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The Unspoken Significance of Fort Fisher’s Fall in 1865

Fort Fisher, January 2017

This weekend the Fort Fisher historic site near Kure Beach, North Carolina observes the 152nd anniversary of the second Northern attack that succeeded in capturing the fort after a massive bombardment of 50,000 shells which killed or wounded 500 or so mostly-North Carolinians who fought valiantly from traverse to traverse before capitulating. Those taken prisoner by the enemy were shipped northward to frigid prisons in New Jersey and New York – the latter infamously referred to as a death camp.

Many people visiting Fort Fisher note that it can be an eerie experience – like walking the fields of Appomattox and sensing the death-knell of liberty and independence it is known for.

The State employees of the historic site will hold events of blue-clad troops splashing ashore to free North Carolinians from the yoke of independence and self-government, as well as waving the US flag from the top of captured cannon traverses. The red, white and blue flags of the North Carolinians will be minimized if shown at all. Rather than note that most of the defenders were North Carolina farmers from surrounding counties, the fort and media will refer to them as merely “Confederates.”

Often noted during these observances is the enemy soldier who fell out of ranks to visit his mother’s home — as his brother was fighting to defend his country in a grey uniform.  And few seem to comprehend that this wayward North Carolinian in blue is the very definition of treason, of aiding, abetting and going over to the enemy.

Also, what is usually not discussed at events like this are the sectional differences of that era and multitude of reasons why the South was invaded, and the important aftermath of that battle for the fort. What really happened in mid-January 152 years ago was the ending of an American struggle for freedom and independence, the consent of the governed to rule themselves, and the equivalent of Washington surrendering to British forces at Yorktown.

What happened after the fort fell is very important to remember, especially as one looks at the blue-clad reenactors splashing ashore waving their flag on what was then foreign soil to them. What was their true purpose?

After the fort was overwhelmed and silenced, the 10,000-man enemy army marched toward Wilmington in two columns and after some spirited skirmishes, captured the city, imposed martial law, seized private property, and forced citizens to swear allegiance to a foreign government in order to conduct their businesses.

When the enemy departed Wilmington, they moved to join other enemy forces coming into North Carolina from South Carolina and from occupied New Bern. At Bentonville the combined enemy outnumbered Southern forces 4 to 1 — who fought them to a standstill – they then moved on to capture Raleigh, arrest and imprison the governor, and impose military rule on North Carolina. Think of the French capitulation to Germany in 1940.

After the surrender of Southern forces in May, 1865 at Bennett Place, the “reconstruction” of the South lasted until 1877 – some say it never ended — though without armies and without as much gunfire. North Carolina endured rule by a new State constitution imported by a military consul appointed from Washington, and corrupt local men who sought employment with the late enemy. The new imported constitution settled the secession issue for good by stating that North Carolina will never again seek independence or political freedom from the United States Government.

Understandably, July 4, 1865 in occupied Wilmington was a muted affair, celebrated only by locals collaborating with the enemy and newly-freed blacks who were unaware that they had only changed masters.  Blue-clad sentries still patrolled the streets to ensure the rebellion did not re-ignite; then came the vultures known as “carpetbaggers.”

Former Governor Zebulon Vance described the aftermath of war in North Carolina in 1890:

“The carnival of corruption and fraud, the trampling down of decency, the rioting in the overthrow of the traditions of a proud people, the chaos of hell on earth which took place beggars the descriptive powers of plain history . . . I believe a committee of Congress, who took some testimony on this subject, estimated in 1871 the amount of plunder which was extracted from the Southern people in about 5 short years — some $300 millions of dollars in the shape of increased debt alone, to say nothing of the indirect damage inflicted by the many ways of corruption and misrule which cannot be estimated in money.”

The fall of Fort Fisher and ultimate surrender at Bennett Place led to the carnival of corruption that Vance illuminated. We should remember what occurred at Fort Fisher in mid-January 1865 for what it was and what it led to — the ending of an American struggle for freedom and independence, the consent of the governed to rule themselves. This is the sad fact that we should observe, and be cognizant of when gazing at the great earthen fortress.

