Speech: Sam Watkins and Co. Aytch

(October 15, 2019) Provided below is a copy of a speech I gave about my annotated and illustrated version Co. Aytch (Company H), which is a memoir of Confederate Private Sam Watkins.

 Co. Aytch (Company H)

Margret Mitchell who authored Gone With the Wind once said of Confederate Private Sam Watkins: “Perhaps he did not contribute enormously to our store of information about military strategy and campaigns, but he certainly left a record to show what the dryly-humorous foot soldier thought about it all . . . A better book there never was.

The chief aim of my annotated and illustrated version of Co. Aytch is to add the context that Ms. Mitchell felt was missing from Sam’s 1882 memoir. In contrast, there is little to be added to the humor, passion, and tragedy of Sam’s writings, which at times rise to a standard resembling Mark Twain. Partly that’s because Sam is telling a true story, and genuine adventures are often more compelling than fictional ones. As someone once cleverly explained, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” If nothing else, Sam’s memoir is a thorough documentation of how routinely war planning “goes wrong.”

Mark Twain first achieved fame seven months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox with “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” a story about a shrewd frontier gambler who tricks a California prospector. The miner owns a pet frog that has out jumped every frog in the county. While the miner is occupied catching a new frog for the gambler to wager against his champion, the gambler feeds the prospector’s frog buckshot. When the miner returns, the speculator declares the freshly caught frog a suitable contender and places his wager. To the dismay of all—save one—the champion frog won’t budge, and the cheater wins.

Watkins tells of a similar, but true, incident several years earlier when his Confederate army was idled for seven weeks in Tupelo, Mississippi. To overcome boredom the soldiers would wager on most anything, including how fast lice would run off of a tin plate. One soldier was constantly winning until the others figured out he always heated his plate before a race.

Unlike Twain’s, Sam’s literature would go almost unnoticed for over a century. After the Columbia (TN) Herald serialized his memoir in 1881–82, fifteen hundred copies were printed as books. Between the author’s death in 1901 and the Civil War Centennial in the early 1960s, Co. Aytch was seldom reprinted and always in small editions. In 1962, Collier Books opportunistically published it along with seven other out-of-copyright Civil War books, such as the memoirs of Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. However, Watkins’s memoir was quoted frequently Ken Burns’s popular 1990 PBS documentary, The Civil War. As result the book has become popular.

Watkins came from a prosperous family and had some formal education. His memoir includes a number of Latin phrases. There are also multiple references to Shakespeare and Greek mythology, as well as numerous biblical ones. Sam was born in the summer of 1839, in Maury County, Tennessee, which is about forty-five miles south of Nashville. When he was twenty-two he enlisted in a company of Confederate soldiers that adopted the name “Maury Grays.” They were officially designated Company H of the 1st Tennessee Regiment.

Originally 120 men joined the company, but when it surrendered almost precisely four years later, Sam claims that only seven of the initial soldiers remained. He included himself among them, but it was doubtful that he was still with them in April 1865. During the war, Sam reports that he was wounded three times. He was also says he was captured three times, but returned to his comrades by escaping. Although he was prone to tall tales, Sam fought in nearly all of the major battles of the principal Confederate army west of the Appalachians. Examples include Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro (Stones River), Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, the four-month Atlanta campaign, Franklin, and Nashville.

Aside from fighting, Sam endured the constant hardships of marching and camping in an ill-provisioned army. Like most of his fellow soldiers, he was often barefoot and hungry. It was especially hard to stay warm in winter. Sam’s death in 1901 at age sixty-two may have been premature as a lingering consequence of such deprivations.

Although Watkins was unmarried when he marched off to war, he had a sweetheart named Jennie Mayes who was his age. When the two were teenagers, their families owned adjacent farms. Two of the most touching entries in Co. Aytch are a poem and letter from Jennie, which Sam read “500 times.” They married shortly after the war, and Sam clerked at his father-in-law’s general store. Within a dozen years they had seven children, and Sam owned a general store in Columbia. Just before the end of the 1870s, their oldest child died of typhoid, which was thought to have originated from the household’s source of spring water. Consequently, Sam moved the family to a farm outside of town in 1880 where he started work on the memoirs.

Eventually he had eight children, and the older ones recalled seeing him writing late at night and early mornings. They remembered he sometimes laughed and sometimes cried, depending on what he was writing. He continued to write thereafter, with stories appearing in magazines like Confederate Veteran and Southern Bivouac, in addition to articles in local newspapers.

Evidently Watkins shared a simple religious faith with most of the common soldiers. Seemingly crude to a modern reader, it was nonetheless a type that could quickly detect false devotion in others, no matter how elaborately disguised. The battle of Chickamauga provides an example.

One Sunday shortly before the battle a distinguished preacher was invited to address the troops, a visit Watkins satirized in his memoir:

“God is an abyss of light, a circle who is everywhere and His circumference is nowhere. Hell is a dark world made up of spiritual sulfur and other ignited ingredients.”

When the old fellow got this far I lost further run of his prayer . . . I don’t think anyone understood him but the Generals. . . About this time we heard the awfullest racket … tearing through the woods toward us . . . a mad bull . . . running and knocking down the divine  . . . [bringing] the services to a close without the Doxology.

This same brave Chaplin rode with us at . . . Chickamauga, exhorting the boys to be brave [and] aim low . . .  “Remember boys that he who is killed will sup tonight in Paradise.” Presently bullets started to smack into nearby trees . . . and the parson put spurs to his horse and was seen to limber to the rear and almost every soldier yelled out, “The parson isn’t hungry and never eats his supper.”

Yet Sam could also tell the poignant side of soldier life, even if his stories may have been embellished by incidents that other soldiers told him about. On the evening after the battle of Chickamauga, for example, he tells of being with a detail of soldiers looking for wounded when they were approached by a group of women with lanterns also searching for survivors:

Coming to a pile of our slain, we had turned over several . . . when one of the ladies screamed . . . ran to the pile . . . and raised [a] man’s head, placed it in her lap and began kissing him . . . saying ‘Oh, they have killed my darling, darling, darling! Oh, mother, mother, what must I do? . . . My darling! Oh, they have killed him, they have killed him!’

I could witness the scene no longer. I turned and walked away.

Several times Watkins narrowly missed becoming the object of such bereavement himself. “Once during hand-to-hand combat at the battle of Kennesaw Mountain, a Yankee rushed me and said, ‘You have killed my two brothers and now I’ve got you’ . . . I heard a roar and felt a flash of fire and saw . . . William A. Hughes, grab the muzzle of the gun, receiving the whole (blast)  . . . He died for me.”

Watkins watched as litter carriers took Hughes away. The dying soldier kept telling them, “Give me Florence Fleming,” his name for his rifle, which was engraved on it with silver lettering. “It was the last time I saw him,” Watkins wrote. “But I know away up yonder . . . in the blue vault of heaven . . . we will sometime meet at the marriage supper of the Son of God.”

Shakespeare wrote how combat transformed soldiers into a “band of brothers” who become more motivated to fight for one another than any political cause. Thus, during the hasty retreat from Missionary Ridge at the battle of Chattanooga in November 1863, Sam describes how four Rebels demonstrated brotherly affection for a comrade in a manner that would have been unthinkable during that era under almost any other circumstances:

We saw poor Tom Webb lying . . . shot through the head, his blood and brains smearing his face and clothes, and he still alive. . . . We did not wish to leave the poor fellow in that condition and [four of us] got a litter and carried him . . . to Chickamauga Station. . . .

