Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Slavery in Mexico: “nature’s God intended that it should be.”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on March 14, 2011

The Civil War day-by-day blog Seven Score and Ten has another great catch today — they seem to do a lot of that — from the Oxford Mercury [Mississippi] on the significance of Texas’ secession to the prospects for the expansion of the “peculiar institution” into Mexico:

Standing immediately between us and Mexico, her refusal to join us would have retarded the ultimate and inevitable conquest of that country.  But now five years will not have elapsed before at least all the north-western States of Mexico will be States of the Confederacy.  And the conquest of the whole of that country is only a question of time.  The introduction of African slave labor into Mexico is the one thing necessary to make it what nature and nature’s God intended that it should be.

That’s Manifest Destiny, the Slaveholder’s Edition.

But secession was all about tariffs, right?

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What Did You Think Would Happen, Colonel Perry?

Posted in Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on January 27, 2011

On January 28, 1861, seventy members of the Texas House of Representatives voted to endorse a convention to determine whether Texas should follow South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana out of the Union. Only nine representatives voted “nay.” Though the vote was nominally just to authorize the convention, the outcome of such a meeting was a forgone conclusion, and the House vote was, to all intents and purposes, a vote on secession itself.

The Texas Senate passed the resolution that same day, by a vote of 25 to 5. Governor Sam Houston, who opposed secession and would soon be removed from office as a result, signed off on the resolution on February 4, with an appended notation cautioning the convention “against the assumption of any powers on the part of said convention, beyond the reference of the question of a longer connection of Texas with the Union to the people.” It was a moot gesture; the Secession Convention had been called to order in the Capitol the same day the Legislature voted to approve it, and had adopted an ordinance of secession on February 1. The following day the convention adopted its Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union. Texas’ secession was already a fait accompli.

My great-great-great-grandfather, Aaron Perry, was one of the men in the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the resolution to authorize a secession convention. He was born in North Carolina around 1804, lived for a time in Alabama, and moved to Texas in 1846. He farmed in Limestone County, near present-day Waco. In the 1850 U.S. Census non-population schedules, Perry is shown as farming 625 acres, most of which was left uncleared for raising hogs. In the previous season he’d produced 1,500 bushels of corn as well, most of which I suspect went to hog feed before killing time in the fall. By the time of the 1860 census, the value of his land holdings (which may have been expanded in the preceding decade) had grown to $3,000, and the value of his personal property had grown to $11,150. Much of this latter number represented the value of seven slaves he held.

He was known as “Colonel” Perry, although I don’t know what military service of his such a title would be based on. He was active in politics, serving as a delegate from Limestone County to the Texas Democratic Convention in 1857. Later that year he began serving the first of two terms (1857-61) in the Texas House of Representatives. By the time his second term ended, Texas had seceded from the Union, Sumter had fallen, and the Battle of Manassas had been fought. Aaron Perry disappears from the historical record at that point, so far as I’ve been able to determine; I don’t know how or when he died. Two of his sons, William and Marcus, went on to serve in the Confederate cavalry. Both survived the war.

There are lots of Confederate soldiers in my family tree. But “Old Colonel Perry,” as he was recalled in the family, is the only direct ancestor I know of who was a civil official, a legislator, who took an affirmative step toward secession. He voted “yay.” I wonder what he thought the ultimate outcome of that would be.

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Image: Texas State Capitol, Austin, in the 1870s. Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.


The Lege Thinks About Secession

Posted in Leadership by Andy Hall on January 25, 2011

The secession crisis of the winter of 1860-61 didn’t pop up overnight; it was a long time a-building, and it moved forward with what, to many at the time, must have seemed a slow, inexorable process. But there were many points along that way where the key issues at hand, including the right of secession and the validity of nullification, were discussed, dissected, and debated.

