A Powerful Force of Militant Democracy

Had England gone to war against the United States in late 1861 over the seizure of two Confederate States diplomats from the RMS Trent, Lincoln’s ports would have been blockaded by the Royal Navy, and Northern shipping destroyed on the high seas in concert with Confederate privateers. Also contemplated was invasion of the undefended American northwest, as well as Canada West — today’s Ontario – thus creating a Northern war front.  Added to this was Maximillian’s French army in Mexico, which may have marched northward to help American’s achieve independence a second time.

A Powerful Force of Militant Democracy

“The prime minister, Viscount Palmerston, was seventy-seven years old in 1861. Born in 1784, just after the American Revolution, he was twenty-eight when Britain went to war again with the United States in 1812. Palmerston had served as foreign secretary in three British governments for a total of about fifteen years.

His involvement with several major US-British disputes had left him with the view that the Americans were pushy, ill-mannered, unyielding in their demands that their rights be respected, and totally lacking in awe of the imperial power of Britain. His continuing fears that the United States would eventually invade and annex Canada ultimately prevented him from supporting a more aggressive British policy toward the American Civil War.

One of Palmerston’s biographers, Jasper Ridley, wrote that “he believed that the British constitution and social system . . . was the best in the world . . . He was a liberal abroad because he wished to see this system replace the absolute monarchies of the Continent.”  But when he looked toward America, Palmerston was no liberal. He was hostile to the idea of a government elected by all of the citizens and, as Ridley noted, was very dubious about militant democracy in America:

“Palmerston had played a very active role in the suppression of the international slave trade . . .  But though Palmerston was delighted when slaves in the intercepted slave ships were liberated by officers and gentlemen of the Royal Navy, he was not pleased at the prospect of the slaves on cotton plantations in the Confederate States being freed by large armies . . . commanded by cigar-chomping generals in ill-fitting uniforms.  And he was as conscious as [John] Bright and the [British] Radicals that the Union armies were the most powerful force of militant democracy since the French revolutionary armies of 1793.”

Oxford professor H.C. Allen wrote that Palmerston “privately . . . hoped for success of the Confederacy because it would weaken a potential rival of Britain’s – and a democratic one . . .”

(One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War, Dean B. Mahin, Brassey’s, 1999, excerpt, pp. 32-33)

The Real Motives of the War

The British were comfortable with a near-aristocratic political system in the American South and feared the popular democracy of the North. They clearly saw the division since the early 1840s of the United States into two distinct peoples splitting into two independent countries.

The Real Motives of the War

“The ruling classes in Britain were inclined to accept the Confederacy’s leaders’ portrayals of themselves as defenders of liberty and independence and their portrayals of Northern leaders as tyrants seeking to impose their will on the South. The Liberal Party in England stood for the kind of political and economic liberalism that stressed limits on the powers of government.

A British scholar, Martin Crawford, described the newspaper’s persistent belief that the North could not win the war and that continued separation of North and South was inevitable:

“The longer the conflict lasted, the more convinced The Times became that Lincoln’s government should accept disunion for what it was, a sad and irrevocable fact . . . The critique of the American conflict which The Times fashioned in the late summer and autumn of 1861 would remain virtually unchanged for the duration of the war . . . Britain’s leading newspaper had established itself as a committed opponent of the federal cause, with the result that its capacity for independent judgment of American affairs was substantially impaired.”

The Times had no monopoly on anti-Northern prejudices. The conservative London Dispatch compressed into a single sentence most of the upper class prejudices against the North:

“The real motives of the civil war are the continuance of the power of the North to tax the industry of the South and the consolidation of the huge confederation to sweep every other power from the American continent, to enter into the politics of Europe with a Republican propaganda, and to bully the world.”

(One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War, Dean B. Mahin, Brassey’s, 1999, excerpt, pp. 27-30)

The High Functionary’s War

President Jefferson Davis’ message to the Third Session of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States at Richmond, Virginia, July 20, 1861 (excerpts):

“Commencing in March last, with an affectation of ignoring the secession of the seven States which first organized this Government; persisting in April in the idle and absurd assumption of the existence of a riot which was to be dispersed by a posse comitatus; continuing in successive months the false representation that these States intended offensive war, in spite of conclusive evidence to the contrary . . . the President of the United States and his advisors have succeeded in deceiving the people of those States into the belief that the purpose of [the Confederate] Government was not peace at home, but conquest abroad; not the defense of its own liberties, but the subversion of those of the people of the United States.”

