It's fair to say that Belle Boyd had a way with men. Given a choice between common sense and her version of things, men almost always leaned toward her version.
Case in point: the Fourth of July, 1861.
The Civil War was just a few months old. Boyd's father was off fighting, while Boyd and her mother remained in Martinsburg.
Then, on July 3, Union soldiers arrived, occupying the small Shenandoah Valley town. On the Fourth, a few of those soldiers set about replacing any of the town's Confederate flags with the Stars and Stripes.
Young Miss Boyd, then just seventeen, was aghast.
When they reached her home, she confronted the bluecoats. She stepped forward and said, "Men, every member of my household will die before that flag shall be raised over us."
According to Boyd's later recollection, one of the soldiers addressed her and her mother "in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive."
Miss Boyd promptly responded as only she could—
She drew a pistol and killed the man.
Naturally, the soldier's commander was outraged. He immediately convened an investigation into the shooting.
"He examined the witnesses, and inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality," Boyd later wrote, "and finally said"—
And here one imagines Boyd pausing, lifting her pen from the page and savoring the moment—
"that I had done perfectly right."
As you might imagine, Belle Boyd had been a strong-willed child. One story involved a dinner party her parents had forbade her from attending because she was too young. Belle refused to accept their decision—instead, riding into the dining room on horseback.
"Well, my horse is old enough, isn't he?" she declared.
There was something charming about such recklessness.
Although it's true—
That Union soldier, lying dead on the Fourth of July 1861, might not have thought so.
Either way, Boyd always managed to escape the consequences of her actions.
And that only emboldened her.
Union officials soon began monitoring her movements. So she used conversations with her minders to gather up detailed information on their movements. She then mailed that intelligence to Confederate commanders. After one such letter was intercepted, Boyd evaded punishment by feigning ignorance.
"Who me?" she said, even as she wooed her captors.
One Union soldier with whom she crossed paths was an Irishman. "I am indebted to him for some very remarkable effusions," she wrote, "some withered flowers, and last, not least, for a great deal of very important information, which was carefully transmitted to my countrymen."
Belle Boyd was nothing if not practical. She took what she had and put it toward the cause.
Still, there always was that flash of ego.
"I must avow the flowers and the poetry were comparatively useless in my eyes," she wrote in reference to the Irishman. "But let him be consoled. These were days of war, not of love, and there are still other ladies in the world besides the rebel spy."
The best spies, of course, are allergic to attention. They blend in and, when necessary, retreat into the shadows.
Belle Boyd found that difficult to do.
She herself tells the story of boldly riding into a Union camp, pretending to have been separated from her friends.
"I beg your pardon," she told one of the bluecoats. "My horse ran away with me, and has carried me within your lines. I am your captive, but I beg you will permit me to return."
The men ooh'd and ah'd at the sudden appearance of a lady. They commented on her beauty and gallantly offered to escort her back into the company of her friends.
"I had scarcely hoped," she replied, "for such an honor. I thought you would have given me a pass. But since you are so kind as to offer your services in person …"
Off they went then—
Right into the ambush she had arranged.
Her friends, it seems, were Confederate cavalrymen.
Her Union escorts, now prisoners of war, shot bewildered looks at their captors.
"Who, pray tell, is the lady?" they asked.
"Belle Boyd, at your service," Boyd replied.
"Good God! The rebel spy!"
And so the sun shone brightly on Belle Boyd.
In the years that followed, Boyd acted as a courier between a number of Confederate commanders. And she credited herself with contributing to at least one victory in Stonewall Jackson's storied Valley Campaign. The general rewarded her with an appointment as his honorary aide-de-camp.
Her run-ins with the enemy occurred more frequently, however, and she spent time in various Union prisons.
The famous spy found the "famous" part of her job to be easier and easier. The "spy" part, however, became well nigh impossible.
In 1864, Boyd volunteered to carry Confederate papers to England aboard the blockade runner Greyhound. The ship was stopped on May 10, but Boyd managed to escape—
First to Canada and then to London.
Then, remarkably, on August 25, she married Samuel W. Hardinge, a Union naval officer on the ship that had seized the Greyhound.
In her memoir, Boyd recalls the two sitting alone on the USS Connecticut—
The moon washing the sky with its light—
And Lieutenant Hardinge quoting from Byron and Shakespeare.
