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The Bloodiest Day In American History: The Battle Of Antietam, September 17th 1862

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have visited the battlefield of Antietam, at Sharpsburg, Maryland numerous times going back to the 1990s. Apart from Gettysburg, I have been to it more than any other battlefield in North America. It it a haunting place, not nearly as commercialized as the outskirts of Gettysburg have become. Yet on it, more Americans were killed or wounded on any single day in American history, and it was Americans killing other Americans. Though the battle itself was a draw in terms of tactical terms, it turned out to be one that helped decide the course of history. Historian Stephen W. Sears wrote:

“Of all the days on all the fields where American soldiers have fought, the most terrible by almost any measure was September 17, 1862. The battle waged on that date, close by Antietam Creek at Sharpsburg in western Maryland, took a human toll never exceeded on any other single day in the nation’s history. So intense and sustained was the violence, a man recalled, that for a moment in his mind’s eye the very landscape around him turned red.” 

Captain Emory Upton, of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, and later one of the men who helped modernize the tactics of of the Army in the 1880s wrote:

“I have heard of ‘the dead lying in heaps’, but never saw it till this battle. Whole ranks fell together.”

Another officer, Lieutenant Frederick L. Hitchcock Of the 132nd Pennsylvania at the Bloody Lane:

“We were in the very maelstrom of the battle. Men were falling every moment. The horrible noise was incessant and almost deafening. Except that my mind was absorbed in my duties, I do not know how I could have endured the strain.” 

To the west of Frederick Maryland a small town named Sharpsburg sits on the west side of a creek. Named Antietam the creek’s headwaters are in Franklin County Pennsylvania and it meanders south where just to the south of Sharpsburg it empties into the Potomac River.

It is a peaceful place, rolling hills and agricultural country with some well preserved stone arch bridges, including one just outside of Sharpsburg. It is hard to believe that 150 years ago the town and the creek were the scene of the bloodiest single day of battle in American history.

On that indian summer day of 1862 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee, commanding made a stand against the much larger Union Army of the Potomac, Major General George B. McClellan, commanding.

Lee had invaded Maryland following a string of successes in Northern Virginia during that summer of 1862, defeating McClellan outside of Richmond in the Seven Days, and in a campaign of maneuver bested a newly formed Army, the Union Army of Virginia commanded by Major General John Pope defeating it at the Second Battle of Bull Run between 28-30 August 1862. With Northern Virginia’s crops and livestock depleted and his opponents in crisis Lee moved his army north into Maryland. The decision was driven partly by the need to provision his army, but also had the hope of drawing Maryland away from the Union mistakenly believing that public sentiment in that state was pro-Confederate. If the people of Maryland rose up to support Lee it would be disastrous to the Union and endanger the capital itself. A final consideration was the hope that a Confederate victory on Northern soil would bring about the foreign recognition and possibly the intervention of Great Britain on the side of the Confederacy.

                                                   The Lost Order

Lee crossed the Potomac on September 3rd and sent his Second Corps west with some elements seizing the Union armory in Harper’s Ferry, others to secure the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Martinsburg the rest of the Army was in the area of Frederick. He was pursued by the very cautious McClellan at the head of the Army of the Potomac.

On September 9th Lee issued General Order 191, the infamous “lost order” which a copy of which was found by Union soldiers wrapped around three cigars at a campground recently occupied by Lee’s rear guard element, the division of D.H. Hill on September 13th. The order detailed the disposition of Lee’s army and McClellan seized the opportunity. On the 14th the Army of the Potomac attacked part of Lee’s army at the Battle of South Mountain. The Union won that battle forcing the outnumbered Confederate forces to withdraw, though the delay allowed Lee to concentrate more of his army at Sharpsburg on the 15th.

Although he outnumbered Lee McClellan believed the reports of the Pinkerton Detective Agency which provided intelligence to the army. Those estimates which credited Lee with more than 100,000 troops. He delayed his attack until he had drawn up his full army on the on the 17th.

                            The Dead Near the Dunker Church

When he did attack on the 17th his attacks were uncoordinated and though he came close to decisive breakthrough Lee’s army desperately clung to its positions. The action began to the north of the town in the morning and both sides showed incredible ferocity at the Cornfield, where in the space of about three hours nearly 8000 soldiers were killed or wounded. The fighting shifted to the center of the line opposite the town by mid-day. Amid the destructive storm of artillery the armies fought around the Dunker Church and a sunken lane now known as “Bloody Lane.” In the confines of that 800 yard stretch of road over 5000 soldiers were killed or wounded in the course of about four hours. The Union forces broke the Confederate line but reinforcements were not sent and when the the division commander, Major General Israel Richardson was mortally wounded the attack lost its verve and the Confederates under Lieutenant General James Longstreet were able to restore the line.

The south remained quiet as McClellan ordered Major General Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps to hold off on attacking. Burnside did not receive his orders to attack until 1000. He finally attacked across the south bridge, now known as Burnside’s Bridge in the afternoon. It was another tough fight and Burnside, after several attempts move to the south to flank Confederate forces in the late afternoon with the intention of cutting Lee from off his only escape route.  The Confederates were in a desperate condition. It was at this point, about 3 PM when the division of Major General A.P. Hill arrived and immediately counterattacked breaking up Burnside’s attack. Burnside requested reinforcements from McClellan who refused saying that he had none available. This was not the case, McClellan had two full corps of infantry uncommitted to the battle but still believing that he was outnumbered and that Lee was attempting to trap him.

The actioned ended by 530 PM with both sides rested and reorganized for action the next day. Lee prepared to defend but no Union attack was offered on the 18th. An informal truce was observed to allow the evacuation of the wounded and Lee began his withdraw across the Potomac into Virginia that night. Despite being goaded by Lincoln to pursue McClellan did not and the Union lost the opportunity to destroy Lee’s army n Union territory.

Casualty estimates vary but according to Stephen W Sears in his book Landscape Turned Red that the Army of the Potomac lost 2108 dead, 9540 wounded and 753 missing. He states the best estimate of Confederate casualties are 1546 dead, 7752 wounded and 1018 missing. Most of the missing were likely killed and buried in mass graves or discovered and buried by civilians after the battle. In the space of 12 hours 22719 Americans were killed or wounded. It was the bloodiest single day in American military history.

Though the battle was inconclusive in that Lee’s army survived but had to break off its offensive it had more influence than expected. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd and though it did not take effect until January 1st 1863 it marked a turning point in the war.

McClellan failed to take up the offensive in the next tow months and Lincoln relieved him of command giving the Army of the Potomac to Burnside who goaded by Lincoln took the army into battle at Fredericksburg where it met with defeat.

I have been to the battlefield a number of times, on my own in 1997, once as part of a “staff ride” with the Marine battalion that I was assigned in May of 2000, and a couple of other times on my own. The last time I was there in 2017, I walked over 17 miles on the battlefield.

Each time I go I take the time to ponder the great losses endured by both armies and the individual courage of the soldiers involved. Some of the units that I served with in the Army National Guard in Texas and Virginia trace their lineage and honors to regiments that fought at Antietam and I have felt a connection to the battle because of that. It is hard to imagine the amount of death and carnage taking place in such a placid location in such a short amount of time.

It is something to ponder when some Americans openly suggest another civil war if their party does not win the next Presidential election.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Colonel Robert Gould Shaw Of the 54th Massachusetts who Fought for “men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.”


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is an older article, but as the President and his supporters invoke more and more racist words and actions, it is worth the repeat. The principles of the Declaration of Independence must be continually fought for, otherwise, as our founders fully understood, they can be trampled under by tyrants. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

When it learned that the Federal Government was recruiting African Americans, both free men and former slaves as soldiers the Confederate Congress issued this proclamation:

“Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.” 

Those who doubt that the leaders of the Confederacy fought the war for any “state right” other than the maintenance and expansion of slavery needs to look at the actions and words of that racist republic.

All of the various ordinances of secession of the Confederate States included verbiage which directly stated White Supremacy and the racial inferiority of Blacks. A sample is that of Texas, in which there were very few slaves or Slave holders compared to the bulk of the Confederate States:

“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw 

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today one of those African American regiments went into action against the Confederate works at Battery Wagner, outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The 54th was raised in Boston and Frederick Douglass was instrumental in recruiting men to serve in it, two of which were his sons, and another the grandson of Sojourner Truth. The regimental commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was the son of wealth abolitionists. When the call for volunteers was made in 1861 joined the 7th New York, and later commissioned in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, with which he fought at the battle of Antietam. After that battle he was offered the command of a black regiment then being raised in Boston. He initially declined the offer but on second thought decided to take it.

Later tonight I will probably watch the film Glory about that regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. It was one of the first African American Regiments raised for service in the Civil War. I have seen the movie a number of times, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Of course I have written a number of articles about the 54th and other African American units in the Civil War, the later “Buffalo Soldiers” and African American military pioneers, but I cannot forget the 54th. These were men who volunteered and remained in service knowing that the Confederate Congress had condemned them to death should they ever be captured. They also endured the mocking of some White Union soldiers as well as pay inequity with whites, for doing the same dangerous job as infantrymen.

When it was decided that an attack would be made on Battery Wagner the 54th was chosen for the mission. General Thomas Seymour provided this rational for leading the attack the the 54th: they “were in any respect as efficient as any other body of men; and as one of the strongest and best officered, there seemed to be no good reason why it should not be selected for the advance”


During their attack on the night of July 18th 1863, 272 members of the 600 men of the 54th who made the attack including their commander, the twenty-six year-old Colonel Shaw were killed or wounded in a bloody but unsuccessful assault on Battery Wagner. Following the assault, “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” He would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.


Thinking that it was an insult the Confederates stripped Shaw’s body of his uniform and robbed him of his possessions, including his sword. They threw Colonel Shaw’s body in a mass grave with his African American soldiers. When Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told by Confederate commander General Johnson Hagood:

“Had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honorable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with the niggers that fell with him.”

