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When Political Parties Implode, Pt 4: The Secession Crisis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Over the past six months or so I have alluded to events in the Republican Party that make it appear that it is about to implode. I am a historian, and there is precedent in American history for the collapse of a national political party. This happened before in the 1854 collapse of the Whig Party, the 1912 division in the republican Party, but more importantly during the 1858 through 1860 collapse of the Democratic Party. Now I am not a person to say that history repeats itself. there are similarities and trends, but nothing is ever exactly the same as to why different parties collapse.  

While the issues of each day may be different there are common threads of humanity, hubris and hatred that unite to destroy political parties. I think that this is happening now in the Republican Party, and that it is possible that something similar may occur with the Democratic Party in the coming years. So it is important to look at history whenever possible to see how different political leaders responded in times of intense ideological, economic, social, national, and sectional division.

I decided to add an afterward to the three part series on the disaster that the Democratic Party made for itself and the country between 1858 and 1860. The third part deals with the after effects of results of the democratic Party split in the election of 1860. This deals with the secession crisis that enveloped the nation as former Southern Democrats led their states into rebellion against the Union and Northern Democrats joined the anti-secession party in the North.

This is a section of one of the chapters of my Civil War and Gettysburg text and I hope that you will find it interesting and thought provoking.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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After the election Lincoln tried to reassure the South that he would remain true to his campaign promise not to interfere with slavery where it already existed, but he also refused to give in to threats of secession. Despite his belief that anything that he said would be twisted into the exact opposite by Southerners, Lincoln released a statement through Senator Lyman Trumbull in Springfield saying:

“The states will be left in complete control of their affairs and property within their respective limits as they have under any administration. I regard it as extremely fortunate for the peace of the whole country, that this point, upon which the Republicans have been for so long, as so presently misrepresented, is now brought to a practical test, and placed beyond the possibility of doubt. Disunionists per se, are now in hot haste to get out of the Union, precisely because they perceive they cannot, much longer, maintain apprehension among the southern people that in their homes, and firesides, and lives, are to be endangered by the action of the Federal Government.” [1]

On his way to Washington D.C. the President Elect stopped in New York and gave a speech “promising that he would “never of his own volition “consent to the destruction of this Union,” he qualified this promise with “unless it were that to be that thing for which the Union itself was made.” [2] Two days later Lincoln speaking Independence Hall in Philadelphia Lincoln further detailed what he meant in New York, going back to the premise of the Declaration of Independence in which “he asserted that he “never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration…. I was not the mere matter of separation of the colonies from the mother land; but rather something in that Declaration” that provided “hope for the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.” [3] It was a thought that he would continue to refine in the Emancipation Proclamation Gettysburg Address, the Thirteenth Amendment and in his Second Inaugural Address.

Stephen A. Douglas tried to reassure the Southern leaders as well even as argued against secession. He reminded Southerners how he had fought against Lincoln and the platform of the Republican Party and stated “that the mere election of any man to the Presidency does not furnish just cause for dissolving the Union.” [4] Addressing Southern concerns in a pragmatic way, the Little Giant tried to diffuse Southern fears by reminding them that the answer to their fears lay in the checks and balances laid out in the Constitution and in the ballot box. Douglas’s next words redound to the present day:

“It is apprehended that the policy of Mr. Lincoln and the principles of his party endanger the peace of the slaveholding states. Is that apprehension founded? No, it is not. Mr. Lincoln and his party lack the power, even if they had the disposition, to disturb or impair the rights and institutions of the South. They certainly cannot harm the South under existing laws. Will they have the power to repeal or change these laws, or to enact others? It is well known that they will be a minority in both houses of Congress, with the Supreme Court against them. Hence no bill can pass either house of Congress impairing or disturbing these rights or institutions of the southern people in any manner whatever, unless a portion of southern senators and representatives absent themselves so as to give an abolition majority in consequence of their actions.

In short, the President will be utterly powerless to do evil…. Four years shall soon pass, when the ballot box will furnish a peaceful, legal, and constitutional remedy for the evils and grievances with which the country might be afflicted.” [5]

An attempt in Congress led by President James Buchanan and Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky to bring about a constitutional compromise to mollify both sides was considered. A committee of thirteen senators was convened to entertain various compromise propositions, however, most of the suggested compromises were heavily weighted toward Southern interests, though it promised to restore the prohibition of slavery north of the line drawn in the Missouri Compromise.

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Abraham Lincoln

A frustrated Lincoln wrote, “I’ll tell you now what bothered me: the compromises measures introduced in Congress required the Republicans to make all the concessions.” [6] Lincoln warned Crittenden that such proposals would not be acceptable: “Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery…. The instant you do they have us under again…. The tug has to come & better now than later.” [7]

Lincoln had seen how for four decades Southerners had pushed for compromises that only benefited them and the extension of slavery, even at the expense of Northern states rights and he was not about to let it happen again. The President Elect wrote:

“The Crittenden plan, I feared, would put the country back on the high road to a slave empire. Whether it was the revival of the Missouri Compromise line or a popular sovereignty, it was all the same. “Let neither be done,” I warned Republicans in Washington, “and immediately filibustering and extending slavery recommences. Within a year, we shall have to take Cuba as a condition on which the South will stay in the Union. Next it will be Mexico, then Central American. On the territorial question, I am inflexible. On that point hold firm as a chain of steel…” [8]

In the South the efforts of staunch Southern Unionists like Alexander Stephens to discourage secession were dismissed as the movement toward secession became a passion filled revolutionary movement, which acted as a cathartic movement for many Southerners. Like Douglas, Stephens had the greatest faith in the checks and balances provided in the Constitution and he pleaded with his fellow Georgians at the state capital of Milledgeville noting that the checks and balances “would render Lincoln “powerless to do any great mischief,” and he warned that “the dissolution of the Union would endanger this “Eden of the world,” that “instead of becoming gods, we shall become demons, and no distant day commence cutting one another’s throats…” [9] While his speech received favorable coverage in the North and even in London, it was met with little enthusiasm at home.

Influential Southern preachers joined in the push for secession and warned of what they saw as the dire consequences of Lincoln’s election. The Baptist clergyman James Furman expressed the outrage and paranoia of many in the South by warning after Lincoln’s election “If you are tame enough to submit, Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” [10] Likewise entire southern denominations began to endorse secession, southern Methodists raised “alarms about a Union dominated by abolitionists as they called on the Lord for deliverance from the northern “Egypt.” The division of Israel and Judah (not to mention the nation’s already fractured churches0 became typologies for the American crisis. Just as southern Methodists had once “seceded from a corrupt church,” a Mississippi politician declared, “We must secede from a corrupt nation.” To drive the point home, Georgia Methodists ministers endorsed disunion by an overwhelming 87-9 vote.” [11]

Despite Lincoln and Douglas’s efforts during and after the election to strike a conciliatory tone, it did not take long before Southern states began to secede from the Union. In light of the profoundly sectional nature of Lincoln’s victory “emboldened many Southern politicians and journalists to insist that they would not be bound by the result.” [12] In his final speech before the Senate, Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia lambasted the “black Republicans” and abolitionists, “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship, we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.” [13] Other Senators, many who would become prominent leaders of the Confederacy made their speeches, some, like that of Jefferson Davis tinged with regret while others like Senator Stephen Mallory, and the future Secretary of the Navy for the Confederacy delivered a fiery broadside against his Northern colleagues, “You cannot conquer us. Imbue your hands in our blood and the rains of a century will not wipe away from them stain, while the coming generation will weep for your wickedness and folly.” [14] As these men finished the left the chambers of Congress where many had served for years many left with tears, while some marked their exit with angry words.

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Alexander Stephens

Stephens, still a Unionist at heart lamented the election even as he prepared to leave the Senate before becoming the vice president of the Confederacy, warned that “revolutions are much easier started than controlled, and the men who begin them [often] …themselves become the victims.” [15] Even so the senator noted “If the policy of Mr. Lincoln and his Republican associates be carried out…no man in Georgia will be more willing or ready than myself to defend our rights, interest, and honor at every hazard and to the last extremity.” [16] But as he resigned his office Stephens replied to a friend’s question, “why must we have civil war?”

“Because there are not virtue and patriotism and sense enough left in the country to avoid it. Mark me, when I repeat that in less than twelve months we shall be in the midst of a bloody war. What will become of us then God only knows.” [17]

But Stephens’ warning fell on deaf ears as passionate secessionist commissioners went throughout the South spreading their message of fear. “Thus fanned, mob spirit ran close enough to the surface to intimidate many moderates – the very temperament that inclines men toward moderation is apt to respond timidly when threatened or abused – and to push others closer to the extremist position.” [18] Such was the case with Southern moderates and Unionists as men like Stephens were swept up in the tumult as their states seceded from the Union. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana wrote, “The prudent and conservative men South… were not able to stem the wild torrent of passion which is carrying everything before it…. It is a revolution…of the most intense character…and it can no more be checked by human effort, for the time, than a prairie fire by a gardener’s watering pot.” [19]

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The Palmetto State of South Carolina was the first state to secede. Its senior senator, James Chesnut launched a fusillade against the North in a speech before the state legislature in which he argued that the South could not wait for another election: He thundered:

“Because of the Yankee puritans’ invasive mentality, incendiary documents would flood our region, Southern Republicans would fill our offices. Enemies would control our mails. The resulting upheaval would make “Lincoln’s election…a decree for emancipation. Slavery cannot survive the four years of an administration whose overwhelming influences” will be “brought to bear against it.” To submit now is to guarantee that before 1865, we must “slay the Negro, or ourselves be slain.” [20]

William Tecumseh Sherman was serving as the President the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, what is now Louisiana State University. Like many men in the ante-bellum era, Sherman had thought little about the slavery issue, though he was very concerned with the preservation of the Union. He thought secession made no sense, especially for the people of the South. When Sherman read the news of South Carolina’s secession it “cut to the depths of his nationalistic soul.” The future general wept, and told his friend David Boyd “Boyd, you people of the South don’t know what you are doing! You think you can tear to pieces this great union without war…. “The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth…. You are bound to fail. Only in spirit and determination are you prepared for war.” [21] Sherman, the man who later proclaimed that “War is Hell” proved to be a remarkably accurate seer regarding the fate of the Confederacy.