"A very practical thought flitted through my brain," Boyd later wrote. "If he felt all that he professed to feel for me, he might in future be useful to us."
The waves quietly lapped against the ship—
And the sky, she wrote, "looked like one vast bed of sparkling diamonds."
Perhaps Belle Boyd loved young Samuel Hardinge, perhaps not. Whatever the case, it's hard to know how marrying him could have been much help to the Confederate cause. It did help Belle Boyd, however. In reporting on her marriage, the Liverpool Post described her as heroic—
A modern-day Joan of Arc.
Not only had she won the enemy's amorous devotion, she had succeeded in prying him away from his allegiance to the United States flag.
If anyone was the Secesh Cleopatra, it was Belle Boyd.
Let all the world know.
And all the world did know. That was the problem.
The United States government quickly charged Lieutenant Hardinge with aiding and abetting an enemy spy. And when he returned home, sans wife, to answer those charges, he was arrested and jailed.
Shortly after his release, he died.
Or did he?
"The end of the Hardinge marriage, and, indeed, the end of Hardinge himself are shrouded in mystery," one historian has noted.
Boyd claimed that he never rejoined her abroad, but some have wondered.
Perhaps he was just a lot better at being a spy than she was.
In London, Boyd gave birth to a daughter—
She wrote a two-volume memoir in order to pay the bills—
And she turned to acting.
It was a suitable profession for her, but it came with a certain irony. While touring the United States, she often found her identity questioned.
Belle Boyd imitators, it seems, were common.
When a little anonymity might have helped her, Boyd couldn't help but seek out the spotlight. Now, when the spotlight awaited her, she had trouble convincing anyone she was the real deal.
You see, Belle Boyd doubters were pretty common, too.
Until very recently, most historians dismissed her memoir as unreliable. A few scholars—and these were invariably men—even accused her of being ugly.
In one particularly egregious example, a historian notes that "she looked rather like one of those horses she rode so perfectly—a long face, a very long nose, and prominent teeth."
If she had a "fine figure," he writes, it was only because the reality was hidden under the "yards and yards of drapery" that covered women in those days.
What purpose does an ugly Belle Boyd serve?
Maybe it absolves all those men of having fallen under her spell—
Of having been transfixed by the Siren of the Shenandoah.
She was a witch, after all. A master of the dark arts of deceit.
Today's historians have concluded differently. More than one has pronounced her memoir largely accurate.
They were the work, they tell us, of a spy who never much liked the cold.
A spy who embellished, flattered, and flirted—
But in the end could never quite lie.
A short epilogue here. You'll recall the historian who said that the end of the Hardinge marriage, and indeed the end of Hardinge himself are shrouded in mystery. What does that mean?
The historian Drew Gilpin Faust—whom you might recognize as also being the president of Harvard University—has noted that some scholars believe Hardinge slipped away and rejoined Belle abroad.
But there's another story that has surfaced. It involves this man, the novelist Charles Warren Stoddard. He was a native of New York, but his family moved to San Francisco when Stoddard was eleven. He worked as a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, traveled all over the world—he had a particular fondness for Polynesia—and later taught English literature at Notre Dame and then at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
He resigned both positions because, his biographer explains, he was gay and found the church inhospitable to this part of his identity.
Let's turn now to his biographer, Roger Austen, who writes:
The last chapters of "Hearts of Oak," along with the early chapters of the autobiographical novel For the Pleasure of His Company, provide a glimpse into Stoddard's Bohemian affairs at the this time. Of special interest in the latter is the story of Paul Clitheroe's romantic fling with a mysterious young man named Foxlair, whose real-life model was Samuel Hardinge.
Austen continues by noting that a biographer of Belle Boyd tells of how Hardinge was eager to rejoin his wife in England but never did. He must have died in the attempt—that's how the story goes. But no, says Austen. Hardinge was in San Francisco about this time.
In her memoir, Belle Boyd describes Hardinge was refined and magnetic. In Stoddard's novel, Foxlair is the same. He's also described as having "been a Rebel Spy, or the husband of a Rebel Spy, and a privateersman in the Spanish Main."
The biographer Austen writes that "in real life, Hardinge apparently left the Bay Area as mysteriously as he had arrived. After an exposé was printed in one of the dailies, the 'Prince of Frauds' vanished, taking with him a piece of Stoddard's heart—and some of his clothes as well!"