The next morning Dr. Dixon . . . told us that it would be useless for us to carry him any further [because] it was utterly impossible for him ever to recover. . . . To leave him where he was we thought best. We . . . bent over him and pressed our lips to his—all four of us. We kissed him goodbye.

Despite such experiences, Sam’s persistent eye for humor almost never failed him, even if he exaggerated an experience in order to spread humor. One evening he and the louse-racing champion, T. C. Dornin, were instructed to infiltrate the nearby Union picket line and gather information about the opposing army. His identity obscured by darkness, Watkins pretended to be a federal infantryman as he quizzed a Union sentinel.

‘Captain, what guard it this?’ He answered, ‘Nien bocht, you bet,’ is what I understood him to say. ‘What regiment are you from?’ ‘Iet du mein got Donnermetter stefel switzer.’ I had to give up—I had run across the detail of a Dutch regiment.

As suggested, sometimes Sam might have been telling stories that he had heard from others but took the liberty of putting himself into the narrative.  One example is his description of getting friendly with a Union sentry the night before the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. The opposing lines were not close enough to permit the following narrative, but it could have happened on another battlefield to someone else.

We [two enemy sentries] got very friendly . . . and made a raid upon a citizen’s pantry where we captured a bucket of honey, a pitcher of sweet milk, and three or four biscuits. The old citizen was not home—he and his whole household had gone visiting . . . In fact, I think all of the citizens of Perryville were taken with a sudden notion of promiscuous visiting about this time. At least they were not home to all callers.

Conversely, his description of the First Tennessee Regiment’s participation in the actual fighting the next day is a mixture of confusion and horror that leaves little doubt of its authenticity.

While we were marching through a cornfield they opened their war dogs upon us . . . from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire. Here General Maney’s horse was shot. From this moment the battle was a mortal struggle. Two lines of battle confronted us. We had killed all in the first line and were charging over the second when . . . their third and main battle line . . . poured their deadly fire.

It was death to retreat now . . . we were soon in hand-to-hand fighting, using the butts of our guns and bayonets. The guns were discharged so rapidly, it seemed the earth itself was in volcanic uproar.

The next morning a wounded comrade . . . asked me to lay down beside him. When I awoke the poor fellow was stiff and cold in death.

Like other soldiers, Sam was constantly hungry on the march back to Tennessee from Kentucky. Since the enemy did not pursue them aggressively, the soldiers could purchase goods from farmers who offered items for sale along the side of the road. Alternately they might confiscate goods from Union-loyal citizens. Shortly after his unit crossed the Tennessee line where the expected rations failed to materialize, Sam “struck out through the country” in search of food.

I had gone but a short distance before I came across a group of soldiers clambering over something.  It was Tom Tuck with a barrel of sorghum that he had captured from a good Union man.  He was selling it out at five dollars a quart.  I paid my five dollars, and by pushing and scrounging I finally got my quart.  I sat down and drank it; it was bully . . . it was not so good . . . it was not worth a cent . . . I was sick, and have never loved sorghum since.

The next year while the army was preparing fortifications they would never use at Chattanooga, Sam’s dad paid a visit. The soldiers were living on parched corn. Since Sam was ashamed to offer such a meal, he introduced his dad to the regimental commander, Colonel Feilds, who invited the two to have dinner with him.

Shortly thereafter, a black cook dumped a frying pan full of parched corn on an oilcloth and announced, “Master, dinner ready,” Watkins recalled. “He [the regimental commander] was living like ourselves—on parched corn.”

Watkins’ memoir rarely speaks of blacks or slavery. However, after the fall of Atlanta, the Army of Tennessee—then commanded by Lieutenant General John Bell Hood—was advancing toward its namesake state in hopes of forcing Union Major General William T. Sherman to backtrack. Along the route, Hood destroyed railroad track north of Atlanta to cut Sherman’s supply line.

At Dalton, Ga., a 750-man federal garrison that included 500 blacks guarded the track. The federal commander, badly outnumbered, felt compelled to surrender, but wanted assurances that the blacks would be fairly treated. Hood would make no promises, but in the end the blacks were put to work tearing up railroad track. As Watkins described it, no doubt  with embellishment for humorous effect:

We marched the black rascals out. They were mighty glad to see us and we were kindly disposed to them. We said, “Now boys, we don’t want the Yankees to . . . blame you; so let’s us just go out here on the railroad track, and tear it up, and pile up the crossties, and then pile the iron on top of them and we’ll set the thing a-fire and when the Yankees come back they’ll say, ‘What a bully fight (you) did make.”

While the incident may not have been as friendly as described, Hood’s army did, in fact, capture the blacks without a racial massacre. Moreover, it seems plausible that Hood would naturally have used the blacks as laborers to tear up railroad track.

During one idle period in Tennessee Sam and some comrades “made a raid” on a farmhouse where they spied a fat hog. They decided to steal the hog by having two of the soldiers, which included Sam, distract the homeowner with a visit. Nobody was home except an old lady and her widowed daughter. The women invited Sam and his comrade to lunch during which the old lady disclosed she had three sons in the army and two had been killed. Presently distant gunfire informed Sam that the hog had been killed. When he returned to the rest of his group Sam “. . . did not know how to act . . . The hog was cooked, but I did not eat a piece of it.  I felt that I had rather starve, and I believe that it would have choked me to death if I had attempted to eat it.” He continued:

A short time later an old citizen from Maury County visited me and gave me some money my dad sent. After getting the money . . . I could not rest. I took some back to the old lady and said:

“Madam, some soldiers were here a short time ago, and took your hog . . . I wish to pay you for it.”

“I would much rather have the hog.”

“Madam, that is an impossibility, your hog is eat up.”

The old lady’s eyes filled with tears.  She said that she was perfectly willing to give the soldiers everything she had, and if she thought it had done us any good, she would not charge anything for it.

“Well, Madam, here is a hundred dollar, new issue, Confederate bill.”

I laid the money on the table and left.  I have never in my life made another raid upon anybody else.

After years of study I am unaware of any Civil War personality more worthy of respect for his commitment to his “band of brothers” and the civilians who depended upon them than Sam Watkins. Co. Aytch an exceptional military memoir. Both general readers and historians can enjoy Sam’s story, “a better book,” as Margret Mitchell claimed, “there never was.”


Speech: Trading With the Enemy

(October 14, 2019) Provide below is my PowerPoint speech on my Trading With the Enemy Book, which is about intersectional commerce during the Civil War.

Trading With the Enemy
Philip Leigh

On June 7, 1863, the day before Robert E. Lee attended a cavalry review prior to starting his second northern invasion that culminated early the following month at Gettysburg, the Confederate commerce raider Clarence forced the US flagged Alfred H. Partridge to stop off the North Carolina coast. The raider anticipated Partridge would be the second of an eventual string of twenty-one prizes. Normally, seized merchant ships were burned or used to transport previously captured crews to a safe harbor. But upon boarding the schooner the Rebels discovered she was bound for Matamoros, Mexico out of New York with a cargo of arms and clothing for Texas Confederates. Consequently, the Partridge was set free.

Since Matamoros was a neutral Mexican port federal warships could not blockade it. Before the Civil War only about one ship annually cleared New York for the Mexican town. However, a year after the War’s first important battle at Bull Run the average was about one per week. Cargoes included a multitude of Northern-made items that would have been considered contraband if shipped directly into the Confederacy. They encompassed weapons, munitions, and military uniforms, among other articles. For Yankees willing to help arm the Confederacy at a profit, Matamoros was little more than a legal fig leaf to cover dubious, if not treasonable, conduct.

