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Speaking the Language of Monuments

Historians record Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) leader General John Logan of Illinois as a creative political opportunist: a prewar Stephen Douglas Democrat who favored conciliatory measures toward the South to prevent war — but correctly sensing Radical Republican power he allied with them to keep his political star ascendant. Feeling slighted as West Point-educated commanders refused him promotions he developed an aversion to that institution; in the postwar he was known for his “bloody-shirt” oratory and catering to the pension desires of GAR veterans, serving as their commander for three terms. Logan’s postwar writings underscore the Republican Party ideology of containing slaves, and later freedmen, in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Speaking the Language of Monuments

“In short, the Grand Army [of the Republic] memory of the war represented the persistence into peacetime of the millennial, republican vision prevalent in the North before 1860 . . . [and this] older ideology of republicanism lived blissfully on in the campfires of the GAR until at least 1900.

In that view, the virtuous nation, saved until [Fort] Sumter from the ordinary travails of history, had come through the war purified of the blot of slavery and ready to lead the rest of the world into the sunshine of universal democracy. Despite the painfully obvious failure of Gilded Age America to live up to that vision, the Grand Army of the Republic (the name of the order itself is highly significant) strained to see the nation in those terms.

The past was the past, With the Republic secure, the saviors could return to lives as simple citizens. “There is not in human history, a case cited except ours, in which a million soldiers were, in a day, removed from belligerent to peaceful life,” Logan told the 1869 national encampment. “Probably, there is no government on earth, except our own, that would have dared try the experiment. I am confident there is no other in which such trial would be safe.”

These were not the words of realists trying to come to grips with a bloody and divisive war, nor those of militarists with a present-day political agenda. The members of the Grand Army had no such words in their vocabulary. Instead, the spoke the language of monuments.

[Logan announced] that “that the late war between the American States was the legitimate climax of several cooperating forces.” The North American continent, he wrote, was reserved for European civilization through “a marvelous ordering of events.” The Revolution, though it “arrested the attention of the world,” was actually the product of trends dating back “forty centuries.”

The Civil War, by removing the blot of slavery, had rendered the Declaration of Independence “the Magna Carta of all mankind, destined to last while the human race endures.” The main threat to [Logan’s] yeoman’s paradise was “class distinction,” both in the slaveholding South and at “aristocratic” West Point . . . [and] argued that the Southern slave system had been the legitimate child of monarchy.” Once cured, the country presumably could return to its pristine state, provided that “class distinction” did not come back to ravage it.” To avoid that fate, Logan wrote, the “restrictive, inadequate, and wholly un-American” military academies need to be overhauled in the interests of democracy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 192-198)

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed after the war and quickly became a powerful organization whose political might led historians to see it as a pension lobby or “bloody-shirt” Republican club. The membership sustained the postwar Republican Party and Glided Age political corruption that followed the war, and no Northern politician’s campaign was complete unless he received the blessing of the GAR. The organization maintained the view that they saved the Union and that the South was guilty of treason, though the Constitution clearly states in Article III, Section 1: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” means the States comprising the United States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Monuments to Timeless Virtue and Infamy

“A . . . theme that emerged from GAR memorializations of the 1880s was that the war had broad meaning, not to say a moral, that transcended individual combat experiences. With occasional exceptions . . . the authors of the personal war experiences left the moral unstated. But in campfire speeches and war lectures, the repeated lesson was one of national salvation: the war had maintained the Union.

Prewar social and economic differences between the sections, issues of free labor and political power in the West, and especially the questions of blacks and slavery received scant mention in celebrations of the war’s outcome. Instead, the grand achievement of the Northern armies had been to rescue the indivisible nation as it had existed before . . . The war was a mission accomplished; the nation, something maintained intact rather than something greatly changed. It was a rhetoric pf preservation.

Both Civil War armies invoked republican traditions; both pointed to the same Revolutionary symbols. The other great influence on popular historical thinking during the antebellum years was evangelicalism . . . in the North, evangelical crusades against sin, culminating in the antislavery movement, drew on images of battles and the Apocalypse.

