Combined research effort turns up identity of long-dead soldier

After more than 150 years, the identity of an Alabama soldier who died in the waning days of the War Between the States has been uncovered.

Lt. Josiah M. Brown perished on April 4, 1865, from pneumonia at a hotel in Newberry, SC, while passing through the community en route home to Greene County, Ala. All that was known about the officer’s identity was what appeared in the Newberry Weekly Herald on April 6, 1865: “Lieut. Brown of Greene Co. Ala. died from pneumonia on April 4, 1865 at the hotel in Newberry. He was buried with Masonic Honors.”

The late Edith Greisser of the Newberry Historical and Museum Society spent many hours tracking down information about the 14 Confederate soldiers who had died while passing through Newberry on their way home in 1865 and were buried in the Old Newberry Village Cemetery.

Five have never been identified, but Brown was the only one with a partial identity.

Greisser, who died in 2013, tried the Alabama State Archives and found there were more than 400 Confederate soldiers with the surname Brown. However, there were only three “Lieutenant Browns”; an A.J. Brown, an F.A. Brown and a J.M. Brown. Curiously, all were members of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment, though of different companies.

Veterans Administration gravestone for Josiah M. Brown, issued before his full identity was known.

Greisser contacted the Chamber of Commerce in Greene County, and a representative went to the Confederate monument in town, but the only Brown listed was one who had died after 1907.

Chapters of Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Freemasons were no longer active in the county, a reflection of the hard times that have fallen on the area in the decades since the war’s end.

Greene County, located in the western half of the state, is the least populated county in Alabama, with fewer than 9,000 residents. By comparison, it had more than 30,000 residents in 1860. Its population fell by more than 40 percent between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, reflecting the heavy toll the war took on its populace.

A Masonic funeral service was conducted for Brown, at his request, but the Masonic records of the Newberry lodge were lost in a fire in 1866. The South Carolina State Masonic Lodge did not have the duplicate record of 1865 for Newberry Lodge in its collection.

Members of the Amity Lodge in Newberry recently picked up the ball and got in contact with the Alabama State Masonic Lodge. Gene Wicker, a member of the Amity Lodge, was able to discover that a Josiah M. Brown, who had served as an officer in Company D of the 5th Alabama, had been a member of the Beacon Lodge in Greene County, Ala., joining before the war, thereby solving the mystery.

The 5th Alabama saw its share of severe action, fighting at Seven Pines, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Boonsboro, Antietam, Chancellorsville,  Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and around Petersburg in the last months of the war. Brown was wounded at least once, at Gettysburg.

This past Sunday, a granite stone identifying Josiah M. Brown by his full name was unveiled at the Old Newberry County Cemetery, next to a Veterans Administration marker that reads “Lieut. Brown of Greene Co. Ala.” It was paid for by Amity Lodge member Huger Caughman Sr.

“As Masons, we take a vow to take care of our brothers, and that vow extends to the grave,” said Jason Moore, the Worshipful Master of the Amity Lodge, during a brief ceremony.

(Top: New gravestone for Lt. Josiah M. Brown, paid for by the Amity Masonic Lodge of Newberry, SC, at the Old Newberry Cemetery.)

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Inept Florida interpreter angers some, amuses others

The recent hurricane that devastated the Caribbean and Florida was no laughing matter. But officials in Manatee County, Fla., unwittingly added hilarity to a Sept. 8 press conference when they hired a bumbling interpreter for the deaf for an emergency briefing related to Irma.

The interpreter, Marshall Greene, a lifeguard for the county, has a brother who is deaf, according to the DailyMoth, a video news site that provides information via American Sign Language. Greene mostly signed gibbering, referencing pizza, monsters and using the phrase “help you at that time to use bear big,” during the event. Other information signed to viewers was incomplete, members of the deaf community said.

While there’s no question that the county failed in its responsibility to the hearing impaired, watching a video of the press conference, with Greene’s signing translated into subtitles, is amusing to say the least. You can watch one of the videos here.

The county typically uses interpreters from VisCom, a professional sign language interpreting service. VisCom owner Charlene McCarthy told local media she was not contacted about providing services for the press conference and that Green was apparently not fluent in American Sign Language, according to the website AL.com.

