Northern Indifference, Southern Violence, and the Collapse of Reconstruction

this-is-a-white-mans-government

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Collapse of Northern Support for Reconstruction

It is all too easy to simply blame recalcitrant Southerners for the collapse of Reconstruction. However, it is impossible not to explore this without addressing responsibility of many leaders and citizens in the North for the failure of Reconstruction and the return of “White Man’s Rule” to the South. Like today, people faced with economic difficulties sought out scapegoats. When the country entered an economic depression in 1873 it was all too easy for Northern whites, many of who were willing to concede “freedom” to turn on blacks. Racism was still heavily entrenched in the North and for many, economic considerations trumped justice as the North tried to move away from Reconstruction and on to new conquests, including joining European powers in attempts to gain overseas colonies and territories.

As Southern extremists turned the Federal effort at Reconstruction into a violent quagmire that seemed to have no end, many Northerners increasingly turned against the effort and against Blacks themselves. Like so many victorious peoples they did not have the political or moral capacity to remain committed to a cause for which so many had sacrificed and they began to abandon the effort after two short years of congressionally mandated Radical Reconstruction.

Likewise, the men who had so nobly began the effort to enfranchise African Americans failed to understand the social and political reality of the South. To the average Southerner of the era “political equality automatically led to social equality, which in turn automatically led to race-mixing. It was inevitable and unthinkable. To a people brought up to believe that Negroes were genetically inferior – after all, that was why they were slaves – the mere hint of “mongrelization” was appalling.” [1] This was something that most Northerners, even those committed to the political equality of African Americans could not comprehend, and the ignorance of this fact would be a major reason for the collapse of Northern political and social support for Reconstruction.

thaddeus-stevens-3400gty

Congressman Thaddeus Stevens 

Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, one of the most effective leaders of the Radical Republicans died in 1868 in despair that the rights of blacks were being rolled back even as legislation was passed supporting them. A few weeks before his death Stevens told a friend “My life has been a failure…I see little hope for the republic.” [2] The old firebrand asked “to be buried in a segregated cemetery for African American paupers so that “I might illustrate in death the principles which I advocated through a long life, Equality of man before his creator.” [3] Others including Senator Ben Wade, were not returned to office while others including Edwin Stanton, Salmon Chase and Charles Summer all died during Grant’s administration.

While Grant attempted to smash the Ku Klux Klan by military means, both his administration and Congress were of little help. He faced increased opposition from economic conservative Republicans who had little interest in the rights of African Americans and who gave little support to those fighting for equal rights for blacks. The situation was further complicated by the “financial panic which hit the stock market in 1873 produced an economic downturn that soon worsened into a depression, which continued for the rest of the decade.” [4] The result was that Republicans lost their majorities in the House and in many states, even in the North.

It was clear that “1870 Radical Republicanism as a coherent political movement was rapidly disintegrating” [5] and during the early 1870s many of the antislavery activists had left the Republican party either to death or defection, many “no longer felt at home in a party that catered to big business and lacked the resolve to protect black rights.” [6]

In 1872, some former radical Republicans revolted against Grant and the corruption in the Republican Party. Calling themselves “Liberal Republicans” they supported the candidacy of Horace Greeley uniting with Democrats to call for an end to Reconstruction. For many this was not so much because they no longer supported the rights of African Americans, but because for them, like so many, “economic concerns now trumped race relations…. Henry Adams, who shared the views of his father, Charles Francis Adams, remarked that “the day is at hand when corporations far greater than [the] Erie [Railroad]…will ultimately succeed in directing the government itself.” [7] The numbers of Federal troops in the South continued to be reduced to the point where they could offer little or no support to state militia.

The combination of all of these factors, political, racial, economic, and judicial doomed Grant’s continued efforts at Reconstruction by executive means. Despite the hard fought battle to provide all the rights of citizenship and the vote to African Americans racism remained heavily entrenched in all regions of the country. In the North and the South the economic crisis of 1873 caused people to look for scapegoats, and blacks were easy targets. With economics easily trumping the cause of justice, “racism increasingly asserted its hold on northern thought and behavior.” [8] The Northern press and politicians, including former abolitionists increasingly took the side of Southerners, condemning Freedmen as lazy and slothful usurpers of white civilization.

Likewise the growing problem of labor unrest in the North brought about by the economic depression made “many white northerners more sympathetic to white southern complaints about Reconstruction. Racial and class prejudices reinforced one another, as increasing numbers of middle-class northerners identified what they considered the illegitimate demands of workers and farmers in their own society with the alleged misconduct of the former slaves in the South.” [9]

The depression hit Freedmen in the South with a vengeance and unable to pay their bills and mortgages many lost everything. This left them at the mercy of their former white masters who were able to force them into long term employment contacts which for practical purposes was a reversion to slavery, albeit under a different name. Those whites who were still working for Reconstruction in the South were increasingly marginalized, stigmatized and victimized by a systematized campaign of propaganda which labeled them Carpetbaggers and Scalawags who had gained power through the votes of blacks and who were profiting by looting Southern Whites. In the end Southern intransigence wore out the political will of Northerners to carry on, even that of strongest supporters of emancipation and equality.

black-voter-threatening

Violence now became a means to further politics in the South and carried out in broad daylight and “intended to demoralize black voters and fatally undermine the Republican Party…. They paraded at regular intervals through African American sections of small towns in the rural black majority areas, intimidating the residents and inciting racial confrontations.” [10] These armed bands were highly successful, if they were successful in provoking a racial incident they would then fan out throughout the area to find blacks in order to beat up and kill, hundreds of blacks were killed by them.

During the elections of 1876 the White Liners, Red Shirts, White League and others would be seen in threatening positions near Republican rallies and on Election Day swarmed the polls to keep blacks and Republicans out, even seizing ballot boxes either destroying them or counting the votes for Democrats. The strategy employed by the Democrats and their paramilitary supporters was to use “Lawless and utterly undemocratic means…to secure the desired outcome, which was to win a lawful, democratic election.” [11]

The pressure was too much for most Republicans in the South, and many who did not leave the South “crossed over to the Democratic fold; only a few stood by the helpless mass of Negroes….” [12] Of those in the North who did nothing to confront the resurgence of neo-Confederate mythology and who had worked against equal rights for African Americans during the Reconstruction era, “many embraced racism in the form of imperialism, Social Darwinism and eugenics.” [13]

The elected governor of Mississippi, Republican General Adelbert Ames, who was one of the most able and honest of all the Northerners to hold elected office in the South wrote in 1875 about the power of the paramilitary groups, “The “white liners” have gained their point – they have, by killing and wounding, so intimidated the poor Negroes that they can in all human probability prevail over them at the election. I shall try at once to get troops from the general government. Of course it will be a difficult thing to do.” [14] Ames requested Federal troops “to restore peace and supervise the coming elections” [15] but did not get them due to the subterfuge of Attorney General Edwards Pierrepont.

Grant told Pierrepont, a former Democrat who was critical of Grant’s insistence on the rights of African Americans that he must issue a proclamation for the use of Federal troops if Ames’s local forces could not keep order. He told Pierrepont “the proclamation must be issued; and if it is I shall instruct the commander of the forces to have no child’s play.” [16] Instead, Pierrepont altered Grant’s words and told Ames, “The whole public are tired out with these autumnal outbreaks in the South…and the great majority are now ready to condemn any interference on the part of the government….Preserve the peace by the forces in your own state….” [17] Ames, who had been a strong proponent of emancipation and black suffrage understood that he was being abandoned by Pierrepont and in order to prevent more bloodshed gave up the fight, negotiating a peace with the White League. Sadly, he like Grant realized that most of the country “had never been for Negro civil rights in the first place. Freedom, yes; but that didn’t mean all the privileges of citizenship.”  [18]  Ames’s deal with the Democrats and the White League resulted in blacks being forced from the polls and the Democrats returning to power in the state.  When Ames left the state, the discouraged veteran of so many battles including Gettysburg wrote, “A revolution has taken place – by force of arms – and a race disenfranchised – they are to be returned to a condition of serfdom – an era of second slavery.” [19]

The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre and Beyond

The violence against Southern blacks escalated in the wake of the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and with the increasing number of blacks being elected to office in some Southern states during the elections of 1872. In Louisiana a Federal court ruled in favor of Republican Reconstruction candidates following a Democrat campaign to interfere with the vote, which included attacks on polling sites and the theft of ballot boxes. As a result the Louisiana Democrats “established a shadow government and organized paramilitary unit known as the White League to intimidate and attack black and white Republicans.” [20]

blacks at colfax

Colfax Massacre

The White League in Louisiana was particularly brutal in its use of violence. he worst massacre committed by the White League occurred Easter Sunday 1873 when it massacred blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. Colfax was an isolated nondescript hamlet about three hundred fifty miles northwest of New Orleans. It sat on the grounds of a former plantation whose owner, William Calhoun, who worked with the former slaves who were now freedmen. The town itself “composed of only a few hundred white and black votes” [21] was located in the newly established Grant Parish. The “parish totaled about 4,500, of whom about 2,400 were Negroes living on the lowlands along the east bank of the Red.” [22] Between 1869 and 1873 the town and the parish were the scene of numerous violent incidents and following the 1872 elections, the whites of the parish were out for blood.

