Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

The Election of 1860

June 17, 2017

The Election of 1860 was, without doubt, the most contentious election in American history, ending as it did with the secession of the South and the Civil War. For democracy to work, the loser of an election, along with his supporters have to be willing to concede to the winner. This can happen as long as the consequence of an election is not an existential threat to the lives and liberties of the losers. For the first, and so far only, time in the history of the United States a large portion of the electorate simply refused to accept the results of a democratic election, in part because they feared the results would be destructive to their way of life.

How did it come to this, that the South so feared the election of Abraham Lincoln that it was willing to secede from the Union and risk war? Slavery had been an increasingly divisive issue for decades, yet the nation had always managed to find some sort of compromise to pull back from the brink. There had been talk of secession since the beginning of the Union, but it was mostly talk. No one seemed willing to take the fateful step to dissolve the Union before 1860. After his election in 1856, President James Buchanan had even dared to hope that the contentious slavery debate would be settled by the of his term and peace and prosperity would be the rule. He could not have been more wrong. In fact, it was during President Buchanan’s administration that a series of events occurred that made Civil War if not inevitable, certainly increased sectional tensions to the breaking point.

Historians generally hold that the Civil War began when Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, yet in a way the Civil War had actually started almost a decade earlier in Kansas. As early as 1854 fighting had broken out between pro and anti-slavery settlers in the Kansas Territory. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had called for popular sovereignty to decide whether Kansas would be Slave or Free. Settlers from North and South poured into Kansas attempting to get a majority for their side. Election fraud was rampant and neither side was willing to concede to the other, resulting in two separate territorial legislatures. It wasn’t long before violence broke out, egged on by radicals back east only too willing to supply arms.

Then there was the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott vs. Sanford, announced just two days after President Buchanan’s inauguration. This decision which overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and denied the right of Congress to outlaw slavery in the territories delighted the South and infuriated the North. Because of this ruling, slavery could no longer be contained to southern territories but could spread north. Even worse, because the Court decided that Dred Scott was not free just because his master had taken him to a state where slavery was illegal, opened the door to the possibility that state laws forbidding slavery might be effectively overturned since freeing the slaves of a person who moved North could be construed as unlawfully depriving him of his property. Chief Justice Roger Taney and President Buchanan hoped that the Dred Scott decision would settle the issue of slavery once and for all, but the uncompromising nature of the decision only made things worse.

Finally, there was John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on October 19, 1859. I don’t think the Northern abolitionists had any idea how afraid the slave owners of the South were of their own slaves. While Southern apologists depicted the Blacks as simple minded creatures, perfectly content with slavery in their propaganda, anyone who had much contact with the slaves must have known how much they resented their servitude. They had good reason to fear that the Black slaves would take a terrible revenge if they ever got the chance. When the abolitionists demanded that slavery be ended, the Southern Whites, only heard a call for their own destruction. When a terrorist from Kansas tried to incite a slave insurrection only to be hailed as a hero and a martyr by sympathetic Northerners, the Southerners must have seen their worst fears confirmed.

By the election of 1860, it must have seemed that the United States could no longer be half Free and half Slave. Either slavery would be abolished, along with a way of life that benefited the Southern elite, or slavery must spread to every part of the nation. Little wonder a Civil War resulted.

The Democratic convention was held in Charleston South Carolina in April. Since President Buchanan declined to run for reelection, the most obvious candidate was Stephen Douglas from Illinois. Douglas had served in the House of Representatives from 1843 to 1847 and then in the Senate from 1847 until his death from typhoid fever in 1861. Stephan Douglas is best known today for his famous debates with Abraham Lincoln during the Senatorial election of 1856. He was a great believer in democracy, believing that popular sovereignty should settle the slavery issue in the territories. Douglas tended to oppose the Dred Scott decision, but had to be careful lest he alienate the South.

This “pro-choice” did not please the Southern delegates at the convention who wanted a party platform that specifically protected slavery. This Douglas and the Northern delegates would not agree to and the convention broke up. This was not a good sign.

The Democrats met again the following month in Baltimore. Again the Northern and Southern delegates could not agree on a candidate or a platform, so they held separate conventions. The Northern delegates nominated Stephen Douglas, as expected, and selected Herschel V. Johnson, the governor of Georgia from 1853-1857. Their platform called for popular sovereignty in the territories.

