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Seward’s Hot Potato

Samuel Cutler Ward (1814-1884), known as the “King of the Lobby” due to his exemplary success at high-level political persuasion, was the brother of abolitionist Julia Ward, and served as an intermediary between William Seward and Confederate leaders before the war. Ward told Seward in 1862 that the Confederate leaders would not rejoin the Union as he saw in the South “a malignant hatred of the North which rendered” the destruction of the South necessary. Ward understood that “within two years they would have formed entangling free trade and free navigation treaties with Europe and a military power hostile to us.” Seward may have believed that peace might prevail, but Lincoln and his party’s extremists led the way to war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Seward’s Hot Potato

“Seward, who was to be Secretary of State, it had become definite, was in a quandary. As he saw the situation, he faced two necessities: one was to guide the inexperienced Lincoln in shaping the policies of the Administration; and the other was to convince his former associates in the Senate, who now headed the insurrectionary Confederacy in Montgomery, that Washington would initiate no hostilities against them, but would follow a policy of conciliation and friendship.

Seward wanted Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and the others to understand clearly that he would be the chief architect of Administration policy; and further, that they could rely on his assurance that this policy would be one of peace, not provocation. In this, of course, he spoke only for himself, but he was convinced that he would be able to shape Lincoln’s view of the situation; Lincoln, he reasoned, was unversed in statecraft, and would be grateful for expert leading by a thoroughly practiced Secretary of State.

Seward’s sincere conviction was that the problem of secession, like all other human disagreements, could be resolved by reasonable discussion among reasonable men. One wing of the Republican party was howling for the forcible suppression of “treason” in the South; this wing was led by Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and to them Seward’s conciliatory views were themselves barely removed from Treason, — if removed at all. For him to communicate directly with the men in Montgomery might be construed as “communicating with the enemy.”

If he were to communicate with them at all, he would have to work through an intermediary whom both he and Southern leaders could trust . . . [poet, politician and gourmet] Sam Ward.

When Lincoln slunk into Washington in a distressing pusillanimous manner (or so it seemed), supposedly to foil an assassination plot, Sam was disgusted.

Seward was juggling a hot potato tossed to him by three commissioners whom the Confederacy had sent to Washington to treat for the peaceable surrender of United States forts in Southern territory, principally Fort Sumter at Charleston, and Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida. The commissioners . . . were well-known to Sam . . . If [they] go back unacknowledged as [commissioners], President Davis cannot hold back the people from attacking the forts.

[Seward] kept stalling the Southern commissioners with excuses – pressure of patronage demands, the delays attendant [to] departmental routine, and such pretexts. He could not receive the commissioners without recognizing the government behind them; yet he did not wish to send them back to Montgomery in anger.”

(Sam Ward, “King of the Lobby,” Lately Thomas, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965, excerpts pp. 251-253)

The Cause of the Great Calamity

The following are excerpts from a letter sent to Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward by Associate Chief Justice John A. Campbell on April 13, 1861. Seward repeatedly led Campbell and the Confederate commissioners to believe his government would peacefully resolve the issue at Fort Sumter. One concludes from the letter that Lincoln deceived his own Secretary as to his intentions at Fort Sumter and setting the war in motion – as well as sending Ward Lamon to Charleston to ascertain South Carolina’s defenses. Many Southern Unionists pleaded with Lincoln’s to disarm the crisis by simply removing federal troops from Sumter, and letting time heal the breach.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Cause of the Great Calamity

“On the 15th of March [1861] I left with Judge Crawford, one of the [peace] commissioners of the Confederate States, a note in writing to the effect:

“I feel entire confidence that Fort Sumter will be evacuated in the next five days. This measure is felt as imposing great responsibility on the Administration. The substance of this statement I communicated to you the same evening by letter. Five days elapsed, and I called with a telegram from General [Pierre] Beauregard to the effect that Sumter was not evacuated, but that Major [Robert] Anderson was at work making repairs.

The 30th of March [1861] arrived, and at that time a telegram came from Governor [Francis] Pickens, inquiring concerning Colonel Lamon, whose visit to Charleston he supposed had a connection with the proposed evacuation of Fort Sumter . . .

On the first of April, I received from you the statement in writing: “I am satisfied the government will not undertake to supply For Sumter without giving notice to Governor Pickens.”

On April 7, I addressed to you a letter on the subject of alarm that the preparations by the government had created, and asked you if the assurances I had given were well-founded. In respect to Sumter your reply was: “Faith as to Sumter fully kept – wait and see.”

