Browsing "Traitors and Treason"

Lincoln Acts Alone and By Decree

As Lincoln never accepted the independence of those States which had withdrawn to form a more perfect union, his actions can be judged in a light illuminated by the United States Constitution and the strictly enumerated powers delegated to his branch. The crime of treason is clearly defined in Article III, Section 3 of that document: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against Them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Note the emphasis on “Them,” individually. By commencing hostilities against South Carolina and other States, he violated Section III, Article 3.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Lincoln Acts Alone and By Decree

“By his selective use of the American past, his devotion of the nation to an abstract proposition, and his expansive vision of America’s role in the world, Lincoln undermined the old federated republic. He rewrote the history of the founding, and then waged total war to see his version of the past vindicated by success.

But in the course of subjugating the “insurrectionary” and “revolutionary” combination in the South, and in creating a unitary nation, he also compromised the integrity of the Presidency as a Constitutional office, first by invading the powers of the other two branches and then by assuming further powers nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.

He may have claimed that in the midst of an unprecedented national crisis necessity knew no law, but the Constitution in fact recognized the possibility of emergencies and delegated necessary and appropriate powers to the President and Congress. As historian Clinton Rossiter wrote: “The Constitution looks to the maintenance of the pattern of regular government in even the most stringent of crises.” But Lincoln acted alone.

From the fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861, to the convening of a special session of Congress in July of 1861, President Lincoln ruled by decree, and on his own initiative and authority he commenced hostilities against the Confederacy. For 11 weeks that spring and early summer, Lincoln exercised dictatorial powers, combining them within his person the executive, legislative and judicial powers of the national government in Washington.

In his inaugural speech in March he had announced that the union had the right and the will to preserve itself. He promised to secure federal property in the seceded States, to collect all duties and to deliver the mails – all steps short of invasion but intended nonetheless to subjugate the South.

He assumed so-called “war-powers” – a familiar feature of the modern Presidency, but them a novelty – and proceeded to wage war without a declaration from Congress. The oft-raised concern that Lincoln could not have proceeded otherwise and still have preserved the Union should not obscure the problem of the means he resorted to.

The Constitutionality of his acts cannot be, as one historian claimed, “a rather minor issue,” for at stake was the integrity of free institutions.”

(The Costs of War, America’s Pyrrhic Victories, John V. Denson, Transaction Publishers, 1999, excerpts pp. 138-139)

Kentucky’s Vichy Government

Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin replied to Lincoln’s illegal request for troops in April 1861 with “I will send not a man nor a dollar for the wicked purpose of subduing my sister Southern States.” His State government tried in vain to maintain neutrality while he personally championed a peaceful settlement between North and South, and acceptance of the Crittenden Compromise proposed by fellow Kentuckian, John J. Crittenden. With the increasing number of Northern troops in his State and the consequent political intimidation, he was forced from office in favor of a Lincoln-appointed military proconsul.  By waging war against a State and adhering to its enemies, Lincoln committed treason as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Kentucky’s Vichy Government

“On August 18, 1861, a meeting was held in Scott County, Ky., of a number of prominent Democrats; and after a full discussion of the situation, it was determined to send commissioners to Washington and Richmond, with a view to ascertaining, if possible, whether the neutrality of Kentucky would be respected by both sides.

Upon the recommendations of this conference, Governor Magoffin appointed Frank K. Hunt and W.A. Dudley, both Union men, as commissioners to Washington, and George W. Johnson commissioner to Richmond.

In the letter to President [Jefferson] Davis sent in response to that written him by Governor Magoffin, an borne by Mr. Johnson, appears the following language, which certainly very logically and properly summed up the situation:

“The government of the Confederate States has not only respected most scrupulously the neutrality of Kentucky, but has continued to maintain the friendly relation of trade and intercourse which it has suspended with the United States generally. But neutrality, to be entitled to respect, must be strictly maintained by both parties . . .”

