Recently I spiffed up a guest post from two years ago. It was by Georg Snatzke, one of the friends I made during the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Georg is an amazing guy, one of the scary smart people whose interest in the Late Unpleasantness was piqued by complex strategy games like A Gleam of Bayonets. We met walking together from the parking lot to the Cornfield at Antietam in the early morning of September 17, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the deadliest day in American history. We lost contact, but reconnected at Appomattox.
What is really interesting about Georg is that, he came to his interest in the War with no preconceived cultural baggage or pop culture exposure. He grew up in Bavaria in the eighties. So that he ended up being very sympathetic to the Confederacy was something I found rather fascinating. He explains it in some depth in From Secession 1861 to Appomattox 2015: The View of a Sesquicentennial Tourist.
I met Michael Schaffner at my very last Sesquicentennial event, the Grand Review in Harrisburg PA on November 14, 2015. Black troops had been excluded from the original Grand Review in Washington in 1865, although not from its Sesquicentennial, which was a project of the African American Civil War Museum.
Michael was portraying one of the white officers of the 54th Mass. He is passionate about the contribution of African Americans to Union victory, the preservation of the Republic and the elimination of slavery. I thought he might like to respond to Georg's piece and did he ever. With footnotes and everything. That's enough introduction.
Software gremlins have played havoc with the pictures. They are available here while I struggle with malevolent forces.
“The Flag Of Our Love”
M. A. Schaffner
Reading Dr. Snatzke's recent guest post explaining his affection for the Confederacy, I felt a deep, nostalgic kinship balanced by dismay. Like him, many Americans view “the South” as a uniquely authentic region of the United States, and its civil war armies as the most courageous troops we have ever raised, led by our most skilled generals.
They too see the “South's” cause as one of country against city, local against central rule, popular culture against elitism, and nearly every other manifestation of individual against collective values they wish to project upon it. The battle flag itself never passed from popular affection (among whites, anyway) and American troops have carried it into every war fought since 1865, including World War II, Vietnam, and even Korea, as we see in this picture of my own father, serving there as a navy corpsman with the Marines in 1953:
|Leslie Jacob Schaffner, Korea 1953|
The Seductive Nature of the “Southern” Cause
But how could it have been otherwise for me? As a boy raised in Virginia during the centennial years I watched TV shows extolling Mosby's Rangers, saw re-runs of “Gone With the Wind,” visited Mount Vernon, and drove past the Confederate memorial in Alexandria – a dismounted cavalryman with his back turned calmly and defiantly to the north. There were Johnny Reb cannon, Thomas Industries HO scale lead soldiers, Avalon Hill war games of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, and plastic army men holding detachable muskets and supported by spring-loaded cannon.
More significantly, my school books bulged with paeans to “southern” glory and feats of arms. My very county takes its name from Arlington House, the Custis-Lee Mansion, from which one can easily view the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Mall over the graves of the national cemetery. I remember our history text – “Cavalier Commonwealth” – which, as I recall, finished its account of the Civil War with Pickett's men breaking through at Gettysburg, then abruptly skipped to its final chapter detailing all of Virginia's history since that “high tide” of glory.
I think I was in the fourth grade before I realized that the Confederacy actually lost that war, which is perhaps not so silly when you think that we still have schools here named after J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee.
About this time I became satiated with the civil war and turned to feast on other realms of military history. The Thomas Industry figures went into a box and the Marx toys to Goodwill, with their ranks to be filled by Zinnfiguren of the Seven Years War from Aloys Ochel in Kiel. Frederick the Great became my hero, followed by many others from the endless annals of European wars.
|A recently rediscovered Prussian army charges across my desk|
It was not until I was much, much older that I returned to the civil war, this time as a reenactor, and with my understanding less informed by Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote than by a degree in world history, reinforced by the works of Hans Delbruck, Charles Oman, and Ardant du Picq.
Most reenactors come to the hobby with the same boyish love of military history, firearms, and play. For most it only reinforces their initial romanticized view of war and the justice of one side over the other. For others hobby-related questions – the authenticity of particular weapons, uniforms, tactics, rations, camping arrangements, etc. –will sooner or later lead to more extensive readings of period politics, culture, and economics.