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

The Spirit of Hate in Rochester

The vigilante justice of lynching was not confined to the South as is commonly believed, and race relations in the North, before and after the war, were seldom harmonious.  Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass thought his home in New York was surrounded by the spirit of Klansmen, perhaps attracted by his prewar militant activities which had brought on a war that claimed many Northern lives. Douglass fled to Canada after the State of Virginia wanted him extradited to stand trial as an accessory to John Brown; Brown met with Douglass prior to Harper’s Ferry.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Spirit of Hate in Rochester

“After his Rochester, New York, home was burned to the ground by incendiary on June 1, 1872, Frederick Douglass expressed his anger in his weekly New National Era: “Was it for plunder, or was it for spite? One thing I do know and that is, while Rochester is among the most liberal of Northern cities, and its people are among the most humane and highly civilized, it nevertheless has its full share of the Ku-Klux spirit . . . It is the spirit of hate, the spirit of murder.”

Race relations were often contentious in Rochester due in part to Douglass’s strong civil rights voice. By 1870, although Rochester’s African-American population was minute – just 427 out of a total population of 62,386 – racial tension, especially over employment, prompted concern by whites.

On Saturday, December 30, 1871, the [Rochester Daily] Union’s third edition published the city’s first report of the rape of an eight-year-old German girl by a black man after she had returned from a church event. News of the crime “spread like wild fire” after the child was returned to her parents. She had been brutally beaten but described her attacker to the police who began a frantic search for him.

Early Monday morning officers arrested William Edward Howard, and he was identified as the rapist by the girl at her home. Her father later “apologized to [a] reporter for not having killed the Negro when he was in the house.” Howard was not a stranger to the city’s police. In early 1871, he was arrested for voting illegally, and he served six months in jail. At the time of his arrest for rape, there was a warrant for his arrest for stealing from a local German woman.

Douglass’s son, Charles, who worked with his father on New National Era, wrote to his father on January 20: “That Howard boy was in my company in the 5th Cavalry. He came to the regiment as a [paid] substitute, and asked to be in my Co. I had to tie him up by the thumbs quite often. His offence was stealing.”

Outside the jail an agitated mob assembled . . . composed mainly of Germans, was intent on taking the law into its own hands, and the jail became Howard’s fortress. The [Rochester Daily] Union’s reportage was most descriptive: “Threats were made to lynch him and matters looked serious . . . four or five hundred people in the assemblage . . . [and cries of] “kill the nigger, give us the nigger” were loud and frequent.” [Judge R. Darwin Smith pronounced] “The sentence of the Court is that you be confined to Auburn State Prison for the period of twenty years at hard labor. The law formerly punished your crime with death.”

At the prison entrance, Howard turned toward [an angry crowd of several hundred men] and with his free hand placed his thumb on his nose and waved his fingers to mock them. Once in jail, Howard renounced his guilty plea, and professed his innocence.”

(The Spirit of Hate and Frederick Douglass, Richard H. White, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2000, pp. 41-47)

Ohio Bounties Stimulate Enlistments

There was only one “flush of patriotic enthusiasm” in the North after the war began, and Gen. Halleck advised Lincoln in early 1862 that enlistments had virtually ceased and few new volunteers were to be had. A new system of procuring troops was needed, and conscription was contemplated. States, cities and counties feared losing local men to the threatened draft, and therefore raised exorbitant amounts to buy substitutes and anyone who would take the money to fill Lincoln’s troop quotas. As the war wore on, higher bounties had to be offered to attract men.

Ohio’s Governor William Dennison reminded his constituents in mid-May 1861 that the federal government “offers a bounty of one hundred dollars to all who may enlist, payable at the close of service, or to the soldier’s family, if he should not survive.” Dennison was a Whig and Republican like Lincoln, with the latter rewarding him with the cabinet post of Postmaster General.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ohio Bounties Stimulate Enlistments

“An act of May 1, 1861, exempted from execution the property of any soldier in the militia of Ohio mustered into the service of the United States during the time he was in service, and fro two months thereafter. In February, 1862, the general assembly sought to protect citizen-soldiers charged with criminal offenses by providing that judges should postpone their trials until they were discharged. Still later, in March 1864, certain relief was given to debtors in the armed services who might have judgement rendered against them without defense . . .

