Archive from July, 2024

American Slavery Reconsidered

The following commentary regarding past slavery in the United States is excerpted from a recent editorial from the editors of Chronicles Magazine. It is an excellent review and consideration of America’s past with a proper dose of perspective added.

American Slavery Reconsidered

“Some historical perspective may be helpful here. When the United States came into being in the late 18th century, human slavery existed in much of the world, including in the British and French empires, and perhaps most brutally in Africa, from whence most of America’s slave came.

If slavery were a collective sin, it existed everywhere since the dawn of humanity as a desirable form of labor. The American South did not produce a slave system of unsurpassed brutality, but one that allowed the slave population to multiply at an unsurpassed rate for servile labor. We may point this out even when speaking about an institution that we are well rid of.

We’ve never bought the argument that slavery was especially wicked on these shores because of the passage in the Declaration of Independence about all men being equal. The French proclaimed their Declaration of the Rights of Men and Citizens in August 1789 but still maintained a vast slave population in the West Indies. Robert Paquette, a leading historian of slavery in the western hemisphere, raises the rhetorical question:

Does anyone think that a slave in 19th century Virginia would have preferred being relocated to a sugar plantation in Cuba or Brazil, or to becoming a serf in Russia or China? Unlikely.

Paquette also finds it remarkable that the data he learned as a university student from a Jewish Marxist professor, Robert Fogel, about the relatively benign condition of slaves in the American South (relative to other places where slavery was practiced) can no longer be discussed even in supposedly conservative journals.

Jefferson wanted slaves gradually freed and colonized outside the United States. Although Lincoln changed course [in later 1862 to obtain black troops], he too long favored the settlement of manumitted slaves in Haiti or Central America.

There is also no evidence that most of those who died in the Civil War gave their lives specifically to rid this country of slavery. It is also inconceivable that slavery would not have disappeared even without the bloodbath that Lincoln’s invasion of the Southern States brought about. Slavery disappeared elsewhere without the catastrophe that befell the United States in the 1860s.”

(Chronicles Magazine, April/May 2021, pp. 5-6)

Jul 15, 2024 - American Military Genius, Lincoln's Grand Army, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on After Gettysburg: The Mule and the Grizzly Bear

After Gettysburg: The Mule and the Grizzly Bear

After Gettysburg: The Mule and the Grizzly Bear

“That night Gen. Lee decided that he must return to Virginia & began at once to dispatch his trains and wounded. But to give the latter a good start he determined to keep the army in place 24 hours longer. So, the next day I was started at a very early hour, with some engineer officers and staff to select a line of battle for our Corps upon which to fight if the enemy should attack.

This was now Sunday, July 5th. The march was slow and tedious, our wagons were light of ammunition, and we had lost enormously of horses. We were authorized by Gen. Lee to impress horses from citizens & told to offer Confederate States money, or leave a descriptive list of animals, signed by an officer, on which the bereaved citizen could found a claim for damages upon his government.

During the day I had an accession to my staff, a Captain Stephen Winthrop who held a commission in Her Majesty’s 23rd Regiment who had come to America to see some fighting. That very afternoon he got a chance to show the stuff he was made of. Anxious for a fight he joined a nearby cavalry regiment about to charge the enemy and led the attack with the colors flying though his horse was killed. After the repulse of that effort, he obtained another horse and went in on a second charge with only his saber – and got into the melee, in which he ran one of the enemy through, coming out with his saber bent and bloody all over.

I recall another incident of the march from Gettysburg. Our men had impressed the horse of and old Dunkard farmer from somewhere in this vicinity. He said he was a poor man & needed a horse for his crops, and that my men told him I had some footsore horses – from lack of horseshoes on the rocky roads. Being told I may abandon them and asked if I would give him one which I did.

Up to now the enemy had pursued us as a mule goes on the chase of a grizzly bear – as if catching up with us was the last thing he wanted to do. But at last, on Friday morning the 10th of July, the whole of Meade’s army drew near. After making our defensive line how we all did wish that that the enemy would come out in the open & attack us, but they had had their lesson at Gettysburg. But they also had their lesson, in that sort of game, at Fredericksburg and did not care for another. Gen. Meade showed no disposition to attack us.

When it is remembered that Vicksburg had surrendered to the enemy on July 4th, it does seem that the cumulative moral effect of another immense victory as the destruction of Lee’s army, would surely have ended the war & made Meade its greatest hero and a future president. But the man who could either not see it – or feared to play the game with the opportunities he had – did not deserve it.”

(Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander. Gary Gallagher, ed.  UNC Press, 1989, pp. 268-272)

Jul 14, 2024 - Carnage, Costs of War, Lincoln's Blood Lust    Comments Off on Lincoln’s New General

Lincoln’s New General

Grant’s disaster at Cold Harbor in June of 1864 earned him the moniker “Butcher” from his own men – after a battle better known for its mindless slaughter. Grant later admitted that he should not have ordered the all-out attack on General Robert E. Lee’s well-entrenched troops. A staff officer in grey referred to the one-sided Southern victory as “perhaps the easiest ever granted to Southern arms by the folly of northern commander.” To deepen the anger of northern troops for their general as Grant’s delay in allowing a truce for the wounded to receive medical attention as well as burial details. He finally agreed to a truce after the dead and wounded had lain for four and half days in the oppressive June heat.

Lincoln’s New General

“But to the average citizen what was Grant’s situation? Though having odds [over Gen. Lee], practically two to one in his favor, in three terrific battles within a month, he had been always thwarted & had lost 50,000 men. And he was no nearer Richmond at the end than his ships might have landed him at the beginning, without loss of a man. He was indeed consuming the Southern male population, but beside the cost of over two million dollars a day, he was paying more than man-for-man in northern blood.

In Georgia, Sherman, with over 100,000 men against Johnston’s 45,000, had advanced as far as Kennesaw Mountain, near Marietta, but had gained no advantage over Johnston and had fought no serious battle. Nowhere were the Federal armies accomplishing any success of importance, and in Virginia, it looked as if their greatest army was being wrecked. And by the general sentiment of both parties, it was in Virginia that the issue was to be settled.

In [William] Swinton’s [History of the Army of the Potomac] he writes of this period: “War is sustained quite as much by the moral energy of the people as by its material resources, [and it has not] infrequently occurred that, with abundant resources, a nation has failed in war by the sapping of the animating principle in the minds of its citizens. Now, so gloomy was the military outlook after [Grant’s] action on the Chickahominy, that there was at this time great danger of a collapse of the [northern war effort]. The history of this conflict truthfully written will show this. The archives of the State Department, when one day made public, will show how deeply the Government was affected by the want of military success, and to what resolutions [Lincoln] had in consequence. Had not success elsewhere come to brighten the horizon, it would have been difficult [for Lincoln] to have raised new [recruits for] the Army of the Potomac, which, shaken in its structure, its valor quenched in blood, and thousands of its ablest officers killed and wounded, was the Army of the Potomac no more.”

Of the condition of Lee’s army at the same time he says:

“The Confederates, elated at the skillful manner in which they had constantly been thrust between Richmond and the Union army, and conscious of the terrible price in blood they had exacted from the latter, were in high spirit, and the morale of Lee’s army was never better that after the battle of Cold Harbor.”

(Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander. Gary Galagher, ed.  UNC Press, 1989, pp. 416-417)


A Mistaken View of Sovereignty

The following was written by John W. Burgess, born in 1844 to Rhode Island parents living in middle Tennessee. Being confirmed nationalist Whigs, his parents raised him to believe the United States government was above the States themselves in political sovereignty. When war came, he committed treason against Tennessee by fleeing to the enemy invaders and waging war against that State.

A Mistaken View of Sovereignty

“Personally, I never had regarded the union under the Constitution of 1787 as a confederation of sovereign States. Even during my boyhood in the South, I had learned from my [Henry] Clay whig father and grandfather to look upon it as a nation holding exclusive sovereignty and exercising government through two sets of organs, each having its own constitutional sphere of action and limitation. I had been taught to consider that this was the advance made in our political system from the [Articles of] Confederation of 1781 to the [Constitution] of 1787.

But I can well remember that this was not the view taken by the vast majority of the people, in rank and file, at the time when I first became cognizant of these questions. The South, by an overwhelming majority, regarded the United States as a confederation of sovereign States; and a very large portion, perhaps a majority, of the people of the North held the like opinion.

The opposition by the New England Federalists to the War of 1812 with England, led by the Federalist [Daniel] Webster, who not only opposed entering upon it, but also opposed to supporting it, and who considered conscription as warranted constitutionally only in resistance to invasion, made the Federalists a State Rights party. One the whole, therefore, the change from Federalism to Republicanism was one which advanced the States Rights doctrine of the Union at the expense of the national doctrine.

[The] slave labor system of the South made it impossible to develop manufacture there and condemned that section to agriculture, chiefly cotton raising, and how the consciousness of this fact by Southern leaders moved them to seek some constitutional principle to defend themselves against the Whig tariff majority. The principle, as Calhoun elaborated it, was nullification, namely, the right of a State to suspend the operation of an act of Congress within its limits until the legislatures of, or conventions in, three-fourths of the States should approve it.

