March 11, 1861: Confederate Constitution Adopted

Friday, March 11, AD 2016

confconst_copy

It has always been intriguing to me that, as microscopically studied as the Civil War has been over the years, more attention has not been paid to the Confederate Constitution. It is a fascinating document.  Crafted by men who had lived their entire lives under the United States Constitution and who had served in the Federal government, its similarities and differences illuminate what these men thought was good with the old Constitution and what needed improvement.  This Constitution took the place of the Provisional Constitution of the Confederacy, go here to read it, a document that by its own terms was meant to be temporary and had a hurried, improvised feel to it.  The permanent Confederate Constitution was the product of more mature reflection and the additional time that the drafters had to think about this new government and nation they were helping to midwife.  Here are some observations on this document:

  1.  The Preamble of the Constitution invokes God, 1861 being a more religious time than 1787.
  2. The preamble states that this is to be a permanent federal government, the Founding Fathers of the Confederacy obviously being eager that secession not be repeated against the Confederacy.  This is underlined by the fact that the representatives from South Carolina proposed that a right to secession be explicit in the Constitution.  Only the South Carolinians voted in favor of this proposal.
  3. Article I dealing with Congress is quite similar to that Article in the US Constitution with some significant changes:  State legislatures were given the power to impeach their members of Congress on a two/thirds vote.  Each House of the Confederate Congress could allocate seats to the heads of Executive Departments, in order to allow them to discuss the activities of their Departments, which seems to be an attempt to adopt the practice of the British Parliament.  The President of the Confederacy was granted a line item veto, but any bill on which he exercised such a veto would be resubmitted to Congress with such a veto being overridden by a two-thirds vote.  Congress was forbidden to allocate funds for internal improvements not set forth explicitly in the Constitution, such improvements being limited to waterways and coastal navigation improvements.  The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution was set forth in Article I, except for the ninth and tenth amendments which were set forth in Article VI.  All appropriations had to pass by a two-thirds vote, except as otherwise enumerated in the Confederate Constitution.  All bills appropriating money had to list the exact amount being appropriated and the purpose for which the funds were to be appropriate.  All bills had to have a single subject which was to be set out in the title to the bill.
  4. Under Article II Presidents were to be limited to a single six year term.  The only two  term President during the adult lives of the men involved in drafting the Confederate Constitution would have been Andrew Jackson, and even his most ardent partisans would have admitted that his second term had been rocky.  The frustrated desires of many Presidents following Jackson for a second term might have been regarded as a source of friction best avoided altogether under the new government.  Confederate Presidents had to have resided within the bounds of the Confederacy for 14 years.  If strictly construed this provision would have rendered every man in the Confederacy ineligible for the office.
  5. Article III dictated that no State could be sued in the Confederate court system by a citizen or a subject of any foreign State.
  6. Article IV made a two-thirds vote necessary for a State to be admitted to the Confederacy.
  7. Article V required only a two-thirds vote of the States to amend the Confederate Constitution.
  8. The most significant differences with the Federal Constitution were on the various issues arising on the question of slavery.  The Confederate document used the terms slaves and slavery.  The international slave trade is banned, except with the United States.  Congress is given the power to ban the importation of slaves from any State not a member of the Confederacy.  Congress is denied any power to pass a law impairing the right to own slaves.  No State could pass a law impairing the right of a citizen of the Confederacy to own slaves.  Slavery in Confederate territories was mandated.

Here is the text of the Confederate Constitution:

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3 Responses to March 11, 1861: Confederate Constitution Adopted

  • I’m reading Jefferson Davis’ monumental “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,” and in regard to the Constitution he makes this interesting argument:

    With regard to slavery and the slave-trade, the provisions of this Constitution furnish an effectual answer to the assertion, so often made, that the Confederacy was founded on slavery, that slavery was its “corner-stone,” etc. Property in slaves, already existing, was recognized and guaranteed, just as it was by the Constitution of the United States; and the rights of such property in the common Territories were protected against any such hostile discrimination as had been attempted in the Union. But the “extension of slavery,” in the only practical sense of that phrase, was more distinctly and effectually precluded by the Confederate than by the Federal Constitution. This will be manifest on a comparison of the provisions of the two relative to the slave-trade. These are found at the beginning of the ninth section of the first article of each instrument. The Constitution of the United States has the following:

    “The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importations, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.”

