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tv   The Civil War Confederate Boat Burners on the Mississippi  CSPAN  April 10, 2021 6:00pm-7:16pm EDT

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the girl explores the untold story of the globetrotting women who trekked flu and fought their way around the world. we hear the story of the early members of the society of women geographers and in two hours american university professor joseph campbell teaches a class about what's known as the 1968 cronkite moment arguing that the impact of walter cronkite's comments regarding the war in vietnam has been vastly overstated and is merely a media myth. todays event. we're very fortunate to have dr. laura june davis as a speaker tonight. she's an assistant professor of history as well as culture of women's studies at southern, utah university. she's got degrees from cornell, texas a&m george mason and the university of georgia. and right now she's working on a book fascinating book about sabotage irregular naval warfare and masculinity during the civil
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war. and of course that's what tonight's talk is going to draw upon. i think that's all i need to say. so now i want to encourage you all to join me and giving a warm welcome to dr. davis to the virtual podium over to you. thank you. thank you. thank you all for joining me on a friday afternoon or evening depending on what time zone you're in. i want to give a special. thank you to dr. paul quigley and dr. carolyn newhall for creating this event and inviting me to speak to you all. so before we kind of get into the bulk of my talk, i wanted to kind of lay the foundation and kind of set us all on the same page. a lot of what we're going to talk about today is what happened in the civil war during the along the mississippi river and usually when we think about the mississippi river and the civil war we start with general winfield scott's famous anaconda plan, and i'm sure some of you have seen the map with the giant snake on it kind of highlighting
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the two component parts to the anaconda plan where he's going to blockade the confederacy along the atlantic coast and the gulf of mexico and then they're gonna gain complete control of the mississippi river and the mississippi river is the component part of this anaconda plan because it would then be able to divide the confederacy in half. and so as the war starts to unfold in 1861 and 1862. we see the united states can concentrating a lot of their efforts on the mississippi river and they're really launching a two-pronged assault. they're gonna come down south from cairo, illinois, and they're going to come up north from the gulf of mexico and new orleans and if i've got any naval history fans or big battle fans in you know zoom land. you're probably familiar with some of those key battles on the mississippi river things like island number 10 the battle of memphis, right? what's happening at new orleans, but of course the biggest battle is gonna be what happens at vicksburg vicksburg is kind of
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one of those last control over it hold-outs on the mississippi river. it's known as the gibraltar of the confederacy and the united states spends a lot of time and effort trying to take vicksburg and with repeated efforts they fail but in the spring and summer of 1863 ulysses this grant is going to work with the navy and david dixon porter and they're gonna launch a 47-day siege on vicksburg. and then finally on july 4th. 1863, vicksburg falls. and that seemingly gives you united states unfettered access to the mississippi river any last holdouts or forts are going to quickly fall and abraham lincoln even famously says again the father the waters goes unvex to the sea and then we usually stop talking about the mississippi and we focus on other theaters of war and so what i've been researching and what we're gonna talk about today is what happens on the mississippi river after vicksburg falls because the
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conventional war may end, but that's not the end of the story. there's gonna be a rise of pro confederate boat burners and saboteurs what people in the 19th century called naval gorillas injuries boat runners. these are all kind of interchangeable terms, but these programs sympathizers will target commercial steamboats operating along the lower, mississippi river. so st. louis down to new orleans and they're doing this in order to challenge for and vex us military operations transportation and commerce so today we're going to kind of talk a little bit about how that unfolds. okay, i'm gonna try and share my screen with you all if this works. um, yes, i mean a thumbs up awesome. so we're gonna look at confederate boat burners and naval guerrillas along the mississippi river and i want to start by comparing two different boat burning incidents that happen in the civil war one happens in may of 1861 shortly
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after the war begins and the second one's gonna happen after the fall of vicksburg in august of 1863. and as i'm telling these two events, i want you think about how people respond to them because the responses are quite distinct. so, there we go. i'm gonna move this so i can see. so the first event is going to happen in new orleans, may 6th 1861 within weeks of the first volley at fort sumter new orleans is going to bear witness to an altogether different salvo on the evening of may 1st, 1861 the doxa algiers, louisiana are going to ignite into flames a fire breaks out aboard a steamboat general pike and the flames soon crumble the general pike's moorings and those of two neighboring boats resulting in a blazing procession of vessels down the river unless the one hour the whipping wind spread the flames with terrific rapidity to six more vessels and then there's kind of this
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ensuing comedy of errors. the alarm bells never went off the arriving fire about men start running about it random because they don't know what to do. and things are just kind of utterly chaotic with a cloudy sky above and the dark mississippi rushing below the light from the flames reflected laura lee down on the city washing new orleans in a very eerie glow. ultimately nine different steamboats will be destroyed in this fire the general pike editor granada telegram baltic republic madison daliweb and conqueror and just a matter of moments over 4,500 tons of timber had splintered into kindling thousands of pounds of cotton head emulated and it combined investment of 20,500 had disintegrated into ash. so this seems like a pretty major disaster, right? it would definitely draw a lot of a time attention people probably went to the docks to see it but yet locals didn't
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really remark on the event. it didn't seem to draw any local interest or concern. and that's because steamboats tend to catch fire in the 19th century. they just tend to be combustible entities and so new orleans as a port town is used to these things happening and they just kind of dismiss it as an accident. not a big deal. so to give you some kind of statistical information if you're curious in the antebellum period about 21% of all river steamboats will burn or explode. between 1847 and 1857 232 steamboats caught fire and another 56 exploded if we're looking at just the western waterways. so really the mississippi river and her tributaries between 1816 and 1848. 1,433. people died a born steamboat fires and explosions. so if you live in new orleans, you're kind of just a nerd to this level of violence say chaos
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and you just dismiss it as an accident. no big deal. but there's one entity that sees this nine boat fire and thinks maybe there's something suspicious going on. maybe it's an act of sabotage and this is intentional and that's the cincinnati daily press when they report on the fire. they say it's the work of a quote unquote negro negro incendiary. now they don't expand on that. so we're not 100% clear. what clear what they mean is that an african-american? is that an abolitionist republican? is it just somebody who has some dark nefarious intentions? that we don't know what we do know, is that the cincinnati daily press is saying that this new orleans fire is in fact deliberate arson and intention intentional, but it's sabotage. okay, now we're going to fast forward two years. and we're gonna get to 1863. right one of the most costly boat burning disasters is going
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to happen on august 4th 1863. and that's the explosion of the roof. unfortunately the roof just the day before on august 3rd had gotten some cargo that's gonna help create her fire and that included a whole bunch of timber some us bank notes and postal currency as well as a quote unquote immense quantity of bacon. because bacon seems to make everything better. and in this case, it's going to make the fire much worse because you've got timber dry timber. you've got, you know all the grease from the bacon and then you've got coal sitting directly below for us treasury boxes carrying 2.6 million dollars of us greenbacks, so they're destined for ulysses us grant's army in the west if we did that conversion today, it would be over five billion dollars. so this is a lot of money that the roof is carrying and this is gonna ultimately work against her when she catches fire.
