Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Blue and the Gray

"The Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 12, 1865" by Ken Riley 1965.
Original at West Point
Welcome to the third installment of Sarge's "Off the top of my head" History Lectures*...

This one should be interesting, although the war ended 153 years ago, it still evokes strong emotions in a lot of folks. Sadly, in a couple of generations it won't, as the schools don't really do a good job of teaching history any more.

Convince me I'm wrong...

In April of 1861, artillery around the periphery of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard of the Confederate States Army began to fire upon Fort Sumter, a Federally controlled installation at the entrance to that harbor.

Tension within the young nation of the United States had been building since the 1850s with the bloody events in Kansas. Some say you can trace the issues which led to the war back to the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
The Missouri Compromise was the legislation that provided for the admission to the United States of Maine as a free state along with Missouri as a slave state, thus maintaining the balance of power between North and South in the United States Senate. As part of the compromise, slavery was prohibited north of the 36°30′ parallel, excluding Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 9, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820. (Source)
I would argue that you can find the causes for the Civil War** as far back as the American Revolution and the events leading up to the adoption of the Constitution. The power of the central government versus the powers of the individual states, the Federalists versus the Anti-Federalists.

Was the war about slavery or was it about states rights? In some senses both, in some senses neither, the war was really about power. Southern leaders were worried, quite rightly, that the rapidly growing North would eventually leave them virtually powerless in Washington D.C., the seat of the Federal government. While admitting states one for one (one free for one slave) would keep a balance in the Senate, as the North's population increased, Northern representation in the House would necessarily increase so that the South would have little power in that arena. Is that a big deal?
The House is charged with the passage of federal legislation, known as bills, which, after concurrence by the Senate, are sent to the President for consideration. In addition to this basic power, the House has certain exclusive powers which include the power to initiate all bills related to revenue, the impeachment of federal officers, who are sent to trial before the Senate, and in cases wherein no candidate receives a majority of electors for President, the duty falls upon the House to elect one of the top three recipients of electors for that office, with one vote given to each state for that purpose. (Source)
Why yes, yes it is.

Now I learned as a kid that the South was primarily agricultural and most of the Nation's heavy industry was located in the North. Which was accurate to a certain extent. There was industry in the South and there was also lots of agriculture in the North. A key factor, if it came to war (which it did), was railroad mileage. The North had lots of it, the South, a lot less.

The Civil War** is considered by many historians to be the first "modern" war. The use of railroads to move men and supplies and the use of trenches (later in the war) lead them down that path. In my book, a modern war is the one you're fighting right now. There was no war like the Civil War, every war introduces new technology, World War I was modern at the time, ditto the Second World War. In fact, I would argue that no war is "like" another except that people die, stuff gets destroyed, and somebody gets more power at the end.

The little guy always, always, always gets screwed. Only the new guys in power benefit.

All that aside, here's what I know about the Civil War**, off the top of my head.

The Confederates, as they liked to call themselves, (the North called them rebels) bombarded Fort Sumter. South Carolina had seceded from the United States and they considered Fort Sumter to be both a threat to South Carolina and the rightful property of South Carolina. At any rate, this started the shooting war. Fort Sumter surrendered rather promptly as their position was unsustainable. The fort had been designed and built to keep a seaborne enemy out of Charleston (a place the British attacked twice during the Revolution), not to keep South Carolinians in.

I need to backtrack at this point and describe the parlous state of the United States Army at this time. Many of its southern-born officers had resigned their commissions and returned to their home state, Robert E. Lee being one of the most famous, leaving many units with fewer officers than required to keep all of us rapscallion enlisted in line. In December of 1860, the Army was authorized a strength of 18,000 officers and men,slightly more than 16,100 were actually on the roles. Small army, big war coming.

As far as the South goes, they didn't really have an army, rather what they had were a number of state militia units. These came together to form armies. The North had a similar setup, the states providing troops with equipment and some training. Both sides were composed of very amateurish units. Which first clashed in Northern Virginia near a creek named Bull Run, not far from Manassas. Where my great-grandfather, serving in the 22nd New York Infantry, was captured. He was later paroled.

