Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Else you will be dealt with according to Mob law.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 7, 2011

One of the canon beliefs of the modern Southron Heritage™ movement is that blame for all the violence and bloodshed that followed the Southern states’ secession lies, solely and completely, at the feet of Abraham Lincoln and his administration. Had the Southern states been allowed to “peacefully secede,” none of the “late unpleasantness” would have happened.

The actions or missteps of the major players in the path to secession are always open to historical discussion and analysis. What’s invariably missing from the arguments of those who now actively defend the secession of South Carolina and the states that followed is a recognition that, at the time, the conflict over slavery and secession was anything but peaceful. It was often direct, personal, and angry, and sometimes led to violence and murder. Supporters of secession across the South organized local vigilante committees to root out those they thought disloyal to the cause, and silence them one way or another, either through intimidation or violence. Years of inflammatory speeches, editorials and demagoguery by the fire-eaters created an environment across the South where dissent — or even suspicion of dissent — was often met with threats and violence.

This letter, included in the Texas State Library’s online exhibit, “Under the Rebel Flag: Life in Texas During the Civil War,” is an example of the tactics employed by the secessionist vigilante committees. It was written a few weeks after Texas’ secession, to a man named A. Newman, suspected by the committee of having abolitionist sympathies:

May 28th 1861.

Mr. A. Newman.


It has been reported to the Committee of safety of this County that you have expressed abolition sentiments before truthful and trust-worthy citizens living in our midst and as the present crisis will admit of no such expressions we are authorised [sic] to advise you to leave our Country at once, or at least within thirty days from this time. Else you will be dealt with according to Mob law. The excellency of your family against whom no one can say ought is the only reason of the above extension of time.

We sincerely hope you will not put us to the painful necessity of putting our designs into execution.

Prepare therefore and leave as you will be carefully watched and should you heedlessly disregard the above warning, your friends if you have any, will deeply regret your folly.

By order of the secret
Committee of Safety

There’s nothing peaceful, or particularly honorable, about that. This letter, and the tactics it represents, is the ugly, dark side of lofty arguments about “states’ rights” and the Bonnie Blue Flag. Today’s self-described “Southern Confederate Americans” will happily count off the ways the Lincoln administration worked to silence its critics in the North, but remain curiously silent about the threats and violence used by dozens or hundreds of local “committees of safety” formed across the South.

11 Responses

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  1. corkingiron said, on January 7, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Just….wow. You’ve said these committees were ad hoc – were they secretive as well? I mean, somebody had to know who to go to so they could inform on Newman.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 7, 2011 at 10:33 am

      The were supposedly secret, but I’m sure everyone in town knew who they were; they just didn’t talk about it openly. “Ad hoc” is probably not quite the right term — I’ve rephrased it as local. They were vigilante groups, acting outside the law, and using mob violence to enforce their will. Why does that sound so familiar?

  2. Allen Gathman said, on January 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Nice find. Freedom of speech was thoroughly suppressed in the South long before the war started; it was no accident that most Southern states didn’t have Lincoln on the ballot, as it would not have been safe for anyone to declare himself a Lincoln elector.

    Of course, the rationale for most of this was that it was necessary to prevent outside agitators from fomenting slave insurrection. Texas was gripped in a fit of mass paranoia in 1860 over supposed arson and poisoning of wells by slaves, backed by Northern abolitionists. None of the claims ever actually held up, but there were numerous hangings and whippings of suspects.

    I’ve documented several instances of vigilante violence and threats in my blog — see I’m totally going to gank this one and use it on May 28 — with a link back to you, as well as the Texas State Library, of course.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      Your point about fear of insurrection is dead-on. While there may not have been any major insurrections after Nat Turner, it was a constant fear, and constant subject of discussion in Southern newspapers. As you suggest, the mere rumor of a plot or conspriacy brought with it swift and violent retaliation.

      The online exhibit at TSL is a very good one, I think, given that they have (AFAIK) no budget for it and are restricted to archival documents and images in their collection. Even includes a letter from one of my relatives. (No, not this one.) Worth a visit.

  3. Marc Ferguson said, on January 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    This kind of threatened “mob” violence pressuring people suspected of having antislavery sentiments to leave occurred with some frequency in parts of the South in the decades leading up to the war. I recall William Freehling discussing this in _Road to Disunion_.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Thanks, Marc. I don’t know exactly who Mr. A. Newman was — there are several in the 1860 Census, including German immigrants who, as a group, generally had Unionist leanings — or what became of him, but there were many lynchings, some quite gruesome, of those believed to be disloyal to the Confederate cause.

  4. Corey Meyer said, on January 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Excellent post as usual Andy!

  5. C.W.Roden said, on January 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    I have little doubt that this will be removed since it is clear to me honest debate is beyond those who choose to label rather than learn, but what the hell here goes:

    The only thing that letter proves is that one faction of individuals using bullying tactics threatened another property and family…what it does not say however is that any of these actions are officially sanctioned by either the Confederate government or that of the State of Texas.
    The same cannot be said for what Lincoln’s administration did hiding behind (and working somewhat against) the US Constitution.
    The actions in this letter are unfortunate but certainly no worse than the tactics used by Unionists in the border states against neighbors who advocated secession.
    I would ever go so far as to point out that they are about the same tactics that Whigs (Patriot Forces) in the 13 Colonies used against their Loyalist (Tory) Neighbors and vice-verse both before and during the American War of Independence.
    Again you have proven nothing that has not happened in many cases of Civil or Feudal Wars throughout history when neighbors are at odds.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Mr. Roden:

      You have a history of publicly insulting those you disagree with, and doing so in a particularly vile way. Have you forgotten that, just a few weeks ago, in a discussion on, you insinuated — twice — that I must also be a Holocaust denier? It seems to be a pattern with you. Why, after that, do you suppose you should be welcome here? Or any place, for that matter, that hosts respectful and substantive discourse?

      Lots of people have disagreed with things I’ve posted here, and that’s fine. I’m even a little surprised that, after months of blogging on controversial topics, I’ve only had to drop a ban-hammer on one other commenter. You’re number two. I’m leaving your comment up, though, because I suspect you’d be happy to see yourself censored, and I don’t want to give you the satisfaction.

      “Honest debate” is welcomed; as a result of your own words and actions, you are not.

  6. Robert Moore said, on February 2, 2011 at 8:00 am

    It’s interesting that they described their own tactics as “mob law”. That sort of localized action even happened in my home county, in Virginia, although without an organizational title. While some say these acts weren’t officially sanctioned by states or the Confederate government, both enabled these folks, and both turned their heads the other way when “justice” was dealt out. Of course, it’s also convenient to forget about Southern governments suspending the WoHC as well, and imprisoning dissenters and forcing them into the ranks under three conscription acts.

  7. Robert Moore said, on February 2, 2011 at 8:07 am

    …and for those who want to place emphasis on a “sneaky Lincoln”, seems military activity prior to secession being decided by the people ranks higher in the measure of both sneaky and illegal.

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