The idea in this doctrine was that the United States government could not determine the extent of its own powers, since that would make its own determinations, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers – in other words, would make it autocratic.”

Despite writing this understanding of the nature of the American political structure, the author wrote of Lincoln’s July 4, 1861, address to a special session of Congress. By this time Lincoln had raised an army and declared war which only Congress can do, he also waged war against States which Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution defines as treason. He additionally had suspended habeas corpus and arrested political adversaries which overawed any political opposition. Lincoln then absurdly claimed that “The Union is older than any of the States, and in fact, created them as States . . . [and that not] one of them ever having been a State out of the Union.”

After Lincoln and his military were victorious in war in 1865, the States were now mere “provinces of a completely centralized government.”

(Reminiscences of an American Scholar, John W. Burgess, Columbia University Press, 1934; pp. 294-297; 306)


Treason in the South

John W. Burgess of Pulaski, Tennessee was 17 years old when invading northern armies occupied his State. When Southern cavalry came to enlist him for the State’s defense, his Rhode Island-born father encouraged John to escape into the woods and northern-held western Tennessee. Reaching occupied Jackson, he and an accomplice were enlisted as scouts to lead northern cavalry against Gen. Bedford Forrest.

At war’s end John attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and became acquainted with newspaper editor Franklin Sanborn. The latter, like Burgesses father, were abolitionist northerners who had regained their sense of morality regarding Africa’s people and distanced themselves from New England’s transatlantic slave-trading past.

Treason in the South

“There was another cause of great mental distress to me in the situation in which I found myself. I was regarded by most of those whom I had grown up as a traitor to my country. It was entirely useless for me to say I recognized only the United States as my country and regarded the secession of Tennessee and its connection with the Southern Confederacy as void acts . . . Their political horizon was bounded by the frontiers of their State and their only conception of sovereignty was “State rights.”

They would turn their faces away from me with undisguised contempt and hatred whenever we met, and I was made to feel full well that I must never fall alive into the hands of the Confederate military. In such case, I was entirely and fully aware that I would not have been accorded the honor of facing the firing squad but would have been hung from the first limb which could have been reached.

In constant danger of capture or abduction, I spent many anxious days and sleepless nights reflecting upon my possible, and at times seemingly probably fate.”

(Reminiscences of an American Scholar, John W. Burgess, Columbia University Press, 1934; pp. 32-33)

The Rebels of New England

In early October 1765 the proposed convention of delegates from Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and South Carolina met in New York. They all agreed upon a declaration of principles and asserted the right of Britain’s colonies to be exempted from all taxes imposed without their consent.

While leading the other colonies into secession from England, Massachusetts began a long tradition of “seceding” from political compacts it had joined. In 1804 the State seriously considered secession rather than accept President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase; the same in response to Jefferson’s embargo of trade in 1808; and again in 1812 opposing President Madison’s War – and while trading with the enemy. John Quincy Adams and others opposed the annexation of Texas in 1846 and threatened secession. New England abolitionists agitated for secession from the 1830s through 1860 over the South’s labor system for which they were largely responsible with their profitable transatlantic slave trade.

The Rebels of New England

“About this time there arose a society known as the “Sons of Liberty” which took strong ground against the usurpation of Parliament. They exerted great influence as the merchants of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and many other places agreed not to buy or import any British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed.

The British government heard of these proceedings with anger and alarm. The new ministry, at the head of which was the Marquis of Rockingham, saw that the Stamp Act must be repealed or the colonists compelled by force of arms to comply. He preferred the former. After a long and angry debate, the Act was repealed.

In February 1768, the General Court of Massachusetts led the agitation with other colonies to demand a redress of grievances from the Crown, preferred charges against the Royal Governor and petitioned the King for his removal. The Governor then dissolved the Massachusetts Assembly and in early October British troops arrived to overawe the colonists.

In 1769, Parliament censured the treasonous conduct of Massachusetts, approved the employment of additional troops to put down the rebellious, and asked the King to authorize the Governor to arrest the traitors and have them sent to England for trial. The following year came the Boston “massacre” in which three Bostonians were killed and several wounded after confronting British troops. After 1774’s Boston tea party Parliament closed the port of Boston and dissolved the House of Burgesses. The latter formed itself into a committee to agitate the other colonies into rebellion against the British Crown.

In May of 1775, Royal Governor and General Thomas Gage fortified Boston Neck, seized the military stores at Cambridge and Charlestown and conveyed them to Boston.”

