Browsing "No Compromise"

New Weapons and the Unnecessary Carnage

The South should have fought a defensive war that would bleed the enemy in massed assaults, though time and the North’s increasingly large army of bounty-enriched foreigners, paid substitutes and freedmen meant eventual exhaustion. The question remains of why Lincoln continued the unnecessary slaughter rather than peacefully allow the South’s desire for political independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

New Weapons and the Unnecessary Carnage

“The engine of change was technological modification. An advance of weaponry overthrew the efficacy and then the moral meaning of the tactics soldiers wished to employ, robbing of significance the gestures they had been determined to make. Civil War muzzle-loaders . . . were no longer smoothbore but rifled [and charging] columns could be brought under fire much earlier, at a half-mile’s distance, and a much higher toll exacted. Even with the persistence of poor firing instruction and wretched firing discipline, rifling strengthened the hand of the defense decisively.

The futility of the frontal attack, with each regiment advancing on a two-company front, should have been apparent as early as [Sharpsburg] . . . in those ranks of dead ranged as neatly as if on parade. Three months later Burnside attacked Lee’s men on the heights of Fredericksburg at a cost of 12, 653 casualties against their opponents 5,309.

At Gettysburg it was Lee who sent . . . 15,000 in Pickett’s charge, perhaps half returned. At Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864 . . . Grant ordered frontal attacks that in less than sixty minutes cost the Army of the Potomac 7,000 killed and wounded against the Confederates’ 1,300 casualties. There the principal charges could be sustained only twelve to twenty minutes.

Ironically, Sherman’s first opponent, Joseph E. Johnston, was perhaps the only defensive adept in either army, and it was he who repulsed Sherman’s charges while yielding ground before Sherman’s otherwise masterly campaign of probing operations and flanking movements. But on July 17, 1864, Jefferson Davis relieved Johnston of his command and installed in his place, John Bell Hood, whose devotion to the attack was unsurpassed in either army. Sherman was pleased: “I inferred that the change of command means “fight.” This is just what he wanted. As [Jacob D.] Cox put it:

“We . . . regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us. Three months of sharp work convinced us that a change from Johnston’s methods to those which Hood was likely to employ was . . . to have our enemy grasp the hot end of the poke . . . we were confident that . . . a succession of attacks would soon destroy the Confederate army.”

Sherman was willing to wait for those attacks. At Peachtree Creek Hood lost between 5,000 and 6,000 in killed, wounded and missing to Sherman’s 1,800; at Decatur, as many as 10,000, against Union losses of 3,700; at Ezra Church 5,000 against 600. Describing for Sherman that last combat, soldiers of the 15th Corps assured him it had been “the easiest thing in the world; that, in fact, it was a common slaughter of the enemy.” [Sherman] saw more clearly than others that the charge had become defeat.”

(Embattled Courage, the Experience of Combat in the Civil War, Gerald F. Linderman, Free Press, 1987, pp. 135-137)

Higher Law Treason

Many viewed William H. Seward’s “higher law” speech treasonous as it claimed “laws” which superseded the United States Constitution – the compact agreed to by all the States as the law of the land. In reality, the abolitionists who sought a separation from what they referred to as “a covenant with Hell,” and unstable theorists like Seward, were the disunionists in 1860.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Higher Law Treason

“[Future President] Franklin Pierce addressed a Union meeting in Manchester [New Hampshire] in November 1850. His speech reveals his true sentiments on the most important issue of his time. When several Baptist ministers “hissed” at his remarks in favor of the Union, Pierce responded that the “feeble demonstration of moral treason to the Union, to humanity, to the cause of civil liberty would disturb neither him nor the meeting.” He declared, “If we are precipitated into a war by fanaticism, we cannot conquer. Both sections of the country may be immolated. Neither could come out of the contest short of ruin.”

