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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

“Klan Condemned By Legion Post As Un-American: Endicott-Union Members Adopt Smashing Resolve Against Kluxers.”

By Richard White


This was the title of the Binghamton Press’ article on October 23, 1924 regarding the anti-Klan resolutions which were adopted the night before by American Legion Post 82. Endicott was a village adjoining the Town of Union along the Susquehanna River in the Southern Tier of New York, and Binghamton was the area’s major urban center. In the post-war era, the Legion and the K.K.K. differed dramatically on this country’s search for “100% Americanism.” In fact, it reached the floor at the Legion’s national convention in 1923 in San Francisco where Resolution 407—also called the "Michigan Resolution" --was adopted. As quoted in the November 16 issue, of The American Legion Weekly, it condemned “any individuals or organizations which create or force racial, religious or class strife among our people….” However, it deliberately did not mention the K.K.K. by name in order to
avoid a direct confrontation.

When Post 82 was organized in 1919, the “Invisible Empire” was growing nationwide but was not established in the village. In 1922, one year before the Klan formed a chapter, or klavern, in Endicott, the Post composed dramatic anti-Klan letter to its community which was addressed to the Village Board. According to a local newspaper, the News-Dispatch on December 7, the letter—which was read out loud by the Village President--- stated that the Post “stood firmly by true Americanism and declared itself opposed to the type of people who called themselves Americans and hid behind masks.” However, the Legion could not prevent the Klan from gaining a growing, and active, Klan affiliate in its hometown.

On February 20, 1923, the Endicott-Bulletin reviewed the establishment of the Klan in the village, noting that it was “enlisting members here with unremitting efforts….” Cross burnings on surrounding hills became common, as did fully robed Klansmen’s dramatic interruptions of Sunday services at selected churches to make donations. By August, 1924, the Klansmen felt strong enough to nominate two supporters to the Union-Endicott School Board which ended in a near riot, and defeat of the Klan supported nominees. By the early Fall, Post 82’s Commander Leslie Toft became determined to investigate any K.K.K. involvement within the Post. “The question of Klan influence…has been brewing for some time, and it was decided to bring it to a climax,” wrote Binghamton’s The Sun on October 23. The Commander planned to go beyond the Michigan Resolution and directly confront the local Invisible Empire.

Toft’s resolutions unleashed an attack against his Post’s adversary, declaring forcefully that ”…we condemn…as unchristian, un-American and contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Constitution… the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan…. Therefore, we condemn such societies as the Ku Klux Klan because we believe they would try and render fruitless all the sacrifices made for the further tolerance, brotherhood and respect for the law of God and man for which the Legion stands.” In fact, when the remains of African-American Private Kenneth O. Nelson—who was killed in action in the Argonne Forest—was returned to Endicott in 1921, Post 82 provided a funeral with military honors including a volley from its firing squad, and taps. (However, local black veterans were excluded from the area’s veterans’ organizations, and formed a separate unit named after Private Nelson in nearby Binghamton in 1924).

But how would Toft answer “the question of Klan influence” in the membership? For the 75 assembled members, there would be a “rising vote”—that is, a person must stand to register his approval of the resolution. The vote was overwhelmingly supportive—only three members did not stand. But while the klavern’s direct influence on Post 82 was small, it gained momentum over the next few months.

In February, 1925, there was a regional Klan convention, or klorero, in Endicott at which there were thousands of its robed followers. However, there was no need for the local American Legion to articulate its opposition to the Kluxers and their views because of Post 82’s “smashing resolve” in October, 1924. This action aptly illustrates Californian Charles Kendrick’s words at the convention in San Francisco as recorded in the November 9 issue of the Legion Weekly: “I do not favor the Legion actively combating such movements as the K.K.K. because to do that only tends to dignify them…This, however, does not prevent a forceful denunciation on the part of the Legion, and when this is done no further action should be taken.” In the early Twenties, Post 82 expressed forcefully its Americanism.



