Union Leagues

The Union League is one of the most cryptic of Civil War and Reconstruction era topics even though it was a wellspring of tyranny. Together with the Loyal League identical twin, Southern chapters prompted the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to evolve from an obscure social club into a violent anti-Republican, and therefore anti-black, vigilante group.

The first Union Leagues lodges were formed in the North to support Republicans after Democratic gains in the 1862 wartime elections. According to historian Christopher Phillips the Leagues “demanded undiluted loyalty to the wartime polices of Abraham Lincoln.” They believed there was no such thing as a loyal opposition. Voters either supported Lincoln, or they were traitors. “Western Loyal Leaguers fought dissent with more than words. In central Illinois, one woman claimed that Republicans ‘were forming Vigilance committees to…[identify] every man and woman…not loyal to Lincoln.’” Even non-voters were not exempt from violence. In 1863 Leaguers tarred and feathered seven Ohio women, including one who was a widow of a recently deceased Union soldier.

At the end of the war, League chapters opened in the South to serve as rallying points for whites that had opposed the Confederacy. After Southern blacks were permitted to vote for state constitutional conventions by the dubious authority of the 1867 Reconstruction Acts, most Southern whites dropped out as blacks flooded into the Leagues. The remaining whites became Scalawags and were soon joined by Northern Carpetbaggers.

The new goal for the Southern leagues, which was shared with the Freedmen’s Bureau, was to make sure that blacks registered to vote and voted Republican. By terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, blacks composed a majority of voters in five of the eight former Confederate states permitted to vote in the 1868 presidential election. They composed a sizeable minority in the other three.

The Union League recruited members with a cult of secrecy and exaggerated promises. Members were indoctrinated to believe that their interests were perpetually at war with Southern whites that were falsely accused of wanting to put blacks back into slavery. Ex-slaves were told their continued freedom depended upon the supremacy of the Republican Party. Accordingly, they voted Republican like “hordes of senseless cattle.” Continue reading Union Leagues

Reconstruction Retrospective

Due to lingering anti-black racism most modern historians conclude that Reconstruction lasted over a century as opposed to the previously accepted twelve years from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the collapse of the Southern Carpetbag regimes in 1877. Even though first published 123 years after the war, the most widely used college textbook is Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which is subtitled America’s Unfinished Revolution. Other popular authors such as David Blight and James McPherson share the interpretation implied in Foner’s subtitle.

All three essentially agree that white Southerners are almost entirely to blame for Reconstruction’s failure for three reasons. First, Southerners were endemically racist. Second, Southern historians concocted a false mythology, which was wrongly sympathetic to their forebears. Moreover, they imposed their viewpoint on the rest of the country as evidenced by the popularity of novels and movies such as Gone With the Wind. Third, post-bellum white Southerners built a segregated society. Except for failing during the first 100 years after the war to provide enlightened historians such as themselves to dispel Southern mythology, Foner, Blight and McPherson generally only fault Northern whites for not requiring that the defeated South provide more opportunity for blacks.

1938 Black Sharecroppers
1938 Black Sharecroppers

The interpretation is popular with many outside the South today because it casts the South in the role of an evil twin that can be held mostly responsible for America’s current racial problems. Happily, they reason, such problems can be partly corrected by eradicating Confederate symbols. After all, they have no dog in the hunt. The interpretaion does, however, overlook other protracted non-racial consequences. Perhaps because they do not leave Northerners with clean hands, modern historians generally minimize them.

The elephant in the room is Southern poverty. A century after the end of the Civil War eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income were former Confederate states. President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1938 report on Southern economic conditions disclosed that whites comprised half of the region’s sharecroppers and two-thirds of its nearly as much impoverished tenant farmers. Roosevelt’s report stated univocally that white sharecroppers were “living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.” Sharecropper incomes ranged from $38 to $87 annually in 1938 thereby equating to $0.10 to $0.25 per day. By comparison during the depression that followed the 1873 Financial Panic sixty-five years earlier, the Ohio Department of Labor Statistics estimated the poverty line at one dollar a day.

1938 White Sharecroppers
1938 White Sharecroppers

Shortly after the Great Depression began, the president of General Motors voluntarily cut his annual salary from $500,000 to $340,000. His $160,000 cut was more than all the income taxes paid by the two million residents of Mississippi that year. Widespread Southern poverty also led to lower life expectancies. Sixty-five years after the end of the war, for example, South Carolina was the only state with half of its population under the age of twenty.

Foner, Blight, McPherson and most other modern historians have little to say about the causes of the multi-racial poverty that permeated the South for a century or more after the war. They largely ignore the national agendas that caused it. Examples include high protective tariffs that averaged 45% for fifty years after the war, generous Union Veterans pensions that did not even stop growing until 1921 and approximated 40% of the federal budget in 1893, discriminatory railroad freight rates, discriminatory banking regulations, absentee ownership of Southern resources, lax monopoly regulation, and the requirement that the impoverished Southern states alone pay for educating the ex-slaves even though emancipation was a national policy.

In short, the interpretations of many modern Reconstruction historians have too much focus on race and not enough on the political and economic factors affecting all races of Southerners.

My Civil War Books

The Confederacy at Flood Tide
Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

Figures of Merit

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. – Anonymous

A 2010 Atlantic Magazine article criticized a Confederate Memorial Day resolution by the Texas State Senate mentioning that 98% of Texas Confederate soldiers never owned a slave. While admitting that the statement was technically accurate, the author added that it was a “deeply, deeply dishonest statistic.”

He was correct to note that the percentage of individual soldiers who owned slaves was not a valid figure of merit by which to measure slavery’s penetration in Civil War era Texas. That’s because the patriarch was the legal slaveholder in most families, and not his sons who were more numerous in the Confederate armies than were heads-of-households.

