Don’t remove the flags and rewrite history

Robert E. Lee in dress uniformI thought that I would interrupt my series on The Divided States of the Confederacy and reprint a post that I saw today. The subject of this article has been in the news recently and it deserves a comment. Recently, the president of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia decided that the Confederate flags around General Lee’s tomb should be removed so as not to stir up any controversy.

We need to be mindful that we in the 21st Century have no right to judge those who in the 19th Century who fought and may have died for something that they believed in. We can not rewrite history just because we don’t like it. Linda Nezbeth speaks eloquently in her post on the subject.

Nezbeth is a genealogist and history buff who lives in Goodview, Virginia.

Lee myths and propaganda to delude and calm the masses abound in the liberal media.

First let us quickly dispatch the column by Glen Ayers (“Lee redeemed himself at W&L,” Aug. 21).

Neither Gen. Robert E. Lee nor anyone else in Confederate service committed treason. No one was tried, convicted or punished for treason. Although he applied as ordered, Lee did not grovel for a pardon. He was ultimately included in the Dec. 25, 1868, general amnesty. Confederate Gen. Jubal Early correctly observed that the amnesty was an admission by federal authorities that Confederates had broken no law and the government knew it could not successfully prosecute.

Lee’s honorable resignation released him from any further obligation to the U.S. government. Ayers’ remaining thoughts about Lee and his moral obligation to “his people,“ while chronologically correct, exhibits a lack of social and political context and understanding.

Who was Lee and what did he believe in? The unauthorized remaking of Lee continues as W&L and The Roanoke Times selectively choose which Lee they will acknowledge as ever having lived and which Lee is worthy to be honored at W&L. This is part of their liberal progressive agenda to create Lee in their own image.

By removing the Confederate flags from around the statue depicting Lee resting on his camp bed, suitably attired in his Confederate general’s uniform, they hope to sweep under the rug his proud service to what he considered his country. Lee very well understood what he was fighting for and never renounced it.

Lee knowingly sold his name to Washington College to help raise money. He is buried in Lexington at the insistence of his wife and the Washington College faculty, which hoped having his monument there would continue to assist in fund raising. Thousands of Confederate veterans and their families worked to have Lee buried in Richmond, but finally gave in to Mrs. Lee’s desires for Lexington.

From day one, the Lee Chapel memorial was dedicated to the whole Confederate general Lee, not simply limited to his college experience. Thousands have made the trip to honor the Confederate general, not the university president.

Let us deal with unpleasant reality here. We have degenerated into a racially polarized society where liberals and progressives will remove any symbol, rewrite any history, deny any heritage, excuse any shortcoming and promote any myth to mollify the black community. This is all in the name of increasing self-esteem and allegedly providing better opportunities, thus producing better citizens.

The communion rail story of Lee (“Which Lee do we honor?,” Aug. 24 editorial), although not authenticated by historians, is a simple lesson about a Confederate general living out his Christian faith. It is a weak crutch when used by The Roanoke Times to justify denial of any merit to Lee’s Confederate service.

Myth-building of historical figures is as old as humans. One would think we had reached a point where we could acknowledge the whole person, faults and all, yet still honor his achievements as we see them. We in the Southern heritage community understand Lee had flaws but respect the whole person, not some caricature designed to fit today’s morality.

Many people still honor the Lincoln myth while not dealing with his publicly stated racist opposition to black voting rights and social equality. His plan for black deportation is ignored.

Others continue the pilgrimage to UVa and admire Mr. Jefferson while conveniently ignoring his role in slavery, including apparent sexually abusing one of his female slaves. His extravagant lifestyle finally resulted in a sell-off of his slaves and breaking up of families.

Andrew Jackson is hailed for his military victory at New Orleans. While he is remembered as a staunch Union supporter, somehow his stature has been polished enough to forget the horrible, cruel atrocities his administration committed against the peaceful Native American tribes and the heartless brutality of the Trail of Tears.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is hailed as our savior in World War II, yet we forget about the racial concentration camps he established and filled with Japanese-American citizens. Never mind that he sent a racially segregated army to fight another racist regime.

So what is the point of this? Leave history alone. Have the intellectual and moral integrity to understand each and every hero and admire all for what good they did. Try to better understand them and their times.

Let each citizen have the unimpeded right to understand and honor their heroes without interposing someone else’s interpretation and removing flags.


The Divisions of Arkansas

Arkansas during the Civil WarNow, the military-minded might think that the title might suggest that this post is about the state of Arkansas to the conflict. But it signifies the geographical divisions in the state. Not every state in America was homogeneous and united. Arkansas is one such state.

Arkansas was remote and undeveloped in 1861. Arkansas was a part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and became a territory in 1819. Arkansas became a state in 1836 as a slave state while Michigan joined at the same time as a free state.When it entered the Union the state was very poor and needed a great deal of financial help to fund its state government.

The growing need for cotton gave many Arkansans an avenue to become involved in market economy for the first time, a transition that made the state significantly more prosperous. At the time, the most efficient way to grow cotton was a plantation-style system, and this quickly became the norm in the southeast part of Arkansas.

Arkansas is divided into two geographical regions that are simply named the Lowlands and the Highlands. The Highlands contained the southern portion of the Ozark Mountains. They grew little cotton and did not “require” slave labor. The folk of the Highlands generally did not own slaves, nor did they have any interest in owning slaves. Strong Union sentiment ran through the Highlands, even from the beginning of the war.

The Lowlands were nearly the mirror opposite of the Highlands, not only in geography, but in the people as well. Cotton was king, and therefore slavery was widespread. The divide between classes was wide and enforced by the wealthy slave-holding class. This being the state’s controlling class, at the time of the war, Arkansas still did not provide free schools. Whatever Union sentiment ran through the Lowlands was quashed by this class, who had no interest in any movement that might emancipate their slaves.

This division of Arkansas also was reflected in the number of units that fought for each side. Arkansas formed some 48 infantry regiments for the Confederate Army in addition to numerous cavalry and artillery battery units to serve as part of the Confederate Army. The 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles, and the 1st4th, and 6th Arkansas Infantries would go on to see considerable action as a part of Major General Braxton Bragg‘s Army of Tennessee

Though it was with the Confederacy that Arkansas sided as a state, not all Arkansans supported the Confederate cause. Beginning with the fall of Little Rock to Union forces in 1863, Arkansans supporting the Union formed some eleven infantry regiments, four cavalry regiments, and two artillery batteries to serve in the Union Army. None of those saw any heavy combat actions, and few took part in any major battles. 

Arkansas has the distinction of having three state capitals during the war. Little Rock was then and is now the Arkansas state capital. But when the Union Army threatened to capture the city in the early summer of 1862 the Confederate state government abandoned Little Rock and moved the state government to Hot Springs, Arkansas. It only remained there for a short time before moving deeper into Confederate occupied territory, in Washington, Arkansas, where it would remain for the rest of the war.

The primary area of Unionism in the state was in the northwest corner. The Unionists furnished about 10,000 men to the Union cause, a significant number in a state with an overall population of 213,000 whites (including women and children).

The First Arkansas Cavalry became the most famous Union regiment raised from the state. After being mustered into service at Springfield, Missouri, in July 1862, the regiment returned to Arkansas and operated as a counter-guerrilla force.

