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tv   The Civil War Gettysburg College Civil War Institute Conference  CSPAN  June 24, 2018 2:44pm-3:46pm EDT

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interested in american history tv. visit our website, schedule,ew our archival programs, and more. at there back live gettysburg college of those living you for the civil war institute annual summer conference. a discussion of union spy a lisbeth van loo. you are watching american history tv on c-span3.
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>> good afternoon, everyone.
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imp carmichael, a member of the history department here at gettysburg college. i am the director of the civil war institute. it's like better this afternoon to introduce elizabeth bayern, who is the associate director of the center for civil war history and also a professor of american attory and of course, all the university of virginia. thankfully, she is not a hockey bob -- at least i don't believe she is. said go cats what has happened to the american sports scene? i don't know. i would not think that at a conference people would be ja .ing about hockey she has published a number of books. we need to be confident: white
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women and politics in antebellum virginia." one of my favorite processs of the published by the university of north girl oppressed, and "appomattox: the tree defeat, and freedom at the end of the ," published by oxford. it is an outstanding book. it's a way to look beyond appomattox, looks at the material culture, how appomattox resided in american history. it's outstanding. i cannot say enough good things about it. and she published "the true aory of elizabeth van lew: union agent in the heart of the confederacy." liz barron. [applause]
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professor baron: i bring you greetings in virginia and i am delighted to tell you about a remarkable virginian. i wrote a biography of elizabeth .an lew as we approach the 200th anniversary of her birth, we are coming up on the anniversary, i find i am more fascinated by her than ever, in part because new details of her life come to light and we are more familiar with the phenomena and she represented, namely white southern union is some. so, it was clear to me from the start when i began researching than 20s life more years ago that she is in many ways a problematic subject for a
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biography. problem is the vast majority of americans had never heard of her. she was an utterly obscure figure. at the same time, among a civil war aficionados, folks like us, she was a mystical figure -- known, but cloaked in twice told tales. then finally, people in her native richmond, van lew has been a very polarizing figure. she is regarded as a heroine in some quarters in richmond, and to this day, as a pariah in others. so, today, i'm going to start by briefly sketching the van lew myth, the legends of her that have been handed down over the years and then i will focus on my corrective to that myth and that i will close with observations about her historical significance and her significance for our field. so, legend, first.
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the principal features of the -- lew legend are as follows she was a rare white seven abolitionist whose anti-slavery sentiments can be traced to her northern parentage and her education in philadelphia, motivated by her opposition to slavery. -- she had,p the according to the myth, unfettered access to union soldiers and confederate prisons. although her northern sympathies were well known to many confederate richmond errs, so avoidedy goes, van lew detection by crafting a reputation as an in balanced, and therefore harmless, old spinster. since her contemporaries knew her and she has been remembered as crazy bass. over the years, many a treatment of van lew has adjusted the role of crazy bess came easy to read
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because she was in fact an odd and eccentric woman. this mystical view has proven resilient, and part of the nature of the sources available to us. very imperfect sources. van lew kept a journal. setleft behind a tattered of personal papers. during the war she kept these buried in an undisclosed location, so it confederate authorities burst into rows, they would not find them. papers isth these tough going, but if we plumb their murky depths and uncover other voices and perspectives, we can, in fact, reconstruct her story and i will make the case today that the true story of elizabeth van lew is much more compelling than the mythological version passed down. onst of all, van lew's views
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slavery. second, the military significance of her spy network -- did it matter in the end she led this richmond underground? did the underground matter? the issue of why she never got caught. this is one of the things that has made her a tough subject for bob is. this was a clandestine operation. she was trying to hide what she did from the public view. and the problem with this view, this crazy bess image. let's go back to her early life. i will take on slavery first. according to the myth, she was an abolitionist, someone who knew from the time she was a ,hild that slavery was wrong someone who committed herself to emancipation, but the word abolitionism of course, oh was and is a loaded term and it has to be unpacked, if you will. detractors,s