Pierce was consistent in believing the preservation of the Union was more important than any one issue. The New Hampshire Patriot reported Pierce’s speech: “Who did not deplore slavery? But what sound-thinking mind regarded that as the only evil which could rest upon the land? The [abolitionist] men who would dissolve the Union did not deplore slavery any more than he did . . . The resort to disunion as an experiment to get rid of a political evil, would be about as wise as if a man were to think of remedying a broken arm by cutting his head off.” Pierce closed with the shout, “The Union! Eternal Union!”

When Senator Seward of New York followed [Daniel] Webster’s [7 March 1850] speech with one in which he declared that there is a “higher law” than the Constitution and that God was opposed to slavery, the Patriot editorialized, “If Mr. Seward’s doctrine were to be endorsed by the people at large there would be an end not only of the Union but of every rational form of government”. . . Webster would later call the “higher law” doctrine “Treason, treason, treason!”

(Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son, Peter A. Wallner, Plaidswede Publishing, 2004, pp. 168-169)

Angela Grimke's Cornerstone of the Republic

Poor Alexander H. Stephens!

The Vice President of the American Confederacy’s informal speech to a Savannah audience in March 1861 is used to verify that the defense of slavery is all the new experiment in American government was about — and despite the fact that Stephen’s remarks were simply imperfect reporter’s notes and we are not even sure if he uttered those exact words.

If Stephen’s indeed mentioned “cornerstone and African slavery” in the same sentence in Savannah, he most likely was referring to Charleston abolitionist Angelina Grimke’ who some 25 years before said this about the United States.

Angelina’s speech in 1836 was entitled “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” and its topic anti-slavery. Both she and her sister were born into wealth in Charleston, SC — and later moved to the former center of the transatlantic slave trade, New England, to become Quakers and join William Lloyd Garrison’s abolition movement. There the Grimke’ sisters perhaps not only engaged in serious abolitionist discourse but also discovered that the slavery they abhorred was a mostly New England enterprise, and supported by its notorious rum trade with Africa.

Grimke stated in her appeal that “The interests of the North . . . are very closely combined with those of the South. The Northern merchants and manufacturers are making their fortunes out of the produce of slave labor . . . [and] the North is most dreadfully afraid of Amalgamation. She is alarmed at the very idea of a thing so monstrous, as she thinks. And lest this consequence might flow from emancipation, she is determined to resist all efforts at emancipation without expatriation. It is not because she [the North] approves of slavery, or believes it to be “the cornerstone of our republic,” for she is as much anti-slavery as we are; but amalgamation is too horrible to think of.” (see “Against Slavery, An Abolitionist Reader,” Angelina & Sarah Moore Grimke’, Penguin Books, 2000).

Stephen’s wrote in his Recollection’s that he spoke extemporaneously in his Savannah speech, and the reporter’s notes he reviewed afterward “were imperfect” contained “glaring errors.” He goes on to explain the contents of his speech with “The relation of the black to the white race, or the proper status of the colored population amongst us, was a question now of vastly more importance than when the Constitution was formed. The order of subordination is nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the “cornerstone” on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787 . . . The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech” (Recollections of  Alexander H. Stephens, 1910/1998, LSU Press).

Thus Stephens viewed African slavery in the same way as the abolitionists who sought secession from the United States by New England, to separate themselves from what they saw as the evil cornerstone of the United States. And the Confederacy incorporated nothing more than what the United States already had recognized as a domestic institution of the States, to be accepted or eradicated in time by each State.  This raises the obvious question: If the abolitionists were opposed to slavery, why did they not advance a peaceful and practical emancipation proposal as did England in the 1840s with compensated emancipation?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

John Brown and His Greater Villains

The violent attack of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry “and his apotheosis by Northern abolitionists had struck fear and rage into the hearts of Southerners and had revived talk of secession that had all but died out in 1859.” This sad event all but confirmed the suspicion of many Southerners that the North wished to destroy the South, and the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

John Brown and His Greater Villains

“On Wednesday morning, October 19, John Brown and [Aaron Dwight] Stevens were placed in a wagon and driven to the railway station under a strong guard of Marines to protect them from the possibility of a merciful lynching.

