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Prosperity Through Armaments

To underscore the following excerpts, author George Thayer states that “We live in an age of weapons. Never before in the history of mankind have weapons of war been so dominant a concern as they have been since 1945.” Thayer writes that after the second war to end all wars, the US “had given away $48.5 billion worth of arms and military supplies to 48 nations.” One of these was the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin, who Roosevelt had armed to the teeth and who immediately became the US’s postwar primary adversary.

Prosperity Through Armaments

“In the twenty-four years since 1945, there have been fifty-five wars of significant size, duration and intensity throughout the world. This means that mankind faces a new and violent conflict somewhere in the world slightly more often than once every five months, any one of which is capable of provoking a holocaust.

If one adds to this total all the coups, large-scale riots and clashes of unorganized, low-order violence, then the total of postwar cases of armed conflict that have had significant impact on the course of history would number in excess of fifteen score – more than one per month.

Today we are far along the way to losing our sense of proportion, for by any definition many of these wars have been quite large. For instance, bombing tonnage in the Korean War exceeded all the tonnage dropped by the Allies in the Pacific Theater of World War II. In the “small” six-day Sinai War of 1967, more tanks were committed to battle than by the Germans, Italians and Allies together at the crucial twelve-day battle of El Alamein in 1942. And from July 1965 to December 1967, more bomb tonnage was dropped on Vietnam than was dropped by the Allies on Europe during all of World War II.

Consider some of the political consequences that today’s arms trade have produced:

The fall of Germany’s Erhard government in 1966 can be blamed in large part on Bonn’s purchases of American military equipment which it could not afford and did not need.

The cancellation of the Skybolt missile by the United States in 1962 was one of the contributing factors that led to Prime Minister MacMillan’s resignation in 1963.

The Pakistan-India War of 1965, in which American equipment was used on both sides, produced two results adverse to United States interests: it forced Pakistan to take a more neutral position in world affairs, and it forced India to consider manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Had there been no large infusion of American weapons into the area (ostensibly as a defense against communism), the war would not have taken place.”

(The War Business: The International Trade in Armaments, George Thayer, Simon and Schuster, 1969, excerpts pp. 17-21)

Jul 5, 2020 - Carnage, Lincoln's Revolutionary Legacy, Sherman's Legacy, Targeting Civilians, Uncategorized    Comments Off on “Now I Am Become Death”

“Now I Am Become Death”

Only hours after the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December 1941, US naval commanders in the Pacific were ordered to “execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against the Japanese.” This, ironically, is the very policy which brought the US into the First World War, though it would not be until September 1943 that US submarines in wolf packs would decimate Japan’s shipping. Also, Claire Chennault of “Flying Tigers” fame was urging the firebombing of Japan’s cities well before Pearl Harbor. General Curtis LeMay, architect of the firebombing of Japanese cities, commented after Hiroshima that he thought the nuclear bomb unnecessary as nothing of military value remained to be bombed. It was purely of terror value.

“Now I am Become Death”

“Americans had entered the war violently opposed to the bombing of civilians, and during the campaign in Europe had generally opposed British terror bombing in favor of the costly but less indiscriminate technique of daylight “precision” air raids.  [With the order of 7 December], this changed in principle almost immediately in the Pacific.

Even a month prior to Pearl Harbor, George Marshall had instructed aides to develop contingency plans for “general incendiary attacks to burn up the wood and paper structures of the densely populated Japanese cities.”  

Three years later, with the arrival of the very long-range B-29 heavy bomber, the M-47 and M-69 napalm bombs, and General Curtis LeMay to command the Twentieth Air Force, these plans came to fruition.

On the night of 9 March 1945, 334 B-29s armed only with incendiaries would attack Tokyo at low levels, and in the ensuing fires 267,000 buildings would burn and over eighty-three thousand people would die. Japanese air defense against such night attacks was almost nonexistent, nor would it improve. By June, over 40 percent of Japan’s six most industrial cities had been gutted and millions dehoused.  Yet the Americans had a better way.

It is clear that the primary motive for the program was fear that Nazi Germany would develop nuclear weapons first. However, Ronald Powaski points out that, as early as November 1944, American officials were aware that Germany had no viable nuclear program, and the surrender in May 1945 made this a certainty. Despite this, work on the Manhattan Project not only continued but accelerated.

