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Martial Law is the Absence of Law

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

A review of the martial law imposed upon the island of Key West 1861-1865 was recently presented by a local college history teacher, and as a part of the North’s comprehensive military strategy during the Civil War. The audience was a local Civil War Roundtable (CWRT) group.

The lecturer noted the military takeover of the civilian government on the island in mid-January 1861 as the local commander, Capt. James Brannan surreptitiously barricaded his 44 men in the nearly completed Fort Zachary Taylor and turned its guns on the town. Overnight, the US military’s local friends and neighbors became an enemy to be treated with suspicion and contempt. Now fearing bombardment of their homes from the nearby fort, the residents became prisoners in their homes.

The reason cited for Brannan’s warlike action was overhearing “secession” talk among the residents as well as Florida’s recent decision to formally withdraw from the United States federation and become an independent State. Florida was to remain independent until it formally voted to join the Confederate States of America on April 22, 1861.

The arrival in March 1861 of more Northern troops increased armed patrols roaming the town and surveilling citizens. Arbitrary arrests were common, and Fort Taylor became an American bastille to hold prisoners of conscience. Locals, especially merchants with inventories to sell, sought favor with the military as willing informants, reporting on anyone complaining of military rule. Elected officials who disagreed with the military faced arrest and confinement, and new elections of approved candidates were held under armed supervision. Those considered “dangerous secessionists” were deported to the mainland.

What Capt. Brannan accomplished with his unilateral action, and unfortunately not pointed out by the lecturer, was to wage war against a State which is the very definition of treason in the US Constitution – Article III, Section 3. Though Brannan was applauded by his fellow officers and eventually promoted for his act, this does not absolve him of treason.

It was highly likely that Brannan was emulating Major Robert Anderson at Charleston as news of the Fort Sumter seizure could have reached him at Key West in early January. As Anderson suffered no adverse consequences for his fort seizure, Brannan perhaps saw a green light to do the same but should have been more circumspect as he certainly was aware that John Brown was hung in 1858 for waging war against Virginia – the crime being treason. Noteworthy is that Brown was tried and convicted in Virginia, where he committed his crime.

Though this speaker outlined how the island was placed under military rule, no adequate or honest discussion was provided regarding how or why military rule had suddenly materialized, how it was justified under American law, or who specifically ordered it. Martial law is generally considered to be the absence of law with arrests and detentions made at the discretion of the military commander, or those commanded by him. Missing was any explanation of how easily Northern commanders could ignore habeas corpus which was so deeply rooted in Anglo-American jurisprudence. But importantly, as Lincoln ignored the Constitution and approved the repressive actions of those like Brannan, it only encouraged more violations of the law.

The seizure of Fort Taylor came at the whim of a local military commander who was sworn to uphold the United States Constitution – and who should have clearly understood the definition of treason. Though simplistically following orders to protect the fort he was charged with commanding, the withdrawal of the State of Florida and its relationship with the United States government at Washington took precedence. After being officially advised of Florida’s decision to formally declare independence, and lacking any reason to remain on the island, which was no longer part of the United States, Capt. Brannan should have sought Florida officials to provide him with receipts for all equipment left behind before departing with his command. Though he likely would have been court-martialed for doing this, he would have been true to his oath to support the United States Constitution.

The above indicates that there is more than one viewpoint regarding this particular topic, and a more well-versed history teacher should have been able to present all credible perspectives beyond their own. In this particular case, the audience deserved a far better explanation of how military rule quickly overwhelmed a peaceful American town. The listeners were unfortunately left with a partial and limited view of this important and most revealing topic.

(For more information on this topic, see: “Key West’s Civil War: Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here.” John Bernhard Thuersam – Shotwell Publishing and available on Amazon)

Feb 25, 2024 - Northern Culture Laid Bare, Prisons for Americans, Race and the North, Race and the South, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Southern Officers and Slaves at Johnson’s Island

Southern Officers and Slaves at Johnson’s Island

Southern Officers and Slaves at Johnson’s Island

‘Dr. Christian was colonel of the 51st Virginia Infantry who was captured after the battle at Gettysburg while Lee’s army was crossing “Falling Waters.” He was sent to Johnson’s Island where the officers [captured at] Port Hudson were also imprisoned. Said the Doctor:

“My recollection is that there were thirteen negroes who spent the dreadful winter of 1863-64 with us at Johnson’s Island, and not one of them deserted or accepted freedom, though it was urged upon them time and again.

You recall that Port Hudson was compelled to surrender after Vicksburg had fallen. The officers were notified they would not be paroled as those at Vicksburg had been but told they could retain their personal property. Some of the officers claimed their negro servants as personal property and took them along to prison with them.