The better figure of merit is the 28% of Civil War Texas families that owned slaves.
Even though it is much larger than the 2% mentioned in the resolution, 28% is still a comparatively small percentage. If Texas families had voted on the basis of slave ownership then the secession plebiscite would have been decisively turned down, 72%-to-28%. As shall be explained, however, there may have been other motivations for secession.

While modern Civil War students correctly note that a reckoning limited only to the individual titled owners understates slavery’s diffusion in the South, they are less careful with other statistics that suggest Southerners had additional reasons to seek independence.

In the decades preceding secession, for example, the South consistently opposed protective tariffs while Northerners favored them. Consequently, such tariffs were outlawed in the Confederate constitution. The Atlantic article’s author is among those who dismiss Southern tariff complaints in a separate article. He provides the following chart to suggest that future Confederate state residents paid less than 6% of import duties on the eve of the Civil War even though they represented 29% of America’s population.

The chart is, to borrow a phrase, “deeply, deeply dishonest” because it falsely suggests that Southerners shared little of the tariff burden. It deceptively shows only where duties were collected and not where the consumers who purchased the imported items—thereby funding the tariff—were located. Continue reading Figures of Merit

Free Sample Chapter of Illustrated and Annotated Co. Aytch

Provided below is a free copy of the Introduction for my Illustrated and Annotated version of the Sam Watkins memoir titled Co. Aytch — Phil Leigh


Perhaps Mr. Watkins did not contribute enormously to our store of information about [Civil War] 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.

Margaret Mitchell, Author: Gone With the Wind

The chief aim of this version of Co Aytch—Rebel vernacular for “Company H”—is to add the context that Ms. Mitchell felt was missing. Specifically, many of the approximate 250 annotations and all of the maps and illustrations are intended to help readers visualize the events, people, and places Sam experienced in his four years as an ordinary Confederate soldier, mostly in the western theater.

In contrast there is little to be added to the humor and feeling of Sam’s writing, which at times climbs 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 put it, “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.” Presumably, as his dedication indicates, Co. Aytch also reflects Sam’s determination to honor his comrades by helping posterity appreciate their sacrifices.

Mark Twain first achieved notoriety seven months after Appomattox with “The Celebrated Jumping Frog a Calaveras County.” It’s a story about a shrewd frontier gambler who tricks a California prospector. The miner owns a pet frog that has out-jumped any 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.

Sam 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 wagered 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.

Continue reading Free Sample Chapter of Illustrated and Annotated Co. Aytch

Secession Without Civil War

Since most modern historians agree that the South seceded to protect slavery they conclude that the Civil War was “all about” slavery. The inference, however, overlooks the possibility that the Southern states could have been allowed to depart in peace. Within the lifetimes of most readers, for example, the Soviet Union peacefully disintegrated into its constituent countries as did Czechoslovakia.

Even though it was partly motivated to defend slavery, one secession example from American history demonstrates that such action need not have led to war. Moreover, it questions the underlying assumption that the immorality of slavery alone was sufficiently repellant to Northerners that they would fight secessionists for trying to protect it.

In 1846 about one third of the District of Columbia seceded. Originally the District was a ten-mile-by-ten-mile square. About a third of the one hundred square miles were southwest of the Potomac River in what was originally—and presently—Virginia. Most of the sector’s residents wanted to secede from the District for two reasons. First, they were not treated fairly from an economic perspective. Public buildings, for example, could only be erected on the “Maryland” side of the Potomac. Second, they correctly anticipated that the District might someday outlaw slavery.


In February 1846 the Virginia legislature agreed to absorb the District’s southwest sector if Congress approved. Five months later Congress authorized that the region could be returned to Virginia if its voters agreed by a referendum. The referendum vote was affirmative and the land returned to Virginia in September 1846. Continue reading Secession Without Civil War

Vanderbilt Pretends

In 1935 the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) constructed Confederate Memorial Hall as a residence for girls at Nashville’s Peabody College. Originally residents who were descendants of Confederate veterans and agreed to become teachers were granted free room and board. The school and dormitory were acquired by Vanderbilt University in 1979. Earlier this month university chancellor, Nicholas Zeppos, announced that the name “Confederate” will be sandblasted off of the building.

Ironically, it is unlikely that Zeppos would be paid anything close to his $2.2 million salary except for the Confederate sympathies of Cornelius’s second wife, Frank Crawford Vanderbilt, and the contributions of countless Confederate descendants over the years. It is equally unlikely that any of the school’s prominent graduates—including Board of Trust members— would have even attended the university.

Frank Vanderbilt

Through the husband of one of her cousins, the Mobile, Alabama native persuaded the Commodore to donate $1 million to fund the university in 1873. Among the few who attended their wedding was a former Attorney General of the Confederacy and a former Confederate lieutenant general. Six years earlier the Commodore was among several prominent Northerners who posted bail for the prison release of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Removal of the residence hall name signals the death of the spirit of reconciliation the Commodore himself advocated when writing that his donation was intended to “contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country.” Erasing symbols of Frank’s love for her fellow Confederates as well as the contributions of their descendants and the UDC to the school’s progress is cultural genocide and actually promotes diversity intolerance. It pretends that none of the above happened.

Zeppos was appointed by the Board of Trust, whose members are listed here.

Fox sports announcer, Clay Travis, is one Vandy graduate who is objecting to the sandblasting. Consequently, the Jack Daniels distillery has revoked a modest advertising contract with him.  The distillery is owned by Brown-Forman.

Mr. Garvin Brown IV
Board Chairman
Brown-Forman Distillery
850 Dixie Highway
Louisville, Kentucky 40210-1038