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Racism Defined: The Confederate Debate About Emancipation and Black Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

I hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

slaves-picking-planting-cotton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CleburnePatrick

Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lincoln-in-richmond

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

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

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

Likewise a journalist witnessing the event described the scene,

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

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

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

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

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

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

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

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

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

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

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

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

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

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

[19] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.329

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

[36] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.330

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

[38] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[39] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[43] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[44] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[54] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[55] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

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

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

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

[60] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[71] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.345

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

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

[74] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.351

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

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

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

[78] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

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

[80] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

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

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 481

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Realism & Racism: The Confederate Emancipation Debate


Union U.S.C.T. Troops march into Richmond 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I have been doing the past few days I am posting another heavily revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. This one deals with the less than successful efforts of some in the Confederacy to deal with reality and recommend that the Confederacy emancipate African American slaves. It really is a fascinating study that I expect to do more work on, but I think that youn will find it quite informative. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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


Major General Patrick Cleburne CSA

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

Cleburne, who was known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan to reverse the course of the war by emancipating slaves and enlisting them to serve in the Confederate military. Cleburne was a lawyer, and his proposal was based on sound logic. Cleburne noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have enough soldiers, supplies, or resources to sustain the war effort. He stressed that the South had an inadequate number of soldiers, and that “our soldiers can see no end… except in our own exhaustion; hence, instead of rising to the occasion, they are sinking into a fatal apathy, growing weary of hardships and slaughters which promise no results.” [6]

Most significantly the Irishman argued that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness,” [7] and that “All along the lines… slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information,” an “omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources.” [8] He noted, that “Every soldier in our army already knows and feels our numerical inferiority to the enemy…. If this state continues much longer we shall surely be subjugated.” [9]

Cleburne was the ultimate realist in terms of what was going on in the Confederacy and the drain that slavery and the attempts to control the slave population were having on it. The Conscription Act of 1862 acknowledged that men had to be retained at home in order to guard against slave uprisings, and how exemptions diminished forces at the front without adding any corresponding economic value. Cleburne wrote of how African Americans in the South were becoming increasingly pro-Union, and were undermining Southern morale at home and in the ranks. He noted that they brought up “fear of insurrection in the rear” and filled Confederate soldiers with “anxieties for the fate of loved ones when our armies have moved forward.” And when Union forces entered plantation districts, they found “recruits waiting with open arms.” There was no point in denigrating their military record, either. After donning Union blue, black men had proved able “to face and fight bravely against their former masters.” [10]

Cleburne’s proposal was radical for he recommended that “we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain to the confederacy in this war.” [11] Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal to the high command:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “will strike dead all John Brown fanaticism, and will compel the enemy to draw off altogether or in the eyes of the world to swallow the Declaration of Independence without the sauce and disguise of philanthropy.” [12]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [13] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than most were willing to risk, and even more than Lincoln had asked of the North in his Emancipation Proclamation. Cleburne was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [14] something that most seemed even unwilling to consider. He presented his arguments in stark terms that few Southern leaders, or citizens could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [15] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [16] But Cleburne’s appeal would be quashed in Richmond.

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Jefferson Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter, and in Walker’s opinion, the political arguments were out of line for any military officer to state in public. Jefferson Davis intervened to quash the proposal, as he could only see negative results coming from it. Davis was “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army,” and he “ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [17] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [18] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the War Department on the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Richard Ewell suggested to Jefferson Davis the idea of arming the slaves and offering them emancipation as early as 1861, and Ewell went as far as “volunteering to “command a brigade of Negroes.” [19] During the war Robert E. Lee became one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [20]


Jefferson Davis 

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now, quite belatedly, believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. Davis had finally come to the realization the institution of slavery was now useless to the Confederate cause, as he had become a more ardent Confederate nationalist, and to Davis, “Preserving slavery had become secondary to preserving his new nation,” [21] and his words shocked the assembled Congress. The slave, he boldly declared that “the slave… can no longer be “viewed as mere property” but must be recognized instead in his other “relation to the state – that of a person.” As property, Davis explained, slaves were useless to the state, because without the “loyalty” of the men could be gained from their labor.” [22]

In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [23]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters and in the press, especially that of North Carolina. Some newspapers in that state attacked Davis and his proposal, as “farcical” – “all this done for the preservation and perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men… are ready to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done as a condition of ending the war?” [24] Likewise, Davis now found himself opposed by some of his closest political allies including Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb.  Toombs roared, “The day that the army of Virginia allows a negro regiment to enter their lines as soldiers they will be degraded, ruined, and disgraced.” [25] Likewise, Cobb warned “The day that you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” [26] Some in the military echoed his sentiments, Brigadier General Clement H. Stevens of South Carolina declared “I do not want independence if it is to be won by the help of the Negro.” [27] A North Carolina private wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country…. I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [28]

Robert E. Lee, who had emancipated his slaves before the war, began to be a formidable voice in the political debate going on in the Confederacy regarding the issue of blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation. He wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature: “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [29] He wrote another sponsor of a Negro soldier bill “The measure was “not only expedient but necessary…. The negroes, under proper circumstances will make effective soldiers. I think we could do as well with them as the enemy…. Those employed should be freed. It would be neither just nor wise… to require them to serve as slaves.” [30]


Howell Cobb

When Howell Cobb heard of Lee’s support for black soldiers and emancipation he fired of a letter to Secretary of War Seddon, “I think that the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has ever been suggested since the war began. It is to me a source of deep mortification and regret to see the name of that good and great man and soldier, General R. E. Le, given as authority for such policy.” [31]

The debate which had begun in earnest in the fall of 1864 revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [32] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Senator Louis Wigfall who had been Davis’s ally in the conscription debates, now became his opponent, he declared that he “wanted to live in no country in which the man who blacked his boots and curried his horse was his equal.” [33]

Much of the Southern press added its voice to the opposition. Newspapers in North Carolina declared the proposal “farcical” – “all this was done for the preservation and the perpetuation of slavery,” and if “sober men…are willing to enquire if the South is willing to abolish slavery as a condition of carrying on the war, why may it not be done, as a condition of ending the war?” [34] The Charleston Mercury considered the proposal apostasy and proclaimed “Assert the right in the Confederate government to emancipate slaves, and it is stone dead…” [35] In Lynchburg an editor noted, “If such a terrible calamity is to befall us… we infinitely prefer that Lincoln shall be the instrument pf our disaster and degradation, that we ourselves strike the cowardly and suicidal blow.” [36]

Some states in the Confederacy began to realize that slaves were needed in the ranks, but did not support emancipation. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [37]  Smith declared that without slavery the South “would no longer have a motive to fight.” [38]

Many Confederate soldiers displayed the attitude that would later propel them into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League and the White Liners after the war. A North Carolina soldier wrote, “I did not volunteer to fight for a free negroes country… I do not think I love my country well enough to fight with black soldiers.” [39]

But many agreed with Lee, including Silas Chandler of Virginia, who stated, “Gen Lee is in favor of it I shall cast my vote for it I am in favor of giving him any thing he wants in the way of gaining our independence.” [40] Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure of the bill to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [41] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [42] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate:  “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [43] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [44] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [45]

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

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [46]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.”  [47] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [48] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [49]

But even if the final bill passed was inadequate, the debate had finally forced Southerners “to realign their understanding of what they were protecting and to recognize the contradictions in their carefully honed rationalization. Some would still staunchly defend it; others would adopt the ostrich’s honored posture. But many understood only too well what they had already surrendered.” [50]

On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause. The order read in part: “In order to provide additional forces to repel invasion…the President be, and he is hereby authorized to ask for and to accept from the owners of slaves, the services of such able-bodied negro men as he may deem expedient, for and during the war, to perform military service  in whatever capacity he may direct…” While the order authorized that black soldiers “receive the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops in the same branch of service,” it did not provide for the emancipation of any of the black soldiers that might volunteer. Instead it ended “That nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize a change in the relation which the said slaves shall bear to their owners, except by the consent of the owners and of the States which they may reside….”  [51]

Twelve days after the approval of the act, on March 25th two companies of blacks were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square. As the mobilized slaves assembled to the sounds of fifes and drums they were met with derision and violence as even “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [52] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond, leaving them and the capital at the mercy of the victorious Union army. .

