Browsing "Southern Patriots"

The Blood of Young James Taylor

South Carolinian James Hunt Taylor’s great-grandfather fought heroically for independence in the Revolution; his grandfather served as the first mayor of Columbia, governor, and United States congressman. Taylor’s father was a noted physician in Columbia, and the importance of duty to his State and country was instilled in him at an early age. This he carried with him as he joined in the defense of his home and country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Blood of Young James Taylor

“Among the bravest Confederate soldiers were the colorbearers. As they stepped forward into battle, those young men and boys were bound by duty and honor to keep the Confederate and regimental flags flying at all costs. Virtually defenseless as they marched into the face of death, they proved to be inviting, and often easy, targets for enemy marksmen.

No position in the Confederate army was more revered and honored than the color sergeant. Consequently, despite the extreme dangers, soldiers willingly dropped their weapons to carry forward a flag after it had fallen in battle.

[Soon after the war began, a fifteen-year-old Taylor was with] the First South Carolina Volunteers [who] departed the Palmetto State under the command of Colonel (later General) Maxey Gregg. On their journey to Virginia, the soldiers carried with them a freshly made South Carolina flag. Today, that banner, preserved by the State of South Carolina, bears the damage of shot and shell and the blood of young James Taylor.

Following several months of fighting on the Virginia battlefields, Colonel Gregg entrusted the proud banner to Taylor’s hands . . . “as a reward for meritorious conduct as a soldier.” Taylor proudly and confidently carried the blue and white banner into battle after battle. His captain, Dan Miller, described the teenager as “bold, free and dashing.”

At Cold Harbor [in late June 1862] . . . the South Carolinians were greeted by heavy artillery fire. Taylor was soon hit . . . [and] ignoring his loss of blood and terrible pain, he continued to hurry forward, waving the flag to encourage the regiment to follow. Then he suffered a second wound . . . [and knocked] down by the blast, Taylor mustered enough energy to keep the flag flying from his prone position.

Upon seeing the color sergeant fall, Shubrick Hayne dropped his weapon and took the South Carolina flag . . . Taylor managed to stand up and stagger behind Hayne, who took but a few steps before he was mortally wounded. As the flag dropped from Hayne’s hands, Taylor took hold of it and attempted to inspire the men as he stumbled in the direction of heavy enemy fire.

For a third time he was wounded, a projectile smashing into his chest. The flag fell from his grasp, and he collapsed upon it, blood streaming from his body.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel H. Hamilton bent down to attend to his dying warrior. All James Hunt Taylor could manage to say was, “I can’t carry it any further, Colonel.”

(Let Us Die Like Brave Men: Behind the Dying Words of Confederate Warriors; Daniel W. Barefoot, John F. Blair Publishers, 2005, excerpt, pp. 37-39)

 

John Laurens, South Carolina Emancipator

Though John Laurens intention to emancipate and arm African slaves was intended to blunt the actions of Lord Dunmore’s Virginia emancipation proclamation of 1775 which fomented race war, which Lincoln later copied, South Carolina had earlier considered arming slaves for community defense. This shows too that using slaves as armed combatants with freedom as a reward predates the War Between the States, and an inevitable strategy, both offensive and defensive, given the great numbers of Africans brought to North America by British and New England slave ships.

Bernhard Thuersam www.Circa1865.com

 

John Laurens, South Carolina Emancipator

[Laurens] fought in the Battle of Brandywine, was wounded at Germantown, and spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge on Washington’s staff. At Monmouth the following summer he escaped unscathed when his horse was shot from under him . . . during the late summer of 1778 he had served as liaison officer between the French and American commands during the joint attack on Rhode Island. His linguistic ability made him popular with the French officers and useful to Washington who spoke no French at all.

Nevertheless, Laurens was able to prevail upon his commander to send him back to South Carolina where he hoped to raise and lead a regiment of blacks against the British in the South. Early in 1778 John Laurens broached the matter to his father, who was then president of the Continental Congress. “I would solicit you to cede me a number of your able-bodied men slaves, instead of leaving me a fortune,” he wrote.