During the Eighth Texas Legislature (1859-61), increasing tensions between the states and the federal government were becoming increasingly distracting. Inevitably, the Texas House of Representatives dealt with this in the way every legislative body does, by forming a committee. The House Committee on Federal Relations ended up with a stack of motions, reports and correspondence to deal with. One of these was a letter to Texas Governor Sam Houston from his counterpart in South Carolina, William Henry Gist, accompanied by resolutions from that state’s House of Representatives and Senate, reasserting South Carolina’s “right to secede whenever she may think it expedient to do so” and calling on other Southern states to reciprocate with similar resolutions of their own.

Governor Gist’s message was handed off to the House Committee on Federal Relations, which reviewed it for several weeks. Finally, in an evening session on February 8, 1860, in the closing days of the legislative session, the committee returned to the House membership two reports (34MB PDF, beginning p. 634), one expressing the views of the majority of the committee, and other a “minority report,” prepared by committee members who dissented from the majority view. The majority report called for emphatic support for South Carolina, and embraced secession as an option:

The “preamble and resolutions” passed by the Legislature of the State of South Carolina, and submitted for our consideration, have been deliberated upon by the committee on Federal Relations, and your committee respectfully submit to the House for its action the following resolutions:

1st. Resolved, That the State of Texas declare, that “whenever one section of the Union presumes upon its strength for the oppression of the other then will our Constitution be a mockery, and it would not matter how soon the Union was severed into a thousand atoms, and scattered to the four winds.”

2d. Resolved, “If the principles” of confederation upon which the American Union “was consummated, are disregarded,” there will be for Texas neither honor nor interest in the Union; if the mighty, in the face of written law, can place with impunity an iron yoke upon the neck of the weak, Texas will be at no loss how to act or where to go before the blow aimed at her vitals is inflicted. “In a spirit of good faith” Texas “entered the Federal fold. By that spirit she will continue to be influenced to make her the victim of Federal wrong. As she will violate no Federal right, so will she submit to no violation of her rights by Federal authority.”

3rd. Resolved, That the Legislature of Texas assure South Carolina and all her sister States, that “she will not submit to the degradation threatened by the Black Republican party, for sooner than subject herself to “ignominy ensuing from sectional dictation, she would prefer restoration to that independence which she once enjoyed. Sorrowing for the mistake which she has committed in sacrificing her independence upon the altar of her patriotism, she would,” if there were none others to act with her, “unfurl again the banner of the lone star [sic.], and re-enter upon a national career, where if no glory awaited her, she would at least be free from a subjection by might, to wrong and to shame.”

4th. Resolved, That we pledge ourselves to any one or more of the States to co-operate with them, should it become necessary, to resist Federal wrong, and claim that it is not only our right, but imperative duty, at all times to aid any member of this confederacy, in protection of property, in preserving the lives of women and children, and in resisting fanaticism and treason.

Sec.__. And that the Governor is hereby requested to transmit a copy of the above preamble and resolutions to the Governor of South Carolina, and to the Executive of various States of the Union, and to our Representatives and Senators in Congress.

M. S. Munson, One of the Committee

The minority report, naturally, rejected both secession and nullification:

1st. That the Constitution of the United States is the fundamental basis of our Federal Union; that the laws and treaties made in pursuance thereof, are with the Constitution itself, the supreme law of the land, by which the Judges in every State are bound; anything in the Constitution or laws of our State to the contrary notwithstanding; that the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States are conclusive and binding upon every citizen. And obedience to the Constitution, Laws and authorities of the Federal Government, is the only condition upon which the Union can be maintained.

2d. That none of the alleged evils which have ever, or are now disturbing the harmony of the confederacy are ascribable to the legitimate operations of the Federal Government, but are justly chargeable to the disloyalty of those, who in obstructing the laws and authorities are themselves designedly or undesignedly enemies of the Union, and so far from considering these troubles a pretext for unfriendly demonstrations against it, we regard them as a fit occasion for summoning every patriot to its defence against all assaults, front whatever quarter, or on whatever pretence.