South Carolina was followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. “A belt of seven states from South Carolina to Texas, embracing nearly one-sixth of the country’s population and nearly one-fifth of the national domain, had proclaimed independence and severed its ties with the Union.” [22] Many of the declarations of causes for secession made it quite clear and explicit that slavery, and fear that the institution was threatened by Northern abolitionists was the root cause. The declaration of South Carolina is typical of these and is instructive of the basic root cause of the war:

“all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” [23]

Throughout the war slavery loomed large, even though in the beginning of the abolition controversies of the 1830s many northerners “were content to tolerate slavery’s indefinite survival in the South so long as it did not impinge on their own rights and aspirations at home.” [24] Such attitudes were still common in the North during the late 1850s, especially among Democrats.

But it was the continued actions and multiple transgressions of slavery supporters that energized northerners as never before. Their use of the courts to advance their rights and the cause of slavery, by the compromises that had extended slavery to the territories; their use of the courts especially the Dred Scott to allow slaveholders to recover their human property, even in Free States provoked no end of indignation throughout the North, even for those sympathetic to Southern concerns. Those actions demonstrated to Northerners:

“just how fundamental and intractable the differences with Southern political leaders were. Thus educated, most northern voters had decided by 1860 that only an explicitly anti-slavery party could protect their interests.” [25]

The fiery abolitionist and profoundly religious editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, used biblical imagery in a rather astute analysis of the behavior of Southern leaders after the election of 1860. He wrote of the Southern response to Lincoln’s election:

“Never had the truth of the ancient proverb “Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad” been more signally illustrated than in the condition of southern slaveholders following Lincoln’s election. They were insane from their fears, their guilty forebodings, their lust for power and rule, hatred of free institutions, their merited consciousness of merited judgments; so that they may be properly classed as the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Their dread of Mr. Lincoln, of his Administration, of the Republican Party, demonstrated their insanity. In vain did Mr. Lincoln tell them, “I do not stand pledged to the abolition of slavery where it already exists.” They raved just as fiercely as though he were another John Brown, armed for southern invasion and universal emancipation! In vain did the Republican party present one point of antagonism to slavery – to wit, no more territorial expansion. In vain did that party exhibit the utmost caution not to give offense to any other direction – and make itself hoarse in uttering professions of loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. The South protested that its designs were infernal, and for them was “sleep no more!” Were these not the signs of a demented people?” [26]

But both sides were blind to their actions and with few exceptions, most leaders, especially in the South badly miscalculated the effects of the election of 1860. The leaders in the North did not realize that the election of Lincoln would mean the secession of one or more Southern states, and Southerners “were not able to see that secession would finally mean war” [27] despite the warnings of Alexander Stephens to the contrary. In fact throughout the South it was believed that there would be no war because “they believed that the Yankees were cowards and would not fight”… “Senator James Chesnut of South Carolina offered to drink all the blood shed as a consequence of secession. It became a common saying in the South during the secession winter that “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed.” [28]

Following their secession the five slave states of the lower South: “appointed commissioners to the other slave states, and instructed them to spread the secessionist message across the entire region. These commissioners often explained in detail why their states were exiting the Union, and they did everything in their power to persuade laggard slave states to join the secessionist cause. From December 1860 to April 1861 they carried the gospel of disunion to the far corners of the South.” [29]

The editors of the Philadelphia Press accused the Southern secessionists of being enemies of democracy and wrote:

“should the Cotton States go out in a body, we shall witness the beginning of an experiment to establish, on this continent, a great slaveholding monarchy. With few exceptions, the leaders of the Disunion cabal are men of the most aristocratic pretensions – men who…easily adopt the habits and titles of the European nobility. South Carolina, which is the head of Secession, is almost a monarchy herself. Her representatives in both branches of Congress, for years past, have acted upon the idea that the people of the free states are servile, and Mr. Hammond, the most candid and straightforward of the set, denounced the laboring white masses of the free States as the mudsills of society …” [30]

The mood of the South in the fall of 1860 was “fearful, uncertain, impatient and volatile, eager to adopt the course that best offered hope of deliverance – which was ideally suited for the immediacy and urgency of the radical secessionists.” [31] Using the political machinery of the Democratic Party in the South which they now possessed, the proponents of secession were far better organized than Southern Unionists who had a difficult time putting up a united front in the face of the radicals.

Slavery and the superiority of the white race over blacks were at the heart of the message brought by these commissioners to the legislatures of the yet undecided states. Former Congressman John McQueen of South Carolina wrote to secessionists in Virginia “We, of South Carolina, hope to greet you in a Southern Confederacy, where white men shall rule our destinies, and from which we may transmit our posterity the rights, privileges and honor left us by our ancestors.” [32] In Texas McQueen told the Texas Convention: “Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican part and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to an equality with ourselves and our children.” [33] These Southern secessionists were realists, they knew that the election of 1860 was a watershed in terms of the history of slavery in the United States, emancipation was coming, it might take a decade, it might take twenty-five or even fifty years, but they knew that it was coming, and for them secession was the only logical action left that was “consistent with their ideology.” [34] Many of these men now viewed it as an issue of now or never.

In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln cut to the heart of the division in the country: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.” [35] Of course he was right, and his Southern opponents agreed. Jefferson Davis wrote: “The great northern party, thus organized, succeeded in electing to the office of the Presidency a man who openly proclaimed his hatred of slavery, who declared that the government could not endure “half slave and half free.” [36]

As the war began, white Southerners of all types and classes rallied to the call of war against the hated Yankee. The common people, the poor yeomen farmers were often the most stalwart defenders of the South. With the Orwellian slogan “Freedom is not possible without slavery” ringing in their ears, they went to war against the Yankees alongside their slave-owning neighbors to “perpetuate and diffuse the very liberty for which Washington bled, and which the heroes of the Revolution achieved.” [37]

Alexander Stephens, the longtime friend of Lincoln who had been a devout Unionist, who had supported Stephen Douglas until the bitter end, and who had strenuously opposed secession in the months leading to the election of 1860 was now the Vice President of the Confederacy. He had been elected Vice President the same day as Jefferson Davis was elected President by the new Confederate Congress and now went through the South speaking about the nature of the new government. Stephens explained the foundations of the Southern state in his Cornerstone Speech of March 21st 1861, the speech echoed what many Southerners had believed for years regarding slavery and the status of Blacks, namely that Blacks were a lesser order of humanity:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [38]

Jefferson Davis had issued instructions to cabinet members to downplay slavery as an issue and was infuriated. The new President of the Confederacy wrote: “That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” [39]

The Orwellian definition of slavery as being necessary to liberty and the Confederate leader’s proclamations that they were comparable to the founding fathers was condemned throughout the North. The editors of the New York Evening Post wrote:

“The founders fought to “establish the rights of man… an principles of universal liberty.” The South was rebelling “not in the interest of general humanity, but of a domestic despotism…. Their motto is not liberty, but slavery.” Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence spoke for “Natural Rights against Established Institutions,” added the New York Tribune, while “Mr. Jeff. Davis’s caricature thereof is made in the interest of an unjust, outgrown, decaying institution against the apprehended encroachments of human rights.” It was, in short, not a revolution for liberty but a counterrevolution “reversing the wheels of progress…. to hurl everything backward into deepest darkness… despotism and oppression.” [40]

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Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession

Secession commissioners from the first seven Confederate States fanned out to the undecided Slave states to spread the message of secession. One of these men was Henry Benning of Georgia. Benning spoke to the secession convention of Virginia, a state that the new Confederacy deemed all-important to its cause and which it had to have on its side in the coming confrontation with the Union. There the Georgia Supreme Court Justice used the time-honored method of racial fear mongering to sway the men of the Virginia House of Delegates, he thundered:

“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is be abolished except in Georgia and the other cotton States, and…ultimately in these States also,” Benning insisted. “By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be a large majority, and we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.” [41]

Not letting up the fiery Georgian told the Virginians that the North would invade the South to end slavery and of the outcome of such an invasion:

“We will be overpowered and our men compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth,” he told his audience, “and for our women, the horrors of their state cannot contemplate in imagination.” This then, was “the fate that Abolition will bring upon the white race….We will be exterminated.” [42]

Virginia’s Governor, John Letcher was “a longtime foe of secession and had wanted to bring slavery to an end in Virginia, but once elected to the governorship he adroitly put all that behind him, and rather like [Robert E.] Lee, he went to work with considerable efficiency for two causes in which he did not believe.” [43] One Unionist delegate to the convention wrote of the proceedings, “The scenes witnessed within the wall of that room…have no parallel in the annals of ancient or modern times. On the morning of the 17th, Mr. Wise rose from his seat and drawing a large Virginia horse-pistol from his bosom laid it before him and proceeded to harangue the body in the most violent and denunciatory manner. He concluded by taking his watch from his pocket and, with glaring eyes and bated breath, declared that events were now transpiring which caused a hush to come over his soul.” [44] Those events were a planned seizure of Federal facilities including the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the Naval Yard at Norfolk. But not all in Virginia were convinced. The strongly Unionist western counties of the state, where few people owned slaves and those who did held very few, voted heavily against secession. The counties withstood the initial shock of secession and would “in a wholly extra-legal way, abetted by Washington – perform its own act of secession, breaking away from Virginia and clinging to the Union as a bob-tailed but finally acceptable new state.” [45]

Former President John Tyler added his voice to the secession cause in Virginia and “personally drafted a document placing the state’s military force under Jefferson Davis’s direct command.” Shortly thereafter he was “elected to the Confederate Congress – becoming the only former President to win office in a foreign country.” [46] However, before he could take office, the former President, now an intractable enemy of the country that he once led, died in Richmond. Shortly thereafter his portrait was removed from its place of honor in the capital.

Tennessee was another state where secession was problematic. Eastern Tennessee was strongly Unionist and the counties “held a convention, denounced the governor and legislature for making the alliance with the Confederacy, and sent a memorial asking that the eastern counties be allowed to form a new state.” [47] The legislature and governor refused this but the area would prove a problem for Jefferson Davis as well as Lincoln who would have liked to help the Tennessee Unionists, but had no military way to do so.

