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Letters from Readers - American History - June 2008

Originally published on Published Online: April 28, 2008 
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Reconsidering Reconstruction

In his article "The Terror War to Crush Black Liberty" (April 2008), Stephen Budiansky considers a Confederate general "unruly" for refusing to surrender at Appomattox and then leading a brigade to protect his fugitive president. It seems to me that some Americans would consider these actions heroic.

Readers should know that there are other sides to the Hamburg story. Page 504 of The Tragic Era by Claude Bowers relates of a black militia under the captaincy of a lawless Negro long terrorizing the community. Blacks frequently crowded white women from the sidewalks. The blacks in political power arrested, fined and imprisoned white men on flimsy charges.

I wonder if 21st-century readers realize these former Confederate soldiers must have been suffering post-traumatic battlefield shock. These beleaguered veterans no doubt felt the guns of war were aimed at their breasts again.

Kathleen McKesson
Washington, Pa.

Stephen Budiansky replies: Bowers' 1929 book was not a work of serious history, and no historian of Reconstruction today would take it as such. It is full of factual errors, racist opinions and assertions unsupported by the flimsiest research.

My account of the Hamburg massacre comes from extensive examination of primary sources, including the boastful admissions of the white perpetrators of the massacre themselves. The evidence leaves no doubt that the white rifle clubs would go to any lengths to put an end to black voting rights.

Finding Justice

I read Jack Hamann's sorrowful story "When Justice Became a Casualty of War" (Findings, April 2008) with great interest. Did they ever find out who murdered the Italian POW Guglielmo Olivotto? Has the army adjusted the compensation due to the wrongly accused black soldiers or their families?

Lawrence Cella
Belford, N.J.

Jack Hamann replies: Evidence shows that only one soldier—a white military policeman—had the means, motive and opportunity to lynch Private Olivotto. That soldier (now deceased) was never charged with murder, but he was court-martialed in 1944 for disappearing from his post during the precise period that Olivotto was hanged. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records pointed to the same soldier when it overturned the convictions of the 28 black defendants last year.

As of this writing, the U.S. House and Senate are considering a bill to revise army regulations that limit the payment of interest on long-ago claims.

Grassy Knoll Theory

I just read "The Assassination That Haunts the American Psyche" (Dialogue, April 2008) about JFK's death in Dallas. For some time now, I have had a theory about the "mysterious shot from the grassy knoll."

That "shot" could have been the sound of the kill shot that shattered President Kennedy's skull. I base this theory on the fact that in 1920 pitcher Carl Mays of the New York Yankees hit Cleveland's Ray Chapman in the head with a viciously thrown submarine fastball. Many reports claim that the whole stadium reverberated with the sickening sound of Chapman's skull fracturing. Some say it sounded like a rifle shot. Chapman died the next day.

Call me crazy, but couldn't the same sound have resonated from the president's skull being fractured?

Jeffrey Trischler
Essexville, Mich.

Mr. Speaker

I enjoyed "Sputnik 1957" by Gerard J. DeGroot in the December 2007 issue. One small correction is in order, however. John McCormack was not Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1957. McCormack was House Majority Leader. He succeeded Sam Rayburn as Speaker when Rayburn died in 1961.

Bill Baxley
Birmingham, Ala.

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