Monthly Archives: July 2017

How Gray-Haired Southerners Remember the Civil War

(July 31, 2017) In Texas author William Humphrey’s second novel published in 1965, the contemporary narrator describes learning about his deceased Great-grandfather through family lore. The ancestor fought with the 52nd Tennessee at Shiloh, which was the first massive battle of the Civil War. Most of the regiment ran away at first contact but two companies, including his, remained.

William Humphrey: Author

They were in a hot part of the fight along a sunken road when he was wounded, left blinded and crippled. After a convalescent period at home, his wife led the family to Clarksville, Texas during the second half of the war. Along the way they barely earned a living by taking-on the former work of slaves that had abandoned their plantations as the federal armies advanced.

Much like William Faulkner wrote in Intruder in the Dust, Humphrey’s mid twentieth century narrator described his reaction to the family legend:

As for every Southern boy, it was learning that the war was lost that [prompted me] from that time onward [to resolve that] each battle had to be refought. The finality of it being inadmissible, my mind drew up short, clinging to that last moment when there was still time.

For me it was always noon on July 2nd at Gettysburg, and now that the cost of delay was clear, Longstreet would delay no more. Pickett’s charge moved forever up Cemetery Ridge, and at Chancellorsville meanwhile there was still time to warn the sentryman that the figure upon whom he was drawing a bead was his own beloved general, Stonewall Jackson.

But of course it was not still noon at Gettysburg, and Longstreet had waited until too late. Picket’s charge had nobly failed and Stonewall Jackson had crossed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees. I had to lose each of these battles not once, but countless times. So it must have been for my Great-grandfather.

On the trip to Texas the family camped one night on the very spot where the soldier was wounded. “He minutely toured the battlefield…searching for some flaw in the sequence of events which would…declare that day void and bring it back to be played over again. He was hoping on that spot where he had lost it, his sight would be restored by a miracle.”


“Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.”

Carlos   Eire
Waiting for Snow in Havana

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What Confederate Statue Critics Don’t Know

(July 30, 2017) In 1958 a nearly forgotten thirty-four year old Texas author named William Humphrey debuted his first novel, Home From the Hill, to widespread praise. Legendary director Vincente Minnelli released a film version only two years later. Both the book and the movie are highly rated by Amazon customers. The novel begins as follows:

Early one morning last September the men squatting on the Northeast corner of the town square looked up from their whittling to see…under the shadow of the Confederate monument, a dirty long black hearse with a Dallas County license plate.

Confederate Solider Statue: Clarksville, Texas

Thus, the curious reader is prompted to continue in order to learn the identity of the deceased who was returning from a distant big city to a place where the memory of the Confederate soldier remained central to the culture. In a later novel Humphrey wrote: 

If the Civil War is more alive to the Southerner than the Northerner it is because all of the past is, and this is so because the Southerner has a sense of having been present there himself in the person of one or more of his ancestors. The war filled merely a chapter in his…[family history]…transmitted orally from father to son [as] the proverbs, prophecies, legends, laws, traditions-of-origin and tales-of-wanderings of his own tribe….It is this feeling of identity with the dead (who are past) which characterizes and explains the Southerner.

It is with kin, not causes, that the Southerner is linked. Confederate Great-grandfather…is not remembered for his (probably undistinguished) part in the Battle of Bull Run; rather Bull Run is remembered because Great-grandfather was there. For the Southerner the Civil War is in the family.

Clannishness was, and is, the key to his temperament, and he went off to war to protect not Alabama but only those thirty or forty acres of its sandy hillside, or stiff red clay, which he broke his back tilling and which was as big a country as his mind could hold.

About twenty years after the war a foppish stranger stepped off the Dallas-bound train when it stopped at Clarksville. Even though he spoke English none of the whittlers at the station could understand him, which they later learned was due to his Italian accent. But eventually the stranger—who identified himself as a professor—was granted an audience with the aldermen during which he explained that he could build a marble monument to the Confederate infantryman for $5,000. For $25,000 he could erect one depicting a mounted cavalryman, or officer.

The town chose the $5,000 option. After the professor labored creatively and submitted a finished design the aldermen gave him a $2,500 deposit. A year later he returned with the sculpted components and erected the statue. The unveiling was a celebration that attracted nearly everyone in town, white and black.

A good many years elapsed before anyone from Clarksville traveled far along the railroad from whence the sculptor arrived. But when one resident eventually travelled to Georgia he noticed that there was “hardly a town of monument-aspiration size along the railway line all the way to Atlanta without a copy of our soldier.”

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Wartime Commerce Between North and South

(July 9, 2017) Provided below is basically the first chapter of my three year old book, Trading With the EnemyThis online version excludes footnotes.

Trading With the Enemy


On June 7, 1863 the Confederate commerce raider Clarence forced the U.S. 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 Matamoras, Mexico out of New York with a cargo of arms and clothing for Texas Confederates. Consequently, the Partridge was set free.

Since Matamoras 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. Ships to Matamoras were also cleared from Boston, Philadelphia, and other Northern harbors. 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 Northerners willing to help arm the Confederacy for a profit, Matamoras was little more than a legal fig leaf to cover dubious, if not treasonable, conduct.

In exchange, Southern planters provided cotton from fields as far away as Arkansas, Louisiana, and east Texas. They typically loaded wagons with twenty cotton bales and set out in caravans over crude trails ending in Brownsville, Texas, across the shallow Rio Grande River from Matamoras. 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 North Americans, whether in the Union or Confederacy. Adroit, clever, and sometimes ruthless contraband-for-cotton traders accumulated fortunes in Matamoras and Brownsville.

One example was Connecticut-born Charles Stillman who sold Rebel cotton out of Matamoras to buyers in Northern states, including the United States government. His chief cotton supplier was a putative Confederate-loyal Texan who changed sides after Federal troops temporarily occupied Brownsville in November 1863. In order to prevent interference from the newly arrived Yankee soldiers, he swore an oath of loyalty to the Union. After the war Stillman was one of the wealthiest Americans and 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 as late as 1967. Presently the bank is known as Citicorp. Two of Charles Stillman’s granddaughters married into the Rockefeller family.