The highly divided border states of Kentucky and Missouri remained in the Union, but became highly partisan battlegrounds between secessionists and Unionists in which insurgents used terrorist methods against their fellow citizens throughout the war. Kentucky’s pro-secession Governor, Beriah Magoffin called the legislature into convention to decide secession “but the legislature, by a vote of 54 to 36 in the lower house, refused to call one and adjourned on February 11 without taking any decisive action.” [48] Losing that vote, he issued a declaration of neutrality which caused both Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to move with caution in the state. Lincoln understood the strategic importance of Kentucky and said “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game….Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We may as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capital.” [49] Lincoln’s use of caution, diplomacy, and when needed the force of the law, courts, and the military paid strategic military and economic dividends for the North as the Ohio River remained under Union control.

Maryland too remained in the Union as Governor Thomas H. Hicks, with the help of federal troops resisted a call in the legislature for a secession vote, even so as Union volunteers marched to Washington in response to Lincoln’s calls for troops some regiments were attacked in Baltimore. The 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was set upon as a “crowd of southern sympathizers threw bricks and stones and fired into their ranks as they changed trains. They returned the fire, killing twelve citizens and wounding many more, then packed their four dead on ice for shipment north, and came on to Washington, bearing their seventeen wounded on stretchers.” [50]

To Lincoln, the issue of secession as well as territory was “never just about politics. To him it spoke about the nation, even if primarily as a symbol. In his mind the nation must be about freedom, never slavery.” [51] For him the Union was sacred and could not be dissolved for any reason, especially the cause of slavery. In contrast to the secessionists who proclaimed that the states had formed the Federal Government and had the right to dissolve the Union, Lincoln, using the reasoning and arguments of Daniel Webster asserted in his inaugural address that the Union actually predated the Constitution:

“Descending from these general principles, we find the propositions that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And final, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect Union.” [52]

In early April 1861, a few days before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, a New York Times editorial made a proposition that unveiled the reality of the situation now confronting the divided nation, and which so many had for so long refused to face: “If two sections can no longer live together, they can no longer live apart in quiet until it is determined which is master. No two civilizations ever did, or can, come into contact as the North and South threaten to do, without a trial of strength, in which the weaker goes to the wall…. We must remain master of the occasion and the dominant power on this continent.” [53]

Thus, the American ideological war was born; it had taken decades to reach the point of no return. It had taken years of frustration, and attempts at compromise by politicians who attempted to dodge the moral issues inherent in slavery. Time could not heal the wounds caused by slavery as long as “one section of the country regarded it as a blessing, the other as a curse.” [54] Frederick Douglass observed: “Whatever was done or attempted with a view to the support and secularity of slavery on served to fuel the fire, and heated the furnace of [anti-slavery] agitation to a higher degree than had any before attained.” [55]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.355-356

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 310

[3] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 310

[4] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.338

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.338-339

[6] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.355

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.134

[8] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.354-355

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.184

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

[11] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.38-39

[12] Ibid. Holzer Lincoln and the Power of the Press p.256

[13] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.77

[14] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.77

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.238

[16] Cooper, William J. We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War November 1860-April 1861 Alfred a Knopf, New York 2012 p.75

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

[18] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter pp.250-251

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.237

[20] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.398

[21] O’Connell Robert L. Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman Random House, New York 2013 p65

[22] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.248

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.238

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

[30] Ibid. Stampp The Causes of the Civil War p.189

[31] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.250

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

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

[34] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.145

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

[36] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.429

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

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

[39] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.382

[40] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.244

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

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

[43] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.232

[44] Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Earl, CSA Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 1992 p.49

[45] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.365

[46] Goodheart, Adam The Ashen Ruin in The New York Times: Disunion, 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Edited by Ted Widmer, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.71

[47] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.365

[48] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.510

[49] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.53

[50] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.53

[51] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.80

[52] Ibid. Wills Lincoln at Gettysburg p.130-131

[53] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.43

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

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

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Filed under civil war, History, Political Commentary

July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 5: The Wheatfield

gettysburg-1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the fifth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

To the left of Benning, “Tige” Anderson’s brigade and two of Robertson’s orphaned regiments assaulted the remaining elements of Hobart Ward’s brigade along the western section of Houck’s Ridge and Rose’s Woods. Ward had been assigned by his division commander, David Birney to defend the left flank of Sickles over-extended line. To do so he had already placed the men of the 124th New York and the 4th Maine on his left, while those remaining took position on Houck’s Ridge and in Rose’s Woods. Like the other units of Third Corps, these troops were all veterans led by veteran officers and they would not give ground without a fight. However, Ward’s troops had not taken the time to erecting any hasty fortifications or breastworks, as one “veteran remembered it, “we had not yet learned the inestimable value of breastworks, and instead of spending time rolling the loose stones into a bullet-proof line, we lounged about on the grass and rocks.” [1] But when the Confederate assault began, these men took advantage of the nature terrain features which made it formidable even without such efforts.

As the Confederates moved against Ward’s troops on the ridge and in Rose’s Woods their left flank made contact with the adjoining brigade of Regis de Trobriand, the leftmost regiment of which, the 17th Maine was posted at the southwest corner of the Wheatfield. As the Union infantry regiments braced for the attack, the Confederate formations were shredded by the shells of the Federal artillery which crashed upon them. “I could hear bones crash like glass in a hail storm,” asserted a Georgian. Colonel Dudley M. DuBose of the 15th Georgia avowed, “I never saw troops move on more steadily & in better order than these did on that occasion.” [2] Despite the carnage the Georgians continued on, and when they got within seventy-five yards of the 17th Maine opened a blistering fire which “slowed Anderson’s brigade’s assault but certainly did not stop it.” [3] Lieutenant Colonel Charles Merrill of the 17th Maine wrote:

“We opened fire on the enemy, then within 100 yards of us. The contest became very severe, the enemy at times being driven back by our line, then by superior numbers compelling us in turn to give way. The ground was hotly contested, but we held our position till, finding the right of my regiment outflanked and exposed to murderous fire from the enemy’s reinforcements, I was obliged to form a new line, changing the right wing of the regiment into position at a right angle to the left. This movement was executed in good order, under a heavy fire from the advancing foe. In this position we continued to fight, checking the enemy till, receiving orders to retire, we fell back across a wheat-field in our rear to the edge of the woods.” [4]

Anderson’s Confederates continued their attack and as they advanced Anderson was wounded and Colonel W.W. White took command, and while the Georgians had succeeded in taking some ground and inflicted heavy casualties on the Federal troops, the brigade was spent. Attesting to the severity of the fight Colonel White wrote, “From the exhausted condition of the men, together with the fact that the enemy were pouring in large re-enforcements on the right, it was deemed impractical to follow him further… The brigade retired in good order across the ravine, and went into bivouac for the night…. The loss of the brigade was heavy…. 105 killed, 512 wounded, and 146 missing.” [5]

The fight in Rose’s Woods and the Wheatfield between Birney’s division and the men of Benning and Anderson’s brigades drew in other units and McLaws’ division entered the fight and the men of Caldwell’s division of the Federal Fifth Corps entered the battle. Initially, the Union infantry was outnumbered but it had the support of the artillery that Henry Hunt had rushed into the fight. The brigades to the right of the woods on the rocky hill commanded by Tilton and Sweitzer were rapidly becoming isolated as the Confederates advanced to their rear and Kershaw’s South Carolina brigade “appeared through the smoke” like a malevolent fury, “moving with shout, shriek, curse, and yell…loading and firing with deliberation as they advanced, begrimed and dirty-looking fellows in all sorts of garb, some without hats, some without coats, none apparently in the real dress or uniform of a soldier.” [6]

Joseph Kershaw was one of the few Confederate commanders without a legacy to protect to write in detail about the battle in the Wheatfield. Kershaw was a lawyer and politician who had served in the Mexican-American War with the Palmetto Regiment. After the war he went back to civilian life and served as a member of the South Carolina State Senate. When South Carolina seceded from the Union, Kershaw volunteered for service and was made Colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry which he commanded at Fort Sumter, Bull Run, and on the Peninsula. “Natural leadership and applied intelligence had advanced him to brigades command, and he was tabbed for future material for division command.” [7] As a brigade commander he distinguished himself during the Seven days, Second Bull, Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Kershaw was an natural leader and displayed an ability for “quick and rational decisions, and he never endangered his men rashly” [8] His division commander, Lafayette McLaws had a tremendous amount of trust and respect for his subordinate. “Pious, intelligent, a clear blond of high bred, clean-cut features, he had the bearing of command and a clear voice that seemed to inspire courage when it was raised in battle.” [9] Kershaw was “probably the most popular brigade commander in the entire Army of Northern Virginia. His South Carolinians – the 2,100 men of the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 15th South Carolina, along with the seven companies that made up the 3rd South Carolina Battalion – adored him as “a very fine man and good officer” who is liked by everyone.” Actually, this forty-one-year-old lawyer from Camden…was a chronic depressive, unhappily married, and “intensely lonely” [10] That did not diminish the love of his men for him, and His brigade had been the lead unit of the First Corps’ disastrous movement to contact that afternoon, and he had watched the contra-temps between Longstreet’s and McLaws during the march and counter-march that morning and afternoon, and upon the discovery of Sickles’ troops in the Peach Orchard. His brigade, a unit of battle-hardened veterans may not have looked like soldiers due to the wear and tear of constant campaigning and the lack of new uniforms or equipment but they were among the toughest and most disciplined brigades on either side.

Kershaw’s brigade as well as the Georgia brigade of Brigadier General Paul Semmes, the brother of Rafael Semmes, the Captain of the raider CSS Alabama, formed the right flank of Lafayette McLaws’ attack on the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. Kershaw understood from his discussions with McLaws and Longstreet that his attack was supposed to be coordinated with that of Hood’s division on his right, which was “sweep down the Federal line in a direction perpendicular to our line of battle.” [11] and with Barksdale’s brigade on his left. However, as his troops prepared to jump off to start their attack Kershaw “got his first unpleasant surprise when he observed Hood’s brigades moving “independently against Round Top,” a departure from the plan that meant they would not “directly participate in the joint attack.” [12] Without Hood’s support on his right Kershaw was now completely dependent on Barksdale’s brigade on his left to hit the Peach Orchard to protect his left flank from the massed Federal artillery on that height.

