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“Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad” The Post Trump World Collides with Secession

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am posting a section of my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Racism, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era and their Continuing Importance regarding the actions of Southern Democrat Secessionists who had already split their party during the 1860 election because I think it is very relevant today.

Former and twice impeached President Donald Trump and his supporters attempted a coup by attacking Congress as it undertook its Constitutional duty to officially count the votes of the Electoral College. 

The assault made under the direct order of the former President was brutal and led by White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, armed self-proclaimed militias, and a host of Theocratic Christians whose Crosses and Flags were prominent in the attack. The Terrorists who attacked the Capitol almost captured former Vice President Mike Pence who they threatened to hang, even bringing a gallows to the Capitol lawn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and many others. During the attack they killed one Capitol Police Officer, wounded over 140 more, some of whom are still in the hospital with serious injuries including one officer who might lose an eye, as well as two officers on duty that day who subsequently committed suicide.

Despite the fact that many of those leading the attack said they believed that they were following the orders of Donald Trump and therefore believe in their innocence, the “I was just following orders defense,” there is no defense to be found in their actions. Driven by over 30 years of propaganda and over 50 years of measures that gave persecuted minorities such as African Americans, Hispanics, Women, and Gays the same basic rights as the white majority, the anger has reached a fever pitch and much of the Republican Party and what is so wrongly called the Conservative movement has gone mad. When members of Congress still despite all evidence claim the election was stolen, who believe conspiracy theories that the mass murders and massacres of school children at the Newtown and Parkland schools were government false flag operations to enact anti-gun laws, who stalk the survivors of those  massacres, and the belief that a Rothschild family (typical antisemitic accusation) funded space laser was the cause of the 2018 California wild fires.

Likewise many members of the Trump Republican base make frequent physical threats of violence against their political opponents as well as Jews, Blacks, other racial, ethnic or religious minorities. Before the coup attempt of 6 January they have either invaded and taken over or besieged State capitols. They led by the President have committed physical violence against peaceful protestors of  the Black Lives Matter campaign protesting the murders of Black men and women by police and vigilantes. Individuals connected with them have attacked and committed mass murder at Synagogues and Jewish community centers and Black Churches.

The list could go on and there is no condemnation from the former President or his acolytes who are still threatening violence, even in the halls of Congress.

The title of this article includes the comment of William Lloyd Garrison in describing the mood of the South as Southern States began to secede. I no longer believe that there will be a Republican version of Senator Stephen A. Douglas who will attempt to pull the party out of the abyss that it is throwing itself headlong into. In fact they are in the process of a witch hunt in the party, kicking out elected state officials in Arizona and working against others to remove them from Congressional leadership positions and committee assignments and are launching campaigns against their re-election for their attempt to hold former President Trump accountable for his actions.

The irony is, that it is now the Republican Party that is doing what the Democrats did in 1860, but then the Republicans beginning in the 1960s and have become the old Souther Secessionist Democratic Party when they brought in the Dixiecrats and adopted the cynical and racist Southern Strategy.

This article deals with the actions of Southern Democrats upon learning that Abraham Lincoln had been elected leading up to their attack on Fort Sumter. The attitudes, words and actions of the current Republicans are frighteningly similar to the Secessionist Southern Democrats who first destroyed their party before their secession from the Union that led to the bloodiest war in American history.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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After the election of 1860 President-Elect Abraham 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.

Senator 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.

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 churches 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 became 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.

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]

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]

Future Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, the man whose armies would cut a swath of destruction across Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864 and 1865 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] All 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 primary reason . 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. Many 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. He proclaimed in words that could never be taken back:

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]

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]

As a Post Script I would add that it appears that the Trump Led Republican Party is on the same path as the Southern Democrats who first split their party and then the Union.


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 Lightning 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] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville 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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Racism Defined: The Confederate Debate About Emancipation and Black Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

I hope that you enjoy this.

Peace

Padre Steve+

slaves-picking-planting-cotton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CleburnePatrick

Major General Patrick Cleburne C.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lincoln-in-richmond

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

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

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

Likewise a journalist witnessing the event described the scene,

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

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

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

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.310

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

[3] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.324

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

[5] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.325

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

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.326

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

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

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

[16] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

[19] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.329

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

[36] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.330

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

[38] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[39] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

[42] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[43] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

[44] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[54] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

[55] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.337

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

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

[58] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

[60] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[71] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.345

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

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

[74] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.351

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

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

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

[78] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

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

[80] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 476

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

[82] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 481

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Trip to Gettysburg at the End of a Polarizing Election

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a group of my students to Gettysburg this weekend and the timing is good for me as it will take me to a place that helps me put things in perspective, especially as this election goes into its last few days.

Even so I have a sense, a sense of dread that our country is soon to head into an abyss of violence no-matter who wins the election. The solid and reasonable center seems to have disappeared, moderates of all types are derided. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly called the election rigged and say that they may not accept the results, unless they win. Throughout the campaign Trump and his surrogates have hinted at violence, they have whipped up their supporter’s emotions into a virtual tempest of rage that is threatening to explode into real violence. In 1860 it was the Southern political and religious leadership which said that they would not abide the results of the election of Abraham Lincoln, ignoring Democrat Stephen Douglas who said:

“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.”

Georgia Senator and future Confederate Vice President Alexander 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…”

Louisiana Senator and future Confederate Secretary of the Treasury Judah Benjamin noted: “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.”

Today reasonable people, including many Conservatives and Republicans are making similar observations about the dangers of Trump and how little people have to fear a Clinton presidency. But it will be for naught if the new fire-breathers that Trump has awakened respond as Southern did in 1860, responding not through reason but through blind fear and ideological hatred. Sadly, that kind of visceral response has not changed since Alexander Stephens and Judah Benjamin caved into the demands of the fire-eaters for secession and war, despite knowing that it would be a disaster. This is exactly how most supposedly responsible and moderate conservative Republicans are acting today. They too will be held responsible by history for not having the moral courage of Stephen Douglas to put the country and the constitution ahead of sectional interests. 

Northern abolitionist newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison correctly judged the mood of the South when he wrote:

“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?”

I feel that madness is true today of many of Trump’s supporters, his enablers in the GOP and media, and maybe of the man himself.

God help us all,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Patrick Cleburne & Failed Confederate Emancipation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

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

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

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

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

Have a nice and thoughtful night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

CleburnePatrick

General Patrick Cleburne 

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

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

Cleburne’s realism came through in his appeal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

[4] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

[7] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.327

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

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

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

[11] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.335

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[26] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

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

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

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

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