Formed into a unit and trained, they might render important service during the next campaign, he argued. What is amazing about his plan, though, is not merely that he was willing to surrender a large part of his inheritance in order to augment the Continental Army — practically everything he did during the Revolution testifies to his willingness to sacrifice his own private interest in favor of the general welfare. Nor is it even that he was willing to arm the slaves — South Carolinians had considered that step during earlier emergencies.

Rather, the astonishing aspects of his proposal are its candor, its boldness and its lager purpose. Service in the revolutionary army would be a stepping-stone to freedom — “a proper gradation between abject slavery and perfect liberty,” which would not only prepare a slave to take his place in free society but also establish his claim to it. In short, his was a clever and far-reaching plan for the gradual abolition of slavery.

A year later, after the fall of Savannah, however, the obvious need for additional manpower led Congress to urge the Southern States to enlist three thousand blacks, who would be freed at the end of the war.”

(The Last of American Freemen, Robert M. Weir, Mercer University Press, 1986, excerpts, pp. 90-94)

 

Feb 18, 2017 - Antebellum Economics, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Jubal Early and the Goddess of Liberty

Jubal Early and the Goddess of Liberty

West Point cadet Jubal A. Early was nineteen years old when he wrote the following letter to his father in 1835, begging for permission to join the Texans in their fight for independence from Mexico. He would hold the same opinion of combatting tyranny in what he viewed to be Northern tyranny in the War Between the States — and continuing unabated after the War.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Jubal Early and the Goddess of Liberty

“The Texans are bound by every principle of self-preservation and are justified by the natural law of rights, as well as by precedent, to declare their independence and to resist the attempt which is being made to annihilate them. And we of the United States are called upon by every principle of humanity, by our love of liberty and our detestation of oppression, to go to the succor of our countrymen and aid in overwhelming the tyrant.

Shall we shed tears over the fate of Greece and Poland, yet see our countrymen slaughtered with indifference? The respect we entertain for our forefathers of the Revolution forbids it.

The gratitude we owe another country for espousing our cause imperiously commands us to espouse that of the oppressed. The cause of the Texans is more justifiable than was ours. We resisted the usurpation of our lawful government. They are resisting the tyranny and cruelty of [a] usurped government.

Liberty has been driven from the old world and its only asylum is in the new. It is the imperious duty of every one, who in this fair land has received it and its principles unsullied from his ancestors, to extend its dominion and to perpetuate its glorious light to posterity.

How can this be done if tyranny more despotic than that which exists in Europe is allowed to exist in our own confines? In succoring the Texans we should consider that we extend the sway of the goddess we worship, that we secure to their progeny the benefits of which we are so tenacious, and secure to the oppressed freemen of other countries an asylum which our own country will, ere long, not be able to afford them . . .

The great end of all education is to expand the mind and gain a knowledge of human nature. What is more calculated to expand the mind than the espousing of and working in the cause if liberty? What better book in which to study human nature than such a variety of characters as I would be constantly thrown with?

All things cry out to me to go [to Texas]. Oh, my dear father, will you not give me permission? Do not think that my resolution has been taken unadvisedly, and do not smile at my aspirations. I do not believe that I shall become a Bonaparte or [Simon] Bolivar, but he who never aspires, never rises. I have confined this letter to one subject because my whole soul is taken up with that subject.”

(Lt. Gen. Jubal Anderson Early, CSA, Narrative of the War Between the States; Da Capo Press, 1989 (original 1912), excerpt, pp. 471-472)

The True Story of the Late War

Northern General Don Piatt was a prewar Ohio lawyer who was critical of Lincoln, whom he believed a skeptic, believing only what he saw, and possessing a low estimate of human nature. Piatt believed the latter blinded Lincoln to the South as Southerners valued honor and were determined to achieve political liberty and independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The True Story of the Late War

“[James] Madison said: “A Union of States with such an ingredient as coercion would seem to provide for its own destruction.”

It certainly would provide for the destruction of the principles of liberty itself. Looked at in the lurid light of the [18]60’s, one expression in the above letter of President Madison will make the reader pause and reflect a moment. The “feeble debility of the South could never face the vigorous activity of the North.”

