Father John Ireland and the Fifth Minnesota

Thursday, August 23, AD 2012



One of the titans of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century in the United States was Archbishop John Ireland, the first Archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Future blog posts will cover his career as Archbishop.  This blog post is focused on his service during the Civil War.  Ordained a priest only a year, Father John Ireland at 24 in 1862 received permission of his bishop to join the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.  He joined the regiment immediately after the battle of Shiloh.

At the battle of Corinth on October 4, 1862 the Fifth Minnesota saved the day for the Union with a charge that stopped a Confederate breakthrough of the Union lines.  Running short on ammunition, the troops received additional cartridges from Chaplain Ireland who ran down the line dispensing ammunition.  When the fighting was over, the soldiers noted that their chaplain tirelessly tended the wounded and administered the Last Rites to soldiers whose wounds were beyond human aid.

The troops were very fond of their young priest and built him a portable altar from saplings.  His sermons were popular with the men, being direct, blunt and brief.  He was noted for his sunny disposition, quick wit  and his courage.  He was also an enthusiastic chess player, and would take on all comers in the evenings in camp.

Before battles he would hear the confessions of huge numbers of soldiers, with some Protestant soldiers often asking for admission to the Church.  He was always ready to pray with any soldiers no matter their religion, and give them what comfort he could in reminding them that God was ever at their side during their time of peril.  On one occasion he went to the side of an officer who had been shot and was bleeding to death and had asked for a chaplain.   the Archbishop recalled the scene decades after the War.   ‘Speak to me,’ he said, ‘of Jesus.’ He had been baptized — there was no time to talk of Church. I talked of the Savior, and of sorrow for sin. The memory of that scene has never been effaced from my mind. I have not doubted the salvation of that soul.”

Father Ireland was mustered out of service in March of 1863 due to ill-health, but he never forgot his time in the Union Army.  He was ever active in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization,   and would write about his experiences as a combat chaplain.  Unlike most Catholics of his day, he was a firm Republican, the friend of Republican presidents including McKinley and Roosevelt, and never forgot why the Civil War had to be fought, as this statement by him regarding the rights of blacks indicates:

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10 Responses to Father John Ireland and the Fifth Minnesota

  • Thanks for this post. Attended the same College where one of our professors upheld his memory for us. His last quote is as you said so relevant. It also echoes the views of the Founders, a civil-non-sectarian virtuous patriotism, with out being denominational. They of course would throw a fit if they were faced with today’s acceptance of abortion and same gender unions, including equating them to “marriage,” which are so accepted by today’s “Christian” leaders in State, Court and some Church bodies

  • It should be noted that this bishop’s name is still mentioned with some rancour in Greek Catholic circles. He being the cause for the largest mass conversion to Orthodoxy in hundreds of years (from Wikipedia):

    In 1891, Ireland refused to accept the credentials of Greek-Catholic priest Alexis Toth, citing the decree that married priests of the Eastern Catholic Churches were not permitted to function in the Catholic Church in the United States, despite Toth being a widower. Ireland then forbade Toth to minister to his own parishioners, despite the fact that Toth had jurisdiction from his own Bishop, and did not depend on Ireland. Ireland was also involved in efforts to expel all Eastern Catholic clergy from the United States of America. Forced into an impasse, Toth went on to lead thousands of Greek-Catholics to leave the Catholic Church to join the Russian Orthodox Church. Because of this, Archbishop Ireland is sometimes referred to, ironically, as “The Father of the Orthodox Church in America.” Marvin R. O’Connell, author of a biography on Ireland, summarizes the situation by stating that “if Ireland’s advocacy of the blacks displayed him at his best, his belligerence toward the Greek Catholics showed him at his bull-headed worst.”

  • Joseph: You’re correct about the Greek Catholic problem. And Archbishop flirted with Modernism. But this article is on the Fifth Minnesota. “This blog post is focused on his service during the Civil War.”

  • I believe that Archbishop Ireland’s treatment of Fr. Toth is fair game for discussion, his service in the Civil War notwithstanding.

    Pittsburgh, where I live, is the home of the Byzantine Ruthenain Archeparchy. The Rusyns have suffered through two schisms in the USA. First, there was the lousy treatment of Fr. Toth that led to the establishment of the Orthodox Church of America. Second, the Latin bishops of the USA petitioned the Holy See to ban married clergy in the Eastern Churches in the USA in the 1920s, which was approved. A second schism occurred, and the American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Diocese (based in Johnstown, PA was established.

    I was unaware of Archbishop Ireland’s service in the Civil War, and I found Mr. McClarey’s post to be informative. I was aware of Archbishop Ireland’s role in the construction of the magnificent cathedral in St. Paul. However, having worked for several years volunteering with the Sisters of St. Basil at Mount St. Macrina in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, I learned firsthand that Archbishop Ireland’s words and deeds regarding the Byzantine Church caused a great deal of harm.

  • Why do you believe that your issue is important in response to a post about Father Ireland in the Civil War? What if I decided that you can’t post because the Greeks are virtually bankrupt today? That would be just as valid as your change of the subject, wouldn’t it?

  • I would ask that comments regarding Archbishop Ireland and the Uniates (Eastern Catholics) be left for future posts. I will have several more posts on this remarkable man in the months to come. I find him fascinating, and I will treat his career in full, including the controversies raised in this thread. For now please focus on his role as a chaplain in the Civil War and his thoughts regarding patriotism.

  • During my research for an upcoming book tentatively titled “Pro Deo Pro Patria::The Life and Death of a Catholic Military School,” I learned that one of the few remaining Catholic military schools St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota is an archdiocesan school founded by Bishop Ireland.

  • I deleted your comment Seraphim. The controveries you alluded to in your comment will be dealt with in a future post, but for now I must insist that my wishes be respected in this thread.

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June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

Monday, June 25, AD 2012

One of the more important series of battles in American history, collectively known as the Seven Days, occurred in Virginia 150 years ago this week.  By driving away McClellan’s larger Army of the Potomac from Richmond, Robert E. Lee ensured that the Civil War was not going to be a quick Union victory, and that the Civil War, instead of a minor blip in US history, would, by the beginning of 1863, be transformed into a revolutionary struggle that would destroy slavery and alter the Union forever.

Before taking command of the Army of Northern Virginia after the wounding of General Joe Johnston at the battle of Seven Pines, Robert E. Lee had acquired the nickname of “Granny Lee” due to his construction of fortifications and a perception that he was too cautious and lacked an aggressive spirit.  Few nicknames in history have been more inapposite.  As a commander Lee was a gambler and far preferred to attack the enemy than to passively await an attack.  After taking over command from Johnston at the beginning of June, Lee began working towards a big offensive to drive the larger Union army away from the outskirts of Richmond.  To accomplish this he began to draw reinforcements to Richmond from throughout Virginia, most notably Jackson’s Valley Army.

From June 12-15th he had the cavalry of his army, brilliantly commanded by Jeb Stuart, ride around McClellan’s army to ascertain what portion of McClellan’s army was north of the Chickahominy River.

Lee got the information he  needed from Stuart’s reconnaissance.  McClellan had about 25,000-30,000 men north of the Chickahominy.  The remainder of his army, about 60,000, was south of the Chickahominy, in front of the Richmond defenses.  Lee’s plan was bold.  Leaving about 25,000 men in the Richmond defenses, he would take the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia, and attack McClellan’s troop north of the Chickahominy, giving him a two-one battlefield superiority over the Union forces that side of the Chickahominy.  The plan of course was contingent on McClellan remaining passive in front of Richmond.  Lee planned on cutting McClellan’s supply lines by turning McClellan’s flank after winning on the north side of the Chickahominy and crossing to the south side and forcing McClellan to retreat or to be destroyed by the converging Confederates from Richmond and Lee’s forces.  The plan was daring and complicated, especially for an army as green as the one Lee led.

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10 Responses to June 25, 1862: The Seven Days Begin

  • Has any commander in the history of American arms thrown away as many chances as McClellan? Mark Clark, maybe?

  • McClellan basically abandoned his army Dale after Gaines Mill when he personally retreated to south of Malvern Hill. He gave no marching orders for the retreat, leaving his corps commanders to their own devices. Immense stores of supplies and ordinance were burned with no attempt to transport them along with the troops. The Union wounded, 2500, were shamefully abandoned at Savage’s Station. In a less forgiving country McClellan would have been shot for his performance in the Peninsula. In our country he ran for President in 1864, and but for the autumn military victories of that year might have won.

  • Yeah, McClellan basically did what Rosecrans did after Chickamauga, but it somehow didn’t ruin his reputation–too many influential political supporters, I think. It’s a wonder the AoP wasn’t destroyed in detail, and all the credit goes to men like Porter, Hunt and the division commanders.

    In retrospect, my comparison wasn’t fair to Clark–whatever Clark’s other flaws, he had cast-iron clockweights.

  • Dang it! How did we wind up losing the war? Well, next time we conquer!

  • George Pickett after the war was asked who was responsible for losing the battle of Gettysburg. He thought about it for a litte bit and said words to the effect that he always thought the Yankees had something to do with it!

    Linked below is a post where I asked the alternate history question: Was the victory of the Conferacy inevitable?

  • Love a good alternate history, and the Civil War is about as fertile a ground as you can till for such.

    Forstchen and Gingrich’s (!) Gettysburg trilogy is a very good one, and though a trifle hard to follow in spots, Tsouras’ “Gettysburg” is another intriguing “what if.”

  • And from the alternate Gettysburg post:

    “Complicated does not begin to fathom the many facets of Thomas Jonathan Jackson.”

    A-yep. His favorite term of endearment for his beloved wife was “Mi esposa,” picked up from his service in the Mexican War. In warrior mindset, he was rather like Sherman–both were excitable eccentrics determined to smash the foe. Though Jackson was by far the better tactician (though I’ll give Cump higher marks for operational level manuevering).

    Stonewall remains one of the most fascinating characters in American history. What’s the best biography you can recommend?

  • I still like Mighty Stonewall by Frank Vandiver.


    A story that tells a great deal about Jackson is that during the War a private had been sentenced to death by Jackson. A group of chaplains came to Jackson to ask him for mercy. Jackson responded that the soldier’s crime had been great and that he did not see how the ultimate penalty could be avoided. Jackson talked with them, and suggested arguments in favor of mercy that they had not raised. He prayed with them and as they were leaving he said with tears in his eyes that if he could think of any just reason to spare the soldier he would spare him. The execution went ahead as scheduled the next morning. No matter his personal inclinations, Jackson always did what he thought duty and justice required.

  • If Pickett had given it more thought he could have added “And, General Custer beating J.E.B. Stuart behind the Union center.”

    Pickett’s charge was Fredericksburg in reverse.

    If you Yankees have the time, I recommend Custer Victorious by Gregory J. W. Urwin re: the boy general’s stellar record in the War of Northern Aggression.

    BTW: the general’s younger brother, Tom Custer, won two MoH’s in that war.

  • Mike the Geek,
    God was on our side.

John Brown: Problem Child of American History

Wednesday, March 16, AD 2011

Our history has its share of odd characters, but surely none odder than John Brown.  An Old Testament prophet somehow marooned in Nineteenth Century America, John Brown preached the wrath of God against slave holders and considered himself the bloody sword of the Almighty.  It is tempting to write off John Brown as a murderous fanatic, and he was certainly that, but he was also something more.

The American political process was simply unable to resolve the question of slavery.  Each year the anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces battered at each other with no head way made.  Bleeding Kansas was the result of Stephen A. Douglas’ plan to simply let the people of the territory resolve the issue.  Where ballots cannot, or will not, resolve a question of the first magnitude in a democracy, ultimately bullets will.   A man like Brown, totally dedicated to the anti-slavery cause, was only too willing to see violence resolve an issue that the politicians would not.

Brown attacked a great evil, American slavery, but he was also  a murderer, as the five pro-slavery men he had dragged from their houses at night and hacked to death at Pottawotamie in Kansas with home made swords would surely attest.   His raid on Harper’s Ferry was a crack-brained expedition that had absolutely no chance of success, and yet his raid helped bring about the huge war that would ultimately end slavery.

 After his mad and futile attempt to start a slave insurrection at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, Brown was tried and hung for treason against the state of Virginia.  He considered his trial and treatment quite fair and thanked the Court.  Brown impressed quite a few Southerners with the courage with which he met his death, including Thomas Jackson, the future Stonewall, who observed his execution. 

Brown of course lit the fuse for the Civil War.  He convinced many moderate Southerners that there were forces in the North all too ready to incite, in the name of abolition, a race war in the South.  The guns fired at Harper’s Ferry were actually the first shots of the Civil War.

Brown, as he stepped forward to the gallows, had a paper and pen thrust into his hand by a woman.  Assuming for the last time the role of a prophet, Brown wrote out, I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

Abraham Lincoln commented on Brown at his Cooper’s Union  speech on February 27, 1860 and took pains to separate the Republican Party from Brown:

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12 Responses to John Brown: Problem Child of American History

  • John Brown was nothing more than a bloodthirty terrorist and fanatic. He threw gasoline into a fire that reasonable men on both sides were trying to quench. He was not a hero to be emulated, but a criminal to be abhorred. And he was a willing tool of the Northeastern establishment progressive group called the Secret Six, just like the Radicals of the 60’s were tools of the Communist Party.

  • Tell us how you really feel Stephen! 🙂 I readily agree with you that Brown was a terrorist. However, he was not a terrorist in order to establish a Communist state, or a Fascist state, or some other tyranny, but rather to help free a people held in bondage by his time for almost 250 years. When people are unwilling to agree to peaceful change to remedy a great evil, sooner or later men of blood and violence like Brown will appear on the scene to attempt to bring about the change by other means. This does not lessen the moral culpability of Brown for his actions. It does mean that we also have to look at the moral culpability of a great many people at that time who thought it was perfectly fine for people of a certain race to be owned as if they were so many cattle or hogs. The unwillingness of slave holders in the South to even listen to arguments in favor of gradual emancipation, made the advent of violent abolitionism such as practiced by John Brown inevitable.

  • “When people are unwilling to agree to peaceful change to remedy a great evil, sooner or later men of blood and violence like Brown will appear on the scene to attempt to bring about the change by other means… The unwillingness of slave holders in the South to even listen to arguments in favor of gradual emancipation, made the advent of violent abolitionism such as practiced by John Brown inevitable.”

    Let us hope and pray that history doesn’t repeat itself with respect to abortion.

  • Precisely what I have long thought also Jay.

  • Well intentioned? Maybe. Terrorist? Without a doubt. Was violence really necessary? Of course not! Slavery has existed throughout human history and there are more people in slavery today than ever. Some are direct slaves, mostly in the sex trade. Others, are slaves to tyranny and even more, I dare say all, are slaves to vice.

    Could these United States have purged the scourge of slavery without war and bloodshed? Probably, but as Aslan (C.S. Lewis) says, we can never know what would have happened. At the core was a racist ideology that black Africans were inferior to the white man, this is was as prevalent if not more so in the North as in the South. Is it true? Of course not; however, the African slaves were not well disposed, through no fault of their own, to be integrated into society in a role other than as slaves. To truly free African slaves, war was the worst way, what was needed was education. Eduction of the white Americans that black Africans were people just like them, only different and all are children of God. Eduction of the black slaves, which was undertaken by great men like Jackson. Slaves needed to be educated into knowledge of God, Christianity and the civil society of their respective states, so they could be self-supporting as freedmen.

    Of course, this would not do for those who merely want to conserve the status quo, or those who wish to keep mankind in perpetual revolution and turmoil. The money interests were too strong to prevent war and slavery gave the North, moral cover, for a disastrous war. Slavery is a blight on America’s history and is only made worse by liberal revolutionaries like John Brown.

    Harper’s Ferry is now in West Virginia, because those traitors and the Yankee government stole the land of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, I live less than an hour from there and make frequent visits in the Spring and the Autumn. It is quite beautiful and there is tinge of sadness when one stands at the ammunition depot, although it is moved from the original location where Captain R. Lee put down the terrorist attack. Over the years I have noticed changes in the historical plaques. Brown the murderer, has been replaced by Brown the community-organizing, liberal, do gooder. Mentions of Lee are practically non-existent. Of course, for the revolution to roll on, we must re-write history.

    If this trend is not reversed, the revisionist history will lead all of us into slavery. Isn’t that ironic. Evil actions cannot bring about good results. We will all need to keep that in our hearts and minds, as the forces of social progress spin up the revolution in the form. The goal, as usual is slavery, but this time, we want happy slaves, who enjoy bread and circuses. We don’t need slaves to pick cotton in the fields, we need slaves to serve the consumer and be good corporate consumers themselves.

    Sadly, groupthink often leads to confusion. Instead of seeking fist the Kingdom of Heaven, we wish to turn stone into bread. Brown was not morally right, despite being against slavery – a moral evil, for he was seeking ‘social justice’ by any means necessary. We can only seek social justice if the first order of business is God’s Kingdom. Christ would have reprimanded Brown, get behind me Satan!

  • “Harper’s Ferry is now in West Virginia, because those traitors and the Yankee government stole the land of the Commonwealth.”

    Didn’t you know, AK, that secession can be justified as long is it’s for the right (i.e. politically correct) reasons?


    Speaking of stealing land, it’s hard for me to appreciate Arlington National Cemetery knowing that it was placed where it was out of spite for a great man.

  • “The money interests were too strong to prevent war and slavery gave the North, moral cover, for a disastrous war.”

    620,000 dead was a high price to pay, but not too high I think to end slavery and preserve the Union. Of course without secession, which was undertaken to protect slavery, as the Confederate states made quite clear at the time, there would have been no war.