The battle itself was a messy affair, at one point the North nearly won, then the South managed to stand their ground as reinforcements arrived and the Union Army broke, fleeing the field. (This is the battle where Thomas Jackson received his nickname "Stonewall." Legend has it that Southern General Barnard Bee rallied his troops by gesturing towards Jackson's brigade and shouting out that they stood like a stonewall. Some have conjectured that Bee was not complimenting Jackson but was insulting him. Not standing strong like a stonewall, immovable, impregnable, but immobile like a stonewall, not moving to Bee's assistance as his unit was being chewed up. As Bee was mortally wounded there, no one was able to get him to clarify exactly what he meant. At least that's the story I heard in my impressionable youth.)

This battle also established the custom of the two sides calling the same battle  by two different names. Not always, but a lot. To the North this battle was the Battle of Bull Run, to the South it was the Battle of Manassas. Later (after a second battle fought in that same area, which the North again managed to lose) they added the word "First" to the name of that battle. Of course, at the time they didn't call it that as they had no idea that they would do it again later. (Same with World War I, they didn't call it that at the time. It was simply "The World War," or "The Great War," or "The War to End All Wars." The first was accurate, the second was "great" as in "big" and the third was a pipe dream.)

Something I should point out right now, when I was young we learned that the South had the better officers. Looking at the North's record in the field, at least in the East, up until 1863, you had to believe it. They lost damned near every time. Was it that the North's generals were so bad (in the case of McClellan, Hooker, and Burnside, they were really, really bad, more on McClellan in a minute) or that the Army of Northern Virginia was led by some very outstanding officers.

Probably a little of both.

Also note that the main Southern force in the East was named after a place, as they named the battles. The North liked naming their armies after rivers, the main Northern force in the East going by the name Army of the Potomac. They also went with the names of rivers or creeks with some battles. I think the battle name hinges more on what was being fought over as opposed to where the battle was fought. For instance, Bull Run divided the battlefield and the North considered that significant. The same applies to what the North called the Battle of Antietam, and the South called Sharpsburg. Antietam Creek was a significant feature of that battlefield, the nearby town of Sharpsburg wasn't all that significant.

The Battle of Shiloh (a place) is also called The Battle of Pittsburg Landing, though I can't find any reference to one side preferring one name over the other. A good article about the names of battles (and the war itself) can be found here. (Heck I'll reference anything which cites Shelby Foote as a source.)

So it can get confusing talking about battles when you're talking with someone from the opposite region of the conflict.

Be that as it may, in the East the North was consistently getting their asses kicked. George McClellan (mentioned above) was a brilliant organizer. He built the Army of the Potomac into a well equipped, well trained fighting force. Too bad the "Napoleon of the West" did not know how to fight (he did invent a very nice cavalry saddle) and he also relied on the Pinkertons for his intelligence on the Army of Northern Virginia. They consistently overestimated Southern strength leading Little Mac (another of his many nicknames) to constantly tell Lincoln that he needed more troops. To his credit he managed not to lose the Battle of Antietam, more on that in a bit.

Eventually he was fired, to be replaced by two other inept army commanders in turn: Burnside and Hooker. Neither of whom was very good at producing victories, though both are somewhat famous for lending their names to two very modern things. Sideburns are named after Ambrose Burnside, can you guess why?

The rest of Burnside's military career showed him to be a useful general, just not at the army level. He was governor of Little Rhody once upon a time and actually died in Bristol, the Sarge's current place of residence.

As for Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker, legend has it that we get the term "hooker" from the general's reputation as a ladies man and a party animal. Turns out though that the term precedes the general's fame in the war. Dates back to 1835 I think. Nice story though.

"Fighting Joe" (who was anything but) was fired after the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Robert E. Lee divided his army against the vastly larger Army of the Potomac and managed to beat them. Mostly through Hooker's lack of talent as an army commander. He did continue to serve and, like Burnside, was an adequate general.

Now out West there were a number of Northern generals who were pretty good leaders and damned tenacious fighters: Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan and others. Ulysses S. Grant (known as Sam to his friends) was the best of the lot. He was a West Point graduate who had fought in Mexico (along with many of the Civil War's** big names) and had a good record there. After the war he was stationed in the northwest where he missed his family terribly and probably drank too much. He got out of the army and became a civilian, which he sucked at.

When the war started he joined a state unit and worked his way up. His nickname out West was "Unconditional Surrender" Grant for when asked for terms by the defeated commander of Fort Donelson, he allegedly responded that "unconditional surrender" were the only terms he would offer. Like many cool things I learned as a kid, that story is probably apocryphal, invented by some journalist. (Things haven't changed much, have they?)