Union officers sought to have his remains returned but Shaw’s father wrote to implore them not to continue the effort. He wrote to the regimental surgeon:

“We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has!”

When Shaw first went to war he wrote to his mother words that should be in all of our hearts when we fight for the rights of others, especially those who are despised due to their race, national origin, color, religion or lack thereof,  gender, or sexual orientation:

“We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.”

That is what we fight for when we stand for the civil rights of others. That is why it is important to remember the example of the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Battle Of Puebla: Cinco De Mayo, a Great Day for Mexico that Helped the United States

The Battle of Puebla

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just wanted to wish all my readers a happy Cinco de Mayo. This holiday, which is not a Federal holiday in Mexico, and has nothing to due with Mexican Independence Day is very important to both Mexico and the United States. It celebrates the defeat of a French Army by Mexican forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th 1862.

Mexico had already been independent for nearly forty years when this took place. The French had led an intervention in Mexico, and members of the conservative Mexican aristocracy asked Archduke Maximilian of Austria to be the emperor of a new Imperial Mexico, and he agreed, but instead of glory found death.

Before Maximilian took over, the French first had to conquer the Mexican Republic, something that most Mexicans rather liked. At Puebla the French commander, General Charles Latrille de Lorencez underestimated the Mexican will to resist and ordered an attack on the city which was repulsed with heavy casualties. The French made an uphill frontal attack on well motivated and dug in Mexican regulars, back up by whatever militia troops and volunteers could be found. The French discovered what Americans would learn in the Civil War and Europeans would learn in the First World War: frontal charges against dug in troops were often suicidal. After several failed assaults, the Mexican Commander, General Ignacio Zaragoza unleashed his cavalry on the French flanks persuading the French Commander to withdraw.

The battle did not end the war in Mexico, but it helped inspired Mexicans opposed to Maximilian and the Empire to continue the struggle, in which they eventually prevailed. But, in a broader sense, more important to Americans it prevented French Emperor Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon faulted his father for the sale of French colonial lands to the United States during the Louisiana Purchase, and hoped to use the chaos of the American Civil War to regain some or all of that territory. As such he was willing to help the Confederacy in order to negate the power of a unified United States.

Had the Mexicans not been victorious at Puebla and captured Mexican City in May of 1862 there was a strong possibility that Napoleon would have recognized the Confederacy and quite possibly convinced the English to do the same. At the time General McClellan was withdrawing from his abortive Peninsular Campaign, and resistance to the war in the North was growing. However, the defeat at Puebla, coupled with the Union capture of New Orleans, followed by the Union defeat of Lee’s invasion of Maryland at Antietam in September, and the announcement of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and by exceptional Union diplomacy nipped Napoleon’s plans in the bud.

Since people around the world expected the French to have an easy time of it the victory was stunning, and it inspired the Mexican people to fight on. Now the war went on for some time. Eventually, the French succeeded in capturing Mexico City on May 17th 1863 and installed Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico upon his arrival in Veracruz on May 21st 1864.

Emperor Maximilian

Although the French had had succeeded in installing Maximillian, the war was not over. President Benito Juarez and his Mexican Republic troops continued to resist and in 1865, aided by weapons, arms and money from the United States which now that its Civil War was over, was able to help Mexico, the Mexican Republican Forces issued a series of defeats on French Forces. Emperor Napoleon III of France, who had conjured up this mess now decided that the price of supporting Emperor Maximilian was too high, and belatedly chose better relations with the United States over the hapless Maximilian and his Mexican forces.

President Benito Juarez

The French withdrew, but Emperor Max chose to fight on. He was captured by Republican forces and was tried, and sentenced to death. At his execution he paid the firing squad in gold not to shoot him in the head so his mother could see his face. The remnants of his government surrendered in Mexico City on June 20th 1867, the day after his execution.

Despite Cinco de Mayo not being an official Mexican holiday, we Americans and people in a number of other countries do celebrate it, ostensibly as a day to remember Mexican heritage, but more often as an excuse to party, eat Mexican food, and drink lots of beer, margaritas, and tequila shots.

Have a great day, and viva la Mexico!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“The Promise Being Made, Must be Kept…” Abolition, Emancipation, and Freedom for All, 166 Years After the Emancipation Proclamation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

February is Black History Month, it’s something that no American of any race, color, or creed should forget. African Americans, the decendants of slaves and slaves themselves fought for freedom that was only at best was in the promissory note of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Those men, and women in the case of Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth, paved the way for freedom for African Americans and all others who benefited from what they fought for: women, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and other Hispanics, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ Americans. That promise being made then, must be kept today, to the descendents of  this men, as well as all who benefited through their sacrifice: even the Southern Whites who at the time did not know then, or all too often today, that they too needed emancipation.

This article is a section of one of my yet unpublished Civil War books in which I spend much time dealing with the importance of emancipation and the role of Black soldiers during the American Civil War. I think it is important to remember as we get ready to close out Black History Month just how important these men are to American history and for the civil rights of all Americans.

Emancipation and the U.S. Military

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Men of the 4th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] The issue for Lincoln in 1861 and 1862 was the necessity of keeping the Border-Slave Sates of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which had not seceded from the Union. Lincoln repudiated the orders of General John Fremont, in Missouri, and his friend General David Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South regarding emancipation, not because he was in complete disagreement, but because he felt that the officers had overstepped their authority.

Lincoln understood that this might hurt him with the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. While Lincoln was certainly sympathetic to their cause, he insisted that such decisions were not within the prevue of local commanders, but that any such proclamations had to come from him, as Commander-in-Chief. He told Treasure Secretary Salmon Chase, who supported the measures of Hunter and Fremont, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” [2] Lincoln’s decision to reverse and repudiate the decisions of local commanders infuriated some in his cabinet and in the Congress. But Lincoln remained firm in that conviction due to the need to ensure the cooperation of the Border States the continued loyalty of which were absolutely vital to winning the war, without which no meaningful emancipation would be possible.

However, Lincoln did support the efforts of General Benjamin Butler. Butler commanded the Federal forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads. Butler had been a former pro-slavery Democrat who learned that the Confederates were using slaves to construct fortifications and to support their army on the Peninsula. In May 1862 twenty-three slaves escaped to his lines and their owner, a Confederate Colonel, “demanded the return of his property under the Fugitive Slave Law! With as deadpan expression as possible (given his cocked eye), Butler informed him that since Virginia claimed to have left the Union, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied.” [3]Butler then declared that since the escaped slaves had worked for the Confederate Army that they were “contraband of war – enemy property subject to seizure.” [4] It was a solid argument, since Southerners themselves referred to African American slaves as property was subject to seizure. Lincoln and Secretary of War Cameron approved of Butler’s action and “eventually, the Congress passed a confiscation law ending the rights of masters over fugitive slaves used to support Confederate troops.” [5]

Salmon Chase and other strong abolitionists opposed Lincoln vehemently for this, but it would not be long until Lincoln made the decision for full emancipation. This was first accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation, a military order that only applied to the states that had seceded. However, Lincoln would follow this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery.   The latter occurred when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865. This amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had already decided upon emancipation in the spring of 1862, however, following the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula he decided to postpone announcing it, Secretary of State Seward recommended against it until “until you can give it to the country supported by military success.” Otherwise the world might view it as an incitement for slave insurrections, “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” [6] The wisdom of Seward’s advice was profound, and Lincoln put off the announcement until after the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan, true to form opposed any such policy. When Lincoln visited him after his withdraw from the Peninsula, the defeated but still arrogant General handed Lincoln a memorandum on what McClellan viewed as the “proper conduct of the war.” McClellan advised Lincoln that the war “should not be a war looking to the subjugation of any State in any event…but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, the territorial organization of States, or the forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [7]

Lincoln was not seeking advice from his recalcitrant commander and put the letter in his pocket and simply told McClellan, “All right.” Interestingly enough just a few months earlier Lincoln would have agreed with McClellan’s views on the conduct of the war. However, with the passage of time and the realization that the Confederacy was fully committed to its independence as well as the continuance and even the expansion of slavery had come to the view that fighting a limited war with limited aims was foolish. He told another Unionist Democrat a few days after McClellan offered his advice that the war could not be fought:

“with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water….This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy this government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.”[8]

From Slavery to Soldiering

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Gun Crew of 2nd Colored Light Artillery 

But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and his administration began to change. After a year and a half of war, Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [9] Slave labor was essential to the Confederate war effort, not only did slaves still work the plantations, they were impressed into service in war industries as well as in the Confederate Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle, a British observer who was with Lee’s army at Gettysburg noted, “in the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves.” [10] The fact is that the slaves who accompanied the army remained slaves, they were not the mythical thousands of black soldiers who rallied to the Confederate cause, nor were they employees. “Tens of thousands of slaves accompanied their owners to army camps as servants or were impressed into service to construct fortifications and do other work for the Confederate army.” [11] This fact attested to by Colonel William Allan, one of Stonewall Jackson’s staff members who wrote “there were no employees in the Confederate army.” [12] slaves served in a number of capacities to free up white soldiers for combat duties, “from driving wagons to unloading trains and other conveyances. In hospitals they could perform work as nurses and laborers to ease the burdens of patients.” [13] An English-born artilleryman in Lee’s army wrote in 1863 that “in our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants….” [14] When Lee marched to Gettysburg he did so with somewhere between ten and thirty-thousand slaves in support roles and during the advance into Virginia Confederate troops rounded up and re-enslaved as many blacks as they could, including Freedmen.

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                                       Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation, was one of the first to grasp the importance of slave labor to the Confederate armies and how emancipation was of decided military necessity. Stanton, “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [15]

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [16] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy, not just in a military means, but politically, economically and diplomatically as Lincoln “also calculated that making slavery a target of the war would counteract the rising clamor in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy.”  [17]

Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.”[18] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union – as soldiers as well as laborers – was a natural corollary.” [19] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [20]

54thmassposter

Ulysses Grant concurred with Lincoln’s decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts, “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [21] William Tecumseh Sherman was supportive but also noted some facts that some radical abolitionists did not understand. He noted in his correspondence that, “The first step in the liberation of the Negro from bondage will be to get him and his family to a place of safety… then to afford him the means of providing for his family,… then gradually use a proportion – greater and greater each year – as sailors and soldiers.” [22] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [23] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as for the future of the U.S. Military services.

In conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation Secretary of War Stanton “authorized General Rufus Saxton to “arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States such number of volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000, and [you] may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them.”  [24] The initial regiments of African Americans were formed by Union commanders in liberated areas of Louisiana and South Carolina, and most were composed of newly freed slaves. Others like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments were raised from free black men in the north. Stanton’s authorization was followed by the Enrollment Act passed by Congress in March of 1863 which established the draft also allowed blacks to serve. By March Stanton was working with state governors to establish more black regiments. The units became known as United States Colored Troops, or U.S.C.T. and were commanded by white officers and organized into the infantry, cavalry and, artillery regiments organized on the model of white regiments. The U.S.C.T. “grew to include seven regiments of cavalry, more than a dozen of artillery, and well over one hundred of infantry.” [25]

Some Union soldiers and officers initially opposed enlisting blacks at all, and some “charged that making soldiers of blacks would be a threat to white supremacy, and hundreds of Billy Yanks wrote home that they would no serve alongside blacks.” [26]  But most common soldiers accepted emancipation, especially those who had served in the South and seen the misery that many slaves endured, one Illinois soldier, stationed who served in the Western Theater of war wrote, “the necessity of emancipation is forced upon us by the inevitable events of the war… and the only road out of this war is by blows aimed at the heart of the Rebellion…. If slavery should be left undisturbed the war would be protracted until the loss of life and national bankruptcy would make peace desirable on any terms.” [27]

Another soldier’s letters home show his conversion from being against emancipation to being fully for it. Corporal Chauncey B. Welton from Ohio wrote to his father after the Emancipation proclamation:

“Father I want you to write and tell me what you think of Lincoln’s proclamation of setting all the negroes free. I can tell you we don’t think much of it hear in the army for we did not enlist to fight for the negro and I can tell you that we never shall or many of us any how[.] no never.”

Following over two years of combat in which he served with Sherman’s army he became a vocal critic of the anti-abolitionist Copperheads in the North, especially former Ohio Governor Clement Vallandigham, as well as a strong proponent of abolition and opponent of slavery. By February 1865 his tone had changed “dear parents let us trust in Him that never forsakes the faithful, and never cease to pray… that soon we may look upon an undivided Country and that Country free free free yes free from that blighting curs[e] Slavery the cause of four years of Bloody warfare.” [28]

Even so racial prejudice in the Union ranks never went away and sometimes was accompanied by violence. It remained a part and parcel of life in and outside of the army, even though many Union soldiers would come to praise the soldierly accomplishments and bravery of African American Soldiers. An officer who had refused a commission to serve with a U.S.C.T. regiment watched as black troops attacked the defenses of Richmond in September 1864:

“The darkies rushed across the open space fronting the work, under a fire which caused them loss, into the abattis… down into the ditch with ladders, up and over the parapet with flying flags, and down among, and on top of, the astonished enemy, who left in utmost haste…. Then and there I decided that ‘the black man could fight’ for his freedom, and that I had made a mistake in not commanding them.” [29] Likewise, “Once the Lincoln administration broke the color barrier of the army, blacks stepped forward in large numbers. Service in the army offered to blacks the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for freedom….” [30]

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                                        The Defense of Milliken’s Bend 

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), which were mustered directly into Federal service. In sheer numbers the U.S.C.T. formations soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments.  However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments, the heroic accounts of those units reported in Northern newspapers, as well as the unprovoked violence directed against Blacks in the 1863 New York draft riots that helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [31]

Despite the hurdles and prejudices that blacks faced even in the North, many African Americans urged others to enlist, self-help mattered more than self-preservation. Henry Gooding, an black sergeant from Massachusetts wrote the editor of the New Bedford Mercury urging fellow blacks to enlist despite the dangers, “As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust a fancied security, laying in your minds, that our condition will be bettered because slavery must die…[If we] allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it – language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps the violence that will be heaped upon us.” [32]

The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, including white Northern soldiers, and the very real threat of death that they faced if captured by Confederates. In response to the Emancipation Proclamation and to the formation of African American regiments the Confederate Congress passed measures that would make Union officers who commanded African American troops as war criminals and return any black soldier captured by Confederate forces return to slavery, if those blacks captured in battle were not summarily tortured by their captors or executed as happened at Fort Wagner, Petersburg, and at Fort Pillow.

In late 1862 Major General Nathaniel Banks was in desperate need of soldiers and received permission to form a number of regiments of free blacks. Known as the First, Second and Third Regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards they were primarily composed of former slaves who had escaped to Union lines, as well as some mulattos who were the children of prominent white citizens of the city. During an inspection, the white Colonel of the Guards told another officer:

“Sir, the best blood of Louisiana is in that regiment! Do you see that tall, slim fellow, third file from the right of the second company? One of the ex-governors of the state is his father. That orderly sergeant in the next company is the son of a man who has been six years in the United States Senate. Just beyond him is the grandson of Judge ______ …; and through all the ranks you will find the same state of facts…. Their fathers are disloyal; [but] these black Ishmaels will more than compensate for their treason by fighting in the field.” [33]

In May of 1863 Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [34] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [35] A white Wisconsin soldier commented that the black soldiers “fought like devils,”while a soldier of the 156th New York wrote, “They charged and re-charged and they didn’t know what retreat meant. They lost in their two regiments some four hundred men as near as I can learn. This settles the question about niggers not fighting well. They on the contrary make splendid soldiers and are as good fighting men as we have.” [36] Banks too was caught up in the moment and said of these troops in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [37]

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                                54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner 

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54thMassachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [38] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.”[39]

The 54th Massachusetts first saw action in early June 1863 and at Shaw’s urging were sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [40]Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [41] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [42] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [43]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionist newspapers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”  [44]

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                  55th Massachusetts being welcomed in Charleston SC 

In the African American 55th Massachusetts, which was recruited after the 54th, twenty-one year old Sergeant Isaiah Welch wrote a letter which was published in the Philadelphia Christian Recorder from Folly Island South Carolina:

“I will mention a little about the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. They seem to be in good health at the present and are desirous of making a bold dash upon the enemy. I pray God the time will soon come when we, as soldiers of God, and of our race and country, may face the enemy with boldness. For my part I feel willing to suffer all privations incidental to a Christian and a soldier…. In conclusion, let me say, if I fall in the battle anticipated, remember, I fall in defense of my race and country. Some of my friends thought it very wrong of me in setting aside the work of the Lord to take up arms against the enemy…. I am fully able to answer all questions pertaining to rebels. If taking lives will restore the country to what it once was, then God help me to slay them on every hand.” [45]

Like the 54th Massachusetts, the 55th would see much action. After one particularly sharp engagement in July 1864, in which numerous soldiers had demonstrated exceptional valor under fire the regiment’s commander, Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell “recommended that three of the black sergeants of the 55th be promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.” But Hartwell’s request was turned down, and a member of the regiment complained, “But the U.S. government has refused so far to must them because God did not make them White…. No other objection is, or can be offered.”[46]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [47]

Douglass urged African American men to enlist to secure their freedom, even while noting the inequities still prevalent in society and in the military, in which they did not receive the same pay as whites, nor could they become officers. Appealing to duty and reality Douglass noted in a speech in Philadelphia urging black men to volunteer. In it he carefully defined the real differences between the purposes of the Confederacy which was to “nothing more than to make the slavery of the African race universal and perpetual on this continent,” which was “based upon the idea that colored men are an inferior race, who may be enslaved and plundered forever.” [48]

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         Sergeant William Carney 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the premier leader of the African Americans of his day, who had himself suffered as a slave, did not stop with that. Douglass understood that winning the war was more important that to what had been the attitude of the Federal government before the war and before emancipation, “Now, what is the attitude of the Washington government towards the colored race? What reasons have we to desire its triumph in the present contest? Mind, I do not ask what was its attitude towards us before the war…. I do not ask you about the dead past. I bring you to the living present.” He noted the advances that had been made in just a few months and appealed to his listeners. “Do not flatter yourselves, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government to you. You stand but as the plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty…” [49]

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54thMassachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg garrison attacked them. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.”[50]

The actions of the black units at Milliken’s bend attracted the attention and commendation of Ulysses Grant, who wrote in his cover letter to the after action report, “In this battle most of the troops engaged were Africans, who had little experience in the use of fire-arms. Their conduct is said, however, to have been most gallant, and I doubt not but with good officers that they will make good troops.” [51] They also garnered the attention of the press. Harper’s published an illustrated account of the battle with a “double-page woodcut of the action place a black color bearer in the foreground, flanked by comrades fighting hand-to-hand with Confederates. A brief article called it a “the sharp fight at Milliken’s bend where a small body of black troops with a few whites were attacked by a large force of rebels.” [52] In the South the result was chilling and shocked whites, one woman wrote “It is hard to believe that Southern soldiers – and Texans at that – have been whipped by a mongrel crew of white and black Yankees…. There must be some mistake.” While another woman in Louisiana confided in her diary, “It is terrible to think of such a battle as this, white men and freemen fighting with their slaves, and to be killed by such a hand, the very soul revolts from it, O, may this be the last.” [53]

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                               Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson 

By the end of the war over 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [54] Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [55]Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.”  [56]

The general of course, was wrong, for “Nothing eradicated the prejudices of white soldiers as effectively as black soldiers performing well under fire. And nothing inspired black soldiers to fight as desperately as the fear that capture meant certain death.” [57]  In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most of which was often attributable to the direction of their senior officers and the training that they had received. As with any other unit, well led and well trained regiments performed better than those whose leaders had failed their soldiers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations.

