Based on the buzz on social media sites about the Rebel Flag and the reasons people believe the South seceded from the Union, it’s quite obvious that people have a lot of holes in their history. I know you’ve heard many say it wasn’t because of slavery, it was states’ rights, but there’s so much more to the story. Things I hope to address here.
First, a few bullet points, explained in detail further down:
- The Confederacy didn’t want a war with the Union. They only wanted to leave the Union.
- The Confederate Constitution banned the import of slaves – something the SCOTUS had deemed a Constitutional right (slavery)
- Lincoln lied about Fort Sumter
- After regaining Fort Sumter, something Lincoln had promised to give peacefully, not one single aggressive action was taken by the Confederacy toward the Union. (And due to the circumstances, you really can’t even count Sumter as an aggressive action.)
- Tariffs on the South were paying 70% of the government
- The South started the abolition of the slaves and had more pro-abolition societies than the North
- The Confederate soldiers were ordered to never wage war on a civilian.
- The Union soldiers were ordered to destroy everything and were commended as such.
- The black men fighting for the Confederates fought with – and within the ranks of – the Confederates. The black men fighting for the Union did not.
Tensions between the South and the Federal government had begun in the 1830s when South Carolina balked at the high federal tariffs. There was talk of secession then, but President Andrew Jackson threatened to invade South Carolina if they did. For the next 30 years, tariffs kept increasing.
Meanwhile, the North was growing quite quickly on the industrial side of things, while the South was more on the farming side. The South became concerned that the North was pushing them into 2nd class status because of it. All the while, the tariffs on the South continued to increase.
The South was used to things in the Washington and Jefferson era and wanted things to remain that way. States were separate from the Federal government and they felt the states’ laws and governments should be made on a state level – not federal. The North wanted the Federal government to take over all. (It’s kinda the same now, but everyone is spread out and not just North vs South these days…)
So, yes… States Rights were very important to the Southern people and their culture. So important that there was a brigadier general in the Confederate Army by the name States Rights Gist. So, clearly the South felt it was important for the states’ to have rights above the Federal government. After all, the 10th Amendment was there for a reason. (Though it’s hard to see that these days…)
So, December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union and filed papers – an Ordinance – to that effect. The document quoted the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Paris – both which called the colonies “Free and Independent States”. The last paragraph of the Ordinance states “South Carolina has resumed it’s position among the nations of the world.” It had no intention of taking over the government of the US. It wanted to just be turned loose to become it’s own nation.
Because of that, there was technically no Civil War. A civil war, by definition, is two groups trying to take over the same government by violent means. South Carolina had no intentions of doing that. Nor did the six states that followed South Carolina out of the Union just a few weeks later.
In March of 1861, those seven states formed the Confederacy and adopted a Confederate Constitution.
The Confederate Constitution had similarities with the Constitution of the US, with two main differences. It made sure to spell out that each state was sovereign and independent and stressed it as such. Where it differed was with slavery and tariffs.
First, the Confederate Constitution abolished the international slave trade. The US Supreme Court, in 1857, had already ruled that slavery was a constitutional right. The Confederate Constitution guaranteed that right, but did not allow new slaves to enter into the states. There were not to be (and weren’t) any Confederate Slave ships. Slavery was already well on its way out and this sealed it as such. Many of the Southern States, contrary to popular belief, did not agree with the institution of slavery. In fact, there were 130 known anti-slavery societies in the United States. More than 100 of them were in the South.
The second major different was that tariffs were permitted, but forbidden to benefit a particular industry. The south believed that the import and export tariffs, then imposed by the US government favored Northern industries over Southern agriculture.
By May, four more states had seceded making the final 11 states in the Confederacy. (The last four states didn’t secede until Lincoln ordered their governors to raise regiments to invade the Southern Confederacy. Up until Lincoln gave that order, they were holding out hope that a compromise would be reached.)
Lincoln had stated, on more than one occasion, that he had no intentions of going to war and that any military movement made would only be in defense of southern aggression. He even promised to withdraw troops from Fort Sumter.
This was not so.
Lincoln sent word to Charleston, assuring the Confederate officials that his troops at Fort Sumter would be withdrawn. Instead, he sent more troops in to reinforce Fort Sumter with permission to use cannons against any resistance from the Confederacy. After the Confederates repeated requests for the evacuation at Sumter, and refusals to evacuate as the President had said they would, shells were fired at Fort Sumter.
When Major Anderson agreed to surrender the fort he and his men were sent back to New York on a supply ship. They were not taken prisoner because the South had not declared war. Had that been the case, those men would have been held prisoner.