Yankee reformers pictured it as the crossroads of history. Armageddon, a climatic struggle from which the nation would emerge redeemed. Hymns urged patriots to march; ministers spoke of millennial change. No longer was the Republic seen as an entity formed at the beginning; it needed to be actively saved, not passively preserved. History was to be shaped, not studied, for examples of virtue.

At the same time, the overwhelming importance of the Republic’s preservation required permanent and public commemoration. Veterans proclaimed the message of national preservation in Congress, where on pension questions they drew pointed inferences regarding the duty of the nation to its saviors. And in city after city, new monuments refuted in stone any notion of the Civil War’s “pastness.”

As long as ex-Confederates did not question the moral lesson of the war, they were treated cordially – in fact, they were sometimes contrasted favorably with “loyal” noncombatants. Especially after 1880, [GAR] posts and encampments occasionally socialized with veterans from the other side.

[In 1894], white Northerners and white Southerners were engaged in a veritable love feast of reconciliation, complete with Blue-Grey reunions, Lost Cause nostalgia, and Confederate war monuments (including the first to be permitted at Gettysburg).

When it came to drumming the lessons of the war into the next generation, however, the ex-Confederates were doomed forever to play the heavy, always on the side of error, always vanquished by the hosts of the righteous. In the words of GAR commander William Warner, “we were eternally right and . . . they were eternally wrong.”

The line dividing cordiality from hostility ran between those actions (such as lecture invitations) that implied only sociability between former foes and those (such as the erection of Confederate monuments and waving the Confederate flag) that seemed to be aimed at subverting the message of national salvation.

Union veterans commonly expressed the division by saying that while the former rebels might be fine fellows, their principles were, and always would be, wrong. In 1874 [a Massachusetts veteran] . . . objected to the decoration of Confederate graves on Memorial Day by saying “he had nothing but the kindest feelings toward those who fought against us . . . but . . . let it be understood that we distinguish between loyalty and disloyalty; the latter is the treason against which we fought, and the former we pay respect and tribute to.”

In 1891, [GAR CIC] John Palmer allowed that the Confederates had been gallant and said the GAR was willing to accept them as fellows “on the broad grounds of American citizenship and unconditional loyalty.” But he went on to denounce several GAR men who had marched in Atlanta parade that included the Confederate flag. In New York a GAR member was dishonorably discharged for toasting Jefferson Davis at a Southern banquet.

In general, Grand Army posts objected most strenuously to those behaviors or symbols that implied honor to the Confederate cause – a flag, a monument, a toast to a president, flowers on a grave. Nor was it with the proper exegesis of battles, for those conflicts were by definition one-time only events. The worry was not so much about the lauding of individual Confederates (unless they were symbolic individuals such as Davis), for they would die eventually.

Instead, GAR posts worried about transmitting the moral of the war to the next generation intact. If monuments were to call forth “public valor and virtue in all coming time,” the lessons of war could not be subject to historical change. And if the virtue of the Union was to be timeless, so must be the infamy of the Confederacy.”

(Glorious Contentment, the Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900; Stuart McConnell, UNC Press, 1992, excerpts, pp. 181; 186-188-190-192)

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

Though indicted for treason, Jefferson Davis’s enemies feared his trial as they recognized him as one of the ablest constitutional scholars in America.  After his death in 1889, his wife Varina could not maintain their home in Mississippi and moved to New York to earn a living as a writer. There she wrote a lengthy biography of her husband, and Davis admirer Joseph Pulitzer gave her a weekly column in the New York Sunday World with an annual salary of $1500. When she passed in 1906, Varina Howell Davis was given a heroine’s military funeral and placed beside her husband in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Symbol of Heroism to Both North and South

“The saddest lot of all was that of the symbol of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. Benjamin, Mason and Slidell were hateful to the North, but they were beyond the law’s long arm. Davis had to bear the brunt of Yankee wrath – which included becoming the scapegoat for the assassination of Lincoln. The popular song with the refrain “We’ll hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree” was almost euphemistic; the most horrible forms of Oriental torture were what the South’s enemies had in mind.