At any rate, Grant was doing well out in the Western Theater, which I should mention was fought for control of the Mississippi River. The idea was split Texas and Arkansas off from the rest of the Confederacy by seizing that river and the port of New Orleans, which would also pretty much take Louisiana out as well. (The Eastern Theater was always about taking Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Later on everyone kind of realized that if you beat the Army of Northern Virginia, Richmond was yours for the taking.)

Anyhoo, the big stumbling block to the campaign out west was a General by the name of Henry Halleck, nicknamed "Old Brains" Halleck. He had been in charge of that theater until recalled to Washington to be the General-in-Chief of all the Northern armies. The successes of his subordinates were the reason for the success of the Western armies, not Halleck. He pretty much hamstrung Grant for quite a while. (Grant eventually replaced Halleck in as General-in-Chief.)

Now on the southern side Robert E. Lee is perhaps the most famous southern general, just about everyone knows of him. He didn't start the war in command of the Army of Northern Virginia.  In face he had been offered the command of the United States Army before Virginia seceded from the Union. When it went, so did Lee.

At first he served as Jefferson Davis' (President of the Confederacy) chief military adviser. From what I remember, Davis didn't listen to Lee as much as he should have, Davis was also a West Pointer and considered himself something of a military expert. He wasn't.

Lee was initially mocked in the South as the "King of Spades" due to his insistence on building entrenchments to defend the capital and to defend the Peninsula. Eventually he got out from under Davis' thumb and took command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

He kept the Federals away from Richmond but the problem was that the war was being fought on southern soil, the South was getting pretty torn up, especially Northern Virginia. The invasion into Maryland was the first attempt by the Confederates to carry the war onto Northern soil (though many Marylanders considered themselves Southerners, Maryland was, after all,  a slave state). It failed at Antietam Creek with Little Mac still nominally in command. Wasn't much commanding going on, but the boys in blue stood their ground against everything the Rebs threw at them. In truth they outlasted the South. It was a bloodbath. (Burnside had a bridge named after him there, which he kept throwing troops at. Accomplishing little except getting a lot of men killed.)

The second attempt, at Gettysburg, failed spectacularly. Lee moved his army into Pennsylvania. He had expected his cavalry (under J.E.B Stuart) to screen the army and prevent the Federals from knowing what was going on. Instead Stuart went for headlines and Lee's army stumbled into the Army of the Potomac, now commanded by General George Meade (replacing Hooker).

From that point onward it was a defensive war for the South, a war that they could only win by exhausting the North's will to continue. Something they came very close to doing. They also hoped for recognition by Britain and France, and perhaps assistance from them. (The Brits did provide some assistance, but nothing decisive.)

Outright recognition of the Confederate States was never really realistic. Europeans didn't think much of slavery, and after realizing that they could get all the cotton they wanted from Egypt, they didn't need Southern cotton either (which was pretty much the main product of the South).

On the day Lee began to retreat from Pennsylvania after his defeat at Gettysburg, Grant captured the key city of Vicksburg. For all intents and purposes, the Mississippi River was now controlled by the United States from Minnesota to the sea (New Orleans having been captured as well, when I don't remember).

Because of his successes in the West, Lincoln brought Grant east to be General-in-Chief, the commander of all Federal armies. Grant wasn't a man to sit in Washington behind a desk, he joined the Army of the Potomac in the field and stayed with them until Lee's surrender. George Meade retained command of that Army but can you imagine having the boss looking over your shoulder, day and night?

Much bloody fighting remained after Gettysburg, but in truth, the South was defeated in the month of July 1863, they just wouldn't admit it. They kept fighting. Grant's strategy was to grind the South down, he wasn't interested in seizing territory, he wanted to destroy the Southern military. At this point in the war, that meant the Army of Northern Virginia.

While fighting continued in the West, General William T. Sherman commanding, it was a sideshow compared to the East. Eventually Sherman broke the rebel armies he faced and cut a path of destruction across Georgia to the sea and then north through the Carolinas. Northerners had a special hatred for South Carolina, they really blamed that state for the whole war. Unfair perhaps, but South Carolina paid as steeply as Georgia. (As an aside, this old Yankee loves South Carolina, especially Charleston, a lovely city.)

Grant continued to pound Lee's army, many thought Grant had no finesse, that he just threw bodies at the rebel earthworks, and sometimes that was the case. But Grant also knew that the longer the war lasted, the more men would die, better to press and lose some men then let the war drag on and lose many thousands more.