Despite its legal circumvention advantage, Matamoras was a comparatively minor part of Civil War interbelligerent trade. More often, the exchange was directly across enemy lines. The practice became important about a year after the opening shots at Fort Sumter, in the spring of 1862 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 the gain was primary achieved by trade 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 at Nassau in the Bahamas and even in 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 were not excluded from 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.


Men are seldom motivated to enlist as volunteers merely to fight a war for a soldier’s modest salary. A higher calling is required to justify leaving their homes and risking their lives in a fight requiring them to shoot 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, business leaders in the North justifiably worried that the economies of the states remaining in the Union after Southern secession might collapse. Ten days before South Carolina led the Southern states into secession on December 20, 1860, the Chicago Daily Times editorialized on the calamities of disunion:

In one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would be idle…We should lose our trade with the South, with all its immense profits. Our manufactories would be in utter ruins…If [our protective tariff] be wholly withdrawn from our labor…[the workers] could not compete with the labor of Europe. We should be driven from the market and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment.

Such worries had validity as Lincoln hinted 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.

To understand how a bisected Union bereft of between-the-lines trading could lead to economic collapse in the North it is necessary to examine World cotton markets on the eve of the Civil War, as well as the commercial relations between North and South. Such is the objective of chapter 1. Cotton textile manufacturing was the World’s biggest industry and it was largely dependent upon the Southern states for feedstock. Southern cotton alone accounted for about two-thirds of all United States exports. A truncated country composed solely of Northern states could not hope to maintain a favorable international balance of payments. The situation would be exacerbated if the Southern states ceased to be a market for Northern manufactured goods, which would be likely given the Confederacy’s adoption of lower import tariffs.

However, the cotton-trading pattern also created intersectional dependencies in the South. The Southern focus on cash crops, such as cotton and tobacco, left it with a need to buy wheat, corn, and pork, which was abundantly available 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, protective tariffs in the United States often 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 use the staple as a means of curtailing the outflow of gold from the Treasury because cotton could be exported for exchange credits abroad.

Since trade between the belligerents was almost a certainty, chapter 2 describes the regulations each side adopted in efforts 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 the export of cotton to 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 Southern civilians on the far side of enemy lines than through the blockade. The regulations of Lincoln’s government were more convoluted owing to conflicting interests. Prohibition on trade would leave destitute whites and former slaves in Federally occupied regions of the Confederate states 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.

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. The area was famous for copious production of long-staple Sea Island cotton. Chapter 3 describes the Port Royal Experiment that used former slaves, among the 10,000 remaining behind after the occupation, to raise cotton. It was hoped the ex-slaves could be more productively employed as wage laborers on cotton plantations managed by capitalistic Northerners. Although not sufficiently productive to suppress interbelligerent trade, the Port Royal Experiment encouraged Northern businessmen to advocate military adventures that might enable them to occupy and operate similar plantations in other parts of the Confederacy, such as Texas and Florida.

Following the occupation of Port Royal, the next surge of intersectional trade developed in Matamoras, Mexico. Chapter 4 explains how shippers from the Northern states used the legal loophole in the Federal blockade noted 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. The chapter also investigates the states rights policies of Mexico that made such trade possible against the will—for a time—of the central government in Mexico City.

Chapter 5 is devoted to the surge of intersectional trade that grew after Memphis and New Orleans were captured by Union forces just prior to the summer of 1862. Both cities were near the center of the World’s richest cotton-growing lands. Major General Benjamin Butler assumed command in New Orleans where he was an eager 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 entering the Confederacy through the blockade were not necessarily from Europe. Although about twice as much cotton reached the North across enemy lines as was shipped to Europe through the maritime blockade, it is important to realize that some merchants in the Northern states also traded through the blockade. Chapter 6 describes a variety of evasions used. 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 Major General Benjamin Butler established a reputation as the Maestro of wartime intersectional trade in New Orleans, he later transferred his aptitudes to Norfolk, Virginia where he was given command of the occupied port in November 1863. Chapter 7 describes how he once again utilized family members and associates from his New Orleans days to promote trade across enemy lines. In the final months of the war, following the Union capture of the South’s last major blockade-running port at Wilmington, North Carolina, General Robert E. Lee’s besieged army at Petersburg received most of the vital supplies from Butler-controlled Norfolk.

After the fall of the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg in the summer of 1863, Rebel states west of the Mississippi River were isolated. Since Union gunboats patrolled the river it was almost impossible to relocate a Rebel army from one side to the other. It was even difficult to transfer significant amounts of supplies across the stream. Consequently, the Confederate Trans-Mississippi became almost a nation unto itself. With headquarters in Shreveport, Louisiana, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby-Smith was not only the ultimate military authority for the vast region, but he also controlled important aspects of civilian life. Chapter 8 clarifies how the Confederate Trans-Mississippi figured simultaneously into French ambitions in North America and a free-for-all of intersectional trade as a result of the region’s inability to obtain adequate supplies by any other means.

Chapter 9 reveals how Lincoln threw the gates of interbelligerent trade wide open in the final year of the war. During the second half of 1864 efforts by Congress and the military to throttle such trade put a strain on the Treasury’s gold reserves as lower cotton shipments to Europe reduced the amount of exchange credits earn by American exports.

The President believed that one way to slow the gold drain was to require that cotton be purchased only with greenback currency (US Treasury Notes), which was not backed by gold. When cotton was purchased for gold or specie the currency would inevitably find its way to international markets where it would be used to purchase munitions and weapons for the Confederacy. Conversely, when Northerners bought cotton with greenbacks no gold was transferred to the South. Additionally, cotton obtained with Treasury notes could be exported to Europe for exchange credits. Finally, Lincoln believed that a proliferation of greenbacks in the South would provide a powerful economic incentive among her residents to favor reunification with the Union.