It was before dawn on the morning of July 30, 1864. Most Confederate troops outside of Petersburg, Virginia, were fast asleep. On the other side of the siege lines, however, Henry Pleasants was not only wide awake but concerned. A lieutenant colonel from a mining district in Pennsylvania, he had crawled hundreds of feet into a tunnel that he'd helped to dig and then lit a fuse. The flame would travel far under enemy lines and detonate four tons of gunpowder packed into 320 kegs.
That was the plan, anyway.
Colonel Pleasants checked his watch. Fifteen minutes gone and still only silence.
He rounded up two volunteers to go see what was wrong. Lanterns in hand, they crept into the tunnel and discovered that the fuse had gone out. Upon relighting it, they made a dash for the tunnel's entrance.
Then, at exactly 4:44 a.m., it happened. The ground heaved and lifted—
And according to some Michigan soldiers "a monstrous tongue of flame shot fully 200 feet in the air, followed by a vast column of white smoke."
The rising earth made a fountain that "mingled men and guns, timbers and planks, and every other kind of debris."
278 Confederates—mostly from South Carolina and Virginia—died instantly. And a giant crater was opened up in the ground where moments earlier they had been sleeping.
Pleasants put his watch back in his pocket and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The two armies had been camped on the outskirts of Petersburg for about six weeks. If the city fell, then likely so too would the nearby Confederate capital at Richmond. The stakes were high, then, and the battles leading up to this standoff—
At the Wilderness—
At Spotsylvania Court House—
And at Cold Harbor—
Had been bloody beyond comprehension. In its fourth summer now, the whole war was beginning to feel like that.
Nobody wanted a long siege. Not least the editors of the Richmond Examiner.
On June 21, they wrote an article encouraging the Union general Ulysses S. Grant to "plunge with his whole force into the crater of the volcano and make an end to it—Let not the campaign linger."
That was more than a month before Colonel Pleasants and his boss General Grant did exactly that.
One might comment on this amazing moment of accidental prescience. But this, too, is worth noting:
Be careful what you wish for.
The digging took about a month. In the meantime, the generals set about making a battle plan. Ambrose Burnside suggested that after the explosion he should send in his freshest men—a division of black troops. His superiors decided no, that wouldn't work. They said the black troops were untested, which they were. But there was another reason. Grant worried that if there were a massacre, and the black troops went in first, it might look bad.
Burnside was not impressed with this reasoning, but he complied. His remaining commanders drew straws to see whose men would go first. The short straw went to James H. Ledlie. The New York railroad engineer had seen his share of fighting, but some folks whispered that he had a drinking problem.
On the morning of the battle, he lined his men up and readied for the big bang. But when it came, General Ledlie—or rather his men—made a huge mistake. The crater that had opened up was 170 feet long, 60 feet across, and 30 feet deep. Rather than march around it, Ledlie's men marched into it. There, they discovered that the earth had fallen back into the Crater and become a mash. It trapped the struggling Union soldiers inside.
So where was General Ledlie—
When he might have been directing his men around the giant hole or helping them get out of it?
Where was he as his men became fish in the proverbial barrel?
He was well behind the lines, snug inside a bunker and sipping a bottle of rum.
By the way, yes it's true. Ledlie's boss Ambrose Burnside had some serious sideburns.
I think it's also fair to call him one of the unluckiest generals of the entire Civil War—at least among those who got away without a scratch. Before the war, he patented a rifle that eventually became really popular but only after he went bankrupt. He then went to work at the Illinois Central railroad for George McClellan. The company's lawyer was Abraham Lincoln by the way. And McClellan's wife—she had been proposed to by one of the Confederate generals outside Petersburg, A. P. Hill. McClellan was the bright star, Burnside and everyone else a little dim by comparison.
Anyway, it was awkward when, during the war, Lincoln fired Burnside's old boss McClellan and put him, Burnside, in charge of the Union Army of the Potomac. Even worse, Burnside nearly destroyed that army in his crushing defeat at Fredericksburg. Pretty much everything Burnside touched turned bad, the Battle of Fredericksburg being the worst of it. The Crater came in only a close second.
After the war, though, he became the first president of the Union veterans' group the Grand Army of the Republic and the first president of the National Rifle Association.
