Jun 9, 2024 - Patriotism, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, The War at Sea    Comments Off on Fighting for the “Juster Cause”

Fighting for the “Juster Cause”

Fighting for the “Juster Cause”

The following details the first encounter of the revolutionary CSS Virginia with the USS Monitor after the former had sunk the USS Cumberland and severely damaged the USS Congress the previous day. The Virginia was commanded by Commodore Franklin Buchanan, with Lt. Catesby Jones assuming command after Buchanan was injured. Also aboard was the indefatigable Lt. John Taylor Wood.

“When Jones saw that the Virginia’s guns only dented the Monitor’s turret, he ordered his gun commanders to concentrate their fire on her pilothouse. The vessels wore around until the Virginia’s stern was only ten yards from the Monitor’s pilothouse. Wood quickly barked out the necessary orders to his stern gun crew. A lightning flash erupted from the muzzle of the powerful Brooke rifle and a heavy shell seared the air to strike against the front of the Monitor’s pilothouse, directly in the observation slit. The explosion cracked the iron and partially lifted the top. The blow partly stunned the commander and filled his eyes with powder, temporarily blinding him while ordering his ship to disengage the Virginia. The Monitor retired briefly but resumed firing again.

Wood now had an idea that foreshadowed his special place in the war. As a last hope to defeat the Monitor, he called for volunteers to form a boarding party which he intended to lead to the enemy deck. The response was enthusiastic, and Wood organized the group into special forces, each with a specific task. Some collected sledgehammers and spikes to wedge the Monitor’s turret. Others were ready to fling oakum-ball grenades down the pipes and cover all openings with canvas to cut off visibility and air. A few men carried pistols, boarding pikes and cutlasses in the event of hand-to-hand combat. The Confederates intended to win this battle with brains, seamanship, heroism and the “juster cause.”

When all was ready, the Virginia made a run for the Monitor. The boarding party watched from all ports, each man “burning for the signal to swarm around the foe.” The blood was “fairly tumbling through our veins” recalled one crewmember as the hoarse bark of the boatswain called “boarders away.” At that moment, however, the Monitor frustrated the scheme by standing away and steaming to shallow water.

Wood was disappointed, and with good reason, since the would-be-boarders might well have succeeded [in capturing the Monitor].”

(John Taylor Wood: Sea Ghost of the Confederacy. Royce Gordon Shingleton. UGA Press, 1979, pp. 35-36)

Jun 6, 2024 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on The Capture of a Slaver

The Capture of a Slaver

Published in 1900 by Col. John Taylor Wood, “The Capture of a Slaver” provides a first-hand account of the pre-Civil War efforts to suppress the ongoing slave trade to Brazil, Cuba, and the rest of the Spanish West Indies. Though many slavers were built in England, and also New England. As late as 1860, New York City, Portuguese “blackbirders” bribed customs officials to arrange false identifications for ship bound for Cuba to be outfitted as slave ships. They then sailed for Africa to purchase slaves, then to Cuba and Brazil with their human cargoes.

The abbreviated account below is dated in the late-1840’s when Wood was a junior officer aboard the USS Porpoise, a 224-ton brigantine assigned to hunt slavers on the coast of Africa. After capturing a Spanish slaver and taking its human cargo to Liberia to experience “freedom,” he learned a valuable lesson about the Dark Continent.

The Capture of a Slaver

“We had been cruising off the coast of Liberia when we were ordered to the Gulf of Guinea to watch the Bonny and Cameroon mouths of the great Niger river. We could gather information from the natives through our Krooman interpreter. [Fishermen from the Kroo tribe in Sotta Krou in Liberia]. At Little Bonny we heard that two slaving vessels were some miles upriver and ready to sail, waiting only until the coast was clear.