Manatee County spokesperson Nick Azzara told the Bradenton Herald Greene was asked to interpret during the storm rather than have no one signing.

In retrospect, one suspects county officials now understand that it would have been better to have no one signing rather than an individual informing the deaf about pizza and monsters while a major storm worked its way toward them.

(Top: Manatee County, Fla., press conference held on Sept. 8 featuring interpreter Marshall Greene, in yellow.)

Modern Iconoclasts draw bead on ever-growing list of targets

The trend of modern iconoclasm seems to be gaining steam, fueled by the complicit support of a mainstream media that either overtly or covertly agrees with the message being sent by those vandalizing monuments across the US and a lack of consequence for those behind the acts.

Most recently, a bronze statue of Catholic Saint Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, was not only splashed with red paint but decapitated, and a statue celebrating Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, was splashed with red paint and the words “racist anthem” scrawled across it.

Besides numerous Confederate statues that have been vandalized and even pulled down, other monuments that have been attacked include those honoring Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, the New England Holocaust Memorial and a peace monument in Atlanta have been damaged.

Such actions have taken place across the nation, from Washington state to Florida, New York to Arizona. And they are happening with increasing frequency, particularly when weak-kneed officials such as those at Duke University give criminals what they want and remove the statues after they’ve been vandalized.

Talk about an incentive to continue with extralegal measures.

And it won’t be long before statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and others deemed “politically incorrect” will get similar treatment.

The recent spate of illiberal behavior reminds one of Iconoclasm – the impulse to break or destroy images for religious or political reasons – that spasmodically wracked Christianity during the Middle Ages and Reformation.

Statue of Francis Scott Key, vandalized earlier this week in Baltimore.

Iconoclasm reared its ugly head in Byzantine Greece between 726–87 and 815–43 as a theological debate involving both the Byzantine church and state. In a lesson on the need for separation of church and state, imperial legislation by the Byzantine state barred the production and use of figural images.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in certain regions of Byzantium, including Constantinople and Nicaea, existing icons were destroyed or plastered over. Very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period, according to Sarah Brooks of James Madison University.

During the Protestant Reformation, a period not especially noted for open-mindedness, statues and images were destroyed in countries across Europe.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zurich, Copenhagen, Munich, Geneva, Augsburg, Scotland, Rouen and La Rochelle in the 16th century, ostensibly in accordance with biblical prohibitions against graven images but no doubt as a means of furthering anti-Catholicism.

In 1549, radical Protestant preachers in London incited a mob to destroy many of the interior decorations in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. In addition, monasteries were sacked in different locales, as well.

And then there was the French Revolution, in which a wide variety of monuments, religious works and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Ancien Régime.

Consider the priceless objets d’art destroyed by intolerance over the millennia. What a tremendous loss to our cultural, religious and spiritual histories.

Confederate statues were the starting point in this most recent spate of Iconoclasm, and the media, that great bastion of the First Amendment, has covered the attacks while ignoring the fact that those who mete out such violence aren’t likely to stop as this cultural inquisition continues to grow and generate increasing attention.

We live in odd times when individuals who one may very generously label as well-intentioned can’t smell their own hypocrisy. Insisting you’re part of a civil rights movement while trampling at least half of such known rights would seem to invite a primer on said liberties. Mob rule is generally frowned upon when it comes to discussing civil rights, at least where I come from.

That which may be considered – logically or not – painful historical facts are not de facto grounds for unilaterally squelching the freedoms of others.

(Top: Destruction of religion icons in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1524.)

Discarded peel cruelly unnerves school’s student leaders

It’s a cliché as old, it would seem, as humanity: Each generation feels the one that follows isn’t doing its bit to uphold civilization.

That, of course, is questionable, as society has ebbed and flowed over the millennia. However, we would seem to be on a downward swing at present.

Consider: A randomly discarded banana peel at a University of Mississippi weekend event “designed to build leaders” resulted in “tears and frustration” as organizers “didn’t feel safe.”

Yes, Ole Miss Greek Life leaders cut short a three-day leadership retreat the weekend before last after black students discovered a banana peel dangling in a tree outside of one of the camp’s cabins.