3rd. That a dissolution of the Union would cure no evil — repel no aggression — right no wrong — diminish no alarm — indemnify no damage; but on the contrary, would be the source of unnumbered evils. If wrongs are inflicted they can better be righted in the Union than out of it. And it behooves those who have been faithful to the Constitution to maintain the government, and not surrender to the enemies of the Constitution.

4th. That we dissent from the doctrine that a State has a right to secede from the Union at its pleasure.

5th. That we in like manner dissent from the doctrine of Nullification.

6th. That we deem it inexpedient to send deputies to a convention of the shareholding States, as invited to do by South Carolina.

7th. That in our opinion there is no sufficient cause to justify us in taking the incipient steps for a dissolution of the Union

8th. That the Governor be requested to cause a copy of these resolutions, under the seal of the State, to be transmitted to the Governor of South Carolina, and to each of the Governors of the other States.

John H. Manly, One of the Committee

The House ordered 200 copies of the two resolutions printed, and placed consideration of them on the schedule twice more. Both times consideration of the two resolutions was set aside in favor of more immediate legislation, and they died with the adjournment of the Legislature on February 13, 1860.

There’s nothing really new in either of these reports; the rhetoric, particularly in the pro-secession majority report, is familiar to anyone who’s looked at the secession crisis. What’s striking to me — but again, not really surprising — is the difference in tone. The majority report frames its argument on language that’s both grandiose and inflammatory: “severed into a thousand atoms, and scattered to the four winds,” “fanaticism and treason,” “an iron yoke upon the neck of the weak,” “unfurl again the banner of the lone star,” and so on. Its appeal is almost purely emotional and impulsive, heavily skewed toward the listener’s affective domain.

The minority report, by comparison, is almost wholly cognitive; it appeals to a much more deliberative and (in my view) rational way of thinking. It rejects the validity of secession or nullification, and argues against rash and irrevocable action: “a dissolution of the Union would cure no evil — repel no aggression — right no wrong — diminish no alarm — indemnify no damage; but on the contrary, would be the source of unnumbered evils. If wrongs are inflicted they can better be righted in the Union than out of it.” The tone is measured, almost quiet: “no sufficient cause” and so forth. Rhetorically it’s weak — very weak. Phrases like “we deem it expedient” just don’t raise the ire of the listener.

In the end, of course, secession won out and Texas herself would leave the Union almost exactly a year later. But it’s interesting to see how, in the runup to that momentus act, each side framed its argument.

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A New President, and an Ambivalent Abolitionist

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on December 29, 2010

The fire-eaters across the South saw the election of Abraham Lincoln as the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States. Although the Republicans were careful not to challenge the institution where it already existed, for many in the South, the new administration was seen as a harbinger all the slaveholding class’ worst fears — economic turmoil, political upheaval and collapse of a carefully-crafted legal and social structure centered on race. The fire-eaters worked themselves up into a fury, convincing themselves and many of their contemporaries that Lincoln himself was a radical abolitionist, bent on nothing less than the complete and utter eradication of slavery and establishing full social and racial equality between blacks and whites.

Actual abolitionists knew better, and were largely ambivalent about Lincoln’s candidacy in 1860. Some supported it, reluctantly, as the best practical alternative, while others held a convention that summer to nominate their own presidential candidate as a show of protest. Frederick Douglass eventually came to embrace Lincoln as an ally, but even after the election, Douglass still considered the Republicans a sort of least-bad option, and expressed concern that the Republicans’ tolerance of slavery where it already existed would undermine, and possibly destroy, the movement to eliminate slavery everywhere in the country:

Nevertheless, this very victory threatens and may be the death of the modern Abolition movement, and finally bring back the country to the same, or a worse state, than Benj. Lundy and Wm. Lloyd Garrison found it thirty years ago. The Republican party does not propose to abolish slavery anywhere, and is decidedly opposed to Abolition agitation. It is not even, by the confession of its President elect, in favor of the repeal of that thrice-accursed and flagrantly unconstitutional Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850. It is plain to see, that once in power, the policy of the party will be only to seem a little less yielding to the demands of slavery than the Democratic or Fusion party, and thus render ineffective and pointless the whole Abolition movement of the North. The safety of our movement will be found only by a return to all the agencies and appliances, such as writing, publishing, organizing, lecturing, holding meetings, with the earnest aim not to prevent the extension of slavery, but to abolish the system altogether.