Once I started down that road, and became immersed in the original sources, the reading led me away from the reinforcement Dr. Snatzke has drawn from his, all beginning with the questioning of certain basic assumptions.
What Was “The South”?
The reader noticed that I have placed “southern” in quotes and may question why I so qualify a war commonly seen at the time and ever since as one of “North” against “South.”
One reason lies in an interest in accuracy. Geographically we even today refer to the MasonDixon Line as the border between north and south, yet during the war that line lay well within “the North.” Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware all stayed loyal, unlike “the South.”
And even in “the South” deep fissures appeared as soon as the war started. Every state in the Confederacy provided troops to the United States Army. This went beyond individual soldiers like the Virginian generals Scott and Thomas, who stayed true to their oaths to the republic. It included entire units. All but South Carolina provided white formations; every state in the Confederacy would contribute soldiers to the United States Colored Troops.
My own Virginia raised “Loyal” regiments for the US army beginning in the first year of the war. Loudoun County – the stomping grounds of the famous Mosby – would raise a cavalry battalion, “The Loudoun Rangers” from around the little Quaker town of Waterford, and Chincoteague where my wife and I have vacationed for more than thirty years, provided the “First Eastern Shore (Loyal).
|Grave of Thomas Watkin's, Co. A, 'Loyal Eastern VA Vol.', Assateague Island, Virginia|
Closer to home, both Accotink and Falls Church fielded their own Union Home Guard – civilians armed by the Provost Marshall of the Defenses South of the Potomac to defend their towns. Both units were virtually unique in containing both African Americans and whites in their ranks.1
|Hugh Goffinet and I portray John Read and Frank Brooks of the Falls Church Union Home Guard, May 2017.2i|
Altogether, some 400,000 “southern” men served in the US army: about 75,000 from rebellious states, 220,000 from loyal “border” slave states,and more than 100,000 African Americans from the states in rebellion.3 Additional African American recruits served in USCT regiments credited to loyal non-slave states, adding perhaps 20,000 more to the total.
This number is significant. About two million soldiers served in the United States Army during the war and about one million in the rebel army. A shift of 400,000 from the first column to the second would have changed the military balance from a massive superiority to a rough parity. It would have made the reunification of the country a hopeless endeavor.
If geography did not prove decisive, did the rebellion rest on cultural affinities – say, a mysterious sympathy between the diverse barbecue cultures of North Carolina, Memphis, and Texas, as distinguished from the pit beef of Maryland?
Or was there a more direct connection? You can guess where this leads.
The Centrality of Slavery
A young academic I know introduced me to the following dictum: If you know nothing about the civil war it's all about slavery. If you know a little, it's more complicated and involved things like states rights and tariffs. But once you learn a lot, you realize it's slavery, slavery, slavery...
Let's just briefly revisit the statements by the decision makers behind secession. Dr. Snatzke mentions the South Carolina declaration of the reasons for secession, but in fact five states – every state that bothered to give a reason – mentioned the same causus belli, which was the Republican Party's commitment to keeping slavery out of the territories.4
For an extra helping of reasons, you may also want to check out Alexander Stephens' “Cornerstone Speech” here, which contains the immortal passage “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.”5
Despite this clarity at the time, the popular history of the Civil War so centers on the lives of white men and the daring deeds of Confederate arms and generals that it remains fairly easy to minimize how essential slavery was to the society and economy of rebel states, and their white population. Dr. Snatzke spends little time on this, so I hope the reader will bear with me as I explain.
