Browsing "Withdrawing from the Union"

The South and Her People

The conservative and noble Christian civilization of the South described below has all but vanished as the New South of industrial capitalism, materialism and commercial vulgarity supplanted it.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The South and Her People

Remarks of J.C.C. Black, at the Unveiling of the Benjamin H. Hill Statue, Atlanta, Georgia, May 1, 1886 (excerpt):

“As to us, [secession] was not prompted by hatred of the Union resting upon the consent of the people, and governed by the Constitution of our fathers. It was not intended to subvert the vital principles of the government they founded, but to perpetuate them. The government of the new did not differ in its form or any of its essential principles from the old Confederacy. The Constitutions were the same, except such changes as the wisdom of experience suggested.

The Southern Confederacy contemplated no invasion or conquest. Its chief corner-stone was not African slavery. Its foundations were laid in the doctrines of the Fathers of the Republic, and the chief corner-stone was the essential fundamental principle of free government; that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Its purpose was not to perpetuate the slavery of the black race, but to preserve the liberty of the white race of the South. It was another Declaration of American Independence.

In the purity of their motives, in the loftiness of their patriotism, in their love of liberty, they who declared and maintained the first were not worthier than they who declared, and failed, in the last. Animated by such purposes, aspiring to such destiny, feeling justified then (and without shame now), we entered upon that movement. It was opposed by war on the South and her people.

What was the South, and who were her people? Where do you look for the civilization of a people? In their history, in their achievements, in their institutions, in their character, in their men and women, in their love of liberty and country, in their fear of God, in their contributions to the progress of society . . . Measured by this high standard, where was there a grander and nobler civilization than hers?

Where has there been a greater love of learning than that which established her colleges and universities? Where better preparatory schools, sustained by private patronage and not the exactions of the tax-gatherer – now unhappily dwarfed and well-nigh blighted by our modern system.

Whose people had higher sense of personal honor? Whose business and commerce were controlled by higher integrity? Whose public mean had cleaner hands and purer records? Whose soldiers were braver and knightlier? Whose orators more eloquent and persuasive? Whose statesmen more wise and conservative?

Whose young men more chivalric? Whose young women more chaste? Whose fathers and mothers worthier examples? Whose homes more abounded in hospitality as genial and free to every friendly comer as the sun that covered them with its splendor?

Where was there more respect for woman, for church, for the Sabbath, for God, and for the law, which, next to God, is entitled to the highest respect and veneration of man, for it is the fittest representative of His awful majesty, and power and goodness? Where was there more love of home, of country and of liberty?

Her religious teachers, deriving their theology from the Bible, guarded the Church from being spoiled “through philosophy and vain deceit after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

Her women adorned the highest social circles of Europe and America with their modesty, beauty and culture. Her men, in every society, won a higher title than “the grand old name of “gentleman” – that of “Southern gentlemen.”

It is asked what had [the South] added to the glories of the Republic?

Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson. Who led the armies of the Republic in maintaining and establishing that independence? Who gave mankind new ideas of greatness? Who has taught the ruled of the world that man may be entrusted with power? Who has taught the rulers of the world when and how to surrender power? Washington.

What State made the first call for the convention that framed the Constitution? Virginia. Who was the father of the Constitution? Madison. Who made our system of jurisprudence, unsurpassed by the civil law of Rome and the common law of England? Marshall. Who was Marshall’s worthy successor? Taney.

Is it asked where [the South’s] history was written? It was written upon the brightest page of American annals. It was written upon the records of the convention that made the Constitution. It was written in the debates of Congresses that met, not to wrangle over questions of mere party supremacy, but, like statesmen and philosophers, to discuss and solve great problems of human government.

Forced to defend our homes and liberties after every honorable effort for peaceful separation, we went to war. Our leaders were worthy in their high commission. Our people sealed their sincerity with the richest treasure ever offered, and the noblest holocaust ever consumed upon the altar of country.

To many of you who enjoy the honor of having participated in it the history is known. You ought to prove yourselves worthy of that honor by teaching that history to those who come after you.”