The day was a scorcher, and a mist of humidity and smoke hung over the hole. Inside, one New York soldier tripped over the naked bodies of those South Carolina boys originally killed by the explosion. He later wrote that he was on his way to what appeared to be a long line of Union soldiers waiting for the command to move forward.
Then, to his horror, he realized they were all dead.
General Burnside sent in his black troops. They had never seen combat before and plunged into the fight crying, "Remember Fort Pillow!" That was a reference to a battle in Tennessee in which black troops had been murdered by their Confederate captors. Their cheer may have inspired more than they intended.
Virginia men arrived to reinforce the Confederate line. When they saw black soldiers in the crater, they took it as an ugly provocation. One officer yelled, "Boys, you have hot work ahead; they are negroes and show no quarter."
Black troops who tried to surrender were not always spared. And those who were captured were sometimes murdered.
One Confederate officer, whose cousin had been blown up in the initial explosion, wrote a letter to his sister. He said that yes, it might seem cruel to murder the black soldiers in cold blood. But it was good for morale. "I have always said that I wished the enemy would bring some negroes against this army," he wrote. "I am convinced, since Saturday's fight, that it has a splendid effect on our men."
The general in charge of the Virginia troops was William "Little Billy" Mahone. He was a railroad tycoon from Southampton County. And he really was little. One historian describes him as "small and lean as a starvation year." Another as "short in stature, spare almost to emaciation, with a long beard, and keen, restless eyes."
A quick note about Mahone. First of all, he may look kind of typical here for a Confederate general, with his long beard and fancy coat. It's his fierce look. But before the war—he had amazing hair. And what a jaw! He was a dead-ringer for Hugh Grant if you ask me.
With those looks he caught the attention of Miss Otelia Butler, and the couple were married in 1855. While Mahone worked for the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, Otelia liked to read novels. And according to local lore, a number of towns along the railroad—including Ivor and Waverly—were named by Otelia because she was reading the adventure novel Ivanhoe at the time. The town of Disputanta purportedly received its name when the couple could not agree on what to call it.
Anyway, that was all before the war. Now he was fierce Little Billy. And on this hot, bloody, and victorious day he looked around and what he saw was chaos and poor discipline.
One of Mahone's soldiers described the scene in a letter to his brother.
We captured 250 Negroes, all of whom were wounded in some way: Bayoneted, knocked on the head by the butts of muskets. All would have been killed had it not been for General Mahone, who would beg our men to spare them. One fellow in our brigade killed several. The general told him for god's sake stop. Well, General, let me kill one more. He then deliberately took out his pocket knife and cut one's throat.
It was a particularly savage end to a particularly savage day. Nowadays people argue over whether the Civil War was caused by slavery. And many point out that soldiers on both sides fought for causes other than emancipation. Which is true. But at least one historian has argued that Billy Mahone's Virginians saw black soldiers inside the Crater and treated them like they would have slaves in revolt. They were not in their proper place and they would be dealt with accordingly.
Meanwhile, over on the losing side of the battle, fingers pointed in pretty much every direction. One general blamed the black troops. Burnside blamed his superiors for not letting him put the black troops in sooner. Pretty much everyone else blamed Burnside. Oh, and Ledlie, too. They both were given leave with no orders to return.
The only person to come out looking smart was Henry Pleasants, the miner. His idea for a long tunnel had been ridiculed by the army's professional engineers, who called it "claptrap and nonsense." He showed them, and he came out of it with a nice promotion. After the war Pleasants continued his mining but he died suddenly in 1880, at the age of forty-seven. The papers said only that he had suffered from a mental aberration.
As for his mine—
It had produced the largest explosion in the Western Hemisphere up to that point—
And yet by day's end it had accomplished very little.
In July 1864 a lot of folks might have used those terms to describe the entire war.
So one of the things I've been interested in this entire class is being able to find this stuff in the landscape. You can find the Founding Fathers but it's much more difficult to find traces of slavery. You can definitely find the Civil War but what about what came next?
First here's a map so we can get our bearings. Petersburg is over here, just south of Richmond. It was so critical at the end of the war because it was all that stood between Grant and the Confederate capital. And since the start, the assumption on both sides was that when Richmond fell, the war all but ended. So Grant laid siege to the city for nearly ten months before finally breaking through at the beginning of April 1865.