The Southern delegates nominated Vice-President John C. Breckinridge for President and Joseph Lane, one of Oregon’s first two senators, for Vice-President. They supported a platform demanding federal protection of slavery in the territories.

Meanwhile, the Republicans held their convention in Chicago from May 16 to 18. Abraham Lincoln was not really one of the leaders of the Republican Party. The more prominent Republicans who were expected to get the nomination included Senator William Seward of New York. Governor Salmon P. Chase from Ohio, and Senator Simon Cameron from Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s political resume was thin compared to these leaders having only served in the House of Representatives from 1847-1849 and in the Illinois Legislature form 1834-1842. However, each of these leaders had made enemies and had alienated one faction or another of the party. Lincoln, in contrast was well liked and known to be a good debater. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856 had attracted national attention. Lincoln was also a shrewd politician and while he was against slavery, he was not as radical as some Republicans. Lincoln was nominated on the third ballot and Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was selected as his running mate.

Then, because things were not confusing enough with three candidates, a group of former Whigs, along with a few Democrats and former Know-Nothings met in Baltimore on May 9 to organize the Constitutional Union Party. This party was for preserving the Union at any cost, and not much else. They were silent on the slavery question, perhaps hoping to make the controversy go away. The Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell, who had served as Senator from Tennessee from 1847-1859. Bell had begun his political career as a Democratic supporter of Andrew Jackson, then he split with Jackson to become the leader of the Whig Party in Tennessee. By the 1850’s he had begun to create a third party composed of moderates from both the North and South in an effort to alleviate the increasing sectional tension. Bell’s relatively moderate views on slavery made him unpopular in the South, though he had some appeal in the border states. The Constitutional Union Party went on to nominate former Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Everett as Bell’s running mate.

 

Since the Democratic party was split and Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in the South, the the election of 1860, was essentially two separate contests, Lincoln vs Douglas in the North and Bell vs Breckinridge in the South. As one might imagine, this turned out to be an exciting and tumultuous election, with all the hoopla of American politics in the nineteenth century. Stephen Douglas broke with tradition and actually went out to campaign in person, in the South as well as the North. In the South, he pleaded for the Southerners to accept the results of the election, no matter who won. They didn’t listen. Southern newspapers continued to run editorials promising secession and war if the “Black Republican” Lincoln were elected.

The other candidates stayed at home and tried to look dignified and presidential but their supporters made up the difference in raucous energy. Bell’s supporters rang bells at rallies. Republicans were the most enthusiastic, holding parades featuring rails that the great rail splitter Abraham Lincoln had personally split.  If it weren’t for the great seriousness of it all, it would have been a lot of fun.

None of the four candidates got a majority of the popular vote, but Lincoln won a plurality with 1,865,908 votes or 39.8% of the total. Douglas came in second with 1,380,202 votes (29.5%). Breckinridge was third with 848,019 votes (18.1%C) and Bell came in last with 590,901 votes (12.6%). It is slightly ironic that if the Southern Democrats had supported Stephen Douglas, he might have won the election. By leaving the convention and nominating their own candidate, they virtually guaranteed a victory for Lincoln, the one candidate they could not accept.

The Electoral vote was more decisive, with Lincoln getting a comfortable majority. The vote was divided along sectional lines. Lincoln won the entire North and West except for New Jersey, getting a total of 180 electoral votes. New Jersey split its seven votes giving four to Lincoln and three to Douglas. Douglas was second in the popular vote, but last in the Electoral College winning only Missouri’s nine votes and three of New Jersey’s for a total of 12 electoral votes. Breckinridge won all the Southern states, except for Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, and got a total of 72 electoral votes. Bell won those three states with 39 electoral votes.

The Election of 1860

The Election of 1860

Stephen Douglas realized that a Lincoln victory would divide the country and immediately after the election he traveled south and gave speeches supporting the Union. It didn’t work and on December 20, 1860 South Carolina formally succeeded from the Union. Soon, the other Southern states followed and America’s bloodiest war began.

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Memorial Day

May 29, 2017

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have fallen fighting for their country and for freedom.

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_Day

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.