No one considered the Japanese a threat to develop a bomb. Rather, the bomb was being built to be used. On 1 June President Truman accepted recommendations that it be dropped on Japan as soon as possible – “without specific warning,” he recalled in his memoirs. “When you deal with a beast,” Truman wrote several days after, “you have to treat him like a beast.”

Less than a month earlier, the bomb’s chief designer, J. Robert Oppenheimer, as he watched its first test, remembered some lines from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds; waiting the hour that ripens to their doom.”

(Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons and Aggression, Robert L. O’Connell, Oxford University Press, 1989, excerpt pp. 293-295)

Locked in a Bloodbath

Lincoln’s stated goal in waging war against the South was to maintain the territorial union of States within the 1787 Constitution, which Southern States had withdrawn from. The South established its own union, sending commissioners to Washington to arrange a settlement of funds due that government and a treaty of peace between the two countries.  Lincoln’s refused to see the commissioners and secretly sent an armed expedition to reinforce Fort Sumter, by then a useless fortification as it was within South Carolina’s sovereign territory – and explicitly constructed with funds from all States for South Carolina’s protection.

Even if Lincoln reasoned that South Carolina could not withdraw from the 1787 union and it remained within, waging war against a State was treason as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.

Locked in a Bloodbath

“Soon after hostilities began, the Model 1861 Springfield rifle, capable of killing fire at a thousand yards, would become standard issue for Union infantry, while Confederate troops were being equipped with small arms equally as good. The result was mass slaughter.

In eight of the first twelve big battles, Confederates assumed the tactical offensive, and lost ninety-seven thousand men in doing so. Altogether, the South suffered 175,000 battle casualties in the first twenty-seven months of fighting, a figure somewhat higher than the entire Confederate military establishment in 1861.

[Grant accumulated] sixty-four thousand casualties during the three months of his sledgehammer Wilderness campaign and taking as the major sign of his victory, in late May 1864, the fact that a battle with Lee’s troops “outside of entrenchments cannot be had.”

Yet the Confederates would remain unbeaten inside their trenches for almost a year more. And, in fact, a better indication of the true tactical situation was the spectacle of Union troops pinning their names to their uniforms shortly before the notorious frontal assault on Confederate positions at Cold Harbor on 3 June so that their corpses might be better identified after the battle.

Unlike their officers, foot soldiers drew an altogether more practical, if less heroic, conclusion as to the tactical significance of new weaponry, and sought cover and defensible positions whenever possible. Thus, by mid-1863 both sides were becoming addicted to trenches . . .

As far as they went, field fortifications were an entirely correct solution to the revolution in small arms, the long-range rifle having roughly tripled the advantage of defense over offense by putting attacking troops under deadly fire almost from the moment they became visible.  Yet trenches also prefaced a very static and inconclusive sort of war, as the siege of Richmond-Petersburg indicated. Thus at some point it became necessary for troops to physically overcome opposing trenches.

Cavalry, on the other hand, was deeply and permanently undermined. The fate of the saber charge was epitomized by the deaths of one Major Keenan and his adjutant, who jointly led a column of the Eighth Pennsylvania Horse in a desperate advance against Stonewall Jackson’s victorious infantry at Chancellorsville. Not only did the charge fail miserably, but after the battle the bodies of Keenan and his adjutant were found to have thirteen and nine bullet wounds, respectively.”

 (Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons and Aggression, Robert L. O’Connell, Oxford University Press, 1989, excerpts pp. 197-199)

Barbarous Pillaging

In early February, 1865, Captain J.J. Dickison’s 145 Florida cavalrymen struck 400 black and white federal raiders at Station Number Four – forcing them to retreat toward Cedar Keys after a sharp three-hour engagement.  The next month a thousand-man Northern invasion force arrived at St. Marks, forcing Floridians to hastily organize a defense force of student cadets from the State Seminary, old men and a few companies of regular troops.  The ensuing battle at Natural Bridge, a Southern victory, was practically the closing conflict of the war in Florida. Capt. Dickison was known as Florida’s “Swamp Fox,” earning his name for swift and unexpected strikes against the enemy, as did Francis Marion of earlier fame. 

Barbarous Pillaging

“Forts Barrancas and Pickens were the only points in Florida west of the St. Johns which were held permanently [by Northern forces] after 1862.  Six miles from Barrancas is Pensacola. The town then was under federal guns. A force varying from 1,800 to 3,000 men was in garrison at Barrancas [and] the commandant was Brigadier-General Alexander Asboth, a native Hungarian who had served under Kossuth in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

With him were several Slav and Magyar comrades in arms – younger men than he – who held commissions in the federal army. Three of them were popularly reputed to be the nephews of Louis Kossuth. A portion of Asboth’s force was black, recruited partly from Negroes in the vicinity.