(Southern Historical Society Papers, XIV, Rev. J. William Jones, editor, January to December 1886, excerpts, pp. 167-170)

 

South Carolina Declares the Causes of Secession

In his “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina,” Christopher Memminger, revisited the original American concept of self-government and restated that whenever any “form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.”  It should be noted that though reference is made below to “anti-slavery” feeling in the North, Republican Party doctrine held that African slavery must be kept within the borders of the South, not that the slaves must be freed. Republicans were a white supremacy party and the territories were for white settlers alone.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South Carolina Declares the Causes of Secession

“Dr. J.H. Thornwell . . . [stated] immediately after secession [that] . . . ”The real cause of the intense excitement of the South, is not in vain dreams of national glory in a separate confederacy . . .; it is in the profound conviction that the Constitution . . . has been virtually repealed [by the North]; that the new [Lincoln] Government has assumed a new and dangerous attitude . . .”

In South Carolina [this] idea was repeatedly expressed in the secession period. For example, [Robert Barnwell] Rhett in a speech of November 20 said: We are two peoples, essentially different in all that makes a people.” [D.F.] Jamison in his opening speech to the [secession] convention said there was “no common bond of sympathy or interest between the North and South.”

The “Declaration of Immediate Causes,” after defending the right of secession under the compact theory of the Union, justified the exercise of that right almost entirely on the point that Northern States had infringed and abrogated that compact by refusal to abide by their constitutional obligations . . . When [the Northern sectional] President should gain control of the government, constitutional guarantees would no longer exist, equal rights would have been lost, the power of self-government and self-protection would have disappeared, and the government would have become the enemy. Moreover, all hope of remedy was rendered in vain by the fact that the North had “invested a great political error with the sanctions of a more erroneous religious belief.”

Rhett . . . held that the one great evil from which all others had flowed was the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States.

The tariff, unequal distributions of appropriations, and attacks on slavery, were only manifestations of a broken faith and a constitution destroyed through construction for Northern aggrandizement at the expense of a weaker South.

The sections had grown apart; all identity of feeling, interest, and institutions were gone; they were divided between slaveholding and non-slaveholding, between agricultural and manufacturing and commercial States; their institutions and industrial pursuits had made them totally different peoples. The South was unsafe under a government controlled by a sectional anti-slavery party . . .”

Many South Carolinians, in the military service of the United States when war came, proved themselves Unionists by refusing to resign to enter the service of the State. Feeling against such men was violent. The [Charleston] Mercury thought that such refusal constituted “hideous moral delinquency, ingratitude, dishonor and treachery.”

The well-nigh complete unity after secession is no more striking than the universal belief that the cause was just . . . [and belief] that the future of republican government was involved in the struggle . . . Secession was endorsed by the synod of the Presbyterian church and by the annual conference of the Methodists. One need not question the sincerity of the legislature for appointing on the eve of secession a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.”

(South Carolina Goes to War, 1860-1865, Charles Edward Cauthen, UNC Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 72-78)

 

South Carolina Withdraws From the Union

The people of South Carolina saw the Union broken by several Northern States nullifying the United States Constitution with their personal liberty laws, the same States which railed against South Carolina in 1832 over tariff nullification. The incessant abolitionist agitation which threatened violent slave insurrection, and the election of a purely sectional president settled the matter for South Carolina as it chose to peacefully form a more perfect union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

South Carolina Withdraws from the Union

“On November 13, the General Assembly in joint session ratified and act calling for a convention in Columbia on December 17. The election of delegates was set for December 6. Five former United States senators, the chief officers of Furman University and Limestone College, two railroad presidents, and a dozen clerics were among the 169 men elected as delegates to the convention. The majority were college graduates. More than one hundred were planters, and many of these planters had also passed the bar. More than forty had served in the State Senate, more than one hundred in the House of Representatives.

The convention assembled in Columbia’s First Baptist Church and, on its first day, unanimously resolved that “the State of South Carolina should forthwith secede from the Federal Union.” John A. Inglis introduced the resolution. Before the convention adjourned . . . [a committee was formed] to draft an ordinance and appointed John A. Inglis as chairman. By the next evening, the committee had agreed on the text that they would introduce for South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession.