Among the points summarized in the conclusion are that the Confederacy benefitted more from interbelligerent trade than did the North and that the practice lengthened the war. While there were admittedly some altruistic and diplomatically acceptable reasons for Northerners to engage in such trade, the chief motivation was the mercenary gain to be derived from its extraordinary profitability. During the war cotton prices climbed as high as $1.90 per pound as compared to about $0.13 prior to the war. For those willing to set aside morality in exchange for personal economic advantage, the profits were irresistible—particularly when favored access to available inventories could be secured by means of political connections, bribery, or military status. Efforts to stop it were as futile as King Canute’s command to hold back the waves. Historian Merton Coulter concluded, “Business morality reached a very low ebb.”

Investigation of the reasons for the North’s decision to fight in order to prevent disunion reveals the central explanation for persistence of interbelligerent trade. While a calling to fight for “preservation of the Union” is noble sounding, like most belligerent motivations it is grounded in economics. Specifically, a truncated Northern Union would continue to need cotton feedstock and the South’s export engine in order to sustain economic success. In short, it required Southern trade in order to prosper. That is why such commerce continued even across battle lines.

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Understanding Multi-Racial Reconstruction

(July 7, 2017) Provided below is the Introduction to my latest book, Southern Reconstruction which was released last month. This online version does not include the footnotes that are in the book.

Southern Reconstruction 

Partly because of a focus on racial injustices underscored by about four thousand lynchings between 1882 and 1951, mostly in the South, modern histories of Southern Reconstruction tend to ignore, or minimize, how developments in one section of the country impacted those of the other and concentrate almost exclusively on race.

Regarding the first limitation, a valid picture of Reconstruction cannot be drawn without integrating the history of the Gilded Age in the North with that of Reconstruction in the South. The experience of Amos Akerman provides an example.

Akerman was one of Republican President Ulysses Grant’s five attorneys general. He served a little over a year, from November 1870 to December 1871. Born in New Hampshire, at age twenty-one, in 1842, he moved to Georgia, where he first worked as a tutor and later became a lawyer. Despite initially opposing secession, he remained loyal to the South and served as a Confederate quartermaster during the Civil War. He was among the rank and file defenders after Union Major General William T. Sherman invaded Georgia in 1864

Akerman was the most vigorous of Grant’s attorneys general in prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). In order to expedite prosecutions, he expanded the powers of the then newly created federal Justice Department. About six hundred Klan members were convicted. Although most received light sentences, sixty-five were imprisoned for up to five years at a federal penitentiary in Albany, New York.

Amos Akerman

Grant, however, may have revealed his secondary interest in racial justice when he abruptly asked Akerman to resign in December 1871. Partly at the prompting of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Grant had misgivings about Akerman’s “obsession” with the Klan. Perhaps more importantly, Akerman also frustrated important Northern capitalists.

He was, for example, critical of the dubious terms under which railroads often qualified for federal subsidies. He may have suspected the long-festering Crédit Mobilier scandal that was a paragon of such corruption and would soon dominate the news. In June 1871, Akerman had denied land and bond grants to the Union Pacific Railroad, which had given Crédit Mobilier lucrative contracts to build the line when the railroad was unprofitable because of the inability of a partially completed line to generate much traffic in a sparsely populated territory. Crédit Mobilier allocated shares of stock—a genteel form of bribery—to influential politicians, including both of Grant’s vice presidents as well as a future president, James Garfield, who likely committed perjury when he denied it.

Grant biographer William McFeely concluded that after Akerman’s resignation, “the finest champion of human rights in the Grant administration went home to Cartersville, Georgia, where he practiced law privately for only eight more years. He had given up on his native North and Northerners.”

 Akerman correctly reasoned that Northerners were too preoccupied with the economic progress and growing wealth of the Gilded Age to be much concerned about racial equality. Following his resignation, he wrote Georgia’s carpetbag governor, Benjamin Conley, “Even such atrocities as Ku-Kluxery do not hold their attention . . . the Northern mind being active and full of what is called progress runs away from the past.”

Significantly, Akerman was echoing a point that was increasingly obvious to Northerners outside of Washington. Six years earlier, in 1866, the editor of the Chicago Tribune wrote US Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois:

“You all in Washington must remember that the excitement of the great contest is dying out, and that commercial and industrial enterprises and pursuits are engaging a large share of public attention . . . people are more mindful of themselves than of any philanthropic scheme that looks to making Sambo a voter, juror and office holder.”

The same month that Akerman resigned, the Thirty-Ninth Congress reconvened, after a ten-month recess, under a cloud of suspicion that it was controlled by the railroad industry. One newspaper correspondent famously suggested that notices be nailed to the congressional doors stating, “The business of this establishment will be done hereafter in the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad.” In addition to being the biggest railroad, the Pennsylvania was the country’s largest corporation.

Akerman’s story also shows how political actions targeted at the South later boomeranged to impact developments in the North. Although urged to destroy the KKK, President Grant had doubts about using stern federal powers to supersede the legal prerogatives of the individual states. He was wary of claims that he wanted to become a military dictator. One bill under congressional consideration that might be subject to such interpretation proposed to give the president the right to use the army to enforce court decisions and suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Nonetheless, reasoning that federal interdiction in local affairs was justified when tax collections and mail transportation were endangered, Grant threw his support behind the 1871 bill, which became known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.

Twenty-three years later, Grant’s logic for using federal power to protect the mails during the KKK crisis was applied to striking laborers. During the 1894 Pullman strike, workers disrupted train movements, particularly through Chicago. In response, President Grover Cleveland authorized armed federal troops to run the mail trains. When strikers attacked one regiment, the soldiers opened fire, wounding scores of people and killing about thirty. The strike was broken. Strikers were subjected to arrest and trials without jury. To pleas opposing federal intervention, Cleveland replied, “You may as well ask me to dissolve the government of the United States.”