The Republican Party had inherited from its progenitor, the Federal [Party], the above idea of the South’s feeble debility. Members of that party invited United States Senators and Congressmen to take their wives and daughters out to see the first fight of the war, especially to “see rebels run at the sight of Union soldiers.” Everybody knows how the rebels ran at Bull Run.

Republican officers of the Union army have expressed their opinion of the South’s “feeble debility.” General Don Piatt, a Union officer, on this subject has this:

“The true story of the late war,” wrote General Piatt in 1887, “has not yet been told. It probably never will be told. It is not flattering to our people; unpalatable truths seldom find their way into history. How rebels fought the world will never know; for two years they kept an army in the field that girt their borders with a fire that shriveled our forces as they marched in, like tissue paper in a flame. Southern people were animated by a feeling that the word fanaticism feebly expresses. (Love of liberty expresses it.)

For two years this feeling held those rebels to a conflict in which they were invincible. The North poured out its noble soldiery by the thousands, and they fought well, but their broken columns and thinned lines drifted back upon our capital, with nothing but shameful disasters to tell of the dead, the dying, the lost colors and the captured artillery. Grant’s road from the Rapidan to Richmond was marked by a highway of human bones. The Northern army had more killed than the Confederate Generals had in command.”

“We can lose five men to their one and win,” said Grant. The men of the South, half-starved, unsheltered, in rags, shoeless, yet Grant’s marches from the Rapidan to Richmond left dead behind him more men than the Confederates had in the field!

The Reverend H.W. Beecher preached a sermon in his church on the “Price of Liberty” . . . [and] astonished his congregation by illustrations from the South:

”Where,” exclaimed the preacher, “shall we find such heroic self-denial, such upbearing under every physical discomfort, such patience in poverty, in distress, in absolute want, as we find in the Southern army? They fight better in a bad cause than you do in a good one; they fight better for a passion than you do for a sentiment. They fight well and bear up under trouble nobly, they suffer and never complain, they go in rags and never rebel, they are in earnest for their liberty, they believe in it, and if they can they mean to get it.”

“Lincoln’s low estimate of humanity,” says Piatt, “blinded him to the South. He could not understand that men would fight for an idea. He thought the South’s [independence] movement a sort of political game of bluff.”

Hannibal Hamlin said: “The South will have to come to us for arms, and come without money to pay for them.” “And for coffins,” said John P. Hale, with a laugh. “To put a regiment in the field,” said Mr. Speaker Banks, “costs more than the entire income of an entire Southern State.”

It was not long before the men of the North found that the South’s soldiers supplied themselves with arms and clothing captured from Union soldiers.”

(Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War on the South, 1861-1865, George Edmunds, Spence Hall Lamb, 1904, pp. 117-119)

Feb 12, 2017 - Southern Conservatives, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots, Southern Women, Withdrawing from the Union    Comments Off on Love and Southern Loyalty

Love and Southern Loyalty

An admirer of Southern society and culture, Northern Major-General John Pope held in very high esteem the Southern officers he had served with or under in the old army to include Joseph E. Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, G.W. Smith, and Barnard Bee. He feared that had General Winfield Scott departed Washington to serve his native State of Virginia, “no man can now tell how many more officers would have gone South with him.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Love and Southern Loyalty

“The Adjutant-General of the [United States] Army when the war broke out was Samuel Cooper, a native of New York and a graduate of West Point. He married a Virginia lady and had long before identified himself with that section of the country. It was a noticeable fact that, whilst almost every Northern man who married a Southern woman attached himself at once to his wife’s country and became naturally the most violent and bitter partisan of the South, very few Northern women were able, perhaps they were not anxious, to hold their [Southern] husbands loyal to the [Northern] government.

One of the strangest social phases that characterized the years before the war was the recognized social supremacy of the South and the deference paid to it. The South did not possess the wealth, the culture or the polish given by the experiences of foreign travel, yet in any society anywhere they dominated almost without question.