You can go to the Petersburg National Battlefield Park today and walk around and find the trenches that once ringed the city, World War I-fashion. And you can find the mineshaft and the crater itself. It's all there for you to contemplate. Although you can't contemplate via Google Street View because the National Park Service will not let us do that on their property. Which is neither here nor there.
Back to the end of the war.
As expected, Richmond fell immediately. The next day in fact. And Lee's army retreated to the west, following the South Side Railroad to Farmville and over this structure …
The High Bridge, which spanned the Appomattox River. Lee's failure to cross the bridge and then successfully burn it down before Union armies caught with him resulted, in no small part, in his decision to surrender at Appomattox Court House.
In the meantime, I pause at this bridge …
Because of how amazing it was. I mean it really was high up, overlooking the whole region. And this Civil War–era photo has such a creepy vibe, I think.
Which may be why it was used in the logo of this television production company, High Bridge Productions. It was founded by Vince Gilligan, a native of Farmville.
And if you don't recognize the company, you'll probably recognize the shows Gilligan has produced:
The X-Files and Breaking Bad.
It's the site of a state park today, although no more train tracks. There's just a walking bridge.
So—Lee screwed up at High Bridge and ended up surrendering, as we all know, at Appomattox. That was just his army, though. There were other armies in the field and the Confederate government, quite apart from its military, went on to Danville.
It was a pretty remote place down there, which is why the Confederates housed a lot of prisoners there. Danville had a population of about 3,500 in 1860 but had emerged as the capital of the vast leaf-tobacco empire of Southside Virginia. Of course, the North was a big market for such tobacco, and economic connections being what they were, many in Danville actually opposed secession.
But like many other reluctant Confederates, most of them soon got in line, and the town spent the war hosting hospital patients and prisoners.
President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet arrived in town on the evening of April 3. The president stayed in the homes of Major W. T. Sutherlin and his wife, and years later, on the occasion of Davis's death, the wife offered up a really treacly remembrance for the papers. There were lots of tears, etc., as Davis was forced to move on again after a week.
And because we're talking about what's left of these days that we can find in the landscape …
The Sutherlin House is still there and is the home of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History.
Not everything you might hope to find in Danville is still there however. Just a few blocks away, on Main Street in downtown Danville, you'll find this piece of sidewalk and empty storefront—
This is where we make the shift from the war to everything after.
It's November 3, 1883, about 1:30 in the afternoon, and Charles D. Noel, a white clerk in his late twenties, was walking down Main Street. Right here, although back then the sidewalks were wood-planked and raised up quite a bit from the street.
He was walking in front of the H. D. Guerrant and Company store when he passed two African American men, tripping over the feet of one of them.
Noel turned to one of them and said, "Hey, what did you do that for?"
The man he confronted was Hense Lawson, a bartender in his early twenties. He took offense at Noel's tone.
"I was just getting out of the way," he said, "and a white lady at that!"
Noel decided at that moment to back off. He mumbled that it was all right—
But that, apparently, set off Hense's companion, a young man named Davis Lewellyn. He shouted that it didn't matter whether it was all right because his friend hadn't done anything wrong.
All of this is how Noel later told the story. Hense Lawson's version was a little different. When he and Noel bumped into each other, he told the white man "Excuse me" and was greeted with a string of racial epithets.
Whatever happened, all of the men involved agree about what happened next:
Noel took a swing at Lawson, hitting him. And Lawson and Lewellyn knocked Noel off the sidewalk and into the gutter before running off.
This is all pretty run of the mill up to this point, except—
Well, except for everything else:
The day it happened and the place it happened and who was involved. What led up to it and what came after.
Put it all together and this was one of the most significant two-minute street tussles in the history of Virginia.
And as you can see, there's nothing here to tell this story but an empty storefront.
The day it happened, the place it happened, and who was involved. What led up to it, etc.
To understand what I'm talking about you need to know about something called the Readjuster Party. The party came to power in 1879, winning both houses of the General Assembly on a platform that called for "readjusting" what Virginia owed on its massive pre-war debt. It's complicated, but the upshot is that Conservatives felt that the only honorable thing to do was to pay every penny of the debt, even if that meant defunding things like public schools.
The Readjuster Party sought to find ways around paying every penny in order to maintain what they saw as essential services—such as the schools.
