Thursday, April 14, 2011

Galveston Research Summary #1 - Dissent, Sedition, and Confederate Secret Police

"We learn that John deYoung and --- Bilderbach, of Galveston, and ---Asher of this county, who have been under arrest for some time past on the charge of having uttered treasonable language towards our Government, have been tried and convicted, and sent to the State penitentiary for a residence till the end of the war." - Galveston Weekly News, August 20, 1862

Readers of this blog will remember that I announced a new book project a couple of months back (here) with The History Press
, the publisher of my most recent book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (2010).

The new book project concerns Galveston Island and the Civil War, with an emphasis on the civilian experience, including free and enslaved African-Americans, and I have begun the in-depth research and writing in earnest.

As I proceed, I will provide updates here on the blog. I especially look forward to giving reports of my visits to various archival collections in the Lone Star State.

One aspect of the Civil War (hinted at in the newspaper a
bstract above) that was only somewhat familiar to me is the treatment of Union sympathizers and dissenters in the South during the war, the larger subject of civil liberties in the Confederate States of America, and how these aspects affected Galveston civilians.

I've been doing some background reading and research published by esteemed historians, including Mark E. Neely, Jr.'s Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism (University of Virginia Press, 1999), James Marten's Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State, 1856-1874 (University Press of Kentucky, 1990;
softcover, 2009), and Brian R. Dirck's "Posterity’s Blush: Civil Liberties, Property Rights, and Property Confiscation in the Confederacy" (Civil War History, 2002).

There are also some excellent online resources, such as:

1) Andy Hall's "Dead Confederates" blog has quickly become my favorite...if you are not reading it, you should be (!) He has some excellent posts on the treatment of dissenters in Texas and Galveston here and here.

2) The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has an excellent "The Civil War in Texas" online exhibit, including a page (here) dedicated
to Texan dissenters, with an emphasis onthe Nueces Massacre and the Gainesville Hangings.

The heart of my discussion in the book will be based on the transcripts of the trial of the men noted above...extensive witness statements against the men can be found in the "Confederate Citizens Files" (NARA M346) via my footnote subscription, and are quite interesting with Galvestonians testifying against fellow Galvestonians:

"Henry Journsay is a resident of Galveston...knows the prisoner fifteen years...Mr. DeYoung says he is a Union man...expected to die one...he showed me an abolitionist letter and wished me to read was written by a young lady from the north..."

The point of this research is not to demonstrate that the CSA trampled on civil liberties while the federal government did not
. However, as Dr. Neely's book title intimates and as Dr. Dr. Dirck's excellent article explains, when Jefferson Davis - in his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government - complained of a United States government:

"That presided over the ballot-box, held the keys of the prisons, arrested all citizens at its pleasure, suspended or suppressed newspapers, and did whatever it pleased under the declaration that the public welfare required it."

...or when Southern newspapers (
such as the Galveston Weekly News, April 29, 1863) happily reported resolutions of Northern state (e.g., Connecticut) Democratic conventions that complained of the government's

"...establishment of a system of espionage by a secret police to invade, the sacred privacy of unsuspecting citizens..."

They perhaps forgot that they did the same and employed Galvestonians as "secret police" as well:

As the old bromide goes: "People (and governments) are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts."

I will provide updates as I learn more about the testimony against Galveston's (few) Union dissenters.

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