Martial Law is the Absence of Law

Martial Law is the Absence of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conquest, Not Union

On April 12, 1864, Fort Pillow, located north of Memphis on the Mississippi River, was surrounded by some 1,500 troops under Gen’s. Nathan Bedford Forrest and James Chalmers. After sending an ultimatum to surrender or suffer “no quarter” and the enemy rejecting capitulation, Forrest’s men attacked and caused most of the enemy’s 600 soldiers to flee into the river. As northern colored troops were half of the fort’s garrison, they suffered great loss along with their white counterparts, and the usual cries of “massacre” were heard from northern reporters anxious to sell newspapers to a gullible public. The Radical Republicans were also quick to establish a congressional committee to investigate Fort Pillow for political purposes.

This pattern was repeated late in the war as the northern public was fed atrocity stories of Georgia’s Andersonville prison stockade. Missing from the stories were the pleas of President Davis and other Southern leaders for prisoner exchanges, including safe passage for medical supplies and food to sustain the inmates. These were all refused by Grant, with Lincoln’s approval.

Conquest, Not Union

“What exactly did the [Committee on the Conduct of the War] uncover and how objective was its investigation? Critics have assumed that the committee deliberately exaggerated Southern atrocities to smear Forrest’s reputation, inflame public sentiments, and serve its own narrow partisan agenda.

The committee’s most thorough historian, T. Harry Williams, for instance, argues that Benjamin Wade used this investigation, as well as previous atrocity reports, as a means to create a consensus for an even more radical reconstruction. By deliberately exaggerating Rebel brutalities, he would cause the public to support a reconstruction policy that would treat the South as a conquered territory.

There is little doubt that the issue of reconstruction was on the minds of committee members and other Republicans during the Fort Pillow investigation. George Julian, chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands, was already busy sponsoring legislation to confiscate the large holdings of Rebel planters and redistribute them to veterans of the Union armies, both white and black.

In remarks to the House of Representatives shortly after Fort Pillow, Julian castigated the Confederates as “devils” and argued that the [alleged] massacre provided additional reasons to support the program of confiscating [Southern property].

Even before the war, there were many in the North who viewed the South as backward and in need of radical reordering along the outline of Northern free labor institutions. The war accelerated such beliefs. “The war is quickly drawing to an end,” the Continental Monthly predicted in the summer of 1862, “but a greater and nobler task lies before the soldiers and free men of America – the extending of civilization into the South.”

In formulating its Fort Pillow findings, the committee reflected Northern opinion as much as it sought to shape it.”

(“These Devils Are Not Fit to Live on God’s Earth”: War Crimes and the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1864-1865”. Bruce Tap. Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, John Hubbell, ed. Kent State University Press, June 1996, Vol. XLII, No. 2, pp. 121-122)

Yankees in Georgia

Yankees in Georgia

“I . . . reached Halifax, my sister’s place, in two and a half hours at 9AM. She unlocked the door, looked at me with a terrified air [and] all overwhelmed with distress for my danger, for they too believed the Yankees were still in the county.

Then followed the sad recital of their sufferings and losses at the hand of the Yankees. The evidences were on every side. Broken trunks, smashed bureaus, overturned wardrobes – everything topsy-turvy just as the Yankees had left them. No use to put things in order to be again disturbed. But worse, far worse than all the mental agony from fear of personal violence and insult.

The Yankees had entered the house every day for nearly two weeks. Every separate gang ransacked the house afresh, entering every room and taking whatever they desired. The mental suffering of these three ladies and of my child only fourteen-years-old during these two weeks can never be told.

As soon as I could get a word in edgewise, I told them my reasons for believing the Yankees had left the county, but at the same time my grave fears that they were returning or had already returned. If they desired to go out, they must do so immediately, [and] the wagons would be here tonight. Anything was preferable to a repetition of the dreadful suspense through which they had passed.

In the afternoon I walked over to my own place to see Calder, the overseer. I received from him a detailed and most doleful account of [my] losses and the behavior of the negroes. Every living thing taken or destroyed, all the horses, the mules, the hogs (of which there were 100 head), cattle, chickens, ducks, every wheeled vehicle, also much corn, but none of the rice and cotton.

The negroes throughout the country he represents as in a state of complete insubordination – no work of any kind done. The Yankees had not only stripped him, Calder, of everything but had personally maltreated him and his family. They have treated overseers everywhere, I hear, harshly, and the negroes too take the opportunity of showing their dislike. To me and Sister’s family the negroes are extremely kind and considerate, even affectionate. Sister and her family are served as usual, and even more kindly and faithfully than usual.”

