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John Brown: The Fanatical Idealist

John_brown.JPG

John Brown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

December 2nd was the anniversary of the execution of John Brown, a man who had a righteous cause, but surrendered the moral high ground because of his fanaticism. Justice Robert Jackson wrote:“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” John Brown was a fanatic who in his desire to achieve his goal was not above committing murder as he did in Kansas, and insurrection as he did at Harper’s Ferry. There are many people in this country who harbor similar beliefs. John Brown serves as a warning to all of us.

This piece is part of my draft book Mine Eyes have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

In the North there too existed an element of religious fanaticism. While “the restraining hand of churches, political parties and familial concerns bounded other antislavery warriors,” [1] and while most abolitionists tried to remain in the mainstream and work through legislation and moral persuasion to halt the expansion of slavery with the ultimate goal of emancipation; there were fanatical abolitionists that were willing to attempt to ignite the spark which would cause the powder keg of raw hatred and emotion to explode.

Most prominent among these men was John Brown. Brown was a “Connecticut-born abolitionist…a man with the selfless benevolence of the evangelicals wrought into a fiery determination to crush slavery.” [2] His father was an early abolitionist who helped later found Oberlin College. In his early years Brown “formulated a certitude about divine intervention against sinners, starring himself as God’s warrior against slaveholders.” [3] As early as 1834 John Brown was “an ardent sympathizer the Negroes,” desiring to raise a black child in his own home and to “offering guidance to a colony of Negroes on the farm of the wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith at North Elba New York.” [4] Brown regarded moderate free Staters with distain and though he was a fanatical Christian he never joined any church, and “obeyed only his conception of God’s unbounded command.” [5]

Brown “ridiculed Republican’s mainstream tactics. He disparaged even Yankee extremists for deploying too non-violent a strategy.” [6] After a series of failed business ventures the militant Brown went to Kansas and set about to change the equation through the use of terror. After the sack of Lawrence, Brown and a company of his marauders set upon and slaughtered the family of a pro-slavery settler at Pottawatomie Creek. [7] Brown and his son’s entered the house of one family, “dragged three men outside, shot the father through the head, and hacked and mutilated his two sons with broadswords.” [8] Two years later Brown went to Missouri where he “murdered a slaveholder, seized eleven slaves, and led the new freedmen 1100 miles to Canadian sanctuary.” [9]

The example of John Brown provides us with a good example to understand religious extremism, especially when it becomes violent. The counterinsurgency field manual notes in words that are certainly as applicable to Brown as they are to current religiously motivated terrorists, that “Religious extremist insurgents….frequently hold an all-encompassing worldview; they are ideologically rigid and uncompromising….  believing themselves to be ideologically pure, violent religious extremists brand those they consider insufficiently orthodox as enemies.”[10] 

Brown was certainly “a religious zealot…but was nevertheless every much the product of his time and place….” [11] Brown was a veteran of the violent battles in Kansas where he had earned the reputation as “the apostle of the sword of Gideon” as he and his men battled pro-slavery settlers. Brown was possessed by a zealous belief that God had appointed him as God’s warrior against slaveholders. He despised the peaceful abolitionists and demanded action. “Brave, unshaken by doubt, willing to shed blood unflinchingly and to die for his cause if necessary, Brown was the perfect man to light the tinder of civil war in America, which was what he intended to do.” [12]

Brown attempted to gain financing from wealthy abolitionists for a new expedition to seize the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry Virginia, and most would have nothing to do with his scheme. When they “touted their pacific antislavery societies, Brown responded that “your methods are perfectly futile; you would not release five slaves in a century; peaceful emancipation is impossible.” [13] After hearing William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionist leaders after pleas for peaceful abolition he remarked: “We’ve reached a point,” I said, “where nothing but war can get rid of slavery in this guilty nation. It’s better that a whole generation of men, women, and children should pass away by a violent death than that slavery should continue to exist.” I meant that literally, every word of it.” [14]

Following that meeting, as well as a meeting with Frederick Douglass who rejected Brown’s planned violent action, Brown went about collecting recruits for his cause and set out to seize 10,000 muskets at the Federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in order to ignite a slave revolt. Brown and twenty-one followers, sixteen whites and five blacks moved on the arsenal. As they went, Brown:

“believed that we would probably fail at the Ferry, would probably die. But I believed that all we had to do was make the attempt, and Jehovah would do the rest: the Heavens would turn black, the thunder would rend the sky, and a mighty storm would uproot this guilty land, washing its sins away with blood. With God’s help, I, John Brown, would effect a mighty conquest even though it was like the last victory of Samson.” [15] 

After initial success in capturing the armory, Brown’s plan was frustrated and Brown captured by a force of U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. Brown was tried and hanged, but his raid “effectively severed the country into two opposing parts, making it clear to moderates there who were searching for compromise, that northerner’s tolerance for slavery was wearing thin.” [16]

It now did not matter that Brown was captured, tried, convicted and executed for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Brown to be sure was “a half-pathetic, half-mad failure, his raid a crazy, senseless exploit to which only his quiet eloquence during trial and execution lent dignity” [17] but his act was the watershed from which the two sides would not be able to recover; the population on both sides having gone too far down the road to disunion to turn back.

Brown had tremendous support among the New England elites, the “names of Howe, Parker, Emerson and Thoreau among his supporters.” [18] To abolitionists he had become a martyr “but to Frederick Douglass and the negroes of Chatham, Ontario, nearly every one of whom had learned something from personal experience on how to gain freedom, Brown was a man of words trying to be a man of deeds, and they would not follow him. They understood him, as Thoreau and Emerson and Parker never did.” [19]

But to Southerners Brown was the symbol of an existential threat to their way of life. In the North there was a nearly religious wave of sympathy for Brown, and the “spectacle of devout Yankee women actually praying for John Brown, not as a sinner but as saint, of respectable thinkers like Thoreau and Emerson and Longfellow glorifying his martyrdom in Biblical language” [20] horrified Southerners, and drove pro-Union Southern moderates into the secession camp. The Richmond Enquirer wrote in its editorial, “The Harper’s Ferry invasion has advanced the cause of Disunion, more than any other event that has happened since the foundation of the Government; it has rallied to that standard men who formerly looked on it with horror; it has revived, with ten fold strength the desire of a Southern Confederacy…” [21]

The day that Brown went to his hanging he wrote his final missive. This was written once more in apocalyptic language, but also in which he portrayed himself as a Christ figure going to his cross on the behalf of a guilty people, but a people whom his blood would not atone:

“It’s now December second – the day of my hanging, the day the gallows become my cross. I’m approaching those gallows while sitting on my coffin in the bed of a military wagon. O dear God, my eyes see the glory in every step of the divine journey that brought me here, to stand on that platform, in that field, before all those soldiers of Virginia. Thank you, Father, for allowing an old man like me such might and soul satisfying rewards. I am ready to join thee now in Paradise…

They can put the halter around my neck, pull the hood over my head. Hanging me won’t save them from God’s wrath! I warned the entire country: I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” [22]

Brown’s composure and dignity during trial impressed Governor Henry Wise of Virginia who signed Brown’s death warrant as well as that of fire-eater Edmund Ruffin. In his diary Ruffin “praised Brown’s “animal courage” and “complete fearlessness & insensibility to danger and death.” [23]

Brown’s death was marked with signs of mourning throughout the North, for Brown was now a martyr. Henry David Thoreau “pronounced Brown “a crucified hero,” [24] while through the North, Brown’s death was treated as a martyr’s death. Even abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who had condemned violence in the quest of emancipation praised Brown’s actions, while throughout the North:

“Church bells tolled, black bunting was hung out, minute guns were fired, prayer meetings assembled, and memorial resolutions adopted. In the weeks following, the emotional outpouring continued: lithographs of Brown circulated in vast numbers, subscriptions were organized for the support of his family, immense memorial meetings took place in New York, Boston and Philadelphia…” [25]

Future Confederate General Lafayette McLaws spoke for many Southerners in the army when he wrote: His diary entry for February 27th 1860 noted:

“Debates in congress show no mitigation of sec. feeling…. I think it would be better not to be so fanatical on any subject, the extreme pro-slavery man is as bad as that type as that type of anti-slavery, John Brown. I do not consider slavery an evil by any means, but I certainly do not think it the greatest blessing.” [26]

But in the South there was a different understanding of Brown’s assault on Harper’s Ferry. Despite official denunciations of Brown by Abraham Lincoln and other Republican leaders, the message proclaimed by Southern newspapermen, ministers and politicians was that the North could not be trusted.  Brown’s raid, and the reaction of Northerners to it “was seized upon as argument-clinching proof that the North was only awaiting its opportunity to destroy the South by force….” [27]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.81

[3] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.211

[5] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[6] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.206

[7] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.118

[9] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.208

[10] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[11] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.197

[12] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.xviii

[13] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.208

[14] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.203

[15] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.284

[16] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.xxxix

[17] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[18] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.381

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.375

[20] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[21] ___________ The Harper’s Ferry Invasion as Party Capital The Richmond Enquirer, 23 October 1859 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.54

[22] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.290

[23] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.3

[24] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.210

[25] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.378

[26] Oefinger, John C. Editor A Soldier’s General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws University of North Carolina Press, Charlotte and London 2002 p.18

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.119

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Fanatical Idealists: John Brown

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Another section from my Civil War and Gettysburg text while I am away. This one on John Brown, a man who was incredibly idealistic in his desire to free the slaves and frustrated by the lack of political progress in doing so. Brown was also a fanatic, willing to take lives, even innocent ones to make his point and fulfill his destiny. That is the problem with idealism when it becomes frustrated. Frustrated idealists often turn to violence to get their point across, which in turn makes even good causes suspect. Brown is no different than other religious ideologues and not just Christian ones. Religious idealists who become fanatics based on their belief in their cause and their destiny to fulfill it as agents of the almighty tend to be some of the most violent and ruthless of all. Brown provides us a little bit of an insight into the hearts of people who are willing to kill and to die for their religious, social and ideological beliefs. Interestingly enough it was none other than Edmund Ruffin, a slave owner and rabid supporter of the expansion of slavery and secession who seemed to understand Brown the best.

Peace

Padre Steve+

jb_portrait

John Brown

In the North there too existed an element of religious fanaticism. While “the restraining hand of churches, political parties and familial concerns bounded other antislavery warriors,” [1] and while most abolitionists tried to remain in the mainstream and work through legislation and moral persuasion to halt the expansion of slavery with the ultimate goal of emancipation; there were fanatical abolitionists that were willing to attempt to ignite the spark which would cause the powder keg of raw hatred and emotion to explode.

Most prominent among these men was John Brown. Brown was a “Connecticut-born abolitionist…a man with the selfless benevolence of the evangelicals wrought into a fiery determination to crush slavery.” [2] His father was an early abolitionist who helped later found Oberlin College. In his early years Brown “formulated a certitude about divine intervention against sinners, starring himself as God’s warrior against slaveholders.” [3] As early as 1834 Brown was “an ardent sympathizer the Negroes,” desiring to raise a black child in his own home and to “offering guidance to a colony of Negroes on the farm of the wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith at North Elba New York.” [4] Brown regarded moderate free Staters with disdain and though he was a fanatical Christian he never joined any church, and “obeyed only his conception of God’s unbounded command.” [5]

Brown “ridiculed Republican’s mainstream tactics. He disparaged even Yankee extremists for deploying too non-violent a strategy.” [6] After a series of failed business ventures the militant Brown went to Kansas and set about to change the equation through the use of terror. After the sack of Lawrence, Brown and a company of his marauders set upon and slaughtered the family of a pro-slavery settler at Pottawatomie Creek. [7] Brown and his son’s entered the house of one family, “dragged three men outside, shot the father through the head, and hacked and mutilated his two sons with broadswords.” [8] Two years later Brown went to Missouri where he “murdered a slaveholder, seized eleven slaves, and led the new freedmen 1100 miles to Canadian sanctuary.” [9]

The example of John Brown provides us with a good example to understand religious extremism, especially when it becomes violent. The counterinsurgency field manual notes in words that are certainly as applicable to Brown as they are to current religiously motivated terrorists, that “Religious extremist insurgents….frequently hold an all-encompassing worldview; they are ideologically rigid and uncompromising…. believing themselves to be ideologically pure, violent religious extremists brand those they consider insufficiently orthodox as enemies.”[10]

Brown was certainly “a religious zealot…but was nevertheless every much the product of his time and place….” [11] Brown was a veteran of the violent battles in Kansas where he had earned the reputation as “the apostle of the sword of Gideon” as he and his men battled pro-slavery settlers. Brown was possessed by a zealous belief that God had appointed him as God’s warrior against slaveholders. He despised the peaceful abolitionists and demanded action. “Brave, unshaken by doubt, willing to shed blood unflinchingly and to die for his cause if necessary, Brown was the perfect man to light the tinder of civil war in America, which was what he intended to do.” [12]

Brown attempted to gain financing from wealthy abolitionists for a new expedition to seize the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry Virginia, and most would have nothing to do with his scheme. When they “touted their pacific antislavery societies, Brown responded that “your methods are perfectly futile; you would not release five slaves in a century; peaceful emancipation is impossible.” [13] After hearing William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionist leaders after pleas for peaceful abolition he remarked: “We’ve reached a point,” I said, “where nothing but war can get rid of slavery in this guilty nation. It’s better that a whole generation of men, women, and children should pass away by a violent death than that slavery should continue to exist.” I meant that literally, every word of it.” [14]

Following that meeting, as well as a meeting with Frederick Douglass who rejected Brown’s planned violent action, Brown went about collecting recruits for his cause and set out to seize 10,000 muskets at the Federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in order to ignite a slave revolt. Brown and twenty-one followers, sixteen whites and five blacks moved on the arsenal. As they went, Brown:

“believed that we would probably fail at the Ferry, would probably die. But I believed that all we had to do was make the attempt, and Jehovah would do the rest: the Heavens would turn black, the thunder would rend the sky, and a mighty storm would uproot this guilty land, washing its sins away with blood. With God’s help, I, John Brown, would effect a mighty conquest even though it was like the last victory of Samson.” [15]

After initial success in capturing the armory, Brown’s plan was frustrated and Brown captured by a force of U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. Brown was tried and hanged, but his raid “effectively severed the country into two opposing parts, making it clear to moderates there who were searching for compromise, that northerner’s tolerance for slavery was wearing thin.” [16]

It now did not matter that Brown was captured, tried, convicted and executed for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. Brown to be sure was “a half-pathetic, half-mad failure, his raid a crazy, senseless exploit to which only his quiet eloquence during trial and execution lent dignity” [17] but his act was the watershed from which the two sides would not be able to recover; the population on both sides having gone too far down the road to disunion to turn back.