That's not what's important here, though. What's important is that the Readjusters were a coalition—
Of Democrats and Republicans, of farmers and working men, of whites and—most importantly for our purposes—of African Americans.
Two years after taking over the General Assembly, the Readjusters captured all statewide offices and placed one of their own in the United States Senate.
Who would that be, you ask?
None other than our old friend Little Billy Mahone.
You might say, Hey wait a minute. How does someone go from presiding over the brutal massacre of African American troops to presiding over a political coalition that courts their support?
I honestly don't know. It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say he presided over what happened at the Crater. As we've seen, evidence suggests that he tried to stop it. But there's also no evidence that he disapproved on principle, or that he disapproved of slavery, or that he had any great respect for African Americans or their political aspirations.
I think he saw an opportunity and he took it.
Danville, meanwhile, was in some respects ground zero of the Readjuster movement. The city had grown quite a bit since President Davis had tearfully departed back in 1865 and its African Americans accounted for a majority of the population.
In 1882, the Readjusters won 8 out of the city's 12 council seats, with blacks taking 3 of those 8.
Think about it this way: In less than twenty years, African Americans went from being enslaved—to being, quite literally, as we talked about last week, commodities—
To now sitting in the city council. And the police force now had a few black members and the city market, once the sole province of whites, had now largely been taken over by black vendors.
White anxiety was through the roof. Incidents involving guns had gone way up over the summer of 1883. And there was lots of talk of black "insolence."
Which is to say, African Americans not deferring to whites—in either speech or action. Some African Americans had taken to reserving words such as "gentleman" and "lady" only for their fellow blacks. And others had refused to give way to whites on the sidewalks.
So the incident on the street—that was November 3, 1883. A month earlier a group of white merchants in Danville lent their names to a broadside titled "Coalition Rule in Danville." It has come to be known as the Danville Circular, and it made the rounds throughout the state. This copy, you might be able to see, ran in the Staunton Vindicator.
It gave perfect voice to the tensions in Danville and the white anxiety that were both a cause and effect.
We, the undersigned, of the merchants and manufacturers and mechanics of the town of Danville, Va., earnestly request that you will permit us to lay before you a few facts from which you can form some idea of the injustice and humiliation to which our white people have been subjected and are daily undergoing by the domination and misrule of the radical or negro party, now in absolute power in our town, and under the leadership of William Mahone, seeking to extend and perpetuate its power all over the Commonwealth.
The circular went on to complain about unfair taxes, gerrymandered districts, carpetbagger politicians, black policemen—four out of nine officers, as it happens—and those stalls in the market.
The market, once occupied in all its stalls by polite white gentlemen, with their clean white aprons, and the most inticing meats and vegetables upon their boards, is now the scene of filth, stench, crowds of loitering and idle negroes, drunkenness, obscene language, and petit thieves.
One could go on, but you get the idea. These sorts of stereotypes are holdovers from slavery days. And it is slavery days that the whites of Danville seem to miss, quite frankly. If only because the hierarchy made more sense then.
The world is easier to navigate when you are in charge.
Change is hard!
So the Danville Circular was circulating and creating controversy when the local Readjusters decided to respond. The white chairman of the party stood on a street corner the evening of November 2 and denounced the broadside.
It was full of lies, he said. And its signatories were scoundrels and cowards.
According to a newspaperman taking it all down, a crowd of negroes applauded.
If only he hadn't have made that speech, many said later.
The next day was November 3. Charles Noel and Hense Lawson bump into each other. Davis Lewellyn may or may not have shot off his mouth, but Noel definitely started the fight and Hense just as definitely finished it.
At which point Noel picked himself up, brushed himself off, walked over to the Opera House, where the local Democrats had been meeting all morning preparing a longwinded response to the Readjusters' response to their Circular.
At the Opera House Noel found a couple buddies and set off in search of the black men. When they found them, it was Noel—again by his own admission—who swung first.
At this point, a crowd of black people from the nearby market began to gather and Noel's buddies drew pistols and told them to stand back. Hense Lawson said a racial epithet was used, possibly aggravating everyone involved.
At this point, a black police officer arrived on the scene and did his best to break up the fight. He had done that pretty much when a black man snatched one of Noel's buddies—a fellow named George Lea—off the sidewalk and threw him into the gutter.