Arriving at Johnson’s Island the federal authorities assured the negroes they were as free as their masters had been, and were not prisoners of war; that they would give them no rations and no rights as prisoners of war if they went in the prison, but they all elected to go in and declared to the Yankees they would stick to their young masters to the end of time, if they starved to death by doing so. Those officers, of course, shared their rations and everything else with their servants.

‘George’ was the negro of an Alabama colonel also a prisoner. George was frequently summoned by the prison’s commanding officer and told he was a free man and had but to say the word and he would be taken out of prison to work for $2 a day and furnished good clothes to wear plus live anywhere he wanted. He was also told he was a fool as his master would never be exchanged or let out of prison, and if he stayed with the Rebel officer he as well would starve in prison.

After George returned to the cell and related this, I asked what he said in reply to the Yankee officer. He told him: ‘Sir, what you want me to do is to desert. I ain’t no deserter, and down South, sir, where we live, deserters always disgrace their families. I’ve got a family down home, sir, and if I do what you tell me, I will be a deserter and disgrace my family, and I am never going to do that.’

‘What did the commanding officer say?’ I asked. ‘Get out of here you d—- fool nigger and rot in prison.’ And now master, here I am, and I am going to stay here as long as you stay, if I starve and rot.’

(The Negroes as Slaves, Capt. James Dinkins. Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXV, 1907, pp. 62-64)

“Kossuth Exile” in Florida

The commander of Northern forces attacking Marianna, Florida in late September, 1864 was “Kossuth Exile” Alexander Asboth, a Hungarian revolutionary and contemporary of Lajos Kossuth in the failed 1848 socialist uprising. Fearing execution for treason, he fled that country in 1849.

A large contingent of Hungarian socialists journeyed to Iowa where they received US government interest-free loans. Kossuth conducted a fund-raising tour of the US to support his revolutionary cause, but expended most of it on a lavish lifestyle.  

Initially on the staff of General John C. Fremont in 1861, Lincoln promoted Asboth to the rank of brigadier-general with an eye to enlist more Hungarian refurgees in this country. After an undistinguished military career, he was assigned to western Florida. At the one-sided battle of Marianna against old men and teenage boys, Asboth was severely wounded in the left cheek and left arm before his retreat.  

In recognition of his accomplishments, in early 1866 President Andrew Johnson promoted Asboth to the permanent rank of major-general, and then appointed him US Minister to Uruguay.

Fellow Hungarian revolutionary Albin Francisco Schoepf became one of Lincoln’s brigadier generals who eventually commanded the notorious Fort Delaware prison camp. Schoepf allowed his subordinates absolute control over Southern prisoners, some of whom were tortured and used as forced labor, resulting in a high death rate and reputation as the most brutal POW camp in America.

The Covenant with Power

In Woodrow Wilson’s call for a declaration of war against Germany, he spoke of freedom of the seas yet was silent on Britain’s blockade of Europe. He also proclaimed self-determination as a great principle while declaring Irish independence as irrelevant and avoiding the question of Southern self-determination 56 years earlier in his own country. Senator Robert LaFollette wrote of Wilson: “I sometimes think the man has no sense of things that penetrate below the surface.  With him, the rhetoric of a thing is the thing itself.  Words, phrases, felicity of expression and a blind egotism have been his stock in trade.”

The Covenant with Power

 “If the United States had refused to intervene in 1917, would a German victory in 1918 have been a better historical alternative? The answer is debatable.

What would have happened if Wilson had taken William Jennings Bryan’s advice and practiced real rather than sham neutrality? Without the backing of American weaponry, munitions and loans, the Allies would have been forced to abandon their goal of the knockout blow. The war might have ended in 1916 with a negotiated peace based on a mutual admission that the conflict had become a stalemate.  As a genuine neutral, Wilson might have even have persuaded both sides to let him be a mediator.

Lloyd George’s argument – that unless the United States intervened, Wilson would have no place at the peace table – was specious at best. Both sides would have needed America’s wealth and industrial resources to rebuild their shattered economies.

A victorious Germany would have no need of political adventurers such as Adolf Hitler. Nor would this counterfactual Germany have inserted the Bolsheviks into Russia and supported them with secret-service money.  Lenin and Trotsky might have agitated in a political vacuum in Switzerland unto a crabbed old age. The war created the collapse that gave Bolshevism its seventy-year reign of blood and terror.

Perhaps the best way to look at Woodrow Wilson’s tragically flawed intervention in World War I is, in the words of the historian Lloyd C. Gardner, as a covenant with power. Painfully, with mistakes aplenty, the United States recognized that power is at the heart of history.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson discovered limitations to America’s power . . . [especially those that] lay in the prime illusion of idealism – the expectation that noble words can easily be translated into meaningful realities.