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calling her and abolitionist was a way to brand her as an outsider in the south, someone northernks to her parentage and heretical views she picked up in yankee them, was never a real virginian. defenders, calling her and abolitionist has been a way to paint her as a moral eric on, someone who saw the light --n her fellow southerners moral paragon, someone who saw the light when her fellow southerners could not. not an abolitionist in the sense that william lloyd garrison or frederick douglass were abolitionists. van lew and her family carefully staked out a position on a tenuous middle ground between abolitionism and the proslavery creed. they were in upper middle class family. they would've had a mansion on churchill. they made every effort to fully
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assimilate into southern society and the van lew family owned dozens of slaves. at the same time, van lew and her mother eliza, with whom she was very close, privately lamented the evils of slavery, hoping all the while that through individual acts of freeing, charity, individual slaves, they could erode slavery from the inside, and indeed, van lew and her family supported the controversial colonization movement that sought to deport free blacks to africa. her family's most , only toave to liberia ask she be returned to her and richmond a few years later. the story is very puzzling and improbable. and while the sources are murky secretly for lew
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the sum of her slaves and allow them to stay on in richmond working for wages, she gave a secret freedom to some slaves, ownership of at least half a dozen slaves, mary richards among them, into the civil war. this is not the profile of an abolitionist. believed in gradual, voluntary emancipation. gradual amelioration, reform from the inside. this was no northern heresy. this was a distinctly virginian , andok in her youth attitude, a support for colonization and other gradualist schemes that fell out of favor over the antebellum ground.ave and here is the key to understanding van lew's life as a spy. she did not see herself as someone who repudiated the
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confederacy or the south. instead, van lew believed confederates were the traitors to the south. in her reckoning, it was day, abandonedsts, who virginia's heritage of political moderation. it was they who rejected reform and compromise. it was they that became blinded by their very lent proslavery virulent proslavery creed. she watched carefully the debates in richmond. a represented for van lew catastrophe and in a polyphony. van lew word eventually elaborate a sophisticated critique of slavery, but that was forged in a firestorm of secession. as she watched secession, she concluded that slavery had made
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southern whites anti-democratic, intellectually backward, and dangerously self-righteous. slavery was the root cause of the madness of secession. and she, like other unconditional unionists, those who would remain trueblue throughout, rejected the secessionist claims that one rebel could with 10 yankees and so on. wouldlieved that the war be, as one of the union delegates to the convention in virginia put it, a carnival of death. there is tantalizing evidence that suggests van lew may have been influenced by african-americans working in her household. -- to framework in this see slavery in this framework of sin and redemption. she would write one of the
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family service predicted the downfall of the confederacy, telling her "you will see they shall fall down slain. that is the fifth moment of prophecy." in her wrote those words journal followed by a brief, empathetic prescript. so said the intelligent colored man who called us owners. would the war, van lew take measures to promote emancipation and promote african americans, including encouraging those in her household to flee the south. it was only after secession closed off the imagined middle ground in the slavery debate that elizabeth embraced abolition. she chose to stay in richmond after secession. she could've easily decamped to the north. she had relatives in new york and pennsylvania, but she chose to stay in richmond, where she
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felt she had, as she put it, a responsibility to her fellow virginians, particularly the blacks in her orbit. in her calculus, it was the unionists who were true to the state. van lew was not born and raised an abolitionist, but she abaft into one. this is key to understanding the mentality she would bring to her , theork, her spy work special field corn of the guilt and regret of a latecomer to the truth, someone trying to make right. to fulfill that awful responsibility, as she saw it? it has long been established she rallied to the assistance of union prisoners of war. she helped them to survive. she helped them to escape -- this is especially me first two years of the war. she had an intelligence operation, quite elaborate, which gathered vital information army.ant's