When not engaged in the barbarous practice of pillaging, Asboth was an urbane, pleasant fellow with a great love for flowers and a keen interest in dogs and fine horses. He and his fellow Hungarians were hated, dreaded and condemned by the country people of that section [for being “furreners”, Yankees”.  Certainly Barrancas proved a thorn in the side of West Florida. From it, as from Jacksonville, raiders went forth to lay waste the exhausted country.

[From July 21-25 1864], General Asboth advances from Barrancas at the head of 1,100 men – blacks and whites. [His] ultimate goal is Baldwin County, Alabama, where spies report opportunity to profitably raid, burn and cut-off the small detachments of Confederate troops guarding the country. After a show of resistance . . . [Asboth] retires to Barrancas.

[From July 20-29], An expedition of 400 men from the 2nd US Colored Infantry and 2nd [US] Florida Cavalry [lands at St. Andrews bay], march forty-four miles into the interior, burn two bridges, one large grist mill, eighty bales of cotton, and a quantity of stores, and gathering up 115 Negroes and a few horses, they return to the coast.  They encounter no armed opposition.

[Sept. 23], they surprise the village of Eucheanna, plundering homes, gathering up horses and mules, and making prisoners of fifteen private citizens. From Euchaeana, the raiding column heads for Jackson County. Preparations are made at Marianna for resistance . . . Old men and boys are armed with what weapons they can secure – shot-guns and squirrel rifles. There about 300 old men and boys await the arrival of the federal column.

The raiders . . . sweep aside the barricade with artillery and follow this with a determined charge of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. The Confederate force breaks up . . . Some take refuge in the Episcopal church . . . and continue the fight from its windows. A torch is thrown against the church . . . It takes fire. As its occupants rush from the burning building they are shot down and fall amid the gravestones of the churchyard. Some of the boys are burned to death in the church.

Marianna is plundered. That night the federal column quits Marianna on its return march to Pensacola. The prisoners and moveable booty are carried along.

(The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, W.W. Davis, Columbia University, 1913, excerpts pp. 307-312)

Apr 29, 2020 - Antebellum Realities, Carnage    Comments Off on Lieutenant Grant’s Lesson at Palo Alto

Lieutenant Grant’s Lesson at Palo Alto

The Battle of Palo Alto in early May 1846 demonstrated to a young Lieutenant Ulysses Grant the effectiveness of mobile light artillery used to great effect against an opponent of near equal strength. During the 1861-1865 war and with virtual unlimited troops, artillery and supplies, Grant was mostly ineffective against an opponent of greatly inferior numbers who most often employed captured artillery and supplies against him. Robert E. Lee can certainly be faulted for not sufficiently fearing the king of battle’s massed effect at Malvern Hill and Gettysburg.

Lieutenant Grant’s Lesson at Palo Alto

“[At the Battle of Palo Alto], Taylor fought his artillery in line with and sometimes in front of his infantry, the practice sanctioned since 1800. Those small brass 6-pounders and small cast-iron 12- and 18-pounders look like children’s toys nowadays, but Lieutenant Grant saw that they were “a formidable armament.” They outranged the Mexican artillery, whose feebly glancing solid shot came up so slowly that one could step over them, and as for Mexican flintlock muskets, “at the distance of a few hundred yards a man might fire at you all day without your finding it out.”

In his first engagement Lieutenant Grant had a happy moment of command when his captain made a reconnoissance and a happier one when he captured a colonel in braid and buttons. But he also got the first chapter of a lesson that was to sink deep.

So far as the Americans were concerned, Palo Alto was almost entirely an artillery action. Colonel Childs, Major Ringgold, and Captain Duncan maneuvered their batteries as if they were platoons of cavalry and fired them almost as if they were pocket pistols. All afternoon they took at least an eight for one toll from the Mexicans, who could never get near them.

So a function had been found for “light artillery” and Lieutenant Grant had learned about fire power. In four years of the Civil War he only twice forgot the superiority of metal to human flesh. He imparted the lesson to William Tecumseh Sherman, and a great part of the defeat of the Confederate States of America was inflicted in the muggy Mexican sun on May 8, 1846.