One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [58] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [59] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.”[60] In the battle Ferrero’s division lost 1,327 of the approximately 4,000 men who made the attack. [61]

Major General Benjamin Butler railed to his wife in a letter against those who questioned the courage of African American soldiers seeing the gallantry of black troops assaulting the defenses of Petersburg in September 1864: The man who says that the negro will not fight is a coward….His soul is blacker than then dead faces of these dead negroes, upturned to heaven in solemn protest against him and his prejudices.” [62]

In another engagement, the 1864 Battle of Saltville in western Virginia the troops of the 5th USCT Cavalry who had been insulted, taunted, and derided by their fellow white Union soldiers went into action against Confederate troops defending the salt works in that town. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Wade, order his troops to attack. Colonel James Brisbin detailed the attack:

“the Negroes rushed upon the works with a yell and after a desperate struggle carried the line killing and wounding a large number of the enemy and capturing some prisoners…. Out of the four hundred men engaged, one hundred and fourteen men and four officers fell killed or wounded. Of this fight I can only say that men could not have behaved more bravely. I have seen white troops in twenty-seven battles and I never saw any fight better…. On the return of the forces those who had scoffed at the Colored Troops on the march out were silent.” [63]

The response of the Confederate government to Emancipation and African Americans serving as soldiers was immediate and uncompromisingly harsh. “When in the autumn of 1862 General Beauregard referred the question of a captured black soldier to Davis’s latest Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, the later replied “…my decision is that the negro is to be executed as an example.” [64] Davis approved of the summary executions of black prisoners carried out in South Carolina in November 1862, and a month later “on Christmas Eve, Davis issued a general order requiring all former slaves and their officers captured in arms to be delivered up to state officials for trial.” [65] Davis warned that “the army would consider black soldiers as “slaves captured in arms,” and therefore subject to execution.” [66] While the Confederacy never formally carried out the edict, there were numerous occasions where Confederate commanders and soldiers massacred captured African American soldiers.

The Lincoln administration responded to the Confederate threats by sending a note to Davis that threatened reprisals against Confederate troops if black soldiers suffered harm. It “was largely the threat of Union reprisals that thereafter gave African-American soldiers a modicum of humane treatment.” [67] Even so, they and their white officers were often in much more danger than the officers and soldiers of all-white regiments if captured by Confederate forces.

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [68] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [69] After the assault of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner a Georgia soldier “reported with satisfaction that the prisoners were “literally shot down while on their knees begging for quarter and mercy.” [70]

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                                                 Fort Pillow Massacre 

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even may have attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops, and “the best evidence indicates that the “massacre”…was a genuine massacre.” [71] Forrest’s soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ and slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but while Forrest did not order the massacre, he certainly was not displeased with the result. His subordinate, General James Chalmers told an officer from the gunboat Silver Cloud that he and Forrest had neither ordered the massacre and had tried to stop their soldiers but that “the men of General Forrest’s command had such a hatred toward the armed negro that they could not be restrained from killing the negroes,” and he added, “it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the negro.” [72] It was a portent of what some of the same men would do to defenseless blacks and whites sympathetic to them as members of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Liners, White League, and Red Shirts, during and after Reconstruction in places like Colfax Louisiana.

Ulysses Grant was infuriated and threatened reprisals against any Confederates conducting such activities, he a later wrote:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.”  [73]

The bulk of the fanatical hatred of Forrest’s troops was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58 – just over 20 percent – were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168 – just under sixty percent were taken.”  [74] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote:

We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [75]

A Confederate Sergeant who was at Fort Pillow wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [76] The captain of the Union gunboat Silver Cloud was allowed by the Confederate to bring his ship to the Fort to evacuate wounded, and to bury the dead was appalled at the sight, he wrote:

“All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers of the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered terrible death in the flames could be seen. All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy…. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen, Bodies with gaping wounds,… some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that little quarter was shown…. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and the hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter…. Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.” [77]

The rabidly pro-slavery members of the Confederate press lent their propaganda to cheer the massacre of the captured blacks. John R. Eakin of the Washington (Arkansas) Washington Telegraph, who later became a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court after Reconstruction, wrote,

“The Slave Soldiers. – Amongst there are stupendous wrongs against humanity, shocking to the moral sense of the world, like Herod’s massacre of the Innocents, or the eve of St. Bartholomew, the crime of Lincoln in seducing our slaves into the ranks of his army will occupy a prominent position….

How should we treat our slaves arrayed under the banners of the invader, and marching to desolate our homes and firesides….

Meanwhile, the problem has been met our soldiers in the heat of battle, where there has been no time for discussion. They have cut the Gordian knot with the sword. They did right….

It follows that we cannot treat negroes in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of the social system for which we contend. We must be firm, uncompromising and unfaltering. We must claim the full control of all negroes who may fall into our hands, to punish with death, or any other penalty, or remand them to their owners. If the enemy retaliate, we must do likewise; and if the black flag follows, the blood be upon their heads.” [78]

However, when African American Troops were victorious, and even after they had seen their brothers murdered by Confederate troops, that they often treated their Confederate with great kindness. Colonel Brisbin wrote that following Battle of Saltville that “Such of the Colored Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Enemy during the battle were murdered. The Negroes did not retaliate but treated the Rebel wounded with great kindness, carrying them water in their canteens and doing all they could to alleviate the sufferings of those whom the fortunes of war had placed in their hands.” [79]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.”  [80]

The importance of African Americans cannot be minimized, without them the war could have dragged on much longer or even ended in stalemate, which would have been a Confederate victory. Lincoln wrote about the importance of the African American contribution to the war effort in 1864:

“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or hundred and fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.” [81]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers faced discrimination, sometimes that of the white men that they served alongside, but more often from those who did not support the war effort. Lincoln wisely took note of this fact, and wrote that after the war:

“there will there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, the clenched teeth, the steady eye, the well poised bayonet, they have helped  mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” [82]

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Lt Stephen Swails, First African American Officer of 54th Massachusetts 

Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to “issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [83]

The families of the free blacks who volunteered also suffered, especially those who still had families enslaved in Confederate occupied areas or Union States which still allowed slavery. One women in Missouri wrote her husband begging him to come home “I have had nothing but trouble since you left….They abuse me because you went & say they will not take care of our children & do nothing but quarrel with me all the time and beat me scandalously the day before yesterday.”  [84]

However, the Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war, and even jaded White Union soldiers who had been against emancipation and who were deeply prejudiced against blacks began to change their outlook as the armies marched into the South and saw the horrors of slavery, Russell Weigley wrote that Union soldiers: “confronting the scarred bodies and crippled souls of African Americans as they marched into the South experienced a strong motivation to become anti-slavery men…Men do not need to play a role long, furthermore, until the role grows to seem natural and customary to them. That of liberators was sufficiently fulfilling to their pride that soldiers found themselves growing more accustomed to it all the more readily.” [85]

A sergeant of the 19th Michigan who had already lost a stepson in the war wrote to his wife from Georgia before being killed in action during the Atlanta campaign; “the more I learn of the cursed institution of Slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction…. After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better…. Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact will revolutionize everything…. Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.” [86]

But even more importantly for the cause of liberty, the sight of regiments of free African Americans, marching “through the slave states wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army and carrying rifles on their shoulders was perhaps the most revolutionary event of a war turned into revolution.” [87]

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At peak one in eight Union troops were African American, and Black troops made an immense contribution to the Union victory. “Black troops fought on 41 major battlefields and in 449 minor engagements. Sixteen soldiers and seven sailors received Medals of Honor for valor. 37,000 blacks in army uniform gave their lives and untold sailors did, too.” [88] To fully appreciate the measure as to the importance and significance of the numbers of African American troops serving in the Union ranks has to compare that number with the number of active Confederate troops serving toward the end of the war. The approximately 180,000 African Americans serving in Union ranks at the end of the war outnumbered the “aggregate present” in Confederate ranks on January 1st 1865 by over 20,000 men. Of these troops “134,111 were recruited in states that had stars in the Confederate battle flag, and the latter figure in turn was several thousand greater than the total of 135,994 gray-clad soldiers “present for duty” that same day.” [89]

Of the African American soldiers who faced the Confederates in combat, “deep pride was their compensation. Two black patients in an army hospital began a conversation. One of them looked at the stump of an arm he had once had and remarked: “Oh I should like to have it, but I don’t begrudge it.” His ward mate, minus a leg, replied: “Well, ‘twas [lost] in a glorious cause, and if I’d lost my life I should have been satisfied. I knew what I was fighting for.” [90]

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                                  Flags of the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops 

After the war many of the African American soldiers became leaders in the African American community and no less than 130 of these former soldiers held elected office including in the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures. The liberating aspect of “the black military experience radiated from black soldiers and their families into the larger black community, so it spread into white society as well.” [91]  Many abolitionists who had served as officers, and officers who were assigned to the USCT or volunteered to serve with state raised African American regiments became leaders continued to be voices for expanding civil rights in the years following the war.

Following war’s end, the demobilized African American troops became the target of racial discrimination and violence, but even so, “black veterans continued to play a central role in black communities, North and South. The skills and experience black men gained during the war not only propelled many of them into positions of leaders and sustained the prominence of others, but it also shaped the expectations and aspirations of all black people. The achievements and pride engendered by military service helped to make a new world of freedom.” [92]

Sadly, much of the nation has forgotten the efforts of the Free Black Soldiers and Sailors who fought for freedom, but even so their legacy remains in the “contribution of black soldiers to Union victory remained a point of pride in black communities. “They say,” an Alabama planter reported in 1867, “the Yankees never could have whipped the South without the aid of the Negroes.” Well into the twentieth century, black families throughout the United States would recall with pride that their fathers and grandfathers had fought for freedom.” [93]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.435

[3] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[4] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.369

[6] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.109

[7] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.531

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.503

[9] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.101

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[11] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.45

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.313

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.465

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.48

[18] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[19] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[20] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.381

[22] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.10

[23] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[25] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.11

[26] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[27] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011 p.103

[28] Welton, Chauncey B. A Union Soldier’s Changing Views on Emancipationin The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William Gienapp, W.W. Norton Company, New York and London 2001 pp.242 and 245

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[30] Glatthaar, Joseph T. Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[32] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[33] Jones, Terry L. The Free Men of Color Go to War in The new York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.403

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.398

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War p.44

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[39] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[40] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[43] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.697

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[45] Welch, Isaiah H. Letter in the Christian Recorder 24 October 1863 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.225-226

[46] Trudeau, Noah Andre, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York and London, 1998 p.262

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[48] Douglass, Frederick Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.220-221

[49] Ibid. Douglass Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 p.221

[50] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865p.58

[52] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.97

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.59

[54] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.92

[55] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89 p.

