Mormon Horns 5/7: The Civil War

By February 3, 2010

The union army in the Civil War provided enough horns to make John the Revelator’s merely double-digitally horned beasts look like chumps. While cartoonists portrayed public figures as demons (see below), [1] a great many sources—from diaries during the war to unit histories forty years later—asserted that some Whites and African Americans in the South believed Yankees had actual horns. [2] Civil War horns provide a large data sample for examining, by analogy, the social dynamics of Mormon horn bestowal.

Such stories filled various functions. In some instances, they focused on how Southern Whites told slaves that Yankees had horns and would kill or deport them. [3] Since many Whites (North and South) argued that the inferior Black needed close supervision to be safe and happy, painting Southerners as unfit “parents” helped justify Northern violence against the South.

Another variant explained how Southerner had believed incorrectly, encountered kind/wise Northerners, and came to see Northern goodness or American sameness. [4] The first conclusion placed Northerners on intellectual moral high ground, strengthening their case for war. The second furthered reconciliation by emphasizing (White) Northerners and Southerners’ common humanity. Either way, Southerner’s ignorance gave them a face-saving “out”: if they had only known Yankees were human, the war’s million deaths could have been avoided.

A different application shifted focus from the White Southerner to the Black. For example:

Just then Zip (one of the quarter negroes) came running in with eyes like saucers and white teeth fairly chattering with fright, declaring that ‘Mars Jim Phillips wus out dar, an’ his horse wus’all of a lather, and he sed as how us all had better be a-gittin’—fur he had seed de Yanks a-cummin, and dey had sot fire to all de houses, and wus just a-killin’ all de fo’kes—wimmen and chillun, white fo’kes and niggers—an’ you could hear they guns a hundred miles, ‘sides which some on ‘em had horns!

Of course, we knew much of this report was exaggeration…. [5]

In such stories—told by Southerners, mostly to Southerners—the deceitful Southerner lying to his or her slaves disappeared, replaced by innocent bystanders, playful avuncular types, or patient “adults” indulging “children,” while the Blacks became more excitable and ridiculous. Such usage forwarded sectional reconciliation by providing a common Other.

Of course, White reports about Black credulity should be greeted with incredulity. Some slaves probably did believe Yankees had horns but the documentary record likely underestimates the number who, as some freedmen explained, “pretended to believe all that was told them, ‘But Lor’, Mars’, we know better.’” [6]

Now to Mormons: There are, I think, a few take-home messages. (1) A non-trivial number of people made statements about people having horns; a much larger number of people told stories suggesting that other people thought that they had horns. Neither Mormon horns nor Mormons talking about Mormon horns stand out as particularly unique. (2) TBWHH has multiple sociological functions. I’ll flesh out some of them in the next post.

Mormon Horns 1234, 5, 6, 7. These horn posts continue earlier efforts analyzing ways of describing Mormons or using Mormons to describe something else. These include: India, Cows, Bluebeard, Lice, Crickets,Flies, Happy Valley, and sundry other beasts.


[1] The image ran in the London-based Punch a few weeks after the “preliminary Emancipation Proclamation” of 1862 Sep 24 began bringing African-American soldiers into the Union army in force. “Abe Lincoln’s Last Card; or, Rouge-et-Noir,” Punch, or The London Charivari 43 (1862 Oct 18): 161.

[2] “Having a little conversation with some of the surprised citizens [of Port Gibson, MS], we found there were those among them who had really thought that Yankees had horns, and were in doubt as to our being the genuine article, because those appendages seemed to be wanting.” Richard L. Howard, History of the 124th Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers, Otherwise Known as the “Hundred and Two Dozen,” from August 1862, to August 1865 (Springfield, IL: HW Rokker, 1880), 80.

Blacks: George Whitfield Pepper, Personal Recollections of Sherman’s Campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas (Zanesville, OH: Hugh Dunne, 1866), 171; Harris H. Beecher, Record of the 114th Regiment, N. Y. S. V.: Where It Went, What It Saw, and What It Did (Norwich, NY: JF Hubbard, Jr, 1866), 150; Edwin B. Houghton, The Campaigns of the Seventeenth Maine (Portland, ME: Short & Loring, 1866), 248; Richard L. Howard, History of the 124th Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers, Otherwise Known as the “Hundred and Two Dozen,” from August 1862, to August 1865 (Springfield, IL: HW Rokker, 1880), 80; George N Bliss, Prison Life of Lieutenant James M. Fales, no 15 in 2nd Series of Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion: Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society (Providence, RI: N Bangs Williams, 1882), 55; Levi Wood Baker, History of the Ninth Mass. Battery. Recruited July, 1862; Mustered in Aug. 10, 1862; Mustered out June 9, 1865, at the Close of the Rebellion (South Framingham, MA: Lakeview Press, 1888), 168; William Henry Newlin, 73rd Illinois Volunteers, An Account of the Escape of Six Federal Soldiers from Prison at Danville, Va: Their Travels By Night through the Enemy’s Country to the Union Pickets at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, in the Winter of 1863-1864 (Cincinnati: Western Methodist Book Concern, 1889), 89; One of the Boys [Hosea W. Rood], Story of the Service of Company E, and the Twelfth Wisconsin Regiment, Veteran Volunteer Infantry, in the War of the Rebellion, Beginning with September 7th, 1861, and Ending with July 21st, 1865 ((Milwaukee: Swain & Tate, 1893), 436; Asa W. Bartlett, History of the Twelfth Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion (Concord, NH: Ira C Evans, 1897), 455; Thomas Jefferson Morgan, “Africans in America,” The Baptist Home Mission Monthly 19:12 (1897 Dec): 396 [394-403]; reprinted in Thomas Jefferson Morgan, The Negro in America, and the Ideal American Republic (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1898), 19-20.