We often hear that the average rebel soldier was a poor farmer who had no slaves and so couldn't possibly be fighting for so base a cause, or was manipulated by wealthy planters. This was in fact Karl Marx's interpretation in October 1861 when he wrote of the “unrestricted oligarchy of the 300,000 slaveholders.”6
But Marx overlooked the slaveholders' families; after all, today we speak of families that own their own homes – we don't deduce home ownership from the number of names on deeds and conclude that all other individuals rent or live on the street. From that perspective the numbers are stunning. In the first two states to secede, South Carolina and Mississippi, nearly half of all white people lived in households that owned black people. In every state that rebelled the percentage reached 20% or more and overall it averaged more than 30%.7
The historian Joseph Glatthaar, in analyzing ownership statistics in Lee's army found that those coming from slaveholder households made up more than 40% of its ranks. Whether this affects one's assumption of the involvement of the “average” soldier, it still comprises a substantial minority and would no doubt include the majority of officers.8
Marx used another statistic to draw a connection between slavery and rebellion – the percentage of enslaved African Americans in the states that seceded. This is also instructive. In those first two states to secede more than half the population consisted of enslaved African Americans, and they over all comprised more than a third of the Confederacy's population. No seceding state had an enslaved population less than 20%.
With one exception the twenty-percent threshold formed the key determinant of rebellion. That exception was Kentucky, a state with an enslaved population of 20% and of slaveholding families of 23%.9 In other loyal states percentages fell well below the 20/20 threshold – in Delaware it was 3/2, in Maryland 12/13, in Missouri it was 13/10.
But think of what that 20/20 threshold means! Think how lightly we say “South Carolina left the Union” as if the state were a Scarlett O'Hara that picked up its collective crinolines and walked off in a huff at an imagined insult. A different phrasing might, and should, come to mind if we simply reflect that more than half of all “South Carolinians” were enslaved African Americans.
Think also of what it means to live in a society where the upper 20% own human beings and the lower 20% are enslaved from birth. Even if you own no one in such a society the more affluent 20% would benefit from a capital wealth that ensured them a disproportionate share of any positions of power, be they bankers, justices of the peace, sheriffs, aldermen, congressmen, state militia officers, cotton brokers, etc. etc. etc.
In this sense, though, Marx's use of the term “oligarchy” has some value, for the true difference between comfort and real wealth was commonly seen to fall at the level of the “planter” who held twenty or more African Americans enslaved. This class constituted just over 10% of slaveholders but their influence did play an enormous role. Jefferson Davis enslaved more than a hundred African Americans, every member of the Confederate cabinet either owned or had owned slaves,10 and Robert E. Lee as executor of his father-in-law's will enslaved more than two hundred until the end of 1862, just past the legal deadline for emancipating them under the terms of the will.
On the other end of the scale the lowest 20% of the population would present a floor below which you could never sink, simply from the privilege of being born white. No matter how ignorant, dissolute, incapable, or immoral you might be, you would still retain the rights of a citizen under the Constitution and free man under Common Law even as that lowest band must settle for the approximate legal rights of lawn furniture.
Further arguments existed for nonslaveholders' support of slavery, including the availability of cheap rental labor, the prospect of eventual ownership oneself, and more, as detailed in such works as J. D. B. DeBow's “The Interest in Slavery of the Non-Slaveholding Southerner.”11
But slavery went beyond the simple but brutal reality of how many white families owned how many black people. The economic implications were enormous for the people and the states involved. The average African American in 1860 could bring $800 on the auction block – $150,000 using an “unskilled wage comparison” or a total of half a trillion for the 3.5 million enslaved in the rebel states. But as a portion of GDP, this would come to more than $13 trillion today (speaking of compensated emancipation, try coming to Congress today and asking for that much to solve Global Warming).12
Some 20% (there's that number again) of all the capital in the United States resided in the bodies of enslaved black people, and throughout the rebellious states they often held greater value than the land itself.13
Moreover the income the enslaved brought for their owners reached great heights just before the Civil War. The value of overseas cotton exports in 1859 exceeded $160 million – more than twice the entire federal budget and nearly as much as the US would spend on ordnance during the entire war to come.14
With slave agriculture comprising more than half of all US exports DeBow and others would complain that “the South” must also be paying a majority of all import taxes, the main revenue source for the national government. However, quite apart from overlooking GDP, this failed to note that twothirds of the customs duties were paid in New York. Observers such as Frederick Law Olmstead noted a paucity of imports in planters' estates. Besides, the greatest “protective tariff” in US history was the constitutional ban on importing slaves – this ensured the high market value for the domestic “product” even as slaves could be got from the west coast of Africa for as little as $30-40.15
But GDP is critical. While slave-based agriculture produced hundreds of millions of dollars, it is doubtful that it reached a tenth of that annual total of $4.4 billion. Any number of people other than slaveholders profited from it, including “northern” shippers, bankers, brokers, and insurers, but they didn't rely on it. Push come to shove they could shift among diversified interests, as New England insurers did: when they could no longer write policies on slaves hired out in the “south” they could turn to the Chinese immigrant gangs hired to work on the transcontinental railroad.
