The Civil War and Slavery

Wednesday, August 19, AD 2015

We’re not fighting for slaves.

Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to,

It takes money to buy a slave and we’re most of us poor,

But we won’t lie down and let the North walk over us

About slaves or anything else.

                              We don’t know how it started

But they’ve invaded us now and we’re bound to fight

Till every last damn Yankee goes home and quits.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body


I certainly agree with video above from Prager University that the Civil War was started over slavery.  As Jefferson Davis stated in his initial address to the Confederate Congress:


In the meantime, under the mild and genial climate of the Southern States and the increasing care and attention for the wellbeing and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South; the white population of the Southern slaveholding States had augmented from about 1,250,000 at the date of the adoption of the Constitution to more than 8,500,000 in 1860; and the productions of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man. With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced. With this view the legislatures of the several States invited the people to select delegates to conventions to be held for the purpose of determining for themselves what measures were best adapted to meet so alarming a crisis in their history. Here it may be proper to observe that from a period as early as 1798 there had existed in all of the States of the Union a party almost uninterruptedly in the majority based upon the creed that each State was, in the last resort, the sole judge as well of its wrongs as of the mode and measure of redress. Indeed, it is obvious that under the law of nations this principle is an axiom as applied to the relations of independent sovereign States, such as those which had united themselves under the constitutional compact. The Democratic party of the United States repeated, in its successful canvass in 1856, the declaration made in numerous previous political contests, that it would “faithfully abide by and uphold the principles laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, and in the report of Mr. Madison to the Virginia Legislature in 1799; and that it adopts those principles as constituting one of the main foundations of its political creed.” The principles thus emphatically announced embrace that to which I have already adverted – the right of each State to judge of and redress the wrongs of which it complains. These principles were maintained by overwhelming majorities of the people of all the States of the Union at different elections, especially in the elections of Mr. Jefferson in 1805, Mr. Madison in 1809, and Mr. Pierce in 1852. In the exercise of a right so ancient, so well established, and so necessary for self-preservation, the people of the Confederate States, in their conventions, determined that the wrongs which they had suffered and the evils with which they were menaced required that they should revoke the delegation of powers to the Federal Government which they had ratified in their several conventions. They consequently passed ordinances resuming all their rights as sovereign and Independent States and dissolved their connection with the other States of the Union.

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39 Responses to The Civil War and Slavery

  • Here is how I responded to this last week on Facebook:
    “Note to historians:

    “Dualistic interpretations and explanations that are utterly lacking in nuance; engaging in demonization; arrogant displays of cultural and/or regional superiority; inattention to (or completely glossing over) those details that detract from the particular “narrative” you seek to create; and, in general, triumphalist, oversimplified, chest-thumping bravado, constitute utter rubbish as history.
    “And I don’t care what your credentials are, what rank you hold, how proud you are of the uniform you wear, or which institution of higher learning you work for. If you do the above, you’re crap as a historian.”

  • I followed up with this:
    “I hope that I’m an honest enough student of history that I can acknowledge the fact that differences over slavery and over the South’s economic reliance thereon and Northern reactions thereto were at the root cause of the division between North and South. With that in mind, I utterly reject neo-Confederate interpretations that seek to diminish the primary role slavery played in leading up to the War.
    “But I also utterly reject the sort of “Nyah, nyah, you suck!” chest-thumping jingoism that seeks to downplay all other considerations that went into the decisions of 11 states to secede. Did Virginia secede over slavery, after having initially voted down secession in convention? Or did Virginia secede over Lincoln’s decision to call up troops from Virginia to invade their fellow Southern states? Did Robert E. Lee resign his commission in the U.S. Army — a decision over which he seems to have agonized — over slavery?
    “Any “historian” who glosses over the differences between why, for example, South Carolina seceded a mere 4 months after Lincoln’s election and why Virginia ultimately voted to secede, and goes straight for “ALL Southerners who supported secession and/or who fought for the South did so with the sole intention to keep black people in bondage” is not being an honest broker. Col. Ty Seidule is NOT an honest broker. He is a political HACK.
    “My objection to Col. Seidule is primarily to the tone of his presentation, to what he has left unsaid, and to his appearance of having a simplistic, dualistic ulterior agenda beyond presenting historical facts.
    “As noted above, I don’t seek to downplay our Nation’s sordid history regarding chattel slavery. I hope that this comes through in many of my posts about the American Revolution — I’ve noted on at least two occasions the irony of American patriots producing prose about freedom from bondage and all men being created equal, yet punting on the issue of slavery for future generations to have to deal with, all the while their supposed British oppressors were actually proclaiming freedom for slaves. I’ve said many times before: history is rarely as cut-and-dried as some try to make it. You will very rarely find simplistic answers to the questions history presents to us.”

  • Amen, Jay. While slavery was in some sense the proximate cause of the War of Northern Aggression, there are important facts that do not neatly line up with the current anti-Confederate hysteria.

    Virginia’s secession is exhibit #1. My state did not want to secede and, as the first among the southern states, had voted against secession… until Lincoln insisted on forcing states to raise armies and traverse states in order to invade South Carolina and other seceding states. It was then, and only then, that Virginia took the principled position that the Federal government has no constitutional authority to send armies into peaceful states, such as Virginia, and make those states party to an invasion of a sister state.

    As usual, history is more nuanced than the narrative of the victors. Certainly there were firebrands who wanted to secede over the issue of slavery. But there were Northern firebrands also, like John Brown, who hoped to provoke a war to end slavery, which would be an entirely lawless unconstitutional war, since like it or not, slavery was a practice guaranteed protection under the Constitution. And, contrary to Lincoln’s change of heart on the issue, no state, combination of states, or the Federal government, had (or have) a right to invade a state simply because they disapprove of a lawful practice of that state.

    But if the claim is “the Civil War was caused by slavery” I deny it as an incomplete statement: Virginia’s secession alone proves that for at least for Virginia, the direct “but for” cause of the war was Lincoln’s demand that a peaceful state provide troops for an invasion of a sister state, and allow that invasion force to traverse the sovereign territory of the state.

  • An excellent summation of how Virginia tried to avoid the extremes of Lincoln and the deep south states:

  • I wish I could have said that, Jay Anderson.

  • As a Southerner, I have friends who are descendants of slaves, and friends who are descendants of slaveowners. Is it prudent to uproot an entire society from top to bottom, in order to correct a grave injustice? I know that my friends have differing opinions on that question. Sometimes, it works, e.g. Germany and Japan post-World War II. Sometimes, it does not work, e.g. Iraq.

    I do not rejoice over the sufferings of others. Making an extrapolation from Southern history, it seems that Iraq may face 100 years of violence before she ever finds peace again.

  • “We’re not fighting for slaves.
    Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to,”
    The example of the British West Indies showed that slavery was of dubious economic value to the slave owner. The cost of sugar production showed a small but significant fall after abolition. Free labour could be hired when needed, paid piece-rate and laid off when not required and capital was not tied up in a wasting asset. A very significant part of the compensation was paid to bankers and others with interests in security in slaves.
    Walter Bagehot, usually a shrewd observer, believed that many in the South saw slavery as an essential police measure for the control of the black population, not primarily as an economic issue at all.

  • The whole “northern aggression” argument is, to put it mildly, bunk.
    Virginia’s argument and its modern-day advocates is basically that a government may not respond to a coup d’etat by sending in loyal troops.

    As for why so many non slaveholders fought for the south, they were tied to the slave economy just as much as slaveholders. Plantation owners ginned and marketed cotton for local farmers. Thousands of jobs depended on moving and housing slaves who were transported from one market to another. For a modern parallel just picture just image all the jobs that depend on long-haul truckers (motels, restaurants, services stations).

    The war was caused by the South’s Satanic pride — oops! I mean “honor”.
    Like today’s pro-choice and gay-marriage advocates they would not be satisfied until everyone admitted was slavery was a positive good and legal everywhere.

  • Victor Davis Hanson has documented how many Union soldiers who began Sherman’s march through Georgia with indifference to slavery were actively anti-slavery by the time they reached Savannah. They saw the reality of slavery in a way that no museum could recreate today and still expect their patrons to keep their meals. As Don McClarey has alluded, It is really hard to advocate for slavery’s place as a casus (and continuous) belle without facing the fact that people’s perceptions and motives changed during the course of the war, and not only for tactical political reasons.

  • No one here has taken issue (at least I haven’t) with the FACT that slavery was the cause of the war. I have taken issue with Col. Seidule’s slanted presentation of the facts (not to mention his glossing over and completely ignoring those facts that detract from narrative).
    But not to worry. The view of the “Satanic South” has apparently prevailed in our culture so that monuments of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson will be removed wherever they are located, and those once-honored men and the men who fought for them will no doubt be seen by posterity as little more than the American version of Nazis. And not even historical reenactments of battles will be safe from the ban hammer of the zeitgeist:
    Rather than comparing the “Satanic South” to “today’s pro-choice and gay-marriage advocates” that will “not be satisfied until everyone” conforms to the “correct” view of things, you might want to look at those forces for “progress” for whom victory was not enough — those who seek to wipe out all historical vestiges that don’t conform to “the right side” of history.