    The Confederate Constitution, on the other hand, ordained as follows:

    “1. The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country, other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.

    “2. Congress shall also have the power to prohibit the introduction [pg 262] of slaves from any state not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.”

    In the case of the United States, the only prohibition is against any interference by Congress with the slave-trade for a term of years, and it was further legitimized by the authority given to impose a duty upon it. The term of years, it is true, had long since expired, but there was still no prohibition of the trade by the Constitution; it was after 1808 entirely within the discretion of Congress either to encourage, tolerate, or prohibit it.

    Under the Confederate Constitution, on the contrary, the African slave-trade was “hereby forbidden,” positively and unconditionally, from the beginning. Neither the Confederate Government nor that of any of the States could permit it, and the Congress was expressly “required” to enforce the prohibition. The only discretion in the matter intrusted to the Congress was, whether or not to permit the introduction of slaves from any of the United States or their Territories.

    Mr. Lincoln, in his inaugural address, had said: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Now, if there was no purpose on the part of the Government of the United States to interfere with the institution of slavery within its already existing limits—a proposition which permitted its propagation within those limits by natural increase—and inasmuch as the Confederate Constitution precluded any other than the same natural increase, we may plainly perceive the disingenuousness and absurdity of the pretension by which a factitious sympathy has been obtained in certain quarters for the war upon the South, on the ground that it was a war in behalf of freedom against slavery

  • “The preamble states that this is to be a permanent federal government, the Founding Fathers of the Confederacy obviously being eager that secession not be repeated against the Confederacy.”

    If I remember right, Shelby Foote says the argument that persuaded Confederates not to include a secession option was that it would have implied their own secession from the USA was illegal, not being explicitly permitted in the US Constitution.

  • Holy Cow, Mac!
    .
    Are you clairvoyant? Or, do the writers at “Jeopardy” also link dates in History in their productions?
    .
    Tonight’s Final Jeopardy answer was the Preamble to the Confederate Constitution, which I knew because of this post. The issue was the Confederate Constit. replaced “a more perfect Union” in the US Constit. with a “permanent Federal government.” The winner knew it.
    .
    Good one, Mac.

Grover Cleveland and the Great Confederate Battle Flags Furor

Thursday, May 19, AD 2011

During the Civil War, the flags carried by military units had intense emotional significance for the men who fought and died under them.  The flags not only symbolized the nation or state, but also stood for the units that carried them and the men who bled in their defense.  At the end of the War hundreds of captured Confederate battle flags were held by the Federal government and the victorious Union states.  Objects of pride for the men who had fought for the Union, their treatment as war trophies by the victorious North was a sore point in the vanquished South.

In 1887 Grover Cleveland was President.  The first Democrat elected to hold the office since the Civil War,  Cleveland was also the only non-Civil War veteran to hold the office since the end of the War.  During the War he had hired a substitute to fight in his stead, a perfectly legal, albeit unheroic, method of not having to fight one’s self in the conflict.

In 1887 the Secretary of War mentioned to Cleveland that the Adjutant General of the Army had suggested that the return of the battle flags to the Southern states would be a graceful gesture that would be appreciated in the South.  No doubt thinking that after more than two decades wartime passions had subsided, Cleveland ordered the return of the captured flags to the Southern governors.  This was a major blunder.

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2 Responses to Grover Cleveland and the Great Confederate Battle Flags Furor

  • Sort of off the subject but just read a book by a Louisiana Baptist Minister you might like. “Nathan Bedford Forest’s Redemption” by Shane Kastler. Pelican Press.