And all that slave wealth rested on a brittle base. Cotton production ruined the land and guano or other attempts to restore it cost money. Old slave states sold their excess at great profit to newer ones farther west and these in turn looked to fresh soil in the territories. The slave economy did not just exploit human beings; it depended on a supply of new lands as well.
It also depended on the control of an unwilling population and the cooperation or coercion of every state. The old argument that “the South” fought for “States Rights” against federal power is belied by the Fugitive Slave law, which required even non-slave states to betray runaways and the national government to return them. It's also rebutted by the Confederate constitution itself, which required that “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”16
Thus, when the Republican Party won the Senate and Presidency (they already held the House) in 1860 on a platform calling for the preservation of slavery in situ but a ban on further expansion into the territories, the leaders of the states most deeply involved in the culture and economy of African American slavery had a choice. They could adjust to its eventual extinction or they could fight.
The response came almost immediately, taking the form of seizures of federal forts and arsenals, sub-treasuries and customs houses, the closing of the Mississippi, the forced capitulation of the army in Texas, the siege of forts Moultrie, Pickens, and Sumter, and actual firing on federal ships. In March the Confederate Congress called for 100,000 one-year volunteers by which they raised by the time of Lincoln's inauguration some 35,000 men, or twice as many as then served in the regular army of the United States.
And then, after four months of increasing aggression, they fired on Sumter.
|In the garrison of Ft. Sumter, April 2011|
Cavaliers and Mudsills
If you ever have a day or two to kill, gather a dozen Civil War “buffs” around a table and ask them which side had the best troops, or what regiments they admire most, or who their favorite general is and you can depend on taking notes till exhaustion sets in.. Because the Civil War wraps so many of our favorite legends and half our apocrypha in one great national epic, you can rely on endless discussion without conclusion.
The funny thing about this is that, from an objective, analytical perspective, the kind we might get from a Hans Delbruck, the conversation is entirely fruitless. For the Civil War presents the rare historical spectacle of what is essentially the same army fighting itself.
The vast majority of troops are raised through the same process – state volunteers under the Militia Act mustered into their respective federal services. The majority also share a strikingly similar demographic – young white farmers and laborers, all of similar height, weight, and age. They come from similar communities, they elect local notables to lead them, their best generals all went to the same school and in many cases have fought on the same side against Mexicans or Indians, and they all drill to slight variations of the same tactical manuals plagiarized from the French. Some regiments do better, some worse, but they all occupy the same continuum of wretched to elite based on the same factors of length of training, quality of officers, logistical support, and luck.
There were differences, but not those generally thought. The image of Southern knighthood bravely standing up to hordes of mercenaries and plodding immigrants can only go so far. If the rebels had more than their share of aristocrats, it was balanced by an illiteracy rate more than twice that of the US army. For armies hugely reliant on paperwork, that made a difference. While Jefferson Davis cherry-picked the old army to assemble the management team that ran circles around US arms at Second Bull Run, the latter retained the bureaucracy that kept them in the field long past the point of Confederate desperation.