    As for the creation of West Virginia, the Union government of Viriginia, under Francis Pierpont, the father of West Virginia, approved of it, thereby meeting the Constitutional requirement. The Confederate government of Virginia, by their own contention, did not recognize the authority of the United States Constitution and was thus hardly in a position to make an objection that would have to be recogized under the US Constitution. Rule one for any state that wishes to secede from the Union: Make very sure that a very large portion of your own state will not wish to secede from you.

  • Donald,

    The price was too high. Not that slavery was not to be ended, but it could have been done without war. It wasn’t. The cost in blood was too high. The cost in treasure was greater than the economic value of all the slaves. Too high. Of course, once war starts, it has to be finished. We should have done more to avoid war. Yet, freeing direct private slaves at the expense of making them and everyone else public slaves of the state can’t be seen as a good thing. In fact, it is a Communist idea.

    Preserving the Union is very important. Secession should not be taken lightly and only as a last measure. Yet, the battle for a federated system with diffused power and local autonomy instead of a national Leviathan is very important too. If we preserve the Union at the expense of the purpose of the Union, then what kind of union have we.

    As for so-called West Virginia, it was shady business and has done nothing but ill serve the Republic.

  • Slavery wasn’t abolished without war AK in the South. That is the key point. The issue had been debated since the American Revolution and it was clear as glass that the South would not voluntarily part with slavery.

    As for people being public slaves as a result of the Civil War, I think that proposition is not supported at all by history.

    The Union, the country, is what we make of it.

    The creation of West Virginia was shady, but I would submit no shadier than the secession of Virginia from the Union. Admit the right of secession, and I’ll be hanged if I can see a good reason as to why it should be limited only to states.

    A good overview of the birth of West Virignia is in the case of The State of Virginia v. The State of West Virginia.


  • Donald,

    The federal victory of the war set the precedent for a national government as opposed to a federal one – this is the beginning of tyranny and slavery. Sure there are other factors, but how else can you explain the state of the Union today? Unconstitutional legislation is the rule not the exception, massive debt, fiat money, intrusiveness of government into personal liberties and localities, perpetual warfare and welfare.

    The federal government is a creature of the states, Virginia being one of them and we voluntarily entered into the federal compact, so we may voluntarily leave if it becomes necessary. So-called west Virginia did not create Virginia, it is part of Virginia’s geography – no right of session at all.

    To be clear I am glad we have a Union; however, I am not at all pleased with having an illicit, illegitimate and unconstitutional national government run by a private banking cartel and these days anti-American, socialist revolutionaries.

  • Sure there are other factors, but how else can you explain the state of the Union today?

    The federal government – or national government – remained largely subservient to the states until well after the conclusion of the Civil War. It was not until the dawn of the Progressive era and the Wilson presidency that the idea that the federal government should take on further powers really blossomed, and indeed then the true expansion of federal powers didn’t get jumping until FDR.

    Unconstitutional legislation is the rule not the exception, massive debt, fiat money, intrusiveness of government into personal liberties and localities, perpetual warfare and welfare.

    All true, and all legacies of FDR and his followers, not Lincoln.

  • Paul, I do not lay the blame at the feet of Lincoln. No doubt that both Roosevelts, Wilson, Johnson, etc. are the figureheads of the progress toward the elimination of the American Republic. Yet, it was the Union victory that placed the strain on state’s sovereignty. Had the states maintained their proper power with sufficient checks against each other and the federal authority, progressivism would have had to seek another way to revolutionize a constitutional republic into a democracy cum corporatist oligarchy.

    To be clear, I think Lincoln was aware of this and his conviction to keep the Union trumped his ability to curb the money power and the coming age of ‘progressivism’. Who knows if things would have been different had he not been murdered. I rank Booth with Brown – terrorists.

The Real Fighting Irish: A Review of Notre Dame and the Civil War

Monday, January 24, AD 2011

The peaks of Notre Dame history are shrouded in the mists of war.

Father Hugh O’Donnell, President, Notre Dame-1941

I think it was in 1964 when I read my first book on the Civil War, The American Heritage Golden Book of the Civil War, and I immediately thereafter developed a life long passion for the subject.  Over the intervening 47 years, I have read hundreds of books on the War.  Truth to tell, more than a few of the books I have read on the Civil War have left me with a ho hum feeling, not telling me much that I haven’t read many, many times before.  I am therefore always pleasantly surprised when a tome on the Late Unpleasantness can give me lots of new information, and such is the case with Notre Dame and the Civil War, by James M. Schmidt.  Mr. Schmidt, knowing of my interest in US Catholic Chaplains in the military, was kind enough to send me a review copy, and I am glad that he did, as he has brought forth facts and new pieces of information about Notre Dame and the Civil War that I have not read elsewhere.

Many Protestant denominations in the country were ripped asunder North and South by the Civil War and the decades of turmoil leading up to it.  Not so the Catholic Church in America.  As a global Church, it was not unusual for Catholics to find themselves on different sides in civil wars or national conflicts, and there was never any threat to the unity of the Church in America.  Individual Catholics fought bravely for both the Union and the Confederacy.  The Catholics of Notre Dame, except for a few students from the South, were whole heartedly for the Union.

Even before the Civil War, as Mr. Schmidt brings out,  Notre Dame students were preparing to fight.  Two student military companies were organized in 1858, part of the craze for militia companies, well drilled, in fancy uniforms that swept the nation in the late Fifties.  It was fun being a part time soldier:  drills, nice uniforms, parades, pretty girls cheering on the side lines.  Many of the students of course were soon to have first hand knowledge of darker aspects of military life.

Schmidt skillfully relates the fever to enlist in the Union army that swept through the students of Notre Dame after Fort Sumter.  Along with their students, Notre Dame priests also served as chaplains.  Most famous among them was of course Father William Corby, who marched and fought with the Irish Brigade and who gave them mass absolution on the second day at Gettysburg before they charged into battle.  The book relates the adventures of Father Corby, but also relates the stories of other Notre Dame priests who served as chaplains, including Father Paul E. Gillen, Father James Dillon, Father Joseph C. Carrier and Father Peter P. Cooney, all of whom will be featured in posts in the future.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame also got behind the war effort.  Sixty of the Sisters would serve as nurses during the war.  The role of Catholic Sisters as nurses in the Civil War is one of the great largely unsung stories of the War.  Usually nursing Protestant soldiers, the Sisters, through their bravery, skill at nursing and simple charity and kindness, often turned fairly anti-Catholic men into friends of the Church and not a few converted to the Faith.  Mr. Schmidt gives these heroic women their due.

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5 Responses to The Real Fighting Irish: A Review of Notre Dame and the Civil War

  • Thanks for posting this! I can’t wait to read it!

  • Pat,

    Glad to see you here on The American Catholic!

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,


  • Thank you!

    ND has helped train gallant officers for America since.

    Today, the University offers Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC commissioning programs. In 2006, 62 ND grads entered commissioned officer service, including three Marines.

    My son served with an ND grad officer/PL in Afghanistan. He had played football there, too. I met him when they came home. Another great grandson of Ireland serving America . . .

  • Don – I am humbled and gratified at the wonderful review. Thank You so much. One of the great things about this book – and the goal I was shooting for – is that it appeals to different audiences: the typical Civil War enthusiast, Notre Dame alumns (bona fide and “subway”), people interested in American Catholic history, and more. Hopefully I did that.

    Thanks so much to the commenters for their enthusiastic response.

    I’m an avid reader – and hopefully a more frequent commenter – here at THC.

    God Bless!

    Jim Schmidt

  • Thank you Jim for your hard work in writing this fine addition to Civil War and Notre Dame scholarship.

The Vacant Chair

Saturday, January 15, AD 2011

Something for the weekend.  The incomparable Kathy Mattea singing the Civil War song The Vacant Chair.  Originally written in 1862 to commemorate Second Lieutenant John William Grout, 15th Massachusetts, who was killed at age eighteen at Ball’s Bluff, one of the early battles of the War, it proved immensely popular North and South as the nation eventually mourned approximately 620,000 vacant chairs.

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6 Responses to The Vacant Chair

Fighting the Good Fight: The Father Peter Whelan Story

Sunday, January 9, AD 2011

“Fr. Whelan, a Catholic priest from Savannah came in and spoke words of cheer to the condemned and prayed for the forgiveness of their crimes. This lone priest was the only minister of the Gospel that ever came into the prison to speak a kind word or set aright our misguided souls. He made regular visits to the prison, consoled the dying and anointed the dead of his faith. Too much praise cannot be accorded this reverend gentleman for trying to turn sinners to Christ; but in the Last Day, Heaven will cry out for vengeance on ministers of other denominations for their indifference toward their kindred confined in prison.”

Charles Fosdick, Company K, 5th Iowa Volunteers

Hattip to commenter Jim Schmidt.  Faithful readers of this blog will recall my post Priest of Andersonville in which I related the story of Father Peter Whelan, a Roman Catholic priest and Confederate Army chaplain who, on his own initiative, ministered to the tens of thousands of Union prisoners of war at the infamous Andersonville prison in 1864.

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6 Responses to Fighting the Good Fight: The Father Peter Whelan Story

  • Father Corby, later President of the University of Notre Dame, was a Chaplain with the Irish Brigade during the Civil War. His “Memoirs of Chaplain Life” is a good read.

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  • I hate to engage in shameless self-promotion, but if anyone is interested in learning more about the role of Catholic chaplains in the Civil War – (including and esp. Fr. Corby) – I respectfully recommend my new book: “Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory” (The History Press, 2010) which describes the role of seven brave priests that Notre Dame sent to the Union army, more than sixty Holy Cross sisters as nurses, and a greater number still of students as soldiers, one of whom earned the Medal of Honor for bravery at Chickamauga, and several of whom never returned home.

    God Bless and Keep up the Great Work!

    Jim Schmidt

  • I heartily recommend Jim’s book. I have been reading it, and it is destined to be a classic. I have read hundreds of books on the Civil War over the years and I found much that was new to me in Jim’s tome. I will be reviewing it in the next week or so.

  • Donald – Thanks so much for the kind words.

  • Father Whelan was a saint whether or not the Vatican ever canonizes him. He truly fulfilled Jesus’ expectations that Jesus announced in Matthew 25:35, “I was hungry, naked, in prison, sick and in the gravest need and you addressed all my needs with your whole being.”
    He sits with God now.

Lincoln on Secession

Wednesday, September 8, AD 2010

Lincoln, in his war address to Congress on July 4, 1861, made his views regarding secession clear and, I believe, is his longest treatment of the topic.   It has always struck me as interesting that Lincoln thought it necessary to clearly distinguish between secession and rebellion, and took up so much time in an address to Congress to do so.  Lincoln always understood that the war of ideas was just as important as the war on the battlefield, something some of our Presidents have failed to understand to their cost. A good summary by Mackubin Thomas Owens of how Lincoln’s position on secession had a long heritage among American statesmen prior to the Civil War may be read here.  My own views on secession are set forth in the comments  here.  Lincoln on secession:

“It might seem at first thought to be of little difference whether the present movement at the South be called “secession” or “rebellion.” The movers, however, well understand the difference. At the beginning they knew they could never raise their treason to any respectable magnitude by any name which implies violation of law. They know their people possessed as much of moral sense, as much of devotion to law and order, and as much pride in and reverence for the history and Government of their common country as any other civilized and patriotic people. They knew they could make no advancement directly in the teeth of these strong and noble sentiments. Accordingly they commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism, which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps through all the incidents to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself is, that any State of the Union may, consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union or of any other State. The little disguise that the supposed right is to be exercised only for just cause, themselves to be the sole judge of its justice, is too thin to merit any notice.

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25 Responses to Lincoln on Secession

  • Ah, yes.

    Lincoln was wrong in this case.

    But what an orator!

  • His ends may have been noble, yet the means were dastardly.

    Bush said that we have to abandon the free-market to save the market.

    Lincoln said we have the destroy the Constitution to save the Union.

    I will grant that Lincoln was far more well spoken than Bush; however, well executed oration does not forgive the error.

    The only thing in this country worse than a Republican president is a Democrat. Either way these parties pose the gravest threat to the Union.

  • Lincoln said we have the destroy the Constitution to save the Union.

    I tend to think that the states who seceded from the Union unjustly were more at fault for “destroying the Constitution,” but we’ll agree to disagree there.

  • Lincoln was head of the general government, which is a creature of the States. The creature has no rights save those given by the creators. The States, being the creators of the general government, have an inherent right to negate their creation when it grows into a monster.

    That being said, secession is a final resort, not only that it should be last to be exercised, but it is final as it ends the compact. I think the war could have been avoided, I think the South could have employed other means for redress, I think Lincoln could have sought a peaceful resolution. Both sides failed.

    We are still paying for that failure today.

  • The States, being the creators of the general government, have an inherent right to negate their creation when it grows into a monster.

    Seven southern states seceded before Lincoln was inaugurated. I suppose the leaders of the secessionist movement all had special glasses which permitted them to look into the future and see how the government under the United States would function under Abraham Lincoln. I want those glasses.

  • I have an extra pair. I’ll sell ’em to you. 😉

  • Sweet! That will totally help me with my fantasy team.

  • Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable,– most sacred right–a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the teritory as they inhabit.
    Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848, in his speech on The War with Mexico. “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,” Volume 1, Edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Presss, New Brunswich, New Jersey, 1953, pages 431-42.

  • Wait, T.G. are you suggesting that Republicans campaign on conservative principles and then govern as statists?

    That’s preposterous, I’ve never heard of such a thing.

  • Paul, the glasses are very rare, so the question we have to ask is should we let the market set the price (sovereign individuals making free valuations) or should we consult with the government (random bureaucrats making arbitrary valuations and taking their vig)?

    I think Lincoln would be for the market decision so long as it did not contradict his will. You know we are free to make any decision we want, so long as it is the right one according to our masters.

  • “His ends may have been noble, yet the means were dastardly.

    Bush said that we have to abandon the free-market to save the market.

    Lincoln said we have the destroy the Constitution to save the Union.”

    No AK, his means, war, was chosen by the Confederates when they attempted, through force, to win by bulllets what they failed to win at the ballot box in 1860.

    “Either way these parties pose the gravest threat to the Union.”

    Rubbish AK. The two party sytem has served this nation well since the days of the Federalists and the Republicans. They have usually been broad enough to give voice to a broad spectrum of public sentiment in the country and normally avoid the paralysis that often afflicts multi-party systems. Political parties are a necessary evil of any democracy and ours have been less evil than most other party systems in the world.

    “The States, being the creators of the general government, have an inherent right to negate their creation when it grows into a monster.”

    The States didn’t create the country, the people of the country did. Hence the term “We The People” in the preamble to the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence created the Union by an act of the Second Continental Congress and not of the individual states. The Articles of Confederation declared that the Union created by the Declaration was perpetual. The Union was never some temporary alliance that the states could withdraw from whenever they pleased, but rather a new nation.

  • “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable,– most sacred right–a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government, may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the teritory as they inhabit.”

    Lincoln was a firm believer in the right of revolution as set forth by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Indepence. He referred to it often in his political career. He believed that in order for the right to be exercised, it needed to meet the requirements set forth by Mr. Jefferson:

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

    Nothing confronting the South after the election of 1860 justified them revolting under the right of revolution set forth by Mr. Jefferson and believed in by Mr. Lincoln.

    Here is a link to the entire speech of Lincoln that the quotation about the right of revolution was taken from:


  • Don,

    I fear that we will have this discussion every time the subject of the War for Southern Independence comes up or related issues like state’s rights. I must admit, when I have the time, I rather enjoy it. Most Yankees can’t engage in this argument without quarreling. You sire, are a gentleman.

    In the realm of man governing himself, we will never have a perfect system, but some are better than others.

    Our system, the best ever conceived, is not a democracy. We are a republic and utilize the democratic process, but that does not make us a majority rule, which always devolves into mob rule, which means he who controls the mob rules. Democracy always leads to tyranny, even when the tyrant’s ends are noble.

    Fort Sumter is in South Carolina. The general assembly of South Carolina seceded from the Union and requested the occupying federal forces depart from SC’s sovereign territory. Naturally, the feds did not comply because the totalitarian impulse of men in power is to assume everything they see belongs to them. The Confederate defense forces fired over the heads of the feds in order to let them know that the request for departure was not negotiable and absolute. How many US soldiers were killed at Fort Sumter?

    The war started when the Union troops invaded the sovereign territory of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am looking out my window right now, on Centreville Ridge, in the direction where less than a holler away, the Yankees came to picnic and watch the little skirmish that would end the hostilities.

    That did not happen and the Army of Northern Virginia sent the Army of the Potomac running back across the river like little girls. Less than a mile from here stands a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson right where he stood like a wall and the South rallied behind the Virginian. The war was started by the USA, not the CSA. The war was an unfortunate, and in my opinion unnecessary, consequence of the encroaching federal oppression and disregard for true sovereignty.

    I did not state that the alleged two-party system is necessarily the problem. I did state that the Democrats and the Republicans are the problem. The debate in this country is supposed to be between libertarians (classic liberals) and conservatives (traditionalists grounded in Judeo-Christian morality, which is necessarily Catholic even when not recognized as such). Instead we have one party – collectivists, that go by many names: progressives, democrats, socialists, etc. Some are Democrat-socialists/corporatists and others are Republican-corporatists/socialists. One seeks to manage me with foreign adventurism and allowing me to keep some of my money by giving me the gift of ‘tax-cuts’ for ‘socially’ responsible behavior, the other seeks to manage me by forcing me to behave in a ‘socially’ responsible manner by taking more of my money through more taxes, oh and yes, they also want foreign conflicts just for ‘socially’ responsible reasons. Both seek to rob us of our material wealth through inflation (deflation) and rob us of our freedom of religion by forcing us to be secular. Neither option is appealing; however, the Republicans have a chance at redeeming themselves by leaving the party to authentic conservatives. This is going to happen and all that will be left to see is how long it shall remain a conservative party this time – I fear this is the last chance.

