Category Archives: History

COVID-19 2021 Wave Mapped to 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act Votes

According to Time.com the “4th Wave” of COVID-19 infections seems to have a very particular acceleration path through specific parts of America.

Source: Time.com

The distribution of infections reminded me of maps of Americans voting for slavery in the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Source: Search for “bleeding Kansas map”

I’ve written before here how 1873 Slaughterhouse cases explain resistance to wearing masks for COVID-19.

Perhaps now we see a degree of validation of this history lesson; areas historically where Americans objected to freedom (e.g. abolition 1854, vaccination 2021) are places Americans are most likely to have less freedom.

This Day in History 1933: IRC Was Founded

July 24 1933 was the day the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was founded, thanks to a call from Albert Einstein to aid people suffering under Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Although much of the world greeted the Nazi takeover with indifference or apathy, some people were alert to what was happening and the threat it represented. In July 1933, a committee of 51 prominent American intellectuals, artists, clergy, and political leaders formed a branch of the International Relief Association in New York, at the request of its chief, German-born physicist Albert Einstein. Among them were the philosopher John Dewey, the writer John Dos Passos, and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Other prominent citizens, even including Eleanor Roosevelt, soon joined the effort.

Can Electric Cars Be Made to Smell Like Real Horses?

An incredibly expensive electric car ($500-600K) has this to say about its simulation features:

Totem claims that using gaming algorithms and internal combustion engine calibration, it can make engine torque, gear ratios, power band, engine brake, and sound and vibration sound “realistic and customizable.” Even the gear lever can be made to have a conventional shifter’s mechanical feeling. Engine sounds are customizable as well.

Yuck. This reads to me like an electric carriage can be made to smell like it’s being pulled by animals. At some point people have to give up all the horseshit and move on.

In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar banned horse-drawn carriages due to gridlock and pollution. In New York City, though, that seemed implausible — horses were just too essential for urban transportation and shipping.

Things being too essential shouldn’t mean people are allowed to do the wrong things when those things no longer are essential, right? I guess someone would have to define what is wrong with things like engine sound.

Maybe for some this is yet another moment to celebrate technology holding on to distinct obvious smell and noise pollution of horse power. I still say yuck.

To be fair many years ago I spoke with nautical engineers about making a giant empty carbon fiber box with a tiny electric trolling engine that looked just like a $500K cigar boat with jet engines. Then I would slowly float and gurgle it along the Intracoastal Waterway with big speakers that made it sound real. True story. And we never built one but obviously there’s a market.

Sharing Knowledge to Overcome Possible Future Enemies

Buried in chapter 5.2 of the famous 1945 report to the President (“Science The Endless Frontier”) by Vannevar Bush, under the heading “Security Restrictions Should Be Lifted Promptly”, is this sentence:

Our ability to overcome possible future enemies depends upon scientific advances which will proceed more rapidly with diffusion of knowledge than under a policy of continued restriction of knowledge now in our possession.

A similar sentiment is found in chapter 4.5 under the heading “Remove the Barriers”

Higher education in this country is largely for those who have the means. If those who have the means coincided entirely with those persons who have the talent we should not be squandering a part of our higher education on those undeserving of it, nor neglecting great talent among those who fail to attend college for economic reasons. There are talented individuals in every segment of the population, but with few exceptions those without the means of buying higher education go without it. Here is a tremendous waste of the greatest resource of a nation – the intelligence of its citizens.

If ability, and not the circumstance of family fortune, is made to determine who shall receive higher education in science, then we shall be assured of constantly improving quality at every level of scientific activity.

Ability instead of family fortune, diffusion of knowledge instead of restriction. America clearly was in a different, far more logical, place at the end of WWII.

This Day in History 1944: Virginia Hall Sets Up “The Farm” in Occupied France

Virginia Hall in 1944 on this day set up a safe house in Le Chambon sur Lignon, south central France on the farm of Maurice and Léa Lebrat. In her own words:

My life in Haute-Loire was different and difficult. I spent my time looking for fields for receptions, bicycling up and down mountains, checking drop zones, visiting various contacts, doing my wireless transmissions and then spending the nights out waiting, for the most part in vain, for the deliveries.

Hall’s heroic and successful field work to defeat Nazism is captured by a famous painting donated to the CIA in a 2006 memorial.