In exchange, Southerners provided cotton from fields as far away as Arkansas, Louisiana, and east Texas. They typically loaded wagons with twenty bales and set out in caravans over crude trails ending in Brownsville, Texas, across the shallow Rio Grande River from Matamoros. En-route teamsters were vulnerable to unpredictable water shortages and attack from hostile Native Americans, and outlaws of all types. Next to specie (gold and sliver coins), cotton was the most acceptable international exchange medium available to Americans, whether in the Union or Confederacy. Adroit, clever, and sometimes ruthless contraband-for-cotton traders accumulated fortunes in Matamoros and Brownsville.

One example was Connecticut-born Charles Stillman who sold Rebel cotton at Matamoros to buyers in Northern states, including the United States government. After the War, Stillman was one of the wealthiest Americans. Before two of his granddaughters later married into the Rockefeller family he was a major shareholder in New York’s National City Bank. His son, a grandson, and a great-grandson each served as National City’s Board Chairman. The great-grandson—James Stillman Rockefeller—held the post as late as 1967 and lived until 2004. Presently the bank is known as Citicorp.

Despite its legal circumvention advantage, Matamoros was a comparatively minor part of Civil War intersectional commerce. More often the exchange was directly across enemy lines. The practice became important in the spring of 1862 about a year after the opening shots at Fort Sumter as the cotton trading centers at New Orleans and Memphis were captured.

When Union Major General Benjamin Butler arrived in New Orleans with 15,000 occupation soldiers in May 1862, his net worth was about $150,000, but six years later it was $3 million.  Although the lawyer-general was too shrewd to incriminate himself, there is little doubt that the gain was primary achieved by trading with the enemy.

By the summer of 1862 Union Major General William T. Sherman at Memphis complained that Northern traders were buying southern cotton for gold, which he believed the Rebels next used to buy weapons in the Bahamas and even at Cincinnati. A few months later Major General Ulysses Grant captured Confederate cavalry in northern Mississippi armed with modern carbines evidently purchased at occupied Memphis.

Ladies also participated in such trade and were sometimes especially effective. They were generally held less accountable for violations and soldiers were hesitant to physically search them. For example, while Union Captain Julius Ochs was assigned to a unit guarding the St. Louis-to-Cincinnati railroad, his wife was caught trying to smuggle quinine in a baby carriage across an Ohio River bridge to Rebels in Kentucky. Somehow Captain Ochs got the charges dropped, but his wife’s dedication to the South persisted. After the War she joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy while her husband became a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization.

Their eldest son, Adolph, became a Chattanooga newspaperman. Shortly before the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Adolph bought a failing New York newspaper, changed its masthead to “All the news that’s fit to print” and launched the New York Times toward national prominence.

Large numbers of men are seldom motivated to enlist as soldiers merely to fight a war for monetary compensation. A higher calling is required to justify leaving their homes and risking their lives in a fight requiring them to kill strangers who normally have done them no harm. In the spring of 1861 the concept of “Union” became sufficiently noble to qualify as such a calling in the North. Southerners simply rallied to the equally high-sounding notion of “independence.” Both terms were facades. The North wanted an intact Union in order to sustain its emerging economic supremacy whereas the South wanted independence with slavery.

Without the South’s raw materials and favorable export trade balance, northern businessmen justifiably worried that the economies of the states remaining in the Union after southern secession might collapse.  As Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, “Physically speaking we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections . . . [The two sides] cannot but remain face-to-face and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must remain between them.” Its unlikely that Lincoln realized just how prophetic his conclusion would become as trade continued—and sometimes even flourished—during four years of bitter warfare between the two regions.

World cotton market characteristics at the start of the Civil War explain how a bisected Union bereft of between-the-lines trading could lead to economic collapse in the North. Cotton textile manufacturing was the World’s biggest industry and it was largely dependent upon the South for raw material. Southern cotton alone accounted for about two-thirds of all United States exports. A truncated USA composed solely of Northern states could not hope to maintain a favorable international balance-of-payments. The situation would be exacerbated if the South ceased to be a market for Northern manufactured goods, which would be likely given the Confederacy’s lower import tariffs.

However, the South also had intersectional dependencies. Its focus on cash crops, such as cotton and tobacco, left it with a resultant need to buy wheat, corn, and pork from states northwest of the Ohio River. Similarly the South was dependent upon outside sources for nearly all manufactured articles. While such goods could be imported from Europe, American protective tariffs often artificially made domestically produced alternatives from the North more economical. Initially the South required provender from the Northwest more than the North needed cotton. That changed quickly as New England’s cotton inventories dwindled and Lincoln discovered he could sell cotton to Europeans for gold thereby curtailing the outflow of bullion from the Treasury.

Since inter-belligerent trade was almost a certainty, each side adopted regulations to control it in a manner optimal to their interests. Generally President Davis looked the other way out of necessity, whereas Lincoln looked the other way out of policy.

While the Confederate Congress tried to restrict shipment of specific commodities such as cotton into the North, it never outlawed trade with states remaining in the Union. It was silent on the matter of imports because the necessities of life were often more readily available to Southerners on the far side of enemy lines than through the blockade.

Lincoln’s regulations were more convoluted due to conflicting interests. Prohibition on trade would leave destitute whites and former slaves in federally occupied regions of the Confederacy with no means of economic support. But less altruistically, New England mills wanted feedstock to keep their factories running and workers employed. For diplomatic reasons, Lincoln wanted enough cotton to slip out of the country to avoid a cotton famine in Europe that might otherwise provoke Old World intervention in the American war on the side of the South.

The first opportunity for the North to secure significant quantities of cotton materialized about six months after the opening shots at Fort Sumter. In November 1861 a combined naval and army federal force occupied the Sea Islands near Port Royal, South Carolina. It was hoped the area’s ex-slaves could be more productively employed as free laborers on cotton plantations managed by capitalistic northerners. Although not sufficiently productive to suppress inter-belligerent commerce elsewhere, the Port Royal Experiment encouraged northern businessmen to advocate other military adventures designed to yield occasions to operate similar plantations in other parts of the Confederacy.

Former Massachusetts Congressman and abolitionist Eli Thayer targeted Florida for such Northern colonization. His plans were blocked in February 1864 when an invading US army was defeated at the battle of Olustee near Lake City. It was the sunshine state’s largest Civil War battle.

Edward Atkinson was another Bay State proponent of capturing and redistributing Southern lands to Northern colonists, but he focused on Texas. Atkinson was an abolitionist, mill owner, and antebellum weapons supplier to John Brown. Partly because of persistent lobbying by men like Atkinson, Union forces eventually launched an ill-fated offensive up the Red River about a month after Olustee.

Following the occupation of Port Royal, the next surge of intersectional trade developed in Matamoros. Shippers from the Northern states used the legal loophole in the federal blockade explained earlier to circumvent prohibition against selling contraband to the enemy. They merely pretended their cargoes were destined for Mexico whereas they were actually used to supply the Confederacy.

Intersectional trade swelled after Memphis and New Orleans were captured shortly before the summer of 1862. Both cities were near the center of the World’s richest cotton-growing lands. When General Butler assumed command in New Orleans he became a vigorous proponent of trading with the enemy, partly because he was the biggest shareholder in one of the largest textile mills in Massachusetts.

Contrary to popular belief, cargoes running the Union blockade did not necessarily represent shipments between the Confederacy and Europe. About twice as much cotton reached the North across enemy lines as was shipped to Europe through the maritime blockade. But by using a variety of evasions Northern merchants sometimes ran the Union naval blockade themselves instead of employing overland routes across enemy lines.