White leaders in Grant Parish “retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror in rural districts, forcing blacks to flee to Colfax for protection.” [23] The blacks of parish fled to the courthouse seeking protection from a violent white mob following the brutal murder of a black farmer and his family on the outskirts of town. The people of Colfax, protected by just a few armed black militiamen and citizens deputized by the sheriff took shelter in the courthouse knowing an attack by the White Supremacists was coming.  As the White League force assembled one of its leaders told his men what the day was about. He said, “Boys, this is a struggle for white supremacy….There are one hundred-sixty-five of us to go into Colfax this morning. God only knows who will come out. Those who do will probably be prosecuted for treason, and the punishment for treason is death.” [24] The attack by over 150 heavily armed men of the White League, most of whom were former Confederate soldiers, killed at least seventy-one and possibly as many as three-hundred blacks. Most of the victims were killed as they tried to surrender. The people, protected by just a few armed men were butchered or burned alive by the armed terrorist marauders. It was “the bloodiest peacetime massacre in nineteenth-century America.” [25]

The instigators of the attack claimed that they acted in self-defense. They claimed that “armed Negroes, stirred up by white Radical Republicans, seized the courthouse, throwing out the rightful officeholders: the white judge and sheriff” and they claimed that the blacks had openly proclaimed “their intention to kill all the white men, they boasted they would use white women to breed a new race.” [26] The claims were completely fabricated, after sending veteran former army officers who were serving in the Secret Service to investigate, the U.S. Attorney for Louisiana, J.R. Beckwith sent an urgent telegram to the Attorney General:

“The Democrats (White) of Grant Parish attempted to oust the incumbent parish officers by force and failed, the sheriff protecting the officers with a colored posse. Several days afterward recruits from other parishes, to the number of 300, came to the assistance of the assailants, when they demanded the surrender of the colored people. This was refused. An attack was made and the Negroes were driven into the courthouse. The courthouse was fired and the Negroes slaughtered as they left the burning building, after resistance ceased. Sixty-five Negroes terribly mutilated were found dead near the ruins of the courthouse. Thirty, known to have been taken prisoners, are said to have been shot after the surrender, and thrown into the river. Two of the assailants were wounded. The slaughter is greater than the riot of 1866 in this city. Will send report by mail.” [27]

Federal authorities arrested nine white men in the wake of the massacre and after two trials in which white majority juries were afraid to go against public opinion, three were “convicted of violating the Enforcement Act of 1871.” [28] None were convicted of murder despite the overwhelming evidence against them and even the lesser convictions enraged the White Supremacists in Louisiana who had employed the best lawyers possible and provided them and the defendants with unlimited financial backing. Assisted by the ruling of Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Bradley, who had a long history of neglecting Southern racism, white Democrats appealed the convictions to the Supreme Court.

The attack, and the court cases which followed, notably the judgment of the Supreme Court in United States v. Cruickshank which dealt with the appeal of the men responsible for the Colfax Massacre led to a “narrowing of Federal law enforcement authority” and were “milestones on the road to a “solid” Democratic South.” [29] The decision of the court in United States v. Cruikshank was particularly perverse in its interpretation of constitutional rights and protections. The court ruled in favor of the terrorists and declared that “the right of the black victims at Colfax to assemble hand not been guaranteed because they were neither petitioning Congress nor protesting a federal law. Assembling for any other cause was not protected.” [30] The Cruikshank decision amounted to a Supreme Court endorsement of violence against blacks, and made it “impossible for the federal government to prosecute crimes against blacks unless they were perpetrated by a state and unless it could prove a racial motive unequivocally.” [31] Northern politicians and newspapers, reeling under the effects of the stock market crash of 1873, which had denounced the massacre just a year before now ran from the story and from support of African Americans. A Republican office holder wrote, “The truth is, our people are tired out with this worn cry of ‘Southern outrages…. Hard times and heavy taxes make them wish the ‘nigger,’ the ‘everlasting nigger,’ were in hell or Africa.” [32] Racism and race hatred was not exclusively the parlance of the South.

In the wake of Justice Bradley’s reversal of the Colfax convictions whites in Grant Parish engaged in brutal reprisals against blacks, leading to many murders and lynching’s, crimes which law enforcement, even that favorable to the rights of African Americans were afraid to prosecute for fear of their own lives. Louisiana’s Republican Governor, William Pitt Kellogg wrote Attorney General Williams blaming the violence on Bradley’s ruling, which he wrote, “was regarded as establishing the principle that hereafter no white man could be punished for killing a negro, and as virtually wiping the Ku Klux laws of the statute books.” He added that with the Army leaving the state that his government and other Reconstruction governments would fall, “if Louisiana goes,” Kellogg wrote, “Mississippi will inevitably follow and, that end attained, all the results of the war so far as the colored people are concerned will be neutralized, all the reconstruction acts of Congress will be of no more value than so much waste paper and the colored people, though free in name, will be practically remitted back to servitude.” [33] Governor Kellogg could not have been more correct.

In the years that followed many of the men involved in the massacre and other murders before and after were hailed as heroes, some, including the leader of the attackers, Christopher Columbus Nash were again appointed to office in Colfax and Grant Parish and blacks were reminded every day of just what they had lost. On April 13th 1921 the men who committed the massacre were honored with a memorial in the Colfax cemetery honoring them as “Heroes… who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for White Supremacy.” In 1951 the State of Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry dedicated a marker outside the Courthouse which read: “On the site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three White men and 150 Negroes were slain, this event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of Carpetbag misrule in the South.” [34] That marker still stands, there is no marker commemorating the victims.

Other massacres followed across the South, aimed at both blacks and their white Republican allies. In Louisiana the White League had some 14,000 men under arms, in many cases drilling as military units led by former Confederate officers. A White League detachment southwest of Shreveport “forced six white Republicans to resign their office on pain of death – and then brutally murdered them after they had resigned.” [35] This became known as the Coushatta Massacre and it was a watershed because for the first time the White League targeted whites as well as African Americans. The violence, now protected by the courts ensured that neither would last long in the post-Reconstruction South and that the freedom of African Americans in those states would amount to a cruel illusion.

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant including comments about the Colfax massacre and the subsequent court decisions in his message to Congress. Grant was angry and wrote: “Fierce denunciations ring through the country about office-holding and election matters in Louisiana…while every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice, and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime.” [36] President Grant, the man who so wanted to help African Americans attain the full measure of freedom, was unable to do more as the Congress and Courts took sides with the Southern insurgents.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Lord The Past the Would Not Die p.11

[2] Ibid. Langguth, A.J. After Lincoln p.233

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.504

[4] Ibid. Perman Illegitimacy and Insurgency in the Reconstructed South p.458

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.170

[6] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.337

[7] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.337

[8] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.192

[9] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.191

[10] Ibid. Perman Illegitimacy and Insurgency in the Reconstructed South pp.459-460

[11] Ibid. Perman Illegitimacy and Insurgency in the Reconstructed South p.461

[12] Ibid. Lord The Past the Would Not Die p.15

[13] Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors The  Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 5258 of 8647

[14] Ames, Adelbert Governor Adelbert Ames deplores Violence in Mississippi, September 1875 in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.434

[15] Ibid. Lord The Past the Would Not Die p.17

[16] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.243

[17] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 190

[18] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.17

[19] Watson, Bruce Freedom Summer: The Savage Summer of 1964 that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy Viking Press, the Penguin Group New York and London 2010 p.41

[20] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.151

[21] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.312

[22] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.42

[23] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[24] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.91

[25] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[26] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.11

[27] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.22

[28] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.494

[29] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.251

[30] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.314

[31] Ibid. Goldfield American Aflame p.494

[32] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.213

[33] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.217

[34] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died pp.261-262

[35] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 185

[36] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.228

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The Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage: The XIV and XV Amendments and Ulyesses Grant’s Fight Against the KKK

14-amendment

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Passage of the Fourteenth Amendment

The situation for newly emancipated blacks in the South continued to deteriorate as the governors appointed by President Johnson supervised elections, which elected new governors, and all-white legislatures composed chiefly of former Confederate leaders. Freedom may have been achieved, but the question as to what it meant was still to be decided, “What is freedom?” James A. Garfield later asked. “Is it the bare privilege of not being chained?… If this is all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion.” [1] The attitude of the newly elected legislatures and the new governors toward emancipated blacks was shown by Mississippi’s new governor, Benjamin G. Humphreys, a former Confederate general who was pardoned by Andrew Johnson in order to take office. In his message to the legislature Humphreys declared:

“Under the pressure of federal bayonets, urged on by the misdirected sympathies of the world, the people of Mississippi have abolished the institution of slavery. The Negro is free, whether we like it or not; we must realize that fact now and forever. To be free does not make him a citizen, or entitle him to social or political equality with the white man.”  [2]

Johnson’s continued defiance of Congress alienated him from the Republican majority who passed legislation over Johnson’s veto to give black men the right to vote and hold office, and to overturn the white only elections which had propelled so many ex-Confederates into political power. Over Johnson’s opposition Congress took power over Reconstruction and “Constitutional amendments were passed, the laws for racial equality were passed, and the black man began to vote and to hold office.” [3] Congress passed measures in 1867 that mandated that the new constitutions written in the South provide for “universal suffrage and for the temporary political disqualification of many ex-Confederates.” [4]  As such many of the men elected to office in 1865 were removed from power, including Governor Humphreys who was deposed in 1868.

These measures helped elect bi-racial legislatures in the South, which for the first time enacted a series of progressive reforms including the creation of public schools. “The creation of tax-supported public school systems in every state of the South stood as one of Reconstruction’s most enduring accomplishments.” [5] By 1875 approximately half of all children in the South, white and black were in school. While the public schools were usually segregated and higher education in tradition White colleges was restricted, the thirst for education became a hallmark of free African Americans across the county. In response to discrimination black colleges and universities opened the doors of higher education to many blacks.  Sadly, the White Democrat majorities that came to power in Southern states after Reconstruction rapidly defunded the public primary school systems that were created during Reconstruction.  Within a few years spending for on public education for white as well black children dropped to abysmal levels, especially for African American children, an imbalance made even worse by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson which codified the separate but equal systems.

They also ratified the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Amendments, but these governments, composed of Southern Unionists, Northern Republicans and newly freed blacks were “elicited scorn from the former Confederates and from the South’s political class in general.” [6] Seen as an alien presence by most Southerners the Republican governments in the South faced political as well as violent opposition from defiant Southerners.

