Browsing "Myth of Saving the Union"

Postwar Gospel of Pecuniary Success

The United States of 1868 was unrecognizable to someone returning to this country after a ten year absence – the Founders’ republic had been replaced by a virtual military dictatorship of one-party rule, government informants and a nouveau-rich class of corporations and congressmen.  The adminstration of Grant — enabled by the military subjugation of the American South, enfranchising illiterates while disenfranchising literates, and fraudulent Republican regimes governing defeated States — became the first such in American history known for rampant corruption, vote-buying and outright incompetency.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Postwar Gospel of Pecuniary Success

“The great omnipresence during this pivotal decade [1860-1870] in American thought was, of course, the Civil War and its aftermath. In that crucible were produced not merely a new South but a new nation. Said Henry Adams, referring to his return to American soil in 1868: “Had they been Tyrian traders of the year B.C. 1000, landing from a galley fresh from Gibraltar, they could hardly have been stranger on the shore of a world, so changed from what it had been ten years before.”

The cataclysm had compressed a profound economic upheaval into a few short years; it had introduced almost overnight the vast complexities of an industrial society; it had bred up a new race of entrepreneurs who acknowledged no morality but pecuniary success. The nation had been brought to a point of ethical exhaustion.

“The old idealism had been burnt away, the hopes of the patriot fathers, the youthful and generous dreams of the early republic. The war, with its fearful tension, draining the national vitality, had left the mind of the people morally flabby.”

The effect of the war . . . was not only to waste away the old democratic values of American life, but to raise up new gods and new ideals in their vacated places. The new capitalism required a gospel of assertion as well as of negation; its position would not be secure if it rested only on moral indifference: it needed discipleship.”

(American Conservatism, In the Age of Enterprise, 1865-1910, Robert Green McCloskey, Harper, 1951, pp. 100-101)

 

No Full-Blown Yankee Heroes

The belief that the Northern soldier fought for the emancipation of the black man is a long-standing myth and coupled with the parallel myth that Lincoln saved the Union. The army of occupation brought an alien culture to the South which looted farms and left destitute American women and children without food or the means to survive.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Full-Blown Yankee Heroes

[Diary Entry] June 5, Monday [1865]:

“A Yankee came this morning before breakfast and took one of father’s mules out of the plow. He showed an order from “Marse” Abraham and said he would bring the mule back, but of course we never expect to see it again. I peeped through the blinds, and such a looking creature, I thought, would be quite capable of burning Columbia. [Northern] Capt. Schaeffer . . . He not only will not descend to associate with Negroes himself, but tries to keep his men from doing it, and when runaways come to town, he either has them thrashed and sent back home, or put to work on the streets and made to earn their rations.

People are so outraged at the indecent behavior going on in our midst that many good Christians have absented themselves from the Communion Table because they say they don’t feel fit to go there while such bitter hatred as they feel towards the Yankees has a place in their hearts. The Methodists have a revival meeting going on, and last night one of our soldier boys went up to be prayed for, and a Yankee went right up after and knelt at his side. The Reb was so overcome with emotion that he didn’t know a Yankee was kneeling beside him . . . Some of the boys who were there told me they were sorry to see a good Confederate going to heaven in such bad company.”

[Diary Entry] June 6, Tuesday:

Strange to say the Yankee brought back father’s mule that was taken yesterday — which Garnett says is pretty good evidence that it wasn’t worth stealing.

They are making a great ado in their Northern newspapers, about the “robbing of the Virginia banks by the Confederates” but not a word is said in their public prints about the $300,000 they stole from the bank at Greenville, S.C., not the thousands they have taken in spoils from private houses, as well as the banks, since these angels of peace descended upon us. They have everything their own way now, and can tell what tales they please on us, but justice will come yet. Time brings its revenges, though it may move but slowly.

