This Week In 1865: Confederate Diary posts for Feb 26-27, 1865

Sunday, February 26, 1865

J. B. Jones

John Beauchamp Jones (1810-1866) was a writer who worked in the Confederate War Department in Richmond during the war. His diary was published in 1866 as “A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital.”

“There is much alarm on the streets. Orders have been given to prepare all the tobacco and cotton, which cannot be removed immediately, for destruction by fire.”

Mr. Hunter is now reproached by the slaveowners, whom he thought to please, for defeating the Negro bill. They say his vote will make Virginia a free State, inasmuch as Gen. Lee must evacuate it for the want of negro troops.

Richmond, 1865-en'wikipedia'org@wiki@Richmond_in_the_American_Civil_War#mediaviewer@File~Richmond_Civil_War_ruins

Richmond, Virginia, 1865

There is much alarm on the streets. Orders have been given to prepare all the tobacco and cotton, which cannot be removed immediately, for destruction by fire. And it is generally believed that Lieut.-Gen. A. P. Hill’s corps has marched away to North Carolina, This would leave some 25,000 men to defend Richmond and Petersburg, against, probably, 60,000.

If Richmond be evacuated, most of the population will remain, not knowing whither to go.

Emma Leconte

Emma Florence LeConte (1847-1932) lived in Columbia, SC and witnessed Sherman’s burning of the city.

“Every night the entire horizon was illuminated by burning houses! Poor Carolina!”

Father describes Sherman’s track up there as the same it was in the lower part of the State – desolation and ruin. Every night the entire horizon was illuminated by burning houses! Poor Carolina! And the burning of Columbia was the most diabolical act of all the barbarous war. Father grits his teeth every time he sees the ruins or speaks of the horrors of that night.

As far as I can see the people are undemoralized and more determined than ever. The Yankee officers while here they paid the tribute to the women of this State of saying they were the most firm, obstinate and ultra rebel set of women they had encountered – if the men only prove equally so!

Father and I went to church this morning. We had a mournful looking congregation. Dr. Howe officiated, reading the first Chapter of Lamentations.

Monday, February 27, 1865

J. B. Jones

“Grant is said to be massing his troops on our right, to precipitate them upon the South Side Railroad.”

The Virginia Assembly has passed resolutions instructing the Senators to vote for the negro troops bill-so Mr. Hunter must obey or resign.

Grant is said to be massing his troops on our right, to precipitate them upon the South Side Railroad. Has Hill marched his corps away to North Carolina? If so, Richmond is in very great danger.

I saw Col. Northrop, late Commissary-General, to-day. He looks down, dark, and dissatisfied. Lee’s army eats without him.

I saw Admiral Buchanan to-day, limping a little. He says the enemy tried to shoot away his legs to keep him from dancing at his granddaughter’s wedding, but won’t succeed.

The President and Gen. Lee were out at Camp Lee to-day, urging the returned soldiers (from captivity) to forego the usual furlough and enter upon the spring campaign now about to begin. The other day, when the President made a speech to them, he was often interrupted by cries of “furlough!”

The ladies in the Treasury Department are ordered to Lynchburg, whither the process of manufacturing Confederate States notes is to be transferred.

A committee of the Virginia Assembly waited on the President on Saturday, who told them it was no part of his intention to evacuate Richmond. But some construed his words as equivocal. Tobacco, cotton, etc. are leaving the city daily. The city is in danger.

Joseph Waddell

Joseph Addison Waddell (1823-1914) lived in Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia. Before the war he was owner and editor of the “Staunton Spectator” newspaper. Waddell, who remained at home during the war, was anti-secession, but pro-Confederate.

“Every body feels that we are in the crisis of our fate.”

There was a rumor yesterday of a battle in which Beauregard was mortally wounded, but it is disbelieved. We have no intelligence. A battle, however, is expected and may take place any day.

Some public stores have been removed from Richmond to Lynchburg. Rumors of a large force assembling at Winchester, to move this way. Every body feels that we are in the crisis of our fate.