The Fourteenth Amendment was of particular importance for it overturned the Dred Scott decision, which had denied citizenship to blacks. Johnson opposed the amendment and worked against its passage by campaigning for men who would oppose it in the 1866 elections. His efforts earned him the opposition of former supporters including the influential New York Herald declared that Johnson “forgets that we have passed through a fiery ordeal of a mighty revolution, and the pre-existing order of things is gone and can return no more.” [7]

Johnson signed the Amendment but never recanted his views on the inferiority of non-white races. In his final message to Congress he wrote that even “if a state constitution gave Negroes the right to vote, “it is well-known that a large portion of the electorate in all the States, if not a majority of them, do not believe in or accept the political equality of Indians, Mongolians, or Negroes with the race to which they belong.” [8]

When passed by Congress the amendment was a watershed that would set Constitutional precedent for future laws. These would include giving both women and Native Americans women the right to vote. It would also be used by the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended the use of “separate but equal” and overturned many other Jim Crow laws. It helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and most recently was the basis of the Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v. Hodges, which give homosexuals the right to marry. Section one of the amendment read:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” [9]

Even so, for most white Southerners “freedom for African Americans was not the same as freedom for whites, as while whites might grant the black man freedom, they had no intention of allowing him the same legal rights as white men.” [10] As soon as planters returned to their lands they “sought to impose on blacks their definition of freedom. In contrast to African Americans’ understanding of freedom as a open ended ideal based on equality and autonomy, white southerners clung to the antebellum view that freedom meant mastery and hierarchy; it was a privilege, not a universal right, a judicial status, not a promise of equality.”  [11] In their systematic efforts to deny true freedom for African Americans these Southerners ensured that blacks would remain a lesser order of citizen, enduring poverty, discrimination, segregation and disenfranchisement for the next century.

ulysses-s-grant-book

Ulysses S. Grant and the Fight against the Insurrection, Terrorism and Insurgency of the Ku Klux Klan, White Leagues, White Liners and Red Shirts

But these measures provoked even more violence from enraged Southerners who formed a variety of violent racist organizations which turned the violence from sporadic attacks to what amounted to a full-fledged insurgency against the new state governments and African Americans. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan engaged in terroristic violence to heavily armed “social clubs” which operated under the aegis of the state Democratic Party leadership in most Southern states. Under the leadership of former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest whose troops had conducted the Fort Pillow massacre, the Klan’s membership throughout the South “was estimated at five hundred thousand.” [12] The majority of these men were former Confederate soldiers, although they were also joined by those who had not fought in the war, or later those who had been too young to fight in the war but even belatedly wanted to get in on the fight against the hated Yankee and his African American allies. As the shadowy organization grew it became bolder and more violent in its attacks on African Americans, Republican members of the Reconstruction governments, and even Southern Jews. The Klan spread to every State in the South and when Congress investigated in 1870 and 1871 they submitted a thirteen volume report on Klan activities, volumes that “revealed to the country an almost incredible campaign of criminal violence by whites determined to punish black leaders, disrupt the Republican Party, reestablish control over the black labor force, and restore white supremacy in every phase of southern life.” [13]

KKK-Nast

Allegedly organized for self-defense against state militia units composed of freed blacks they named themselves “White Leagues (Louisiana), White Liners or Rifle Clubs (Mississippi), or Red Shirts (South Carolina). They were, in fact, paramilitary organizations that functioned as armed auxiliaries of the Democratic Party in southern states in their drive to “redeem” the South from “black and tan Negro-Carpetbag rule.” [14] These men, mostly Confederate veterans “rode roughshod over the South, terrorizing newly freed slaves, their carpetbagger allies, and anyone who dared to imagine a biracial democracy as the war’s change.” [15] The unrequited violence and hatred by these men set the stage for the continued persecution, murder and violence against blacks and those who supported their efforts to achieve equality in the South for the next century. In truth the activities of the Klan and other violent White Supremacist groups offer “the most extensive example of homegrown terrorism in American history.” [16]

Throughout his term in office Johnson appealed to arguments used throughout later American history by “critics of civil rights legislation and affirmative action. He appealed to fiscal conservatism, raised the specter of an immense federal bureaucracy trampling on citizens’ rights, and insisted that self-help, not government handouts, was the path to individual advancement.” [17]

Ulysses S. Grant succeeded Johnson as President in 1869, and unlike his predecessor, he was a man who believed in freedom and equal rights, “For Grant, freedom and equal rights were matters of principle, not symbolism.” [18]Grant ordered his generals in the South to enforce the Reconstruction Act and when the Ku Klux Klan attempted to stop blacks from voting Grant got Congress to pass the “enforcement Act, which made racist terrorism a federal offense.” [19] He created the Justice Department to deal with crimes against Federal law and in 1871 pushed Congress to pass a law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act and sent in the army and federal agents from the Justice Department and the Secret Service to enforce the law.

Grant’s efforts using the military as well as agents of the Justice Department and the Secret Service against the Klan were hugely successful, thousands were arrested, hundreds of Klansmen were convicted and others were either driven underground or disbanded their groups. The 1872 election was the first and last in which blacks were nearly unencumbered as they voted until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

However, Grant’s actions triggered a political backlash that doomed Reconstruction. The seminal moment in this came 1873 when General Philip Sheridan working in Louisiana, asked Grant for “permission to arrest leaders of the White League and try them by courts-martial” [20] for their violent acts against blacks and their seizure of the New Orleans City Hall in a brazen coup attempt. The leak of Sheridan’s request sparked outrage and even northern papers condemned the president’s actions in the harshest of terms.

Apart from the effort to support voting rights for African Americans Grant’s efforts at Reconstruction were met mostly by failure. Part of this was due to weariness on the part of many Northerners to continue to invest any more effort into the effort. Slowly even proponents of Reconstruction began to retreat from it, some like Carl Schurz, were afraid that the use of the military against the Klan in the South could set precedent to use it elsewhere. Others, embraced an understanding of Social Darwinism which stood against all types of government interference what they called the “natural” workings of society, especially misguided efforts to uplift those at the bottom of the social order…and African Americans were consigned by nature to occupy the lowest rungs of the social ladder.” [21]

Southerners knew that they were winning the political battle and continued their pressure in Congress and in the media to demonize supporters of Reconstruction as well as African Americans. Southerners worked to rig the political and judicial process through the use of terror to demoralize and drive from power anyone, black or white, who supported Reconstruction. By 1870 every former Confederate state had been readmitted to the Union, in a sense fulfilling a part Lincoln’s war policy, but at the same time denying what the war was waged for a White led governments aided by the Supreme Court increasingly set about reestablishing the previous social and political order placing blacks in the position of living life under slavery by another name.

The Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment

Slavery had been abolished, and African Americans had become citizens, but in most places they did not have the right to vote. Grant used his political capital to fight for the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote. It was one of the things that he remained most proud of in his life, he noted that the amendment was, “A measure which makes at once four million people voter who were heretofore declared by the highest tribunal in the land to be not citizens of the United States, nor eligible to become so…is indeed a measure of grander importance than any other act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day.” [22]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.30

[2] Ibid. Lord The Past that Would Not Die pp.11-12

[3] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.54

[4] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 178

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.162

[6] Perman, Michael Illegitimacy and Insurgency in the Reconstructed South in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.451

[7] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.121

[8] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.232

[9] _____________ The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv 29 June 2015

[10] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.93

[11] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.92

[12] Lane, Charles The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008  p.230

[13] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.171

[14] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 178

[15] Ibid. Jordan Marching Home p.118

[16] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.171

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.116

[18] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died:  p.2

[19] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.4

[20] Ibid. Langguth, A.J. After Lincoln p.314

[21] Ibid. Foner Forever Free pp.192-193

[22] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year DaCapo Press, Boston 2011 pp.78-79

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Slavery Under Another Name: The Black Codes

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Blacks Sentenced to Work Planatations Under the Black Codes

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Southern Resistance to Reconstruction and the Black Codes

White Southerners including the newly pardoned Confederates enacted black codes that “codified explicit second-class citizenship for freedpeople.” [1] The legislature of Mississippi refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, and did not do so until 1995. One Southerner noted that “Johnson “held up before us the hope of a ‘white man’s government,’ and this led us to set aside negro suffrage…. It was natural that we should yield to our old prejudices.” [2] Former Confederates, including Alexander Stephens the former Vice President of the Confederacy were elected to high office, Stephens to the United States Senate and the aggrieved Republicans in Congress in turn refused to admit the former Confederates. Many Union veterans were incensed by Johnson’s actions, one New York artilleryman noted “I would not pardon the rebels, especially the leaders, until they should kneel in the dust of humiliation and show their deeds that they sincerely repent.” [3] He was not alone, many Northern Veterans who formed the integrated Grand Army of the Republic veterans maintained a patent disregard, if not hatred of what the old South stood for and felt that their efforts in the war had been betrayed by the government.

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General William Tecumseh Sherman provide for Freed Blacks to have land 

Johnson’s restoration of property to the former white owners drove tens of thousands of blacks off lands that they had been farming, or left them as laborers for their former slave masters. Johnson countermanded General William Tecumseh Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s Field Order 15 to “divide abandoned and confiscated lands on the Sea Islands and in a portion of the Low Country coast south of Charleston into forty-acre plots for each black family.” [4] As such many freed blacks were now at the mercy of their former white owners for any hope of economic sustenance.

Johnson worked stridently, and often successfully to frustrate the efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau headed by Major General Oliver Howard to help freed blacks to become landowners and to protect their legal rights. In immediate post-war South states organized all white police forces and state militias composed primarily of Confederate veterans, many still wearing their gray or butternut uniforms. In such a climate blacks had few rights, and officers of the Freedmen’s Bureau lamented the situation. In Georgia one officer wrote that no jury would “convict a white man for killing a freedman,” or “fail to hang” a black man who killed a white in self-defense. Blacks commented another agent, “would be just as well off with no law at all or no Government,” as with the legal system established in the South under Andrew Johnson. “If you call this Freedom,” wrote one black veteran, “what do you call slavery?” [5]

The struggle between Johnson and Congress intensified when the President vetoed the Civil Rights Bill. Congress responded by overriding his veto. Eventually the battle between Johnson and Congress climaxed when Johnson was impeached when he tried to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office. Johnson barely survived the impeachment proceedings and was acquitted by one vote in the Senate in 1868.