[56] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[57] Berlin, Ira, Riedy, Joseph P. and Rowland, Leslie S. editors, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York 1998 pp.133-134

[58] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[59] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[60] Ibid.Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac pp.384-385

[61] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.537

[62] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[63] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.135

[64] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[65] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.566

[66] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p. 280

[67] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.188

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[69] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[70] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.281

[71] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[72] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[73] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[74] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.111

[75] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 378

[76] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.112

[77] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[78] Eakin, John R. The Slave Soldiers, June 8, 1864  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 pp.210 and 212

[79] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[80] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[81] Ibid. Glatthaar Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victoryp.138

[82] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 113

[83] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 376

[84] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[85] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.192

[86] Ibid. McPherson For Cause and Comrades p.130

[87] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.191

[88] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar editors The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.296

[89] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.756

[90] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.36

[91] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[92] Ibid. Berlin et al. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War pp.49-50

[93] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

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The American Civil War and the Continuum of History, Humanity, and War

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

Barbara Tuchman wrote:

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”

Finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. The German historian Ernst Breisach wrote, “In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.”

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted: “Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision-making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.” Thus while this work is an examination of the American Civil War it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly unrelated events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

This is important and it goes to a broader view of history and education rather that many people are comfortable with. We live in an age where much of education, even higher educations has been transformed into training for a particular skill to gain, or with which to enter the workforce, rather than teaching us to think critically. The social sciences, the liberal arts, philosophy, history are often considered by politicians and business leaders as skills which do not help people get jobs and have been the subjects of cuts in many public university systems.

Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University wrote: “The prevailing argument is that students should study or major in something “employable,” something that is directly correlated to a job in a high paying career field. This view is espoused by many parents and national leaders, including politicians on both sides of the aisle. Many have called for additional STEM majors as well as eliminating funding for “softer” disciplines.” Like it or not such efforts impact the serious study of history and minimize the exsposure of students in the STEM disciplines to the broader aspects of intellectual study that happen provide them with a moral, ethical, and historic foundation for their disciplines. Giles Lauren in his introduction to B. H. Liddell-Hart’s classic Why Don’t We Learn from History?, wrote:

“Education, no longer liberal, has largely become a question of training in a skill for gain rather than teaching us how to think so as to find our own way. ‘It is strange how people assume that no training is needed in the pursuit of truth.’ We must learn to test and judge the information that comes before us. After all: ‘Whoever habitually suppresses the truth … will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.’”

Liddell-Hart expressed the importance of a wide view of history as well as the importance of being able to dig deep into particular aspects of it, bit of which are important if we want to come as close to the truth as we can. He wrote:
“The benefit of history depends, however, on a broad view. And that depends on a wide study of it. To dig deep into one patch is a valuable and necessary training. It is the only way to learn the method of historical research. But when digging deep, it is equally important to get one’s bearings by a wide survey. That is essential to appreciate the significance of what one finds, otherwise one is likely “to miss the forest for the trees.””

This can be a particular problem for those who write about specific aspects of the American Civil War, especially about particular battles, technical developments, or individuals. Many writers dig deep into a particular subject, but despite their good work, miss important aspects because they have not done the groundwork of trying to put those subjects into the broader historical, as well as sociological context.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive without understanding his devotion to Napoleon, or his view of the war and the battles his men fought without understanding and taking into account his view of Divine Providence which was a part of his religious experience. One cannot understand the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, without understanding their patriotic idealism and the nearly spiritual significance of the Union to them. One cannot understand William Tecumseh Sherman without understanding the often cold realism that shaped his world view. The same is true for any of the men, and women, soldier or civilian, slave, or free, who had some part, great or small in the war.

Thus it is important when digging deep, to also attempt to understand the broader perspective of history, and how factors outside their direct military training and experience, such as culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, life experience, and all of those factors shaped these men and their actions. By such means we get closer to the truth and by doing so avoid the myths which even after a century and a half, still clutter the works of many people who write about the Civil War.

Likewise, in order to understand the context of the battles of the Civil War, or for that matter the battles in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.”

To explain this in a different way, let us look at the Battle of Gettysburg as a case in point, but needless to say that no-matter what battle we study there are other factors, that influence it. In the case of the Battle of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, are important, as it resets the political and diplomatic narrative of the war in a way that influences both domestic politics, and diplomacy.

Diplomacy is another aspect that must be considered, and the incompetence of Confederate diplomats was a major factor. These men were unsuccessful in bringing France or Great Britain into the war, nor could they persuade any European power to recognize the Confederacy. Both of these failures were brought about by their provincialism and by their lack of understanding of the domestic politics of France and England. Both nations had abolished slavery, banned the slave trade, and had populations that were overwhelmingly against slavery.

On the military front, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, played a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania, as did the failing Confederate economy. None of these events can be disconnected from it without doing violence to the historical narrative and thereby misunderstanding why the battle was important.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the American Civil War is the part that policy, strategy, war aims, as well as operational doctrine, tactics, and technology played in every campaign of the war. When we examine those dimensions of the war and of specific campaigns we go back to the human factor: the people whose ideas, character, and personalities, influenced the conduct of the war and how it was waged.

Finally, events such as the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, or the Overland Campaign or Sherman’s March to the Sea cannot be looked at as a stand-alone events for their military value only. The clash at Gettysburg as the armies of the Confederacy battled the Army of the Potomac, and surged and then ebbed back from their “high water mark,” is important. What happened there influences the rest of the war. However, it does not take place in isolation from other battles and events. While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means. It was no longer the master of its fate, it needed the Northern “Peace” Democrats to successfully win the election of 1864, and it needed intervention from Europe, neither which was forthcoming.

Maybe even more importantly the story of the Civil War is its continued influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.” One cannot underestimate its importance, it was the completion of the American Revolution and the birth of a modern nation. The successes and failures, the victories and defeats, and the scars that remain resonate in American cultural, political, and social divide, be it in the minds and hearts of the descendants of freed slaves, Southerners weaned on the myth of the Lost Cause, or the progeny of the Irish and German immigrants who fought for a country where they were despised and discriminated against by the adherents of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement. The remains of three-quarters of a million Union and Confederate soldiers interred in cemeteries across the North and South, the monuments devoted to them in town squares, the preserved battlefields with their now silent cannon are a constant reminder of this war that made a nation.

Many people pore over the accounts of the battles of the war, while the legions of devoted Civil War historians, re-enactors, military history buffs, and members of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans testify to the war’s continued hold on Americans and their fascination with it. The military struggle was important, but we always have to keep it in the context of why the war was fought and why so many of the issues that it was fought over remain issues today, as Ted Widmer noted; “What Lincoln called a “new birth of freedom” felt like a straitjacket to those who opposed it, and their legacy is still felt, in the many forms of opposition to the federal writ that we witness on a daily basis.”
It is important to understand how the war was fought, but it even more important to understand the relationship of how it was fought with why it was fought and in some ways is still being fought, as was evidenced by the vast numbers of Confederate battle flags proudly displayed outside of the historic Confederacy during much of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Historian David Blight wrote:

“The boundaries of military history are fluid; they connect with a broader social, cultural, and political history in a myriad of ways. In the long run, the meanings embedded in those epic fights are what should command our greatest attention. The “war of ideas” as Douglass aptly called it, has never completely faded from our nation’s social condition or historical memory. Suppress it as we may, it still sits in our midst, an eternal postlude playing for all who deal seriously with America’s past and our enduring predicaments with race, pluralism and equality.”

The battles of the American Civil War are enshrined in American history and myth, and are woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this story the Battle of Gettysburg is often viewed different ways depending on one’s perspective. For many in the North the battle is viewed as a victory that helps brings an end to the institution of slavery, and with it freedom for enslaved African-Americans, and the preservation of the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability. At Gettysburg there is a certain irony that in the shadow of the cemetery where over 3,500 Union soldiers lay in hallowed repose and where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address that Confederate memorabilia vastly outsells that of the side that won the battle. People wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Confederate battle flag, and sayings like “I Will Not be Reconstructed” are bought at local gift shops, and their wearers parade past the graves of the Union soldiers who lie just a few hundred yards up the slope of West Cemetery Hill.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote:

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.”

The prolific American military historian Russell Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.
“The Great Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.”

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear-cut answers or solutions. The lessons go far deeper than that and span the spectrum of the world that we live in today. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.”

British military historian Michael Howard warned, “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.” The ideal that we reach for is to understand the battles of the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era and the continued reverberations today.

The American Civil War determined much of the history that followed, not only in the United State, but around the world both in its military advances which transformed war into a mechanized conflict that continues to grow more deadly, and in terms of politics, and social development.