The Fourteenth Amendment is another example of legislation presumably targeted at improving the civil rights of freedmen that redounded to obstruct consumer and progressive interests by guarding the properties of powerful capitalists. The amendment characterized ex-slaves as “persons” and deemed them to be American citizens and citizens of the state in which they resided. All states were prohibited from abridging the rights of any “person,” which leveraged the Fifth Amendment declaration that no “person” could be “deprived of . . . life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Twenty years after adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in two late 1880s decisions that corporations were also “persons” whose property rights were protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Those two decisions sharply curtailed the powers of states to regulate railroads and other corporations.

Some of the Fourteenth Amendment’s authors evidently had such motives from the beginning. When Republican Ohio Congressman John Bingham wrote the “due process” clause, he said he composed it “word for word” to protect property rights as well as civil rights. Later, in 1882, when former US Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York represented the Southern Pacific Railroad before the Supreme Court with objections to California taxes, he argued that as an architect of the amendment, he labored to word it in a way to protect both private property rights and black civil rights against the encroachments of state legislatures.

The second limitation of current Reconstruction narratives is the virtually exclusive focus on race. To illustrate, the standard college text and currently most influential academic book about the era is Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which concludes:

What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed and that for blacks its failure was a disaster. . . . If racism contributed to the demise of Reconstruction, by the same token Reconstruction’s demise . . . greatly facilitated the spread of racism. . . . An enduring consequence of Reconstruction’s failure [was that] the [politically Democratic] Solid South helped . . . weaken the prospects not simply of change in racial matters but of progressive legislation in many other realms.

Foner fails to mention any lingering consequences affecting both Southern whites and blacks, even though whites represented 60 percent of the region’s population. Nonetheless, the harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood. One example is Southern poverty.

Nearly a century after the war, eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income in 1960 were former Confederate states. Even 150 years later, in 2011, Virginia was the only Southern state to rank among the top ten in per capita adjusted gross income, whereas five of the lowest ten were other Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked number one in 1860 per capita wealth but was dead last at fiftieth in 2011 per capita income.

Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940, whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers. According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers “living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.”

Shortly after the Great Depression began, the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan) voluntarily slashed 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 led to lower life expectancies, principally because of poor diets and unaffordable medical care. In 1930, sixty-five years after the end of the Civil War, South Carolina was the only state with as much as half of its population under the age of twenty because its residents died earlier.

Memoirist Shirley Abbot, who grew up in Arkansas during the 1930s and ’40s, wrote of the period:

The words of President Roosevelt echoed in our heads—“one third of a nation ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-housed,” and we certainly knew which third he meant. We knew that we were poor, backward, behind . . .

[As for local politicians] . . . it should be said that most of the post-Reconstruction South was run in [a] more or less . . . [despotic] fashion. In little towns like Hot Springs, the rule of law had not yet outpaced the rule of poverty or the southern code. People, black and white, were mostly poor, trying to survive in an economy that was still largely rural.

Abbott’s adulthood illustrates a persistent consequence of Southern poverty. After Arkansas taxpayers funded her public education, Abbott left to become a successful editor and writer in New York and Massachusetts, where she paid taxes to educate the children of those well-endowed states. For at least a century after the Civil War, one of the South’s greatest exports included some of its most capable people.

Contrary to Foner’s claim that Southerners resisted progressive movements, outside the realm of race relations, Southern Democrats championed some of the most progressive legislation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Former Confederate Postmaster General John Reagan was an early proponent of federal railroad regulation after he became a US congressman in 1874. After Woodrow Wilson became the first president whose boyhood was in the South following the Civil War, he successfully promoted such measures as a graduated income tax, tariff rate reductions, the Federal Reserve System, the Farm Loan Act, and the Warehouse Act. Finally, the Populist movement originated in the South instead of in the Great Plains as is customarily supposed.

In contrast, Republicans fostered some of the most regressive policies. For forty-five years, between the 1868 election of Grant as president and the inauguration of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1913, the Republicans held the White House over 80 percent of the time, the Senate over 90 percent of the time, and the House of Representatives almost two-thirds of the time. During that era, 90 percent of the money collected by the Internal Revenue Service were excise taxes on liquor, beer, wine, and tobacco. There was no income-sensitive tax.

As for external tax revenue such as customs duties, the Republicans consistently favored high protective tariffs, which were essentially a regressive sales tax on consumers. Furthermore, tariffs were the chief federal revenue source during the forty-five-year period. The Republican Party refused to reduce them even when the Treasury reported surpluses every year from 1866 to 1893. Some surpluses were embarrassingly large, particularly toward the end of the era.

Instead of cutting taxes by lowering tariffs, Republicans spent the surplus extravagantly to win political support among favored constituencies. A prime example was the increasingly liberal Union veterans’ pensions. Most Southerners preferred lowering the tariff over spending the excess customs duties on Union veterans pensions, which grew to an astounding 40 percent of the federal budget in 1893. Before the surplus was consumed by the growing pensions, however, one sympathetic Northern senator sponsored an education-funding bill to apportion part of the surplus to the states based upon illiteracy rates. It would have particularly aided the South, where such rates were higher, income levels lower, and the school age share of population larger, but the bill never got out of the House of Representatives.