    Me thinks that thou art missing the point. If this country was created democratically then there would be no need for a Continental Congress, we would have just everyone of We The People vote. By electing representatives from their own state, each sovereign person delegates some of their God-given sovereignty to their state representatives. Those delegates then attend the national convention and create laws, the laws govern the people. We are not to be governed by each other, we are to be governed by the laws that our delegates enact. Those laws enacted a compact with the approval and ratification of the sovereign parties – the 13 states and commonwealths that sent the delegates, elected by the people. Therefore the general government is a creature of the states and can only operate within the enumerated powers at the pleasure of the co-equal parties to the compact. In other words a republic.

    On this point, no American should disagree. We can disagree as to when nullification is wise and when secession is the only option left. If we respect the former, then the latter will never need be used. I am not sure if you are merely prejudiced to the argument because you are from the North, which I understand, because my love for my Southern culture may cloud some of my views, I pray not. Or, if you picked up some bad habits in law school – not exactly bastions of liberty. Either way, please keep in mind that all 13 colonies seceded from England and New England states were some of the first to address their option to secede from the newly formed Union.

    I also don’t think that any state should withdraw whenever they please for slight reasons. The Union is expected to be perpetual so long as God wills it; But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, …

  • Naturally, the feds did not comply because the totalitarian impulse of men in power is to assume everything they see belongs to them.

    It is a totalitarian impulse to continue to occupy territory that still legally belongs to you?

    The Confederate defense forces fired over the heads of the feds in order to let them know that the request for departure was not negotiable and absolute. How many US soldiers were killed at Fort Sumter?

    Oh gee, why did Anderson even surrender? He should have just had them over for cake and cookies after so gentle a “warning.”

    The war was started by the USA, not the CSA.

    The first shots of the war were fired, as we just discussed, by confederate troops. The semantical argument, though, is rather pointless. If the CSA was engaged in treason (as deemed by the Union) rather than rebellion, it would seem that the only proper response of the government would be to engage in military action to stop said treason lest other states get the message that the government will do nothing to stop these types of actions.

    The war was an unfortunate, and in my opinion unnecessary, consequence of the encroaching federal oppression and disregard for true sovereignty.

    You keep saying this, but again, you have not demonstrated here – or frankly at any other time – how this is so. I have asked this before, and I’ll ask it again: can you please identify the long train of abuses that justified the secession of the southern states? I’m not talking about what happened ex-post facto. What were the actions taken by the federal government that took place before the winter of 1860-61 that justified secession?

    As for the entire debate about whether or not the government created by the Constitution was federal or national in nature, you can see my post on Federalist 39 which I am putting up right about . . . now. Here it is. Madison himself points out that it is a mixture of both. The constitutional compact itself is national in nature because the people at large had to give their consent, but they did through state ratifying conventions – indicating the federal nature of the compact.

    Either way, please keep in mind that all 13 colonies seceded from England and New England states were some of the first to address their option to secede from the newly formed Union.

    And indeed there were whispers of secession throughout New England at various points during the reign of various Republican (the Jeffersonian Rs) administrations. They were wrong, too.

    I also don’t think that any state should withdraw whenever they please for slight reasons.

    You see, we’re actually in complete agreement. Unless of course you think losing an election constitutes a long train of abuses.

  • The Confederates fired over the heads of the defenders of Fort Sumter? Where on Earth did you hear that fable AK?

    From Confederate Military History, Volume 5, Chapter 1:

    “For thirty-four hours they assaulted Sumter with an unceasing bombardment, before its gallant defenders consented to give it up, and not then until the condition of the fort made it impossible to continue the defense. Port Moultrie alone fired 2,490 shot and shell. Gen. S. W. Crawford, in his accurate and admirable book, previously quoted, thus describes the condition of Sumter when Anderson agreed to its surrender:

    “It was a scene of ruin and destruction. The quarters and barracks were in ruins. The main gates and the planking of the windows on the gorge were gone;the magazines closed and surrounded by smouldering flames and burning ashes; the provisions exhausted; much of the engineering work destroyed; and with only four barrels of powder available. The command had yielded to the inevitable. The effect of the direct shot had been to indent the walls, where the marks could be counted by hundreds, while the shells, well directed, had crushed the quarters, and, in connection with hot shot, setting them on fire, had destroyed the barracks and quarters down to the gun casemates, while the enfilading fire had prevented the service of the barbette guns, some of them comprising the most important battery in the work. The breaching fire from the columbiads and the rifle gun at Cummings point upon the right gorge ‘angle, had progressed sensibly and must have eventually succeeded if continued, but as yet no guns had been disabled or injured at that point. The effect of the fire upon the parapet was pronounced. The gorge, the right face and flank as well as the left face, were all taken in reverse, and a destructive fire maintained until the end, while the gun carriages on the barbette of the gorge were destroyed in the fire of the blazing quarters.” ”


  • Don,

    How many Union KIAs?


    The reasons are numerous, the states expressed them in the Declarations of Causes of Secession and the Ordinances of Secession. They are chiefly violation of foundational principles and economic warfare. Now, before we go on, I want to be clear that I am not in favor of slavery in any way shape or form, save for slavery to Jesus. I am also aware that slavery is the common state for humankind and liberty the exception. We hold ourselves to higher ideals and many respected men of the mid 19th century were against slavery and in favor of the Union so long as the Constitution and the Republic it established were not violated.

    My Commonwealth voted against secession by a rather wide margin until Lincoln chose to invade the South to preserve the Union. It was the Northern invasion that provoked the people of Virginia and Gen. Lee.

    The mercantilist interests of the North and the use of of an unfair tariff that damaged the economies of most states, especially the Southern agrarian economies, were far more gross than the encroachments of England against the colonies.

    There were, are and always will be forces that seek to use the force of government to dominate rather than regulate, as in make regular. These are the men who attempted over and over again to establish a central bank in this country, even before the creation of the republic. This lust for domination came to light with the alien and sedition acts prompting Virginia and Kentucky to nullify those laws.

    Furthermore, as a Virginian, I take the ratification of the Constitution to be exactly as the commonwealth understood it when it was undertaken:

    “AN ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution

    The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States:

    Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain, That the ordinance adopted by the people of this State in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying and adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.

    And they do further declare, That said Constitution of the United States of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

    This ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day, when ratified by a majority of the voter of the people of this State cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.

    Adopted by the convention of Virginia April 17,1861

    Ratified by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 on 23 May 1861

    I think that is pretty clear. If Virginia ratified the Constitutional compact while retaining the right to withdraw since the compact is a creature of delegated rites and powers, then why are we suddenly unable to do such thing merely because we exercise it?

    Now I am not advocating secession, but I am all for nullification, if the lawsuits our fine Catholic AG is bringing against the federal government are not given a proper hearing. Which is a difficulty thing to do in federal court, therefore, an appeal to the true arbiters of the Constitution may be needed – that is the states and commonwealths that created it and entered into it.

  • One Union soldier died due to an exploding cannon AK at the surrender ceremony AK. However, it was not for lack of trying by the Confederates as the article I cited above establishes.

    In regard to the Virginia Ordinance of Secession, how was the Federal government injuring the people of Virginia prior to the Civil War? How was it that a substantial portion of the people of Virginia so disagreed with secession that they broke away and formed the state of West Virginia during the war? Was the state of Virginia justified, as it did during the war, in calling West Virginians traitors in their attempt to break away from Virginia?

  • Don, Fort Sumter was a customs post. It was no longer property of the general government of the Union because the Union was legally and effectively dissolved in the sovereign and independent state of South Carolina. No Southern troops engaged in any hostilities until Lincoln sent munitions and supplies to the customs post – clearly, either to bait the Southerners in a typical false flag operation as a pretext for war, or in anticipation of opening fire on the Southerners. Either way, the first act of aggression was Lincoln’s.

    The people of Virginia and the whole South were covering a disproportionate amount of the federal taxes and the threat of secession, which should have let the North know that we were serious, did not lower the disproportionate tax. Instead it prompted the mercantilist interests to yell, ‘preserve the Union”, which meant, don’t let our tax revenue be taken away by a bunch of redneck farmers.

    Northerners were not concerned about African slavery, save for a small band of terrorists. Northerners were far more concerned about the increasing quantity of those pesky Papist immigrants.

    Additionally, Lincoln and the Republican party in general, and this is pretty much true to this day, save for brief moments of clarity (Goldwater, Reagan, Paul, TEA Parties), desire three things:

    Import/export tariffs
    Corporate welfare for their mercantilist/corporatist friends
    Central banking and paper money backed by nothing

    Those three vile things are incompatible with a republican form of government and since the Commonwealth of Virginia is mostly responsible for the Union created by the Constitution because it was based on the Virginia plan, drafted by Virginians, the convention was presided over by a Virginian who became the first president of the Union and Virginia’s ratification debates and ratification vote were absolutely necessary for the Union – we sort of know what we are talking about.

    Nevertheless, Virginia has a history of prudence and nullification was preferred to secession until such time as Lincoln began arresting people like the mayor of Baltimore, calling troops up without Congressional approval, suspending Constitutional provisions illegally and even against the declarations of the Supreme Court and then demanding to invade the sovereign territory of Virginia in order to force the South back into the Union. This is additionally evidenced by the fact that he ceased to refer to these United States as a Union and began referring to us a Nation, betraying his intent.

    West Virginia was not a substantial portion of our population and the secession of western Virginia was highly irregular and agitated by the Yankees in order to reduce Virginia’s sovereign territory – a punishment for not providing troops for Lincoln’s invasion force, most notably, Gen. Robert E. Lee. As for the Unionists that had more loyalty to the General Government than their home, they should have moved to Pennsylvania. This was just an evil plan, that included giving the entire Delmarva to Delaware and large swaths of our territory to Maryland (basically the entire Piedmont and Tidewater, leaving the vital Shenandoah Valley effectively landlocked and taking the capital of the Confederacy too) which had already been forced to remain in the Union through questionable methods.

    The vertical check on government power is more necessary than the horizontal, trinitarian division. Without state’s rights, the principle of subsidiarity has no chance of being applied. It seems that the sentiments of Virginia have spread across the entire country outside NYC and San Francisco today. Right is right and people can only be pushed so far – our Constitution gives voice to those with grievances, yet, tyrants can always ignore the will of the people, the rights of the states and the Constitution. Eventually that comes at their own peril – the beautiful flag of my Commonwealth says it best: Sic Semper Tyranus.

  • “Don, Fort Sumter was a customs post. It was no longer property of the general government of the Union because the Union was legally and effectively dissolved in the sovereign and independent state of South Carolina.”

    Fort Sumter was federal property. It did not belong to South Carolina but rather to the Union. The attempt of South Carolina to secede was neither legal, what court handed down that decision?, or effective as the outcome of the Civil War proved. The attack on Fort Sumter was a demonstration of just how fatally Confederates misunderstood the depth of love of the Union in the North and that the North would fight a long and grueling war to preserve the United States.

    “No Southern troops engaged in any hostilities until Lincoln sent munitions and supplies to the customs post – clearly, either to bait the Southerners in a typical false flag operation as a pretext for war, or in anticipation of opening fire on the Southerners. Either way, the first act of aggression was Lincoln’s.”

    Rubbish. The policy of the Lincoln Administration to hold forts in Confederate territory was clear. The Lincoln administration, in order to avoid violence, kept the South Carolina government appraised of attempts to resupply Fort Sumter. The Confederates would have been wise to simply allow the resupply since the Fort was no military threat to South Carolina. However, wisdom was something sorely lacking in the South at the start of the Civil War as Rhett Butler mordantly observed at the beginning of Gone With the Wind.

    “The people of Virginia and the whole South were covering a disproportionate amount of the federal taxes”

    Rubbish. The Tariff Act of 1857 was highly favorable to the South.

    “Northerners were not concerned about African slavery, save for a small band of terrorists.”

    The vast majority of abolitionists were not terrorists AK, but people with the curious belief that people should not be held as slaves because of their race. Most Northerners were not abolitionists, but a majority of Northerners were opposed to slavery, as the unpopularity of the Fugitive Slave Act in the North demonstrates.
    “Northerners were far more concerned about the increasing quantity of those pesky Papist immigrants.”

    The Know Nothing Party was a spent political force by the Civil War AK, due in no small part to efforts by men like Abraham Lincoln who fought against prejudice against Catholics just as he fought against the enslavement of blacks. Catholic immigrants, mainly Irish, were a mainstay of the Union armies that defeated the Confederacy.

  • “Additionally, Lincoln and the Republican party in general, and this is pretty much true to this day, save for brief moments of clarity (Goldwater, Reagan, Paul, TEA Parties), desire three things:

    Import/export tariffs
    Corporate welfare for their mercantilist/corporatist friends
    Central banking and paper money backed by nothing”

    The Republican Party in Lincoln’s time supported protective tariffs. The Republican Party has been pro-free trade since World War II.

    Corporate Welfare did not exist in Lincoln’s time due to miniscule government spending outside of spending on the war. Both parties have been afflicted since the New Deal with spending like drunken sailors.

    Both the USA and the CSA issued paper money during the Civil War. The difference was that the greenbacks retained their value and the Confederate currency was worthless long before the Confederacy lost the war. The Union managed its finances with consummate skill and the Confederacy managed its finances with consummate folly.

  • “Those three vile things are incompatible with a republican form of government”

    That entire paragraph is all balderdash AK. The Civil War was all about slavery and the leaders of the Confederacy stated this in no uncertain terms at the time. Latter-day Neo-Confederates try to ignore this fact, but a fact it remains all the same.

    “West Virginia was not a substantial portion of our population and the secession of western Virginia was highly irregular”

    What a hoot! The attempted secession of Virginia from the Union was not a “highly irregular” event? Secession was decisively voted down in the portion of Virginia that became West Virginia. They wished to remain a part of the Union and they got their wish courtesy of the Union Army that protected them from Confederates who wished to punish them as “traitors”. If the South had won the Civil War AK, I have absolutely no doubt that what West Virginia did would have been replicated many times when any portion of the CSA became disgruntled. Allow secession to succeed once, and it would become a common remedy in times of national stress.

    “Without state’s rights, the principle of subsidiarity has no chance of being applied”

    States have a valuable and essential role in the United States. Destroying the Union is no part of that role.

  • Don,

    I love these discussions we have every time you post something about Lincoln and/or the War for Southern Independence.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t the time to respond to your posts right now and probably not until long after this thread is forgotten. Somehow, I doubt that you will refrain from posting something relevant to this topic in the future and I doubt that I will be able to resist responding from an Upper South perspective.

    I have to say that it isn’t likely that either one of us will change our positions. But, I do learn something every time you challenge me to defend the Southland. I have a great deal of respect for you and I am not a blind neo-Confederate. Please keep in mind that I am Levantine and wasn’t even born here in my home, but my blood has been transfused with good old Southern pride.

    The historical discussion is fun, I somehow doubt too many are all that interested in it. What is relevant is the fact that since the war, actually building in the antebellum period, states’ rights have been eroding and at an accelerated pace. Keep in mind that African slavery was not supported by many in the South, including Robert E. Lee. As a Catholic I abhor slavery and my defense of the South is in no way shape or form a defense of slavery. Additionally, the events that led to the war and the way the occupation was handled afterward are very relevant to us today.

    I also want you to know that I am pro-Union; however, I must add that the Union is only viable if it is a Constitutional Republic and the states’ have practical power to check the encroachments of the general government, and the general government checks the encroachment of the states vis. its enumerated powers.

    I believe that many of the problems we are experiencing today would not exist had we an authentic respect for states’ rights, especially nullification. I also suspect that we may see that debate sooner than later. Our fine Catholic AG is challenging the nationalists in the general government as we speak. May God bless him and his efforts.

    Federal courts are not the ultimate arbiter of whether or not something is legal, they have an inherent conflict of interest. The parties to the compact are the ultimate arbiters of the law, except where it is specifically enumerated to the general government. Of course, you are an attorney and I am merely a layman, so I present my humble opinion in that light and feel comfortable having this discussion with you and not too many other attorneys simply because I know you are a soldier of Christ before you are a lawyer.

    Thanks again for the post and the opportunity. I’m sure we’ll pick it up again.

  • Good jousting with you AK. It is always fun. In regard to Robert E. Lee, as you know, he is one of the Americans I hold in highest esteem, and I have noted his abhorrence of slavery and secession.


    Debating the Civil War and the great issues it raises is something that Americans will be doing from now until Doomsday. For me, the great lesson to be learned from that terrible national calamity is that we are one people: Union soldier, Confederate soldier, black slave.

    That is why when I read Civil War history, I am as apt to read studies of the Confederacy as I am of the Union. When I read the history of the Confederacy, I am reading the history of my countrymen, just as much as I am when reading the history of the Union during the War. I feel the same way when I am reading about the slaves in bondage. For me my feelings about the Civil War can be summed up in the phrase E Pluribus Unum.

  • Don,

    You are a gentleman and a scholar. Until next time my friend, Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.

  • Lincoln claimed to read minds. The 13 original colonies declared themselves independent States…but clearly they didn’t MEAN it.