“And then of course came the inevitable university action plans, flurry of letters exchanged, and sensitivity meetings,” the blog Zero Hedge reported. “Bleary-eyed and shaken students had to text friends and family to come pick them up early (sounds like Kindergarten carpool pick-up time).”

The banana peel was later spotted by Alpha Kappa Alpha President, Makala McNeil, a leader from one of the campus’s historically black sororities.

The Daily Mississippian, the campus newspaper, reported that McNeil had just left a group discussion about race relations when she spotted the banana peel in the tree.

“The overall tone [of the meeting] was heavy,” McNeil told the newspaper. “I mean, we were talking about race in Mississippi and in the Greek community so there’s a lot involved.”

She added that she and her friends were “all just sort of paranoid for a second” after noticing the banana peel, calling its appearance “so strange and surreal.”

The culprit turned out to be senior accounting major Ryan Swanson, who said he put the banana peel in the tree when he could not find a trash can nearby.

“Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community,” Swanson said, in a response that would seem to have been taken from the transcript of a 1930’s Soviet show trial. “I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our community to do the same.”

An open forum was held after news of the banana peel had spread throughout the camp.

“As the staff member responsible for the wellbeing of our community, I felt it was imperative to provide space immediately to students affected by this incident to allow them an opportunity to voice their pain and concern,” Alexa Lee Arndt, interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Ole Miss told the campus newspaper.

After the open forum, Greek Life leaders decided to cancel the remainder of the weekend.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Mississippian, Arndt was quoted as saying that “members of our community were hurt, frightened, and upset by what occurred.”

“Because of the underlying reality many students of color endure on a daily basis, the conversation manifested into a larger conversation about race relations today at the University of Mississippi,” Arndt reportedly added.

Another sorority president reportedly told the newspaper that the incident was especially painful, because “bananas have historically been used to demean black people.”

The newspaper reported that many of the students left the retreat “in tears.”

As one columnist opined on the matter, “This idiot country is losing its damn mind. Our universities are training students to be total neurotics. If you are an actual adult who wails and gnashes her teeth at the sight of a banana peel, you ought to question whether you are mature enough for college.”

New book ponders long-lasting effects of Reconstruction

If social media has a redeeming quality, it may be the ability to learn the unvarnished truth regarding the true feelings of others.

Within the past month I’ve come across numerous comments in the middle of Facebook conversations that were startlingly narrow-minded, yet because they singled out a group deemed OK to bash, no one uttered a peep.

The first came in early July, amid debates concerning the South’s ongoing educational deficiencies, specifically the overall low ranking many Southern states register on nationalized tests. Within a short time, the cause was identified solely as “Jim Crow.” Finally, one individual, located in the Northeast, stated bluntly, “I hate Southern white males.”

A second conversation dealt with the threat of radical Islam within the US. One individual countered that he had been to Islamic countries and that the Deep South, for example, was “way scarier” than Indonesia “in his experience.”

This individual lives on the West Coast, so it’s difficult to determine whether he’s ever set foot in the “Deep South.” I also understand that as a relatively tall, fit white guy, I may have an easier time than a black man or woman in the South. Still many blacks I speak with in the South – but by no means all – say that while issues certainly remain related to racism, they’re not specific to the South.

But unfortunately many of the South’s biggest detractors appear to have little to no actual experience with the South of today. It is certainly not perfect, but it’s vastly different from what it was 50 years ago, and it is a far friendly place, at least in my own experience, than New England, New York, much of the West Coast and the major Midwestern cities.

Still, the image persists, at least if one goes by the New York Times, Slate or other Northeastern-centric media outlets, that whites in the South are largely bigots, rural regions are populated almost exclusively by extras from Deliverance and blacks and other minorities live in constant fear, with some whites eagerly awaiting the return of “Judge Lynch.”

My experience has been largely the opposite: Whether on the West Coast, or the East Coast north of Richmond, no one will so much look at you when you pass them on the street, never mind say hello. Down South it’s unusual if you don’t wave when passing someone on a country road, whether you know them or not.

I can’t imagine standing to cross a street with someone in a Southern town and not saying hello and asking how they were doing, or vice versa. And anyone who knows me will tell you I am an introvert’s introvert.

While I may be a hermit in the making, my mother didn’t raise me to be rude. When I talk with strangers it’s not out of simple duty; I do have a genuine wish that their day goes well.