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according to the crazy bess legend, van lew was regarded as so crazy harmless, she was allowed to wonder confederate prisons at will. it is true that in the first year of the war, van lew did have access to some confederate prisons in richmond and she did but friend and assist the union men imprisoned there. but she secured that access by manipulating her image as a southern lady. she publicly justified her ministrations to union soldiers as acts of charity to the unworthy, as she put it. keeping with the female imperative to be benevolent. after martial law was imposed on richmond in march of 1862, a followed by the arrest of suspected unionists, van lew
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could no longer visit prisons the way she had early on. underground, so-called, coalesced under van , managed,ership somehow, in spite of the new atmosphere of scrutiny, managed inmates ,nd also to help civilians white and black southern union unionists, flee the confederacy and find it -- find refuge in the north. her small and break circle of operatives worked to provide escapees with safehouses, passes, disguises, guides, and contacts to take them to union lines. the main weapons in van lew's arsenal in these early days were
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her family's wealth, which he spent liberally to bribe confederate guards and officials, and her family's social standing. they were a well respected southern family. her mother in particular was thought of as this archetypal southern lady, southern matron, very high standing in the community. and she parlayed that social --nding into numerous phases favors from influential confederates. in other words, it's true that resorted tocted -- play acting, but her favorite the respectable confederate lady. when in the presence of confederal -- confederate officials, she and mother eliza did their best to "talk southern confederacy." they even opened their home to the rebel wounded, and showed conspicuous shows of loyalty to the confederacy to
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throw the confederates of the cent, as it were. but perhaps the most important asset for the union underground was the cooperation of african-american unionists who risked life and limb for this union underground. according to the memoirs of colonel parker, stationed at grant's headquarters in the last year of the war -- "miss van lew kept two or three bright, sharp colored men on watching the prison who were always ready to conduct an escaped prisoner to safety." underground represents an interracial collaboration. thanks to the discretion and those of her agents, her family mansion provided a way station on the perilous journey behind confederate lines. the most fabled of those african-americans who worked for the richmond underground is the
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mysterious mary elizabeth bowser. rumors began to circulate after van lew's death in 1900 that she had planted a black servant as a spy in the very inter-sanctum of the confederate white house. one of the stories you just could not make up. it seems so improbable. an article published in the richmond evening reader of 1900, the story started to come to light. going to this article, the van lews tencent sent one of their slaves to philadelphia to be educated, only to send her to liberia, only to welcome her back to richmond on the eve of the war. the same mysterious slave was planted so -- the article claim -- by van lew in the confederate white house, where in her guys as a domestic servant, the spy
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gathered intelligence for the union underground and funneled it on to van lew. the story took on a new life when van lew's executor, a northern man named john reynolds, purportedly asked the identity of this spy of van lew --nice, who remembered it nice, who remembered it as mary elizabeth bowser. and shed the name on was named as the white house by. -- white house spy. life,esearched van lew's i was keen to learn everything i could about mary bowser, and what i learned, trying to follow this tenuous trail of evidence is the woman all these years that we had remembered as mary bowser was in fact was one mary jane richards. the records of the colonization
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society and the freedmen's bureau and other sources demonstrated it was a slave girl named mary richards the van lews sent north to be educated and to liberia and then summoned back to richmond on the eve of the war. stayed oneichards step ahead of the authorities as she worked in the richmond underground by using a series of aliases, including mary hanley and mary jones. we fast-forward to reconstruction and there we have letters in richmond's own hand revealing to the freedmen's bureau she had indeed served as a federal agent during the war. in other words i was able to corroborate mary richards' story. interestingly -- and this is an ,bject lesson for historians the joys and pitfalls of our work -- the most striking single piece of evidence on mary richards' wartime efforts did
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not come to light until after i publish the book. you move on. some years after i published my , someone atan lew the state library of virginia sent me a newspaper article from a new york newspaper, "the anglo one of the premier african-american newspapers in the country, new york taste. that covered a speech given by a woman going by the name of richmond to the new york abyssinian baptist church in september 1865. where we seerticle the claim -- we see richards credited with having said she davis'sinto president house while he was absent for washing and scrutinizing papers." here is evidence from a few that putser the war