Whites: Unlike the anecdotes about African Americans, stories about Whites believing in the horn tales usually specified class. “These families were of the class known as the ‘poor whites,’ and were as ignorant as poor. Some of them actually believed that the Yankees had great horns on their heads, and one young lady in particular said she ‘was not afraid of the Yankees after seeing they had no horns.” Henry C Morhous, Reminiscences of the 123d Regiment, N. Y. S. V., Giving a Complete History of Its Three Years Service in the War (Greenwich, NY: People’s Journal Book and Job Office, 1879), 77. Warren Lee Goss, The Soldier’s Story of His Captivity at Andersonville, Belle-isle, and Other Rebel Prisons (Boston: IN Richardson, 1872), 67; W Frank Bailey, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves, as quoted in Washington Davis, Camp-Fire Chats of the Civil War (Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1888), 98.

I found no instances of Confederates with horns but two near misses: [Union chaplain describing captured Confederate soldier in a prison camp]: “One unique fellow, fantastically clad, but evidently a very happy dog, was from Texas. ‘And were you raised there?’ ‘I sartain was. ‘Spect you never see a rail Texan afore. Wol, I’m one. I had horns, but they sawed ’em off arter I got tuk.’” George M Steele, “Down in the Army,” The Ladies Repository 25 (1865 Feb): 112 [107-112], italics and spelling as in original.

[A report on pro-Confederate Texans]: “They were a mixed class with very little of the good in the mixture. They didn’t have horns on their heads, nor were they cloven-footed except in character; and in this respect they bore strong resemblance to their father, the old ‘cloven-foot’ himself.” Thomas North, Five Years in Texas; or, What You Did Not Hear During the War from January 1861 to January 1866 (Cincinnati: Elm Street Printing, 1871), 104.

Also: [Confederate prisoner speaking of an inquisitive Yankee preacher]: “The only thing I think he did not ask was whether the men in the South did not have horns.” Clay W Holmes, The Elmira Prison Camp: A History of the Military Prison at Elmira, N. Y., July 6, 1864, to July 10, 1865 (New York: GP Putnam’s Sons, 1912), 204.

[3] “…They [slaves] are taught to believe that we were regular cut throats by their masters but when we come they are ready to go with us. They know we are their friends and the mystery is how they know it. Some of them say they thought the Yankees had horns like an ox”; “They could not read and their masters purposely kept them in ignorance as to the real state of things. …Some of them had very absurd notions about Northern people; they had been told, and some of them actually believed, that the Yankee soldiers had horns, and it was very amusing to see the curious expression on their faces when they had their first sight of Union soldiers”; [in Savannah, GA]: “Everywhere you hear old women muttering, …’O, Lord! Massa, my young missus tole me de Yankees had horns on der head, and dey would bore holes tru our shoulders for de ropes, and hitch us in wagons, and all dose what couldn’t work, dey’d send off to Cuby.’” William Bluffton Miller, 75th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, diary entry for 1864 Dec 09, “We have surely done a big work: The Diary of a Hoosier Soldier on Sherman’s March to the Sea,” Indiana Magazine of History 94 (1998 Sep): 214-239; Thomas Jefferson Morgan, “Africans in America,” The Baptist Home Mission Monthly 19:12 (1897 Dec): 396 [394-403]; reprinted in Thomas Jefferson Morgan, The Negro in America, and the Ideal American Republic (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1898), 19-20; Samuel Merrill, The Seventeenth Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1900), 234.

[4] [A wounded Confederate soldier on the field]: “Made sure I was dead, but thought it didn’t make much difference, for I saw our men retreating, and knew the Yanked would get me and kill me sure; always told, sir, the Yankees had horns. Well, there I lay… [a Union Colonel gives him a drink] …Then some soldiers on foot came towards me, and I thought they were not all like that officer, and I gave up again. Well, sir, they said, ‘Comrade, get up.’ They lifted me up, and said, ‘ Put your arms around our necks, and we’ll lead you away from these bullets;’ and these were the ‘damned Yankees!’ I tell you, sir, no man ever hugged his sweetheart more friendly than I hugged these Yankees’ necks.” Frank Moore, The Civil War in Song and Story, 1860-1865 (New York: PF Collier, 1889), 488.