Some future Motley or Macaulay will tell the truth about our cause, and some unborn Walter Scott will spread the halo of romance around it. In all the poems and romances that shall be written about this war, I prophesy that the heroes will all be rebels, or if Yankees, from some loyal Southern State. The bare idea of a full-blown Yankee hero or heroine is preposterous. They made no sacrifices, they suffered no loss, and there is nothing on their side to call up scenes of pathos or heroism.

(The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, Eliza Frances Andrews, D. Appleton, 1908, pp. 287-290)

God Will Protect Us; God Will Take Care of Us

William Henry Belk was a child of three in 1865 when his father Abel was murdered by Sherman’s bummers, leaving his mother Sarah not only a widow but with three babies and several Negro hands to feed and clothe. The industrious William would be working his first job in Monroe, North Carolina at age fourteen, and at twenty-six had started his own business which eventually spread to every State in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

God Will Protect Us; God Will Take Care of Us

“Across more than four-fifths of a century of incredible change William Henry Belk remembers the day his father left home to escape the advancing Federals. It was 1865, and the Confederacy was dragging wearily into its last days. The South was almost prostrate now; even Sarah Walkup Belk’s beloved Waxhaw country, the country of Andrew Jackson, the gallant William Richardson Davie, and her own Wauchope family, lay under the heel and torch of Sherman.

This Federal general . . . was moving north after his march to the sea, pillaging and burning and slaughtering, and in the path of his troops, in the border region between South Carolina and North Carolina, lay the modest home of Abel Washington Belk.

If young Belk, whose weak lungs had prevented his joining the Confederate army, should be found at home, the Belk’s feared that Sherman’s men would steal his property, burn the house, and possibly hang him. If he should leave and hide out with some of the Negroes and the valuables that could be removed, the Yankee marauders might spare the house . . . over the heads of a defenseless young woman and her three babies.

So he loaded up the wagons and took some of the Negroes and they went down to Gill’s Creek some fifteen miles east of Lancaster, South Carolina . . . refugeeing on the creek down there until the Yankees had got out of the country. And it wasn’t long before the Yankees caught a fellow . . . who figured he’d save his own hide and get in their good graces by turning up my grandfather, old man Tom Belk. This scoundrel told them that my grandfather had barrels of gold hid out at his mine . . . .

But old Sherman’s men didn’t come by our house . . . [and] caught my father instead of my grandfather. They asked him where the gold was hid out. He told them he didn’t know. But they thought he was just trying to save his gold. So they took him down to the creek . . . and held him by the feet and pushed his head down under the water.

Then they’d jerk him up and ask again where the gold was. When he’d tell them he didn’t know – which he didn’t – they’d push him down again. That went on several times. His weak lungs couldn’t stand it. I reckon they just filled with water . . . But they did drown him . . . on Gill’s Creek.”

A letter which was written by Henry Belk’s uncle to Sarah Walkup Belk was her first news of the tragedy. It read as follows: “Sister Sarah, I have sad news to tell you. Abel, your husband and my brother, is I suppose no more. He is not found as we know but there is a certain person buried about one and a half miles below here, in Graham’s field, who I suppose is Abel. His clothes were like those that Abel had on [and] Abel’s little mule is lying dead on the road not far from where the man was drowned. [signed] Herron.”

It was a cheerless, somber day when Sarah Walkup Belk turned away from the red mound in old Shiloh graveyard. But even darker were the thoughts that threatened to crush her, for everywhere she seemed to sense the very presence of death.

Beyond the stones of the graveyard . . . lay fields bare and brown and dead, and there was little promise anywhere that the resurrection of spring would provide adequate crops. The Confederacy, too, she knew, was at its death and tired hungry hopeless men could no longer stem the rush of advancing hordes from the north.

And now her husband was dead. What would she do now? Where would she turn? How could she make a living for herself and her three babies? How actually to find enough food?

She went back to her farm and organized what poor efforts she could command. She found food and clothing for herself, her babies and the Negroes. She managed to provide security in those perilous days, joy even and much love. And always she taught her children. Sometimes it seemed that doubt and despair would engulf her. Always when the darkness was heaviest the pinpoint of a star broke through. She held to her faith. And she worked.