The indignities began when Davis was captured by federal troops . . . [and] the humiliation was no worse than the physical rigors that followed. The Davises were thrown into a dark prison van. Their belongings, from gold to baby clothes, were looted and Northern troops snatched away food intended for the Davis children. The soldiers exposed themselves to Varina Davis.

En route to prison, the Davises received one touching gesture while locked in a hotel room in Savannah. The black waiter who brought their food tray hid, under the cover, a bunch of beautiful red roses and tearfully expressed his sorrow at what had happened to the Davises and to the South.

While the family remained in the hotel, Davis was taken incommunicado to Fort Monroe in Virginia, a stronghold known as the Gibralter of the Chesapeake. Not wanting to take any chances, the federal commander there surrounded Davis with an entire garrison of troops and locked him in heavy chains in a viewless, tiny cell.

His only furniture was an iron cot, his only utensil a wooden spoon, his only rations unchewable boiled beef, stale bread, and water. Squeaky-shoed soldiers marched around him twenty-four hours a day; we was never allowed a private moment. Guards even stood around him when he used the portable toilet that was brought into his cell. Davis’s only company was a mouse he made his pet.

Davis, always a sick man, nearly wasted away. He had been indicted for treason, but was never brought to trial. Habeas corpus and all other basic rights were denied, and he was left to languish in the darkness.

Davis was the only Confederate leader who remained incarcerated – he was doing penance for the entire South. In 1868, after even Northern sentiment was outraged at his unusual punishment, he was freed and reunited with his family. For his dignity under the most horrid of conditions, he won a martyr’s reputation throughout the South, giving inspiration to the thousands suffering through the abject poverty of the postbellum period; any stigma of having lost the war was lost.

Their sons all died, the first in an accidental fall from a balcony, another of diphtheria, and the third of yellow fever. Their daughter, Varina Anne, or “Winnie,” had been crowned by Southern war veterans as the “daughter of the Confederacy.” However, she alienated the entire South when she fell in love with a Harvard-trained Syracuse attorney whose grandfather had been a prominent abolitionist. The affair killed her father in 1889, and nearly 15,000 thronged to his funeral. Davis had outlived nearly all his enemies and had become a symbol of heroism to both North and South.

Out of respect, Winnie called the marriage off and never wed.”

(A Class By Themselves; the Untold Story of the Great Southern Families, William Stadiem, Crown Publishers, 1980, excerpts, pp. 130-132)

Imagining a Lost Cause

Imagining a Lost Cause

Let us imagine for a moment that the French army and fleet were not present at Yorktown to augment Washington’s army, and that the British prevailed in their war to suppress the rebellion of their subjects populating the American colonies below Canada. As the victorious redcoats swarmed through those colonies they arrested and imprisoned rebel leadership including Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, et al. All were sure they would swing from sturdy tree limbs for their part in a Lost Cause.

Though the outcry from American Loyalists demanded the execution of rebel leaders, the King decided to not create martyrs and mercifully allowed them to lead peaceful lives after taking a new oath of fealty to the Crown. They would be treated as second-class subjects and forever viewed with suspicion as former rebels.

The official history of that civil war was then written which proclaimed that the rebels fought in defense of African slavery — in short, that the American Revolution was fought to perpetuate slavery and the King fought for the freedom of the black race. Willing court historians suppressed Britain’s deep involvement in the slave trade, and later gate keepers of orthodoxy maintained the fiction to avoid official censure and loss of position.

It is remembered that on November 7, 1775, Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore (John Murray), issued his emancipation proclamation in Norfolk announcing that all able-bodied, male slaves in Virginia who abandoned their masters and took up arms for the King would be free . . . “Negroes and others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of duty to His Majesty’s crown and dignity . . .”