If the US had a larger proportion of immigrants, those included large numbers of experienced officers, skilled artillerists, and true believers in the cause, of which I'll just pick one example, the young August Horstmann, who wrote home to Oldenburg after the battle of Cross Keys that,
… even if I should die in the fight for freedom & the preservation of the Union of this, my adopted homeland, then you should not be too concerned, for many brave sons of the German fatherland have already died on the field of honor, & many more besides me will fall! – Much the same as it is in Germany, the free and industrious people of the North are fighting against the lazy and haughty Junker spirit of the South. But down with the aristocracy who are lacking only in titles, and may industrious and free men revive the glorious soil of the South…
|In Horstmann's regiment at the 150th Cross Keys...|
That these men and their generals fought as well as their more often lauded opponents is clear to any objective student of the war. If Lee had his string of victories from the Seven Days to Chancellorsville (with that little interruption at Antietam), Meade and Grant had theirs for the last two years of the war. To Grant's later string must be added his earlier victories in the west, including the capture of an entire rebel army at Vicksburg and the rout of another at Chattanooga. And to this we can add Sherman's triumphal parade through Georgia and the Carolinas in the last year of the war, as well as Sheridan's conquest of the Shenandoah and Wilson's destruction of Forrest. Taken in total the accomplishments of the United States Army inspired the British analysts Wood and Edmonds to remark that, “The conquest of such a vast expanse of territory, held by a nation in arms, has no parallel in history.”17
|… and three months later, fording the Potomac with A. P. Hill, en route to Sharpsburg|
There was one great exception to the rule of similarity though, and it's another that underscores the way standard Civil War narratives, buffs, and reenactors overlook the principal characters in the war. The United States Colored Troops, first raised sporadically in late 1862 and then in ever increasing numbers after the Emancipation Proclamation, constituted the largest group of soldiers raised directly by the national government in the history of the United States from its foundation to the First World War. By the end of their service there had been some 209,000 – one out of ten men in the US army and the largest force of men of African descent under one flag, from the dawn of history to the reign of the Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia.
I'll elaborate more on their services in the final section, but it's more than worth noting that they entered in the second half of the war when most others just wanted to go home, stood the worst duty, fought in some of the most grinding battles, and won respect from the most skeptical observers. General Victor de Chanal, observing on behalf of the French general staff remarked:
We have seen regiments, after but two months service, drill in a very remarkable manner. After one repetition, the white officers left the ranks and the drill continued under command of the colored non-commissioned officers and appeared to be quite as good as before. In all the battles in which these troops fought, they gave such proofs of bravery that even the most prejudiced were compelled to do them justice.
And no wonder – with many of their families still in chains, their race despised or ignored by whites both north and south, and the Confederate Congress having put a noose around the necks of both officers and men under the “Retaliatory Act”18 they had far more than most to fight for.
|Regimental standard of the 22nd USCT, out of Philadelphia|
Lincoln and the Union
If the war was all about slavery, one might ask, why did Lincoln repeatedly state that he fought entirely to “save the Union”? Why did he overrule every US general from Fremont, to Phelps, to Hunter, who tried to emancipate slaves by proclamation in the field? Why do passages in his debates with Douglass fairly drip with racism as he committed time and again to protect slavery where it existed?
The quick answer, simple to the point of glibness, is that if slaveholders wished to destroy the Union in order to perpetuate slavery indefinitely into the future, then a war “just” to preserve the Union was in fact a war to end slavery. Whatever else Lincoln said, he never compromised on the party plank that called for keeping the peculiar institution out of the territories and he had already gone on record in the “House Divided” speech with his intention in that regard:
Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.19
That is, he knew as well as the slaveholders what restricting slavery would mean, and he never deviated from that goal. Any confusion on that score results from assuming that because he did not call for freeing all African Americans already enslaved he didn't plan to end slavery itself. Before the rebellion he had no authority to do the first, but he had long planned to do the second.
At the same time, the idea of “perpetual Union” was never simply a legalism. At the very beginning of the Revolution it was clear that any alliance of what were then colonies had to be permanent and inviolable or it was useless. The new nation shared land borders with two major world powers – Britain and Spain – as well as with major Native confederacies capable of destroying any army sent against it unless it was well led and strongly supported (see St. Clair).