    He makes an excellent point about debts and about land purchased from Spain, etc. Both sides of that war were very faulty but still I wonder why no one thinks that some kind of treaty couldn’t have been made.

Jefferson Davis and Pio Nono

Friday, August 13, AD 2010

Jefferson Davis was always a friend to Catholics.  In his youth as a boy he studied at the Saint Thomas School at the Saint Rose Dominican Priory in Washington County Kentucky.  While there Davis, the only Protestant student, expressed a desire to convert.  One of the priests there advised the boy to wait until he was older and then decide. Davis never converted, but his early exposure to Catholicism left him with a life long respect for the Faith.

When the aptly named anti-Catholic movement the Know-Nothings arose in the 1840s and 1850s, Davis fought against it, as did his great future adversary Abraham Lincoln.

During the Civil War, Pope Pius wrote to the archbishops of New Orleans and New York, praying that peace would be restored to America.  Davis took this opportunity to write to the Pope:

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27 Responses to Jefferson Davis and Pio Nono

  • Thank you for this post.

    I am reading (again) Sears’ Gettysburg – slower this time. I had never thought of this possibility. Sears mentions that the South could have called for a Constititional Convention instead of firing on Fort Sumter. In that way, the North would have either negotiated or been the first to open fire on fellow Americans.

    Has anyone else seen that interesting concept?

  • I’m reading again (for the fourth time) Bruce Catton’s “The Coming Fury” and it seems clear that the clamor for secession overcame any voice of moderation after Lincoln’s election, which was seen as doom for the hopes of the south to have new territories come in as slave states (which would maintain a balance in Congress between slave/non-slave states).

    Even better than a constitutional convention (at which the south would not be able to prevail) it would have been better if South Carolina had let Ft. Sumter be… and if Lincoln had not insisted on calling up troops from the states for invasion of the south, Virginia, Tenessee, and N. Carolina would likely not have seceeded, and the common wisdom is that a confederacy of only deep south states would not have lived long.

    In short, there were alternatives to the revolution that was the civil war, but alas– firebreathing secessionists and firebreathing abolitionists would have none of it.

  • Secession would not have happened except in an atmosphere of crisis. If southern representatives and senators had remained in their seats in Congress, they could have blocked any legislation they feared with the help of Northen Democrats. They would have quickly realized that no, Lincoln wasn’t going to take away their slaves, put them in jail and have their slaves and carpet baggers from the North running things in their states. Secession was a completely over the top reaction to the election of Lincoln, and like many over the top reactions it ultimately brought about what was feared.

  • I’ve often been asked for citations of Davis’s correspondence with Pius IX (and wondered myself about how extensive it was). I’ve heard that he wore the brown Scapular and was ultimately given last rites by a Priest.

    In any case, thanks! I found this post because WordPress told me I was linked in it, but it must have been one of those transitory “Related Post” links.

    I’ll be linking this to my existing work on Davis!

  • Thanks, I knew you gents would be on top of this.

    I was always more interested in the military and armchair-general aspects. So many years out of school: the politics/causes give me brain-freeze.

    Once the guns started, it was a fight to the death – tragic.

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  • In Supremo Apostolatus
    Apostolic Letter of Pope Gregory XVI on the Slave Trade. Promulgated on December 3, 1839

    PLACED AT THE SUMMIT of the Apostolic power and, although lacking in merits, holding the place of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who, being made Man through utmost Charity, deigned to die for the Redemption of the World, We have judged that it belonged to Our pastoral solicitude to exert Ourselves to turn away the Faithful from the inhuman slave trade in Negroes and all other men. Assuredly, since there was spread abroad, first of all amongst the Christians, the light of the Gospel, these miserable people, who in such great numbers, and chiefly through the effects of wars, fell into very cruel slavery, experienced an alleviation of their lot. Inspired in fact by the Divine Spirit, the Apostles, it is true, exhorted the slaves themselves to obey their masters, according to the flesh, as though obeying Christ, and sincerely to accomplish the Will of God; but they ordered the masters to act well towards slaves, to give them what was just and equitable, and to abstain from menaces, knowing that the common Master both of themselves and of the slaves is in Heaven, and that with Him there is no distinction of persons.

    But as the law of the Gospel universally and earnestly enjoined a sincere charity towards all, and considering that Our Lord Jesus Christ had declared that He considered as done or refused to Himself everything kind and merciful done or refused to the small and needy, it naturally follows, not only that Christians should regard as their brothers their slaves and, above all, their Christian slaves, but that they should be more inclined to set free those who merited it; which it was the custom to do chiefly upon the occasion of the Easter Feast as Gregory of Nyssa tells us. There were not lacking Christians, who, moved by an ardent charity ‘cast themselves into bondage in order to redeem others,’ many instances of which our predecessor, Clement I, of very holy memory, declares to have come to his knowledge. In the process of time, the fog of pagan superstition being more completely dissipated and the manners of barbarous people having been softened, thanks to Faith operating by Charity, it at last comes about that, since several centuries, there are no more slaves in the greater number of Christian nations. But — We say with profound sorrow — there were to be found afterwards among the Faithful men who, shamefully blinded by the desire of sordid gain, in lonely and distant countries, did not hesitate to reduce to slavery Indians, negroes and other wretched peoples, or else, by instituting or developing the trade in those who had been made slaves by others, to favour their unworthy practice. Certainly many Roman Pontiffs of glorious memory, Our Predecessors, did not fail, according to the duties of their charge, to blame severely this way of acting as dangerous for the spiritual welfare of those engaged in the traffic and a shame to the Christian name; they foresaw that as a result of this, the infidel peoples would be more and more strengthened in their hatred of the true Religion.

    It is at these practices that are aimed the Letter Apostolic of Paul III, given on May 29, 1537, under the seal of the Fisherman, and addressed to the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, and afterwards another Letter, more detailed, addressed by Urban VIII on April 22, 1639 to the Collector Jurium of the Apostolic Chamber of Portugal. In the latter are severely and particularly condemned those who should dare ‘to reduce to slavery the Indians of the Eastern and Southern Indies,’ to sell them, buy them, exchange them or give them, separate them from their wives and children, despoil them of their goods and properties, conduct or transport them into other regions, or deprive them of liberty in any way whatsoever, retain them in servitude, or lend counsel, succour, favour and co-operation to those so acting, under no matter what pretext or excuse, or who proclaim and teach that this way of acting is allowable and co-operate in any manner whatever in the practices indicated.

    Benedict XIV confirmed and renewed the penalties of the Popes above mentioned in a new Apostolic Letter addressed on December 20, 1741, to the Bishops of Brazil and some other regions, in which he stimulated, to the same end, the solicitude of the Governors themselves. Another of Our Predecessors, anterior to Benedict XIV, Pius II, as during his life the power of the Portuguese was extending itself over New Guinea, sent on October 7, 1462, to a Bishop who was leaving for that country, a Letter in which he not only gives the Bishop himself the means of exercising there the sacred ministry with more fruit, but on the same occasion, addresses grave warnings with regard to Christians who should reduce neophytes to slavery.

    In our time Pius VII, moved by the same religious and charitable spirit as his Predecessors, intervened zealously with those in possession of power to secure that the slave trade should at least cease amongst the Christians. The penalties imposed and the care given by Our Predecessors contributed in no small measure, with the help of God, to protect the Indians and the other people mentioned against the cruelty of the invaders or the cupidity of Christian merchants, without however carrying success to such a point that the Holy See could rejoice over the complete success of its efforts in this direction; for the slave trade, although it has diminished in more than one district, is still practiced by numerous Christians. This is why, desiring to remove such a shame from all the Christian nations, having fully reflected over the whole question and having taken the advice of many of Our Venerable Brothers the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and walking in the footsteps of Our Predecessors, We warn and adjure earnestly in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to vex anyone, despoil him of his possessions, reduce to servitude, or lend aid and favour to those who give themselves up to these practices, or exercise that inhuman traffic by which the Blacks, as if they were not men but rather animals, having been brought into servitude, in no matter what way, are, without any distinction, in contempt of the rights of justice and humanity, bought, sold, and devoted sometimes to the hardest labour. Further, in the hope of gain, propositions of purchase being made to the first owners of the Blacks, dissensions and almost perpetual conflicts are aroused in these regions.

    We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices abovementioned as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter.

    Note: This Apostolic Letter was read during the 4th Provincial Council of Baltimore, December 3, 1839.)


    EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT, February 28, 1861.
    Gentlemen of Congress: With sincere deference to the judgment of Congress, I have carefully considered the bill in relation to the slave trade, and to punish persons offending therein, but have not been able to approve it, and therefore do return it with a statement of my objections. The Constitution (section 7, article I.) provides that the importation of African negroes from any foreign country other than slave-holding States of the United States is hereby forbidden, and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same. The rule herein given is emphatic, and distinctly directs the legislation which shall effectually prevent the importation of African negroes. The bill before me denounces as high misdemeanor the importation of African negroes or other persons of color, either to be sold as slaves or to be held to service or labor, affixing heavy, degrading penalties on the act, if done with such intent. To that extent it accords with the requirements of the Constitution, but in the sixth section of the bill provision is made for the transfer of persons who may have been illegally imported into the Confederate States to the custody of foreign States or societies, upon condition of deportation and future freedom, and if the proposition thus to surrender them shall not be accepted, it is then made the duty of the President to cause said negroes to be sold at public outcry to the highest bidder in any one of the States where such sale shall not be inconsistent with the laws thereof. This provision seems to me to be in opposition to the policy declared in the Constitution – the prohibition of the importation of African negroes – and in derogation of its mandate to legislate for the effectuation of that object. Wherefore the bill is returned to you for your further consideration, and, together with the objections, most respectfully submitted.


  • “In any case, thanks!”

    You are entirely welcome GodsGadfly!

  • Good grief, slavery was enshrined in the Confederate Constitution. You couldn’t become a member of the ‘Confederacy’ unless you endorsed and embraced slavery. No amout of neo-confederate embroidery will change those historical facts.

    “We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices abovementioned as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in this Apostolic Letter.”

    These words have meaning. You should read them.

  • Trevor, you calling me a neo-Confederate is rich. As the thread linked to below indicates, I have long been engaged in combox battles with neo-Confederates.


    I will assume that you are not a faithful reader of this blog, or you would not be confused on this point.

    In any of my posts dealing with historical topics, I try to be as accurate as possible and to give the subject his or her historical due. You brought up the slave trade and I cited a Davis veto on the subject that indicated, accurately, that the Confederate Constitution banned the international slave trade. I think you need to grind axes less and read more, lest you become a mirror-image of the neo-Confederates you oppose who are afraid to simply let the historical record be examined, warts and all.

  • Donald – Can you write an article addressing the following: Why do many blacks have Irish last names? Did Irish Catholics have plantations in the South and what happened to the Catholics in the South since it seems that they largely disappeared until recently? (recently re-appeared due to Catholic moving from the North)

  • Here is a discussion of the topic John.


    With all due respect to the fictional Scarlett O’Hara, Irish Catholics tended to be underrepresented among plantation owners in the antebellum South. I assume that most of the Irish names are from slaves adopting the names of Scot-Irish who owned them, not an uncommon occurrence, or through unions, in matrimony and out, between blacks and whites.

  • Thanks Donald – That makes more sense. Catholics in the South didn’t disappear, rather, they were never there. The names of black people can be explained by non-Catholic Scots-Irish.

  • Donald,

    The 1839 Apostolic Letter which was read at the 4th Provincial Council in Baltimore makes no distinction between domestic and international slave trading, it condems the practice in its totality.

    Yet Jefferson Davis’ veto twenty one years later doesn’t uphold a ban on all slave trading, only on international slave trading. Did it matter to the Catholic Church whether the slaves were traded from Ghana or Maryland when it issued the letter? Did Pope Gregory XVI have inernational politics or basic human rights on his mind when he wrote it?

    Perhaps you should read the letter again, this time to gain a fuller understanding what the Vatican was trying to convey, before continuing your defense of Jefferson Davis.

  • And perhaps you should try reading what I have written Trevor. In your fierce grinding of the ax you have a death grip on, you have failed to notice that I said nothing about whether the veto was in accord with the text of the letter, nor am I defending Jefferson Davis. You are the mirror image of the obsessed neo-Confederate.

  • Quoting Mr. Davis: ” . . .we desire none of our enemy’s possessions, but that we fight merely to resist the devastation of our country and the shedding of our best blood, and to force them to let us live in peace under the protection of our own institutions, and under our laws, which not only insure to every one the enjoyment of his temporal rights, but also the free exercise of his religion.”

    First, I admit to being a little biased since I am the descendant of people who were enslaved in these United States. But it seems to me that Mr. Davis is being a little bit dishonest here since he supported an institution which took possession of people’s bodies and treated human beings as cattle. Slavery, especially as practiced in the United States, was an ongoing assault against human dignity. How Mr. Davis could possibly claim that southern laws and mores “insure to everyone his temporal rights” is beyond me. This repesents a severe disconnect from the reality he was well acquainted with as a slaveowner. I strongly urge you to read some of the books detailing the internal slave trade before romanticizing the ante-bellum south. (I especially recommend “Slave Trading in the Old South” by Frederic Bancroft. Then, just to put a human face on the suffering, read “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northrup.) It’s an ugly chapter and no amount of correspondence between the Pope and Mr. Davis can obscure that.

    Also the opposition to the international slave trade was a form of protectionism since it kept the prices of slaves in the U.S. high. Virginia plantations made fortunes in meeting the demands for slaves as new slave territories to the west opened up. Re-opening the African slave trade would have lowered the prices of slaves.

    The anti-slavery movement was laregely spearheaded, both here and in England, by Protestants and had an explicitly religious grounding. They absolutely refused to play footsie with this institution. To my mind it was Protetantism’s finest hour and certainly one of the jewels in the crown of the west. (I am not claiming that all Protestants opposed slavery, merely that the most agressive and active opponents of slavery were almost invariably Protestant; there was no sustained Catholic presence in the movement to eliminate slavery.) Islam resisted the abolition of slavery into the 1960’s.

    Finally, I can only presume that the Irish names which some African Americans have were taken from Scots-Irish since, with the exception of Louisiana and possibily Mobile, Alabama, there were very few Catholics in the South. Even today the American South is overwhelmingly Protestant altho the influx of Latino immigrants is changing this.

    By contrast, Africans in Latin America are largely Catholic, the religion of those who enslaved them. And we don’t want to get started on the Catholic slave regimes in Latin America, which were arguably much more brutal than those of the Anglosphere.

  • “It’s an ugly chapter and no amount of correspondence between the Pope and Mr. Davis can obscure that.”

    No one here is attempting to do that Denise.

    “there was no sustained Catholic presence in the movement to eliminate slavery.”

    Actually Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator in Ireland, supported abolition in the British Empire and America. He served as the model for William Lloyd Garrison. Father Theobald Matthew, the famed temperance priest, was quite active in abolition in this country. You are correct in that no bishop publicly supported abolition in this country prior to the Civil War.

    “And we don’t want to get started on the Catholic slave regimes in Latin America, which were arguably much more brutal than those of the Anglosphere.”

    That is debatable depending upon the country in Latin America, and what part of the Anglosphere is being used for comparison. In any case in Latin America slavery had been abolished prior to our Civil War except I believe in Cuba and Brazil.

    “Islam resisted the abolition of slavery into the 1960?s.”

    I’d say de facto slavery still goes on in many Islamic countries.

  • ” In your fierce grinding of the ax you have a death grip on, you have failed to notice that I said nothing about whether the veto was in accord with the text of the letter, nor am I defending Jefferson Davis.”


    What other purpose would posting the Davis veto memo have than as a rebuttal to the Vatican letter? You’re clearly defending Jefferson Davis here whether you want to or not. Who’s next on your Cavalcade of Confederates seeking redemption, Benjamin Judah?

  • Trevor,

    It seems to me that Donald was just defending truth and making appropriate distinctions. Donald wrote a post about an exchange between Davis and Pio Nono. Best I can tell it is accurate in its account of facts and the little personal commentary is benign. For reason unknown except to you, you posted the Vatican letter condemning the slave trade with no commentary accompaning it. It is left to the reader to divine why you posted it. The observer would not find your cite relevant to the post unless you were somehow trying make the Pio/Davis exchange irrelevant to history.

    Unfortunately, the cudgel you chose wasn’t as relevant as you you hoped. One doesn’t have to defend the Confederacy, slavery, the slave trade, or Davis except to the truth. i.e. Hitler was a horrible human being and caused countless deaths and much more suffering. However, I know of no information that he liked to eat puppy dogs for dinner. Too accuse him of that just because he caused so much evil does not serve truth.

    Davis was president of the Confederate states. He supported the institution of slavery. He opposed reopening the international slave trade. He had a pleasant exchange with Pope Pius IX. It is what it is.

  • “Donald,

    What other purpose would posting the Davis veto memo have than as a rebuttal to the Vatican letter? You’re clearly defending Jefferson Davis here whether you want to or not. Who’s next on your Cavalcade of Confederates seeking redemption, Benjamin Judah?”

    I posted it Trevor to help show how complicated history tends to be and to give another factoid about Davis. As I have indicated clearly in the link that I posted above in this thread, which I doubt you have bothered to read, I have taken to task time and time again neo-Confederates who attempt to pretend that the Civil War was not all about slavery. Indeed I have noted several times that at the onset of the Civil War Davis said the Civil War was all about slavery.



    Not all my posts have to mention that fact, since they are simply slivers of the lives of my subjects and not full blown bios usually, and normally deal with some particular incident or incidents.