About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Samuel Blackwell: Sugar Refiner and Abolitionist

By Joelle Million

Of historical interest primarily as the father of pioneering physicians Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, Samuel Blackwell was a New York sugar refiner and abolitionist during the six years between his immigration to the United States in 1832 and his death in 1838. During that period, he operated his own small sugar refinery and briefly managed what was “said to be the most extensive sugar refinery in the city if not the country.”1 Bringing his ardent support for the abolition of slavery from his native England, he joined New York’s nascent anti-slavery movement, became an early member of its Vigilance Committee, and succeeded, according to his own account, in experiments to produce high-quality beet sugar, which he hoped would strike a significant blow to American slavery by undermining the profitability of slave-grown cane sugar. The establishment of a refinery to manufacture beet sugar, however, was halted by his untimely death at the age of forty-eight.

Midway through Blackwell’s New York residency, as the nation was moving toward the financial crisis that would become known as the Panic of 1837, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Blackwell and her twelve-year-old brother Sam began keeping diaries. It is primarily these diaries, supplemented by surviving contemporaneous correspondence and family records, that form the basis for understanding Blackwell family history and dynamics during this period. However, Samuel Blackwell was, as son Sam noted, “uncommunicative concerning his business affairs.”2 The children’s lack of knowledge and understanding of their father’s activities, as well as the subjectivity and incompleteness of what they recorded, have permitted scholars to make assumptions and draw conclusions about Samuel Blackwell that details in other sources, not easily discernable or accessible before the digital age, do not support.

Questionable interpretations include

— That although Blackwell had been a prosperous refiner in Bristol, his New York businesses failed, he incurred considerable debt, and he subjected his family to persistent financial insecurity, even poverty;

— That he suffered a moral conflict between his antislavery principles and a profession dependent upon slave labor, and therefore sought, or was open to, an avenue for leaving the profession; and

— That his interest in beet sugar led to no significant action or result.3

By filling in some of the holes in the puzzle of Blackwell’s business affairs, this paper attempts to clarify his intentions and the results of some of his ventures, thus presenting a basis for reviewing Blackwell’s influence on his family.

“Only God Can Make a Tree”
A History of Lewis County’s Hough Memorial Forest

By Mitch Fidler 

 
“Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree”. When American poet Joyce Kilmer penned these lines in February of 1913 he was no doubt inspired by the power and beauty of one of God’s greatest gifts to man. Since he wrote the poem at the family residence in Mahwah, New Jersey, scholars believe he was motivated by the well-wooded lawn of the family residence that overlooked the forested Ramapo Valley. The forests of the Black River Valley have likewise motivated people from Lewis County. The New York State Conservation Department entitled Martinsburg native Franklin B. Hough the Father of American Forestry. His son, Romeyn, published a fourteen volume masterwork , American Woods, a book that remains invaluable to silviculturalists. Lewis County’s first Forester, Castorland native Theodore P. Woolschlager, has done more than most, on the local level, to advance the importance of forests and to honor the memory and contributions of the Houghs. Ted Woolschlager was the driving force behind the creation of Lewis County’s Hough Memorial Forest

The elder Hough’s contributions to forestry are enormous and well known to many in the area. An 1843 graduate of Union College, Hough began publishing scientific writings shortly thereafter. He obtained his MD in 1848, but was drawn more to research and writing. By 1862 he had published histories of St. Lawrence, Franklin, Jefferson and Lewis counties. He returned to medicine as a surgeon for the 97th NY Infantry during the Civil War. In 1855 and 1865 Hough oversaw the compilation of the New York State census. This is where he noticed an alarming decline in the availability of timber in that ten year period. Hough then began to lobby Congress on the dangers of deforestation and to regulate the use of forests and establish forestry schools. His 650 page Report on Forestry (1877) was widely read and in 1881 the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Division of Forestry. Lewis County’s F.B. Hough was chosen to be the first United States Forester.

Hough’s second son, Romeyn Beck Hough, is also a noted student of botany and forestry. He obtained degrees from Cornell University and studied medicine at Columbia. Like his father he set aside the practice of medicine to be a writer. In 1888, three years after his father’s death, he published the first volume of tree studies titled American Woods. This work, totaling fourteen volumes and featuring twenty five trees each, is invaluable to botanists, technical schools, libraries and industry because it identifies properties, use and distribution of 354 varieties of trees in the U.S. and Canada. Hough provides three samples of each tree studied in the form of a wafer-thin, translucent slice. This slicing machine itself became so popular that a factory was built to produce them after Romeyn obtained his patent. R. B. Hough died at his summer cottage on Brantingham Lake in 1924. In 2009, appraiser Ken Sanders valued a complete set of American Woods at $30,000.