After a long chase of one departing slaver, it was caught by luck and our cannon shearing the topgallant yard and it was finally boarded. The Spaniard captain spoke English and was violently denouncing the outrage done to his flag; his government would demand satisfaction for firing on a legitimate trader on the high seas. Without a doubt if he had reached his cabin, he would have blown up the vessel, for in a locker over the transom were two open kegs of powder. Asked what his cargo consisted of, he replied: “About four hundred blacks bound for Brazil.”

From the time we boarded we had heard moans, cries and rumblings coming from below. Once the hatches were removed there arose a hot blast from below, sickening and overpowering. In the hold were three or four hundred human beings, gasping and struggling for breath, dying, their bodies, limbs, faces, all expressing terrible suffering. After an hour of work lifting and helping the poor creatures on deck, they were laid out in rows with a little water and whiskey stimulant reviving most of them. Some, however, were too far gone to be resuscitated.

I was anxious to hear their story and our Krooman interpreter assisted in translation. Most were from a long distance and brought to coast after being sold by their kings or parents to Arab traders for firearms or rum. Once at the depots near the coast they were sold to the slaver captains for up to fifty dollars a head. In Brazil or the West Indies, they were worth two to five hundred dollars each. This wide margin of course attracted unscrupulous adventurers, who, if successful in running a few cargoes, would greatly enrich themselves.

On the fourteenth day we reached Monrovia, Liberia, a part of the African coast selected by the US government as the home of emancipated slaves; for prior to the abolition excitement which culminated in war, numbers of slaves in the South had been manumitted by their masters with the understanding that they should be sent to Liberia. The passages of the Negroes was paid, each family given a tract of land and sufficient means to build a house. Many intermarried with the natives, lost the English tongue, and had even gone back to the life and customs of their ancestors, sans clothing, sans habitations, and worship of a fetich.

After much negotiation with the colony king and promising cloth and buttons for his wives), he grunted his approval and asked that he might chose a few of the captives for his own use. Certainly not,” I answered, “neither on board or on shore as these are free men and women.”

When the cargo of liberated Africans was called up from the hold and ordered into the boats to go onshore, not one of them moved. They evidently divined what had been going on and dreaded leaving the safety of the vessel. They could only understand that they were changing master’s and preferred the present ones. By noon the men were all onshore, and then began with the girls. They were more demonstrative than the men, and with looks and gestures begged not to be taken out of the vessel.

I instructed the mate to have a gig manned to go ashore and obtain a receipt from the Governor for my late cargo. After landing, we approached a thick grove of palms surrounded by three or four hundred chattering savages of all ages, headed by the king. With the exception of him and a few of his head men, the clothing of the group would not have covered a rag baby. They were no doubt discussing the appearance of the strangers and making their selections. The king then gave me a receipt for the blacks landed, but said it was impossible for him to prevent the natives from taking and enslaving them.

Then bidding the king good-bye I returned on board, sad and weary after as one feels after being relieved of a great burden. At the same time, I wondered whether the fate of these people would have been any worse if the captain of the Spanish slaver had succeeded in landing them in Brazil or the West Indies.”

(The Capture of a Slaver. John Taylor Wood; Paula Benitez, editor. Create Space Independent Publishing, 2017, excerpts pp. 4-30)

 

Jun 2, 2024 - Myth of Saving the Union, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Americans Besieged

Americans Besieged

The commander of North Carolina’s Fort Fisher, Colonel William Lamb of Virginia, spoke postwar of his men defending the fortress in early 1865: “When I recall this magnificent struggle, unsurpassed in ancient or modern warfare, and remember the devoted patriotism and heroic courage of my garrison, I feel proud to know that I have North Carolina blood coursing through my veins, and I confidently believe that the time will come with the Old North State, when her people will regard her defence of Forth Fisher as the grandest event in her heroic past.” Gen. William Whiting commanded the Cape Fear District and came to the fort after Gen. Bragg’s reluctance to confront the enemy.