It was as true one hundred fifty years ago as it is today; we have an unfortunate tendency to reduce those movements and political figures we oppose to simplistic caricatures, and to assume that all those actors share similar motivations and goals. They don’t, and sometimes they don’t even fully trust each other.

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Update: Though Douglass worried about the victory of Lincoln and the Republicans, he welcomed South Carolina’s secession, bringing with it as it did a constitutional crisis that, in his view, must ultimately decide the matter of slavery. As historian David Blight points out in a new editorial in the New York Times, “Cup of Wrath and Fire,” Douglass “heaped scorn on the Palmetto State’s rash act, but he also relished it as an opportunity. He all but thanked the secessionists for ‘preferring to be a large piece of nothing, to being any longer a small piece of something.'”

“The whole country, North and South, should thank Him for this step.”

Posted in Leadership by Andy Hall on December 28, 2010

A hundred fifty years (and a few days) ago, Major Robert Anderson quietly evacuated his command at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, to Fort Sumter, an unfinished installation in Charleston Harbor. In doing so, he ceded the indefensible Moultrie to the South Carolina secessionists, and set the stage for the “Sumter crisis” that would play out over the next several weeks.

In the wake of South Carolina’s secession on December 20, Anderson’s orders from the Secretary of War, dated December 21, were somewhat contradictory. In the two-page memo, he is first enjoined, if attacked, to “defend yourself to the last extremity.” Then, he is reminded that “it is neither expected nor desired that you should expose your own life or that of your men in a hopeless conflict in defense of the Forts. If they are invested or attacked by a force so superior that resistance would in you judgment be a useless waste of life it would be your duty to yield to necessity and make the best terms in your power.”

Even as the War Department sent those orders, a delegation from South Carolina was en route to Washington to demand the surrender of Moultrie and the other U.S. military installations around Charleston Harbor. Both sides expected the Buchanan administration to refuse, and both sides then expected Moultrie to be overrun by South Carolina militia called up in response to that state’s withdrawal from the Union. The outcome seemed pre-ordained.

What Anderson did on December 26, on his own initiative, was change the game from the way both Washington and the secessionists expected it eventually to play out. Between six and eight p.m., Anderson spiked Moultrie’s guns, burned their carriages, cut down the flagpole and transferred his entire command to Sumter. The next day, in response to an incredulous telegram from a War Department caught blindsided by his action, Anderson wired back:

The telegram is correct. I abandoned Fort Moultrie because I was certain that, if attacked, my men must have been sacrificed and the command of the harbor lost. I spiked the guns and destroyed the carriages to keep the guns from being used against us. If attacked, the garrison would never have surrendered without a fight.

Anderson speaks here explicitly to his commitment to both the men of his command and to his mission as a soldier — had he waited for the expected assault on Moultrie, “my men must have been sacrificed and the command of the harbor lost.” In a letter to his wife, dated at the time for their arrival at Sumter, Anderson (like many of his contemporaries) credits God with guiding the wisdom of his action:

Fort Sumter, S. C.,
8 P. M., Dec. 26, 1860.

Thanks be to God. I give them with my whole heart for His having given me the will, and shewn me the way to bring my command to this Fort. I can now breathe freely. The whole force of S. Carolina would not venture to attack us. Our crossing was accomplished between six and eight o’clock. I am satisfied that there was no suspicion of what we were going to do. I have no doubt that the news of what I have done will be telegraphed to New York this night. We saw signal rockets thrown up all around just as our last boat came over. I have not time to write more—as I must make my report to the Ad. Genl. . . . Praise be to God for His merciful kindness to us. I think that the whole country North and South should thank Him for this step.