Furthermore, Northern attitudes toward racial equality were more obstructive than is usually assumed. They even provided a precedent that led to the separate-but-equal doctrine of the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legitimized segregation for almost sixty years thereafter. Although the case involved a Louisiana incident, Justice Henry Brown of Michigan cited a Boston precedent upholding segregated schools. Six other justices joined him in the 7–1 decision. The lone dissenter was from Kentucky, while six of the seven justices voting with the majority were from states that were loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

Finally, Republican advocacy of African-American civil rights was diluted by a huge dose of self-interest. When the Civil War ended, the Republican Party was barely ten years old. It could be eclipsed, and possibly strangled in its cradle, if the readmittance of Southern states into the Union failed to be managed in a manner that would prevent Southerners from allying with Northern Democrats to regain control of the federal government. With other things the same, the abolition of slavery would increase Southern congressional representation by fifteen members over the antebellum tally because of the obsolescence of the original constitutional provision restricting the counting of slaves to three-fifths of their number for purposes of a state’s congressional representation and electoral votes.

The historical facts reveal that Republicans were distressed about the consequences to their party if Southern states were promptly readmitted into the Union without Republican control over the method of readmission. Even before the war ended, a joint congressional resolution in December 1864 proclaimed that Arkansas and Louisiana—temporarily readmitted under a wartime Reconstruction plan by President Abraham Lincoln—were “not entitled to representation in the electoral college.” Historian Matthew Josephson concluded:

The resolution reveals how even in the winter of 1864-65 [before the war was over] the Republican Party leaders were secretly obsessed with once again becoming a minority Party. Even in the twenty-three United States, only 55% of the vote in the presidential election of 1864 had been Republican. The Democratic anti-war vote was thus a big minority. What, then, if eleven unregenerate States returned to constitutional relations with the Union? They assailed Lincoln on this ground; they would fall upon his successor, too, should his policies threaten or jeopardize the retention of power by the war party.

If all representatives from the former Confederate states were admitted to the Thirty-Ninth Congress in December 1865, and each added member was a Democrat, the Republican majority in the Senate would have dropped from 43–9 and become 43–31. Similarly, the party’s majority in the House would have dropped from 152–40 and become 152–81. In short, the Republicans would have no longer held a veto-proof two-thirds majority in Congress.

Historians William Cooper and Thomas Terrill elaborate in their American South: A History:

“Republicans’ fears that the Democrats would regain their antebellum political dominance were not fantasies. The dominance of the Republican Party was not assured in 1865, and would not be until the 1890s. Only then were the Republicans able to control the White House and both houses of Congress consistently.”

Historian Arthur Schlesinger’s analysis of Republican motivations concluded, “The technique of ‘waving the bloody shirt’—meaning to rekindle hatred toward Southerners due to the violence of the Civil War—enabled the Republicans to long submerge the fact that they were becoming the party of monopoly and wealth.” Banker J. P. Morgan, who epitomized Gilded Age wealth, cogently observed, “A man always has two reasons for the things he does­—a good one and the real one.” Morgan was implying that the good reason is a false, benevolent explanation that conceals the real self-serving one.

If, for example, racial equality was the true objective of nineteenth-century Republican black suffrage advocacy, an explanation for why the party did not promote suffrage for Chinese immigrants is needed. The historical record, however, suggest that there is no good explanation. The inconsistency more likely results from the fact that Chinese exclusion attracted California voters to the Republican Party, whereas the inclusion of black voters transformed the Southern states from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican one.

Beginning in 1882, the federal government responded to racist pressures from California and other Western states with laws that would help deny the vote to Chinese residents and reduce their numbers. The ’82 law was succeeded by additional measures—known collectively as the Chinese Exclusion Acts— that restricted immigration and denied citizenship to the Chinese. California used the acts, which were not repealed until 1943, to deny voting rights to Chinese people. The immigration restrictions effectively cut the number of Chinese in America from 105,000 in 1880 to 62,000 in 1920.

The Chinese were never more than 10% of California’s population and few were permitted to vote until well into the twentieth century. In contrast, blacks represented  40% of the Southern population and were granted universal male suffrage in 1868. Even though most of the nation’s lynchings after the Civil War were in the South, California was also notorious for lynching Chinese-Americans. In fact, the biggest mass lynching in American history was in Los Angeles in 1871 when nineteen Chinese-Americans, including one woman, were executed. If Chinese-Americans represented 40% of California’s population and they had the right to vote, it seems likely that the state would have been every bit as racially violent as the South.

Nonetheless, most contemporary Reconstruction historians are too prone to accept the putative righteous explanations for Republican actions as opposed to the real ones. Conversely, they too readily apply sinister interpretations to the actions of Southern Democrats. Foner, for example, laments that the 1866 Georgia legislature appropriated $200,000 to aid “aged and infirm white persons,” including Confederate widows and orphans, while making no allowance for the dependents of deceased Union soldiers or aged and infirm blacks. He failed, however, to disclose four mitigating points.

First, although Georgia didn’t aid the survivors of killed Union soldiers, neither did the Northern states aid the widows and orphans in their states who had husbands and fathers in the Confederate army.

Second, the federal government started paying increasingly generous Union veterans’ pensions in 1862. The former Confederate states individually paid much smaller pensions to Rebel veterans. Moreover, Southern veterans of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) were not granted pensions until Cleveland became president in 1885. Additionally, Southerners had to pay their share of federal taxes needed to fund the Union pensions. The annual Union veteran pension disbursements did not peak until 1921 and trailed off only gradually for years thereafter. Before they became standardized, a study ordered by President Cleveland in 1885 estimated that about one-fourth of the awarded pensions were fraudulent. During the fifty years prior to 1917, the accumulated Union veterans’ pensions totaled over $5 billion, which was more than twice the amount spent by the federal and Northern state governments to fight the war.

Third, the 1866 federal Southern Homestead Act gave freedmen temporary preferential homesteading access to 46 million acres of Southern land. The Republican-dominated Congress, however, declined to provide blacks with preferential access to homesteads outside the South.

Finally, even Foner admits that the 1866 Georgia legislature reasoned that aid to blacks should at least temporarily be the responsibility of the federal government through its much better financed Freedmen’s Bureau, which was targeted chiefly at African-Americans. Emancipation was, after all, a national policy, which justified reliance upon national (i.e., federal) funding sources to pay for the needs of the ex-slaves.