  • I think the formal/material distinction works for the motivations of the participants in the Civil War.

    For some, slavery was the formal cause from the beginning–what they were expressly fighting against or for–Jeff Davis, radical Republicans.

    For many Unionists, it became their formal cause after the Emancipation Proclamation, though many Unionists would disavow that long after it was issued (e.g., George McClellan).

    For your average Johnny Reb who didn’t own slaves, I think he could quite credibly deny that he was deliberately fighting *for* slavery right to the very end. That wasn’t the formal reason he took up arms, and he was being honest about that.

    But for everyone, the war was materially about slavery, and what drove the conflict.

  • Dred Scott died in 1858, denied citizenship, sovereign personhood, and freedom. Using the Fifth Amendment, Scott became eminent domain, property of his owner, not to be taken away from his owner. Maybe the Civil War was not about slavery but about, defining the human being as a person, a battle still being waged in Roe v. Wade.

  • “All historical eras are equally near to God.” –Leopold von Ranke

  • “The war was caused by the South’s Satanic pride — oops! I mean “honor”.
    Like today’s pro-choice and gay-marriage advocates they would not be satisfied until everyone admitted was slavery was a positive good and legal everywhere.”

    OK, let’s not overstate the case. The *logic* of the slaveholder argument (and of the Dred Scott decision) led to a claim that slavery should be universal. Lincoln certainly argued that during and after the debates with Douglas. And, indeed, at least one popular pro-slavery extremist (George Fitzhugh) argued that all free laborers should be enslaved, regardless of color. That said, I don’t think most southerners, even the “fire eaters” ever argued that it should be universal across all states. Their essential argument was that it should be preserved where it was and that they be allowed to take slaves into certain of the territories. And that seemed to be the national consensus with the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Then Stephen A. Douglas and Roger Taney blew that consensus to bits with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Dred Scott, respectively.

  • and Johnathan Swift argued that Irish babies (of which some people claimed that there were too many) must be eaten before two years old as after two years old the babies got tough.
    That all men are slaves for having to work for their bread by the sweat of their brow is true. That one person can own another person to deny them their freedom and sovereignty, or cannibalize them or buy and sell them as property. It is a miscarriage of Justice to define the human person as property…as all men are created equal…as “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Did Taney read our founding principles?

  • Yes he did, and like Napoleon, the pig of Orwell’s fable, he thought some were more equal than others.

  • Last time I checked, Roger Taney was not a Confederate. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri were slave states, but they stayed in the Union. So please stop painting the South with a broad brush.

  • I do not know Taney’s state of residence . I do know Taney’s state of mind. Taney was politically correct… but he still had not read…that “all men are created equal and that “We, the people hold these truths to be self-evident truths. But not Taney. Did Taney not consider himself one of the people? Then Taney impeached himself…and everyone who held that the Negro, Dred Scott, was not a sovereign person also impeached themselves. North or South, anyone who did not hold these self-evident truths, that all men are created equal, were responsible for the Civil War. The Confederate states rejected The Declaration of Independence when it came to self-evident truths, and then used The Declaration of Independence to declare their independence. Wouldn’t you say?

  • Funny me, I actually believe in the rule of law and the vitality of the Constitution. That document grants express powers to the federal government. Nowhere in those express powers do I find that the federal government has the right to demand that states provide troops. Nowhere do I find the right for the federal government to send armies through a state, such as Virginia, without its consent, for whatever reason.

    And nowhere do I find the authority for the federal government to abolish by force of arms a practice entirely within the power of individual states.

    Sorry, but Virginia was perfectly within her rights to resist Lincoln’s unconstitutional attempt to compel her to provide troops and a venue by which the federal government would attack a sister state.

    Slavery was a moral evil, but was permitted under the constitution. Was abolishing it worth the discarding of the constitution and the establishment of a centralized federal government that would never again respect constitutional restraints and its limited role under the system of federalism devised by the founders? Perhaps the person who equated the south with pro-choice and gay marriage advocates could tell us, since those two evils have become federalized as a direct result of the passage of the 14th Amendment, a Reconstruction amendment forced on the country by the triumphant radical Republicans.

  • Lincoln had declared martial law under the Constitution, suspended habeas corpus and the press from denigrating him as president with martial law power. This is a good subject to familiarize oneself for when Obama declares martial law under constitutional powers, but not to save the Union but to impose one world government under the godless world bank.

  • Slavery was never permitted under the Constitution. The South had laws to execute any person who would teach a Negro how to read and write. The South denied the Negro the acknowledgement of personhood and citizenship. The Negro had no rights without personhood. See Frederick Douglass See Fort Sumpter. Once the southern states had joined the Union it was not their right to secede.

  • “Nowhere in those express powers do I find that the federal government has the right to demand that states provide troops. Nowhere do I find the right for the federal government to send armies through a state, such as Virginia, without its consent, for whatever reason.”

    Constitution: Article One, Section Eight:
    “Clause 15:

    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

    Clause 16:

    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;”

    Militia Act of 1807:

    Ҥ 332. Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority

    Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State or Territory by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.”

  • “Was abolishing it worth the discarding of the constitution and the establishment of a centralized federal government that would never again respect constitutional restraints and its limited role under the system of federalism devised by the founders?”
    Ben Franklin commented on the ratification of the Constitution, “You have a republic, if you can keep it.” The CW and the stuff committed likely were the beginning of the end of the republic. Today, we operate under the whimsical misrule (and ruination) of omnipotent men and women; corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats, elites, politicians; not laws.

  • “The CW and the stuff committed likely were the beginning of the end of the republic.”

    Rubbish on stilts. The Tories in the Revolution, many of whom had their property confiscated and went into exile at the end of the War, would have loved to have been treated as the erst-while Confederates were after the War. The Civil War has zip to do with the pathologies that currently beset the nation.

  • Rubbish on stilts.

    People do tend to confuse priority with causality.

    If you were serious about this, T. Shaw, you’d understand that the beginning of the end of the Republic occurred when wire-pullers intent on expanding the reach of the central government outrageously mis-interpreted ‘To establish Post Offices and post Roads;’ to mean the federal government could build post roads rather than merely designate post roads. William Voegli, take it away…

  • Slavery was a moral evil, but was permitted under the constitution. Was abolishing it [i.e. the Moral evil of slavery] worth the discarding of the constitution and the establishment of a centralized federal government that would never again respect constitutional restraints and its limited role under the system of federalism devised by the founders?

    Could this be the same Tom whos been haranguing us all this month about the immorality of The Bomb? Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were just here to troll.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more thorough refutation of an argument than Don’s response to Tom above. I doff my cap, sir.

  • “Could this be the same Tom whos been haranguing us all this month about the immorality of The Bomb? Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were just here to troll.”

    Without the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tom might well be speaking Japanese.

  • Is there anyone in this forum who would be in favor of dropping a nuclear bomb on Atlanta or Vicksburg in order to shorten the Civil War?

  • If the Confederacy had killed twenty million civilians in the War, with a death toll of 300,000 each month? Sure. Since they didn’t, no.

  • Mico Razon: If the atomic bomb were dropped on Atlanta Georgia or Vicksberg, make no mistake, the blood guilt and the guilt would be all Jefferson Davis’ and any other individual who gloried in the enslavement of another human being and the denial of sovereign personhood to the other person. Start with Roger B. Taney.

  • “Dred Scott died in 1858, denied citizenship, sovereign personhood, and freedom.”

    Not quite — he died a free man, at least. At the time Scott filed his original suit for freedom in Missouri in 1846, he “belonged” to the widow of an Army doctor who had taken Scott to duty stations located in free states and territories (giving Scott a basis for claiming he was legally free). Several years later, while the case was still winding its way through the courts, the widow married a staunch abolitionist. She later “sold” Scott to a relative of his original owner, who was NOT favorably inclined toward slavery, and who clearly intended Scott’s suit for freedom to be a test case. This owner freed Scott, his wife and his daughters shortly after the Supreme Court decision; the only reason he didn’t do so sooner was to keep the court case alive.

    Today, one of Scott’s twice-great-grandchildren runs a foundation in St. Louis dedicated to preserving Scott’s memory and to promoting genuine, faith-based racial justice:

  • Fascinating Elaine. I was unaware of the Dred Scott Foundation.

  • Scotland had its equivalent of Dredd Scott – the case of Knight v Wedderburn, but with a very different result..

    A Scottish gentleman, Mr. John Wedderburn of Ballendean, who owned plantations in Jamaica, bought Mr Joseph Knight In 1762 from the commander of a vessel, in the African trade.

    In 1769, Wedderburn came over to Scotland, and brought Knight along with him, as a personal servant. Knight wished to learn a trade and Wedderburn paid for his apprenticeship with a barber in Dundee.

