Infrequently Asked Questions

When I mention the Sesquicentennial Madness project to people, they don’t tend to ask a lot of questions. In fact, they all move away from me on the bench, as if maybe being a Civil War Bore is catching. When they do ask questions, they tend to be variations on “Are you nuts?” This is not a very interesting question for me to answer (for the record, the answer is ‘possibly, but I’m enjoying it’), so I have made up some more interesting questions and answered them for you here!

Who are you, again?
I’m Andrea, aka slave2tehtink, your humble guide, accompanied by La Diva Tinkerbella, a.k.a. Her Royal Tinkness, Tink the Fawn Doberman. She’s four and a half and is mostly blind among other weird medical issues, so I worry that she may not be able to make it through the entirety of Sesquicentennial Madness. But she’ll certainly give it a try. Her understudy is Blackthorn’s Karisma, aka Zille, a sable German Shepherd from Blackthorn Kennel. Zille takes over on trips that Tink and her iffy joints might not be able to handle.

What are you doing?
I’m chronicling Sesquicentennial Madness by traveling to various sites of (occasionally dubious) Civil War importance as their 150th anniversaries roll around, documenting what I find there. Hopefully there will be interviews with the people there, along with my own thoughts on what happens as people celebrate these anniversaries. There will even be pictures! My goal is to get to these places on the actual anniversaries, but given that this is not a paying gig and I must maintain my day job, for some of them I’ll just be there at the nearest weekend. Of course, if some kind soul should be thinking, “Self, what I’d really like to do is give someone $50K a year to travel to sites of Civil War importance on their 150th anniversaries, and heck, why not throw in health insurance, too!” then point them my way, ok?

What the hell is Sesquicentennial Madness, anyway?
It’s hard to define, but it’s the celebration of the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War. Why do I say it’s hard to define? Well, when exactly did the damn thing start, anyway? You could make a good argument for it starting in 1705, when a law was passed in the colony of Virginia consigning people from non-Christian nations to chattel slavery. Hell, you could make a good argument that the grounds for the Civil War were laid in 1619, when the first ship of people from Africa who were enslaved landed at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Or maybe you could say it was in 1654, when John Casor became the first chattel slave in the US. By this reckoning, Sesquicentennial Madness started in 1804, only no one realized it. For my own purposes, I’m starting it in October, at the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s failed uprising in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Which was, of course, Virginia at the time.

But I thought the war wasn’t about slavery?
Don’t kid yourself. Soldiers fighting the Civil War knew it was about slavery. Sure, it was about states’ rights. It was about the states’ rights to continue to define chattel slavery of human beings as legally and morally acceptable. It was about the rights of the planter class to continue to own other human beings.

Where some confusion comes in is where what individual soldiers were fighting for meets what the war was about. One man’s reason for joining up may have had nothing to do with slavery. The majority of Confederate soldiers were not slaveowners, and many Union soldiers were not abolitionists. The reasons soldiers fought in the Civil War were as varied as the soldiers themselves, but the reason that governments were sending them out to fight was the chattel slavery of human beings.

Shouldn’t we honor the soldiers for their bravery regardless of the cause?
Of course. But let’s not worship the Lost Cause. We’re human beings, and they were too, and human beings are nuanced things. We can honor Johnny Reb’s bravery, his loyalty to country, while still acknowledging that the war he was fighting was utterly, utterly wrong. To mythologize and eulogize the antebellum south is to perpetuate a lie that slavery “wasn’t that bad,” it is to ignore the suffering of millions of African-Americans who struggled to cling to dignity and life in the middle of a system that equated them with oxen, horses, and dogs on a good day.

Wait! Since slaves were valuable, why wouldn’t they be well-treated?
Look, even the kindest slaveowners were still slaveowners. Maybe they went out of their way to be compassionate to the human beings they enslaved, but they were still enslaving them. Those men and women weren’t living in the big house, they were living on the slave street. They weren’t free to live their lives, they could be beaten, raped, and sold and it was all legal. Unless a white man wanted to testify, slaveowners could murder the enslaved people they owned very nearly with impunity. Even if the slaveowners freed them, they still had to worry about being kidnapped and sold back into slavery. And there’s precious few records of the “kind” slaveowners, let me tell you. Even the “best” of them sold people. They sold. other. human. beings. I can’t stress enough how deeply wrong this was, to view other human beings as possessions and wealth rather than, y’know, other human beings. Slavery was a crime perpetuated by the United States of America for centuries, and then the Confederacy sought to keep that crime alive and well.

Can I come with you?
Tink, Zille, and I love meeting new people! I’ll try to announce in advance where I’m definitely going to be, all you have to do is show up on the battlefield and look for us!

Published on 15 July, 2009 at 22:37  Comments (3)  

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  1. I’m so excited to find your blog! I,too, am hoping to chronicle the Sesquicentennial. Sounds like we have very similar aims/goals. I was happy to be able to catch the events in Harpers Ferry and Charles Town, and have more notes and pictures than I know what to do with! Finally, I share your dream that someone would ‘give [us] $50k and some health insurance, to boot’ to cover these next few years. But hey, we do it out of love, right? Hope to catch you at an event at some point; maybe compare notes. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy your great blog!

    -Dylan Hyde

    • Hi Dylan! Seriously, where are the wealthy Civil War nuts who want to pay us to do this stuff? If you’re based in the eastern theater like I am odds are we’ll be at some of the same events, just keep your eyes open at the national parks for the woman with the dog!

  2. Slave2thetink, I stumbled onto this blog while browsing for a place to purchase books on the subject of Harper’s Ferry that focused on Dangerfield Newby in particular. I am a direct descendant of Dangerfield Newby. I would like to give these books as holiday gift’s to my younger relatives. I found your article interesting and I don’t think our young people understand the scope of black history let alone the civil war and how it relates to today’s political rhetoric about preserving states rights, if they did, they would get out the vote!

    If they knew what I knew about what happened to Dangerfield that fateful night, the bullet to his head, the slitting of his throat from ear to ear, the mutilating of his body, ( cutting his ears off) and dragging his body into hogs alley to be eaten by hogs. This is ” States Rights” .

    Dangerfield Newby had a sister named Elmira Newby she had slave children by Eli Tackett one of the four children was my great grand mother.
    My great grand mother bore my grand mother who in turn bore my father.


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