When the days were darkest she would repeat over and over again and in staunch faith the prayer and prophecy of that day when without knowing it she had waved her last good-bye to her young husband: “God will protect us; God will take care of us.”

(William Henry Belk, Merchant of the South, LeGette Blythe, UNC Press, 1950, pp. 3-8)

Georgia's Corrupt Carpetbag Regime

The rampant corruption of carpetbag governors like Rufus Bullock below fostered the seedy environment in which vast railroad frauds were perpetrated upon disenfranchised American Southerners.  They watched helplessly as their already-bankrupted States were burdened with heavy debt, and their lands seized for non-payment of exorbitant taxes.  An excellent read on this topic is Jonathan Daniels “Prince of Carpetbaggers,” the story of New York General Milton S. Littlefield and his corrupt railroad bond schemes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Georgia’s Corrupt Carpetbag Regime

“[Georgia’s new 1867 Constitution] had been written by scalawags and carpetbaggers and Negroes, the conservative Democratic white mistakenly having abstained from the voting for [convention] delegates, and while it was not too radical, it was not the kind of constitution they particularly desired.

For the gubernatorial election…ex-General John B. Gordon, was defeated in April by Rufus B. Bullock, the Republican candidate, a Northerner who had come to Georgia before the war, and who remained Governor from July 22, 1868 to October 1871.

The Bullock regime, like most carpetbag governments, combined social progressivism – as in education – with political corruption. Its most flagrant irregular practice was that of issuing State-endorsed bonds to one railroad company after another, on the flimsiest security, and very often before a foot of track was laid. There was evidence, latter adduced, showing that members of the legislature were shadily involved in these transactions, being bribed to vote for certain bond issues.

The State-owned railroad, the Western & Atlantic, was manipulated by the regime for all it was worth, and had always at least three times as many employees as it needed. Bullock himself had been connected with the southern Express Company before the war, and his government, in contradistinction to prewar Georgia governments, was one in which economics ruled.

Its point of view was that of making money and maintaining itself in power so that it could make more money. In order to remain in power it was eager to meet illegality with illegality.

When Bullock called a meeting in January 1870 of the legislature elected in 1868, this fact was rendered obvious by his “purging,” with the aid of General [Alfred] Terry, the [Northern] military commandant, a certain number of Democrats and replacing them with Republicans. He also saw to it that the Negroes who had been expelled in 1868 [for being unqualified by State law to hold office] were reinstated, and so assured himself a solid Republican majority, which immediately ratified the Fifteenth Amendment.”

(Alexander H. Stephens, A Biography, Rudolph von Abele, Alfred A. Knopf, 1946, pp. 266-267)

Civil Rights and Extending Executive Power

Barry Goldwater called so-called “civil rights” one of the most badly misunderstood concepts in modern political usage. He states that “as often as not, it is simply a name for describing an activity that someone deems politically or socially desirable. A sociologist writes a paper proposing to abolish some inequity, or a politician makes a speech about it – and, behold, a new “civil right” is born! The Supreme Court has displayed the same creative powers.”  Below, George Wallace predicts the true result of a so-called “civil rights” bill.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Civil Rights and Extending Executive Power

“I took off for my western tour in January 1964. I called the civil rights bill “the involuntary servitude act of 1964,” and I was applauded frequently. Outside a line of pickets carried the usual signs.

A reporter from India began to attack the South and its customs. He did not ask questions, he made accusations. I stopped him promptly. “I suggest you go home to India and work to end the rigid caste system before you criticize my part of the United States. In India a higher caste will not even deign to shake hands with a lower caste. Yet you cannot see the hypocrisy in your double standard.”

It was at UCLA that I told the press, “You know, free speech can get you killed.” My security advisors had warned me that I would have a difficult time and probably wouldn’t be allowed to finish my speech. We entered the auditorium from the rear to avoid a confrontation with the “non-violent” protesters. These “free-speech” advocates were there to make certain I didnt have an opportunity to exercise my right to free speech.