Americans Besieged

“In the midst of the whirling shells, he scarcely removed his pipe from his mouth as he stood on the open rampart spattered from the bursting shells. Lieutenant Hunter, of the 36th North Carolina, wrote of Gen. Whiting:

“I saw him standing with folded arms, smiling upon the 400-hundred-pound shell as it stood smoking and spinning like a billiard ball on the sand, not twenty feet away, until it burst, and then moved away quietly. I saw him fifty times a day – I saw him fight and saw him pray; and he was all that a General should be in battle. He was the best-equipped man in the Confederate States to defend the port of Wilmington, and his relief by Gen. Braxton Bragg brought gloom over the entire command.”

Time fails me to relate the details of the great battle of the 13th, 14th and 15th of January 1865. The enemy fleet arrived the night of the 12th, and early the next day began the rain of projectiles, increasing in fury at times to 160 per minute, and directed by converging fire to the destruction of the guns on the land force of Fort Fisher, and in the pounding of the northeast salient to a shapeless ruin.

Again, General Whiting came to the fort, on the first day’s bombardment, and upon his entrance said to Col. William Lamb: “I have come here to share your fate, my boy. You are to be sacrificed. The last thing I heard Gen. Bragg say was to point out a line to fall back upon, when Fisher fell.”

The firing never ceased – all day and all night long the 11-inch and 15-inch fiery globes rolled along the parapet; the palisades were cut to pieces, the wires to the mines were ploughed up in the deep sands. An English officer who had been at Sebastopol declared it was but child’s play to this terrific shaking of the earth and sea, by a fleet whose broadside could throw 44,000 pounds of iron at a single discharge.

The defenders fought on – their quarters having been burned along with their blankets and clothing – in the depth of winter, for three days, with cornmeal and coffee and uncooked rations – for not even a burial party could put its head out of a bombproof without casualties. On the evening of the 13th, some 8,500 troops landed four miles north, and in the language of their commander, as if at some exciting sport, with no one to molest them. Telegram after telegram besought Gen. Bragg to attack; but his troops had been ordered sixteen miles away for an idle review, and when in position again, he refused to attack the two brigades of colored troops which held the land side, though urged repeatedly by telegraph. The fire suddenly increased to inconceivable fury about 3PM pf the 15th, and the air was hot with bursting shells. All at once there was ominous silence, and the column of the enemy, 1,600 picked sailors and 400 marines, were seen approaching the northeast redan.

Whiting and Lamb rallied their gallant band upon the exposed ramparts – the struggle was terrible, but with twenty-one officers killed and wounded, that enemy column was broken to pieces, and a sight never seen in the world before, of two thousand US Naval troops in full flight, leaving four hundred on the sands and their commander, Breese, simulating death among them to escape capture.

But alas, two battles were going on at the same time! Just as the naval attack was beaten back, Gen. Whiting saw the enemy flags planted on the traverses. Calling on the troops to follow him, they fought hand-to-hand with clubbed muskets, and one traverse was retaken. Just as he was climbing the other to remove the enemy flag, General Whiting fell, receiving two wounds – one very severe through the thigh. Colonel Lamb fell with a desperate hip wound a half hour after Whiting, while the enemy poured into the fortress.

It was the struggle of North Carolina patriots. Lamb, in the fort’s hospital, found voice enough, though faint unto death, to say, “I will not surrender!” And Whiting, lying among the surgeons nearby, responded, “Lamb, if you die, I will assume command and I will never surrender.”

(A Memoir of the Late Major-General William Henry Chase Whiting. C.B. Denson. Edwards & Broughton, 1895, pp. 40-42)

 

Clarifying 19th Century American History

Americans were certainly “Confederates” before the 1789 constitution was ratified as their governing document were the Articles of Confederation. When ratifying the new 1789 constitution, 11 States decided to “secede” from the Articles and voluntarily “accede” to the new federation; North Carolina and Rhode Island held out for the Bill of Rights before they acceded. In the latter document, Article III, Section 3 fixed treason as only waging war against “Them,” the States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” This does raise the question of who waged war against the States forming a more perfect union to the South Below, the author clarifies misconceptions regarding Lincoln’s war.