Brown had tremendous support among the New England elites, the “names of Howe, Parker, Emerson and Thoreau among his supporters.” [18] To abolitionists he had become a martyr “but to Frederick Douglass and the negroes of Chatham, Ontario, nearly every one of whom had learned something from personal experience on how to gain freedom, Brown was a man of words trying to be a man of deeds, and they would not follow him. They understood him, as Thoreau and Emerson and Parker never did.” [19]

But to Southerners Brown was the symbol of an existential threat to their way of life. In the North there was a nearly religious wave of sympathy for Brown, and the “spectacle of devout Yankee women actually praying for John Brown, not as a sinner but as saint, of respectable thinkers like Thoreau and Emerson and Longfellow glorifying his martyrdom in Biblical language” [20] horrified Southerners, and drove pro-Union Southern moderates into the secession camp.

The day that Brown went to his hanging he wrote his final missive. This was written once more in apocalyptic language, but also in which he portrayed himself as a Christ figure going to his cross on the behalf of a guilty people, but a people whom his blood would not atone:

“It’s now December second – the day of my hanging, the day the gallows become my cross. I’m approaching those gallows while sitting on my coffin in the bed of a military wagon. O dear God, my eyes see the glory in every step of the divine journey that brought me here, to stand on that platform, in that field, before all those soldiers of Virginia. Thank you, Father, for allowing an old man like me such might and soul satisfying rewards. I am ready to join thee now in Paradise…

They can put the halter around my neck, pull the hood over my head. Hanging me won’t save them from God’s wrath! I warned the entire country: I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” [21]

Brown’s composure and dignity during the trial impressed Governor Henry Wise of Virginia who signed Brown’s death warrant as well as that of fire-eater Edmund Ruffin. In his diary Ruffin “praised Brown’s “animal courage” and “complete fearlessness & insensibility to danger and death.” [22]

Brown’s death was marked with signs of mourning throughout the North, for Brown was now a martyr. Henry David Thoreau “pronounced Brown “a crucified hero,” [23] while through the North, Brown’s death was treated as a martyr’s death. Even abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who had condemned violence in the quest of emancipation praised Brown’s actions, while throughout the North:

“Church bells tolled, black bunting was hung out, minute guns were fired, prayer meetings assembled, and memorial resolutions adopted. In the weeks following, the emotional outpouring continued: lithographs of Brown circulated in vast numbers, subscriptions were organized for the support of his family, immense memorial meetings took place in New York, Boston and Philadelphia…” [24]

But in the South there was a different understanding. Despite official denunciations of Brown by Lincoln and other Republican leaders, the message was that the North could not be trusted. Brown’s raid, and the reaction of Northerners to it “was seized upon as argument-clinching proof that the North was only awaiting its opportunity to destroy the South by force….” [25]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.81

[3] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.211

[5] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[6] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.206

[7] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.118

[9] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.208

[10] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[11] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.197

[12] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.xviii

[13] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.208

[14] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.203

[15] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.284

[16] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.xxxix

[17] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[18] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.381

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.375

[20] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[21] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.290

[22] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.3

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.210

[24] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.378

[25] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.119

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Primordial Hatred: Insurgency in the Civil War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Sometime we look aghast at atrocities committed by people in other nations fighting civil wars or nations fighting various insurgents. Sadly, we usually fail to appreciate the nature of war, which in our sanitized brains we cannot comprehend. In all of our romanticism, especially that of the nobility of the Confederacy, and the Myth of the Lost Cause we forget the the American Civil War was profoundly ideological, heavily religious and fought with a ferocity that we cannot imagine. British military historian and theorist J.F.C. Fuller noted that “was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.”  Clausewitz said it best when he noted that war “As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity–composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity…”

The American Civil War teaches us about this, and it shows us that we as Americans can be just as vicious, bloodthirsty and savage in our methods of war as anyone else.

As a side note I expect to be writing some about the Confederate Flag and something that I saw yesterday, a church that held a ceremony hoisting the “Christian Flag” over the American flag. I have very strong feelings about both of these subjects but those will wait.

Have a great day, and think on these things.

Peace

Padre Steve+

lawrencebattle1863

The Destruction of Lawrence Kansas by Quantrill’s Raiders 1863

 

Perhaps the most vicious and bloodthirsty part of the American Civil War as the part played by the men leading irregular campaigns in the border states and on the peripheries of the major campaigns. In the South these units were called “partisan rangers” and “With a guerrilla tradition dating from the Revolution and an exaggerated notion of the romanticism associated with guerrilla operations, southerners formed dozens of ranger units.” [1] The guerrilla and counter-guerrilla campaigns of these units prefigured the insurgencies and counter insurgencies of future wars including those in fought by the French in Indochina and Algeria, the United States in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. These actions actually began before the war, as early as 1854 in Kansas and continued on into the war. Sadly, these campaigns are ignored in all recent major works on counterinsurgency, including the American Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual.

These irregular campaigns in the Border States, especially Missouri were “ugly, vicious, no-holds-barred bushwhacking that came close to total war” [2] and they “came to epitomize and carry to some of the worst excesses of violence of the Civil War mainly because of the failure of rational strategy and control was even more marked there than elsewhere.[3] At the beginning of the War the Union lacked the troops to maintain peace in the area and as such Confederate guerrillas and insurgents gained a large foothold in Missouri. Union troops under the command of Major General David Hunter and John Schofield, the later commander of American Forces in Cuba during the Cuba campaign of the Spanish American War “nearly ruined their careers with repeated failures.” In operations much like later operations of the French and Americans in Indochina, Algeria and Iraq “They tried building forts in guerrilla infested areas, but local partisans struck when they discovered the soldiers at a disadvantage.” [4]

The Confederate insurgency campaigns in Missouri and Kansas were by men like William Clarke Quantrill, “Bloody” Bill Anderson, and other pathological killers. Anderson “rode with enemy scalps dangling from his horse’s bridle, and Coleman Younger and Frank and Jesse James displayed the thuggery that made them postwar outlaws.” [5] James McPherson wrote:

“In contrapuntal disharmony the guerrillas and Jayhawkers plundered and pillaged their way across the state, taking no prisoners, killing in cold blood, terrorizing the civilian population, and leaving large parts of Missouri a scorched earth. In August 1863 Quantrill’s band rode into Lawrence, Kansas, and killed all the adult males they found there – more than 150 in all. A year later Bloody Bill Anderson’s gang took twenty four unarmed Union soldiers travelling home on furlough train, shot them in the head, then turned on a posse of pursuing militia and slaughtered 127 of them, including the wounded and captured.” [6]

At Lawrence, Quantrill issued orders to kill “every man big enough to carry a gun.” The brutality and atrocities committed by Quantrill’s gang were perhaps some of the worst seen during the war. On their trek to Lawrence, Quantrill “force Kansas farmers to act as guides and then executed them.” [7] They arrived under the cover of night and devastated the town, when they departed they left behind “80 new widows and 250 fatherless children weeping in the ruins of the town. Nearly 200 buildings had been wrecked or burned, including all three newspaper offices and most of the business district, for a property loss amounting to two million dollars.” [8] After the raid Quantrill directed his men to resume their disguises as farmers, merchants and professed Unionists.

The Confederates did not have a monopoly on this type of behavior, “Unionist “Jayhawkers” such as James H. Lane, Charles R. Jennison, and James Montgomery matched them atrocity for atrocity.” [9] The admission of West Virginia as a Free State “threw up yet another guerrilla conflict wracking West Virginia as much as the similar guerrilla conflict, similarly precipitated, devastated Missouri.” [10] A Union Captain from Ohio “serving with West Virginia soldiers was astonished by this “passion, this desire for revenge….Hate rankled in their breasts.” [11] Many West Virginia Unionists in the interior of the State were forced to flee their homes to cities along the Ohio where they could be protected by Union troops.

In light of the fact that many civilians were actively aiding Quantrill’s Confederate insurgents Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr. to evacuate the worst offenders, men and unmarried women alike to a colony in Arkansas, though he made allowance for them to be provisioned by Union forces and to take clothing and household goods as necessary. After Quantrill’s massacre of the men of Lawrence General Ewing issued General Orders number 11. The order directed “the forcible removal of all persons, male or female, child or adult, loyal or disloyal, who lived more than a mile from a Federal post in the in the four Missouri counties south of the Missouri River and adjacent to the border.” [12]

The evacuation involved to carry out the order affected an estimated 20,000 inhabitants of “Bates, Cass, and Jackson Counties and the northern half of Vernon County, which were supposed to have sustained Quantrill’s raiders…. Those who could persuade the commander of the nearest military post of their Unionism might be issued certificates permitting them to remain in the state if they moved to military posts. The rest had to go. Hay and grain found in the area after evacuation would be destroyed or taken to military posts and credited to Unionists.” [13] In a sense the order prefigured future counterinsurgency or anti-partisan strategies employed by the Germans, the French and later the Americans in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries.

While these campaigns often were part of local hatred “Confederate irregular forces were intended to be an adjunct to the conventional field armies” and they “developed into a powerful tool for the Confederate war effort.” [14] The best and most disciplined of these forces were those commanded by John Singleton Mosby who operated in conjunction with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Nicknamed the “Gray Ghost” by his Union opponents, Mosby “kept his men under military discipline and bedeviled the Yankee invaders.” [15] His troops would accompany J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry during the Gettysburg campaign conducting reconnaissance operations behind the Union lines during the opening phases of the campaign.

The violence and the problems caused by Confederate guerrillas and irregulars brought about changes to the rules of warfare. Lincoln approved the orders of Major General John Pope “to hold civilians responsible for shooting at Union soldiers from their houses, to execute captured guerrillas who fired on Union troops, to expel from occupied territory any civilians who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, and to treat them as spies if they returned.” [16] General Order 100 written by Franz Lieber for the War Department and signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Several articles of this document specifically addressed the guerrilla threat, beginning with Article 82, which stated:

“Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” [17]

Despite the efforts of the Confederate guerrillas and insurgents who tied down many Union troops, the vigorous action of Union leaders, political as well as military kept the key Border States in the Union. The heavy handed but necessary actions of General Ewing and others deprived Quantrill and other insurgent leaders of safe havens and helped to secure the region from further attacks and the insurgents were forced to move to other areas. These Union measures deprived the Confederates of the chance to become independent by controlling the Ohio Valley and the Mississippi.

Notes

[1] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition The Free Press, New York 1994 p.180

[2] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 50

[3] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.44

[4] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.251

[5] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski Peter For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition p.181

[6] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 52

[7] Ibid. Gallagher et al The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War p.252

[8] Ibid. Foote The Civil War: A Narrative Volume Two p.705

[9] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition p.181

[10] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.55

[11] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 50

[12] Ibid. Foote The Civil War: A Narrative Volume Two p.705

[13] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.45

[14] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 52

[15] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States, Revised and Expanded Edition p.181

[16] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.36-37

[17] Lieber, Francis Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, prepared by Francis Lieber, LL.D., Originally Issued as General Orders No. 100, Adjutant General’s Office, 1863, Washington 1898: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp 6 May 2014

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Filed under civil war, History, Military

Racism and the Lost Cause

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

During the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg I tend to focus on that battle, and the actions of the men who fought it. I anticipate that I will add another article tomorrow from my Civil War and Gettysburg text dealing with a part of that battle, but today because it is so pertinent even 150 years after the war, I will revisit the myth of the Lost Cause and its influence on American history and race relations after the war was over. 

Sadly, the desire of Northern corporations, Southern landowners and those who sought reunion over justice, the rights of African Americans were not only subjugated to those interests but blacks were again degraded and their efforts to achieve their own freedom cast aside as politicians, landowners, academics, businessmen, preachers and even veterans organizations raced to forget what the war was about. 