The various black codes enacted throughout the South were draconian measures to codify and institutionalize racism and White Supremacy:

“passed labor laws that bound blacks to employers almost as tightly as slavery once bound them to their masters. Other codes established patterns of racial segregation that had been impossible under slavery, barred African Americans from serving on juries or offering testimony in court against whites, made “vagrancy,” “insulting gestures,” and “mischief” offenses by blacks punishable by fines or imprisonment, forbade black-white intermarriage, ad banned ownership by blacks of “fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk or bowie-knife.” [6]

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African Americans leased out to build Railroad 

Mississippi’s Black Codes were the first of these and among the sections dealt with a change in vagrancy laws, specifically aimed at emancipated blacks and those whites who might associate with them:

“That all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes in this state over the age of eighteen years found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawfully assembling themselves together in the day or night time, and all white persons so assembling with freedmen, free Negroes, or mulattoes on terms of equality, or living in adultery with a freedwoman, free Negro, or mulatto, shall be deemed vagrants; and on conviction thereof shall be fined…and imprisoned….”  [7]

The black codes were condoned and supported by President Johnson. While the black codes recognized the bare minimal elements of black freedom, their provisions confirmed the observations of one journalist who wrote “the whites seem wholly unable to comprehend that freedom for the negro means the same thing as freedom for them. They readily admit that the Government has made him free, but appear to believe that the have the right to exercise the old control.” [8] As state after state followed the lead of Mississippi, which was the first state to enact black codes Northern anger grew and some newspapers took the lead in condemn the black codes. “We tell the white men of Mississippi,” exploded the Chicago Tribune on December 1, “ that the men of the North will convert the state of Mississippi into a frog pond before they allow any such laws to disgrace one foot of soil in which the bones of our soldiers sleep and over which the flag of freedom waves.”  [9]

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The Memphis Massacre

Within weeks of the end of the war, violence against blacks began to break out in different parts of the South and it continued to spread as Johnson and the new Congress battled each other in regard to Reconstruction policy:

“In Memphis, Tennessee, in May of 1866, whites on a rampage of murder killed forty-six Negroes, most of them veterans of the Union army, as well as two white sympathizers. Five Negro women were raped. Ninety homes, twelve schools and four churches were burned. In New Orleans in the summer of 1866, another riot against blacks killed thirty-five Negroes and three whites.” [10]

The hatred of blacks and the violence against them was not limited to adults, children joined in as well. In Natchez Mississippi an incident that showed how deep the antipathy towards blacks was when on a Sunday afternoon, “an elderly freedman protested to a small white boy raiding his turnip patch. The boy shot him dead, and that was that. In Vicksburg the Herald complained that the town’s children were hitting innocent bystanders when using their “nigger shooters.” [11]

Colonel Samuel Thomas, the director of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Mississippi noted the attitudes that he saw in many whites toward the newly emancipated African Americans. He wrote that white public sentiment had not progressed and that whites had not “come to the attitude in which it can conceive of the negro having any rights at all. Men, who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors, without feeling a single twinge of honor…. And however much they confess that the President’s proclamation broke up the relation of the individual slave to their owners, they still have the ingrained feeling that the black people at large belong to whites at large.” [12] Sadly, the attitude reported by Colonel Thomas not only remained but also grew more violent with each passing month.

Another lesser-discussed aspect of the Black Codes was their use to return African Americans who had been convicted under the “vagrancy” statutes to a new type of slavery in all but name. The state governments then leased the prisoners to various corporations; railroads, mines and plantations, even former Confederate General and founder of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest received his share of prisoners to work his land.

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The practice became a lucrative source of revenue, for not only did the states collect the fees from the companies, but did not have to spend tax dollars to incarcerate, feed or otherwise care for the prisoners. Mortality rates were very high among the prisoners in private custody and the regulations, which stipulated that prisoners would be adequately fed, housed and treated, were not enforced.

By 1877 “every former Confederate state except Virginia had adopted the practice of leasing black prisoners into commercial hands. There were variations among the states, but all shared the same basic formula. Nearly all the penal functions of government were turned over to the companies purchasing convicts. In return for what they paid each state, the companies received absolute control of the prisoners… Company guards were empowered to chain prisoners, shoot those attempting to flee, torture any who wouldn’t submit, and whip the disobedient – naked or clothed – almost without limit. Over eight decades, almost never were there penalties to any acquirer of these slaves for their mistreatment or deeds.” [13]

The profitability of these ventures brought Northern investors, including the owners and shareholders of U.S. Steel into the scheme allowing financial houses and Northern corporations to grow their wealth, as they had during the pre-war days off the backs of slaves. However, the practice was also detrimental to poor Southern Whites who could not compete fairly in the labor market. In 1891 miners of the “Tennessee Coal Company were asked to sign an “iron-clad contract”: pledging no strikes, agreeing to get paid in scrip, and giving up the right to check the weight of the coal they mined (they were paid by weight). They refused to sign and were evicted from their houses. Convicts were brought in to replace them.” [14] The company’s response brought about an insurrection by the miners who took control of the mine and the area around it and freed 500 of the convict-slaves. The leaders were primarily Union Army veterans and members of the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s organization. The company backed down, but others learned the lesson and began to employ heavily armed Pinkerton agents as well as the state militias to deal with the growing labor movement, not only in the South but also in the North.

Non-convict black laborers as well as poor white “sharecroppers” on the large plantations were forced back into servitude of another manner, where legislatures gave “precedence to a landlord’s claim to his share of the crop over that of the laborer for wages or a merchant for supplies, thus shifting the risk of farming from employer to employee.” Likewise, “a series of court decisions defined the sharecropper not as a partner in agriculture or a renter with a property right in the growing crop, but as a wage laborer possessing “only a right to go on the land to plant, work, and gather the crop.” [15]

The practice did not end until Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered his Attorney General Francis Biddle to order Federal prosecutors who had for decades looked the other way begin prosecuting individuals and companies involved in this form of slavery. Biddle was the first U.S. Attorney General to admit the fact that “African Americans were not free and to assertively enforce the statutes written to protect them.” [16] Biddle, who later sat as a justice at the Nuremberg trials of major Nazi War Criminals commented during the war “One response of this country to the challenge to the ideals of democracy made by the new ideologies of Fascism and Communism has been a deepened realization of the values of a government based on a belief in the dignity and the rights of man.” [17] Biddle charged the newly formed Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to shift its focus from organized crime to cases of discrimination and racial abuse. Biddle repudiated the rational that allowed for the practice and wrote that the “law is fixed and established to protect the weak-minded the poor, the miserable” and that the contracts of the states that allowed the practices were “null and void.” [18] It was the beginning of another twenty-year process in which African Americans and their allies in the Civil Rights Movement worked to bring about what Lincoln referred to as “a new birth of freedom.”

To be continued….

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.491

[3] Jordan, Brian Matthew. Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War Liveright Publishing Corporation a Division of W.W. Norton and Company Inc. New York and London 2014 p.119

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.411

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.96

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.491

[7] ____________ Mississippi’s Black Code, November 24-29, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4505 of 8647

[8] Ibid. Foner Forever Free pp.93-94

[9] Lord, Walter The Past that Would Not Die Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1965 p.12

[10] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.55

[11] Ibid. Lord The Past that Would Not Die p.8

[12] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.92

[13] Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery By another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2008 p.56

[14] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.275

[15] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.250

[16] Ibid. Blackmon Slavery By another Name pp.378-379

[17] Ibid. Blackmon Slavery By another Name p.378

[18] Ibid. Blackmon Slavery By another Name p.379

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Racism and the Failure of Reconstruction

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Failing to Win the Peace: Racism and the Failure of Reconstruction

Colin Gray wrote, “A successful exercise in peacemaking should persuade the defeated party to accept its defeat.” [1] This is a fact seen throughout history as the peoples of nations that have been defeated militarily rise up against their occupiers to regain some form of independence, often coupled by a desire for revenge. As Liddell-Hart wrote, “History should have taught the statesman that there is no practical halfway house between a peace of complete subjection and a peace of moderation.” [2]

When the Civil War ended the Confederacy was beaten and most people in the South would have agreed to anything that the North presented regarding peace and return to the Union. The primary political policy goal of Lincoln regarding the war was the reestablishment of the Union and one of the military measures adopted by Lincoln was the emancipation of the South’s slaves who were an important part of the Southern war economy. “During the last two years of the war the abolition of slavery evolved from a means of winning the war to a war aim – from national strategy to national policy.” [3] By Lincoln’s reelection in 1864 that policy included the unconditional surrender of the Confederacy as well as the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, while Lincoln himself advocated moderation in achieving the political and social goals of his war policy, as well as in the restoration of the Southern States to the Union, his assassination served to destroy that goal as his successor, Andrew Johnson, and the Radical Republican majority in Congress warred against each other in implementing the policy of Reconstruction.

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The Unreconstructed President Andrew Johnson

That change in policy, the complete abolition of slavery necessitated a remaking of the old South, a culture where economics, social standing and even religion was linked to the “peculiar institution.” In a sense Reconstruction was “what the war was about.” [4] Had Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson desired he could have gotten the South to accept almost any demands that he decided to place upon them. A Northern correspondent who traveled throughout the South in May of 1865 and surveyed the mood of the leaders and people “concluded that any conditions for reunion specified by the President, even black suffrage, would be “promptly accepted.” [5] But that was not the way of Andrew Johnson.

Johnson set about to work with Southerners to affect a rapid reunion and to reestablish white rule in the South. He adopted a “minimalist process that would establish a mechanism by which former Confederate states could return to the Union with little or no change except for the abolition of slavery.” [6] The procedures Johnson established for the re-admission of states only allowed people who were eligible to vote in 1861 to vote. In effect this ensured a white only electorate, and excluded any free blacks. Johnson then began working to pardon former Confederates as quickly as possible to allow them to return to their political offices. Johnson would often issue hundreds of pardons a day, between June and August 1865, “the president awarded more than five thousand pardons in three states alone – Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama.” [7] These pardons ensured that the former Confederates would never again have to worry about being brought up on charges of treason or war crimes, and no “federal law permitted them from voting once their states had been readmitted to the Union” [8] which under Johnson’s plan ensured that they would have the voted before any newly freed black in the South.