Much speechifying in the Courthouse to-day and in answer to an appeal from Richmond. A large amount of flour and bacon was contributed for the sustenance of the army; In addition many persons contributed Confederate States Bonds, several as much as $10,000 cash.

The Government is now paying $400 per barrel for flour -I have no idea what individuals have to pay for it, if it can be bought for currency. Kate gave ($800) eight hundred dollars a few days ago for an alpaca dress!

Ron Franklin

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This Week In 1865: Confederate Diary posts for Feb 23-25, 1865

Thursday, February 23, 1865

Emma Leconte

Emma Florence LeConte (1847-1932) lived in Columbia, SC and witnessed Sherman’s burning of the city.

“Yankees – that word in my mind is a synonym for all that is mean, despicable and abhorrent.”

The Yankees talk very strongly of conquering the South immediately – if so our day of rest is far off. Somehow I am still as confident as I ever was. If only our people will be steadfast. The more we suffer the more we should be willing to undergo rather than submit.

Yankee soldiers reenactors-flickr'com@photos@buddhakiwi@26989248Somehow I cannot feel we can be conquered. We have lost everything, but if everything – negroes, property – all could be given back a hundredfold I would not be willing to go back to them. I would rather endure any poverty than live under Yankee rule. I would rather far have France or any other country for a mistress – anything but live as one nation with Yankees – that word in my mind is a synonym for all that is mean, despicable and abhorrent.

I hope relief will come before famine actually threatens. We have to cut our rations as short as possible to try to make the food hold out till succor comes. Father left us with some mouldy spoiled flour that was turned over to him by the Bureau. We can only possible eat it made into battercakes and then it is horrid. We draw rations from the town every day – a tiny bit of rancid salt pork and a pint of meal. We have the battercakes for breakfast, the bit of meat and cornbread for dinner – no supper. We fare better than some because we have the cows. Mother had peas to feed them, and sometimes we take a few of those from them to vary our diet. Today as a great treat mother gave us boiled rice for dinner – some the negroes had brought us in the pillage of the stores. We enjoyed it immensely – the first I have tasted in many days.

Friday, February 24, 1865

 J. B. Jones

John Beauchamp Jones (1810-1866) was a writer who worked in the Confederate War Department in Richmond during the war. His diary was published in 1866 as “A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital.”

“Yesterday the Senate voted down the bill to put 200,000 negroes in the army.”

Yesterday the Senate voted down the bill to put 200,000 negroes in the army. The papers to-day contain a letter from Gen. Lee, advocating the measure as a necessity. Mr. Hunter’s vote defeated it. He has many negroes, and will probably lose them; but the loss of popularity, and fear of forfeiting all chance of the succession, may have operated on him as a politician. What madness!

The Bureau of Conscription being abolished, the business is to be turned over to the generals of reserves, who will employ the reserves mainly in returning deserters and absentees to the army. The deserters and absentees will be too many for them perhaps, at this late day. The mischief already effected may prove irremediable.

A dispatch from Gen. Lee, this morning, states that Lieut. McNeill, with 30 men, entered Cumberland, Maryland, on the 21st inst., and brought off Gens. Crook and Kelly, etc. This is a little affair, but will make a great noise. We want 300,000 men in the field instead of 30.

The markets are now almost abandoned, both by sellers and purchasers. Beef and pork are sold at $7 to $9 per pound, and everything else in proportion. Butter, from $15 to $20.

Saturday, February 25, 1865

 J. B. Jones

“The garrisons of Charleston and Wilmington may add 20,000 men to our force opposing Sherman, and may beat him yet.”

There are more rumors of the evacuation of Wilmington and even Petersburg. No doubt that stores, etc. are leaving Petersburg; but I doubt whether it will be evacuated, or Richmond, either. Grant may, and probably will, get the Danville Railroad, but I think Lee will disappoint him in the item of evacuation, nevertheless; for we have some millions in gold-equal to 300,000,000 paper–to purchase subsistence; and it is believed Virginia alone, for specie, can feed the army. Then another army may arise in Grant’s rear.

Mr. Hunter’s eyes seem blood-shotten since he voted against Lee’s plan of organizing negro troops.