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [53] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [54]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. In the wake of his departure the Confederate Provost Marshall set fire to the arsenal and the magazines to keep them from falling into Union hands. However, the fires “roared out of hand and rioters and looters too to the streets until the last Federal soldiers, their bands savagely blaring “Dixie,” marched into the humiliated capital and raised the Stars and Stripes over the old Capitol building.” [55]

The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [56] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [57]


Lincoln in Richmond 

On April 4th 1865 Abraham Lincoln entered Richmond to the cheers of the now former slaves still in the city. A journalist described the scene,

“The gathered around the President, ran ahead, hovered upon the flanks of the little company, and hung like a dark cloud upon the rear. Men, women, and children joined the consistently increasing throng. They came from the by-streets, running in breathless haste, shouting and hallooing and dancing with delight. The men threw up their hats, the women their bonnets and handkerchiefs, clapped their hands, and sang, Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!” [58]

One old man rushed to Lincoln and shouted “Bless the Lord, the great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s been in my heart four long years, and he’s come at last to free his children from their bondage. Glory, hallelujah!” He then threw himself at the embarrassed President’s feet and Lincoln said, “Don’t kneel to me. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.” [59]

Emancipation had finally arrived in Richmond, and in the van came the men of the U.S. Colored Troops who had rallied to the Union cause, followed by the man who had made the bold decision to emancipate them and then persevere until that was reality.

Notes

[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

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

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

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

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

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

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

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

[9] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

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

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

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

[13] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

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

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

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

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

[22] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[23] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[27] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[28] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[35] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

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

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

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[39] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[53] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

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

[55] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

[56] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

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

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

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

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The Confederate Draft

fig17

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I posted a section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text with a revised section dealing with conscription and the draft in both the Union and the Confederacy. Today I am posting a further revised and expanded section on the Confederate conscription acts and their effect on the war, as well as resistance to them. I think that you will like it.

Have a great Wednesday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The states which made up the Confederacy went to war with great aplomb in the spring and summer of 1861. The staunch secessionist fire-eaters predicted a quick victory, but they were badly mistaken, and after Bull Run that Union galvanized itself for a long war. A “quick and easy war like the one most staunch secessionists predicted might have required few soldiers to fight it.” [1] But since many of the men who had led their states into secession and war expected that with a few victories that the Federal government would acquiesce to their claims of independence few plans were made for a long war, but even so “the recruiting inducements of 1861 had never adequately filled the ranks or assured that the twelve-month enlistees of 1861 would remain.” [2] As the war dragged on many men became increasingly hesitant to serve, the “enthusiasm and bravado of the war’s early months increasingly gave way to hesitation, reticence, and the discovery that one’s presence was urgently needed someplace other than the battlefield.” [3]

As the war continued into 1862 and the Union continuing to build and deploy armies a sense of gloom built even as the spring flowers bloomed across the Confederacy. A soldier serving with the Stonewall Brigade wrote, “The romance of the thing is entirely worn off… not only with myself but with the whole army.” [4] In the East the army of George McClellan was nearing Richmond and in the West the unexpected “loss of Forts Henry and Donaldson, followed by the failure to redeem the Tennessee River at Shiloh and the fall of New Orleans badly jolted Southern complacency.” [5] Drastic measures were required and the Confederate Congress began to debate a conscription act in order to meet the manpower needs of the Confederate armies, a Confederate General wrote that the Confederacy must embrace a total war, “in which the whole population and the whole production… are to be put on a war footing, where every institution is made auxiliary to war.” [6]  But the nature of the Confederacy itself precluded such a total effort as each state, and each economic interest, be it the planters, or the railroads fought to maintain their independence from edicts coming out of Richmond.

Robert E. Lee who was serving as military advisor to Jefferson Davis recognized that the Confederacy could not survive without conscription and put Major Charles Marshall, of his staff, who had been a lawyer in civilian life, to work “to draw up a bill providing for the conscription of all white males between eighteen and forty-five years of age.” [7] On March 28th 1862 Jefferson Davis proposed a conscription act to the Confederate Congress.

The proposal aroused an uproar throughout the South. Thomas Cobb of Georgia condemned the bill in Congress and proclaimed that it was “caused by the imbecility of the government,” accusing Davis and his toadies” of ignoring him when he warned earlier that something had to be done to lure those volunteers of 1861 into staying in the service.” [8] He condemned the measure of compelling men to serve. Vice President Alexander Stephens objected as he believed that the act “violated most basic principles that had underlain secession and the Confederacy’s creation, including state sovereignty and individual autonomy.” [9]

Davis was being worn out both physically and emotionally by the demands of the war, and by the opposition of the fire-eaters who often referred to him as a despot and tyrant, and wrote to a friend, “When everything is at stake and the united power of the South alone can save us, it is sad to know that such men can deal in such paltry complaints and tax their ingenuity to slander because they are offended in not getting office…. If we can achieve our independence, the office seekers are welcome to the one I hold.” [10] But aided by influential members of the Congress, many of whom had no love for Davis, including Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas, but Wigfall grasped the gravity of the situation and need for fresh manpower. Wigfall was committed “to the military and preoccupied with pushing the war vigorously, he saw a draft as the only way to meet his ends.” [11] Though he was opposed by the most extreme of the state’s rights members, Wigfall forcefully argued for the act, he warned his opponents to “cease child’s play…. The enemy are in some portions of almost every State in the Confederacy…. Virginia is enveloped by them. We need a large army. How are you going to get it?… No man has individual rights, which come into conflict with the welfare of the country.” [12]

On April 16th the Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which in the process of being passed “was amended and mangled. Provision was made for the election of officers in reenlisted commands, and other useless paraphernalia of bounty and furlough act were loaded on it. The upper age-limit was reduced from forty-five to thirty-five years, and a bill allowing liberal exemption was soon adopted.” [13] In deference to the demands of the state’s-rights advocates for a measure of control of conscription, “enrollment and drafting would be administered by state officials though under Confederate supervision, and drafted men would be assigned to units of their own states. In deference to a historic custom of the militia, persons not liable for service could act as substitutes for those who were liable.” [14]

Even so the act was the first conscription act ever enacted in the history of the United States. The Southern press applauded its intentions but had sharp words regarding its weaknesses, especially after second act, detailing numerous exemptions was passes a few days later. Some soldiers who had been serving since the war began were angry at Congress and one South Carolina soldier asked “if the volunteers are kept for two more years… what was to prevent the lawmakers from keeping them on for ten more years? With conscription, he warned, “all patriotism is dead, and the Confederacy will be dead sooner or later.” [15]

The act stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [16] The one-year volunteers had their service extended to three years or to the duration of the war. The existing regiments had forty days to reorganize under the act and hold elections for their officers, in elections which season politicians in the ranks used time tested methods of campaigning, including the distribution and consumption of copious amounts of alcohol on the day when their regiments elected their officers. A private from Alabama wrote, “Passed the whiskey round & opened the polls… & a great many of the men are gloriously tight.” [17]  In some cases the elections meant that good officers were cashiered, and “good fellows” chosen in their places, “but on the whole, the elections wrought less evil than could reasonably be expected.” [18] Even so, the professional core of the Army officers, many West Point graduates, was less than happy, as were some of the best volunteer officers. Brigadier General Wade Hampton, a volunteer who would eventually rise to command the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia following the death of J.E.B. Stuart in 1864 “disapproved of the balloting for officers, explaining, “The best officers are sometimes left out because they are too strict.” Another South Carolina officer noted; “officers who have discharged their duties properly are not popular with their men and those who have allowed the most privileges have been the least efficient and will be elected.” [19] The elections and reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia resulted in “the replacement of 155 field officers by newly elected men. The “whole effect,” wrote Porter Alexander, “was prejudicial to the discipline of the army.” [20]

In many cases the turnover in company grade officers was much more dramatic, in some cases fifty to seventy-five percent of officers were replaced in the elections, the “18th North Carolina Infantry replaced twenty-seven of forty officers. According to the new regimental commander, “Many of these officers elect were reported “incompetent” by a Board of Examination.” [21] Officers who failed to be reelected had the choice to remain in their units as enlisted personnel, but comparatively few did, often going to newly raised regiments where they were again commissioned and brought their experience along with them.