Johnson countermanded the orders of Union Generals in the occupied Confederate States to protect the rights of freed blacks further strengthening and emboldening those committed to restoring white rule in the South and regulating freed blacks to a state all but in name like slavery. Relieved at Johnson’s mild terms for reunion Southerners language included “defiant talk of states’ rights and resistance to black suffrage. My midsummer, prominent whites realized that Johnson’s Reconstruction empowered them to shape the transition from slavery to freedom and to define black’s civil status.” [9] Johnson’s policy set the stage for racial strife that in some places still has fully not ended.

Just two months after Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, Richard Henry Dana, a Federal District Attorney in Boston, declared that “a war is over when its purpose is secured. It is a fatal mistake to hold that this war is over because the fighting has ceased. This war is not over…” [10] As Dana so succinctly noted, and Clausewitz so well understood, was that that war is a continuation of policy and politics by other means. The failure of President Johnson and so many others in the North to fully grasp this fact led to over a century of subjugation of emancipated African Americans by whites. The confusion and lack of determined purpose has fueled a continual racial divide in the United States that is still felt today. Defeated on the battlefield Southerners and emboldened by Johnson’s leniency, Southerners soon turned to political, psychological and even violent means to reverse their losses.

Frederick Douglass understood that simple emancipation was not enough, and that the “war and its outcome demanded racial equality.” [11] Despite the that efforts of many in the North this would not happen during Reconstruction and Douglass knew that the failure to accomplish this would be disastrous, “Whether the tremendous war so heroically fought…shall pass into history a miserable failure…or whether on the other hand, we shall, as the rightful reward of victory over treason have a solid nation, entirely delivered from all contradictions and social antagonisms, must be determined one way or another.” [12]

Other Northern leaders, political and military harbored deep seated illusions about the willingness of Southerners to change their way of life simply because they had lost the war, but with Johnson’s blessing seemed to be winning the peace. Major General Oliver O. Howard, a convinced and longtime abolitionist who believed that it was God’s will for the North to liberate African Americans who was appointed by Lincoln to head the new Freedman’s Bureau “believed that the Southern whites, or at least a sufficient number of them, through their humanitarian instincts and sense of fair play, or if not that, through enlightened self-interest, would deal fairly and justly with the freedmen, would aid in his education, and would give him the same civil and legal rights as the white man.” [13] Likewise, Major General Henry Slocum, who served with Howard at Gettysburg and in the West was appointed military commander of the District of Mississippi. Slocum, like many others entered his duties and “did not fathom the depth of anger and loathing many white Southerners harbored toward blacks, and to the new system in general.” [14]

There was a problem with implementing Reconstruction; when John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the political leaders of the North could not agree on how to do this. The new President, Andrew Johnson was probably the worst possible leader to lead the country in the aftermath of war for all practical purposes Johnson was a Democrat who believed in white supremacy, he had been brought onto the ticket for his efforts to keep Kentucky in the Union and to support Unionist elements in Tennessee. While his selection helped Lincoln in parts of the North and the Border States it was a disaster for the post-war era.

Johnson’s approach to reconstruction was very simply to “impose minimal demands on the South. He required only minor concessions from the former Confederates before allowing them to resume their political rights and retain their land. As for freedmen, he seemed to think that the needed no further protection beyond the fact of their emancipation.”  [15] Johnson’s attitude regarding freedmen was quite common, even men like William Lloyd Garrison who had spent his life in the cause of abolitionism believed that emancipation and abolition and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment was the end of his work. He urged the dissolution of the American Anti-Slavery Society in May of 1865 declaring, “My vocation, as an Abolitionist, thank God, is ended.” [16] His suggestion was rejected by the membership, but it was a harbinger of things to come.

Johnson was “a lonely stubborn man with few confidants, who seemed to develop his policies without consulting anyone, then stuck to them inflexibly in the face of any and all criticism. He lacked Lincoln’s ability to conciliate his foes and his capacity for growth, which was best illustrated by Lincoln’s evolving attitude to black suffrage during the Civil War.” [17] In the months after his unexpected accession to the presidency Johnson demonstrated that he had no understanding of Lincoln’s political goals for the South and the desires of the Republican dominated Congress.

By the summer of 1865 Johnson was already demonstrating “that his sympathies were with the Southern white population and that he believed that their interests should be cared for even at the expense of freedmen.” [18] Johnson’s approach to reconstruction was very simply to “impose minimal demands on the South. He required only minor concessions from the former Confederates before allowing them to resume their political rights and retain their land. As for freedmen, he seemed to think that the needed no further protection beyond the fact of their emancipation.”  [19] Johnson gave individual pardons to more than thirteen thousand “high-ranking Confederate civil and military officers and wealthy Southerners.” [20] While doing this he minimized political influence the Southern Unionists who had not supported the Confederacy and ensured that freed slaves were excluded from the political process.  He issued a number of orders “appointing interim provisional governors and urging the writing of new state constitutions based upon the voter qualifications in force at the time of secession in 1861 – which meant, in large but invisible letters, no blacks.” [21]

When Frederick Douglass led a delegation of blacks to meet with Johnson in February 1865 Johnson preached that it was impossible to give political freedom to blacks. When Douglass attempted to object Johnson became angry and told Douglass “I do not like to be arraigned by some who can get up handsomely-rounded periods and rhetoric, and talk about abstract ideas of liberty, who never periled life, liberty, or property.” [22] When Douglass took his objections to Johnson’s harangue to a Washington newspaper, Johnson railed against Douglass “I know that d—–d Douglass…he’s just like any other nigger & would sooner cut a white man’s throat than not.” [23]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.14

[2] Ibid. Liddell- Hart Why Don’t We Learn From History? p.86

[3] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 132

[4] Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.323

[5] Foner, Eric A Short History of Reconstruction Harper and Row, New York 1990 p.89

[6] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[7] Langguth, A.J. After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace Simon and Schuster, New York 2014 p.119

[8] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.319

[9] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.89

[10] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 175

[11] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.407

[12] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.407

[13] Carpenter, John A. Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard Fordham University Press, New York 1999 p.93

[14] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007

[15] Ibid. Perman and Taylor The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition p.323

[16] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.30

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.108

[18] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard  New York 1999 p.109

[19] Ibid. Perman and Taylor The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition p.323

[20] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.490

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.494

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.494

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God In the Empty Places: Remembering Iraq

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the midst of all I have been writing lately, when I recalled yesterday that I had been writing on this site for eight years, it brought back a lot of memories. Those memories kept me up a lot of last night, and I realized that many of my newer readers don’t know about some of the events that brought me to where I am today. In December of 2007 while I was in Iraq I wrote an e-mail to my former denomination that was published in the denomination newsletter.

When I wrote it I was between missions and getting ready to head out to the Syrian border of Iraq for an extended visit with five of our Military Training Teams of advisors who were working with Iraqi Army and Border troops.

This is the unedited post from that article that I posted here in early March 2009. It is amazing to me, on this day that is also the 50th anniversary of the death of Bernard Fall who I quote in the original article, that so little has changed, except possibly for the worse.

Have a great night, tomorrow my series on civil rights and African American history continues.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

I have been doing a lot of reflecting on ministry and history over the past few months. While both have been part of my life for many years, they have taken on a new dimension after serving in Iraq. I can’t really explain it; I guess I am trying to integrate my theological and academic disciplines with my military, life and faith experience since my return.

The Chaplain ministry is unlike civilian ministry in many ways. As Chaplains we never lose the calling of being priests, and as priests in uniform, we are also professional officers and go where our nations send us to serve our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. There is always a tension, especially when the wars that we are sent to are unpopular at home and seem to drag on without the benefit of a nice clear victory such as VE or VJ Day in World War II or the homecoming after Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

It is my belief that when things go well and we have easy victories that it is easy for us to give the credit to the Lord and equally easy for others to give the credit to superior strategy, weaponry or tactics to the point of denying the possibility that God might have been involved. Such is the case in almost every war and Americans since World War Two have loved the technology of war seeing it as a way to easy and “bloodless” victory. In such an environment ministry can take on an almost “cheer-leading” dimension. It is hard to get around it, because it is a heady experience to be on a winning Army in a popular cause. The challenge here is to keep our ministry of reconciliation in focus, by caring for the least, the lost and the lonely, and in our case, to never forget the victims of war, especially the innocent among the vanquished, as well as our own wounded, killed and their families.

But there are other wars, many like the current conflict less popular and not easily finished.The task of chaplains in the current war, and similar wars fought by other nations is different.In these wars, sometimes called counter-insurgency operations, guerilla wars or peace keeping operations, there is no easily discernable victory. These types of wars can drag on and on, sometimes with no end in sight. Since they are fought by volunteers and professionals, much of the population acts as if there is no war since it does often not affect them, while others oppose the war.

Likewise, there are supporters of war who seem more interested in political points of victory for their particular political party than for the welfare of those that are sent to fight the wars. This has been the case in about every war fought by the US since World War II. It is not a new phenomenon. Only the cast members have changed.

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This is not only the case with the United States. I think that we can find parallels in other militaries. I think particularly of the French professional soldiers, the paratroops and Foreign Legion who bore the brunt of the fighting in Indo-China, placed in a difficult situation by their government and alienated from their own people. In particular I think of the Chaplains, all Catholic priests save one Protestant, at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the epic defeat of the French forces that sealed the end of their rule in Vietnam. The Chaplains there went in with the Legion and Paras. They endured all that their soldiers went through while ministering the Sacraments and helping to alleviate the suffering of the wounded and dying. Their service is mentioned in nearly every account of the battle. During the campaign which lasted 6 months from November 1953 to May 1954 these men observed most of the major feasts from Advent through the first few weeks of Easter with their soldiers in what one author called “Hell in a Very Small Place.”