Roaming bands of Confederate sympathizers often harassed pro-Union families in Arkansas during the first months of the war. Most Unionists tried to keep their allegiance quiet and avoid Confederate service. After northwest Arkansas was temporarily secured following the Federal victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge, in Benton County, in March 1862, many citizens revealed their Union sentiment. The Union army, however, moved to Batesville (Independence County), leaving many families without protection. Facing even more danger at home, many of those families fled to Missouri to escape Confederate conscription and guerrillas.

The war began to turn against the Confederates in 1863, losing at the Battle of Helena despite a coordinated attack by generals Theophilus H. Holmes,Sterling PriceJohn S. Marmaduke, and James Fleming Fagan. The Siege of Vicksburg concluded as a Union victory the same day, severely compromising the Rebels’ control of the Mississippi River.

Later in the year the Union used the post at Helena to capture Little Rock, forcing the Confederate government to relocate to Washington. Despite controlling the state capitol, the Union hold on the state was tenuous. Guerrilla warfare ravaged the countryside and small towns throughout the war. Bands of guerrillas often stole from houses and burned fields wherever the Union or Confederate armies were not present.


North Carolina Unionists

Union troops in western North CarolinaNorth Carolina is a state that starts at the Atlantic Ocean and ends in the mountains. Before and during the war the state was severely fractured between unionists and secessionists.

Across the geographical regions of the state support for the Southern cause varied. Non-slaveholding yeoman farmers made up a majority of Tar Heel voters and constituted the core of Unionist strength. The northeastern and western counties, and portions of the Piedmont, were areas of Union sentiment and, therefore, disinclined to secede over slavery.

North Carolina probably manifested the sharpest internal opposition to the Confederacy of all the Southern states during the war. This resulted in part from a long history of conflicts before the war between the white majority of small farmers and mechanics and the minority of landed gentry.

As in most of the South, though nearly one-third of the white population held slaves in North Carolina, the upper class of planters with twenty or more slaves always constituted a small fraction of the state’s white population. The political power and wealth of these planters far outweighed their numbers.

Their privileged status repeatedly provoked conflicts with non-slaveholders over questions of political representation and taxation. Such conflicts became especially intense in the year prior to the Civil War, when a movement to increase the taxes of slaveholders, spurred by the Raleigh Working Men’s Association, nearly succeeded in snatching control of the state government out of the hands of the gentry. 

The taxation controversy brought animosity against the upper class out into the open, causing one of the state’s eastern planters on the eve of the war to express the fear that non-slaveholders “would not lift a finger to protect rich men’s Negroes.” The taxation campaign, he added, “infused among the ignorant people, the idea that there is an antagonism between poor people and Slave-owners.”

On January 29, 1861, the General Assembly voted to put the question of a secession question to the people. Defeating the secessionists by a very close vote of 47,323 to 46,672, Unionists carried the northeastern counties and most of the Piedmont and western counties.  Because a few Unionists like Congressman Zebulon Vance supported the convention call, the delegate elections are more indicative of actual sentiment; only 39 of the 120 delegates were secessionists.

Like several other Southern states the final break was precipitated by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers after the firing on Fort Sumter. Governor John Ellis responded that there would be no troops from North Carolina forthcoming. Ellis called a special session of the legislature for May 1st and ordered the seizure of all federal property.  The Assembly voted to have a delegate election on May 13th for an unrestricted convention to meet in Raleigh on May 20.

After much wrangling over legalities delegates eventually voted to join the Confederate States of America (CSA).  They also voted, at the request of Governor Ellis, not to put the secession ordinance to a popular vote.  On May 21, President Jefferson Davis proclaimed North Carolina a Confederate state.

North Carolinians seceded reluctantly.  Jonathan Worth (1802-1869) stated publicly: “Lincoln had made us a unit to resist until we repel our invaders or die.”  Privately, however, Worth feared that the South had “commit[ed] suicide.”  The continued strength of Unionist sentiment was revealed a year later when Zebulon Vance was easily elected governor despite radical secession opposition.

For Southern Unionists, the draft provided the most hated and visible instrument of Confederate power. When confronted with jail or the army, many North Carolinians fled to the hills, woods, or swamps.

Women played a particularly significant role in encouraging desertion and draft evasion. By writing discouraging letters to the North Carolina troops urging them to come home, many married women had a disastrous impact on military morale. One woman wrote her husband that his daughter, “your darling Lucy . . . is growing thinner and thinner, and … unless you come home we must die.” Another wrote the governor concerning her enlisted husband, saying “I would like to know what he is fighting for. He has nothing to fight for. I don’t think that he is fighting for anything only for his family to starve.”

Single women also played a role in supporting the Union. Susan Flora, a sixty-seven year old widow, turned her farm over to Union authorities for their use and hid deserters. Sarah Bailey likewise concealed deserters on her farm and kept her step-son out of the war by dressing him in women’s clothing and occasionally hiding him out in the cane. At war’s end she testified, “I was glad when I see the Yankees coming.”

Because of the threat that these actions posed to the Confederacy, a crackdown on freedom of speech occurred in North Carolina during the Civil War. Although the majority of North Carolinians had opposed secession, militarization increasingly established a deadly atmosphere of fear and suspicion between neighbors and friends. Conformity became the abiding principle throughout the Southern Confederacy. Those who did not go along jeopardized their lives and fortunes.

By 1863, guerrilla war had broken out in the western counties as well as in some of the Piedmont counties. North Carolina had sent a disproportionate number of men into the Confederate Army and their families left at home were subject to Confederate crop impressments, taxation, and wartime inflation which heightened the anti-Confederate atmosphere in these areas.

The Confederacy exempted planters owning twenty (and later fifteen) or more slaves from the draft. All over the Confederacy this favoritism toward the upper class “stunk in the nostrils of the people,” according to one Confederate politician. It especially rankled the people in North Carolina.

The Confederate leaders systematically excluded natives of the state from political and military appointments. Because the non-slaveholding majority of North Carolinians had voted down secession efforts before the war began, Confederate leaders apparently distrusted the state’s loyalty to the Confederacy.

It has been reported that some 25,000 North Carolina Unionists served in the Union Army, second only to Tennessee’s 42,000. Most of these served in regiments outside of the state. According to the regimental records, the Union army in North Carolina drew white volunteers from all but twelve of the state’s eighty-six counties.

Though volunteers came from all over the state, the largest group came in about equal numbers from six counties in the extreme western mountains, where 1,033 joined up, and from six counties in the plantation belt along the eastern coast, where 994 joined. Unionists in these areas could most easily reach the federal military lines.

In the mountains, poor dirt farmers who held no slaves comprised nearly all of the men who volunteered for Col. George W. Kirk‘s Second and Third Mounted Infantry regiments. They were joined by a smattering of mechanics, blacksmiths and other tradesmen, miners, and doctors.

Kirk’s rag-tag army of mountaineers fought Confederates during and after the war. Kirk’s men gained a reputation as staunch Republicans. In the post-war Reconstruction the governor reorganized the companies as state militia to put down the Ku Klux Klan, feeling they constituted the most reliable anti-Confederate men in the state.

In the eastern counties where the planter economy flourished Unionist sentiment was also prevalent. As in the mountains, small farmers made up about 75 percent of the enlistments in the east. Fishermen, tradesmen, seamen, laborers, and professional men comprised the rest of the volunteers.