But when they reached the waiting train and the shouts of “Lynch them, lynch them!” rose, the Governor was there to call back, “Oh, it would be cowardly to do so now!”  The Sheriff of Jefferson County and the United States Marshal for the Western District of Virginia committed their four prisoners to the jail at Charlestown to await trial.

There was no apparent reason why the prisoners should not be brought to justice as soon as possible, for the evidence was clear, the law demanded immediate trial, and the State of Virginia recognized no advantage in submitting the case to the Federal courts. The Federal government was directly [affected] by the attack on the arsenal and indirectly by the whole nature of the conspiracy, but Virginia was insisting on a primary principle in retaining jurisdiction.

In the case of John Brown himself there was little hesitation; in that of his companions more debate occurred, for the temptation was strong to embody in fact a subsidiary principle concerning the slave problem by turning Stevens over to the Federal Government for prosecution . . . the great advantage the Federal court possessed [was] being able to summon “the greater villains” who resided beyond the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia; and meanwhile some of these villains had made haste to reside beyond the jurisdiction of the United States.

The immediate trial and the wounds of two of the prisoners provided unexpected capital for the “liberal” newspapers in the North. At first the Republican press hurried to repudiate John Brown and all his works, for it was felt that this sort of thing might prove disastrous in the Presidential contest of the next year, but it was not long before editors and politicians alike recognized an opportunity in the situation.

The Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln in 1860 unanimously resolved that the attempt of John Brown was criminal . . . But in the autumn of 1859 the “liberal” press . . . deplored the conditions which made [Brown’s attack] necessary; it deplored the misguided effort in a holy cause, but abhorred the barbarous conduct in Virginia in suppressing that effort. [William Lloyd] Garrison wrote in the Liberator:

“In recording the expressions of sympathy and admiration which are so widely felt for John Brown, whose doom is now swiftly approaching . . . that, judging him by the code of Bunker hill, we think he is deserving of high-wrought eulogy as any who ever wielded sword or battle-axe in the cause of liberty . . . ”

(John Brown, The Making of a Martyr, Robert Penn Warren, J.S. Sanders and Company, 1929, pp. 393-395)

 

Great Americans Amid a Great Crisis

While the Republican party reveled in its plurality victory and avoided any compromise in order to maintain party unity, Unionists like Jefferson Davis emulated great American leaders of earlier times in challenging Congress to meet the crisis and save the creation of the Founders. 

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Great Americans Amid a Great Crisis  

“Jefferson Davis, in his farewell address to the United States Senate, expressed the sentiments of Virginia . . . when he said:

“Now sir, we are confusing language very much. Men speak of revolution; and when they say revolution, they mean blood. Our fathers meant nothing of the sort. When they spoke of revolution, they meant the inalienable right.

When they declared as an inalienable right, the power of the people to abrogate and modify their form of government whenever it did not answer the ends for which it was established, they did not mean that they were to sustain that by brute force . . . Are we, in this age of civilization and political progress . . . are we to roll back the whole current of human thought and again return to the mere brute force which prevails between beasts of prey as the only method of settling questions between men?

Is it to be supposed that the men who fought the battles of the Revolution for community independence, terminated their great efforts by transmitting prosperity to a condition in which they could only gain those rights by force?  If so, the blood of the Revolution was shed in vain; no great principles were established; for force was the law of nature before the battles of the Revolution were fought.”

Robert E. Lee, writing on the 23rd of January, 1861, said:

“Secession is nothing but revolution. The framers of our constitution never exhausted so much labor, wisdom and forbearance in its formation and surrounded it with so many guards and securities if it was intended to be broken by every member of the Confederacy at will . . . Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people — and save in defense (of Virginia) will draw my sword on none.”

George Baylor, speaking on the 1st of March 1861 in the Virginia Convention, said:

“I have said, Mr. President, that I did not believe in the right of secession. But whilst I make that assertion, I also say that I am opposed to coercion on the part of the Federal Government with the view of bringing the seceded States back into the Union . . . I am opposed to it first because I cannot find any authority in the Constitution of the United States delegating that power to the Federal Government, and second, because if the Federal Government had the power it would be wrong to use it.”