    Knight continued in Wedderburn’s service until 1774 and married Annie Thompson, a fellow-servant of Wedderburn. He had got her pregnant and Wedderburn dismissed her from his service, but allowed her to lie in at Ballendean, paid her doctor’s bills and for the funeral of the child, who died. She moved to Dundee and Knight continued the relationship. Thompson fell pregnant again and Knight married her. All this appears to have led to a falling out between Knight and Wedderburn.

    Knight decided to leave Wedderburn’s service. Wedderburn had him arrested and the local justices found “the petitioner entitled to Knight’s services, and that he must continue as before.”

    Knight saved up his pocket money and took proceedings to suspend the warrant before the Sheriff of Perthshire (the sheriff is a judge in Scotland). The Sheriff Depute, John Swinton, pronounced an interlocutor without proof, finding “the state of slavery is not recognized by the laws of this kingdom, and is inconsistent with the principles thereof; that the regulations of Jamaica, concerning slaves, do not extend to this kingdom;” and repelled the defender’s claim to a perpetual service. Mr. Wedderburn having reclaimed, the Sheriff found, “That perpetual service, without wages, is slavery; and therefore adhered.”

    Wedderburn took the case to the Court of Session, where Knight was represented by Mr. M’Laurin, afterwards Lord Dreghorn and Mr. Maconochie, afterwards the great Lord Meadowbank.

    Lord Kames declared that “we sit here to enforce right not to enforce wrong” and the court emphatically rejected Wedderburn’s appeal, ruling that “the dominion assumed over this Negro, under the law of Jamaica, being unjust, could not be supported in this country to any extent.”

  • Perhaps I should have added that, at the hearing in presence, Henry Dundas, the Lord Advocate and future 1st Viscount Melville, led for Knight.

    The Lord Ordinary took it to report, upon informations and these were drawn by M’Laurin and Maconochie. Being a question of general importance, the Court ordered a hearing in presence, and afterwards informations of new, upon which it was advised.

    It is much to the credit of the Scottish Bar that a litigant of such slender means was so ably represented by the leaders of the profession.

    Wedderburn was also reperesented by two future judges, Mr. Ferguson, afterwards Lord Pitfour, and Mr. Cullen, afterwards Lord Cullen

  • Thanks for posting this Michael! It is rather sobering to compare the history of slavery in other English-speaking and European nations with the history of American slavery. I don’t believe any other nation had to resort to civil war to end slavery — IIRC, Brazil was the last Western Hemisphere nation to abolish slavery in 1888, but they did so by a system of gradual emancipation somewhat similar to those proposed in the U.S. prior to the Civil War.

  • Haiti did. The horrific violence involved may have had a role in hardening Southern resistance to ending slavery. I doubt if slavery would have been abolished so easily in Great Britain if slavery had been wide spread in Great Britain. The prime slave holding regions of the British Empire were far from Great Britain and lacked the political clout of the American South, or the ability and willingness to rebel.

    In regard to slavery, a good case can be that in much of the contemporary Arab world it goes on under other names. Migrant workers held in debt slavery and treated abominably in many cases by their “employers”.

  • Elaine Krewer wrote, “IIRC, Brazil was the last Western Hemisphere nation to abolish slavery in 1888, but they did so by a system of gradual emancipation somewhat similar to those proposed in the U.S. prior to the Civil War.”

    Lord Melville, in Parliament and as a government minister, favoured a gradual abolition of the slave trade, as a prelude to emancipation. Of course, as an advocate, he would never allow his personal views to affect the way he represented his client’s interests.

    One of the judges in Knight v Wedderburn, was Lord Auchinleck, father of James Boswell, Johnson’s biographer. He delivered a trenchant opinion: “Although in the plantations they have laid hold of the poor blacks, and made slaves of them, yet I do not think that is agreeable to humanity, not to say to our Christian religion. Is a man a slave because he is black? No. He is our brother; and he is a man, although not of our colour; he is in a land of liberty, with his wife and child, let him remain there.”

    Don’t forget, most British plantation owners did not live on their plantations; a majority never even visited them. For them, it was an investment pure and simple; very different that to the American system.

    The serious opposition came from the ship-owning and underwriting interests; slave-owners were given handsome compensation, much of which went to the British banks that held the slaves in security. Slave traders, by contrast, got nothing. These was not a cause to excite general sympathy.

Truth In a Time of Hysteria

Friday, June 26, AD 2015

Well, the National Park Service has joined the witch hunt against the Confederate flag, with this truly Orwellian statement:

America’s national parks are no longer selling Confederate battle flags in their bookstores and gift shops.

The National Park Service (NPS) announced on Thursday that the historic emblem will no longer be available as a memento for visitors to the parks system.

“We strive to tell the complete story of America,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a statement. “All sales items are evaluated based on educational value and their connection to the park.

“Any standalone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores,” Jarvis added.

So much for attempting “to tell the complete story of America”, especially at Civil War battlefields.  (Who was the Union fighting, the “Censored” States of America?)  This is what happens of course in a country where a cadre of left wing activists live to launch Leftist crusades on the Internet, and their allies in business and government quickly fall into lock step.  An additional problem of course is that so many Americans today received a heavily politicized junk education and are bone ignorant of the history of their country.  To help cure the ignorance, I repeat this from a comment thread back in 2011.  Go here to read the original post.

Jesme:  What’s with the creepy Civil War video featuring some guy celebrating the heroism of Confederate soldiers? Practically ruins the article for me. Granted, I’m prejudiced on this point, but I can’t help it. Those nasty, murderous traitors were fighting for the right to buy and sell my ancestors like cattle. Thank God they lost. And kindly don’t hold them up to me as noble heroes. I’d as soon sing the praises of the SS. And yes, I know they weren’t quite as bad as the SS. But the difference is smaller than you might think.


Me:  The scene Jesme is from the movie Gettysburg. The actor is Richard Jordan who portrays Brigadier General Lewis Addison Armistead who died gallantly leading his men during Pickett’s charge.

The scene is given additional poignancy in that the actor Richard Jordan was dying of brain cancer at the time he appeared in the film.

The men who fought for the Confederacy did not invent negro slavery. It was an institution that was over 250 years old in what would become the United States by the time of the Civil War.

What to do about slavery seems simple to us now. It did not appear so to most people at the time as demonstrated by this statement from Abraham Lincoln in 1854:

This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world; enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites; causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity; and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Before proceeding, let me say that I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses, North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides who would not hold slaves under any circumstances, and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew if it were out of existence. We know that some Southern men do free their slaves, go North and become tip-top Abolitionists, while some Northern ones go South and become most cruel slave masters.

When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists and that it is very difficult to get rid of it in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days, and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon.

What next? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white peoples will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well- or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.

When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives which should not, in its stringency, be more likely to carry a free man into slavery than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one.”

It was the inability of both the North and the South to remove the stain of slavery peacefully from the land that led to the Civil War. Lincoln viewed the war as the punishment of God for this and I agree with him:

“Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

The men who fought in the ranks of the Confederacy were not Nazis. They were men fighting for the freedom of their people to rule themselves. Tragically this included the right to continue the centuries old institution of black slavery. It took the worst war in our history to end that institution and to preserve the Union and it is a very good thing in my mind that the Confederacy lost. However, that fact does not negate that most Confederates fought gallantly for a cause they thought right, just as did their Union opponents, which of course includes their black Union opponents.

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June 23, 1865: Confederate General Stand Watie Surrenders

Tuesday, June 23, AD 2015


Confederate General, and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Stand Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to surrender his brigade.  He and his men had fought throughout the Indian Territory and the Trans-Mississippi theater, participating in more battles than any other Confederate unit in the theater, and waging a guerrilla war against Union supply lines and outposts.  Here are the terms of the articles of surrender:

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June 22, 1865: Last Shot Fired in the American Civil War

Monday, June 22, AD 2015


The Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, a converted steam merchant ship, steamed out of London on October 8, 1864.  Her skipper was Commander James Iredell Waddell, a veteran of twenty years in the United States Navy prior to the Civil War, and a graduate of Annapolis.  Under Waddell, the Shenandoah would spend the next year at sea taking or sinking 38 ships, mostly New Bedford whaling ships, virtually destroying the American whaling fleet.  The last shot of the War was a blank fired on June 22, 1865 in the Bering Strait, to indicate to a Union whaling ship the wisdom of surrender.  Some of the captured Yankee seamen claimed the War was over, but Waddell assumed they were lying.

Waddell remained unconvinced that the War was over until he encountered a British ship on August 2, 1865.  Fearing imprisonment or worse for his men, Waddell then embarked on an epic three month voyage, pursued by the US Navy, to Liverpool where Waddell surrendered his ship and lowered the Confederate flag for the last time on November 6, 1865.  The Union wished to try Waddell and his men as pirates.  The British decided to parole Waddell and his men, as reported by The Liverpool Mercury on November 9, 1865:

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2 Responses to June 22, 1865: Last Shot Fired in the American Civil War

  • Huh. is it possible that when he was sinking whaling ships, he really know they weren’t enemy combatants– but he was just a little batty…and a sore (and slow) loser?
    He didn’t want to lower the confederate flag.