The South had been ruined in fortune and their customs and habits of life altogether overthrown. Yet poor, indeed well-nigh destitute, they still hold their heads high and are recognized as among the leaders of men of society by their far more prosperous fellow-citizens of the North. If things go on as they have been for the past ten years, the South by the end of another ten years will be as fully in possession of the government and will as completely direct its policy as in 1858 . . . [the South] blazes that power to rule and that fitness to command which characterized them before the war and which is rapidly being recognized and submitted to now.

General Cooper, as I have said, was a native of New York and except through his wife could have had neither interest in the South nor sympathy with its purpose . . . I do not now recall a single Northern officer who married a Southern woman who did not go South with her.”

(The Military Memoirs of General John Pope, Cozzens & Girardi, editors, UNC Press, 1998, pp. 200-201)

Brave Deeds Worthy of Harp and Poet

Gen. Jubal Early was held in high esteem by Stonewall Jackson, in whose army the former commanded a division. General Robert E. Lee greatly valued Early as a subordinate commander and tolerated Early’s cursing in his presence. “Old Jube” had an opportunity to capture Washington late in the war, and rather than submit to subjugation at war’s end decided on temporary exile in Canada via Havana. The home he occupied at Niagara-on-the-Lake across from Fort Niagara still stands.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Brave Deeds Worthy of the Harp and Poet

“It was my fortune to participate in most of the military operations in which the army in Virginia was engaged both before and after General Lee assumed the command. My operations and my campaign stand on their own merits.

I believe that the world has never produced a body of men superior, in courage, patriotism and endurance, to the private soldiers of the Confederate armies. I have repeatedly seen those soldiers submit, with cheerfulness, to privations and hardships which would appear to be almost incredible; and the wild cheers of our brave men, when their thin lines were sent back opposing hosts of Federal troops, staggering, reeling and flying, have often thrilled every fiber in my heart.

I have seen, with my own eyes, ragged, barefooted, and hungry, Confederate soldiers perform deeds which, if performed in days of yore by mailed warriors in glittering armor, would have inspired the harp of the minstrel and the pen of the poet.

Having been a witness of and participant in great events, I have given a statement of what I saw and did, for the use of the future historian. Having had some means of judging, I will say that, in my opinion, both Mr. [Jefferson] Davis and General Lee, in their respective spheres, did all for the success of our cause which it was possible for mortal men to do and it is a great privilege and comfort for me so to believe. In regard to my own services, I have the consciousness of having done my duty to my country, to the very best of my ability.

During the war, slavery was used as a catch-word to arouse the passions of a fanatical mob, and to some extent the prejudices of the civilized world were excited against us; but the war was not made on our part for slavery.

High dignitaries in both church and state in Old England, and puritans in New England, had participated in the profits of a trade by which the ignorant and barbarous natives of Africa were brought from that country and sold into slavery in the American Colonies.

The generation in the Southern States which defended their country in the late war, found amongst them, in a civilized and Christianized condition, 4,000,000 of the descendants of those degraded Africans. Nevertheless, the struggle made by the people of the South was not for the institution of slavery, but for the inestimable right of self-government, against the domination of a fanatical faction at the North; and slavery was the mere occasion of the development of the antagonism between the two sections. That right of self-government has been lost, and slavery violently abolished.

When the passions and infatuations of the day shall have been dissipated by time, and all the results of the late war shall have passed into irrevocable history, the future chronicler of that history will have a most important duty to perform, and posterity, while poring over its pages, will be lost in wonder at the follies and crimes committed in this generation.”

(Gen. Jubal A. Early: Narrative of the War Between the States, Jubal A. Early, Da Capo Press, 1989 (original 1912), excerpts, pp. viii-x)

 

Feb 8, 2017 - Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, Southern Women    Comments Off on Beauregard’s Romantic Set of Spies

Beauregard’s Romantic Set of Spies

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s sweeping plans to annihilate the Northern host invading Virginia in mid-July 1861 were Napoleonic in character though both Davis and Lee discounted them due to Beauregard’s inflated numbers of troops available, and that rather than risk open battle against a superior force, the enemy would simply retire to its Washington’s defenses. Nonetheless, the Creole general did amass an interesting coterie of spies to monitor enemy movements.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Beauregard’s Romantic Set of Spies

“On July 13 [1861, Beauregard] sent an aide to Richmond with a proposal for the union of his army with [Gen. Joseph E.] Johnston’s. Hardly had the aide left when Beauregard enlarged his plan and sent Colonel James R., Chestnut of his staff to explain it to [President Jefferson] Davis.