To honor the memory and contributions of the Houghs, Theodore P. Woolschlager planned the Hough Memorial Forest in New Bremen. Ted was Lewis County’s first Forester. He grew up on the family farm on the Merz road in Castorland. He graduated from Carthage High in 1913. He then attended one year of teacher training at a normal school and taught for two years in Castorland. He then enrolled in the college of Forestry at Syracuse University but was drafted in 1917 as the U.S. prepared for World War One. He served in the78th Infantry Division. He finished college in Syracuse in 1922 and began a twenty nine year career with the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture. His specialty was pathology where he studied tree diseases in New York and cartography where he created property maps so that regions could manage their forests now and in the future.

It is only in his retirement that Ted planned and carried out the creation of the Hough Memorial Forest in New Bremen. In 1958, Mr. Woolschlager had recently completed a project on picnic area with stunning views of water falls on Fish Creek as it tumbles towards the Black River. This popular 105 acre tract in the Town of Greig is known as Singing Waters. He then turned his attention to a 61 acre parcel then for sale as part of the Sam and Mary Kieffer estate located one mile east of the hamlet of New Bremen on St. Rt. 812. Theodore encouraged County leaders to purchase the aging sugar bush with the specific purpose of creating an arboretum and encouraging botanical study. This area would not be like Singing Waters with its 100 camp sites. This property would host forty two, one acre plots in checker board fashion each planted with a different tree species. Eventually there were sixty different varieties. The plots are labeled for study and observation. On many occasions Hough Forest has become an outdoor classroom for local schools and colleges. This focus on learning would certainly have delighted the Houghs.

Mr. Woolschlager called the memorial project an “experimental forest”. It consisted of native and introduced conifers and hardwoods. Most of the trees were grown from seed collected by the County Forester in seed beds at the Lowville State Nursery at Dadville. Some of the seeds were western varieties sent East by Woolschlager’s son, Hawley, a forester in Washington State. Other tree species came from exotic seeds collected by Ted. The first trees were planted in the fall of 1958. Visitors today can see labelled examples of sugar maple, soft maple, red oak, white oak, white pine, Austrian pine, white spruce, Norway spruce, black walnut, white ash, Japanese Larch, red cedar, elm, yellow poplar, white cedar, red pine, blue spruce, silver maple, black locust, Norwegian maple, Jack pine, hemlock, horse chestnut, butternut, yellow birch, white birch, gray birch, tamarack, Scotch pine, hickory, beech, Douglas Fir and balsam fir. The old sugar bush hardwood was thinned out in 1975, the balsam fir stands were selectively cut in the 1990’s and some of the red pine was harvested after falling over in 2004.

On July 1, 1963 dignitaries and citizens gathered to dedicate the arboretum to the memory Franklin and Romeyn Hough. Folks have enjoyed the scenic walking trails there ever since then. Later County Foresters have kept the significance of the forest alive, especially Randy Kerr. He wrote several articles about Ted Woolschlager’s efforts and organized work details at the site. In 1990, the County Highway Department built a gravel road leading into the forest and the County Historical Society assisted in the replacement of the identification signs. Some of the original signs can be seen at the Historical Society. This fitting tribute to Lewis County natives with a national impact remains a treasure to be enjoyed by all for generations to come.

Tentanda Via Est
An Episode of Yankee Ingenuity in Lewis County History

By Mitchell D. Fidler

“The way must be tried, or, in the Latin, “tentanda via est” is a phrase no doubt familiar to people who have faced the challenge of transforming nature’s resources to meet a particular human need. One could envision a Roman engineer uttering it while designing one of their magnificent public buildings; or even Edison as he experimented with over a hundred substances to find a suitable filament for the light bulb. Tentanda via est also appears on the coat of arms of the Family Wetmore. Residents of Northern New York may connect this family name to Lafayette Wetmore, one of its most industrious citizens. Time and time again, Mr. Wetmore applied his motto “tentanda via est” to dozens of enterprises during the economic development of nineteenth century Lewis County.