One method was to first ship cargoes to Halifax where they could be converted into “Canadian” merchandise prior to running the blockade. On return, Confederate bales could be transformed into “Canadian cotton” at Halifax and thereafter shipped to New York or other Northeastern ports.

After General Butler became the Maestro of wartime intersectional trade in New Orleans he transferred to occupied Norfolk in November 1863. Once again he utilized family members and earlier New Orleans associates to promote commerce across enemy lines in Virginia. After the fall of the South’s last major blockade-running port at Wilmington, North Carolina in the War’s final months, General Robert E. Lee’s besieged army at Petersburg received most of its vital supplies from Butler-controlled Norfolk.

Following Vicksburg’s surrender in mid-1863 Rebel states west of the Mississippi River were isolated. Union gunboats patrolling the river made it difficult for Confederates to transfer supplies across the stream. Consequently, the Rebel Trans-Mississippi became almost a nation unto itself. Commanding Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby-Smith was not only the ultimate military authority throughout the vast region, but also controlled important aspects of civilian life including a near monopoly on cotton trade. The territory evolved into a near free-for-all of inter-belligerent trade as a result of its inability to obtain adequate supplies of necessities by any other means.

In the War’s final year Lincoln threw the gates of intersectional trade wide open. Efforts by Congress and the military to throttle such commerce caused a decline in the Treasury’s gold reserves in the second half of 1864, because the restrictions reduced the amount of cotton Union traders had available to sell to Europe in exchange for gold.  Lincoln concluded that he could slow the gold drain by requiring that domestic cotton buyers be limited to using greenback currency, which was not convertible into gold. He also believed that a proliferation of greenbacks in the South would provide a powerful economic incentive among residents to favor reunification with the Union.

In the end, wartime intersectional commerce was a greater benefit to the Confederacy than to the Union and likely prolonged the War. While there were admittedly some unselfish and diplomatic reasons for Northerners to engage in such trade, the chief motivation was mercenary. During the War cotton prices climbed as high as $1.90 per pound as compared to about $0.13 in 1860, which was the year before the War started. For those willing to set aside morality in exchange for personal economic advantage, the profits were irresistible—particularly when favored access to inventories could be secured by means of political connections, bribery, or military status.

One example involves a name currently associated with a prominent bank and credit card operation. Until he became Supreme Court Chief Justice late in the War, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase was largely responsible for issuing cotton trading permits. Petitioners encompassing the full limits of the ethical spectrum continually hounded him for the profitable certificates. Although Chase had a reputation for honesty, he was a prideful man whose ambitions required money. For example, he hoped to unseat Lincoln in the 1864 Presidential election.

Chase relied upon banker Jay Cooke to sell most of the bonds required to fund the Civil War. While Cooke’s efforts were exceptional, they also enabled the financier to become enormously wealthy.

When Cooke opened a branch of his bank in Washington in February 1862, Chase was one of the first depositors. The secretary soon asked the banker, “How can you invest a few thousand dollars for me so as to make the best possible profit?” Evidently Chase could mollify himself that he was merely asking for a favor instead of a bribe. He soon discovered that the profits from the morsels that Cooke set aside for him were rewarding.

Ellis Oberholtzer who was the biographer selected by Jay Cooke’s children shortly after the financier’s death wrote:

Throughout the year 1862, at Chase’s solicitation, Cooke was investing various sums of money for the secretary, with a view to obtaining for him the largest possible income…Every few weeks he received checks, which represented the proceeds of various speculations in railway and industrial stocks conducted with a practical banker’s acumen plus a very generous regard for a friend’s best pecuniary interests.

Finally, Chase’s beautiful daughter, Kate, employed her charms to advance his ambitions. Among those ensnared by her attractions was Rhode Island Senator William Sprague who was then one of America’s wealthiest men. His family owned some of the largest New England cotton textile mills as well as other businesses including sawmills and locomotive manufacturing plants. They married in 1863. Kate wore a $50,000 tiara gift from her husband at the wedding.

Although Sprague’s mills badly needed cotton, Secretary Chase did not grant him special favors. Consequently, the Senator may have entered into a treasonous partnership to trade weapons for Confederate cotton in an episode known as The Texas Adventure.

When visiting Washington as a bachelor Sprague normally boarded at the Willard Hotel, which was then—as now—a center of political intrigue. William Russell, who was the Washington correspondent for The London Times wrote that Willard’s probably contained more “scheming, plotting, [and] planning . . . than any building the same size . . . in the world.”

In September 1862 a former Texan, Harris Hoyt, arranged to casually meet Sprague at the hotel. Hoyt claimed he was thrown out of the state because of his Union loyalties. He aroused Sprague’s interest when speaking of his many Union-loyal friends in Texas who were anxious to sell cotton if they could get it through the blockade.

Sprague asked Hoyt to travel to Providence where he would host a meeting to see what might be arranged. Hoyt brought along an experienced Texas skipper named Charles Prescott and Sprague called in an associate named William Reynolds who had previously been dismissed by Chase due to account shortages while Reynolds was in charge of the Port Royal cotton-growing venture explained earlier. During the meeting Hoyt declared that the Texas legislature authorized him to build a textile mill there if he could raise the funds. If Sprague and Reynolds would give him enough money to buy a shipload of weapons and other contraband, Hoyt would take it to Texas, sell the arms to the Confederate army, and use the proceeds to construct the mill. Mill profits would be used to buy cotton for shipment to the North. Sprague and Reynolds agreed to finance the venture. Prescott went to New York to buy the necessary ship while Hoyt bought the contraband cargoes.

The vessel and cargo were ready by December, but there was no official approval from Secretary Chase. As a hopeful alternative, Sprague wrote letters of introduction for Hoyt to Navy Secretary Welles, New Orleans occupation commander General Butler, and to Admiral David Farragut who commanded the West Gulf Blockading squadron. His letters represented Hoyt as a Union loyal citizen.

In November 1864 the Union blockade caught a “Texas Adventure” cotton shipment. Although cargo ownership was disguised, English insurance records enabled investigators to trace it to Prescott who then lived in Troy, New York. On the same day that Lincoln nominated Chase to become Supreme Court Chief Justice, Prescott gave a confession implicating Hoyt, Reynolds, and the Senator’s cousin Byron Sprague in the captured shipment.

Hoyt originally hoped that Chase’s December 1864 appointment as Chief Justice would lead to his release. When it didn’t, Hoyt felt betrayed and confessed everything including Senator Sprague’s involvement. Prescott independently augmented his own confession to support Hoyt’s version, thereby providing the two witnesses required for a treason conviction against the Senator.

Three weeks before President Lincoln was assassinated, the political hot potato was referred to War Secretary Edwin Stanton.  While Stanton took no action, his decision has never been explained. He may have decided that Sprague was not guilty. If not, he may have wanted to avoid disclosing a scandal that would attract unwanted attention to Lincoln’s controversial cotton trading policies, particularly after the murdered President became a martyr.   

Nonetheless, the accusations resurfaced five years later in 1870 when Rhode Island Congressman Thomas Jenckes sought reelection against a Sprague-backed candidate during the Grant administration. Sprague asked for a Senate investigation to clear his name, which was launched early the following year.  Conveniently, Grant’s Secretary of War was the corruptible William Belknap who later resigned for bribe taking.  Suspiciously, Belknap had little interest in cooperating on the Sprague inquest. For example, he failed to locate a copy of Hoyt’s full confession given earlier to the deceased Stanton and implicating the Senator. Additionally, the committee did not call Jenckes as a witness until shortly before Congress adjourned, leaving the Congressman no time to gather corroborating witnesses who were geographically scattered. The perfunctory investigation cleared Sprague because “there was nothing in the paper[s] implicating Sprague.” But key papers were missing, including most notably Hoyt’s confession, which Jenckes could have corroborated with witnesses if given time to gather them.