The papers are requested to say nothing relative to military operations in South and North Carolina, for they are read by Gen. Grant every morning of their publication. The garrisons of Charleston and Wilmington may add 20,000 men to our force opposing Sherman, and may beat him yet.

Ron Franklin

 Photo credit: Desiree Williams via flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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This Week In 1865: Confederate Diary posts for Feb 22, 1865

Wednesday, February 22, 1865

As J. B. Jones anticipates, Wilmington, NC fell to the Union on this day. General Sherman had taken Columbia, SC on the 17th. Though he denied ordering it to be burned, when his troops left, Columbia was in ashes. Emma LeConte had no doubts the hated Yankees were responsible for firing the city.

 J. B. Jones

John Beauchamp Jones (1810-1866) was a writer who worked in the Confederate War Department in Richmond during the war. His diary was published in 1866 as “A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital.”

Yesterday the Senate postponed action on the Negro bill. What this means I cannot conjecture, unless there are dispatches from abroad, with assurances of recognition based upon stipulations of emancipation, which cannot be carried into effect without the consent of the States, and a majority of these seem in a fair way of falling into the hands of the Federal generals.

To-day is the anniversary of the birth of Washington, and of the inauguration of Davis; but I hear of no holiday. Not much is doing, however, in the departments; simply a waiting for calamities, which come with stunning rapidity. The next news, I suppose, will be the evacuation of Wilmington! Then Raleigh may tremble. Unless there is a speedy turn in the tide of affairs, confusion will reign supreme and universally.

We have here now some 4000 or 5000 paroled prisoners returned by the Federal authorities, without sufficient food for them, and soon there may be 10,000 Federal prisoners from Wilmington, which it seems cannot be exchanged there. Is it the policy of their own government to starve them?

 Emma LeConte

Emma Florence LeConte (1847-1932) lived in Columbia, SC and witnessed Sherman’s march through the city.

I meant last night to write down some description of what I had seen, but was too wretchedly depressed and miserable to even think of it.

1865 Burning of Columbia by William Waud for Harper's Weekly

“The Burning of Columbia, South Carolina” by William Waud for Harper’s Weekly, 1865

Yes, I have seen it all – I have seen the “Abomination of Desolation”. It is even worse than I thought. The place is literally in ruins. The entire heart of the city is in ashes – only the outer edges remain. On the whole length of Sumter Street not one house beyond the first block after the Campus is standing, except the brick house of Mr. Mordecai. Standing in the centre of the town, as far as the eye can reach nothing is to be seen but heaps of rubbish, tall dreary chimneys and shattered brick walls, while “In the hollow windows, dreary horror’s sitting”. Poor old Columbia – where is all her beauty – so admired by strangers – so loved by her children! She can only excite the pity of the former and the tears of the latter.

Emma LeConte

Emma LeConte

With very few exceptions all our friends are homeless. We enter Main Street – since the war in crowd and bustle it has rivalled a city thoroughfare – what desolation! Everything has vanished as by enchantment – stores, merchants, customers – all the eager faces gone – only three or four dismal looking people to be seen picking their way over heaps of rubbish, brick and timbers. The wind moans among the bleak chimneys and whistles through the gaping windows of some hotel or warehouse.

As we passed the old State house going back I paused to gaze on the ruins – only the foundations and chimneys – and to recall the brilliant scene enacted there one short month ago. And I compared that scene with its beauty, gayety and festivity – the halls so elaborately decorated – the surging throng – with this.

The negroes are flocking in from the devastated country to be fed. Mayor Goodwyn has ordered them to be sent back, as the town is threatened with starvation. Indeed I do not know what will become of us unless relief comes in, from Edgefield or Augusta. In every other direction we understand the country is a desert – Orangeburg, Winnsboro’, Chester, Camden – all in ashes. Incarnate fiends! And Sherman! – “O for a tongue to curse the slave.”

Ron Franklin

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Lincoln in 1855: Slavery will never end peacefully

Abraham Lincoln was a realist. At a time when many in the country, including most politicians, were desperately seeking a way to keep the slavery issue under wraps, Lincoln had already recognized that the South’s “peculiar institution” wasn’t going to just shrivel up and blow away on its own.