Few if any of the volunteers appear to have been slaveholders. Though slavery dominated the east, fishing and commerce allowed many non-slaveholders to maintain economic independence from the planters. They made this independence apparent in the 1861 referendum, when majorities in four of the six counties voted for pro-Union candidates.

It was dangerous being a Unionist in North Carolina. In February of 1864, in three separate executions, Confederate commanders hung twenty-three or twenty-four captured members of the North Carolina Volunteers as traitors at Kinston. The Confederacy claimed that these members of the Second North Carolina Union Volunteers had deserted from Confederate service and therefore deserved the death penalty. The Union army claimed that the men had been conscripted against their will by the Confederates and called the killings murder.

The fate of the men executed at Kinston served to highlight the bitterness of the struggle between Unionists and Confederates in North Carolina and the extent to which some Southern leaders would go to intimidate the poor whites. It also set the stage for the murders and outrages against Unionists which followed in the wake of the war.




Kentucky: Crossroads of the Western Theater

Kentucky was hugely important to both sides in the Civil War. It was a key border state whose geographical location placed it at the crossroads in the coming conflict. Kentucky abutted on six states: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. Three were slave states, three were free states. Kentucky itself was a slave state.

Kentucky’s northern border was the key waterway, the Ohio River while to the west a stretch of the Mississippi was its western border. The Ohio River would provide the Southern Confederacy with a defensible border if Kentucky was to join it. The Commonwealth was bound to the South by the Mississippi River and its tributaries, which were the main commercial outlet for her surplus produce, although railroad connections to the North were beginning to diminish the importance of this tie.

At the start of the war, Kentucky would have preferred to remain neutral in the conflict. As hard as it may be for us to comprehend, the residents of the state wanted to remain on the sidelines. They simply had too many connections to both sides.

Their connections started from politics; prominent politicians from Kentucky were serving in both governments. In fact, both presidents, Lincoln and Davis, were native Kentuckians. John C. Breckinridge had been Vice President for James Buchanan. Politically, Kentuckians had already played a pivotal role in the life of the United States. They continued to do so throughout the war.

One has only to look at a map to see that Kentucky was geographically situated between the Southern states of Tennessee and Virginia, the Northern states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and its fellow border state of Missouri. In a war in which rivers would play an important role, the Ohio River was a key river/highway for both sides but most especially for the Union. In September 1861, Kentucky-born President Abraham Lincoln wrote in a private letter, “I think to Western Theater from May to October 1862lose Kentucky is nearly to lose the whole game.”

Kentuckians would fight on both sides in the Civil War. Families would be split with prominent members of some families holding important command positions in both armies. President Lincoln’s five brothers-in-law fought for the Confederacy. The ancestors of many Kentuckians hailed from Southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Kentucky was a slave state with a pro-Confederate Governor, Beriah Magoffin and a pro-Union legislature. Magoffin called a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly on December 27, 1860 and asked legislators for a convention of Kentuckians to decide the Commonwealth’s course regarding secession. The majority of the General Assembly had Unionist sympathies, however, and declined the governor’s request, fearing that the state’s voters would favor secession.

After Confederate Major General Leonidas Polk violated the Commonwealth’s neutrality by ordering Brigadier General Gideon Johnson Pillow to occupy Columbus, Kentucky could no longer straddle the fence.  On September 7, 1861, the General Assembly passed a resolution ordering the withdrawal of only Confederate forces. When Magoffin vetoed the resolution, the legislature overrode his veto and Kentucky, despite remaining a slave state, remained in the Union.

Both sides immediately moved to take advantage of their situations in Kentucky. Confederate forces under Albert Sidney Johnston formed a line in the southern regions of Kentucky and the northern regions of Tennessee, stretching from Columbus in the west to Cumberland Gap in the east. Johnston dispatched Simon B. Buckner to fortify the middle of the line in Bowling Green.

Johnston’s forces were spread too thinly over a wide defensive line. His left flank was held by General Leonidas Polk in Columbus with 12,000 men. His right flank was under the command of Buckner in Bowling Green, with 4,000 men.

The center consisted of two forts under the command of Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, also with 4,000. Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were the sole positions to defend the important Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, respectively. If these rivers were opened to Union military traffic, two direct invasion paths would lead into Tennessee and beyond.

On the Union side, General Ulysses S. Grant began his command career in Kentucky. Grant immediately understood the importance of rivers in the Western Theater. From his base in Paducah, Illinois he began by sending amphibious forces down the Mississippi to Belmont, Missouri where he fought an engagement that is considered a Union victory.

He then led a larger expedition of 15,000 men with 7 ships to Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Landing his troops in two separate locations, Grant moved on the fort. Unfortunately for the Southerners the fort was partly flooded from the high waters of the river with only nine guns able to be fired. After a 75-minute bombardment from the Union fleet, Tilghman surrendered his forces to the fleet on February 5, 1862.

Grant immediately saw the opportunity to cross the 12-mile gap between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and invest Fort Donelson. Johnston had consolidated his force in this area and the fort was held by about 16,000 men. Meanwhile, Grant’s invading force now numbered about 24,500.

Grant’s probing attacks began on February 12th and by February 16th, the Confederates surrendered unconditionally to Grant on February 16th. Only about 2,500 Confederates escaped from the doomed fort.

The collapse of Forts Henry and Donelson made Polk’s position at Columbus untenable; the Confederates were forced to abandon “The Gibraltar of the West.” His line shattered, Johnston abandoned Bowling Green on February 11, 1862, retreating first to Nashville, then further south to join P. G. T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg at Corinth, Mississippi.  Cumberland Gap, the final piece of Johnston’s line, finally fell to Union forces in June 1862.

On the civilian side of the conflict, a group of Southern sympathizers began formulating a plan to create a Confederate shadow government for the Commonwealth. Following a preliminary meeting on October 29, 1861, delegates from 68 of Kentucky’s counties met at the Clark House in Russellville, Kentucky on November 18. The convention passed an ordinance of secession, adopted a new state seal, and elected Scott County native George W. Johnson as governor. Despite some reservations by Jefferson Davis, Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861.

Though it existed throughout the war, Kentucky’s provisional government had very little effect on the events in the Commonwealth or in the war. When General Johnston abandoned Bowling Green in early 1862, the government’s officers traveled with his army, and Governor Johnson was killed in active duty at the Battle of Shiloh. 

Continuing to travel with the Army of Tennessee, the government re-entered Kentucky during Braxton Bragg‘s campaign in the Commonwealth, but was driven out permanently following the Battle of Perryville. From that time forward, the government existed primarily on paper, and dissolved following the war.

As the war in the Western Theater moved south into Mississippi, Alabama and eventually Georgia, Kentucky was the scene of Confederate cavalry raids from Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan. Morgan first raided the state in May of 1862. Morgan claimed to have captured and paroled 1,200 enemy soldiers, recruited 300 men and acquired several hundred horses for his cavalry, used or destroyed supplies in seventeen towns, and incurred fewer than 100 casualties.

In December 1862 John Hunt Morgan led his force into the state once again. This raid lasted several days and on New Years Day Morgan’s troops left the state for Tennessee. On July 2, 1863 Morgan led his troops into Kentucky for the final time. They raced across the state and entered Indiana on July 7th.