No doubt, Kate married William partly because his money could help get her father elected President. Even though he was a Republican cabinet member during Lincoln’s presidency and a sitting Supreme Court justice from 1865 until his death in 1873, he sought the Democratic nomination in 1868. Kate was his campaign chairperson, although she was not permitted on the New York conventional floor. She managed her delegates from a Fifth Avenue hotel, but the effort failed.

Thereafter, the marriage of William and Kate gradually deteriorated amid mutual infidelities, among other problems. Kate’s affair was with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. Upon returning unexpectedly from a business trip in 1879, William discovered during breakfast the following morning that Conkling was a houseguest. Consequently, an enraged Sprague confronted the New Yorker with a shotgun.

Pulling out his watch he told Conkling to leave the house within thirty seconds or “I will blow your brains out.” Conkling approached Kate to speak privately,  “Mrs. Sprague, your husband is very much excited and I think it better for all of us if I should withdraw. If my departure puts you in any danger, say so, and I will stay, whatever the consequence.” Kate asked Roscoe to leave. To finish with an exclamation point William told her lover “if you ever cross my path again I will shoot you on sight.” Three years later Kate and William divorced and Conkling no longer visited Kate.

Perhaps because the cast of Civil War trading-with-the-enemy characters provides no heroes, little is written on the topic. Nonetheless, study of Civil War intersectional commerce underscores the ancient wisdom: “Money make the World go ‘round.’”

Speech: The Confederacy at Flood Tide

(October 13, 2019) The following is a copy of my speech on my book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide.

The Confederacy at Flood Tide

The book is titled The Confederacy at Flood Tide in order to distinguish it from the popular notion of the Confederacy at High Tide. The latter is generally associated with Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, or secondarily, the Rebel attack on Starkweather’s Hill at Perryville, Kentucky. The story of the Confederacy’s most opportune period for winning independence, however, involved developments in Europe, Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi and even Missouri and Arkansas.

Although it lasted only six months from June to December 1862, the rising tide flooded all theaters of the war. It was not merely an isolated surge in Maryland or Kentucky. For example, at Prairie Grove, Arkansas in early December 1862 more Missourians fought to win their state for the South than fought to keep it in the Union. Moreover, the Confederacy’s flood tide was not limited to military factors. It also swelled within the sectors of diplomacy, politics, and espionage. For instance, on July 4, 1862 the Confederacy signed a secret contract with a leading British warship builder for two deep-water ironclads superior to anything in the US Navy and capable of crossing the Atlantic.

The Confederacy never came closer to diplomatic recognition than in the autumn of 1862. After learning of the late August Union rout at Second Bull Run, in mid-September British Prime Minister Henry Temple (Lord Plamerston) urged intervention. In a letter exchange with Foreign Secretary John Russell­­—who held a post comparable to the US Secretary of State albeit somewhat more prestigious—Palmerston wrote: “The Federals got a very complete smashing, and it seems not altogether unlikely that still greater disasters await them, and that even Washington or Baltimore may fall into the hands of the Confederates. If this should happen, would it not be time for us to consider whether . . . England and France might not address the contending parties and recommend an arrangement upon the basis of separation?” Russell agreed and added that if mediation failed, “we ought ourselves to recognize the Southern states as an independent state.”

Although the Emancipation Proclamation ultimately became a powerful Union weapon to reverse the Confederate tide, it was more controversial than commonly supposed. Contrary to popular belief, many contemporaries were confused, critical, and frightened by its implications. Major General George McClellan, among others, believed it was a deliberate attempt to incite a slave rebellion in the South.

Even President Lincoln admitted the possibility of such insurrections before he issued the proclamation. On September 13, 1862 he replied to a delegation of Chicago abolitionists visiting Washington that he recognized the potential “consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South” that such a proclamation might provoke. Whatever the moral benefits, or immoral consequences, of emancipation he “view[ed] the matter as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the [Confederate] rebellion.”

Whatever his intent, the proclamation led to an uproar about its potential to incite slave rebellions. Ultimately, however, there was a subtle but important difference in the language between the preliminary version—issued shortly after the battle of Antietam in September 1862—and the final version issued on January 1, 1863. Lincoln added the following paragraph, which was altogether missing from the September version:

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

Like all rising tides, the Confederacy’s flood tide began at the nadir of an ebb tide. In late June 1862 Washington brimmed with expectations of an impending Confederate collapse. The first six months of the year provided a string of federal victories in the West. They began in January at Mill Springs, Kentucky and continued with the surrender of 14,000 Rebels at Fort Donelson in February, further advanced with Confederate expulsion from Missouri in March after the battle of Pea Ridge, and culminated with the repulse of the supreme Confederate counter-offensive at Shiloh in April which coincided with the surrender of the fortifications on Island Number 10 in the Mississippi River between Missouri and Tennessee.

In May the South’s largest city, New Orleans, surrendered to a Union fleet that fought past the city’s downstream fortifications. When Memphis was occupied in early June only a single Rebel outpost at Vicksburg prevented Union commerce from flowing down the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers to export markets through New Orleans. By June Union armies threatened outnumbered Confederates in Mississippi and eastern Tennessee. Chattanooga, the gateway to Atlanta, appeared likely to fall. There was almost no organized Rebel force contesting the control of Missouri, which was the most important slave state entirely west of the Mississippi River.

Union prospects were also favorable in the East where George McClellan commanded the largest army ever assembled in the Western hemisphere. By late June his troops were so close to the Confederate capital at Richmond that many set their watches by the city’s church bells. Their confidence soared after they defeated a Rebel attempt at the battle of Seven Pines to halt their advance on Richmond.

Only in Europe did developments show signs of leaning toward the Confederacy as the effects of a cotton shortage made textile interests, and their sizeable ecosystem, anxious to put an end to the war.

In short, Union expectations of a Confederate collapse seemed justified. General Robert E. Lee admitted as much when he wrote Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, “unless McClellan can be driven out of his entrenchments he will move by positions under cover of his heavy guns within shelling distance of Richmond.” Thereafter, as the preceding map suggests, it would only be a matter of time before the Confederacy’s capital city would need to be evacuated. McClellan’s 110,000-man army was advancing on it from the Southeast while Major General Irvin McDowell’s 40,000-man army was poised to close the Union vice by converging on Lee from the North. Once McDowell joined-up with McClellan, the 60,000-man Rebel army near Richmond would be hopelessly outnumbered and out flanked.

The unexpected, however, did happen after General Lee took charge of the Confederacy’s largest army following the disabling wounds suffered by its prior commander at Seven Pines. Lee was not temperamentally content to merely drive McClellan’s army away from Richmond. He intended to destroy it. He would compensate for his army’s smaller size by concentrating superior numbers at vulnerable attack points. He thereby intended to so demoralize the enemy that their army would disintegrate. Perhaps more than any Rebel leader, Lee believed the Confederacy must win independence quickly, or not at all. The South, he reasoned, could not win a war of attrition against the more powerful federal Union. Guided by such thinking, Lee would perpetually try to seize the initiative during his entire Confederate career.

Lee’s message to Jackson hinted at his plan. If the victorious commander of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign would join Lee the two might launch a numerically superior attack against an isolated part of McClellan’s army before McDowell showed up.  During a week of nearly continuous fighting starting on 26 June Lee’s smaller army relentlessly drove McClellan back twenty miles to a defensive redoubt on the James River under the protective guns of a Union naval flotilla. Lee’s method of attacking with superior numbers at vulnerable points was a promising plan that might have broken McClellan’s army into pieces had the Rebel army been more experienced. It could not work, however, after McClellan became ensconced at the James River on Malvern Hill where, to Lincoln’s great frustration, the Union field commander seemed satisfied with a stalemate.