The act was highly controversial, often resisted, and “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [22]  The Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. The first exemptions were granted to “Confederate and state civil officials, railroad and river workers, telegraph operators, minors, several categories of industrial laborers, hospital personnel, clergymen, apothecaries, and teachers.” [23] The exemptions made sense, “but the categories would see much abuse by those seeking to stay out of uniform.” [24]

Initially the Congress fought off an attempt by planters to grant exemptions to “the owners, agents, or overseers with more than twenty slaves” [25] but a law to this effect was passed in October 1862. The exemption granted by Congress for the “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [26] stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment across the South. The October law “protected large-scale-slave-owning planters – the very people who had the most stake in this war – from military service, while drafting the small scale slaveowners and nonslaveholders who had the least interest in fighting to defend slavery.” [27] One of Mississippi’s slaveowning senators, James Phelan confidentially advised Davis that “never did a law meet with more universal odium than the exemption of slave-owners…. Its influence on the poor is most calamitous, and has awakened a spirit and elicited a discussion” that would surely produce “the most unfortunate results.” [28]

He was right, though Confederate soldiers would remain in the fight they “turned against what had originally called a crusade for independence. Now it was a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight,” the inference being that the wealth classes had provoked the struggle but poor people were the ones who had to fight, bleed, and die.” [29] Lee’s aide, Colonel Charles Marshall who had drafted the original conscription act, said that the “measure’s effect was “very injurious” and “severely commented upon in the army.” [30]

The main effect of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [31] and “directly and indirectly, the Conscription Act from large numbers of men into Lee’s army.” [32]  While the act did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 conscription was decidedly unpopular among soldiers. A Texas soldier whose unit had been reenlisted wrote that the new draft law “kicked up a fuss for a while, but since they shot about twenty-five men for mutiny whipped & shaved the heads of as many more for the same offense everything has got quiet & goes on as usual.” [33]

Conscripts were often looked down upon in the ranks as many of the old soldiers felt that they lacked the patriotism and honor to volunteer in the first place, and many who did show up were of dubious value. Statics from November 1863 indicated that “more than half of those who reported for conscription were ultimately exempted from duty.” [34] While many of these were for medical reasons, others claimed the exemptions provided for in the law.

Some governors who espoused state’s-rights viewpoint “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [35] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [36]  Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina, did more than protest, they fought the law in the courts but when overruled they resisted it by manipulating the many exemption loopholes, especially, especially those that which they could grant to civil servants. Brown “appointed large numbers of eligible Georgia males to fictitious state offices in order to exempt them,” [37] and Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [38]  North Carolina and Georgia “accounted for 92 percent of all state officials exempted from the draft” and a “Confederate general sarcastically described a Georgia or North Carolina militia regiment as containing “3 field officers, 4 staff officers, 10 captains, 30 lieutenants, and 1 private with a misery in his bowels.” [39] In South Carolina, “Governor Francis W. Pickens was trying to impose a state draft of his own and attempted to exempt South Carolina draftees from any liability to the Confederate draft.[40]

Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors it was amended twice in new bills in late 1862 and again in 1864 when Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [41] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [42]

While the act was unpopular, it did hold the army together and without it “the Confederacy could not have survived the 1862 campaigns without the veterans, and compelled the states to produce fresh regiments when their nation needed them.” [43] During 1862 the total number of men in the Confederate army “increased from about 325,000 to 450,000. Since about 75,000 men were lost from death or wounds during this period, the net gain was approximately 200,000. Fewer than half of the men were conscripts and substitutes; the remainder were considered volunteers even if their motives for enlisting many not have been unalloyed with patriotism.” [44] The results of the draft in getting men to combat units were still in evidence in the spring of 1864. “An officer of the 45th Georgia maintained that the regiment had come to Virginia with roughly 1,000 men in April 1862, and fell back from Antietam with only 200 left. At the start of the spring campaign, the regiment listed 425 men on its rolls as present.” [45] Despite all of the flaws and the condemnations the various conscription acts of the Confederacy provided the necessary manpower to continue the war.

Notes

[1] Levine, Bruce The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South Random House, New York 2013 p.83

[2] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.118

[3] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.83

[4] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.429

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.364

[6] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 429

[7] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.172

[8] Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour Harper Collins Publishers New York 1991 p.453

[9] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.84

[10] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.395

[11] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour p.453

[12] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.430

[13] Ibid. Freeman Lee p.172

[14] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.118

[15] Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1992 p.52

[16] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[17] Ibid. Sears To the Gates of Richmond+ p.52

[18] Ibid. Freeman Lee pp.172-173

[19] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.85

[20] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.13

[21] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.86

[22] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[23] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 431

[24] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour p.453

[25] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.365

[26] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.365

[28] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie pp.84-85

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.38

[30] Ibid. Levine The Fall of the House of Dixie p.85

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[32] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

[33] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.39

[34] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

[35] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.364

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[39] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.364

[41] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[42] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.88

[43] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.432

[45] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.402

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From All-Volunteer Forces to Conscription: The Draft in the Civil War

Enrollment-Poster-in-New-York-June-23-1863

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am posting another heavily revised section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text, this dealing on the conscription efforts of both sides. It is an inte4resting subject as it brings up many issues that we still face in society, racial and religious prejudice, economic disparity, and social division.  Of course as always I will probably add more to this and revise it again, but you are probably getting used to that. I hope that you enjoy and have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Changing Character of the Armies and Society

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original armies, composed of volunteers predominated.  As the war progressed the nature of both armies was changed. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers. However, the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated new measures to fill the ranks, and this need led to the conscription, or draft of soldiers and the creation of draft laws and bureaus in the South and later the North.

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Confederate Conscription

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [1] The act was highly controversial, often resisted and the Confederate Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [2] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [3] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [4] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [5]

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [6] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [7]  Governor Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulon Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that which they could grant to civil servants.

In Georgia, Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [8] Due to the problems with the Conscription Act of 1862 and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864. This act was designed to correct problems related to exemptions and “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [9] Despite these problems the Confederacy eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [10]

recruit poster

The Enrollment Act: The Federal Draft

In the spring of 1863 a manpower crunch began to hit the Union Army as vast numbers of the nine-month militia regiments which were called out by Lincoln in accordance with the Militia Act of May 25th 1792 were to disband. Facing the reality that the all-volunteer system which had sustained the war effort the first two years of the war could no longer meet the need for adequate numbers of soldiers the Congress of the United States passed the “An Act for the enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other Purposes,” commonly known as the enrollment act of 1863” on March 3rd 1863. [11] The length of the war and the massive number of causalities were wearing on the population and the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army.” Likewise, “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.” [12]

The Enrollment Act was controversial. Based on the power of Congress given by the Constitution in Article One, Section Eight, to raise and support armies. It was “the first direct Federal conscription statute in U.S. history, providing the first Federal compulsion upon individuals to enter directly into the military service of the United States, without intermediate employment in the militia systems of the states.” [13] In doing so the act “bypassed the state governments entirely and created a series of federal enrollment boards that would take responsibility for satisfying the federally assigned state quotas.” [14] In effect it was an act the nationalized military service and eventual became the basis for a truly national army which would be supported by state forces embodied in the National Guard as well as a Federal Army Reserve. Though Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger Taney believed that act of be unconstitutional it was never challenged during his lifetime, but “the Court eventually upheld the constitutionality of the similar Selective Service Act of May 18th, 1917 in a unanimous decision.” [15] The act made some exemptions, those who were physically or mentally unfit, certain high federal government officials and governors, only sons of dependent widows and infirm parents, or those convicted of a felony.