This post is also part of my Gettysburg text and I do hope that it will cause us all to think about how history and justice can be obscured in the interest of covering over crimes for political, economic and social goals. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Lost-Cause

Though Edmund Ruffin and his dreams of an independent republic built on slavery and white supremacy was dead, in the coming years, the Southern states would again find themselves under the governance of former secessionists who were unabashed white supremacists. The institution of slavery did not endure “but southerners’ racial beliefs and habits did…. The white ex-Confederate South proved much more successful in guarding this sacred realm” [1] during Reconstruction and after than they did during the war. Former secessionist firebrands who had boldly proclaimed slavery to be the deciding issue during the war changed their story. Instead of slavery being the primary cause of Southern secession and the war, it was “trivialized as the cause of the war in favor of such things as tariff disputes, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, cultural differences, and the conflict between industrial and agricultural societies.” [2]

Alexander Stephens who had authored the infamous Cornerstone Speech in 1861 that “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition” argued after the war that the war was not about slavery at all. Instead, the former Senator and Confederate Vice President changed his tune and argued that the war:

“had its origins in opposing principles….It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation on the other.” He concluded “that the American Civil War “represented a struggle between “the friends of Constitutional liberty” and “the Demon of Centralism, Absolutism, [and] Despotism!” [3]

Jefferson Davis, who had masterfully crafted “moderate” language, which radicals in the South used to their advantage regarding the expansion and protection of the rights of slave owners in the late 1850s to mollify Northern Democrats, and who wrote in October 1860 that: “The recent declarations of the Black Republican part…must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it where it is, not where it is not” [4] was not above changing his longstanding insistence that the slavery was the heart of the Confederacy’s claim to existence and the reason for secession.

birth_of_a_nation-3

After the war a revisionist Davis wrote:

“The Southern States and Southern people have been sedulously represented as “propagandists” of slavery, and the Northern as the champions of universal freedom…” and “the attentive reader…will already found enough evidence to discern the falsehood of these representations, and to perceive that, to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause for the conflict.” [5]

Instead of being about slavery the Confederate cause was mythologized by those promoting the false history of the “Lost Cause” a term coined by William Pollard in 1866, which “touching almost every aspect of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war.” [6] By 1877 many southerners were taking as much pride in the “Lost Cause” as Northerners took in Appomattox.[7] Alan Nolen notes: “Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization.” [8]

The Lost Cause was elevated by some to the level of a religion. In September 1906, Lawrence Griffith, speaking to a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans, stated that when the Confederates returned home to their devastated lands, “there was born in the South a new religion.” [9] The mentality of the Lost Cause took on “the proportions of a heroic legend, a Southern Götterdämmerung with Robert E. Lee as a latter day Siegfried.” [10]

This new religion that Griffith referenced in his speech was replete with the signs, symbols and ritual of religion:

“this worship of the Immortal Confederacy, had its foundation in myth of the Lost Cause. Conceived in the ashes of a defeated and broken Dixie, this powerful, pervasive idea claimed the devotion of countless Confederates and their counterparts. When it reached fruition in the 1880s its votaries not only pledged their allegiance to the Lost Cause, but they also elevated it above the realm of common patriotic impulse, making it perform a clearly religious function….The Stars and Bars, “Dixie,” and the army’s gray jacket became religious emblems, symbolic of a holy cause and of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Confederate heroes also functioned as sacred symbols: Lee and Davis emerged as Christ figures, the common soldier attained sainthood, and Southern women became Marys who guarded the tomb of the Confederacy and heralded its resurrection.” [11]

Jefferson Davis became an incarnational figure for the adherents of this new religion. A Christ figure who Confederates believed “was the sacrifice selected-by the North or by Providence- as the price for Southern atonement. Pastors theologized about his “passion” and described Davis as a “vicarious victim”…who stood mute as Northerners “laid on him the falsely alleged iniquities of us all.” [12] It was a theme that would be repeated by others in the coming decades, instead of a traitor to his nation; Davis became a figure like Jesus Christ, condemned though innocent.

In 1923 a song about Jefferson Davis repeated this theme:

Jefferson Davis! Still we honor thee! Our Lamb victorious, who for us endur’d a cross of martyrdom, a crown of thorns, soul’s Gethsemane, a nation’s hate, A dungeon’s gloom! Another God in chains.” [13]

The myth also painted another picture, that of slavery being a benevolent institution which has carried forth into our own time. The contention of Southern politicians, teachers, preachers and journalists, before, during and after the war was that slaves liked their status; they echoed the words of slave owner Hiram Tibbetts to his brother in 1842 “If only the abolitionists could see how happy our people are…..The idea of unhappiness would never enter the mind of any one witnessing their enjoyments” [14] as well as the words of Jefferson Davis who in response to the Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.” [15]

gone_with_the_wind_b

The romantic images of the Lost Cause were conveyed to the American public by numerous writers and Hollywood producers including Thomas Dixon Jr. whose play and novel The Clansman became D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation; a groundbreaking part of American cinematography which was released in 1915. Margaret Mitchell, who penned the epic Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With the Wind, which in its 1939 film form won ten academy awards immortalized the good old days of the old South with images of faithful slaves, a theme which found its way into Walt Disney’s famed 1946 animated Song of the South. Through such films and books the myth of the Lost Cause became part of the national heritage with many people in states outside of the South and even some foreigners coming to believe the myth.

The Lost Cause helped buttress the myths that both comforted and inspired many Southerners following the war. “It defended the old order, including slavery (on the grounds of white supremacy), and in Pollard’s case even predicted that the superior virtues of cause it to rise ineluctably from the ashes of its unworthy defeat.” [16] The myth effectively helped pave the way to nearly a hundred more years of second class citizenship for now free blacks who were often deprived of the vote and forced into “separate but equal” public and private facilities, schools and recreational activities. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent organizations harassed, intimidated, persecuted and used violence against blacks.

When Reconstruction ended Southerners elected officials who turned a blind eye to the activities of the Klan and instituted state laws which denied most civil rights to African Americans, “From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” [17] Lynching was common and even churches were not safe. It would not be until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks would finally begin to gain the same rights enjoyed by whites in most of the South.

Despite this, many Union veterans to their dying day fought the Lost Causers. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first truly national veteran’s organization, and the first to admit African American soldiers as equals, the predecessor of modern veteran’s groups, continued their fight to keep the public fixed on the reason for war, as well as point out the profound difference between what they believed that they fought for, and what their Confederate opponents fought for during the war.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.” [18]

At what amounted to the last great Blue and Gray reunion at Gettysburg was held in 1937. The surviving members of the United Confederate Veterans extended an invitation to the GAR to join them there. The members of the GAR’s 71st Encampment from Madison Wisconsin, which included survivors of the immortal Iron Brigade who sacrificed so much of themselves at McPherson’s Ridge on July 1st 1863 adamantly, opposed a display of the Confederate Battle flag. “No Rebel colors,” they shouted. “What sort of compromise is that for Union soldiers but hell and damnation.” [19]

Ruffin outlived Lincoln who was killed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14th, 1864. However the difference between the two men was marked. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln spoke in a complete different manner than did Ruffin. He concluded that address with these thoughts:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” [20]

Why this Matters Today

The_Storming_of_Ft_Wagner-lithograph_by_Kurz_and_Allison_1890a

The American Civil War provides a complex drama that political leaders, diplomats and military leaders would be wise to study, and not simply the military aspects and battles. Though the issues may be different in nations where the United States decides to intervene to prevent humanitarian disasters, to prevent local civil wars from becoming regional conflagrations, or to provide stability after a civil war, the conflict provides poignant example after poignant example. If we fail to remember them we will lose who we are as a nation. Sadly, all too often that is what we do.

Ken Burns wrote:

“after the South’s surrender at Appomattox we conspired to cloak the Civil War in bloodless, gallant myth, obscuring its causes and its great ennobling outcome – the survival of the Union and the freeing of four million Americans and their descendants from bondage. We struggled to rewrite our history to emphasize the gallantry of the wars’ top-down heroes, while ignoring the equally important bottom-up stories of privates and slaves. We changed the irredeemable, as the historian Davis Blight argues, into positive, inspiring stories.” [21]

The Union was preserved. Reconciliation was achieved to some degree, albeit in an imperfect manner. The continuance of legal racism and discrimination through the imposition of Jim Crow laws which discriminated against blacks and promoted segregation, poll-taxes and rigged tests to keep blacks from voting stained honor of the nation. The lack of repentance on the part of many of those who shamelessly promoted the Lost Cause and their current defenders continues to this day. Allen Guelzo wrote in the American Interest about the importance of both reconciliation and repentance to Frederick Douglass after the war:

“Douglass wanted the South not only to admit that it had lost, but also that it had deserved to lose. “The South has a past not to be contemplated with pleasure, but with a shudder”, he wrote in 1870. More than a decade later, Douglass was still not satisfied: “Whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.” [22]

Likewise, that imperfect but reunited Union was all that stood in the way of Nazi Germany in the dark days of early 1942. Had the American republic fragmented during the war, had the South won, as so many kings and dictators of the day either openly or secretly desired, there would have been nothing to stand in the way of Hitler and his legions. Neither there would there be anyone to stand in the way of the modern despots, terrorists and dictatorships such as the Islamic State today.

Religion does matter to peoples, tribes and nations. It is still an important part of both foreign and domestic policy, even if a civilian policy maker or military strategist or operational planner does not believe in God and the effect of it cannot be minimized. Michael Oren notes “the impact of religion in shaping American attitudes and policies toward the Middle East” [23]in his book Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present. The conflict between largely secular Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Moslems in the Balkans is a glaring example of how people who are basically non-religious will rally around faith as a means of unity against rivals of a different faith, even those who are their long time neighbors.

Likewise, the attempt of former President Bush as well as President Obama to portray the response against Al Qaida and later the invasion of Iraq as “a war against terrorism – not as a war against Arabs, nor, more generally, against Muslims…” [24] has fallen on deaf ears in much of the Moslem world. Many Moslems, see the war as being waged against them and their religion. Many, even moderates have deeply ingrained beliefs similar to the late Osama Bin Laden, or the current leaders of the Al Qaida or the Islamic State for whom “this is a religious war, a war for Islam against infidels, and therefore, inevitably; against the United States, the greatest power of the world of the infidels.” [25]

In our culture of secularization we forget the primal importance of religion to others. Part of what we do not realize is that for people with Fundamentalist religious beliefs, no-matter what religion they belong to that religion is bedrock in times of tumult. When times are tough it is far easier for people to fall back on the more simple and fundamental aspects of their religious beliefs. For Americans this usually plays out in the individual drama of struggle, faith, sin and redemption and salvation. However, even in the United States religion can be, as we have seen from this brief look at the importance of religious faith and ideology in the ante-bellum United States, the Civil War and the aftermath of the war and Reconstruction, be translated into a catalyst and buttress for mass movements and holy war.

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The controversies and conflicts brought on by the ideological, social and religious divides in the Ante-Bellum United States provide current leaders with historical examples. Our Civil War was heavily influenced by religion and the ideologies of the partisans in the North and in the South who were driven by religious motives, be those of the evangelical abolitionists or the proslavery evangelicals. If one is honest, one can see much of the same language, ideology and religious motivation at play in our twenty-first century United States. The issue for the vast majority of Americans, excluding certain neo-Confederate and White Supremacist groups, is no longer slavery; however the religious arguments on both sides of the slavery debate find resonance in our current political debates.

Likewise, for military, foreign policy officials and policy makers the subject of the role of religion can be quite informative. Similar issues are just as present in many the current conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe which are driven by the religious motives of various sects. The biggest of these conflicts, the divide between Sunni and Shia Moslems, is a conflict that threatens to engulf the region and spread further. In it religion is coupled with the quest for geopolitical and economic power. This conflict in all of its complexity and brutality is a reminder that religion is quite often the ideological foundation of conflict.

These examples, drawn from our own American experience can be instructive to all involved in policy making. These examples show the necessity for policy makers to understand just how intertwined the political, ideological, economic, social and religious seeds of conflict are, and how they cannot be disconnected from each other without severe repercussions.