(History of the United Statesfrom the Earliest Settlements to 1872. Alexander H. Stephens. E.J. Hales & Son, Publisher. New York, 1872, excerpts pp. 163-167)

Jul 7, 2024 - American Military Genius, Democracy, Jeffersonian America, Southern Heroism, Southern Patriots, Southern Statesmen    Comments Off on West Point’s Aristocratic Traditions

West Point’s Aristocratic Traditions

Established in mid-March 1802 during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, West Point graduation became necessary for an officer commission through 1835, though a rising “Jacksonian Democracy” created a strong desire to end an academy which bred an aristocratic tradition. After Texas statehood, Sam Houston believed a regiment of Texas Rangers better to protect the frontier than US regular troops and officers who he saw as “unaccustomed to frontier life and therefore utterly incompetent” as an Indian fighting command. The Rangers “were men who could ride as well as the Comanches and Kiowas and who understood their dispositions, inclinations – as well as their points of foray and attack.”

In early August 1858, Houston made his harshest Senate speech against the professional military establishment. He attacked West Point as aristocratic and undermining the liberties of American citizens. And it was the untutored frontier military leader Ben McCulloch who peacefully settled the Mormon standoff in Utah circa 1857-58.

West Point’s Aristocratic Traditions

“Early in the nineteenth century, the image of the citizen soldier was strengthened by the hostility that flared against the institution that seemed to embody all the negative elements of a professional military force: the United States Military Academy at West Point. In an era of mass democracy and egalitarian aspirations, West Point became a symbol of aristocratic privilege. It was regarded as a potential threat to popular rule . . . [and] Jacksonian Democrats believed, the caste system created by the professional officer corps would inevitably degrade the enlisted men.

Critic David Crockett spoke for the majority on the frontier when he declared that “this academy did not suit the people of our country, and they were against it.” The officers it trained and commissioned, he maintained, “are too nice to work; they are first educated there for nothing, and they must have salaries to support them after they leave there – this does not suit the notions of the working people, of men who had to get their bread by labor.”

Sam Houston, addressing the United States Senate in 1858, declared that “a political influence” was “growing upon the country in connection with the army,” and “its inception is at the Military Academy.” Its “inmates,” he charged, were “the bantlings of the public” and were nursed, fostered and cherished by the government.” Upon their graduation, the army must be annually enlarged as places must be found for the newly commissioned officers. “The danger,” Houston warned, “is that as they multiply and increase, such will be the political influence disseminated through society that it will become a general infection, ruinous to the liberties of the country.”

As Crockett’s and Houston’s outspoken opposition would suggest, nowhere was the military academy more reviled than on the western Tennessee frontier where the area was yet raw and largely unsettled, and already producing a remarkable number of solider-statesmen whose names would dominate American political and military history until the Civil War. Foremost among them was Andrew Jackson, whose fame and untutored military genius and popularizer of a frontier brand of democracy propelled him into the White House in 1829. Second to Jackson was his political protégé Sam Houston, another product of the frontier as well as an untutored but highly successful military leader. Other Tennesseans of the Jacksonian mold were San Jacinto veteran and Southern cavalry general Tom Green, Texas Ranger John Coffee Hays, and two extraordinary brothers – Ben and Henry McCulloch.”

(Ben McCulloch and the Frontier Military Tradition. Thomas W. Cutrer. UNC Press, 1991, pp. 4-5; 147-149)

Washington the Arch-Rebel

Vallandigham (below) had the support of many in the north’s Democratic party such as editor Thomas Beer of Ohio’s Crawford County Forum of 30 January 1863. He wrote: “every dollar spent for the prosecution of this infamous war is uselessly wasted – and every life lost in it is an abominable sacrifice, a murder, the responsibility of which will rest upon Abraham Lincoln and his advisors. Support of this war and hostility to it, show the dividing line between the enemies and friends of the Union. He who supports the war is against the Union.”

Washington the Arch-Rebel

“Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham excoriated Lincoln and his followers on January 14, 1863, in the US House of Representatives by stating: “Yet after nearly two years of more vigorous prosecution of war than ever recorded in history . . . you have utterly, signally, disastrously failed to subjugate ten millions of “rebels”, whom you had taught the people of the North and . . . West not only to hate, but to despise.

Rebels did I say?  Yes, your fathers were rebels, or your grandfathers.  He [Washington] who now before me on canvas looks down so sadly upon us, the false, degenerate and imbecile guardians of the great Republic which he founded, was a rebel.  And yet we, cradled ourselves in rebellion and who have fostered and fraternized with every insurrection in the nineteenth century everywhere throughout the globe, would now . . . make the word “rebel” a reproach.”

(The Limits of Dissent: Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War. Frank L. Klement. Fordham University Press, 1998, pg 136)