John Quincy Adams, speaking before the New York Historical Society in 1839, on the 50th Anniversary of Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States, said:

“To the people alone there is reserved as well the dissolving as the constituent power, and that power can be exercised by them only under the tie of conscience binding them to the retributive justice of Heaven.

With those qualifications we may admit the right as vested in the people of every State of the Union with reference to the General Government which was exercised by the people of the United Colonies with reference to the supreme head of the British Empire of which they formed a part, and under these limitations have the people of each State of the Union a right to secede from the Confederated Union itself.”

(Virginia’s Attitude Toward Secession, Beverley B. Munford, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond, VA, 1909, pp. 294-295)

 

 

The Inscrutable William Seward

It is said that antebellum Southern politics were for the most part honest and ruled by responsible statesmen, but Reconstruction forced Southern leaders to reluctantly descend into the mud to successfully oppose the carpetbaggers, Union Leagues and Radical Republicans. The high-toned sense of serving the public good was seen in statesman Jefferson Davis, who acted from conviction alone; William Seward was more interested in manipulating public opinion and serving his own twisted ends. The former tried his best to save the Union, the latter helped destroy it.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Inscrutable William Seward

“It was on one of these visits that Mr. Seward said a most remarkable thing to me [Varina Davis]. We were speaking of the difficulty men generally had in doing themselves justice [when speaking in public], if not cheered on by the attention and sympathy of the audience. Mr. Seward said . . . ” it is rather a relief to me to speak to empty benches.”

I exclaimed, “Then, whom do you impersonate?” [Seward replied] “The [news]papers . . . I speak to the papers, they have a much larger audience than I, and can repeat a thousand times if need be what I want to impress upon the multitude outside; and then there is the power to pin my antagonists down to my exact words, which might be disputed if received orally.”

Another day he began to talk on the not infrequent topic among us, slavery . . . I said, “Mr. Seward, how can you make, with a grave face, those piteous appeals for the Negro that you did in the Senate; you were too long a schoolteacher in Georgia to believe the things you say?”

He looked at me quizzically, and smilingly answered: “I do not, but these appeals, as you call them, are potent to affect the rank and file of the North.”

Mr. Davis said, very much shocked by Mr. Seward’s answer, “But Mr. Seward, do you never speak from conviction alone?”  “Never,” answered he. Mr. Davis raised up his . . . head, and with much heat whispered, “As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.”

After this inscrutable human moral, or immoral, paradox left us, we sat long discussing him with sincere regret, and the hope that he had been making a feigned confidence to amuse us. He [Seward] frankly avowed that truth should be held always subsidiary to an end, and if some other statement could sub serve that end, he made it. He said, again and again, that political strife was a state of war, and in war all stratagems were fair.

About this time Mr. Seward came forward into greater prominence, and became the most notable leader of the Republican party. Mr. [President James] Buchanan said: “He was much more of a politician than a statesman, without strong convictions; he understood the art of preparing in his closet and uttering before the public, antithetical sentences, well-calculated to both inflame the ardor of his anti-slavery friends and exasperate his pro-slavery opponents . . . he thus aroused passions, probably without so intending, which it was beyond his power to control.”

(Jefferson Davis, A Memoir By His Wife Varina, N&A Publishing, 1990, excerpts, pp. 580-652)

Indispensable African Slaves

In his message to Congress on 29 April 1861, President Jefferson Davis cited the Northern threat to the South’s labor system as a cause of withdrawal from political union with the North. The murderous raid of John Brown in 1859 had convinced the South of the North’s violent intentions, which were supported by influential and wealthy men.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Indispensable African Slaves

“As soon . . . as the Northern States that prohibited African slavery within their limits had reached a number sufficient to give their representation a controlling voice in the Congress, a persistent and organized system of hostile measures against the rights of the owners of slaves in the southern States was inaugurated and gradually extended. A continuous series of measures was devised and prosecuted for the purpose of rendering insecure the tenure of property in slaves . . .