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so the ruth will leave cairo, illinois around 11 pm on august 4th. most of the passengers are going to retire to their cabins. they're going to fall into blissful sleep and all is quiet and calm. safely away from shore the roofs captain benjamin r p green and a union paymaster by the name of nathan britton are going to take their reprieve along the hurricane deck. so if you look at my map the hurricane deck is up here in the front of the cabin. alright, sorry in in the front of the steamboat. right, so they're hanging out there. they're just talking they're enjoying the solitude of the evening and kind of that soothing churn of steamboat. just before midnight a man interrupts their interlude with news that a fire had broken at out at the opposite end of the boat in a carpenter shop beneath the ladies cabin. so the ladies cabins approximately here. so the fire is going to break out roughly like down here lower part of the ship at the complete opposite end where the captain and the pain master are captain
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pegram hastily departs to go find first mate james cain the warring bells clamored flay flames rise quickly over the larbert wheel and the carpenter shop and things turned quite chaotic. disturbed from his peaceful reposed first mate came rushes into action without his clothes or his shoes on so you can tell how rushed and hectic he is. he's trying to put out the flames with water buckets, but nothing's working and the flames just keep rising and so quickly he's gonna have to shift tactics and just focus on rescue. how do we save the boat? how do we save all that government money? how do we save all of our passengers? before long smoke will cloak the steamer passenger start crowding towards the front of the boat and oxygen and comfort become very precious commodities within 20 minutes the upper portion of the steamer fell into the hole crashing into all of that union money. meanwhile the you um, the roof
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is gonna violently steer off course, she's gonna collide into some river bluffs threatening everybody. who's a board ship. and several passengers jump off board about this time. they're trying to get to land if they can cain tries to secure the boat to shore via a chain cable, but it just doesn't work. he's not moving quickly enough. just the fire is growing too much and then the ship veers back into the water. and so she wasn't close to shore long enough for anybody to be able to save all the government money. so the burning flames the dense smoke, they're all encircling the steamer the dark knights turning quite bright and the smells of hickory singed wood and sweat mingle together as the fear of everybody board ship is very palpable panic passengers start jumping overboard. they think it's better just to risk the rushing currents than the fire and the combination of bacon coal and wood has creating a heat of a fire. that's so intense that it actually fuses iron.
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the steamer steam pipe will explode the wheel stops and the cable chain drags and the root that's going to float downstream about two more miles before she she finally sinks into the mud. now the roof incineration is utterly devastating. it's thousands of dollars worth of damages in just the ship alone. all of the government money is gone. the 2.6 million dollars has just been turned into ash. and more gruesome is the resulting deaths of 26 people and that included a union paymaster three clerks in african-american woman and three freedmen most of the casualties are actually drowning victims rather than following victim to the fire itself. only the crew is really the survivors of this fire and early reports claim that there's no real satisfactory theory is to how the originated but very quickly locals and newspapers are going to say that it was an intentional act of sabotage and
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that confederate naval gorillas are the perfect traders. a month after the destruction. there's a special court of inquiry into the roofs burning. you can't lose that much government money without some sort of investigation, right and they interview the crew their question the crew for their loyalties, but no one who'd been a board ship and survived believed to the fire originated out of misconduct or neglect. they're all pointing to some sort of outside sabotage. paymaster william h. jameson declared that there was no doubt that the fire was started either by an incendiary a board ship or some slow-match a fixed at keroy that had been left by a naval guerrilla and then it would just slowly eventually result in the fire. he even alleged that there had been evidence of a bottle of powder and a large coil fuse that had been found in the carpenter shop. where the fire started. ultimately the federal government and this official
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investigation agrees. they agree that it is intentional sabotage. they ruled that quote the steamer ruth was fired by an instantiary not for the particular purpose. although that may have been an additional object of destroying the public funds on board but in conformity with what appears to be a plan of the rebels for the destruction of water transportation in the valley of the mississippi and thus crippling the movements of our armies. the us navy will endorse this ruling and they point to the roof to kind of highlight that there's a lot of danger and peril along the mississippi river. so we see about one month after vicksburg has fallen and the united states seemingly has controlled the river. they're already kind of doubting how much control they have that there are these saboteurs working against them. and we see if we compare these two events right in 1861 new orleans. they quickly dismiss. the multi-vessel complication is
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just an accident right? no big deal, but now we're looking at the roof explosion and 1863 and it's clearly sabotage like there's no room for it to be an accident and this marks kind of a key shift and how people are pursuing and perceiving river boat explosions and fires after vicksburg and starting in the slate summer and early fall of 1863. everybody's everything's gonna be seen as sabotage or intentional and this is an example of a headline that you might see this headline actually comes at the end of the war in 1865, but it's talking about this great boat burning conspiracy that they are over 35 people involved in it. it goes all the way up to jefferson davis and that they have destroyed over 200 steamers now, i'm going to revisit some of these numbers later, but we're starting to see in 1863 this the shift in belief that steamboat fires are not
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accidental that they are in fact intentional. as early as october 1863 the us army chief quartermaster robert. allen said the quote there are disloyal men in disguise in every employee of every steamer and will be difficult to eliminate them. so we see the 1863 is that turning point? part of the reason the 1863 is that key turnpoint is what i've already suggested. it's that fall of vicksburg right when the us claims control over the mississippi river and what we you might not realize today is that during the civil war and the time before it the mississippi river was really the number one transportation trade and communications network of the united states. so whoever control this is going to control trade and commerce the transportation of troops and supplies the transportation of people and ideas. it was really really important. and even though the united
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states had claimed control of it through conventional warfare. the confederacy isn't ready to let go of that control and they're gonna shift their focus to irregular naval warfare and sabotage, right the rebels had really to defend the mississippi river, but that very failure is why they're going to result to irregular naval warfare and guerrilla warfare on the water. so after vicksburg the story on the mississippi doesn't end it just shifts focus and it takes on this more sinister posture. and so what we see is in the final two years of the war, especially in 1864 or 65, right? the rebels are going to quite literally blaze a path of resistance down the mississippi river from saint louis to new orleans. that's about 1,190 miles that they're trying to throw in vex the united states and commercial steamboats are their target. now initially the boat burners
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are going to do things like we see with the roof they're going to either leave some sort of explosive device that will allow the ship to explode midstream or they'll set fire to a single ship and one of the things that they maybe using is the thomas courtney cole torpedo now for those of you who aren't familiar with 19th century language torpedoes in the civil war era means some sort of bomb or explosive device. so if you look at this courtney cole torpedo, it looks like a piece of anthracic coal, but really what it is is a hollow iron casting that they have then filled with gunpowder and explosives right and then they dust it in cold powder. so it looks like a legitimate piece of coal. so if a navel gorilla can get his hands on this what he might do is sneak a board ship deposit this cold torpedo in the cold bunker and then leave and then you've got the steamboat engineer who has no idea there is a bomb waiting for him.