Like the Confederate legislation, this act was also tremendously unpopular and was ridden with exemptions which were frequently abused. All congressional districts were issued a quota for volunteers. Those districts that were able to fulfill their quotas were not subject to conscription, thus the districts that “could provide sufficient volunteers, or bounties high enough to lure volunteers, would not need to draft anyone, and in the end only seven Northern States would be subject to all four of the draft calls issued under the Enrollment Act.” [16]

The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [17]

To ensure that the enrollment boards had teeth Congress “authorized a Provost Marshall Bureau in the War Department to enforce conscription.” [18] It was the task of the Provost Marshalls to enroll every male citizen, as well as immigrants who had applied for citizenship between the ages of twenty to forty-five.

There was also a provision in the Federal draft law that allowed well off men to purchase a substitute who they would pay other men to take their place. Some 26,000 men paid for this privilege, including future President Grover Cleveland. Another “50,000 Northerners escaped service by another provision in the Enrollment Act known as “commutation,” which allowed draftees to bay $300 as an exemption fee to escape the draft.” [19] Many people found the notion that the rich could buy their way out of war found the provision repulsive to the point that violence ensued in a number of large cities.  Congress had good intentions in setting the price at $300 because they did not want the price to soar beyond the reach of many draftees, however, this was far more than most of the working poor could afford. Of course well off and influential people could pay for a substitute, but “the working poor, for whom three hundred dollars was a half a year’s wages, were especially outraged, and many saw the exemption as another indicator that the war no longer focused on their interests….” [20] Many were afraid that newly emancipated African Americans would be new competition for their already low paying jobs and that the notion of equality would upset their society and their lives. The financial wall was insurmountable for many, and the fact that many found it repulsive that “in a democracy someone could hire a substitute to take his place, was calculated to provoke the bloodiest sort of response among the poor.” [21]

Fraud was rampant and the boards often had little means to check the documentation of those who filed for exemptions. “Surgeons could be bribed, false affidavits claiming dependent support could be filed, and other kinds of under-the-table influence could be exerted. Some draftees feigned insanity or disease. Others practiced self-mutilation. Some naturalized citizens claimed to be aliens.” [22] All of this seemed to indicate to the poor, and to recent immigrants that the system was unfair. Some soldiers such as Irish-American soldier John England were not against the draft itself, but the inequity of the system. The law, English wrote, “was framed for the benefit of the rich and the disadvantage of the poor. For instance – a rich conscript can commute for$300! Now, it is a fact well known to all that there are some rich animals in the northern cities that can afford to lose $300, as much as some poor people can afford to lose one cent.” [23]

To make matters worse for the Army, many of the substitutes themselves were worthless to the Army, veteran soldiers distrusted them, often with good reason. “Of 186 such men assigned to a Massachusetts regiment, 115 deserted, 6 were discharged for disability, 26 were transferred to the navy, and 1 was killed in action.” Additionally the medically unfit, including men in the final stages of incurable disease were present in large numbers, of “57 recruits for the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, seventeen could not muster. In March of 1864, one-third of the replacements sent to a cavalry divisions were already on the sick list.” [24]

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, not because people were unwilling to serve, but from the way that it was administered, for it “brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.[25] The resentment of the act grew, especially in large cities such as New York was fed by false rumors and lack of understanding as much as fact. The ensuing draft riots “were based upon ignorance, misery, fear, and the inability of one class of men to understand another class; upon the fact that there were “classes of men” in a classless American society.” [26]

New_York_Draft_Riots_-_fighting

The Draft Riots

Barely a week after the Battle of Gettysburg, clashes and violence erupted in several cities. The riots became so violent that local police forces were incapable of controlling them. As a result President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence. New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [27] wrecking the draft office, then seizing the Second Avenue armory while attacking police and soldiers on the streets. Soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [28]

These rioters also took out their anger on blacks, and during their rampage the rioters “had lynched black people and burned the Colored Orphan Asylum.” [29] A witness described the scene:

“The furious, bareheaded & coatless men assembled under our windows & shouted for Jeff Davis!… Towards evening the mob, furious as demons, went yelling over to the Colored-Orphan Asylum in 5th Avenue… & rolling a barrel of kerosene in it, the whole structure was soon ablaze, & is now a smoking ruin. What has become of the 300 innocent orphans I could not learn…. Before this fire was extinguished, or rather burnt out, for the wicked wretches who caused it would not permit the engines to be used, the northern sky was brilliantly illuminated, probably by the burning of the Aged Colored-Women’s Home in 65th Street…. A friend…had seen a poor negro hung an hour or two before. The man in a frenzy, had shot an Irish fireman and they immediately strung up the unhappy African…. A person who called at our house this afternoon saw three of them hanging together.” [30]

hith-drafft-riots-E

Many of the rioters, but certainly not all of them were Irish, especially Catholics, who were also angry at the religious prejudice that the experienced at the hand of many Protestants. Rioters “targeted African-Americans, Republicans, abolitionists, and anyone associated with them…. Policemen and soldiers trying to suppress the riots also became targets, even if these men were Irish-Americans and Catholics.” [31] Many high profile Irish Catholics including Archbishop John Hughes refused to condemn the rioters or even call them by the term, earning the condemnation of the editors of the New York Times who wrote, “If the mob had burned the Catholic Orphan Asylum next door to the Bishop’s Cathedral… somebody besides “the papers” probably would have called them rioters.” [32]

The riots showed that the concept of racial or religious equality was difficult for many Americans, and not just those in the South. Prejudice, against African Americans, immigrants including the Irish, and Roman Catholics still burned in the hearts of many who had just a few years before had supported the Know Nothing Party and movement. Bruce Catton wrote, the “rioters had malignant prejudice, and those rioted against had another prejudice, equally malignant; if the lynchings and the burnings and the pitched battles in city streets meant anything they meant that this notion of equality was going to be hard to live with.” [33]

The violence did not abate until newly arrived veteran Union troops who had just fought at Gettysburg quickly and violently put down the insurrection. These soldiers, fresh from the battlefield and having experienced the loss of so many of their comrades “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [34] Republican newspapers which supported abolition and emancipation were quick to point out the moral of the riots; “that black men who fought for the Union deserved more respect than white men who fought against it.” [35]

In the end, the Enrollment Act contributed little to the Union war effort. Though it was called conscription it was not really conscription, it was “but a clumsy carrot and stick device to stimulate volunteering. The threat was being drafted and the carrot a bounty for volunteering.” [36] The organization of its machinery was so inefficient and the Act’s intentions so diluted “that the effort netted only 35,883 men – albeit along with $15,686,400 in commutation fees.” [37]

While an additional 74,000 men served as substitutes, the number pales in comparison to the nearly 800,000 who volunteered or reenlisted to serve while the act was in force. Only some six percent of the 2.7 million men who served in the Union Army were directly conscripted. Congress repealed the commutation provision in July 1864 and tightened requirements for exemptions.

The Federal government got into the bounty business as well with a $300 bounty for new enlistment and reenlistment, all paid for by the commutation fees collected by through the enrollment Act. To meet the demand “Bounty brokers” went into business to enlist men into the service, getting the best deal possible while themselves taking part of the profit. Some enterprising recruits “could pyramid local, regional, and national bounties into grants of $1000 or more,” [38] and some even took the chance to change their names, move to another and enlist again to collect more bounty money and many deserted before they ever saw combat. “They were so unreliable that any regiment that had them in large numbers was bound to be decidedly weaker than it would have been without them.” [39]

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The men who had been fighting since 1861 and 1862 who had served without bounties and had reenlisted anyway; the veterans of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg and so many other hard fought battles in the West and the East, despised the substitutes and bounty men of 1864, and the poor qualities of such men made the good soldiers look even better. These men were proud of their service, their regiments, and what they had achieved. One soldier from Illinois wrote to his sister: “It is hard for a person to imagine how much a man sacrifices in the way of pleasure and enjoyment by going into the ‘Army,’ but I never think I shall regret being in the ‘Army’ if I get out alive & well.” He did.” [40]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[2] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[3] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[4] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[5] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[6] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[7] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[9] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[10] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[11] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.233

[12] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[13] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War pp.233-234

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.459

[15] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.234

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.459

[17] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[20] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 p.173

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.460

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[23] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.173

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.38

[25] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.635

[26] Catton, Bruce. Never Call Retreat, Pocket Books a division of Simon and Schuster, New York 1965 p.205

[27] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.636

[28] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.637

[29] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.461

[31] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.180

[32] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.180

[33] Ibid. Catton Never Call Retreat p.205

[34] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[35] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.687

[36] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.605

[37] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.236

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.606

[39] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.40

[40] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.40

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Patrick Cleburne & Failed Confederate Emancipation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In light of some of the historical revisionism of parts of the Confederate heritage movement which claim that many blacks fought for the Confederacy. The fact is that this is not true. Though there are account of a few slaves who fought with their masters, the fact is that the Confederacy impressed the labor of slaves to do unarmed non-combat jobs such as cooks, teamsters and laborers while remaining slaves with no promise of freedom.  