Another author describes Easter 1954: “In all Christendom, in Hanoi Cathedral as in the churches of Europe the first hallelujahs were being sung. At Dienbeinphu, where the men went to confession and communion in little groups, Chaplain Trinquant, who was celebrating Mass in a shelter near the hospital, uttered that cry of liturgical joy with a heart steeped in sadness; it was not victory that was approaching but death.” A battalion commander went to another priest and told him “we are heading toward disaster.” (The Battle of Dienbeinphu, Jules Roy, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1984 p.239)

Of course one can find examples in American military history such as Bataan, Corregidor, and certain battles of the Korean War to understand that our ministry can bear fruit even in tragic defeat. At Khe Sahn in our Vietnam War we almost experienced a defeat on the order of Dien Bien Phu. It was the tenacity of the Marines and tremendous air-support that kept our forces from being overrun.

You probably wonder where I am going with this. I wonder a little bit too. But here is where I think I am going. It is the most difficult of times; especially when units we are with take casualties and our troops’ sacrifice is not fully appreciated by a nation absorbed with its own issues.

french troops indochina

For the French the events and sacrifices of their soldiers during Easter 1954 was page five news in a nation that was more focused on the coming summer. This is very similar to our circumstances today because it often seems that own people are more concerned about economic considerations and the latest in entertainment news than what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan. The French soldiers in Indo-china were professionals and volunteers, much like our own troops today. Their institutional culture and experience of war was not truly appreciated by their own people, or by their government which sent them into a war against an opponent that would sacrifice anything and take as many years as needed to secure their aim, while their own countrymen were unwilling to make the sacrifice and in fact had already given up their cause as lost. Their sacrifice would be lost on their own people and their experience ignored by the United States when we sent major combat formations to Vietnam in the 1960s. In a way the French professional soldiers of that era have as well as British colonial troops before them have more in common with our force than the citizen soldier heroes of the “Greatest Generation.” Most of them were citizen soldiers who did their service in an epic war and then went home to build a better country as civilians. We are now a professional military and that makes our service a bit different than those who went before us.

Yet it is in this very world that we minister, a world of volunteers who serve with the highest ideals. We go where we are sent, even when it is unpopular. It is here that we make our mark; it is here that we serve our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. Our duty is to bring God’s grace, mercy and reconciliation to men and women, and their families who may not see it anywhere else. Likewise we are always to be a prophetic voice within the ranks.

When my dad was serving in Vietnam in 1972 I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that he was a “Baby Killer.” It was a Catholic Priest and Navy Chaplain who showed me and my family the love of God when others didn’t. In the current election year anticipate that people from all parts of the political spectrum will offer criticism or support to our troops. Our duty is to be there as priests, not be discouraged in caring for our men and women and their families because most churches, even those supportive of our people really don’t understand the nature of our service or the culture that we represent. We live in a culture where the military professional is in a distinct minority group upholding values of honor, courage, sacrifice and duty which are foreign to most Americans. We are called to that ministry in victory and if it happens someday, defeat. In such circumstances we must always remain faithful.

For those interested in the French campaign in Indo-China it has much to teach us. Good books on the subject include The Last Valley by Martin Windrow, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall; The Battle of Dien Bein Phu by Jules Roy; and The Battle of Dien Bien Phu- The Battle America Forgot by Howard Simpson. For a history of the whole campaign, readStreet Without Joy by Bernard Fall. I always find Fall’s work poignant, he served as a member of the French Resistance in the Second World War and soldier later and then became a journalist covering the Nurnberg Trials and both the French and American wars in Vietnam and was killed by what was then known as a “booby-trap” while covering a platoon of U.S. Marines.

There is a picture that has become quite meaningful to me called the Madonna of Stalingrad. It was drawn by a German chaplain-physician named Kurt Reuber at Stalingrad at Christmas 1942 during that siege. He drew it for the wounded in his field aid station, for most of whom it would be their last Christmas. The priest would die in Soviet captivity and the picture was given to one of the last officers to be evacuated from the doomed garrison. It was drawn on the back of a Soviet map and now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin where it is displayed with the Cross of Nails from Coventry Cathedral as a symbol of reconciliation. I have had it with me since before I went to Iraq. The words around it say: “Christmas in the Cauldron 1942, Fortress Stalingrad, Light, Life, Love.” I am always touched by it, and it is symbolic of God’s care even in the midst of the worst of war’s suffering and tragedy.

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Racism Defined: The Confederate Debate About Emancipation and Black Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few days I have been dealing with emancipation and the United States Military during the American Civil War. However, as the Union began to emancipate and recruit African Americans for service, aided and encouraged by men like Frederick Douglass, a few bold souls in the Confederacy began to consider the wisdom of retaining the institution of slavery and proposing emancipation. Their efforts were in vain. The ugly reality of racism kept the leaders of the Confederacy from making the move for months, and only a limited emancipation was approved to recruit slaves as soldiers barely two weeks before Richmond fell to the Union.

I hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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In the South where before the war about forty percent of the population was composed of African American slaves there was no question regarding abolition or enlistment of African American soldiers. The Confederate States of America was a pro-slavery nation which hoped to “turn back the tide of abolition that had swept the hemisphere in the Age of Revolution…. Confederate founders proposed instead to perfect the slaveholder’s republic and offer it to the world as the political form best suited to the modern age.” [1]

The political and racial ideology of the South, which ranged from benevolent paternal views of Africans as less equal to whites, moderate prejudice and at tolerance of the need for slavery, and extreme slavery proponents who wanted to expand the institution beyond the borders of the Confederacy, as well as extreme prejudice and race race-hatred; was such that almost until the end of the war, Confederate politicians and many senior Confederate officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve; for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. As such, it was not until 1864 when the Confederacy was beginning to face the reality that they could no longer win the war militarily, that any serious discussion of the subject commenced.

But after the fall of Vicksburg and the shattering defeat at Gettysburg, some Southern newspapers in Mississippi and Alabama began to broach the subject of employing slaves as soldiers, understanding the reality that doing so might lead to emancipation, something that they loathed but understood the military and political reality for both if the Confederacy was to gain its independence from the Union. The editor of the Jackson Mississippian wrote that, “such a step would revolutionize our whole industrial system” and perhaps lead to universal emancipation, “a dire calamity to both the negro and the white race.” But if we lose slavery anyway, for Yankee success is death to the institution… so that it is a question of necessity – a question of choice of evils. … We must… save ourselves form the rapacious north, WHATEVER THE COST.” [2]

The editor of the Montgomery Daily Mail “worried about the implications of arming slaves for “our historical position on the slavery question,” as he delicately put it. The argument which goes to the exclusion of negroes as soldiers is founded on the status of the negro.” Negroes, he asserted, are “racially inferior[s],” but “the proposition to make the soldiers… [would be but a] practical equalization of the races.” Nonetheless they had to do it. “The War has made great changes,” he insisted, and, “we must meet those changes for the sake of preserving our existence. They should use any means to defeat the enemy, and “one of those, and the only one which will checkmate him, is the employment of negroes in the military services of the Confederacy.” [3]  Other newspapermen noted “We are forced by the necessity of our condition,” they declared, “to take a step which is revolting to every sentiment of pride, and to every principle that governed our institutions before the war.” The enemy was “stealing our slaves and converting them into soldiers…. It is better for us to use the negroes for our defense than that the Yankees should use them against us.” [4] These were radical words, but neither Jefferson Davis, nor the Confederate Congress was willing to hear them, and the topic remained off the table as a matter of discussion.

Despite this, there were a few Confederate military leaders who understood that the South could either fight for freedom and independence from the Union, but not for slavery at the same time, especially if the Confederacy refused to mobilize its whole arms-bearing population to defeat the Union. The reality that the “necessity of engaging slaves’ politics was starting to be faced where it mattered most: in the military.” [5] One of these men was General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee who demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race, and political objectives far in advance of the vast majority of Confederate leaders and citizens.

Cleburne argued the contradictory nature of the Confederate policy, claiming to fight for liberty while subjugating African Americans as slaves. He understood that the policy has flawed on several counts, including military and diplomatic necessity. He told his staff, “It is said [that] slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for…. We have now briefly proposed a plan which we believe will save our country. It may be imperfect, but in all probability it would give us our independence,” [6] and he openly advocated that blacks should be allowed to serve as soldiers of the Confederacy, and that they should be emancipated and “Thirteen brigadier generals and other officers in his division signed the paper. But officers in other units condemned the “monstrous proposition” as “revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern prides, and Southern honor.” [7]

Cleburne, who was known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan to reverse the course of the war by emancipating slaves and enlisting them to serve in the Confederate military. Cleburne was a lawyer and not a slave owner, and he honestly believed that slavery was incidental to the conflict and that “if southerners had to choose between securing their own freedom and maintaining the system of slavery, he had no doubt that his friends and neighbors, indeed the entire South, would willingly let slavery expire in order to ensure their own political independence.” [8] In a short amount of time he would discover just how wrong that he was in his assessment of his fellow southerners.