Eventually the Army of Northern Virginia was cornered, worn down, and out of options. No food, no ammunition, and no hope of withdrawing southward where Lee had hoped to join up with Joe Johnston's army. But the Federals had him cornered and his men were quitting, just going home or crossing the lines to surrender, in the hopes of getting something to eat mostly. Many of his troops had been marching and fighting for days without any rations to speak of, the troops were tired, they'd had enough.

Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House in April of 1865. At the place where the Army of Northern Virginia would lay down their arms and disband, the Federal commander on scene, one Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, ordered his troops to present arms, saluting their defeated foe. Which the southerners returned the favor. The war was all over bar the shouting, Johnston surrendered later in April. The last southern force of any size surrendered in May. But with Lee's surrender, it was over.

Much agony ensued in the South. Lincoln's plan to "let 'em up easy" died when he did. Vindictive Northern politicians wanted to make the South "pay." (Into their pockets and their relatives' pockets no doubt. Again, things don't change much do they.)

The freedmen were screwed by both the North and the South, the reverberations of that are still affecting us today. But the shooting war ended in 1865.

The Union was preserved, and to my way of thinking, that's the most important take-away. The writings of some authors of historical fiction notwithstanding, a divided Union would probably have led to an Allied defeat in World War I. Though that might have prevented the rise of Hitler, Stalin would still have come along and he was a bigger bastard than Hitler. Ask the kulaks.

Just my opinion though. I'm glad we're now all one Nation. Anyone who wants to divide us now, should just go to Hell and be done with it.

One afterthought, what the South was fighting for, State Rights, really hamstrung them in the end. Jefferson Davis tried to build a strong central government, the states wanted no part of that. While the Army of Northern Virginia struggled to find enough food, some southern governors withheld supplies, munitions, and men "just in case the Federals showed up."

The lack of a strong central government in the American Revolution almost scuttled that endeavor. It was, in my estimation, a major cause of the defeat of the Confederacy. If not the key factor.

We're still trying to find the right balance between the power of the central government and the powers of the individual states.

As to what to call the war? This is interesting. (it's behind a pay wall, but you get four free reads.)

* Meaning which, I don't do a lot of research before writing, picture me answering a question about a topic while sitting down, face to face, avec moi, perhaps over an adult-type beverage. Hopefully which the questioner is buying. (Hint.) Reader suggestions for future topics along these lines are welcome. Of course, the post might wind up being. "Hhmm, I know next to nothing about that." Hey, it happens.
** Insert whatever you like to call it here in place of "Civil War."


  1. That last link on what to call the war certainly resonates with issues of today! Definitely a Must Read.


    1. For those who don't have the time to read the whole thing, here's the money quote.
      "A disgruntled minority had captured the reins of power in the South and rode it out of the Union because it did not like the way a presidential election turned out. This act defied the core principle of democratic self-government, for elections have validity only when all parties agree to abide by results, even when they don’t like them. If self-government was to survive, then the rejection of – rebellion against – a fairly and freely elected government had to be defeated. As Lincoln put it, “It is now for [us] to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly carry an election, can also suppress a rebellion.”

      As I said earlier in the week, one political party hasn't changed one bit. The other has gotten stupider.

    2. Bingo.

      Too true on your last statement.

    3. And it was published in the New York Times! Frickin' Hypocrites!

  2. As a youngster, from Michigan, with foreign parent, they had an old history book. It left off in the year 1896, I remember their saying the south was nicknamed off the "confederated States of America". Still no idea if it was true, but a neat explanation.

    1. Could be, this definition describes the Confederacy rather well -

      Confederation - A group of nations or states, or a government encompassing several states or political divisions, in which the component states retain considerable independence. The members of a confederation often delegate only a few powers to the central authority.

    2. Originally the 13 Colonies were a Confederation. Just to toss a hornet's nest into the discussion.

      Which I have. "Which Confederation are you talking about? The original Confederation of the 13 Colonies, or one of the various Indian Confederations like the one under Tecumseh, or the Confederation of the Southern States?"

      Spreading confusion AND information, it's what I do!

    3. Yup, almost cost them the Revolution, the central government had virtually no power.

  3. i stick by my comment at an earlier post, "I am a Southerner by birth and a Rebel by choice. As I read and study, I pull for Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. As I live, I thank Grant, Lincoln, and Democracy." (Shotgun) I'm all Red, White, and Blue but I have a Butternut tee shirt on underneath.