After the first flush of patriotic enthusiasm had passed, one of the strong inducements to enlistment was a financial one – a bounty, and, at a later date, the advance of the first month’s pay. During the Civil War, bounties came from three sources – the federal government, local government units, and private subscription. (In Ohio there was no bounty offered directly from State funds.)

Indeed, as the provost marshal wrote, the federal bounty paled into “comparative insignificance” when compared to “the exorbitant bounties paid in advance by local authorities.” These, he believed, were the most mischievous in encouraging desertion, bounty-jumping and other evils connected with the system.

So great was the stigma of the draft that local authorities were highly competitive in the amounts offered to volunteers. Furthermore, they paid all the sum in advance. The primary objective of these payments, as [Provost Marshal] General [James B.] Fry put it, came to be “to obtain men to fill quotas.”

Localities began by offering moderate bounties. In 1862 the average local bounty in Ohio was estimated at $25; in 1863 in advanced to $100; in 1864 it bounded to $400; and in 1865 the average bounty was $500, although in some localities it was as high as $800.

The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners levied a tax of two mills in 1863 to take care of local bounty payments. The next year (1864), however, the city of Cincinnati began to borrow in order to offer city bounty payments, and during the year 1,811 volunteers were paid bounties of $100 each.

After the war the adjutant general of Ohio estimated that $54,457,575 had been paid in local bounties throughout the State, of which amount cities and counties paid about $14,000,000 and private subscribers, $40,457,575.”

(Relief for Soldiers’ Families in Ohio During the Civil War, Joseph E. Holliday; Ohio History, July 1962, Volume 71, Number 2, James H. Rodabaugh, editor, excerpts, pp. 98-100)

Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse

Sherman’s army occupied Savannah in late December, 1864 after Gen. William J. Hardee had evacuated his troops into South Carolina. Offshore and awaiting the occupation of the city by Sherman were US Treasury agents and others anxious to seize bales of cotton and other valuables for government or personal enrichment. In addition, presidential-aspirant Edwin M. Stanton presciently coveted the Negro vote in the South as Grant eventually did, and pretended concern for their future.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grabbing Pennies Off the Southern Corpse

“In making the rounds of the city [in late December, 1864, Sherman] was irritated to find that an agent of the [US] Treasury had arrived in the city ahead of him and seized a large stock of cotton there, estimated at 25,000 bales, later found to amount to 31,000 bales.

His chief annoyance . . . was from outside meddlers, agents from the North, the forerunners of the pestiferous army of carpetbaggers that swarmed into the South in the next few months and years. Some were sincere and fervent, but narrow-minded, zealots determined to impose salvation as decreed by the abolitionists upon the Negroes; many were greedy and unconscionable rascals bent upon seizing political power and grabbing the pennies off the Southern corpse.

[Sherman] . . . divined the developing purpose of the Radicals in Congress. It became apparent in the attitude suggested in hints let out here and there by the chief of the northern agents who descended upon Savannah while Sherman was there.

This was none other than Secretary of War Stanton, who hurried down by boat at the first opportunity to look the ground over. Stanton was fussy about many things, peeking here and there, prying, asking questions, seemingly deeply concerned about the Negro and his future, but in reality carefully measuring the political potentialities in this Southern tragedy, thus foretelling his action, a few months later, in joining the Radicals openly in their desperate and vicious Reconstruction program.

Sherman was most resentful when Stanton revealed his intention to quiz the Negroes about [Sherman’s] own policies . . . [and] witnesses upheld Sherman also in the firm policy he had adopted against recruiting Negroes for his army by State agents who rushed into Savannah and were trying to enlist Negroes right and left.

[Sherman] did not want to enlist any Negro soldiers, not only because of the bother of handling such unseasoned troops, but also because he had smarted under the taunts of Confederate General [John B.] Hood at Atlanta to the effect that the North had to use the South’s own Negro slaves to defeat the Confederacy.”