Before settling in the hamlet of Crystaldale in New Bremen Township, the Wetmore family lived in Hartford, Connecticut since the seventeenth century. Perhaps it was amidst this environment where the family acquired its sense of mechanical inquisitiveness that produced other notable New England inventors such as Eli Whitney, John Deere and Eliphalet Remington. Lafayette displayed his interest in mechanics at a young age. He turned his mother’s kitchen stove into a forge as a teenager. He helped erect a Baptist church in town before his twentieth birthday. He also demonstrated his level of industry as a young man. He obtained a thrashing machine and hired himself out in season. In the eighteen eighties he had built his own blacksmith shop in Crystaldale. His thrashing business created the opportunity to obtain his first patent in 1886. This document gave him complete control over the manufacture and sale of a “sheaf table and stand for thrashers”. This device allowed a person to stand on the machine safely and guide its operation and certified him as an inventor. At his shop in Crystaldale he also produced a portable sawmill. This structure was taken to Moose River Settlement in 1888 to construct the “Wooden Legged Railroad” to Minnehaha, near Old Forge. This enterprise was unique in so far as the 20-mile line was made entirely of wood. Lafayette Wetmore sawed the ties and rail from local forest products. There were many who believed an operation constructed in this fashion would not be successful, but it served the region for five years making two trips a day, one hundred fifty days per season. Surely, in this matter, Wetmore contemplated his family motto: “the way must be tried.”

Also in the 1880’s, Wetmore married, had children, became widowed and married again. Additionally, he changed his occupation from blacksmith to sawyer and moved his family to the Tug Hill town of Martinsburg. The blossoming of his business enterprises marked this period in his life. Between 1880 and 1902 Wetmore became a successful lumberman, eventually owning over 2,000 acres of forestland. Wetmore specialized in sawing barn beams. He maintained three logging camps and employed over ten men at his sawmill. In the nineties, as a mill town sprang up around his enterprises, Wetmore applied to Washington DC to have a post office erected thereby officially establishing the hamlet of Wetmore, NY. The next year he brought phone service to Wetmore when his workmen set poles and strung wire over the ten miles distance from Lowville. This certainly must have had an expediting effect on his business.

In the last few years of his time in Martinsburg, Lafayette developed perhaps his most crowning achievement. The Wetmore Electric Company was created in early 1898 when he purchased a coal-fired electrical generating facility near Lowville. Wetmore quickly realized that harnessing hydro power or white coal from the regions swift running rivers would be a far more efficient method of producing electricity. To that end, he built the Belfort Hydro-Electric Plant in the township of Croghan. This was the first hydroelectric facility in northern New York. Wetmore built a field stone powerhouse on the bank of the Beaver River in the hamlet of Belfort in which he placed a turbine capable of generating 400 kilowatts per hour. He then set poles and strung wires a distance of fourteen mile to Lowville where he was under contract to supply the village with electricity to operate their street lights. This transmission line was labeled the longest in the world for about one year. The field stone powerhouse is still in use and the original turbines were used until the nineteen forties. Wetmore’s son Deane managed this and the other power plants in the area for many years’ afterwards. Since then twelve other electricity-generating facilities have established along the Beaver River; imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

In 1902 after his electric company reached a solid footing, Wetmore moved his family to Lowville to engage in other business enterprises more closely associated with the development of forest products. While a son-in-law ran the sawmill in Martinsburg, Wetmore partnered with Steven Nevin to establish an iron works and to manufacture steel wood pulp machinery, slab barkers, centrifugal pumps and, his ever-famous Deer River Plow. To utilize wood products from his timberlands, Lafayette began another business in Lowville in 1905 by manufacturing what would be known as the Wetmore Folding Table. These were a compact but sturdy piece of furniture similar to a card table and included patentable features. They became very popular and, due to a contract with the S&H Green Stamp Company, were sold in every state in the U.S and overseas. To expand production and to overcome transportation difficulties, Wetmore built a new factory in Glenfield in 1907. The Glenfield and Western Railroad connected his sawmill in Martinsburg to the New York Central at Glenfield as there was no rail service from Martinsburg to Lowville. The same year he built the Otter Creek Power facility to provide electricity to his new Glenfield Manufacturing Company and the residents of Glenfield. The new plant was able to expand it production to include more variety of tables, furniture dowels and knitting mill bobbins. Wetmore moved his family into a new house at Glenfield in 1909, but he would not enjoy life there for a significant time as he died of pernicious anemia while doctoring in New York City in January 1910.

