Benjamin Butler, Fort Monroe, Virginia discussed on Tales of American History
Amy Welcome. Thank you is wonderful. Having you great to be here great having you before we get into all the the the stuff we want to talk about you were. You're a native of Rockville Maryland. That's cracked and went to Duke University. uh-huh got a your bachelor's in history and then I understand you work for congressman and I did. Yeah I saw what possessed you know. So I I grew up in Maryland. I grew up in a suburb Washington. DC and when you grow up right by the nation's capital you get kinda fired up about politics. And so I thought I had a political future and so so I did some internships. I went and worked in Washington and then it didn't take long to realize it wasn't for me. I got a little disillusioned. I had a great boss but I and it just was not not for me. I wanted to think for myself instead of working for a member of Congress and always thinking for them to sing that before this. Yes you really wanted to think for myself rather than from my boss. I mean that's what it was when you work for these members of Congress. Yes you're always having to to what he want to do what should he do you know. And and I had studied obviously studied history and I found myself Just dying to get back into the archives. Do some work for myself. I'll tell you what I know the feeling for forty six years I practice this law and I got a degree in history from my undergraduate school in all those professors all told me they wanted me to go to graduate school and all this stuff and I wanted to be a lawyer you know and I enjoyed practicing law as much as anyone can enjoy practicing law but I can i. Can I have great empathy here. Because all through my law practice I dabble in history and write a book sure and then ultimately got into making films but it was all during that career and it was like this thing is constantly drawing me yet air uh-huh and I know that feeling yes. History work is great fun and it's fun and it's still mysterious and there's so much to learn the no right that's what pulled me back and come across something that no one's touched before and it's it's a dream it is magical been really. Well you've You've written some wonderful wonderful stuff and this embattled freedom is the creme dela cram around. I mean that's very kind of you. And you've gotten terrific reviews and of course the awards you've gotten are all so deserving and not no one's ever approach that subject and here's a case where you found this information and what ten years took you it does find this What I'd like to do today is Talk a little bit about the situation. Shen of slaves on the eve of the Civil War I think the Eighteen sixty cents says we had like four million in your class and the slave owning states which is a staggering number which of course even when one considers considers. Well you know. Why don't they freed them how you know what I mean? It's just how do you do that. And that's the question they asked asked. It is absolutely and and no one could come up with an answer for it and in so many ways you know reading reading that you have a sensitive you do have a heavy heart so to speak for the people who are trapped tin that right both white and black because there's just no answer to it but in terms of of the war and there's no question about it being the underpinning of what became the bloodiest conflict this nation's ever fought you reference one episode. That is a great place to start on this. And that's when you got three free. Slaves Frank Bakers at one of Upper James Townsend who have been sent into confederate service as I've written and we both published a Chapel Hill and in my retreat eight book. I came across a lot of instances where slaves were Taken off farms in the south by the quartermasters and the slave owner was but the slave worked. And these appear to be those kind of these. Three And they were working on gun emplacements and so forth for the one hundred Fifteenth Virginia. Melissa Virginia had a lot of militia units on the eve of the war and they go across to Fort Monroe they escape and go across the Fort Monroe. And there's General Benjamin Butler as the loop New Orleans would call later on beast uh-huh from Massachusetts colorful. He's an incredibly colorful figure. Heavy rotund a UH nasty looking but a democrat. Ha You know. And so not anti-slavery no no no which of course everyone to the candidates running in the eighteen sixty election on the democrat. Whatever branch they were were were were were not for their freedom freedom and he was a Democrat and of course Lincoln brings him into the service for obvious political reasons? But here they show up and and Ask for sanctuary and Butler first of all all just kinda tells him to get out get back and then a flag. A truce comes across from an officer by major her Kabul I think his name was Kerry Kerry which is a big name and project C. A. R. Y. and He's he then poses to Butler under what authority you know are you are you. What are your intentions and Butler? Who says to keep him? He sees they want now. He's GonNa keep them which is perfect. This is exactly like Butler would have been and then the the question got to. Well you know doesn't your laws require you to get the send them back and Butler says why does that bother you. Oh you've seceded from the union right. Federal law doesn't apply to you anymore. So so what is ultimately ultimately Butler keeps them and I mean I mean by the end of the war. Fort Monroe is like ten thousand slaves Libyan and around and Robert Tape right and I think it's even more kind of coming and going so totals even greater thank but yeah people and the the the thing that