This article deals with the reality that until the very end most leaders of the Confederacy fought against emancipation and did not want African Americans, slave or free to fight their battle. One non-slave owning Irish immigrant who rose to become a Confederate General disagreed and urged emancipation and equality for blacks who would fight for the Confederacy. His arguments were rejected and he was killed in action well before any other Confederate even considered emancipation.

The story of Cleburne demonstrates the lie that the leaders of the Confederacy desired nothing else than continued slavery for African Americans. It also demonstrates that there were individual Confederate leaders who saw the future and were pushed aside when they spoke up. Their political power in comparison to the aristocracy of the slave owners, traders and white supremacists was insignificant, and their heretical ideas doomed to failure.

This is another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride Text. I hope that you enjoy. 

Have a nice and thoughtful night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

CleburnePatrick

General Patrick Cleburne 

In the South, politicians and many senior Confederate Officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve, for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. Despite this, a few such as General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant and a division commander in the Army of Tennessee demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race: Cleburne advocated that blacks serve as soldiers should be emancipated.

Cleburne, known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan. He noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have soldiers, the supplies or resources; and most significantly that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.” [1] Cleburne recommended that “we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain to the confederacy in this war.” [2]

Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal:

“Ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced the negro has been dreaming of freedom and his vivid imagination has surrounded the condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes.” It was also shrewd politically: “The measure we propose,” he added, “will strike dead all John Brown fanaticism, and will compel the enemy to draw off altogether or in the eyes of the world to swallow the Declaration of Independence without the sauce and disguise of philanthropy.” [3]

The Irishman’s “logic was military, the goal more men in uniform, but the political vision was radical indeed.” [4] He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than they could risk. He was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [5] and he presented it in stark terms that few could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [6] Cleburne’s words were those of a heretic, he noted “When we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question…and thus enlist their sympathies also.” [7]

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it. Cleburne’s proposal went from being a military matter to a political matter and Davis intervened to quash the proposal. “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissension” in the army, Jefferson Davis ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [8] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [9] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Robert E. Lee was one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [10]

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves, as he now believed that military necessity left him little choice. On November 7th 1864 he made his views known to the Confederate Congress, and they were a radical departure from the hitherto political orthodoxy of slavery. In light of the manpower needs of the South as well as the inability to achieve foreign recognition Davis asked their “consideration…of a radical modification in the theory of law” of slavery…” and he noted that the Confederacy “might have to hold out “his emancipation …as a reward for faithful service.” [11]

This drew the opposition of previously faithful supporters. Davis was now opposed by some of his closest political allies including Howell Cobb who warned “The day that you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” [12] Lee wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [13]

The debate began in earnest in the fall of 1864 and revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [14] The Southern proponents of limited emancipation were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance, and by the President pro-tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith, Virginia’s General Assembly finally approved a law in 1865 “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [15]

Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [16] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [17] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate: “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [18] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [19] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [20]

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

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [21]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.” [22] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [23] and a Mississippi congressman stated, “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [24] On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause and on March 25th two companies were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square and as they did so to the sounds of fifes and drums, “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [25] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [26] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming, “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [27]

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning. Within a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division that had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [28] Among Weitzel’s units were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [29]

Notes

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

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

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

[4] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

[7] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

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

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

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

[11] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

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

[28] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

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

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Gettysburg: The Connection between Policy, Strategy, and Operational Art

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I have been working to revise my materials form my next Gettysburg Staff Ride I did some revisions to my text that I use with my students. The footnotes did not show up so Monday I will repost the text of this article with them. The article is important even for non-military types who care about the country and are involved in politics or policy, because it shows the linkage between the advantages that a nation with a strong strong and effective central government has over one which adopts what we would call today a Libertarian form of government. In fact I would call the effort of the Confederacy in the Civil War “The Failed Libertarian War.” But that is possibly a subject for an article or maybe even a book, but I digress…

So anyway here is the latest,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Today we look at the Gettysburg Campaign in terms of how we understand the connection between strategy and operational art. In doing so we have to place it in the context that Lee’s campaign has in relationship to the Confederate command relationships and where it fits in the continuum of unified action as we understand it today.

To do so we have to make the connection between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objective and tactical objectives. We have to explore command and control structures, staff organization and the understand the effect of the Diplomatic, Informational, Economic and Military elements of national power that impact a nation’s ability to wage war.

The summer campaign of 1863 in the Civil War gives us the opportunity to do this as we explore the Gettysburg campaign in relation to Vicksburg and the overall strategic situation that both sides faced. This includes the elements that we now associate with the DIME.

While Confederate army units and their commanders generally excelled on the tactical level, and their soldiers endured hardship well, this would not be enough to secure victory. They displayed amazing individual initiative on the battlefield and they won many victories against superior forces, especially in the early part of the war. Even during the final year of the war, Lee’s forces fought skillfully and helped prolong the war. But neither the Confederate government nor the various army commanders were able to translate battlefield success to operational, theater specific or national strategic objectives.

The Confederacy had a twofold problem in its organization for war and how it conducted the war. First it had no organization at the strategic level to direct the war, and it never developed one to coordinate its military, military, diplomatic or economic policies. While Southern strategists understood that they needed to “wear down the ability of the North to wage war” they were consistently hobbled by its own internal political divisions which served to undermine efforts to coordinate the effort to defend the Confederacy. These divisions focused on the opposition of the states’ rights proponents to the central government in Richmond.

The overarching national strategic objective of the Confederacy was to attain independence. The Confederates could not hope to conquer the Union and because of that their “strategic problem was to resist conquest” and to do so they would have to “tire the Federals out, and force them to abandon the war.” Jefferson Davis seems to have understood this early in the war, but political considerations and the temperament of most Southerners and their political leaders frustrated his attempts. Generals like Lee and Joseph E. Johnston “were of the opinion that the more remote frontiers should be abandoned, and that the scattered forces of the Confederacy be concentrated, political reasons overruled their judgment.”

Southern politicians, especially the governors and congressmen demanded that troops “defend every portion of the Confederacy from penetration by “Lincoln’s abolition hordes.” Likewise, most Southerners believed that they “could whip any number of Yankees” and as early as 1861 the Confederate press was advocating an offensive strategy as the Richmond Examiner declared “The idea of waiting for blows rather than inflicting them, is altogether unsuited to the genius of our people….The aggressive policy is the truly defensive one. A column pushed forward into Ohio or Pennsylvania is worth more to us, as a defensive measure, than a whole tier of seacoast batteries from Norfolk to the Rio Grande.”

This combination of wanting to defend everything, which defied Frederick the Great’s classic dictum that “he who defends everything defends nothing” and the persistent employment of the offensive even when it “drained the Confederacy’s manpower and weakened its long term prospects for independence” were key strategic factors in its defeat.