Following Morgan’s capture in the summer of 1863, there were no major engagements fought in Kentucky until spring of 1864. General Nathan Bedford Forrest led a raid into Kentucky to obtain mounts for the Confederacy. He also intended to disrupt Union supply lines, obtain general provisions for Confederate forces, and discourage enlistment of blacks in Kentucky into the Union army. They succeeded in capturing 340 remounts during the brief raid.

In response to the growing problem of guerrilla campaigns throughout 1863 and 1864, in June 1864, Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge was given command over the state of Kentucky. This began an extended period of military control that would last through early 1865, beginning with martial law authorized by President Abraham Lincoln.

To pacify Kentucky, Burbridge rigorously suppressed disloyalty and used economic pressure as coercion. His policy, which included public execution of four guerrillas for the death of each unarmed Union citizen, caused the most controversy. After a falling out with Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, Burbridge was dismissed in February 1865. Confederates remembered him as the “Butcher of Kentucky”. 





Unionism in Alabama

1st Alabama Cavalry Recruiting PosterUnionism in Alabama is an issue that over the years since the end of the Civil War has become lost in the controversy of Jim Crow laws and politicians such as George Corley Wallace. Yet, Unionism was a widespread phenomenon in this Deep South State. During the Civil War and afterwards it was a very real fact.

Unionism came in many forms in Alabama. It is believed that no more than 15% of the adult male population were unconditional Unionists who stayed loyal to the Union from the very start of the war until its conclusion. They were most non-slaveholding farmers who lived in the northern third of the state. A few Unionists also lived in the piney woods and coastal plain further south. They resisted both secession and the Confederacy.

They were not different than their neighbors who supported secession. Their reasons for staying loyal to the Union are quite diverse. Some believed that secession was illegal. Others saw the very act of secession as a stain on their honor and their ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. Some were influenced by leading figures in their areas. Finally, some felt that secession would lead to a military and political disaster.

The rise of Unionism in Alabama began with the 1860 Presidential election. The Alabama legislature had passed a bill that called for the calling of a convention to discuss secession if the Republican candidate won the national vote. This vote took place 9 months before the general election.

The candidate of choice in Alabama was Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, the sitting Vice President. Some 80% of eligible voters cast ballots in the election with Breckinridge receiving 54% of the vote. John Bell, the Constitutional Union candidate who was supported by a number of Alabamians hostile to secession, received 31% of the vote. Douglas, the candidate most associated with a strongly Unionist position, polled slightly more than 15%. Republican Abraham Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in Alabama.

As promised the legislature called a convention to discuss secession. Of the candidates elected to the convention, 53 were secessionists and 47 were cooperationists, a term that refers to the delegates’ desire to secede only in “cooperation” with other southern states. Of this latter group, perhaps one-third were Unionists who were opposed to secession in any form. These were all from the norther third of the state.

These delegates convened in Montgomery on January 7, 1861, and debated secession for four days. On January 11, 1861, the convention passed Alabama’s Ordinance of Secession by a vote of 61 to 39. Many of those who voted against the ordinance, however, ultimately did support secession, and four immediately reversed themselves and signed with the majority.

Unionists were in for a difficult time after secession. The were subject to public ridicule, intimation and ostracizing. After Confederate conscription began in April 1862, however, things became more difficult. Individuals who resisted the draft, for whatever reason, were subject to arrest and imprisonment. Their families were harassed or threatened with with violence or exile by conscript cavalry.

The hill counties south of the Tennessee River were notoriously Unionist, populated with yeoman farmers with no interest to preserve slavery. In the counties along the Tennessee River, however, yeoman farmers mixed with large slaveholders in the river bottoms and fertile plains that were ideal for cotton planting. Unionists and secessionists in northern Alabama were neighbors, business partners and kin. Geography and custom tied the region economically to Tennessee to the north.

Rather than siding with the fire-breathers of the Black Belt, farther to the south, northern Alabamians had initially tried to walk a tightrope, hoping to coordinate action with other seceding states rather than recklessly secede alone. The famed fire-breather William Lowndes Yancey threateningly referred to these cooperationist northern Alabamians as “enemies of the State.”

The situation in north Alabama became easier for the Unionists when the Union Army invaded in 1862. Many Unionists fled behind Union lines for protection or to work for the army as soldiers, spies, or laborers.

The most well-known unit from the state was the First Alabama Cavalry, U.S.A., organized in late 1862 by Brig. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, stationed at Corinth, Mississippi. The regiment served mostly in northern Alabama, western Tennessee, and northeastern Mississippi. The regiment was selected by Major General William T. Sherman to be his escort as he began his march to the sea.

Other Unionists joined units from Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Those who remained at home, both within Union-occupied territory and behind Confederate lines, also actively assisted Union forces as spies and guides. 

Those who stayed home collaborated with local African Americans (most often their own slaves) to aid and abet the Union Army or pro-Union men in their neighborhoods. Moreover, African Americans from Alabama also crossed the Union lines to serve as laborers and soldiers, and after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863, many were inducted into United States Colored Troops regiments. Almost 5,000 African Americans, or 6 percent of Alabama’s black male population between the ages of 18 and 45, volunteered in the Union ranks.

As was the case throughout the South, by the midpoint of the war Alabama’s original Unionists were increasingly joined in their dissent by deserters from the Confederate Army, mostly men whose families were struggling at home without their labor. They were disillusioned by the realities of warfare, angered by the inequities of service under laws exempting slaveowners and selected professionals.

These Alabamians generally wanted the war to end more than they desired Union victory, though some did cross lines and join the Union army rather than desert and avoid service altogether. A small peace movement also emerged at this time among men who had originally opposed secession but later supported the state.

During the war northern Alabama was a constant battleground with the occupation of the area from mid-1862 until the end of the war. Close to 3,000 white men from northern Alabama served with the Union Army during the Civil War. Bands of Union men fought their way out of the hill counties to sign up. Soldiers conscripted into the Confederate Army from northern Alabama also deserted in large numbers, estimated as high as 10,000 from a total force of about 90,000.

On May 2, 1862, Athens, a north Alabama town, was seized by Union forces under the command of Col. John Basil Turchin, a Russian émigré. After occupying the town, Turchin assembled his men and told them: “I shut my eyes for two hours. I see nothing.” Businesses were hit first. Anything of value that could be carried away was looted and anything that could not be was simply destroyed. After rampaging through stores the soldiers plundered private homes. The townspeople estimated the damage to be fifty-five thousand dollars. The resulting pillage and plunder came to be known as the Rape of Athens.

But this was only half the story – pro-Confederate sentiment abounded, and bushwhacker attacks grew, and were met with escalating reprisals. Union General Ormsby Mitchel found it difficult enough to maintain order in his widely spread command, and the guerrilla attacks exacerbated a volatile situation.

Mitchel begged for more troops, particularly cavalry. He wired to Washington that “armed citizens fire into the trains, cut the telegraph wires, attack the guards of bridges, cut off and destroy my couriers, while guerrilla bands of cavalry attack whenever there is the slightest chance of success.” No reinforcements were forthcoming.

Jeremiah Clemens depicted northern Alabama in his 1865 novel Tobias Wilson: “Neighbor was arrayed against neighbor, and to the evils of open violence were added private assassinations and midnight burnings. No man knew whom to trust, and gloomy suspicions even of his friends settled upon every man’s heart.”

The devastation in northern Alabama both to lives and property would take tears to repair. The tumultuous process of reconstruction began in a region still divided by war.