    1. There was a butternut tree at the edge of the forest where I grew up, behind the next door neighbor's house. When my brother and I first heard that the Johnnies died their homespun "butternut," we recalled the color of the nuts off of that tree.

      It's a color I associate with the Confederate enlisted, always have, always will.

  4. Well done my friend. One of the reasons that the South had better officers was that the Southern aristocracy practiced primogeniture, in which the eldest son received the land. If you were a younger male and wanted to be a "gentleman" your choices were preacher, lawyer, or military officer. (Doctors were also generally considered "gentlemen, but not always). Because of this social constraint many Southern males went to West Point and made a career out of the service.

    1. Makes perfect sense Dave, I did not know that, but it makes perfect sense.

      That started a tradition of service as well, Patton's family springs to mind, as well as others I've served with.

  5. This born and bred Southerner has no argument with anything in your post. Well done!! As an aside, I have a family heirloom 1817 Richmond Arsenal musket, converted to percussion, used by the CSA in (ahem) The War Between The States, and surrendered at Appomattox. The Yankees broke the stock, but I have had it repaired. Will pass on to son.

    1. That's quite an heirloom Cap'n, something to be treasured.

  6. Another one of your outstanding posts. Once again, write the book(s). Please.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Working on it, off and on. Life keeps intruding.

  7. You forgot Old Fuss 'n Feathers from the beginning of the war. He would make a fine addition to your colorful list of Union generals. Although the man couldn't mount a horse, his Anaconda Plan was proved right in the end.

    1. Meant to include that, completely forgot. But yes, hold 'em and squeeze the life out of 'em.

  8. I don't consider Grant a very good general in the traditional sense of that term. He got extremely lucky at Shiloh. More importantly, he got to fight Lee after losing Jackson at Chancellorsville, and after the pride of his army was ground down at Gettysburg.

    What the man did have was the will to fight, which was something that could not be said for a good number of Lincoln's generals (see, e.g., McClellan, et al.). He coupled that with the North's extreme advantages in men and materiel for the win. But the man could bungle a battle, and his reputation as a butcher after battles like Cold Harbor is not undeserved.

    It's entirely a speculative enterprise, but I don't think there's any way he could have beaten Lee if the two had any kind of parity in terms of resources to draw upon. In this sense, I suppose, it is quite fair to view Grant as a 'modern' general. He wins not by the grandiosity of his strategy, the finesse of his tactics, or the sheer audacity of his physical and moral courage on the battlefield. Instead, he wins it through attrition, grinding down the enemy economy, infrastructure, and manpower until no will to fight remains in the enemy population. In this way I think Grant far more comparable to generals of the Twentieth Century, such as Douglas Haig and Georgy Zhukov, than with men most often remembered for being great generals, Wellington, Napoleon, Marlborough, Gustavus Adolphus, et al.

    As always, a most excellent and thought-provoking article. Well done!

    1. Pretty good analysis David. Whatever Grant's faults as a general, he got the job done.

      Mustn't forget the Vicksburg campaign which was to Grant's credit, he also worked well with others, wasn't a glory hound.

      He was also, I think, a good man.

    2. Indeed. The Vicksburg campaign is a very nice feather in his cap, and certainly helped in winning the war.

      I share your sentiment about him as a good man, as well. It's probably why his political career went the way it did. A good man surrounded by scoundrels.

      If memory serves, he wrote his memoirs while he knew he was dying to ensure his family would have money to live on. Not a bad chap at all. He seems like the type of guy you could've had a dram or three with and talked to like you were old friends. Certainly a more relatable figure than the courtly, aristocratic Lee. Speaking of which, Grant was a class act at Appomattox too.

    3. One mitigating factor in Grant's defense is that he was saddled with some inferior politically-connected generals he couldn't easily shunt aside. Lee ordered a couple of futile, bloody frontal attacks himself that after Fredericksburg, he should've known were forlorn hopes. One was at Gettysburg, but for the life of me, I can't remember the other one right now. Grant had to attack and that was nearly always the bloodier option at the time. Personally, I think Lee is rather overrated and Grant underrated. God knows, Grant would've crushed Lee at Antietam. Whatever else he was, he was a fighter.

      McClellan was a fantastic staff officer, but a terrible army commander when it came to the crunch. The wargaming world had an award way back when for the worst wargame of the year, the "Little Mac", a small bust of McClellan. :)

    4. From a book I'm currently reading (The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War by Thomas Buell), the author argues that Grant was often a poor judge of character, some of his staff weren't very good. But yes, he was saddled with those political generals.

