Monday, March 27, 2023

The 1861 election of T.A.R. Nelson and Joseph B. Heiskell

   Politics always makes strange bedfellows, and the August 1861 contest in District 1 in east Tennessee might make one of the most interesting contestss of the war. It pitted Tennessee state senator Joseph B. Heiskell against US Congressman T.A.R. Nelson. Both Heiskell and Nelson were from east Tennessee and both were pre-war Whigs. Heiskell is described as being a “staunch Union Whig in politics.” However, after the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, he “cast his lot with the Confederacy.”[1]   

    Once Tennessee left the Union and joined the Southern Confederacy, the state was allowed to elect representatives in the Confederate House and Senate. Heiskell ran for Confederate House. Strangely enough, Nelson was also running. Except, Nelson was running for the same district in the US House: two men, from the same area, running for the same designated seat, but in two different bodies politic. The remaining sources are somewhat silent on the actual campaign, although one post-war scribe told of a secession meeting held in Elizabethton in May 1861. Nelson, with US Senator Andrew Johnson, spoke one week, while Heiskell, with former US Congressman William Cocke, spoke the following week. For the Congressional seats, it appears that they ran pretty much unopposed.[2]

   Of course, both men won. Had they been contending for the same seat, Nelson would have steamrolled Heiskell. The numbers looked like this: Johnston County - Nelson, 1129, Heiskell, 109; Carter County – Nelson 1229, Heiskell 81; Greene County – Nelson, 2352, Heiskell, 831; Jefferson County, Nelson 1509, Heiskell, 727. The only two counties that Heiskell won were Washington County – Nelson 979, Heiskell, 1061 and, Hawkins County – Nelson, 841 and Heiskell, 957.[3]

   Heiskell would soon make his way to Richmond. Nelson would head to Washington, D.C., but wound up in Richmond as well. He was arrested in Wise County, Virginia, on August 5, 1861, and jailed in Richmond. Nelson wrote Jefferson Davis, asking to be released, promising to return to east Tennessee and live peaceably. Davis ordered Nelson released on August 13, 1861. Heiskell would go on to be elected to serve in both the first and second Confederate Congresses.[4]  

   Outside of the presidential election of 1860, the race between Heiskell and Nelson might just be one of the more interesting elections of the 1860s.

Nelson                              Heiskell


[1] Warner and Yearns, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress, 115.

[2] Scott and Angel, The Thirteenth Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, 38; The Tennessean, August 11, 1861.

[3] The Tennessee, August 11, 1861.

[4] OR, Series II, Vol. 1, 824, 826.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Don’t know much about flags…

 The below article was published by Newsweek in July 2015. Yes, it is older, but it is one of the first items that pops up when one begins researching “Confederate flags” online. You can see the full article here. I chose to respond because of its top-tier ranking, and because it errs several different times. If you are interested in reliable sources on Confederate flags, I recommend the 1995 edition of The Returned Battle Flags and Deveraux Cannon’s The Flags of the Confederacy. My comments are in red.

It was April 1865 and the Union had just declared victory. Except, they did not. The war lingered for months. President Andrew Johnson did not declare the war officially over until August 20, 1866. A rebel soldier with the 9th Virginia Cavalry was preparing to hand over his weapons. He kept only the clothes on his back and probably his blanket, canteen, haversack, etc. A certain number of Confederate soldiers in the Army of Tennessee were even allowed to keep their rifles to protect groups of veterans from roving bands of outliers and Federal deserters as they traveled home. and, in a final act of rebellion, hid a Confederate battle flag by tying it around his torso. Union soldiers who were captured in battle often did this as well. It’s less an “act of rebellion,” than one of of love and devotion, for both sides. Over a century later, the flag, deemed one of the rarest relics from the Civil War, sold for $82,000 at auction.

For years, the Confederate flag has served as a powerful symbol, one that's meant wildly different things to different folks. For some, it harks back to the old South, for others it's a reminder of the sanctity of states' rights. For memorabilia enthusiasts, the flag is an intriguing antiquity, while for another ilk it's a decal to put atop a Dodge Charger that proudly proclaims membership in Redneck Nation.

But for white supremacists, the Confederate flag represents a preferable alternate reality, one in which the South won the Civil War and slavery was never abolished. Debate about the Confederate flag's true meaning flared up after Dylann Roof was arrested in connection with the Charleston, South Carolina, church killings, in which nine African-Americans were gunned down in the middle of Bible study. Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, authored a racist manifesto that has photographs of him holding the Confederate flag, posing in front of a Confederate museum and visiting a Confederate cemetery.

Legislators rushed to debate whether the flag ought to be taken down from statehouse flagpoles, and many businesses removed the flags from their shelves. Even reruns of the late-'70s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, in which the car driven by the main characters is emblazoned with a Confederate flag, were dropped from the TV Land schedule because of the controversy. All the while, Confederate memorabilia collectors squirmed. 