Woodrow Wilson struggled with his inadvertent covenant with power. Like Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus and jailed [thousands] of dissenters during the Civil War, Wilson tolerated a brutally realistic government of the home front.”

(The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, Thomas Fleming, Basic Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 480-482)

Other Voices of the North

Charles H. Lamphier, editor of the Illinois State Register in Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, referred to the president as “the ineffable despot, who, by some inscrutable dispensation of Providence presides over the destinies of this vast republic.” Lincoln’s reelection victory led Lamphier to write that “this result is the heaviest calamity that ever befell this nation . . . the farewell to civil liberty, to a republican form of government . . . his election has filled our hearts with gloom.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Other Voices of the North

“On the Fourth of July, when Lee’s army was dragging itself from the [Gettysburg] battlefield, the North was electrified by news that Vicksburg had fallen. But the national holiday also heard voices in the North declaring the people had lost their liberties. Franklin Pierce, former President of the United States, spoke to 25,000 at Concord, N.H., denouncing the war as “sectional and parricidal.”

“Even here in the loyal States,” he said, “the mailed hand of military usurpation strikes down the liberties of the people, and its foot tramples on a desecrated Constitution.”

New York’s Governor [Horatio] Seymour – who deplored the election of Lincoln as a “great calamity,” made formal protests against “arbitrary arrests,” and vetoed a bill to permit soldiers in the field to vote on grounds it was unconstitutional – spoke before a large audience at the Academy of Music in New York City.

He asserted that not only was there a “bloody civil war” in progress but that a “second revolution” was threatening in the North because of the hostility between the two political parties. Then he said, “Remember that the bloody, and treasonable, and revolutionary doctrine of public necessity can be proclaimed by a mob as well as by a government.”

Benjamin Wood, Democratic Congressman and editor of the New York Daily News, published an editorial attack on President Lincoln, charging that he was trying to preach “passive submission,” through the columns of [John W.] Forney’s Chronicle at Washington. The editorial spoke of the Chronicle as “the salaried organ of the bloodstained criminals at Washington.”

[Many German language] newspapers deserted Lincoln . . . [such as] the Illinois Staats-Anzeiger of Springfield, a newspaper once secretly owned by him. In announcing its break with Lincoln, the newspaper said:

“Reviewing the history of the last four years, nothing is left to us but to cut loose decidedly and forever from Lincoln and his policy, and to protest against his reelection under all circumstances and at any price. No reasons of expediency can influence us ever to ever accept Lincoln as our President again . . .”

(Lincoln and the Press, Robert S. Harper, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1951, excerpts pp. 271-272; 304)

Jefferson Davis Placed in Irons

Massachusetts-born General Nelson A. Miles rose from a lowly lieutenant of volunteers to major-general by the end of the war. He was specifically chosen by Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Gen. Ulysses Grant to command President Jefferson Davis’ guard detachment “because he was not from the line of West Point-trained professionals who might treat the former officer with military courtesy.” (Leonard Wood, Jack McCallum, 2006). It was Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, manipulator of the soldier vote to help ensure Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, who ordered Davis to be placed in irons.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Jefferson Davis Placed in Irons

“On the morning of the 23rd of May [1865], Captain Jerome E. Titlow of the Third Pennsylvania Artillery, entered the prisoner’s cell. “I have an unpleasant duty to perform, Sir”; and as he spoke, the senior blacksmith took the shackles from his assistant.

Davis leaped instantly from his recumbent attitude, a flush passing over his face for a moment, and then his countenance growing livid and rigid as death.

“My God! You cannot have been sent to iron me?” “Such are my orders Sir,” replied the officer, beckoning the blacksmith to approach . . . These fetters were of heavy iron, probably five-eights of an inch in thickness, and connected together by a chain of like weight.

“This is too monstrous,” groaned the prisoner, glaring hurriedly around the room, as if for some weapon, or means of self-destruction. “I demand, Captain, that you let me see the commanding officer. Can he pretend that such shackles are required to secure the safe custody of a weak old man, so guarded and in such a fort as this?”

“I tell you the world will ring with this disgrace. The war is over; the South is conquered; I have no longer any country but America, and it is for the honor of America, as for my own honor and life that I plead against this degradation. Kill me! Kill me!” he cried, passionately, throwing his arms wide open and exposing his breast, “rather than inflict on me, and my People through me, this insult worse than death.”

“I am a prisoner of war” . . . “I have been a soldier in the armies of America, and know how to die. Only kill me, and my last breath shall be a blessing on your head. But while I have life and strength to resist, for myself and my people, this thing shall never be done.”

