Sunday, July 23, 2006

The opinions expressed here are strictly mine.

I’m a Civil War fanatic. I have read over 100 books on the subject (and counting). Over the past three years I’ve written two papers on the Battle of Gettysburg. I read all the current magazines published on the subject. I plan to take up reenacting and towards that end by having two uniforms made and I’m purchasing equipment for that purpose. I know how to load and fire a P1857 Enfield rifle and have recently acquired a replica 1851 Colt Navy revolver. So you can say I’m really into this.
During my studying, I found several items that are still bones of contention today:(1) The Origin. In recent years, slavery seemed to be the only item that caused the war. This was only one of several issues that were plaguing North and South. Here are the primary issues that were in play:
a. Slavery: the enslavement of Africans to provide labor on plantations was the worst thing that happened in American history. An institution that probably would have died out by the 1860s was revived by Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. This allowed cotton to be a cash crop throughout the South and created a demand for additional labor. While the African slave trade was abolished, there was over a million Africans enslaved. While there were free blacks in the country, they were treated worse than third-class citizens, except that they were not citizens. The Dred Scott decision in the US Supreme Court took care of that. Scott was the servant of a US Army surgeon who was posted North. When the surgeon died, his widow was going to sell him to bring in some money (a good servant would cost about $1500 in 1860 dollars, about $150,000 today). He sued for his freedom, explaining that since he was taken North, where slavery was illegal, he was already free. The Supreme Court did not agree with him, stating that Africans were not citizens and did not have the right to the courts. The other main item concerning slavery was its spread into new territories. There were brush wars in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska as pro and anti slavery forces tried both the ballot box and the bullet to get their way. In the end, the anti slavery forces won. This angered the South, since they believed that their political power was weakened. This was not helped by the rise of a new political party, the Republicans. Their party platform for the 1860 election included plans to stop the spread of slavery. The man who was elected the nominee, Abraham Lincoln, was ambiguous on the subject, favoring the concept of “recolonization,” the migration of blacks back to Africa. This concept was used in the 1830’s, resulting in the creation of Liberia, at the time the only independent African nation. This did not sit well with abolition groups, who included free blacks, who considered themselves Americans. On the other side the Democrats (the people who brought us Bill and Hillary Clinton) were split on the issue. The Northern Democrats, led by Stephen Douglas, wanted at least to contain slavery, since they were afraid of free blacks migrating North and taking jobs that were held by immigrants. The Southern Democrats wanted to expand the practice into the Western territories. The Democrat party split over the issue, with the Northerners meeting in Baltimore and nominating Douglas and the Southerners meeting in Charleston and nominating John Breckenridge, a former vice-president and future Confederate general and Secretary of War. With John Bell becoming a candidate for the Union Party, there were four candidates for the presidency in 1860. Lincoln won.
b. States Rights: This has been a thorny issue because in the 20th Century it was hijacked by those who wanted to keep African-Americans down. Here is the true premise, a state has the right to decide their own laws, according to the 10th Amendment. There were many anti-slavery Southerners who wanted to be the ones to decide when the institution ended. They saw the election of Lincoln as a threat to their self rule. They feared the slavery question would be forced at the end of a bayonet, even though the US Army only had 16,000 troops spread out over a score of frontier posts. Within 30 days after the election, the state of South Carolina had voted to secede, or break away, from the rest of the US. During the following weeks, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas also seceded and were trying to form a government in Montgomery, Alabama. Soon, Arkansas and Tennessee joined them but North Carolina and Virginia were waiting to see what would happen. Following the attack on Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, President Lincoln called on the states to furnish volunteer troops to put down the growing rebellion. This angered folks in Virginia and North Carolina and they soon joined the newly established Confederate States of America. This raised the question; did a state of the United States have the right to secede?
c. Tariffs: Another complaint was that Southern cotton farmers were being charged tariffs, or taxes, to sell cotton to Northern textile mills. This was the argument, amongst others that Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate States of America. This book was his defense of the South in which his views on secession and slavery were put out. He also complained that the tariffs would have crippled the Southern Economy.
(2) The War itself: It seems that despite the assertion that “one Southerner can whip twenty Yankees,” it is my opinion that the Southern Cause was doomed from the start. This was due to the following factors:
a. Industrialization: The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, in the North. Northern cities were already growing industrial centers, turning out products that were sold across the country. The South, on the other hand, had few factories, such as the Tregdar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia. The Confederate defense industry had to be invented almost overnight. One example of the disparity was that if the Union lost 100 cannon in a battle, the Northern factories could replace them in a day and get them to the army within a week. If the Rebels lost 100 cannon, those replacements would be long in coming, if ever. It was easier to capture Federal cannon rather than to wait for replacements either from Richmond, or brought in by blockade runners, ships that were bringing in arms and goods from Europe through the growing US Navy blockade on the coast from Virginia to Texas. While the Rebels could improvise, like using railroad rails for armor plating, it was only a matter of time before the lack of industry would catch up with the South.
