I’m with Atlantic Monthly writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who describes himself as a Civil War obsessive. You can hear for yourself what he has to say about the importance of Civil War history to all of us. Since I discovered that my great, great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy while leaving at home an invalid wife, and an infant child with his slave (my great, great-grandmother Tempy), I’ve tried to learn more about this war and era, particularly what it was like for slaves at the time.
Right now, I’m reading three books that are shedding more light on that era: Adam Goodheart’s, “1861,” Charles Dufour’s “The Night the War Was Lost,” and James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.’s “An Absolute Massacre.”
What I’ve learned so far outside of the everyday Civil War wisdom is that as a slave in New Orleans, my great, great-grandmother Tempy would have had a very different experience than rural slaves or even those in other cities. According to Hollandsworth’s book, “New Orleans contained the largest, wealthiest and best educated community of free blacks in the country.” What must it have been like to be enslaved while people who looked like her were free? I’m also learning about the battle for the port of New Orleans that my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart fought in which Charles Dufour assigns as the defining moment for the confederacy. He says it’s the battle that lost them the war.
In my great, great-grandfather’s obituary, it mentions that he was elected as a member to the Constitutional Convention of New Orleans. I hope to learn more about this convention and discover which one he was elected to since there were several.
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, what have you been learning about your ancestors and their place in this history?