Clarifying 19th Century American History

“Certainly, there are those of goodwill, and let us call it “invincible ignorance, who have been educated to think the primary issue in 1861 was slavery, and Abraham Lincoln was simply reacting to those “rebels” who wished to destroy “the sacred bonds” of Union, while advancing the great humanitarian cause of “freedom.” So much for the caliber and character of our contemporary educational system, not to mention Hollywood’s ideological tendentious (and mostly successful) attempts to influence us. Yet, that mythology surrounding the Southern Iliad of 1861-1865 will not stand serious cross-examination. Consider these popular myths and shibboleths:

“The War was about slavery!” Not really accurate: the war aims cited repeatedly by Lincoln and northern publicists consistently during the years 1861-1863, even afterwards, were that the war was to “preserve the Union.” Indeed, if the abolition of slavery had been declared a war aim in 1861, most likely a great majority of Union political leaders, not to mention Union soldiers, would have recoiled, and the northern war effort would most likely have collapsed.  It was difficult enough to gain wide support in the north, as it was. Remember, Lincoln was elected with less than 40 percent of the vote in 1860, and barely gained pluralities in most northern States.

“Lincoln freed the slaves.” No so; Lincoln freed not one slave. His proclamation, issued first on September 22, 1862, and formally on January 1, 1863, supposedly “freeing the slaves,” only applied to those areas not under Union military control or occupation, that is, territory of the independent Southern States. Lincoln’s proclamation “freed” slaves where his action had no effect.

And most recently this charge: “Robert E. Lee and other Confederate military leaders who were in the US Army committed treason by violating their oaths to defend the Union, and Confederate leaders were in rebellion against the legitimately elected government of the United States.” Somehow, critics seem to forget to mention that Lee and the other Confederate leaders resigned their commissions in the US Army, and from Congress prior to enlisting in the defense of their home States and in the ranks of the Confederate States army, or assuming positions in the new Confederate government. They did not violate their oaths; their States had formally left the union, and, thus, the claims of the federal government in Washington had ceased to have authority over them.”

(The Land We Love: The South and Its Heritage. Boyd D. Cathey. Scuppernong Press, 2018, pp. 60-61)

May 26, 2024 - Aftermath: Despotism, America Transformed, Enemies of the Republic, Lincoln Revealed, Myth of Saving the Union, Newspapers, Prisons for Americans    Comments Off on Francis Key Howard’s “Middle Passage”

Francis Key Howard’s “Middle Passage”

By 1863, Congress had sanctioned Lincoln’s illegal suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and absolved him of the northern Democrats charge of “usurpation.” The latter charged that his “suspension of the writ justifies arrests without warrant, without oath, and even without suspicion of treason or other crime.” Howard, below, was editor of Baltimore’s Daily Exchange which was supportive of the South’s decision for political independence.

Francis Key Howard’s “Middle Passage”

“Frances Key Howard, grandson of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, had been among the Baltimoreans arrested in September of 1861. By December 1862, he had finished a manuscript about his prison experiences, and the little book made its appearance in print early in 1863.

Like others in this genre of protest writing, Howard’s work made a special point “to show . . . how men, who were guiltless . . ., were treated in this age, and in this country” and stressed the crowded conditions and spartan hardships of prison life.

In a protest letter written to President Lincoln and reprinted in Howard’s book, he and other prisoners of state likened the conditions at Fort Lafayette to those on “a slave ship, on the middle passage.”

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, p195)

Lincoln & Seward’s Military Coup

In 1863 Republican Senator John Sherman recalled that it was William H. Seward rather than Lincoln who ordered the seizure of Maryland’s legislators in 1861, that “the high-handed proceeding was the work of Mr. Seward, of his own mere motion, without the knowledge of Lincoln.” Seward later told a British official that the arrests had been made to influence coming Maryland elections as well. Frederick (below) was Seward’s son.