For the far more brilliant Lee, who had as much chance as Grant to learn the lesson, never learned it. He remained confident that the courage of the Southern infantryman could prevail against the Northern barrage and sent them against it too often – at Gettysburg pushing the best part of his army against a semi-circle of guns that unhurriedly went on shooting them down as they came.

There is no reproach in that fact: the texts show that a full year of the first World War had passed, and half a million men had been killed in their tracks, before any commander learned about the power of massed fire what Ulysses Grant, whose campaigns all of them studied, learned in the six hours of Palo Alto.”

(The Year of Decision: 1846, Bernard DeVoto, Little, Brown and Company, 1943, excerpts pp. 194-195)

The Enemy the People

Both Generals George B. McClellan and John Pope considered each other incompetent: the former was a Democrat and therefore despised by Lincoln’s Radicals; Pope was a Republican and fawned upon by the same Radicals. Pope was dismissed after Second Manassas and achieved infamy in Minnesota with Sioux uprisings and the mass execution of 38 warriors – at Lincoln’s direction. Lincoln seemed unable to comprehend that those he called “the enemy” in the South were Americans, and tried to instill this in his commanders as they suppressed the American independence movement in the South. John Hay was one of Lincoln’s three personal secretaries. 

The Enemy the People

“Stanton railed against his former friend, McClellan. The man did nothing but send whining dispatches, complaints and excuses while flatly denying General Halleck’s orders to advance. At that point, Hay observed, both Stanton and Lincoln put their faith in General Pope.

Optimism prevailed in the White House at the end of the day [during the battle of Second Manassas], “and we went to bed expecting glad tidings at sunrise.”

But the next morning at eight o’clock, while Hay was dressing, a hollow-eyed, despondent Mr. Lincoln knocked at his bedroom door. “John!” he called . . . “Well John, we are whipped again, I am afraid. The enemy reinforced on Pope and drove back his left wing and he has retired to Centreville where he says he will be able to hold his men.”

As the day wore on, bringing more details of the defeat, Hay observed that Lincoln was just as defiant as he was disappointed. He kept repeating the phrase: “We must hurt this enemy before it gets away.” Church bells tolled over the city – a death knell.

The next morning it was pouring rain. Ambulances slogged through the mud with their burden of wounded and dying men on their way to Armory Square, Judiciary Square, Campbell Hospital, and thirty other military clinics recently set up around the city.

But when Hay acknowledged “the bad look of things,” Lincoln would hear no more of such talk. “Mr. Hay, we must whip these people now. Pope must fight them, if they are too strong for him he can gradually retire to these fortifications . . . if we are really whipped and to be whipped we may as well stop fighting.” Hay credited Lincoln’s “indomitable will, that army movements have been characterized by such energy and clarity for the last few days.” The President would not give in to despair.

[To Hay] it seemed impossible . . . [that McClellan] could write to the president proposing that “Pope be allowed to get out if his own scrape his own way.” A total of 1,724 Federal soldiers had died at the Second [Manassas], and 8,372 had lost arms, legs, eyes or had been otherwise mutilated by bullets or bayonets so as to be of no use to the army or anyone else for some time, if ever.”

(Lincoln’s Men: The President and His Private Secretaries, Daniel Mark Epstein, HarperCollins, 2009, excerpts pp. 119-122)

General Scott’s Fearful Foreboding

General Winfield Scott’s (1786-1866) view of peacefully allowing the American South pursue independence aligns with that of Thomas Jefferson’s regarding State sovereignty and newer States formed out of Louisiana.

In a letter to John C. Breckinridge in August 1803, Jefferson wrote: “[We] see their happiness in the union, and we wish it. Events may prove otherwise . . . God bless [both old and new States], and keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.”

Scott’s war cost estimates below were very low. The direct financial cost of the war’s operation was about $8 billion, which, eventually increased to $30 billion factoring in the destruction of property, derangement of the labor power, the Northern pension system and other economic losses. In human cost: one soldier, North and South, died for every six slaves freed and for every ten white Southerners saved for Lincoln’s union.

In addition, “The money spent to field the two armies would have purchased the liberty of the four million slaves five times over. (Tombee, Portrait of a Cotton Planter, Theodore Rosengarten, Morrow & Company, 1986, page 212.)