[5] AC Cooper, Atlanta, GA, “No. 74—Days That Are Dead,” in “Our Women in the War”: The Lives They Lived; The Deaths They Died, compiled by The News and Courier, Charleston, SC (Charleston, SC: News and Courier Book Presses, 1885), 441 [435-43].

[Upon seeing dust cloud from advancing Union forces]: “[I]n one impulse we fell upon our knees…. We were brought to a sudden realization of our immediate surroundings, though, by the wild cries of a young servant girl, who standing near had, like us, fallen upon her knees, but, unlike us, set up a series of most unearthly yells. Her terror was explained some few hours afterwards when the Yankees were dispersed throughout the town, and she had seen several in ‘flesh and blood.’ Coming into the house and going up to Mrs. A., her mistress, she said, with astonishment depicted upon every feature: ‘Why, Miss! they looks like other men.’ ¶ ‘What in the name of earth did you think they were, Delia?’ asked Mrs. A., in her turn astonished, and then it came out that Delia was under the full conviction that they were blessed with horns.” E. L. C., near Port Royal, South Carolina, “No. 70.—Life in the Low-Country,” in “Our Women in the War”: The Lives They Lived; The Deaths They Died, compiled by The News and Courier, Charleston, SC (Charleston, SC: News and Courier Book Presses, 1885), 417 [411-20].

“The prisoners were objects of great curiosity to the citizens. One poor fellow remarked to me, that it seemed as if the Richmond people had never seen a Yankee before. The negroes regarded them with wonder. A negro boy, on the day of their arrival, asked his master if the men he had seen at the factories on Main Street, were Yankees, and upon being answered in the affirmative, exclaimed:— ¶ ‘Oh, my! I done hear folks talk so much ‘bout de Yankees, I thought dey had horns!’ ¶ An old negro woman asked me, later in the summer, if it was true that the Yankees were blue all over. I gravely informed her that it was. ¶ ‘Dar now!’ cried the old woman, with an air of the most intense satisfaction, ‘I knowed it; I knowed it!’ ¶ The old woman was so firmly convinced that they were not ‘white folks,’ that she seemed to doubt my assurance that they were, and would not be fully convinced until she saw some of the prisoners herself.” A Southerner, “Richmond at the Beginning of the War,” Ballou’s Monthly Magazine 66:5 (Boston: 1887 Nov): 377-8 [373-8].

[6] “It was a surprise to us to find how thoroughly they realized what the results were to be, and how well informed they were of the course of events. These people here seemed specially intelligent. They told us how their masters talked to them about the Yankees; told them they had horns, and that they would carry them off to a more horrible slavery than anything they had experienced. They said they pretended to believe all that was told them, ‘But Lor’, Mars’, we know better.’” Charles O Hunt, “Our Escape from Camp Sorghum,” read 1890 Dec 03, in War Papers, Read Before the Commandery of the State of Maine, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, vol 1 (Portland, ME: Thurston, 1898), 102 [85-128].

“Some of them had learned the alphabet, others could read a little, and a few were ready readers. These had kept the more intelligent slaves enlightened, so far as to make them incredulous when they were told that the abolitionists had horns, and that they wished to free them in order to sell them as slaves in Cuba.” Anna Gardner, Harvest Gleanings: In Prose and Verse (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1881), 41.

“A NEGRO from Williamsburg, who went into Fortress Monroe in company with one of the Union chaplains, says that, before the national troops left Williamsburg, the slaves in that vicinity were told to beware of the ‘horrible Yankees, who had very small bodies, but great large heads, with front teeth like horses, and were known to eat human flesh.’ Upon being asked whether the slaves believed this, he replied: ‘Dun’no; reckon not, massa. Dem Yankees hat got no horns, but fights like de debble!’” Frank Moore, The Civil War in Song and Story, 1860-1865 (New York: PF Collier, 1889), 481.

The indignity galled Peter, in Tennessee: ““Atter de war brokt out, dey telled me dat I mustn’t go near the Yankees, for dat dey ‘had horns,’ jist as if I’d not sense ‘nough to know better nor dat!” Peter continued, “An’ dey tole me I must keep ‘way from dem, else dey’d cut off my ears and hang me on a tree.” As quoted by Elvira J Powers, Diary entry 1864 Oct 14, Hospital Pencillings: Being a Diary While in Jefferson General Hospital, Jeffersonville, Ind., and Others at Nashville, Tennessee, as Matron and Visitor (Boston: Edward L Mitchell, 1866), 117.

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