In this morning’s paper I read “an authorized messenger from President Lincoln informed Governor Pickens and General Beauregard that provisions will be sent to Fort Sumter peaceably, or otherwise by force.”

This was on [April 8th], at Charleston, the day following your last assurance, and this is the last evidence of the full faith I was to “wait for and see!” . . .

The commissioners who received those communications conclude they have been abused . . . I think no candid man who will read over what I have written, and consider for a moment what is going on at Fort Sumter, but will agree that the equivocating conduct of the administration . . . is the proximate cause of the great calamity.

On April 4, 1861, President [Jefferson] Davis authorized General Beauregard to take any action he deemed necessary about Fort Sumter. Beauregard opened negotiations for the surrender of the Fort, and Major Anderson promised to evacuate within a few days.

Under the pretense of relieving a starving garrison, [Lincoln] sent an expedition . . . “of eleven vessels, with two-hundred and eighty-five guns, and twenty-five hundred men. They were scheduled to arrive at Charleston on the ninth of April, but did not arrive until several days later. The reason Lincoln’s [war initiation] scheme did not work was a tempest, which delayed his fleet.”

Jefferson Davis did everything in his power to prevent civil strife, and the South cannot be blamed for the most terrible Civil War the world has ever witnessed. It is true they did fire the first shot, but the question is, which party first indicated the purpose of hostility? Which made the fatal menace; or which drew, rather than which delivered, the fire at Fort Sumter?

If Jefferson Davis signed the order for the reduction of the Fort, Abraham Lincoln had, before, signed the order to reinforce it.”

(Jefferson Davis, Patriot, a Biography, 1808-1865, Eric Langhein, Vantage Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 54-57)

“A Republican Smear Campaign”

The term “Copperhead” is commonly used to describe a pro-South Northerner during the War Between the States, though it is more accurately defined as Northern critics of Lincoln who opposed his unwarranted seizure of power and war against Americans in the South. In early May, 1863, Ohio politician Clement Vallandigham was arrested for referring to the president as “King Lincoln” and criticizing his policies. As he was deported to the South by Lincoln, Vallandigham declared himself loyal to the United States and encouraged Southern authorities to return to Union with the Northern States. In his “Limits of Dissent, Clement Vallandigham and the Civil War,” historian Frank L. Klement wrote then of “nationalist historians” who resist criticism of Lincoln and avoid critical analysis of Lincoln’s administration.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“A Republican Smear Campaign”

“Klement saw it as no laughing matter the way Vallandigham and other outspoken northern critics of the Lincoln administration were treated by the Northern government during the conflict, and by historians afterward.

To the very end of his career, Klement remained firmly entrenched in his belief that the alleged Copperhead threat in the North during the Civil War was little more than a Republican smear campaign, a smoke screen that the Northern government used to discredit harmless civilians who strongly opposed the Lincoln administration’s seemingly blatant disregard for civil liberties.

He took aim at those historians who for years had spat venom at any critic of the Lincoln administration . . . [and stated that] the academic world clung too tightly to the work of scholars who chose to further inflate the Lincoln legend. In 1952 Klement told the historical community that “nationalism as a force and apotheosis as a process have tempted writers to laud Abraham Lincoln and to denounce his enemies.”

In a reflective mood forty-two years later, his message remained unchanged . . . “Nationalist historians really praise that which has happened and glorify that which has happened. When you deal with Lincoln’s critics and the Copperheads and Democratic politicians, you’re going down a road that is not appreciated by nationalist historians.”

Rather than that of a Northerner who sympathized with the South during the Civil War, the definition of a Copperhead should, he believed, be changed to simply “a Democratic critic of the Lincoln administration,” which supported his contention that Copperheads were sectionalists by nature, not necessarily pro-Southern.

Mark E. Neely, Jr . . . recently prophesied that the reigning interpretations of the Civil War years are on the verge of breaking down “or at least of very considerable revision . . .” The new wave of revisionism . . . also extends into the areas relating to Lincoln’s Democratic critics. Klement anticipated this trend in 1984 when he alluded to himself in the third person by writing that “revisionists have challenged the contentions of earlier historians who believed the Civil War to be ordained, inevitable, and irrepressible.”

