Almost a year ago I wrote a post about Moses Dallas; one of the SHPG’s “new finds” regarding black confederates. Yesterday, E.T. Bailey left a comment:
It always bothers me when people use conjecture and pass it off as fact.
Because the letter regarding Moses Dallas’ pay increase uses the word “retain” you assume that to be a comment about his slave status. That’s nonsense. Conscription at the time did not equate to volunteer officers not having the right to resign. We see offers of resignation throughout the war.
The term “retain” was used throughout the period and was no comment on a person’s status. If a soldier’s enlistment is about to expire and they reenlist, that person has been retained by the army. If you hire a blacksmith, you retained their services.
To make a sweeping argument about an officer negotiating with a slave owner for the renting of a slave, based on a misunderstanding of one word in a letter that never even mentions a slave owner, (or that Mr. Dallas was even a slave, though he was) and on zero actual hard evidence, seems downright manipulative.
The more common theory, which also lacks hard evidence, is that Mr. Dallas planned to tender his resignation because, as an officer, he was responsible for paying for his own uniforms and boarding, but couldn’t do so with $80 a month. The circumstantial evidence for this is that he has been established as an early war volunteer, not someone who was rented from his master, and was also a pre-war business owner, who didn’t live with his master and was free to make his own business contracts (National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia). Owning his own business, living away from his master, and volunteering himself for military service shows a great deal of autonomy from his master (more common than most people tend to think) and makes resignation by his own volition, plausible. (Facts documented by the National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, Georgia.)
To be clear, I haven’t seen hard evidence supporting this conclusion, either, so I don’t advocate it as more than a theory. However, it does have much more going for it than a misrepresentation of the term “retain”.
You clearly don’t understand naval ranks, discrediting all your statements about Dallas’ status and authority.
A captain can be either a rank or a status. Anyone in charge of a ship, regardless of commissioned rank, is a captain. This was true during the Civil War and is true today.
It is also absolutely known why he was involved in the capture of the Water Witch. His knowledge was vital to the success of the plan to capture and make off with the ship and his skill as a pilot was needed to actually execute the plan. Without his knowledge of the local waters helping to formulate the plan, the mission would not have been possible and the mission became jeopardized when Dallas was no longer available to pilot the prize to safety, as was intended. (National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, Georgia.)
To clarify his rank, status, and role in the Water Witch mission, Moses Dallas was a Confederate officer with the rank/duty of pilot. Because pilot is a position, and not always a specific rank, he was also considered to be a warrant officer, which is analogous to a senior non-commissioned officer, but with the official status of a commissioned officer. He is listed as the third in command of the CSS Savannah and was without legal authority, but in point of fact can be demonstrated to have wielded authority as a result of his expert knowledge and the vital nature of his position on the Savannah. As pilot and the undisputed expert of the local waterways, he had major control of the mission to capture the Water Witch and it is inconceivable that he wouldn’t have been intimately involved in the planning of that operation.
Additionally, as the pilot of a vessel, he had standing authority on a day-to-day basis, albeit with substantial limitations related to his position, his rank, and his status as a slave. You simply won’t find a competent naval veteran who advocates disregarding the directives of the ship’s pilot.
I want to spend a brief amount of time on Bailey’s opening accusation. Bailey is convinced that attacking me personally will in some way help his argument. Bailey accuses me of passing of conjecture as fact. Then does the exact same thing by stating that what he is presenting is “a more accurate theory” but not documented as to be taken as fact. I wonder if Bailey knows what the scientific definition of “theory” is or if his reference to conjecture is scientific philosophy or mathematics. Regardless of his analysis, he cites his statement as “Facts from the National Civil War Naval Museum, Columbus, Georgia.” Emphasis on the word “Facts.” I do not make the claim that the NCWNM is wrong or that they do not have some information that substantiates the claim Bailey makes, but he is passing off a “theory,” which he readily admits has no …hard evidence. He is in fact passing off conjecture; an unproven theory. To clarify, I am looking at this with a philosophical definition in mind, not a mathematical one. Regardless, since Moses’s history is scattered, it is foolish and fruitless to argue conjecture. Instead historians must advance a theory (scientific definition of a theory is the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another). Those theories are results of tested hypotheses. I am advancing an idea for peer review which didn’t hold up through my own research a month later. Bailey is likewise advancing an idea. Conjecture all around.
Bailey takes real issue with the word I use “retain.” The first thing I would like to point out is that at the bottom of the idea I present, I say this: This makes me think that the pay was going to the master and not to Moses. I cannot assume that for certain as documentation is not provided. I’m not sure if Bailey missed that or if he was so entrenched with rage at my idea that he missed the humility. I digress, Bailey advances the idea that volunteer officers could resign at will or in his words, Conscription at the time did not equate to volunteer officers not having the right to resign. We see offers of resignation throughout the war. Bailey, you are missing some key elements here that have to be taken into account. Moses was colored, he was a pilot (officer in name only) and he was a slave. On top of these elements, the draft extended one year enlistments to three years for service men. However, I never stated that the word “retain” was exclusive to slavery. However, that does not necessarily mean that you are completely wrong on this. If you read the article, I use a lot of open ended statements, but with humility, acknowledging that I haven’t seen enough of the information. Further down in the comments, I redirect many of the statements in the article. According to one of the articles I posted, Moses was a nominal slave, charged with negotiating his own contracts and expenditures. To be a slave, he had it made….except for the whole freedom aspect. More information I have found on the topic painted a different picture of Moses which is fine. I learn, I move on. However, dismissing an argument as false conjecture when it is an unsubstantiated idea vs. an unsubstantiated idea (in your own opinion) is rather hypocritical. Also assuming that I am making “sweeping arguments” based on one thing is building a straw man argument for you to deconstruct. If your are going to attack me on methodology; do it correctly instead of engaging in an argument of semantics.
I admitted my mistake in the comments section confusing the words Pilot with Captain….which you also did above. However, you seem to be under the impression that those ranks gave Dallas authority. Why is this? You are wrong about ranks however. To assume that position makes him a Warrant Officer gives more credence to Dallas but less to the situation. His knowledge of the area was unquestionable, however, the predominant amount of scholarship about that era indicates that Dallas’s race did not promote him in the eyes of those on board. You would be correct if he was a white person assuming the command of sailing master. Dallas’s rank was pretty loose. He controlled the boat but remained beneath, in rank, to the captain of the vessel and to others on the ship due to the social order. There is more involved in this than military history. The men would have followed Dallas out of necessity and fear, not out of rank. He would not have standing authority as it were, he would have authority over the boat in specific waters. Once out of dangerous waters, his rank would drastically reduce to bottom of the social order once again. This would all happen, underneath the authority of the Captain of the boat.
My reference to the Water Witch was intended to focus on Dallas’ boarding of the ship and not his place in the planning and tactics. Sorry for the confusion.
On a side note, don’t cite information by giving a museum name. It would be like me saying that Andrew Jackson said “….” (Library of Congress).