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he shovels the piece of coal into the and the ship explodes. right, so this is going to happen quite. unintentionally on the part of the engineer, but it's clearly an act of sabotage. later starting in 1864. we see that the boat burners are going to shift their tactics and rather than trying to have a boat. mysteriously explode or catch fire midstream. what they're going to do is start to set fire to ships that are in dock in court. and what the boat burners will do is aboard the ship. they'll set a fire and then they sneak off and because steamships are made out of wood, right? it's really easy for one boat to cause other boats nearby to catch fire and before you know it you've got three four, maybe nine boats that have caught fire. so if you look at kind of this chart i've created here you can see there's a handful of events. we think might be intentional
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pre vicksburg after vicksburg. there's a substantial number of boat burning events, but most of them are just one boat that catches fire and then all of the sudden the tactics kind of shift in 1864 where the number of boat burning incidences go down, but the damage goes up because the number of boats they're targeting goes up because these fires are spreading so there's a shift in tactics that ultimately results in higher damage and part of that is because as the war is weighing on and the us military and government become aware of boat. mean they're putting more patrols out more police out more guards on the votes. and so it's a little bit harder for the naval gorillas to to pursue their actions. so now that you have a general idea of what the boat burners are doing i want to talk about why they're doing this. right, what's going on? why target commercial steamboats? why is this kind of their focus? and there's really a whole host
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of economic strategic military political reasons for these naval gorillas. these boat burners these saboteurs. right. the first thing is that they want to challenge us control of the mississippi river. they want to really prevent or inhibit the us from being able to use the river as it effective waterway for their military, so they want to stop or at least make it difficult for the us to transport. men material supplies to their armies in the west and to their occupying forces in the south. and if we look at the boats at the naval gorillas are targeting these are vessels that are known to transport us troops. they are known to carry supplies. so this is public knowledge and are taking that to their advantage. the naval gorillas also want to distract the us military from their primary cause right they're gonna have to shift attention men resources and
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intelligence away from the battlefields to the mississippi river and that's going to help slow down some efforts. and if we look at what's going on with provost marshal jh baker or judge advocate general joseph holt. they spent a ton of time and energy and resources trying to identify locate arrest and convict the boat burners, especially those out of st. louis when you read the judge advocate general papers by halt like his frustration just mounts as you keep reading you can feel how frustrated he is. the second thing that's motivating. these boat burners are economics. right. they just want to disrupt us trade and commerce along the waterway. they want to destroy vessels that have an innate value, but they also are aware that these ships are carrying products that have a value and may or may not have an insurance. value as well and the boat burners want to line their own pockets. it turns out that in the civil war boat burning is actually
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extremely profitable and that's because the confederate government incentivizes this type of sabotage. the confederate congress and 1864 passes a bill the authorizes the rebel government to pay naval guerillas up to 60% of the damage boats vessels. so if you can prove you've destroyed a boat you're going to get paid and we have evidence of some boat burners that were captured in memphis. they were actually former police officers that turn into naval gorillas when they're captured. they have a list of all the boats traveling on the mississippi valley river and what their value would be if destroyed so we know that they're motivated economically william murphy also a test to this william murphy. i'm sorry. i don't have a picture of him. he's a saint louis boat burner. he testifies that he had received financial rewards from james sutton the then secretary of war and edward frazier.