(The Limits of Dissent, Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War, Frank L. Klement, Fordham University Press, 1998, excerpt from preface)

Convincing Southerners of Republican Hostility

Lincoln’s only attempt at including a Southerner in his cabinet was sounding out North Carolinian and Congressman John Gilmer, who was “wary, mistrustful of Lincoln and reluctant to ally himself with an administration” opposed to the interests of his State and section. Conservatives feared that should Gilmer not accept, Lincoln would select radical hard-liner Montgomery Blair and add fuel to the sectional fire.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Convincing Southerners of Republican Hostility

“[Far from Fort Sumter] the president-elect was still at work composing his cabinet . . . [and] the impossibly tangled party considerations that continued to vex him. As [President James] Buchanan’s advisors planned their reinforcement expedition . . . Lincoln was committing the first major blunder of his administration. It began on Sunday, December 30 . . . when he met with that “greatest of Pennsylvania wirepullers,” Simon Cameron, about a place in the cabinet.

[Lincoln] knew it would be a controversial appointment. For one thing, Cameron’s easy movements from the [Democrats] to the Know Nothings to the Republicans had gained him a reputation as an unprincipled opportunist.

More damaging was the taint of corruption that surrounded him. Known to his critics as “the Great Winnebago Chief” for his mishandling of Indian funds in the 1830s, Cameron was also charged with manipulation elections and legislatures through bribery. Yet so many recommendations poured into Springfield that Lincoln could hardly see how not to appoint him.

It was one of the first important choices Lincoln had made for himself since the election, and he immediately had cause to regret foregoing his usual process of passing his decisions by [Lyman] Trumbull and [Hannibal] Hamlin . . . word of the selection [of Cameron] provoked a flood of outraged letters and visits from Republican leaders.

Displaying an indecision that was characteristic in those early months, Lincoln immediately reversed himself . . . [and] addressed a short, private note to Cameron rescinding his offer . . . [but] the imbroglio . . . exploded into what one historian has called “a mighty battle of Republican factions.” For the next several weeks Republican managers throughout the North appeared considerably more concerned with the patronage than with secession.

Placing [Salmon P.] Chase at the head of the Treasury Department [would reconcile] the powerful New York radicals to [William] Seward’s appointment [as Secretary of State].

[But] Lincoln was aware of the predicament of Southern unionists and the damage Republican rigidity [against compromise] might do to their cause. Nominating Chase, a long-acknowledged leader of the radicals, would give secessionists a powerful weapon in their fight to convince Southerners of Republican hostility.”

(Lincoln and the Decision for War, the Northern Response to Secession, Russell McClintock, UNC Press, 2008, excerpts pp. 123-125)

 

 

 

“Who Then is Responsible for the War?”

At war’s end, Southern Unionists who looked in vain for Northern compromise to avert war rightly expected fair treatment at Washington. They were disappointed as Radical policy was treatment of the South as “conquered territory to be plundered and exploited.” General Robert E. Lee had been swept along with Virginia in 1861 and viewed the Old South as dear as what existed in 1865. He wrote that “Never, for a moment, have I regretted my course in joining the Confederacy . . . If it were to do over again, I would do just as I did before.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Who Then is Responsible for the War?”

“Occasionally someone from the North would write and ask the General’s opinion about Southern affairs. [A former Illinois] Captain, having expressed feelings of kindness and friendship, asked General Lee to set forth the reasons which influenced him to take part with the Confederate States.

Lee replied that he had no other guide and no other object than the defense of those principles of American liberty upon which the constitutions of the several States were originally founded. “Unless they are strictly observed,” he added, “I fear there will be an end to republican government in this country.”

In this letter Lee showed a grasp of the situation. He felt he had no influence in national affairs and whatever was done must be accomplished by those who controlled the councils of the country. Only the Northern people themselves could exercise a beneficial influence.

[Lee did not view the right of secession as legitimate, and] admitted that the Southern people generally believed in the right, but, as for himself, he did not. [British historian Herbert C. Saunders wrote after interviewing Lee that] “This right he told me he always held a constitutional right . . . As to the policy of Secession on the part of the South, he was at first distinctly opposed to it and not until Lincoln issued a proclamation for 75,000 men to invade the South, which he deemed so clearly unconstitutional, that he had then no longer any doubt what course his loyalty to the Constitution and to his State required him to take.”

[A few months later], Lord Acton, wrote Lee and asked his opinion on the questions at issue. The General’s answer is comprehensive and abounds in historical references . . . It calls attention to the [secession] attitude of New England in 1814 and to the Harford Convention.