Source: OSS Society

The painting is named for one of her air drop code phrases “Les marguerites fleuriront ce soir” (The daisies bloom tonight). Depicted with Hall is Léa Lebrat’s cousin Edmund, credited with building and operating a easily-disguised hand-crank generator to power wireless signals to London.

March 1944 she sneaked into France by boat (Brittany coast) and began exfiltrating streams of intelligence as well as training three battalions with a Jedburgh Team to fight the Germans until Allied forces (following D-Day 6th of June 1944) were able to join her in August and take over in September. Again, in her own words (allegedly):

In 1943 I joined General Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services for more adventures with the French Resistance. I became proficient in Morse code and radio operation, which made me invaluable. During the day, I appeared to be a milkmaid. However, at night I directed the Resistance Forces under me in many acts of sabotage and guerilla warfare. I relayed important information from haylofts via my radio to London. I was always keeping ahead of the Gestapo, whose leaders knew of me and wanted me captured. I never gave them the opportunity, my spirit and devotion to the cause carried me on.

I said allegedly for the above quote as “made me invaluable” and “always keeping ahead” do not sound at all like Virginia’s voice, and I’ve been unable to source it as authentic.

She passed away in 1982, doing the hard work more than trying to gain recognition, and remained mostly unknown.

Senator Bob Dole in 2016 called out Hall specifically (“only civilian woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II”) when he pushed the US Government to give a Congressional Gold Medal to OSS (awarded March 21, 2018).

Or as President Harry Truman put it, when General Donovan in September 1945 awarded her the Cross:

Miss Hall displayed rare courage, perseverance and ingenuity; her efforts contributed materially to the successful operations of the Resistance Forces in support of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in the liberation of France.

The National Archives have a copy of the “Memorandum for the President from William J. Donovan Regarding Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) Award to Virginia Hall, 05/12/1945″

Further reading:

ConvNets Patent by AT&T Bell Labs

Kosta Derpanis posed this question on Twitter:

Did you know ConvNets were initially patented by AT&T Bell Labs? Source.

Then Yann LeCun, following up a 2019 podcast, replies in an awkward nine part Twitter thread about intentionally violating IP restrictions. Since this thread could disappear any minute, and in the spirit of LeCun’s own violation mindset, I’ve posted it here for analysis/archival sake):

There were two patents on ConvNets: one for ConvNets with strided convolution, and one for ConvNets with separate pooling layers. They were filed in 1989 and 1990 and allowed in 1990 and 1991.

We started working with a development group that built OCR systems from it. Shortly thereafter, AT&T acquired NCR, which was building check imagers/sorters for banks. Images were sent to humans for transcription of the amount. Obviously, they wanted to automate that.

A complete check reading system was eventually built that was reliable enough to be deployed. Commercial deployment in banks started in 1995. The system could read about half the checks (machine printed or handwritten) and sent the other half to human operators.

The first deployment actually took place a year before that in ATM machines for amount verification (first deployed by the Crédit Mutuel de Bretagne in France). Then in 1996, catastrophe strikes: AT&T split itself up into AT&T (services), Lucent (telecom equipment), and NCR.

Our research group stayed with AT&T (wih AT&T Labs-Research), the engineering group went with Lucent, and the product group went with NCR. The lawyers, in their infinite wisdom, assigned the ConvNet patents to NCR, since they were selling products based on them

But no one at NCR had any idea what a ConvNet was! I became a bit depressed: it was essentially forbidden for me to work on my own intellectual production (Loudly crying face). I was promoted to Dept Head had to decide what to do next. This was 1996, when the Internet was taking off.

So I stopped working on ML. Neural nets were becoming unpopular anyways. I started a project on image compression for the Web called DjVu with Léon Bottou. And we wrote papers on all the stuff we did in the early 1990s.

It wasn’t until I left AT&T in early 2002 that I restarted work on ConvNets. I was hoping that no one at NCR would realize they owned the patent on what I was doing. No one did. I popped the champagne when the patents expired in 2007! (Bottle with popping cork Clinking glasses)

Moral of the story: the patent system can be very counterproductive when patents are separated from the people best positioned to build on them.

Patents make sense for certain things, mostly physical things. But almost never make sense for “software”, broadly speaking.

Something sounds very wrong. When AT&T in 1996 spun out NCR as its computer division (and Lucent as its equipment and systems), patents on computer technology were separated from the people best positioned to build on them? Product sounds like exactly the right place for product. And then popping champagne for not being caught when illegally taking IP from a former employer?

