudo-military gangs to raise hell in the border states, and have some measure of protection from being loosely associated with one or the other regular army, is such a perfect Border States situation — whatever one side wanted, the other side was sure to want. Wherever one side had supporters, the other did too. When one side had erratic and poorly-organized guerilla gangs, the other side got them too.

    This is something that I’ll ask about when I get in contact with Pea Ridge — maybe the park can guide me to some connections that will make the guerilla situation relevant here. I’m hoping they will also have some resources related to the state guard and other ambivalencies; the soldier diaries referenced on the park website are personal and provoking, but I’d like to use them within a context that’s set by some additional tangible material.

  4. Dianna Woolsey says:

    I haven’t contacted any of these parks yet — I realized today that I’m still working on understanding what stories and concepts I’m trying to tell here. Monocacy has given a positive response to Greg’s original email, but as of Thursday morning (which was when I’d hoped to reach some of the eastern park staff by phone during their business hours), I didn’t feel I had enough of a sense of my goals for the Monocacy podcast to make good use of my contact’s time. So I worked on my background research instead.

    For Monocacy, there are some really interesting tangibles (as an archaeologist, rather than a historian per se, I’m feeling good about thinking of the sites and stories in terms of extremely concrete and local things). As Amy pointed out, Special Order 191, the infamous “lost dispatch” lost by the Confederate command and picked up by a Union soldier, was found here and included the instructions to march on one of our other Border States sites, Harpers Ferry. The park interprets about this item already, including the interesting remark attributed to McClellan upon receiving it “a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home”. I know we have no shortage of ways to talk about the familiarity of the Union and Confederate commanders with each other, but that is one that I appreciate: here, in this divided state that neither side can afford to leave alone, the commanders who went to school together speak of each other by affectionate nicknames. Monocacy also has an interesting mix of memorial markers for the regiments that participated in the battle: mostly Union, but one solitary Confederate marker. It happens to mirror how the battle turned out for the two sides: technically a small Confederate gain, but almost entirely a success for the Union in allowing the successful defense of Washington DC and in finding that lost dispatch. Lastly, there’s a personal story that interests me: CK Thomas, who moved to Monocacy and set up a farm there to get away from the war, only to have it come right onto his property. It’s telling of the border state experience, in which ordinary people were sucked in despite their best intentions simply because their homes and communities were too strategically useful for either side to allow them neutrality.

    With these things in mind, I’ll call Barbara Justice at Monocacy and be able to ask coherently about the resources I can use.

    • Dianna Woolsey says:

      I just finished an excellent phone call with Barbara Justice at Monocacy. It sounded like she hadn’t quite gotten the heads-up from her superintendent that she was being designated as the contact person for this, so my call was pretty out of the blue for her and I had to explain the project a bit. Once we were both a little better up to speed, we had a great conversation about the border states experience and how some of the Monocacy stories (including the Thomas family story I mentioned, which she expanded for me — there are layers to it I wasn’t aware of, including a Thomas son being arrested and impressed into the Union army) illustrate the inevitability of the border states getting dragged into the conflict by both sides.

      Barbara filled me in on some more stories from the families whose properties made up the battlefield, and referred me to an older (1930s) book by the charming title of “Fighting for time; or, The battle that saved Washington and mayhap the Union; a story of the War Between the States, showing how Washington was saved from capture by Early’s army of invasion and how that achievement contributed to the preservation of the Union, with many stories and incidents of the invasion hitherto untold.” Given its age I don’t know whether the book is drawing on well-supported sources or more anecdotal ones, so I’ll get my hands on a copy and see what I can find out. (I don’t intend to disregard it if it’s more anecdotal; for something as complicated in memory as the Civil War, I think the story of what people believe and repeat is actually more full and interesting than the story of confirmed facts, as long as I’m clear and responsible about which kind of story I’m telling.)

      Barbara also mentioned another project that’s going on, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground video podcast series “Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student”. After some quick Googling, I found an information page on it here. I hadn’t been aware of this, but it looks like it intersects more of our sites than just this one, and I can imagine some of our park staff may be getting so many similar projects that they either blend into one or start to feel redundant. Just an extra reason to try to be patient and minimize our demands on park staff, I think.