“The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution,” the Acton letter reads, “and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance of it. Virginia, to the last, made great effort to save the Union, and urged harmony and compromise.” After quoting [Stephen A.] Douglas, to the effect that the Southern members would have accepted the Crittenden Compromise, in order to avert civil strife, but that the Republican party refused this offer, the letter asks, “Who then is responsible for the war?”

(Robert E. Lee, a Biography, Robert W. Winston, William Morrow & Company, 1934, excerpts pp. 390-394)

The North Must Fall Under the Same Rule

Once the American States in the South were subdued and martial law instituted, the occupation forces wreaked havoc among the slowly-adjusting population, both white and black. At an 1866 Fourth of July observance in Atlanta, a resident wrote that “the occasion was observed only by the black population. They had a grand procession [though] a lot of drunken Yankee soldiers . . . attacked them, and there was a general row. No one was killed, but more than twenty shots were fired, and many were injured. There is a bitter feeling between the Negroes and the Yankees . . .”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

North Must Fall Under the Same Rule

“On April 30, 1865, news was received in Georgia through a dispatch from General (Joseph E.] Johnston to Governor [Joseph] Brown that hostilities against the United States had ceased. From Savannah and Macon as centers, military occupation was extended over the whole State during April, May and June.

Frequent broils occurred between soldiers and citizens, between Negroes and white soldiers and citizens and between white people and [US] colored troops. Garrisons where colored troops were established were centers for disturbance. And Negro soldiers everywhere, had a bad influence on the freedmen of the neighborhood, encouraging them in idleness and arousing in them a feeling of distrust or hostility to their white employers.

Discontent among the Federal soldiers themselves did not make matters more comfortable. White volunteers were restive, thought they ought to be immediately mustered out, and regular soldiers did not get along with colored troops.

General [Ulysses S.] Grant, after his tour of inspection in the South, reported to President [Andrew] Johnson, December 18, 1865, that the presence of black troops, lately slaves, demoralized labor by their advice and by furnishing resorts for freedmen for miles around, whereas white troops generally excited no opposition. Negro troops had to be kept in large enough numbers for their own defense.

Conditions were represented thus by a distinguished Georgian [N.G. Foster] in a letter to General Sherman on May 10:

“ . . . Almost daily our houses are entered and pilfered, and we meet at every turn the air or derision and defiance. Many of the farms were left overcrowded with helpless women and children, with a few old men. Now the [US] commander’s cavalry squads, stationed at various points in the country, permit the Negroes to take the plough stock from the farmer and swarm into their camps, and lounge about, abandoning all labor – Surely, whatever may be the final destiny of this people, they ought to be required to make a support – And the Negro girls for miles and miles are gathered to the [Federal] camps and debauched.

It is surely is not the wish of those persons who aim at an equality of colors to begin the experiment with a whole race of whores . . .

I have not conversed with a [Southern] soldier who had returned, that does not express a prefect willingness to abide the issue. They say they made the fight and were overpowered, and they submit. Nothing will again disturb the people but a sense of injustice . . . [but] No people who descended from Revolutionary fathers can be kept tamely in a state of subjugation. And if it becomes necessary to establish a military despotism [in the] South, any man with half an idea must see that the North must eventually fall under the same rule.”

(Reconstruction in Georgia, Economic, Social, Political, 1865-1872, C. Mildred Thompson, Columbia University, 1915, excerpts, pp. 132; 136-139)

Resisting New England’s Cultural Imperialism

The war was the result of a revolution in American politics as the Whigs disintegrated after the election of 1852 and the Democrats came apart in 1860 – resulting in the loss of the national spirit in the parties and the onset of purely political sectional opinion. The pattern of support for the new Republican Party in 1856 was a map of greater New England and new States colonized by the descendants of Puritan migration. Author David Hackett Fischer (below) writes of Lincoln: “On his father’s side, Lincoln was descended from New England Puritans who had intermarried with Pennsylvania Quakers and migrated to Appalachia and the Ohio Valley. He represented every regional components of the Republican coalition.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resisting New England’s Cultural Imperialism

“In defense of their different cultures, the two sections also fought differently. The armies of the North were at first very much like those of Fairfax in the English Civil War; gradually they became another New model Army, ruthless, methodical and efficient. The Army of Northern Virginia, important parts of it at least, consciously modeled itself upon the beau sabreurs of Prince Rupert. At the same time, the Confederate armies of the southwest marched into battle behind the cross of St. Andrew, and called themselves “Southrons” on the model of their border ancestors.