Experts estimate that there are only 20 to 50 authentic Confederate battle flags on the private collectors' market today. These flags, also called the rebel flag and colloquially called the Confederate flag, are marked by a large blue 'X' and adorned in white stars. Though this flag is today primarily associated with the Confederacy, it was only the flag used during combat. There were actually dozens of different types of Confederate flags used in battle, or as battle flags. It was rejected as official flag of the Confederate States of America, which used four other flags, all variations of the American flag. There were only three National Confederate flags. Only one resembled the flag of the United States.  Nonetheless, that battle flag is the enduring icon of the Confederacy.

These flags were often destroyed by Union soldiers following a battle that went in the North's favor. Considering there were over 500 battle flags that were captured during the war and survived, this is not true. Did it happen? Yes. Often? Probably not. Flags were valued as trophies, so it is unlikely that a Federal soldier would destroy a prime prize rather than carrying it home. That’s why so many flags ended up in the North. The Confederate soldiers were more likely to cut up their flags rather than surrender them to the enemy. Others were turned over to the United States Congress Actually, they were sent to the Adjutant General’s office, then in 1867 to the War Department building. and eventually made their way into the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Surrendered or captured, yes. “turned over”? Rarely. President Grover Cleveland tried to return the flags to various Southern states in 1887. There was such a cry against this that he rescinded the order. Finally in 1905, the flags were returned. Those that could be identified went to their respective states. Those that could not, or were flags identified to Virginia, went to the Confederate Memorial Literacy Society in Richmond, later called the Museum of the Confederacy.  The remaining flags wound up at auction, though a few are believed to be with the families of the soldiers who brought them home after the war. There are flags in various museums across the South, and even some held in museums in the North. A museum in Iowa has dozens, testimony to the trophy-hunting aspect of flag capturing by Union soldiers.

Rarity is usually a good thing for collectors, but memorabilia experts say the Confederate flag market is "softening"—a polite way of saying sales are plummeting. And that can't be pinned on the recent controversy. In 2007, a Confederate flag in moderate condition commanded $77,000 at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. A similar flag brought only $50,000 in 2010. "Had it sold at the same auction in 2007, it would've been in the $77,000 price range as well," says Marsha Dixey, the consignment director for the auction house. Heritage, founded in 1976, boasts over $900 million in revenue a year and employs hundreds of memorabilia experts. It's also the largest collectibles auctioneer in the world, which is why so much Civil War memorabilia ends up there. The market has not softened. The flag of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry was sold at auction in 2018 for $96,000.

A lot of factors contribute to the changing market, the most obvious being the economic downturn of 2008. However, the generation that typically collected Civil War memorabilia in general—and Confederate flags in particular—is also dying out without being replaced by a younger generation of collectors. "A 40-year-old is not as interested as an older person who remembers their grandfather talking about the war," Dixey explains. I actually know many of the under 40 crowd who are interested in history.  

Collectors say the culture is also changing. History teaches us that the “culture” is always changing. "It has a lot to do with political change, especially with what happened recently with Charleston. That will impact flag sales," explains Michael Collins, executive director of the Civil War Antiques Preservation Society. "That flag should never have been flying on the statehouse. It's a battle flag, and that sends the message that you are going against the Union."

He says backlash against antique Confederate flags has changed the policies of auction houses. Some houses often specify what kinds of items they will and will not trade in: Ivory and looted items are among common items auction houses refuse to sell under their social responsibility policy. The largest and most venerable auction houses in the world, Sotheby's and Christie's, rarely deal in Confederate flags. "They want to make it clear that they do not agree with the philosophies associated with the flag being offered up for sale," says Collins.

With the biggest auction houses voluntarily out of the game, two houses—Heritage and James D. Julia Incorporated, based in Fairfield, Maine—have established themselves as the leaders of the Civil War market. Heritage deals in so much Confederate memorabilia that a change in its sales policy regarding flags could radically alter the market. Collins says that if it refuses to handle them, "It would actually drive the price [of memorabilia] up because then there would be a very limited place to buy and sell such items."

James D. Julia sells only about 3,000 items a year, but that inventory includes some of the rarest collectibles in the world. A planned October auction will include the only flag known to have been carried by both Confederate soldiers and marines during the Civil War. John Sexton, one of the nation's leading experts in Confederate memorabilia, estimates that even in the softened market, this flag could bring as much as $250,000. "The market can never really hurt rare and desirable objects, even if there's a lack of interest and lack of demand," he explains.

"Confederate flags are still pieces of history," says Sexton. "It's a shame that some racist fool used a mass-produced prop in his violence. But this is still a great, iconic piece of American history that turned out to be on the losing side."

When asked if he would ever ban the flag from his auctions, auction house owner James D. Julia said he would not, just as he has not banned Nazi memorabilia. "I deal in historical items, not symbols," Julia explained. "People who buy these things are institutions, museums, major collectors. They are not reinventing the pre–Civil War South. I understand why some firms don't handle them—because it's not politically correct. But if we did this with relics of every generation that happened before us, we would have no history left. We would know nothing."