Senators and Representatives were sent to the common councils of the nation, whose chief title to this distinction consisted in the display of a spirit of ultra-fanaticism, and whose business was . . . to awaken the bitterest hatred against the citizens of sister States, by violent denunciation of their institutions; the transaction of public affairs was impeded by repeated efforts to usurp powers not delegated by the Constitution, for the purpose of . . . reducing those States which held slaves to a condition of inferiority.

In the meantime, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction.

Under the supervision of a superior race, their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South . . . and the productions of cotton, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man.

With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 134-135)

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

Lincoln receives insufficient credit for his part in defeating the compromise measures of 1860-61 which would have averted war, whose effects are still felt today. The author below asserts that slavery had reached its natural limits and was “a cumbersome and expensive system [that] could show profits only as long as it could find plenty of rich land to cultivate” and a market that would take the product. He adds that “the free farmers in the North who dreaded its further spread had nothing to fear. Even those who wished [slavery] destroyed had only to wait a little while – perhaps a generation, probably less. It was summarily destroyed at a frightful cost to the whole country and one-third of the nation was impoverished for forty years.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Unfounded Fears of Slavery Expansion

“In the forefront of that group of issues which, for more than a decade before the secession of the cotton States, kept the Northern and Southern sections of the United States in irritating controversy and a growing sense of enmity, was the question of whether the federal government should permit and protect the expansion of slavery into the western territories . . . It was upon this particular issue that a new and powerful sectional party appeared in 1854, that the majority of the Secessionists of the cotton States predicated their action in 1860-1861, and it was upon this also that President-elect Lincoln forced the defeat of the compromise measures in the winter of 1860-61.

It seems safe to say that had this question been eliminated or settled amicably, there would have been no secession and no Civil War . . .

Disregarding the stock arguments – constitutional, economic, social and what-not – advanced by either group, let us examine afresh the real problem involved. Would slavery, if legally permitted to do so, have taken possession of the territories or of any considerable portion of them?

The causes of the expansion of slavery westward from the South Atlantic coast are now well-understood. The industrial revolution [in the North and in England] and the opening of world markets had continually increased the consumption and demand for raw cotton, while the abundance of fertile and cheap cotton lands in the Gulf States had steadily lured cotton farmers and planters westward. Where large-scale production was [possible, the enormous demand for a steady supply of labor had made the use of slaves inevitable, for a sufficient supply of free labor was unprocurable on the frontier . . . and slave labor was usually not profitable in growing grain.

This expansion of the institution was in response to economic stimuli . . . [and the] movement would go on as long as far as suitable cotton lands were to be found or as long as there was a reasonable expectation of profit from slave labor, provided, of course, that no political barrier was encountered.

But by 1849-50 . . . and by the time the new Republican party was formed to check the further expansion of slavery, the westward march of the cotton plantation was evidently slowing down. The only possibility of a further westward extension of the cotton belt was in Texas. In that alone was the frontier line of cotton and slavery still advancing . . .

In New Mexico and Arizona, Mexican labor is cheaper than Negro labor, as has always been the case since the acquisition of the region from Mexico. It was well-understood by sensible men, North and South, in 1850 that soil, climate, and native labor would form a perpetual bar to slavery in the vast territory then called New Mexico. [By 1860], ten years after the territory had been thrown open to slavery, showed not a single slave; and this was also true of Colorado and Nevada. Utah, alone of all these territories, was credited with any slaves at all . . . [and] the census of 1860 showed two slaves in Kansas and fifteen in Nebraska.

The Northern anti-slavery men held that a legal sanction of slavery in the territories would result in the extension of the institution and domination of the free North by the slave power; prospective immigrants in particular feared that they would never be able to get homes in this new West. Their fears were groundless; but in their excited state of mind they could see neither the facts clearly nor consider them calmly.