When Kershaw received word to advance his troops moved off followed by Semmes’ brigade while Longstreet accompanied the brigade until it reached the Emmitsburg Road. Kershaw made a tactical decision which made sense but which had a major impact on his attack. “All field and staff officers were dismounted on account of the many obstacles in the way.” [13] Kershaw chose to move with his right regiments and being dismounted this diminished his ability to see what was going on with his left, and limited his ability to provide command and control. This was not a mistake, it was a sound tactical move due to the terrain and the exposure of mounted officers to sharpshooters and artillery directed specifically at them.

As Kershaw’s men advanced he looked for Barksdale’s brigade, and only then “heard Barksdale’s drums beat the assembly, and I knew then that I should have no immediate support on my left, about to be squarely presented to the heavy force of infantry and artillery at and in the rear of the Peach Orchard.[14] Without Barksdale on his flank Kershaw was forced to improvise, he divided his regiments with “two going straight toward the stony hill, he sent two to their left to take the Union batteries in the back of the peach orchard.” [15] Porter Alexander, commanding Longstreet’s artillery noted that “Barksdale’s delay “ was especially unfortunate in this case, because advancing Kershaw without advancing Barksdale would expose Kershaw to enfilade by troops who Barksdale would easily drive off. Few battlefields can furnish examples of worse tactics.” [16]

Up to the point of crossing the Emmitsburg Road, Kershaw’s regiments had a relatively easy advance, but as Kershaw feared, they were hit from the front and flank by rifle fire, and by artillery fire. “We saw plainly that their artillerists were loading their guns to meet our assault, while their mounted officers went dashing wildly from gun to gun, to be sure that all were ready,” recalled one soldier of the 2nd South Carolina, and when they opened fire, “every Federal cannon let fly at us” with solid shot and canister.” [17] The effect on Kershaw’s troops was devastating. Scores of his troops were cut down as they advanced, even so they continued to move forward. Private William Shumate of the 2nd South Carolina described the effect of the massed Union artillery fire on Kershaw’s troops. “Kershaw’s brigade moved…in perfect order and with the precision of brigade drill, while upon my right and left comrades were stricken down by grape and canister which went crashing through our ranks. It did not seem to me that none could escape.” [18] Kershaw’s left regiments were now approaching the Federal artillery and Kershaw had lost contact with them. As they approached the Union guns, those batteries ceased fire and prepared to withdraw.

Victory seemed assured and then the unthinkable happened, as it so often does in the confusion of battle and the fog of war; an order was issued by an unknown officer to change the direction of the attack. Evidently someone misunderstood “Kershaw’s orders or his intent and with this false order aborted the attack.” [19] The change of direction resulted in those regiments making a right flank and presenting their exposed left to the Federal artillery men, who now remained their guns and opened a devastating and merciless fire into the flank of the South Carolinians. Kershaw was livid and later wrote:

“The Federals returned to their guns and opened on these doomed regiments a raking fire of grape and canister, at short distance, which proved most disastrous, and for a time destroyed their usefulness. Hundreds of the bravest and best men of Carolina fell, victims of this fatal blunder.” [20]

A Massachusetts infantryman walked the field after the charge and noted, “Masses of Kershaw’s and Wofford’s brigades had been swept from the muzzles of the guns, which had been loaded either with double-shotted, or spherical case, with fuses being cut to one second, to explode near the muzzles. They were literally blown to atoms. Corpses strewed the ground at every step. Arms, heads, legs and parts of dismembered bodies were scattered all about, and sticking among the rocks and against the trunks of trees, hair, brains, entrails, and shreds of human flesh still hung, a disgusting, sickening, heart-rending spectacle to our young minds.” [21]

While his left regiments were being manhandled by the Federal artillery due to the errant order, Kershaw’s right regiments continued their attack on troops of De Trobriand, Sweitzer, and Tilton, on the stony hill. This landmark was in the process of being cut off from the rest of the Federal army as Anderson’s troops gained control of the Wheatfield.

On the surface it seems that the three brigades should have been enough to hold the stony hill, although this is not entirely clear from contemporary accounts or from the histories published since. But, there is one overriding opinion that comes through in most of the accounts, which is that there was a problem with Federal command and control on this section of the battlefield. When the Fifth Corps units of Barnes’ division began arriving in the Third Corps section, Sickles and Birney assumed that these troops were subordinated to their command, but Meade had given contrary orders to Sykes who assumed that the changed orders “relieved his troops from “any call from the commander of the Third Corps.” [22] Whether this was Meade’s plan, Sykes’ interpretation of his orders, or Sickles’ seeking to shift some of the blame for the near disaster to someone else depends on which account one reads.

Thus when pressure began to build on the stony hill as Kershaw’s troops advanced from the front and Anderson’s worked their way to the rear, Barnes or Tilton apparently gave orders to Tilton and Sweitzer, whose “brigades had put up a brief but determined fight along their end of the stony ridge” [23] to withdraw from their position. Like the other controversies of this day this too played out in the media long after the battle was over, however, Sweitzer “clearly reported that he did not retreat until after Tilton’s brigade had fallen back, and then fell back by Barnes’ order.” [24] What appeared to have happened was that the renewed advance of Kershaw’s troops had intimidated Barnes and Tilton, and Barnes, watching the advance with anxiety “issued a precautionary order for withdraw. It seems in retrospect that caution had gone beyond prudence to pessimism.” [25] De Trobriand, who had been encouraged by the arrival of the two brigades was stunned when he saw them withdraw and wrote, “I saw these troops rise up and fall back hurriedly at the command of their officers.” [26] He realized that his position was now untenable noting, “I found myself in danger of being surrounded, and fell back out of the woods” and reforming his lines kept “the enemy at bay until the arrival of sufficient reinforcements from the Second Corps allowed us to be relieved when our ammunition was just exhausted.” [27] The end result was that Kershaw’s troops, despite the heavy casualties that they had suffered now gained the summit of the stony hill and joined forces with Anderson’s brigade. “This success, coupled with the eviction of Ward’s brigade from its position at Devil’s Den, meant that the whole left wing of Sickles’s line had been smashed and that its right wing along the Emmitsburg Road was in jeopardy.” [28]

gettysburg-blog-photo-1

The arrival of the four brigades of John Caldwell’s division of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps occurred in a nick of time for the men along Sickles’ beleaguered line along the Wheatfield. One of these brigades was the Irish Brigade formerly commanded by Dan Sickles’ friend, and former defense attorney, Thomas Meagher, and now commanded by Colonel Patrick Kelly of the 88th New York. The Irish Brigade had been decimated in fight after fight, “now numbering only about five hundred men. Indeed, as one Irish Brigade officer noted, they “were a brigade in name only.” [29] When it became clear that the brigade was about to go into action, the brigade’s chaplain and after the war, the President of Notre Dame University, Father William Corby, realized that his duties “included the lifting the burden of sin from his flock through the act of conditional absolution.” [30] What followed was one of the most remembered events of the battle. Colonel Kelly:

“called the brigade to attention and commanded it to “Order Arms.” Father Corby stepped up on a boulder about three feet high, explained what he was about to do, and ended his remarks with the observation that the “Catholic church refuses Christian burial to the soldier who turns his back on the foe or deserts his flag.” The men of the brigade knelt, each man on his right knee, head uncovered, hat in left hand, rifle in right, and head bowed, while Chaplain Corby, raised his right hand and pronounced the Latin words of absolution.” [31]

When Father Corby pronounced the words “Dominus nos Jesus Christus vos absolvat” they were made more poignant by the sound of the guns and echoing explosions to their south. The commander of the 116th Pennsylvania noted that even General Hancock, a Protestant noted for his frequent blasphemy, was “watching from his horse, removed his hat and bowed his head. It was, as Corby later declared, an absolution for them all – Catholics and Protestants, northerners and southerners, all “who were susceptible of it who were about to appear before their judge.” [32] An observer wrote “The service was more than impressive, it was awe-inspiring.” [33]

Upon receiving his orders Caldwell moved his division forward crossing Plum Run and moving toward the Wheatfield at the double-quick. Colonel Edward Cross’s brigade was on the right. When Hancock saw him he remarked “Colonel Cross, this day will bring you a star.” Colonel Cross, looking up at Hancock, shook his head and replied gravely, “No General, this is my last battle.” [34] Cross normally wore a red bandana to allow his troops to recognize him in battle, but today he wore a black scarf on his head. As his troops advanced he called out to them, “Boys, you know what’s before you…give ’em hell.” [35] His brigade was followed by Kelly’s Irish Brigade and Brigadier General Samuel Zook’s brigade and that John Brooke. When Caldwell’s division struck it struck with fury, but was met with terrific resistance by Anderson’s men in the Wheatfield and Kershaw’s on the stony hill. Cross’s brigade was stopped before it could break through the Confederate line, with their commander being mortally wounded in the attack. Cross was hit in the abdomen and realizing his wound was mortal said “I hope that peace will be restored to our distressed country. I think that the boys will miss me. Say goodbye to all.” [36]

Wheatfield-irish

Zook’s brigade came next, taking its direction from Dan Sickles. The brigade “deployed near the Trostle farm, and advanced against Kershaw’s men on the stony hill.” [37] There they were met by withering fire, and Zook leading his men from the front was mortally wounded, his brigade suffering massive casualties even as they continued to advance and many “of the companies…came out commanded by sergeants.” [38] A survivor of the brigade remembered it, “the firing became terrific and the slaughter frightful. We were enveloped in smoke and fire, not only in our front, but on our left, and even at times on our right….Our men fired promiscuously, steadily pressing forward, but the fighting was so mixed, rebel and union lines so close together, and in some places intermingled, that a clear idea of what was going on was not readily obtainable.” [39] These stalwart men were followed by Kelly’s Irish Brigade and Brooke’s brigade, Caldwell’s last available unit, which moved through the Wheatfield and up the slope of the stony hill.