The Irish Confederate’s proposal was based on sound logic. Cleburne noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have enough soldiers, supplies, or resources to sustain the war effort. He stressed that the South had an inadequate number of soldiers, and that “our soldiers can see no end… except in our own exhaustion; hence, instead of rising to the occasion, they are sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters which promise no results.” [9]

Most significantly the Irishman argued that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness,” [10] and that “All along the lines… slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information,” an “omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources.” [11] He noted, that “Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy…. If this state continues much longer we shall surely be subjugated.” [12]

Cleburne was the ultimate realist in terms of what was going on in the Confederacy and the drain that slavery and the attempts to control the slave population were having on it. The Conscription Act of 1862 acknowledged that men had to be retained at home in order to guard against slave uprisings, and how exemptions diminished forces at the front without adding any corresponding economic value. Cleburne wrote of how African Americans in the South were becoming increasingly pro-Union, and were undermining Southern morale at home and in the ranks. He noted that they brought up “fear of insurrection in the rear” and filled Confederate soldiers with “anxieties for the fate of loved ones when our armies have moved forward.” And when Union forces entered plantation districts, they found “recruits waiting with open arms.” There was no point in denigrating their military record, either. After donning Union blue, black men had proved able “to face and fight bravely against their former masters.” [13]

Cleburne’s proposal was radical for he recommended that “we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain to the confederacy in this war.” [14] Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal to the high command:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “will strike dead all John Brown fanaticism, and will compel the enemy to draw off altogether or in the eyes of the world to swallow the Declaration of Independence without the sauce and disguise of philanthropy.” [15]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [16] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than most were willing to risk, and even more than Lincoln had asked of the North in his Emancipation Proclamation. Cleburne was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [17] something that most seemed even unwilling to consider. He presented his arguments in stark terms that few Southern leaders, or citizens could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [18] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [19] But Cleburne’s appeal was misguided, far too many Confederate many Southerners believed “the loss of slavery as virtually synonymous with the loss of his own liberty.” [20] It was considered treasonous, and even blasphemous, as slavery was considered by many Southerners to be mandated and blessed by God, and confirmed in the Bible. General William B. Bate who was present at the meeting where Cleburne proposed the idea, proclaimed that what it contained would “contravene principles upon which I have heretofore acted” and that it proposed “to discard our received theory of government [and] destroy our legal institutions and social relations.” [21] Another officer present wrote to a friend that it was a “monstrous proposition… revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern pride, and Southern honor.” [22]

Cleburne’s proposal came to an end in January 1864 when General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Jefferson Davis bypassing the chain of command and General Joseph Johnston’s specific order not to forward it to anyone. Walker opposed Cleburne’s proposal and expressed his outrage over it, and he requested that Davis crack down on “the agitation of such sentiments and propositions,” which “would ruin the efficiency of our Army and involve our cause in ruin and disgrace.” [23] Cleburne’s proposal had crossed over from being a military matter to an explosive political matter, and in Walker’s opinion, the political arguments were out of line for any military officer to state in public.

Jefferson Davis actually realized that slavery was doomed already no matter who won the war. However, the Confederate President realized that it was “was a potential bombshell for his administration.” [24] He was already under pressure from numerous officials for his war policies, including conscription, taxation, economic policies and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, by men like his Vice President Alexander Stephens and, Robert Toombs and Georgia Governor Joseph Brown. Toombs called the President “a false and hypocritical… wretch” who had “neither the ability not the honesty to manage the revolution” [25] while Stephens called Davis’s policies dictatorial, and unconstitutional, and that it was “Davis’s wartime policies that undercut traditional southern values.” [26]

Davis realized that the proposal could not be supported. He ordered Secretary of War Seddon to quash the measure and keep it from public knowledge. Seddon instructed Johnston to ensure “the suppression, not only of the memorial itself, but likewise all discussion and controversy respecting or growing out of it.” [27] Davis and Seddon were “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army,” Seddon sought to remove any semblance of criticism from Cleburne, by adding “no doubt or mistrust is for a moment entertained of the patriotic intents of the gallant author of the memorial, but he also noted that the issue was not one that was appropriate for military officers to consider.” [28]

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Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A.

While the matter seemed over, “The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [29] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [30] The chief instigator of this appears to have been General Braxton Bragg, who had been appointed as Davis’s military advisor who knew about it while serving in Tennessee. Bragg was a foe of a number of the officers involved in the discussion and wrote that Cleburne and the others, were “agitators, and should be watched.” To ensure that his point was unmistakable, he added ominously, “We must mark these men.” [31]

All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the Joseph Johnston on the order of Davis. He told Johnston, “If it be kept out of the public journals… its ill effects will be much lessened.” [32] Sadly, the “type of radical thinking Cleburne offered would not be seen again.” [33] The cover up initiated by Davis was quite successful, and it would have been lost to history had not a member of Cleburne’s staff discovered a copy in 1890 during the publication of the official war records.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Richard Ewell suggested to Jefferson Davis the idea of arming the slaves and offering them emancipation as early as 1861, and Ewell went as far as “volunteering to “command a brigade of Negroes.” [34] During the war Robert E. Lee became one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [35]

Ten months later with the Confederacy collapsing and Lincoln having won reelection, Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now, quite belatedly, believed that military necessity left him little choice. “In mid-September Davis acknowledged that two-thirds of the army was absent, most without leave,[36] and the Confederate manpower crisis was deepening every day, and Davis now reluctantly admitted that in order to survive that the Confederacy had to tap the vast manpower pool represented by African Americans, even if that meant emancipation.

On November 7th 1864 Davis made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. Davis had finally come to the realization the institution of slavery was now useless to the Confederate cause, as he had become a more ardent Confederate nationalist, and to Davis, “Preserving slavery had become secondary to preserving his new nation,” [37] and his words shocked the assembled Congress. The slave, he boldly declared that “the slave… can no longer be “viewed as mere property” but must be recognized instead in his other “relation to the state – that of a person.” As property, Davis explained, slaves were useless to the state, because without the “loyalty” of the men could be gained from their labor.” [38]

In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [39]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters and in the press, especially that of North Carolina with some individuals as well and publications appearing that they would rather lose the war that win it with the help of African American men. Accepting blacks as soldiers meant equality and equality meant emancipation.

Some newspapers in North Carolina attacked Davis and his proposal, as “farcical” – “all this done for the preservation and perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men… are ready to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done as a condition of ending the war?” [40] Likewise, Davis now found himself opposed by some of his closest political allies including Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb.  Toombs roared, “The day that the army of Virginia allows a negro regiment to enter their lines as soldiers they will be degraded, ruined, and disgraced.” [41] Likewise, Cobb warned “The day that you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” [42] Some in the military echoed his sentiments, Brigadier General Clement H. Stevens of South Carolina declared “I do not want independence if it is to be won by the help of the Negro.” [43] A North Carolina private wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country…. I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [44]

Robert E. Lee, who had emancipated his slaves before the war, began to be a formidable voice in the political debate going on in the Confederacy regarding the issue of blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation. In a letter to Andrew T. Hunter he argued,

“There have been formidable armies composed of men having no interest in the cause for which they fight beyond their pay or hope of plunder. But it is certain that the surest foundation upon the fidelity of an army can rest, especially in a service which imposes peculiar hardships and privations, is the personal interests of the soldier in the issue of the contest. Such an interest we can give our negroes by giving immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not,) together with the privilege of residing in the South. To this might be added a bounty for faithful service.” [45]

Lee wrote in the same letter, “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [46] He wrote another sponsor of a Negro soldier bill “The measure was “not only expedient but necessary…. The negroes, under proper circumstances will make effective soldiers. I think we could do as well with them as the enemy…. Those employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise… to require them to serve as slaves.” [47]

Lee was not alone, others throughout the South, even slave owners wrote to Davis voicing their support. “A Georgia planter who had lost two sons in the war believed that the time had come to enlist black soldiers. “We should away with pride of opinion – away with false pride…. The enemy fights us with the negro – and they will do well to fight the Yankees…. We are reduced to the last resort.” [48]

But many reacted in horror to Lee’s proposal. When Howell Cobb heard of Lee’s support for black soldiers and emancipation he fired of a letter to Secretary of War Seddon, “I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has ever been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Lee, given as authority for such policy.” [49] The wife of a prominent South Carolina planter “Slaveholders on principle, & those who hope one day to become slaveholders in time, will not tacitly allow their property & their hopes & allow a degraded race to be placed on a level with them.” [50]

The debate which had begun in earnest in the fall of 1864 revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [51] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Senator Louis Wigfall who had been Davis’s ally in the conscription debates, now became his opponent, he declared that he “wanted to live in no country in which the man who blacked his boots and curried his horse was his equal.” [52] Senator David Yulee of Florida told Davis, “This is a White Man’s government. To associate colors in camp is to unsettle castes; and when thereby the distinction of color and caste is so far obliterated that the relation of fellow soldier is accepted, the mixture of races and toleration of equality is commenced.” [53]

Much of the Southern press added its voice to the opposition. Newspapers in North Carolina declared the proposal “farcical” – “all this was done for the preservation and the perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men…are willing to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done, as a condition of ending the war?” [54] The Charleston Mercury considered the proposal apostasy and proclaimed “Assert the right in the Confederate government to emancipate slaves, and it is stone dead…” [55] In Lynchburg an editor noted, “If such a terrible calamity is to befall us… we infinitely prefer that Lincoln shall be the instrument pf our disaster and degradation, that we ourselves strike the cowardly and suicidal blow.” [56]

Some states in the Confederacy began to realize that slaves were needed in the ranks, but did not support emancipation. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, who had commanded a brigade at Gettysburg before being elected governor, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [57]  Smith declared that without slavery the South “would no longer have a motive to fight.” [58] J.H. Stringfellow, an ardent slave supporter who had led the sack of Lawrence during the pro and anti-slavery wars in the Kansas Territory wrote to Davis in support of black soldiers. While Stringfellow supported using the as soldiers he did not mean that such would make them equal. Even so he wrote,

“We allege that slaves will not fight in our armies. Escaped slaves fight and fight bravely for our enemies; therefore a freed slave will fight. If at the beginning of this war all our negroes had been free does anyone believe that the Yankees would have been able to recruit an army amongst them? Does anyone know of a solitary free negro escaping to them and joining their army? If our slaves were now to be freed would the Yankees be able to raise another recruit amongst them? If freedom and amnesty were declared in favor of those already in the Yankee lines would they not almost to a man desert to their old homes? Would not our freed negroes make us as good of soldiers as they do for our enemies?” [59]

Unlike Stringfellow and supporters of freeing slaves and making them soldiers, many Confederate soldiers displayed the attitude that would later propel them into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League and the White Liners after the war. A North Carolina soldier wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country… I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [60]

But many agreed with Lee, including Silas Chandler of Virginia, who stated, “Gen Lee is in favor of it I shall cast my vote for it I am in favor of giving him any thing he wants in the way of gaining our independence.” [61] Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure of the bill to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [62] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [63] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate:  “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [64] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [65] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [66]

But diehards opposed even the watered down measure. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [67]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.”  [68] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [69] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [70]

But even if the final bill passed was inadequate, “and fell short of General Lee’s preferred plan of general gradual emancipation,” [71] the debate about it had finally forced Southerners “to realign their understanding of what they were protecting and to recognize the contradictions in their carefully honed rationalization. Some would still staunchly defend it; others would adopt the ostrich’s honored posture. But many understood only too well what they had already surrendered.” [72]