Mr. Lincoln replied that he did not believe that it was “the popular wish of Kentucky that the Federal force already there should be removed, and with this impression I must decline to remove it.”

This declaration made it plain to men of all shades of political opinion in Kentucky that the occupation of the State by Federal troops would be continued, and that their number would be increased, not only to completely suppress any sentiment in favor of the Confederacy and action taken in that behalf, but in order to make Kentucky a base of military operations against the States further South.

In a very short time after this declaration by Mr. Lincoln, numerous arrests were made of Kentuckians of known Southern sympathies, or of prominent men who ventured even to question the legality of the aggressive acts committed by Union leaders.

George W. Johnson was one of the first and boldest to denounce such tyranny. He escaped arrest by quitting his home and seeking the Tennessee border within a few hours before the soldiers who were ordered to make him a prisoner arrived at his house.”

(Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, CSA, Cooper Square Press, 2001 (original 1911), excerpts, pp. 148-149)

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)

The Dimensions of Southern Identity

The fundamental reason for the 1860-1861 withdrawal of Southern States from the 1787 Union was to achieve political independence, and distance themselves from the changed and radicalizing Northern States which had become increasingly populated by immigrants fully unfamiliar with the United States Constitution. That North was seen as a threat to the safety and liberty of the Southern people and therefore a separation was inevitable. The following piece on “Southern Identity” is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 newsletter of the Abbeville Institute — the only pro-Southern “think-tank” and an invaluable online educational resource.

Please consider a generous contribution to this organization, which is tax-deductible and can be made through PayPal at the www.abbevilleinstitute.org website.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Dimensions of Southern Identity

“Southern identity is not a mere regional identity such as being a Midwesterner or a New Englander. The South was an independent country, and fought one of the bloodiest wars of the nineteenth century to maintain its independence. No group of Americans in any war have fought so hard and suffered so much for a cause.

That historic memory as well, as resistance to the unfounded charge of “treason,” is built into the Southern identity. The South seceded to continue enjoying the founding decentralized America that had dominated from 1776 to 1861. We may call it “Jeffersonian America” because it sprang from both the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s election which was called “the Revolution of 1800.”

This founding “Jeffersonian America” was largely created and sustained by Southern leadership. In the first 67 years only 16 saw the election of Northern presidents. In the first 72 years, five Southern presidents served two terms. No Northern president served two terms.

The Republican Party was a revolutionary “sectional party” determined to purge America of Southern leadership and transform America into a centralized regime under Northern control.

When Southerners seceded, they took the founding “Jeffersonian America” with them. The Confederate Constitution is merely the original U.S. instrument except for a few changes to block crony capitalism and prevent runaway centralization.

Part of Southern identity is its persistent loyalty to the image of decentralized Jeffersonian America. To be sure, libertarians and others outside the South have a theoretical commitment to decentralization, but none have the historical experience of suffering to preserve the founding Jeffersonian America.

But the deepest dimension of Southern identity is found in Flannery O’Conner’s statement that Southern identity in its full extent is a “mystery known only to God,” and is best approached through poetry and fiction. The humiliation of defeat and the rape of the region by its conquerors have given Southerners a clarity about the limits of political action, the reality of sin, and the need of God’s grace.”

(Abbeville: The Newsletter of the Abbeville Institute, Fall 2017, excerpts pp. 1-3)

No Treason in Resisting Oppression

The early United States was an agricultural country with import tariffs at a low 5%. As Northern industrialism grew by 1808, the next 24 years saw the protective tariff as the most contentious debate in Congress. Anti-tariff leaders argued that protective duties were ultimately paid by consumers in the form of higher prices for manufactured products, and thus more oppressive for Southern consumers, who received no compensating benefits, than for northern consumers, who enjoyed higher incomes.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Treason in Resisting Oppression

“Jackson and Calhoun differed almost as much on governmental policies as on constitutional principles. In 1828 the Vice-President was vehemently against the protective tariff and mildly in favor of the national bank. The President, as did [Martin] Van Buren, mildly approved of the tariff and detested the bank.