So why does a significant percentage of those outside the South feel white males in Dixie are a bunch of ignorant knuckle-draggers who keep white sheets and hoods in our closets?

A recently released book by Philip Leigh called Southern Reconstruction concludes that no small part of the problem is the result of Reconstruction, the period following the War Between the States.

However, Leigh doesn’t limit the term “reconstruction” to the 1865-1877 period that is generally used to designate the post-war era but expands it to include the decades afterward, when the former Confederate states lagged far behind most of the rest of the nation, stricken with higher rates of poverty, lower lifespans, poorer diets and reduced access to health care.

Leigh’s superb work points out that many of today’s mainstream historians focus solely on white racism in the South as the reason for Reconstruction’s failure, and that Reconstruction’s failure greatly aided the spread of white Southern racism.

Yet, as progressives like to point out, hate is a learned behavior. In other words, the racism that blacks experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow didn’t materialize out of nowhere – and it was different from that which existed during slavery. There was a root cause, and like many root causes, it was financial.

“The harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood, with poverty being among the most devastating,” Leigh writes.

Stereotypes play a role in how we see Reconstruction today: “Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940, whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers,” Leigh writes. “According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers ‘living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.’”

Unfortunately, post-Civil War Republicans were more interested in holding and building on political gains than actual advocating for black civil rights.

Even though blacks represented less than 2 percent of the population in the Northern states, compared to 40 percent in the Confederate states, most white Northerners wanted blacks concentrated in the South. Some white Northerners were concerned with increased competition for jobs if freed slaves moved North, while others likely were motivated by a dislike for people different from themselves, much as they disliked foreigners just off the boat from Europe or Asia.

Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, thought emancipation would motivate Northern blacks to move to the South. In 1862, when blacks comprised less than 1 percent of the Illinois population, the state’s soldiers voted 3 to 1 to deny the blacks the right to vote, and Massachusetts and Illinois each refused to resettle contrabands (slaves behind Union lines) in their states during the war, according to Leigh.

Reconstruction was probably doomed to failure given the corruption that took place immediately following the war. Budgets in Southern states mushroomed, even if residents rarely got anywhere near their money’s worth as politicos, some Northerners who’d moved South after the war and others opportunists from the region, lined their pockets in many states.

Once the states were “redeemed,” a term which meant that Democrats effectively ousted Republicans for control, often by dubious means, the first goal of the new administration was to reduce the cost of operating state government, Leigh said, adding that segregation and disfranchisement of blacks didn’t begin to pick up steam until Populists were elected in the 1890s.

Leigh writes that white Southerners resented the financial burden associated with educating ex-slaves. Given that abolition was a national policy, many felt that the federal government should at least partly assist with the effort. Southern states were already poor to begin with and ultimately slashed education spending for both races.

There was certainly unequal treatment before the law and a general animus toward blacks in the South, particularly in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But Leigh argues that efforts to raise the South were hindered by the economic serfdom it was held in by northeastern economic interests.

He cites as an example the artificially high costs imposed on Southern steel by Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie, who created the U.S. Steel monopoly, recognized that the South, specifically the steel industry around the Birmingham, Ala., area, represented the biggest threat to his Pennsylvania operation.

By 1895, he had bought up the major Southern steel mills and imposed discriminatory pricing on Southern production.

“Thereafter,” Leigh writes, “steel from the company’s Alabama’s mills included an incremental markup … of $3 per ton over the Pittsburgh quote.” In addition, “buyers of Birmingham steel were required to pay freight from Birmingham plus a phantom charge as if the shipments originated in Pittsburgh.”

By the time the Federal Trade Commission got around to investigating the matter, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, it was discovered that Birmingham’s steel costs were the lowest in the country and 26 percent below those of Pittsburgh.

For 80 years, the South suffered from burdensome tariffs and monopolistic rate charges, costs that kept wages down, stymied progress and contributed greatly to the poverty that helped create dissention between races.

But Reconstruction and the decades that followed it remain little understood among much of the population. In secondary schools, if it’s taught at all, it’s narrowly defined as a period when Southern whites sought to not only disfranchise blacks, but essentially place them back in the fetters of slavery.

White Southerners weren’t blameless but there was plenty of criticism to be leveled at others, as well.