 

The Election of 1852

July 8, 2016

The election of 1852 was the calm before the storm. The issue of slavery, which had been inflamed over the issue of extending slavery to the territories won from Mexico, had been temporarily calmed by the Compromise of 1850. This compromise, like any good compromise had failed to satisfy either side and would eventually contribute to the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. At the time, however, it seemed reasonable enough and probably did delay the Secession Crisis and the War by a decade.

The slavery issue was still out there, however, and since both the Democratic and the Whig parties required a broad, national coalition of North and South to win, neither major party was willing to nominate a candidate who had expressed a strong view on the slavery, or any other sectional, issue. This meant that both parties turned to candidates who had not played much of a role in national politics or had shown strong leadership in the civil government. Neither party was willing to take any real stand on the issues of the day and the Whig and Democratic party platforms were virtually identical. The election of 1852 was to be fought over personalities rather than issues.

The Democratic national convention met first, from June 1-5, at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. The party was bitterly divided between the supporters of the four major candidates, Lewis Cass of Michigan who had been the nominee in 1848, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania who would be the nominee in 1856, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and William L. Marcy of New York. Aside from these, there were various dark horse and favorite son candidates put in the ballots. None of the major candidates were able to obtain a majority of the delegates’ votes and none of them had a consistent lead or momentum over the others. On the thirty-fifth ballot, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was on the ballot. Pierce slowly gained votes as the balloting continued and by the forty-ninth ballot he was nominated.

Franklin Pierce had been a relatively obscure New Hampshire politician who had served as a Congressman from 1833 to 1837 and as a Senator from 1837 to 1842. He had fought in the Mexican War in command of volunteers from New England and had risen to the rank of Brigadier General. Pierce was personally opposed to slavery but considered the abolitionist the greatest threat to the Union. As a northern with sympathy for the south, Pierce seemed to be a perfect candidate. The Democrats went on to nominate Alabama Senator William R. King as Pierce;s running mate. King was a Unionist who opposed both the abolitionists and the more radical pro-slavery “fire eaters“. As it turned out, King was already very ill with tuberculosis and would die soon after becoming Vice-President.

The Whig Party’s convention also met at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore from June 17-20. Like the Democrats, the Whigs were divided. President Zachary Taylor had died after little more than a year in office to be succeeded by his Vice-president Millard Fillmore. Fillmore wanted to be nominated for another term but he was unpopular among some Whigs for his support of the Compromise of 1850 and many Whigs believed that he could not be elected for a term in his own right. They preferred to use the Whig standby of nominating a war hero, in this case, General Winfield Scott.

Winfield Scott was one of the most remarkable Americans of the nineteenth century and it is a pity that he is no longer so well known. Scott was a war hero who commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the Second Seminole War. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army from 1841-1861, longer than any other man who has served in that post and he holds the record as longest-serving active duty general in the US Army.  In his long tenure as Commanding General, Scott essentially created the army that was to fight in the Mexican War and the Civil War and he wrote the book on the tactics and drill used by the Army from 1840-1855. Scott was not only a brilliant general, but also a compassionate leader who because of his care for the men under his command and his adherence to military drill and discipline was known as “Old Fuss and Feathers. At 75, Winfield Scott was too old and ill to lead troops in the Civil War, nevertheless he did develop the Anaconda Plan of slowly dividing and squeezing the South into submission. This plan was ultimately used by the North, but at the beginning of the war it ran against the popular sentiment of “on to Richmond and end the war by Christmas” that prevailed in the North. Although Scott was proved right in his assessment that an quick and easy victory was impossible, he felt obliged to retire after the disastrous Battle of Bull Run, though Lincoln still consulted him throughout the war.Getting back to 1852, the Whigs nominated Winfield Scott for president after fifty-three ballots and selected former North Carolina Governor and Senator William Alexander Graham.

There were a number of third parties, most notably the Free Soil Party which nominated New Hampshire Senator John P Hale for President and Indiana Congressman George Washington Julian for Vice-President.

There is not much to be said about the general election. Despite Scott’s skills as a military leader, he was no politician and Old Fuss and Feathers somehow didn’t seem as appealing as Zachary Taylor’s  Old Rough and Ready. Scott seemed to be rather too military to be the civilian Commander-in-Chief. The Democrats warned of a “Reign of Epaulets”, contrasting the uniformed, rank conscious, professional Scott with the humble citizen-soldier Franklin Pierce who, like Cincinnatus, left to fight for his country and then returned to civilian life. Scott’s anti-slavery views also did not help him in the South.