Calhoun considered the tariff a crucial issue because he regarded the conflict between North and South as the overriding national problem. But Jackson was more disturbed by the monster bank because he was distressed about the capitalists and stock jobbers who supposedly made profits by spewing forth paper money instead of producing a material product. The President was determined to stop rich, moneyed interests from using government funds to secure paper profits at the expense of the people.

The early ideological differences between Calhoun and Jackson became particularly evident on the question of distributing the federal surplus to the States after the national debt was paid. Jackson vigorously favored distribution; Calhoun adamantly opposed it.

For Jackson, retiring the debt, and thereby stopping the moneyed interests from employing the peoples’ funds, was an important end in itself. For Calhoun, on the other hand, retiring the debt was only a means of lowering the tariff. Once the debt was repaid, expanding federal surpluses would force the government to cut taxes. But if the surplus was distributed, the federal government would retain an excuse for high tariffs. Distribution would destroy the reason for repayment.

To Jackson, equal division [of the surplus] meant division according to population. But Calhoun considered distribution according to population completely unequal. The majority North would continue to drain away the wealth of the minority South. Jackson’s distribution would institutionalize the worst evils of Adams’ nationalism.

The increasing tension between Calhoun and Jackson became blatantly public at the April 13, 1830, Jefferson Day dinner. Glaring at Calhoun, signaling the boisterous crowd to rise, the President toasted “Our Federal Union – It must be preserved!” [Calhoun’s] reply, when it came, was an anticlimax: “The Union – Next to our liberties most dear.”

Moments later, George McDuffie was more blunt: “The memory of Patrick Henry: the first American statesman who had the soul to feel, and the courage to declare, in the face of armed tyranny, that there is no treason in resisting oppression.”

(Prelude to War, the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836; William W. Freehling, Harper & Row, 1965, excerpts pp. 190-192)

 

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)

New England Rules and Saves!

New England opposed the 1812 war with England by refusing troops and supplying the enemy; their Hartford Convention of 1814 would have led to its secession from the United States. Andrew Jackson’s victory in New Orleans ended that war before New England seceded. One can see in the War Between the States the rematch of Jeffersonian Republicanism versus New England Federalists, with the latter returned to power in Washington in 1861.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Rules and Saves!

“In 1800, Thomas Jefferson was elected President by the combined votes of the middle States, the coastal South and he Southern highlands, against the entrenched opposition of New England which still strongly supported [John] Adams.

This new Jeffersonian coalition of Virginia, Pennsylvania and the backcountry was destined to dominate American politics for a quarter-century (1801-1825). Its ideology was a complex and unstable combination of three different ideas of liberty, which derived not from “classic republicanism” in Europe but from the inherited folkways of British America.

Jeffersonians in the middle and northern States believed in reciprocal liberty; the backcountry thought more in terms of natural liberty; Tidewater Virginians drew upon their heritage of hegemonic liberty. The Republican leaders – Jefferson himself, Madison and Gallatin – had their own highly-developed principles. Together they created a pluralist libertarian movement.

But even as Jefferson espoused different libertarian ideals, they all opposed New England’s idea of ordered liberty, which most Americans believed was a contradiction in terms. The major legislation of the Adams presidency was repealed: the Alien Friends Act, the Sedition Act, the Naturalization Act, the Bankruptcy Act of 1800, the Judiciary Act of 1801, and the new tax measures were all overturned.

Support for [Adam’s] Federal party dwindled everywhere except New England. The purchase of Louisiana (1803) and the annexation of West Florida (1810) vastly enlarged the backcountry, and promised to shift the balance of regional power toward the South and West.