Most people would agree that at age 53 an inventive person had many more cards to play—many more “ways to be tried”. One of Wetmore’s ideas that never came to fruition was the construction of a monorail connecting the villages of Croghan to Lowville. Despite a shortened life, Lafayette Wetmore’s prolific inventiveness earns him a special place in the annals of Lewis County. As the region’s economy transforms itself in the 21st Century, entrepreneurs would be well advised to consider the Wetmore family maxim “tentanda via est”.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Dangerous Interlude: Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge’s Rebel Raid on Fort Saint George, November 23, 1780
and Culper, or The Spy

By Michael Mauro DeBonis

It is late November, in 1780. The City of New York and its adjacent territory of Long Island have been under total British military control since the autumn of 1776. It was then that British General Lord William Howe chased American General George Washington and his ragtag ranks of bluecoat battalions from the Isle of Manhattan and its neighboring vicinities of Staten Island and Long Island. Despite the rebel army being outgunned and out-manned by their British opponents, Washington skillfully flees from upper Manhattan north to Westchester County (Tallmadge, 13) by crossing the Harlem River, and he miraculously keeps most of his body of Continental troops intact.

Much of New York City mysteriously burned to cinders during the American withdrawal to the mainland (Rose, 35). But, one fact remains plainly glaring and undisputed… the principal portion of the British Army is in command of Manhattan and its suburbs, and Britain enforces its presence in these dominions with martial law (Rose, 47-48).

In spite of this humiliating defeat at the hands of the British, Washington and his Continental Army fight on. Between the end of December of 1776 and early January 1777, Washington defeats the British forces in the New Jersey Battles of Trenton and Princeton (Rose, 42). American morale is no longer depleted. Yet the American goal of independence in 1780 has not been achieved.

New York City is the headquarters of British Military Intelligence. And in order for Washington to defeat the British, he needs to be able to read his enemies’ minds. In the fall of 1778, he decides to create a spy network that will be first-rate and that will put all others to shame. It will be called the Culper Spy Ring (Rose, 75) and it will be operated from three locales: New York City, Connecticut and Setauket, Long Island.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From Riches to Rags: One man’s experience in the slums of New York

By Nell Darby

When you think of the emigrant experience in New York, and the reasons individuals had for coming to America in the 19th century, what do you think of? In England, the focus is on the poverty-stricken coming to the ‘new world’ to start again, to seek their fortunes, and to escape the miserable conditions of their old homes. Of course, the experience for many on reaching the ‘promised land’ was not what they hoped for; by the end of the 19th century, the Danish-born reporter and photographer Jacob Riis was talking to emigrants who now lived a wretched life in the slums of the Five Points area, only a step away from complete destitution. Many of these were immigrants, and their lives were lived on a day-to-day basis, wondering where the next meal was coming from. Riis noted the peripatetic nature of some families’ lives, shuttling between lodging house, police station and workhouse - where at least they knew they would get fed. Many of the area’s early immigrants had fled the famine that devastated so many lives in Ireland, and throughout the mid to late 19th century, a substantial proportion of the area’s residents continued to be either Irish-born or of Irish origin. These were people who had little left for them in their homeland, where poverty was what they had known before, and where America represented the possibility of improving themselves. These are the people who have been written about and studied. Yet one man left his home country as a middle-class, educated, 19-year-old, and ended up dying in New York as a destitute, drunken, broken man. His experience showed that America could break as many dreams as it made.

In 1856, the local newspapers in Oxford, England, recorded the death of an 83-year-old accountant, who had been active in local politics. John Harper was a Londoner by birth and ancestry, his family living in the same square as Dr Samuel Johnson, the creator of the modern English dictionary. He had a long life, dying at 83 years old, after breaking his leg. But what was significant about his death was that a reference was made in the death notices to ‘publish this in the Colonial newspapers’. This was the death of an elderly man who had spent his entire life in England; why was his family keen to ensure that the death was publicised overseas? The reason lay with his second son, John Ambrose Harper.