Samuel Huntington wrote:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.” [26]

By taking the time to look at our own history as well as our popular mythology; planners, commanders and policy makers can learn lessons if they take the time to learn, will help them understand similar factors in places American troops and their allies might be called to serve, or that we might rather avoid.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.148-149

[2] Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan Alan T. editors The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.15

[3] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.16

[4] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.104

[5] Davis, Jefferson The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Volume One of Two, A public Domain Book, Amazon Kindle edition pp.76-77

[6] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[7] Millet Allen R and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, a division of McMillan Publishers, New York 1984 p.230

[8] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[9] Hunter, Lloyd The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at the Lost Cause Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.185

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.854

[11] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.186

[12] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[13] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[14] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.106

[15] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.16

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.525

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.532

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.532

[20] Ibid. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

[21] Ibid. Burns A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows p.102

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. A War Lost and Found in The American Interest September 1st 2011 retrieved 30 October 2014 from http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2011/09/01/a-war-lost-and-found/

[23] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.13

[24] Lewis, Bernard The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror Random House, New York 2003 p.xv

[25] Ibid. Lewis The Crisis of Islam p.xv

[26] Ibid. Huntington The Clash of Civilizations p.97

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Filed under civil war, film, Gettysburg, History, Political Commentary

The Knight-Errant of Virginia: J.E.B. Stuart

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Major General J.E.B. Stuart C.S.A.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am continuing to periodically intersperse and publish short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg on the site. These all are drawn from my student text and may become a book in their own right.  The reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even deeply flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s article is about one of the most famous leaders of the Civil War, Confederate Cavalry commander James Ewell Brown “JEB” Stuart. He too is a complex character; exceptionally vain and self-seeking, capable of being a loyal friend or an implacable foe who confused fame with greatness because he did not have the depth of character to tell them apart. He led his troopers with great abandon to many victories but had little ability to reflect on his own actions which hurt the Confederate cause.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart was the son of a former congressman whose family went back five generations in Virginia. Like so many officers, his life is marked by contradictions. Eminently genial and fun-loving, he had a dark side of unbridled ambition and a willingness to use his rank, power and position to crush anyone who got in his way.

He graduated thirteenth in a class of forty-six at West Point in 1854. His classmates and friends included Dorsey Pender and Oliver O. Howard. A fellow cadet, as well as lifelong friend, who would serve under Stuart during the war, Fitzhugh Lee wrote of him:

“His distinguishing characteristics were a strict attention to his military duties, an erect, soldierly bearing, an immediate and almost thankful acceptance of a challenge from any cadet to fight, who might in any way feel himself aggrieved, and a clear, metallic, ringing voice.” [1]

At West Point Stuart was noted for his “lifelong religious devoutness. When he was at West Point he was known as a “Bible Class Man,” [2] and his faith would serve to define his life as much as his well-known vanity. As such, he was a close friend of Oliver O. Howard. The two were poles apart ideologically. Howard was already an abolitionist and opponent of state supremacy and states’ rights; Stuart on the other hand, was a proponent of all. When other Southern cadets “ostracized Howard, Stuart sided with the Maine Yankee. It was a courageous act in that closed society, rooted in his sense of justice and honor.” [3]

That sense of justice and honor carried with it a dark side. While he was genial and warm, he was intensely ambitious, and did not take criticism well. That would come out in his treatment of men like “Grumble” Jones and later Wade Hampton as well as other officers during his service to the Confederacy. One of his officers noted: “Stuart is an ambitious man – he wants those about him who are his friends. This is his first consideration – talent is next….A little flattery & a daring spirit will bring promotion.” [4]

Stuart was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the Mounted Rifles, which Stuart noted was “a corps which my taste, fondness for riding, and my desire to serve my country in some acceptable manner led me to select above all the rest.” [5] Stuart would serve with the Mounted Rifles for about a year before being selected to serve in one of the first Cavalry regiments formed, the First Cavalry at Jefferson Barracks Missouri.

In the pre-war years the young officer developed a solid reputation in the army where he served on the frontier and in “Bleeding Kansas.” In those years Stuart “was already a young officer of great promise, a natural horseman with a reputation for dash and bravery gained in countless clashes with Indians throughout the West, and for steady competence in the pro- and antislavery warfare of Kansas.” [6] However, Stuart was not a political person, while he certainly understood and kept himself apprised of developments he did not appreciate the magnitude of the events. Stuart was consumed with his advancing career and his personal life and “like most Americans, had neither the time nor inclination to understand the magnitude of the sectional conflict that produced civil war.” [7]

In 1859 Stuart was on leave, visiting Washington D.C. and staying with the Lees at Arlington. He was visiting the War Department when news came of John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. He was given a letter to take to Lee which ordered Lee to take command of troops to suppress the rebellion. Stuart accompanied Lee on the mission and was sent by Lee to present terms of surrender to the raiders, who at the time were still nameless to the Federal authorities. Stuart entered the building and was confronted by Brown whom he had previously met in Kansas. After some fruitless negotiation, Stuart realized that Brown was not about to surrender. At some point, Stuart broke away and motioned for the Marines to move in. “Three minutes after Stuart had given his signal, the affair was over.” [8]

In spite of having seen first-hand the effects of the violence in Kansas and at Harper’s Ferry, when secession came “Stuart was essentially unprepared.” [9] All he could do was to almost liturgically repeat “I go with Virginia” almost as an article of faith. As such, Stuart resigned his commission when Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, while his father-in-law, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke remained in Union service. Stuart could be unforgiving and such was the case now. Stuart hated his father-in-law’s decision, so much so that he re-named his son, who had been named for the elder Cooke, “James Ewell Brown Stuart,” which became “J.E.B. Stuart Jr. – Jimmy.” [10]

He commanded the 1st Virginia Cavalry in the Valley and at First Manassas and was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1861. The following month, he was given command of the army’s cavalry brigade and distinguished himself in the eyes of both General Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee. Johnston wrote to President Jefferson Davis praising the young brigadier “He is a rare man…wonderfully endowed by nature with the qualities necessary for an officer of light cavalry….If you add to this army a real brigade of cavalry, you can find no better brigadier-general to command it.” [11]

Lee came to share Johnston’s opinion and over the course of his service, Stuart had come to:

“demonstrate a real talent for the most mundane and most essential role cavalry played in this war – reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. No intelligence source surpassed his eye for seeing and evaluating a military landscape or an enemy’s strengths and dispositions.” [12]

This would be something that Lee came to rely and which he would dearly miss at Gettysburg.

Despite his excellence in this “most mundane” task, Stuart developed a flair and passion for the spectacular, which was first demonstrated during the Seven Days, where he took his cavalry on a circuit of McClellan’s army, which not only gathered a significant amount of intelligence, but also unnerved the Army of the Potomac. His raid was “flawlessly executed….” And Stuart “became a hero to his troopers and one of the idols of the public.” [13] Lee wrote that Stuart’s operation “was executed with great address and daring by accomplished officer.” [14] The raid did have its detractors, especially among the infantry and it also revealed something to Stuart that appealed to his own vanity, “that raiding would easily garner headlines in the Richmond papers.” [15]

Stuart Lee’s staff secretary, Colonel Robert Taylor noted that Stuart was “possessing of great powers of endurance, courageous to an exalted degree, of sanguine temperament, prompt to act, always ready for fight – he was the ideal cavalryman.” [16] Stuart also kept a lively headquarters. Taylor remarked “How genial he was! There was no room for “the blues” around his headquarters; the hesitating and desponding found no congenial atmosphere at his camp; good will, jollity, and even hilarity, reigned there.” [17]

Stuart always had his African-American banjo player with him and frequently sang around camp and on campaign. That was not always appreciated by some other officers. Wade Hampton, who in time became Stuart’s right-hand man was not impressed with the atmosphere at Stuart’s headquarters and “was not certain that he could flourish, or even survive, among such people….” [18] Lafayette McLaws wrote home complaining not only about Stuart but others:

“Stuart carries around with him a banjo player and special correspondent. This claptrap is noticed and lauded as a peculiarity of genius, when, in fact, it is nothing more but the act of a buffoon to get attention.” [19]

But Stuart was always aware of his own mortality and there was a serious side to him, often expressed in his faith, which impressed those around him. His West Point classmate and friend, Oliver O. Howard wrote:

“J.E.B. Stuart was cut out for a cavalry leader. In perfect health, but thirty-two years of age, full of vigor and enterprise, with the usual ideas imbibed in Virginia concerning State Supremacy, Christian thought and temperate by habit, no man could ride faster, endure more hardships, make a livelier charge, or be more hearty and cheerful while so engaged. A touch of vanity, which invited the smiles and applause of the fair maidens of Virginia, but added to the zest and ardor of Stuart’s parades and achievements.” [20]

At Chancellorsville Stuart assumed acting command of Jackson’s Second Corps which he led well during the battle, even impressing the infantry, who had long derided Stuart and his cavalry. Leading by example “seemed on fire.” Stuart sang as he led the Stonewall Brigade into action and “the troops joined him, singing while they loaded and fired.” One officer stated “Jeb impressed himself on the infantry.” [21]

Some believed that Stuart should have been appointed to command Second Corps after Jackson’s death, but evidently Lee valued Stuart’s role as a cavalry commander more and despite his accomplishments refused to proffer the command to Stuart. Colonel Rosser told Stuart, who was grieving the loss of his friend Jackson: “On his death bed Jackson said that you should succeed him, and command his corps.” Stuart responded “I would rather know that Jackson said that, than to have the appointment.” [22] One wonders what might have occurred during the Gettysburg campaign if Stuart had commanded Second Corps and left the cavalry to someone like the accomplished and level headed Wade Hampton.

Stuart, is another tragic figure, and that irony was that his tragedy was rooted in his success:

“He eventually became so absorbed in posturing and playing his role that he could not leave the stage or remove his mask….. He confused fame with greatness because he lacked the depth and experience to experience the difference. So consumed was he by his vision of what he ought to be that he never quite came to terms with his humanity – until he lay dying.” [23]

The knight errant of Virginia was mortally wounded less than a year after Gettysburg at the Battle of Yellow Tavern. He died twenty-seven hours after being wounded in the abdomen, suffering for most of it and unable to see his wife Flora one more time as she arrived hours after he died. Upon his death, Hampton was promoted to command what was left of the Cavalry Corps. He was mourned throughout the Confederacy. Even Grumble Jones, who had an acrimonious relationship with Stuart told his adjutant on hearing the news of Stuart’s death “You know I had little love for Stuart, and he had just as little for me; but that is the greatest loss that army has ever sustained except the death of Jackson.” [24]

Notes

[1] Davis, Burke J.E.B. Stuart: The Last Cavalier Random House, New York 1957 p.20

[2] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.356

[3] Wert, Jeffry D. Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J.E.B. Stuart Simon and Schuster, New York 2008 p.178

[4] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.116

[5] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.27

[6] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.xxv

[7] Thomas, Emory M. Bold Dragoon: The Life of J.E.B. Stuart University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK 1986 and 1999 p.61

[8] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.101

[9] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoonp.61

[10] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoonp.95

[11] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.149

[12] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.167

[13] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.158

[14] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.26

[15] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.54

[16] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.92

[17] Ibid. Taylor General Lee p.92

[18] Longacre, Edward G. Gentleman and Soldier: The Extraordinary Life of General Wade Hampton Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville TN 2003 p.83

[19] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.264

[20] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.255

[21] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.198

[22] Ibid. Davis J.E.B. Stuart p.299

[23] Ibid. Thomas Bold Dragoon pp.299-300

[24] Ibid. Wert Cavalryman of the Lost Cause p.366

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Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Religion, Ideology and the Civil War Part 3

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is the final installment `of a very long chapter in my Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. The chapter is different because instead of simply studying the battle my students also get some very detailed history about the ideological components of war that helped make the American Civil War not only a definitive event in our history; but a war of utmost brutality in which religion drove people and leaders on both sides to advocate not just defeating their opponent, but exterminating them.

But the study of this religious and ideological war is timeless, for it helps us to understand the ideology of current rivals and opponents, some of whom we are in engaged in battle and others who we spar with by other means, nations, tribes and peoples whose world view, and response to the United States and the West, is dictated by their religion. 

Yet for those more interested in current American political and social issues the period is very instructive, for the religious, ideological and political arguments used by Evangelical Christians in the ante-bellum period, as well as many of the attitudes displayed by Christians in the North and the South are still on display in our current political and social debates. 

I probably will write something using some of these ideas in a contemporary setting tomorrow….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Attack on Lawrence Kansas 

The Bloody Battle for Kansas

The struggle between the rival factions in Kansas increased in intensity as Free states and slave states alike poured in settlers and resources to control the territory. However, by the fall of 1855 it appeared that the free-state forces were gaining strength and now enjoyed a numerical superiority to the slave state supporters. That changed when President Franklin Pierce “gave official recognition to a territorial government dominated by proslavery forces- a government that decreed the laws of Missouri in force in Kansas as well.” [1]

That government decreed that:

“Public office and jury service were restricted to those with demonstrably proslavery options. Publicly to deny the right to hold slaves became punishable by five year’s imprisonment. To assist fugitive slaves risked a ten-year sentence. The penalty for inciting slave rebellion was death.” [2]

Rich Southerners recruited poor whites to fight their battles to promote the institution of slavery. Jefferson Buford of Alabama recruited hundreds of non-slaveholding whites to move to Kansas. Buford claimed to defend “the supremacy of the white race” he called Kansas “our great outpost” and warned that “a people who would not defend their outposts had already succumbed to the invader.” [3]

To this end he and 415 volunteers went to Kansas, where they gained renown and infamy as members of “Buford’s Cavalry.” The day they left Montgomery they were given a sendoff. Each received a Bible, and the “holy soldiers elected Buford as their general. Then they paraded onto the steamship Messenger, waving banners conveying Buford’s twin messages: “The Supremacy of the White Race” and “Kansas the Outpost.” [4] His effort ultimately failed but he had proved that “Southern poor men would kill Yankees to keep blacks ground under.” [5]

By the end of 1855 the free-state citizens had established their own rival government which provoked proslavery settlers who “bolstered by additional reinforcements from Missouri invaded the free-state settlement of Lawrence, destroyed its two newspapers, and demolished or looted nearby homes and businesses.” [6] Federal troops stationed in Lawrence “stood idly by because they had received no orders from the inert Pierce administration.” [7]

In response Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts began a two day speech on the Senate floor known as “The Crime Against Kansas” in which he condemned the assault on Lawrence which he described as “the anteroom to civil war.” [8] Sumner’s speech was a clarion call to partisans on both sides regarding the serious nature of what had taken place in Lawrence and it burst like a bombshell in the hallowed halls of the Senate. Sumner proclaimed “Murderous robbers from Missouri…hirelings picked from the drunken spew and vomit of an uneasy civilization” [9] had committed:

“The rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of Slavery; and it may clearly be traced to a depraved longing for a new slave State, the hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of Slavery in the National Government.” [10]

Sumner painted an even bleaker picture of the meaning what he believed was to come noting that the rape” of Lawrence was the evidence that:

“The horrors of intestine feud” were being planned “not only in this distant Territory, but everywhere throughout the country. Already the muster has begun. The strife is no longer local, but national. Even now while I speak, portents hang on all the arches of the horizon, threatening to darken the land, which already yawns with, the mutterings of civil war.” [11]

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Representative Preston Brooks attacks Senator Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber 

The effects of Sumner’s speech were equally dramatic, partially because he also personally insulted a number of influential Southern Senators while making it. Two days after the speech, while sitting at his desk in a nearly deserted Senate floor, Sumner was attacked by South Carolina representative Preston Brooks, who was related to one of the men, Senator Andrew P. Butler, who Sumner had insulted in his “Crime against Kansas” speech.