The Tet Offensive Came Long After Public Opposition to Vietnam War

File this post under… someone on the Internet is wrong.

I was reading a click-bait titled article on Military.com called “‘The Father of Naval Special Warfare’ Almost Changed the History of the Vietnam War” when I ran into this eye-watering paragraph:

The seaborne infiltrations by communist forces went on for years. Despite the U.S. Navy’s patrols successfully intercepting communist supply runs for eight years, the North still stockpiled what it needed to launch the 1968 Tet Offensive. The surprise attack turned American public opinion against the war for the first time.

Had the United States prevented the Tet Offensive by choking its shallow water supply points, the entire history of the war might have been different from 1968 onward.

Let’s focus down to one sentence in particular.

The surprise attack turned American public opinion against the war for the first time.

The Tet Offensive was January 30, 1968. Right?

In 1967 there were hundreds of thousands of Americans openly protesting against the Vietnam War.

At least a year before the Tet Offensive, nation-wide protests and opposition already were in motion (and being documented).

The Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam was organized on November 26, 1966, to sponsor antiwar demonstrations in the spring of 1967

April 15, 1967, San Francisco, CA. Arriving at Kezar, the protesters filled up the entire Stadium. Source: Harvey Richards Media Archive.

I’m not sure how the title or the article made it past Military.com editors without someone realizing the entire premise of both is completely broken.

Landmines are Banned. Should Drones Aloft be Classified as Airmines?

The United Nations has this introduction to the subject of mines and disarmament:

Landmines come in two varieties: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Both have caused great suffering in the past decades. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (or Mine Ban Convention), adopted in 1997. More than 150 countries have joined this treaty. Its positive impact includes a marked reduction of casualties, an increased number of mine-free States, destroyed stockpiles and improved assistance to victims.

The question becomes if land-mines are prohibited, aren’t drones aloft (loitering munitions of WWII that explode on some trigger mechanism) thus simply air-mines and prohibited already?

Israel’s recent use of drones is being described in Defense Update as an intentional move away from human oversight in anti-personnel explosives.

First, Israel is calling out safety and human oversight as too slow to engage in combat:

In recent years drones have proved essential for all military operations, providing critical intelligence and pursuing time-sensitive targets. As they loiter over the battlespace, drones can spot enemy activities on the ground, but transferring this insight into action may take hours as the call for fire is processed through the echelons until the order to fire is approved.

Empowering the company commanders with the means and authority to order and approve an attack by their organic weapons, supporting artillery, naval, or air support enables the IDF to engage targets having a short lifespan. These targets are often exposed by exploiting the friction created through the movement of manned or unmanned combat units in enemy territory.

That seems like a simple enough problem to solve, like giving orders to authorize a soldier holding a gun to use discretion when firing and not call for approval, unless a call is needed.

A Navy SEAL told me a story about this where he had given his men orders to immediately shoot anyone they saw pointing weapons at the American President — without delay and without need for approval.

Soon after a call came through for approval to fire at someone pointing a gun at the President. Confused by the request, he asked questions. The answer became a foreign soldier was pointing a large sniper rifle towards the President (ostensibly to help guard him by looking through its scope for targets). Obviously the SEAL leader said don’t fire.

Second, although Israel is emphasizing a chain of command and authorized discretion by a company, it is not clear that will continue to hold true.

This video makes the drone look very much more like a mine designed to be remotely staged, almost like planting to explode later on a simple wireless trigger.

Will swarms be converted by “efficiency” pressure (like how artillery shells became IED) into becoming airborne mines?

Here’s the conclusion of the Defense Update:

On May 6, 2021, as the fighting in the south erupted, the new S&D unit moved quickly to become the first military unit to operate drone swarms in combat. Within few hours, they deployed and fielded this brand-new system, seeking and destroying dozens of hidden enemy targets in complex terrain in rural and urban areas.

Within a few days, the new unit brought stunning results. A single company empowered by drone swarms, precision weapons, and comprehensive C4I delivered over 30 missions, destroying dozens of enemy targets several kilometers beyond the border. They were able to locate the enemy in complex urban and densely vegetated rural areas, designate targets, assess those targets at the company CP, strike the targets selected for engagement and perform battle damage assessment (BDA), all that done within minutes by drone swarms. Following the success of these S&D companies, the GFC recommended converting all combat support companies in regular force to S&D companies over the next year.