      I agree to some extent that Lee is overrated and Grant underrated, Buell seems to agree.

  9. Looks like the good general with the marvelous sideburns could use a trip by the tailor's tent. Maybe get a little more material to fill out the back so's a proper attitude might be conveyed. I have a similar problem when I try to zip up my flight jacket from the sixties.
    As an aside, a young fellow came by the condo from GE this AM to fix the fridge. He was recently out of the USAF as an E.O.D. specialist and we talked some. He thought I was something of a hero (having flown the "old jets" and so forth). He really appreciated holding the piece of 37MM lead (made in China) my crew chief gave me on that fateful day. Made me feel old, and good too, if I'm being honest.

    1. Wow.

      The new kids are alright, I have hope for the country yet.

  10. I can't find any fault in your short history.
    It jibes with what I know.

    1. We probably used the same history texts. Those didn't begin to get "revised" until later on.

  11. As one reads the history of the War Between the States what showed up again and again and again was that the Union was deep inside the Confederacy kicking the guts out of it long before Lee's Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattax. What ruler in Tennessee or Georgia was going to send his soldiers north when the Union had gutted their states early in the War and continued their attacks. Ditto Mississippi and the rest of the south. Sure there was war in the North with Lee but the real war was carried on in the South. Even Virginia wasn't spared as the Shenandoah Valley was turned into a howling wilderness a bird would need to pack a lunch to fly across.

    1. Odd you should mention that Cap'n. As I have been reading a lot on the War of the Rebellion (as the official history terms it), the war in the East got all of the press. Meanwhile, like you say, the war was being won in the West.

      I just started re-reading Thomas Buell's Combat Leadership in the Civil War and he brings up precisely the point you make within the first ten pages. A book I highly recommend by the way.

    2. All of northern Virginia near the zone of battle was in ruins, and most of the damage done was by the needs of the Army of Northern Virginia. Southern logistics were never great and progressively declined as the war went on. Army requisitions (and some outright looting) became so onerous that a great many farms were abandoned. It was pretty near eaten out by the end of the war. General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse covers this pretty well.

  12. Very interesting thread – and generally well reasoned throughout. I very much enjoy your blog and visit frequently. Bravo Zulu!

    This war, by whatever name, was something that saturated my conscious growing up with tales of that generation of my cousins and grandparents who fought that war and endured it on farms Caroline, Spotsylvania, and King and Queen counties of Northern Virginia. It is a very personal matter for me still, even in my eighth decade.

    Leaving that aside, civil war** arguments tend to avoid and elide over several essential points:

    Slavery. Today’s accounts usually mark its beginning at the Jamestown Colony in 1619. Indeed, A ship’s crew traded a handful of Africans for needed supplies. The Africans became indentured, as there was no legal basis for chattel slavery until after 1660. Some became successful landowners after their indenture ended. Massachusetts, on the other hand, established slavery in law in the 1640s. They were at the time rounding up their Indians to sell to sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

    Further, New England-based slavers were major players in the trans-Atlantic African slave trade to British North America and Caribbean colonies. It was a just another part of their mercantilist imposition on the southern agricultural economies. They did not abandon slaving until it had become morally dubious and the some of the great New England fortunes had been made. The Browns of Little Rhody would be among that bunch.

    “Rebellion” vs. “Secession.” Do you think it might be possible that the Confederacy had to be considered in “rebellion” because to label their action “secession” would have too much resembled the actions of the 13 colonies in 1776? Also, rebellion gave some justification to the occupation of Alexandria, the march on Manassas in 1861, and all that followed.

    Harlan K. Ullman posits in his recent book, Anatomy of Failure, “… many have argued that the Iraq War was the greatest geostrategic calamity since the Civil War.” Both were ill-considered invasions, although the fallout from the 2003 Iraq War may be forgotten in Mesopotamia long before we ever resolve our arguments over why the “Late Unpleasantness” happened. Both sides lost, and the war will be fought in our culture wars long after I am gone, without satisfactory resolution. Nonetheless, perhaps the war would not have begun absent the Union Army’s invasion of Virginia to initiate hostilities at Manassas in June 1861.

    Ullman’s subtitle, by the way, is: “Why America Loses Every War It Starts,” which pretty well sums up, our history for the past 70 years.