In the cold facts of the situation, there was no longer any basis for excited sectional controversy over slavery extension . . . [but] the public mind had so long been concerned with the debate that it could not see that the issue had ceased to have validity. In the existing state of the popular mind, therefore, there was still abundant opportunity for the politician to work to his own ends, to play upon prejudice and passion and fear.”

(The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion, Charles W. Ramsdell (1929); The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 86-91)

 

War Against a Free Trade South

It is clear that the withdrawal of the Southern States in early 1861 was caused by Northern hostility, especially with regard to the South’s political conservatism and domestic institutions. More obvious is that secession did not necessitate war, as the North could have let the South form its more perfect union peaceably. The North waged war for economic reasons and to thwart the free trade policies of the new American Confederacy.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

War Against a Free Trade South

“When the Southern States began to secede after Lincoln’s election, it soon became evident that the great majority of Northerners considered disunion intolerable. Among the reasons, they foresaw disastrous economic consequences; and this explains in part their demand that Lincoln “enforce the laws” in the South. The Boston Herald (November 12, 1860), predicted some of the evils that would result from disunion:

“Should the South succeed in carrying out her designs, she will immediately form commercial alliances with European countries who will readily acquiesce in any arrangement which will help English manufacturing at the expense of New England.

The first move the South would make would impose a heavy tax upon the manufactures of the North, and an export tax upon the cotton used by Northern manufacturers. In this way she would seek to cripple the North. The carrying trade, which is now done by American {Northern] vessels, would be transferred to British ships, which would be a heavy blow aimed at our commerce.

It will also seriously affect our shoe trade and the manufacture of ready-made clothing, while it would derange the monetary affairs of the country.”

Boston Transcript, March 18, 1861:

“It does not require extraordinary sagacity to perceive that trade is perhaps the controlling motive operating to prevent the return of the seceding States to the Union, which they have abandoned. Alleged grievances in regard to slavery were originally the causes for the separation of the cotton States; but the mask has been thrown off, and it is apparent that the people of the principal seceding States are now for commercial independence.

They dream that the centres of traffic can be changed from Northern to Southern ports. The merchants of New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah are possessed with the idea that New York, Boston and Philadelphia may be shorn, in the future, of their mercantile greatness, by a revenue system verging upon free trade. If the Southern Confederation is allowed to carry out a policy by which only a nominal duty is laid upon imports, no doubt the business of the chief Northern cities will be seriously injured thereby.

The difference is so great between the tariff of the Union and that of the Confederated States, that the entire Northwest must find it to their advantage to purchase their imported goods at New Orleans rather than at New York. In addition to this, the manufacturing interest of the country will suffer from the increased importations resulting from the low duties . . . The . . . [government] would be false to all of its obligations, if this state of things were not provided against.”

(The Causes of the Civil War, Kenneth M. Stampp, editor, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965, pp. 78-80)

The Fort on South Carolina's Sovereign Soil

When South Carolina resumed its full sovereignty through the consent of their citizens in December 1860, the United States soldiers in Charleston Harbor became foreign troops and should have been recalled by their government.  To refuse to abandon the forts caused South Carolina to forcibly eject them as they were then hostile military forces threatening the political independence of that State.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Fort on South Carolina’s Sovereign Soil

“For well over one hundred years, uninformed and liberal historians and others have charged South Carolina with starting the Civil War when the shore batteries at Charleston fired on the Federally-held Fort Sumter in the bay. These writers have stated that this fort was the property of the federal government. This statement is false.

On March 24, 1794, the US Congress passed an act to provide for the defense of certain ports and harbors of the United States. The sites of forts, arsenals, navy yards and other public property of the federal government were ceded or assigned by the States within whose limits they were, and subject to the condition, either expressed or implied, that they should be used solely and exclusively for the purpose for which they were granted. The ultimate ownership of the soil, or eminent domain, remains with the people of the State in which it lies, by virtue of their sovereignty.