I read that as the only ethics/oversight gate remaining would be to “assess targets at the company CP and select for engagement”, unless you count BDA, while it’s all done within minutes”.

With that in mind, a problem of mines in the area is a story dating back to at least WWII.

The Arab Republic of Egypt is contaminated with mines and explosive remnants of war in the Western Desert, which date from World War II, and in the Sinai Peninsula and Eastern Desert, which are a legacy of wars with Israel between 1956 and 1973. […] The government has stated that some 17 million landmines were left in the Western Desert and another 5.5 million in Sinai and the Eastern Desert.

Some important lessons there, surely. What if drone swarms are left behind? What if they are commandeered or corrupted? Imagine a swarm being tricked into drifting backwards towards launchers and targeting owners, or just being left behind and then recycled into some future terrorism campaign.

The next question perhaps is blow-back, as old mines left in the desert during long-ago wars have been dug out and repurposed into modern IED by terrorists.

…these munitions have become part of a new and worrisome trend. As the Islamic State and other jihadi groups have grown throughout the region, sometimes roaming unchecked across long, porous borders, a few have realized the potential power of this massive cache of explosives, much of it buried here by the Nazis. Military and civilian officials in Cairo say ISIS and other groups have already MacGyvered these decades-old mines, using their components for bombs, improvised explosive devices (IED) and other instruments of death. “We’ve had at least 10 reports from the military of terrorists using old mines, says Fathy el-Shazly, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who until recently served as Egypt’s land mine clearance czar. “Even now, these things trouble us in different ways.”

A Nazi is either laying or clearing mines. Can you tell from this photo? If you were authorized to shoot, what would you do?

American Filibuster Must Die: Its History is a Bald-Faced Lie

An excellent write-up of the history of the American filibuster makes it absolutely clear how it’s rooted in blocking civil-rights, and its supporters are spreading lies about history to cover-up this fact:

  1. “…filibuster was not ‘created to bring together members of different parties.’ Political parties did not exist when the Constitution was written, and the Founders famously failed to anticipate their central role in the system.”
  2. “…Founders not only did not create the filibuster, they specifically rejected a supermajority voting requirement.”
  3. “…was not created to ‘protect the rights of the minority from the majority.’ It was originally a rules glitch. In the early-20th century, it was whittled down to a two-thirds supermajority requirement that, by practice, was reserved mainly for use in blocking civil-rights bills.”

The above three points are then beautifully wrapped up in this final paragraph:

In sum, the Founders did not create the filibuster. It emerged accidentally, was changed repeatedly, and was not “designed” for any purpose, and most certainly not to give the minority party a veto. It’s no more true than George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. It’s a story people made up to rationalize a system that nobody invented because nobody ever would create a system like this on purpose.

Only thing that seems missing is… whether there’s a clear correlation between Mitch McConnell of Kentucky abusing the filibuster so often/aggressively and an historic pattern of civil rights abuses. Look at this chart, for example:

MLK even warned us about this.

Back in 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was asked about putting the fate of progressive legislation to the vote of the American people. Dr. King affirmed he would support such an approach, stating, “I think the vast majority of people in the United States would vote favorably for such a bill.” But Dr. King wasn’t done. He additionally admonished most astutely about the filibuster.

“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided Senators who would use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting,” King said. “They won’t let the majority of Senators vote. And certainly they don’t want the majority of people to vote because they know they don’t represent the majority of people.”

Fast forward to 2021 and America is at a filibuster crossroads. We have a choice to make. Do we uphold a racist Senate rule, i.e. the filibuster, or do we uphold American democracy by protecting voting rights?

Or as the historian Kevin Kruse put it on Twitter to “give a sense of the ‘racial history’ in the filibuster”:

Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1874
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1875
Filibuster against black official pension, 1906
Filibuster against black official confirmation, 1909
Filibuster against anti-lynching bill, 1921
Filibuster against anti-lynching bill, 1922
Filibuster against anti-lynching bill, 1925
Filibuster against monument to black WWI veterans, 1926
Filibuster against anti-lynching bill, 1935
Filibuster against anti-lynching bill, 1938
Filibuster against bill targeting racial discrimination in employment, 1945
Filibuster against Truman’s civil rights proposals, 1948
Filibuster against Truman’s civil rights proposals, 1949
Filibuster against Truman’s civil rights proposals, 1950
Filibuster against measures to fight housing discrimination, 1954
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1957
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1960
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1962
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1963
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1964
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1966
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1968
Filibuster against bill targeting employment discrimination, 1972
Filibuster against civil rights bill, 1976