  • “Huh. is it possible that when he was sinking whaling ships, he really know they weren’t enemy combatants– but he was just a little batty…and a sore (and slow) loser?”

    Doubtful considering his reaction once he confirmed news of the surrender. We also have to get back to the mindset of men 150 years ago when the type of communications we have once a ship was at sea were completely non-existent. They weren’t about to take the word of an enemy under those conditions for anything, let alone that their nation had surrendered and no longer existed.

Death of William Quantrill

Tuesday, June 9, AD 2015



Doubtless “Captain” William Quantrill would have stood trial for the many crimes he and his partisan bands committed during the War, if he had not died on June 6, 1865.  In the spring of 1865 he had led a series of bloody raids in Western Kentucky.  The man that led to his downfall was Captain Edwin Terrell, in many ways a Union counterpart of Quantrill, who led Federal irregulars in Kentucky.  Starting as a Confederate he had switched sides after murdering a superior Confederate officer and established a reputation of plundering and killing Confederate sympathizers.  He was described by one of his soldiers as a bad man, perhaps as bad as Quantrill.  Quantrill and his few remaining men were ambushed by Terrell and his men at Wakefield Farm on May 10, 1864.   Quantrill and his men had sought shelter in a barn.  As he attempted to flee on horseback, Quantrill was shot in the back.  He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.

When questioned, Quantrill denied that he was Quantrill.  Terrell believed him and rode off.  Frank James and four other men of Quantrill’s band attempted to rescue him after the Federals left.  Quantrill realized his life was drawing to a close:  Boys, it is impossible for me to get well, the war is over, and I am in reality a dying man, so let me alone. Goodbye.

Realizing ultimately that that he had shot Quantrill, Terrell rode back two days later and took Quantrill into custody.  Quantrill died at the Federal prison hospital in Louisville, Kentucky on June 6, 1865.  Nursed by a Catholic priest, he converted to Catholicism prior to his death and received the Last Rites.  He was 27 years old.  Terrell did not enjoy his notoriety long.  Less than a year later, on May 26, 1866, he was ambushed and partially paralyzed by one of the bullets shot at him by a posse seeking to apprehend him for his misdeeds.  He lingered for almost two and a half years in great pain, dying on December 13, 1868 unmourned, the Louisville Journal commenting in his obituary:   “No man ever more richly deserved a torturous death.”   He was 23 years old.

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June 2, 1865: Civil War Ends

Tuesday, June 2, AD 2015



It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884


With the signing of the articles of surrender in Galveston by Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865, the terms having been agreed to on May 26, 1865, the Civil War was at an end.  This is a good time to give a few thoughts as to what this immense event in American history meant to the nation.

1.  Secession-A temptation for Americans whenever national fortunes grew rough or when it seemed that different sections could not compromise and agree, secession as a mainstream political option was as dead as the Confederacy.

2.  Slavery-The stain of chattel slavery was ended.  As the years have rolled by, it has become fashionable to pooh pooh emancipation and to focus on the terrible disabilities that the freed slaves and their descendants would labor under.  All true and all irrelevant.  Those who lived at the time, both white and black, realized what a vast change the end of slavery made in America.  An institution that had grown up over 250 years, it seemed almost divinely inspired that it ended so swiftly over four years, and at a terrible cost.

3.  National Pride-It is odd that such a blood letting would be a source of pride North and South, but such was the case after the War.  Celebrating the courage of the men who fought, and the genius of the great generals of the conflict, was a common impulse North and South.  Union and Confederate veterans began holding joint reunions in the 1880s.  Fond remembrance of what seemed at the time a national nightmare, and honoring the veterans of the conflict, helped reunify the nation.

4.  The Solid South-A legacy of the Civil War was enmity against the Republican party in most of the South and domination by the Democrat Party.  It was a heavily factionalized Democrat Party, where people who would have been Republicans elsewhere in the country, shoehorned themselves into a party with natural political adversaries.  The Democrat primaries, restricted to whites, were where the real contested elections were conducted.  This feature of American political life was so taken for granted for generations, that insufficient study has been given as to how this warping of the usual course of politics impacted the South and the nation as a whole.

5.  Civil Rights-The ultimate failure of Reconstruction to safeguard the rights of blacks, coupled with Supreme Court decisions that reflected a country concerned with national unity rather than the rights of minorities, set up a situation which held back the economic development of the South, leading to massive black exoduses in the early and mid twentieth centuries to the urban centers of the North.  One of the more dramatic results of the Civil War era, although it is not often thought of as a legacy of the Civil War.

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33 Responses to June 2, 1865: Civil War Ends

  • A couple of thoughts:
    “What he would have accomplished but for John Wilkes Booth is the great might have been of American history.”
    Like almost every other President elected to a second term — including our first (and best) President — Lincoln’s second term likely would have been something of a disappointment.
    “… it was common to say ‘The United States are’ … ”
    The United States STILL “are”. (1) There are 50 sovereign states in a federal system. (2) Grammar matters. (3) We’re fooling ourselves if we buy into the Manifest Destiny nonsense that the United States will always be “one and undivided” forever and ever world without end amen.

  • “Lincoln’s second term likely would have been something of a disappointment.”

    Quite possibly but perhaps not. Lincoln’s first term had been dominated by War and it would have been interesting to see what he could do in times of Peace.

    “There are 50 sovereign states”

    Rather limited sovereignty, especially considering that most States are creations of the Federal government. I rather suspect that if the Union is ever destroyed, the States will be destroyed either at the same time or soon thereafter. A world without the United States would be a fairly lethal place for smaller polities.

  • The states created the Union. When delegates signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they were signing on behalf of the states they were representing. Also, the name of the country – United States of America – says it all. The states must exist before they are united.

  • “most States are creations of the Federal government” and yet the 10th Amendment gives them every right the original signatory states to the Constitution have. And with respect to the newer states, the federal government is just as limited to those express powers granted by the constitution, and no more.

    The saddest legacy of the war was the destruction of the original system of federalism, and the subjection of the states to a federal government that now believed itself supreme, and capable of militarily imposing its will on states if they ever dared to oppose the newly minted federal supremacy. In short, we ceased being a federated system of states and became indeed “one nation” enforced by the bayonet. Some union!

  • “The states must exist before they are united”

    Actually prior to the Declaration of Independence the States were Colonies, creatures of the British Crown.

  • And after independence from Britain, the colonies became free and independent entities. They voluntarily created the union to advance their individual and common goals, but clearly reserved to themselves and their people all sovereignty not expressly delegated to the federal government, their creature.

  • The saddest legacy of the war was the destruction of the original system of federalism

    An oft-repeated claim that has no basis in fact.

  • The Union was created at the same time as the colonies proclaimed their independence. They had no separate existence apart from the United States of America as indicated by their being one peace treaty by which Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States of America rather than 13 treaties. As a matter of fact, the Brits asked about this and were told emphatically that they were negotiating with the United States of America and not the separate States.

  • The United States of America is and always was an “is” whether or not the American public referred to it as such. Before the Constitution was ratified, the Articles of Confederation were in effect and there was a Federal Government at that time as well. Under the Articles, Annapolis, Maryland served as the nation’s capital for a time and the first American President was John Hanson.

    The Federal Government always had powers that the individual States did not. The real usurpation of Federal power from the States was not done by Abe Lincoln, but rather by FDR and his New Deal, 68 years after the end of the Civil War.

    What FDR began continues today in that official Washington continues to grow in influence, in power and in wealth while millions of American have faced economic hardship as a result of policies, regulations and laws enacted in Washington. The subprime mess was engineered by the Democrats in Washington. Obumblercare has come about the same way.

    I believe we in the USA are reaching a tipping point, if not a breaking point. Social Security and Medicare will one day go bankrupt. Obumblercare was designed to bring down countless insurance companies so Washington would have an excuse to do one of two things – create a cartel of large insurers that would pay tribute to the Democrats, just as the big banks now do, or enact single payer, which is a failure everywhere it has been enacted. Laws are ignored and executive orders are issued in violation of those laws.

    In short there will be more cause for rebellion in the near future than there was in the 1860s when the Southern States could not bear to give up slavery.

  • he real usurpation of Federal power from the States was not done by Abe Lincoln, but rather by FDR and his New Deal, 68 years after the end of the Civil War.

    Very true, Penguins Fan. There were probably several tipping points – the New Deal, the Warren Court, the Great Society – that all pushed the expansion of the federal government.

  • Wow, quite the revisionism. The colonies clearly considered themselves independent entities, not simply parts of a national state. Hence the need for a convention whereby the states would decide what powers, if any, to cede to the general government.