(‘Ware Sherman: A Journal of Three Months Personal Experience in the Last Days of the Confederacy. Joseph LeConte. LSU Press, 1999. Original 1937. pp. 29-32)

May 3, 2024 - American Military Genius, Race and the South, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Fiscally-Responsible Future Confederate General

Fiscally-Responsible Future Confederate General

Basil W. Duke of Kentucky first achieved notoriety as a colonel and second-in-command to brother-in-law General John Hunt Morgan. Upon Morgan’s death in September 1864, Duke assumed command; during President Jefferson Davis’s flight from Richmond, he was escorted by some of Duke’s cavalry. Below he speaks of Albert Sidney Johnston who he considered to be one of the great men who defended the American South.

Fiscally-Responsible Future Confederate General

“He was appointed paymaster in the United States Army, October 31, 1849. The appointment gave him the nominal rank of major but conferred no authority or command. It necessitated, however, much travelling and upon the frontiers of Texas where his duties were performed, a great deal of arduous work, not unaccompanied by danger. He accepted the office only because he hoped it would assist him ultimately to enter [front line command].

In 1853 he sold his plantation, which he had greatly improved, upon terms which enabled him to discharge his entire indebtedness; but, by a curious freak of fortune, he had no sooner obtained relief from a condition which had long oppressed him than he was confronted with another which threatened him even more seriously.

He discovered that someone was systematically plundering the US government funds placed in his charge. His accounts were kept very carefully, and he could detect almost the exact dates at which the money was taken, although he failed for some months to catch the thief. As much as $1700 were stolen from the fund in 1853. He made no report of these losses to the US government but bore them himself; thereby forfeiting the almost entire benefit of his meager salary, besides being harassed with the constant fear that the robberies might eventually amount to sums so large that that he would not be able to replace them.

All efforts to discover the perpetrator of the thefts was for a long time unavailing, although every device and the utmost vigilance was employed; but in 1855 they were brought home to a Negro servant of General Johnston, who had been for years in constant attendance upon him, was a great favorite and implicitly trusted.

Indignation against the Negro was strongly aroused among all who had known of these peculations, and there was a general clamor for his exemplary punishment. General Johnston was urged to compel him to reveal the names of his accomplices, as it was believed that other parties had incited him to the thefts.

General Johnston would not listen to this suggestion. “Evidence so obtained is worthless,” he said, “is worthless. Besides the whipping will not restore what is lost; and it will not benefit the Negro whom a lifetime of king treatment has not made honest. It would be a mere act of revenge to which I cannot consent.”

His friends, however, insisted that the Negro should be sold so that the proceeds of the sale might in part replace the money he had stolen. General Johnston agreed to do this permitting the Negro to select his new master but informing the purchaser of the crime he had committed.”

(The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, 1911. Cooper Square Press, 2001. pp. 110-111.)

Thomas Jefferson’s “Rupture”

Author Roger Lowenstein writes that on Christmas Eve, 1825, “Thomas Jefferson let out an anguished cry. The government of the country he had helped to found, half a century earlier, was causing him great distress. It was assuming vast powers, specifically the right to construct canals and roads, and to effect other improvements. Jefferson thought of the federal government in the most restrictive terms: as a “compact” or a “confederated fabric” – that is, a loose affiliation of practically sovereign States.”

Thomas Jefferson’s “Rupture”

“He was roused at the age of eighty-two to issue a “Solemn Declaration and Protest” against what he termed the “usurpation” of power by the federal branch. Jefferson was so agitated that he declared that the “rupture” of the United States would be, although a calamity, not the greatest calamity. Even worse, reckoned the sage of Monticello, would be “submission to a government of unlimited powers.”

Though Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton had sought to establish a strong central government, Jeffersonians adamantly objected. No fewer than six of President Jefferson’s successors vetoed or thwarted federal legislation to build roads and canals, improve harbors and riverways, maintain a national bank, [and] fund education . . .”

Had Jefferson survived until 1860, the federal government of that day would not have displeased him. Its main vocation was operating the postal service and collecting customs duties at ports, [and] its army consisted of merely sixteen thousand troops scattered mostly among a series of isolated forts west of the Mississippi. The federal payroll was modest . . . the civilian bureaucracy in Washington consisted of a mere two thousand employees.

The modest federal purse was supported by tariff duties and a smattering of land sales. Federal taxes (an unpleasant reminder of the English Parliament) were reflexively scorned. Then came the “rupture.”

The Republicans – [Lincoln elected in November 1860] – vastly enlarged the federal government . . . [and] accomplished a revolution that has been largely overlooked.”

(Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Roger Lowenstein, Penguin Books, 2022. pp. 1-2)

Antebellum Race Relations

Antebellum Race Relations

Clifton Rodes Breckinridge (1846-1932) was the son of former US Congressman, Vice President and Major-General John C. Breckinridge (1821-1875). Clifton served in the war under his father and in the CS Navy; was elected to the House of Representatives from Arkansas and served as US Minister to Russia.

The following is excerpted from his early May 1900 address to the Southern Society for the Promotion of the Study of Race Conditions and Problems in the South,” held in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Take the period of slavery. For generations, and under conditions generally considered the most trying, the races lived together in peace. If we had reason to believe that, with the great and permanent racial differences which exist, the nature of the races, or the nature of either of them, were truculent, then, indeed, would the future be dark.

But during all that period the relations of the races were not only peaceful, but, in the main, they were most kindly. Side by side with the assured power of the law, there were the associations of childhood, the sports and domestic service of later life, the care of sickness and old age, uniform consideration for good character of old age, and the respect and fidelity which were fit reflections of the manly honor, womanly care and refined and elevated rule which generally marked the domestic authority of the times.

All had their influence. All were developed under and enlightened construction of the Christian religion, and the aggravated crimes of later days were absolutely unknown.”

(Published in the Negro Universities Press, 1969, pp. 171-172)

The War Against the States

“[The] fact remains that that the Civil War was a political and constitutional watershed in United States history. Although the Civil War draft was primarily an inducement to volunteering [with ample financial incentives], the arbitrary arrests [of civilians] and first use of [a clearly unconstitutional] national conscription established important precedents. Economically, power shifted toward the industrialized North.  Moreover, at war’s end the very concept of State sovereignty established by the Founders had little meaning.

As Professor William B. Hesseltine said many years later, it was a “war against the States, both North and South. Within half a century after Appomattox, the federal government began to regulate certain businesses and introduced a graduated income tax. These innovations would have been inconceivable prior to 1860.” Larry Gara, Wilmington College.

(Review of “The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front,” J. Matthew Gallman (Dee Publishing, 1994. Published in Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, Vol. 42, No. 3. September 1996).

Sherman’s Final Solution

The following is excerpted from a review of author Michael Fellman’s “Citizen Sherman: A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman (Random House, 1995). The reviewer is John Y. Simon of the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1996.

Sherman’s Final Solution

“In 1875, a fellow officer reported to [General] Sherman that Indians in Florida were receiving training as soldiers and might eventually return to police their tribes [out West]. Sherman wrote in response that this experiment, if successful, might present a “final solution to the Indian problem.” (pg. 260). Sherman could write that that some Indians were “more to be pitied than dreaded” and others deserved pursuit with “vindictive earnestness” to the point of “extermination, men, women and children.” (pg. 264).

Apr 4, 2024 - America Transformed, Historical Accuracy, Myth of Saving the Union    Comments Off on What the Civil War Was Really All About

What the Civil War Was Really All About

What the Civil War Was Really All About

“The national government stopped paying any attention to the Constitution with the election of Lincoln. That’s what the war was really all about. The South wanted the constitutional republic, which strictly limited the powers of the federal government. The North wanted a centralized national government, which would itself define the limits of its powers – or, to put it another way, would have unlimited powers. That was an old argument that had begun at the Constitutional Convention, and it ended at Appomattox.”   Orlando Sentinel Columnist Charley Reese, 1937-2013

“This Country Splitting Business”

After the Japanese capitulation in 1945 the US government stymied an already-existing pan-Korean government, albeit leftist, in favor of installing Syngman Rhee, who ruled the south as a virtual dictator. The latter used former Japanese soldiers as police and government officials, with the support of the Americans. The 1950 war, which many believe was initiated by Rhee, cost the lives of a million Koreans and virtually leveled the country with bombing. Today, North Korea is the real Korea and ruled by Koreans; and South Korea remains a US-controlled colony.

“This Country Splitting Business”

“Senator Stuart Symington: ‘We go into this country splitting business . . . First, we split Germany. Then we split China. We stay with billions and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of people in the case of Germany; China we stay with billions and billions of dollars and thousands of people. Then we split Korea and stay there with billions of dollars and tens of thousands of military [troops], all at heavy cost to the American taxpayer. Then we split Vietnam . . . now we split Laos . . . Do you know of any other country we plan to split pretty soon?

Mr. [William J.] Porter (US Ambassador to South Korea): No sir.

Senator Symington: This has been quite an interesting policy, hasn’t it, over the years? Our allies don’t do [this], nor do our possible enemies. We do it all over the world . . . ‘

(Hearings before the Subcommittee on US Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad of the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, 91st Congress, 2nd Session, 1970, pp. 1579-82)

 

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