Lincoln & Seward’s Military Coup

“The Lincoln administration believed, according to Frederick Seward, that “a disunion majority” in the Maryland State house would pass an ordinance to withdraw from the Union in September 1861. Lincoln had resolved to keep that from happening. Seward recalled: “[The military was] instructed to carefully watch the movements of members of the [Maryland] Legislature . . . Loyal Union members would not be interfered with . . . but “disunion” members would be turned back toward their homes and would not reach Frederick City at all. The views of each member were well-known . . . so there would be little difficulty, as Mr. Lincoln remarked, in “separating the sheep from the goats.”

[Seward continued]: “When the time arrived . . . it was found that not only was no secession ordinance likely to be adopted, but that there seemed to be no Secessionists to present one. The two generals had carried out their instructions faithfully, and with tact and discretion . . . No ordinance was adopted, Baltimore remained quiet, and Maryland stayed in the Union.”

Many arrests of northerners at that time involved freedom of speech and freedom of the press with Seward’s State Department records citing “treasonable language, “Southern sympathizer,” secessionist” and “disloyalty” as standard reasons for arrest and confinement. Additionally, even more serious-sounding arrest reasons were vague and sometimes denoted offensive words rather than deeds: “aiding and abetting the enemy,” threatening Unionists,” or “inducing desertion,” for example. A man in Cincinnati was arrested for selling envelopes and stationery with Confederate mottoes printed on them.

When an old associate of Seward came to Washington to plead for the release of a political prisoner from Kentucky held in Fort Lafayette, the secretary of state readily admitted that no charges were on file against the prisoner. When asked whether he intended to keep citizens imprisoned against whom no charge had been made, Seward apparently answered: “I don’t care a d—n whether they are guilty or innocent. I saved Maryland by similar arrests, and so I mean to hold Kentucky.”

(The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. Mark E. Neely, Jr. Oxford University Press. 1991, pp. 15-16; 27-30)

The North’s War Against Free Trade

The unbridled pursuit of financial gain in America was no surprise to Englishmen and simply “a distasteful feature of democracy.” The British noted the widespread corruption in American political life and the rise of low men to power, while those better educated and unwilling to play the demagogue were not sought out. The British saw, especially in Northern States, an unwholesome tyranny of the democratic mob which eventually would break apart and replaced with an aristocracy or monarchy of better men.

The North’s War Against Free Trade

“The United States Senate, after fourteen Southern members had withdrawn (as their States had withdrawn from the United States), passed with a majority of eleven votes the almost prohibitive Morrill Tariff; the Confederate States adopted a constitution forbidding any tariff except for revenue – a denial, that is, of the principle of protection (for select industries).

From the economic point of view, which to some students of history is the only point of view, a major issue became perfectly clear. The North stood for protection, the South for free trade.

And for Englishmen . . . certain conclusions were obvious. “This [tariff] was the first use the North made of its victory [in the Senate]”, said one Englishman in a pamphlet . . .” The contrast between North and South was real and unambiguous, and so too were England’s free-trade convictions.

With those convictions and after these events, it was natural that many Englishmen . . . should readily embrace the theory of the South’s seceding because of economic oppression – since there had to be a reason for secession and both sides agreed that slavery was not the reason. As one of the ablest of the “Southern” Englishmen, James Spence, said, the South had long been convinced “that the Union was worked to the profit of the North and their own loss. [And] consider that the immediate cause of the revolt of those 13 colonies from this country was a duty of 3d. per pound on tea . . .”

The Confederate States were well aware of the appeal of economic facts. Their Secretary of State instructed James Mason on his mission to England to stress the free trade commitment of his government, as well as the British people’s “deep political and commercial interest in the establishment of the independence of the Confederate States.”