Stories get crossed here, but he may have been trying to get the pistol from Lea.
Whatever the case, George Lea raised himself out of the gutter and shot.
Luckily he missed.
As you can imagine, things started getting out of hand. More and more African Americans began crowding around. And various armed white men showed up, too. Some of them began ordering the black policeman to clear the street of African Americans. The policeman remembered hearing racial epithets. George Lea, the one whose gun had just gone off, had been pretty bossy with that same policeman earlier.
Later, before a Congressional committee, he explained why: "Well, we generally speak that way to that class of people down there. We are in the habit of ordering them. I would not speak to them in the same way I would speak to a white man."
Some blacks wanted Charles Lea to be arrested for carrying a concealed weapon while a white police officer urged everyone to just go home.
Then two things happened at once.
A white man named Walter Holland stepped off the sidewalk toward one of the policemen.
And several other white men, including George Lea, raised their pistols and fired.
When the smoke cleared, Holland and three black men lay dead in the street. A fourth black man later died of his wounds.
Witnesses testified that the mob then went in search of any black men they could find, shooting at least one in the street. As it happens, he was the black policeman's brother.
As dusk came, the streets finally cleared, helped along by Danville's all-white militia. Against the urgings of the mayor, militiamen organized armed patrols to keep the streets clear of African Americans for the next several days.
Democrats, meanwhile, spread news of the violence and blamed it on Danville's blacks.
Spread it how?
The Lynchburg News was pretty typical. The editors wrote:
"Inflamed and crazed by the diabolical speeches which have been addressed to them by the Mahone Nihilists, the negroes have precipitated the bloody issue, and the whites have been forced to meet it with arms in their hands."
The Richmond Daily Dispatch was equally blunt:
"These negroes [in Danville] had evidently come to regard themselves as in some sort the rightful rulers of the town," the paper's editor wrote. "They have been taught a lesson—a dear lesson, it is true … but nevertheless a lesson which will not be lost upon them, nor upon their race elsewhere in Virginia."
I said earlier that change is hard.
Last week I mentioned how difficult it is to wrap our minds around the idea of, let alone the reality of, slavery in Virginia. But now wrap your mind around that 230-year-old Virginia institution—one that fueled the economy and lent order to politics and society—disappearing pretty much overnight.
It was a social disruption on scales never before seen in the United States.
And what so many anxious whites sought to do—through whatever means they could find—
Which is to say politics, violence, whatever—
Was not to invent a new social and political order, one that firmly and fairly acknowledged the new reality—
No, instead they sought to reassert the old order as much as they could under these strange new constitutional restraints.
And you know what? It worked!
That fight on Main Street in Danville, which left a handful of men dead, took place on Saturday, November 3. On Tuesday was the election.
Few black people turned out in Danville, with some saying they feared for their lives if they did.
Whites, meanwhile, turned out in droves across the state, in part fueled by what they were reading in the papers.
The Democrats won a large majority in the General Assembly and within two years had recaptured all statewide offices. The Readjuster Party had ceased to exist
And what better way to welcome back the old order than by electing as governor a former Confederate general and Robert E. Lee's nephew?
Fitzhugh Lee. Or Fitz. Fitz-you, apparently.
That's him on a turn-of-the-century tobacco label.
With the Readjusters gone, that left only the Republican Party as a check on the Democratic Party's power.
So chew on this:
No Republican won statewide office in Virginia between 1881 and 1969.
It would be simplifying things to say that this was a direct result of a street fight in Danville. But it wouldn't be simplifying them that much.
As for Mahone, he lost his seat in the Senate. Then ran for governor and lost. He retired to D.C. and got involved in some investment schemes, most of which also failed. He died in 1895.
Here he is at a reunion of soldiers who fought at the Crater. Remarkably, these are Union veterans he's posing with. And his white beard, if you don't mind my saying, looks magnificent.
So I promised myself that I wouldn't end this week's class like last week's, on such a dark note. So I want to fast forward—
If not all the way to 1969, then close to it.
LOVING v. VIRGINIA
Because if you don't know the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, then you should. And if you do know it, well, it never hurts to be reminded. Especially when a film based on their marriage will be released in just a few weeks.
It begins in a place called Central Point, Virginia. That's in Caroline County, which you may recall as having been ground zero of Gabriel's Conspiracy.