Northern extremists were also at work in Kansas carrying on their own holy war against supporters of slavery. One was John Brown who wrote:

“I rode into Kansas territory in eighteen and fifty-five in a one-horse wagon filled with revolvers, rifles, powder, and two-edged artillery broadswords. I expected war to break out between the free-state forces and the Border Ruffians, and I was ready to buckle on my armor and give battle…

In John Brown Jr.’s words I heard the thundering voice of Jehovah exhorting me to slaughter the Border Ruffians as He’s called Gideon to slay the Midianites. Yes, my greatest or principle object – eternal war against slavery – was to be carried out in Kansas Territory. Praise be God!…” [12]

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John Brown’s Pottawatomie Massacre

Following the attack by the Border Ruffians on Lawrence Kansas, Brown and his company of volunteers went into action against a pro-slavery family at the settlement of Pottawatomie Creek. Brown and his sons attacked the family in their cabin, “dragged three men outside, shot the father through the head, and hacked his two sons with broadswords. Ritual murders.” [13] But Brown was not done; he went to two more cabins hacking his victims to death with the broadswords. Brown wrote:

“On the way back to camp, I was transfixed. The proslavery Philistines had murdered five or six free-state men in the great struggle for the soul of Kansas. Now we had got five of them. God alone is my judge. His will be done.” [14]

The issue in Kansas remained bloody and full of political intrigue. Free-state settlers and proslavery elements battled for the control of the territory. “Throughout the summer and early fall of 1856, armies marched and counter-marched, threatening one another with blood-curdling threats, terrorizing peaceably inclined settlers, committing depredations upon those who could not defend themselves, and killing with enough frequency to give validity to the term “Bleeding Kansas.” [15]

The political battle centered on the Lecompton Constitution which allowed slavery, but which had been rejected by a sizable majority of Kansas residents. The divide was so deep and contentious that that Kansas would not be admitted to the Union until after the secession of the Deep South. But the issue had galvanized the political parties of the North, and for the first time a coalition of “Republicans and anti-Lecompton Douglas Democrats, Congress had barely turned back a gigantic Slave Power Conspiracy to bend white men’s majoritarianism to slavemaster’s dictatorial needs, first in Kansas, then in Congress.” [16]

Attempts to Expand Slavery into the Territories and Beyond

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The Last Slave Ship, the Schooner Wanderer 

Taking advantage of the judicial ruling Davis and his supporters in Congress began to bring about legislation not just to ensure that Congress could not “exclude slavery” but to protect it in all places and all times. They sought a statute that would explicitly guarantee “that slave owners and their property would be unmolested in all Federal territories.” This was commonly known in the south as the doctrine of positive protection, designed to “prevent a free-soil majority in a territory from taking hostile action against a slave holding minority in their midst.” [17]

Other extremists in the Deep South had been long clamoring for the reopening of the African slave trade. In 1856 a delegate at the 1856 commercial convention insisted that “we are entitled to demand the opening of this trade from an industrial, political, and constitutional consideration….With cheap negroes we could set hostile legislation at defiance. The slave population after supplying the states would overflow to the territories, and nothing could control its natural expansion.” [18] and in 1858 the “Southern Commercial Convention…” declared that “all laws, State and Federal, prohibiting the African slave trade, out to be repealed.” [19] The extremists knowing that such legislation would not pass in Congress then pushed harder; instead of words they took action.

In 1858 there took place two incidents that brought this to the fore of political debate. The schooner Wanderer owned by Charles Lamar successfully delivered a cargo of four hundred slaves to Jekyll Island, earning him “a large profit.” [20] Then the USS Dolphin captured “the slaver Echo off Cuba and brought 314 Africans to the Charleston federal jail.” [21] The case was brought to a grand jury who had first indicted Lamar were so vilified that “they published a bizarre recantation of their action and advocated the repeal of the 1807 law prohibiting the slave trade. “Longer to yield to a sickly sentiment of pretended philanthropy and diseased mental aberration of “higher law” fanatics…” [22] Thus in both cases juries and judges refused to indict or convict those responsible.

Evangelical supporters of the efforts to re-open the slave trade argued that if the slave trade was re-opened under “Christian slaveholders instead of course Yankees scrupulously conducting the traffic, the trade would feature fair transactions in Africa, healthy conditions on ships, and Christian salvation in America.” [23]

There arose in the 1850s a second extremist movement in the Deep South, this one which had at its heart the mission to re-enslave free blacks. This effort was not limited to fanatics, but entered the Southern political mainstream, to the point that numerous state legislatures were nearly captured by majorities favoring such action. [24] That movement which had appeared out of nowhere soon fizzled, as did the bid to reopen the slave trade, but these “frustrations left extremists the more on the hunt for a final solution” [25] which would ultimately be found in secession.

Secession and war was now on the horizon, and despite well-meaning efforts of some politicians on both sides to find a way around it, it would come. Religion had been at the heart of most of the ideological debates of the preceding quarter century, and Evangelical Protestants on both sides had not failed to prevent the war; to the contrary those Evangelical leaders were instrumental in bringing it about as they:

“fueled the passions for a dramatic solution to transcendent moral questions. Evangelical religion did not prepare either side for the carnage, and its explanations seemed less relevant as the war continued. The Civil War destroyed the Old South civilization resting on slavery; it also discredited evangelical Protestantism as the ultimate arbiter of public policy.” [26]

The Battle Lines Solidify: A House Divided

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Abraham Lincoln in 1856

Previously a man of moderation Lincoln laid out his views in the starkest terms in his House Divided speech given on June 16th 1858. Lincoln understood, possibly with more clarity than others of his time that the divide over slavery was too deep and that the country could not continue to exist while two separate systems contended with one another. Lincoln for his part was a gradualist and moderate approach to ending slavery in order to preserve the Union. However, Lincoln, like Davis, though professed moderates had allowed “their language to take on an uncompromising quality,” and because the mood of the country was such that neither man “could regard a retreat from his particular position as surrender- hence there could be no retreat at all.” [27]

The Union Lincoln “would fight to preserve was not a bundle of compromises that secured the vital interests of both slave states and free, …but rather, the nation- the single, united, free people- Jefferson and his fellow Revolutionaries supposedly had conceived and whose fundamental principles were now being compromised.” [28] He was to the point and said in clear terms what few had ever said before, in language which even some in his own Republican Party did not want to use because they felt it was too divisive:

“If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.” [29]

Part of the divide was rooted in how each side understood the Constitution. For the South it was a compact among the various states, or rather “only a league of quasi independent states that could be terminated at will” [30] and in their interpretation States Rights was central. In fact “so long as Southerners continued to believe that northern anti-slavery attacks constituted a real and present danger to Southern life and property, then disunion could not be ruled out as an ugly last resort.” [31]

But such was not the view in the North, “for devout Unionists, the Constitution had been framed by the people rather than created as a compact among the states. It formed a government, as President Andrew Jackson insisted of the early 1830s, “in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States.” [32] Lincoln like many in the North understood the Union that “had a transcendent, mystical quality as the object of their patriotic devotion and civil religion.” [33]

Lincoln’s beliefs can be seen in the Gettysburg Address where he began his speech with the words “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” To Lincoln and others the word disunion “evoked a chilling scenario within which the Founders’ carefully constructed representative government failed, triggering “a nightmare, a tragic cataclysm” that would subject Americans to the kind of fear and misery that seemed to pervade the rest of the world.” [34]

Those same beliefs were found throughout the leaders of the Abolition movement, including Theodore Parker who said “The first [step] is to establish Slavery in all of the Northern States- the Dred Scott decision has already put it in all the territories….I have no doubt The Supreme Court will make the [subsequent] decisions.[35]

Even in the South there was a desire for the Union and a fear over its dissolution, even among those officers like Robert E. Lee who would resign his commission and take up arms against the Union in defense of his native state. Lee wrote to his son Custis in January 1861, “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union…I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation…Secession is nothing but revolution.” But he added “A Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets has no charms for me….” [36] The difference between Lee and others like him and Abraham Lincoln was how they viewed the Union, views which were fundamentally opposed.

Alexander Stephens who became the Confederate Vice President was not at all in favor of disunion. A strict constructionist who believed fervently in state’s rights he believed the South was best served to remain in the Union. As the divide grew he remarked “that the men who were working for secession were driven by envy, hate jealousy, spite- “these made war in heaven, which made devils of angels, and of the same passions will make devils of men. Patriotism in my opinion, had no more to do with it than love of God had to do with the other revolt.” [37]

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John Brown

In the North there too existed an element of fanaticism. While “the restraining hand of churches, political parties and familial concerns bounded other antislavery warriors,” [38] and while most abolitionists tried to remain in the mainstream and work through legislation and moral persuasion to halt the expansion of slavery with the ultimate goal of emancipation; there were fanatical abolitionists that were willing to attempt to ignite the spark which would cause the powder keg of raw hatred and emotion to explode.

Most prominent among these men was John Brown. Brown was a “Connecticut-born abolitionist…a man with the selfless benevolence of the evangelicals wrought into a fiery determination to crush slavery” [39] who as early as 1834 was “an ardent sympathizer the Negroes” desiring to raise a black child in his own home and to “offering guidance to a colony of Negroes on the farm of the wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith at North Elba New York.” [40] Brown regarded moderate free-staters with distain and in Kansas set about to change the equation when he and a company of his marauders set upon and slaughtered the family of a pro-slavery settler at Pottawatomie Creek. [41]

The example of John Brown provides us a good example to understand religious extremism, especially when it becomes violent. The counterinsurgency field manual notes in words that are certainly as applicable to Brown as they are to current religiously motivated terrorists that “Religious extremist insurgents….frequently hold an all-encompassing worldview; they are ideologically rigid and uncompromising…. believing themselves to be ideologically pure, violent religious extremists brand those they consider insufficiently orthodox as enemies.”[42] 

Brown was certainly “a religious zealot…but was nevertheless every much the product of his time and place….” [43] Brown was a veteran of the violent battles in Kansas where he had earned the reputation as “the apostle of the sword of Gideon” as he and his men battled pro-slavery settlers. Brown was possessed by the belief that God had appointed him as “God’s warrior against slaveholders.” [44] He despised the peaceful abolitionists and demanded action. “Brave, unshaken by doubt, willing to shed blood unflinchingly and to die for his cause if necessary, Brown was the perfect man to light the tinder of civil war in America, which was what he intended to do.” [45] Brown told William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionist leaders after hearing Garrison’s pleas for peaceful abolition that:

“We’ve reached a point,” I said, “where nothing but war can get rid of slavery in this guilty nation. It’s better that a whole generation of men, women, and children should pass away by a violent death than that slavery should continue to exist.” I meant that literally, every word of it.” [46]

Following that meeting, as well as a meeting with Frederick Douglass who rejected Brown’s planned violent action, Brown went about collecting recruits for his cause and set out to seize 10,000 muskets at the Federal armory in Harper’s Ferry Virginia in order to ignite a slave revolt. Brown and twenty-one followers, sixteen whites and five blacks moved on the arsenal, as they went Brown:

“believed that we would probably fail at the Ferry, would probably die. But I believed that all we had to do was make the attempt, and Jehovah would do the rest: the Heavens would turn black, the thunder would rend the sky, and a mighty storm would uproot this guilty land, washing its sins away with blood. With God’s help, I, John Brown, would effect a mighty conquest even though it was like the last victory of Samson.” [47] 

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U.S. Marines under Command of Colonel Robert E. Lee storm Harper’s Ferry

After initial success in capturing the armory Brown’s plan was was frustrated and Brown captured, by a force of U.S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart. Brown was tried and hung, but his raid “effectively severed the country into two opposing parts, making it clear to moderates there who were searching for compromise, that northerner’s tolerance for slavery was wearing thin.” [48]

It now did not matter that Brown was captured, tried, convicted and executed for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. He was to be sure was “a half-pathetic, half-mad failure, his raid a crazy, senseless exploit to which only his quiet eloquence during trial and execution lent dignity” [49] but his act was the watershed from which the two sides would not be able to recover, the population on both sides having gone too far down the road to disunion to turn back.