The Whigs, in their turn, ridiculed Franklin Pierce for his obscurity. They also made use of an incident during the Mexican War in which Pierce fell off his startled horse and wounded himself in his groin and knee. While Pierce’s enemies claimed that he had fainted through cowardice or drunkenness, the truth is that Pierce fought with courage in the Mexican-American War, insisting on leading his brigade after the accident, even though he was in terrible pain. This didn’t stop the Whigs from deriding him as the fainting general and the “hero of many a well-fought bottle”.

In the end Pierce and the Democrats won by a landslide. Pierce got 1,607, 510 (50.8%) of the popular vote to Scott’s 1,386,492 (43.9%). Winfield Scott only won four states; Vermont, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee so the electoral vote was 254 to 42. The election of 1852 was to be the last presidential election in which the Whigs participated. The devastating loss in 1852, the deaths of party leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster that year, and increasing sectional tensions over slavery destroyed the Whigs over the next two years.

John Hale of the Free Soil Party got 155,210 (4.9%) popular votes, less than half of their 1848 showing, and no electoral votes. The lessened tensions over slavery in 1852 had caused many of the barnburners to return to the Democratic Party, but by 1856 the Free Soil Party would merge with anti-slavery former Whigs to create the Republican Party.

The Election of 1852

The Election of 1852

As for Franklin Pierce, he turned out to be somewhat over his head as president. He would have made a decent enough leader in peaceful times but he proved incapable of dealing with rising tensions over extending slavery in the territories and his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act only made the polarization between North and South worse.

Memorial Day

May 25, 2015

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have fallen fighting for their country and for freedom.

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_Day

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.

 

Reopening Old Wounds

April 20, 2015

One hundred fifty years ago this month, General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the American Civil War, the bloodiest war in America’s history.  Brian Beulter at the New Republic thinks that this date, April 9 should be a national holiday celebrated every year.

In a speech one month ago, the first black president of the United States challenged millions of white Americans to resist the convenient allure of overlooking the country’s blemished moral record. It was a dual challenge, actually—first to the classical understanding of American exceptionalism, but also to America’s persistent critics, who abjure the concept of exceptionalism altogether.

In the self-critical America of Obama’s imagination, more people would know about the Edmund Pettus bridge and its namesake. The bridge itself wouldn’t necessarily be renamed after Martin Luther King or John Lewis or another civil rights hero; because it is synonymous with racist violence, the bridge should bear Pettus’s name eternally, with the explicit intent of linking the sins of the Confederacy to the sins of Jim Crow. But Obama’s America would also reject the romantic reimagining of the Civil War, and thus, the myriad totems to the Confederacy and its leaders that pockmark the South, most of which don’t share the Pettus bridge’s incidental association with the struggle for civil rights.

This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.

He goes on in that vein, but you get the idea. The Confederacy and its leaders must be disavowed as traitors on the wrong side of history. The southern states must not be permitted to remember or appreciate their heritage which includes many great men who fought in the Civil War.

I think this it a bad idea. Generally, throughout history, when some province or region rebelled against its central government and is defeated, that central government punished the rebellious provinces with savage reprisals, including executing the leaders of that rebellion. This only increased the resentment and hatred of the people of that region against the central government and led to another rebellion a generation later, with another round of reprisals. This cycle continued until the rebellious province won its independence or was utterly crushed with its people killed or scattered.

In the United States, we managed to avoid that cycle. For the most part, the defeated rebel states were not treated as conquered territory but were welcomed back into the Union. The soldiers and officers of the Confederate armies were not massacred or imprisoned for treason but permitted to go home. General Robert E. Lee was not hanged. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for a short time but released. There was some trouble in the administration of the formerly rebellious regions during the Reconstruction Era, largely due to efforts to secure the rights of the former slaves, but in general the South was generally well treated after the war.