(The Savannah, More Than the Story of a River, Thomas L. Stokes, University of Georgia Press, 1951, excerpt, pp. 285-288)

 

Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy

Longtime-Democrat and early critic of Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, was appointed attorney general during the cabinet crisis by President James Buchanan in December 1860, though at the same time hobnobbing with Charles Sumner and other influential radical Republicans. As noted below, Stanton saw Negro emancipation as a weapon of war rather than a humanitarian policy — in truth a copy of British Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation of 1775, and British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s similar edict in 1814. All were aimed at inciting race war, denying the South its agricultural workers, and attracting black soldiers to be military laborers or cannon fodder.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy

“Crusades, like politics, sometimes make strange bedfellows. Few antislavery Radicals in 1860 would have guessed that a member of Buchanan’s cabinet, an outspoken critic of Lincoln and the Republican Party, would become, by 1862, a valuable and enthusiastic ally. But then, few men ever were ingenious enough to predict the course Edwin M. Stanton might follow from one day to the next. Even today it is difficult to assess the degree of Stanton’s Radical Republicanism.

Although he had been a Democrat since his college days and had served in a Democratic cabinet . . . He was in complete sympathy the Radical’s demands for a vigorous prosecution of the war and for the emancipation and military employment of Negro slaves. Yet, he never committed himself clearly to the economic program of the Republican Party: the high tariff, the Homestead Act, national banking, and a sound currency.

Though he used the considerable power of the War Department to aid Republican candidates in wartime elections, he used it also to benefit War Democrats, many of whom could never quite believe that he had really deserted the old party.

Stanton, then, was a true Union man, a partisan of any politician who believed, as he did, that the Southern Confederacy was a conspiracy of traitors and that total war was necessary to destroy it. In his hands, emancipation and the military use of Negroes became weapons of war.

Seldom did he consider the long-term implications of the war; his concern centered on the immediate task of defeating the Confederacy with every means at hand. But he had the prescience enough to realize that emancipation, though it would eliminate the problem of slavery, would at the same time create the problem of the freed Negroes. Impetuous and forceful, Stanton could not sympathize with Lincoln’s cautious approach to the problem.

[Horace Greely prophetically predicted that under Stanton], “no General or other officer of the army will more than once return a fugitive slave.” [Stanton’s predecessor, Simon Cameron in his final report stated:] “Can we afford to send them forward to their masters to be by them armed against us, or used in producing supplies to sustain the rebellion?”

Stanton recognized in the Radicals the strongest single bloc in Congress, a group to be cultivated and respected [as they had] worked hard to put him in the War Department.

It was [then] easy for the Radicals to demand publicly a war policy which would include emancipation and the military use of freed Negroes. [General David Hunter was rebuked by Lincoln for arming Negroes and Stanton publicly denied any responsibility, but] General Hunter’s subordinates charged later that Stanton had expressly authorized the action and that he had furnished guns and uniforms for the troops.

In spite of the Hunter affair, and without the President’s consent, he had tolerated isolated instances of using Negroes as soldiers . . . and few obstacles impeded the secretary’s policy of enlisting and arming the fugitives. The entire structure of slavery, he believed, could be transformed from a bulwark of the South agricultural economy into a weapon on which to impale its defenders.

“The power of the rebels rests upon their peculiar system of labor,” he insisted, and it was the duty of the Union to strike down that system, to “turn against the rebels the productive power that upholds the insurrection.” Next to the armed might of the Union, he considered the Emancipation Proclamation, with its military implications, the strongest weapon in the Northern arsenal.”

(Blueprint for Radical Reconstruction, John G. Sproat, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXIII, Number 1, February 1957, excerpts, pp. 25-29, 31-33)

 

Unproductive Republican Economic Policies

April, 1865 witnessed the victory of Northern industrial capitalism over the conservative, agrarian South – no longer could Southern statesmen restrain the North in the halls of Congress. Post-1865 America saw the rise of corporations, the completion of Manifest Destiny and near-extermination of the Indians, and the gilded age of “evil robber barons.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Unproductive Republican Economic Policies

“Historians have tended to treat the Civil War as a boon to industry and the American economy. Thomas C. Cochrane cites several prominent historians . . . who variously praised the impact of the conflict on wartime production and its stimulating effect on postwar economic and industrial development.