A rebel newspaper correspondent wrote: “Hell itself could not have vomited anything more black than this design of emancipating our slaves.” The proclamation deemed anyone opposing the proclamation as “defending slavery.”

Lord Dunmore afterward was hailed throughout the world as the Great Emancipator and savior of the black race, and that had he not freed the bondsmen from the slave holding colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, chattel slavery would have continued forever.

The irony of this official history was not lost on those who had witnessed the populating of the American colonies and how the official Royal African Company (RAC) brought slave ship after slave ship to work the plantations that enriched the British Empire. The RAC was established in 1660 by the Stuart family and London merchants, for the purpose of trading along the west coast of Africa – especially for slaves. It was led by the Duke of York (for whom New York City is named), the brother of Charles II.

Additionally, the maritime colonies of Rhode Island and Massachusetts surreptitiously engaged in slaving, with the former colony surpassing Liverpool in 1750 as the center of the lucrative transatlantic slave trade. Thus New England’s maritime ventures and its competition with England was greatly to blame for sparking the rebellion.

Although the British were certainly responsible (along with the Portuguese, French and Spanish) for the presence of African slaves in North America, they were victorious in that civil war and wrote the official histories of the rebellion. Subsequently, all British universities, newspapers and books were in unison denouncing the American rebels as racist white supremacists who refused the black man equality, and any monuments to their dead were simply evidence of glorifying and romanticizing a Lost Cause. Imagine.

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

The Gratification of a Favorite Passion

The mass immigration from Europe during the late antebellum years changed the social and cultural profile of the Northern States and deeply affected how that section viewed the new western territories, which they desired for expansion and free of a black population. Those immigrants being unfamiliar with the Anglo-Saxon culture, laws and traditions of their new home helped create a North which differed greatly with the South, and helped create two distinct sections that would either separate, or come to blows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Gratification of a Favorite Passion

“The more Southerners viewed their own civilization the more they feared the dangers of its disintegration by the infiltration of Northern radicalism and its actual overthrow by continued Northern agitation and outright attack. They shuddered at the thought that they should ever by forced to embrace Northern ways.

The deluge of immigrants with their strange and dangerous ideas had made of Northerners another race. Even basically, it was held, Northerners and Southerners were of different origins. It was the open-hearted Cavalier against the tight-fisted Puritan of the North – “the advocate of rational liberty and the support of authority, as against the licentiousness and morbid impulse of unregulated passion, and unenlightened sentiment. “

As William H. Russell put it, Southerners believed that the “New Englander must have something to persecute, and as he has hunted down all his Indians, burnt all his witches, and persecuted all his opponents to the death, he invented abolitionism as the sole resource left to him for the gratification of his favorite passion.”

In the North, there was corruption in State and municipal governments; the rulers were King Numbers, agrarian mobs, lawless democracies, black and red Republicans. There were overgrown grimy cities filled with crime and poverty. Beggars were everywhere – not like the South where an Englishman had spent six months and could say, “I never saw a beggar.”

There was free-soilism, abolitionism, freeloveism, Fourierism, Mormonism, a fanatical press “without honor or modesty,” free thought and infidelism, “intemperance and violence and indecorum” of the clergy . . . Northerners were a people whose wisdom is paltry cunning, whose valor and manhood have been swallowed up in corruption, howling demagoguery, and in the marts of dishonest commerce.

Capital and labor were in perpetual conflict; there was neither the orderly relation which existed between master and slave nor the social security the slave possessed. There was likely to be a violent social upheaval, not unlike the French Revolution, and the South did not care to be a part of the country undergoing it. The Southerner wanted his own country, one that he could love and take pride in.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 11-13)

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

With Benjamin Harrison in the White House in 1889, the Republican party moved quickly to restore its political hegemony and construct numerous barriers to future Democratic victories. In a two-pronged effort the McKinley Bill would establish high tariff rates to protect northeastern manufacturers from foreign competition and encourage campaign contributions; the Force Bill ostensibly prevented corruption in Federal elections – but in reality gave Federal district judges the power to manipulate congressional elections in the South by shearing as much authority as possible from local election officials.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Force Bill Fight in Congress

“When Congress assembled in December, 1889, the Republicans were in complete control of both branches for the first time in sixteen years. With a great deal of satisfaction, therefore, their leaders revived the partisan measures that a Democratic majority in one house had previously thwarted.