    The usual criticisms of my Civil War posts on this blog have been that I am a Lincoln worshiper and a Yankee of the deepest blue, so having you come at me from the other angle is refreshing in addition to being hilarious.

    In regard to Judah P. Benjamin, ante-bellum Senator from Louisiana, and the Jewish member of the Confederate cabinet, married to a Catholic, he was a truly fascinating character and will, in the fullness of time, be the subject of a post. He once responded to Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio calling him a “Hebrew with Egyptian principles”, with this memorable riposte: “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.” Thank you for the suggestion Trevor!

  • Donald, I’ve read your piece in regards to secession being avoidable if the Democratic party had kept its head in regards to Lincolns win at the polls [1860 Prest elect]. your argument has no basis what ever in this assumption ,for one the Democratic ticket was split asunder. with Stephen Douglas a proponent of popular sovereignty and John C. Breckinridge anti Douglas and anti Douglas’s creed.The contest pre war was the the rights of states. Davis seen the States as sovereign , the federal gov acting on their behalf. the question remains do sovereign states legally have the right to secede from a union of states?.

  • Tom, I have to disagree with your analysis in regards to the clamour for southern Independence or succession.The election of Abe Lincoln in itself was not the catalyst of the rebellion or revolution the problem was inherited by Lincoln, the decline of southern power in the senate, as you rightly pointed out was the basis for separation. As john C. Calhoun once said “The union is a partnership that sectional parity guarantees tranquillity for the nation”.The union changed that configuration by admitting free states whilst keep slave -holding states in check.

    As to Confederate forces firing on FT Sumter, this was exactly what Lincoln had engineered “they fired the first shot”.So much for his promise, where slavery existed so shall it remain unmolested the south had nothing to fear from a Rep adim. It was always in Lincoln’s eye,the horror of slavery although he was never an out and out abolitionist he truly hated slavery.

    As i have alluded to before the civil-war was not fought over slavery, but for Union. as for Va it could not let the Lincoln war machine use her native soil as a land bridge to attack the deep south. While the North fought for Union, The South fought for the Republic.

  • Noleybo, you are mistaken. Secession occurred in a state of crisis that was completely unfounded. Lincoln had pledged to do nothing in regard to slavery in the slave states. Acting with Northern Democrats, Southern representatives and senators could have bottled up any legislation they feared. Instead Secession led to the death of the Peculiar Institution and a fratricidal war that devastated the South. Rarely have a braver people been more poorly led by their leaders than the white Southerners in the Secession Winter of 1860-61.

  • Donald.I must again disagree with your understanding of the crisis as you call it in 1860 in regards to the election of Abe Lincoln.But before I discuss Lincoln and the crisis that you allude to as in 1860, let me draw your attention to compromise after compromise to prevent succession. Missouri 1820, Mexican cession 1850, Kansas Nebraska 1854, all attempts to settle disputes on sectional lines of course not to mention a last ditch effort to advert succession by Davis and other which is general known as The Crittenden Compromise, Lincoln ignored it, he showed utter contempt and disrespect for their efforts.Of course the expansion of slavery was on the table but it showed Lincoln in a true light he’d have no truck with slavery but still he should have had common courtesy to attend.The man was transparent,this pledge that the South had nothing to fear was a total lie. Slavery was safe where it remained was a hollow promise.The Harrison’s Landing[ Genl McClellan] letter proved Lincoln true intent in regards to the slave states when again he showed contempt for the author.

    You again mentioned if the Northern Democrats along with their Southern brethren could have thwarted any legislation proposed by the Lincoln Adim.I put it to you, if they could have agreed on a single candidate the Democrats would have won in 1860.The sectional differences ran deep with Stephen Douglas a fervent support of Popular Sovereignty, animus of Douglas and his policy torn asunder any conciliation between Northern and Southern Democrats.So to contend that a union of both could bottle up Lincoln’s policy is delusional and without recourse to historical accuracy on your part.

  • Noleybo in regard to Lincoln and the Secession Crisis of 1860-61, the only things he was unwilling to compromise on were slavery in the territories and the preservation of the Union. Lincoln even supported an amendment to enshrine slavery in the Constitution if that would mollify the South. The amendment passed Congress and was ratified by three states before it became a dead issue due to the ongoing war. That such an amendment passed the Congress without most Southern senators and representatives being present is a clear indication of how willing Northern Democrats and many Republicans were to allay the fears of the South. Northern Democrats would have been happy to join Southern members of Congress in bottling up Republican legislation. After four frustrating years Lincoln would probably have joined the long list of one term Presidents which was the norm after Andrew Jackson. The South had absolutely nothing to fear from Lincoln. Instead, Southern fireeaters stampeded more moderate colleagues in attempting to secede from the Union by portraying Lincoln as a mortal threat to slavery. Instead, it was the secessionists, by provoking a war they were bound to lose, who signed the death knell of slavery. God must have enjoyed the rich irony.

  • Donald, according to the judgement and interpretations of the Constitution handed down by the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case 1857. That Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in the national lands because that would violate the property rights of the Fifth Amendment.So the highest Judiciary in the land reaffirmed what Southerners always believed, that the Constitution guaranteed their property rights [Slaves ] in any territory.

    For Lincoln to support an amendment to the Constitution enshrining slavery is a nonsense because the the Dred Scott case had already stated that position. That slavery was protect by the Constitution.In fact Lincoln set about undermining the decision because according to the Reps and himself the analysis was erroneous. So what had Southerners to fear from Abe Lincoln?

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation

Friday, August 6, AD 2010


Easily the most controversial figure in the Civil War, probably the most controversial figure in American history, Nathan Bedford Forrest has always been the subject of fierce debate.  Self-made millionaire who rose from poverty with much of his money made as a slaver trader;  a semi-literate whose tactics and strategies as the most successful cavalry commander of the  Civil War are still studied at military academies around the world;  a brilliant general celebrated by the South and condemned by the North as the perpetrator of a massacre at Fort Pillow;  a man who killed in combat 31 Union soldiers in the War but who after the War constantly had former Union soldiers visit him to shake his hand; and  a racist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan after the War, but who also made a remarkable speech near the end of his life.

In 1875 Forrest was invited to address a meeting of the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early black civil rights organization in Memphis, at their Fourth of July barbecue on July 5.  Forrest was told by many whites that he should not accept, but Forrest went.  Just before he spoke he was presented a bouquet of flowers by Miss Flora Lewis, a daughter of one of the members of the Pole Bearers.   Here is Forrest’s speech.

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17 Responses to Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation

  • A highly successful cavalry general. “Get there first with the most.” True cavalryman, he understood cavalry tactics: audacity, economy of force, military intelligence/recon and mobility. General Custer’s Civil War record was also stellar.

    Praise the Lord! Apparently, he came to repent of his sins and sought to amend his life.

  • Very interesting.

  • Thank you for another excellent piece. AMERICAN CATHOLIC never fails to entertain and enlighten.

  • Fascinating, and as always, excellent work. I never knew Forrest had a change of heart. Good.

    Forrest had one of the great slap-down rants of all time, directed at Braxton Bragg (whom I heartily thank God wore the gray) after Bragg’s jealous mistreatment of him following the battle of Chickamauga:

    “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 more 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. You have threatened to arrest me for not obeying your orders promptly. I dare you to do it, 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 your life.”

  • Hey Donald,

    May I put this article up on my facebook page?

  • I have read that Forrest left the KKK when he felt it was going in a directrion he didn’t approve, and that he was recruited into it as a reconstructionist organization after Robt. E Lee recommended him instead of himself. Further that he also left the KKK to solidify his business interests. So I think there continue to be two sides to the NBForrest story

  • Go ahead Bret.

  • Another Gem from the McClarey mine.

    Thank you for the education.

  • Most of this is sourced indirectly via Hurst’s biography. The KKK in its original form was to fight reconstruction. While there was somewhat of a centralized organization, a lot of Klan folks weren’t organized. NB Forrest got threatened by Congress. The organization pretty much ceased to exist after that. It was reconstituted around the 1920s and took the character with which it is most often identified.

    Fort Pillow was mainly propaganda to help Lincoln’s re-election. After the election, the matter was basically dropped. The Union apparatus showed no interest in making Forrest pay for his alleged massacre at Ft. Pillow.

    Forrest did indeed convert to Christianity. I wish I had the quote handy, but he said during the war that he couldn’t convert yet because he had un-Christian things to do.

    Forrest had amassed a small fortune before the war, but the money was in slave trading, so he wasn’t respected by the landed aristocracy of the time. He was broke after the war and a railroad venture ensured he remained that way. During his last years, he did a lot of work on racial reconciliation. He thought it would be better for blacks and whites to be in solidarity in attacking reconstruction and the mismanagement that went along with it.

  • NB Forrest is no hero to Catholics. He is one of American history’s most dispicable personages. The Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist organization founded by former members of the Confederate Army of Tenn. with the specific goal of denying the civil rights of black people. The Army of Tennesee battle flag is a KKK symbol.

    Catholic immigrants to the United States have long been subject to intimidation by the KKK, both North and South. NB Forrest was a slave trader, war criminal, and domestic terrorist. How bizarrre it is to see an attempt to celebrate his life here at American Catholic.

  • What is bizarre Trevor is your unwillingness to even consider an event in Forrest’s life that indicates that he was trying to make amends for the racism of his life. Redemption is one of the key elements of the Catholic faith, and this story demonstrates that as long as there is life there is an opportunity for it.

  • There is nothing fascinatng or ‘redemptive’ about NB Forrest’s life Donald. The man was a slave trader, a civil war criminal, and a domestic terrorst. No amount of rhetoric on his part is going to change those facts.

    Put in its proper context, the speech which this story alludes to was part of an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to get nacent black political organizations like the Tennesee Independent Order of Pole Bearers to stop supporting black/Republican candidates and support the white Democrat candidates instead. The Klan was ultimately sucessful in that endevour as the black Republican political ascendency in Tennesee ended the following year in 1876. Thus ended black Tenneseean’s best chance for stopping the imposition of Jim Crow laws over their lives.

    From a religious perspective the Forrest speech would be better viewed as a story about Satan’s temptation. By appearing in the flesh amongst the black audience, smiling, acting friendly, and saying the right words, the worldly white supremicist Klan leader was able to convince his less sophisticated opponents to drop their own poliitical cause and join his. To their everlasting detriment.

  • As I said Trevor at the beginning of my post, Forrest is probably the most controversial figure in American history. On my blog Almost Chosen People, when I posted this, I received flak from a neo-Confederate named Bill. A debate between you and Bill would be amusing if not edifying.


    In regard to Forrest, you are quite incorrect as to whether he is fascinating. He obviously is, judging from the number of recent biographies and the fact that whenever his name appears in anything I write for a blog, the comments roll in.

    As for his speech, Forrest was invited to give it. He specifically indicates in it that he is not going to attempt to tell his listeners how to vote. I might also note that it would be a peculiar election strategy to think that sending Forrest of Fort Pillow and the Klan to a black group would be an effective form of political persuasion. By 1875 Forrest by all indications was no longer involved with the Klan and was not involved in politics. Forrest in his speech was not speaking for any party, but for himself. You are of course free to interpret his speech as arising from ulterior motives, but I do not think that the facts support such an interpretation.

  • I can’t help but chime in:

    Often Forrest’s reputation comes down to the controversies surrounding three specific parts of his life:

    1) His role as a slave-trader.
    2) His role in the Battle (Massacre) of Fort Pillow.
    3) His role in the Klan.

    There is no denying Forrest was a slave trader. However, the practice was perfectly legal at the time (Constitutionally protected even as evidenced by the Dred Scott decision) and he wasn’t the only person partaking in said practice. Of course this does not exonerate his participation therein from a moral standpoint, but this detail placed in it’s proper historical context is, as Michael Bradley (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Escort and Staff, 2006, pg 215-6) passionately argues, an example of presentism; “Presentism would have us use our knowledge and values to judge the actions of the past, even though our knowledge and values were not accessible to the people of the past.” If the matter is argued even further, 13 out of 39 signing members of the Constitution were slave-traders/slave-owners themselves and during the 1858 debates with Douglas, Lincoln even remarked (a position he publicly held on numerous occasions following his election) that he did not think that the black man is “my equal in many respects, certainly not in color—perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowments…” (Shane Kastler, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption, 2010, 37-9). One thus wonders if the onslaught of criticism of Forrest’s slave-trading activities are as merited when so many prominent historical figures in US history are given passes for their words/actions in comparison.

    The Battle (Massacre) of Fort Pillow is a wonderful example of propaganda. There are numerous points of contention worth noting, but among the more noteworthy:

    A) Forrest’s official report for his activities was not offered or considered as evidence in his defense for 4 months; his report was submitted to his Commanding Officer, General Polk, who subsequently died during the Atlanta Campaign against General Sherman and the report was lost until later found by Polk’s replacement. Consequently, the Northern Congress wrote of the event as a “massacre” while distributing 40,000 copies decrying Forrest’s action as murder; oh yes, it was also 1864 and Lincoln was convinced he wouldn’t win re-election unless desperate measures were taken (Robert Selph Henry, First with the Most; Forrest, 1944, 248-9). Interestingly, too, that same Congress also exonerated Forrest but the Northern Press did not emphasize that detail with the same vigor it had in efforts of condemning him.

    B) Equally interesting, Fort Pillow was given 3 (count them, three) chances to surrender. The Fort was surrounded. The Federals were outnumbered. The main commanders of the Fort, Bradford and Booth, had zero combat experience. I could go on (Hell, just read Maness, Jordan & Pryor, Wyeth, Hurst, Wills, or anyone else that documents the event) and the outcome is pretty predictable.

    C) Did I also forget to mention that more than half the combatants were taken prisoner, given quarter, medical treatment and all prisoners of war were eventually exchanged to the federals? (Jordan & Pryor, 1899, reprinted 1996, 704).

    D) Oh, and did I also forget to mention that many of the Federal combatants did surrender, only to re-pick up their arms and start shooting again? (See Jordan & Pryor, Wyeth, Wills, Hurst, etc.) Interesting how the Congressional report condemning Forrest includes testimony by Federal soldiers saying that they never officially surrendered as well as re-fought after individual members surrendered, but the Northern Press, again, did not emphasize these points with the same vigor it had in condemning him. Here is where it might be reasonable to believe a conspiracy of sorts was taking place.

    E) More people died at the The Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) in one day than virtually all of Forrest’s war campaigns put together. You might be thinking, “So what difference does that make?” Well, there is only one real obvious difference, minus the commanders involved with each conflict: white people were killing white people instead of white people killing black people. Could it really be this simple? Maybe not. But when numerous colored regiments under the regional direction of Federal General Sturgis, among numerous others assigned by General Sherman to annihilate Forrest, fail miserably and repeatedly, it’s a tough recruiting tool to win public support, increase black enlistment, not appear incompetent, etc., when Forrest is consistently destroying those in his path. Plus how else can the Federals justify their losses beyond conceding that they did not adequately train members of their command? Cognitive dissonance and propaganda work miracles.

    A lot of ink has also been spilled about Forrest having a role in the Klan. Was he in the group or wasn’t he? According to Morton (1909), Forrest’s former artillery officer, he initiated Forrest as a member and as eventual Grand Dragon. According to Stanley Horn (1939), Forrest was probably a member but there is no conclusive evidence he ever held a leadership role. Pick and choose whatever you want to believe, but a few things are clear:

    A) Forrest wasn’t a founding member of the organization; it already existed for a year to 18 months before his alleged involvement.

    B) During Reconstruction ex-Confederates were denied the right to vote. The fear was that if they could vote, they would vote to maintain the Old South as well as white supremacy; indeed a reasonable fear. Consequently, however, rather than reconciliation or efforts to reconstruct the South for all its members, ex-Confederates were now singled out for discrimination. The Governor of Tennessee, Brownlow, went so far under a Reconstructionalist agenda to attempt to have all ex-Confederates shot by citizen militia groups under the pretense that all KKK members were clearly ex-Confederates fighting for the right to preserve the Old South (and by proxy obvious Klan members and/or sympathizers), while the offenders would never be brought to justice if Brownlow had his way. It should be noted that some might argue that this position taken by Brownlow and Reconstructionalists was justice for the plight of what blacks inhumanely suffered for centuries; others might argue, rightfully, however, that using more discrimination to fight discrimination solves nothing. Notwithstanding, once Brownlow resigned to pursue political aspirations as a Senator, Senter of the Democratic Party became the new Tennessee governor and voting rights were restored for all eligible citizens. In so doing, the KKK was officially disbanded; often attributed as the work of Forrest.

    C) New groups, in the name of the original, popped up. Many allegations have even surfaced that many of the newer groups were actually discontent Union-loyalists attempting to pursue their own agenda (Selph Henry, 450-1). I have even read some critics suggest that some of the “newer” Klan groups were discontent blacks; but you’d have to really buy into conspiracy theories and insane propaganda to believe that any group of people would vote/fight/kill against their own interests… oh, that does happen.

    In sum, Forrest is often judged for isolated incidents before the Civil War (e.g. slave-trading), during the Civil War (e.g. Fort Pillow) and immediately following the Civil War (e.g. KKK activities). Interestingly, however, the last 8 years of Forrest’s life are often ignored altogether. You might be thinking, “Why should anyone care?” Well, for one, Forrest converted to Christianity. Two, Forrest began to publicly preach racial reconciliation (e.g. evidenced by his speech to the Pole Bearers, among other things). Three, Forrest even alienated his traditionally white supporters in efforts to protect newly emancipated slaves (e.g. as a planter following the Civil War he actually paid black laborers more than his competitors/neighbors). Often the “so what?” question from these observations emerge. Detractors of Forrest often like to find instances of controversy while choosing to only provide certain pieces to make their case. Conversely, defenders of Forrest often like to emphasize Forrest’s war achievements in isolation from the rest of his life and not fully consider him as the incomplete, inconsistent, and contradictory person that he was.