Because Lincoln and others treated the rebels so leniently, there was no lasting Southern separatist movement. Instead North and South became welded together into a new nation more united than before the war. This meant that the Civil War had to become America’s war. The soldiers and heroes of both sides had to become America’s heroes and the short history of the Confederate States of America had to become part of the shared history of the United States of America. This also meant that justice and equality for the African-Americans had to wait a century. This was unfortunate, but reunifying America had to take priority, just as establishing the new nation had to take priority over ending slavery in the time of the founders.

As a result of this welding together, the South, the former rebels is probably the most patriotic region of this country and southerners have always served in the military in disproportionate numbers. Lincoln’s policy of “letting them up easy” has been more than vindicated. Now, Mr. Beutler would like to undo all of that effort to punish the South once again for the Civil War. The Confederate story must no longer be America’s story. The rebels ought not be be considered our countrymen but as an evil enemy justly defeated.

We know from experience that there will be resistance to such efforts. Some critics will caution that singling out Confederate officers will give way to politically correct efforts to sideline other historically important Americans. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveowners. Shouldn’t we expiate their sins by banishment as well, starting with the $1 and $2 bills?

But figures like Washington and Jefferson fit comfortably within the framework of exceptionalism that Obama sketched in Selma, while supporters of secession do not. Obama’s telling of American history is one in which an establishment worthy of preservation is continually improved by righteous internal forces. You don’t need to be morally pristine to be immortalized in Obama’s America, but you can’t be on the side of forces that reject the establishment altogether when it advances incrementally toward its founding ideals. Likewise, those who would caution that a more accurate reckoning with the Confederacy would inflame racial tensions are merely restating the implication that the country is too weak to be introspective. If Obama’s expression of American exceptionalism is correct about anything, it’s that this kind of thinking has no merit.

By contrast, the Union’s victory, and the abolition of slavery, both merit celebration as exemplars of American improvement and renewal, even if many Unionists weren’t moral heroes. These twin accomplishments are as worthy of a federal holiday as any holiday we already celebrate. So let’s name April 9 New Birth of Freedom Day. And if that creates too much paid leave for government workers, we could swap out Columbus Day. We don’t yet live in the America Obama described, but we should strive to.

I don’t really want to live in the America Obama is trying to build. It seems clear that there is no room for Southern Whites in that America. I have to wonder is Mr. Beutler is trying to start a new Civil War by dividing this country and alienating the South. Actually, there is no great mystery why such a piece would appear in the New Republic. Progressives have generally hated the South, even more that the rest of flyover country because the South has usually been the most conservative region of the United States. The South with its religious, patriotic, and conservative people represents the aspects of America most progressives want to get as far as they can away from and which stands most in need of fundamental change.

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Black Confederate Soldiers

June 2, 2014

Yes, they did really exist, even though dailykos states that they were a myth concocted by right wing “wingnuts”. There were never very many Black Confederate soldiers and I very much doubt any of them ever saw combat, but they did exist. Actually the story of the Confederate Blacks is an interesting one about men willing to fight for their country, and not being allowed to until it was too late.

The problem that the Confederate States of America had throughout the Civil War was that almost in everything needed to conduct a war, the North had more than the South. The Union had the greater population with 20 million against the Rebel’s 9 million. In fact the ratio of men of military age was much worse for the South, 4,070,000 to 1,140,000, because around 3,500,000 of the South’s population were Black slaves who weren’t expected to fight.  In fact, slavery may have been the South’s greatest disadvantage. Slaves have to be watched or they may try to escape or slack off on their work. The Confederacy did have some advantage with geography and they didn’t have to invade and conquer the North to win. They could fight a defensive war. Conquering and occupying a country is harder and more expensive than defending against an invader. Unfortunately for the South, the North had a great enough advantage to make it possible, albeit with much bloodshed.

One logical way to offset at least some of the Confederate disadvantage in population would have been to enlist at least some of the  Black men to fight, in segregated units with White officers, of course. You might wonder why any slave would want to fight for his masters and whether they could be trusted. Well, not all the Black population in the South were slaves. According to the 1860 census, there were 3,653,870 Blacks in the states that seceded from the Union the following year, 3,521,110 were slaves but 132,760, or around 4% were free Blacks. Many Blacks who were emancipated moved North but many stayed in the South, because it was their home or they had relatives still in bondage. Although there was a lot of discrimination against them, some of these free Blacks managed to prosper and there was even a handful of Black slave owners. Some of these free Blacks were willing to fight, either out of patriotism or the hope of some improvement in their circumstances. Even slaves might be induced to fight with the promise of emancipation.