The lessons of this period go far beyond military and leadership lessons gained in studying the battles themselves. They go to our understanding of who we are as a people. They are social, religious, political, economic, diplomatic, and informational. From a strategist’s perspective they certainly help inform the modern policy maker of the DIME, the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of national power, but they are even more than that; the period provides lessons that inform citizens as to the importance of liberty, responsibility, and the importance of both fighting for and defending the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

They also deal with the lives of people, and throughout this volume you will find biographical portraits of some of the key people woven into the story for without them, there really is no story. The one constant in human history are real human beings, some driven by passion, ideology, religion, wealth, or power. There are others who in their quest for knowledge discover things that change the world, invent machinery that alters history, and create weapons which make killing easier. There are men and women who fight for truth, and seek justice for the oppressed. There are the honest and the hucksters, those with character and those that are charlatans. Then to are those who live in fantasy words, cloud-cuckoo lands of unreality that cause them to believe in and pursue causes that can only end in tragedy for them and in many cases others, and finally there are the realists who recognize situations for what they are and are willing to do the hard thing, to speak truth and to act upon it.

All of these types of people can be found in this great war in what was undoubtedly a revolutionary age of change, an age which has influenced the life of this nation, our people, and the world for over a century and a half. Its ghosts haunt our laws and institutions, the sacrifices of soldiers, and the actions of men like Abraham Lincoln have inspired people in this country and around the world.
In writing this volume I attempt to draw lessons from the Civil War era and the people who helped create the world in which we live. Even so I try to do so without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change; for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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From Limited to Total War: The American Civil War as a Watershed

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I continue to revise my Gettysburg and Civil War texts. I am posting the second half of a majorly revised section dealing the the nature of the war, and how it changed from a limited war to a total war. This subject may be uncomfortable to many readers, and I admit that. Truthfully I abhor war but I am a realist when it comes to human nature, politics, economics, ideology, religion, and even racism and race hatred play in the world.

Truthfully, if the North had continued the war with limited force, and goals, the Confederacy would have either become independent, or it would have been re-admitted to the Union with slavery intact, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Ammendments would have never been passed, and any concept of civil rights destroyed. You can be sure that with Southern States re-admitted without change that other things would not have occurred; Women’s sufferage, Native American citizenship, citizenship and civil rights for Asian immigrants, and most recently, LGBTQ people are directly tied to the constitutional amendments that the Union victory made possible.  Sometimes, as distasteful and repugnant as that may sound, a hard war is necessary to prevent an unjust peace. 

From a point of realpolitik,  the fact is that leaders in the South and the North, like so many other leaders in history and even today, failed to understand what the war that they helped unleash would bring about. War is not to be entered into lightly without connecting the dots between the act of policy that guides the war, as well as having the policy’s ends supported by the ways and means necessary to fulfill it, and not all of those are military. Diplomacy, economic power, and  information all play a part. 

Abraham Lincoln and his advisors came to understand this, maybe better than any presidential administration in United States history. Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated before he could guide the country through reunion, and Andrew Johnson was not up to the task. By the time Ulysses Grant became President, the opportune moment for reunion had passed. Though the South succeeded in rolling back civil rights for another century, they never were able to repeal those three critical amendments. That is why the hard war pursued by the Lincoln administration still matters for everyone with a stake in civil rights. Today, under the Trump Administration, the GOP Senate, and the GOP State majorities those civil rights stand endangered. The fight is not over.

Think about that, and have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

gburg dead1

While the nature of war remained unchanged, the American Civil war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia, and the end of the Thirty Years War changed dramatically. In the American Civil War the character of war changed from the emphasis of the limited wars of the 18th Century and the Napoleonic era where opposing armies dueled each other into a war that encompassed the entire population. It also challenged a generation of military officers who had grown up with Henri Jomini’s principles of war and his emphasis on limited war.

The leading catalyst that convinced Lincoln and other Northern leaders of the need to abandon the strategy of limited war was the fact that the Confederates had:

 “blurred the distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the parts of the Confederacy and border states occupied by Union forces. The crops and livestock of Southern civilians were feeding and clothing Confederate armies. Their slaves were the principle labor force in the Confederate War economy. Thousands of Southern civilians became guerillas who roamed behind Union lines destroying supplies and ambushing unarmed as well as armed Unionists.” [1]

The Union reaction to the Confederate actions would portend a change in the war. And soon, the war bordered on Clausewitz’s definition of absolute or total war, especially in Sherman’s march through the South, and in the actions of Confederate irregulars who used terror against Unionist civilians and free Blacks. The actions of irregular Confederate forces to attack his troops and supply lines caused William Tecumseh Sherman, who earlier in the war had taken a conciliatory attitude to Southern civilians, to change his views.

To Sherman, the Confederates had blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants, he noted that the Union army must act

 “on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North….. The whole country is full of guerilla bands…. The entire South, man woman, and child, is against us, armed and determined.” [2]

In response Henry Halleck, now backed with the legal authority of General Order 100, also known as The Lieber Code, which for the first time in American history defined the differences between partisans acting in the capacity as soldiers of the enemy army, and those who were not a part of a military unit, but rather men who blended back into the population after conducting armed attacks, [3] wrote to Sherman,

“I am fully of opinion that the nature of your position, the character of the war, the conduct of the enemy (and especially of non-combatants and women of the territory we have heretofore conquered and occupied), will justify you in gathering up all the forage and provisions which your army will require, both for a siege of Atlanta and for your supply in your march farther into the enemy’s country. Let the disloyal families of the country, thus stripped, go to their husbands, fathers, and natural protectors, in the rebel ranks; we have tried three years of conciliation and kindness without any reciprocation; on the contrary, those thus treated have acted as spies and guerillas in our rear and within our lines…. We have fed this class of people long enough. Let them go with their husbands and fathers in the rebel ranks; and if they won’t go, we must send them to their friends and protectors. I would destroy every mill and factory within reach which I did not want for my own use…..” [4]

The strategy of Sherman was to ensure that the Confederate heartland of the Deep South could no longer help to sustain Confederate armies in the field, it was military, economic, political, and diplomatic. He explained:

“I propose to act in such a manner against the material resources of the South as utterly to negate Davis’ boasted …promises of protection. If we can march a well-appointed army right through hiss territory, it is a demonstration to the world, foreign and domestic, that we have a power which Davis cannot resist.” [5]

in addition, Sherman was a pioneer of psychological warfare, he was convinced that the crushing will of White Confederate citizens was paramount to victory. He was

 “convinced that not only economic resources but also the will of Southern civilians sustained the Confederate War effort…. Sherman was well aware of the fear that his soldiers inspired among Southern whites. This terror “was a power,” he wrote, “and I intend to utilize it… to humble their pride, to follow them to their innermost recesses, and to make them dread and fear us…” [6]

When Confederate General John Bell Hood elected to fortify Atlanta, the largest and most important industrial city in the Confederacy against a Union attack, thereby making the population of the city a target, Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta to warn him of the consequences of allowing this:

“The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go…. You cannot qualify war in any harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…. You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable…” [7]

Sherman’s strategy worked, “it deprived Confederate armies of desperately needed supplies; it also crippled morale both at home front and in the army,” [8] His armies did more than destroy factories and farms in its path, wherever they went “they broke the power of the secessionist government, the slaveholder’s social order, and most of whatever fighting spirit remained among Confederate partisans.” [9]

Jefferson Davis understood the effect that Sherman’s army was having, he wrote, “Sherman’s campaign has produced a bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needed to restore public confidence.” [10] Mary Boykin Chesnut saw the clouds of doom approaching and confided in her diary, “Since Atlanta I have felt as if all were dead in me, forever,” she wrote. “we are going to be wiped off the map.” [11]

The effects of Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas were felt in the Confederate armies at the front as just as he had predicted. Lee’s artillery chief, Brigadier General Porter Alexander wrote:

“The condition of the country at large was one of almost as great deprivation & suffering as that of the army itself; & in many localities even of much greater. North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia had been over-run by Sherman’s army carrying off many of the Negroes & most of the stock & destroying all accumulation of provisions which they could not use, & often burning barns & dwellings & all implements of agriculture…. Naturally, the wives & mothers left at home wrote longingly for the return of the husbands & sons who were in the ranks in Virginia. And, naturally, many of them could not resist these appeals, & deserted in order to return & care for their families.” [12]

A member of the 20th Maine noted the effect on Lee’s troops opposing them at Petersburg wrote, “Since Sherman’s victories… we see the affect it is having on Lee’s Army.” They were deserting in groups, “not only privates, but many officers with them.” [13] Lee was so frustrated and angry with the desertion problem that he resorted to summary executions of the men, occasionally without hearing their appeals.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. One writer noted in regard to the social impacts that “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” 

 Mark Twain wrote in 1873 that the war “uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people …and wrought so profoundly upon the national character that cannot be measured short of two or three generations.” [15]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed  “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.

That statement, flowing from the Declaration was key to Lincoln’s understanding of human rights and dignity, and from it came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Those would be followed by the Republican Congresses’ passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which overturned the Dred Scott Decision, which denied all citizenship to blacks across the country, and by Ulysses S. Grant’s Fifteenth Amendment, which gave African American men to right to vote. These were all revolutionary ideas, and there was a counterrevolutionary backlash after the war “overthrew the fledgling experiment in racial equality” but “did not fully restore the old order. Slavery was not reinstated. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were not repealed.” [16]  That is the human and political context by which we have to understand the American Civil War.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war.  Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers.

The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray wrote:

 “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [17]

That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is an issue for our present and future political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [18] 

This is actually very important in our present context as since “the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians – with President Bush as a prime example – has been to confuse strategy with ideology. The president’s freedom agenda, which supposedly provided a blueprint for how to prosecute the global war on terror, expressed grandiose aspirations without serious effort to assess the means required to achieve them.” [19] Likewise, it is something that President Obama did not fully understand, and President Trump, is flailing and failing at, not because he has a strategy or a coherent ideology, but because everything revolves around him.

Strategy is hard and mostly ignored until there is a crisis, “soldiers focus on their professional military duties, while politicians exercise their skill in policymaking. The strategy bridge between the two worlds, the two cultures, generally is left poorly guarded, if it is guarded at all.” [20] In the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his administration as well as military advisers came to develop a realistic strategy to match his political goals, Lincoln understood the contexts of the war far better than his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, whose administration and military leadership was never able to devise a coherent strategy because they did not fully grasp the contexts of the war, never seriously considered the ends, ways, and means to victory.