On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause. The order read in part: “In order to provide additional forces to repel invasion…the President be, and he is hereby authorized to ask for and to accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service  in whatever capacity he may direct…” While the order authorized that black soldiers “receive the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of service,” it did not provide for the emancipation of any of the black soldiers that might volunteer. Instead it ended “That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear to their owners, except by the consent of the owners and of the States which they may reside….”  [73] Despite the fact that the measure failed to confer freedom on those who enlisted. He insisted that the army would “enroll no slaves, only freemen, by their own consent.” [74] Whatever anyone else thought, Jefferson Davis had finally come to realize that consent and emancipation were the only just and reasonable terms to enlist black soldiers. It was a watershed, the man who labored to build the perfect slave-republic had decided on emancipation.  In signing the order “Davis ordered the War Department to issue regulations that “ensured them the rights of a freedman. The president tried to jump-start the recruitment of black regiments. But the effort was too little and too late.” [75]

Twelve days after the approval of the act, on March 25th two companies of blacks were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square. Commanded by Majors J.W. Pegram and Thomas P. Turner, the newly recruited former slaves assembled to the sounds of fifes and drums and “proudly marched down the street for the first time in their Southern uniforms, whites lining the sidewalks threw mud at them.” [76] As they continued they were met with more derision and violence as even “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [77] at them. It was fitting that none of those few volunteers saw action as the war drew to a close, and within a week the Confederate government had ignominiously fled from Richmond, leaving them and the capital at the mercy of the victorious Union army.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [78] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [79]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. In the wake of his departure the Confederate Provost Marshall set fire to the arsenal and the magazines to keep them from falling into Union hands. However, the fires “roared out of hand and rioters and looters too to the streets until the last Federal soldiers, their bands savagely blaring “Dixie,” marched into the humiliated capital and raised the Stars and Stripes over the old Capitol building.” [80]

Davis had gone from a state of unreality to one of fantasy. He fled south with his cabinet hoping to regather troops and continue resistance even as Robert E. Lee was surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Davis reached Joseph Johnston’s tiny fragment of an army in North Carolina, but was rebuffed in his attempt to order the army to continue to fight by Johnston, General P.T.G. Beauregard, and the majority of his cabinet. Johnston told the hopelessly deluded Davis, “My views are, sir, that our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped and will not fight…. My men are daily deserting in large numbers. Since Lee’s defeat they regard the war as at an end.” [81] Johnston went through a litany of what the Confederacy lacked to continue the war, he added, “the effect of keeping our forces in the field would be, not to harm the enemy, but to complete the devastation of our country and the ruin of its people.” Further resistance would constitute “the greatest of human crimes.” [82]  Beauregard, an old foe who Davis had ignored and offended throughout the war concurred with Johnston.

A Confederate soldier noted, “Poor President…. He is unwilling to see what all around him see. He cannot bring himself to believe that after four years of glorious struggle we are to be crushed into submission.” [83] The cabinet was dissolved and Davis with a few embers of it and his wife Varina continued to flee but were caught by a Union cavalry patrol near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10th 1865.

The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [84] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [85]

lincoln-in-richmond

On April 4th 1865 Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond to the cheers of the now former slaves who had remained in the city. For them the President’s appearance was like that of the Messiah. The historian of the 12th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry wrote,

“His reception in a city which, only a day or two before, had been the headquarters and centre of the Rebellion, was most  remarkable; and more resembled a triumphant return from, than an entry into the enemy’s capital. Instead of the streets being silent and vacated, they were filled with men, women, and children shouting and cheering wherever he went.

“I’d rather see him that Jesus,” excitedly exclaims one woman, as she runs ahead of the crowd to get a view of his benign countenance. “De kingdom’s come, and de Lord is wid us,” chants another. “Hallelujah!” shouts a third; and so on through a whole volume of prayers, praises, blessings, and benedictions showed down upon his, the great emancipator of a race, and the savior of his country, thus redeemed, as he walked slowly forward with smiling and uncovered head….” [86]

Likewise a journalist witnessing the event described the scene,

“The gathered around the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the consistently increasing throng. They came from the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!” [87]

One old man rushed to Lincoln and shouted “Bless the Lord, the great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s been in my heart four long years, and he’s come at last to free his children from their bondage. Glory, hallelujah!” He then threw himself at the embarrassed President’s feet and Lincoln said, “Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” [88]

Emancipation had finally arrived in Richmond, and in the van came the men of the U.S. Colored Troops who had rallied to the Union cause and fought bravely, even against the prejudice of some to their own countrymen. They were followed by the man who had made the bold decision to emancipate them and then persevere against all opposition, even risking his presidency until that hope had become reality.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.832

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

[4] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.831

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

[6] Symonds, Craig L. Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 1997 pp.188-189

[7] McPherson, James M. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief The Penguin Press, New York 2014 Amazon Kindle Edition location 2376 of 3649

[8] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.182

[9] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[10] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[11] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[12] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

[13] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.167

[14] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[15] Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month that Saved America Perennial an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers New York 2002 p.53

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[18] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[19] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[20] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.190

[21] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.168

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.954

[23] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief location 2376 of 3649

[24] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.194

[25] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.692-693

[26] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.194

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.954

[28] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.194

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[30] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[31] Ibid. Symonds Stonewall of the West p.195

[32] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief location 2389 of 3649

[33] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.329

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[35] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47

[36] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.330

[37] Ibid. Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis p.598

[38] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[39] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[41] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[43] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[44] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[45] Lee, Robert E. Letter to Hon. Andrew Hunter,  January 11, 1865 in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 p.217

[46] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[47] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[48] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief 2403 of 3649

[49] Cobb, Howell Letter to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, January 8, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location 4221 of 8647     

[50] Edmondson, Catherine. Catherine Edmonston Reflects on the Situation in the Confederacy  in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp W.W. Norton and Company, New York 2001 p.295

[51] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[52] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[53] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief  location 2419 of 3649

[54] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[55] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

[56] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[57] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three pp.754-755

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[59] Stringfellow, J.H. Letter to President Jefferson Davis, February 8, 1865 in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 p.224

[60] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[61] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.396

[62] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p. 755

[63] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[64] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[65] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.755

[66] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[67] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[68] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[69] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[70] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[71] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.345

[72] Ibid. Pryor Reading the Man p.397

[73] Confederate Congress General Orders, No. 14, An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, Approved March 13, 1865 in the Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. Editors, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 2010 Amazon Kindle edition location4348 of 8647

[74] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.351

[75] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief  location 2441 of 3649

[76] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.35

[77] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.860

[78] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[79] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[80] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

[81] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.968

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 481

[83] Ibid. McPherson Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief  location2510 of 3649

[84] Ibid. Catton Grant Takes Command p.411

[85] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[86] Bartlett, A.W. Richmond’s Black Residents Welcome Abraham Lincoln in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 p.302

[87] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.275

[88] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.897

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Padre Steve’s World at Eight Years: I’m Still Standing

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight a short pause to reflect. I was reminded by my WordPress, the company that hosts my site that I began this blog eight years ago today.

The blog came out of a question my first shrink asked me as I was beginning to melt down with PTSD and TBI after my tour in Iraq which ended in February 2008. His question, “Well chaplain, what are you going to do with your your experience?” forced me to think, and get outside of myself.

iraq-2007

bedouin

I certainly wasn’t in great shape, in fact I was falling apart. Chronic insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, fear of everyday activities, all took their and my doctors trying different combinations of medicines, each with their own side effects, even while I was undergoing different psychiatric and neurological test. I was a total wreck and often impossible to be around. I was always on edge and prone to anger. I threw myself into work in the ICU sixty to one hundred hours a week depending on my call schedule. That didn’t help, and I got worse. It would take years to see measurable improvement, and even then, with periodic crashes, often connected to the deaths of friends, including those who suffered from what I suffered.

In contemplating my therapist’s question I knew that I wanted to share what I was going through, even while I was in the middle of it. But there was a risk, and he pointed it out, and I had seen it before; anyone who opens up and talks of their brokenness when they themselves are supposed to be one of the “healers” often ends up ostracized by their community. Their fellow professionals frequently withdraw from them, old friends distance themselves, and sometimes their family lives fall apart. This happens to physicians, nurses, hospital corpsmen, mental health providers, law enforcement officers, as well as highly trained Special Forces, EOD, and other military professionals. It also happens to Chaplains. Henri Nouwen wrote: “But human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process, because it forces us to face directly our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery.” That happened to me, and I am better for it.  In the depths of my struggle I found a strange solace in the words of T.E. Lawrence who toward the end of his life wrote a friend: “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

So that’s how things began. I wrote about what was going on with me. That included my spiritual struggles, as well as writing about baseball which is as much a part of my spirituality as anything. As I continued to write I began to address social and political issues, and then on to my real love, writing history, which I completed my second Master’s degree in a year after I started this blog.

The latter which has been both educational, as well as therapeutic. In my reading, research, and writing, I discovered fellow travelers from history whose stories helped me find myself again, men with feet of clay, doubts, depression, often masked by triumph. My examples included T.E. Lawrence, Gouveneur Warren, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Ulysses Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. I found a measure of comfort as well as solace in their lives, experience, and writings.

My historical writings been further motivated by being able to teach and lead the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Staff College. That is unusual for a chaplain, but I am an unusual chaplain, as one of my fellow professors said, “You’re a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” 

So that’s how, some 2,862 posts, and three draft books, I got to this point. I still do suffer symptoms of PTSD but I have stabilized for the most part, much of it I attribute to a decent combination of meds, a renewed love and friendship with my wife, and my Papillon Izzy, who is a therapy dog in every sense of the word. Likewise there have been a few people who stood by me through thick and thin. I have expressed to them how much I appreciate them and because of them I really began to appreciate the words of William Tecumseh Sherman who noted: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy. I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.” Since I have been both at times, I find that such camaraderie is more important than about anything else.

I appreciate all the people who subscribe to this blog, those who follow it through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and who take the time to comment, as well as to provide words of encouragement. For that I thank all of you.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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