Needless to say, Southern Whites were not enthusiastic about the idea of Blacks, free or slave fighting for the Confederacy. The slave-owning planter class was especially against the idea. Part of this was simple racism. No one believed that Africans had the necessary skills or qualities needed to make good soldiers. Also, it didn’t seem to be prudent to arm slaves, or former slaves and teach them to fight. Aside from the possibility of a slave insurrection, the sight of Black soldiers marching off to war might encourage insolence among the slaves, making it harder to maintain control. Actually, quite a few slave owners thought that the mere existence of free Blacks set a bad example. Over time, the southern states made it more difficult for a slave owner to emancipate his slaves.

At the beginning of the Civil War, some of the free Blacks of New Orleans formed the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. This militia unit of 1135 men was organised on May 2, 1861. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard was actually the first unit in America to have Black officers, although Louisiana governor Thomas Overton Moore appointed White officers to command the unit. The Confederate government did not have any use for the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. It did not provide the men with uniforms or weapons.

1st Louisiana Native Guard

1st Louisiana Native Guard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The men were able to obtain their own weapons and uniforms at their own expense and marched in a parade in New Orleans on January 8, 1861. They were not given any duties, even as non-combatants and were disbanded by the Louisiana state legislature on February 15, 1862.

Although there are unconfirmed reports of Blacks fighting for the South, there were no Black units officially organized, nor was the idea of enlisting Blacks given any consideration. Slave labor was used in various support roles, as teamsters, hospital attendants, and slaves were increasingly used to replace to labor of the White men who were absent to fight in the war. It seems most likely that any Blacks who were seen fighting were servants obliged to pick up a rifle to protect themselves and their masters. As the war went on and the South began to lose, a few people began to consider the unthinkable. In 1864, Major-General Pat Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee called a meeting of the leading officers to propose freeing the slaves and enlisting them to fight. In this way, he argued, the South’s disadvantage of slavery could be turned into its advantage. This proposal was not well received by his fellow officers and his commander, Joseph E. Johnston, advised him not to press the matter any further. Word of Cleburne’s radical proposal leaked out, however, and although he was one of the South’s better generals, he was not considered for promotion again before he died later that year.

President Jefferson Davis also began to realize that it might be necessary to enlist Blacks. He realized that any mention of such a proposal would be extremely controversial, so he put off suggesting such a course of action until there was no alternative. By the start of 1865, it seemed that that time had come. On January 11, 1865, General Robert E. Lee wrote to the Confederate Congress urging them to enlist Black slaves to fight in exchange for freedom. The Confederate Congress debated the legislation for two months, finally passing a bill on March 13, by a very slim margin. President Davis signed the bill the next day and made it military policy to allow slaves to fight, with the permission of their masters, in exchange for manumission. Even then, most southern Whites resented the idea of allowing Blacks to fight. When the first Black recruits marched through Richmond in their new, gray uniforms, Whites threw mud at them. It was too late, in any case. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered to  General Grant at Appomattox Court House. By the end of May the war was over.

Would it have made a difference if the Blacks in the South had been allowed to fight? Probably not. Even with the  additional manpower, the North still had a considerable advantage in numbers over the South, not to mention its other advantages. Then again, I think the greatest advantage the Union had over the Confederacy was in the quality of the leadership of the two sides. Jefferson Davis was capable enough, but he didn’t have Lincoln’s skill at placating critics or getting rivals to work together. Confederate diplomacy was amateurish. The governors of some of the southern states worked against the policies of the central government.  General Lee didn’t really understand the war on the continental scale to the extent that Grant and Sherman did. A Confederate government that was flexible and open minded enough to be willing to consider having the Blacks fight before the last month of the war might have been able to use the resources of the South to win. Of course, a Southern leadership that was open minded and flexible might have realized that slavery was an institution that was quickly becoming  discredited in the modern world and have adopted some plan of emancipation, thus avoiding the need for the war.

 

 

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Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom

June 17, 2013

The Taiping Rebellion was the bloodiest civil war in the history of China, and quite possibly the most destructive war in the whole sanguine history of war, yet few outside of China know very much about the course of this titanic conflict, or even that it happened.