These brigades, as well as Sweitzer’s, which had been commandeered by Caldwell finally wrested control of the Wheatfield from Anderson and the stony hill from Kershaw. As the Irish advanced a South Carolina officer remarked “Isn’t that a magnificent sight.” [40] Kershaw later wrote that “the fighting was general and desperate all along the time and so continued for some time….I feared the brave men around me would be surrounded by the large force of enemy constantly increasing in numbers and all the while enveloping us. In order to avoid such a catastrophe, I ordered a retreat to the buildings at Rose’s.” [41] Major St. Clair Mulholland, commanding the 116th Pennsylvania of the Irish Brigade recalled the fight for the hill:

“Having entered a dense woods, we began to ascend a hill, where large bowlders of rocks impeded our progress, notwithstanding which we advanced in good order. We soon came within sight of the enemy, who occupied the crest of the hill, and who immediately opened fire at our approach. Our brigade returned the fire with good effect. After firing for about ten minutes, the order was given to advance, which the brigade did in excellent style, driving the enemy from their position, which we at once occupied….We found the position which our enemy had occupied but a few moments before thickly strewn with the dead and wounded.” [42]

For a time the mixed units that the Federals had committed to the fight for the Wheatfield and the stony hill, along with Sykes’s division of Regulars which had moved up to their left flank stabilized the Federal line. For a time it “appeared that the Rebel effort to overwhelm the Federal flank had failed, save for Devil’s Den. But the situation was changing quickly…”[43]. But the conduct of the battle, “in large part to Sickles, and with help from Longstreet’s execution of the attack, the situation was proving to be a bloody mess on both sides.” [44] The Federal occupation of the stony hill lasted barely twenty minutes when a new threat arose from the direction of the Peach Orchard, Caldwell’s success had placed the division in an exposed position and he had no reserves left to counter any Confederate move on his right flank.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.164

[2] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[3] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day p.247

[4] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.105

[5] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.108

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.286

[7] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.197

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.214

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.151

[10] Ibid Guelzo Gettysburg, The Last Invasion p.282

[11] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.333

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.351

[13] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.334

[14] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg pp.334-335

[15] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.222

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.181

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.287

[18] Gottfried, Bradley The Artillery of Gettysburg Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville TN 2008 p.125

[19] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.285

[20] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg p.335

[21] Ibid. Gottfried The Artillery of Gettysburg p.126

[22] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.399

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.286

[24] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.187

[25] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.259

[26] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.286

[27] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.114

[28] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day pp.264-265

[29] Bruce, Susannah Ural The Harp and the Flag: Irish American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865 New York University Press, New York and London 2006 p.160

[30] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.303

[31] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.268

[32] Ibid. Bruce The Harp and the Flag p.165

[33] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.303

[34] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.269

[35] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.291

[36] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, The Second Day p.273

[37] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.363

[38] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.295

[39] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.290

[40] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.363

[41] Ibid. Kershaw Kershaw’s Brigade at Gettysburg pp.336-337

[42] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.117

[43] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, a Testing of Courage p.367

[44] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.192

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July 2nd at Gettysburg Pt. 4: The Confederate Storm at Devil’s Den

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

For those that have followed my writing for some time you know that I teach military history and ethics at the Joint Forces Staff College. One of the great joys that I have is leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride, which is an optional event for students that want to participate. When I took the position here I took some of my older writings on Gettysburg and put them into a student study guide and text. That was two years ago. Then the text was about 70 pages long. It is now about 925 pages long and eventually I hope to get it published. When and if that happens I expect it to become two, and possibly three books.

This is the fourth of a series of articles that I will be posting potions of a chapter that I have rewritten about the critical battles on the south side of the battlefield on July 2nd 1863, the battle for Devil’s Den, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard, and the final repulse on Cemetery Ridge.

As you read this don’t just look at the events, but look at the people, and their reaction to the what they encountered on the battlefield, for that understanding of people is where we come to understand history.

So even if you are not a Civil War buff, or even a history buff, take the time to look at the people, their actions, and the things that made them who they were, and influenced what they did. History is about people.

So please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Men_of_Granite

Fix bayonets my brave Texans

The delays had taken a toll on the Confederate plan. By the time Hood and McLaws divisions were in place along with Anderson’s division from Hill’s Third Corps it was nearly four o’clock. Throughout the day the senior commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia had made a thorough mess of their chances for success, but when the attack began it blew into the Federal forces like a violent storm as the Confederate troops fell upon the soldiers of Sickles Third Corps.

However, the Confederate assault was marred by still more command and control issues, the most important which happened in Hood’s division.. “Contrary to orders Hood had moved his division away from the Emmitsburg road for the purpose of taking Little Round Top and outflanking the Union position on the heights of Devil’s Den.” [1] Riding in front of his old Texas brigade, Hood called out “Fix bayonets my brave Texans…forward and take those heights.” His loyal troops responded to their former commander, and cheered his words in response: “Follow the Lone Star Flag to the Top of the mountain!” Cried the lieutenant colonel of the 1st Texas, and there “arose such a wild indescribable battle yell that no one having heard ever forgot.” [2]

McLaws had waited until Hood’s troops advanced across the rough ground that separated his division from “Smith recalled that his guns “tore gap after gap in the ranks of the Confederate foe.” Robertson agreed, reporting that as his brigade advanced through the intervening fields, “for half a mile we were exposed a heavy and destructive fire of canister, grape, and shell” [3] Little Round Top and Devil’s Den. As Hood’s division moved forward it came under artillery fire from the four 10 pound Parrot Rifles of Captain James Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery on Houck’s Ridge above Devil’s Den and it began to sustain casualties. . Among the earliest to fall was John Bell Hood who was badly wounded when a shell “exploded above his head, and one of the fragments tore into his left arm.” The arm would have to be amputated and as he was taken away by stretcher-bearers recalled that he experienced “deep distress of mind and heart at the inevitable fate of my brave fellow-soldiers, who formed one of the greatest divisions of that world-renown army….” [4]

The absence of Hood would create a leadership void in his division as it made its attack on Devil’s Den and Little Round Top as his successor Evander Law was deeply engaged in leading his brigade in its epic fight at Little Round Top, and not able to influence or coordinate the attacks of the remaining brigades of the division. Coordination “between the brigades soon dissolved. Regiments in Law’s Alabama brigade veered apart, and a gap formed in the center of Jerome Robertson’s Texas Brigade. While these units angled toward the Round Tops, behind them, moving towards Rose’s Woods and Devil’s Den came the pair of Georgia brigades under Henry Benning and George T. Anderson.” [5] Order broke down, and soon control was at the company commander level or lower, “Every fellow was his own general,” a Texan later wrote. “Private soldiers give commands as loud as officers, nobody paying attention to either. [6] In the absence of Hood, Brigadier, and feeling the pressure of the situation, General J.B. Robertson commanding the Texas Brigade on Law’s left, took the initiative and sent couriers to Henry Benning and George Anderson “urging them to hurry their brigades to his support.” [7]

As Law’s brigade and two of Robertson’s regiments assaulted Little Round Top, the remainder of Robertson’s brigade as well as those of Benning and Anderson attacked the Federal position on Devil’s Den. There a fierce fight ensued as the badly outnumbered troops of the 124th New York under the command of Colonel Augustus Van Horn Ellis, and the four guns of Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery refused to yield the hill to Robertson and Benning’s troops.

Men_Must_See_Us_Today_Gettysburg

The 124th New York was raised in Orange County New York, and a veteran unit, but it had taken many casualties and during the afternoon of July 2nd 1863 it went into action with just 18 officers and 220 men, in a position just to the left rear of Smith’s battery. The left flank of the 124th was protected by the tiny 4th Maine Infantry and the two remaining guns of Smith’s battery. Captain Smith whose battery had already expended its supply of case shot called out, “Give them she’ll! Give them solid shot! Damn them, give them anything!” [8]

Led by their gallant commander, who against the advice of a number of officers, mounted his horse and further exposed himself to enemy fire, the New Yorkers of the 124th were aware of their critical place on the battlefield. Looking at his Major Cromwell, Ellis remarked “the men must see us today.” [9] Cromwell cried out the order to charge the advancing Texans, and “the New Yorkers rushed down the west face of Houck’s Ridge at the double-quick. The 1st Texas reeled back some 200 yards under the surprise onslaught. “The conflict at this point defied description,” wrote an officer of e 124th. “Roaring cannon, crashing rifles, screeching shots, bursting shells, hissing bullets, cheers, shouts, shrieks and groans….” [10] A Confederate soldier wrote that the battle “was more like Indian fighting…than anything I experienced in the war.” [11] A reporter from the Savannah Republican accompanying Benning’s brigade wrote, “Down the plunging shot came…bursting before and around and everywhere tearing up the ground in a terrific rain of death….[As Benning’s brigade] approached the [Yankee] guns, the rain of grape and canister began! Mingling their sharp cries with the shrill whistle of the mad minnie balls which seemed to come in showers.” [12] The gallant regiment held off several attacks by Robertson’s Texans, and Ellis was killed by a bullet, as was Major Cromwell, and many of their gallant soldiers. “In the savage hand-to-hand fighting among the rocks, men shot at one another from the opposite side of the same Boulder, sometimes so close that clothing caught fire from the blaze of an enemy’s rifle. The high-pitched Rebel yell and the full-throated Federal huzzahs echoed through the rocks as first one side and then the other gave way…” [13]

In his after action report, Henry Benning wrote:

“When my first line reached the foot of the peak, I found there a part of the First Texas, struggling to make the ascent… The part of the First Texas…falling in with my brigade, the whole line commenced ascending the rugged…steep [incline] and, on the right, crossing the gorge. The ground was difficult – rocks in many places presenting, by their precipitous sides, insurmountable obstacles, while the fire of the was very heavy and very deadly. The progress was, therefore, not very rapid, but it was regular and uninterrupted….” [14]

With their supporting infantry considerably weakened, Smith’s guns were in danger. Some of Robertson’s troops had reached the base of the hill and taken cover behind a stone wall where they could take Smith’s artillery men under fire. Smith “could no longer depress his guns sufficiently to hit the Rebels. Occupying the low ground and using boulders for cover, the Confederates began to pick off Smith’s gunners. Smith “saw it would be impossible…to hold my position without assistance” and fell back…but the loss of artillery support was the beginning of the collapse of Sickles left flank.” [15] To the left in the Plum Run Valley, which later became known as the Valley of Death, the 4th Maine and Smith’s remaining guns fought off attacks by Robertson and Benning’s brigades before being forced to retreat. With his left now threatened Brigadier General Hobart Ward dispatched the 99th Pennsylvania to protect it, thinning his lines to do so. The Pennsylvanians of the 99th as well as men from the 124th New York, and the 4th Maine launched a counter-attack which succeeded in regaining the lower section of Houck’s Ridge. A soldier of the 99th recalled the moment his unit entered the fight, “Above the crack of the rifle, the scream of shells and the cries of the wounded, could be heard the shout of for “Pennsylvania and our homes…” [16] The cost had been great, but the ridge had been retaken from it the Union men rained fire down on the Alabamians below them in the Valley of Death. Hood’s men occupied Devil’s Den and secured a small lodgment on Houck’s Ridge which enabled the assault on Little Round Top to continue.