On November 29, the [Charleston] Mercury printed a draft ordinance contributed by a “W.F.H.,” who noted that “the speedy secession of the State may be considered a fixed fact” and offered “a sort of diagram on which the problem can be worked.” The draft took nearly one hundred lines of newsprint.

On December 4, the Mercury responded to the draft submitted by its “esteemed correspondent.” Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr., son of the secessionist leader and editor of the newspaper . . . objected to the “batch of details” which blurred the draft’s “force and dignity.”

We do not know how many drafts the committee had to consider in the few hours in which it did its work, but besides the draft printed in the Mercury, a manuscript document containing two other drafts, both unsigned, survives.

The longest of these additional drafts, “An Ordinance to withdraw from the Confederacy heretofore existing under the name of the United States of America,” is dated December 11. Its preamble cites tariffs, the obstruction of the recovery of fugitive slaves, “hostile agitation against the Southern institution of Slavery,” and the election of Abraham Lincoln as its justification and notes the declaration of 1852.

Eleven sections follow. They declare “the Confederacy heretofore existing between the State of South Carolina and the other States” dissolved, amend the State constitution, direct the governor to send a commissioner to President [James] Buchanan, provide for [foreign] trade, and empower the governor to appoint postmasters.

Ingliss’s committee, doubtless to satisfy those who wanted no further delay in officially leaving the Union, chose to present a much shorter and simpler text. [In] the afternoon of December 20 [1860], Chairman Inglis rose to present the committee’s [Ordinance of Secession]. There was no need for debate. Behind closed doors, a roll call vote was taken, alphabetically by surname, ending with “Mr. President.” It began at 1:07 P.M. and ended eight minutes later, at 1:15 when [convention President] David F. Jamison said “aye.” South Carolina had seceded by unanimous vote.”

(Relic of The Lost Cause, The Story of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, Charles H. Lesser, South Carolina Department of Archives & History, 1990, pp. 4-5)

Southern Statesmen Save the Union

The final breakup of the union of States in 1861 was preceded by over 80 years of conflict and compromise, and it was Southern statesmen who most often tried valiantly to save the confederation of the Founders. Just as colonial New England frequently antagonized England with its independently-minded maritime fleet, it often threatened secession and independence from the United States as it viewed its own interests as paramount to any other.  The infamous Hartford Convention of New England Federalists seriously entertained secession in late 1814, and espoused States’ rights doctrines.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Statesmen Save the Union

“The period from the ratification of the treaty of peace to the adoption of the Constitution has been called the critical period of American history; and the first year of that period was scarcely less critical than the last, the year in which, to use a familiar evangelistic expression, the Constitution was hair-hung and breeze-shaken over the bottomless pit.

It is scarcely to be doubted that at that time [1784] the New Englanders in particular seriously contemplated the dissolution of Congress and the abandonment of the union of the thirteen States.

At such a time, when the bands of union were slipping, the centrifugal forces were everywhere running amuck, it was Thomas Jefferson who conceived the idea that the preservation of a “visible head” of the government was of supreme importance, lest, with the disappearance of even a symbol of the union, all faith and hope in a more perfect union should likewise perish; and it was the Southern members of Congress, nobly aided by Pennsylvania alone, who strove with might and main to combat the threatened peril.

Again, when men of the North would have hog-tied and bound the West and have delivered it into permanent subjection to the East, it was Southern statesmen, more than any others, who strove to establish the principle that the West should be carved into self-governing States, having equal rights in the union with the original thirteen.

Once more, in that long and hard-fought contest over the free navigation of the Mississippi River, when the North would have sold that American birthright for a mess of Spanish turnip greens and them frostbitten, it was Southern statesmen who saved the West to itself and to the nation.

During the contest over the navigation of the Mississippi . . . the forces of disunion again began slithering through the East. In the late summer of 1786 [James] Monroe was alarmed to discover that, in the very shadow of Congress, an intrigue was asquirm, the design of which appeared to be the disruption of the existing union and the creation of a Northern confederation that would extend, if possible, as far southward as the Potomac.