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War prefigured the idea of total war written about by Clausewitz that occurred in the World Wars of the Twentieth Century. The war combined a massive number of technological advances, which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore.

Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda that ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit brought the element of hatred to the fore of the conflict; as Clausewitz correctly observed, “Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be filled with passionate hatred for each other.”  [21]

As the war went on the feelings of animosity and hatred often boiled over and were reflected in the words and sometimes the actions of the soldiers. A Confederate Captain wrote his wife to teach his children to have

 “a bitter and unrelenting hatred of the Yankee race” that had “invaded our country and devastated it… [and] murdered our best citizens…. If any luckless Yank should unfortunately come my way he need not petition for mercy. If he does I will give him lead.” 

A soldier from a Wisconsin regiment wrote to his fiancée after the assault on Resaca, Georgia that his unit had captured twenty-three Confederates and

 “our boys asked if they remembered Fort Pillow and killed them all. Where there is no officer with us, we take no prisoners…. We want revenge for our brother soldiers and will have it…. Some of the [rebels] say they will fight as long as there is one of them left. We tell them that is what we want. We want to kill them all off and cleanse the country.” [22]

While this was hatred was not universal and many times the combatants behaved with great chivalry on the battlefield, and Northern and Southern veterans led efforts at reconciliation after the war; such hatred was something that had not been a part of the American military experience.  The deep rooted enmity, especially in the South, would remain a constant over the next one hundred years. “White southerners who retained Confederate loyalties against Federal soldiers and northerners in general…. Confederates defiantly refused to forgive enemies who had inflicted such pain on their society.” [23]Likewise, many Union veterans felt that in their sacrifices to defeat the Confederacy and end slavery would be forgotten as time slipped by and the memory of the war subsided.

This very real hatred meant that there were many times when the American Civil War came close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century. J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [24] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [25]

President Lincoln, as well as Grant and Sherman realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [26] Though none was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that

 “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.”  [27]

Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [28]Sherman was one of the first American military leaders to understand that a civil war could not be waged according to the limited war doctrines most American officers had been taught. He not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [29] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

But Sherman and Grant were not alone in understanding the problem of fighting a limited war against the Confederacy. In the fall of 1862 a twenty-five year volunteer officer, Colonel Strong Vincent serving with McClellan’s army in Virginia understood what had to happen if the Union were to overcome the rebellion of the Confederacy. Vincent who would be instrumental in throwing back Hood’s assault on Little Round Top, and die leading the defense of that edifice, wrote to his wife about the need for harder measures.

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [30]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace the eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.

Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [31] That too was a modern understanding of war.

Of course, the revolution in military affairs that characterized the Civil War took time, but it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [32]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides. There were some naysayers like the venerable and rather corpulent General Winfield Scott, but politicians and the press mocked Scott and those who even suggested that the war would be long, hard, and bloody. Of course those who predicted a short, easy, and relatively bloodless war who were proven wrong, and the war became the bloodiest war ever waged by Americans, and it was against other Americans. In many ways it has yet to have ended.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.35

[2] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.81

[3] Lieber noted in Article 82 of the code that “Men, or squads of men, who commit hostilities, whether by fighting, or inroads for destruction or plunder, or by raids of any kind, without commission, without being part and portion of the organized hostile army, and without sharing continuously in the war, but who do so with intermitting returns to their homes and avocations, or with the occasional assumption of the semblance of peaceful pursuits, divesting themselves of the character or appearance of soldiers – such men, or squads of men, are not public enemies, and, therefore, if captured, are not entitled to the privileges of prisoners of war, but shall be treated summarily as highway robbers or pirates.” And in Article 85 that, “War-rebels are persons within an occupied territory who rise in arms against the occupying or conquering army, or against the authorities established by the same. If captured, they may suffer death, whether they rise singly, in small or large bands, and whether called upon to do so by their own, but expelled, government or not. They are not prisoners of war; nor are they if discovered and secured before their conspiracy has matured to an actual rising or armed violence.” Lieber, Francis, General Orders No. 100 : The Lieber Code INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT OF ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE FIELD 24 April 1863 Retrieved from The Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lieber.asp#sec4 1 June 2016

[4] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy p.148

[5] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.445

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.82

[7] Sherman, William Tecumseh, Letter to James M. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta September 12, 1864 in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 pp.147-148

[8] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.83

[9] 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.233

[10] Goldfield, David. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011 p.348

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.775

[12] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 pp.508-509

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.469

[14] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[15] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters p.48

[16] McPherson, James. The Second American Revolution in Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.14

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

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[19] Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project) Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008 Amazon Kindle Edition, Location 2375 of 3875

[20] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.49

[21] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.76

[22] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation pp.49-50

[23] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

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

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

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

[27] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[28] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era  p.809

[29] Ibid. Weigley  The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy  p.149

[30]Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.57

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

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

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The Emancipation Proclamation: The Antidote to the Cornerstone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Yesterday was the 156th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln when the outcome of the rebellion of the Southern slave states against the Union was still up in the air was a watershed for civil rights in the United States. Though it was a military order that only affected slaves in the rebellious states, it also set the stage for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and other legal rulings that affected not only African Americans and former slaves, but also Native Americans, Women, other racial minorities and LGBTQ people. It is something that in our era when so many civil rights are under threat that we must remember and continue to fight for in the coming years. Freedom is never free.

This article is a part of my hopefully soon to be published book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!” Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the civil War Era. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

From the beginning of the war many Northerners, especially abolitionists and radical Republicans believed that “as the “cornerstone” of the confederacy (the oft-cited description by the South’s vice-president, Alexander H. Stephens) slavery must become a military target.” [1]When some Union generals made their own attempts at issuing emancipation orders, Lincoln countermanded them for exceeding their authority. Lincoln resisted the early calls of the abolitionists to make that a primary war goal for very practical reasons, he had to first ensure that the Border Slave States did not secede, something that would have certainly ensured that the Union would not survived. As a result in the first year of the war, Lincoln “maneuvered to hold Border South neutrals in the Union and to lure Union supporters from the Confederacy’s Middle South white belts. He succeeded on both scores. His double success with southern whites gave the Union greater manpower, a stronger economy, and a larger domain. These slave state resources boosted free labor states’ capacity to should the Union’s heavier Civil War burden.” [2] His success in doing this was instrumental in enabling him to turn to emancipation in 1862.

Finally, some twenty months after Fort Sumter fell and after nearly two years of unrelenting slaughter culminating in the bloody battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation. Emancipation was a tricky legal issue for Lincoln as “an executive order of emancipation would be beyond the powers of the president, but not, Lincoln concluded, if such an order were issued as furtherance of the executive’s war powers.” [3] Lincoln had desired to issue the order during the summer and sounded out elected officials and soldiers as to his plan.

Lincoln discussed his views with General George McClellan during a visit to the latter’s headquarters. McClellan stated his strident opposition to them in writing. McClellan did not admire slavery but he despised abolitionists and he wrote one of his political backers “Help me to dodge the nigger – we want nothing to do with him. I am fighting for the Union…. To gain that end we cannot afford to mix up the negro question.”  [4]

Lincoln then called border state Congressmen to sound them out on the subject on July 12th 1862 only to be met with opposition. Such opposition caused Lincoln “to give up trying to conciliate conservatives. From then on the president tilted toward the radical position, though this would not become publicly apparent for more than two months.” [5]

Lincoln’s cabinet met to discuss the proclamation on July 22nd 1862 and after some debate decided that it should be issued, although it was opposed by Postmaster General Montgomery Blair who believed that “the Democrats would capitalize on the unpopularity of such a measure in the border states and parts of the North to gain control of the House in the fall elections.” [6] Wisely, Lincoln heeded the advice of Secretary of State Seward to delay the announcement until military victories ensured that people did not see it as a measure of desperation. Seward noted: “I approve of the proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent on our repeated reverses, is so great I fear…it may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek on the retreat.” Seward suggested that Lincoln wait “until the eagle of victory takes his flight,” and buoyed by military success, “hang your proclamation about his neck.” [7]

After the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. This document served as a warning to the leaders of the South, and insisted that there was much more at stake in their rebellion unless they surrendered; their slaves, the very “property” for which the seceded. The document “warned that unless the South laid down its arms by the end of 1862, he would emancipate the slaves.” [8] This was something that they could not and would not do, even as their cities burned and Confederacy collapsed around them in 1864.

The proclamation was a military order in which Lincoln ordered the emancipation of slaves located in the Rebel states and areas of those states occupied by Union troops. It was not designed to change law, which would have to wait until Lincoln felt he could have Congress amend the Constitution.  Instead of law it was “the doctrine of military necessity justified Lincoln’s action.” [9] The concept emanated from Boston lawyer William Whiting who argued “the laws of war “give the President full belligerent rights” as commander and chief to seize enemy property (in this case slaves) being used to wage war against the United States.” [10] There was a legitimate military necessity in the action as Confederate armies used slaves as teamsters, laborers, cooks, and other non-combatant roles to free up white soldiers for combat duty, and because slaves were an important part of the Southern war economy which could not function without them. The proclamation gave inspiration to many slaves throughout the South to desert to the Union cause or to labor less efficiently for their Confederate masters. A South Carolina planter wrote in 1865:

“the conduct of the Negro in the late crisis of our affairs has convinced me that we were all laboring under a delusion….I believed that these people were content, happy, and attached to their masters, But events and reflection have caused me to change these positions….If they were content, happy and attached to their masters, why did they desert him in the moment of need and flocked to the enemy, whom they did not know….” [11]

The proclamation authorized that freed blacks be recruited into the Federal army and it ensured that freed slaves would not again be surrendered back into slavery. As Montgomery Blair had warned Lincoln and the Republicans suffered sharp electoral reverses as “Democrats made opposition to emancipation the centerpiece of their campaign, warning that the North would be “Africanized” – inundated by freed slaves competing for jobs and seeking to marry white women.”  [12]

Lincoln’s response was to continue on despite the opposition and issue the Proclamation in spite of electoral reverses and political resistance. The vehemence of some Northern Democrats came close to matching that of white Southerners. The “white Southerner’s view of Lincoln as a despot, hell-bent on achieving some unnatural vision of “equality,” was shared by Northern Democrats, some of whom thought the president was now possessed by a “religious fanaticism.” [13] But Lincoln was not deterred and he understood “that he was sending the war and the country down a very different road than people thought they would go.” [14] He noted in December 1862:

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history….This fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation….In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”[15]

For Lincoln the Emancipation Proclamation was something that he believed was something that he had to do, and he believed that it would be the one thing that he did in life that would be remembered. He had long been convicted of the need for it, but timing mattered, even six months before it might have created a political backlash in the North which would have fractured support for the war effort, and in this case timing and how he made the proclamation mattered.