I want to explore floor with you is it. What what what is the status of these slaves that have come across to Butler? In Lincoln's I inaugural this is march eighteen. Sixty one five states have already seceded from the Union South Carolina Mississippi Florida Georgia and Texas. And he says I have no purpose directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. He also has been adamant that the states have no right to secede and he would not recognize. Recognize their secession. So in answer to the confederates questions about about these runaways. state isn't seceded right. So federal law should apply right right right. What do you think about all that so this is a very messy legal situation? I understand I'm talking to an attorney about the law which increase slightly nervous but not anybody's game. So what is their your status in. What's going on? Well the short answer is it's just not clear cut and it depends on who you ask so Butler takes in. It's it's kind of surprising but he takes A different view. Obviously then in what Lincoln was basically saying there. I think his his words words were something like Virginia claims to be a foreign nation and I will take her at her word for word so he is accepting secession. Mr So a little bit different from Lincoln there. Yeah and so. That's what enables him to abandon federal law and the federal law of course worse is not just a provision in the constitution but the eighteen fifty fugitive slave law that has empowered the federal government and federal government agents to to send runaway slaves back to their owners so butlers basically saying no longer applies we can help runaway slaves now But not everybody interpreted things that way for the reasons one of the reasons you say they're And others it just still didn't understand what sort of constitutional authority the federal government could claim You know to harbor runaway slave. This is violating people's property rights. Right and then the other the other thing is as military officer Butler. He has an enemy over there. From which these slaves came and that the enemy regards those slaves as property. Right right. That's the thing butler. He's a union man be anti-slavery but he's he's as union. Yes he is. He's going to go after the enemy not put some stars on their shoulders. I mean that made him so special. I think what's interesting. Is that on. That point. You Know Butler had been in Maryland just week or two before he gets to Fort Monroe and there he was sending slaves back to their owners because those owners he deemed loyal more union. Yeah so it's it's all about union confederate loyalty. That's what makes in in Butler's mind that's why this is clear-cut will frankly his response there is very clear-cut and it's also very understandable if you're not in in rebellion alien then sure they're yours. Yeah if you are in rebellion then particularly for the male slaves. You're using them. I'm in an effort to combat me right and so I regard those as property. Yeah and subject pick to be seized and or if they come into my lines being held it denies you right to the opportunity to build more org battlements generally to to hurt me yes so On those not only the law level but then just the military military level rate of. How do you wage war Different Answer Butler. Starting in a way we can see. In retrospect he started building the case that interfering with slavery is military necessity that serve the interests of the military. And of course we'll see that argument really develop and really get expressed in the emancipation proclamation. Yeah eventually will you know as you know as you right after that eight more. Slaves came in to keep coming and then forty seven and now they're not only men but their women and children children right and the question now goes right now. What is their status right? That that's really interesting. Because when Butler I issues his order and is explaining to Washington what what he's doing you know it's a lot about military necessity right about depriving the confederacy of this labor and adding to the unions. That argument is more easily made for men and so the understanding on the Union side was that this was just going into effect then but then the women and children keep coming and I keep coming and they keep coming and Butler himself starts to get kind of torn up about this and you could see and some of his writing that he really seems to agonize. He doesn't want to send these women and children back and separate these families so he sort realizes he's now into a situation that's a little more complicated than he originally bargained for And they're they're basically what he does. He allows them to stay even though it kind of undermines or contradicts his original reasoning by his original reasoning. They shouldn't be there but he allows them to stay. And then in the midst of all this General Urban McDowell commands the department northeastern Virginia issues. An order to all his commanders that runaway slaves who who come into union lines should be turned away. Yes now you know Irvin McDowell Has Kentucky routes I the Son of Samuel McDowell from Danville and his wife Mary urban who also was a Kentucky. I didn't know that but as soon as you said it. Those names are Kentucky aims absolutely. Wow on Samuel McDowell who is the son of the Great Samuel McDowell who was the chairman of Kentucky's First Constitutional Convention and they all came from rock bridge each county. Virginia and Ephraim McDowell is Samuel's broader. Wow Okay surgeon famous Sir sir her. So here's an and these were people who were slave owners They weren't great slave owners. But they did have sizable farms in in Boyle County.