As I expected, most of the students had never read the [proposed] civil rights bill and didn’t know that its passage meant the right of the federal government to control numerous aspects of business, industry and our personal lives. I quoted Lloyd Wright, a Los Angeles attorney and former president of the American Bar Association: “The civil rights aspect of this legislation is but a cloak. Uncontrolled federal executive power is the body. It is 10 per cent civil rights and 90 per cent extension of the federal executive power.”

I denounced lawmaking by executive or court edict. And I lashed out against the press for its eagerness to bury a public official with smearing propaganda. I pointed out that the civil rights bill placed “in the hands of a few men in central government the power to create regulatory police arm unequaled in Western civilization.”

During one of my speaking engagements, a reporter asked me, “Do you have an alternative to the civil rights bill? This was an easy one. “Yes sir, the U.S. Constitution. It guarantees civil rights to all people, without violating the rights of anyone.”

I believe George Washington would have had words to say about the civil rights bill and the growing power of the federal government. These words from his Farewell Address are significant today:

“It is important, likewise, that [leaders] should confine themselves within their respective Constitutional spheres, avoiding, in the exercise of those powers of one department, to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.”

(Stand Up For America, George C. Wallace, Doubleday & Company, 1976, pp. 84-89)

War to Exterminate Southerners

After the fall of Fort Fisher and occupation of Wilmington in January 1865, nearly 10,000 Northern prisoners were offered to the invaders for the taking — a humane gesture to reduce their suffering. Anxious to maintain the burden on the retreating Carolinians and force them to feed the prisoners with their own meager rations, the Northern commanders stalled. And it was Grant himself who ended the exchange of prisoners with Lincoln’s approval, thereby increasing the suffering at Andersonville.

George Templeton Strong was a Northern patriot who felt comfortable living behind the lines while his government lured domestic and foreign volunteers with generous bounties to maintain the “republic.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

War to Exterminate Southerners

Diary of the Civil War, George Templeton Strong, 29 March 1865:

“Our supplies sent by Chase reached Wilmington just at the right moment and saved scores of lives. His account of the condition of hundreds of returned prisoners, founded on personal inspection, is fearful. They have been starved into idiocy — do not know their names, or where their home is. Starvation has gangrened them into irrational, atrophied, moribund animals. No Bastille and no Inquisition dungeon has ever come up to the chivalric rebel pen for prisoners of war.

I do not think people quite see, even yet, the unexampled enormity of this crime. It is a new thing in the history of man. It definitely transcends the records of the guillotines and the concomitant nogades and fusillades. The disembowelment and decapitation of all men, women and children of a Chinese city convicted of rebel sympathies is an act of mercy compared with the politic, slow torture Davis and Lee have been inflicting on their prisoners, with the intent of making them unfit for service when exchanged.

I almost hope this war may last till it becomes a war of extermination. Southrons who could endure the knowledge that human creatures were undergoing this torture within their own borders, and who did not actively protest against it, deserve to be killed.

30 March 1865, page 571:

From observation at Wilmington, Agnew thinks the Southern “masses” are effete people, unable to take care of themselves now that their slave-holding lords and magnates are gone. A “local committee” at Wilmington is feeding four thousand Wilmingtonians all rations issued by the government. The white trash of even North Carolina is helpless and imbecile, unable to work or to reorganize the community.”

(Diary of George Templeton Strong, Allan Nevins, editor, MacMillan & Company, 1962)

Lincoln's Sable Arm in North Carolina

Former Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell of Wilmington, North Carolina was a prewar Whig, newspaper editor and opposed to the secession of his State. On July 26, 1865 he addressed a colored audience at the Wilmington Theater, advising them on their newly-conferred liberty and subsequent duties and responsibilities — and that the white people of the South they grew up with were not their enemies, despite what the carpetbag element was telling them. At the time he made the address, the black soldiers occupying were a lawless element who were arming local blacks and inciting them to insurrection.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s Sable Arm in North Carolina

“[Alfred Moore Waddell of Wilmington wrote Reconstruction Governor W.W. Holden that] The town had a Negro garrison, and with its large Negro population was in a state of great alarm. [He] wrote the governor in early June [1866] that outrages by the troops were of daily occurrence and that the effect of the presence of the colored troops on the Negro population was very dangerous. Arrests [by colored troops] were constantly made without any cause, and in one instance the soldiers were instructed, if the person arrested said or did anything, to run him through [with the bayonet]. There was little or no redress, as unusual latitude was given the colored troops.