In the opening days of the session they prepared several items of legislation designed to strengthen and lengthen Republican power. Their high tariff supporters were to be rewarded with the McKinley bill with its inflated schedules; the [treasury] surplus was to be obliterated by a veritable orgy of Federal spending; and any subsequent restoration of the Democratic party to power was to be hampered by a set of Federal election laws that would weaken the Solid South with Negro ballots and, if necessary, Northern bayonets.

If the Democrats were to survive the onslaught that the Republicans planned for them, they would require unflagging minority leadership in Congress. Shrewd parliamentary leadership would be needed there to employ effectively the minority’s somewhat limited resources.

The elections bill . . . was designed to appeal to lovers of human, rather than property rights. Its provisions were to be simple, just, and, to all outward appearance, eminently nonpartisan. Those who opposed its passage would place themselves in the position of defending Negro disenfranchisement, unconstitutional usurpation by Southern whites, and downright criminality. To attack the elections bill would be equivalent to a shameless confession of guilt.

Both measures were designed to cripple the Democratic party. The Tariff bill was not simply the negation of avowed Democratic principle; it was both the repayment of Republican campaign debts and the promise of future contributions.

“Fat-frying” had made Republican victories possible in 1888; high tariff schedules would now satisfy old customers and establish a new group of beneficiaries whose financial support might ensure Democratic defeat indefinitely.

The ulterior motives behind the elections bill were equally clear. Pious declarations that it was not a political weapon might assist its passage, but once it became law, the President would be empowered to enforce its provisions with the full support of the Army and Navy.

By this time it was clear to everyone that the Republicans were not motivated by humanitarian impulses in their efforts to protect the Negro in his constitutional rights; they were attempting to restore the political control over the Southern election machinery which they had exercised during the Reconstruction era”

(Arthur Pue Gorman, John R. Lambert, Louisiana State University Press, 1953, excerpts, pp. 145-148; 157)

This Sad Life in Vicksburg

The author below was Mary Ann Loughborough, the New York City-born wife of Colonel James Loughborough, assistant adjutant general to Major General Sterling Price. In mid-April 1863, Mary was visiting Vicksburg just as the enemy fleet had run past the defensive batteries on the Mississippi River and began subjecting the city to intense and indiscriminate bombardment.  For protection from this shelling, civilians dug caves in the clay hills which Vicksburg was built upon.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

How Sad This Life in Vicksburg

“Even the very animals seemed to share the general fear of a sudden and frightful death. The dogs would be seen in the midst of the noise to gallop up the street, and then to return, as if fear had maddened them. On hearing the descent of a shell, they would dart aside – then, as it exploded, sit down and howl in the most pitiful manner.

In the midst of other miserable thoughts, it came to my mind one day that these dogs’ hunger might become as much dreaded as wolves. The horses . . . would frequently strain the halter to its full length, rearing high in the air, with a loud snort of terror as a shell would explode near. I could hear them in the night cry out in the midst of the uproar, ending in a low, plaintive whinny of fear.

Sitting in [my] cave one evening, I heard the most heartrending screams and moans. I was told that a mother had taken a child into a cave about a hundred yards from us; and having laid it on its little bed, as the poor woman believed, in safety, she took her seat near the entrance of the cave.

A mortar shell came rushing through the air and fell with much force, entering the earth above the sleeping child – cutting through into the cave – oh! Most horrible sight to the mother – crushing in the upper part of the little sleeping head, and taking away the young innocent life without a look or word of passing love to be treasured in the mother’s heart.