(The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy for the Southern Confederacy. Sheldon Vanauken. Regnery Gateway, 1989. pp. 48-49)

British Sympathy for American Independence

Though unofficial Southern support in England was evident through most of the war, by mid-1864 Lincoln’s unofficial alliance with the British-hating Czar along with coming Alabama claims caused postwar British official opinion to take a northward turn. The Russian sale of Alaska in 1867 was to ensure that it did not fall into British hands, and the victorious North threatened an invasion of Canada and seizure of Greenland with its 2-million-man army in blue. This would have been punishment for expressing Southern sympathy.

British Sympathy for American Independence

“But in the course of the war, between 1861 and 1865, James Mason, Confederate States Commissioner to England, wrote confidentially to his Secretary of State in Richmond, Virginia, that “there can be no mistake that with all classes in England which have an opinion, their entire sympathy is with us.”

Captain James Bulloch, C.S.N., wrote that “personal observation, confirmed by the testimony of every other agent of the Confederate States Government whose duties compelled him to reside in England . . . , convinced me that the great majority of the people in Gret Britain – at least among the classes a traveler, or a man of business, or a frequenter of the clubs, would be likely to meet – were on the Southern side.”

Lest this be supposed but Southern optimism, the United States Consul at Liverpool wrote: “It was evident from the commencement [of war] that the South . . . had the sympathy of the people of England . . . I speak now of the great mass of the English people.” Henry Adams, the son and secretary of the United States minister in London, wrote: “As for this country, the simple fact is that it is unanimously against us and becomes more firmly set every day.”

An English partisan of the North wrote to a member of the opposite camp about the Southern supporters: “I fear you do not overstate your constituency when you put it at three-fourths of educated Englishmen.”

After a debate in the House of Commons on recognition of the Confederacy, the Manchester Guardian said that the debate “should not be thought to have anything to do with the sentiments and sympathies of the English people, for these were entirely with the South.” The manager of The Times wrote to a strongly pro-Southern correspondent: “Your views are entirely in accordance with those of this paper & I believe of the majority in this country.” The pro-Northern Spectator said: “The educated million in England, with here and there an exception, have become unmistakably Southern.”

(The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy for the Southern Confederacy. Sheldon Vanauken. Regnery Gateway, 1989. pp. 1-2)

Lincoln’s Dark Days

Many European observers saw Lincoln’s early proclamation of September 1862 as simply imitating the actions of Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore eighty-six years earlier. In the face of “insurrection,” Dunmore demanded loyalty oaths from colonists while proclaiming African slaves “free.” A desperate Lincoln did the same.

Lincoln’s Dark Days

“The war had indeed approached a crisis in late July [1861]. There had been little encouraging news from the Western theater since April, when the victory at Shiloh had been followed by the occupation of New Orleans. These victories were disappointing in that they seemed to be leading nowhere. The high hopes accompanying McClellan’s advance up the peninsula below Richmond had been cruelly dashed.

Waiting for victories, [Lincoln’s] Cabinet received news in late August of the most humiliating defeat of the entire war. General John Pope allowed his army to be trapped at Manassas, Virginia, practically on the doorstep of the Capitol, between the armies of Longstreet and Jackson; it was hurled back toward Washington in a retreat that was actually a rout.

When the full impact of this latest disaster was at last known in the North, a real desperation gripped the public. “That we are in serious danger of being whipped cannot be denied” wrote Edward Atkinson, “and there is scarce a man now in Boston, who would not thank God to hear of a serious insurrection among the slaves, such a change has this disaster wrought.”

Dr. Milton Hawks, perhaps the most fanatical missionary at Port Royal [South Carolina], repeated his belief that, unless emancipation were the goal of the war, the South would establish her independence. “The greatest kindness that a man could do this government today,” he wrote furiously, “would be to assassinate Pres. Lincoln – He stands directly in the way.”