The Emancipation Proclamation had military, domestic political, and diplomatic implications, as well as moral implications for the conduct of the war.

The military implication would take some time to achieve but were twofold. First, Lincoln hoped that the Emancipation Proclamation would encourage former slaves, as well as already free blacks in the North to join the Union cause and enlist to serve in the Federal Army. The act would vest African Americans in the Union’s cause as little else could, and at the same time begin to choke-off the agricultural labor force that provided the backbone of the Confederate economy. Frederick Douglass eloquently made the case for African Americans to serve in July 1863, telling a crowd in Philadelphia, “Do not flatter yourself, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government is to you. You stand but as a plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but Liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the parchment guarantees of Liberty. In you hands the musket means Liberty…” [16] By the end of the war over 180,000 African American men would serve as volunteers in the United States Army.

Politically the proclamation would the diplomatic purpose by isolating the Confederacy from European assistance. This it did, after the proclamation public sentiment, especially among Europe’s working classes turned solidly against the Confederacy. Domestically it would break-ground for the Thirteenth Amendment, which Lincoln, the pragmatic lawyer was needed to actually abolish slavery. Morally, it  would serve as the guarantee of The United States Government’s public, irrevocable pledge of freedom to African Americans if the North won the war.

Lincoln signed the order on January 1st 1863. As he got ready to sign the document he paused and put down the pen, speaking to Seward he said “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do now in signing this paper….If my name ever goes down in history it will be for signing this act, and my whole soul is in it.” [17] The opening paragraph read:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” [18]

At the ends of the proclamation he added the words suggested by his devoutly Christian Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase: “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” [19]

The response throughout the North was euphoric as celebrations took place throughout the North. In some cities one hundred gun salutes were fired. At Boston’s Tremont Temple people broke out singing a hymn “Sound the loud timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free.” [20] The Boston Daily Evening Telegraph predicted, “Slavery from this hour ceases to be a political power in this country…such a righteous revolution as it inaugurates never goes backward.” [21]

Frederick Douglass wrote about his reactions to the Emancipation proclamation as he had nearly despaired wondering if the Lincoln administration would actually take up the fight for emancipation:

“The fourth of July was great, but the first of January, when we consider it in all of its relations and bearings in incomparably greater. The one we respect to the mere political birth to a nation, the last concerns national life and character, and is to determine whether that life and character shall be radiantly and glorious with all high and noble virtues, or infamously blackened, forevermore, with all the hell-darkened crimes and horrors which we attach to Slavery.” [22]

The proclamation was not all some had hoped for and it was certainly provoked a negative response in the South and among many Northern Democrats. Southerners accused Lincoln of inciting racial warfare and Jefferson Davis responded “The day is not so distant when the old Union will be restored with slavery nationally declared to be the proper condition of all of African descent.” [23]

But the proclamation did something that politicians, lawyers did not comprehend, that “the details of the emancipation decree were less significant than the fact that there was an emancipation decree, and while the proclamation read like a dull legal brief, filled with qualifying clauses and exceptions, it was not language made for this, finally, a moral document. It was its existence, its title, its arrival into this world, its challenge to the accepted order, and from that there was no turning back. In this sense it was a revolutionary statement, like the Declaration itself, and nearly as significant.” [24]That the proclamation most certainly was and it was a watershed from which there was no stepping back. “It irrevocably committed the government of the United States to the termination of slavery. It was an act of political courage, take at the right time, in the right way.” [25]

However, it would take another two years, with the Confederacy crumbling under the combined Federal military onslaught before Lincoln was able to secure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in January 1865.  The amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude throughout the country, as well as nullified the fugitive slave clause and the Three-Fifths Compromise. It would be followed after Lincoln’s death by the Fourteenth Amendment which reversed the result of the Dred Scott decision and declared that all people born in the United States were citizens and entitled to the rights of citizenship. During the Grant administration the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, and this finally extended to African American men, the right to vote in every state.

Though limited in scope, the Emancipation Proclamation had more than a domestic military, social and political effect. It also had an effect on foreign policy which ensured that Britain, and thereby France would not intervene in the war on behalf of the Southern Confederacy. It stopped all British support for the Rebels to include seizing warships that had been contracted for by Confederate agents that were building or being fitted out in British Yards. Likewise the British rejected various proposals of Emperor Napoleon III to intervene in the war in late 1862 and during the summer of 1863.

Effects of the Emancipation Proclamation on Military Law

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

“Slavery, complicating and confounding the ideas of property, (that is of a thing,) and of personality, (that is of humanity,) exists according to municipal or local law only. The law of nature and nations has never acknowledged it. The digest of the Roman law enacts the early dictum of the pagan jurist, that “so far as the law of nature is concerned, all men are equal.” Fugitives escaping from a country in which they were slaves, villains, or serfs, into another country, have, for centuries past, been held free and acknowledged free by judicial decisions of European countries, even though the municipal law of the country in which the slave had taken refuge acknowledged slavery within its own dominions.” [26]

It continued in Article 43:

“Therefore, in a war between the United States and a belligerent which admits of slavery, if a person held in bondage by that belligerent be captured by or come as a fugitive under the protection of the military forces of the United States, such person is immediately entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman To return such person into slavery would amount to enslaving a free person, and neither the United States nor any officer under their authority can enslave any human being. Moreover, a person so made free by the law of war is under the shield of the law of nations, and the former owner or State can have, by the law of postliminy, no belligerent lien or claim of service.” [27]

The Continued Fight for Emancipation: Dealing with the Copperheads and the Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment

But there were still legitimate concerns that slavery might survive as the war continued. Lincoln knew that in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation raised the stakes of the war far higher than they had been. He noted, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope on earth.” [28] The threat of the destruction of the Union and the continuance of slavery in either the states of the Confederacy, the new western states, territories, or the maintenance of the Union without emancipation was too great for some; notably, the American Freedmen’s Commission to contemplate. With Grant’s army stalled outside Richmond the Copperheads and the peace party gained influence and threatened to bring about a peace that allowed Confederate independence and the continuance of slavery; members of that caucus they Edwin Stanton in the spring of 1864:

“In such a state of feeling, under such a state of things, can we doubt the inevitable results? Shall we escape border raids after fleeing fugitives? No man will expect it. Are we to suffer these? We are disgraced! Are we to repel them? It is a renewal of hostilities!…In the case of a foreign war…can we suppose that they will refrain from seeking their own advantage by an alliance with the enemy?”[29]

The effort of the Copperheads and the peace party to was soon crushed under the military successes of William Tecumseh Sherman’s armies in Georgia. This was especially true of the capture of Atlanta, which was followed by Sherman’s march to the sea and the Carolinas. Additionally the naval victory of David Farragut’s fleet at the Battle of Mobile Bay served to break the stranglehold that the Copperheads were beginning to wield in Northern politics.  These efforts helped secure Lincoln’s reelection by a large margin in the 1864 presidential election over a divided Democratic opposition, whose presidential nominee McClellan could not even endorse his party’s platform.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln discussed the issue of slavery as the chief cause of the war. In it, Lincoln noted that slavery was the chief cause of the war in no uncertain terms and talked in a language of faith that was difficult for many, especially Christians, who “believed weighty political issues could be parsed into good or evil. Lincoln’s words offered a complexity that many found difficult to accept,” for the war had devastated the playground of evangelical politics, and it had “thrashed the certitude of evangelical Protestantism” [30] as much as the First World War shattered Classic European Protestant Liberalism.  Lincoln’s confrontation of the role that people of faith brought to the war in both the North and the South is both illuminating and a devastating critique of the religious attitudes that so stoked the fires of hatred.  His realism in confronting facts was masterful, and badly needed.  He spoke of “American slavery” as a single offense ascribed to the whole nation.” [31]

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” [32]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Foner Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction p.42

[2] Ibid. Freehling The South vs. The South p.47

[3] Brewster, Todd. Lincoln’s Gamble: The Tumultuous Six Months that Gave America the Emancipation Proclamation and Changed the Course of the Civil War Scribner a Division of Simon and Schuster, New York and London p.59

[4] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.364

[5] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.504

[6] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.109

[7] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 468

[8] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.49

[9] McGovern, George Abraham Lincoln Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2009 p.70

[10] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: p.108

[11] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.39

[12] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.49

[13] Ibid. Brewster Lincoln’s Gamble p.169

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.184

[15] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.49

[16] Douglass, Frederick. Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator 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.221

[17] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 499

[18] Lincoln, Abraham The Emancipation Proclamation The National Archives & Records Administration retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html 14 June 2014

[19] Ibid. Lincoln The Emancipation Proclamation

[20] Ibid. Brewster Lincoln’s Gamble p.244

[21] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.501

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning pp. 180-181

[23] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.263

[24] Ibid. Brewster Lincoln’s Gamble p.245

[25] Ibid. McGovern Abraham Lincoln p.78

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

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

[28] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.263

[29] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.534

[30] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame p.358

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

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

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