For his part, Lee had hoped to achieve more. Seasonal rains caused the Chickahominy River to flood thereby stranding about 30,000 Yankees north of the stream where McClellan could not readily reinforce them. Lee hit them with a force of 65,000 Rebels. Since the Confederate army was inexperienced, however, the attacks were poorly coordinated. The Yankees, nonetheless, retreated.

That was enough to prompt Lee into attacking again the next morning. Again the assaults were uncoordinated until late in the day when the Union defense line finally collapsed. Nightfall enabled the Yankees to retreat over a bridge that the Rebels had failed to capture. McClellan, however, became so temperamentally unhinged that he telegraphed Washington to complain about a decision by his superiors to withhold McDowell’s reinforcing army,  “The Government has not sustained [my] army. If you do not do so now the game is lost . . . If I serve this army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington. You have done your best to sacrifice this army.”

Since McClellan’s insecurities immobilized his army, Lee decided to turn his attention to the Union army in Northern Virginia, presently under the command of Major General John Pope who had replaced McDowell. The movement culminated with a decisive battle at Second Bull Run, which left Lee’s victorious army at Washington’s doorstep. When his retreating and routed army was only twenty-one miles from the White House, Pope telegraphed Union General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, “I should like to know whether you feel secure about Washington should this army be destroyed.” False rumors that Jackson’s wing of Lee’s army was crossing the Potomac at Georgetown triggered hysteria, prompting thousands of residents to flee the capital.

Despite Pope’s discouragement, however, Lee was not strong enough to attack Washington directly. Instead he hoped that he might beat the presumably demoralized Union army north of the Potomac River. Such a victory might lead Northerners to conclude the war was not worth the cost required to prevent Southern secession. Additionally, as Lord Palmerston himself suggested, it might encourage the British to intervene on the side of the South in order to stabilize the Atlantic trade, especially that of cotton. In the two months from late June to late August, Lee had so reversed prospects in the East that Lincoln’s attorney general said the President “felt almost ready to hang himself.”

Meanwhile the June ’62 situation in the West after the Rebel defeat at Shiloh and the federal capture of abandoned enemy fortifications at Corinth, Mississippi is pictured in the above map. Major General Ulysses Grant’s army remained in western Tennessee where he was planning an offensive against the Rebel Mississippi River stronghold at Vicksburg. Simultaneously, Major General Don Carlos Buell’s army was marching eastward to capture Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Ultimately command of the Confederate army defeated at Shiloh devolved to General Braxton Bragg who waited in northern Mississippi while anticipating a Yankee advance. When it became clear that inadequate supply lines caused Buell’s army to make only slow progress toward Chattanooga, Bragg took the initiative away from the Yankees by quickly moving his army to Chattanooga over roundabout railroads south of the battle lines.

Bragg did not merely intend to defend Chattanooga. Instead he planned to coordinate an invasion of Kentucky with a smaller army under Major General Edmund Kirby Smith in Knoxville. The movement, they reasoned, would require Buell to retreat to defend the Bluegrass state. Simultaneously, smaller Rebel armies under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price might advance on Buell’s rear or directly into western Tennessee to contest Grant’s control of that region and disrupt the latter’s designs against Vicksburg.

Shortly before the failed Rebel attack at Shiloh, Richmond ordered nearly all Arkansas troops transferred to the left bank of the Mississippi in order to join the Tennessee offensive. Although they arrived too late for Shiloh, their departure left Arkansas nearly defenseless. The Union army under Major General Samuel Curtis that had been victorious at Pea Ridge was maneuvering to capture the state capital at Little Rock. Richmond’s only response was to send the energetic Brigadier General Thomas Hindman back to his home state to organize a new army from scratch.

Although vastly outnumbered, Hindman ordered guerrillas to attack Curtis’s supply lines, which stopped the Union advance on Little Rock. Consequently, Curtis shifted his goal to the Mississippi River port town of Helena, Arkansas where—after occupying the place—the Yankees switched their attention to the lucrative wartime cotton trade. By September, Hindman had organized an army big enough to challenge the Union forces in southwest Missouri for control of the “Show Me” state and simultaneously defend the approaches to Little Rock from Helena.

As the eastern, western, and Trans-Mississippi Rebel armies made military progress from late June to early September of 1862, prospects for Confederate diplomatic recognition in Europe also improved. Southerners put most of their hopes on Great Britain and France, which were the two most influential powers in the region. Cotton textiles were Britain’s biggest industry and supported about 20% of her economy. The country consumed over half of the World’s cotton production while the United States and France tied each other as distant seconds.

Since both American belligerents originally denied that slavery was the central issue, Europeans were confused about the causes of the war. During the summer of 1862, therefore, they reasoned that the conflict was a matter of Southern self-determination opposed by Northern economic hegemony. Just as we usually favor self-determination for modern nations so did 19th century Europe, which put her sympathies more with the South than the North.

While Lee and McClellan battled during the Seven Days, the British and French representatives living in Washington City met to discuss how cotton shipments to Europe might be increased. The British representative wrote the Foreign Secretary in London that the French minister believed a joint British-French intervention to end the war was the only way to insure adequate supplies. Although basically agreeing with the French ambassador the British representative  thought such a proposal must be timed to coincide with the contingencies of future events. That such a contingency could soon arrive might have been inferred when his superior wrote back from London, “If you can manage . . . to get a supply of cotton for England before the Winter you will have done a greater service than has been effected by Diplomacy for a century.”

US Secretary of State William H. Seward instructed his ambassador living in London to inform Palmerston’s government that any attempt to intervene in America’s Civil War would likely result in war between Britain and the federal Union. Such a war would have challenged both sides. Although it would be hard for Britain to maintain an army in America, her powerful navy might have ended the federal blockade of Southern ports, and even blockaded Northern harbors. Contrary to popular belief, the Monitor and Merrimack were not the first ironclad warships. The British and French began building bigger and faster deep-water ironclads before America’s Civil War even started.

At the time, Britain and France had the World’s most powerful navies. Each was also in an arms race with the other. Two years before the American war, France launched the first deep-water ironclad, La Gloire. Britain quickly followed with the HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince. In 1861 the British had already decided that their future fleet would be entirely composed of armored ships.

Louie Napoleon, who winced that his reputation was overshadowed by his famous deceased uncle, ruled France during this period. Like other European monarchs he resented the 1823 Monroe Doctrine and hoped America’s domestic turmoil would prevent Lincoln from enforcing it. Consequently, he used trade debts as an excuse to form a puppet Mexican regime and reasoned that an independent Confederacy could function as a buffer state between the federal Union and Mexico. Ever since the Great Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory and Haiti won independence in 1803, France had been locked out of the Western Hemisphere. Louie hungered for a second chance at New World empire building.  

France, however, was not strong enough to be confident of victory if she alone allied with the Confederacy. The French Emperor felt the British must be maneuvered into joining him. During a July meeting with Confederate representative John Slidell, he said, “My sympathies have always been with the South, whose people are struggling for . . . self-government. I have several times intimated [to the British government] my wish for action in your behalf. . . ” According to historian Howard Jones, “By mid-July 1862 both the Union and the Confederacy thought that popular pressure would force British and French intervention.”