I like that last line, “I think that the whole country North and South should thank Him for this step.” I doubt either side did at the time, but I think Anderson was right — he thought (to use a bad, modern cliche) “outside the box” and pushed back the direct, armed conflict for more than three months.

In its ongoing Civil War series, “A House Divided,” the Washington Post asks several prominent historians whether evacuating Moultrie was Anderson’s best option. So far Joan Waugh, Frank J. Williams, and Scott Hartwig all agree: Major Anderson had no alternative, short of outright capitulation. Hartwig:

Anderson had 74 officers and men in two artillery companies at Ft. Moultrie, but after deducting the noncombatants – musicians, sick and those under arrest for various reasons – his effective strength was about half that. Moultrie’s purpose was for its guns to cover the channel leading from the open sea into Charleston harbor, not defend against an attack from the rear. The fort’s defenses were so vulnerable to land attack that no competent army officer would have considered attempting to defend it. Wind had blown sand up so high against the fort’s walls that cattle could climb up, walk through the embrasures and onto the parapet. Sand dunes east of the fort rose higher than the fort’s walls and provided excellent firing positions for an attacker. All of the buildings in the fort except for the fortifications were wood and easily burned. There were private houses on the east side of the fort and cottages on the west side, which could provide additional cover for an attacker. But a competent attacker did not need to assault the fort. Sitting on a peninsula of Sullivan’s Island it could easily be cut off and the garrison starved into surrender.

Following the December 20 secession of South Carolina, Anderson learned that preparations were underway to attack Moultrie if the negotiations between South Carolina’s commissioners and the Buchanan administration failed to secure its surrender. Anderson already knew that Buchanan probably would not surrender the fort so it was necessary to act quickly. Fort Sumter was the only defensible point available to Anderson and his small garrison. It could not be attacked by land and could be reinforced and resupplied by water. On the evening of December 26, in a cleverly planned and executed operation, the garrison made the transfer from Moultrie to Sumter without incident.

Though it infuriated the secessionists at the time, who thought they’d been played (they had), it seems clear now that Anderson’s move was the correct one, both politically and militarily. It held off direct, armed conflict, maintained a symbolic U.S. military presence at Charleston, and bought both sides more than three months’ time to reach a peaceful resolution to the dispute. In modern parlance, Anderson “dialed it back” by evacuating Moultrie and removing his men to Sumter. More to the point, it’s hard to see why Anderson would do anything else; although a pro-slavery Kentuckian and a former slaveholder himself, he saw his first allegiance to his assignment, and to his immediate command. Anderson couldn’t control events outside Moultrie’s walls, but he recognized that both Washington and the secessionists had effectively locked themselves into courses of action that would have destroyed his command and yielded any U.S. control over the harbor. In the absence of clear directives from Washington, he responded to them as a professional soldier should, with careful deliberation and planning, followed by decisive execution, in a way that gave the government — both governments — time and options to avert the looming crisis.

Robert E. Lee famously cast his lot with Virginia and the Confederacy, but that only came months later, when he felt his own, home state was threatened. Had Lee been in command at Moultrie in December 1860, I suspect he would have done exactly the same thing.

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Ed. Note: The post has been extensively rewritten in response to a reader’s inquiry in the comments, below. Thanks to him for providing the impetus for this. Image: Evacuation of Fort Moultrie by W. R. Waud, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

Wordled

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on December 23, 2010

To Remember is Not to Celebrate

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 21, 2010

Gettysburg Ranger and Civil War blogger John David Hoptak’s thoughts on Monday’s anniversary of South Carolina’s secession are right on the money:

The secession of South Carolina was the culmination of decades’ long sectional strife and tension, at the root of which was slavery. I have no patience for those who deny slavery as the principal cause of secession, since one need only examine all the national debates and tensions in the years leading up to South Carolina’s departure from the Union. From the debate in the Philadelphia’s Carpenter’s Hall in the Summer of 1787 over the three-fifth clause, to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War & Wilmot Proviso, the admission of California into statehood in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, the Ostend Manifesto, Dred Scott, John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry, and finally the presidential election of 1860, it is clear the nation faced serious challenges in its first eighty years. And those challenges and all the national crises listed above had one thing in common. . . at the root of them all was the issue of slavery and its expansion. Neither do I have patience for those who claim slavery was a dying instituion; quite the contrary: in the 1840, there was just over two million enslaved persons in the United States; twenty years later, there was four million.