The purpose of this book is to tell the story of Southern Reconstruction by transcending the limitations of a race-centric narrative and to more fully put the account into context with that of the rest of the country. Although racism has been a shameful characteristic and legacy of the era, there is a larger story to be told involving members of all races.

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Motivations of the Emancipating Lincoln

(July 6, 2017) Provided below is basically Chapter Six of my 2016 book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide. This online version, however, does not include any footnotes.


Chapter Six


Although the Emancipation Proclamation is the most familiar document resulting from America’s Civil War, understanding its adoption and impact on the war requires analysis.

The popular comprehension of Abraham Lincoln as the a great liberator dates to his June 1858 acceptance speech for the Republican nomination to oppose Democrat Stephen Douglas in a losing election for an Illinois US Senate seat. Known as his House Divided speech, Lincoln essentially advocated eradication of slavery. Moreover, he dubiously accused Northern Democrats of seeking to compel states previously admitted as “free” to become “slave.”

A House divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot permanently endure half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved…but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

Either the opponents of slavery will…place it…in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will put it forward…in all the states.

Lincoln’s message was a powerful weapon against Douglas. According to historian David Donald it was “designed to show that Douglas was a part of a dangerous plot to nationalize slavery.” But it was also reckless, which became evident when a prominent editor complained that the statement “implied a pledge…to make war upon [slavery] in the Sates where it now exists.” In response, Lincoln waffled: “Whether the clause used by me will bear such construction or not, I never so intended. I made a prediction only – it may have been a foolish one perhaps.”

As is often the case when provincial politicians win a chance to run for the presidency, Lincoln came to realize that positions strictly appealing to regional constituencies could not be forced on the entire nation without consequences. In 1860 abolitionism was just such a principle. It readily appealed the region composed of free states, because such states had no investment in slaves and were therefore immune to monetary consequences. Simultaneously, the most threatening consequence of mandatory nationwide abolition was the possible departure of those states of another region compelled to pay the abolitionist’s bill.

As a result, Lincoln modified his stance during the presidential campaign. The chief Republican Party plank involving slavery banned its extension into the territories that had not yet been organized as states. There was no plank promising abolition. Although the second plank stated that men were “created equal” the fourth plank affirmed “the right of each state to order and control its domestic institutions.” In the lexicon of the era, institution was a code word for slavery. Nonetheless, if the nonextension plank became a federal policy, no additional slave states could ever be admitted into the Union.

In 1860 there were a total of thirty-three states. Slavery was outlawed in eighteen and legal in only fifteen Southern states. At the least, many slaveholders interpreted the plank as a deliberate intention to adopt a discriminatory rule designed to block their access to the common territories of the United States to which they felt they had as much right as other citizens. Other slaveholders simply doubted that Lincoln’s position had genuinely changed since his House Divided speech two years earlier.

Even before the May 1860 nominating convention, Lincoln tried to distance himself from House Divided dogma. In a February 1860 speech at Cooper Union in Manhattan he presented a legal argument asserting the federal government’s authority to deny the extension of slavery into the territories. However, he also quoted Thomas Jefferson to underscore his agreement with the third president that the authority for emancipation rested with the states individually and not the federal government.

He additionally felt compelled at Cooper Union to address the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision for two reasons. First, it contradicted his claim that the federal government could legally prohibit slavery in the territories. Second, as recently as 1856 he held that it was the judicial system that had the ultimate power to settle slavery disputes when he said, “The Supreme Court of the United States is the tribunal to decide such questions.” As a member of the Republican Party he claimed, “We will submit to its decision; and if you [the Democrats] do also, there will be an end of the matter.” However, at Cooper Union he argued that Republicans should not accept the Dred Scott ruling because it was legally flawed and therefore did not settle the slavery question.

Toward the end of the speech he summarized the position he would promote as a presidential candidate: “Wrong as we [Republicans] think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we…allow it to spread to the National Territories and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty…” Thus, while conceding that slavery should be left alone where it already existed, he was still clinging to the belief that the South was trying to force all free states to become slave states.

In order to arrest the trend toward Southern secession, after his November 1860 election Lincoln was repeatedly asked to clarify his stance on the future of slavery. He consistently refused to make any further public announcement, although a number of his private statements and conversations emphasized that he had no intention of abolishing slavery in the states where it already existed. “I do not wish to interfere with them [Southerners] in any way, but to protect them in everything they are entitled to.” He also said that when Southerners travelled to Springfield, Illinois to visit him after his election they “seemed to go away apparently satisfied.”

Nonetheless, by his March 4, 1861 presidential inauguration, seven states had already seceded and formed a Southern Confederacy with Jefferson Davis as its provisional president. Lincoln could no longer avoid public clarifications. They took shape in his inauguration speech and were almost the opposite of his earlier House Divided dogma.

The new president said explicitly that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so…” He added that he did not oppose an amendment hurriedly passed by both houses of the US Congress, which stipulated that the federal government could never interfere with slavery in the states where it is legal. Contending that the amendment was already implied by constitutional law Lincoln said, “I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

When Lincoln was inaugurated eight slave states remained in the Union and only seven had joined the Confederacy. However, after Fort Sumter was bombarded into surrender on April 13, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion. Most of the slave states that had not joined the Confederacy had previously warned Lincoln that if he attempted to coerce the seven cotton states back into the Union the remaining eight slave states would be forced to choose sides in the ensuing war despite having already demonstrated their preference to remain in the Union without coercion. Four of the states, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, promptly joined the Confederacy.

Lincoln quickly focused on keeping the remaining four slave states in the Union. Delaware was certain to stay, but Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were questionable. If those three states joined the eleven-state rebellion, they would add 45% to the white population of the Confederacy and 80% of its industrial capabilities. Given their uncertain loyalty and potential to increase the military power and strategic strength of the Confederacy, Lincoln could ill-afford to adopt a policy that might provoke them to secede. Abolitionism was undoubtedly such a policy.