The completed plan was truly Napoleonic. Johnston, leaving five thousand men in the Valley to contain the Federals, was to join Beauregard with twenty thousand (Johnston had eleven thousand in his command). The combined force would attack and destroy McDowell. Then Johnston would return to the Valley with his own army and ten thousand of Beauregard’s and smash the Federals there.

Next, Johnston would detach enough men to western Virginia to clear the enemy out of that region. These troops would return and join Johnston, who would then invade Maryland and attack Washington from the rear, while Beauregard, coming up from Manassas, would attack it in front.

In describing the plan to Johnston, Beauregard wrote: “I think this whole campaign could be completed brilliantly in from fifteen to twenty-five days. Oh, that we had but one good head to conduct all our operations.” Both the President and [Robert E.] Lee objected to it on two counts.

His design of grand strategy rejected by the government, Beauregard turned to studying the movements of McDowell. Of these he was kept informed by as romantic a set of spies as any general ever had in his service. Just before the war started, Colonel Thomas Jordan, his chief of staff, had arranged a spy apparatus in Washington.

He asked Mrs. Rose Greenhow, famous capital society dowager and Southern sympathizer, to send him information of important Federal movements . . . [and] provided her with a crude cipher. Mrs. Greenhow dispatched her first message in early July: McDowell would advance on the sixteenth.

It was carried from Washington by a beautiful girl named Bettie Duvall, who disguised herself as a country girl and rode in a farm wagon to Virginia. Going to the home of friends, she changed her costume to a riding habit, borrowed a horse, and rode to [Brigadier-General Milledge Luke] Bonham’s headquarters at Fairfax Courthouse. Both Bonham and his young officers were thrilled when she unrolled her long hair, took out Mrs. Greenhow’s dispatch, and handed it to the general.

At this time, volunteer girl spies from Virginia were bursting into Beauregard’s lines at every turn, bearing news that the Yankees were coming. They were received with consideration and applause, although their information was generally vague and available in Washington newspapers.

To secure more definite news [Beauregard’s chief of staff Thomas] Jordan sent a man named Donellan to Mrs. Greenhow. He carried a scrap of paper on which Jordan had written in cipher “Trust bearer.” He reached Washington on July 16 and received from her a code message saying McDowell had been ordered to move on Manassas that night.

Travelling in a buggy and using relays of horses, Donellan brought the dispatch into the Confederate lines. It was delivered to Beauregard between eight and nine the same night.”

(P.G.T. Beauregard, Napoleon in Gray, T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1955, excerpts, pp. 74-76)

 

Feb 5, 2017 - American Military Genius, Memorials to the Past, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on The Passing of a Creole Hero

The Passing of a Creole Hero

General Pierre G.T. Beaurgard is said to have been an enigma “for after the war he helped to destroy the old agrarian way and to build the New — the industrial — South.” Said also to have been a good general rather than a great one, his masterful defense of Charleston and Petersburg against staggering odds are a testament to his tactical abilities, though the independent field command he craved eluded his grasp. His egotistical mind and tongue warred continuously with fellow generals and political leaders of the Confederacy, and left him in a combative spirit long after the war ended.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Passing of the Creole Hero

“Beauregard seemed resigned to death. On Saturday, February 18, 1893, he seemed better, and dressed and came downstairs. The next day he complained of a feeling of oppression around his heart, and that night he did not sleep well.

Still, he got up on Monday, the twentieth, and spent most of the day in the garden and on the balcony. He dined with the family and spoke cheerfully of his recovery. Before retiring that night, he wound his watch so he could follow the doctor’s orders. Before [son] Henri left, Beauregard said, “I will be well tomorrow if I sleep tonight.”

The nurses remained on duty in the room. Shortly after ten they were startled to hear the death rattle in his throat. Before they could summon the family he was dead.