    Might be worth your wild to order through Library Loan

  • That one would join jh the already thirteen bios I own of the wizard of the saddle! I might look into it however. Forrest’s late in life turn to Christianity and his speech attempting to heal the divisions between black and white is truly fascinating.

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,

    Tito

  • 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.

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.

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:

    USA
    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

    CSA
    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.

General Lee and Guerrilla War

Friday, May 7, AD 2010

Hattip to commenter Dennis McCutcheon for giving me the idea for this post.  We Americans today view the Civil War as part of our history.  If different decisions had been made at the end of that conflict, the Civil War could still be part of our current reality.  Just before the surrender at Appomattox, General Porter Alexander, General Robert E. Lee’s chief of artillery, broached to Lee a proposal that the Army of Northern Virginia disband and carry out a guerrilla war against the Union occupiers.  Here history balanced on a knife edge.  If Lee had accepted the proposal, I have little doubt the stage would have been set for an unending war between the North and the South which would still be with us.  Douglas Southall Freeman, in his magisterial R. E. Lee, tells what happened next, based upon Alexander’s memoirs, Fighting for the Confederacy.

“Thereupon Alexander proposed, as an alternative to surrender, that the men take to the woods with their arms, under orders to report to governors of their respective states.

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9 Responses to General Lee and Guerrilla War

  • Probably the greatest general America has ever had.

  • Lee’s quintessential decency saved America from a horrible fate. We owe him more than we will ever be able to describe.

    Not so BTW, Charles Harness’ excellent sci-fi short story, “Quarks at Appomattox,” explores a related proposal from time travellers with an agenda.

  • Charles Harness’ excellent sci-fi short story, “Quarks at Appomattox,”

    Apologies for the off-topic snicker, but was this a sequel to “Bosons at Bull Run?” Personally, “Gluons at Gettysburg” was a pretty good yarn, too. (Sorry! Couldn’t resist.)

  • “Guns of the South” was also a good alternative-history book where South African Apartheiders went into the past to ensure a Confederate victory (by Harry Turtledove).

  • The night before the formal surrender, General Chamberlain had decided to salute the Army of Virginia. The decision “was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?”

    The next morning, on April 12, the salute was rendered.

    “When General Gordon came opposite of me, I had the bugle blown and the entire line came to ‘attention’…The General was riding in advance of his troops, his chin drooped to his breast, downhearted and dejected in appearance almost beyond description. As the sound of that machine like snap of arms, however, General Gordon started, caught in a moment of its significance, and instantly assumed the finest attitude of a soldier. He wheeled his horse facing me, touching him gently with the spur, so that the animal slightly reared, and as he wheeled, horse and rider made one motion, the horse’s head swung down with a graceful bow and General Gordon dropped his swordpoint to his toe in salutation…On our part, not a sound of trumpet more, nor the roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breathing-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead.”

    After the war, General Gordon would address Chamberlain as “one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army.”

    As other units passed Chamberlain, one Confederate said as he was delivering his flag, “boys, this is not the first time you have seen this flag. I have borne it in the front of battle on many victorious fields of battle and I had rather die than surrender it to you.” Chamberlain replied, “I admire your noble spirit, and only regret that I have not the authority to bid you keep your flag and carry it home as a precious heirloom.” One officer said to Chamberlain, “General, this is deeply humiliating; but I console myself with the thought that the whole country will rejoice at the day’s business. Another officer said, “You astound us by your honorable and generous conduct. I fear that we should not have done the same to you had the case been reversed.” A third officer went even farther by saying, “I went into that cause I meant it. We had our choice of weapons and of ground, and we have lost. Now [pointing to the Stars and Stripes] that is my flag, and I will prove myself as worthy as any of you.”

    However, most of the Confederates were too humiliated to be reversed so quickly. General Wise told Chamberlain, “You may forgive us but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in hour hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, Sir…you go home, you take these fellows home. That’s what will end this war.”

    Chamberlain replied, “Don’t worry about the end of the war. We are going home pretty soon, but not till we see you home.”

    No matter how ill Chamberlain’s salute to the fallen South may have been received, it still remains one of the greatest acts of honor in the military history of the United States.