As our nation currently tangles with the ghosts of the past, perhaps we would do well to seek out the reasons why the South has struggled economically and educationally for much of the past 150 years.

The reason, as Phil Leigh demonstrates clearly in Southern Reconstruction, isn’t simply that Southern whites didn’t like Southern blacks. History is rarely that evident.

(Top: Sharecroppers pick cotton in Arkansas in 1938.)

Ignore conflict, these shiny stones will catch your attention

And newspapers wonder why an increasing number of readers (and former readers) view them with incredulity.

Eleven of the top 12 stories in the online version of my local paper are eclipse related, the astronomical event that area media has been hyping for months. Everything from improving your eclipse glasses to a list of where to find the best eclipse-related food.

A complete solar eclipse is impressive, but this seems over the top. One might even get the impression that not much else was going on elsewhere in the state, nation or world. Kind of how ancient people used to react when they thought an eclipse presaged the world’s end, but with a more mindless twist.

Actually, there are a few other things of note taking place around the globe. Such as:

  • President Trump will address the country tonight and outline a new strategy for Afghanistan, the longest war in US history;
  • The death toll from last week’s militant Islamist attack in Spain, which appear to be striking Europe with startling regularity, is now at 15; and
  • Aggrieved demonstrators, while not done training their sites on all things Confederate, converged on a bust of Christopher Columbus in Detroit and demanded the monument come down as they protest against white supremacy and the nation continues to be roiled by racial tension.

But here, local ink-stained wretches gleefully slap story after story about the eclipse on page 1 and the Internet, eager first and foremost to sell as many papers as possible. Informing readers is somewhere further down the line of priorities.

The Roman poet Juvenal knew of what he wrote more than 2,000 years ago:

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

(Top: Image showing online front page of local daily newspaper, showing 11 of top 12 news headlines devoted to today’s eclipse.)

Old red-brick church survives in high-tech San Francisco

The outsider tends to think of San Francisco as irreligious city.

Cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and LGBT pioneers are among things so-called “Baghdad by the Bay” is easily recognized for, but San Francisco has an array of beautiful structures, including many houses of worship such as Grace Cathedral, Sherith Israel synagogue, Saint Ignatius Church, Saints Peter and Paul Church and Mission Dolores, the oldest surviving structure in the city, dating to 1776.

Other noteworthy houses of worship are less well known. Take Saint Francis Lutheran Church, the only Lutheran church in the world to be named for the Italian (Catholic) saint.

Located on Church Street, near the intersection of Market Street in the Castro District, Saint Francis Lutheran dates back to just before the devastating 1906 Earthquake. By the time of the disaster, the main floor meeting hall had been completed and was in use, but the sanctuary above was still unfinished.

The earthquake damaged the sanctuary, but the main floor was left intact and was used by the Red Cross as a hospital and shelter for the injured and homeless.

The red-brick church was constructed in a Danish-Gothic style, modified in the Nordic tradition, according to NoeHill in San Francisco, a website dedicated to San Francisco historical sites.

It possesses a wooden steeple and features a stone foundation and steps. In the sanctuary are copies of two masterpieces by Danish sculptor Berte Thorvaldsen (1770-1844).

San Francisco, like much of California, received a wide array of immigrants from many parts of the world following the 1849 Gold Rush. Danish immigration to California began in the San Joaquin Valley and gradually moved to Fresno and then north to the Bay Area and San Francisco.

For many years, religious services in San Francisco were performed by Lutheran clergy dispatched more than 180 miles from Fresno, according to NoeHill in San Francisco.

Around 1900, when the Danish community in San Francisco had reached a size to warrant its own church, the community wrote to Queen Louise of Denmark asking for financial assistance. The monarch sent a gift of 500 Kroner, which formed the basis of the building fund.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the area around the church was populated mainly by Scandinavians and Germans. For many years, the neighborhood supported five Lutheran churches, each holding services in a different language: Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and German.

Over the years, as English became the common tongue the various Lutheran congregations merged. In 1964, a Danish and Finnish congregation merged and named the new congregation in honor of San Francisco’s patron saint, Saint Francis.

(Top: 111-year-old Saint Francis Lutheran Church, in San Francisco’s Castro District.)