Florida: The Forgotten State of the Confederacy

Florida in the Civil WarFlorida is sometimes forgotten by Civil War historians because its role in the war was more as a supplier of goods rather than soldiers to the Confederacy. With its small total population of 154,494 Florida only sent 15,000 into the fight.

Instead Governor John Milton stressed the importance of Florida as a supplier of goods, rather than personnel. Florida was a large provider of food (particularly beef cattle) and salt for the Confederate Army.

Florida’s cattle ranges provided much-needed beef to the south’s main armies, particularly during the latter stages of the war. The peninsula’s 13000 mile coastline also proved invaluable for the production of salt, made by boiling sea water in large kettles or evaporating it in man-made tidal pools.

Florida’s long 8,436-mile coastline and 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways proved a haven for blockade runners and a daunting task for patrols by Federal warships. But its location, scant industry and small population made the state strategically unimportant.

Overall, the state raised some 15,000 troops for the Confederacy, which were organized into twelve regiments of infantry and two of cavalry, as well as several artillery batteries and supporting units. Since neither army aggressively sought control of Florida, many of Florida’s troops were sent to serve in Virginia in the Army of Northern Virginia under Brig. Gen. Edward A. Perry and Col. David Lang. The “Florida Brigade” fought in many of Robert E. Lee‘s campaigns, and twice charged Cemetery Ridge during the Battle of Gettysburg, including supporting Pickett’s Charge.

By the summer of 1862 Florida had raised, equipped, and sent out of state the 1st through 8th regiments of infantry, the 1st Florida Calvary Regiment, and various smaller commands. The only forces remaining in the state were a variety of independent companies, several infantry battalions, and the newly-organized 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment.

Over the next year and a half, these units fended off a series of minor raids along the coast, as well as the temporary Union reoccupations of Jacksonville in the fall of 1862 and the spring of 1863. At St. Johns bluff in September of 1862 Confederate forces experienced a humiliating reverse when a strong position of the St. Johns River near Jacksonville was abandoned to a Union naval and land force without a fight.

Early in the war the Union Navy set up a blockade around the entire state. Union forces eventually seized and occupied major ports such as Cedar KeyJacksonvilleKey West, and Pensacola. In March 1862 Commodore Samuel DuPont led a force of 28 ships that captured Fort Clinch on Amelia Island. They used the fort as the base of Union operations in the area throughout the Civil War and allowed them to control the adjacent Florida and Georgia coasts.

In early 1862, the Confederate government withdrew General Braxton Bragg‘s small army from Pensacola following successive Confederate defeats in Tennessee at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry and the fall of New Orleans. They were  sent them to the Western Theater for the remainder of the war. The only Confederate forces remaining in Florida at that time were a variety of independent companies, several infantry battalions, and the 2nd Florida Cavalry

The largest battle of the war in Florida took place on February 20, 1864 at Olustee in Baker County on the Florida-Georgia border. Brigadier General Truman Seymour, in command of the expedition, landed troops at Jacksonville, in an area already seized by the Union in March 1862.

Seymour’s forces then made several raids into northeast and north-central Florida. During these raids he met little resistance, seized several Confederate camps, captured small bands of troops and artillery pieces and liberated slaves. However, Seymour was under orders from Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore not to advance deep into the state.

Despite his orders Seymour moved across northern Florida with the intention of capturing Tallahassee, the capital. Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan who was reinforced by Georgian troops met the Union force at Olustee. Seymour assumed that he was facing Florida militia and committed his troops piecemeal. The Union forces attacked but were savagely repulsed by withering barrages of rifle and cannon fire.

Seymour was forced to order a retreat after suffering about 34% casualties to his 5,500-man force: 203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing. Confederate losses to their 5,000-man force were lower: 93 killed, 847 wounded, and 6 missing. The Union defeat caused Northern authorities to question the necessity of further Union involvement in the militarily insignificant state of Florida.

As the war in Florida went on, Unionists began to come forward to fight against their neighbors. Floridians who supported the Union sometimes were forced to leave their homes and flee as refugees to coastal towns in Florida that were occupied by federal troops. 

Virtually all Unionists that left their home lost much of the belongings. Many had their home destroyed, usually robbed and set on fire by their Secessionist and Rebel enemy. When the Unionists left their home, many packed what they could into wagons while others basically escaped with their lives.

In December 1863, the 2nd Florida Calvary (Union) was formed at Cedar Key and Key West. They served in southern Florida and the Keys until the end of the war. Initially, the Florida Unionists formed a company-size unit named the Florida Rangers who mounted raids against Confederate positions along the Gulf Coast and against Confederate cattle operations. This unit later became the 1st Florida Cavalry which was formally was organized at Fort Barrancas near Pensacola in December of 1863 and served in northern Florida for the balance of the war.

The Confederates responded by organizing local citizens, herdsmen and cowmen into the “1st Battalion Florida Special Cavalry” known as the “Cow Cavalry.” The 1st and 2nd Cavalry (Union) regiments were the only units formally recognized by the Union government.





Mississippi and the Free State of Jones

The state of Mississippi was one of the deepest of the Deep South States. It had the second highest percentage of slaves as a percent of population at 55%. Only South Carolina’s was higher at 57%. It had the highest percent of families owning slaves at 49%. Yet, with all of their devotion to the “peculiar institution” of slavery, Mississippi was the location of one of several unique occurrences in the Civil War period, a county that seceded from its parent state.

The Free State of Jones County is a tale of secession from the Confederate state of Mississippi. It is a somewhat controversial episode in the American Civil War whose effects still linger in modern times. Here is a story that it almost too strange to be true but it is.

Newton KnightThe main characters in this drama are Newton Knight, Jasper Collins and Rachel, Knight’s grandfather’s slave.

Newton Knight was born near the Leaf River in Jones County, Mississippi in 1837. Knight’s family had lived in Jones County since the end of the War of 1812 when his grandfather had been awarded land grants for his military service. The land in Jones County was covered with virgin longleaf pine forests. Wolves and panthers still frequented the area.

Knight married Serena Turner in 1858. The couple moved to the edge of Jasper County and began to farm corn and sweet potatoes. They also raised chickens and hogs. Knight worked the land himself. According to his son, Newton Knight never drank or smoked. He was a Primitive Baptist.

In November 1860 Mississippi’s slave-owning planters joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union. The yeoman farmers and cattle herders of Jones County had little use for the institution of slavery. Jones County had the lowest percentage of slaves of any county in Mississippi at 12%. The voters of Jones County had elected a representative, J.D. Powell, to Mississippi’s Secession Convention with instructions to vote no on secession. However, their representative was browbeaten into voting for secession. When the citizens heard about his vote they hung him in effigy. He stayed away from the area for some time.

In April 1861 war fever raged throughout the state. Anyone who opposed secession and the Confederacy were painted as cowards and traitors. Knight reluctantly enlisted in the Confederate army in the early fall of 1861. After several months he was furloughed to go home for a family matter. His father, Albert, was dying and Knight remained in Jones County until he reenlisted on May 13, 1862. He joined his friends and neighbors in Company F of the Seventh Battalion, Mississippi Infantry in Jasper County.

Mississippi had passed the “Twenty-Negro” law that allowed any planter who owned 20 slaves an exemption from serving in the army. His best friend Jasper Collins saying that “This law … makes it a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” deserted and made his way home to Jones County.