    References
    Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence.“Bayonet! Forward” My Civil War Reminiscences.
    Gettysburg: Stan Clark Military books, 1994.

    Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. The Passing of the Armies: The Last Campaign of the
    Armies. Gettysburg: Stan Clark Military books, 1915.

    Dllard, Wallace M. Soul of the Lion; A Biography on General Joshua L. Chamberlain
    Gettysburg: Stan Clark Military books, 1960.
    __________________

  • When the War ended, Robert E. Lee was a man without a home and without citizenship.

    Before the War, Lee and his family lived at Arlington House, a mansion on top of a hill in Alexandria County, Virginia. The place is across the Potomac River from Washington. Mrs. Lee had inherited the place from her father, who was related to George and Martha Washington. Mrs. Lee’s father had put together the largest private collection of George Washington memorabilia at Arlington House.

    When Robert E. Lee joined the Confederate Army, he had to abandon Arlington House, which the Union Army soon took over. Yankee soldiers looted the house, not sparing some of the Washington memorabilia. The Union Army buried dead Yankee soldiers at the front yard, at the backyard, and all around the house. This was to ensure that Robert E. Lee and his family would never again live at Arlington House. Thus, the place became Arlington National Cemetery.

    After the War, Washington College needed a leader to take it through the rough postwar years. The college, which had received an endowment from George Washington, asked Robert E. Lee to be their next college president. Lee accepted, and served at the college for five years until his decease in 1870. Later, the college would adopt the name Washington and Lee University.

    Interestingly, both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were residents of Lexington, Virginia at different times, Jackson as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before the War, Lee as president of Washington College after the War.

    In the postwar years, Lee’s citizenship was under a cloud. He applied for amnesty, but the federal government sat on it. In 1975, Congress finally restored Lee’s citizenship.

  • To suggest that the nation’s future balanced “on a knife’s edge” during that moment of temptation by Alexander is to besmirch the noble name of Lee. Even the quoted recouting of the story exposes the blatant lie in the suggestion that Lee considered it seriously, even for a moment.

    You might as well sully the reputation of Washington (another famous Virginian) by saying he was giving serious thought to keeping the presidency as long as he could.

    What’s this facsination with dancing on the graves of the South’s warriors? You don’t really want to bring up the issue of relative goodness here. Though slavery was certainly horrible, you have to stretch the meaning of words and tarnish your reputation for truth to suggest that the federal government entered into the war to abolish slavery. So what end must have been declared to justify the means of 75,000 volunteers in the spring of 1861? Was it really emancipation? If that were true, would any have been able to argue that it was the only way?

    Those of you who actually say the word “indivisible” in the Pledge certainly see nothing wrong in completely destroying the consent of the governed that had existed in the repuiblic until that day.

    Now Obama merely takes it all to it’s natural conclusion. If southern consent was not required in 1861 under Lincoln, his 21st century political descendent cannot be blamed for deciding that no consent is required today.

  • Kevin, you took offense where none was intended. The entire post was in praise of Lee. Some Lost Cause enthusiasts are just as quick to take offense against purely imaginary insults as devotees of other forms of identity politics.

  • i have lived in a country with guerrilla war that has lasted a hundred years,it never ends! this kind of fight has no honour,which is a reflection of our times.Lee was a model to all men of how to act-charity, kindness and true courage.Never thinking of himself,always of others and the greater good.His foundation his faith.Godbless Lee Godbless the south!

Marse Robert

Friday, February 13, AD 2009

Some of our readers south of the Mason-Dixon line no doubt have perhaps felt left out in my many posts regarding Abraham Lincoln.  I am fully aware that great Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one of the greatest of Americans, of his time or any time, was Robert E. Lee.

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8 Responses to Marse Robert

  • Don,

    As a Union loving Yankee, let me second your praise for Lee. It was a man (Lee) going up against boys for most of the war until Grant was finally given total command.

  • “He repeatedly expelled white students from Washington University, of which he was President after the war, who engaged in attacks on blacks.”