Brown had tremendous support among the New England elites, the “names of Howe, Parker, Emerson and Thoreau among his supporters.” [50] To abolitionists he had become a martyr “but to Frederick Douglass and the negroes of Chatham, Ontario, nearly every one of whom had learned something from personal experience on how to gain freedom, Brown was a man of words trying to be a man of deeds, and they would not follow him. They understood him, as Thoreau and Emerson and Parker never did.” [51]

But to Southerners Brown was the symbol of an existential threat to their way of life. In the North there was a nearly religious wave of sympathy for Brown, and the “spectacle of devout Yankee women actually praying for John Brown, not as a sinner but as saint, of respectable thinkers like Thoreau and Emerson and Longfellow glorifying his martyrdom in Biblical language” [52] horrified Southerners, and drove pro-Union Southern moderates into the secession camp.

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The Hanging of John Brown 

The day that Brown went to his hanging he wrote his final missive. This was written once more in apocalyptic language, but also in which he portrayed himself as a Christ figure going to his cross on the behalf of a guilty people, but a people who his blood would not atone:

“It’s now December second – the day of my hanging, the day the gallows become my cross. I’m approaching those gallows while sitting on my coffin in the bed of a military wagon. O dear God, my eyes see the glory in every step of the divine journey that brought me here, to stand on that platform, in that field, before all those soldiers of Virginia. Thank you, Father, for allowing an old man like me such might and soul satisfying rewards. I am ready to join thee now in Paradise…

They can put the halter around my neck, pull the hood over my head. Hanging me won’t save them from God’s wrath! I warned the entire country: I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” [53]

Brown’s composure and dignity during the trial impressed Governor Henry Wise of Virginia who signed Brown’s death warrant and fire eater Edmund Ruffin, and in his diary Ruffin “praised Brown’s “animal courage” and “complete fearlessness & insensibility to danger and death.” [54]

Brown’s death was marked with signs of mourning throughout the North, for Brown was now a martyr. Henry David Thoreau “pronounced Brown “a crucified hero,” [55] while through the North Brown’s death was treated as a martyr’s death. Even abolitionists like Garrison who had condemned violence in the quest of emancipation praised Brown’s actions while throughout the North:

“Church bells tolled, black bunting was hung out, minute guns were fired, prayer meetings assembled, and memorial resolutions adopted. In the weeks following, the emotional outpouring continued: lithographs of Brown circulated in vast numbers, subscriptions were organized for the support of his family, immense memorial meetings took place in New York, Boston and Philadelphia…” [56]

But in the South there was a different understanding. Despite official denunciations of Brown by Lincoln and other Republican leaders, the message was that the North could not be trusted. Brown’s raid, and the reaction of Northerners to it “was seized upon as argument-clinching proof that the North was only awaiting its opportunity to destroy the South by force….” [57]

The Election of Abraham Lincoln

The crisis continued to fester and when Lincoln was elected to the Presidency in November 1860 with no southern states voting Republican the long festering volcano erupted. It did not take long before southern states began to secede from the Union. Alexander Stephens told a friend who asked him “why must we have civil war?”

“Because there are not virtue and patriotism and sense enough left in the country to avoid it. Mark me, when I repeat that in less than twelve months we shall be in the midst of a bloody war. What will become of us then God only knows.” [58]

But Stephens’ warning fell on deaf ears as passionate secessionist commissioners went throughout the South spreading their message. South Carolina was the first to secede, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Many of the declarations of causes for secession made it clear that slavery was the root cause. The declaration of South Carolina is typical of these and is instructive of the basic root cause of the war:

“all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”[59]

Throughout the war slavery loomed large, even though in the beginning of abolition controversies of the 1830s many northerners “were content to tolerate slavery’s indefinite survival in the South so long as it did not impinge on their own rights and aspirations at home.” [60] Such attitudes were still common in the North during the late 1850s, especially among Democrats.

But it was the multiple transgressions of slavery supporters to advance those rights in the courts, through the extension of slavery to the territories, to allow slaveholders to recover their human “property” in northern states during the 1850s taught northerners “just how fundamental and intractable the differences with Southern political leaders were. Thus educated, most northern voters had decided by 1860 that only an explicitly anti-slavery party could protect their interests.” [61]

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The results of the divide in American politics were such that in the election of 1860 Abraham Lincoln carried all eighteen Free states with a total of “180 electoral votes- 27 more than he needed for victory.” Lincoln had clear majorities in all but three of the states he won and carried 55 percent of the overall vote in the North. [62] Lincoln won no Southern State during the campaign. The election symbolized the extreme polarization of the respective electorates in both the North and the South. The Baptist clergyman James Furman expressed the outrage and paranoia of many in the South by warning after Lincoln’s election “If you are tame enough to submit, Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” [63]

William Lloyd Garrison, again using biblical imagery as well as astute analysis of the behavior of Southern leaders after the election of 1860, wrote that the Southern response to Lincoln’s election:

“Never had the truth of the ancient proverb “Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad” been more signally illustrated than in the condition of southern slaveholders following Lincoln’s election. They were insane from their fears, their guilty forebodings, their lust for power and rule, hatred of free institutions, their merited consciousness of merited judgments; so that they may be properly classed as the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Their dread of Mr. Lincoln, of his Administration, of the Republican Party, demonstrated their insanity. In vain did Mr. Lincoln tell them, “I do not stand pledged to the abolition of slavery where it already exists.” They raved just as fiercely as though he were another John Brown, armed for southern invasion and universal emancipation! In vain did the Republican party present one point of antagonism to slavery – to wit, no more territorial expansion. In vain did that party exhibit the utmost caution not to give offense to any other direction – and make itself hoarse in uttering professions of loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. The South protested that it’s designs were infernal, and for them was “sleep no more!” Were these not the signs of a demented people?” [64]

But both sides were blind to their actions and with few exceptions most leaders, especially in the South, badly miscalculated the effects of the election of 1860. The leaders in the North did not realize that the election of Lincoln would mean the secession of one or more Southern states, and Southerners “were not able to see that secession would finally mean war” [65] despite the warnings of Alexander Stephens to the contrary.

The five slave states of the lower South: “appointed commissioners to the other slave states, and instructed them to spread the secessionist message across the entire region. These commissioners often explained in detail why their states were exiting the Union, and they did everything in their power to persuade laggard slave states to join the secessionist cause. From December 1860 to April 1861 they carried the gospel of disunion to the far corners of the South.” [66]

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Secession Convention in Charleston South Carolina 

Slavery and the superiorly of the white race over blacks was at the heart of the message brought by these commissioners to the yet undecided states. Former Congressman John McQueen of South Carolina wrote to secessionists in Virginia “We, of South Carolina, hope to greet you in a Southern Confederacy, where white men shall rule our destinies, and from which we may transmit our posterity the rights, privileges and honor left us by our ancestors.” [67] In Texas McQueen told the Texas Convention: “Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican part and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to an equality with ourselves and our children.” [68]

In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln noted: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”[69] Of course he was right, and his southern opponents agreed.

As the war began, white Southerners of all types and classes rallied to the call of war against the hated Yankee. The common people, the poor yeomen farmers were often the most stalwart defenders of the South. With the Orwellian slogan “Freedom is not possible without slavery” ringing in their ears, they went to war against the Yankees alongside their slave-owning neighbors to “perpetuate and diffuse the very liberty for which Washington bled, and which the heroes of the Revolution achieved.” [70]

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Alexander Stephens

Alexander Stephens the new Vice President of the Confederacy, who had been a devout Unionist and even had a friendly relationship with Lincoln in the months and years leading up to the war explained the foundation of the Southern state in his Cornerstone Speech of March 21st 1861:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”[71]

Thus the American ideological war was born; it had taken decades to reach the point of no return. It had taken years of frustration, attempts at compromise by politicians who attempted to dodge the moral issues inherent in slavery. Time could not heal the wounds caused by slavery as long as “one section of the country regarded it as a blessing, the other as a curse.” [72] Frederick Douglass observed: “Whatever was done or attempted with a view to the support and secularity of slavery on served to fuel the fire, and heated the furnace of [anti-slavery] agitation to a higher degree than had any before attained.” [73]

“The Heather is on Fire…”

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As no middle ground remained, the nation plunged into war with many leaders, especially church leaders forged ahead to claim the mantle of Christ and God for their side; and given the widely held theological “assumptions about divine sovereignty and God’s role in human history, northerners and southerners anxiously looked for signs of the Lord’s favor.” [74] Of course people on both sides used the events of any given day during the war to interpret what this meant and both were subject to massive shifts as the God of Battles seemed to at times favor the armies of the Confederacy and as the war ground on to favor those of the Union.

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Those who had been hesitant about secession in the South were overcome by events when Fort Sumter was attacked. Edmund Ruffin spoke for many of the ardent secessionists when he proclaimed “The shedding of blood…will serve to change many voters in the hesitating states, from submission or procrastinating ranks, to the zealous for immediate secession.” [75] But very few of the radical secessionists found their way into uniform or into the front lines. Then like now, very few of those who clamor for war and vengeance the most, and who send the sons of others to die in their wars, take up arms themselves.

Confederate General Jubal Early saw the sour irony in this. Early had fought against secession until the last as a legislator during the Virginia secession debate, and when he finally accepted secession and went to war he never looked back. During the war became one of the most committed Rebels of the Cause. That being said he was not fond of the proponents of secession and took pleasure as the war went on in taunting “the identifiable secessionists in gray uniform who came his way, especially when the circumstances were less than amusing….” [76]After the disastrous defeat at the Third Battle of Winchester in 1864, Early looked at his second in command, former Vice President of the United States and Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge, who had advocated secession as they retreated amid the “chaos and horror of his army’s rout. Early took the occasion to mock his celebrated subordinate: “Well General, he crowed, “what do you think of the ‘rights of the South’ in the territories now?” [77]

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In the North a different sentiment rose as one volunteer soldier from Pennsylvania wrote: “I cannot believe…that “Providence intends to destroy this Nation, the great asylum for all the oppressed of all other nations and build a slave Oligarchy on the ruins thereof.” Another volunteer from Ohio mused “Admit the right of the seceding states to break up the Union at pleasure…and how long before the new confederacies created by the first disruption shall be resolved into smaller fragments and the continent become a vast theater of civil war, military license, anarchy and despotism? Better to settle it at whatever cost and settle it forever.” [78]

The depth of the religious dimension of the struggle can be seen in the hymn most commonly associated with the Civil War and the United States. This was the immensely popular Battle Hymn of the Republic whose lyricist Julia Ward Howe penned the lines “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free! While God is marching on” [79]

There was also an attempt on the part of Northern Evangelicals to push religion to the forefront of the conflict and to correct what they believed was an error in the Constitution, that error being that God was not mentioned in it. They believed that the Civil War was God’s judgment on the nation for this omission. The group, called the National Reform Association proposed the Bible Amendment. They met with Lincoln and proposed to modify the opening paragraph of the Constitution to read:

“We the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power and civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to form a more perfect union.” [80]

While Lincoln brushed off their suggestion and never referred to the United States as a Christian nation, much to the chagrin of many Northern Christians, the Confederacy had reveled in its self-described Christian character. The Confederacy had “proudly invoked the name of God in their Constitution. Even late in the war, a South Carolina editor pointed to what he saw as a revealing fact: the Federal Constitution – with no reference to the Almighty – “could have been passed and adopted by Atheists or Hindoes or Mahometans.” [81]

When the Stars and Stripes came down on April 14th 1861 the North was galvanized as never before, one observer wrote: “The heather is on fire….I never knew what popular excitement can be… The whole population, men, women, and children, seem to be in the streets with Union favors and flags.” [82] The assault on Fort Sumter help to unify the North in ways not thought possible by Southern politicians who did not believe that Northerners had the mettle to go to war against them. But they were wrong, even Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s stalwart opponent of so many campaigns went to the White House for a call to national unity. Returning to Chicago he told a huge crowd just a month before his untimely death:

“There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots- or traitors” [83]

Colonel Robert E. Lee, a Virginian who looked askance at secession turned down the command of the Union Army when it was offered and submitted his resignation upon the secession of Virginia noting:

“With all my devotion to the Union and feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in the defense of my native State…I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” [84]

But throughout the South, most people rejoiced at the surrender of Fort Sumter. In Richmond the night following the surrender “bonfires and fireworks of every description were illuminating in every direction- the whole city was a scene of joy owing to [the] surrender of Fort Sumter” – and Virginia wasn’t even part of the Confederacy.” [85]

The Effect of the Emancipation Proclamation

Some twenty months after Fort Sumter fell and after nearly two years of unrelenting slaughter, culminating in the bloody battle of Antietam, Lincoln published the emancipation proclamation. It was a military order in which he proclaimed the emancipation of slaves located in the Rebel states, and it would be another two years, with the Confederacy crumbling under the combined Federal military onslaught before Lincoln was able to secure passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude throughout the country, as well as nullified the fugitive slave clause and the Three-Fifths Compromise.