General Scott’s Fearful Forebodings

“[Scott’s] opinion on the 3rd of March [1861 was sent by letter] to Secretary [William] Seward. In this he exclaims: “Conquer the seceded [cotton] States by invading armies. No doubt this might be done in two or three years by a young and able general – a Wolfe, a Dessaix, a Hoche, with three hundred thousand disciplined men, estimating a third for garrisons, the loss of yet a greater number by skirmishes, sieges, battles and Southern fevers.

The destruction of life and property on the other side would be frightful, however perfect the moral disciple of the invaders. The conquest completed, at that enormous waste of human life to the North and the Northwest, with at least $250,000,000 added thereto, and cui bono [who benefits]?

Fifteen devastated provinces! [Not] to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations by heavy garrisons, at an expense quadruple the net duties or taxes it would be possible to extort from them, followed by a protector or emperor.” In view of these fearful forebodings, we are not surprised that he should have despaired of the Union, and been willing to say to the cotton States, “Wayward sisters, depart in peace.”

Nor that he should have fallen back on his opinion in the “Views” (29 October 1860), that “a smaller evil [than such a civil war] would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into new Confederacies.” [Scott] advises Mr. Lincoln’s administration “to throw off the old [sectional Republican party] and assume a new designation – the Union party; adopt the conciliatory measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden, or the Peace Convention, and my life upon it, we shall have no new cases of secession, but, on the contrary, an early return of many if not all of the States which have already broken off from the Union.”

(Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion, James Buchanan, D. Appleton and Company, 1866, excerpts pp. 172-173)

Apr 8, 2019 - Carnage, Costs of War, Memorials to the Past, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on The Absolute Edge of No Return

The Absolute Edge of No Return

Though referred to as a defeat below, the end of the third day at Gettysburg left 3155 Northern men and 3903 Southern men dead – the latter higher due to massed assaults. On the fourth day, the Northern commander remained behind his entrenchments, made no effort to attack, and ordered only his cavalry out to ascertain his adversary’s movements.

During his foray into Pennsylvania, Lee had drawn Northern troops away from Richmond, sent fear into the North with his invasion, resupplied his troops in a fertile region, and allowed the Shenandoah a peaceful respite.

The Absolute Edge of No Return

“Toward the end of his long life, the Confederate General James Longstreet is supposed to have visited the town of Oxford, Mississippi, where his sister lived and where his uncle, the Judge Longstreet of the “Georgia Scenes,” had once resided. It was after Longstreet’s extended dispute with other former Confederate leaders over the responsibility for the defeat at Gettysburg, and so when a small boy came up to the old man and asked him: “General, what happened to you at Gettysburg?” Longstreet almost suffered a stroke then and there. The name of the small boy, the story goes, was William Faulkner.

The episode almost certainly never took place. Longstreet’s biographer places it in 1898, when Faulkner was one year old, and not even William Faulkner would have displayed such precocity as that. It probably happened in Chicago, not Oxford, and if anyone asked such a question of Longstreet, it was Faulkner’s longtime friend, Phil Stone. The anecdote recalls a passage from Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust.” Lawyer Gavin Stevens is talking to his young nephew, Chick Mallison:

“It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that afternoon in July, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out, and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably, and his sword in the other looking up the hill looking for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance . . . And that moment doesn’t even need a fourteen year-old boy to think — This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble . . . This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world’s roaring rim.”

(Regionalism and the Southern Literary Renascence, Louis D. Rubin, Jr.; The South and the Sectional Image: The Sectional Theme Since Reconstruction, Dewey W. Grantham, Jr., editor, Harper & Row, 1967, excerpts pp. 146-147)

Early Militia in British America

For most of the eighteenth century, New York was second only to Charleston in slave population. By 1737, one if five New Yorkers were black; “between 1700 and 1774, the British imported between 6800 and 7400 Africans to the colony of New York. It was cheaper for New York slave traders to import directly from Africa . . .” (Slavery in New York, Berlin/Harris, pg. 61).

Slave insurrection was a constant menace as the British continued to import forced labor to work the colony. In late March 1712, New York and Westchester militia swept the Manhattan woods in search of 40 or 50 black men and women who had killed nine white people and wounded six more in an insurrection. “More than seventy enslaved men and women were eventually taken into custody, and forty-three were brought to trial by jury. Twenty-five were convicted, of whom twenty were hanged and three burned at the stake, one roasted in slow torment for eight hours” (pg. 78).