Such concern was genuine not only by Lincoln but also by most Washington politicians, including Republicans. Only a few days after the Union defeat at First Bull Run on July 21, 1861 both congressional houses passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution specifying that the goal of the war was to preserve the Union and not “for the purpose of overthrowing…established institutions [meaning slavery.]” The vote in the House was 121 – 2 and 30 – 5 in the Senate.

Exiled state governments in Kentucky and Missouri would join the Confederacy later in 1861. Maryland was likely prevented from leaving the Union only because federal authorities arrested – or threatened to arrest – pro-secession members of the legislature planning to attend a special session in September 1861. Missouri’s loyalty was obtained by a federal coup d’etat of the state government.

However, after the federal military appeared to gain control of the Border States in the autumn of 1861, Republican congressmen began to agitate for abolition. The first indication of a policy change was the First Confiscation Act in August 1861, which Lincoln reluctantly signed.

As explained in chapter 3, the Act declared captured slaves used in the rebellion – such as army laborers – to be contraband and therefore forfeited by their owners. It did not proclaim them to be free. But it prompted Major General John C. Fremont in St. Louis to declare later that month that such slaves would be freed in Missouri. Lincoln forced the general to rescind the order.

Among other Republicans, Illinois Senator Orville Browning rallied to Fremont’s position and criticized Lincoln. The president’s response underscores his continuing concern for the impact of abolitionism on the loyalty of the Border States. He explained that Kentucky would likely have seceded if the order had not been rescinded: “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think Maryland. These all against us and the job on our hands is too large for us.”

On December 1 War Secretary Simon Cameron released to the press the department’s annual report, which urged the recruitment of ex-slaves as Union soldiers. Lincoln told him to recall the release and remove the paragraph containing the recruitment recommendation. But a number of newspapers had already printed the release.

The next month Lincoln removed Cameron from office and appointed him as ambassador to Russia where he could presumably do little harm. Two days after Cameron released his annual report, Lincoln’s annual address clarified that the president still regarded the preservation of the Union as the goal of the war. “I have been anxious and careful” that the war “shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle [to eradicate slavery.] I have therefore in every case thought it proper to keep the integrity of the Union prominent as the primary object of the contest on our part…” One day later the House revealed its disagreement with the president by declining to reaffirm the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution in a 71 – 65 vote

As explained earlier, Radical Republicans applauded the May 1862 appointment of John Pope to command the Union Army of Virginia because of his liberal interpretation of the Confiscation Act and hostility toward Virginia civilians. They similarly maneuvered to get generals who were respectful of Southern property rights, such as Buell and McClellan, removed from command. McClellan was temporarily ousted that summer although Buell was able to keep his job until October. Earlier in the summer, however, Buell suffered the humiliation of official disregard in Washington for his court martial of Colonel Truchin. Even though convicted of sacking Athens, Alabama, Lincoln promoted Turchin to brigadier general.

Lincoln consistently resisted pressure to emancipate slaves until the summer of 1862. The rescission of General Fremont’s August 1861 order freeing Missouri slaves is merely one example of such reluctance. Another arose in May 1862 when Major General David Hunter issued an order freeing the slaves in his department, which included Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. The president promptly revoked the order and rebuked the general. However, for the first time Lincoln’s revocation used language that implied his position on slavery was evolving. Only fourteen months earlier he stated explicitly that he had “no lawful right” to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. If he was to emancipate the slaves in the future he needed to develop a legal theory that contradicted his position in the first inaugural address. According to biographer David Donald it began with his countermand of Hunter’s order:

“No commanding general shall do such a thing upon my responsibility without consulting me,” he told Chase. But…for the first time he made it clear that he had no doubt of his constitutional power to order emancipation. Whether he exercised that authority would depend on a decision that abolition had “become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government.”…Under such circumstances he had no reservations about issuing an emancipation proclamation because “as commander-in-chief of the army and navy in time of war, I suppose I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy.”

In short, Lincoln began to consider the question of emancipation to be one of whether or not it might be a military necessity. He did not construe his power to declare it to be based upon any moral principle. In fact, as shall be explained, he could foresee potentially immoral consequences to suddenly freeing the slaves.

He asserted that his inaugural pledge of non-interference with a state’s right to slavery failed to apply to the Confederate states. He argued, “The rebels…could not at the same time throw off the Constitution and invoke its aid. Having made war on the Government, they were subject to the incidents and calamities of war.” However, he could not use the same argument with the Union-loyal Border States. That is one reason the eventual Emancipation Proclamation left slavery intact in states outside the Confederacy where slavery was legal. But there was another reason. On Independence Day 1862 Massachusetts Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner visited the White House twice urging the president to free all slaves. Lincoln declined because such a proclamation might cause Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland to secede.

Eight days later, however, Lincoln met with the Border State congressional representatives at the White House. He told them that the “friction and abrasion” of the war would eradiated slavery in their states. He added that he might soon be forced to proclaim emancipation because of rising anti-slavery sentiment in the North. He urged them to adopt gradual compensated emancipation. To demonstrate his intent to provide financial aid he arranged to have a bill for compensated emancipation introduced in congress the following day. However, according to legal scholar Paul Finkelman it was a hollow gesture: “Lincoln surely knew that this bill, like his meeting with the border state representatives, would go nowhere.” Most of the congressmen attending the meeting responded the following day with a long list of constitutional objections.

The same day he met with the Border State representatives, Lincoln confided to Secretary of State William Seward and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that he was considering emancipation. Both men were surprised and asked for time to consider the matter. Lincoln urged them to ponder it seriously because “something must be done.”