    Not much need for a constitutional convention and ratification by the states if the states were not fundamentally independent actors with the ability to either enter into a union or not. The creature is not greater than the creator. Simple logic, and historical fact.

    Hence, the convening of the convention for the Articles of Confederation was “Permit us, then, earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states. Let them be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining in one system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties.

    And as the Articles themselves expressed it: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.”

    And: “The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.”

    No, clearly, the colonies, or states, were sovereign, independent states, and entered into a compact for mutual aid and defense. Again, logic dictates that if the federal government only exercises that power expressly delegated to it, that the entity delegating that power, namely the states, possess sovereignty prior to and independent of, the federal government, which is the creation of the states.

    This was the universal understanding of the founders, and I would challenge anyone to produce evidence that any men of the founding generation denied the original sovereignty of the states, or that the federal government somehow co-existed from the beginning as a anything but a creation of convenience of the states which birthed it.

  • It’s a simple matter of constitutional law that federalism was altered by the war. The 14th amendment, for the first time, permitted the federal government to intrude upon the legal system of the states. It is this amendment which has justified the erosion of state sovereignty as exercised by state legislatures, introducing federal oversight where none existed before.

    It was the victorious Republicans who, according to historian and legal scholar Robert Kaczorowski, in forcing passage of the 14th amendment had declared that “sovereignty resided in the national government and included the primary authority to determine the status and secure the rights of all Americans, white as well as black.”

    Some idea of the original intent of the 14th amendment can be read here:, but it is clear that the Republicans desired by the 14th essentially to incorporate the bill of rights as understood by the federal authorities, against the states. This is a sea-change in federalism as originally understood by the framers of the constitution. You may think it’s a good change, or a bad change, but one cannot rationally deny it is a substantial change in the original design of federalism under the constitution.

    No war, no 14th amendment, no 14th amendment, no federal imposition of what federal courts interpret “due process” to mean. Again, simple logical progression of cause and effect.

  • It’s a simple matter of constitutional law that federalism was altered by the war.

    Well then. I guess I can toss aside years of study, because after all it’s just a simple matter. Duh.

    , but it is clear that the Republicans desired by the 14th essentially to incorporate the bill of rights

    No, it is not clear, and oftentimes adjectives such as “clearly,” “obvious,” and “simply” are used to mask lack of substantive evidence. The incorporation doctrine was not envisioned by the authors of the amendment, but rather 20th Century Supreme Court justices. In fact the contemporary court cases rendered in the immediate aftermath of passage rejected this notion.

    you may think it’s a good change, or a bad change, but one cannot rationally deny it is a substantial change

    I can deny it because it is not a change, at least not as envisioned by the framers of the amendment. That later Courts misinterpreted the 14th Amendment is not a fault of the drafters, unless of course you want to blame the Framers of the original Constitution for the myriad ways that their words would be used by later courts.

    Again, simple logical progression of cause and effect.

    Again, simply saying “simple” and words to that effect are not an argument.

  • Paul, while I normally would defer to your superior knowledge on the subject matter, I am going to have to concur with my fellow lawyer Tom (it’s not just PhDs who study this stuff 😉 ) in his assessment that the 14th Amendment, by its very nature, upset the original federalist system. The Shelby Foote quote that Don often cites favorably, including above, is an acknowledgment of the paradigm shift wrought by the Civil War. The constituent sovereignty in whom all powers not delegated reside, as a result of the War, shifted from “the states and the people” (see, e.g. 10th Amendment) to being a federal government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. The effect of the 14th Amendment was to make the federal government the surety of the rights of the people, when that had been the purview of the states.

  • Again, though, the 14th Amendment was not designed to incorporate the Bill of Rights. Many of the ill effects of the amendment were the result of over-zealous interpretation by the courts. Any analysis of the US history between the Civil War and roughly the New Deal would show that the federalist apple-cart had not been upset as thoroughly as is often claimed.

  • The link I provided cites many of the drafters of the 14th as to the intended meaning and interpretation of the 14th Amendment. You will note, perhaps, that incorporation of the Bill of Rights was specifically and explicitly in their minds. Incorporation was not a later judicial invention, but was intended by the authors of the 14th.

    I’m tempted to say it’s simple and clear, because it is, but those characterizations apparently offend people.

  • The surprising thing is that the federal courts were so timid about taking up the cudgel against the states that the Republicans gave them via the 14th Amendment. That surprising fact, I think, explains why some people mistakenly conclude that incorporation was a much later judicial invention–because the courts didn’t seize upon it in earnest until the early 20th century. But the victorious Republicans were not shy about the meaning of their Amendment.

  • I’m tempted to say it’s simple and clear, because it is, but those characterizations apparently offend people.

    It’s not a matter of offense Tom, it’s a matter of conveying opinions with ample supportive evidence and not relying on lazy adjectives to pretend that the matter is not without debate. Citing one online article as proof of an assertion doesn’t make you an expert on the matter.

  • “The colonies clearly considered themselves independent entities, not simply parts of a national state. Hence the need for a convention whereby the states would decide what powers, if any, to cede to the general government.”

    You mistake the Union for the mode of governing the Union. The Union existed prior to the Articles of Confederation. The 13 original colonies never had independent status except as part of the United States.

    “Not much need for a constitutional convention and ratification by the states if the states were not fundamentally independent actors with the ability to either enter into a union or not.”

    Once again you mistake the Union for the mode of governing it. At the time of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 the Union was governed by the Articles of Confederation.

    “Hence, the convening of the convention for the Articles of Confederation”

    Because it was proposed by the Continental Congress as the governing instrument of the pre-existent Union.

    “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.”

    Yep, the same Articles of Confederation which declared the Union perpetual.

    “No, clearly, the colonies, or states, were sovereign, independent states”

    Note to non-lawyers. Usually when lawyers say “clearly” what follows is opinion. The colonies were never independent states but rather part of the United States of America created by the Continental Congress by the Declaration of Independence. Hence a common flag, a regular army, and speaking with one voice in diplomacy with foreign states. The United States of America was born in the stress of war. The country existed first, with the details of government to be worked out later.

    From General Washington’s circular to the state governors in 1783:

    “Such is our situation, and such are our prospects: but notwithstanding the cup of blessing is thus reached out to us, notwithstanding happiness is ours, if we have a disposition to seize the occasion and make it our own; yet, it appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America, that it is in their choice, and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptable and miserable as a Nation; This is the time of their political probation, this is the moment when the eyes of the whole World are turned upon them, this is the moment to establish or ruin their national Character forever, this is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our Federal Government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution, or this may be the ill-fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the Confederation, and exposing us to become the sport of European politics, which may play one State against another to prevent their growing importance, and to serve their own interested purposes. For, according to the system of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.

    With this conviction of the importance of the present Crisis, silence in me would be a crime; I will therefore speak to your Excellency, the language of freedom and of sincerity, without disguise; I am aware, however, that those who differ from me in political sentiment, may perhaps remark, I am stepping out of the proper line of my duty, and they may possibly ascribe to arrogance or ostentation, what I know is alone the result of the purest intention, but the rectitude of my own heart, which disdains such unworthy motives, the part I have hitherto acted in life, the determination I have formed, of not taking any share in public business hereafter, the ardent desire I feel, and shall continue to manifest, of quietly enjoying in private life, after all the toils of War, the benefits of a wise and liberal Government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later convince my Countrymen, that I could have no sinister views in delivering with so little reserve, the opinions contained in this Address.

    There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power:

    1st. An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head.

    2dly. A Sacred regard to Public Justice.

    3dly. The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and

    4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.”

  • Even if one concedes the incorporation doctrine (which I don’t), it does not follow that the federalist form of governance was undermined by the war. The federal government did not become an intrusive beast until the progressive era, as it slowly accumulated power from the New Deal until today. While the 14th amendment has been used as a cudgel, arguably the commerce clause has been a greater thorn in the side of federalism. The most pernicious of the anti-federalist cases, Wickard v. Filburn, was a decision based on an extraordinarily expansive reading of the commerce clause. Further, even in cases based on the 14th Amendment, it did not follow that the courts had to rule in a manner inconsistent with federalist principles.

    Blaming the expansive growth of the federal leviathan on the outcome of the Civil War and passage of the 14th Amendment is akin to blaming obesity on consumption of soft drinks. It didn’t help the current condition, but you’re missing some larger factors.

  • PZ… I never claimed to be an expert. Are you? I have spent many years reading and studying about these issues, as I suspect you have as well. The article I cited is important because it gives just the evidentiary support you ask for. I said that the original intent of the framers of the 14th was that it incorporate the Bill of Rights against the states. I supplied source material for that claim. Your response is ad hominem about my use of adjectives and “citing an online article.” Given the venue, I don’t know what other support I can offer, since we can’t walk down to the research library and access original sources together.