    For what my stake in this larger debate entails, I would say this: defenders of Forrest have hurt Forrest’s reputation by refusing to acknowledge the man for all his faults. Instead, Forrest has become a symbol of white masculinity defending a way of life that may never have existed (e.g. read the Agrarian Manifesto by the 12 Southerners or Cash’s The Mind of the South for a better idea of what I’m talking about). Detractors of Forrest have done nothing but focus on the man for his faults, often cherry-picking details out of context or simply ignoring context altogether. Interestingly, neither defenders nor detractors have spoken much about Forrest’s last 8 years in great detail; almost as if to imply that neither is willing to consider Forrest as having developed a progressive attitude towards race late in his life. But what an irony it would be if the NAACP and the KKK have been using the same man to make an argument for their respective positions, when, in fact, Forrest is not the man either have claimed him to be. But it’s a lot easier to blindly accept what we’re told because, after all, history is always inclusive of—and written with—the minority position in mind. Or not.

  • Thank you Paul for your well-thought out comment. This is precisely the type of comment I hope to see when I post on historical topics here and at my blog on American history, Almost Chosen People:


    History must be approached on its own terms as you have done here. Establishing the facts of history can be difficult, but until we have established the facts, debate about what the facts mean is meaningless. In regard to Forrest and the Klan, I think he clearly was involved at a high level, and I will probably do a piece on that at Almost Chosen People as the length of the examination would warrant a full blog post.

  • In regard to Fort Pillow, another subject worthy of a lengthy blog post on Almost Chosen People, the historical controversy rages from the day of the taking of Fort Pillow to today. My position is as follows.

    Some Confederates did kill black and white Union soldiers, most of whom were Tennessee Unionists, after the fort was taken. Unfortunately this was not an uncommon occurrence after a fort was summoned to surrender and had to be taken by assault. The assaulting troops are usually in that situation highly enraged and it is extremely difficult for commanders to keep them under control in the immediate aftermath. There is little evidence that I can see that Forrest ordered his men to do such killings and a fair amount of evidence that Forrest took steps to end the killings as soon as he learned of them.

    This contemporary letter after the battle discusses what happened:
    “Letter of Surgeon Samuel H. Caldwell, Sixteenth Tennessee Cavalry

    Camp Near Brownsville, April 15, 1864.

    My Dear Darling Wife,
    We are just from Fort Pillow which fort we attacked on Tuesday the 13th.
    1864 & carried by storm. It was garrisoned by 400 white men and 400 negroes
    & out of the 800 only 168 are now living So you can guess how terrible was
    the slaughter. It was decidedly the most horrible sight that I have ever
    They refused to surrender—which incensed our men & if General Forrest had
    not run between our men & the Yanks with his pistol and sabre drawn not a
    man would have been spared—We took about a hundred & 25 white men & about 45
    negroes the rest of the 800 are numbered with the dead—They sure [lay]
    heaped upon each other 3 days—…

    Nothing more but remain your devoted husband.
    S. H. Caldwell.”

  • Your welcome.

    With regard to Fort Pillow, depending on whose account you read and lend credence towards, the Federal troops were composed mainly of former slaves, Tennessee Unionists and ex-Confederate deserters; all of whom were regarded as traitors in the eyes of Confederates. Throw in the sense of outrage in having to risk your life to fight a battle that could have been avoided and there is a lot of high emotion going on. Once more, there is also a lot of documentation alleging Bradford and his men were robbing, raping and harassing the locals; so goes the story Forrest viewed Fort Pillow as a meaningless strategic position but he was begged by the locals for protection including from his own men who had families in the area.

    One of the reasons why the allegations of “massacre” have gained a lot of traction, however, is that there is considerable speculation that Forrest lost control of his men; that is to say, he didn’t order a massacre but he didn’t prevent one from happening either. Richard Fuchs, at least, attempts to push this argument further by suggesting premeditated murder. Interestingly, however, Forrest ordered General Chalmers to direct the action since he arrived late on the scene and he also had 3 horses shot from under him during the initial fighting before the demand for surrender commenced. But getting into all these details is often ignored by detractors because, after all, by simply acknowledging that they could be wrong or have condemned Forrest irrespective of the facts, this concession opens itself to further attack insofar as what else detractors may have failed to recognize.

    With regard to the Klan, it’s suspicion of guilt versus confirmation thereof. During the Congressional Investigation of the Insurrectory States Forrest’s testimony definitely suggests he knew much more than he was willing to admit. Forrest’s testimony with the Cincinnati reporter that was offered into evidence also suggests Forrest held a high position of leadership, or at least was very influential, but once more there is no evidence to conclusively link Forrest to the Klan. Most historians often nonchalantly say Forrest had a role, but what is often omitted is that this so-called “link” is a suspicion rather than supported in fact. Consequently, the Northern Congress, to their credit, recognized the insufficient evidence and exonerated Forrest.

    Notwithstanding, I find it absolutely fascinating that once certain allegations go unchallenged it almost becomes accepted in lieu of fact. Perhaps the allegation is as good as fact without evidence to support the claim for some folks, but what often seems to happen is that once each allegation becomes accepted without proof, the severity of the charge(s) seems to escalate. For instance, the Memphis chapter of the NAACP has often charged Forrest as being the founder of the Klan; thus, as they have argued, this is grounds alone to remove his equestrian statue in a racially polarized city such as Memphis. Should anyone remind the NAACP that Forrest didn’t create the Klan, however, they often refuse to admit the carelessness in this charge.

    Even more strange is when civil rights groups in general try to argue the reasons surrounding Forrest’s interment locale. It often behooves these groups to recognize that Forrest specifically asked to be buried in Elmwood as opposed to a park dedicated in his honor. Why does this matter? When Forrest Park was built the equestrian statue was the second largest of it’s kind ever constructed, next to Napoleon’s, at a cost almost surpassing all other American monuments at that time; quite the accomplishment considering this money came out of the pockets of Memphis citizens dirt poor from Reconstruction. Moreover, a park built in the memory of a Confederate hero stands when none exists in honor of Martin Luther King in the city of Memphis only seems to further motivate detractors in their efforts to rewrite history to their liking.

    I would absolutely be curious to see new scholarship emerge about Forrest’s controversial roles as they are situated within a greater historical context versus isolated from the world he lived in. Too often scholars and detractors alike have extreme tunnel vision to the point that they appear more concerned with fulfilling political agendas than promoting genuine efforts to seek racial reconciliation. Because once we recognize that people in history are not as one-dimension as often asserted, the sooner we can shift from our inability/unwillingness to come to terms with our undesirable history and actually focus on ways to improve the social ills that plague us.

Edward Coles and Free Illinois

Thursday, August 5, AD 2010

Edward Coles, the second governor of Illinois, is largely forgotten today, which is a pity.  His actions in 1824 helped lead to Union victory in the Civil War.

Illinois came into the Union as a free state in 1818.  However, a majority of settlers in Illinois initially came from the South and some of them brought slaves, illegally, into the Sucker State.  In 1822 Edward Coles, a 36 year old native of Virginia who had settled in Illinois in 1818, was elected Governor.  Coles came from a slave-holding family, but he had long been convinced that slavery was morally wrong.  When he arrived in Illinois he freed his ten slaves and deeded to each head of a family 160 acres of land to help give them a new start in a free state.  He ran for governor because he was alarmed with the growing strength of pro-slavery forces in his new home state.  In a tight four way race he won.

As Governor, Coles fought against laws in Illinois that discriminated against blacks and against indenture laws that attempted to establish black slavery in Illinois under another name.  In 1823 pro-slavery forces had a call for a constitutional convention put on the ballot in 1824.  Had a convention been called, there is little doubt that Illinois would have been transformed into a slave state.  Working feverishly, Coles and his allies narrowly defeated the call for a constitutional convention at the ballot box in 1824 and Illinois remained a free state.  Had the Civil War begun with an Illinois that had been part of the Confederacy, or, more likely, split in two as Missouri was throughout the war between rival Union and Confederate camps, it is hard for me to see a Union victory.  Illinois contributed a quarter of a million men to the Union cause, and without those men the war in the West could never have been won.

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5 Responses to Edward Coles and Free Illinois

  • Fascinating. Thanks, Don. Never knew this even though I received my undergraduate degrees from an institution located smack dab in the middle of a county named after this remarkable gent.

  • I agree, very fascinating.

    I didn’t realize how divided Illinois was at the time.

    And an excellent analysis on Missouri. Though a “Union” state, the population was primarily a 60-40 (my guess) ‘States Right’ state.

    There were bloody reprisals all over the state and between Missouri Bushwackers, Confederate Irregulars, and ruffians of all sorts that engaged in inter-state terrorist activities (and war engagements).

  • “There were bloody reprisals all over the state”

    I suspect, though I can’t really prove it and haven’t seen this theory anywhere else, that this is the real reason Missouri came to be known as the Show Me State… because during the Civil War, your life literally depended on knowing where your neighbor’s, friends’, or family’s true loyalties really were.

    If you were loyal to the Union you couldn’t just assume your neighbor, for instance, was a Union man because if it turned out he wasn’t, he could end up killing you the next day. The fact that Union and Confederate sympathizers sometimes disguised themselves as members of the other side during guerrilla actions made things even more complicated.

  • Mike, I lived in Mattoon in Coles County for three years when I first started out as an attorney, and I am ashamed that I had no clue who Coles was at the time.

  • Didn’t know that Don. I used to drive to Mattoon for pizza (and hang with some fellas at the Sheraton (off I-57) back in the day. Even dated a Mattoon gal very briefly till she (understandably) lost interest in me.

Jefferson Davis and the Crown of Thorns

Tuesday, August 3, AD 2010

It has long been an article of faith of many admirers of Jefferson Davis that, while he was in Union captivity after the Civil War, he received a crown of thorns from Pope Pius IX woven by the hands of Pio Nono himself.  The Museum of the Confederacy in New Orleans has it on display.  It is a romantic story and appealing on an emotional level.  It is also false.  The Pope did send the imprisoned Davis his photograph with the text  from Matthew 11:28  ‘Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus.’ (Come to me all all ye who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest, sayeth the Lord.)

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29 Responses to Jefferson Davis and the Crown of Thorns

  • I wonder if the crown of thorns myth had anything to do with the lie that Lincoln was anti-Catholic?


  • I don’t know about Lincoln, but it is undeniable fact that the Republicans in 1860 won in part because of the support of the Know-Nothing party remnants.

    As for the crown of thorns, well, not just Jeff Davis, but the entire south suffered a passion at the hands of the vengeful north… would that Lincoln had not been assasinated; the history of the post-war period would probably have looked much different.

    For us, the lasting legacy of the Late Unpleasantness is the destruction of Federalism as envisioned by the Founders, replaced by a national government that from 1865 onwards would dominate the states in a way unimagined before the war.

  • Or, perhaps, the South suffered God’s will that “all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil *** be sunk, and *** every drop of blood drawn with the lash *** 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.'”

  • “I don’t know about Lincoln, but it is undeniable fact that the Republicans in 1860 won in part because of the support of the Know-Nothing party remnants.”

    LIcoln of course thought against the Know NOthings. Just Like Jefferson Davis did in his own State of Mississippi. My Several Greats Grandfather was ahrassed by the Know Nothings In Mississippi.

    “For us, the lasting legacy of the Late Unpleasantness is the destruction of Federalism as envisioned by the Founders, replaced by a national government that from 1865 onwards would dominate the states in a way unimagined before the war.”

    Another myth. SOutherners up too the Democratic Convention in Charleston were doing their bit to try to destroy Federalism becauseof the issue. Further to say that Federalism disapperared after the WAR is very much false.

  • It would have been more appropriate had Pius decided to send him a hammer and nails.

  • Not that such a gift would have been inappropriate for Lincoln as well.

  • Thank you for this information. I am sure you know that Macon, Georgia, has a busy thoroughfare named Pio Nono Avenue.

  • The judiciary, not the executive, invented and imposed the right of abortion. Even before the Civil War I think the notion that States could not impinge upon Federal constitutional rights was recognized. E.g. the (Northern) States reluctant compliance with the Fugitive Slave Act. I might be wrong, and am certainly quibbling, but I don’t believe Roe v. Wade implicates federalism.

  • What might have been. In 1870, Garibaldi invaded Rome, which was still under Papal rule. If the Confederacy had prevailed, Jefferson Davis may have sent reinforcements to the Pope, in order to prevent Rome from falling to Garibaldi.

  • What reason have we to think such a thing would have happened? The percentage of Catholics in the Confederacy was tiny. It was Protestant England which the Rebs imagined they’d get help from.

    There was a international papal army which fought to save the papal states, but there were very few Americans (north or south) in it.

  • But there were at least three members of the Papal Army of Pius IX (the St. Patrick Brigade) who signed up with the Union Army. See Myles Keogh (www.myleskeogh.org), Joseph O’Keeffe, and Daniel Keily. Keogh saw action at Gettysburg and met his demise with Custer at Little Big Horn.

  • “Lincoln of course thought against the Know Nothings”

    Perhaps his most famous quote on the subject comes from a letter he wrote to his longtime friend Joshua Speed in 1855:

    “I am not a Know Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for example, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

  • Elaine: Good quote. “The base alloy of hypocrisy.” Must try to work that in somewhere.

  • Or, perhaps, the South suffered God’s will that “all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil *** be sunk, and *** every drop of blood drawn with the lash *** 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.’”

    Romantic mythology aside, the struggle for political power that directly led to the Civil War was the result of a unresolved tension between the rights of States and the justly feared encroachment upon those rights by a expansive federal government. Sectional interest drove the nation to war. Slavery was a minor concern. Lincoln did not fight to end slavery. He fought to preserve the union (such as it was and now is).

  • No, he did not. But he had the sense realize that his purposes might not have been the same as God’s.

  • While Lincoln did not enter into war for the sake of the slaves, the South certainly aimed to secede in order to preserve that abomination. For those who doubt that, look at the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, specifically the requirements for membership. It unequivocally states that only those recognizing slavery would be admitted. All other issues such as tariffs, etc. could have been resolved. But the continuation of slavery at that time was a game ender for any peaceful resolution.

  • The Civil War was the result of many years of struggle between competing political and economic interest. That punitive trade legislation purposed and in fact injurious to the largely agrarian Southern economy could have been addressed is only an opinion. To assert that that punitive trade legislation injurious to Southern agrarian would have been equitably addressed is without basis in fact.

    At least as significant a factor in the Civil War was the extremely sensitive issue of state rights in the face of creeping federalism. Under the Constitution the Southern states had every right to withdraw from the union. Had the Southern states exited the union, it would have had a very severe impact on Northern manufacturing, financial and shipping interest. By way of restrictive legislation Southern states were faced with a similar situation as that faced in the years immediately preceding the American Revolution when the colonies were expected and by parliamentary action forced to trade primarily with England. The Southern states recognized that they were being pushed to a similar colonial status. The succession of Southern states rightly addressed their legitimate needs and interest. At the same time, it threatened those of the North for a reliable source of raw materials and a convenient protected market for its manufactured goods. Only by military action were the Southern states forced to remain in the union. The only reason Lincoln addressed slavery was as a strategy to help in winning the war. He specifically states that if he could have won the war by ignoring or permitting slavery, he would have done so.

  • For bthomas-
    Please see the website-
    Which has Declaration of Causes for Seceeding States, which the confederate states conventions gave, AT THE TIME OF SECEEDING, as their reasons for leaving the union. Not a lot about tariffs in there. But TONS about ‘negro’ slavery being threatened as reasons for seceeding.

    As for states having right to seceed, in our U.S. Constitution in Article 4, congress admits states into the union by majority vote. Since secession is not mentioned in the document, its reasonable to assume that a state leaving the union would necessity such a vote.

  • You are to be commended if you wish to do significant primary research into the significant precipitants of the Civil War. You need to turn to know scholarly resources. To assert that a collection of Constitutions expresses a full and complete rational for succession lacks credibility. It would be the same as to present the U.S. Constitution without specific reference to the developmental thought by which it was produced. This and other similar internet sites do not constitute serious scholarship.

    The individual states freely entered into a democratic federated republic. No where in the Constitution or its supporting documents is there any rational to say that this decision constituted a surrender of prerogative by the states individual to choose to remover themselves from that union. An argument from silence is no basis by which to disenfranchise states individual or severally from self-determination. A very up to date example of this right to self-determination is the experience of Yugoslavia and the individual independent nations that decided to remove themselves from that national construct. Given that our federal government used armed force to force the Southern states to remain in a union they did not want, what rational is there to then justify the U.S. acting to support the break-up of Yugoslavia? At the time of the break-up, it was the position of the U.S. that these individual states had the legitimate right to self-determination. This position was affirmed again in the break-up of the now defunct USSR. Oddly, the Southern states were not supposed to have such a right to self-determination. Perhaps it was because that choice exercised would have possessed to much of a potential economic threat to the northern financial, manufacturing and shipping interest. Given that they dominated the federal government of that era, such is certainly the case.