Devil’s Punch Bowl in Natchez: Confederate Disaster and Propaganda Campaign

Source: Internet image search for disgusting relics of Natchez inequality. “Nutt’s Folly” was an absurd display of ill-gotten wealth from state-sanctioned rape of black women. It was abandoned by workers and craftsmen as they joined the Union army at the start of Civil War to fight against their employer. Nutt died from disease (small pox?) in 1864.

One of the more annoying post-Civil War propaganda campaigns started by the Southern Confederacy is to blame their own humanitarian disasters on liberating armies. “Devil’s Punch Bowl” in Natchez, Mississippi is one such example. Many thousands of slaves intentionally malnourished and denied basics like clothing or education were pushed upon Union forces, then fraudulently written into movies and books as entirely a Union disaster.

For some perspective consider when concentration camps of Nazi Germany were liberated, many prisoners died immediately or soon after. Nobody I know ever blames those deaths on Allies, yet in terms of the Civil War it is common to hear the Union blamed for the Confederate slave deaths that came after liberation.

I’ve met personally with survivors and liberators of Nazi concentration camps, who described tragic events to me such as a starved prisoner dying from care — eating a real meal too excitedly/quickly (something known well to anyone familiar with shipwreck history).

The first intake of food proved fatal for many prisoners, too weak from starvation to digest it. …the road to recovery would be long and painful.

And, again, nobody says Allies were killing the liberated German slaves yet that’s the talk track created by Confederates after the Civil War about Black American slaves.

The real story of Natchez is that it was one of very many camps setup to handle a refugee crisis that had been strategically manufactured by the Confederacy. After a long and brutal war started by the Southern Confederacy to perpetuate slavery, their former slaves totally dependent by design were in desperate state — in need of immediate food, shelter, clothes, education etc where none had been before.

I’ll say that again. The Confederates denied slaves freedom or capabilities for self-care, while also denying them care. Refugees from the slave states had been given so little to help themselves they were thus setup to be helpless (any capabilities were deemed a threat to white rule). Then with imminent loss of value to slaveholders these slaves were intentionally swindled and pushed onto Union forces.

Below is a long albeit very insightful and clear-eyed write-up of the situation from 1865, which should settle any debate on these matters:

Source: “The Military and Naval History of the Rebellion in the United States. With Biographical Sketches of Deceased Officers”, by William Jewett Tenney, 1865, page 492

Here are a few highlights:

  • “In the regions which were occupied by Federal troops, the planters [a term referencing a large number of slaves owned] who sympathized with the Southern Confederacy had generally fled, taking with them or sending before them their able-bodied slaves, and leaving to the mercy of the invading army the old and decrepit, and the children who were too young to be of much value.”
  • “…in many instances arrived sick, half-starved, and with only a few rags for clothing. It was obviously the duty of the Government to provide in part at least for these poor creatures, and to furnish employment for such of them as were able to work, that they might sustain themselves and their more helpless kindred.”
  • “…especially below Vicksburg, it was a matter of difficulty to obtain a sufficiency of rations for the soldiers, to say nothing for the 30,000 or 40,000 helpless colored people who looked to the Government for food…”
  • “…with few exceptions [plantation owners] were adventurers and camp followers, who were ready to turn their hands to any opportunity of getting gain by the oppression of the poor, the weak, or the defenseless… no physician was allowed [by plantation owners to see the emancipated slaves]… nor were they furnished with food according to agreement… [such that plantation owners] made large fortunes on the single year’s labor.”
  • “…overcrowding, want of ventilation, malarious localities, prevalence of small-pox, want of medical attendance, poor and insufficient food, and lack of clothing. […] At the camp at Natchez, where there had been 4,000 freedmen, the number was reduced to 2,100 by deaths, from fifty to seventy-five having died per day during July and August.”

In short, the area known for the highest concentration of wealth generated by slavery also somehow had the highest number of Blacks approaching total destitution. 40,000 refugees from Confederate prisons!

Mind you this all was published in 1865 and was no secret. Letters from around December 1863 even speak to raising awareness of the calamity, such that northerners would immediately send aid.

