Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Further legislation on that subject at this time is not advisable.”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on June 17, 2011

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin highlights a resolution passed by the North Carolina Legislature on February 3, 1865, “against the arming of slaves by the Confederate government, in any emergency that can possibly arise.” The timing of this is significant; not only was the Confederate Congress in Richmond actively debating the subject, but Sherman had just begun his march northward through the Carolinas, crossing the Georgia border into South Carolina two days before. Even with increasingly gloomy reports from Virginia on one side, and Sherman’s army — now rested and resupplied after taking Savannah just before Christmas — starting a new campaign from their south, the North Carolina Legislature could not envision “any emergency that can possibly arise” that would justify the arming of slaves.

Although the question of enlisting slaves had popped up from time to time in the local press, it appears that the Texas Legislature never considered the issue in a meaningful way, or adopted a formal and definitive resolution as did North Carolina. Part of the problem was timing; the Texas Legislature was not in session during the last months of the war, when the question of arming slaves came to a head. The last Texas Confederate Lege, the 10th, met in regular session in November and December 1863, with special called sessions in May 1864 and again in October/November 1864. The closest they got to the question was a motion referred to committee for consideration, for a resolution to urge Texas’ representatives and senators in Richmond to expand Confederate national laws for increased impressment of slaves as labor. The committee declined, reporting back to the Speaker of the House that “in their opinion the impressment law of the Confederate States now in force makes sufficient provisions for the impressment of Negroes, and that further legislation on that subject at this time is not advisable.”

Governor Pendelton Murrah (right) did, however, make a passing reference to slave labor in connection with eliminating the various exemptions from service that white men were claiming to remain in civilian jobs at home. In an address to both houses of the Lege at the beginning of the 10th Legislature, he argued (p. 21, 10.4MB PDF) that

The swarms of men engaged in profitable business on their own accounts, who are exempted from, or avoid military service upon one pretext or another — the thousands occupied in driving teams and cattle for the government and government contractors must be placed in their respective companies, and replaced with Negroes. The able-bodied soldiers and employees about the posts and towns must take the field and their places be supplied by the old, the very young, and the infirm.

It doesn’t appear that the prospect of enlisting slaves in Texas was ever a serious enough question to generate substantive discussion or debate in Austin. It was a proposition, it seems, not even worthy of formal consideration.


Image: Texas State Capitol, Austin, in the 1870s. Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs, Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

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.


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.