In July the mayor and commissioners wrote describing the conduct of the Negroes and the apprehension felt by the white people of an insurrection. The Negroes had demanded that they should have some of the city offices and had made threats when they were refused. The governor replied that the citizens had acted rightly in refusing to appoint Negroes to office, as the right to hold office depended on the right of suffrage. He also assured them that if the Negroes attempted by force to gain control of public affairs or avenge grievances suffered at the hands of the whites, they would be visited by swift punishment; but if obedient to the laws, they would be protected.

[In] Beaufort, a party [of colored soldiers] from Fort Macon committed a brutal rape and were also guilty of attempting the same crime a second time. They were arrested in the town and the garrison of Fort Macon threatened to turn its guns upon the town if they were not surrendered. The condition of affairs there was so bad that General [Thomas] Ruger forbade any soldier to leave the fort except under a white officer.

Near Wilmington, Thomas Pickett was murdered and his two daughters seriously wounded by three soldiers from the Negro garrison at Fort Fisher in company of a Negro from Wilmington. In Kinston, a citizen was beaten by the soldiers, and upon Governor Holden’s complaint to General Ruger, the garrison was removed. Soon afterwards the governor notified General Ruger that a [railroad] car of muskets and ammunition had been side-tracked at Auburn, and while left unguarded had been opened by the freedmen and its contents distributed. The possessors of the arms then became the terror of the community.

Complaints of colored troops were also sent in from New Bern, Windsor, and other eastern towns. In September 1866, the last remaining regiment of Negro [troops] was mustered out, and that cause of discontent disappeared. The white [Northern] troops as a general thing, after the confusion incident to the surrender was over, behaved well. In Asheville, however, they were so disorderly and undisciplined that great efforts were made by the citizens to have them withdrawn.”

(Reconstruction in North Carolina, Joseph D.R. Hamilton, Books for Libraries Press, 1914/1971, pp. 159-161)

Grant's Royal Robes

Imprisoned by scalawag Governor William Holden for alleged activities with North Carolina’s postwar Klan as it fought Holden’s Union League, Randolph A. Shotwell spent three hard years in an Albany, NY prison, which he termed the “Radical Bastille.” The prison staff was instructed to use any means to extract confessions of Klan outrages and lists of Klan members in North Carolina. Below, Shotwell criticizes the 1872 victory of Grant’s corrupt administration and the low quality of the Northern electorate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Grant’s Royal Robes

“Nov. 6th. All is over! The Great Farce, (the Presidential Election) closed yesterday, as had been foreseen for the past month, with a complete triumph for the Bully Butcher, and National Gift Taker. Grant walked the track. Telegraphic reports from all quarters leave it doubtful whether [Horace] Greeley will get a single vote. Even New York – the Democratic Old Guard – surrenders to the tune of 3500 majority for the “Coming Man.”

Twenty-five other States are in the same column – marching the Despot gaily to his throne! Selah! It is absolutely amazing, the apathy, the blindness, the infatuation of the people!

Is there no longer an patriotism, any conservatism in the land? What do we see this day? A nation yielding its elective franchise to elect a worse than Napoleonic despot! I say the nation yields its franchises because no one believes that Grant is the choice of the people, that he is worthy of the high Authority which is now his for another term and doubtless for life.

Bu corruption, and greed, and avarice, and fear, and Prejudice, and Misrepresentation, every malignant passion, every illegal and dishonorable means have been made to bring about the stupendous result. And now, what next?