Further, the idea that any part of this Union could remove itself at will at any time was anathema to the Founders, if for no other reason than the havoc it would visit on the national credit. This was one of the core arguments in the Federalist Papers for the “more perfect union” of the Constitution, and part of the argument Lincoln threw back in the faces of the nascent Confederacy in his “Special Session” address of July 4, 1861.20
As for the claim of Lincoln's “racism,” it's evinced in speech that would not be generally acceptable to politicians today (perhaps excepting the current president), but in its essentials it's eloquently supportive of the basic rights of humankind. The two blend together in this passage from the debates with Douglas :
I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color- perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without the leave of any body else which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man 21
While the first part might offend us, the second reminds me of nothing so much as the lyric of Nina Simone: “You don't have to live next to me; just give me my equality.”22
|Second Inaugural reenacted, 2015|
The Civil War in Black and White
To me, the saddest aspect of Dr. Snatzke's piece is the ease with which he seems to overlook the vital presence of African Americans. He condemns slavery, but then immediately admits his heart still beats for “Dixie.” He then provides his own interesting version of the popular neo-Confederate motif of blaming the war on a tyrannical Abraham Lincoln.
Leaving aside the point that “Dixie” is more of a sentimental abstraction than a realistic description of the “South,” and even avoiding the reasons for the rebellion, this one-sided condemnation overlooks the fact that the dying was inflicted from both sides.23 One side did it to save the existing republic, the other to establish a new one based on human bondage.
Nor can anyone claim the Confederacy was merely defensive. If the whole point of the rebellion was to maintain the right to expand the domain of slavery, then its essential goal was aggressive – either to seize the territories of the United States, or to expand further south into lands already unsuccessfully invaded by “filibusteros” from Walker to Lopez. Hence Lincoln's rejection of the “Crittenden Compromise,” stating that its acceptance “would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego.”
While the war that followed killed as many as 850,000 Americans it freed four million others, liberated loyal whites within the boundaries of rebellious states, and spared the rest of the hemisphere the future predations of the slave power. As bloody as it was, rarely has a war balanced the sacrifice of the many with the emancipation and freedom of so many more.
And we need to understand that African Americans were not passive recipients of emancipation as a gift. They numbered four and a half million in 1860, three and a half million enslaved in states that rebelled, a half million in loyal states. They comprised one out of seven Americans, and the quarter of a million living free in loyal states had lobbied incessantly for their rights as human beings since the 18th century. They built schools and churches, lobbied legislatures, published newspapers, and spoke truth to power in every forum available.24
When war came, African Americans throughout the country responded immediately. The first refugees from slavery appeared before Fort Monroe in May, 1861. The first volunteer unit to arrive in Washington from Pennsylvania included Nicholas Biddle, an unauthorized black soldier who, attacked by a mob as they marched through Baltimore, became the first “combat” casualty of the Civil War.
The refugees continued to arrive in increasing numbers until their very presence made them impossible for the government to ignore. By the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the New England Freedman's Aid Society estimated that 300,000 African Americans had already escaped the rebels, 50,000 of whom were in the army. Six months later the American Freedman's Inquiry Commission noted that 300,000 African American men in the army – 200,000 as soldiers and 100,000 as noncombatant support, would represent a million and a half total including families, most coming from the states in rebellion.25
Family is key. While the families of the enslaved had no legal existence in the rebellious states, they nonetheless existed in their own hearts. Countless illustrations in Harper's, Frank Leslie's, and other publications during the war repeated the motif of “slaves coming into the lines” and invariably these illustrations never show just one or two men. African Americans came as families and no one was too young or too old to bring out with the able-bodied.
Nor was black agency and resistance confined to those who fled or resided in lands liberated by the United States Army. As the rebel General Patrick Cleburne complained:
All along the lines slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information. It is an omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources, and yet acting so safely and secretly that there is no means to guard against it. Even in the heart of our country, where our hold upon this secret espionage is firmest it waits but the opening fire of the enemy's battle line to wake it, like a torpid serpent, into venomous activity.26
The number of enlisted personnel in the USCT did ultimately reach 200,000, with noncombatants ranging from 100-200,000 more.27 Many of these came from the loyal slave states and non-slave states, but well over half came from the rebellious states themselves. This translates to something like three-quarters of a million people abandoning the side of the rebellion for the side of the republic.
More than one hundred and twenty thousand men went from growing cotton for the master to shooting at him, and several multiples of that number supported the war effort in other ways. This simple transfer of strength would have won the war for the United States even had the USCT never fired a shot. But the USCT fired lots of shots.
