Sunday, May 25, 2014

Who Really Needs to be "Set Free"? Civil War Contraband Patriotic Envelope

    I've always enjoyed the variety of designs printed on the Civil War Patriotic Covers I've collected.  Most are straight forward in meaning, e.g. the flag on the envelope shows you support the Union or the Confederacy;  or the text below the picture makes the political point, often adding an edge to the political message portrayed in the picture itself.  But some covers I've pondered what exactly is the message the artist is presenting?  I may catch the general message of Pro-Union or Pro-Confederacy, but I find myself coming back to look at the cover and wondering if I really have gotten the cover's political point?

    This Union Patriotic Cover is one of those.  It's clearly Anti-Confederacy in it's general tone.  But in what way are the Southern States listed on this envelope like "contraband"? 
I'se Contraband
Civil War Union Patriotic Envelope

    First, we should start by examining the definitions of "contraband":  Webster's 4th Edition College Dictionary (1999) gives the following definitions:  
1) unlawful or prohibited trade 
2) goods forbidden by law to be imported or exported; smuggled merchandise 
3) war materiel which may be intercepted and seized by a belligerent when shipped to their enemy by a neutral country 
4) during the Civil War, a black slave who fled to, or was smuggled or found behind the Union lines.

    The tag "contraband" to describe slaves coming into Union controlled territory arises from Gen. Benjamin Butler's classification of three slaves who escaped to Fortress Monroe, Hampton VA in 1861 shortly after Fort Sumter being fired upon.  Gen. Butler refused to return the slaves to their owner by labeling them "contrabands of war", something/someone to be denied to a belligerent to prevent him from having an advantage.  It was Butler's way to justify not returning the escaped slaves to their master in the face of having no official Federal administrative policy about freeing the slaves.

    Now back to the cover we're looking at here.  It has the picture of a black man centered within a ten point star.  There are ten states listed (VA, NC, TX, GA, LA, AR, AL, MS, FL, SC).  Technically eleven states seceded and joined together to form the Confederacy.  Tennessee is missing from the list on this cover.  The ten states listed on the cover had all been admitted to the Confederacy by the end of May 1861.  Tennessee was admitted July 2, 1861.  This may or may not give us a suggestion of time when the cover was printed up.
    When I first saw this cover I thought it was just conveying a general abolitionist message like:  "Free the slaves in the South".  But as I've handled it and thought about how the artist put together the picture, I've come to wonder if it's a poke at the Confederacy in another way.  Who really needs to be "Set Free"?
   Perhaps the artist is saying:  the unlawfully held "material" are the ten states which the Confederate government is now holding.  In a broader sense, the populations of those ten states are now just as enslaved as the black slaves fleeing north to find freedom.  The cover's statement "I'se contraband" becomes a cry for help to Northern brethren to come and set their Southern brethren free from the oppressive secessionist government that really has no right to hold power over these ten states.  In a sly slap at the supporters of the Confederacy in these ten states, the artist is saying "you really do not realize what's happening to you. . . you need to be set free just like the black slaves that are coming north to find their freedom".

    Too much time on my hands, you say?  Well, like I said, this is one of the patriotic covers that I've reproduced and thought about.  The artist who drew up the design put in the details with a purpose.  If you have a different interpretation, send me a comment.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Portraying a Confederate Regimental Postmaster

    Meet a reenactor who enjoys portraying a Confederate Regimental Postmaster.  Darwin Roseman's interest in postmasters and mail arises from his family history.  His great great grandfather became postmaster of his hometown after serving in the Confederate army during the war.  So it's natural that along with his involvement with the N.C. Cummins Cape Fear Artillery (Longstreets Corp)  he mixes in Postmaster duties with Alexander's Battalion Field Hospital and Gen. A.P.Hill's staff.  He has presented his portrayal to a wide range of children and adult groups such as schools, Scouts, SCV and UDC camps.  Though he is often surprised at how little most people know of the topic, he enjoys making it come alive through discussion, questions and hands on learning.  He finds people receptive.  He lives in Cary, North Carolina.  Here's Darwin's description of his postmaster impression:

    "Here are some of my experiences with the kids and scouts at living histories.  The parents are also very interested in the topic of the Confederate Postal System.
I have a picture of the first postmaster general John H. Reagon which I show the kids as well as give them quick history of who President Jefferson Davis was.  Then I show them the green 5 cent 1861 stamp with his picture on it.  I explain the 500 and over 500 mile rule of mailing with the showing of the 10cent stamp.  Parents are very interested in this aspect.  I ask the kids who Thomas Jefferson is when I show them the 1861/62 10 cent stamp.  I show patriotic and plain writing paper (I call it writing paper and ask the kids what they call it today -- stationery), I show them patriotic and plain covers (I call them covers and ask the kids what they call it today -- envelopes).  I ask them why they are called covers -- they cover the letter.
    I ask the kids why it was important to write letters during the war -- (only means of communications with family and loved ones; no cell phones, computers, etc;  this limitation on communications is often hard for some to understand).  I ask them what happens if they do not know how to read and write -- I tell them my duties as postmaster of the regiment is to assist soldiers in reading and writing letters especially if the soldier came from the farm and had no education.  They find all this fascinating.  They really like the wall paper covers and the range of cover sizes.  I show the stamps in a sheet and ask them how the stamps stay on the covers.  Many answer "by licking them".  I have them feel the back and they discover there is no glue!  Also there are no holes for perforation so I explain about having to cut them apart with a knife or scissors.  To those who say "glue" I explain that early in the war I had glue which was scarce, but as the war progressed and glue wasn't available I was forced to use something else.  That is when I pull out my bottle of molasses.  They really go nuts over this!  Amazingly some don't even know what molasses is so I have to explain that too.  I have a lot of fun attaching a stamp to a cover using molasses and passing it around for them to see how it holds the stamp on.  This usually surprises even the parents.  I also show them a cover where I have sewn the stamp on because I've run out of molasses.  This really gets the kids interested!  When a group is really with me I take the time to show them some of the late war stamps.  I also explain the use of 2 cent stamps for periodicals and drop letters.  Most have no idea what a drop letter is.
    I get a lot of volunteers when I offer them a stamp for helping out.  Parents appreciate how much the kids are learning as they get involved.  Young and old come away with a better understanding of the Confederate Postal system and the importance of letter writing during the war.  I get questions from both kids and parents on a variety of things as I make my presentation.  To help me better make the facts come alive I set up my period tent (I am in period uniform of course), a table with two chairs, stamps, covers, writing paper, a post office sign hanging from my tent, various pictures for distribution during my talk and my hand laptop desk.  Two chairs -- I tell kids one is for the soldier who come to me for help in reading or writing a letter and I want to make him comfortable.  This sounds like a long presentation but really it's not.  Of course each presentation is different and might include or exclude items based on mixture of the group."
(This article is reprinted from the print edition of The Civil War Stationery Journal, Fall 2004 Vol.1, No.2)

    Reenacting as "sharing" is a lot more fun than doggedly pursuing "what's in this for me!"  Over the years I found that reenactors who enjoy sharing 'knowledge, experience and laughter' with others seem to find the joy they need with an event goes bad.  Joy comes from the good times of discovering details which make "history" come alive, from watching a child's eyes light up as you help them discover something they never imagined about history, or from the inner satisfaction of helping a friend improve by encouragement.  Hey, God made us to enjoy helping others.  Let the curmudgeons grumble about unit politics and rations and campsites.  Discover the fun of "gaining" by "giving".
    For me, experimenting with making accurate stationery has opened up a spring of personal satisfaction and enjoyable friendships.  We don't have to all do living history to the same degree.  But consider the possibilities of doing what you normally do in a way that helps others learn -- other reenactors and EVEN spectators.  Yeh, I have dealt with the obnoxious kid coming to our tent and assuming everything on display is for taking or breaking.  But there have been dozens of other kids who honestly get interested in learning why I'm there and what I'm doing.  So take a mental inventory of what you know and enjoy.  You might be surprised how much you have to share with others.  And you will be surprised how much "giving out" brings in "gains' of joy and satisfaction.