Historians tell us that every Republic that has fallen, to shake the faith of man in his own capacity for government, has been, preceding its final fall, the scene of just such transactions as these; sectional prejudices, the majority trampling on the minority, the courts corrupted and used for political ends, open corruption in office, bribery of voters, use of the military to intimidate the opposition, great monopolies supporting the most promising candidates, and finally much unanimity in favor of some popular leader, who quietly took the crown and Royal Robes when a suitable opportunity occurred.

This is the political panorama now unfolding, slowly but surely, in our own country. The end we may almost see. And then bloodshed, insurrections, turbulence and anarchy! I do not predict that all of this is to occur in a year or two; it may be postponed for a score of years. But one thing is certain it will not be half so long, nor a third of it, if the Government continues to usurp power, and hold it, as it has done during the last decade.”

(The Diary, 1871-1873, The Papers of R. A. Shotwell, Volume III, Jos. D.R. Hamilton, editor, NC Historical Commission, 1936, pp. 276-277)

Soldiers Made Ashamed of Their Battle Flag

The war crimes against American civilians carried out by Sherman were accomplished with the full knowledge and assent of Grant, Lincoln, Stanton, Seward and Halleck. All knew well that for Sherman’s vandals to live off the country in Georgia and the Carolinas meant civilians would endure starvation and worse.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Soldiers Made Ashamed of Their Battle Flag

“In the earlier part of the war, General William T. Sherman knew and recognized the rules adopted by his government for the conduct of its armies in the field; and so, on September 29, 1861, he wrote to General Robert Anderson, at Louisville, Ky., saying, among other things:

“I am sorry to report that in spite of my orders and entreaties, our troops are committing depredations that will ruin our cause. Horses and wagons have been seized, cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens taken by our men, some of whom wander for miles around . . . the men are badly disciplined and give little heed to my orders or those of their own regimental officers.”

Later on General Sherman said, “War is hell.” If we could record here all the testimony in our possession, from the people of Georgia and South Carolina, who had the misfortune to live along the line of his famous “march to the sea,” during nearly the whole length of which he was warring against, and depredating on, women, children, servants, old men, and other non-combatants, it would show that he had certainly contributed everything in his power to make war “Hell,” as he termed it; and he has justly earned the distinction of being called the ruling genius of this creation.

“We consumed the corn and fodder in the region of country thirty miles on either side of a line from Atlanta to Savannah; also the sweet potatoes, hogs, sheep and poultry, and carried off more than ten thousand horses and mules. I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia at one hundred million dollars, at least twenty millions of which enured to our benefit, and the remainder was simply waste and destruction.”

Captain Daniel Oakley of the Second Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers . . . says this:

“It was sad to see the wanton destruction of property, which was the work of “bummers,” who were marauding through the country committing every sort of outrage. There was no restraint . . . The country was necessarily left to take care of itself and became a howling waste.”  Another Northern soldier, writing for the “Detroit Free Press,” gives the following graphic account:

“After describing the burning of Marietta, in which the writer says, among other things, “soldiers rode from house to house, entered without ceremony, and kindled fires in garrets and closets and stood by to see that they were not extinguished.”

He then further says: “Had one been able to climb to such a height in Atlanta as to enable him to see for forty miles around the day Sherman marched out, he would have been appalled at the destruction. Hundreds of homes had been burned, every rod of fence destroyed, nearly every fruit tree cut down, and the face of the country so changed that one born in that section could scarcely recognize it. The vindictiveness of war would have trampled the very earth out of sight had such a thing been possible.”

Again he says: “At the beginning of the campaign at Dalton, the Federal soldiery had received encouragement to become vandals . . . When Sherman cut loose from Atlanta everybody had license to throw off restraint and make Georgia “drain the bitter cup.” The Federal who wants to learn what it was to license an army to become vandals should mount a horse at Atlanta and follow Sherman’s route for fifty miles. He can hear stories from the lips of women that would make him ashamed of the flag that waved over him as he went into battle.