About a week later on July 22 the president read the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to the entire cabinet. The conference included both abolitionist and conservative members. The secretaries had expected the meeting to address other matters and had difficulty focusing on the statement. Its curious structure showed that the president was trying to reconcile his previous policy and constitutional arguments with the new position. Most significantly, he had to explain how emancipation did not contradict his inaugural statement that he had no intention or lawful right “to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” For this purpose he relied upon two factors.

First he presumed executive authority under the wartime powers of the commander in chief. Second he alluded to the recently passed Second Confiscation Act, which authorized seizures of private property, including slaves, belonging to persons supporting the Confederacy. As explained in chapter three, the First Confiscation Act passed the previous summer had narrower restrictions.

The emancipation draft also pledged pecuniary aid to any state – including the rebellious ones – that voluntarily abolished slavery. Lincoln concluded by asking for the opinions of cabinet members.

Secretary of War Stanton and Attorney General Bates urged immediate adoption. Surprisingly, the abolitionist Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase felt that it would be better to let the generals in the field implement the program sector-by-sector partly to avoid the “depredation and massacre” of civilians and their property. Secretary of State Seward remarked that emancipation “would break up our relations with foreign nations and the production of cotton for sixty years.” Apparently he believed that cotton could not be economically produced except by slave labor. Seward also advised that if the president was determined to proceed, he should wait until the Union armies won an important victory. Otherwise, he warned, the policy “would be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help.” The conservative Postmaster General opposed it on the grounds that it would damage the Party’s autumn election prospects.

The meeting adjourned with no decision. However, Senator Charles Sumner learned of the discussion. He pressed Lincoln for each of the next five days to make the announcement. Finally, Lincoln told the senator, “We mustn’t issue it until after a victory.”

Chase’s comment suggests that a number of important Northerners recognized that emancipation might prompt a slave uprising. In fact, President Lincoln was among them. On September 13, 1862 a delegation of Chicago abolitionists visited the White House to urge immediate emancipation. Lincoln first clarified that did not object to their proposal based upon any argument that he lacked the legal authority make such a proclamation. Then he added that he would not object to their proposal based upon the possibility that it could lead to a bloody slave uprising in the South. Whatever the moral benefits, or immoral consequences, of emancipation he considered the matter to be exclusively a war measure.

Understand, I raise no objections against it [the delegation’s emancipation proposal] on legal or constitutional grounds, for, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, in time of war I suppose I have a right to take any measures which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South. I view this matter as a practical war-measure, to be decided on according to the advantages and disadvantages it my offer to the suppression of the rebellion.

In short, Lincoln was prepared to run the risk of a Southern slave uprising if emancipation would give the Union an important wartime advantage. On September 22, nine days after meeting with the Chicago delegation and admitting the possibility of provoking a slave uprising, Lincoln publicly announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It is described as “preliminary” because the formal proclamation would not be effective until January 1, 1863.

A question that merits consideration but is seldom analyzed by modern historians is whether some influential Northerners advocated emancipation as a deliberate attempt to provoke a Southern slave rebellion and whether Lincoln was among them.

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Other Generals Shared McClellan’s Disease

(July 5, 2017) Modern historians commonly condemn Union Major General George McClellan for almost uniquely overestimating the size of his opposing Confederate armies. According to the Civil War Trust, for example, the general’s “most grievous error [of] hugely overestimating Confederate numbers [was] a delusion [that] dominated his military character.” In truth, however, a number of Federal commanders were prone to overestimate the size of the enemy’s army.

During the Battle of Shiloh, for example, General Ulysses Grant sent a note to the commander of a reinforcing Federal army that Grant was under attack by more than 100,000 Rebels whereas the Confederates only numbered about 45,000. While that overestimation might be excused  because it was made in the heat of battle, Grant continued to overestimate his opponents strength at 70,000 even after the battle.

Similarly, on the eve of the Battle of Antietam where McClellan  would lead the Federal troops, Union General in Chief Henry Halleck in nearby Washington estimated Robert E. Lee’s opposing army at 150,000 men compared to its true strength of only 40,000. Nine days before the battle McClellan’s own commander of cavalry estimated Lee’s strength at 115,000. The prize for exaggeration, however, goes to Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin who wired the War Department five days before the battle that Lee had 190,000 men north of the Potomac River and another 250,000 men in northern Virginia ready to cross the stream. In short, Curtin estimated Lee’s army to be more than ten times bigger than it actually was.

As explained in an earlier post, President Lincoln was afraid that Stonewall Jackson would attack Washington following the latter’s repeated victories in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862. Even though Jackson had only 17,000 soldiers Lincoln estimated it at 30,000. Union commanders in the Valley, James Shields and Charles Fremont, estimated Jackson’s numbers to range from 20,000 to 60,000.

When Major General Jubal Early led a Confederate army in a second Shenandoah Valley campaign two years later and did, if fact, reach the outskirts of Washington, Lincoln’s War Secretary Edwin Stanton claimed Early’s army contained 35,000 men. In reality, Early had only 12,000.

Shortly before launching his offensive against Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville in May 1863 Union commander Joseph Hooker told Lincoln that Lee outnumbered him, whereas Hooker actually outnumbered Lee two-to-one.

The prevailing tendency among historians is to judge McClellan for what he did not do as opposed to what he did. Thus, he is not admired for accomplishing in a matter of three weeks the transformation of a defeated Union army into one that stopped Robert E. Lee’s first invasion at Antietam. He is not applauded for immediately cancelling the orders of Stanton and Halleck to ship the weapons in Washington’s arsenal to New York and keep a steamer ready to evacuate political leaders in the panicked aftermath of Second Bull Run. Nor is he credited with earlier reaching the gates of Richmond before the Battle of Seven Pines by suffering only modest casualties and inflicting more casualties on Lee than Lee did on him during the ensuing fighting on the peninsula. Two years later, Grant would sacrifice over sixty thousand soldiers to put Petersburg under siege and force the surrender of the Confederate capital. Grant’s maneuver was much like the one proposed by McClellan in July 1862 but overruled by then General in Chief Halleck.

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