Early Militia in British America

“New England towns were more scattered than Chesapeake farms, but each town had the capacity for armed resistance that was lacking in an individual plantation. A town could bear the burden of a military draft and still hope to maintain itself from attack, while the loss of a man or two from a single, remote household often meant choosing between abandonment and destruction.

New England promised its soldiers plunder in the form of scalp bounties, profits from the sale of Indian slaves, and postwar land grants . . . But there remains an important difference: the clustering of manpower and the cohesive atmosphere in the town community gave New England greater military strength.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the principal threat to the British colonies was changing. Europeans – French and Spanish – became the main danger. Virginia found itself so little troubled by the new threat, and her Indian enemies so weak, that militia virtually ceased to exist there for about half a century, a time when a handful of semi-professional rangers could watch the frontier.

During the same period, the frontier of Massachusetts was under sporadic attack by French-supported Indians. [Carolina] occupied the post of danger against Spain. The Carolina militia came from the country to repulse a Spanish attack on Charleston in 1706, and it rallied – with some help from North Carolina and Virginia – to save the colony during the Yamassee War in 1715 . . . [when] four hundred Negroes helped six hundred white men defeat the Indians.

But as the ratio of slaves to whites rapidly increased, and especially after a serious slave insurrection in 1739, Carolinians no longer dared arm Negroes; in fact, they hardly dared leave their plantations in time of emergency.

The British government tried to fill the gap, first by organizing Georgia as an all-white military buffer, then by sending a regiment of regulars with Oglethorpe in 1740. But increasingly, the South Carolina militia became an agency to control the slaves, and less an effective means of defense.”

(A People Numerous & Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, John Shy, University of Michigan Press, 1990, excerpts pp. 34-37)

Immigrants, Riots and Cannon Fodder

For five bloody days in mid-July 1863, armed mobs of draft resisters, mostly immigrants, fought on New York City streets against enforcement of Lincoln’s conscription law – what began as a simple demonstration on July 13 devolved into wholesale destruction of property and life – 120 black people were killed and many fled the city in fear of their lives. This carnage was the result of Lincoln’s insatiable need for troops, as volunteers were coming to the end of their enlistments, horrifying news came from the front, and the State drafts of 1862 met with widespread evasion. Also unpopular was Lincoln’s new war aim of freeing slaves. 

To combat the rioters, nearly ten thousand Northern troops and artillery units were brought in from Gettysburg to patrol the streets.

Immigrants, Riots and Cannon Fodder

“[The] film [Gangs of New York] gives a glimpse of the rather nasty nativism among Northerners, a great many of whom hated Catholics and immigrants as much or more than they hated Southerners. None of the above fit into the Yankee ideal of true Americanism. Nativist gangs burnt down convents in Philadelphia and Boston when such things were never dreamt of in the South.

The film can open the door to another dirty little secret. We have heard a lot about immigrant criminal gangs. The fact that vigilante law prevailed over much of the North during the War has been conveniently forgotten. Besides the thousands of his critics Lincoln jailed without due process, thousands more were killed, injured, intimidated, and run out of town by proto-fascist gangs of Republican bully boys called “Wide Awakes.” They played a major role in making sure Northern elections turned out right, i.e., Republicans won.

The “riots” did not start out as race pogroms, though they degenerated into that. They started out as organized civic resistance to the draft, encouraged by the Democratic State government. Everyone knew that the Lincolnites enforced the draft at a much higher rate in areas that opposed them than they did in friendly areas – according to forthcoming studies by the New York playwright and historian John Chodes, the draft was imposed at four times the rate for Massachusetts. And the conscripts were well aware that they stood a good chance of being used up as cannon-fodder by Republicans who knew if they lost four men for every Southerner killed they would still end up on top, as long as the immigrant flow kept up.

About a fourth of the total enrollment of Lincoln’s armies were immigrants, many of whom were brought over and paid bounties for enlisting. The situation was so bad that the Pope sent one of his most persuasive priestly orators to Ireland to warn the people about being used up for Union cannon fodder.

Perhaps we can begin to recognize the historical fact that millions of Northern citizens did not willingly go along with Lincoln’s War. And the opponents were not limited to the New York City draft rioters.

The truth is that Lincoln’s party did not save the Union and the Constitution. It was a Jacobin party that seized power and revolutionized the North as well as conquering the South. The Gangs of New York can perhaps open a window that will encourage further historical discovery along these lines.”

(Scorcese’s Gangs of New York; Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, excerpts pp. 220-221)

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