Considering all that transpired before the secession of South Carolina and claiming it had nothing to do with slavery is just plain wrong and essentially ignores the first eighty years of America’s history.

Now, this is not to be confused over why a particular soldier–whether North or South–fought. Motivations behind an individual’s enlistment should not be lumped into a discussion of why a state decided to leave the United States.

While the secession of South Carolina was the culmination of decades’ long tensions over the issue of slavery and its expansion into new lands and territories, it was also the spark that lit the powder keg of the Civil War, a devastating war and one of the most tragic episodes in American history. For this reason, today we should by no means celebrate the secession of South Carolina. We should simply reflect upon what it meant to a nation and its peoples.

Well put. (h/t Eric Wittenberg)

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” . . . the complete absence of any other causes.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 16, 2010

Via Michael Rodgers, the South Carolina State achieves clarity on the issue — one issue, singular — behind that state’s secession, 150 years ago next Monday:

The language of the S.C. Declaration is so straightforward, so unambiguous that it is difficult to comprehend that there ever could have been any disagreement over what drove South Carolina to secede. So before any more breath is wasted in arguing about just what our state will be commemorating on Monday, we are reprinting the Declaration on this page. We would urge anyone who doubts that our state seceded in order to preserve slavery — or, for that matter, anyone who has come to accept the fiction that slavery was merely one of several cumulative causes — to read this document.

What we found most striking in rereading the Declaration was the complete absence of any other causes. After laying out the argument that the states retained a right to secede if the Union did not fulfill its constitutional and contractual obligations, the document cited the one failing of the United States: its refusal to enforce the constitutional provision requiring states to return escaped slaves to their owners. “This stipulation was so material to the compact,” the document declares, “that without it that compact would not have been made.”

There is room for disagreement over whether we can fairly judge the morality of the secessionists by the standards of 2010. There is room to debate whether the men who fought for the Confederacy believed they were simply fighting to defend their state, without regard to why their state needed defending, or to what role slavery played in the social order. There might even be room to debate what motivated other states to leave the Union.

But those are debates that need to be had honestly, based on what really happened 150 years ago. Pretending that anything other than slavery played a significant role in South Carolina’s secession is not honest, as the secessionists themselves made a point of telling the world with such abundant clarity.

Too small for a republic. . . .

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Image: Library of Congress.

Camps Las Moras, C.S.A.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 27, 2010

Harper’s Weekly, June 15, 1861:

We publish on page 375 a picture of a REBEL ENCAMPMENT IN TEXAS, from a sketch sent us by a gentleman whose secessionist views are beyond question. He writes : After the surrender of San Antonio by General Twiggs, State troops were organized in order to take possession of the forts occupied by the U.S. Army. The above is a true picture of a portion of said State troops encamping on the Las Moras, near Fort Clark, on their way to the upper posts (Hudson, Lancaster, and Davis). The picture ought to speak for itself. We need not remind that the “U. S’s” and the ” Q. M. D.’s” imply their former owners; and add, furthermore, that no white man in these diggins will be astonished to see the poor Mexicans do all the “hauling of wood and drawing of water,” the Dons being engaged in smoking cigarritos, eating sardines, drinking Pat’s “favorite,” superintending the killing of a stray pig, etc., etc. A lineal descendant of Montezuma stands sentinel, by order No. 1 : “Put none but true Southerners on guard tonight !”

Las Moras was located in West Texas, near present-day Brackettville. The upper image, from March 1861, is labeled (upper right) as “the first war sketch rec’d by Harpers” (Library of Congress). The image below is the sketch as published in June (via SonoftheSouth.net):