      • Dianna Woolsey says:

        I’ve just gotten my copy of “Fighting for Time” (the older book recommended by Barbara Justice) from interlibrary loan. I’ve only had time to glance though it so far, but it looks like it makes extensive use of primary telegrams and letters, and is generally heavy on the conventional military history (which is unsurprising given its age). It may be that some of those telegrams and letters would be good to reference in the podcast, but I’d need to do some quick reading to get through the sheer amount of material here in any reasonable timeframe. If the only material out of this book that I can use is the Thomas family stories that Barbara shared, that’s still quite good; they were rich and telling of the experience of being unwillingly swallowed up by the conflict.

        One thing that I’d like to do is see if I can find any contemporary work that touches on these stories and tries to find documentary support for them. I don’t know how much luck I’ll have with that, though; I would assume that if such works were easy to find the park would already be using them!

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  6. JM Rudy says:

    For those of you working on Harpers Ferry, I’d suggest this set of videos:

    These are from the creation of the “Black Voices” exhibit in town, which chronicles a number of different struggles of life on the border.

    • Dianna Woolsey says:

      JM, thanks! That looks like a great exhibit. The story about Isaac Gilbert makes me almost wish we’d assigned Harpers Ferry to the Emancipation theme instead of to this one — it’s interesting to see how closely these themes and sites end up tying together that way.

  7. Amy Platt says:

    Pea Ridge National Military Park

    Themes: “To secede or not to secede”

    Intangibles: glory, strategy, slavery, politics, compromise, neutrality

    Tangibles: A site in Arkansas is a strange way to get at (perhaps) the most interesting border state, Missouri. But it works. Missouri has a special place in the history of political grappling over the slave issue. The Missouri Compromise (tangible) should be addressed, as well as the Compromise of 1850 (tangible), the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 (tangible), and Dred Scott in 1857 (tangible). The admission of Missouri to the Union marks the legal creation of a dividing line between North and South, and its odd placement above the Mason Dixon but within the slave-holding “half” of the country disrupts our sense of what “border state” means. The population was divided, and Missourians sent people to both sides of the war—it may be here as much as anywhere that “neighbor v. neighbor” holds true. Slavery was legal in Missouri, but its unique geographic position made it a natural path to freedom for the Underground Railroad.
    Which brings us to Arkansas. The residents of Arkansas and Missouri clashed frequently over the numbers of escaping slaves across the border—the Fugitive Slave Law both settled the matter (legally) and notched up the debate and animosity. This is no small thing. It is not a surprise, really, that by 1860 most of Missouri had been resettled by non-slave owning farmers, which contributed to Missouri’s decision to stay neutral during the war. Yet, its southern sympathizing origins kept its government and populace ambivalent, and thus vulnerable.
    The battle of Pea Ridge was really a battle for Missouri, and it was an odd event (which is perhaps appropriate). The North attacked from the south and the South attacked from the North—the Union was intent on pushing the Confederates back into Arkansas (where their position was more vulnerable) and out of Missouri. The soldiers were mostly volunteers from the farms and plantations in the (mid)west. Pea Ridge holds many of their diaries and letters—it would be interesting to see how often “Missouri” shows up in them!

    Contact: 479-451-8122

  8. Amy Platt says:

    Monocacy National Battlefield

    Themes: “to secede or not to secede”
    Intangibles: power, government, control, industry, luck?, transportation, endurance

    Tangibles: Monocacy is a battle site, of course, a particularly important one because of its proximity to D.C. In all respects, Maryland was “The Border” and it is difficult to imagine a Union victory without Maryland in hand. But this little state had its share of secessionist sympathizers, and Lincoln’s legal and political hold on the populace and government is a lesson in both diplomacy and executive force. Significantly, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri added both people and navigable rivers to the army that claimed them—for the Confederacy, in particular, those three states would have added up to almost half of its white population, 80% of its manufacturing capacity, and over a third of its horses and mules. It is no wonder that the border states endured a particular hell—if the Union and the Confederate armies weren’t physically battling it out on the land, the federal government was holding on with an, often, iron fist.

    On this site is the archeological excavation of the largest known slave habitation site in the Mid-Atlantic. These artifacts tell a very different story of endurance from that of the Union soldiers who held fast in 1864. It will be interesting to overlap those stories.
    Also, Special Order 191 is held at Monocacy. THAT story leads all the way to Antietam and the McClellan controversy.