The scheme may have died a-borning . . . At all events there are grounds for suspicion that it was the same infant, waxed a bit stronger, that was exhibited at Hartford in 1814.”

(Southern Statesmen and the Confederation, Edmund Cody Burnett, North Carolina Historical Review, Volume XIV, Number 4, October 1937, NC Historical Commission, excerpts, pp. 357-359)

 

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)

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)

Feb 12, 2017 - Foreign Viewpoints, Myth of Saving the Union, No Compromise, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Withdrawing from the Union    Comments Off on Southern Nationhood and Foreign Recognition

Southern Nationhood and Foreign Recognition

 

Southern Americans believed themselves the “heirs of the American Revolutionary tradition of 1776,” underscored by their President being inaugurated on Washington’s birthday and stating that “We hope to perpetuate the principles of our revolutionary fathers.” President Jefferson Davis told his countrymen, “you assumed to yourselves the right, as your fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent.” Also, when considering the failure of British and French recognition of the Confederacy, the Russian fleets in San Francisco and New York harbors in the fall of 1863 had far more to do with this than a foreign abhorrence of slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Southern Nationhood and Foreign Recognition

“[General Robert E. Lee] and Davis had decided to take the offensive in the east. As he had done the previous fall, Lee drove his army west of his enemy, crossed the Potomac upstream, and sent widely dispersed columns into Maryland. This time the Confederates continued up into Pennsylvania and posed a distinct threat to Washington and Baltimore.

The invasion would not draw off troops from Vicksburg, but should Vicksburg fall, its loss would be small indeed compared to a major victory before Washington. Lee had no illusions about besieging the enemy capital immediately. He and Davis hoped to draw Hooker into another Chancellorsville; this time the ultimate prize would be Washington instead of Richmond, and this time perhaps the Southerners could achieve a battle of annihilation and at the same time a diplomatic coup.

Once in Pennsylvania, Lee expanded his thinking about the campaign and urged that Davis collect all available troops from the Carolinas, place Beauregard in command, and order an assault on Washington from the South. The idea might have had a decisive effect upon what began as a limited offensive, but Davis believed it too complicated and too risky.

Emperor Napoleon III . . . [in the late spring of 1863] came as close as he ever would [to recognizing the Confederacy]. While Napoleon was fretting anew about his nation’s need for cotton, . . . and digesting reports of the Southern victory at Chancellorsville, in England John A. Roebuck announced his intention to place before Parliament a resolution supporting immediate Anglo-French recognition of the Confederacy.

The Palmerston government let it be known that it opposed the project and justified the opposition on the ground that Napoleon had lost all enthusiasm for recognition. Such was not the case, though, though, and on June 18 the Emperor told Confederate diplomat John Slidell that he would “make a direct proposition to England for joint recognition.” Thus Roebuck confidently prepared to introduce his resolution on June 30, and Europe became an active front, along with Pennsylvania and Vicksburg in the Confederate war.

During June of 1863 the tide of Confederate independence and nationhood probably reached its flood. [At] the time Southerners had a right to be optimistic, or at least hopeful, that their revolution would prevail, or at least endure. In the minds of its citizens the Confederacy was more a nation in June of 1863 than ever before or after.

Two years of war had transformed Southern political and economic institutions and the Southern people. War and Confederate nationalism also conditioned Southerners creative energies in music, art, literature and learning. The black experience during wartime underwent subtle but profound metamorphosis, and slavery in the Confederate South was an unsettled institution. The end product of these Confederate alterations of antebellum norms was a distinctive national life behind the battle lines.”

(The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865, Emory M. Thomas, Harper & Row, 1979, excerpt, pp. 219-221)

No Southern Terms of Reunion

Unofficial peace overtures of mid-1864 coming through leading citizens of the North to Confederate commissioners in Toronto and Niagara Falls led to much speculation, but all saw that the obstacle to peace was in Lincoln himself. Lincoln would not agree to self-government for the South and continued his war to crush independence for his fellow Americans.  Below, Confederate Commissioner Clement C. Clay reports to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Southern Terms of Reunion

“We never proposed, suggested or intimated any terms of peace, to any person, that did not embrace the independence of the Confederate States. We have not dispelled the fond delusion of most of those with whom we have conversed, that some kind of common government might at some time hereafter be re-established. But we have not induced or encouraged this idea.