I sat near the square of moonlight, silent and sorrowful, hearing the sobs and cries – hearing the moans of a mother for her dead child – the child that a few moments since lived to caress and love – speaking the tender words that endear so much the tie of mother and child.

How very sad this life in Vicksburg! – how little security we can feel, with so many around us seeing the morning light that will never more see the night! How blightingly the hand of warfare lay upon the town!

The moans of pain came slowly and more indistinct, until all was silent; and the bereaved mother slept, I hope – slept to find, on waking, a dull pressure of pain at her heart, and in the first collection of faculties will wonder what it is. Then her care for her child will return, and the new sorrow will again come to her – gone, forever gone!”

(My Cave Life in Vicksburg, By a Lady, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1989 (original D. Appleton & Company, 1864), excerpts, pp. 71-75)

Grant Opens the Northwest to Cheap Water Freight

The bombardment of Vicksburg, Mississippi by Grant in mid-1863 took an enormous toll on the civilians in the city. From the book “My Cave Life in Vicksburg” (D. Appleton & Company, 1864), the author writes: “I was told a Negro woman, in walking through the yard, had been struck by a fragment of a shell, and instantly killed. The screams of the women of Vicksburg were the saddest I have ever heard. I cannot attempt to describe the thrill of pity, mingled with fear that pierced my soul, as suddenly vibrating through the air would come these shrieks – these pitiful moans! – sometimes almost simultaneously with the explosion of a shell.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grant Opens the Northwest to Cheaper Water Freight

“It was the twenty-fifth of May, three days after the assault on Vicksburg. Federal dead between the lines were “swelling to the stature of giants” and were making the air so unbearable that Confederates had sent out the request [to the enemy] that they be buried.

Under a white flag soldiers threw dirt on late comrades, while in the midst Sherman and a Confederate officer sat on a log. To all appearance, Sherman was callous toward death.

The spectacle of Vicksburg’s bombardment delighted Sherman’s artistic eye. On clear nights he saw pickets sitting on their rifle-pit embankments, staring at the grandest pyrotechnics they had ever beheld – thin red trails of light, sparkling like comets’ tails, soaring into the sky to halt, then curve downward to vanish among the housetops of the dark city. After a pause, a jarring concussion would come on the wind.

From land and river Union siege guns and navy mortars were throwing shells with burning fuses. Privates of the Twelfth Wisconsin said that their Negro cooks lay so flat during a bombardment that soldiers mistook them for rubber blankets and carried them to camp over their shoulders at the day’s end.

Surrender came on July 4 [1863], Grant paroling 31,600 wasted Confederates in the knowledge that the great majority, sick of the war, would go home never to shoulder arms again. Up North, men were declaring that they had always had faith in Grant, the Northwest was happy because the Wall Street railroaders were now due to get their com-uppance – the cheap water freights could soon be resumed.”

(Sherman, Fighting Prophet, Lloyd Lewis, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932, excerpts pp. 284-287; 291)

Grant’s New Kind of War

At Vicksburg, Grant initiated a concept of total war and annihilation against Americans in the South which caused Sherman to worship him. The endless streams of paid substitutes and immigrant recruits sent by Lincoln to fill his constantly depleted ranks far surpassed the small citizen armies of the South who fought with their homes behind them.  Grant may have learned this from British Col. Banastre Tarelton, and saw sheer brutality against soldier and civilian alike as an effective manner in which to subjugate the South. Monitoring both Grant, Sherman and Sheridan destructive campaigns was a young Spanish attache, Captain Varleriano Weyler, who in the mid-1890s became known as “Butcher” Weyler for herding Cuban women and children into concentration camps and burning the countryside.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grant’s New Kind of War

“What Sherman could not see was that Grant had, in those silent months before Vicksburg, evolved a new psychology for the Federal armies. At [Fort] Donelson the seed of the new idea had started to grow when he had noted that if two fighters were exhausted the first to revive would be the victor.