The population of coloured people here, during the past year, has been some 4000. There have been 1100 deaths. This statement tells the story. […] And from exposure they cannot avoid, Pneumonia, Small-pox, and other diseases incident to camp life, are on the increase and more fatal.

In summary, the Confederacy tactically pushed able-bodied slaves away (for continued servitude under men like Jack Daniel even after emancipation) and then cruelly pushed masses of ill and infirm northward towards approaching Union troops to bog them down. Union troops were still concentrated to the East (where fighting was heaviest) and slave owners shifted west, hoping to avoid giving up slavery (Texans not to mention Californians continued slavery feeling protected by “remoteness“). By the time General Granger and his 1,800 men in Texas issued their June 19, 1865 order to free all slaves, it’s estimated 250,000 Americans still were under violent oppression.

Source: The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, which documents where emancipated slaves in Texas settled.

An interesting tangent here is that Granger’s precise wording in Texas had very specific orders to remain in place instead of approaching military posts, heading off further humanitarian disaster being fomented by Confederate forces in this region of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Granger not only was aiming to avoid refugees overwhelming Union forces coming to give them freedom, he also likely recognized the need to keep people where they were to avoid concentration of supplies. Indeed, slaveholders had cruelly started to profit from a disaster of their own making by afterwards cornering and corrupting emergency supply markets, spiking costs to increase suffering as repeated in the 2021 Texas energy outages (while blaming all of this on someone or something else, again like 2021). Asking freemen to continue working in place as opposed to gather around Union forces served dual purposes in preventing further human exploitation by white families of the Southern Confederacy.

We’re talking here about white families who after 1808 had very purposefully created a system of state-sanctioned rape of women for forced births (all white men were encouraged to rape black women to increase birth rates for profit) as well as buying and selling humans — don’t be distracted by other industries (e.g. agriculture, especially cotton) as it was all about mass exploitation of Black women and their children.

…[profit from raping Black women and using or trading their children as property meant] the African-American population in the South also rose from approximately 700,000 in 1790 to nearly 4 million by 1860. By the mid-19th century, the majority of the nation’s [enslaved Black children were] raised in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and nowhere in the antebellum South was [human trafficking] more dominant than Natchez, Mississippi, which was “…the wealthiest town per capita in the United States…” on the eve of the Civil War

Natchez operated as the second largest slave market for all the slave states. The region’s “boom” came directly from human trafficking, make no mistake about it.

In Mississippi alone the state-sanctioned raping and trafficking of Blacks had created a slave population of 437,303 by 1860 (99.8% or 436,631 of Blacks were owned by a white family). That’s a Black population all enslaved nearly 100,000 larger than the entire white population.

To make an even finer point, the term “planter” in Mississippi was the official economic reference to the number of slaves held and NOT any measure of any other output or goods.

Thus obvious economics of human trafficking translated into a huge amount of wealth for the slavers as they systematically raped Black women and then controlled every aspect of Black lives including food, shelter, behavior, health, and even religion.

Remember that absurdly huge brick mansion picture at the top of this post? I set it there to show the kind of largess from funds in Natchez all due to slavery.

Can you estimate how many women had been raped or their children sold to pay for all those bricks in Natchez, or how many slaves were denied food and clothing?

That should be in your head when you read about the Union troops who approached this area of “heavily concentrated wealth” where slaves suffered under total control of rich masters. Imagine finding tens of thousands of starving, barely clothed illiterate and ill refugees… suddenly pressed upon Federal government for desperate care. Then think about politics today in these former slave states where rich white men demand no care be afforded the poor.

In other words, Devil’s Punchbowl of Natchez was completely a manufactured crisis by the defeated Confederacy loyalists, which was designed to maximize suffering of emancipated slaves. It was a heartless scheme for profit from loss on top of the mass suffering in a war they started.

Sadly, that disgusting plan of the Confederates worked all too well. As historians have said about the victims of Nazism, “the road to recovery would be long and painful” for slaves of the Confederacy after liberation. It even explains American “tipping culture” today.

It’s fair to say the Union military was ill-equipped (having supplies heavily stretched even for its own purposes) and unprepared to handle the crisis thrown upon them. And it was even worse off trying to work through the cruelty of defeated Confederates trying to swindle and cheat the refugee/freedmen system to increase suffering and spin a false narrative that any suffering of the most weak and ill should be blamed on their liberators.

