Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Meets at The Seniors Centre, Francis St.
All meetings begin at 7:30 p.m.; Visitors are always welcome.

Next Meeting: 4 April 2024

Christian Commission/U.S. Sanitary Commission
by Bill Cookman, Members CWRT/GK

Seniors Centre, in the AV room, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
COVID, et al are still around. Masks are optional and distancing practices should be respected.

PROGRAMS 2023 - 2024
Sep 7 Dr. Peter Vasilenko The Extraordinary Life of Henry Kyd Douglas
Oct 5 Rod Holloway From Reconciliation to Revenge, Part 2
Nov 2 Dave Dorward Raphael Semmes, Confederate Raider
Dec 7 Peter Clarabut Weather: The Other 'Fog of War'
Jan 11 Paul Van Nest Major General Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox CSA
An Ordinary Division Commander
Feb 1 Dr. Michelle
and Peter Clarabut
An Evening with Admiral Farragut
Mar 7 Cheryl Wells Juneteenth
Apr 4 Bill Cookman Christian Commission/U.S. Sanitary Commission
May 2 Gord Sly Naval Warfare on the Mississippi River
Jun 6 Murray Hogben Black troops: from The Crater to Newmarket Heights

Last Month's Program

From a Local Celebration to a National Holiday?
presented by Dr. Cheryl Wells, CWRT/GK

Our Vice-President, Dr. Cheryl Wells, was the speaker for the March 7, 2024 meeting of the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston as we took up the subject of Juneteenth, the day upon which the people of the United States celebrate the end of slavery following the Union victory in the Civil War. As Cheryl described, what began in the late nineteenth century as a day for former enslaved African-Americans in the South to organize local community gatherings to commemorate the coming of their day of freedom, has developed over time into a national holiday to be honoured right across the United States.

The current 2024 Presidential election campaign has demonstrated, however, that Juneteenth's status as a national holiday seems only to have rekindled old long-settled debates about the role of slavery-what President Joe Biden has called "America's original sin"-as the main cause of the Civil War, and even emboldened some extreme right-wing politicos and white nationalists to question whether slavery did not, in fact, have some redeeming aspects. It should be noted that none of these enthusiasts has volunteered to be a slave himself. Cheryl was kind enough to send me a copy of her presentation notes, which I used to produce the following summary of her remarks.

The Southern slave system began to disintegrate almost as soon as Union and Confederate armies met each other on the battlefield. Union General Benjamin Butler, in command at Fort Monroe, Virginia, in the summer of 1861 decided to take Southern slave holders at their word. If enslaved African-Americans were their property, then he would seize that property as contraband spoils of war. Unless, of course, the slave holders were willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the Union.

President Lincoln perceived that Butler's policy was the thin edge of the wedge that could serve to undermine the Confederacy's fighting capacity. He then issued the First Confiscation Act, authorizing Union military forces to capture any goods or property being used to support the Southern war effort, including enslaved African-Americans. Such enslaved persons making their way into Union lines were not exactly free, but they were no longer property either.

Cheryl then described how it was General John C. Fremont, commanding the Western Department in St. Louis, Missouri, who declared martial law in that state in August 1861, including a declaration that all enslaved people in the hands of Confederate masters were to be considered free. Fearful that this public statement would alienate Union slave holders in the border states and drive them into the arms of the Confederacy, Lincoln revised Fremont's declaration to remove the reference to freeing slaves and restated the Confiscation Act.

As the months went by, the Lincoln administration in Washington and Union commanders in the field found that the slavery question was taking on an increasingly important role in their strategic calculations. During the campaign in southwest Missouri that led to the Union victory at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in early March 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis found many African-Americans from the liberated territory flocking to his army seeking protection. As an abolitionist, Curtis not only refused to return these people to their former masters but issued them certificates of freedom.

Cheryl noted that there were more enslaved people in the states east of the Mississippi River, and thus a greater reluctance among the white population to see so many African-Americans set free. The pace of emancipation was thus slower here than in the west. As Union armies advanced further into the Confederacy, they were faced with the growing problem of what to do with the thousands of 'contrabands' entering their lines. Once again, President Lincoln found abolitionist-minded officers in the field pushing him to take a stronger stand on the slavery question.