By the end of the Civil War, African American soldiers in the United States Army provided one out of eight men in the trenches before Petersburg and Richmond, raided the enemy coast from the Northern Neck of Virginia to the Florida panhandle, garrisoned the Mississippi, besieged Charleston, and served everywhere the US Army went. They were among the first troops into Richmond and Mobile, and the first into Charleston. Well before the war ended Lincoln himself would write:
We can not spare the hundred and forty or fifty thousand now serving as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force.... Keep it and you can save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it. Nor is it possible for any Administration to retain the service of these people with the express or implied understanding that upon the first convenient occasion, they are to be re-enslaved. It can not be; and it ought not to be.28
In this light I find it difficult not to weep when Dr. Snatzke writes: “For me the Confederate flag stands as a symbol of defiance to the notion that an abstract principle or the pursuit of a political utopia count more than the fundamental rights of the individual: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
That flag stood for no such principle. It was the flag incorporated into the Second National flag of the Confederacy as “the White Man's flag” and it was the flag under which military commissions were to condemn to death United States officers for “inciting servile insurrection” through the honorable act of leading their black soldiers into battle.
The principle itself only stood for the “fundamental rights” of one race. The African Americans whose ancestors came here before the Mayflower, who grew the tobacco that enriched Virginia and the cotton that fed the Industrial Revolution, whose hands built the Capitol, the White House, Mount Vernon, and Monticello, had no such rights. They had to free themselves from bondage and gain those rights at the point of a bayonet.
But I cannot put it any better than Sergeant Major Daniel Atwood of the 100th United States Colored Infantry, who said this about the battle of Nashville:
It was the first time in the memorable history of the Army of the Cumberland that the blood of black and white men flowed freely together for one common cause... Each was cheered on to victory by the cooperation of the other, and now, as a result, wherever the flag of our love goes, our hopes may advance, and we may, as a people, with propriety claim political equality with our white fellow-soldier and citizen; and every man that makes his home in our country may, whatever be his complexion or progeny, with propriety, exclaim to the world, 'I am an American citizen!' I ask, is there not something in this over which to rejoice and be proud?29
If Dr. Snatzke wants a flag that celebrates the rights of the individual – every individual – over tyranny and enslavement, then he can do no better than that which flew over Sergeant Major Atwood and the USCT in all their battles.
|150th New Market Heights: Medal of Honor descendant Bill Radcliffe unfurls the national flag of the 4th USCT (Photo by T. G. Davidson, antiquing by D. V. Jacobsen)|
1 Both men died the night of October 18, 1864 – Brooks shot defending the town against Mosby's Raiders, Read captured and taken 15 miles away to Hunter Mill where he was assassinated with a pistol shot to the back of the head.
Official Records, Series I, vol. 43 (Part II), pp. 414-41 i
i Official Records, Series III, vol. 4, p. 1269 African American enlistments credited to loyal slave and non-slave states are included in those states' totals. The overall number of African American enlistments was reported by the Bureau of Colored Troops in October 1865 to total 179,000 but research in the Archives conducted by the Mormon Church for the African American Civil War Memorial found more than 230,000, which when duplicate names were consolidated produced 209,000, still a likely under count. 3
4 https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states States that did not publish formal declarations of reasons nonetheless left enough of a paper trail to point to the same cause of secession. Even North Carolina, which held out till Lincoln's call for volunteers, had struggled with the issue since the election, with a secessionist movement driven by slaveholders.
6 https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Engels_Writings_on_the_North_American_Civil_War.pdf See p. 31 All these articles are interesting as a sort of real time analysis of the war from Marx's peculiar perspective; his opinion on Lincoln, for example, changes materially from the removal of Fremont to the Emancipation Proclamation.
7 http://www.civil-war.net/pages/1860_census.html The Census itself can be found here: https://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html
8 The original article can be found in the September 2016 Journal of the Civil War Era published by the University of North Carolina
9 The difference between Kentucky and other states with similar proportions of enslaved and enslavers was that the average “holding” of slaves was less (a half dozen per family rather than ten), the cash crop was tobacco instead of cotton, and while Appalachians effectively cut it off from the rebellious states, the Ohio river provided an avenue of invasion over too broad a front to defend. Still, it stayed on the fence as long as it could.