In a sense the fight at Devil’s Den was a victory for the Confederates as they had forced Ward’s troops from the position, but the human cost had been high among the men of the assaulting regiments. Robertson was wounded and had to be carried from the field, and most of the field officers of the Texas brigade were either killed or wounded leading their troops in the fight. Historian Harry Pfanz wrote, “The hard fighting at Devil’s Den, together with the sinister character of the spot, gave it a hallowed place in American history that might actually exceed its actual significance.” [17]

Robertson’s Texans and some of Law’s Alabamians surged up the slope of Little Round Top. But the sacrifice of the New Yorkers and Maine men was not in vain, they had helped buy the needed minutes for the soldiers of Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade to arrive at the summit of Little Round Top, and Confederate casualties had been very heavy even before they attempted to scale the heights of Little Round Top.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.402

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg, the Last Invasion p.256

[3] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[4] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg pp.172-173

[5] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.259

[6] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[7] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.402

[8] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.273

[9] Ibid. Pfanz The Second Day at Gettysburg p.293

[10] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg pp.273-274

[11] Ibid. Foote The Stars in Their Courses p.128

[12] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.342

[13] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.211

[14] Luvaas, Jay and Nelson, Harold W. Editors The U.S. army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, South Mountain Press Incorporated, Carlisle PA 1986 p.99

[15] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.166

[16] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg, A Testing of Courage p.345

[17] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg, the Second Day

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Shades of Confederate Gray

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Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A. 

“When the prophet, a complacent fat man,
Arrived at the mountain-top
He cried: “Woe to my knowledge!
I intended to see good white lands
And bad black lands—
But the scene is gray.”

Stephen Crane

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

If you read my work you know how much I condemn the cause of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery. I also make no bones about the continued use of the symbols of the Confederacy by some who do not use them simply to honor the memory of dead soldiers but rather to further inflame political and racial divides. As a descendant of slave owners and Confederate officers I do understand the tension. THe family patriarch on my paternal side was an unreconstructed Rebel. He was a slave owner who served as a Lieutenant in the Confederate cavalry during the war and refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States. For this he lost his lands and plantation. There are some who sincerely desire to honor their ancestors, and I think that is honorable, but to stand by an indefensible cause as my ancestors did is another matter to me.

I agree with historian George Santayana who wrote “Loyalty to our ancestors does not include loyalty to their mistakes.” I think we have to be able to deal with that, and I do not only mean for the descendants of slave owners and Confederates. Certainly the descendants of those in the North who cooperated with, enabled and profited from slavery, and then the entire movement to reenslaved freed blacks by other means after the war have nothing to be proud of in this regard. I readily admit that many political, industrial and religious leaders in the North were little better than many Southern leaders (see my articles Accomplices to Tyranny: The North & Reconstruction and Corporate Slavery & the Black Codes ). Both of these articles highlight how Northerners, especially politicians from both political parties and industrialists who took in those injustices committed against blacks. The same people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line dis similar things to poor whites who they referred to as “White Trash” as well as Native Americans, women later other immigrants like the Chinese. As we get closer to Labor Day I am going to spend some time on how American workers of all races were treated during that time, but not today.

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Instead I want to talk about shades of gray. As my regular readers know I believe that people are the most important part of history, and that people are seldom fully good or fully evil. In fact most people, saints and sinners alike live lives of some shade of gray. Thus I believe that good people can sometimes support evil causes and otherwise evil people can end up on the right side of history by supporting a good cause. We have other people that we treat as icons who had dark places in their lives, and did things that were not honorable; history is full of them. The problem is that we like to look at people as totally good or totally evil, it’s easier that way.

That is the case when we look at men who fought for the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War, and since I have spent a lot of time hammering the cause that Confederate soldiers fought to defend, even those who opposed secession and slavery; it is only right that I spend some time talking about the shades of Confederate Gray. To do this we have to be able to put aside the notion that every Confederate was a racist or White Supremacist.

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Lieutenant General A.P. Hill

Those who fought for the Confederacy spanned the spectrum of belief and often fought for reasons other than slavery and some of their stories are tragic. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill opposed slavery before the war and opposed secession but because his state and his family seceded he went south. In 1850 he was on leave from the army and learned of a lynching in his home town of Lynchburg, he wrote “Shame, shame upon you all, good citizens…Virginia must crawl unless you vindicate good order or discipline and hang every son of a bitch connected with this outrage.” Hill was incredibly brave and led his troops honorably throughout the war. Sadly he died in action just days before the end of the war at Petersburg and his widow took no part in any commemorations of the Lost Cause after the war.

Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who led Pickett’s troops to the High Water mark at the Battle of Gettysburg is another tragic figure. He was a widower who lived a life of much sorrow and loneliness and the army was his life; his best friends were in the army. His very best friend, Winfield Scott Hancock and his wife Almira remained with the Union, their parting in California at the beginning of the war is heartrending, and it was Hancock’s troops who inflicted the mortal wound on him.

Major General Patrick Cleburne, called the “Stonewall Jackson of the West” is another. He was an Irish immigrant to Arkansas. He had no slaves, opposed the institution and fought because the people he lived among were his friends. He was the first Confederate to broach the subject of emancipating the slaves, and for this he was ostracized, and not promoted to Lieutenant General and command of a Corps. He died in action at the Battle of Franklin in 1864.

There are others, Lieutenant General James Longstreet who was probably the best corps commander on either side during the war, quickly reconciled, became a Republican and served in various capacities in government after the war. For this, as well as needing a scapegoat for the loss at Gettysburg Longstreet was treated as a modern Judas Iscariot by many in the South, especially among the proponents of the Lost Cause. Major General William “Little Billy” Mahone was another like Longstreet who joined the Republican Party and suffered a fair amount of criticism for his stance.

Another more interesting personality was Colonel John S. Mosby, the legendary “Gray Ghost” of Virginia whose “Raiders” caused Union forces much difficulty throughout the war. Mosby is interesting, he did not support slavery, was not a proponent of secession but felt that it was his duty to fight for his state. This was not unusual because in that era most people in all parts of the country, felt much more loyalty to their own state, or even city or county than they did to the national government. He and his troops served honorably and after the war too he supported reconciliation, he became a Republican and a friend and supporter of Ulysses Grant. He was not ashamed of his service and stated after the war, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in” and that “The South was my country. But he also condemned those in the South who denied that slavery was the cause of the war. All this made him anathema and he had to live the rest of his life outside the south or serving in various overseas diplomatic postings.

There were other shades of gray among Confederates, some like Lieutenant General Jubal Early who was not a slave owner and vehemently opposed secession in the Virginia legislature until the state seceded. When it did he joined the Confederate forces and became one of the fiercest supporters of Confederate independence who ever lived. In fact Early, though pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, never reconciled with the United States and became the leading proponent of the history of the Lost Cause. Early’s Corps Commander Lieutenant General Richard Ewell was more circumspect, he owned and admitted the mistakes he made during the war as a commander, and he fully reconciled to the United States. Before he died Ewell “insisted that nothing disrespectful to the United States Government be inscribed upon his tomb.”

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Lieutenant General Wade Hampton

Lieutenant General Wade Hampton of South Carolina was one of the richest men in the South if not the country when war came. He supported secession, owned hundreds of slaves, but for a slave owner he was relatively decent in the way he treated his slaves. He fought through the war and returned home to nothing. He became involved in politics, remained very much a White Supremacist, but that being said built bridges to African American political and religious leaders when he ran for governor, even as the terrorist bands of the Red Shirts did all they could to ensure that blacks were harassed, disenfranchised and even killed to keep them from voting. To the surprise of the militants Hampton adopted a moderate course, kept blacks in his cabinet and in state offices, kept a regiment of African American militia in Charleston and opposed the black codes and Jim Crow. For this he was run out office. When he died his last words were “God bless my people, black and white.”

One the other hand there were men like Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, and even led some of the early violence against blacks, and purchased black prisoners for use on his plantation after the war. However, he evolved on the issue, and left the Klan in 1869 and in 1875 two years before his death began to promote racial harmony. He spoke about that to a group of African Americans, where he received a bouquet of flowers from a black women he was condemned throughout the South. An article in the Charlotte Observer noted “We have infinitely more respect for Longstreet, who fraternizes with negro men on public occasions, with the pay for the treason to his race in his pocket, than with Forrest and Pillow, who equalize with the negro women, with only ‘futures’ in payment.”

There were many Confederate Soldiers who fought and died because they did believe in White Supremacy and hated the North, that too is a fact, and many of those who lived carried on that hate until they died.

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There were others who never reconciled and who rewrote history to minimize the importance of slavery and White Supremacy to the Confederate cause, these included Jefferson Davis, his Vice President Alexander Stephens, and Brigadier General Henry Benning of Georgia. All had spearheaded the drive for secession, spoken and wrote forcefully for not only preserving but expanding slavery Stephens said quite clearly in 1861 what the Confederacy was founded upon in his Cornerstone Speech “Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” However, after the war all of them sought to distance themselves from this and change the narrative to Constitutional, economic and political reasons.

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There were also many Confederate soldiers for whom the war never ended and they did continue it by other means, either as members of any of the various terrorist groups such as the Klan, the Red Shirts, the White League, the White Liners, or any of the related groups who terrorized and killed blacks and their white supporters, be they Northern “Carpetbaggers” or Southern “Scalawags.”

I could go on longer or in more detail on any of these men and probably could write a book about any of them, but I wanted to show that even when a cause is wrong, that we cannot condemn people as groups, and we also have to take into account people’s evolution on issues. The evolution of Wade Hampton and Nathan Bedford Forrest was far different than that of Jubal Early and others who supported the Lost Cause. I wish my family patriarch had been more like Mosby, Hampton, Hill, Ewell, Cleburne, or even Forrest rather than Jubal Early and others who never reconciled and in some cases continued to use violence to oppress others. 