The Taiping Rebellion began as a religious movement led by Hong Xiuquan, a man who had had a nervous breakdown after failing the very difficult civil service exams that were the path to success in Imperial China. After reading some tracts given to him by Christian missionaries, he conceived the idea that he was Jesus’ younger brother and began to form a cult, which became a Chinese nationalist movement against the Manchu Qing dynasty that ruled China. The Manchus did not care for this movement and their persecution sparked a rebellion that, at its height, involved almost half of the Chinese Empire.

Contemporary drawing of Hong Xiuquan, dating f...

Roughly contemporary with our own Civil War, there were a number of striking similarities between the American Civil War and the Taiping Rebellion, a fact noted by both Chinese and American observers. Both conflicts involved a rebellion by the southern regions of their respective countries against a government controlled by the north. Both were the most destructive civil wars ever fought by

either nation. Both wars threatened the prosperity of the British economy, which depended on trade with both America and China. In both cases foreign powers, especially Britain and France believed they had an interest in intervening. In both cases, the north won.

The differences between the two wars were greater, however. The Taiping Rebellion lasted longer, from 1850 to 1864. It was fought far more cruelly than the American Civil War. Imagine instead of a pleasant conversation between Grant and Lee at Appomattox, Grant seizing the surrendering Lee and having him tortured to death. Or, Sherman deliberately massacring Confederate civilians when he burned Atlanta. The United States was also spared the complication of having British or French troops invading to fight on either side, or having the British Navy burn down the White House to force America to trade. China was not so fortunate. While fighting the rebellion, the Chinese were also forced to fight the Arrow War against the British who burned down the Xianfeng Emperor’s Summer Palace in retaliation for the Chinese government’s mistreatment of their representatives.

The outcome and legacy of the two wars were also much different for the two nations. The United States emerged from the Civil War stronger and more united. In the decades following the Civil War, America became an industrial giant and a world power. Again, China was not so lucky. The Qing Dynasty managed to cling to power for the next half-century, growing ever weaker and less capable of defending China against the encroaching foreigners.

Extent of the Taiping Rebellion (French). 中文: ...

Extent of the Taiping Rebellion (French).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, little is known of this conflict in the West. There have been a couple good histories of the Taiping Rebellion written by Western historians, including Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom by Stephen R Platt. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom is not so much a comprehensive history of the Taiping Rebellion, that would take several volumes to do it justice, but a story of some of the leading players would were caught up in the great events. Platt tells the story of Hong Rengan, the preacher’s assistant and cousin of Hong Xiuquan, who felt obliged to join the Taipings to help his cousin and who became Hong’s most trusted advisor. There is Zeng Guofan, the Chinese Confucian scholar who reluctantly became the general who crushed the Taipings. There were James Bruce, eighth Earl Elgin, who led the British in what he felt was an unjust war to force the Qing to allow the trade in opium, and his belligerent brother, Frederick Bruce who hated the Taipings and slanted his reports to encourage the British and the French to send forces to China to fight them. There were many Europeans, especially missionaries who sympathized with the Taipings and hoped that they would create a new, Christian China. There were others, like Frederick Townsend Ward, who sensed that fighting as mercenaries for the Qing could be very profitable.

This emphasis on some of the leading actors in the drama makes Platt’s account interesting and readable. In fact, it reads almost like a novel and I found it hard to put down. The only weakness in his approach that I can see is that he barely mentions the beginnings and early years of the Taiping movement and the history only really begins when Hong Rengan decides to join the Taipings in 1858. The story also ends with the end of the Rebellion, and it might have been nice to read a little more about how China’s “reconstruction era” turned out. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom is a worthy book about a somewhat forgotten war and I can heartily recommend it for anyone interested in China.

Memorial Day Weekend

May 27, 2013

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have fallen fighting for their country and for freedom.

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_Day

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.

 

Memorial Day Weekend

May 27, 2012
Arlington National Cemetary

Arlington National Cemetary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Memorial Day is tomorrow. Unfortunately, for me, the most significant aspect of this weekend and the preceding week leading up to it is that it is one of the weekends of horror. I have been working 10-12 hours every day this week, including today.

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.


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