When the army had passed nothing was left but a trail of desolation and despair. No houses escaped robbery, no woman escaped insult, no building escaped the firebrand, except by some strange interposition. War may license an army to subsist on the enemy, but civilized warfare stops at livestock, forage and provisions. It does not enter the houses of the sick and helpless and rob women of their finger rings and carry off their clothing.”

[Sherman] not only does not say that he tried to prevent his army from committing these outrages, but says, on page 255 (Memoirs], in referring to his march through South Carolina: “I would not restrain the army, lest its vigor and energy be impaired.”

(The Confederate Cause and Conduct in the War Between the States, Hunter McGuire & George Christian, L.H. Jenkins, Publisher, 1907, pp. 78-82)

 

Mercenaries for Massachusetts

The former slave State of Massachusetts had great difficulty finding citizens to fight a war they did much to foment, and many fled to neighboring States to avoid service. Hence the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts comprised of black men not from that State, and men from California forming a Massachusetts cavalry regiment, and all counting toward the quota set by Lincoln.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Mercenaries for Massachusetts

“Both [abolitionists John Murray] Forbes and [Amos] Lawrence devoted a great deal of time to raising troops. At the end of 1862 Forbes wrote a friend that “I eat, drink and sleep recruits.” He added, “no slave-trader is more posted on the price of men.” By early January 1863, Forbes was complaining that “volunteering with and without bounties is nearly played out” and that without the California men he would not have been able to fill the [Massachusetts] cavalry regiment.

In the fall of 1863, Forbes, back in Boston, returned once more to the idea of encouraging foreign immigration to Massachusetts . . . to provide men for the State’s quotas . . . [of troops for Lincoln]. They would advertise on the Continent for prospective immigrants, holding out to them prospects of homesteads, high wages, or sizable bounties if they enlisted in the army.

Some [Bostonians] organized their own companies to put up some funds. They hoped to use the large [enlistment] bounties offered by the State and local governments to purchase “voluntary immigrants” from the Continent; they would give them less than the full bounty and, even after paying their passage, expected to obtain a profit. A Massachusetts man in Hamburg told the investors that he could obtain some 2000 men there who had been gathered for a war in a neighboring German state; they were not wanted there after all and were ready to come to Massachusetts.

Eventually, 907 Germans were brought to Massachusetts in 1864. The State adjutant general later admitted that they were transported there by a Boston firm “partly from patriotic motives, and partly for speculative purposes.”  Upon arrival in Massachusetts, most did enlist in the State’s regiments. Some of them later claimed that Massachusetts agents had either forced them into service against their will or deceived them through false representations.

The colonels of the regiments in which these men served were . . . unhappy . . . most of the recruits could not speak English or understand orders, and many were subsequently massacred in the Wilderness Campaign that summer. At the end of the war the Massachusetts adjutant general confessed that the whole affair was of questionable propriety and reflected poorly on the patriotism of the people of his State.

The eagerness with which Massachusetts leaders sought to fill their State quotas by finding men in neighboring States, in Canada, or in Europe reflected the atmosphere of desperation in which these steps were taken. The same reasoning affected their decision to recruit black troops for the Union armies. Clearly, Massachusetts would benefit from such efforts. Raising black troops would enable the State to meet its draft quotas more easily, would keep white workers at their jobs, and might also be less costly than paying high premiums [bounties] to whites. [Forbes argued] that “we ought to be pushing our Negro and German resources” in order to avoid “going much into the population now at home . . .”

In the summer of 1862, calls on Massachusetts for troops were increasingly difficult to meet, and Forbes predicted that “we must either draft men or resort . . . to slaves.” He was sure that the citizens of Massachusetts would rather see blacks enlisted to fight “than see our people violently drafted, or brought in with enormous bounties.”

(Cotton and Capital, Boston Businessmen and Anti-Slavery Reform, Richard H. Abbott, UMass Press, 1991, pp. 114-118)