Lincoln’s course was mysterious to the general public [but after the dubious victory at Antietam], the President seized the slim occasion for his [preliminary emancipation] Proclamation . . .”

(Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment. Willie Lee Rose. Oxford University Press, 1964, pp. 184-185)

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

A review of the martial law imposed upon the island of Key West 1861-1865 was recently presented by a local college history teacher, and as a part of the North’s comprehensive military strategy during the Civil War. The audience was a local Civil War Roundtable (CWRT) group.

The lecturer noted the military takeover of the civilian government on the island in mid-January 1861 as the local commander, Capt. James Brannan surreptitiously barricaded his 44 men in the nearly completed Fort Zachary Taylor and turned its guns on the town. Overnight, the US military’s local friends and neighbors became an enemy to be treated with suspicion and contempt. Now fearing bombardment of their homes from the nearby fort, the residents became prisoners in their homes.

The reason cited for Brannan’s warlike action was overhearing “secession” talk among the residents as well as Florida’s recent decision to formally withdraw from the United States federation and become an independent State. Florida was to remain independent until it formally voted to join the Confederate States of America on April 22, 1861.

The arrival in March 1861 of more Northern troops increased armed patrols roaming the town and surveilling citizens. Arbitrary arrests were common, and Fort Taylor became an American bastille to hold prisoners of conscience. Locals, especially merchants with inventories to sell, sought favor with the military as willing informants, reporting on anyone complaining of military rule. Elected officials who disagreed with the military faced arrest and confinement, and new elections of approved candidates were held under armed supervision. Those considered “dangerous secessionists” were deported to the mainland.

What Capt. Brannan accomplished with his unilateral action, and unfortunately not pointed out by the lecturer, was to wage war against a State which is the very definition of treason in the US Constitution – Article III, Section 3. Though Brannan was applauded by his fellow officers and eventually promoted for his act, this does not absolve him of treason.

It was highly likely that Brannan was emulating Major Robert Anderson at Charleston as news of the Fort Sumter seizure could have reached him at Key West in early January. As Anderson suffered no adverse consequences for his fort seizure, Brannan perhaps saw a green light to do the same but should have been more circumspect as he certainly was aware that John Brown was hung in 1858 for waging war against Virginia – the crime being treason. Noteworthy is that Brown was tried and convicted in Virginia, where he committed his crime.

Though this speaker outlined how the island was placed under military rule, no adequate or honest discussion was provided regarding how or why military rule had suddenly materialized, how it was justified under American law, or who specifically ordered it. Martial law is generally considered to be the absence of law with arrests and detentions made at the discretion of the military commander, or those commanded by him. Missing was any explanation of how easily Northern commanders could ignore habeas corpus which was so deeply rooted in Anglo-American jurisprudence. But importantly, as Lincoln ignored the Constitution and approved the repressive actions of those like Brannan, it only encouraged more violations of the law.

The seizure of Fort Taylor came at the whim of a local military commander who was sworn to uphold the United States Constitution – and who should have clearly understood the definition of treason. Though simplistically following orders to protect the fort he was charged with commanding, the withdrawal of the State of Florida and its relationship with the United States government at Washington took precedence. After being officially advised of Florida’s decision to formally declare independence, and lacking any reason to remain on the island, which was no longer part of the United States, Capt. Brannan should have sought Florida officials to provide him with receipts for all equipment left behind before departing with his command. Though he likely would have been court-martialed for doing this, he would have been true to his oath to support the United States Constitution.

The above indicates that there is more than one viewpoint regarding this particular topic, and a more well-versed history teacher should have been able to present all credible perspectives beyond their own. In this particular case, the audience deserved a far better explanation of how military rule quickly overwhelmed a peaceful American town. The listeners were unfortunately left with a partial and limited view of this important and most revealing topic.

(For more information on this topic, see: “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here.” John Bernhard Thuersam – Shotwell Publishing and available on Amazon)

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