Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sample Chapter: The Confederacy at Flood Tide

Provided below is the “Introduction” to my new Civil War book, The Confederacy at Flood TideIt is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart and other bookstores. It is also a History Book Club Selection. (Abundant footnotes are in the book, but not in this free sample.)  To inspect all of my books, please visit my author page at Amazon.


The Confederacy at Flood Tide was selected as a title to distinguish this book from the popular notion of the Confederacy at high tide. The latter expression is generally associated with Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, or, secondarily, the Rebel attack on Starkweather’s Hill at Perryville, Kentucky. However, the story of the Confederacy’s most opportune period for winning independence 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 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 autumn 1862. After learning of the Union rout at Second Bull Run—known as Second Manassas in the South—in mid-September British Prime Minister Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, advocated intervention. In an exchange of letters with the British foreign secretary, Earl John Russell—who held a post comparable to 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.”

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

     As one of the weapons used by the Union to reverse the Confederate tide, the Emancipation Proclamation 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 Abraham 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.”

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        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.” Continue reading

Confederacy at Flood Tide Available for Sale

My latest Civil War book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other bookstores. You may purchase a signed hardcover copy directly from me by sending a check for $28.00 payable to me at the following address:

Philip Leigh
3911 W. San Pedro
Tampa, Florida 33629

If you add a note explaining how your interest in the Civil War developed, I can augment the signature with a personal remark. Also be sure to provide your return address.

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The Confederacy at Flood Tide title was selected to distinguish the book from the popular notion of the Confederacy at High Tide, which is generally associated with Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. But the story of the Confederacy’s most opportune time for winning independence during 1862 involved developments in Europe, Virginia, Washington, Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi and even Missouri and Arkansas.

Moreover, the Confederacy’s flood tide was not limited to military factors. It also swelled within the sectors of diplomacy, politics, and espionage. For example, the Confederacy never came closer to diplomatic recognition than in the autumn of 1862. After learning of the Union rout at Second Bull Run, in mid-September British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was considering British mediation for a peace settlement that would recognize the Confederacy as an independent state.

As one of the weapons Lincoln used to reverse the Confederate tide, the Emancipation Proclamation was more controversial than commonly supposed. Major General George McClellan, among others prominent Union leaders, believed it was a deliberate attempt to incite a slave rebellion in the South. His interpretation was even more readily accepted in Europe where it was feared that the proclamation might trigger an international genocidal race war by spreading slave rebellion into other parts of the Western Hemisphere. Finally, even President Lincoln admitted the possibility of such insurrections in the South shortly before he issued the proclamation.

The Confederacy at Flood Tide combines the multifaceted developments from mid-June through mid-December 1862 into an integrated narrative that brings new perspective to the overworked accounts of the past.

What other authors say about The Confederacy at Flood Tide…

Philip Leigh has done it once again. With The Confederacy at Flood Tide, he interweaves narrative and analysis to upend our conventional wisdom about the rise and fall of of the South’s fortunes during the Civil War. A must read for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of those critical months in 1862 when the South could, just for a moment, see the possibility of victory.

— Clay Risen, New York Times

Philip Leigh has produced a highly-readable history of a crucial period of the Civil War. It is a fine synthesis. He gives the reader a sold grounding of the battles, linked with a valuable discussion of how the leaders, both military and political, effected them. Perhaps the most interesting part of this work is the way in which Leigh paces the events he discusses into a global context, connecting what was happening in the U S. with public opinion, government polices, and social forces in Europe and Mexico. This is a fine addition to the current scholarship the war.

— Frank Varney, author of General Grant and the Rewriting of History

The Confederacy at Flood Tide ties together the far-flung theaters of the war and the contemporaneous political situation which emphasizes the interconnections among them. Mr. Leigh does not accept offhand the standard versions presented as history, but drills into the events without preconceptions, the better to determine the causes and impacts.

— Joseph Rose, author Grant Under Fire

What the experts say about my previous book, Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies:

Philip Leighˈs Leeˈs Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies is chock full of data, interesting facts and just plain readable tales. It is a must read for Civil War enthusiasts who want to learn about some of the more interesting anecdotes of the Civil War.”

– Laurie Woodruff, Executive Director, Essential Civil War Curriculum, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech

Philip Leigh has produced a thoughtful, thought-provoking and enjoyable book addressing some of the Civil War’s puzzles, scandals, mysteries and “what-if” subjects. It is a delightful “must-read” book.

– Edward Bonekemper, author and Book Review Editor, Civil War News

For the rest of my books, please visit my Amazon author page.

South’s Reparations Already Paid

The following is my “Letter to the Editor” published in this month’s Civil War News. 

As the Sesquicentennial of Reconstruction progresses and the popular press debates whether slavery merits reparations, few students of the era realize that Southerners have already paid a form of reparations, if not for slavery then as a penalty for the war.

As the table below illustrates, for at least twenty-five years after the war three items represented more than half of the federal budget: (1) surpluses to repay federal war debt, (2) interest on federal war debt, and (3) Union veterans pensions. Former Confederates derived no benefit from such items, yet they had to pay their share of federal taxes to fund them. If the Confederacy had been an independent defeated foe such payments would have been reparations.


But the table does not tell the whole story.

First in 1869, four years after the war ended, the Republican-controlled federal government passed a law that required federal debt to be redeemed in gold. But during the war the great majority of investors used paper money, which traded at a discount to gold to buy the bonds. The discount got as high as 63%—meaning that a paper dollar was worth only thirty-seven cents—after General Grant sustained heavy casualties in the 1864 overland campaign only to be stalemated at Petersburg.

In short, gold redemption was a huge windfall for the bondholders. Few, if any, bonds were held by Southerners. Some of the bonds were held by national banks which were required to buy them as monetary reserves under the 1863 National Banking Act, but ordinary Northerners bought most of them during war bond drives. Bond interest also had to be paid in gold which was another windfall to Northerners.

Second, Union veterans pensions did not stop growing until 1921, which was fifty-five years after the war ended. Moreover, the total amount paid as early as 1917 was about twice as much as the combined federal and Northern state governments spent to fight the war. By 1893 Union veterans pensions represented 40% of federal spending and many Union veterans were also given federal sinecures as jobs.


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
Southern Reconstruction
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency


Brooks Simpson’s Reality Distortion Field

Sometime last night, perhaps around sunset in Phoenix, Arizona State Professor Brooks Simpson wrote a critique of my post about the 1866 Memphis Race Riots. It’s at his Crossroads blog, which is a good place to safely observe his reality distortion field without having to worry about a bite in the neck.

Simpson fails to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power. As always, he plays the race card early and often as if morality was all that mattered to Republicans and that racism was all that mattered to their opponents. He does not mention that Republicans abandoned black Southern voters eleven years after the Memphis Riots as well as many other factors suggesting the primacy of political—as opposed to moral—motivation.

Nor does he mention that three Northern states put black suffrage on the ballot in 1868 where all of them rejected it. He ignores Northern racism where blacks represented 1% of the population and could not impact the balance of political power in any state. Conversely, he pretends that racism alone explains the white Southerner’s objection to black suffrage where African-Americans represented 40% of the population and would be an even greater percentage of total voters given black suffrage and continued disfranchisement of former Rebels as in Tennessee and other Southern states.

Among the specific errors and obfuscations in Simpson’s remarks are the following:

Simpson: [In May 1866, which was the time of the Memphis riot,] there was not much support for black suffrage…The fact is that there is no evidence that there was widespread support for enfranchising blacks among Republicans in 1866.

1. Not true. After Congress refused to seat the Southern representatives sent to Washington in December 1865 under President Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan, the congressmen set-up a Joint Committee on Reconstruction to develop an alternate plan. The two would become known as “Presidential Reconstruction” and “Congressional Reconstruction.” The committee was composed of 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats. It was the brainchild of member Thaddeus Stevens who was the prime architect of Congressional Reconstruction and high profile proponent of black suffrage as well as a notorious vessel of hatred toward white Southerners and a businessman of dubious ethics.

At the time of the Memphis riots Southerners could not know that the Fourteenth Amendment, which was a work in progress, would not require black suffrage but instead mandate all states to reduce their congressional representation and electoral votes if they did not provide black suffrage. Thus, it would have negligible effect on the North  but big impact in the South. Republicans had to settle on the convoluted approach of limiting the influence of white Southerners because of doubts about getting enough Northern states to approve the amendment if it included universal suffrage without regard to race. California, for example, did not want Asian-Americans to gain power.


2. Contrary to Simpson’s claim, the willingness of the vassal government in Nashville to do the bidding of Washington Republicans was fairly evident at the time of the riots. Tennessee, for example, was the third state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which it did about two months after the Memphis riots. Seven months later it adopted black suffrage. It would also further disfranchise ex-Rebels by requiring that whites applying for voting certificates supply at least two witnesses that the applicant did not support the Confederacy during the war.

Simpson: [To gain control of Southern states Republicans] would have to appeal to at least some white voters, because only in three states was the majority of the potential electorate African-American in 1867 (Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina). Continue reading

Grant’s Presidential Corruption-One

As noted several weeks ago, I’m presently researching the Reconstruction Era and was stunned to learn the depth of corruption in President Ulysses Grant’s two administrations. Grant set such a bad example that it is no surprise how badly the carpetbag puppet-regimes of the Southern states were overrun with depravity. The amount of corruption during Grant’s eight years as President is so broad that it cannot be conveniently covered in a single post.

It will take several weeks just to cover a few. Despite an overwhelming bias at Wikipedia toward Grant, the encyclopedia’s article on his presidential scandals alone lists a total of eleven. That does not include his pervasive nepotism, presumably because it was not technically illegal. Nonetheless, about 40 Grant family members benefitted financially, either directly or indirectly, during Grant’s eight years in the White House.


Today’s post merely considers revelations about his White House staff and his closest wartime advisor whom he appointed as secretary of war. Grant had his own version of Nixon’s trio of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean. The only difference was that Nixon’s staff had a-falling-out-among-crooks when Dean tattled. That didn’t happened with Grant’s gang of John Rawlins, Horace Porter and Orville Babcock.

Since Rawlins died in September 1869 he only lasted about six months as war secretary. During that period he was a strong intervention advocate in favor of Cuban revolutionaries. But after he died it was discovered that he had $28,000 in worthless Cuban bonds that would have brought full face value if the United States had help overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba as he urged.


My Civil War Books

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

To be released later this month and available for pre-order: The Confederacy at Flood Tide


Horace Porter and Orville Babcock were Grant’s private secretaries, much like John Hay and John Nicolay were for Lincoln. The prime difference was that Porter and Babcock were implicated in numerous scandals. Porter may have profited from an attempt by Jim Fisk and Jay Gould to corner the gold market, was accused of profiting from irregularities involving New York tariff collections, assisting liquor distillers to evade excise taxes, and using his influence—in exchange for a bribe—to win the President’s approval for lucrative subsidies for the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Babcock was also accused of participating in the gold market speculations and the illegal New York custom’s house ring. Although never convicted, it is likely that he was a central figure in the widespread tax evasion by distilled spirits producers. He also purchased property in Santo Domingo which he and Grant tried to get the United States to annex. Finally, he was accused—but not convicted—of conspiring to produce false evidence in a case about corrupt building contractors in Washington, D. C. As punishment, Grant assigned Babcock to a lonely sinecure as a lighthouse inspector. He ultimately drowned while inspecting a Florida lighthouse.

Babcock’s boat sank during a storm, but his malfeasance along with that of Rawlins’s conflict of interest with the Cuban bonds and  the multiple separate accusations against Porter are only the tip of the corrupt iceberg that sank Grant’s presidency. They should also be enough to sink his presently over-glorified historical reputation, yet each new Grant biography seems to compete with the earlier ones on a hagiography scale.

Memphis Reconstruction Era Race Riot

About 153 years ago in early May 1866 a race riot exploded in Memphis during the early stages of Reconstruction.

Trouble began on April 30th when a regiment of black solders was mustered out at a nearby army post. As they waited for their discharge pay many celebrated and became inebriated. A street fight erupted between some of the soldiers and the police until each went their separate ways.

Memphis Riot

The next day a larger group of soldiers again gathered in the street, celebrating with intoxicants. Four policemen tried to disperse them, but the soldiers chased them away. Gunfire broke out and two policemen were shot. After the police obtained reinforcements several soldiers were killed before returning to the army post that evening.

While the black soldiers remained on the army post, police, firefighters and an armed posse of about 100 other whites deputized by the Sheriff attacked the city’s comparitively unarmed blacks. After a two day rampage, the local army commander declared martial law, even though the Memphis mayor requested that he intervene two days earlier.  A total of more than forty blacks and two whites had been killed.

The synopsis above is best understood by examining context beyond the obvious racism that existed in the city at the time.

First, the initial post-war Memphis military commander repeatedly warned against using black soldiers in the garrison because it increased the potential for racial violence. Other military leaders, from General Ulysses Grant on down, agreed that black occupation troops should not be used in the South. Continue reading