Into the home on Esplanade Avenue the condolences and resolutions of respect poured in a flood. They came from Louisiana and from all over the South – from State and city officials, former comrades, the organizations of which he had been a member, chapters of the United Confederate Veterans from Virginian to Texas.

[New Orleans] Mayor John Fitzpatrick proclaimed a period of mourning until after the funeral and directed that all municipal buildings be closed. Governor Murphy F. Foster ordered the same arrangements at the capital in Baton Rouge. Both the governor and the mayor asked the family for permission to let the body lie in state at the City Hall, and consent was granted.

Accompanied by an escort of National Guard units, the body, resting in a heavy casket finished in burl and ebony and adorned with silver handles, was conveyed to the council room at the City Hall. The walls of the dimly-lit chamber were hung with black drapes and Confederate and United States flags. Three Confederate emblems, one of which belonged to the Washington Artillery, covered the casket.

Above the catafalque stood the battle flag which Miss Hettie Cary had made for him from her own dress in 1861. All that night and throughout the next day, while an honor guard of Confederate veterans stood by, thousands of people passed through the room to gaze on the Creole hero.

On the afternoon of the twenty-third the body was . . . taken for burial to the tomb of the Army of Tennessee in Metarie Cemetery. Riding in a carriage was the chief mourner, Edmund Kirby Smith, now the only surviving full general of the Confederacy, who had come to New Orleans to attend a reunion. A month later he too would be dead.

At the grave, priests chanted the requiem, three volleys were fired in a last salute, and taps were sounded. From above, the equestrian statue of Albert Sidney Johnston looked down on the scene.”

(P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray, T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1955, excepts, pp. 320; 326-328)

Jan 30, 2017 - American Military Genius, Southern Conservatives, Southern Patriots, Southern Unionists    Comments Off on Lee’s Confirmed Superiority

Lee’s Confirmed Superiority

Both Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston were appointed to West Point by President John Quincy Adams in 1825, and quickly became friends during their four years there. Lee graduated second in his class and with no demerits; when Virginia withdrew from the Union in 1861, Johnston was the highest-ranking US officer to resign his commission. The evident patriotism and devotion of these two Virginians, Lee descended from Light-Horse Harry Lee and Johnston’s father the Speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, may cause one to wonder why those in the US Army in 1861 would take up arms against such men seeking political liberty.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lee’s Confirmed Superiority

“In June of that year [1825] the two young Virginians successfully passed the examinations to become members of an entering class of 105 cadets. Although Lee was slightly older the two soon became fast friends. Years later Johnston wrote of this relationship:

“We had the same intimate associates, who thought, as I did, that no other youth or man so united the qualities that win warm friendship and command high respect. For [Lee] was full of sympathy and kindness, genial and fond of gay conversation, and even of fun, that made him the most agreeable of companions, while his correctness of demeanor and language and attention to all duties, personal and official, and a dignity as much a part of himself as the elegance of his person, gave him a superiority that everyone acknowledged in his heart. He was the only one among all the men I have known who could laugh at all the faults and follies of his friends in such a manner as to make them feel ashamed without touching their affection for him, and to confirm their respect and sense of his superiority.”

[On June 28, 1860, the US Senate confirmed Johnston’s appointment as Quartermaster General of the United States Army, with the rank of brigadier-general]. Lee wrote with a magnanimous interest, in view of the fact that his promotion elevated Johnston for the first time above him in rank:

“My Dear General: I am delighted at accosting you by your present title, and feel my heart exult within me at your high position. I hope the old State may always be able to furnish worthy successors to the first chief of your new department; and that in your administration the country and army will have cause to rejoice that it has fallen upon you. May happiness and prosperity always attend you . . . “

(General Joseph E. Johnston, CSA: A Different Valor; Gilbert E. Govan and James W. Livingood, Konecky and Konecky, 1956, Bobbs-Merrill Company, excerpts, pp. 14; 25)

 

The Unspoken Significance of Fort Fisher’s Fall in 1865

Fort Fisher, January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernhard Thuersam

 

 

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