    1. Great comment Tman2.

      Where I live now, Bristol, was pivotal in the "Triangular Trade" - used to refer to the trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that involved shipping goods from Britain to West Africa to be exchanged for slaves, these slaves being shipped to the West Indies and exchanged for sugar, rum, and other commodities, which were in turn shipped back to Britain. A number of fortunes were made in this town off the slave trade.

      That last sentence, I think that's a book I need to read. Ullman makes an interesting point with his subtitle.

    2. While New England shipowners (and there were a lot of shipowners because New England built a LOT of ships) played a major role in the Triangular Trade, it is incorrect to say that it was, "another part of their mercantilist imposition on the southern agricultural economies," for the great majority of the period up until 1808. That was a British imposition carried out under British laws and regulations, along with things like banning factories in the colonies, and forcing importation of most manufactured goods. It was British mercantilist policy of well over a century, carried forward a while. Nothing stopped the south from building their own ships and competing in the trade with the other colonies under British rule. They simply mostly didn't, by choice. Poor choice, IMHO. In the 1600s and early 1700s, Southern plantation owners were eagerly buying Indian slaves from the interior as well as Africans, the (mostly) voluntarily indentured English, and the (often) involuntarily indentured Scots and Irish. That is, temporary slaves who weren't terribly likely to survive to see their freedom in the 1600s. The Cherokee did pretty well from selling on Indian slaves, though Indians were far more vulnerable to disease and were valued lower than African slaves.

    3. Thanks, Larry, for your helpful comments.

      One of the things we all should acknowledge is how devilishly difficult and unresolvable some of the questions are. My comment was intended to be a once-over-lightly discussion of an immensely complicated – and still contested – period of our history. Thanks, again, for your amplifications.

      I agree that the “mercantilist imposition” began when we were a British colony. It was, in fact, one of our principal grievances leading to our secession from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence enumerates the contentious issues in detail. New England attempted, and did, impose a continuation of some of these policies; especially after King Cotton agriculture became an attractive investment opportunity and a major source of tariff income.

      As I mentioned in my previous post, there was no legal basis for chattel slavery in the North American colonies until Massachusetts created it in the 1640s, probably as a commercial venture. The “poor choice,” in retrospect, was importing Africans for labor in the first instance; all work until well into the 19th Century was performed by human or animal muscle power, sometimes aided by mechanical advantage. The South possibly could have built their own slave trading vessels, but opted to stick with agriculture rather than compete with New England and, later, New York City, which became the center of the “Cotton Triangle” early in the 19th century.

      Recommended reading: Complicity: How The North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery,” by three reporters from the Hartford Currant, published in 2005.

    4. Good points Larry, a lot of folks forget about Indian slavery.

    5. Tman2 - I think there's probably enough blame to go around in the North as well as the South.

      Even today, some folks don't care if they're pursuit of profit hurts some. It's probably been going on since Cain slew Abel.

      Well reasoned points on both your's and Larry's comments.

    6. @Tman2,
      I agree that it's devilishly difficult to figure out root causes of why the Civil War happened. There were too many intertwined things happening at once, with histories going back decades and sometimes centuries. I've even seen one proposition that (unknowingly to the participants), it was an echo of the English Civil War. with descendants of Puritans and others aligning once more over different flashpoints against a Cavalier-descended leadership with Scots-Irish supporters. It was more subtle than that, and I'm not sure I buy into it very much, but he had some good points.

      Yes, I think Massachusetts originally legislated chattel slavery for commercial purposes -- at that time, so they could sell off prisoners of Indian Wars and those sold to them by their Indian allies to West Indian plantations. However slaves existed and captives were sold before 1640. Just like England. England eventually effectively ended slavery within the British Isles in the first half of thee 1700s (the Irish may beg to differ), but that was by case law, not legislation, and there were examples of African slaves in England even until the 1780s (a bare handful of elderly ones, IIRC). New England began getting some African slaves before 1640, and by 1700 were getting into shipping in a big way, which obviously included the most profitable -- rum, sugar, and the African slaves needed to produce that sugar. Whites had a lamentable survival rate in the West Indies, and Indians fared even worse.

      Massachusetts had ended slavery through case law in a series of cases in the early 1780s, and free Africans were able to vote around that time. By 1788, they'd declared the slave trade illegal in Massachusetts, although that didn't prevent slave traders based in Boston from carrying it on elsewhere, at least for a few decades. But not in the US since Congress acted nearly as soon as the Constitution allowed in abolishing the importation of slaves into America in 1808. Profit often trumps morals, and there were some smugglers right up to the eve of the Civil War. But New England had pretty much nothing to do with slavery in America after 1808, though they were involved for a time with transporting slaves to Brazil. Off the top of my head, I can't remember if that was the sort of smuggling that Hawkins did into Spanish colonies in the 16th Century, or if it was legal. But it was increasingly dangerous with the Royal Navy actively suppressing the slave trade from Africa, along with what comparatively little support the US Navy was able to provide.