In early November 1862 Newton Knight went Absent Without Leave near Abbeville, Mississippi and made his way home on a 200-mile journey toJones County area map Jones County. Along the way he had to avoid Confederate patrollers who were searching the countryside for deserters.

Conditions on the home front were abysmal with the men off to war and women and children trying to run the farms. Many of the farms had crop failure due to a lack of labor. People were struggling to feed themselves and their families. Meanwhile, Confederate authorities took anything that they wanted for the war effort: food, livestock, horses and cloth.

Confederate Colonel William N. Brown said that the corrupt Confederate tax officials had “done more to demoralize Jones County than the whole Yankee army.” A planter in neighboring Smith County warned Governor John J. Pettus in November 1862,

If something is not done by the legislature to open the corn cribs that are now closed against the widow and the orphan, and soldier’s families, who are destitute, I know that we are undone. Men cannot be expected to fight for the Government that permits their wives and children to starve.

Knight was arrested when he refused to return to the army. There are stories that say he was tortured and everything that he owned was destroyed. After the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863 many of the Jones County men returned home to find their wives and children destitute and starving.

Rachel KnightKnight organized a company of about 125 men from Jones, Jasper, Covington and Smith counties to protect their families and neighbors from the Confederate authorities. They became known as the Knight Company after they elected Newton Knight their captain. They would disappear into the swamps when larger Confederate forces appeared. Newton Knight’s good friend and First Lieutenant Jasper Collins was his biggest supporter. They were aided and assisted by the people of the area, both white and black. Another major supporter was the slave woman, Rachel who had been owned by Knight’s grandfather.

By early 1864 Confederate authorities in Richmond had become aware of the Knight Company. Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk informed President Jefferson Davis that Jones County was in “open rebellion” and the combatants were “… proclaiming themselves ‘Southern Yankees,’ and resolved to resist by force of arms all efforts to capture them.” There were rumors that they were flying the United States flag.

The Natchez Courier reported in its July 12, 1864, edition that Jones County had seceded from the Confederacy. Union General Sherman wrote that he had received “a declaration of independence” from a group of local citizens who opposed the Confederacy. The Free State of Jones had been born.

In April 1864 Confederate authorities detailed Colonel Robert Lowery of Smith County to root out and destroy the Knight Company. Using packs of bloodhounds he hunted down the men and captured many of them. Ten men were hanged and their bodies were left hanging as a warning to the other members of the Knight Company. A number of men were returned to the Confederate army. But they never captured Newton Knight who managed to hide out in the swamps until the end of the war.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. At the end of the war the state was occupied by Federal troops whose main role was to protect the rights of the former slaves. From 1867 to 1876 Mississippi was under the control of radical Republicans. Over 200 former slaves were elected to local, state and federal offices. Pushback came from the Democrat Party and vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1872 Newton Knight was appointed deputy U.S. Marshall for Mississippi at great personal danger to himself. In the statewide elections of 1875 the supporters of the former Confederacy and white supremacy used intimidation and vote fraud to sweep back into office. Republican Governor Adelbert Ames for Federal troops to quell the violence but President Grant turned down the request. Ames formed his own state militia. One of his appointees was Newt Knight who was made colonel of the First Infantry Regiment of Jasper County.

But the tide had already turned against Republican rule in Mississippi, and Governor Ames was forced to resign. He lamented that blacks “are to be returned to a condition of serfdom — an era of second slavery.” Blacks could not vote freely in Mississippi again for nearly 100 years.

Newton Knight returned to his farm in Jasper County and brought Rachel with him. Eventually, Serena left him and he married Rachel who bore him several children. His marriage was considered a scandal but he seemed not to care, saying “There’s [sic] a lots of ways I’d ruther [sic] die than be scared to death.”

Newton Knight died on February 16, 1922 at the age of 85. Even in death he was defiant being buried next to his wife Rachel despite a state law forbidding the practice. Newt and Rachel’s descendents still reside in the Jones county area.

Newton Knight and the members of the Knight Company in the Free State of Jones never formally wrote a document of secession from Mississippi, at least none that was ever found. Yet, they always insisted that they were members of the Union Army and on several occasions sent members to meet with Union generals to ask for formal recognition. Knight petitioned the Federal government for years for an army pension but it was never granted.

To this day the police cars in Ellisville, Mississippi still bear the nickname “The Free State of Jones”.

Dissent in the South was not just confined to the Free State of Jones. In Winston County, Alabama a similar series of events occurred. The citizens there proclaimed the Free State of Winston and actually helped to form the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment. There were Unionists in North Carolina and other Southern states. Here’s an article about the Unionists in North Carolina. Just as there were pro-slavery elements in the border states and in the North their opposite numbers resided in the South.

If you would like to read more about this interesting part of the Civil War check out Victoria Bynum’s book The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil WarThere is also a book by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the ConfederacyFinally, there is Rudy H. Leverett’s book The Legend of the Free State of Jones.



Missouri: The Civil War Inside

Missouri in the civil warThe state of Missouri and the border areas of Kansas were among the most hotly contended in the war. Pro- and anti-slavery groups had been fighting for supremacy starting in 1854. In fact, conflict over the Missouri Territory had begun in 1820 with the passage of the Missouri Compromise primarily for the regulation of slavery in the western territories.

While attempts at conciliation seemed to be prevalent in the Eastern Theater, events in the Trans-Mississippi Theater took a different tack. Missouri and her neighbors to the north and the south were the scenes of violent activity against the civilian populations.

The Missouri-Kansas border war of the 1850′s set the tone for this bloody activity. Free Soil Jayhawkers and pro-slavery Border Ruffians repeatedly clashed in a bloody proxy war that presaged the Civil War. John Brown and his sons were militant Jayhawkers who eventually took their campaign to the East and Harper’s Ferry.

Missouri was a Border slave state and had been a key state in the North-South seesaw battle before the war. At the onset of the war Missouri was deeply divided. The Missouri legislature called for a special convention to vote on secession. The convention voted decisively to remain with the Union but Pro-Southern Governor Claiborne F. Jackson had other ideas. He mobilized several hundred members of the state militia who had gathered in a camp in St. Louis for training.

Union General Nathaniel Lyon struck first, encircling the camp and forcing the state troops to surrender. Lyon directed his soldiers, largely non-English-speaking German immigrants, to march the prisoners through the streets, and they opened fire on the largely hostile crowds of civilians who gathered around them. Soldiers killed unarmed prisoners as well as men, women and children of St. Louis in the incident that became known as the “St. Louis Massacre“.

These events heightened Confederate support within the state yet Missouri never left the Union and 75% of Missourians who wore a uniform served in the Union Army or the Unionist State Militia. Despite this the Union Army treated Missouri as if it was enemy territory.

This attitude was due primarily to Nathaniel Lyon and Francis P. Blair Jr. Their uncompromising attitude almost immediately ignited a guerrilla war that was to last throughout the entire war.

After the St. Louis Massacre, Lyon declared war against Jackson and his pro-Southern Missouri State Guard. He chased them as far as Wilson’s Creek where he was killed in a fight where his forces were outnumbered 2-to-1. But by then he had been instrumental in keeping Missouri in the Union.