    It seems you’re simply unwilling to engage my evidence. That’s fine, but the nit-picking ad hominem does not increase your credibility.

    I never claimed that the civil war was responsible for later abuses of the 20th century. I merely said it led to changes that fundamentally altered the balance of constitutional power vis-a-vis federalism. So I respectfully reject your attempt to mischaracterize my claim. The adoption of the 14th Amendment at the hands of the radical Republicans did constitute a fundamental change in the previous understanding of federalism.

    While these Republicans may not have intended the most elastic use of this Amendment made in recent years, it remains that they are responsible for this fundamental alteration, without which the later abuses could not have happened, at least insofar as they rely on the 14th Amendment.

  • Don, there is no distinction between “union” and “mode of government.” The “union” only existed when the states gathered to decide what “mode of government” would allow for a “union” to exist in the first place. If any colony or colony had decided against union, there would be no law, no constitution, no treaty, no authority anywhere that would compel them to sign on to the Articles. They would simply exist, as all the states did, as their own, independent, sovereign entities.

    The Articles of Confederation (the first formal charter of a national government) were adopted November 15, 1777.

    The Colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776.

    For over a year, the colonies therefore existed as independent states without reference to a federal government.

    No matter that they declared independence together. The Continental Congress certainly never dreamed of acting as a national government, but as a mere gathering of “free and independent states,” in the plural, note.

    “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States [again, note the use of the plural “states”], that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

    Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like what the southern states said in reference to the Union.

  • nit-picking ad hominem does not increase your credibility.

    You used ad-hominem twice, but I did not engage in ad hominem – I merely stated that the evidence you supplied was not sufficient to back up the claim you made. We are at an impasse. But speaking of nit picking.

    I never claimed that the civil war was responsible for later abuses of the 20th century. I merely said it led to changes that fundamentally altered the balance of constitutional power vis-a-vis federalism.

    Now who’s picking nits? If the argument is that the Civil War and the amendments that sprung from it fundamentally altered the balance of power, it would seem to follow that this is where to lay the blame for the later abuses of the 20th century.

    But let’s forget that for the moment. If the claim is that these changes fundamentally altered the balance of power, even a careful reconstruction of the motivations behind the 14th amendment wouldn’t be enough. It seems strange to me to claim that the post Civil War era created a fundamental change when the historical evidence – based on the legislation, political culture, court cases, etc. show little proof that such a fundamental change occurred.

    Yes, history is slow to develop and we wouldn’t have expected dramatic changes overnight, I’ll grant you that. Yet it took more than two post-war generations for the American constitutional system to develop cracks (for lack of a better way of phrasing it). Federal-state relationships remained basically the same until then.

    Now again I’ll grant that your point is a bit finer, perhaps even philosophical – the 14th Amendment laid the groundwork by inherently altering the nature of our system. It would be difficult to deny that the civil war sparked a revolution – perhaps more of a revolution than the “American Revolution.” We became something more of a nationalistic entity. That I cannot deny. What I will continue to deny, though is that the rank and file of the Republican party envisioned a radical alteration of the federal-state relationship, and that the 14th amendment is even the primary cause of the later alteration.

    I apologize for being curt in previous replies, and I still feel that I haven’t (and honestly can’t due to time constraints) engage your points more thoroughly than I have.

  • And while the Articles refer to a “perpetual union” which might have ramifications for withdrawing from the Union, the Constitution did not refer to a “perpetual union.” Presumably the men who drafted the Constitution were aware of the phrase and deliberately chose to exclude it.

  • PZ, perhaps it is an impasse. I would say my view is that the civil war and the forced adoption of the 14th Amendment were the remote cause of the later 19th and early 20th century judicial decisions that we both decry; the proximate cause of these decisions is something else entirely.

    I too, apologize for any lack of charity in my tone or comments.

  • “Don, there is no distinction between “union” and “mode of government.””

    Of course there is as the Union has had three governments: Continental Congress, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

    “If any colony or colony had decided against union, there would be no law, no constitution, no treaty, no authority anywhere that would compel them to sign on to the Articles.”

    Actually there were quite a few Americans who were against the Union. We call them Tories and they called themselves Loyalists. They were beaten by the use of military force.

    “For over a year, the colonies therefore existed as independent states without reference to a federal government.”

    Wrong. The Continental Congress acted as the Federal government, among other things creating an army, a navy, issuing currency and carrying on foreign relations.

    “The Continental Congress certainly never dreamed of acting as a national government, but as a mere gathering of “free and independent states,” in the plural, note.”

    It didn’t dream of acting as a national government, it acted as a national government. Recognizing the need for a more efficient and stronger Federal government it sent the Articles of Confederation to the States.

    “We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled do , in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these states, reject and renounce the allegiance and subjection to the kinds of Great Britain and all others whe may herafter claim by, through, or under them; we utterly dissolve and break off all political connection which may have heretofore subsisted between us and the people or parliament of Great Britain; and finally we do assert and declare these colonies to be free and independent states, and that as free and independent states they shall herafter have [full] power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.”

    All of which powers were only implemented by the United States of America.

  • “Presumably the men who drafted the Constitution were aware of the phrase and deliberately chose to exclude it.”

    No, they didn’t rename the country either. They didn’t repeat what the Articles of Confederation had already asserted.

  • PZ – while it’s not fair to compare different historical periods – progressivism vs 1840’s economic policy, Lincoln was in favor of the “American System” as termed by his early career Whig benefactors. And it does bear some resemblance to what came to be progressivism. Of course this goes back longer than Lincoln. Without getting Hegelian/Marxian regarding forces of history, there just does seem to be something in the air of for the governmentally powerful that makes them want to take money from people and do “good” with it. The rise of the idea of the “invisible hand” was a tremendous brake on that powerful notion. So again, these two forces were not as fully developed in the time of Lincoln as they came to be during the 20th century, but it does seem pretty safe to say that he came down on the side of taking the money and having the government do the “good”. What he would have made out of where we went with it is a good question.

  • “of taking the money and having the government do the “good”.”

    Completely antithetical to Lincoln’s view. He wanted internal improvements to speed the economic development of the country. He was in no way, shape and form in favor of a proto welfare state. If anything he would have been much closer to those who advocated a hand’s off attitude towards the economy, as indicated by the moderate stance he took on a protective tariff. A good summary of Lincoln’s economic views:

    “Lincoln’s political and economic philosophy was framed by what historian Gabor Boritt has called the “right to rise.” 24 Lincoln scholar Frank Coburn noted: “Throughout his political career, Abraham Lincoln supported a view that government should support a policy of universal economic opportunity – a right to rise. As an Illinois state politician, his positions on internal improvements, state banks, and tariffs were drawn from adaptations of his doctrine. Lincoln expanded this tenet during the 1850s as the basis for his opposition to slavery by asserting that as members of humanity, slaves, too, deserved an equal opportunity to succeed.”25 Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa observed: “Lincoln reduced the essence of slavery to the formula, ‘You work, I’ll eat.’”26 Mr. Lincoln reverenced work – even when he joked about it. As President, he wrote: “The lady — bearer of this — says she has two sons who want to work. Set them at it, if possible. Wanting to work is so rare a merit, that should be encouraged.”27”

  • “The Declaration of Independence was the fundamental act of union for these states”
    Thomas Jefferson, 1825 “Writings” p.479

    The 1878 revision of the U.S. Code lists the Declaration as the first among America’s organic laws, and every enabling act since the Civil War for the admission of a new state into the Union included a statutory requirement that the constitution of the new state “shall not be repugnant to the Declaration of Independence.”
    Cox, “Four Pillars of Constitutionalism: The Organic Laws of the U.S.”

    The Articles of Confederation spoke of “perpetual union” in it’s title. The U.S. Constitution in the preamble says “In order to form a more perfect union”. Can a thing become more perfect, if it becomes more mutable or ephemeral?

  • Again, no Continental Congress or Articles or Constitution without the preexisting possessors of sovereignty, the colonies, or states.

    Tories were not “states,” they were individuals. If the union somehow magically coexisted with the Colonies, there would have been no need to get the states to ratify the Articles.

    The Continental Congress did exercise some very limited united functions; of course, it do so only after it had been authorized to do by the states that convened it! The colonies (states) could have just as easily decided not to convene a congress, and attempted to conduct the rebellion on their own. They decided that obviously a cooperative effort would be more successful.

    If the states created the Continental Congress, they are a fortiori free and independent in the first instance.

    Again, no evidence from the founders could be produced to support the notion that the states were in any way bound to enter into these original compacts. Georgia, in fact, did not participate in the first Continental Congress, and yet they were not invaded or compelled to come into the compact.

    Massachusetts, for example, ratified the constitution in these terms:

    entering into an explicit and solemn compact with each other, by assenting to and ratifying a new Constitution, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity, — do, in the name and in behalf of the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, assent to and ratify the said Constitution for the United States of America.