10 Peterson, Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries,
11 J. D. B. DeBow, “The Interest in Slavery of the Southern Non-Slaveholder,” Charleston, 1860: DeBow, a former Superintendant of the Census published a popular, pro-slavery journal before the war and was a well-regarded journalist. His wage comparisons here, though, are cherry-picked; better ones can be found in Edward W. Martin's "The Standard of Living in 1860"
12 “Measuring Slavery in 2011 Dollars” Williamson & Caine The 1861 price comes from Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Olmstead, Richard Sutch and Gavin Wright, editors, Historical Statistics of the United States: earliest times to the present (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), series Bb212
13 Piketty, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century” pp. 158-163
14 For cotton prices and budget, see The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1861; pp. 175-176 give US govt. receipts and expenditure for the FY ending June 30, 1860 as about $77 million, little changed from the previous year; p. 185 gives cotton exports worth $161 million in 1859:For ordnance costs see Fred Shannon, Organization and Administration of the Union Army, Vol. II, pp. 80-81
15 The British consul at Johanna in 1857 reported slaves going for as little as $30-40 each; see p. 170 “Accounts and Papersof the House of Commons” Vol. LXI:
16 Emphasis added. See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_csa.asp It's noteworthy that the only other major changes from the original text of the Constitution were the provisions for a single, six-year term for the President and a line item veto. This raises the interesting question of what the war was about if not slavery – did hundreds of thousands die for the line item veto?
17 W. B. Wood & J. S. Edmonds, Military History of the Civil War, (New York, 1937)
18 Officers generally did not suffer once the US government reminded the rebels that they too held prisoners, but the shortest book in the annals of Civil War history is that describing the fate of USCT enlisted men captured in battle. The refusal by the rebels to treat these as prisoners of war subject to exchange was the major factor leading to the suspension of those exchanges and its continuation nearly to the end of the war.
19 [Emphasis added] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm
20 In that same speech Lincoln effectively demolishes every other argument advanced in support of the rebellion, including the specious claim of state “sovereignty” for entities that never existed until they became territories and then states in the union, as well as the secessionists' inability to argue the legality of their actions. For anyone who claims an interest in the subject, it's more than worth a read in its entirety: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=6980221 [Emphasis in original.] https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/debate6.htm
22 “Mississippi Goddam”
23 Given that both Dr. Snatzke and I both started as boys fascinated with some form of military glory, I should emphasize that the death was inflicted on themselves as well as the enemy – with twice as many dying from disease as battle, any residual view of glory must note that until the last century every army that ever walked the earth killed more of their own men through ignorance and neglect than the enemy did with steel and shot.
24 See Leon F. Litwack's North of Slavery (1961) for its catalog of racial injustice in the northern states before the Civil War, but also the efforts of both black and white abolitionists as well as the African American community generally.
25 “Second Annual Report of the New England Freedmen's Aid Society” (Boston, 1864) and “Preliminary Report of theAmerican Freedmen's Inquiry Commission” (New York, June 1863)
26 From a circular sent on January 2, 1864 from Cleburne and fellow officers up the chain of command as part of an unsuccessful argument for freeing and arming slaves by the Confederacy itself. See: The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 52 (Part II) p. 588
27 Herbert Aptheker in “Negro Casualties in the Civil War” estimated “something like 200,000 or 250,000 men and women” (p. 49)
28 William Dobak, Freedom by the Sword (Center for Military History, 2011) 29 Noah Andre Trudeau:
Michael refers to Georg as Dr. Snatzke. It is not the custom in America for PhD's in industry to be referred to as Doctor, but I have no doubt that he was being respectful. Georg is an easy going guy and does not introduce himself as Dr Snatzke.
Peter J Reilly CPA is trying to be the Tom Sawyer of blogging. If you want to help, contact him about putting up a guest post. You can keep your dead frog and marbles.