Though limited in scope the Emancipation Proclamation had more than a social and domestic political effect, it ensured that Britain would not intervene in the war.

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The Emancipation Proclamation and the elimination of slavery also impacted the Union war effort in terms of law, law which eventually had an impact around the world as nations began to adapt to the changing character of war. In the “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, General Orders No. 100 by President Lincoln, April 24, 1863; Prepared by Francis Lieber, LLD noted in Article 42 of that Code:

“Slavery, complicating and confounding the ideas of property, (that is of a thing,) and of personality, (that is of humanity,) exists according to municipal or local law only. The law of nature and nations has never acknowledged it. The digest of the Roman law enacts the early dictum of the pagan jurist, that “so far as the law of nature is concerned, all men are equal.” Fugitives escaping from a country in which they were slaves, villains, or serfs, into another country, have, for centuries past, been held free and acknowledged free by judicial decisions of European countries, even though the municipal law of the country in which the slave had taken refuge acknowledged slavery within its own dominions.” [86]

It continued in Article 43:

“Therefore, in a war between the United States and a belligerent which admits of slavery, if a person held in bondage by that belligerent be captured by or come as a fugitive under the protection of the military forces of the United States, such person is immediately entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman To return such person into slavery would amount to enslaving a free person, and neither the United States nor any officer under their authority can enslave any human being. Moreover, a person so made free by the law of war is under the shield of the law of nations, and the former owner or State can have, by the law of postliminy, no belligerent lien or claim of service.” [87]

The threat of the destruction of the Union and the continuance of slavery in either the states of the Confederacy or in the new western states and territories, or the maintenance of the Union without emancipation was too great for some, notably the American Freedmen’s Commission to contemplate. They wrote Edwin Stanton in the spring of 1864 with Grant’s army bogged down outside of Richmond and the Copperheads and the Peace Party gaining in influence and threatening a peace that allowed Southern independence and the continuance of slavery:

“In such a state of feeling, under such a state of things, can we doubt the inevitable results? Shall we escape border raids after fleeing fugitives? No man will expect it. Are we to suffer these? We are disgraced! Are we to repel them? It is a renewal of hostilities!…In the case of a foreign war…can we suppose that they will refrain from seeking their own advantage by an alliance with the enemy?” [88]

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln discussed the issue of slavery as the chief cause of the war. In it, Lincoln noted that slavery was the chief cause of the war in no uncertain terms and talked in a language of faith that was difficult for many, especially Christians, who “believed weighty political issues could be parsed into good or evil. Lincoln’s words offered a complexity that many found difficult to accept,” for the war had devastated the playground of evangelical politics, and it had “thrashed the certitude of evangelical Protestantism” [89] as much as the First World War shattered Classic European Christian Liberalism. Lincoln’s confrontation of the role that people of faith in bringing on the war in both the North and the South is both illuminating and a devastating critique of the religious attitudes that so stoked the fires of hatred. His realism in confronting facts was masterful, and badly needed, he spoke of “American slavery” as a single offense ascribed to the whole nation.” [90]

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”[91]

When Edmund Ruffin pulled the lanyard of the cannon that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter it marked the end of an era. Despite the efforts of Edmund Ruffin, Alexander Stephens, Jefferson Davis and so many others who advocated secession and war, the war that they launched in the hope of maintaining slavery; gave birth to what Lincoln described as “a new birth of freedom.”

When the war ended with the Confederacy defeated and the south in now in ruins, Ruffin still could not abide the result. In a carefully crafted suicide note he sent to his son the bitter and hate filled old man wrote on June 14th 1865:

“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule- to all political, social and business connections with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States! … And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my last breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.” [92]

A Southern Change of Tune: The War Not About Slavery after All, and the “New Religion” of the Lost Cause

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Though Ruffin was dead in the coming years the southern states would again find themselves under the governance of former secessionists who were unabashed white supremacists. Former secessionist firebrands who had boldly proclaimed slavery to be the deciding issue when the war changed their story. Instead of slavery being the primary cause of Southern secession and the war, it was “trivialized as the cause of the war in favor of such things as tariff disputes, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, cultural differences, and the conflict between industrial and agricultural societies.” [93]

Alexander Stephens who had authored the infamous1861 Cornerstone Speech that “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition” argued after the war that the war was not about slavery at all, that the war:

“had its origins in opposing principles….It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation on the other.” He concluded “that the American Civil War “represented a struggle between “the friends of Constitutional liberty” and “the Demon of Centralism, Absolutism, [and] Despotism!” [94]

Jefferson Davis, who had masterfully crafted “moderate” language which radicals in the South used to their advantage regarding the expansion and protection of the rights of slave owners in the late 1850s to mollify Northern Democrats, and who wrote in October 1860 that: “The recent declarations of the Black Republican part…must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it where it is, not where it is not.” [95]

After the war a revisionist Davis wrote:

“The Southern States and Southern people have been sedulously represented as “propagandists” of slavery, and the Northern as the champions of universal freedom…” and “the attentive reader…will already found enough evidence to discern the falsehood of these representations, and to perceive that, to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause for the conflict.” [96]

Instead of being about slavery the Confederate cause was mythologized by those promoting the false history of the “Lost Cause” a term coined by William Pollard in 1866, which “touching almost every aspect of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war.” [97] By 1877 many southerners were taking as much pride in the “Lost Cause” as Northerners took in Appomattox.[98] Alan Nolen notes: “Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization.” [99]

The Lost Cause was elevated by some to the level of a religion. In September 1906, Lawrence Griffith speaking to a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans stated that when the Confederates returned home to their devastated lands, “there was born in the South a new religion.” [100] The mentality of the Lost Cause took on “the proportions of a heroic legend, a Southern Götterdämmerung with Robert E. Lee as a latter day Siegfried.” [101]

This new religion that Griffith referenced was replete with signs, symbols and ritual:

“this worship of the Immortal Confederacy, had its foundation in myth of the Lost Cause. Conceived in the ashes of a defeated and broken Dixie, this powerful, pervasive idea claimed the devotion of countless Confederates and their counterparts. When it reached fruition in the 1880s its votaries not only pledged their allegiance to the Lost Cause, but they also elevated it above the realm of common patriotic impulse, making it perform a clearly religious function….The Stars and Bars, “Dixie,” and the army’s gray jacket became religious emblems, symbolic of a holy cause and of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Confederate heroes also functioned as sacred symbols: Lee and Davis emerged as Christ figures, the common soldier attained sainthood, and Southern women became Marys who guarded the tomb of the Confederacy and heralded its resurrection.” [102]

Jefferson Davis became an incarnational figure for the adherents of this new religion. A Christ figure who Confederates believed “was the sacrifice selected-by the North or by Providence- as the price for Southern atonement. Pastors theologized about his “passion” and described Davis as a “vicarious victim”…who stood mute as Northerners “laid on him the falsely alleged iniquities of us all.” [103]

In 1923 a song about Davis repeated this theme:

Jefferson Davis! Still we honor thee! Our Lamb victorious,

who for us endur’d A cross of martyrdom, a crown of thorns,

soul’s Gethsemane, a nation’s hate, A dungeon’s gloom!

Another God in chains.” [104]

The myth also painted another picture, that of slavery being a benevolent institution which has carried forth into our own time. The contention of Southern politicians, teachers, preachers and journalists was that slaves liked their status; they echoed the words of slave owner Hiram Tibbetts to his brother in 1842 “If only the abolitionists could see how happy our people are…..The idea of unhappiness would never enter the mind of any one witnessing their enjoyments” [105] as well as Jefferson Davis who in response to the Emancipation Proclamation called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.” [106]

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The images of the Lost Cause, was conveyed by numerous writers and Hollywood producers including Thomas Dixon Jr. whose play and novel The Clansman became D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a groundbreaking part of American cinematography which was released in 1915; Margaret Mitchell who penned the epic Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With the Wind which in its 1939 film form won ten academy awards immortalized the good old days of the old South with images of faithful slaves, a theme which found its way into Walt Disney’s famed 1946 animated Song of the South.

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D.W. Griffith Birth of a Nation

The Lost Cause helped buttress the myths that both comforted and inspired many Southerners following the war. “It defended the old order, including slavery (on the grounds of white supremacy), and in Pollard’s case even predicted that the superior virtues of cause it to rise ineluctably from the ashes of its unworthy defeat.” [107] The myth helped pave the way to nearly a hundred more years of effective second class citizenship for now free blacks who were often deprived of the vote and forced into “separate but equal” public and private facilities, schools and recreational activities. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent organizations harassed, intimidated, persecuted and used violence against blacks.

“From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” [108] Lynching was common and even churches were not safe. It would not be until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks would finally begin to gain the same rights enjoyed by whites in most of the South.

Despite this many Union veterans to their dying day fought the Lost Causers. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first truly national veteran’s organization, and the first to admit African American soldiers as equals, and the predecessor of modern veteran’s groups, continued their fight to keep the public fixed on the reason for war, and the profound difference between what they believed that they fought for and what their Confederate opponents fought for during the war.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.” [109]

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At what amounted to the last great Blue and Gray reunion at Gettysburg was held in 1937, the surviving members of the United Confederate Veterans extended an invitation to the GAR to join them there. The members of the GAR’s 71st Encampment from Madison Wisconsin, which included survivors of the immortal Iron Brigade who sacrificed so much of themselves at McPherson’s Ridge on July 1st 1863 adamantly, opposed a display of the Confederate Battle flag. “No Rebel colors,” they shouted. “What sort of compromise is that for Union soldiers but hell and damnation.” [110]

Ruffin outlived Lincoln who was killed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14th 1864. However the difference between the two men was marked. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln spoke in a different manner than Ruffin. He concluded that address with these thoughts:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” [111]

Why this Matters Today

The American Civil War provides a complex drama that political leaders, diplomats and military leaders would be wise to study, and not simply the military aspects and battles. Though the issues may be different in nations where the United States decides to intervene to prevent humanitarian disasters, prevent local civil wars from becoming regional conflagrations, or to provide stability after a civil war, the conflict provides poignant example after poignant example. If we fail to remember them we will lose who we are as a nation.

The Union was preserved, reconciliation was to some degree. Albeit the reconciliation was very imperfectly achieved, as the continuance of racism and discrimination, and the lack of repentance on the part of many of those who shamelessly promoted the Lost Cause and their current defenders continues to this day. Allen Guelzo wrote in the American Interest about the importance of both reconciliation and repentance to Frederick Douglass after the war:

“Douglass wanted the South not only to admit that it had lost, but also that it had deserved to lose. “The South has a past not to be contemplated with pleasure, but with a shudder”, he wrote in 1870. More than a decade later, Douglass was still not satisfied: “Whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.” [112]

Likewise, that imperfect but reunited Union was all that stood in the way of Nazi Germany in the dark days of early 1942. Had the American republic fragmented during the war; had the South won, as so many kings and dictators of the day either openly or secretly desired, there would have been nothing to stand in the way of Hitler, and there would be nothing to stand in the way of the modern despots, terrorists and dictatorships such as the Islamic State today.

The controversies and conflicts brought on by the ideological, social and religious divides in the Ante-Bellum United States provide current leaders with historical examples. Our Civil War was heavily influenced by religion and the ideologies of the partisans in the North and in the South who were driven by religious motives, be those of the evangelical abolitionists or the proslavery evangelicals. If one is honest, one can see much of the same language, ideology and religious motivation at play in our twenty-first century United States. The issue for the vast majority of Americans, excluding certain neo-Confederate and White Supremacist groups, is no longer slavery; however the religious arguments on both sides of the slavery debate find resonance in our current political debates.

Likewise, for military, foreign policy officials and policy makers the subject of the role of religion can be quite informative. Similar issues are just as present in many the current conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe which are driven by the religious motives of various sects. The biggest of these conflicts, the divide between Sunni and Shia Moslems, is a conflict that threatens to engulf the region and spread further. In it religion is coupled with the quest for geopolitical and economic power. This conflict in all of its complexity and brutality is a reminder that religion is quite often the ideological foundation of conflict.

These examples, drawn from our own American experience can be instructive to all involved in policy making. These examples show the necessity for policy makers to understand just how intertwined the political, ideological, economic, social and religious seeds of conflict are, and how they cannot be disconnected from each other without severe repercussions.