Now it was New England’s turn to think about disunion. In the period from 1804 to 1814, a separatist movement gathered strength in that region . . . [with] sermons and town meetings which talked of God’s Providence for his chosen people. Yankee children were taught to sing (to the tune of Rule Britannia!): “Rule, New England! New England rules and saves!”

The Federalist leader Fisher Ames believed that New England was “of all the colonies that were ever founded, the largest, the most assimilated, and to use the modern jargon, nationalized, the most respectable and prosperous, the most truly interesting to America and humanity, more unlike and more superior to other people (the English excepted).”

New England Republicans shared this nascent sense of Yankee nationalism. James Winthrop, for example, praised the determination of New Englanders to “keep their blood pure.” He added, . . .“the eastern States have, by keeping separate from the foreign mixtures, acquired their present greatness in a century and a half, and have preserved their religion and morals.”

(Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America, David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, excerpts, pp. 844-845)

Treason in Wartime North Carolina

The traitors and misfits who terrorized North Carolinians during the war, called “Buffaloes,” were a by-product of the Northern invader. General Pickett and Hoke, during their attempts to liberate northeastern North Carolina in 1863-64, dealt severely with local men who aided and abetted the enemy. The Fort Branch mentioned below, was named in honor of Brigadier-General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, a native of nearby Enfield, NC who was killed in action at Sharpsburg in mid-1862.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Treason in Wartime North Carolina

“The Tenth North Carolina Regiment was encamped near Fort Branch (about five miles east of Hamilton on the Roanoke River), and was awaiting the Federals, in December 1864. A force of Federals . . . were known to be advancing from Plymouth, reaching the vicinity of Fort Branch in the night of December 11.

“The enemy, piloted by some buffaloes (traitors) crossed the creek below (the east) and took our troops at the bridge in the rear. We had turned off from the main road from Tarboro to Williamston in order to come in by Hamilton to reinforce from the rear our troops at Butler’s Bridge.”

The term buffaloes, commonly referred to renegade bands in eastern North Carolina, composed of armed Negroes, native Union bushwhackers, and criminally-intentioned local misfits. They preyed on the prosperous and poor alike, relying on brutality for their success.”

(A Tarheel Confederate and His Family, Robert Garrison Elliott, RGE Publications, 1989, excerpts, pp. 51; 60)

 

Santa Anna Popular Up North

The Mexican War saw the sectional divide widen further as abolitionists and their allies in the North asserted that this was “simply a Southern plot to bring more slave States into the Union.” As New England sided with the enemy during the War of 1812 by selling them supplies and threatened to secede and form a separate republic, they would side with the enemy in 1846. The contingent of Americans fighting with the Mexicans noted below were the “San Patricios,” Irish Catholic immigrants in the US Army who refused to fight against Mexican Catholics. Those captured were executed for treason.  Ohio Senator “Black Tom” Corwin denounced the war in Congress and was summarily hung in effigy near Buena Vista by Ohio troops. They first dressed his likeness in a Mexican uniform.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Santa Anna Popular Up North

“Daniel Webster flung his oratory into caustic criticism of the war and he was abetted by fanatics like [Charles] Sumner. Soon, drinking of this heady fire water, Northern newspapers were fulminating against [President James] Polk and the continuance of the war. This was one of the few wars waged by the United States in which the enemy was popular.

Black Tom Corwin said that American soldiers in Mexico should be welcomed by “hospitable graves,” and a whole nightmare school of literature sprang up. Some papers called for European intervention. One said editorially: “If there is in the United States a heart worthy of American liberty, its impulse is to join the Mexicans.” Another said: “It would be a sad and woeful joy, but a joy nevertheless, to hear that the hordes of Scott and Taylor were every man of them swept into the next world.”

Santa Anna, the rascally Mexican commander, became a hero in Boston and New York, and there was even a contingent of Americans who fought with the Mexican army.”

(Merchants of Death, A Study of the International Armament Industry, H.C. Engelbrecht & F.C. Hanighen, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1934, excerpt, pp. 28-29)

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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