[The sergeant] advanced to seize the prisoner . . . Immediately Mr. Davis flew on him, seized his musket and attempted to wrench it from his grasp. There was a short passionate scuffle. In a moment Davis was flung upon his bed [by four powerful assailants].”

(The Prison Life of Jefferson Davis, John D. Craven, Geo. D. Carleton Publisher, 1866, excerpts pp. 35-36)

 

The Fierce Yell First Heard at Manassas

The extended trial of Jefferson Davis and his growing support from many Northern men of influence brought the prosecution to the realization that he could never be convicted of treason. “It only requires one dissident juror to defeat the Government and give Jefferson Davis and his favorers a triumph,” argued [US attorney William] Evarts in a carefully planned letter to President [Andrew] Johnson; and he strongly advised that no trial should be allowed.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Fierce Yell First Heard at Manassas

“Jefferson Davis, broken in health and greatly enfeebled by his confinement, came to Richmond [in May 1867] for his anticipated trial in the custody of General Henry S. Burton, commandant of Fortress Monroe, and stopped at the Spottswood Hotel, Eighth and Main Streets. A huge crowd filled the street in front of the hotel and in the vicinity of the customhouse where the [charge of treason] was to be heard.

He was represented by a remarkable array of eminent Northern attorneys, who had come to the conclusion that he was being treated with great injustice and offered their services. The list included Charles O’Conor of New York, probably the leader of the American bar; George Shea of New York; and William Read of Philadelphia. John Randolph Tucker, who had served as attorney general of Virginia, also was one of the defense counsel, together with Judge Robert Ould and James Lyon, both of Richmond.

O’Conor requested that the trial begin at once, but the government declared that this was impossible. [Presiding] Judge [John C.] Underwood, perhaps impressed by the fact that Davis was represented by such distinguished Northern counsel, said the defendant would be admitted to bail in the sum of $100,000.

The bail bond was promptly signed by such onetime foes of the Confederate President as Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, and Gerrit Smith, New York reformer and foe of slavery. Another New Yorker who signed was Cornelius Vanderbilt.

As soon as the court announced that Davis would be admitted to bail, someone ran to a window and shouted to the crowd below on Main Street, “The President is bailed!” A mighty roar of applause greeted the news.

When the formalities were completed and Davis was released from custody, he was escorted to his carriage on Bank Street by Charles O’Conor and Judge Ould. As the three men emerged from the building, they were greeted with “that fierce yell which was first heard at Manassas, and had been the note of victory at Cold Harbor, at Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and wherever battle was fiercest. The “rebel yell” reverberated again as the carriage passed along Main Street to the Spottswood.

Silence fell upon the crowd as the vehicle stopped at the hotel door. Then, as Davis rose from his seat to alight, a deep voice boomed the order, “Hats off, Virginians!” Thousands of men uncovered, as a gesture of respect for the brave man who had led them through four years of desperate conflict and then had suffered two more years in prison.

Jefferson Davis was never tried by the Federal authorities.”

(Richmond: the Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts pp. 206-207)

Rethinking Loyalty

Northern prisoners, especially conscripted recent immigrants, had time to reconsider where their loyalties lay while awaiting exchange. William Irwin of Maine and 1700 others decided to enlist in the Eighth Confederate Battalion (formerly the Second Foreign Battalion) while imprisoned at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. After the prison was overrun by Northern forces in April 1865, Irwin saw it wise to reestablish his spoken loyalty to Lincoln’s government.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Rethinking Loyalty

“As early as 1862 Union prisoners were joining the Confederate forces. This process continued with varying intensity throughout the war but saw its greatest results toward the end.

On 21 August 1864 the adjutant and inspector general issued General Order 65, which spelled out a new policy of encouraging enemy prisoners, particularly aliens, and most particularly Irish Catholics, to enlist with Confederate forces. In late 1864 Colonel Zebulon York established a camp about three miles west of the prison at Salisbury to which prisoners enlisting were taken to be trained and organized into Confederate units.

After the war the U.S. government compiled a list of prisoners who had sworn allegiance to the Confederacy based on the records of Salisbury prison . . . [and] the list contains some two thousand names. Most of the men were of Irish extraction.

Of 2,072 names on the list believed to be unique, nearly half (48 percent) were from units recruited in New York. The next largest was from Pennsylvania (15 percent), followed by Massachusetts (9 percent), the border States (6 percent), New Hampshire (4 percent), the regular army (4 percent), with the remaining 13 percent coming from twelve other States, including the District of Columbia.