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who's another boat burner operating out of st. louis when he testifies he says that he met with president jefferson davis, secretary of award james seton and was secretary of state judah p benjamin and according to fraser? the confederates paid hit fraser his friend thomas clark his co-conspirator dylan him. they got $50,000 for doing boat burning part of that was 35,000 in confederate gold and the maid gotten a 15,000 deposit when they could prove that they destroyed it. so they're making money off of doing this and that's incentivizing them. other reasons for participating in boat burning is just confederate loyalty and sympathy and patriotism to the united states to us today a lot of what these naval gorillas are doing seems to be savage and nefarious cowardly, but the boat burners really saw them as patriots
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taking explosive action on behalf of the confederacy. after his capture william murphy boasted that he quote fought for the confederacy for years. and have done all i could to help it. i would do all i could again as long as i have an inch of ground to stand upon. jw tucker agreed. he said quote i feel as intensely as it is possible to feel the vital necessity of striking hard blows now and striking it as many points and as many ways as possible so as to aid our cause and to save our country so you can see these bow burners are really casting themselves as legitimate and patriotic confederate warriors murphy at his trial says we're not any different than soldiers right the hiring of men to burn steamboats is no more of a conspiracy than hiring of soldiers to shoot men on the battlefield. so they are participating in the
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war effort just in a different way than we eventually think about and the final reason that the boat burners are doing what they're doing has to do with psychological warfare and invoking terror, right? they intentionally are trying to scare people. they operate in the shadows. we know that most of the fires happen in the middle of the night or while ships are traveling midstream, and this is intentional to invoke fear and terror amongst the us population, especially those who live along the waterways or in major port towns, and this letter that i've excited for you here is from ws oldham to jefferson davis. it's from february 11th. 1865. and the part i've highlighted is where he's saying that what they're doing will be effective in invoking fear. he says that the rebels should quote burn every transport and gunboat on the mississippi river as well as devastate the country of the enemy and feel as people
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with terror and consternation. so this is done intentionally to invoke fair. and they're aware that that's what they're going to do. okay, so we know what they're doing. what roughly we know why they're doing it. who are they right? who are the boat burners? as much as i wish that there was a magical list of all the boat burners that does not exist. the united states was able to identify 19 confederate boat burner and agents operating us out of st. louis and by the end of the war, they will expand that to a network of 35 people including jefferson davis. if we take a look at the known confederate boat burners, we have kind of a composite sketch. right. they are a confederate sympathizer from a river town. most likely st. louis new orleans memphis or mobile. they likely have some connection to the steamboat world. they might have been a deckhand and engineer a painter a pilot or a mate. and if they hadn't had a prior experience with steamboats, they're part of the greater wolf
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wolf culture. some of them owned hotels or saloons. there's a couple politicians and newspaper men. he's most likely a he as much as i keep trying to find a female boat burner that is not happened yet. and he's mostly white. although at least one alleged boat burner had dark skin, and another purportedly wore dark face in in order to disguise his appearance. above all his strong ties to his community either by virtue of his position or as gregarious nature and this serves him well because his friends and supporters can help aid him in his nefarious actions or hide him away in secret him away when the us governments looking for him. we know that boat burners are kind of an altogether different and unique type of girl of fighter. they operate along the margins and the surely lines and the waterways. right when you think of gorilla fighters, you're probably think of like bloody bill anderson or william quantrell, but these people are known right they
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flaunt their x exploits bushwackers are known for those big colorful flamboyant shirts. partisan rangers operated under the authority of the confederate governments. but boat burners are different right these navel gorillas operate in the shadows. they skulk along the docks. they secret themselves a board ships or maybe on a few occasions. they insinuate themselves as member of a crew. if they do their job correctly, you didn't know they were there you have no evidence that they were there until the boat blows up or explodes. right we believe that most naval gorillas probably acted alone or in small groups two were twos or threes if you look at the arrest records, they tend to be solo some do those and trios and that makes sense. you might have somebody you know on the docks keeping eye while you board the ship to leave your incendiary device, but we also know that there's evidence of an organized gang operating out of saint louis and this is the network that the united states government.
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identifies william murphy, he's a member of this organized gang outside of st. louis gave a full confession to provost marshal jh baker. according to murphy edward frazier led this band of 19 agents in a mission to destroy federal property and steamboats and by wars and fraser himself gave a full confession likely he confessed so he himself wouldn't be imprisoned according to frasier. it was actually minor majors who's a true mastermind of conspiracy and in the end the provost marshal's office says that they think judge tucker's the number one guy in charge of st. louis. he's the ringleader and he's operating directly under confederate secretary of war james satan. right, so that's what we know about them. in terms of overall impact, right? the boat burners are pretty effective in their effort to destroy commercial steamboats. i've been able to confirm at
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least 40 steamboats have been damaged. that's a total tonnage about 13,300. the value of just the steamboats themselves is over a million dollars and that's you know, 1860 dollars and the value of the property is unknown, but we're talking multiple millions of dollars worth of property. that's lost. and at least 261 people died in these fires. so overall there is some definite impact and and what these boat burners are doing and they're sabotage is pretty effective. secondly, they end up kind of redefining what warfare looks like in the civil war especially if we think about naval warfare as early as the fall of 1863 newspapers are reporting about this cool unquote new style of rebel warfare, right what? i like to think of naval guerrilla warfare and this article from october of 1863 says that the rebels have quote organized a gang of incendiaries
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to burn the steamers on the mississippi river and that would have excited little attention and less belief did not the facts indicate the truth of it. it is evident that the rebels intend to do by treachery where they are unable to do by fair contest keep the, mississippi. clear of federal steamers so not only are they effective in their destruction, but another redefining what warfare looks like. from the confederate boat burner perspective. this is legitimate warfare from the united states perspective. this is just utter treachery savagery. this would not be considered legitimately. most importantly is that these saboteurs are able to convince the united states that they are way more successful than they actually are. right, they convince people that the boat burning conspiracy is way more substantial than we are. actually able to confirm so if you look think about that newspaper heading that i showed
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earlier that article talks about how during the war there were over 200 steamers of all kinds they valued from 15,060 to over $150,000 each that this is part of this chivalrous band of perpetrators and that that has resulted in not only a huge pecuniary loss to the government, but the sacrifice of hundreds of valuables of lives. so they're saying 200. right, they're saying this many boats and i'm saying i've only been able to confirm 40, right? that's a huge difference 40 versus 200, but at the end of the day whether or not they actually destroyed 200 vessels isn't as important as the fact that they convince people that they have destroyed 200 vessels so that whole effort to invoke fear and terror has been widely successful and when you look at the headlines in the newspapers
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and 1865 about the conspiracy going all the way up to jefferson davis and including over 35 people, that's because the government and the military are trying to connect jefferson davis and the confederate government to a whole host of conspiracies that the assassination of abraham lincoln is part of this at the boat burning is part of this that all of these other acts of sabotage are indicative of an overall war aim of the confederacy that is utilizing nefarious kind of questionable war tactics. so for my perspective, right the fact that they convince people that they've you know destroy 200 vessels even though they haven't is extremely telling to how successful they are in their fear and terror campaign. now i want to leave you with one final thought and i'm trying to anticipate where i think one of your questions might go. and that has to do with the legacy of the boat burners and
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the sultana explosion. so for those of you who are not familiar with the sultana it is the worst maritime disaster in us history it took place on april 27th. 1865 more people die in the sultana than in the titanic. um, what happens is is the sultana is a commercial steamship. she's traveling north from vicksburg and she's got 2,137 passengers abort ship. she's only supposed to have 376 but she's got you know, almost 2000 more people than that. she also has a poorly patched boiler. and so things are not in her favor. tragically a lot of the passengers aboard the sultana are actually surviving prisoners of war who've reached recently been paroled. so some of these people have literally survived the horrors of andersonville or they've been at other prisons like cahaba, there are board the ship. they're trying to get home right
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end their war experience. surround the sultana the sultana is just south of memphis and then three out of her four boilers explode. 1,168 or that's our best approximation people died. so there's gonna be of course be an official investigation to this huge tragedy the government rules that it's a basically it's a mismanagement of operating the ship as well as just a horrible tragedy there have been the faulty boilers. they had not been properly prepared there had been a mismanagement of the water levels in the boilers and then you have this huge overcrowding of the ship that had waited down and she was really top heavy you take all these things into a fact and it's just a tragic disaster. nobody's talking about this being naval gorillas. no one's talking about this being an act of sabotage. fast forward 20 years to 1888 in 1888 all of a sudden there are
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these headlines in the memphis daily appeal and the saint louis globe democrat that are talking about the sultana as being intentional of being sabotaged and that they have identified the perpetrator and he's the quote unquote murder of an age. and so they're talking about charlie deal. according to may 6th 1888 saint louis globe democrat article the true cause of the disaster had finally been explained that this charlie deal this local saint louis painter had sabotage the steamship by strategically placing a cold torpedo in front of the ship spoilers when she'd been docked at the worst in memphis. and this is all coming to light through supposed testimony by william streeter. we're not hearing from charlie deal. we're hearing from william streeter who supposedly no charlie dale streeters a painter and a civil war clerk who worked
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in the gracia and myrtle street prisons. so streeter says that dale was at the time called a young vigorous -- devil. he possessed bravery of a certain kind equal to that of any man who'd ever lived and he was cool and calculating in his disposition. supposedly streeter and dale had met up after the war they were talking about boat burning and all the sudden dale drunkily confesses that he's the perpetrator behind the sultana that he had fired on no less than half a dozen steamboats. and so within a few days in 1888 now all the sudden newspapers across the united states including the new york times are printing stories about how the sultana is an act of an intentional sabotage that it was an active naval guerrilla warfare. so is this true? who is charlie dale? did he really do this? charlie dale is not a real person.