Cochrane . . . examined statistical data on industrial production and found that, in general, there was not a strong case for a positive impact and that the war had a retarding effect on industry and the economy. Cochrane also found little support for the claims of beneficial effects of the Civil War on postwar development. He concludes with this speculation:

“From most standpoints the Civil War was a national disaster, but Americans like to see their history in terms of optimism and progress. Perhaps the war was put in a perspective suited to the culture by seeing it as good because in addition to achieving freedom for the Negro it brought about industrial progress.”

[Charles and Mary] Beard’s claim that the Civil War was a spur to industry and the rise of the American economy is based on the lasses-faire philosophy of the Republican Party and its success in implementing its major policy goals, such as subsidies to the intercontinental railroads, the establishment of a national currency and the protective tariff.

The Republican’s economic philosophy was not truly laissez-fair. In fact, their policy agenda was the opposite . . . in that it advocated special treatment for big business and a much larger role for the federal government. This can be seen in Republican policies to subsidize railroads, provide protective tariffs [for select private industries], and increase government debt and government control over money and banking as well as in their attitude toward labor.

Their policies [of tariffs and subsidies] . . . are now considered economically wasteful . . . and considered nothing more than special interests seeking a handout from the taxpayer through the government. [That Republican policies were productive] ignores the negative effects on the agriculture, service and cultural sectors. The Republicans’ policy would be better labelled as mercantilist in that it facilitated rent-seeking behavior.

Capital diverted to railroad building would surely have been put to good use elsewhere in the economy . . . [and] Moreover, had railroads not been highly subsidized, a better built, lower cost, and more timely system could have been put in place.

Tariffs were a centerpiece of Republican policy. They reversed a relatively free-trade policy . . . [and] protectionism forced consumers to pay higher prices for both imported and domestically produced goods protected by the tariff – that is, they purchased fewer of these products, used less desirable substitutes, and had a lower standard of living.

On net, the losses to consumers and the overall economy are greater than the gains to the protected producers and the tax revenue that accrues to the government.”

(Tariffs, Blockades and Inflation, the Economics of the Civil War; Mark Thornton and Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., Scholarly Resources Books, 2004, excerpts, pp. 84-87)

Our Inhuman Foe

Though Northern General David Birney was born in Alabama, his Kentucky abolitionist father moved the family to Philadelphia where he was educated and indoctrinated. A thoroughly political general who rose through the ranks by self-promotion and connections, his career was dotted with discipline issues and courts martial. He was described as a “pale, Puritanical figure, with a demeanor of unmovable coldness . . .” He ordered the indiscriminate bombardment of women, children and old men in mid-1864 Petersburg, which offered no military targets.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Our Inhuman Foe

“The war against the civilian population of the Cockade City began in earnest on June 16. The 10th Massachusetts Battery took an advanced position near the Hare House Hill, from which, one artilleryman later recalled, the “spires of Petersburg were now in full view, though distant, perhaps, two miles.”

Two days of bitter fighting remained before the Union leaders would admit failure in their attempt to storm Petersburg, but the targeting of noncombatants did not wait that long. “By order of Gen. Birney we gave our pieces ample elevation and fired the first shots known to have been thrown into the city,” cannoneer John D. Billings noted.

“What a night was the last,” Fanny Waddell wrote the next morning. “Our inhuman foe without a single warning opened their guns upon us, shelling a city full of defenseless women, children and old men.” The bombardment that began on June 16 lasted well into the early hours of June 17.

“I lay quietly until nearly one o’clock listening the bursting of the shells when one exploded so near that the light flashed in my face,” Mrs. Waddell recollected. Ah! The bitterness of that night will never pass from our hearts and memories.”

The correspondent for the Savannah Republican reported on June 19 that a “number of shells have exploded in the streets [of Petersburg], but thus far only eleven persons have been hurt, including one old Negro woman killed.”

An officer visiting Petersburg shortly after this report was filed thought that everything seemed “exceedingly depressing. The streets were almost deserted, and the destructive work of the shells was visible on every hand. Here a chimney was knocked off, here a handsome residence was deserted, with great rents in its walls, and the windows shattered by explosion; here stood a church tower mutilated, the church yard filled with new-made graves.”