Shades of gray. In history you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Sanitized History of the Lost Cause

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am out tilting at windmills again and this one needs to be tilted at…

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It seems that the organization known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans is not happy with the fact that the most prominent symbol of the Confederacy is coming down. This has been very apparent at the group’s convention in Richmond this week. Their anger is not only directed at the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House, but at Supreme Court siding with Texas not to issue license plates with the Confederate flag on them, the decision of Virginia to eliminate the sons of Confederate Veteran plate which displays the battle flag, and moves to change the name of U.S. Highway One, known as the Jefferson Davis Highway to something other than that of the President of the Confederacy.

Frank Earnest, the former commander of the SCV’s Virginia division displayed the ignorance of years of sanitized history by telling the Richmond Times Dispatch that the removal of the flag and stripping highways of the names of Confederate leaders “It’s cultural genocide, everything about a four-year period where Virginia and other Southern states fought for their rights, we’re gonna eradicate any of that. That is something that’s done in dictatorial countries, not in the United States of America.”

For Earnest and those who think like him the war, and the sacrifice can be separated from the root cause of the war, which was White Supremacy and the expansion of slavery as well as the violence actions committed by the thousands of former Confederate soldiers who spearheaded the formation of terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Leagues, the White Liners and the Red Shirts. Sadly, to millions of school children brought up in the South from the end of the war and in some cases even today, these issues are ignored. It is sanitized history which denies that slavery was the major cause of the war, it denies the systematic racism of those who founded the Confederacy, it denies the fight of White Supremacists throughout the South for the century following the war and beyond used systematic violence to terrorize, kill, disenfranchise and impoverish African Americans throughout the South. In fact the new Texas history books do exactly that.

While it is not as systematized as it was there are still thousands across the South and even the rest of the country who believe that telling the truth about history is cultural genocide and this my friends needs to be confronted every day and every time that men like Earnest make these bold faced lies about history. Jefferson Davis does not deserve a highway named after him, nor does Henry Benning, the pro-slavery, pro-secession firebrand who worked to persuade other states to secede does not deserve Fort Benning George to be named after him. Perhaps it should be renamed for Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet, another Georgian who after Appomattox recanted his Confederate views, swore his loyalty to the Federal government, tried to stem violence against blacks during Reconstruct and who is treated like Judas Iscariot by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other proponents of the Lost Cause.

My God, I am going to be writing more on this subject, but will pause for now.

Have a wonderful and thoughtful night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Lost Cause Lives in Texas

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Over the past few years there has been an increase in Neo-Confederate propaganda, talk of secession and civil war coming from people who for the most part call themselves Christians. To be honest there is a reason for this, and that reason is because a Black Man was elected as President and all the underlying pent-up racism that never died despite the great advances that we have seen since the dawn of the Civil Rights Era. Doctor King may have a Holiday, but racism is not dead and often it is cloaked in the myth of the Lost Cause.

Over the past few weeks down in Orange Texas, the Local Sons of the Confederate Veterans chapter have decided to spruce up the monument to the Texas Confederate dead. Now I have lived throughout the South and in most of the former Confederate states there are monuments to the Confederate war dead, and it seems that almost every town has one. They are a part of history and those I vehemently disagree with what those men fought for and would have fought against them, such monument are a part of our history. Monuments to fallen soldiers are part of every almost every western culture and a way for families and communities to remember those who died.

However, the kerfuffle in Orange is a bit different. The monument has been there a long time and truthfully, the Sons of Confederate Veterans own it and the land that it is on. It not on public property actually, if the monument has fallen into disrepair I have no problem with them doing that. However, what they are doing is different. They are erecting flagpoles for 32 Confederate flags. Eight of them are various renditions of the flags of the Confederacy itself and twenty-four are going to be replicas of the flags of Texas Regiments that fought in the war.

Now I do understand that those flags do have some historical meaning and significance, at the same time that historical meaning and significance is connected to a cause that was about the rights of states to promote White Supremacy and slavery. The supporters of the Confederate flag project in Orange are saying that this was not the case.

“David Moore, Lieutenant Division Commander of the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, told The Post that Southern states did not fight the Civil War to defend slavery, but instead to defend state’s rights after they were “invaded by Northern troops.” He said the monument in Orange honors the ancestors of the 2,600 members of Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.” [1]

My feeling is if the Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted to honor their ancestors and remember the military organizations they could place plaques with the regimental histories and the names of those killed in action. They could actually try to make it somewhat reverent and at the same time educational, but this, the display of so many flags looks more like a display designed to incite division and make current the Lost Cause.

A couple of years ago washed up rocker, draft dodger and professional muckraker Ted Nugent made the comment that he wondered if it would have been better that the South had won the Civil War. Nugent’s statements, like those of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas are blatant examples of the enduring influence of the Lost Cause Myth, and show the revisionism and dishonest “scholarship” of the Neo-Confederates. The dishonesty and lack of truth in this quote, which is typical of the movement finds its genus in the discredited myth of the Lost Cause.

Sadly, a lot of the proponents of this are leaders in the radical, theocratic movement known as Christian Dominionism. This movement and its leaders believe that it is the duty of Christians to claim all of culture, politics and economics for God, and to disenfranchise or even kill those who do not agree. Many times their rhetoric is tinged with violence, racism, xenophobia and frankly paranoid and conspiratorial views of anyone that does not agree with them. Leaders of this movement are closely connected to, and often are advisers to prominent current and former Republican elected officials including Rand and Ron Paul, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Sam Brownback.

One of the most troubling things about this movement is its growing ties to and sympathy for neo-Confederate movements and the myth of the Lost Cause.

I have written about the ideological and religious roots of the American Civil War. While I was researching that article I began to see just who closely the language of this allegedly Christian movement parallels that of those who led the South to disaster in the Civil War and then to cover their crimes and to justify their actions.

These people are part of a growing fringe movement which advocates all the ideas espoused by the leaders of the Confederacy: secession, nullification, White Supremacy and some advocate violence and insurrection. Many of these despise Abraham Lincoln; they use state legislatures to pass Jim Crow like voting restrictions that particularly impact the poor, the elderly and minorities, and they use the cover of their religious rights to establish laws that allow the open discrimination against Gays. They favor an oligarchy of the rich and corporations that is very similar in its philosophy and ideology to that of the Southern elites and the plantation owners. People who not only enslaved blacks, but used their economic power to keep poor whites in their place.

Some of the Dominionists echo the words of the defenders of slavery. Douglas Wilson, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America in Idaho and apologist for Confederate views wrote: “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.” Wilson also wrote that “There has never been, a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” Of course there is no truth in that statement whatsoever as any actual student of the ante-bellum South would know. It is fiction and lies being propertied as truth by a Christian pastor in an established denomination.

The cause of the Civil War to the Christian neo-Confederates was not slavery, not economics or even Constitutional issues or anything else that real historians debate but rather a theological myth, as Steven Wilkins explained: “the cause of the Civil War was theological incompatibility between North and South, the former having ‘rejected Biblical Calvinism…“there was radical hatred of Scripture and the old theology [and] Northern radicals were trying to throw off this Biblical culture and turn the country in a different direction….” 

These thoughts are reiterated in many parts of the Dominionist movement in the writings of its godfather R. J. Rushdoony who through his own writings and the continued work of his son-in-law Gary North influence both Ron and his son U.S. Senator and now Republican Presidential Candidate Rand Paul as well as many others in the so called “Christian Right.”

So I have decided to post just a bit of my research on the Lost Cause here, just to show some of the similarities of thought.

As the Southern States seceded, the Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon in December of 1860: “Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [2]

The people who drove the nation to war incited secession, not for just any “state’s rights” but for White Supremacy and slavery. Henry Benning of Georgia was a strong Separatist, as proponents of secession were known in Georgia. He led the debate for secession at the Georgia convention, and spoke as a representative at the Virginia secession debate. At both debates the fiery justice proclaimed the disaster that would befall the South under Republican rule: In Virginia he presented a nearly apocalyptic vision of Republican rule:

“On the “not distant” day when the South contains “the only slave States,” climaxed Benning, “The North will have the power to amend the Constitution” and declare “slavery…abolished.” Then the master who “refuses to yield” will doubtless be hung.” Race “war will break out everywhere, like hidden fire from the earth. Eventually “our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds.” And “as far as our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate.” [3]

He closed his speech with the prediction that under Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” that: “We will be completely exterminated…and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…” [4]

When you read the words of many of the Dominionist and the Christian neo-Confederate leaders you see a similar cry of victimhood and an apocalyptic vision that is best described as paranoia run rampant. This is only a sample, my research on the Lost Cause, the ante-Bellum South and the contemporary Neo-Confederate Christians connection with the Dominionists continues. What follows here is just a sample of the research that his going into my Civil War and Gettysburg texts plus some additional commentary.

When Edmund Ruffin pulled the lanyard of the cannon that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter it marked the end of an era and despite Ruffin, Stephens and Davis’ plans gave birth to what Lincoln would describe as “a new birth of freedom.”