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it's an alias for robert loudon now robert loudon was a known boat burner in the civil war. he's even tried and convicted for both boat burning and mail running. he's kind of a dark lean man. he's about 5 foot 960 pounds dark hair blue eyes. he was well known in st. louis in the civil war era. he'd been a volunteer fireman a street inspector a steamboat painter and a pilot and he was also part of saint louis's underworld. he had been known to frequent gambling hall saloons bordellos. and he has a lot of pseudonyms. that's why he's operating under this alias. so he's robert loudon, which is spelled l o u d e n but sometimes you see his name spelled with a w. sometimes. he's bob loud and robert seiden charlie deal charlie dale, right all sorts of aliases and students. after the war he becomes a painter and he dies of yellow fever in 1867. so charlie dale isn't even his right name to begin with right?
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so after we look at that do we think that robert loudon make a charlie dale actually blew up the sultana and did this intentional act of sabotage? i'm going to argue. no. right, the evidence is overwhelmingly against this being a true conspiracy or active subject. first of all, if you look at the government reports, right, they say that it's all the overcrowding of the ships the fall to boilers historians and scholars have revisited these reports over the years and everybody agrees, right? this is what happened. it's just a tragic accident some mismanagement over crying of ship. secondly is if you start to look at loudoun's character, there's a lot of questions in red flags, right? he's known for being a storyteller. he's known for being a heavy drinker. he's known for kavoring around like few people at the time would have believed him. thirdly robert loudon's really good friend and male running partner published his memoirs and that's absalm grimes. you can read his memoirs and
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grimes talks about what loudon's up to during the civil war. he talks about boat burning exploits, and he doesn't mention the sultana. so you think that someone's really good friends and partner who's already talking about boat burning would address the sultana if this was a true story, fourthly is like the whole timing of 1888 and when these articles come out is really suspicious right? it's 20 years after the fact. um, you're getting it like from here here say from secondhand from william streeter and if you start to pay attention of the timing this is when they start to create the sultana survivors associations and all the survivors of the explosion are actually having reunions. and so when you find these reprints of the article, they're almost side by side with stories about the survivors having their reunions. so it's more likely that streeter saw this news wanted his five seconds of fame and
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comes up with this story right and loudon's dead. so he can't confirm or deny it. and when you look at the new york times reprint of the story they add their own subheading that kind of shows how questionable they think it is. they said it was quote a mystery of the war claiming to be solved. they don't actually believe it. and my last piece of evidence of why i don't think the sultana is included in what the boat burners does is looking at robert loudon's own words. when we look at what he said while he was imprisoned and being questioned if we look at his correspondence the limited that we have to his family if we look at his testimony in the trial. he never wants admitted to being a boat burner. he admits to being a male runner. he admits to all other crimes, but he's always trying to claim that he wasn't part of the boat burning conspiracy, even though the evidence is overwhelmingly against him. so i find it really suspicious that a man who supposedly denying.