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mary jane richards and the confederate white house, something i have looked for and not found in my many days of research. so, i was thrilled by the emergence of this source, but confirmed that bowser is richards and richards was there in the confederate white house. i will chagrined i had not found it myself, but i had never thought in a million years mary jane richards would pop up in brooklyn in 1865. and now things to our wonderful digitized newspapers we can keyword search, i might have found it more quickly using modern technology. represents acle lead i hope that folks will follow in the story. so, richards and like -- and others like her key to van lew's network. shelew's double life wears -- where she is putting to be a loyal confederate what working for the union got considerably
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more risky as she and fellow --ratives are formerly formally enlisted in the secret service. it took a while to get her act together in intelligence gathering, but finally they do. they have gotten wind that there is an underground and they reach out to her and sign her up, van lew. role at this point is crucial. her mansion is the nerve center of the spy operation. she is asked described as a spymaster who oversaw and deployed a devoted group of unionist operatives, people willing to take her orders without question. to my mind, as all of this came , it ist in my research hard to believe that men and women would have test -- trusted their lives to van lew if she
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made a practice of acting erratic in public. she inspired trusting people in her network. that network reached far beyond richmond into the neighboring counties, and her operatives practiced a primitive, but effective tradecraft. they used codenames. .hey used physical links they carried messages hidden in their shoes and clothing. it was pretty primitive, but effective. the key point i want to emphasize, this is not only a derring-do and the rest, but it has profound military and political implications for the union war effort. when credit was having fight on two fronts, van lew 's operatives provided
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information on the movement of confederates back and forth between the east and west. lead is not have many chess does not have lee many chess pieces, but grant has insight into how he is moving it. blows and whenke the union underground says the divisions have arrived in richmond, sheridan can strike blows. this is a set of tactical insights. it cannot be emphasized enough this is primitive stuff. that chess pieces were being moved. she had guys standing at the railroad station, you know? when troops got on and off the railroad cars, that was information she thought grant should have. van lew and her unionist
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knew that grant relied on this information and not only for military intelligence, but also assessments of the political atmosphere in the besieged capital of richmond, and taken together, unionist reports from the last year of the war provide a picture of increasing desolation. boys being herded into the rebel army, bitterness at lincoln's election. she had her finger on the pulse of richmond and the morale in the city. this information was crucial to grant. this information confirmed during a time in which she was under a lot of public criticism in the north for high casualties
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and the lakh of a decisive the plan- it confirmed was working, the grand strategy was working, the siege was training confederate resources, sapping rebel morale. and just how much the federal high command valued these insights is revealed by staff officers who have written that grant was so eager for news from richmond he would meet in person with van lew's scouts. one of the favorite topics of conversation was news from the richmond underground and van lew withlmost in daily contact grant. that is how effective were spy network was. influence public opinion in the north and south. it's the ripples of influence we can trace. we have testimony of scores of escapees who were aided by van
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to escape. they talked to me northern press and they talked about support for the case that the confederate regime was oppressive and there were white southerners yearning to be liberated from slave power. this is an important message that stokes norther morale. aided, yankee prisoners, had been aided by southern whites and this is a positive image of the war effort to foster sympathy for the emancipation effort. finally, the underground's effort undermined confederate morale. the most traumatic beats of these richmond unionist -- again, two rings you could not make up if you tried -- the
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escape of 109 union officers from the heart of the confederacy, heart of the confederate capital. holtz many make their way to safety in the north. unionisteburial on colonel.he slain union the press was aware of these incidents and called them the great escape and the great resurrection -- why resurrection? again, fascinating story. there's a raid on richmond. it is a failure. orders were to assassinate jefferson davis -- there's an enduring controversy
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whether there were such papers. in any case, the confederates are so livid at this finding the body and give him what they consider a dog's burial in an unmarked grave, meant as an act of disrespect and dishonor. so, the older daughter was a son of a union admiral. say they willes not return the body, but eventually they relent and will have a terrible surprise when they go to dig up the body. van lew had gotten there first. they had dug up the potty -- www. and taken -- dug up the and take him to the farm of a virginian unionist and given them a proper burial on that
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farm. towhen one confederate goes seize his body, it's not there. suggested to confederates that the richmond underground was literally capable of working miracles. this was understandably unnerving to confederates. the most cogent summary of van lew's significance to the union avenue comes from george sharp. sharp would write in a postwar letter -- "for a long, long time, van lew represented all that was left of the power of the u.s. government in the city of richmond." a remarkable thing for 19th-century man to say about a 19th century woman. van lew could not vote. she did not have basic rights of citizenship. on the outs in the
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confederacy, but she represented nothing less than the power of the u.s. government in the estimation of this intelligence chief. turn to why she was not caught. all of this begs the question -- how did she get away with it all. madness, the fact that she went around town dressed in of a drive old way, mumbling to herself, gave her a kind of impunity. but it's just not so. van lew's agents were literally traveling to and from her house with dispatches and orders and the van lew family was vulnerable to exposure. and indeed a moment of reckoning comes in 1864 when, evidently acting on a tip, the confederate
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authorities launch a formal investigation into the van lews. under theill be microscope, elizabeth and her mother eliza. the confederates seek to build a case by getting inside her social circle. they want to find someone to finger her. they interrogate the friends, and then they find the start witness in the form of elizabeth's estranged sister-in-law. will swear in-law a deposition in september of 1864 that she had "often heard elizabeth and her mother for thed ardent desire success of federal arms and the failure of the confederate state to establish its independence." elizabethew accusing van lew of treason. a few weeks after this deposition is taken a provost
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a copy to the adjutant general, saying shell other evidence be taken with the view of the removal of the van lews from the confederacy? that would be banishment from the confederacy as a punishment. sheds more light than any other on how van lew got away with espionage activities. he stipulated that miss elizabeth van lew of the city is very unfriendly in her sentiments towards this government. he went on to say, like most of her sex, she seems to have talked freely. but he continued -- "it does not appear she has ever done cause." to inform the talk freely, women will do that,
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but she has never done anything to inform because the at this point she has helped 109 union men tunneled her way out of risen. she was an almost daily contact with grand. a soldier anded so on. but the finding was no action could be taken. the qualities insulating her were her wealth and position and her bad habit of talking too much. in other words, confederate prejudice served to insulate van lew. the men whose job was to root were disinclined to believe a spinster lady was capable of acts of disloyalty. they could not find hard proof
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of disloyal actions. capable -- let's turn to the postwar picture. when richmond analyst house to union forces in april 1865, elizabeth van lew naturally felted to be a personal vindication. she would write in her journal, "oh army of my country, how rest."us was your the war of reckoning with racism had only just begun. she would write in her journal you will seepeople " written for them by the almighty unpenned stories, then to be read before at listening
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universe." her journal speaks in terms that are poignant and hoped, revealing that she history would price her for her honesty and vision. here's the irony of this whole story. her conviction that she was a pillar of sanity in a world gone mad. the tragedy of her life, that worldand again the rejected her vision of herself. the story of her wartime exploits became widely known by the public when they went to ground, and first becomes widely known when she is appointed the postmaster of richmond and one of her first acts is in recognition for her service
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during the war. at first i did not know what to make of this. we think of a postmaster now as a bureaucratic position. but this was a plum patronage job. -- thestmaster is postmaster it's kicked out. the postmaster is supposed to be .he head of a partisan army the post office controls the flow of information. it was widely understood it was a stepping stone to political influence. benjamin franklin was a postmaster. this was important. and if you were the postmaster of a major city, it carried a really nice salary. why was it important? she led a spy ring during the war. former confederates rail against a femalentment of spymaster, but no one charges her with craziness, yet.