Lincoln sitting-WikiC, Mathew Brady pubdom

Abraham Lincoln

That’s what Lincoln wrote in a letter to a friend in 1855. Judge George Robertson was a former Congressman from Kentucky who had represented Lincoln in a family-related legal proceeding. Although Robertson was a slaveowner, he thought that slavery would one day disappear. But he didn’t expect or desire it to happen anytime soon. In fact, when Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, Robertson vehemently opposed it. He wanted fugitive slaves in Kentucky returned to their owners, and when one of his own ran away to a Union army camp and was not returned, he sued. That sequence of events put something of a strain on his relationship with Lincoln.

But in 1855 their relationship was still intact, and Robertson sent Lincoln copies of his writings and speeches concerning slavery. Lincoln’s reply shows that even then, six years before Ft. Sumter, he saw clearly that slavery would not end without a fight. Here’s Lincoln’s letter:

Springfield, Illinois, August 15, 1855
Hon: Geo. Robertson
Lexington, Ky

My Dear Sir:

The volume you left for me has been received. I am really grateful for the honor of your kind remembrance, as well as for the book. The partial reading I have already given it, has afforded me much of both pleasure and instruction. It was new to me that the exact question which led to the Missouri compromise, had arisen before it arose in regard to Missouri; and that you had taken so prominent a part in it. Your short, but able and patriotic speech upon that occasion, has not been improved upon since, by those holding the same views; and, with all the lights you then had, the views you took appear to me as very reasonable.

You are not a friend of slavery in the abstract. In that speech you spoke of “the peaceful extinction of slavery” and used other expressions indicating your belief that the thing was, at some time, to have an end. Since then we have had thirty six years of experience; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal failure of Henry Clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect any thing in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hope utterly. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that “all men are created equal” a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim “a self evident lie” The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day—for burning fire-crackers!!!

That spirit which desired the peaceful extinction of slavery, has itself become extinct, with the occasion, and the men of the Revolution. Under the impulse of that occasion, nearly half the states adopted systems of emancipation at once; and it is a significant fact, that not a single state has done the like since. So far as peaceful, voluntary emancipation is concerned, the condition of the negro slave in America, scarcely less terrible to the contemplation of a free mind, is now as fixed, and hopeless of change for the better, as that of the lost souls of the finally impenitent. The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.

Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently — forever — half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution.

Your much obliged friend, and humble servant

A. Lincoln

Ron Franklin

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Varina Davis’s critical assessment of Confederate spy Rose Greenhow

Rose Greenhow, from her book

Rose Greenhow as pictured in her book, 1863.

As a Confederate spy in Washington, Rose Greenhow used her relationships with men in high level positions in the Union government or military to gain access to sensitive information. She was eventually caught, imprisoned in Washington, then banished across Confederate lines.

Greenhow was a major hero to the Confederacy, and when she drowned on October 1, 1864 while returning on a blockade running ship from a trip to England, she was buried with full military honors.

In its edition of October 12, 1864 the Richmond Daily Dispatch described the funeral:

Hundreds of ladies lined the wharf at Wilmington upon the approach of the steamer bearing Mrs. Greenhow’s remains. The Soldiers’ Aid Society took charge of the funeral, which took place from the chapel of Hospital No. 4.

The coffin…covered with the Confederate flag, was borne to Oakdale Cemetery, followed by an immense funeral cortege… Rain fell in torrents during the day; but as the coffin was being lowered into the grave, the sun burst forth in the brightest majesty, and a rainbow of the most vivid color spanned the horizon. Let us accept the omen… for her, the quiet sleeper, who, after many storms and a tumultuous and checkered life, came to peace and rest at last.

Varina Davis-en'wikipedia'org@wiki@Varina_Davis#mediaviewer@File~VHowellDavis

Varina Davis

But even though she had served the Confederate cause well, being credited by Jefferson Davis with providing information that allowed the rebels to win the battle of First Manassas, Rose Greenhow’s way of life did not meet with universal approbation in the South, especially among women.