South Carolina, in 1805 by legislative enactment, ceded to the United States in Charleston Harbor and on the Beaufort River, various forts and fortifications and sites for the erection of forts. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted the same in its legislature in 1836. New York State, in granting the use of the site for the Brooklyn Navy Yard says: “The United States are to retain such use and jurisdiction so long as said tract shall be applied to the defense and safety of the city and port of New York and no longer . . .” The cession of the site of Watervliet Arsenal was made on the same terms.

It has been said by many historians that these sites were purchased outright by the federal government. This is also false. The Act of 1794 clearly states, “that no purchase shall be made where such lands are the property of the State.”

When General George B. McClellan and his federal army of 112,000 men landed on the tip of the Virginia peninsula April12, 1862 and occupied Fortress Monroe, this action verified the Southern charge of Northern aggression.

A State withdrawing from the union would necessarily assume the control theretofore exercised by the general government over all public defenses and other public property within her limits. The South, on the verge of withdrawal (from the union) had prepared to give adequate compensation to an agent of the Northern government for the forts and other public works erected on the land. Therefore, three commissioners from South Carolina, one from Georgia, and one from Alabama were sent to Washington to negotiate for the removal of federal garrisons from Southern forts.

The commissioners, all prominent men, were Messrs. Robert W. Barnwell, James H. Adams, and James L. Orr of South Carolina; Martin Crawford of Georgia, and John Forsythe of Alabama, and arrived in Washington on the 5th of March.

On March 12th they addressed an official communication to Mr. [William] Seward, Secretary of State, explaining their functions and their purpose. Mr. Seward declined to make any formal recognition of the commissioners, but assured them in verbal conferences of the determination of the government at Washington to evacuate Fort Sumter; of the peaceful intentions of the government, and that no changes in the status prejudicially to the Confederate States were in contemplation; but in the event of any change, notice would be given to the commissioners.

The commissioners waited for a reply to their official communication until April 8th, at which time they received a reply dated March 15th by which they were advised that the president had decided not to receive them, nor was he interested in any proposals they had to offer. During this time the cabinet of the Northern government had been working in secrecy in New York preparing an extensive military and naval expedition to reinforce the garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.

As they had tried to deceive the people of the North and South in January 1861 with the Star of the West [expedition to Sumter], loaded with troops and ammunition, the radical Republicans again advised the press that this mission was also a mission of mercy for the garrison of Fort Sumter, and on April 7th the expedition set sail southward bound loaded with troops and arms.

At 2PM, April 11, 1861, General Beauregard demanded that Major Anderson of Fort Sumter evacuate the works, which Anderson refused to do. At a little after 3AM, General Beauregard advised Major Anderson that “in one hour’s time I will open fire.”  At 4:40AM, from Fort Johnson the battery opened on Fort Sumter, which fire was followed by the batteries of Moultrie, Cummings Point and the floating battery.

At this time a part of the federal naval force had arrived at the Charleston bar, but strange to say, Captain Fox, after hearing the heavy guns of the bombardment decided that his government did not expect any gallant sacrifices on his part, and took no part in the battle. On April 13 after the Confederate guns had reduced Sumter to a smoking heap of ruin, Major Anderson surrendered, with no loss of life on either side.

[Reverend R.C. Cave said in 1894] “On one side of the conflict was the South led by the descendants of the Cavaliers, who with all their faults had inherited from a long line of ancestors a manly contempt for moral littleness, a high sense of honor, a lofty regard for plighted faith, a strong tendency for conservatism, a profound respect for law and order, and an unfaltering loyalty to constitutional government.”

Against the South was arrayed the power of the North, dominated by the spirit of Puritanism which, with all its virtues, has ever been characterized by the pharisaism which worships itself, and is unable to perceive any goodness apart from itself, which has ever arrogantly held its ideas, its interests, and its will, higher than fundamental law and covenanted obligations; which has always “lived and moved and had its being, in rebellion against constituted authority.”

(Not Civil War But Northern Agression, Lewis P. Hall, Land of the Golden River, Vol. II, Hall’s Enterprises, 1980, pp. 77-78)