Think about the Nazis blaming deaths of their prisoners on liberation by Allies; that’s what Devil’s Punchbowl sounds like when the (obviously biased) voices out of Mississippi try to say it was liberation that caused a humanitarian crisis for slaves.

Let me break down briefly how the Confederate propaganda works, even to this day:

  • “Mostly women and children” — the Confederates relieved themselves of any responsibility for own slaves (given emancipation eliminated human trafficking market), as well as created as much burden on the approaching Federal forces as possible. Thus these populations in dire need of assistance and put into refugee camps hastily, were a direct result of what the Southern Confederacy so cruelly practiced; to abandon their own weak, ill and infirm, including elderly, women and children.
  • “Men were put to hard labor” — the Union records indicate how able-bodied freemen were happier and healthier when assigned work and purpose. Chopping wood is cited, for example, and the Union encouraged this independence and self-sufficiency within the refugee camps. They also could choose the hard work of becoming educated and soldiers, which obviously opened up even more safety to them. The Union Army in several places notes that freemen who took over plantations operated them better because harder working than the white plantation owners who refused to do any work at all (dependent entirely on fraud like slavery and/or theft of wages).
  • “Emancipated slaves were not allowed to leave, had to bury own dead” — the spread of small pox and other communicable diseases easily explains why movement was limited, not to mention lack of food and clothing made movement in harsh weather questionable (temperatures were reported as both extreme hot summer and cold winters, very humid). Quarantine and shelter-in-place are unfortunate refugee tactics but a reality of preventing worse disasters.

Some clues of propaganda also are easy to find. One is the number of dead being wildly overestimated without any source material. Every article on the Internet claiming 20,000 dead is to be seriously doubted. There’s no evidence of that anywhere and none of the articles give a source.

Also a clue is when no dates are mentioned anywhere. When was a camp setup? On what timeline did people die such as per day? Which months had highest death rates? Were people denied leave specifically to prevent spread of small pox?

As you can see in this post I’ve provided answers to all of these, in a way that can easily be verified by anyone else.

Speaking of disease quarantine, if you really get into the regional history, it had a similar camp setup in May 1802 when small pox broke out in New Orleans (still under Spanish rule at that time, about 200 miles away by boat on the Mississippi river).

The new governor of the Mississippi Territory William C. C. Claiborne, appointed by Jefferson, barred sale of goods from Louisiana, used a new health law to force vaccination (newly popularized by England in 1797) and prevent variolation (a risky practice started after 1721)… then he created a “small pox camp” just outside Natchez.

Source: “Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form”, Volume 2, 1907, page 693

In other words, when small pox broke out among the liberated slaves who had been forced by retreating Confederates into being refugees, someone very likely thought back to the Claiborne forced containment model outside Natchez.

If people are going to criticize the Federal government in 1863 for using methods that worked in 1802, they need to explain the difference.

Incidentally, Natchez is in fact the name for the people native to this area for a 1,000 years… who also in the 1700s were greatly affected by small pox.

The high death toll from small pox in the Natchez region even around the time of Civil War is easily reviewed in Union Army records such as this one from 1868.

Statement of the Disposition of Some of the Bodies of Deceased Union Soldiers and Prisoners of War Whose Remains Have Been Removed to National Cemeteries in the Southern and Western States, US Army, Quartermaster’s Department 1868, page 28
Source: Internet search for Natchez National Cemetery (1/2 mile from Devil’s Punchbowl) Unknown Soldier — I’ve left out the Confederate monument erected near these graves that disrespectfully claims in their face that “glory [of those who killed Americans to expand slavery] will never fade”.

In conclusion it’s wrong to allow the Devil’s Punchbowl propaganda to continue, since a Confederate humanitarian disaster strategy shouldn’t be blamed wholesale on the Union being ill-prepared to respond. Abrupt care en masse (collapse of Confederate slavery) was a non-trivial problem for the Union military to solve, hopefully for obvious reasons.

Devil’s Punchbowl narratives thus spread from calculated slaveholder strategy to exploit emancipated slaves and harm the Union for selfish gain, as ever. It mostly continues as a propaganda campaign based on a grain of truth turned into a pernicious lie about America.

To tell it accurately is to say it was a humanitarian crisis manufactured by bitter slaveholders who pushed Blacks towards death and desperation yet wanted it all to be blamed on someone else (approaching Union forces abolishing slavery).