On the contrary, when obliged to answer the question – “Will the Southern States consent to reunion?” – I have answered:

“Not now.  You have shed so much of their best blood, have desolated so many homes, inflicted so much injury, caused so much physical and mental agony, and have threatened and attempted such irreparable wrongs, without justification or excuse, as they believe, that they would now prefer extermination to your embraces as friends and fellow citizens of the same government.

You must wait till the blood of our slaughtered people has exhaled from the soil, till the homes which you have destroyed have been rebuilt, till our badges of mourning have been laid aside, and the memorials of our wrongs are no longer visible on every hand, before you propose to rebuild a joint and common government.”

If we can credit the assertions of both peace and war Democrats, uttered to us in person or through the presses of the United States, our correspondence with Mr. [Horace] Greeley has been promotive of our wishes. It has impressed all but fanatical Abolitionists with the opinion that there can be no peace while Mr. Lincoln presides at the head of the Government of the United States.

All concede that we will not accept his terms . . . They see that he can reach peace only through the subjugation of the South . . . through the seas of their own blood as well as ours; through anarchy and moral chaos – all of which is more repulsive and intolerable than even the separation and independence of the South. “

(Correspondence of Confederate State Department, Hon. C.C. Clay, Jr. to Hon. J.P. Benjamin, August 11, 1864; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpt, pp. 335-336)

New England Contemplates Secession in 1786

The Constitution which replaced the Articles of Confederation was a New England-inspired initiative intended to have a centralized government better protect its commercial and maritime interests. Had the South not compromised on that Constitution, it is likely New England would have seceded from the Confederation to form their own commercial union with its neighboring States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

New England Contemplates Secession in 1786

“In view of the sectional troubles which arose during the War of Independence and continued into the period of the [Articles of] Confederation, it is not surprising that the proposed admission of new States also caused sectional dissention. Southern opposition helped prevent the admission of Vermont; and Northerners became concerned as it became ever more likely that Kentucky would seek to be recognized as a State.

If, in the years 1785-1786, when economic depression afflicted the entire Confederation, Southerners were unhappy because Northerners were lukewarm or hostile to Southern expansion, Northerners were discontented because Southerners were neutral toward or opposed to measures which would have benefited the maritime trade of the North.

Merchants of New England and the Middle States wanted protection for their shipping against British competition, especially after Parliament decided to treat the Americans as foreigners and applied the British navigation laws to them. Accordingly, New England sought to amend the Articles of Confederation so as to give Congress powers to regulate interstate and foreign commerce and to levy import and export duties toward that end.

Even though the proceeds of these taxes were to go to the States in which they were collected and power to cut off commerce was expressly reserved to them, Southerners in Congress, especially Virginians, objected strenuously. Members of the Virginia legislature also evidently protested.

They feared that Congress would use these powers to prevent British ships from coming to Southern shores and so to confer upon Northern shipowners a monopoly of the Southern overseas traffic. Certainly the Yankees wished to get as much of that business as they could; and American shipping was concentrated in the Northern ports, being relatively scarce in the Southern ones.

Indeed, by 1786, it had become seemingly impossible to make changes in the Articles of Confederation, these requiring both action by Congress and the sanction of all thirteen State legislatures. In August of that year when James Monroe reported that New Englanders were considering the formation of a separate union, he was not entirely in error. Wrote Yankee Theodore Sedgwick on the 6th of that month:

“It well becomes the [north]eastern and middle States, who are in interest one, seriously to consider what advantages result to them from their connection with the Southern States. They can give us nothing, as an equivalent for the protection which they desire from us but a participation in their commerce. Even the appearance of a union cannot in the way we now are long to be preserved. It becomes us seriously to contemplate a substitute.”

(The First South, John Richard Alden, LSU Press, 1961, excerpt, pp. 69-72)

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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