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

“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule- to all political, social and business connections with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States! … And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my last breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.” [5]

Though Ruffin was dead in the coming years the southern states would again find themselves under the governance of former secessionists who were unabashed white supremacists. Former secessionist firebrands who had boldly proclaimed slavery to be the deciding issue when the war changed their story. Instead of slavery being the primary cause of Southern secession and the war, it was “trivialized as the cause of the war in favor of such things as tariff disputes, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, cultural differences, and the conflict between industrial and agricultural societies.” [6]

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

“had its origins in opposing principles….It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation on the other.” He concluded “that the American Civil War “represented a struggle between “the friends of Constitutional liberty” and “the Demon of Centralism, Absolutism, [and] Despotism!” [7]

Jefferson Davis, who had masterfully crafted “moderate” language which radicals in the South used to their advantage regarding the expansion and protection of the rights of slave owners in the late 1850s to mollify Northern Democrats, and who wrote in October 1860 that: “The recent declarations of the Black Republican party…must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it where it is, not where it is not.” [8]

After the war a revisionist Davis wrote:

“The Southern States and Southern people have been sedulously represented as “propagandists” of slavery, and the Northern as the champions of universal freedom…” and “the attentive reader…will already found enough evidence to discern the falsehood of these representations, and to perceive that, to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause for the conflict.” [9]

Instead of being about slavery the Confederate cause was mythologized by those promoting the false history of the “Lost Cause” a term coined by William Pollard in 1866, which “touching almost every aspect of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war.” [10] By 1877 many southerners were taking as much pride in the “Lost Cause” as Northerners took in Appomattox. [11] Alan Nolen notes: “Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization.” [12]

The Lost Cause was elevated by some to the level of a religion. In September 1906, Lawrence Griffith speaking to a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans stated that when the Confederates returned home to their devastated lands, “there was born in the South a new religion.” [13] The mentality of the Lost Cause took on “the proportions of a heroic legend, a Southern Götterdämmerung with Robert E. Lee as a latter day Siegfried.” [14]

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

“this worship of the Immortal Confederacy, had its foundation in myth of the Lost Cause. Conceived in the ashes of a defeated and broken Dixie, this powerful, pervasive idea claimed the devotion of countless Confederates and their counterparts. When it reached fruition in the 1880s its votaries not only pledged their allegiance to the Lost Cause, but they also elevated it above the realm of common patriotic impulse, making it perform a clearly religious function….The Stars and Bars, “Dixie,” and the army’s gray jacket became religious emblems, symbolic of a holy cause and of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Confederate heroes also functioned as sacred symbols: Lee and Davis emerged as Christ figures, the common soldier attained sainthood, and Southern women became Marys who guarded the tomb of the Confederacy and heralded its resurrection.” [15]

Jefferson Davis became an incarnational figure for the adherents of this new religion. A Christ figure who Confederates believed “was the sacrifice selected-by the North or by Providence- as the price for Southern atonement. Pastors theologized about his “passion” and described Davis as a “vicarious victim”…who stood mute as Northerners “laid on him the falsely alleged iniquities of us all.” [16]

In 1923 a song about Davis repeated this theme:

Jefferson Davis! Still we honor thee! Our Lamb victorious, who for us endur’d A cross of martyrdom, a crown of thorns, soul’s Gethsemane, a nation’s hate, A dungeon’s gloom! Another God in chains!” [17]

The myth also painted another picture, that of slavery being a benevolent institution which has carried forth into our own time. The contention of Southern politicians, teachers, preachers and journalists was that slaves liked their status; they echoed the words of slave owner Hiram Tibbetts to his brother in 1842 “If only the abolitionists could see how happy our people are…..The idea of unhappiness would never enter the mind of any one witnessing their enjoyments” [18] as well as Jefferson Davis who in response to the Emancipation Proclamation called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.” [19]

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

The Lost Cause helped buttress the myths that both comforted and inspired many Southerners following the war. “It defended the old order, including slavery (on the grounds of white supremacy), and in Pollard’s case even predicted that the superior virtues of cause it to rise ineluctably from the ashes of its unworthy defeat.” [20] The myth helped pave the way to nearly a hundred more years of effective second class citizenship for now free blacks who were often deprived of the vote and forced into “separate but equal” public and private facilities, schools and recreational activities. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent organizations harassed, intimidated, persecuted and used violence against blacks.

“From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” [21] Lynching was common and even churches were not safe. It would not be until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks would finally begin to gain the same rights enjoyed by whites in most of the South.

That radical thought is still out there. The League of the South posted this on its website:

This 14th of April will mark the 150th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln. The League will, in some form or fashion, celebrate this event. We remember Booth’s diary entry: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” A century and a half after the fact, The League of the South thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity. [22]

Michael Hill, the co-founder of this organization wrote:

“As a traditional Christian Southerner, I want no part of “America.” I’m not talking about a particular piece of land in the western hemisphere; rather, I am talking about an idea, a proposition, a regime, a way of life. I am a Southerner, an old-fashioned Christian. The status of “American” is my antithesis.

Now before you tell me to “Love it or leave it” and pack up and move somewhere else, let me explain. The South, Alabama in particular, is my home. It is also a captive colony of this American monstrosity. Yes, many of our citizens have, wittingly or unwittingly, embraced Americanism for either survival or profit. I have not, and I intend to convince my fellow Southerners to join my side. I do not intend to leave Alabama or the South. Nor do I intend to leave them in the clutches of America. I intend to fight, and if necessary kill and die, for their survival, well-being, and independence.” [23]

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

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” [24]

I have ancestors on both sides of my family who fought for the Confederacy. While they are my ancestors I cannot subscribe to or honor the cause for which they fought, and for which at least one died. The Confederate flag, though a part of American history is a symbol of White Supremacy, hatred and rebellion. The only reason that I can think that any group would want to fly thirty-two of them is to proclaim that their cause still lives and that they have not abandoned the ideology and beliefs of their ancestors. This is not about displaying history. It is all about promoting White-Christian Supremacy and to again elevate the myth of the Lost Cause as truth.

For me, the words and actions as well as the symbols of the old and new Confederates stand in stark contrast to those support and defend. I sincerely hope that they and their cause eventually fade away to insignificance without again bringing us to civil war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Holley, Peter These Texas rebels say the American flag is more racist than the Confederate flag Washington Post 8 April 2015 retrieved 10 April 2015 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/08/these-texas-rebels-say-the-american-flag-is-more-racist-than-the-confederate-flag/?tid=sm_fb

 

[2] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.511

[3] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.511

[4] Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.67

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

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

[7] Dew, Charles Apostles of Disunion p.16

[8] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury p.104

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

 

[10] Gallagher, Gary and Nolan, Alan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

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

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

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

[14] McPherson, James The Battle Cry of Freedom p.854

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

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

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

[18] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free p.106

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

[20] Guelzo, Allen Fateful Lightening p.525

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[22] Hill, Michael Honoring John Wilkes Booth League of the South Website http://leagueofthesouth.com/honoring-john-wilkes-booth569/ retrieved 10 April 2015

[23] Hill, Michael. Why I am Not an American League of the South Website http://leagueofthesouth.com/why-i-am-not-an-american-566/ retrieved 10 April 2015

[24] Ibid. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

 

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Post Easter Thoughts on Christian Right Paranoia

religious-beliefs-350

Easter was weird for me this year. While I rediscovered the joy of celebrating Eucharist thanks to three Lebanese Christian officers who were in our last class at the Staff College, I struggled. I mentioned last week that it wasn’t my post-Iraq agnosticism, but rather a reaction to the power hungry preachers, politicians and pundits of the Christian Right.

These are people who though they hold most of the levers of power in the Republican Party, have a stranglehold on over half of the state legislatures and state houses as well as have the majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate live in a paranoid dream world. It is a cloud-cookoo-land were they honestly continue to spread the lie that they are the only group that it is legal to discriminate against. It is a world where they pass laws to discriminate against groups of people that they hate and then say that they are being discriminated against.

The positively Orwellian attitude, words and actions of these people are responsible for the rapid decline of people who call themselves Christians and the rapid expansion of people who no longer believe. The reason is born out by the polls of the Barna Group, Pew Religion Research and many other polls. They all agree. It is not Jesus that people reject, it is his most ardent followers, who are now described as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political.

Another Barna poll recorded that young people were leaving the church because “Christians demonize everything outside of the church,” that “God seems missing from my experience of church,” that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers and that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in,” that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and “church is like a country club, only for insiders,” and finally that young people are unable to ask their “most pressing life questions in church,” that they have “significant intellectual doubts about their faith,” and that the church “does not help with depression or other emotional problems.”

Despite these self-inflicted wounds the Christian Right and their allies blame everyone else for the demise of the Christian church in the United States. Instead of making a genuine attempt to witness of the grace, love and mercy of Jesus embodied in the message of reconciliation so wonderfully stated in Second Corinthians chapter five:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 

Note that in this there is no command to judge or take political control over the world, it is a message of reconciliation seldom practiced by Christians now or sadly throughout much of history, especially after the Church became the Imperial Church under Constantine.

The words of the Christian Right and their allies, especially regrading homosexuals have reached such a point of ridiculousness that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Cries by Mike Huckabee that “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” 

Others repeatedly invoke the specter of Nazi Germany, persecution of Christians and even concentration camps and martyrdom, even though they are the ones passing the laws and using the government to legislate against homosexuals. But they say that they are the victims of homosexual hatred and liberal intolerance.

To me it is reminiscent of the scare tactics used by the Souther proponents of secession and slavery in the months leading to the Civil War. Henry Benning of Georgia told the Virginia Secession conference:

“I fear that the day is not distant when the Cotton States, as they are called, will be the only slave States. When that time comes, the time will have arrived when the North will have the power to amend the Constitution, and say that slavery shall be abolished, and if the master refuses to yield to this policy, he shall doubtless be hung for his disobedience…we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which Abolition will bring upon the white race…But that is not all of the Abolition war. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…”

The message of the Christian Right and their allies is laden with similar statements, not about blacks, at least openly, but mostly in regard to Gays and the LGBT community.  None of these words or actions can be in the slightest construed with an authentic Christian message. Robert Henlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

This is what Conservative American Christians of the Christian Right, especially the leaders who subscribe to Christian Dominionism are doing every day. That my friends is why the church in the United States is dying and why people are fleeing it in record numbers, and why non-believers want nothing to do with it. It is why I struggle. 

But there is an antidote to this, a message that wonderfully contradicts everything that the Christian Right and their allies stand for, and that is a message of love.

In his last Bishop Blackie Ryan novel, the late Father Andrew Greeley used the example of a fictional Spanish Cardinal to his people. It is the message that needs to be preached here and now in this country:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

Greeley wrote more than fiction, he was a socialist and a historian. He noted something about a time when Christians were actually the subject of real persecution before Constantine:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

But now the problem is more than high pressure evangelism, it is the high pressure political machine that the Christian Right is an integral part. That my friends is what is destroying the witness of the church, not gay rights or same-sex marriage. It isn’t the liberals, or the media, it is a woefully short-sighted belief that Christians must subdue those who they disagree with and disapprove of and that they must work to use the law of the state to establish their view as law, and enforce that law on others.  Eric Hoffer noted that:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

The Christian Right has found multiple devils to demonize: gays, women, liberals and anyone else they want to make the enemy of their God. As Hoffer said: “religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

I thought about this subject over the past week in the context of my own struggle and the series of articles that I wrote about the Roman Centurion during Holy Week. Despite my own struggle I realize it is better to struggle with faith than to subscribe to the absolute falsehood and heresy of the hatred and judgment used by the Christian Right and their allies.

Anyway, I am tired and need to take a break.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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