  • Wow, bthomas. I haven’t seen such effervescent loquaciousness since Oswald Bates. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6868F53rgKw&feature=related

  • “The percentage of Catholics in the Confederacy was tiny.” Let’s look at numbers: June 30, 1863 Confederate Army peak strength 473,058; Louisiana, the 3rd most Catholic state in the United States in 1860, contributed 69,000; the Catholic population of antebellum Louisiana was 117,000 in a total population of 708,000; 11,454 Catholics from Louisiana served in the Confederate Army. Sources: Louisiana State Museum, “The Churching of America” and “Why the South Lost the Civil War”. Then again, Catholic Lt. Richard “Dick” Dowling (CSA) and 44 members of the Davis Guard defeated a force of 4000 Federals under the command of General William B. Franklin (USA) and Lt. Frederick Crocker (USN) in the Battle of Sabine Pass on 8 September 1863. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight…”

    “What reason have we to think such a thing would have happened?” There’s no reason not to believe that these Catholic battle-hardened veterans, who may have lost everything they had by 1865, would have given serious consideration to aiding His Holiness in the darkest hour of his pontificate against the other proto-Marxist hordes of Victor Emmanuel II and Garibaldi.

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  • “Wow, bthomas…” Always try to help enlighten the benighted.

  • The crown of thorns is no more absurd, or false, than all other stories about Davis as an honorable man.

    For years I assumed the story about Davis being captured in a dress was silly, that no one ever beleived it, that everyone knew it was a joke.

    Surprise — Davis was very much caught wearing his wife’s dress, and his own wife’s letter proves it. But that isn’t such a big deal, most of us would wear anything to stay alive.

    The “big deal” was Davis cowardice during that flight from Richmond, and his whimpy actions when confronted.

    Perhaps no other single incident shows the real nature of Davis, and in some ways, the nature of the Lost Cause. Slave owners and Southern leaders turned out to be cowards. The SOuth has spent 150 years trying to convince themselves, and the world, otherwise.


  • Actually Davis was almost completely fearless as he amply demonstrated when he heroically led his Mississippi Rifles into battle at Buena Vista during the Mexican War and was wounded as a result.


    As to the capture of Davis, here is what was written by one of the Union soldiers who captured him:

    “Besides the suit of men’s clothing worn by Mr. Davis he had on when captured Mrs. Davis’ large waterproof dress or robe, thrown over his own fine gray suit, and a blanket shawl thrown over his head and shoulders. This shawl and robe were finally deposited in the archives of the war department at Washington by order of Secretary Stanton.

    The story of the “hoopskirt, sunbonnet and calico wrapper” had no real existence and was started in the fertile brains of the reporters and in the illustrated papers of that day. That was a perilous moment for Mr. Davis. He had the right to try to escape in any disguise he could use.”


    Davis can be amply criticized on numerous grounds, but cowardice is not one of them.

  • Sorry Don,

    You still have avoided — totally — Varina Davis own hand written letter, where she is very specific about Davis clothes, and his actions. He wore a dress and he acted like a coward.

    I can produce Varina’s letter. We know she was there.

    You can not produce letter from some imaginary Union soldier. The soldier you folks dreamed up was not in the group that found Davis.

    Everyone there – including Davis wife — said he had on a dress of some sort. The only one that says it was a fine grey suit is Jeff Davis. But Davis whole account of that day is preposterous nonsense, not just on his dress, but on his supposed heroics.

    Jeff Davis wife, and the union soldiers, reported Davis actions, which were that of a coward when confronted.

    Forget the dress — though he had one on. His actions were utterly cowardly. First of all, he was running AWAY from his wife and children, toward the horses. He claimed later he was going for a guy — nonsense. You don’t leave your gun on horses 200 feet away, when you are the focus of a man hunt. He was running for the horses and his wife said so.

    You have simply adopted Davis own self serving and fraudulent statements as the truth. His own wife’s letter fundamentally validates what the Union soldiers reported. Davis, in other words, was not only caught in a dress, but in a lie about his actions.

    I suggest you read her letter — closely.

    Varina said that he had on a “dressing gown” — not a fine grey suit. She tells what he had on, and does not mention any BS fine suit. If he had on a fine suit, she would have said that. She said “dressing gown”. Over the dressing gown (a dress) he had on a woman’s scarf, and a shawl.

    That is what his WIFE said. And she should know — she dressed him.

    How do we know she dressed him? She said so.

    SO let’s deal with what his WIFE said — not with what Southern apologist made up later.

    Varina also says Davis stood mute when confronted, downcast, sullen. She ran to him — she said — and pulled him to her, and SHE dared the soldiers to shoot HER. She told the soldiers “She is my MOTHER”

    That’s right — go read her own letter. SHe says, in her OWN letter, that SHE called out, its my MOTHER.

    Let me repeat that — she said, in her letter, that she called out, “Its my mother”.

    Why would she call out “Its my mother”? Do you have any explanation for that?

    And Davis stood mute and looked down at the ground. That is what she said. That’s not what I said, that is what she said. And that is what the soldiers reported too.

    This is pretty much what the Union soldier’s reported too.

    In fact, they said when Davis took the dress off, his wife put it on! That is what the soldiers who were there said.

    A stunning bit of trivia. They had told Davis to go change out of the dress. Davis wife went with him, in the tent, so he could change. She emerged wearing that dress!

    Apparently she put the dress on, so the soldiers would not take it — but they took it later anyway, ordered by the War Department to bring the dress to DC. And they brought the dress to DC, where it remained on display for over 20 years, according to a speech by one of the Blair children.

    Why does it matter?

    Because the entire Confederate Myth of honor and bravery collapses like a house of cards, if its two leaders, Davis and Lee, are cowardly cruel and deceptive.

    Varina Davis letter gives us a unique, bird’s eye view of what happened that day. She totally obliterates Davis’s own self serving story of heroics.

    He wore a dress, he acted like a coward even apart from the dress.


  • Taxsanity, you are the mirror image of the Neo-Confederates who seek to distort the historical record to serve current political battles. Davis was not a coward, and your attempts to paint him as one simply is at war with the historical record. Davis was a very brave man fighting for a cause I am glad was defeated. I will not distort the historical record to accuse a man of cowardice when he was not a coward.


  • Taxsanity, based upon your last comment, which I have deleted, you are banned from this site. You seem to be eaten up by hate and wish to vent that hatred, and I will not allow you to do so on this blog.

Stonewall Jackson’s Way

Saturday, July 17, AD 2010

Something for the weekend.  Stonewall Jackson’s Way, sung by the endlessly talented Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War music to modern audiences.

Of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, nicknamed Stonewall by General Barnard Bee at the battle of Bull Run, it was said he lived by the New Testament and fought by the Old.  Certainly throughout his life he was a convinced Christian.  As a young man he would attend services of various Christian denominations.  In Mexico, during his service in the Mexican War, he attended mass, although sadly he did not convert to Catholicism.  Instead he eventually became a Presbyterian.  His Bible was his constant companion, and he would often speak of God and theological matters in private conversation.

Jackson in his professional life was a soldier.  Just before the Civil War he was a professor of natural and experimental philosophy (science) and artillery instruction at the Virginia Military Institute.  As a teacher he made a good soldier.  His lectures were rather dry.  If his students seemed to fail to grasp a lecture, he would repeat it the next day, word for word.

His home life was a mixture of sorrow and joy.  His first wife died in childbirth along with their still-born son, a tragedy that would have crushed many a man less iron-willed than  Jackson.  His second marriage, like his first, was happy, but heartache also haunted it.  A daughter died shortly after birth in 1858.  A second daughter was born in 1862, shortly before Jackson’s own death in 1863.

He and his second wife established and taught a Sunday school for black slaves.  At the time it was against the law in Virginia to teach slaves to read, but apparently that is precisely what Jackson and his wife did.   One of the last letters he ever posted was his regular contribution he mailed off throughout the war for the financial support of the Sunday school for slaves he and his wife had founded.

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18 Responses to Stonewall Jackson’s Way

  • Thank you sir. I know we have had our tussles over the War for Southern Independence before and I do know that we both agree that men of honor should be remembered.

    Rally behind the Virginian!

  • Thank you for this page. It is nice to know he is still remembered as a lover of God, if he had more time on earth he would have become Catholic, don’t ask me how I know this, I just do. God Bless You!

  • I just want to point out that I live less than a mile from the statue of Gen. Jackson that appeared at the end of the vignette of mostly Kunstler paintings and that statue stands very close to the spot that Gen. Jackson actually sat atop his steed – it is on the field of battle – that battle was First Manassas. It happened on a field and not in the stream of water that runs nearby – that stream is Bull Run. You Yankees have a funny way about naming battles. Y’all make me laugh.

  • Thank you AK and ginaelise for your kind words. Jackson was an American original: a military genius and a man who dedicated his life to God. His importance in the Civil War is demonstrated by the dimming of the chances for Southern victory immediately after his death.

    After the war, on May 10th, 1881, in New Orleans a statue and monument to Stonewall Jackson were unveiled. Father D. Hubert, who served as a chaplain during the war with Hay’s Lousiana Brigade, gave the benediction. I have always been struck by this phrase in his prayer: “And Thou knowest O Lord, when Thou didst decide that the Confederacy should not succeed, Thou hadst first to remove thy servant, Stonewall Jackson.”

  • An ancestor gave his life at First Bull Run with the 69th NY Militia.

    Jackson’s military philosophy is identical to the Nazi General Staff’s blitzkrieg, except their army was equipped with panzers and stukas.

    Jackson’s infantry was so fast and mile-devouring that it was called “foot cavalry.”

    We will never know. I imagine if General Jackson had lived, the Confederates would have taken that unmanned hill the first evening at Gettysburg; or would have defeated the Union left on the second day; or would have moved earlier and faster on the center the third day.

    AK: You mean the unconstitutional War of Northern Aggression. The federals named the battles for creeks/rivers (Antietam, Bull Run), the Confeccderates for towns and cities.

  • T. Shaw,

    I don’t have a problem with calling the conflict the War of Northern Aggression; however, it seems to me to miss the point. All wars are aggressive and I think we lose some of the uniqueness of the conflict when we identify it thus.

    We don’t call the War for American Independence the War of British Aggression. I prefer the War for Southern Independence because it echos the same purpose as the war of 1775.

    I think Yankees miss the point when they name battles after bodies of water. For the most part, the war was a land war and although naval operations played a part, especially with the Southern tech innovation of the CSS Hunley, the most decisive battles took place in towns and cities bringing us the horrible modern innovation of total war (especially perpetrated by Sherman’s destructive march).

    I visit the Manassas Battlefield often, but I have never set foot in Bull Run.

  • I prefer the Northern Crusade for Human Liberty myself. 🙂

  • That may be a nice thought; however, the anti-slavery nature of the war was not the intent of the North when they thought they could destroy Lee’s Army at First Manassas. The noble cause of freeing African slaves was not employed until the North needed propaganda to prevent European powers from entering the conflict on the side of the CSA. It worked – Christian nations are not prone to want to be known for entering conflicts in order to secure the ‘rights’ of some of God’s children to enslave others of His children. At least not publicly.

    Trampling states’ rights in order to ‘liberate’ blacks was a benefit to no one. We are still dealing with it. Wouldn’t it have been better to free blacks more organically rather then subject all of us, including blacks, into slavery?

  • “Wouldn’t it have been better to free blacks more organically rather then subject all of us, including blacks, into slavery?”

    Considering that the Confederate Constitution specifically forbade the Confederate Congress from enancting any anti-slavery legislation, I can only imagine that Confederate victory would have meant the continuation of black slavery for the foreseeable future. I suspect that virtually all the black slaves then, and virtually all their descendants now, are quite happy that the war ended slavery. Come to think of it, that was also the view of Robert E. Lee at the end of the war. He said that he rejoiced that the war had ended slavery. Additionally AK, calling what defeated Southerners experienced as slavery is simple hyperbole. Real slavery is what blacks suffered in this country for over two and a half centuries. It took a Civil War to end this stain on American honor, and it was worth every drop of blood shed to accomplish that task.

  • Our Constitution forbade women, blacks and eighteen year-olds from voting and we amended it. Slavery would have ended and the Confederate Constitution would have been amended. Of course, we can’t know that, but I doubt the CSA would be the last place in the West with legalized slavery. Not only did great men find slavery morally reprehensible, like Gens. Lee & Jackson, but it would also have become economically unviable.

    Gen. Lee did see the silver lining in the defeat of the South in that slavery ended. He also said he would rather have died with his sword in hand had he known the evil manner in which the victors occupied the South. However slavery ended is a good thing simply because slavery ended. The issue is that 600,000 Americans did not need to die to do it and we did not need to lose states’ rights to do it.

    Additionally, the money power that instigated the war in order to divide the emerging United States, has now succeeded in making all of us, blacks too, slaves. The difference is that African slaves knew they were in shackles. Modern slavery uses invisible shackles and convinces the slave that he is free and happy. It is much, much harder to gain freedom when you aren’t aware that you are in a cage.

    Also, please note that my defense of the position of the South is NOT a defense of the Southern position on slavery. I love my chosen homeland despite the stain of slavery, not because of it. Losing states’ rights has been one of the gravest mistakes America has made because it forces all of us to be subservient to an out-of-control national Leviathan, well on its way to becoming a regional (North American) monster with designs for a global totalitarianism. This is not good for anybody whether their ancestors were salves 150 years ago or over 2,000 years ago.

  • We did not lose states rights due to the Civil War. I know this is a favorite neoCon talking point, but American history says otherwise. The real growth in the powers of the federal governments dates to the Progressive era, beginning with Wilson but exploding with FDR. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War to the beginning of the Progressive era federalism was still respected, and the 10th amendment more than a simple truism.

    And I’m sure the CSA would have gotten around to ending slavery. We could have caught it all on video when they made the announcement.

  • Wow, I am not sure how “Civil War” got butchered into “silver due,” but that might be the greatest typo ever. No wonder I hate typing on laptops.

  • Corrected it for you Paul, although I do agree that was a typo for the record books!

    “Our Constitution forbade women, blacks and eighteen year-olds from voting and we amended it.”

    Actually our Constitution was completely silent on who could vote. Blacks voted in some northern and southern states prior to the Civil War, although all southern states forbade free negroes from voting by the time of the Civil War. Women began voting in Wyoming in 1869, and voted in some Western states and a few Eastern states, including I am pleased to say Illinois, prior to the amendment granting female suffrage. Several states allowed 18 year olds to vote prior to the 26th amendment.

  • favorite neoCon talking point

    You mean Thomas Woods, not Elliot Abrams, right?

  • You mean Thomas Woods, not Elliot Abrams, right?

    Yeah. You can tell by the capitalized C.

    Not to derail the thread even further, but I use the term half-jestingly mainly because neoCons so despise neocons. But I do wish we’d stop adding neo- to every political term. Usually it is just a stand-in for “bad,” and in most cases the thing described as neo ain’t so neo.

  • Great post. Jackson was a fascinating character, with a surprisingly soft side. After his service in the Mexican War, his habitual term of endearment for his wife was “mi esposa.”

  • “And I’m sure the CSA would have gotten around to ending slavery. We could have caught it all on video when they made the announcement.”

    What an absurd insult Mr. Zummo!

    The answer to your marxist comment is that the 13th Amendment passed by the former seceded states whereas the 14th did not.(Video was a pipe dream then).It took the radical reconstruction acts to expel the same states so the ILLEGAL ratification of the 14th could take place!

    Duh! What history did you learn in the government indoctrinated schools? Face it. Lincoln was a marxist. He and Karl Marx corresponded often and admired each other. What other reason would explain why exiled Marx followers were made colonels and generals in the Union army?

    No sir our troubles began in 1865 and have worsened since. True Wilson and FDR accelerated the problems, but ole Abe started them when he perverted the Constitution.

    The CSA was correct in seceding. You just can’t accept the truth or are forever entitled to remain DUPED.

    PS Not related to the yankee Elliot.

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Supreme Court Holds That the Second Amendment Applies to the States

Monday, June 28, AD 2010

In the case of McDonald v. the City of Chicago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Second Amendment applies to the states.  Read the decision here.  The decision was 5-4 which is absolutely stunning since I think that there was no intellectually respectable argument to be made that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states.

The bill of rights applies to the States due to the Fourteenth Amendment.   In the opinions written by the majority justices, emphasis is given to the importance that the drafters of the Amendment placed upon the rights of freed slaves after the Civil War to keep and bear arms for their defense.  A good day for the Constitution at the Supreme Court.

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16 Responses to Supreme Court Holds That the Second Amendment Applies to the States

  • Apropos of our discussion a few weeks ago regarding Justice Scalia’s view that “tradition” should inform the Court’s “substantive due process” jurisprudence, note that this was key to the Court’s decision. (See also Justice Scalia’s concurrence, in which he masterfully dissects Justice Stevens’ dissent.)

    I think Justice Thomas’ privileges or immunities clause analyisis is the better argument from both an originalist and textualist standpoint. But, given that that ship has already sailed, and given the need to limit the Court’s “substantive due process” jurisprudence to those rights that actually have some grounding in the text of the Constitution and the history and tradition of our nation, I can’t say that I blame the majority for relying on the due process clause rather than privileges or immunities, and using this case as a vehicle for defining the limits of “substantive due process”.

  • One gets the feeling that, should a case that hinges upon the question “Does the Constitution require that there be a House and Senate?” make its way to the SCOTUS, the vote would come down five votes to four. Sadly, no one seems able to predict whether the five would be for or against.

    Those of you who think “we are a nation of laws” will find yourselves confounded by the caprice of five untouchables in black robes.

  • I agree. The vote should have been 9 – 0.

    One, “the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.” Can the four dissenting read?