      It was Admiral Sir John Hawkins who began the African slave trade for England in 1567, and started the whole English involvement in the Triangular Trade. It was well established long before there were any permanent English colonies in North America. The Dutch, obviously, along with the Portuguese were also involved. All the early African slaves -- most of those imported in the 17th Century, were imported by English ships, along with some Dutch and Portuguese smugglers. And why were they brought? Because especially the southern planters were willing to pay high prices. So it's a bit like arguing whether the Colombian narco-lords were more responsible for the American drug epidemic, or the Americans who provided the demand in the first place, without which, there would've been no narco-lords. It's not like any of the ships importing slaves landed like pirates and forced unwilling people to pay high prices. If it's a new product (slaves were far from new, being older than history), a supply may create demand, like iPods. But it's nearly always the other way around: the demand induces others to find a way to supply the goods.


    7. In the end, the vulnerability of whites and the even greater vulnerability of Indians to tropical and semi-tropical "fevers" probably had as much as anything to do with causing the Civil War. The combination of that and the climate shock that helped kill so many of the Scotch and Irish "involuntarily indentured servants" in their first Southern summer performing hard, hard labor in the 17th Century really were the roots of the slavery issue in the US.

    8. As to the southern climate, a lot of folks have no idea the effect climate has on history.

      I spent a summer on the Mississippi Gulf coast, a fellow learns to sweat down there!

  13. Thank you, OldAFSarge. I am honored by your reply – just as I greatly appreciate your (and your colleagues’) postings.

    Speaking of which, several years ago you posted a photo of your family group walking East on the South side of Duke Street in my hometown, Alexandria. If your group had continued on to the 800 block, you would have walked past my house at the time. Small world.

    Your comment on the Triangular Trade is right on and adds context to my comment. I was trying to be brief. On your topic, however, I recall reading that the largest slave pen in British North America was in Providence at one point.

  14. A great post brings forth great comments.


  15. I mentioned earlier that my wife and I attended an hour long presentation by Civil War story tellers. One of the figures performed was that of Rose O'Neal Greenhow. From Wiki--

    "During the previous year, U.S. Army captain Thomas Jordan set up a pro-Southern spy network in Washington City, including Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a prominent socialite with a wide range of contacts.[17] He provided her with a code for messages.[18] After he left to join the Confederate Army, he gave her control of his network but continued to receive reports from her.[17] On July 9 and 16, 1861, Greenhow passed secret messages to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard containing critical information regarding military movements for what would be the First Battle of Bull Run, including the plans of Union general McDowell.[18][19]"



    Here is a very interesting presentation about the Whitworth rifle--

  16. Seven more minutes until the new post.


  17. Well, it was seven minutes when I started the comment. Now it's five/


  18. Many of the Generals were involved in the 1884-86 invasion of Mexico. Grant served as a 2nd Lt in the Quartermaster Corps which, as a whole, did not distinguish itself.

    Don't know who said it but the quip, "Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics" may have shaped Grant's and other Northern officers embrace of railroads.

    1. Logistics, logistics, logistics.

      Roger that.

    2. And the Prussian General Staff was a keen observer of that. The South simply sucked at logistics, and all of the courage of their men couldn't overcome their relative lack of everything beginning especially in 1863. One target of the 1863 campaign was Harrisburg, in large part to seize supplies, especially shoes and boots.

    3. Those Prussians made very good logistical use of their railways to defeat France in 1870. Damned near did it again in 1914.

  19. I *strongly* recommend "Ripples of Battle" by Victor Davis Hanson. The book covers three battles, Okinawa (eerie story of how he got his deceased uncle's ring back decades after his uncle was killed in action on Okinawa), Boetia in ancient Greece (would you believe Socrates was a hoplite?), and the Battle of Shiloh and how Grant and Sherman became inextricably linked by that battle. Another bit of info. the author of "Ben Hur", Lew Wallace was in that battle and the book is a result of that battle. Regards, Barry

    1. Thanks Barry, I'll check that out. Mr. Hanson is an excellent historian.


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