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actively that he's a boat burner. it's just gonna randomly drunkenly confess to it one night. so no, i don't think the sultana is included in this i don't think that robert loudon is a devious saboteur, but the fact that people believe this story to be true 20 years after the fact reinforces how successful the boat burners had been during the war fear had been one of their greatest weapons and the impact of that fear and here clearly still lingered on in people's minds and i think that's why they believed it. so i'm going to stop there because i know y'all have lots of questions. um, but you may feel free to find me on various places. i've got my twitter handle my website and my linkedin profile so if i don't get your questions and you still have questions, please feel free to reach out to me. i would love to talk to you all but well, we've got some great questions so far. so i'll dive right in but we've we've seen a few coming in from
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several different people asking about the the breath i think of the experience of boat burners. have you found any evidence beyond the mississippi, you know, the tennessee river the ohio other locations like that. have you seen any evidence of boat burners that are more widespread beyond just the mississippi or have you been very much relegated to looking at that particular arena? so geographically i focus my research predomly on the mystery river because i find that to be a very fascinating theater of war but there are a handful of incidences that i've seen on some of the more eastern rivers like the james river. i haven't really explored that option, but there are at least a few instances that are happening in the east but for the most part statistically it seems to be focused more on the mississippi river and i think that's for two main reasons one is if you think about the geography of the united states eastern rivers go east to west but once we start to get more
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west they go north south. right and so control of those rivers is very important because they can give you a direct. halfway into enemy territory. whereas in the east right they tend to be more geographical barriers. the other reason that i think it's more prominent on this to be river is because the mississippi river was so central in people's minds as being that essential transportation trade commerce communications network. and so it's just more pertinent in people's minds and a lot of those big port towns are on the mississippi river as to some of those other eastern towns. i've dealt a little on some of the tributaries of the mississippi river and there are a handful of boat burning river incidences on those as well, but it's definitely focused more on the west than in the east great. thank you. by another question that came up in a variety of ways from
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different people concerns. how far up did this conspiracy activity go and you mentioned, you know rumors that jefferson davis was involved. you showed us at least one letter that one of these guys wrote to jefferson davis and did this reach up to the highest levels of the confederate government or you know, as one of the person asked were the boat burners really independent actors who obviously we're doing what they thought was best for the confederate war effort, but didn't have a connection to the official war effort. so i think it's both it depends right? i think if you look at the organized gang of bo burner's operating out of st. louis, right? they're almost like a proto-terrorist network. so you've got like one person charge and then they've got all their little cells and two of the boat burners that are captured or part of that gang and they never talk about or reference each other on their trials. so you can actually be part of that group and not know about each other the saint louis gang
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is definitely talking to the confederate government, right they report back that they've been that they've gone to the confederacy enrichment that they've met with sudden and maybe benjamin or even davis if they're being paid out. and so there are some higher level connections and i think that also ties into the fact that the confederates government had passed that 1864 bill. that's really kind of opening the doors to all different acts of sabotage and if you could prove that you burned a boat like the roof or some of these others you could be financially paid out incentivized. so there are some of those connections i think it's probably happening more at this the cabinet level than all the way up at the davis level, but there are some connections for confederate government, but i think that's mainly true for that organized game. i think a lot of these boat runners that are operating by themselves or and kind of do's or trios a lot of these anonymous figures that we can't identify. we just kind of hear reports
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about them. i think they're operating more in isolation and kind of like, this is how i can contribute to the confederacy. this is how i can do important work or hey, maybe i just really like setting fires and this is a good excuse to do that. we know of at least one boat burner who talks about this. he's like she made a real pretty fire right so some of them are kind of doing things by themselves and individually, so i think both answers are correct. yeah, we're also getting a few questions about the evidence you've been finding to link these these discussions between boat burners and the powers that be and you know, where you finding this evidence. what kind of evidence are you finding that's been most compelling for you? so it gets complicated right because if you start at like the official records and some of the stuff that the provost marshal is saying they're looking at like 200 boats 35 people. the newspapers are saying that and then it's like how do i find a list of all the boats that they've targeted and is that
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true or not? so i kind of started in multiple directions and then intersected and checked and verified. so we've got provost marshal records that talk a lot about trying to hunt down identify the boats list the boats that have been targeted and they have various lists of people and boats and you can find some of that in the official records. we've got the judge advocate general records, especially joseph holt talking about what he's doing and then there's the for those of you who are into maritime history. there's the hold camp or lido list. it's literally a list of all the steamboats that are operating in this time period and so i looked and said, okay who's on the mississippi river and did it say was it a fire or exploded and then i start cross-referencing and delving into a lot of newspaper records and other government records to say is it a fire is it not is it intentional? is it not what's going on? and so there's a lot of kind of intersecting. of those sources just to identify the boats that are
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being targeted and there are definitely a few incidences. i should say where people are claiming that it's sabotage and the evidence is against them. it's actually negligence on the part of the crew, but they're aware of this boat burning conspiracy and they try to excuse their actions. ben if we're looking for correspondence and how they're working with the confederate government, which i think is what some of y'all are asking. the most compelling evidence that we get comes from two trials robert loudon and william murphy. they are the two boat burners that are part of the st. louis gang. they are found and they are tried and so we have all of this testimony and evidence that comes to light during their court-martial procedures, even though they are civilians. they are tried by the military courts. in st. louis, they are both found guilty. they're both sentenced robert loudon actually escapes. he there's a prisoner transport and he's able to escape that
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that way william murphy will end up serving part of his sentence and then after the war his sentences vacated by a supreme court justice is doing his big, you know circuit ride because he says murphy was not supposed to be tried by the military court. he should have been tried by a civilian court and so on that technicality he's released. um the other big piece of compelling evidence is surprisingly in the assassination trials and investigations tied to the lincoln assassination. that's where we get edward frazier's testimony about his participation in the st. louis gain how he was meeting up and talking with the confederacy and so he's giving testimony to his experiences in richmond talking to the confederate government. so the number one places i'm getting that evidence about the connections to the confederate government are those trials and proceedings. yeah, the research process must have been really interesting.
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i was thinking about that too because on the one hand as you mentioned, you know, well they're doing these things. these guys are trying to hide what they're doing and not leave any evidence and yet afterwards they want to inflate what they've done and claim that they have done things which they haven't so it's like what what do you trust when you do in the research? so yeah, there's a lot of questions about that. and so i try to stick to what is contemporary to the time and what people are reporting back on and at least i think in the trial proceedings. they're often downplaying what they're doing, right and they're trying not to admit to it william murphy confesses because he's trying to get a relatively low sentence from the government. but then he escapes and the government recaptures him and so when he actually faces a sentencing it's not stricter and like i said murph or sorry loudoun never wants to confess to what he's done, even though when they find him they actually find him in a bordello, he's
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like gambling and there's all these like evidence and letters on his person when they capture him, so it's really hard to refute the evidence when he's carrying it, but he tries to not even admit. he's like i've done bad things, i haven't done. those bad things um, so yeah, there's a lot of times we're like, i want it to be true and it's not and it would make my story more exciting but um, you know, i try to stick with the lower number because i've been able to confirm that i suspect that number of 40s actually low, but i've tried to go with what i only i could verify i think 200s way too far the other way. yeah. yeah, that makes sense. it just a fascinating process of figuring all that out and one question concerns boat building technology, and specifically i include technology did that make any difference to the practice of naval sabotage on the rivers? so the ironclad technology is