At least in the twentieth century Caroline County has a reputation as a place where blacks and whites live in harmony. There's a lot of mixing …
And as you can see here, the intersection nearest the church in town marks Passing Road. The locals suggest that this indeed is a reference to light-skinned blacks passing for white.
Whatever the case, this is where the story begins, in Central Point, in mid-July 1958. That's when, in the middle of the night, the local sheriff and two deputies entered the home of a married couple.
They asked the husband, Richard Loving, who he was sleeping with. "I'm his wife," Mildred Loving responded.
"Not here you're not," the sheriff replied, and took them both to jail at nearby Bowling Green.
Richard, who was white, was released after one night on a bond of $1,000—
But Mildred—who was part African American and part Virginia Indian—was kept for several days and according to her later recollection threatened with rape.
They appeared in court on January 6, 1959. They had violated a Virginia law that prohibited leaving Virginia to obtain a marriage that was illegal in Virginia and then returning to live as a married couple.
Interracial marriage had been illegal in Virginia since 1691—although it's important to note that not all interracial marriages were against the law.
Only those marriages between whites and non-whites. Blacks could marry Indians, Virginia Indians could marry Asians … whatever.
That's because the point of the law was what they used to call race preservation. The point was to prevent mixing. To prevent exactly the sort of thing that happened a lot in Caroline County and led to folks who could, like the street sign said, pass.
And what was the point of preventing race mixing? I know the idea today is to avoid talking about slavery, but one of my points is that we can't, I guess. Because the point of such racial laws, obviously, is to preserve a social hierarchy that was first established by slavery.
Anyway, so the Lovings appeared in court on January 6, 1959, and after flirting with a not-guilty plea, they both pled guilty.
The judge, Leon M. Bazile, gave them each a one-year suspended sentence provided—
And you can read it right here—
That both accused leave Caroline County and the state of Virginia at once and do not return together or at the same time to said county and state for a period of twenty-five years.
They were banished!
After paying their court costs—$36.29 each—they moved to Washington, D.C. They lived at 1151 Neal Street NE—or what is now this empty lot—with Mildred's cousins.
They had three children, and for at least two of them, Mildred returned to Central Point for the births. Which meant that Richard could not come, too.
After five years of this—of living apart from their friends and family and the only home they had ever known—
They wrote a letter to the attorney general, who referred the case to two civil rights lawyers: Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop.
As it happens, because the original sentence was suspended, the case was still under the jurisdiction of that original judge, Leon Bazile.
So the Lovings' lawyers filed a motion in November 1963 to vacate the case.
It was risky because all Bazile had to do was agree to reopen the case and then essentially un-suspend their original sentences. For that matter, he could have given them up to five years each. And because they had originally pled guilty, they would have no right to appeal.
Ah, but they were good lawyers and they knew with whom they were dealing. Bazile was not going to give anyone involved the satisfaction of vacating the original sentence. Instead, he issued a ruling that almost made-to-order for a Supreme Court appeal.
For Judge Bazile, the point was not simply that the Lovings had broken Virginia law and pled guilty. There was something larger at stake, as he wrote:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races show that he did not intend for the races to mix.
Now, suddenly, the Lovings' lawyers had a ruling they could appeal, and they did.
They took it to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which upheld their conviction.
They then went to the United States Supreme Court.
Oral arguments were heard on April 10, 1967, and this is my favorite part. Who am I kidding? This is everybody's favorite part. One scholar even used it as the title of his book on the case.
But what I love is the way Bernard Cohen is deep into the legal mumbo-jumbo here. I mean, who knows what he's talking about. And then all of a sudden the reality of everything, the high stakes of this case, just pokes through. Almost by accident, but it's so powerful.
The enormity of the injustices involved under this statute is—merely serves as indicia of how the civil liabilities amount to a denial of due process to the individuals involved. As I started to say before, no matter how we articulate this, no matter which theory of the Due Process Clause or which emphasis we attach to, no one can articulate it better than Richard Loving when he said to me, "Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."
Which leads us, finally, to the happy ending we've all been waiting for.
Virginia law prohibiting the Loving marriage was overturned.
When I first moved to Virginia, when I was a newcomer, I'd never heard of the Lovings. Now I can't imagine a world without them. They really did seem like amazing people and their courage in standing up for what was most basic and most obviously right—
I hope we can all live up to that.