Almost immediately after his smashing victory at Second Bull Run Robert E. Lee began taking his army north of the Potomac River where he hoped to win a showdown battle that might persude the North to abandon the war or prompt dipolmatic recognition of the Confederacy. Since Washington learned of the crossing only days after the Second Bull Run debacle, the news burst upon the town like an artillery barrage. War Secretary Stanton and General in Chief Halleck ordered that all of the arms and ammunition in the city’s arsenal be sent to New York, and that the steamer Wachusett be kept ready to evacuate the President and his cabinet.

After replacing the disgraced Pope, McClellan led the Union army to hunt down Lee. By a stroke of good luck on 13 September one of his soldiers found a copy of Lee’s marching orders at an abandoned Rebel campsite near Frederick, Maryland only fifty miles northwest of Washington. The orders revealed that Lee’s army was separated into five widely scattered components that could almost certainly be defeated in sequence by McClellan’s overwhelming numerical advantage of 85,000 to 45,000.

Although a Southern sympathizer soon secretly informed the Rebels that McClellan had gained an intelligence advantage important enough for the Union general to exclaim aloud, “Here is the paper by which if I am unable to whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home,” Lee remained unaware of the specifics. As a result, he ordered his scattered units to concentrate along the west bank of Antietam Creek near where it drained into the north bank of the Potomac River. Although the Confederates held their ground by the narrowest of margins during the resultant battle, Lee was forced to retreat due to a shortage of supplies and his smaller numbers.

On the same day of General Pope’s disorderly retreat from Second Bull Run, Confederate troops under Kirby Smith gained a similar one-sided Rebel victory at Richmond, Kentucky on 30 August. Throughout the day veterans repeatedly assaulted an inexperienced Union army as the latter retreated from one defensive position to another. Since Confederate cavalry blocked retreat from the final Union position, the 6,500-man federal army suffered 5,400 casualties, which included 4,300 prisoners. After the victory, Kirby Smith took his army into Lexington where it was greeted enthusiastically and deployed to occupy the hometown of President Lincoln’s wife.   

Bragg had a similar success in south central Kentucky when he surrounded and forced the surrender of a 4,000-man Yankee garrison at Munfordville on 17 September. Despite such successes, however, Smith did not coordinate his movements with Bragg. Consequently, Union General Buell was able to retrace his army’s footsteps from northern Alabama to Louisville, Kentucky where he gained reinforcements and was positioned to block any Rebel attempt to cross the Ohio River. After Buell’s numbers grew over the balance of the month he judged it safe to start an advance on Bragg and Smith to drive them out of Kentucky.

The result was the accidental battle of Perryville, Kentucky on 8 October. The Confederates attacked under the mistaken impression that only a single corps of Buell’s three-corps army opposed them.  Partly because an acoustic shadow at Buell’s command center left him ill informed, nearly all of the Yankees engaged in fighting were limited to a single corps even though two other corps were readily available. When Bragg learned after sundown that he was facing a much bigger army than he originally assumed, his position was similar to Lee’s after Antietam. The Rebels were low on supplies and did not have the numerical strength to attack the Yankee army again with a reasonable chance of success. As a result, he and Smith retreated to a defensive position at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which was forty-five miles south of Nashville.

While Bragg was moving into Kentucky during September he urged that the remaining Confederates in Mississippi under Major Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price either attack Buell’s rear as Buell followed Bragg, or advance on the Yankee armies in western Tennessee. The suggestion culminated in the battle of Corinth, Mississippi on 3-4 October. Although Van Dorn was in charge, Price’s men held the initiative with attacks that repeatedly came tantalizingly close to success until the Rebel soldiers were depleted to exhaustion. As a result, the third Flood Tide offensive was repulsed. Van Dorn’s army barely escaped the twin jaws of Yankee units brought forward from west Tennessee to block his retreat and the pursing, victorious federals from Corinth.     

Across the Mississippi River in Arkansas Hindman had required more time to organize an army capable of invading Missouri, but he was ready to make a move late in November. As winter approached Union Major General John Schofield had wrongly assumed there would be no more fighting until the following spring. Accordingly, he allowed his two divisions under subordinate Brigadier Generals James Blunt and Francis Herron to bivouac in campsites that were a hundred miles apart so that they might more effectvily forage and be supplied from different depots in the thinly populated Ozark Mountains. Meanwhile Scholfield retired to St. Louis to convalesce from an illness.  

The distant separation between Herron and Blunt enticed Hindman to attack Blunt who was the closer of the two. The result was the battle of Prairie Grove on 7 December. Since Hindman had to march over more rugged terrain, his army was not in place until Herron units, which had been summound by Blunt, had nearly arrived. Hindman, therefore, abruptly changed plans and attacked Herron first. The battle proceeded well enough for the Rebels until Blunt backtracked via a circutious route to reinforce Herron. By nightfall the Rebel army was out of amuntion and had no option but to retreat, much like at Sharpsburg and Perryville.

After the fourth of the Flood Tide offensives came to grief, Hindman’s army lost more than half its strength by desertion. Since the Missouri soldiers only wanted to be part of an army that would fight to regain their home state, they refused to join Hindman’s march back to Little Rock.

Since it normally took about two weeks for news to cross the North Atlantic, Britain and France were still considering intervention as the armies of Lee, Bragg, Kirby Smith, and Van Dorn took the offensive. Prompted by the September exchange of letters between Lord Palmerston and Foreign Secretary Russell noted earlier, the British scheduled a 23 October cabinet meeting to consider intervention. After the Palmerston-Russell letter exchange, Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone also indicated a preference for Confederate recognition. Gladstone’s office was similar to the U. S. Secretary of the Treasury.

President Lincoln, however, concluded that he could discourage intervention by reversing the administration’s official policy that slavery was not a cause of the war. Consequently, he announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on 22 September.  As explained earlier, Europeans were initially hostile to the announcement because they feared it might transform the war into one of racial genocide that might spread to other parts of the Western Hemisphere. Such a development would not only be bloody, but would devastate the Atlantic trade, which the Europeans regarded as crucial to their increasingly industrialized economies.

As events evolved and no slave uprisings occurred, European apprehensions subsided. Lincoln gained the moral high ground and prospects for Confederate recognition dwindled. As a result, the Emancipation Proclamation was the most decisive event of the Flood Tide period. Ironically, it may never have happened if the Confederacy had failed to reply effectively to the Union’s military achievements during the first half of 1862.

Thus are the inscrutable paths of destiny.



Did Republicans Bribe Voters to Elect U. S. Grant President?

(October 11, 2019) Despite his unrivaled popularity after the Civil War, Republcan Ulysses Grant won the presidency merely three years later in 1868 by a popular vote margin of only 53%-to-47%. In fact, if not for the votes of ex-slaves that had only gained suffrage during the preceding twelve months, he would have lost the popular vote. Thus, he was the choice of only a minority of whites. Obscure sections of the 1868 Republican Party Platform and the Fourteenth Amendment ratified later that same year provide clues to explain the curiosity. They also reveal that it was more than a mere historical footnote.

Although the Platform’s second plank mandated black suffrage in all former Confederate states, it left it as an historical state’s right in all the others. Thus, Republicans took the position that state’s rights under the Constitution were not applicable to the all states but could be selectively vouchsafed by their Party for political purposes. The inconsistency resulted from doubts that Northerners would vote the Party ticket if it supported mandatory black suffrage in all states. At the end of the war only five New England states with minute black populations permitted blacks to vote. Six additional Northern states where blacks composed just one percent of the population rejected black suffrage between 1865 and 1868. Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin did so in 1865, while Kansas and Ohio followed in 1867 as did Michigan in 1868.