In April of 1862, General David Hunter at Port Royal, South Carolina, asked permission of the War Department to begin enlisting former slaves in his army. When his request went unanswered, Hunter issued an order declaring that people held in slavery in the states of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina were now free. Lincoln quashed Hunter's order on the grounds that emancipation should be a gradual, uniform process, not an ad hoc patchwork affair.

To that end, on September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that all enslaved people in areas controlled by the Confederacy were to be free as of January 1, 1863. Those enslaved people in Union controlled areas or held by owners loyal to the Union, however, were not included. Lincoln's priority remained the preservation of the Union, not the destruction of slavery.

Cheryl explained how December 31st of 1862 became known as Watch Night among African-Americans as the minutes ticked by until midnight when the Emancipation Proclamation would come into effect. Watch Night is still celebrated in African-American churches to this day, and it is only one of a number of dates on the American calendar associated with emancipation. December 6, 1865, for example, is the date the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, forever ending slavery in the United States. Folks in Tennessee and Kentucky observed August 8th as a holiday, the day on which then Vice-President Andrew Johnson freed his slaves in 1863.

There was also September 22, 1862, the date of the Emancipation Proclamation itself, and the associated date of January 1, 1863 when the Proclamation came into effect. Black Virginians kept April 3rd as a holiday, Evacuation Day, because that was the day in 1865 when Lee's Confederates marched out and Grant's Union troops marched in. The list goes on: April 16th was Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia; May 17th was Freedom Day in Florida, while Tallahassee continues to celebrate its own local Mayteenth on the 20th of May. Looking farther afield, other people celebrated August 1, 1834, the day slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire.

Yet it is Juneteenth, specifically June 19, 1865, that has become the national holiday. This was the day on which Union General Gordon Granger announced by written order issued from his headquarters in Galveston, Texas, that the approximately 250,000 enslaved African-Americans in the former rebel state were now free. The news was difficult for white Texans to assimilate. After all, there were still Confederate troops under arms in Texas and the Trans-Mississippi, and rebel troops had won a victory at a place called Palmito Ranch as recently as May 12th.

So, while the actual legal and regulatory underpinnings of slavery in Texas and the rest of the South might have been swept away by Union victory, the racist-based fear and hatred towards African-Americans, which had sustained it during the previous two centuries, remained endemic and undiminished across the defeated Confederacy. Cheryl quoted one former enslaved woman who later reported of her mistress, that she "whip me after the war jist like she did 'fore." Nevertheless, African-Americans bravely came together in public gatherings to celebrate the meaning of Juneteenth. Cheryl described Galveston's first Juneteenth on June 19, 1866 which set the pattern for other such events across Texas and the rest of the country. There were church meetings, prayers, and song, as well as baseball games, rodeos, and public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. Picnics featured red-coloured food-cherries and strawberries, red velvet cake, red beans and rice, barbecued meats with hot sauce, red peppers and tamales, and all of it washed down with hibiscus tea and red soda water.

And why exactly was Juneteenth "a red-spot day on the Texas calendar", as the late American folklorist William H. Wiggins called it? One reason was simply because so many red-coloured fruits and vegetables were in season at that time of year. But it could also be that red represented the blood of the enslaved African-Americans who had suffered in chains for generations; or specifically, for members of the African Yoruba and Kongo peoples, red was the traditional colour of resistance and sacrifice.

Cheryl described how the Exoduster movement of the late 1870s-that is, the migration of former enslaved people from the South to the western states and territories-helped spread the Juneteenth idea across the Great American Desert to the shores of the Pacific. This was followed by the Great Migration of 1910 to 1976, during which about six million black Americans left the hostility and persecution of the South and sought refuge and a better life in the cities of the North. With them they brought their Juneteenth customs.