By then the die was cast. Missouri would be the scene of many bloody confrontations that were devoid of any semblance of gallantry or fairness. The pro-Southern Missourians formed companies of bushwackers that attacked Union troops at every opportunity and then disappeared into the general population.

Unable to strike back at their tormentors, Union authorities decided to make the civilian population pay for their attacks. Lyon gave orders that were similar to other Union commanders. He condemned pillaging and urged his men to respect private property. But when it came to active secessionists he was extremely harsh.

In the central Missouri district nicknamed “Little Dixie” Brig. Gen. John Pope appointed committees of public safety. At least two members were prominent secessionists. If the attacks did not stop, Pope said, “…I desire that you will give them plainly to understand that unless peace is preserved, their property will be immediately levied upon, and their contribution collected at once in any kind of property at hand.” Other Union commanders used the same techniques to tamp down support for the secessionists.

Though regular Confederate troops staged some large-scale raids into Missouri, the fighting in the state for the next three years consisted chiefly of guerrilla warfare. “Citizen soldiers” or insurgents such as Colonel William QuantrillFrank and Jesse James, the Younger brothers, and William T. Anderson made use of quick, small-unit tactics.

Meanwhile , Small remnants of the Missouri Guard remained in the state and fought isolated battles throughout the war. Price soon came under the command and control of the Confederates. In March 1862, any hopes for a new offensive in Missouri were dimmed in the Battle of Pea Ridge just south of the border in Arkansas. The Missouri State Guard was to stay largely intact as a unit through the war and was to suffer heavy casualties in Mississippi in the Battle of Iuka and Second Battle of Corinth.

Pioneered by the Missouri Partisan Rangers, such insurgencies also arose in portions of the Confederacy occupied by the Union during the Civil War. Recently historians have assessed the James brothers’ outlaw years as continuing guerrilla warfare after the official war was over.

In 1863 following the Lawrence Massacre in Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. accused farmers in rural Missouri of either instigating the attack or supporting it. He issued General Order No. 11 which forced the evacuation of all residents of rural areas of the four counties (Jackson, Cass, Bates and Vernon) south of the Missouri River on the Kansas border to leave their property, which was then burned.

The order applied to farmers regardless of loyalty, although those who could prove their loyalty to the Union could stay in designated towns and those who could not were exiled entirely. Most of the soldiers who carried out the order were Kansas volunteers, who regarded all Missourians as “rebels” to be punished, even though many residents of the four counties named in Ewing’s orders were pro-Union or neutralist in sentiment.

Animals and farm property were stolen or destroyed; houses, barns and outbuildings were burned to the ground. Some civilians were even summarily executed, a few as old as seventy years of age. Ewing’s four counties became a devastated “no man’s land,” with only charred chimneys and burnt stubble showing where homes and thriving communities had once stood, earning the sobriquet “The Burnt District.” There are very few remaining antebellum homes in this area due to the Order.

Ironically, Ewing’s order had the opposite military effect from what he intended: instead of eliminating the guerrillas, it gave them immediate and unlimited access to supplies. The Bushwhackers were able to help themselves to abandoned chickens, hogs and cattle, left behind when their owners were forced to flee. Smokehouses were sometimes found to contain hams and bacon, while barns often held feed for horses.

With the Confederacy clearly losing the war in 1864, Sterling Price reassembled his Missouri Guard and launched a last gasp offensive to take Missouri. However, Price was unable to repeat his 1861 victorious campaigns in the state. Striking in the southeastern portion of the state, Price moved north, and attempted to capture Fort Davidson but failed.

Next, Price sought to attack St. Louis but found it too heavily fortified and thus broke west in a parallel course with the Missouri River. This took him through the (relatively) friendly country of the “Boonslick”, which had provided a large percentage of the Missouri volunteers who had joined the CSA. Ironically, although Price had issued orders against pillage, many of the pro-Confederate civilians in this area (which would be known as “Little Dixie” after the war) suffered from looting and depredations at the hands of Price’s men.

The Federals attempted to retard Price’s advance through both minor and substantial skirmishing such as at Glasgow and Lexington. Price made his way to the extreme western portion of the state, taking part in a series of bitter battles at the Little Blue, Independence, and Byram’s Ford. His Missouri campaign culminated in the battle of Westport in which over 30,000 troops fought, leading to the defeat of the Southern army. The Missourians retreated through Kansas and Indian Territory into Arkansas, where they stayed for the remainder of the war.



Scientists begin restoring Confederate submarine, H.L. Hunley

Here’s a post from Associated Press with a report on how scientists are removing encrusted debris and rust from the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley.

Confederate Submarine_Cham640.jpg

August 12, 2014: Conservator Lisa Nasanen uses a hose to wet down the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, S.C. After the submarine sat in a chemical bath for more than three months to help loosen the encrustation, scientists on Tuesday began the laborious job of removing the built-up sediment by hand. The work is expected to take between eight months and a year and scientists hope that when the hull is revealed, it will provide the final clues as to why the hand-cranked sub, the first in history to sink an enemy warship, sank off South Carolina in 1864. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

Scientists using small air-powered chisels and dental tools have begun the laborious job of removing the encrusted sand, sediment and rust from the hull of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship.

It will take about a year of painstaking work to reveal the hull of the hand-cranked sub for the first time in 150 years.

The hull may provide final clues as to why the Hunley sank off South Carolina in February 1864 after sending the Union blockade ship USS Housatonic to the bottom.

“We will probably be closer” to knowing why, said Stephanie Crette, the director of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, of Clemson University’s Restoration Institute in North Charleston, a few miles from where the Civil War began at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

Damage to the hull of the 40-foot sub might explain the sinking.

“We will have a better understanding of how it was built and what happened to it,” said Nestor Gonzalez-Pereyra, the center’s associate director.

The sub and its crew of eight set off a powder charge at the end of a spar sinking the Housatonic as the Confederacy tried to break a Union blockade of Charleston late in the war. The Hunley also sank.

The sub was discovered in 1995 and raised and brought to the lab in 2000. Later the silt-filled interior was excavated and the remains of the crewmen removed. They were buried in 2004 in Charleston in what has been called the last Confederate funeral.

Last year, scientists announced it appears the charge that sank the Housatonic was attached to a 16-foot spar at the front of the Hunley. They speculated that could mean the crew was knocked unconscious and the sub damaged by the shock wave from the explosion.

At the time the Hunley was raised, historians thought it was farther away from the Housatonic and speculated the crew ran out of air before they could crank back to the coast.

Since early May, the Hunley has been bathed in a solution of sodium hydroxide to loosen the encrustation coating the hull and interior. Now conservationists will work by hand on the sub for six hours a day, three days a week. They will work, sometimes in the cramped interior of the sub, wearing goggles, boots and gloves. When not working, the 76,000-gallon tank in which the Hunley sits will be refilled.

Plans call for the Hunley to eventually be displayed in a $40 million museum not far from the lab. The Hunley Commission agreed to establish a museum authority to oversee construction.

If you’d like to read more about the Hunley click here. There is fairly accurate reproduction of the H.L. Hunley in front of the Charleston Museum, America’s first museum.

If you would like to know more about the H.L. Hunley, here are some additional resources:

Friends of the Hunley, Charleston, South Carolina

The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy by Tom Chaffin

Secrets Of A Civil War Submarine: Solving The Mysteries Of The H. L. Hunley by Sally M. Walker


Virginia Divided and Occupied

Virginia in 1860The Commonwealth of Virginia was the Southern state that saw the majority of the fighting in the Eastern Theater. Many of its citizens and their property were subjected to the constant ebbs and flows of various armies. As an example the Shenandoah Valley was burned from end to end over the four years of the war.