Although universal black suffrage would be extended to the North in 1870 by the Fifteenth Amendment, the region experienced only a modest adjustment given its tiny African American population. By contrast, ex-slaves accounted for 40% of the population of the former Confederate states and half or more of the voters in five of them due to disfranchisement of selected ex-Confederates.

Republicans adopted two measures to get Northerners to vote for Grant even if the voters didn’t want to empower the Party to form a Republican fiefdom in the South via universal black suffrage in the region. The two factors manipulated the primal emotions of fear and greed among holders of federal war bonds. Republicans implied that the investors would lose money if Democrats won the 1868 election but would avoid loss, and might even get a windfall gain, if Republicans won.

First, the Fourth Section of the Republican-authored Fourteenth Amendment stipulated, “The validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned.” It also specifically repudiated the debts of the Confederacy and its component states. Second, the third Republican Party Platform plank states, “We denounce all forms of repudiation . . . of the public indebtedness . . . not only according to the letter, but the spirit of the laws under which it was contracted.”

During the Civil War the federal government’s debt increased 41-fold from $65 million to $2.8 billion. Most of it was in the form of bonds purchased by many patriotic Northerners to support the war effort. Banks also bought the bonds, particularly after the 1863 National Banking Act enabled them to use them as reserve collateral. Prior to the Act, gold was the only respected bank reserve. But gold paid no interest whereas the federal bonds paid interest semiannually, in gold. Thus, the National Banking Act was a boon for Northern banks.

Grant’s campaign deliberately scared Northern bondholders by suggesting that Democrats might repudiate the federal bonds and even require payment of Confederate bonds. The Republicans’ third Platform plank assured bond-holding voters that the Party would support full repayment of their investment with interest. Moreover, the “letter” and “spirit” language of the plank were code terms, implying that bondholders would get a windfall gain if they voted Republican.

Specifically, investors bought nearly all of the war bonds with greenbacks that traded at a fluctuating discount to gold during the war. The discount was as much as 65% in July 1864 when Grant was stalemated at Petersburg and Sherman’s progress in Georgia seemed slow. Thus, at that time a greenback dollar was worth only thirty-five cents in gold. Republicans argued that the “spirit” under which the debt was “contracted” indicated that the the bonds must be repaid in gold, which would be a windfall gain to bondholders. Consequently, the first bill Grant signed after he became President in March 1869 was the Public Credit Act, which required that the federal debt be repaid in gold.

Concerns that Democrats would require American taxpayers to repay Confederate debts were preposterous, but the accusations were politically effective for the Republicans. Where fear rules, reason is impotent.

Peeling back the onion of politically correct history often reveals the ancient wisdom: “Money makes the World go ’round.”


Learn more about Republican misrule during Reconstruction from:

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency  by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh

Popularity of Civil War Interest

(October 10, 2019) The current Civil War Times magazine includes an article that queries a number of historians to learn whether interest in the war is growing or shrinking. Only one admitted he would be surprised if the “unmistakable anti-Southern turn in Civil War scholarship” that originated with James McPherson in 1989 failed to have a “negative effect.” Although most others avoided a direct answer, they typically opined that overall interest remains good but is shifting away from military history. As one put it  “museums [no longer] peddle in Lost Cause mythology” but have “pivoted toward inclusion, highlighting the contributions of black Americans”. His “peddle in” expression doubtlessly means that if he were speaking he’d say “Lost Cause” much like Mozart might have said “Disco.” The rest generally fail to admit that a post-McPherson Northern bias among historians has had a negative effect.

In truth, however, prejudice among McPherson acolytes causes them to ignore facts and insights that can legitimize a Southern perspective, if not a “Lost Cause” one. At best they have merely replaced one mythology with another. Moreover, their’s demonizes the typical Confederate soldier to a point where statues to his memory are unjustly removed.  Consider three examples that McPherson followers typically ignore.

Prairie Grove Battlefield

First, notwithstanding that tariffs on dutiable items increased from 19% on the eve of the Civil War to an average of 45% for fifty years thereafter, they fail to admit that high protective tariffs were an important Northern war aim. In fact, their writings increasingly dismiss tariffs altogether. While they must concede that the Confederate constitution outlawed protective tariffs, they typically minimize the provision.

Second, they equate the reasons for secession with the reasons for the war, but they are not the same.  War came only after the North decided to militarily coerce the initial seven cotton states back into the Union. Since there was no danger that the South would invade the North, however, Northerners could have let those states peacefully leave.

In point of fact, many Northern leaders were prepared to do just that. Among them was Horace Greeley, then editor of The New York Tribune, which was America’s largest newspaper. Greeley wrote, “We have repeatedly said . . . that if the slave states choose to form an independent nation, they have the right to do so.” President James Buchanan added that many Republicans shared Greeley’s opinion and wrote: “Leading Republicans everywhere scornfully exclaimed ‘Let them go;’ ‘We can do better without them;’ ‘Let the Union slide,’ and other language of the same import.” Ohio lawyer and future Republican President Rutherford Hayes was satisfied to let the free states remain alone as his January 4, 1861 diary entry reveals: “The [twenty] free states alone . . . will make a glorious nation . . . scarcely inferior in real power to the thirty-three states we had on the first of November.” Similarly, President Lincoln’s future War Secretary, Edwin Stanton, said, “Oh, I would let the South go; they will be clamoring to get back in three years.”

Finally, according to pre-McPherson historian William C. Davis, “The widespread Northern myth that Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought because their Southern homeland was invaded. . .”

Third, although they often cite the secession “Declaration of Causes” for at least four of the initial seven states to join the Confederacy as compelling evidence that the war was chiefly about slavery, they rarely mention the legislative resolutions from at least ten Northern states, none of which mentioned a desire to end slavery as a reason to oppose Southern secession. All said they wanted to avoid disunion.

Instead of considering points that might support a Southern viewpoint, today’s historians typically choose to write about the Civil War and Reconstruction by starting with Southern flaws and never getting beyond them. Such work is no better than a biography of anyone that begins with their teenage Google porn searches and complies a narrative by following the ensuing hyperlinks.


To learn about unfamiliar incidents that influenced the Civil War more significantly than generally supposed, get:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh

When Congress Trampled POTUS and SCOTUS

(October 9, 2019) Yesterday American Spectator published my second article:

Reconstruction was rife with congressional abuses. Let’s not let it happen again.


Two years after the Civil War ended in 1865 a Republican Congress gained a veto proof majority in both chambers. They almost immediately began trimming the powers of the executive and judicial branches. First, they replaced President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan with their own. In order to restrict his ability to interfere, they passed a number of bills over his veto. Although targeted at Johnson, the acts also weakened future Presidents. Second, they defied the Supreme Court and manipulated its membership in order limit judicial intervention with Congressional Reconstruction.

From December 1863 to April 1865, Reconstruction proceeded under President Lincoln’s guidance. After he died, President Johnson attempted to follow in Lincoln’s footsteps. Neither Lincoln nor Johnson required that the former Confederate states adopt black suffrage. While both had hoped that blacks who were “highly intelligent” or Union veterans might be enfranchised, none were. Nonetheless, on the day he died Lincoln said, “We cannot undertake to run state governments in all the Southern states. Their people must do that—though at first I reckon some of them may at first do it badly.”

Although some historians assume that the Congressional Reconstruction that began in March 1867 was a noble attempt to promote racial equality, most of the evidence suggests it was designed to ensure that the Republican Party retained control of the federal government. When the Civil War ended the Party was barely ten years old. It might have been strangled in its cradle if the re-admittance of Southern states failed to be managed in a way that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government.

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To learn more about Republican misrule during Reconstruction get:

U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh