Monthly Archives: September 2016

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. Under terms authorized by the Fourteenth Amendment, blacks ended up as a majority of voters in four or five of the eight former Confederate states permitted to vote in the 1868 presidential election. They composed a sizeable minority in the other three or four.

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

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

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