Harper family (credit: Nell Darby) – this image shows the author’s grandfather, John Harper, as a boy 
(front row) and behind, in the bow tie, is his father Seth. John Ambrose Harper was Seth’s uncle

New York State White Caps of 1905

by Richard White


“We have portrayed, in Motion Pictures, in a most vivid and realistic manner, the methods employed by the ‘White Caps’ to rid the community of undesirable citizens.” This was a statement from an advertisement in the New York Clipper on October 14, 1905 for a new movie called “The White Caps” which depicts graphically a husband’s drunken attack on his wife, and the tactics of these moral crusaders and nighttime raiders used to deter him from making another attack. Since the late 1800’s, this movement produced locally organized vigilante squads—usually men but on occasion women -- who wore white hoods when they operated outside of the law as shown in the movie. While the movie was art imitating life, the reality in New York in 1905 was that White Caps were actively engaged in missions of morality in the small towns of Darien Center, Rhinecliff, Penfield, and East Syracuse.

In the quiet hamlet of Darien Center in Genessee County in early February it appears that there were no White Cap operatives. The arrival of one or two families from Batavia prompted their quick formation. According to Batavia’s The Daily News on the 27th, the newcomers “were too lazy to work and were begging through the neighborhood.” On two occasions they were “white-capped,” or confronted in person, by the newly formed band, and “ordered to leave town.” Although these White Caps were recently organized, the movement’s methods were well-known, and the new people left in a hurry. This appears to be the only case of the year in which legal action was taken against the rioters. Two of them who were somehow recognized were “arraigned on a charge of riot” but were released when no one appeared to testify against them. A few months later another White Cap morality foray materialized in a Hudson Valley village.

In July in Rhinecliff in Dutchess County, a mob of White Caps was formed to deal with a wife-beater. The Rhinebeck Gazette observed on July 8 that “there comes a startling tale from Rhinecliff that the picturesque little station village has a band of ‘whitecaps’ duly and properly capped and all its own.” Their solution to this public shame was a beating of the man, Thomas McElroy. One week later, the newspaper published a letter that summed up the situation when the author wrote “Rhinecliff is noted for its peaceful and quiet citizens, and there is no danger of any person being molested in any manner if they behave themselves.” As usual, White Caps sought a solution outside of the law in the form of summary punishment as they would near Rochester in the Fall.

The White Caps of Penfield in Monroe County knew that Allen Decker had acted badly when he induced a married woman in late October to leave town with him—in fact, she brought along her two children. They went to Niagara Falls where Decker was arrested - apparently on a warrant from a judge in Penfield—on a charge of petit larceny for stealing the children’s clothes. Upon his return to face the judge he was fined and released. Vigilante justice awaited him on February 28 when the town’s White Caps dragged him out of the house where he hid. According to the Monroe County Mail, Allen suffered two humiliations. First, he received “a liberal coating of warm tar” (other sources indicate that feathers were then applied). Second, he was “conveyed to the village mill pond, where a rope was tied about his body to prevent his escape, and he was then thrown into the water and given a good sousing. Pulling him out of the water he was ordered to leave town and he obeyed the order with alacrity.” Within a matter of days in a small village in Onondaga County, there would be a reason for action by the self-appointed morals marauders.

In East Syracuse, there was one planned, and one unplanned, attack by the locale’s White Caps. Their intention was to thrash a husband for wife beating after he became indignant when she tried to dissuade him from seeing another woman. On November 9, The Syracuse Journal described how they gave Frederick John Smith a beating that “he will not likely soon to forget.” However, circumstances arose that spurred another beating when the “other woman,” Mrs. Clark Teft, became involved. Teft rushed to the scene carrying a club, and a few of the White Caps turned on her which resulted in “severe injury to her nose.” These brave, hooded men forcefully stoppeda woman from interfering with their operation.

In 1906, there was no sequel to “The White Caps,” although groups of them in real life continued their reign of terror in New York for a few more years. In August, for example, they covered a man with green paint and feathers due to his relationship with a married woman in East Syracuse. Other communities where they organized and operated that year include Jordan, Tonawanda, and Milton.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.