Samuel Huntington wrote:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.” [113]

By taking the time to look at our own history as well as our popular mythology; planners, commanders and policy makers can learn lessons that if they take the time to learn will help them understand similar factors in places American troops and their allies might be called to serve, or that we might rather avoid.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.196

[2] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.196

[3] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.125

[4] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.126

[5] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.126

[6] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.196

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.148

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.81

[9] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.149

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.81

[11] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.81

[12] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.173

[13] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.118

[14] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.181

[15] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.213-214

[16] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.142

[17] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.142

[18] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.102

[19] Ibid Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.183

[20] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.103

[21] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.183

[22] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.103

[23] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II pp.174-175

[24] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.185

[25] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.185

[26] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.360

[27] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.144

[28] Gallagher, Gary The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2011 p.47

[29] Lincoln, Abraham A House Divided given at the Illinois Republican Convention, June 16th 1858, retrieved from www.pbs.org/wgbh/ala/part4/4h2934.html 24 March 2014

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.55

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.55

[32] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.46

[33] Ibid Gallagher The Union War p.47

[34] Ibid Gallagher The Union War p.47

[35] Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York 1992 p.114

[36] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.221

[37] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury Phoenix Press, London 1961 p.46

[38] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[39] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.81

[40] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.211

[41] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.211-212

[42] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[43] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.197

[44] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.207

[45] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.xviii

[46] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.203

[47] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.284

[48] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.xxxix

[49] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[50] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.381

[51] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.375

[52] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.187

[53] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.290

[54] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.3

[55] Ibid. McPherson The Battlecry of Freedom p.210

[56] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.378

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.119

[58] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.46-47

[59] __________ Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. Retrieved from The Avalon Project, Yale School of Law http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp 24 March 2014

[60] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.251

[61] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.253

[62] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.442

[63] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword p.50 These words are little different than the words of many conservative Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and politicians today in relation to the legalization of Gay marriage.

[64] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.342

[65] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.122

[66] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.18

[67] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.48

[68] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.48

[69] Lincoln, Abraham First Inaugural Address March 4th 1861 retrieved from www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html 24 March 2014

[70] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword pp.50-51

[71] Cleveland, Henry Alexander H. Stevens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, before, during and since the War, Philadelphia 1886 pp.717-729 retrieved from http://civilwarcauses.org/corner.htm 24 March 2014

[72] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.143

[73] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.253

[74] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.74

[75] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.273

[76] Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Earl, CSA Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 1992 p.52

[77] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.52

[78] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.253-254

[79] Ibid. Huntington Who Are We? P.77

[80] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.360

[81] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.337-338

[82] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[83] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.274

[84] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.85

[85] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.140

[86] Reichberg, Gregory M, Syse Henrik, and Begby, Endre The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Malden, MA and Oxford UK 2006 p.570

[87] Ibid. Reichberg et al. The Ethics of War p.570

[88] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.534

[89] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.358

[90] Ibid. Wills Lincoln at Gettysburg p.186

[91] Lincoln, Abraham Second Inaugural Address March 4th 1865 retrieved from www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html 24 March 2014

[92] Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865). Diary entry, June 18, 1865. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Retrieved from http://blogs.loc.gov/civil-war-voices/about/edmund-ruffin/ 24 March 2014

[93] Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan Alan T. editors The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.15

[94] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.16

[95] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.104

[96] Davis, Jefferson The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Volume One of Two, A public Domain Book, Amazon Kindle edition pp.76-77

[97] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[98] Millet Allen R and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, a division of McMillan Publishers, New York 1984 p.230

[99] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[100] Hunter, Lloyd The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at the Lost Cause Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.185

[101] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.854

[102] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.186

[103] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[104] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[105] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.106

[106] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.16

[107] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.525

[108] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[109] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.532

[110] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.532

[111] Ibid. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

[112] Guelzo, Allen C. A War Lost and Found in The American Interest September 1st 2011 retrieved 30 October 2014 from http://www.the-american-interest.com/articles/2011/09/01/a-war-lost-and-found/

[113] Ibid. Huntington The Clash of Civilizations p.97

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The U.S. Civil War: Beginning of Modern Warfare Part One

culp's hill

Note: This is the first part of a major revision to my article on the American Civil War being the first modern war. Part two will follow tomorrow. This is actually the beginning of the first chapter of my Gettysburg text, much of which has been appearing in various forms on this site for the past year, much of this deals with the connection between policy and strategy and the relationship of political leaders to the military.

The American Civil War was the first modern war. It was a watershed time which introduced changes in tactics, logistics, communications and the concept of total war to the world. Though it did not change the essential nature of war, which Clausewitz says is “is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will” [1] it expanded the parameters of it and re-introduced the concept of “total war” to the world and “because its aim was all embracing, the war was to be absolute in character.”[2] In a sense it was a true revolution in military affairs.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers. The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray writes “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [3] That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is one for our present political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [4]

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War became a “total war.” It was the product of both the massive number of technological advances which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore. Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another which had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda which ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit, even to the point of outright armed conflict and murder in “Bleeding Kansas” during the 1850s.

As a total war it became a war that was as close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character waged on the American continent, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century, as J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [5] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [6]

Both men realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [7] Though neither man was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.” [8] Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [9] Sherman not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [10]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [11]

Of course, the revolution in military affairs took time and it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [12]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides, there were some naysayers like the venerable General Winfield Scott, but they were mocked by both politicians and the press.

The Civil War became an archetype of the wars of the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century. It became a war where a clash between peoples and ideologies which extended beyond the province of purely military action as “it was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.” [13]

The conduct of the American Civil War added new dimensions to war, increased its lethality and for the first time since the 30 Years’ War saw opponents intentionally target the property, homes and businesses of civilian populations as part of their military campaign. The Civil War was a precursor to the wars that followed, especially the First World War which it prefigured in so many ways. [14]

However, like all wars many of its lessons were forgotten by military professionals in the United States as well as in Europe. Thus 50 years later during World War One, British, French, German, Austrian and Russian wasted vast amounts of manpower and destroyed the flower of a generation because they did not heed the lessons of the Civil War. Fuller noted:

“Had the nations of Europe studied the lessons of the Civil War and taken them to heart they could not in 1914-1918 have perpetuated the enormous tactical blunders of which that war bears record.” [15]

The lessons of the war are still relevant today. Despite vast advances in weaponry, technology and the distances with which force can be applied by opponents, war remains an act of violence to compel an enemy to fulfill our will. War according to Clausewitz is “more than a chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case.” [16] but it is always characterized by the violence of its elements, the province of chance and its subordination to the political objective and as such forces political and military leaders as well as policy makers to wrestle with “the practical challenge of somehow mastering the challenge of strategy in an actual historical context.” [17]

The study of the Civil War can be helpful to the joint planner and commander because it so wonderfully shows the interplay of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical trinity- composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and the element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” [18] during an era of great technological and philosophical change. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, for in this era of change, like in every era, some leaders and commanders were either resistant to, or failed to understand the changes being forced upon them in their conduct of war by the industrialization of war and its attendant technology; while others, like Sherman, Grant and Sheridan not only understood them, but embraced them and applied them with skill and vigor in ways that stunned the people of the South.

Over time the Union developed what we would now refer to as a “whole of government approach” to the war. This included not only the military instrument but the use of every imaginable means of national power, from the diplomatic, the economic and the informational aspects of the Union in the effort to subdue the Confederacy. The understanding and use of the “whole of government approach” to war and conflict is still a cornerstone of United States military policy in “unified action, to achieve leverage across different domains that will ensure conditions favorable to the U.S. and its allies will endure.” [19] The working staff of the War Department headed by Edwin Stanton and Major General Montgomery Meigs developed rapidly. It effectively coordinated with railroads, weapons manufactures and suppliers of clothing, food and other necessities to supply the army and navy so well that “Union forces never seriously lacked the materials necessary to win the war.” [20] Stanton and Meigs were “aided by the entrepreneurial talent of northern businessmen” which allowed “the Union developed a superior managerial talent to mobilize and organize the North’s greater resources for victory in the modern industrialized conflict that the Civil War became.” [21]

The understanding of this eternal nature and ever changing character of war to leaders of nations as well as military commanders and planners has been very important throughout history. It can be seen in the ways that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln conducted their relationships with their military commanders, including during the Gettysburg campaign and we are reminded by Colin Gray notes that political leaders and policy makers who are in charge of policy often ignorant of the nature and character of war, and this fact “directs attention to the difficulties of translating political judgment into effective warmaking.” [22] Military leaders should be the people to advise and instruct policy makers in aligning their policy to what is actually feasible based on the ends ways and means, as well as the strengths and limitations of the military to carry out policy decisions and history reminds us “that policymakers committed strongly to their political desires are not easily deflected by military advice of a kind that they do not want to hear.” [23]

While there was much support for the Confederacy in the aristocracies of Europe, the effectiveness of the Union military in winning the key battles that allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy, . Charles F. Adams, the United States minister to Britain successfully defused the crisis of the Trent affair, which could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war. Adams’ efforts were so successful that they “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [24]

Related to this understanding of warfare one has to also look at the importance of diplomacy, especially in picking the right diplomat for a critical post is a part of a whole of government approach to war and warfare. This was very important in the early stages of the Civil War as there was much support for the Confederacy in the aristocracies of Europe. The effectiveness of the diplomacy was increased by the Union military efforts. The Union suffered many failures at the outset of the war by the time of the Gettysburg campaign they did enough to prevent English or French intervention on the side of the Confederacy, which was also aided by tensions in Europe regarding the Schleswig-Holstein problem between Prussia and Austria as well as unrest in Poland, and the British in particular were loath to risk intervening in a conflict that might be “a disturbance in the precarious balance of power which might be the signal for a general conflagration, they recalled Voltaire’s comment that a torch lighted in 1756 in the forests of the new world had promptly wrapped the old world in flames.” [25] Thus, European leaders and diplomats were very hesitant to allow Southern legations to convince them to intervene.

Though the Confederates won many battles it was the Union military whose success Island Number Ten, Fort Donaldson and Shiloh in the West, and the bloody repulses of Confederate armies at Perryville and Antietam; as well as the joint operations conducted by the Union Navy and Army confederacy through the blockade and capture of key ports such as New Orleans early in the war that allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation. These military successes enabled Lord Palmerston to reject a French proposal for France, England and Russia to propose to the warring parties, a “North-South armistice, accompanied by a six month lifting of the blockade. The result, if they had agreed- as they had been in no uncertain terms warned by Seward in private conversations with British representatives overseas- would have been a complete diplomatic rupture, if not an outright declaration of war.” [26]

The issuance of that proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy because even pro-Southern English political leaders could not appear to even give the appearance of supporting slavery, especially as both England and France had abolished slavery decades before, while Russia had only recently emancipated its serfs and “was pro-Union from the start….” [27] Popular sentiment in those countries, outside of the ruling class and business elites, was heavily in favor of emancipation, especially among the working classes. The leaders of the workingmen of Manchester England, a major textile producer, who which had been among the “hardest hit by the cotton famine, sent him [Lincoln] an address approved at a meeting on New Year’s Eve, announcing their support of the North in its efforts to “strike off the fetters of the slave.” [28]

There were issues related to the blockade but Charles F. Adams, the United States minister to Britain successfully defused the crisis of the Trent affair, which could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war in a manner that “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [29]

The Union blockade was a key factor in the diplomatic efforts. As I have noted there were many in both Britain and France who sympathized with the South and hoped for Southern victory that were not impressed by Southern moves to subject them to an embargo of Southern cotton until they received recognition. While many Englishmen were offended by Seward’s bluster, many “resented even more the Confederacy’s attempt at economic blackmail.” [30]

The British especially were keen on not going to war for the sake of the South, there was far too much at stake for them, something that the Southern leaders and representatives did not fully comprehend. Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston and Foreign Minister Lord Russell were concerned about the economic impact of the loss of Southern cotton but also “recognized that any action against the blockade could lead to a conflict with the United States more harmful to England’s interests than the temporary loss of Southern cotton.” [31] Palmerston well remembered the war of 1812 when he served as Minister of War, and the disastrous results for the British Merchant Marine, and he realized that “England could not only afford the risk of a loss in a sideline war; she could not even afford to win one.” [32]

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.75

[2] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.99

[3] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[4] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[5] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.88

[6] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[7] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[8] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[9] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.809

[10] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.149

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[12] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[13] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.99

[14] Fuller has an excellent synopsis of this in his book A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three (p.89). He wrote: The war fought by Grant and Lee, Sherman and Johnston, and others closely resembled the First of the World Wars. No other war, not even the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, offers so exact a parallel. It was a war of rifle bullets and trenches, of slashings, abattis, and even of wire entanglements- an obstacle the Confederates called “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise” because at Drewry’s Bluff they had been trapped in them and slaughtered like partridges.” It was a war of astonishing in its modernity, with wooden wire-bound mortars hand and winged grenades, rockets, and many forms of booby traps. Magazine rifles and Requa’s machine gune were introduced and balloons were used by both sides although the confederates did not think much of them. Explosive bullets are mentioned and also a flame projector, and in June, 1864, General Pendleton asked the chief ordnance officer at Richmond whether he could supply him with “stink-shells” which would give off “offensive gases” and cause “suffocating effect.” The answer he got was “stink-shells, none on hand; don’t keep them; will make them if ordered.” Nor did modernity end there; armoured ships, armoured trains, land mines and torpedoes were used. A submarine was built by Horace H. Hundley at Mobile….”

[15] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.89

[16] Ibid. Clausewitz p.89

[17] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[18] Ibid. Clausewitz p.89

[19] ________ JCWS Student Text 1 3rd Edition, 14 June 2013 p.2-4

[20] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012

[21] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[22] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[23] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[24] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[25] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.154

[26] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.153

[27] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.153

[28] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.155

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[30] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[32] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.154

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