After that, the South went back about its business of building the Confederacy – a nation separate from the US. From then, through December, there were little skirmishes and battles – all instigated by the Union. From April through December of 1861, not on single aggressive action was taken by the Confederacy toward the Union.
That’s when the Union turned nasty and began burning towns in the South. The Official Records of the War of Rebellion catalogs numerous atrocities by the Union in the South. They ransacked, looted, burned and destroyed town after town. General Thomas Williams, a Union general, stated it was their right to pillage, even calling it a soldierly accomplishment. In 1862, they began to make war on civilians in the South.
October 1864, General Philip Sheridan reported to General US Grant that he’d destroyed over 2,000 bards, 70 mills, 4,000 heads of stock and 3,000 sheep in the Shenandoah Valley. For which, Sheridan received a letter of gratitude from Lincoln.
About this same time, Sherman was burning South Carolina and Georgia. Sherman did not even spare the blacks that were free and making a living for themselves. He and Grant both were quite racist. They balked at the idea of black men becoming soldiers. When they finally relented, they did not allow any to serve under them in their regiment.
Sherman, at Ebenezer Creek – outside of Savannah – had several thousand slaves following his army as he made his, now famed, “March to the Sea”. When they reached the creek, it was very high and the waters were rough due to much rain. He and his troops were ferried across the creek and instructed the slaves to wait while he and his army crossed and the ferry would be sent back to bring them across. Once his army reached the other side, his 2nd, General Reb, took up the pontoon boat bridge and ferry and left. The slaves were panicked and fearful of being caught between Confederate Calvary and Sherman’s troops and tried to cross the river themselves. Hundreds of black men, women and children were drowned.
The South was much kinder to its enemies. Lee made it known that the war was only upon armed men. The South’s troops were told to abstain from injuring private property and all civilians and brought punishment on any who disobeyed. There was one instance where a shop owner in Chambersburg Pennsylvania complained that some of Lee’s men had stolen hats from the shop. Lee found the culprits and returned the hats to the shopkeeper – even though his troops were shoeless and hatless…
The only instance of destruction upon the North was one city that was burned in retaliation for the thousands of homes and farms that had been burned. In that case, though, it was rogue soldiers, not orders from the Confederate government or Its generals.
Lee, at Appomattox, seeing his only choices being surrender or guerrilla warfare, chose surrender rather than subject the nation to warfare that could have lasted decades. Lee met with Grant and signed a surrender agreement. The North, however, threatened continued violence against any Confederate who balked at the terms and the Union soldiers did not immediately vacate the south.
Tens of thousands of Confederates put down their arms and went about the business of re-building what the Union had destroyed while the North celebrated with a 2-day parade down Pennsylvania Ave in Washington DC. The Army of the Potomac would march, as well as Sherman’s Army of Georgia – all planned by Grant – for the citizens in the North to give accolades to the soldiers. There was one regiment intentionally not invited.
The USCT, or United States Colored Troops, were not invited to the party or permitted to take part in any parade – even though they were larger in number than the troops that were taking part. In fact, Grant ordered them to stay away. Much to the satisfaction of Sherman, who stated he and his troops would not participate if the black soldiers were permitted to participate as well.
Grant sent the entire USCT to Texas to serve as occupation troops. That way there was no chance of them participating in the celebration.
Sherman was pointedly racist. When a subordinate, speaking of black troops, pointed out “They can stop a bullet as well as a white man.” Sherman replied “A sandbag is better.” In a letter Sherman wrote to a friend, he stated “A [derogatory word for a black person] is a most excellent fellow, but he is not fit to marry, to associate or to vote with me or mine.” He also didn’t want the black soldiers to wear the blue uniforms as he felt they didn’t deserve it.
So, that’s the war – summed up, of course – and things are always as they seem. Next post will discuss the treatment of the black troops in the Union vs the Confederacy (For example: The black soldiers that were enlisted by the Union were not done so until more than two years after the start of the war. The colored troops were paid less than white soldiers and charged for their uniforms and not permitted to march with white troops (they marched behind and separate). Contrast that with the Confederate army, which paid the black Confederates the same wages as the white Confederates, gave them free uniforms and rations and allowed to march side by side with the rest of the Confederate army.) and some of the things Lincoln did that we didn’t learn about…
And just to re-iterate, my goal here is not to justify slavery or even suggest that it’s a good institution. It isn’t and never was. My goal here is to show that the south and the Confederacy was less racist than the North and the Union armies and FAR less racist than we’re led to believe.
Normally I don’t request shares. But, please, if you enjoyed this post – please share. Perhaps we can – at least a little – point out the errors in history books or the whole stories that were left out. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.