What we’ll be looking at in this post is how Virginia came to be divided and then partially occupied by Union forces. It is not the purview of this post to discuss the numerous major battles on the soil of the Old Dominion. Those can be found at other places on this blog and would require a book-length presentation to do them justice. Rather we’ll first look at the creation of West Virginia and then the Union occupation of northern and eastern Virginia.

Virginia in 1860 was the most populous of the Southern states. With almost half a million enslaved people, it had the highest number of residents living in slavery. Virginia also had probably the most varied geography, the most diversified economy, and the third-largest land area of any slave state.

Not only was Virginia a Mid-Atlantic state but because of its long Ohio River border it was also a Mid-Western state. Virginia bordered on five slave states: Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, and two free states: Pennsylvania and Ohio. Thus, it would be a key state in any conflict between North and South.

By 1860 Virginia’s economy was different than the other Southern states. Industrialization was growing across the state. The once-vibrant plantation economy was no longer as widespread. Many slaves were either being sold south for use on cotton, rice or tobacco plantations or rented to industrial enterprises.

As the calls for secession increased there was no way to gauge the sentiment of Virginia citizens if a Republican presidential candidate who was opposed to slavery won the election in November that year. The mood in the mountains of western Virginia was primarily anti-secession while other parts of the state were ambivalent.

John Brown’s Raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October 1859 inflamed public opinion in the state. Many Southern slave owners feared that other abolitionists would also incite an insurrection of enslaved people and spread violence and bloodshed throughout the South. Those in Virginia were no exception. 

The Presidential election of 1860 would set the stage for the secession and division of Virginia. Four candidates took part. Two were Democrats: Stephen Douglas of Illinois and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. John Bell who ran under the banner of the Constitutional Union Party was from Tennessee. Finally, Abraham Lincoln was the nominee of the new Republican Party.

In Virginia, the presidential election of 1860 was the closest in history. Constitutional Union candidate John Bell very narrowly won the state’s fifteen electoral votes, in addition to those of Kentucky and Tennessee. He received 74,701 votes, as reported in the Richmond Daily Enquirer of December 24, 1860; John C. Breckinridge received 74,379; Stephen A. Douglas received 16,292; and Abraham Lincoln received 1,929. 

As a measure of the division throughout the country Lincoln was not even on the ballot in nine southern states. South Carolina had no popular vote nor did they cast any electoral votes.

On December 18, 1860, Senator John Jordan Crittenden, of Kentucky, introduced compromise proposals that he hoped would be agreeable to enough Northern and Southern leaders that the crisis could be ended peacefully and the Union preserved. The Senate tabled Crittenden’s proposals late in December 1860, and the House of Representatives never took a final vote on any of the elements of Crittenden’s plan.

Two days after Crittenden introduced his compromise South Carolina seceded from the Union. Within weeks six other states followed them out of the Union On January 19, 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia issued a call for a national peace conference to meet in Washington to seek a compromise to end the crisis. Their efforts were for naught for like the Crittenden proposals, the Peace Conference’s proposals were unacceptable to many leaders in both sections.

In mid-January 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia ordered an election of delegates to a convention to consider the question of secession. The Assembly asked voters to decide whether the convention, if it chose to secede, had to submit its decision to the voters for ratification or rejection in a popular referendum.

The convention that met in Richmond from February 13 through May 1, 1861, is known in Virginia’s history as the Secession Convention, but for its first two months it was a Union convention. Unlike state conventions in the lower South that met and speedily voted to secede, the Virginia convention remained in session for two and a half months and kept Virginia in the Union until mid-April 1861.

At the same time, the delegates attempted to enlist the other upper South slave states that also remained in the Union in finding a compromise that would allow the states that had seceded to return and restore the Union. The electorate voted to hold a popular referendum on the issue if the convention decided that Virginia should secede from the Union. Overall, about two-thirds of Virginia’s voters favored requiring the referendum, suggesting the relative weakness of secession sentiment in the state at that time.

The pro-secession editor of an Abingdon Democratic newspaper wrote, “the immediate secession candidates have been badly whipped—in fact, have been almost annihilated,—and the gentlemen representing the ‘wait-a-bit‘ ticket triumphantly elected.”

On April 4, 1861, when the question faced by the delegates was whether secession was wise or desirable, 63 delegates from west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where there were very few slaves, voted to remain a part of the United States while only 15 delegates voted for secession.

In the counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the vote was almost equally divided, with 30 delegates voting for secession and 27 voting against it. Most of the opponents of secession in this region resided in north-central Virginia and in and around the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, where slavery was relatively less important than elsewhere.

The stage was set for the division of the state. Following the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops the convention met again and voted 88 to 55 to submit an ordinance of secession to the voters for ratification or rejection in a May referendum.

The Ordinance of Secession that the convention adopted on April 17, 1861, and that voters in the state ratified in a referendum conducted on May 23, 1861, repealed Virginia’s 1788 ratification of the Constitution of the United States and also repealed all of the General Assembly’s votes to ratify amendments to the Constitution.

The western Unionists returned home and called for a convention to meet in Wheeling in order to consider their next moves. They met during the summer of 1861 and voted to separate from Virginia. In August 1861, a third convention in Wheeling issued the call for election of a constitutional convention to create a new state consisting of western and northwestern counties of old Virginia. Initially called Kanawha and later called West Virginia, it was admitted to the Union as a free state in June 1863.

Over the next two years pieces of Virginia were captured and occupied by various Union armies. Fortress Monroe on the Virginia Peninsula always remained under the authority of the Federal government. Across from Fortress Monroe was the city of Norfolk and the Gosport Shipyard.

Almost immediately after Virginia seceded it was captured by Confederate forces. But President Lincoln realizing the importance of the naval base directed its recapture by Union troops. For the rest of the war Norfolk and the surrounding area was occupied and under martial law.

The war in the Shenandoah Valley was a constant ebb and flow of battle from north to south. As an example, the town of Winchester in the northern Valley was a strategic prize for both sides. Sitting just south of the Potomac River, Winchester lay on the only route between the east and western United States with direct connections to Washington, D.C. Passing through or nearby Winchester are major transportation and communications routes.

There were three major battles at Winchester in addition to its use as a Confederate base of operations for five major campaigns. It is claimed that Winchester changed hands as many as 72 times during the course of the war, and 13 times in one day. Battles raged all along Main Street at different points in the war. 

With barely 100 miles separating the two capital cities, Northern Virginia found itself in the center of much of the conflict. The Union army occupied large swathes of northern Virginia continually throughout the war. The city of Alexandria across the Potomac from Washington was occupied throughout the war. The Union Army used it as a base of operations to occupy a number of counties in the area.

Many of the early battles that were fought in the state were fought across the northern tier of counties stretching from Prince William County to Fairfax. In addition, much of the partisan activities carried out by both sides took place in this area.

Eventually, Union troops subdued the are and a hard border was established along the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers with the Union Army holding everything to the north. A number of significant battles were fought to the south of this line, including Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. In fact, it could be said that the inevitable defeat of the Army of Northern Virginia began in this area.