    Virginia’s adoption declaration is typical also:

    WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will…

    Every state voted for the constitution in similar terms, expressly stating that they were granting the federal government certain specific and enumerated powers that they possess, in order to form a more perfect union, as the saying goes.

    Only a sovereign entity could logically cede a portion of its sovereignty. Each state ratifying the constitution ceded some of its already existing sovereignty. That the states had ratification conventions is itself proof that no state had to accept the constitution. They did so voluntarily. No “superior” government required or compelled them to do so. In point of fact, the adoption of the Bill of Rights at the insistence of some of the ratifying states is further proof that the states decided whether, and what kind of, federal government there would be.

  • Tom,

    Give it up.

  • Why should Tom “give it up”? He has a valid argument. Indeed, a strong one. Disagree with it, if you will (as Don has done), but it’s not as though Tom’s view is wholly without merit so that he must “give up” and accept the opposing viewpoint as the only valid one.
    I happen to believe that Don and Tom are, in some respects, both right. Don is correct that the 13 colonies intended to form a union, with the Declaration referring to the “United States” and the Articles of Confederation referencing a “perpetual union”. But Tom is absolutely correct in arguing that, at each step — Declaration, Articles, Constitution, SOVEREIGN colonies / states had to approve the bargain. Had any one of those 13 governments — say, Rhode Island, South Carolina, or Georgia — decided to disapprove, vote “NO”, and walk away, they would have been completely free to do so. There was nothing binding them to agree to a union of ANY sort.

Post Civil War Recessions

Sunday, May 31, AD 2015


Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!
Farewell the plumèd troops and the big wars
That makes ambition virtue! Oh, farewell!
Shakespeare, Othello


It is unsurprising that post Civil War the country entered a period of recessions.  Prior to the Civil War the nation had known periods of booms and bust, both usually short-lived.  The Civil War had been boom times in the North with war spending ensuring no recession during the War.  With the turning off of the Federal money spigot in the wake of the War, and the return of men to civilian life, the country entered a period of recession that did not end until December 1869.

The subsequent boom period was very short lived, with a new recession stretching from June 1869-December 1870.  The Panic of 1873 led to the Long Depression of October 1873-March 1879.

Demobilization after World War I led to a brief, but very sharp, recession.  With these examples, government policies in the demobilization period after World War II were geared to avoid a recession, and they were successful, although I am suspicious that other economic factors likely accounted for the lack of a recession.

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May 26, 1865: Kirby Smith Surrenders

Tuesday, May 26, AD 2015




The last major Confederate force to surrender, General Edmund Kirby Smith, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, signed the articles of surrender on May 26, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.  Consisting of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, the Trans-Mississippi had been cut off from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in mid 1863.  Smith then conducted the War in his sprawling Department on his own initiative, his command becoming known in the rest of the Confederacy as “Kirby Smithdom”.

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May 24, 1865: Grand Review-Sherman’s Army

Sunday, May 24, AD 2015



The day after the Army of the Potomac marched in final review through Washington, it was the turn of the 65,000 men of Sherman’s Army of Georgia.  Sherman was afraid that his weathered Westerners would make a poor showing in comparison to the spit and polish Army of the Potomac.

There had long been a keen rivalry between the Union troops in the East and the Union troops in the West.  The troops in the West thought the Army of the Potomac got all of the publicity while the troops in the West were winning the War.  The informal Westerners derided the Easterners as “paper collar” toy soldiers.  The Army of the Potomac tended to look upon the Western troops as uncouth barbarians, more armed mobs than armies, and men who won victories against second rate Confederate troops and generals while they did battle with Robert E. Lee and his first team of the Army of Northern Virginia.

There was no way Sherman’s men were going to let Uncle Billy down and let the Army of the Potomac show them up.  When they stepped off their uniforms were clean and repaired and they marched as if they had spent the War doing formal dress parades.  Sherman was immensely pleased:

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2 Responses to May 24, 1865: Grand Review-Sherman’s Army

  • I’ve read Sherman’s Memoirs and several biographies but I don’t recall the bit about Sherman hating “Marching through Georgia”. Thanks, I love these little details.

    What I find interesting is the reaction of the European powers. Seeing the military machine the US had created they could not but speculate where we would turn next. The idea of just sending all our soldiers home was too ridiculous to contemplate.

  • Agreed Mr. Collins.
    The German Ambassador reportedly said upon seeing Grant’s men “That army could beat all of Europe”, and then of Sherman’s “That army could beat the devil”.
    Too bad his successors a half century or more later forgot that lesson. The world could have been spared much agony had it been remembered.

May 23, 1865: Grand Review

Saturday, May 23, AD 2015

Something for the weekend:  Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Doubtless many men who fought in the Civil War thought, and dreaded, that the War might go on forever.  Now, however, it had ended with Union victory.  Some European powers speculated that the United States would now use its vast armies to take foreign territory:  perhaps French occupied Mexico, maybe settle old scores by taking Canada from Great Britain, Cuba, held by moribund Spain was certainly a tempting target.  But no, the armies had been raised for the purpose of preserving the Union.  Now the men in the ranks were eager to get home, and the nation was just as eager to enjoy peace.

One last duty remained however:  an immense victory parade in Washington.  On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day.  For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union.  Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all.    Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now:  lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation.  When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:

“The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.”  

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A Second Review of the Grand Army

Friday, May 22, AD 2015

Recently I have been reading of the Grand Review of the Armies which occurred in Washington DC on May 23 and May 24, 1865.  This was a victory parade of Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Sherman’s Army.  I was struck by a banner that was spread on the capitol dome those two days: “The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.”   Indeed.    So the boys in blue enjoyed two days of being cheered as heroes and saviors of their country, before they were demobilized and went back to their homes, the War left behind to fading memories and imperishable history.

However, there were silent victors who could not march in the Grand Review, and humorist Bret Harte remembered them in this poem:

I read last night of the Grand Review
    In Washington’s chiefest avenue,–
Two hundred thousand men in blue,
    I think they said was the number,–
Till I seemed to hear their trampling feet,
The bugle blast and the drum’s quick beat,
The clatter of hoofs in the stony street,
The cheers of the people who came to greet,
And the thousand details that to repeat
    Would only my verse encumber,–
Till I fell in a revery, sad and sweet,
    And then to a fitful slumber.
When, lo! in a vision I seemed to stand
In the lonely Capitol. On each hand
Far stretched the portico, dim and grand
Its columns ranged, like a martial band
Of sheeted spectres whom some command
    Had called to a last reviewing.
And the streets of the city were white and bare;
No footfall echoed across the square;
But out of the misty midnight air
I heard in the distance a trumpet blare,
And the wandering night-winds seemed to bear
    The sound of a far tatooing.

Then I held my breath with fear and dread;
For into the square, with a brazen tread,
There rode a figure whose stately head
    O’erlooked the review that morning.
That never bowed from its firm-set seat
When the living column passed its feet,
Yet now rode steadily up the street
    To the phantom bugle’s warning:
Till it reached the Capitol square, and wheeled,
And there in the moonlight stood revealed
A well known form that in State and field
    Had led our patriot sires;
Whose face was turned to the sleeping camp,
Afar through the river’s fog and damp,
That showed no flicker, nor warning lamp,
    Nor wasted bivouac fires.
And I saw a phantom army come,
With never a sound of fife or drum,
But keeping time to a throbbing hum
    Of wailing and lamentation:
The martyred heroes of Malvern Hill,
Of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville,
The men whose wasted figures fill
    The patriot graves of the nation.
And there came the nameless dead,–the men
Who perished in fever-swamp and fen,
The slowly-starved of the prison-pen;
    And marching beside the others,
Came the dusky martyrs of Pillow’s fight,
With limbs enfranchised and bearing bright;
I thought–perhaps ’twas the pale moonlight–
    They looked as white as their brothers!
And so all night marched the Nation’s dead,
With never a banner above them spread,
Nor a badge, nor a motto brandished;
No mark–save the bare uncovered head
    Of the silent bronze Reviewer;
With never an arch save the vaulted sky;
With never a flower save those that lie
On the distant graves–for love could buy
    No gift that was purer or truer.
So all night long swept the strange array;
So all night long, till the morning gray,
I watch’d for one who had passed away,
    With a reverent awe and wonder,–
Till a blue cap waved in the lengthening line,
And I knew that one who was kin of mine
Had come; amd I spake–and lo! that sign
    Awakened me from my slumber.

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May 19, 1865: Skirmish at Hodby Bridge

Tuesday, May 19, AD 2015


One of the odd things about the Civil War is how often statements that are assumed to be facts are not.  For example, it is usually stated that Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana, killed on May 13, 1865 at the battle of Palmito Ranch is the last man killed in the Civil War.  That is almost certainly incorrect.  That sad distinction may belong to Corporal John W. Skinner, 1rst Florida US Cavalry, who was killed at an ambush at Hodby’s Bridge in Alabama, by Confederate guerillas.  This skirmish would probably have been lost to history, but for a legal battle waged by the wounded Union soldiers for pensions.  The complicating factor was whether the Union soldiers returning from a furlough were on active duty at the time, in which case they were entitled to pensions, or whether they were on furlough and not entitled to pensions.  Ultimately the government ruled in favor of the soldiers in 1900 after initially rejecting the pension applications in 1896.  How many other men were killed in skirmishes completely missed by history in the closing weeks of this vast struggle?