b. Manpower: The North could draw on millions if they had to. Not only native-born Americans, but immigrants were also enlisting, giving rise to groups like the Irish Brigade, the Garibaldi Guards, and the Union XI corps, made up of Germans. Later on in the war, free blacks were enlisted, starting with the Louisiana Native Guards, through the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, to almost 40 regiments of United States Colored Troops who found glory (Fort Wagner) and misuse (the Crater at Petersburg). Despite several drafts (one of which led to rioting in 1863) the Union had more than enough men to win the war.The South was not so lucky. Even though thousands of men went “to the colors,” the armies that were fielded were undermanned, underequipped, and undersupplied. Despite being led by military experts like Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (he never wanted the nickname applied to himself but to his brigade) the combination of Napoleonic tactics (massed infantry fire) with Industrial Age weapons (rifled muskets, breech loading and repeating rifles), as well as desertions and the reluctance of state governors to release militias to Confederate service, resulted in Southern manpower being depleted by wars end.
c. Centralization of Government: The Northern government could require states to furnish soldiers, nationalize the militia, and draft others into service. The Confederate government had to go to the states for soldiers and the governors could refuse to furnish any except for state defense. President Davis had to resort to a conscription system in order to keep armies in the field (a lot earlier than the North), which caused the governors to label Davis a “dictator.”
d. Leadership: The one thing the South had in abundance. Even that was not guaranteed. About 93 officers of the Regular Army resigned their commissions to join the new Southern Nation. They were followed by not a few naval officers, including the first superintendent of the US Naval Academy, Franklin Buchanan of C.S.S Virginia fame. The North was hampered by officers who were political appointments chosen by the state governors for raising regiments. The North had a core of officers from the Regular Army, but had to fill in other positions with the political officers. One result was that the Army of the Potomac was led by string of incompetents who lost most of the battles in the beginning (McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker). When Meade was made commander, he accepted it like a death sentence, however, he listened to his experts (Hancock) and won Gettysburg (Meade would lead the army for the rest of the war). When Grant was promoted to General-in-Chief, he brought in battle-hardened experts from the West to leaven out the army. Grant led them through the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, but did not retreat. The leadership of Grant, along with Sherman, Sheridan, and Thomas, turned Union fortunes to final victory.
(3) The Aftermath: This was handled very badly due to the following factors:
a. The Assassination of Lincoln: Lincoln wanted to reconcile with the South. He wanted to bring the states back in with few conditions, the most important being acceptance of the 13th Amendment that ended slavery. The radicals in his party wanted to maintain the formally rebellious states as colonies under military rule. It was shaping out to be the most debated issue of Lincoln’s second term. Unfortunately, a single pistol shot put an end to that. Lincoln was attending a play when John Wilkes Booth crept into the box that the President was sitting in, and fired a bullet into Lincoln’s brain. Other assassins tried to kill Secretary of State Seward, Secretary of War Stanton, and Vice-President Johnson, but they failed. This act enraged the North, who demanded total revenge on the South, and that reflected in what happened during Reconstruction.
b. Reconstruction: This was the post-war period in which the states were brought back into the Union by passage of the following amendments:13th Amendment: abolishing slavery14th Amendment: former slaves now US Citizens This time was also marked by the imposition of military rule, mostly manned by African-American troops, which angered most Southerners who had lost their livelihood. They were already planning revenge, covertly by secret organizations like the Ku Klux Klan (founded by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest) and the Knights of the White Camellia, overtly by the imposition of “Black Codes,” laws that restricted African-American freedoms. When Reconstruction ended in 1870, Democrats regained control of state legislatures and created laws that stripped African-Americans the right to vote, hold office, and otherwise participate in the political process. This would create conditions that lasted until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. The Civil War was the time that the country lost its innocence. It tore families apart and caused rifts that are still being talked about here in the 21st Century. Several of the Southern states have incorporated the Confederate battle flag into their state flags in response to Civil Right’s laws passed in Congress. South Carolina had flown a battle flag until the threat of a boycott forced them to move it to a monument. Georgia changed theirs in 2001 and Mississippi recently voted to keep their design. This war has quite the following, with people dressing up in period costume and reenacting battles on almost any given weekend. Yearly there are hundreds of books from professional historians as well as amateurs. The latest craze started over a decade ago with the release of the movie Gettysburg, based on the book The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra. His son, Jeff, took up the pen (Michael died in 1977) and wrote a prequel, Gods and Generals, and a sequel, The Last Full Measure. Gods and Generals was made into a movie in 2003 and there are plans to film The Last Full Measure. In my opinion, Robert Duvall made a better Robert E. Lee than Martin Sheen. Magazines include, America’s Civil War, North and South, Civil War Times Illustrated, and Blue and Gray. These magazines feature articles by many prominent historians like Robertson, McPherson, Davis, Pohanka, and others. In the early 1990’s, public television showed Ken Burns The Civil War, which was received with great acclaim.
I can safely say that the Civil War is still an fascinating subject and I look forward to the sesquicentennial in 2011-2015.

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