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, by her own account, tried to project a public image of fairness and efficiency. she took the job seriously. she refused to align yourself with anyone political faction. time, she also very bravely and with great pride adopted the mantle of truth relations.acial she wrote letters revealing the oppressive treatment of .frican-americans in richmond neither the white republicans she sought to represent, nor the white democrats, former confederates, were willing to competence and's
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rationality. only the city's african-americans were willing to honor her. she hired african-americans to work in the post office and used her office as a believe pulpit for the cause of civil -- as a bully pulpit for the cause of civil rights. the committee of passed american men resolution, declaring if any other person is appointed postmaster, the colored people will have no chance whatsoever of gaining influence in the post office. wightman men across the political spectrum responded to van lew's handling all of this ource by marching in edition she was erratic and hysterical. their words. it was more against her office holding than her wartime comportment that came to regard -- that came to have them regard
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her as crazy. it was not only former confederates, the republican men who believed a job was a man's that salary should be a man salary. they resented her. we have this tragic situation. postmasteres the comes intoen hayes office. she was poverty-stricken for she spent much of the family fortune on spy work during the war. she is frightened for her life. there are death threats from white supremacists. public, she seems to appear skittish, paranoid, frightened. she seems obsessed with their own persecution. it was all too easy for richmonders to mistake or alienation and fear for kind of
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madness. sense, what happens is over , as the reconstruction story infected van lew's reputation, we see an image of a nervous, poverty-stricken crone, image of her the as an efficient spymaster, things she was an prided herself on. let me take the less moments i have to say something about her significance on civil war studies. there's great scholarship that is trained our attention on the contributions of women to the war effort in the north and south. we have a lot of rate books on dissent in the south and how contributedhe south to the demise of confederacy, and also great recent work on
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the memory of the civil war. life dramatically connects these themes, her war and the southern memory. i would just say a few reef notes about women's history. -- brief goes about women's history. van lew absolute represents the countless women -- we all know their stories -- determined to go beyond what the gender conventions of the time asked of them during the war and demanded thehem according to doctrine of separate spheres, women were to be domestic creatures and sacrifice men to their respective causes or put their skills to work on behalf of the armies. -- lew want to do more wanted to do more. she represents women's wartime politicization, their growing and representsy
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debates about female accountability during the civil as the case maybe and then lou lew is an object of study. this is the thing that emerged for me. as work goes on, you finish a book and learn new things. one of the things i have learned is the strength and importance of southern unionism. says commonplace for us to that the south lost the war, to equate the confederacy and the south, but as a number of recent studies have shown, that shorthand glosses over crucial divisions within the south.
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the contributions of the southern unionists. a book by bill freeling called the south of versus the south gives us this jaw-dropping statistic on the subject. men from slave states were blue uniforms. most of these were african-americans in the union army, a crucial factor in union victory. 100,000 white men from confederate states were union blue. george thomas, about whom we just heard any previous panel, perhaps the most famous example. these statistics give us a new perspective on a new debate. did he confederacy lose because of the overwhelming numbers of the north or die of internal causes? presence ofize the
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these unionists in the south, we these two explanations and see how internal divisions can treated to the north's advantages in manpower and resources. really, this southern unionism forf primary importance political or symbolic reasons. we have to recognize and the vast majority of whites in the confederate states supported the confederacy. unionists were a minority but an important minority because as we have seen, well unionists were not able to establish control over the south, they did andabilize the home front certain counties. they represented brushfires that he confederacy had to put out and devote resources to putting out. i have a book coming out next
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february called armies of deliverance in which i will importance ofe these southern unionists. i will argue that as northerners march to war in 1861, they believe their mission is to save the south, to deliver it, not to subjugated. pockets of southern unionism fuel a belief that once slave power is broken and the elite is displaced, the spell of cessation is broken and the south can be redeemed. van lew can lead other southerners into the light. lew's afterlife, if you will, is a window into the late 19 century. there is a reason we do not see monuments to southern unionists on the southern landscape and places like my hometown, charlottesville. the lost cause tradition with its emphasis on confederate
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righteousness crowd out and suppressed and obscured and wiped out rival memory traditions that emphasize union emancipation. is a good illustration of this. it was not enough to drive her and her fellow nativeborn republicans out of office. toy also tried, confederates write them out of existence. the myth that van lew was a crazy lonely old spinster, a loan vixen as one writer put it was far less dangerous than the truth, which is that she was the head of a brave, far-flung interracial network. the myth is easy to dismiss. frederick douglass says, there was a right side and a wrong side in the late war. to that, van lew would have said
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amen. she felt that americans in her lifetime in the postwar. were forgetting that basic truth. she was appalled to watch richmond become the hub of the lost cause cult. she would right after the ineiling of the the statue 1890, ever since the unveiling, i have felt this was no place for me. all the otherot things she had suffered and entered made her feel there was no place for her. 1900, richmondin whites with confederate sympathies will remember her as a maligned spirit haunting her old neighborhood. interestingly, at the very same time that stories of crazy veterans are circulating, a fellow unionist and longtime coworker and neighbor was trying in vain to publish her own account of van lew's life.