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Mark Twain’s Civil War

Monday, May 18, AD 2015





Mark Twain, like many young men North and South, decided that the Civil War was not to his taste, and went West.  In 1887 he addressed a reunion of Maryland Union troops and gave a short, humorous, and dark, look at his war:

“When your secretary invited me to this reunion of the Union veterans of Maryland he requested me to come prepared to clear up a matter which he said had long been a subject of dispute and bad blood in war circles in this country – to wit, the true dimensions of my military services in the Civil War, and the effect they had upon the general result.  I recognise the importance of this thing to history, and I have come prepared.  Here are the details.

I was in the Civil War two weeks.  In that brief time I rose from private to second lieutenant.  The monumental feature of my campaign was the one battle which my command fought – it was in the summer of ’61.  If I do say it, it was the bloodiest battle ever fought in human history; there is nothing approaching it for destruction of human life in the field, if you take into consideration the forces engaged and the proportion of death to survival.  And yet you do not even know the name of that battle.  Neither do I.  It had a name, but I have forgotten it.  It is no use to keep private information which you can’t show off.  In our battle there were just 15 men engaged on our side – all brigadier-generals but me, and I was a second-lieutenant.  On the other side there was one man.  He was a stranger.  We killed him.  It was night, and we thought it was an army of observation; he looked like an army of observation – in fact, he looked bigger than an army of observation would in the day time; and some of us believed he was trying to surround us, and some thought he was going to turn our position, and so we shot him.

Poor fellow, he probably wasn’t an army of observation after all, but that wasn’t our fault; as I say, he had all the look of it in the dim light.  It was a sorrowful circumstance, but he took the chances of war, and he drew the wrong card; he over-estimated his fighting strength, and he suffered the likely result; but he fell as the brave should fall – with his face to the front and feet to the field – so we buried him with the honours of war, and took his things.

So began and ended the only battle in the history of the world where the opposing force was utterly exterminated, swept from the face of the earth – to the last man.  And yet you don’t know the name of that battle; you don’t even know the name of that man.

Now, then, for the argument.  Suppose I had continued in the war, and gone on as I began, and exterminated the opposing forces every time – every two weeks – where would your war have been?  Why, you see yourself, the conflict would have been too one-sided.  There was but one honourable course for me to pursue, and I pursued it.  I withdrew to private life, and gave the Union cause a chance.  There, now, you have the whole thing in a nutshell; it was not my presence in the Civil War that determined that tremendous contest – it was my retirement from it that brought the  crash.  It left the Confederate side too weak.”

Twain could see the good and bad in both sides, and after the War became a friend of General Grant.  The older he got the more cynical he got, and his final biting verdict on the enthusiasm for war that he saw as a young man at the start of the Civil War is his 1907 War Prayer:

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One Response to Mark Twain’s Civil War

  • Good post. I think that Mark Twain’s prayer-poem of 1907 is very wise indeed. I seem to recall Hawkeye on that TV show MASH saying something like this: “War is war and hell is hell, and of the two war is worse.” I went on a nuclear submarine because I was a coward. I did not want to see men being shot at and disemboweled on the field of battle. I did not want that to happen to myself. So I figured that if I had to die, then let it be by the instantaneous implosion of the pressure hull when a Soviet torpedo strikes it (from which reference you may surmise my age).

May 12, 1865: Palmito Ranch-Last Battle of the Civil War

Tuesday, May 12, AD 2015



At the beginning of the Civil War what would later have been called skirmishes were called battles, so I guess we can call Palmito Ranch at the end of the War a battle.

At the beginning of 1865 the Union and Confederate troops engaged in an informal truce in south Texas, since the War was manifestly about to come to an end, and both sides could see that nothing that was done in Texas would have any impact on the outcome.  Negotiations began in March for the surrender of the Confederate troops in Texas but came to nothing. Why a Union force advanced on Brownsville, Texas in May is something of a mystery since a surrender was obviously in the offing.  At any rate in a two day fight the Confederates succeeded in causing the Union force of about 500 men to retreat.  The Confederate force of 300 sustained casualties of 5-6 wounded and 3 captured.  The Union force had 4 killed, 3 wounded and 101 captured.  Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana had the sad distinction  of being the last man to be killed in action in the Civil War.  Here is the report of the commander of the luckless Union force:

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Forrest’s Farewell to His Troops

Monday, May 11, AD 2015

I imagine that there were a few sighs of relief in Washington when this farewell address of General Nathan Bedford Forrest made its way north.  If any man were going to lead a guerilla resistance in the South it was Forrest.  That he was ready to accept defeat was a good sign that such resistance was not going to occur.  Here is the text of his address:

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3 Responses to Forrest’s Farewell to His Troops

  • One of the most fascinating figures in military history, period. His rebuke of Braxton Bragg was magnificent (oh, how how HOW is the nation saddled with a major military installation named after *Bragg*….?):

    “I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any orders to me, for I will not obey them, and I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me… and I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of you life.”

  • Political philosopher Russell Kirk tells this story:
    Years after Appomattox, at a convention of Confederate veterans, that magnificent, simple cavalryman [Forrest] listened to a series of highflying speeches from his old comrades in arms, by way of apologia for the lost cause; but slavery was scarcely mentioned. Then Forrest rose up, disgruntled, and announced that if he hadn’t thought he was fighting to keep his [slaves] and other folks’ [slaves], he never would have gone to war in the first place.

    He also seemed to change as he got older. He joined the KKK in 1866 and as head of it ordered it disbanded (reportedly) in 1869. But in 1875, 2 years before his death, he gave a conciliatory speech to a black fraternal organization in Memphis, supporting black voting rights and economic advancement.

May 10, 1865: Jefferson Davis Captured

Sunday, May 10, AD 2015

Wonder how Jefferson Davis
Feels, down there in Montgomery, about Sumter.
He must be thinking pretty hard and fast,
For he’s an able man, no doubt of that.
We were born less than forty miles apart,
Less than a year apart–he got the start
Of me in age, and raising too, I guess,
In fact, from all you hear about the man,
If you set out to pick one of us two
For President, by birth and folks and schooling,
General raising, training up in office,
I guess you’d pick him, nine times out of ten
And yet, somehow, I’ve got to last him out.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Jefferson Davis, first and last president of the Confederacy, was captured by Union cavalry near Irwinville, Georgia one hundred and fifty years ago.  Secretly he is happy about this turn of events.  He expects to be tried for treason and looks forward to defending himself on Constitutional grounds.  Instead, he will spend two years incarcerated, and then be released on bail, never to have his day in court.  He would have the misfortune to survive the War for almost a quarter of a century, and to become involved in many querulous debates with former Confederates who sought to blame him for the loss of the War.  Far better for Davis if he had been killed by the Union troopers and died, the martyr of the Lost Cause.  Instead, he was fated to endure the worst fate for a loser of a great historical turning point:  a long life in which to play the role of scapegoat.

Robert E. Lee I think had it right when he said that he could think of no one who could have done as well as Davis as President.  A great man who almost led his nation to victory, Davis had the misfortune to be opposed by a greater man leading a stronger nation.  In response to his critics, he produced a two volume turgid defense entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881), published, ironically, by a New York publishing house.  At 1500 pages it is one of the great unread books of American history, the province of only the most obsessive of Civil War scholars, although Oscar Wilde, strangely enough, proclaimed it a literary masterpiece, although even he admitted that he skimmed the military portions.   In recent decades Davis, who had his slaves run his plantation along with their own court system, has been often portrayed as a devil stick figure, as if he had invented slavery, a sort of anti-Lincoln.  This is ahistoric rubbish.  Davis was a fascinating, and often contradictory, man and the scholarship devoted to him has been sadly lacking.  The man who came so close to changing the course of the nation deserves better from the servants of Clio.

T. H. Peabody, a member of the Union cavalry unit that captured Davis gave this account:

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When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Saturday, May 2, AD 2015


Something for the weekend:  When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  One hundred and fifty years ago as soldiers North and South were returning to their homes this song was being played.  Written by composer Patrick Gilmore, bandmaster of the 24th Massachusetts in 1863 to comfort his sister who was praying for her fiancée to return safe from the War, it proved immensely popular both North and South with the troops and was sung and played endlessly by them with varied lyrics, all centered upon their dearest hope:  to go home after what they usually called this cruel War was over.  Gilmore set the tune to another popular song of the day:  Johnny Fill Up the Bowl.

The song retained its popularity in subsequent American wars as demonstrated by these renditions of the song by Glenn Miller and the Andrew Sisters:

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