Under cover of [an] unfounded pretense that the Confederate States are the assailants, that high functionary, after expressing his concern that some foreign nations “had so shaped their action as if they supposed the early destruction of our National Union was probable,” abandons all further disguise, and proposes “to make this conflict a short and decisive one,” by placing at the control of the Government for the work at least 400,000 men and $400,000,000. The Congress, concurring in the doubt thus intimated as to the sufficiency of the force demanded, has increased it to a half a million of men.

These enormous preparations in men and money, for the conduct of a war on a scale more gigantic than any which the world has ever witnessed, is a distinct avowal, in the eyes of civilized man, that the United States are engaged in a conflict with a great and powerful nation; they are at last compelled to abandon the pretense of being engaged in dispersing rioters and suppressing insurrections . . . and are driven to the acknowledgement that the ancient Union has been dissolved.

In 1781 Great Britain, when invading her revolted colonies, took possession of the very district of country near Fortress Monroe, now occupied by troops of the United States. The houses then inhabited by the people, after being respected and protected by avowed invaders, are now pillaged and destroyed by men who pretend that the victims are their fellow-citizens.

Mankind will shudder to hear the tales of outrage committed on defenseless females by soldiers of the United States now invading our homes; yet these outrages are prompted by inflamed passions and the madness of intoxication. But who shall depict the horror with which they will regard the cool and deliberate malignity which, under pretext of suppressing an insurrection, said by themselves to be upheld by a minority only of our people, makes special war on the sick, including the women and the children, by carefully devised measures to prevent their obtaining the medicines necessary for their cure.

The sacred claims of humanity, respected even during the fury of actual battle, by careful diversion of attack from the hospitals containing wounded enemies, are outraged in cold blood by a government and people that pretend to desire a continuance of fraternal connections . . . The humanity of our [Southern] people would shrink instinctively from the bare idea of waging a like war upon the sick, the women, and the children of the enemy.”

(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 1861-1865, Volume I, James D. Richardson, editor, US Publishing Company, 1906, excerpts, pp. 118-120)

May 3, 2021 - Lincoln's Hessians, Southern Statesmen    Comments Off on Colonel John Taylor Wood’s Escape

Colonel John Taylor Wood’s Escape

The following account is related by Capt. William H. Parker, CSN, who had charge of the Confederate treasury in gold, silver and bullion, estimated at about $500,000, as it was transported southward in 1865. The term “Dutchman” was derived from “Deutsch,” or German, which was the language and nativity of many of the North’s soldiers – estimated at 25% by 1864. Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge and Treasury Secretary Judah. P. Benjamin were the only Confederate cabinet members not captured.

Colonel John Taylor Wood’s Escape

“I only intend to tell of the escape of my old friend and comrade, John Taylor Wood, as I had it from his lips only a few months ago in Richmond.

The party [of President Jefferson Davis] was captured just before daybreak on the 9th of May [1865]. Wood was placed [under guard] of a Dutchman, who spoke no English. While the rest of the federal troops were busy in securing their prisoners and plundering the camp, Wood held a $20 gold piece (the universal interpreter) to his guard and signified his desire to escape.

The Dutchman held up two fingers and nodded. Wood gave him $40 in gold, and stole off to a field, where he laid down among some brushwood. The federals, (under a Colonel Pritchett, I think), having finished their preparations, marched off without missing Colonel Wood.

After they were out of sight, Wood arose and found a broken-down horse, which had been left behind. He also found an old bridle, and mounting the nag, he started for Florida. I have forgotten his adventures, but somewhere on the route he fell in with Mr. [Judah] Benjamin, Secretary of State, and General [John C.] Breckinridge, Secretary of War. Benjamin and Wood owed their escape to Wood, for Wood was an old naval officer and a thorough seaman.

On the coast of Florida, they bought a rowboat and in company of a few others they rowed down the coast, intending to either cross to Cuba or the Bahamas.

Proceeding on her way to the southward, the party next fell in with a sailboat, in which there were three sailors, deserters from United States vessels at Key West, trying to make their way to Savannah. Wood and party took their boat, as she was a seaworthy craft, put the sailors on the rowboat, and gave them sailing directions for Savannah.

Wood then took the helm and steered for Cuba . . . [and] After suffering much from hunger and thirst they arrived at Matanzas (I think) and were kindly cared for by the Spanish authorities, from whom they received most respectful attention as soon as they made themselves known.”

(The Gold and Silver in the Confederate States Treasury, William H. Parker; Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXI, R.A. Brock, editor, 1893, excerpts pp. 312-313)

Goths and Vandals in Florida

Captain J.J. Dickison, renowned for his fearless role in leading Florida’s “Cow Cavalry” during the war, is said to have always carried three revolvers – two in holsters and one on his saber belt. On more than one occasion after emptying his pistols and dashing up to an enemy cavalryman who was ordered to surrender, but refused to do, he would strike an unerring blow with his trusty saber.