    Now of course Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA. A beautiful town and campus. You can still see Lee’s office as it was on the day he died. A nice museum in the basement of the Chapel.

    Also located in Lexington is VMI where Stonewall Jackson taught prior to the War.

  • Lexington is worth a trip for any history buff. Also of note is that Sam Houston was born there. Just outside of town is Natural Bridge, once owned by Mr. Jefferson. The initials of George Washington can be seen carved into the rock of the Natural Bridge … grafitti from his youthful days as a surveyor of the Virginia wilderness.

  • Lee was a great man and a great general, and were it not for the depletion of good corps and brigade commanders by 1864, as well as the sheer weight of troop numbers, Lee would certainly have bested Grant, who if I remember right, as much as conceded the point. Grant’s genius lay in the observation that if he remained engaged continuously with Lee, constantly reinforced his troop levels, attrition would eventually force Lee back to Richmond and ultimately to surrender. Thus Grant was willing to suffer horrific casualty counts in the Overland campaign from Wilderness to Petersburg. He was vilified by the northern press as a butcher, but Lincoln loved him because he was not afraid to remain engaged with Lee’s army, something that many lesser federal generals never dared.

    In perfect hindsight, it’s almost too bad Lee was such a great commander, because by all rights, the North should have won the war as early as 1862, which would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

    One thing Lincoln deserves credit for is that he had a very good strategic military mind, all the more remarkable since he was not a professional soldier. He recognized the weaknesses of the Confederate military situation, but could not find agressive, smart generals to exploit those weaknesses, until Grant.

  • Hey, Tom and I agree on something regarding the Civil War. 🙂

    Seriously, Tom is exactly right on Grant’s genius. It’s amazing that it took, what, six Union commanders before there was one who realized, “Hey, we have a lot more guys than the other side.” Reading the history of the war is an exercise in frustration because you want to slap the Union generals upside the head for their complete inability and/or unwillingness to act.

  • Wonderful way to cap off the week, Don. Gen. Lee was truly a great American. Making the best of of an untenable situation in the southern states regarding the inhumanity of slavery. Conducting himself as a true Christian gentleman even in engineering battles. Continuing a life of service well into the winter of his years. Just as I marvel at the Revolutionary era- that world class giants like Washington, Franklin, Adams and Jefferson were active simultaneously- so how wonderful God gave Lincoln and Lee to our torn and abused nation during its most fundamental trauma. He has been better to us than we to Him. Or ourselves.

  • Henry Halleck, who was a pretty bad general himself, once told Sherman that it was “little better than murder” to give command to such men as Benjamin Butler, Nathaniel Banks, Franz Siegel, George McClellan, and Lewis Wallace. The Union had decent division and corp commanders in the east throughout the war, but the Army command level was truly pathetic until Grant arrived. McClellan wasn’t bad as a strategist, but as a battlefield commander, he was worse than having no one in command. Burnside deserved a place of dishonor on Halleck’s list. Pope was almost at Burnsides’ level of ineptness. Hooker, a good corp commander, not a bad strategist, but fell apart facing Lee. Meade lucked into a defensive victory at Gettysburg. His Mine Run campaign indictated how poorly he would have performed if Grant hadn’t come East to effectively make him a field chief of staff.

  • Marse Bob is a favourite of mine too. One of the highlights of a 1991 trip to North Carolina was a visit on the return home to Lexington, VA, home of Washington and Lee Univ. as well as VMI. My husband and I spent time at Stonewall Jackson’s house, then enjoyed a short walk to the University campus, down the road to VMI, then to the hall where the Lee Family crypt is located. The office of President of Washington University, which Lee occupied at the time of his death, is kept as it was during his term of office. My father was also an admirer of Gen. Lee, and I thought much of Dad while on the visit. An added treat was locating the grave of Traveller, Lee’s beloved horse, in the grounds adjacent to the Chapel. Marse Robert was the true Southern Gentleman; a worthy adversary and a loyal friend.