The South did get an earlier start to in mobilizing for war then the Union. Even before the “Confederate Congress authorized an army of 100,000 volunteers for twelve months” on March 6th 1861 the governors of the eleven Confederate States raised units to fight any Federal armies which dared to force them back into the Union. This involved dusting off the old militias which had been allowed to decay in the period between the Mexican War and 1860. Most of these units in the South as well as the North were volunteer companies in which the discipline, equipment and training varied to a significant degree. Most had little in the way of real military training and “many of them spent more time drinking than drilling.” The early Confederate mobilization outstripped the availability of arms and equipment forcing many volunteers to be sent home.

Other than the stated desire for independence and their common hatred of the “Yankee,” there was little in the way of unity within the Confederate States, “the incurable jealousy of the States, especially those not immediately affected by the war, established a dry rot within the Confederacy.” Within the Confederacy, each state viewed itself as an independent nation only loosely bound to the other states and some legislatures enacted laws which actively opposed the central government in Richmond.

The various Confederate states controlled the use of their units and often resisted any effort at centralization of effort. Some kept their best units at home, while others dispatched units to Confederate armies such as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Initially most states limited enlistment periods to one year despite the opposition of Robert E. Lee who helped Jefferson Davis pass the Conscription Act of 1862, a measure that was “heavily watered down by those politicians whose first concern was states’ rights and by those who felt that it would undermine patriotism.” That measure, even in its watered down form was distinctly unpopular, especially with the following declaration of martial law in parts of the Confederacy.

Both measures were brought by realists who understood that for the Confederacy to survive the war effort had to become a total war, with “the whole population and the whole production…put on a war footing.” Such measures provoke more attacks and opposition by their opponents who advocated states’ rights even if it worked against the overall interests of the Confederacy. By the time of Gettysburg if not sooner, “Confederate society began to unravel. The yeomanry and poor white people resented conscription, the tax-in-kind impressment, and other governmental measures than the wealthy. Planters sought to safeguard their property and status to the detriment of national goals.”

This included how state governments responded to the military needs of the Confederacy. Some governors hoarded weapons seized from Federal armories, “retaining these weapons to arm regiments that they kept at home… defend state boarders and guard against potential slave uprisings.” When in response to threats within the Confederacy Jefferson Davis suspended the writ of habeas corpus it resulted in a firestorm of opposition from the states. “Mississippi and Georgia passed flaming resolutions against the act; Louisiana presently did so, too, and North Carolina soon had a law on its books nullifying the action of the central government.” Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice President noted that there was “no such thing as a citizen of the United States, but the citizen of a State, and that “the object of quitting the Union, was not to destroy, but to save the principles of the Constitution.”

Likewise as economic conditions worsened and inflation soared in late 1861 the Confederate Congress “in its allotments to the War Department refused to face up to the costs of running the war…it forced the department to scramble in an atmosphere of uncertainty for allotments on a short-run basis.” There was much distrust of any attempt to organize a true central government with any actual authority or power in Richmond. Jefferson Davis may have been President but his country was hamstrung by its own internal divisions, including the often vocal opposition of Stephens for whom states’ rights remained a paramount issue. Stephens, in a statement that defied the understanding that military victory had to be achieved for independence to be won said during the habeas corpus debate “Away with the idea of getting independence first, and looking to liberty afterward.” This, like so many other aspects of the Confederate war effort showed the radical disconnection between legislators, policy makers and the Army and defied any understanding of the importance of government and the unity of effort in pursuing war aims. .

The Confederacy lacked a clear defined command structure to coordinate its war efforts. At the beginning of the war this was true of the Union as well, however, by the Union was much more adept at responding to the needs of the war, this included its military operations, diplomatic efforts and economy. Out of necessity it established a War Department as well as a Department of the Navy in February 1861 and Jefferson Davis, the new President who had served in Mexico and as Secretary of War prior to secession “helped speed southern mobilization in 1861.” However helpful this was initially Davis, who micromanaged Confederate war efforts “eventually led to conflict with some army officers.”

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Jefferson Davis was an able man to be sure, but he “totally misunderstood the nature of the war.” Davis was a man given to suspicion and had major personality conflicts with all of his senior commanders save Robert E. Lee. These included Joseph Johnston who he loathed and P.T.G. Beauregard, both of whom he quarreled with on matters of strategy. These conflicts did impact operations, just as did the refusal of various states to support operations or campaigns apart from ones that impacted their state directly.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

In effect each Confederate army and military department operated independently, often competing with each other for the troops, supplies and materials needed to fight. They also had to contend with recalcitrant state governments, each loathe to sacrifice anything that might compromise their own independence. Attempts by the authorities in Richmond to centralize some measure of authority were met with resistance by the states. Thus states’ rights were “not only the cause of the war, but also the cause of the Confederate downfall.”

In a country as vast as the Confederacy that lacked the industry, transportation infrastructure, population and economic power of the North this was a hindrance that could not be overcome by the soldierly abilities of its armies alone. An example of the Confederate problem was that “neither the army nor the government exercised any control of the railroads.” The Confederate Subsistence Department, which in theory was responsible for ensuring the supply of food, stores and the logistical needs necessary to maintain armies in the field could not plan with confidence. “Tied to the railroads, unable to build up a reserve; frequently uncertain whether or not their troops were going to be fed from one day to the next, field commanders understandably experienced a general loss of confidence in the Subsistence Department….” Even though the subsistence and even the survival of the army was dependent on the use of railroads, the railroad owners “responded by an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate….and Government shipments were accorded low priority. In May of 1863 the Confederate Congress finally granted the government broad authority over the railroads, but “Davis hesitated to wield the power. “ It would not be until early 1865 that the Confederacy would “finally take control of the railroads.”

All of these factors had a direct effect on the campaign of 1863. In the west, Confederate commanders were very much left to fend for themselves and to add to their misery failed even to coordinate their activities to meet the threat of Grant and his naval commander, Admiral David Dixon Porter. In the East, Lee having established a close relationship with Jefferson Davis as his military advisor during the first year of the war exercised a disproportionate influence on the overall strategy of the Confederacy because of his relationship with Davis. However, Lee was hesitant to use his influence to supply his army, even when it was suffering. Even though he willingly shared in the plight of his solders, Lee refused “to exert his authority to obtain supplies….” As the army prepared to invade Pennsylvania, “the paltry rationing imposed by Richmond was made worse by a tenuous supply line….”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Seddon desired to turn the tide at Vicksburg and proposed sending Longstreet’s Corps to reinforce Johnston to relieve the embattled city and maintain the front on the Mississippi. However, Lee believed that any attempt “to turn the Tide at Vicksburg…put Lee’s army in Virginia at unacceptable risk.”

The lack of any sense of unity in the Confederate hierarchy and lack of a grand strategy was disastrous. The lack of agreement on a grand strategy and the inability of the Confederate States Government and the various state governments to cooperate at any level culminated in the summer of 1863 with the loss of Vicksburg and the failure of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The Confederate failure in this demonstrates the absolute need for unity of effort and even more a whole of government and whole of nation approach to war.

This can be contrasted with the Union, which though it was slow to understand the nature of the war did have people who, through trial and error developed a cohesive strategy that led to success at the operational level and the tactical level. The genus in Union strategy came from Lieutenant General Winfield Scott who “appreciated the relationship between economic factors and attack.” Scott’s strategic plan was to establish a blockade and form two major armies, “one to move down the Mississippi and cut off the western half of the Confederacy from its eastern half, while the other threatened Richmond and pinned down the main Confederate forces in Virginia.” It was a plan for total war called Anaconda which was mocked in both the Northern and Southern press and it would become the blueprint of Federal success at the war progressed. Scott was the first to recognize that the war would not be short and his plan was the first to “recognize the North’s tremendous advantage in numbers and material, and it was the first to emphasize the importance of the Mississippi Valley in an over-all view of the war.”

Abraham Lincoln had little in the way of military acumen and frequently, until Grant took control of the armies interfered with his senior commanders, often with good reason. However, Lincoln was committed to winning the war and willing to take whatever steps necessary to do so. Fuller describes him as “none other than a dictator” by bypassing Congress and on his own authority declaring a blockade of Southern ports, calling for 75,000 volunteers and suspending habeas corpus.