Goths and Vandals in Florida

“Gainesville, Fla., August 19, 1864

The enemy’s cavalry [from Ohio and Massachusetts], reported to be four hundred strong, reached this place on the 17th, at four o’clock, a.m., with the view to sacking and burning the town. Upon their arrival, we had but one company of militia and a few citizens, who had assembled suddenly upon the emergency, under command of Judge Thomas F. King, to repel them.

Finding that they were unable, in consequence of the largely superior force, to successfully resist them, they retired . . . anxiously hoping for the arrival of our cavalry.

The enemy, or, at least a majority of them, were stationed at the railroad and depot, while the remaining began an indiscriminate robbery and plunder of the citizens of the town. Just in the midst of their thieving operations, and conduct such as would have been a disgrace even to the names and character of the Goths and Vandals, Captain [J.J.] Dickison . . . with his noble command, dashed in the town from nearly every direction.

When nearly opposite the residence of Colonel Dozier, Captain Dickison directed Lt. Bruton of the artillery, to open upon the enemy with the two pieces under his command. A portion of our cavalry then charged upon the enemy, and opened such a terrific fire upon them that they scampered through the town in every direction like a flock without a shepherd.

The fighting between our troops and the enemy then became indiscriminate and general. The Yankees tried to secret themselves in and under the houses in town, while many of them sought to remain near the ladies for protection, knowing full well our gallant men would not aim their trusty rifles at them thus situated.  Finding that they were completely hemmed in . . . a large number surrendered.

A number of the enemy, after being routed . . . started pell-mell on the road leading to Newnansville, where they were met by a detachment of militia cavalry, commanded by Captain Williams, who captured twenty-four of them.”

(Dickison and His Men: Reminiscences of the War in Florida, Mary Elizabeth Dickison, Courier-Journal Printing Co., 1890, excerpts pp. 100-102)

As Virginia Patriots Did Before Them

Northern General John Pope was a veteran of Missouri fighting and as commander of Lincoln’s army in Virginia in mid-1862, with Lincoln’s approval, issued orders for his men to confiscate from Virginia citizens “whatever food, forage, animals and other supplies they might require; to exile behind federal lines all male citizens who refuse to swear allegiance to the United States; to execute all persons who fire upon federal troops; to destroy the property of all such persons; to force local residents to repair any railroads, wagon roads, or telegraphs destroyed in their neighborhoods; and to deny guards for the homes of citizens who seek protection.” These were orders unprecedented in warfare, and directed against Americans.

As Virginia Patriots Did Before Them

“January 6, 1862: “Today Governor Letcher issued a proclamation designed to stir the passions of Virginians. The murderous and barbaric actions of the United States government during nine months of war have more than justified Virginia’s decision to secede, avers its chief executive.

Abraham Lincoln’s government, by its “unnatural” and “wicked” behavior, has “violated” and “annulled” the old compact between the States. More than that, Lincoln’s personal conduct has served to remind Southerners of another tyrannical and oppressive monarch who sought to enslave a free people some four score years ago. In another summer, in another century, that free and irrepressible people had risen up, joined together, cast off self-doubt, shoved aside its sunshine patriots, defied the penalty for failure, and declared its independence.

That, “our first revolution,” proclaims Letcher, can only serve to inspire Virginians and all Southerners in the unfinished task ahead. “We must be content with nothing less than the unqualified recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy and its nationality,” he continues; “and to this end we must meet the issue . . . with spirit, energy and determination.”

[In July, 1862, Culpepper, Virginia] has reacted as best it can. Some citizens take to the woods to plague detachments of federal troops as guerillas. Staccato exchanges of pistol and rifle fire vibrate across the country for the first time in the war. “The horrid Yankees have arrived,” reports one young lady. “There is skirmishing every day about the Rapidan River.”

The county makes so bold because they have heard rumors that Stonewall Jackson is rushing to the rescue. [No] one doubts that Stonewall will press on to liberate Culpepper [and that] includes the Union troops. It is as Pope has feared. Whatever confidence his address [to his troops] may have momentarily inspired is being corroded by the sniping and dreaded name of Jackson.”

(Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861-1865, Daniel E. Sutherland, excerpt, pp. 87-88; 117-119)

Catholics and Know-Nothings

Though Massachusetts created the first statutes in America establishing African slavery, Catholics were found to be far worse and unwanted strangers prior to the Civil War. A power-base for the nativist Know-Nothing party of the mid-1800s, the Massachusetts legislature desegregated its public schools in order to exclude Catholics, with one observer commenting that “the legislature might appear to have acted inconsistently, opening Massachusetts schools to one minority group while proposing discriminatory statutes against another. However, blacks were Protestants and native-born, and posed no threat to the Protestant curriculum that Know-Nothings found so important.” By 1856, the Know-Nothing party was absorbed by the new Republican party.

Catholics and Know-Nothings

“As Irish Catholic immigration to New York City and other northeastern cities skyrocketed during the Irish potato famine (1846-1850), and prelates like [Archbishop of New York, John] Hughes began to succeed in obtaining State funds for Catholic schools, nativist political resolve increased. Another factor that increased nativist hostility was the Catholic hierarchy’s refusal to condemn slavery and its [later] apparent support for the Confederacy. In his recent book “Catholicism and American Freedom,” John T. McGreevy . . . argues that the acceptance of slavery among Catholic intellectuals “rested upon the pervasive fear of liberal individualism and social order that so shaped Catholic thought during the nineteenth century, along with the anti-Catholicism of many abolitionists.”

By 1854 the earlier political manifestations of the nativist movement had matured into a full-fledged political party. The American, or Know-Nothing,” party enjoyed short-lived success in the 1854 election, when it won six governorships and achieved majorities in the State legislatures of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. Despite the low concentration of immigrants in western Pennsylvania, the Know-Nothings did well there . . . attributed to the high percentage of Anglo-Saxon residents in that area combined with “the belief that the Know-Nothings would advance the temperance and anti-slavery movements.”

The main object of Know-Nothing State legislatures was to introduce legislation that would prevent Catholic immigrants from voting. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine passed laws prohibiting State judges from naturalizing immigrants . . . [and] including the first literacy tests for voting, were passed in order to disenfranchise the Irish.

The party’s platform focused on voting rights . . . and requiring the exclusion of foreigners and Catholics from public office. In Massachusetts, where Know-Nothings were strongest, they passed legislation which prohibited the disbursement of public funds to private schools, required that all public school children, including Catholics, read daily from the Protestant King James Version of the Bible, and desegregated the public school system.”

(Breach of Faith: American Churches and the Immigration Crisis, James C. Russell, Representative Government Education Press, 2004, excerpt pp. 26-27)

Slavery and Secession

Though the British discovered a peaceful path to end African slavery in its empire, no practical or peaceful solutions to end slavery in the United States came from New England abolitionists. Rather than look back at their section’s role in the transatlantic slave trade which brought Africans traded for Yankee notions and rum to the West Indies and the South, Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin and New England cotton mills which perpetuated slavery, and New England’s threatened secession since 1804, blaming the South for slavery became popular. They would also have found that New England’s financial basis for its industrial revolution was acquired through its African slave trade, which helped Providence, Rhode Island surpass Liverpool as the center of that transatlantic slave trade by 1750.

Slavery and Secessionists

“Soon after the assassination of President Lincoln, the Rev. Daniel C. Eddy of the Baldwin Place Congregational Church in Boston spoke of the fundamental differences he perceived between the South and the North:

“Argue as we may, our Southern people are a different race. Slavery has given them a different idea of religion . . . Slavery has barbarized them, and made them a people with whom we have little in common. We had an idea of Southern civilization when Judge Hoar was driven out of Charleston . . . when Sumner was bleeding in the Federal Senate . . . when ornaments were made for Southern ladies of the bones of the brave soldiers killed at Bull Run . . . in the atrocities perpetrated upon our poor soldiers . . . And now we have another exhibition of it in the base, wanton, assassination of the President.”

In the antebellum years some Northern clergy looked upon the South as a distasteful part of the Union that they advocated the Garrisonian position whereby the South should separate itself from the South. In 1851 Charles G. Finney, coming to the realization that revivalism was not going to bring an end to slavery, suggested “the dismemberment of our hypocritical union.” Finley detested the thought of living in a nation where slavery existed. It was better to separate from such an evil.

In two sermons delivered in 1854, Eden B. Foster, a Congregationalist minister from Lowell, Massachusetts, proposed the secession of the North from the Union as a last resort to check the spread of slavery. Inherent in the slavery system, said Foster, were such evils as cruelty, ignorance immorality and sin. On April 4, 1861, less than two weeks before the cannons at Charleston began to bombard Fort Sumter, [Boston preacher] . . . Eddy urged the North to free itself from the burden of Union with the South so that the North might more fully “develop all those forces of a high-minded Christian civilization.”

