Monthly Archives: May 2015

Battle of Olustee

Although Florida contained less than two percent of the Confederacy’s population, by 1864 evolving circumstances made the state sufficiently important to justify a Union invasion.

First, after the fall of Vicksburg the previous summer federal gunboat patrols on the Mississippi River often prevented Texas beef from reaching hungry Rebel armies on the left bank. Florida cattle became a prime substitute for Texas beeves. Second, the lightly defended state was a promising area to recruit emancipated slaves into the Union army. Third, an occupying federal army would give Lincoln justification to readmit the state into the Union on terms almost assuring him of Florida’s delegate and electoral votes in the 1864 presidential nominating convention and subsequent general election. A December 1863 Lincoln proclamation authorized former Confederate states to be readmitted into the Union once a mere ten percent of their 1860 voters signed a new allegiance oath. In response a small contingent of Union-loyal Floridians invited Lincoln’s private secretary, John Hay, to become the state’s Congressional representative should it gain readmission.

Olustee

On February 7, 1864 a 6,500-man federal army under General Truman Seymour occupied Jacksonville after arriving in transport ships. Although two-thirds were white soldiers from the northeast about one-third were blacks including the Hollywood-famed 54th Massachusetts, as well as a regiment of former North Carolina slaves, and the 8th United States Colored Troop (USCT) regiment from Pennsylvania. To oppose them the Confederate commander in east Florida, General James Finegan, had only about 1,500 troops. Prompt movement would likely have enabled Seymour to secure a portion of the state comprising more than ten percent of its population, control much of the 165-mile railroad from Jacksonville to the state capital of Tallahassee, and cut-off cattle supplies to Rebel armies further north. Continue reading

Confederate Diaspora

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Today The New York Times Disunion Series published my latest article, “Confederate Diaspora” which is provided below.

 

By early May 1865, a month after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, most of the remaining Confederate soldiers had laid down their arms. While some Southerners were angry, and others were relieved, nearly all were apprehensive about the future. Many moved west and north; some decided to leave the United States completely.

Many Southerners were pessimistic about the region’s economic future. Partly because of the monetary value of slaves, in 1860 seven of the 10 states with the highest per capita wealth would join the Confederacy. Much of that wealth was wiped out, and today Virginia is the only former rebel state to rank among the top 10 in per capita income, while five of the bottom 10 are former Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked No. 1 in 1860, and 50th in the 2010 census.

It took 85 years for the South’s per capita income to return to where it was in 1860 — an already low 72 percent of the national average. (The delay partly reflected protective tariffs, which were injurious to the South’s export economy and lasted until after World War II.) Not surprisingly, such concerns put Southerners on the move, either outside the region or to less war-torn parts of it, like Texas. In 1860 Texas ranked ninth among the Southern states in population; 20 years later it was first.

Continue the article at the New York Times by clicking here. 

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If you would like to learn more interesting Civil War stories, consider reading my books:

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

Book Released Today: Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies

LeeLostToday Westholme Publishing released my latest Civil War book, Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War ControversiesIt is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores.

More Americans were killed in the Civil War than in any other, despite the fact that our country’s population was only about a tenth of the present 312 million. If Civil War casualty ratios were applied to our current population, the number of deaths would total over six million, compared to about four hundred thousand in World War II. Partly because of the enormous number of casualties and partly because it was fought in our own land, the Civil War is one of the great mythological themes of American history. Thus, it will probably continue to be a rich source of historical writing and literature for decades to come. But viewpoints about it shift unpredictably from one perspective to another and then get stuck in a rut. Thereafter, they follow Newton’s law of inertia until acted upon by a fresh impulse. Consider, for example, how Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels altered opinions about major Gettysburg personalities. Shaara demonstrated that new directions might emerge by inspecting unexamined assumptions, which is one of the aims of this book.

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies revisits eleven episodes of the Civil War era—some lesser known than others—that, upon reexamination, may challenge our received understanding of the course of that conflict. It is hoped that this small volume will promote discussion and debate among those who enjoy Civil War history and contemplating alternatives to conventional conclusions and analyses.