    Two, I bet “dollars to donuts” that the four dissenting (plus Kagan) will affirmatively vote (hallucinating) that the constitution gives a woman the RIGHT to have taxpayers pay a medico to exterminate her unborn babies.

  • Incorporation through the 14th has been piecemeal. The court had never adopted a blanket doctrine of incorporation. But I agree that if we’re going to incorporate at all, the 2nd amendment has to be included.

  • I’m with restrainedradical. The incorporation doctrine is hardly an obvious feature of our constitution, but there is no coherent basis for excluding the 2d amendment from its ambit once it has been applied to the other enumerated rights.

  • T. Shaw, I think the four dissenters are right in insisting that the clause you quote–“the right of the people to bear…”–is qualified, and rendered more precise in its intent, by the prior clause, establishing the need for militias. On an originalist reading of this text, the right to bear arms for, eg. the purposes of hunting or personal protection, simply does not exist.

  • WJ,

    That issue was decided and rejected in the Heller case. They had already lost on that. And don’t pretend that your argument is originalist. Calling it such doesn’t make it so.

  • wj:

    I think the four dissenters do not believe we the people should be free people. I doubt they believe in individual liberty.

    You may read the commentaries, minutes, and statements of the “state” conventions, and all the drafters/founders. At no time was the right of US citizens to individually keep and bear arms questioned until around the time the federal government instituted the income tax (they needed to amend the Constitution) and Federal Reserve System.

    But, you’re right. Once the Obama regime packs the court. [I’m ‘chanelling’ Thomas Jefferson here] We’re likely to devolve into slaves to the state.

  • wj:
    Your is a common argument. The problem is that it does not withstand the scrutiny:


    Van Alstyne is one of the leading con law scholars of our time. Although a liberal to the core, he is ruthlessly principled in his constitutional reasoning. for instance he is pro choice as a policy matter, but believes Roe was a terrible decision.

  • I’m aware of van alstyne and heller etc and disagree with the findings of both. You can disagree with heller precisely on originalist grounds; which is not to say you must–just that you can as a matter of interpretation. Both heller and van alstyne perform any number of impressive exegetical contortions to escape what to my mind is the clear intent of the sentence in question. But maybe you’re right that the four dissenters are motivated less by interpretive scruple and more by policy preference.

  • Fair enough, Wj. For what it is worth I have no great interest in gun regulation as a policy matter, and really don’t care if guns are outlawed. But I find Van Alstyne’s exegesis if the 2d Amendment air tight. Moreover, I have known Bill for almost 30 years; he is immune to exegetical contortion. I have no opinion on the motivations of the four dissenters. I just don’t think there exists a reasonable argument for sparing the 2d Amendment from the incorporation doctrine.

  • Way too much education wasted here on a rather simple issue. Where in the Constitution is any branch of the federal government given authority to disarm either the states or the people? The ninth amendment applies. The critical issue here, and the reason many oppposed incorporation of “the Bill”, is that the amendment did not create the right, though it is now treated as if it had; it only acknowledges the right. No one ever would have written the second amendment as it was written to make sure that states allowed their militia to keep arms at their homes (the point of mobilization). To say they would have is simply dishonest. So it comes down to this; you are either for, or against the Constitution. There are no nuances here that merit consideration.

  • I’ve heard estimates that 90,000,000 Americans own firearms.

    “The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.” Thomas Jefferson

    “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…such laws make things worse for the assaulted; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” Thomas Jefferson 1764

    “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Thomas Jefferson proposed Virginia constitution 1776

    “The Constitution preserves ‘the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.'” The Federalist #46

    “…arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property…Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived the use of them.” Thomas Paine Thoughts on Defensive War 1775 – proof positive in all the states that infringe the Second Amendment.

    “The Constitution shall never be construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” Samuel Adams 1788: During Massachusetts’ Constitution ratification convention.

    “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.” Patrick Henry: during Virginia’s ratification convention (1788)

    “Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion…in private self-defense.” John Adams 1788

    “A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms…To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people possess arms.” Richard Henry Lee Additional Letters From The Federal Farmer 53 (1788)

    “I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people…To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” George Mason: Virginia’s US Constitution ratification convention (1788)

    “To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” US Constitution

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force; like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington, Farewell Address

  • That Washington quote has to be the best. Seems our Presidents went downhill from there.

  • Kevin, nobody reads the 9th Amendment as you do because it would be ridiculous to do so. The 9th was intended merely to clarify that the Bill of Rights shouldn’t be interpreted to prohibit all other rights. It doesn’t ensure any rights. It only ensures that absent a law prohibiting it, you have the right to do it.

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Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

Friday, June 18, AD 2010

Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative, and I run a blog on American History:  Almost Chosen People.  Yesterday Paul raised the question:  Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

Yeah, the post title is somewhat deliberately provocative, but it’s also meant to be a serious question that I hope will spark some discussion.  I was going to ask it in the comments to Donald’s post below, but thought it might be useful fodder for debate in its own right.

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9 Responses to Is Robert E. Lee Overrated?

  • Yeah, what Donald said.


  • Personally, I think that the General Lee was in fact overrated.

  • I agree Lee was by far the best general of that war and probably in American history.

    Overrated? Some in perpetuating the Lee legend have tended to overstate Lee’s abilities. Longstreet, for instance, after the war flirted with Republicans, became a Catholic, and hob-knobbed with President Grant. The Lost Cause folks and especially Lee’s hagiographers in Virginia stepped up their criticisms of Old Pete, beginning a slander against him that is referenced even in the movie from which the clip headlining this post is taken. That is, that Longsteet’s reluctance vigorously to execute Lee’s orders on the second and third days at Gettysburg led to that defeat (and hence, to the ultimate fall of the Cause). Never mind that this slur was uttered only after Lee’s death, for Lee himself acknowledged many times that the fault for Gettysburg lied with him, not Longstreet. Never mind, too, that Longstreet was just plain right, no confederate army could successfully have dislodged Meade from the heights outside of Gettysburg. That battle was lost when Ewell neglected to do what Stonewall certainly would have, and that is press the broken Federal army on day one to capture Cemetery Hill and Culp’s.

    So the moral of the story is that while our greatest general, even Lee has been oversold somewhat. He was only mortal after all, and did make other mistakes (e.g., Malvern Hill, North Anna).

  • It depends.

    A read of Lee’s Terrible Swift Sword tells of his string of decisive victories from Antietam through Second Bull Run. Chancellorsville was the most dramatic drubbing of the Union army. If the Sun stayed up as it did for the Israelites, he’d likely have destroyed that federal army. Other federal armies would have been raised.

    Lee lost it at Gettysburg and it was mostly downhill from there. This is not to say that the South had an even chance. Without Lee the South likely would have been defeated much earlier.

    Tom is correct in all respects. IF Ewell had taken the Union lines before they could bring up the entire seven (was it five?) corpses (Obama!). That’s a big IF. The armies would yet have been in close proximity and a fight would have been fought; probably with a different outcome, assuming Lee lured Meade into doing for him that which Burnside did at Fredrucksburg or Hooker at Chancellorsville.

    Gettysburg seems the battlefield where Lee departed from his “modus” at very high cost. I believe it was that Lee abandoned the tactical defensive and made the same mistakes Burnside made at Fredericksburg. In fact the Irish Brigade soldiers at Picket’s Charge said, “It was Fredericksburg in rivarse.” And, the Union troops chanted “Fredericksburg” as Picket’s broken men retreated.

    Given the Confederacy’s limitations (compared to Union resources) the only salutary tactics available were tactical defenses (maybe guerrilla warfare) even if they went over to strategic offense.

    Another factor, the generals were just learning how to employ 19th century weapons and railroad supply movements. Attackers nearly always suffer higher casualties against a well-emplaced, well-led, prepared army.

    I believe George Washignton was the greatest American general. He cannot be overrated.

    “Late Unpleasantness”, “Lost cause”?? How about calling it what is was: the war of northern aggression? Is that in the Constitution?

  • In my view, Lee was a brilliant strategic and operational commander. He was also normally a very successful risk-taker. One of his problems during the Gettysburg Campaign was that he had grown accustomed over the last couple of years to the rabid aggressiveness of Stonewall Jackson. He had not really adjusted to the initiative and drive he lost when his most brilliant Corps commander was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville.
    Some have attributed the loss (with good reason) to muddling Corps commanders, others to Stuart’s absence (again, with reason), still others to Lee’s inability to compensate for the lack of his Cavalry’s scouting and screening functions), and many others to Longstreet’s reluctant and even tardy obedience to orders.
    Having retired as a mere Captain in Air Defense Artillery, I am unqualified to offer recommendations to one of the nation’s Great Captains. That being so, neither will I offer criticism as if I could and would have done better. Lee was aging and suffering from heart disease at the time. These factors may have contributed to Lee’s seeming inability to communicate his intentions and vision with accuracy and timeliness to his subordinates.
    I am profoundly grateful to God that there was a Robert E. Lee in the South. Without his leadership, however it may have failed at Gettysburg, Lincoln’s 75,000 volunteers may have been enough to suppress the rebellion within a year and a half. As it is, Lee gave the Union both the time and the necessity (more political than military) to re-tool public opinion of the war by casting it as being one of emancipation, rather than mere oppression. Without Lee’s leadership, all the world would have seen Lincoln for the Constitutional disaster that he was (and intended to be), and would have robbed many in both north and south of the comforting fiction that so many fought and died to free the slaves because that was the only way to get it done.

  • “Personally, I think that the General Lee was in fact overrated.”

    I am ashamed to admit how much time as an undergrad I wasted watching the Dukes of Hazard!

  • I would not say that Lee was overrated as a commander. Overrated I would apply to the following commanders:

    Major General John C. Fremont
    Major General Daniel Sickles
    Major General Ambrose Burnside
    Major General John Pope
    Major General Irvin McDowell
    Brevet Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick
    Brevet Major General Alfred Pleasonton

    General Braxton Bragg
    Lieutenant General James Longstreet
    Major General John B. Floyd
    Major General John Bell Hood
    Major General Lafayette McLaws
    Major General Earl Van Dorn
    Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow

  • Lee recognized prior to the ‘Gettysburg’ offensive that the South would eventually lose a war of attrition in which it stayed on the strategic defensive, growing weaker as the North grew stronger. A Southern victory on Northern soil was the only chance to bring the war to a favorable conclusion. Fighting not to lose worked fine for the Yankees, but the Rebels had take the riskier course, and fight to win.

  • Robert E Lee probably lost the war for the South. One contribution he did make, however, was to encourage and end to violence at the end of the war.

    However, Lee often wrote that God fully intended the negro to be treated cruelly and painfully, in order to teach the negro his place. The letter most people assume shows Lee is anti slavery, is actually one of the most amazing pro slavery letters ever written.

    Lee claims its fine to pray for an end to slavery — someday. But God has to end slavery, he said, not man. And God might take 2,000 years or more. Meanwhile any man who would try to end slavery is evil. He equates owning slaves with spiritual liberty.

    But what about Lee’s supposed military genius?

    Shelby Foote said (paraphrasing) “Losing Gettysburg [and therefore the war] was the price the South paid for having Lee in charge.”

    Lee had remarkably able generals under him — Stonewall Jackson for one, Johnston for another. Lee’s speciality was taking credit for their daring successes. Lee shamelessly “brown nosed” Davis, while most other generals refused.

    Davis was known for his favoring people who flattered him — and Lee flattered Davis shamelessly. Few people today understand that Lee had virtually NO military battle experience at the begining of the Civil War — he was an engineer, and a good one. He was not a battle tested general.

    In fact, he wasn’t even a full colonel, until Lincoln made him one. This persistant myth that Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union forces is nonsense, –often repeated, but never by Lincoln, or Lee, or Scott, the person who supposedly offered it.

    Lee’s generals were very capable, particulary Jackson and Johnston. When Lee spurned their advice, or when they were not available, was almost criminally stupid. Lee got most his “true believers” killed off, and these men were irreplacable.

    The men that took their place were far different from those Lee sacrificed in stupid moves. The new men were eager to desert — in fact, over 2/3 of the rebel soldiers deserted. As early as Lee’s inept handling at Shaprsurg, out of 19,000 men who were suppposed to refor, only 5,000 did. A desertion ratio of 2/3– Davis himself went on a speaking tour later to beg, shame, and frigthen deserters to return. It didn’t work. Desertion is by far the biggest reason the war ended. And Lee’s ineptness is a big reason they deserted.

    Lee sincerely thought God should sort out who got killed– it was his job to send men to battle, God’s job to decide who died. But notice when Lee faced any personal danger, he wasn’t going to let God decided anything — he was going to run.

    Lee left Richmond on the FALSE rumor of a breach in the line. (By the way, Lee personally led the construction of the earth works around RIchmond and Petersburg — all done by slave labor, probably the biggest construction job in the South to that point — he used 100,000 slaves, under penalty of death or torture)

    He left the citizens without notice, without a word, and worse, ordered fires to be set to warehouses. With no men available to put out the spreading fires, the mayor of Atlanta had to ride out to the Union troops, under a white flag, and ASK FOR HELP to put out the fires.

    The Southern apologist have been forced to pump Lee into some kind of hero, militarily and personally. Yet Lee was all too human on both counts.

    We know now, from Elizabeth’s Pryors book “Reading the Man” that Lee did in fact have young women tortured, screaming at them during their torture. He also apparently regularly sold the infants from these young girls.

    We know Lee kept a “Hunting List” in his own account books of slave girls he most wanted captured. We know his slave almost universally hated him, and rebelled before the Civil War, to which Lee hired bounty hunters and paid extra for the torture of at least one young girl.

    We know Lee had sharpshooters in the rear of his own soldiers — killing those who would run away during battle, a tactic later mimiced by Stalin. (Page 410 of Pryors book). We know Lee’s soldiers hated him, and were deserting en masse.

    The real picture of Lee is almost directly opposite of the nonsense that has so far been deliberatedly fabricated about the man.

4 Responses to The Civil War in 4 Minutes

Enemies No Longer

Monday, May 31, AD 2010

The American Civil War was the bloodiest in our history, a total war of attrition waged on our own territory, which an at times none to congenial peace. It is, thus, all the more inspiring to read about the reunion which was held at Gettysburg in 1913, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the war’s bloodiest battles. An open invitation was made to all those who had served in either army, north or south, and been honorably discharged, and more than 50,000 men came to the three day event.

Personnel from the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and Engineer Corps arrived at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1912 to plan military and civilian support for the encampment. The engineers surveyed the field adjacent to the fields of “Pickett’s Charge” where they laid out the arrangement for “The Great Camp”, divided into areas for Union veterans and for Confederate veterans. Soldiers installed utility systems, erected hundreds of tents to house the veterans, built picnic tables, benches, and boardwalks throughout the camp. By the first of June the sprawling Great Camp occupied 280 acres, included 47 1/2 miles of avenues and company streets, was lit by 500 electric arc lights, and 32 bubbling ice water fountains were installed. Over 2,000 army cooks and bakers manned 173 field kitchens, ready to provide three hot meals per day for veterans and camp personnel alike….

The first veterans arrived on June 25 and within days the Great Camp swelled to overflowing. Every veteran was provided a cot and bedding in a tent that would hold eight men. Meals were served from a kitchen at the end of each company street and varied from fried chicken suppers to roast pork sandwiches with ice cream for desert. By the end of the reunion, the army kitchens had supplied over 688,000 meals to reunion participants. Invariably the days were hot and the thermometer topped 102 degrees on July 2. Heat exhaustion and physical fatigue resulted in hospitalization of several hundred veterans. Over 9,980 patients were treated by medical personnel for ailments ranging from heat exhaustion to stomach disorders. Remarkably, only nine veterans passed away during the week-long encampment. Despite the heat and often dusty conditions, nothing could keep the aged men in camp and hundreds wandered the battlefield. Many visited battle sites where they or their comrades had been fifty years before. Confederate veterans especially were pleased to find old cannon mounted on metal carriages to mark the locations where their batteries had been during that fateful battle. Invariably, the presence of khaki-clad US Army personnel caused a lot of excitement. The soldiers were there to guard camp supplies, give demonstrations, and provide services to the veterans who delighted themselves discussing the modern weapons of war. Many an aged veteran was eager to explain how much things had changed in fifty years to any soldier who was handy and army personnel were constantly entertained by the old soldiers at every turn. [source]

One of the major events of the reunion was a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. Confederate veterans assembled to walk the three-quarters-of-a-mile across open fields towards Union lines, retracing the charge which on which fifty years before 12,500 men had set out and suffered 50% casualties. As union veterans watched the men in gray approaching them across the field again, many eyes were far from dry. And as the Confederate veterans approached the wall, their old adversaries broke ranks and came forward to meet them, not with lead and steel this time, but with the embraces of friendship.

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One Response to Enemies No Longer

  • All war, particularly civil war, is immensely sad.
    I watched a doco today on the civil war in Sierra Leone – what a heart-wrenching, brutal and incomprehensible war that was. The effects are still destroying 40% of the population.

    It is an amzing thing that the reconciliation of combatants can happen so spontaneously – kind of Godlike, don’t you think?

Kelly’s Irish Brigade

Sunday, May 30, AD 2010

I have had a few posts, here, here  and here, on the famous Irish Brigade that fought for the Union in the Army of the Potomac.  There were however other Irish units, North and South.  This song celebrates Kelly’s Irish Brigade that fought for the Confederacy in the West.  The Brigade was actually a regiment, the Washington Blues, organized by Joseph Kelly, a grocer in Saint Louis, prior to the Civil War.  Kelly was an Irish immigrant as were most of the men in his regiment.  They provided good service for the Confederacy, and you may read about them here.

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