The events of the war itself radically transformed Northern attitudes toward Southern folkways. As casualty lists grew longer Northern war aims changed from an intention merely to resist the expansion of Southern culture to a determination to transform it. As this attitude spread through the Northern States the Civil War became a cultural revolution.

After the War . . . The Republican coalition dominated national politics by its electoral majorities in the north, and by military occupation in the South. Radical reconstruction was an attempt to impose by force the cultures of New England and the midlands upon the coastal and highland South. The Southern States were compelled to accept Yankee constitutions and Yankee judges, Yankee politics and Yankee politicians, Yankee schools and Yankee schoolma’ams, Yankee capitalists and a Yankee labor system.

The cultural revolution continued in some parts of the South until 1876. It succeeded for a time in modifying many Southern institutions . . . with the exception of slavery itself, most effects lasted only as long as they were supported by Northern bayonets. As long as the old folkways survived in the South, it was inevitable that the material and institutional order of Southern life would rapidly revive when Yankee soldiers went home.

After the elections of 1876 . . . Union troops were withdrawn. Yankee school systems were abolished; Yankee schoolma’ams were shipped back to New England; Yankee constitutions were rewritten. Despite talk of a “new South” after 1876, young Southerners (both white and black) continued to learn the old folkways.”

(Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 860-863)

 

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued his North Carolina Proclamation which made no provision for the extension of the vote to freedmen, and only those who voted before May 20, 1861 and who had taken the amnesty oath to the US government could take part in the constitutional convention. This enraged Radical Republicans and their supporters who saw permanent political hegemony over the South through black voters herded to the polls with Republican ballots in hand. Political opportunists rather than statesmen reigned in the North – led by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner –all who had little if any understanding of the intent of the Framers and their Constitution, or the proper orbits of States and the federal agent of strictly limited powers they had created in 1789.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ensuring Northern Political Hegemony

“At the time when the North Carolina Proclamation was issued, only six States in the North and West had granted suffrage to Negroes. Even in New York colored voters were required to own $250 worth of property as a condition of being permitted to register [to vote]. Lincoln had recognized provisional governments in Arkansas and Louisiana from which Negroes had been excluded as voters.

Logically, therefore, Johnson’s position [of following Lincoln’s example] was sound, and in conformity with the principle of States’ Rights in which he so ardently believed. His great mistake was in omitting to take into consideration the temper of the people of the North, who feared with some reason that the Southern States would return to Congress the same type of men they had elected before the War.

Such men, and their allies, the Northern and Western Democrats, might form a coalition strong enough to undo what the War had accomplished [for the Republican Party]. The enfranchisement of the Negro, for which they showed little enthusiasm at first, might at least change the balance of power in the South, and enable good Union men to be returned to Congress.

The Constitution of the United States had made no provision for secession . . . Johnson . . . had come to the conclusion that the Union had never been dissolved [and that secession] had been unconstitutional and ineffective. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania had repeatedly urged that the South be treated as a conquered nation. Charles Sumner [thought] the seceded States had “committed suicide” and no longer existed as legally organized governments. He had declared that it would be contrary to the Constitution to readmit these States on their prewar basis.

The right of the Negro to suffrage had in his opinion been won in the War, and to exclude them as voters in the South would be a betrayal of their cause and of the principles for which the war had been fought.”

(The Uncivil War: Washington During the Reconstruction, 1865-1878, James H. Whyte, Twayne Publishers, 1958, excerpts, pp. 45-47)

The Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy

American political theorist and historian Russell Kirk wrote that the Framers of the United States Constitution were gentlemen-politicians rather than philosophers, “whose perceptions of the human condition came from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.” Kirk contrasted these learned men who fought to preserve their British heritage with the arrogant French revolutionaries who were drunk on theories and revenge, who opened the way for a self-appointed emperor. The men of America’s natural aristocracy governed the Republic from 1775 to 1825 — their Republic afterward frayed and was pulling apart by 1830. By 1850, constituent States were speaking loudly of withdrawal, and by 1861 it had unraveled completely with an American dictator enthroned.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Men of America’s Natural Aristocracy

“Sometimes the Constitution of the United States is commended as if it had been created out of whole cloth, overnight, from the glowing imagination of the Framers. That notion is far from the truth. Sometimes the Framers themselves are spoken of with the veneration like that accorded to the Hebrew prophets or the mystical founders of Greek cities. But actually the Constitution grew out of centuries of practical experience on either side of the Atlantic, rather than springing from ingenious fine-spun innovating theory.