Large numbers of civilians fled the Petersburg battle zone within days of Grant’s approach. James Albright, a Virginia artilleryman, wrote in his diary on June 20, “The vandals are still throwing shells into the city, and it is very distressing to see the poor women and children leaving. It is hard on all; but to see the poor women with the children on one arm and their little budgets on the other seeking a safe place – is enough to move the hardest heart.”

The civilian exodus was accelerated by rumors that the Yankees planned to celebrate the Fourth of July with “a furious bombardment of the City.” Another Petersburg diarist noted that during one bombardment “pieces of shell [were] rattling like hail about our house.” There were so many burning structures that one Southern artilleryman angrily declared that the “Yankees appear[ed] to be throwing incendiary shells into the city – as some five buildings were on fire at the same time.”

At least one Union battery did use Petersburg to test its homemade incendiary shells. These were concocted by Major Jacob Roemer and thrown into the city in late July, doing “a great deal of damage there.” Another heavy Union bombardment on July 28 started a number of blazes, all noted by Union observers.

To add to the fire hazard, the Union artillery would concentrate its shelling on the burning structures, so that the air around the men battling the flames would be filled with a “perfect storm of shot and shell.”

(The Last Citadel, Petersburg, Virginia, June 1864-April 1865, Noah Andre Trudeau, Little, Brown and Company, 1991, excerpts pp. 91-92; 95-96)

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

Illinois politician Stephen A. Douglas thought the solution to the sectional divide in 1860 was finding compromise with Republicans through amendments to the Constitution. Douglas’s Senate speech in early 1861 listed three eventualities he saw ahead, and knew the last would end the union – as Alexander Hamilton presciently observed many years earlier. Formerly a man of compromise, after Fort Sumter, Douglas implored Lincoln to raise “thrice as many” volunteers, despite his witnessing the subjugation of Americans and the end of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

“In a speech in the Senate, March 15, 1861, Mr. Douglas had reduced the situation to the following three alternative points:

  1. The Restoration and Preservation of the Union by such Amendments to the Constitution as will insure domestic tranquility, safety and equality of all the States, and thus restore peace, unity and fraternity to the whole country.
  2. A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union by recognizing the Independence of such States as refuse to remain in the Union without such Constitutional Amendments, and the establishment of a liberal system of commercial and social intercourse with them by treaties of commerce and amity.
  3. War, with a view to the subjugation and military occupation of those States which have Seceded or may Secede from the Union.”

As a thorough Union man, he could never have agreed to “A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union.” On the other hand he was equally averse to War, because he held that “War is Disunion. War is final, eternal separation.” Hence all his energies and talents were given to carrying out his first-stated line of policy.”

(The Great Conspiracy, John A. Logan, A.R. Hart & Company, 1886, excerpt, pg. 271)

Striving to Maintain the Union

The departure of Southern States from the fraternal Union came as no surprise to many, and those like Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia forecast disunion to President James Buchanan if he would not end his warfare with Stephen Douglas. Noting the refusal of Republicans to compromise and not wanting to return to Congress to witness the death of the Union, Stephens returned Georgia to await the unfolding events.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Striving to Maintain the Union

“The [Cincinnati] speech was intended as a solemn warning not only to his constituents and people of the South, but the whole country, that in his opinion the peace and prosperity of the country depended upon a strict and inflexible adherence to the principles of the adjustment measures of 1850 upon the subject of slavery, as carried out and expressed in the Democratic Baltimore platform of 1852, with the additional plank inserted in the Cincinnati Convention of 1856.

It was well known then that Mr. Stephens had serious apprehensions that those principles would be departed from in the next Democratic Convention to be held in Charleston the following year. It was also known that he did not finally determine to withdraw from Congress until after a personal interview with Mr. [James] Buchanan, in which he had urged the President to cease his warfare against Mr. [Stephen] Douglas, and the support of the paper known as his organ in Washington in insisting upon the insertion of a new plank in the next Convention, asserting it to be the duty of Congress to pass acts to protect slavery in the Territories, and not to leave that subject, as the Cincinnati platform had done, with the people of the Territories.

Mr. Stephens most urgently urged the President that if he continued to pursue the line of policy he was then following there would be a burst-up at Charleston, and with that burst-up of the Union – temporary or permanent – “as certainly as he would break his neck if he sprang from that window” [of the reception-room at the White house, in which they were conversing] “or as the sun would set that night.”