Likewise Lincoln as well as Congress understood the value and necessity of the railroads and in January 1862 “Congress authorized to take possession of any railroads and place them under military control when the public safety warranted it.” Lincoln formed the Department of Military Railroads the following month and appointed Daniel C McCallum as its director. In May President Lincoln formally took possession of all railroads, but “saw to it that cooperative lines received government aid.”

George McClellan, who Lincoln appointed as commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, whatever his many faults as a field commander “possessed a strategic design for winning the war,” understood the necessity of unity of command and successfully built an effective army. Now his design was different than that of Scott, for he desired to “crush the rebels in one campaign” by an overland march to Richmond. While this was unrealistic because of McClellan’s constant overestimation of his enemy and inability to risk a fight when on the Peninsula and at the gates of Richmond, the Union might have at least had a chance should he have defeated the major Confederate forces deployed to defend that city. While that would have been unlikely to win the war in a single stroke it would have been a significant reversal for the Confederacy in 1862.

Logistics was one of the deciding factors of e war, both the Confederate weakness and Union ability to adapt society and government needs to wartime conditions. As a general principle Union leaders, government and business alike understood the changing nature of modern war. This stood in stark contrast to the inefficient and graft ridden Confederate agencies where even those who wanted more effective means to wage war were hindered by politicians, land owners and businessmen who insisted on their rights over the needs of the nation. The Union developed an efficient and well managed War Department where the importance of logistics inter-bureau cooperation became a paramount concern.

Union industry “geared up up for war production on a scale that would make the Union army the best fed, most lavishly supplied army that have ever existed.” The Quartermaster’s Department under the direction of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs was particularly efficient in supplying the needs of a military fighting on exterior lines in multiple theaters of operation. Unlike the Confederate Subsistence Bureau the Federal Quartermaster Bureau supplied almost everything the army could need: “uniforms, overcoats shoes, knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, mess gear, blankets, tents, camp equipage, barracks, horses, mules, forage, harnesses, horseshoes, and portable blacksmith shops, supply wagons, ships when the army could be supplied by water, coal and wood to fuel them, and supply depots for storage and distribution.” The ill-equipped Confederates could only look on with awe, in fact during his absence from Lee J.E.B. Stuart was ecstatic over the capture of “one hundred and twenty five of the best United States model wagons and splendid teams….” likewise one of the reasons that A.P. Hill allowed Harry Heth to send his division the Gettysburg was to find shoes that the Confederate Subsistence Department could not provide for them. Thus one of the reasons for the Battle of Gettysburg is directly linked to the failed logistics system of the Confederacy.

Early in the war the Union logistics effort was beset by some of the same problems that plagued the Confederacy throughout the war. Graft and corruption ran rife until 1862 when “Congress established investigative committees to uncover fraud and passed laws regulating the letting of contracts.” Meigs overhauled the bureau. At the beginning of the war it had only one department, for clothing. He modernized this and added eight new departments, which dealt with “specialized logistical functions such as forage and fuel, barracks and hospitals and wagon transportation.” During the war Meigs managed nearly half the direct costs of the Union war effort,” over 1.5 billion dollars in spending. He has been called by James McPherson as “the unsung hero of northern victory.”

meigs1

The Unsung Union Hero: General Montgomery Meigs 

This had a profound effect on operations. When the Union forces by necessity had to operate in enemy territory they were well supplied whereas whenever Confederate Forces conducted operations in the North or even in supposedly friendly Border States they were forced to subsist off the land. This meant that Confederate operations in the north were no more than what we would call raids, even the large invasions launched by Lee in 1862 and 1863, both which ended in defeat and near disaster.

Because of their poor logistic capabilities Confederate forces had no staying power to keep and hold any ground that they took in enemy territory. This can be contrasted with the Union which when it sent its forces south meant them to stay.

Lee could not fathom this and because he believed that no Federal Army could stand a summer in the Deep South and that Grant would be forced to withdraw. The use of railroads to supply its far flung forces operating in the south as well as its use of maritime transportation along the coast and on inland waterways ensured that Northern armies could always be supplied or if threatened could be withdrawn by ship.

Some senior Union officers also understood the importance of logistics. Henry Halleck was the first true American military theorist. He published the first American work on strategy, Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846. While his is often given short shrift because he was not an effective field commander and had an acerbic personality which rubbed people the wrong way, Halleck was one of the most important individuals in organizing the eventual Union victory. This included matters of strategy, picking effective subordinate commanders and understanding the logistical foundations of strategy.

Weigley wrote of Halleck:

“He sponsored and encouraged the operations of Brigadier General Ulysses. S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote that captured Forts Henry and Donaldson in February 1862 and thereby opened up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for Union penetration deep into the state of Tennessee and toward the strategically important Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Halleck’s insights into the logistical foundations of strategy proved consistently accurate. Throughout the war, he maintained a shrewd eye for logistically viable lines of operation for the Union forces, and he increasingly recognized that one of the most effective weapons of offensive strategy, in an age when battle meant exposure to rifled firepower, was not to aim directly at the enemy armies but at their logistical base.”

Halleck was also instrumental in helping to oust Hooker just before Gettysburg and raise Meade to command the Army of the Potomac. When Lincoln brought Grant east to become General in Chief Halleck took on the new position of Chief of Staff. This was a task that he fulfilled admirably, allowing Grant to remain in the field and ensuring clear communication between Lincoln and Grant as well as relieving “Grant of the burden of personally corresponding with his department commanders.”

By establishing what we now understand as the beginning of a modern command and staff organizational structure the Union was far more able to link its national, theater and operational level objectives with its tactical objectives, even when some of its commanders were not as good as Confederates and blundered into defeats. Above the army, at the administration level Stanton, the Federal Secretary of war organized a War Board and “composed of department heads and chaired by Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock…as an embryonic American-style general staff.”

In the end during the summer of 1863 it was the Union which was better able to link the ends, ways and means of the strategic direction of the war. This is something that Davis and Lee were unable to do as they struggled with political division, a lack of cooperation from the states, and the lack of any true grand strategy.

Lee’s strategy of the offensive was wrong and compounded the problems faced by the Confederacy. The losses that his army suffered were irreplaceable, not just in terms of overall numbers of soldiers but in terms of his mid-level leaders, his battalion, regiment and brigade commanders who suffered grievous losses and were even more critical to the leadership of his army.

Lee recognized the terrible effects of his officer casualties in a letter to General John Bell Hood on May 21st: “There never were such men in an Army before. But there is the difficulty- proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” His actions at Gettysburg only added to his crisis in keeping his army supplied with competent commanders, as so many were left dead, wounded or captured during the campaign.

Even had Lee won the battle of Gettysburg his casualties in Union territory would have been prohibitive. He would have spent most of his ammunition, incurred serious losses in personnel and horses, and been burdened by not having to care for his wounded and still been deep in Union territory away from his nearest logistics hub. Had Lee won at Gettysburg “his ammunition would have been nearly exhausted in victory, while Federal logistics would have improved as the Army of the Potomac fell back toward the eastern cities.” This would have forced him to withdraw from Pennsylvania even had he been victorious.

It is true that a victory on northern soil might have emboldened the peace party in the North, but even then that could not have an effect on the desired effect on the Lincoln Administration until the election of 1864, still 16 months away. Likewise, in July 1863 such a victory would probably not have triggered foreign recognition or assistance on the part of France or England. “Skilful northern diplomacy prevented an internal conflict from becoming an international war.” Jefferson Davis held on to his fantasy until August 1863, when even he was forced to deal with reality was a vain hope indeed and ended his diplomatic efforts to bring England into the war.

England would not intervene for many reasons and the Confederate government did not fully appreciate the situation of the countries that they hoped would intervene on their behalf:

“its dependence on northern foodstuffs, access to new cotton supplies, turmoil in Europe, fear of what might happen to Canada and to British commerce in a war with the Union, and an unwillingness to side with slavery. The British government also wanted to establish precedents by respecting the blockade, a weapon that it often used.”