    Contact: 301-698-6247

  9. Amy Platt says:

    Harpers Ferry
    (West Virginia)

    Themes: “to secede or not to secede” and “loyal? or confederate sympathizers?”
    Intangibles: division, strategy, abolition, destruction, state, transition

    The town, the arsenal, and the railroad changed hands eight times, as both the Confederate and Union armies saw the strategic value of the land. After Virginia seceded, the citizens saw part of their town burned down twice, and then serve as a Union base during the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry. And all this after John Brown’s violent raid on the armory in 1859 failed—a failure that had linked “abolition” to “martyrdom.” Harpers Ferry was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, and its armories were turned into a black college after the war. This was a town in constant transition.
    Most significantly, Harpers Ferry is a way to talk about the creation of West Virginia—a state created in the middle of the war, clearly illustrating the extent of the divided populace and government in Virginia (and a microcosm of the country). The buildings and monuments are fitting tangibles—the themes for border states are so centered on place. Geographical place, loyalty to place, and what it means to be literally in the middle ground of the country.

    Contact: 304-535-6224

  10. Dianna Woolsey says:

    Looks like our final list of sites for Border States is:

    Pea Ridge
    Harpers Ferry

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  13. Amy Platt says:

    I spent the week looking at podcasting web sites and investigating the themes and parks I wanted to use for the three themes I prefer to work on. I’m posting my podcasting finding here (because it’s first), but I’ve divided the park info under each theme.

    So I spent the week looking at other podcasts to see what formats people were using out there, to see what was winning awards, and what conclusions people were making about the educational value of podcasts. I also wanted to see if museums were happy with podcasting.

    One of the top educational podcasts of 2010 was Dan Carlin’s Hard Core History, which is never less than an hour and is one man talking the entire time. Grammar Girl was third, which is about 5 to 10 minutes long, and also one person speaking. Citizen Radio is at the top of the People’s Choice podcast awards—two people talking about politics in a humorous, conversational way for over an hour.

    So, do long, lecture-style podcasts work? Turns out, yes. A study of podcasts in university settings showed that students who listen to podcast in place of a lecture tested better and got better grades. To me, that indicates that a longer podcast doesn’t lose its listener halfway through. I also took a look at the CBC broadcasting study and found this:

    1. most podcasters are male, under 40, well-educated.
    2. podcasters prefer subscriptions—important for itunes access
    3. they prefer on-demand—so all podcasts should be available permanently after the initial broadcast.

    The award-winning podcaster Buster Ratliff provides an outline for effective museum-based podcasting:
    1. align the mission of the institution with the mission of each podcast
    2. find good talent
    3. identify the audience, including recognizing the mix of people within it
    4. create an outline
    5. practice the script
    6. vet the podcast before broadcast

    One and three are the most helpful for our purposes; numbers one and six are the most important for NPS, I’d say.

    I took a look at other history podcasts here:
    They vary, and it’s clear to me that NPS is doing something very different that has not been done before: telling one huge story in many parts over a long period of time. In many ways, this series is more reminiscent of a mini-series than a podcast; and it’s much bigger than a museum-based podcast, as well, since the museum is the entire country. It is both terrifying and exciting.

    *Western Movement*

    Main themes: settlement; dispossession of Native Americans; state formation (union v. confederate)

    Parks: Homestead, Fort Vancouver, Nicodemus

    Homestead National Monument:
    The Homestead Act of 1862 did more to fill the west with settlers (as opposed to trappers, gold miners, and speculators) than any land act before it, and this park focuses on that year and legislation. They have extensive archival material and digitized photos. Because the park is built around the Act, it is the natural place to address settlement of the west during the war. Significantly, Nebraska was an important state leading up to the war itself.

    Fort Vancouver:
    Fort Vancouver helps us understand both the impact in Native Americans and the transition of the area from a barter/trade hub to a military installation.

    This park centers on the western movement of African Americans during the post-war. It is the oldest all black towns west of the Mississippi and it’s in Kansas—which means we can bring in the back story of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Most importantly, we can talk about the dream of the west crossing racial boundaries in contrast to Leutze’s artistic vision.

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