Later that month, on April 28, after the surrender of Fort Sumter, Eddy changed his mind and advocated war to save the Union.”

(God Ordained This War: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830-1865, David B. Chesebrough, University of South Carolina Press, 1991, excerpt pp. 58-59)

Gibbon’s Long-Haired Barbarian

Admiral Raphael Semmes (1809- 1877) was a Naval Academy graduate, prewar lawyer and remarkable naval strategist who quite-nearly destroyed the US merchant marine with his devastating commerce raiding tactics. A frequent critic of the New England mind and character, he saw the Yankee as “ambitious, restless, scheming, energetic, and has no inconvenient moral nature to restrain him from the pursuit of his interests, be the path ever so crooked. In the development of material wealth he is unsurpassed.” Below, he describes President Jefferson Davis’ path after departing Richmond in 1865.

Gibbon’s Long-Haired Barbarian

“[President Davis] moved soon to Charlotte, in North Carolina, and in a few weeks afterward he fell into the hands of the enemy. The reader knows the rest of his history; how the enemy gloated over his captivity; how he was reviled, and insulted, by the coarse and brutal men into whose power he had fallen; how lies were invented as to the circumstances of his capture, to please and amuse the Northern multitudes, eager for his blood; and finally, how he was degraded by imprisonment, and the manacles of a felon!

His captors and he were of different races – of different blood. They had nothing in common. He was the “Cavalier,” endowed by nature with the instincts and refinement of the gentleman. They were of the race of Roundheads, to whom all such instincts and refinements were offensive.  God has created men in different moulds, as he has created the animals. It was as natural that the Yankees should hate Jefferson Davis, as that the cat should arch its back, and roughen its fur, upon the approach of the dog.

I have said that the American war had its origins in money, and that it was carried on throughout, “for a consideration.” It ended in the same way.

The “long-haired barbarian” – see Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” – who laid his huge paw on Jefferson Davis, to make him a prisoner, was paid in money for the gallant deed.  A President of the United States had degraded his high office, by falsely charging Mr. Davis with being an accomplice in the murder of President Lincoln, and offered a reward for his apprehension; thus gratifying his malignant nature, by holding him up to the world as a common felon.”

(Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States, Raphael Semmes, LSU Press, 1996 (Original 1868) excerpt pp. 817-818)

Requiem for the States

General Don Piatt, who travelled with Lincoln and knew him perhaps as well as anyone, said “When a leader dies all good men go about lying about him. I hear of him, I read of him in eulogies and biographies, but fail to recognize the man I knew in life . . . Lincoln faced and lived through the awful responsibility of war with a courage that came from indifference.”

Lincoln’s intimate friend Ward Lamon and W.H. Cunningham of the Montgomery [Missouri) Star sat immediately behind Lincoln at Gettysburg, “publicly stating that the speech published was not the one delivered by Lincoln; that both Edward Everett and Seward expressed their disappointment and there was no applause; that Lincoln said: “Lamon, that speech was like a wet blanket on the audience.” (Two Presidents: Abraham Lincoln & Jefferson Davis, C.E. Gilbert, Naylor Company, 1973, pg. 78)

Requiem for the States

“The Gettysburg dedication was planned to emphasize the role of the States in the war. The governors, the State commissioners, and the flags of the States occupied prominent places in the formal plans for the ceremony. But two weeks before the occasion Lincoln accepted an invitation to attend. His sudden and unexpected acceptance forced changes in plans. Massachusetts’ famed Edward Everett was the orator of the day, but the President had perforce to be given a place on the program.

Whether or not the governors had expected the occasion to redound to the glory of the States, Abraham Lincoln rose at Gettysburg to talk of the nation. He failed to mention that four score and seven years before, the fathers had brought forth thirteen independent States. He talked of the nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and of the high resolve “that this nation, under god, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

No one noted, then or later, that at the moment the President was pledging that “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth,” General Robert Schenck’s soldiers, less than a hundred miles away, were patrolling the polls in Delaware.

But Lincoln knew that they were there, and that they too, were upholding the nation. This was his theme at Gettysburg, and he thanked Everett for making an argument for the national supremacy and for excoriating the idea “of the general government being only an agency, whose principals are the States.” [Pennsylvania] Governor Andrew Curtin had his cemetery, but on that 19th of November, at Gettysburg and in Delaware, Lincoln by word and deed had interred States’ rights.”

(Lincoln and the War Governors, William B. Hesseltine, Alfred Knopf, 1955, excerpts pp. 344-345)

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