Confederate politicians were hindered by a very narrow, parochial view of the world, had little understanding of modern industry, economics and the type of diplomacy employed by Europeans both to strengthen their nations, but also to maintain a balance of power.

As we look at the Gettysburg and Vicksburg campaigns in the summer of 1863 these are important things to consider. The relationship between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objectives and tactical success cannot be minimized. Success on the battlefield alone is almost always insufficient to win a war unless those wins serve a higher operational and strategic purpose, and the costs of battles and campaigns have to be weighed in relation to the strategic benefits that derive from them.

In the end the total failure of the two campaigns destroyed any real hope of Confederate military victory. At Vicksburg the Confederacy lost all of Pemberton’s army, 33,000 men and Lee suffered over 28,000 casualties from an army which had begun the campaign with about 80,000 troops. The losses were irreplaceable.

This essay is certainly not an exhaustive look at the subject, but if we do not consider these factors we cannot really understand the bigger picture of the situation that the two sides faced and how they dealt with them. While the weapons and tactics employed by the sides are obsolete the thought processes and strategic considerations are timeless.

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An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

“The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” Robert E. Lee

I am always attracted to military leaders with a tragic and honorable history, men who maintain honor and humanity even when the nations that they serve was on the wrong side of history.  There have been such men in almost every war and I admire them even in defeat more than I do those that win victories at all costs and in the process lose their souls. This puts me in a select minority and minorities are not always appreciated we tend to make people uncomfortable just by existing. Since I have been threatened by threatened by Neo-Nazis, called weak, a heretic, apostate and sometimes worse by fellow Christians even being tossed from my former church for now being “too liberal” I am now officially used to this even when it comes from friends Romans and countrymen and the occasional nutty European, Asian or Islamist from abroad.

Today we stand at a political divide not seen since the days leading up to the American Civil War but it didn’t have to come to this had our political and corporate leadership been responsible and acted with wisdom the past 40 years or so. Robert E Lee a man unquestioned integrity was torn by his desire to see the Union preserved and his allegiance to it and his loyalty to his own family and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Lee is a tragic figure a true man of courage, faith and decency, a man of moderation who maintained a profound respect and love for the United States even while leading the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.  He had his flaws as well but on the whole he was one of the truly great men in American history. When the war was lost he was an advocate of reconciliation between the deeply divided North and the conquered South.

In an age of bitterness brought about by defeat and the repression of the draconian measures of Reconstruction Lee was a man that understood that as Americans it was necessary to put aside bitterness.  After the defeat he was accosted by a woman professing her hatred of the North. His reply to her would be a good start for all of those today who hate their fellow Americans be they Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Tea Partiers on the basis of political ideology and the raw quest for power.  Lee said to this woman “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”

Unfortunately among certain parts of the electorate the Government of the United States is detested and some even call for revolution if not at the ballot box if need be by violence.  The rhetoric is certainly pointing that direction as conservatives and liberals alike turn up the heat on this witches cauldron that our country has become. Compromise is considered anathema by both sides especially by the Tea Party movement and the fact is that we are at war with ourselves the national fabric is broken even worse than or economic state or moral state.  We may not be shooting at each other yet but unless we see some kind of national decision by all Americans to stop the political fratricide and work together to solve the problems that have been festering for decades it may come to down to bullets and the tragedy will be worse than that of the Civil War because despite the tragedy of it some good did come, the end of slavery and an understanding of being Americans rather than simply New Yorkers or Virginians. Lee writing about the war said “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

This political fratricide is in large part due to the manner in which our politicians, political parties and even religious institutions are the servants of multinational corporations and financial groups. When everything comes down to it all of these institutions are deeply subservient to the whims of special interests especially multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It is no wonder that leaders as diverse as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Napoleon Bonaparte recognized the threat that they pose to nations and in the case of the United States to democracy itself. Jefferson wrote “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Roosevelt noted quite rightly, much to the chagrin of his fellow Republicans “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of today.” While Napoleon cut to the heart of the matter when he wrote “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

Yet in the midst of our political fratricide there seems to be one special interest group above all which always seems to win even when the people of the country suffer. That group is the multinational corporations and financial institutions.  It doesn’t matter what party is in power they somehow come out with a big fat profit margin and get treatment that regular people could never hope to get. Now since the Supreme Court has ruled that big corporations (and labor too) now have no limits on what they can contribute to political campaigns you can bet your ass that politicians of all ilk’s will be suckling lucrative money milk from the tits of these corporations which will dispense billions of dollars to political campaigns in the coming year and a half leading up to the 2012 election.  We expect this of Republicans and Democrat but rest assured my friends that even Tea Party candidates will line up for their turn in order suckle at this tit to keep their newly acquired offices or gain more in the coming election. Such is the nature of politics in our fair country.

Meanwhile both parties dither about a budget that if they had been doing their jobs would have been completed months ago had Nancy Pelosi bothered to submit a budget for 2011 while Speaker of the House.  Now about three months into the new Congress both parties are posturing on the next year’s budget all the while the government lurches toward a shutdown of unpredictable consequences.

Yes we have to deal with the mess that these same people of both parties aided and abetted by their special interest group supporters have made over years to get us in this mess. Administration after administration and Congress after Congress have kicked this can down the road and now they have kicked it and the country into the ditch. Now something has to be done and Democrats seem loathe to step up to the plate and take political risks  while Republicans, particularly the Tea Party leadership are acting like the Jacobins during the French Revolution even threatening even their own party leadership if they don’t get everything that they want. All seem to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the country just wants both sides to figure the damned thing out and fix the problem for real even if it means personal sacrifice rather than seeing these people pursue the policy of mutually assured destruction.

Why does this seem so personal to me? Let me tell you. When I came back from Iraq after seeing the results of unbridled hatred in that country and having travelled in the Balkans after the Yugoslav Civil War I became frightened when I saw politicians of both parties speaking with the same invective as I saw in those countries. Nothing like seeing the effects of a real live shooting civil war to give one pause when political enemies threaten to cross that same line in this country.  Don’t dismiss this out of hand. For years certain pundits, politicians and preachers on both sides of the political chasm have been dehumanizing their opponents and once people are no longer seen as human it is very easy to resort to violence against them. Just take a look at the ordinary Germans who took part in the extermination of the Jews under the Hitler regime.

Am I forgetting something here? Yes I almost forgot, in 2008 we saw the housing crisis in which the very institutions caused the crisis were bailed out by both President Bush and President Obama with Congress willing and lovingly joining in to approve billions and billions of dollars for them. This included huge amounts of money which went to foreign financial institutions. Meanwhile regular people had their home value and credit slashed even as unemployment skyrocketed and in the following years we have seen the same banks seizing the foreclosed homes in record numbers while millions of others now owe far more on their loans than their homes are worth. It’s a great deal for the banks. Approve loans for people who will have a hard time repaying them, crash the economy have the government bail you out and then take the homes and sell them while still collecting the cash from the unfortunate former owners. Well to quote a great line from the Roman Empire segment of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy History of the World Part One

Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?
Entire Senate: F*** THE POOR!

It’s funny how a comedy from the late 1970s offers such remarkable political and social insights for us today. But then Teddy Roosevelt said of the Roman Republic as a warning to us back in 1903 “The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.”

Well if these present rulers don’t get their act together parts of the government will shut down and your military which is currently involved in four wars, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the nearly forgotten War on Terrorism in lots of places that the media doesn’t mention will not get paid. Ain’t that a hoot?  But mind you as military personnel try to salvage the wars that our politicians have plunged us into we still serve even if we won’t get paid.  Yet when push comes to shove we are cast aside by the political ruling class for their short term political gain.  I remember a quote of Robert E Lee which speaks volumes on this subject. Lee was besieged at Petersburg, his haggard and outnumbered Army deprived of food, ammunition and replacements was dying in the cold mud of the trenches when he went to seek help from the Confederate Congress. After his visit he remarked “I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.”

Seems that nothing really changes, does it? This unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides. When will we ever learn?

God help us all,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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