Truly the Constitution is a bundle of compromises among interests and classes: a principal merit of the Framers was their ready recognition of this electable fact. As Burke said of government generally, it is a contrivance of human wisdom to supply human wants. In the sagacious words of Daniel Boorstin, “The American future was never to be contained in a theory.”

The politicians who framed the Constitution were not an elite of theorists, but an assembly of governors, in the old signification of that word “governor.” They were representatives of a class, in every former colony, that had exercised authority almost from the early years of British settlement in North America; they were drawn from a natural aristocracy.

Experience, education, and wealth, passed on from generation to generation of Americans, tended to develop a continuity of public influence within leading families; while the relatively broad franchises that came to pass in most colonies nevertheless gave provincial and local government a democratic cast.

Broadly speaking, it was the body of men familiar with America’s provincial and local governments who made both the Revolution and the Constitution. This was a class that, far from intending any subversion of the social and moral order in America, took alarm at Shay’s Rebellion and so forged a strong Constitution.

Long participation in provincial and local public affairs shaped this American natural aristocracy; while the French revolutionaries, for the most part, were men previously excluded from any effective exercise of power, and so naïve in great questions of political policy.”

(The Essential Russell Kirk, Selected Essays, George A. Panichas, editor, ISI Books, 2007, excerpts, pp. 452-453)

 

The Twilight of the Confederacy

The infamous “Wilson Raid” into Alabama and the burning of Tuscaloosa in early April 1865 had no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the war, as by March the Southern Confederacy had been all but overrun and Lee was exhausted in Virginia. Opposing Wilson’s 14,000 well-armed and equipped troopers were Nathan Bedford Forrest’s ill-equipped and scattered cavalry numbering 5,000.

Chaplain Basil Manly of Alabama was the brother of Charles Manly, the last Whig governor of North Carolina and serving 1849 to 1851. The cruel act of destroying barns and farm implements as well as killing or carrying away livestock was intended to hasten the onset of starvation among Southern civilians.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Twilight of the Confederacy

“In the spring of 1865, the Yankees returned to Alabama. By this point, not even the South’s most feared cavalryman, Nathan Bedford Forrest, could stop the 14,000 Federal horsemen under Major General James H. Wilson. As Forrest tried to stay between the Yankees and Selma, Wilson ordered one of his subordinates . . . to take the city of Tuscaloosa, to divert some of the Confederates 6,000 troops.

[The enemy’s] 2,000 cavalrymen swept aside the few militiamen who tried to stop them, captured the town and, while pillaging the area “burned the buildings used for public purposes at the university,” including the library, from which only a few items were saved.

The Yankees also “took away all the horse and mules they could find. They camped in our streets, that night, and next morning they proceeded to burn the foundry and factory, the miter sheds, and the bridge across the river.”

The Federals left the city just ahead of the Confederate cavalry sent to intercept them, having successfully diverted Forrest, who was soon defeated by the twenty-seven-year-old Wilson. Wilson’s victory over the notorious Forrest would have made him a hero two years earlier, but was simply a mop-up operation in the spring of 1865.

On May 23, a “body of Yankees under Col. Marsh, which have been here about a week, took their departure. The soldiers “took all the good horses and mules they could get; without compensation. Corn, meat, etc., they took from private parties, at pleasure . . .” The Northern troops were said “to be from Illinois,” and [Basil] Manly had heard that “they took a Negro out, just before they left, who had stolen a [Northern] captain’s horse, etc., and shot him.”

In the spring of 1866, [North Carolina] Governor [Charles] Manly [1795-1871] wrote to a family friend, describing what had happened the year before. His plantation, Ingleside, [near Raleigh], to which he retired in the late 1850s, was destroyed by “Sherman’s Devils.” Coming onto the property, the Yankee troops “tore the House all to pieces, broke down the plastering and ceiling, all the doors and windows, stole all the furniture, all my books and papers and the old grain omnibus with all its contents – took every mule, horse, cow, sheep and poultry, all my corn fodder and hay, burnt up fences and destroyed [my] farming tools.”

Worse still, “a great part of this villainy was perpetrated after the surrender” of the Confederacy, but, as Governor Manly complained, “no redress could be obtained.”

(Chaplain of the Confederacy, Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, A. James Fuller, LSU Press, 2000, excerpts, pp. 304-306)

 

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