Mr. Buchanan seemed surprised at this opinion, but was unshaken in his determination to adhere to the policy he was then following. Mr. Stephens, in taking leave, told the President that his object in seeking the interview was to know if his purpose was as stated, and if that was so, his own intention was, not to be allowed to return to the next Congress.

He had spent sixteen years of life in striving to maintain the Union upon the principles of the Constitution; this he thought could be done for many years to come upon the principles set forth in the Cincinnati platform. The Government administered on these principles he thought the best in the world; but if it was departed from, he saw nothing but ruin ahead. He did not wish to be in at the death; but if disunion should come in consequence of this departure, he should go with the people of his own State.

Another fact connected with the retirement of Mr. Stephens from Congress may be noted here. When leaving Washington, with a number of other Southern members, on the beautiful morning of the 5th of March, 1859, he stood at the stern of the boat for some minutes, gazing back at the Capitol, when someone jocularly said, “I suppose you are thinking of coming back to those halls as a Senator.” (It was known that he had announced his intention not to return as a Representative.)

Mr. Stephens replied, with some emotion, “No; I never expect to see Washington again, unless I am brought here as a prisoner of war.” This was literally fulfilled in the latter part of October 1865, when he passed through Washington on his way to his home as a paroled prisoner from Fort Warren.”

(Life of Alexander H. Stephens, R.M. Johnston & W.H. Brown, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1883, excerpts, pp. 347-348)

 

 

Subjugating Rebellion into Loyalty

Not recognizing the withdrawal of States from the voluntary Union in 1861, English-born Sen. Edward D. Baker of Oregon responds below to former Vice President and then-Senator John Breckenridge of Kentucky. Baker reportedly appeared in the Senate that day in the uniform of a Northern colonel, riding whip and saber in hand, claiming that secession was rebellion and that South Carolina was to be subjugated into loyalty. This, ironically from a man born in England, was what George III attempted some 85 years earlier.  Baker was mortally wounded at Ball’s Bluff in October 1861.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Subjugating Rebellion into Loyalty

“The senator from Kentucky stands up here in a manly way in opposition to what he sees is the overwhelming sentiment of the Senate, and utters reproof, malediction, and prediction combined. Well sir, it is not every prediction that is prophesy.

I confess Mr. President, that I would not have predicted three weeks ago the disasters which have overtaken our arms; and I do not think [if I were to predict now] that six months hence the senator will indulge in the same tone of prediction which is his favorite key now. I would ask him what would you have us do now — a Confederate army within twenty miles of us, advancing, or threatening to advance, to overwhelm your government; to shake the pillars of the Union; to bring it down around your head in ruins if you stay here?

Are we to stop and talk about an uprising sentiment in the north against the war? Is it not the manly part to go on as we have begun, to raise money, and levy armies, to organize them, to prepare to advance; when we do advance, to regulate that advance by all the laws and regulations that civilization and humanity will allow in time of battle? To talk to us about stopping is idle; we will never stop. Will the senator yield to rebellion? Will he shrink from armed insurrection? Will his State justify it? Shall we send a flag of truce?

When we subjugate South Carolina, what shall we do? We shall compel its obedience to the Constitution of the United States; that is all. Why play upon words? We do not mean, we have never said, any more. If it be slavery that men should obey the Constitution their fathers fought for, let it be so.

We propose to subjugate rebellion into loyalty; we propose to subjugate insurrection into peace; we propose to subjugate Confederate anarchy into constitutional Union liberty. When the Confederate armies are scattered; when their leaders are banished from power; when the people return to a late repentant sense of the wrong they have done to a government they never felt but benignancy and blessing — then the Constitution made for us all will be felt by all, like the descending rains from heaven which bless all alike.

Sir, how can we retreat? What will become of constitutional government? What will become of public liberty? What of past glories? What of future hopes? No sir; a thousand times no, sir! We will rally . . . we will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country. They will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure.”

(Edward D. Baker, Senate speech of August 1, 1861. The World’s Famous Orations, W.J. Bryan, editor, Funk & Wagnall’s, 1906, pp. 3-8)

 

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