In this way, by a gradual and uneven process, Juneteenth eventually became a cultural event for African-Americans across the length and breadth of the country. However, as the latter half of the 20th century began, a curious rethinking of the holiday took place. A new generation of black Americans began to question how long their identity was to be tied to their people's history of enslavement. If the racial divide between blacks and whites was ever to be erased, then perhaps the time had come for Juneteenth to become amalgamated with the traditional July 4th celebrations. On a practical level, there was also the brutal fact that, during the white-on-black violence of the 1960s Civil Rights protest years, any African-Americans gathering to celebrate Juneteenth would simply have been putting a target on their backs.

With the coming of the 1970s, however, the legislative victories of the Civil Rights movement brought the pendulum of opinion swinging back the other way. Juneteenth was now seen as a way of marking African-Americans' continuing struggle for freedom, right from the Civil War up until the present day. Juneteenth celebrations in cities such as Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Fort Worth began attracting hundreds of thousands of people. Fittingly, Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday on January 1, 1980.

Thereafter, progress has been slow. A few more states designated Juneteenth as an official holiday in the 1990s, but most of the twenty-six states who now celebrate the day began doing so only in the 2000s. Cheryl also pointed out the example of South Carolina-hotbed of the old Confederacy-where state officials turned their backs on Juneteenth and instead made Confederate Veterans Day a state holiday.

Juneteenth is also a holiday known beyond the borders of the United States. In the tiny town of Nacimiento de Los Negroes in northern Mexico, just 115 miles south of the Texas border, the descendants of black Seminoles who began settling there in 1829, when Mexico abolished slavery, still stage an annual event they call El Día de Los Negroes, the Day of the Blacks, to celebrate emancipation in the United States.

Liberia is also becoming familiar with Juneteenth. This African country was originally seen as a possible place of resettlement for African-Americans in the early 19th century, but only for free blacks living in America; their enslaved brothers and sisters had to remain behind. Cheryl pointed out that, for a time, Lincoln saw the transportation of African-Americans to Liberia as a possible solution to the slavery problem. Present day Liberians who can trace their ancestry to former enslaved people from America have begun celebrating Juneteenth in recent years.

Cheryl concluded her presentation with an outline of "the twisted path" Juneteenth was compelled to follow before becoming an official national holiday in the United States. The first bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday was introduced in 1994, and then regularly defeated until 2021. This was the year Ms. Opal Lee entered the scene. Ms. Lee was a child when her black family moved to a mainly white neighbourhood in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 19, 1939. Within hours, their home was mobbed, looted, and burned, and the Lee family forced to escape. It was an experience young Opal never forgot.

After retiring from teaching in 1976, Ms. Lee spent the next decades working tirelessly to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Her efforts included a partly virtual hike of 1400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2016 to meet President Obama. Her efforts finally paid off when the required resolution passed Congress and President Joe Biden was able to sign the bill into law on June 19, 2021 with Ms. Opal Lee, "the Grandmother of Juneteenth" as he called her, standing proudly beside him.

Edited by Tom Brzezicki

Fundraising for our Annual Donation to the American Battlefield Trust (Civil War)

Manassas I and II are again under a grave threat: "datacenters". The Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 3 to rezone to industrial 1,750 acres west and north of the 2nd Manassas battlefield, paving the way for massive buildings which will house datacenters. Over how many years and at what expense, we've saved 170 acres!

One such 100-acre site is to be built at the intersection of I-66 and #29 just west of Hood's position prior to his overwhelming attack on the Federal left flank, 2nd Manassas. That one is only 1 million square feet.

This is but one of a total of 37 planned, just west and north of the Brawner Farm. These are 8 story concrete monstrosities that would be in the background of some of our pictures (and viewpoint) - "four times the size of the Pentagon!"

This is a battle we might well lose but, considering the view from our preserved hallowed grounds, and worse the traffic and risk, we need to make the effort. The public in the county are on our side, but…

This battle will be our focus this spring. Bring your checks on Thursday, please?

EXECUTIVE - 2023-24
President Gord Sly  613-766-9944
Vice-President Cheryl Wells  1-613-246-0733
Past President Bill Cookman  613-532-2444
Treasurer Lloyd Therien     613-546-0278
Sec - Archivist Paul Van Nest  613-532-1903
Program Bill Cookman  613-532-2444
Webmaster Paul Van Nest  613-532-1903