[Colonel York’s] “Galvanized Yankees,” as they were called, gave a good account of themselves in defending the Yadkin /river bridge against General George Stoneman’s cavalry in April 1865. In summary, it would appear that the Confederate handling of prisoners of war deprived the Union of several thousand soldiers and made a modest addition to Confederate manpower.

There is no way of knowing how many Union prisoners agreed to serve as Confederate agents on their return north [when officially exchanged], but undoubtedly some did. In addition to direct recruitment, the Confederacy also exploited the exchanges to plant its own agents under assumed identities.”

(Come Retribution, the Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, William A. Tidwell, University of Mississippi Press, 1988, excerpts pp. 121-124)

Lee the Specimen of True Manhood

The greatest of American military men, indeed a “cavalier, soldier and citizen, Robert E. Lee “effaced self, refused gifts and high place, overcame the bufferings of fate, and in defeat was as calm as in victory.” The author Robert Winston relates a story of a young girl whose father was a diplomat in Rome during the second reign of Grover Cleveland. After seeing a portrait of Lee on her father’s office wall, she asked why a picture of a rebel was so prominently displayed. “Ah, my child,” the father replied, “you are yet too young to understand but someday you will – and so will the world.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lee the Specimen of True Manhood

“During his imprisonment Jefferson Davis became a martyr for [the South] . . . Southerners saw in his imprisonment and the manacles and the other indignities a Christ-like figure suffering for their sins, and in the long years after his release. Davis’s struggle to regain his personal and financial fortunes mirrored those of all.

In 1870, when Lee died, [former vice president John] Breckinridge broke his resolution not to speak in public again by delivering a eulogy during memorial services in Louisville. “He failed,” the Kentuckian said of Lee. “The result is in the future. It may be better or for worse. We hope for the better.”

But failure alone did not define a man, or for that matter a cause. Lesser men often met with great worldly success, “but it is disaster alone that reveals the qualities of true greatness.”

While the world applauded those who erected memorials to their achievements, he thought there was another kind of triumph that went beyond the material and transient triumphs of men.

“Is not that man successful also who by his valor, moderation and courage, with all their associate virtues, presents to the world such a specimen of true manhood as his children and his children’s children will be proud to imitate?” he asked.

“In this sense he was not a failure.”

(An Honorable Defeat, the Last Days of the Confederate Government, William C. Davis, Harcourt, Inc., 2001, excerpt, pp. 396-397)

“This Savage and Cold-Blooded Idea”

The Confederate States held nearly 261,000 Northern soldiers in their prisons of which 22,526 died in captivity; Northern prisons held 200,000 Southerners of which 26,500 died – the higher percentage is the latter. Southern authorities provided food to prisoners equal to the meager rations for soldiers while Northern prisons were surrounded by bountiful fields and harvests.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“This Savage and Cold-Blooded Idea”

“John M. Daniel, from the Richmond Examiner, 25 November 1863:

“The Yankee policy with respect to the exchange of prisoners has been clearly exposed. It is based upon the simple principle that our men are intrinsically worth more than theirs, and that if they continue to hold our prisoners and to allow their own to remain in our hands they will be the gainers. Such, in fact, is the whole scheme of the war. If, by dint of superior numbers and a lavish expenditure of blood, they can inflict such losses upon the South as to render it incapable of further resistance, their point, I think, is gained . . . “

While this savage and cold-blooded idea is at the bottom of their reasoning, they are aware that it is necessary to cloak their purposes under as decent a veil as they can find. It will not do to tell their soldiers, or the classes from which they expect to recruit their armies, that they regard them merely as fighting animals, to be used sparingly, or sacrificed wantonly, according to the varying necessities of the case.

It would be ruinous, frankly, to avow that they are delighted to retain a certain number of Confederates in prison at the expense of an equal or even greater number of their own men. An excuse must be found which will throw the odium of refusing exchange upon the Confederacy. Yankee ingenuity, unhampered by the restraints of an adherence to truth, can easily accomplish this . . .

We have sought to carry out the cartel of exchange in good faith. Let us not allow the Yankees to take advantage of their own wrong, and, while they avoid the odium attaching to the desertion of their own prisoners, retain the advantage of neutralizing thousands of our soldiers.

Gladly would the Yankee Government, in order to deprive us of their services, agree to lodge [our soldiers] at the Fifth Avenue or the Metropolitan, and to feed them upon turtle soup and champagne. It would be a vastly cheaper way of disposing of them than maintaining armies of hirelings to oppose them in the field . . . “

(Empire of the Owls, Reflections on the North’s War Against Southern Secession, H.V. Traywick, Jr., Dementi Milestone Publishing, 2013, pp. 253-254)

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