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she wrote, in a few brief pages, i will try to portray the character of van lew. van lew believes slavery to be a blot on the nation. when patrick henry stood in old st. john's church, the walls of -- van lew mansion at code took heart,an lew crying give them liberty or give me death. mythe it to her to put the into its proper place and recover a sense of the real , a woman who lew we should remember not only for her intelligence gathering but for her intelligence and not only for her ability to conceal the truth but to tell it.
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>> [applause] >> i would be delighted to take questions. >> my father-in-law grew up in churchill, not far from the van lew mansion. i always heard the story about act, he would say that was not used to much. i thought that was how she got into prison to visit with the union troops. did play actn lew and there were times she there is herself and some evidence of a time she disguised herself and pretended to be someone else but i don't
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think she wanted to give the impression that she was crazy and it was much more her family connections and her play acting the role of a loyal confederate bruise that she was crazy. access toded her prisons. her access was never as great as the myth would have it and it is isortant to note, van lew the mastermind of this operation. ,he is a middle-aged woman quite frail at the time this is going on. directing her operatives and i felt there were many things about the myth that did not add up.
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it inwas no intonation of the formal investigation of her that the confederacy does in 1864. if it was widely thought that she was crazy, why would that not have come up as they interview people and so on? there is no intimation of it there. the thing more than anything else that gave me pause was the both her own operatives and it union authorities reached out to her and placed a great deal of trust in her. it can be overemphasized that if you were caught as a unionist in richmond, the fete was poor. you would be cast into a prison, maybe banished, property confiscated, or you might be executed. there were executions so it was a very nervy game she was playing. appointment to such a high position evidence of her collaboration and why wasn't
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she ousted by somebody and wouldn't she have been at greater risk? >> absolutely, when she is she is celebrated in the papers when she is appointed postmaster because the story comes to light. she had to be very careful about not revealing -- she faced some of the challenges the underground railroad did. that is to say, both operations tried to selectively let the enemy know they were there without compromising their networks and identities. they are fighting a game -- a battle over public opinion as well as a battle to move people across the landscape so she faced that balancing act. she wanted her story to be known to a certain extent but while protecting crucial details that might make people vulnerable to reprisals.
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people associated with her were it istely vulnerable and how a socially isolated she was, particularly in her later years. during congressional reconstruction, when you have the union army presence in richmond and the south and that project is ongoing and you have a white southern republicans in leadership positions, she had a measure of protection. it is when reconstruction ends that she is at her most vulnerable. her prominent social position during the war, did she have any social contact with prominent women? i know mary chestnut spent a lot of time in richmond. or any other confederates in general? >> that is a great question.
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i do not think she met the rena davis. family is best described as upper-middle-class. they belonged to a social mill ieu of merchants. unionism,ain her she was very colored by her family. these people believed the south and virginio be better off if the economy would diversify, supporters of whig politics. unionist,t virginia other sources i read did not reveal much about her socializing with confederate neighbors but one had to assume that she did. >> thank you for bringing such
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an interesting woman to our life. secondly, is there any liferical documents on the of mary jane after the war '>> there are some freedmen's bureau records. that was a very exciting find to me to find that someone had signed her name as mary jane richards, to show that she was illiterate and education was working in places like georgia after the war. soy jane richards, she says in the speech in the brooklyn church that i mentioned, was a big advocate of education. she shared that with van lew. i am certain and i hope someone does this work. projects and other i am of two minds about this, where to go back to this, but i think the article in the new
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york anglo african suggests that there are other such clues out there and they represent a whole new set of it leads to follow when it comes to managing richards so i believe that much more is knowable about her than i thought whenever the book. vasty because of the number of sources that have been digitized. goave not done the work to to every available database and typing in the relevant terms but whoever does that i think will be rewarded with more details about mary returns. richards. we are at the end of our time. thank you all for coming. >> [applause] >> we have some housekeeping but
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before that, liz has agreed to sign her book. she will be off to the right and let's we say goodbye, think c-span3 and american history tv. i so value our partnership and they bring this partnership -- this program to so many others. , c-span3 andmuch american history tv. thank you all and we will see you this evening after our last session and for dinner. >> [applause] >> just a couple of things before we let you go, immediately following this session is our discussion. , we will be showing clips from the movies. >> that concludes our live coverage of the gettysburg college civil war institute conference in pennsylvan


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