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really going to be focused more on like the official boats that the us navy and the confederate navy are using that has not at this time period really transferred over to commercial steamboats and i think that may be part of one of the many reasons the boat winners are targeting commercial steamboats. they are just they're made out of wood. they're more neatly combustible and i have not come across any records of people talking about shifting the designs of steamboats. what we do see is especially in st. louis is calls for more protection and so they will actually start putting like curfews out for crews and when ships can leave poor or doc when they can't they'll be a call for more police and that would even include patrol boats as well as more police on the docks a heavier naval presence, so they're doing more of those types of protection than physically protecting the boats with iron. technology. i mean we have to remember while
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technically there are a few other instances of ironclad's pre-civil war. the civil war is really the first war where you see a massive rise in ironclad technology and ironclad's fighting one another so that's very new and innovative and it's gonna take a while before it would trickle down down outside of the military. it looks like we may have lost caroline. and so i'll continue with the questions and so somebody asked i think kind of picking up on the sultana example. were there other examples that actually did happen in your opinion where boats that were carrying wounded soldiers were targeted by these guys. oh, i have not come across. a whole lot of that it seems like if you look at the stats follow up 1863 and early 1864 or really the height of the boat
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burning instances. they really start to fade out into 65. it would not surprise me if there were access sabotage on other vessels of returning soldiers is specially if they if the boat runners got wind of that because they definitely are intentional and targeting boats. like i said, i found like a lot of the boats that they target you can find evidence of them carrying troops. there's one boat that gets like there are three different attempts to destroy it. so the fact that they keep going after this one steamboat again, i think suggests there's some intentionality of it. but the boat burning efforts really seem to fade as the war fades so we don't come across a lot of after war intentional evidence. i've kept looking i try to look at least until 1866, but i haven't been able to find any evidence doesn't mean it's didn't happen or didn't exist. but i haven't been able to confirm it yet. yeah. i think we're getting some cool
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questions about their status as gorillas and the way that boatburners are terming themselves, you know before the war and out or during the war and after the war and a question about, you know, can they can can they be seen as terrorists in our modern parlance? you know, how would we conceive of this relationship between boat burners and say the land warfare gorilla action that's going on particularly around, and with kirby smith. right. i definitely think the boat runners are an example of gorilla fighters. i think it's just they take it to the water as opposed to the land and that's one of my secret goals is to convince everybody that maritime matters and and what happens on the water has value and i did publish a piece an essay about this in a book about gorilla fighting. it's called the gorilla hunters. it's a series of essays it was edited by barton myers and brian d mcknight, and so i have
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successfully convinced other gorilla scholars that the boat burners count as a type of girl a fighters and i've kind of convinced them that we have to rethink the geography of gorilla warfare. at the time the term that the most often use is boat burners if they're referring to themselves newspapers use boat burners and cindiaries interchangeably naval gorillas is a more rare term but it does happen, especially in some of the the naval and military documents like at the top. it'll say naval gorillas on it. so they are starting to make that linkage that this is somehow a type of irregular warfare just one we haven't thought of and naval girl warfare is something that scholars are starting to explore in other time periods as well. the term terrorist doesn't exist yet in the civil war, but i think you could definitely consider them to be proto-terrorists, especially since we've got that old him letter where he's saying i want
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to invoke fear and tear and consternation. and so i think we can definitely consider them on a spectrum. not completely related to this question, but i think it helps relate to why we could sort of use that terminology is more recently and i think was 2014 there were actually some trials of some al-qaeda terrorists that in their amicia curie briefs referred to the trials of robert loudon and william murphy. so even in some modern day legal standings, there's some connections there. and so i think we're trying to use our modern day understandings we can use those terms like naval gorilla or terrorist just understanding that terraces in a term they would use and one question concerns the coal torpedoes and you showed us the image just fascinating design of a weapon. and so do you have any idea as
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to whether they were used in other contexts, you know, whether that be other wars or other kinds of fights. i know during the civil war they are also used to help destroy. locomotives then they're probably more often used on railroads than on. steamboats at the time. it's a relatively new technology and so it is kind of hard to get your hands on it, but there is kind of a greater network of confederate saboteurs that are trying to get their hands on the courtney torpedo. i have not actually looked at if similar explosive devices like the cold torpedo are used in later wars, but i think you can draw a line from like the core torpedo to like an ied today right something that's kind of disguised and and you don't know what's there until it it blows up. so i think there's definitely a continuum on the types of hidden explosive devices that are happening yeah, i'm not i'm not
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aware of them happening because remember the united states isn't gonna fight another major war until the spanish-american war and so you know, that's almost. what 30 years later and technology is dramatically changing. i haven't come across them using the cold torpedo there, but i suspect they were using other types of explosive devices. yeah, well, i guess somebody needs to write a history of the cold torpedo. what an amazing what? agreed actually to jump on that point and that question. someone was asking about the images that you're using to you know, how people depicted these explosions the sabotage are those romanticized images to your knowledge, or they pretty close to what it would have generally looked like given so most of them are contemporary newspapers that i was using so these were like as soon as the event was happening it's being reported on is is a lot of where
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those drawings are coming from. and so i think they're trying to be as accurate as possible. i think they don't really at the time to romanticize them and i think they're trying to highlight just how devastating and damaging they were but i know at least one was from franklin leslie, i think one was from harper's weekly. so almost all of the images where i have a boat exploding there was one exception to that almost all of them are happening almost instantane. lee when i talked about that first fire in new orleans, i don't have a picture of that so i pulled a picture that was made in the 1840s of when the saint louis fire happened because it was the best picture of a lot of boats on fire that i could find. but again that was contemporary to win the st. louis fire happened so i don't think they're romanticized is the short answer. so one one of the big themes of your talk, of course was the huge importance of the
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mississippi river to the civil war in general. and so we've got a couple of questions about that and one of them takes the approach of asking, you know since the mississippi river was so important. why were the confederates not kind of doing this every day? why wouldn't they burning all the boats? and another question asks, you know, what else were they doing after they had lost kind of official naval control of the mississippi river whether where there are other ways they were trying to regain that control. um, yes. so a lot of this boils down to technology capability and manpower right like if the mississippi was so important, why didn't the confederacy successfully defend it right part of it is the fact that they don't have a navy to start out with right. they have a bunch of sailors who resigned from the us navy and not a single boat. i like to say that they literally duct tape an 80 together. they're buying boats converting boats. i mean the memphis river
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defensively is like a hodgepodge boat series of crafts trying to find and so they didn't have that capability or shipped or manpower to defend the mississippi to begin with and i think that's why they resort to guerilla violence. other things that are happening along the mississippi river that are i think highlighting that effort to try to thwart control is we do see acts of conventional girl warfare. there are gorillas that are firing on to boats from shore. so they'll take their guns and they'll fire on boats and and they are successful at times and disrupting commerce upsetting frustrating people killing people. i don't count them because i like to think of the boat burners a different category, but there are acts of conventional gorilla warfare that's happening. and just thinking about some of the everyday actions of the confederate populace as their throwing us occupation, right?
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i always think of the women in new orleans who are disrespecting the us troops who are stationed there, right and butler has to issue his infamous women's order right general orders number 28, like if you don't behave and respect us, we're gonna treat you like prostitutes and and you know, essentially manhandle you so we're seeing acts of defiance by everyday people and that regard as well because they are resentful of the us occupation because they are frustrated by the us trying to control and occupy this this waterway and this region that has a lot of southern ties to it. so at the top i had those are some examples that i have other things that are going on, but overall the confederacy is suffering from just a lack of manpower a lack of technology and shifts, you know when we talk or in the civil war we often talk about it being asymmetric because the us is
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just so much stronger than the confederacy and that's why the confederates are more apt to pursue innovative and experimental things like the courtney topato like trying to establish a submarine. they're willing to take more risks as quite frankly. that's the only hope they have i am i lost some of the questions because i got kicked off at one point. there was a good one about gender paul. do you think you could find that? i believe it was from angela about the relationship for gender and boats. yeah, absolutely. so the gender of boats or the gender of the boat burners. oh and also the connection between the two i think and thinking about your theme of manhood among the owners versus the boats having feminine names and being referred to as she yeah the connections that so in the 19th century boats were feminized right? they were always referred to as she was in the early 2000s.
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i'm probably gonna get the year wrong. i think it was oh four, but don't quote me. there was actually like an international decision to stop referring to boats as feminine and they became gender neutral, but that's like our lifetime right the boat. stop being referred to as she and i do find this whole gender dynam. of boats fascinating the fact that they are she and yet their crews are pretty much exclusively mailed or captains or male right if we look at the us navy or the confederate navy. they're all male the boat burners are all male. so you have these men that are trying to wrestle control of these feminine entities, and that's an interesting juxtaposition. there is special as they're trying to essentially prove their strength and their manhood and our power and their control over these feminine entities. it's a fascinating juxtaposition. they don't talk as much about that as i would like so like it's an intuitive argument, but it's not always one that we have the evidence to make what's more
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apt is them describing the fact that what is the boat burners? they're trying to justify that what they're doing is in fact legitimate and manly that it's not somehow effeminate or weak or nefarious that they are legitimate men working on behalf of the confederacy. in terms of the boat burners themselves like i said, i keep trying to find a female boat burner. she does not seem to exist yet. but what i do know is that there are women that are part of the greater boat burning network. right and so like the bordello that robert loudon is found in when he's caught that i was owned by a woman. and kate i know that there were women that were visiting robert loudon in prison not his wife. his wife actually gets in trouble for mail running and she's been banished to the south and the confederacy at this time period loudon also refuses to tell his wife mary what he's up to because he's afraid she'll gossip and tell everyone.
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so other women are helping robert louder now, like they're feeding him. they're taking care of his laundry. and so we know that if we think of women often being the quarter masters of the irregular war and you know other historians have done a great job of targeting that i think that's true for the naval guerilla war as well that we're seeing the boat burners being supported by a greater network that includes women that are helping to support them supply them hide them away secret them. so if we look at the greater umbrella community women are definitely there they're just they don't seem to be setting fire to the votes although a lot of the fires happen in the lady's cabin and the women's cabin and so there's the possibility there. i just haven't proven it yet. wow, well, this is fascinating and i'm just really sorry that we're out of time now because i've enjoyed so much listening to you both the talk itself, but just the super responses to the
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questions. i want to thank the audience members for bringing such great questions to the table. i think that that promoted a really really interesting discussion after the lecture itself. so thanks to everyone for coming along tonight. i really appreciate you taking the time and i specially duck to davis for giving us such a wonderful talk and sharing her expertise. thank you and good night. hope to see you another event soon. learn more about the people and events that shape the civil war and reconstruction every saturday at 6pm eastern only on american history history tv here on c-span 3 american history tv on c-span 3 exploring the people and events that tell the american story every weekend. on sunday at 2pm eastern on oral histories us army veteran david vassar taylor reflects on his
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time serving as a clerk during the vietnam war and sunday at 8pm eastern on the presidency a look at newly elected presidents first address to a joint session of congress with president george w bush in 2001 and president barack obama in 2009 exploring the american story watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3 tonight on lectures in history american university professor joseph campbell teaches a class about what's known as the 1968 cronkite moment arguing that the impact of mr. cronkite's comments has been vastly overstated and is merely a media myth. here's a preview. cronkite closed his program that night his half hour special report with a pessimistic assessment a downbeat assessment saying the united states military effort was mired in stalemate in vietnam, and he suggested that in negotiated
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settlement might offer a way out down the road sometime. at the white house johnson, the president was supposedly watching the program and upon hearing cronkites remarks. he leans over and snaps off the television set and tells an aid or an aid. if i've lost cronkite, i've lost middle america. or something to that effect supposedly. this report by cronkite supposedly at least historian some of them in years later said it has it had the effect of shaking the nation. and that it's swung public opinion from favoring the war in vietnam to opposing it a dramatic shift caused by the cronkite program. other presumed effects were that according to david halberstam? in journalists a prominent american journalists who wrote the book the powers of b in 1979. halberstam writes in that book that cronkite's program about the war in vietnam marked the first time in american history
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that a war had been declared over. by an anchorman but what really happened that night? we know that johnson did not see the program when it aired. we know that public opinion had began shifting against the war in vietnam. well before cronkite's program. we know that stalemate. to characterize the warrants in vietnam as a stalemate was hardly a novel or original characterization in 1968. and we also know that version variability. which can be a marker of media myths. imbues the supposed reaction of the president watch the full program tonight at eight eastern 5pm pacific here on american history tv. next on american history tv jayne zanglein talks about her book the girl explorers the
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untold story of the globetrotting women who trekked flu and fought their way around the world. we hear the story of the early members of the society of women geographers. they founded the group after women were banned from male-dominated geography and explorer clubs the national archives foundation hosted this and provided the video. welcome to the national archives webinar on the girl explorers. i'm caroline also known as sophie torkildsen. i'm the president in 2021 of the society women's geographers, which is a great honor. and a little bit just about me is i'm a geographer cartographer. i have a gis background. i'm a dark sky proponent interested in astronomy. and i worked for several government agencies included in mostly natural resources, including the epa and the forest service and the peace corps and


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