Lying at the foot of Vicksburg’s cliffs, Grant had come to the irrevocable belief that, in the end, triumph would come to that army which never counted its dead, never licked its wounds, never gave its adversary breathing space, never remembered the past nor shrank from the future – the army which dismissed old rules and ignored rebuffs – the army which held implicit faith in a simple and eternal offensive.

As he prodded his men . . . , Sherman’s eyes began to open, [and] the old military world of West Point [seemed] to spin around beneath him and disappear. This was a new kind of war – and Grant was making his own rules as he went along. Here was an army caring not a whipstitch for a base of supplies. From field, barn, smokehouse, and cellar they were extracting epicurean meals.

When they squatted on their haunches at noon, they fried ham, bacon, pork chops, beefsteak . . . they rolled blankets around bottles of wine and whiskey lifted from baronial sideboards. What was a base of supplies to them? They were not professional soldiers. They were western pioneers – a new generation of pioneers loose in a new country with rifles and axes.  Had their fathers or grandfathers given a damn about a base of supplies when they had crossed the Ohio long ago to enter the wilderness?

While his men built a new bridge over the Big Black River, he lay down in a Negro’s cabin to snatch a few moments of sleep. It was midnight . . . [and] Grant had just ridden up. Twenty-five years later Sherman recalled the scene in detail:

“I rushed out bareheaded and taking him by the hand said, “General Grant, I want to congratulate you on the success of your plan. And it’s your plan, too, by heaven, and nobody else’s. For nobody else believe in it.”

It was as near to hero-worship as Sherman would come in a lifetime that held no heroes.”

(Sherman, Fighting Prophet, Lloyd Lewis, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932, excerpts pp. 273-274)

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

In this late 1940 address to the Southern Historical Association, historian Frank L. Owsley (1890-1956) spoke of the sectional cause of the Civil War and the North’s reluctance to allow the South to seek political independence.  Prof. Owsley was born in Alabama, taught at Vanderbilt University and was a member of the Southern Agrarians.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

“Before attempting to say what were the causes of the American Civil War, first let me say what were not the causes of the war.

Perhaps the most beautiful, the most poetic, the most eloquent statement of what the Civil War was not fought for is the Gettysburg Address. That address will live as long as Americans retain their love for free government and personal liberty; and yet in reassessing the causes of the Civil War, the address whose essence is was that the war was being fought so “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth” is irrelevant.

Indeed, this masterpiece of eloquence has little if any value as a statement of the basic principles underlying the war.

The Civil War was not a struggle on the part of the South to destroy free government and personal liberty, nor on the part of the North to preserve them. Looked at from the present perspective of the worldwide attempt of the totalitarians to erase free governments and nations living under such governments from the face of the earth, the timeworn stereotype that the South was attempting the destruction of free government and the North was fighting to preserve it seems unrealistic and downright silly.

If the destruction of democratic government by the South and its preservation by the North were not the causes of the Civil War, what then were the causes? The surface answer to this question is that in 1861, the Southern people desired and attempted to establish their independence and thereby to disrupt the old Union; and that the North took up arms to prevent the South from establishing this independence and to preserve the Union.

This [Southern] state of mind may be summed up thus: by the Spring of 1861, the Southern people felt it both abhorrent and dangerous to continue to live under the same government with the people of the North. So profound was this feeling among the bulk of the Southern population that they were prepared to fight a long and devastating war to accomplish a separation.

On the other hand, the North was willing to fight a war to retain their reluctant fellow citizens under the same government with themselves.

The cause of that state of mind which we may well call war psychosis lay in the sectional character of the United States. In other words, the Civil War had one basic cause: sectionalism.

Our national state was built, not upon the foundations of a homogenous land and people, but upon geographic sections inhabited severally by provincial, self-conscious, self-righteous, aggressive and ambitious populations of varying origins and diverse social and economic systems; and the passage of time and the cumulative effects of history have accentuated these sectional patterns.”

(The Fundamental Cause of the Civil War, Frank L. Owsley, excerpt, Address to Southern Historical Association, November 8, 1940)

 

 

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