Varina Davis, wife of the Confederate president, expressed her less than glowing assessment of Greenhow in a letter to her friend, the diarist Mary Chesnut:

October 8, 1864, Richmond, Virginia

Nothing has so impressed me as the account of poor Mrs. Greenhow’s sudden summons to a higher court than those she strove to shine in. And not an hour in the day is the vivid picture which exists in my mind obliterated of the men who rowed her in across ‘the cruel, crawling, hungry foam’ and her poor wasted beautiful face all divested of its meretricious ornaments and her scheming head hanging helplessly upon those who but an hour before she felt so able and willing to deceive. She was a great woman spoiled by education – or the want of it. She has left few less prudent women behind her– and many less devoted to our cause. “She loved much,” and ought she not to be forgiven? May God have mercy upon her and upon her orphan child.

By being “able and willing to deceive” men, Rose Greenhow had provided significant aid to the Confederacy. And they were grateful. But you have to wonder whether, if she had lived, the “hundreds of ladies” who buried her with such pomp and adulation would ever have truly accepted her.

Ron Franklin

For more on Varina Davis, see
Mary Elizabeth Bowser: Union Spy In The Confederate White House

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Virginia’s Governor urges use of slaves as Confederate Soldiers

Silas Chandler

Silas Chandler, with rifle, and his owner, Andrew Martin Chandler

By December of 1864 it was clear to anyone who cared to see that the Confederacy was fast approaching exhaustion. Union armies under Grant in Virginia and Sherman in Georgia had placed a chokehold on the military resources of the South. But most importantly, after almost four years of bloody warfare, the Confederacy was simply running out of men who could, or would, fight.

As early as January of 1864 General Patrick Cleburne had proposed arming slaves to fight for the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis considered that idea so explosive that he not only ordered that Cleburne’s proposal be instantly and totally quashed, but that every written copy of the proposal be destroyed. (Fortunately for the historical record, one copy escaped).

But now, after a year that saw Sherman take Atlanta and move south from there, and with Grant at the gates of Richmond, discussion of the idea of putting blacks into the ranks could no longer be suppressed.

Virginia governor William “Extra Billy” Smith, in his December 7, 1864 message to the Senate and House of Delegates, put the issue officially on the table for consideration by the state legislature. Here are excerpts of what he said:

[The enemy has] seized our slaves and, in violation of all civilized war, armed them against us.

Under every disadvantage the war has been protracted deep into its fourth year, and we find ourselves looking around for material to enlarge our armies. Whence is it to come? … Foreign countries are in effect closed against us. Recruiting from the prisoners we capture will not, except to a limited extent, supply our wants, and the public attention naturally turns to our own slaves as a ready and abundant stock from which to draw.

This policy, however, has given rise to great diversity of opinion. Some consider it as giving up the institution of slavery. Others declare that to put our slaves in the ranks will drive our fellow-citizens from them and diffuse dissatisfaction throughout the country.

In reply, it is said that this policy will effectually silence the clamor of the poor man about this being the rich man’s war; that there is no purpose to mingle the two races in the same ranks, and that there cannot be a reasonable objection to fighting the enemy’s negroes with our own; that as to the. abandonment of slavery, it is already proclaimed to be at an end by the enemy, and will undoubtedly be so if we are subjugated, and that by making it aid in our defense it will improve the chance of preserving it.

This is a grave and important question and full of difficulty. All agree in the propriety of using our slaves in the various menial employments of the Army, and as sappers and miners and pioneers, but much diversity of opinion exists as to the propriety of using them as soldiers now. All agree that when the question becomes one of liberty and independence on the one hand or subjugation on the other, that every means within our reach should be used to aid in our struggle and to baffle and thwart our enemy. I say every man will agree to this; no man would hesitate.

Even if the result were to emancipate our slaves, there is not a man that would not cheerfully put the negro into the Army rather than become a slave himself to our hated and vindictive fee. It is, then, simply a question of time.

Has the time arrived when this issue is fairly before us? Is it, indeed, liberty and independence, or subjugation, which is presented to us? A man must be blind to current events; to the gigantic proportions of this war; to the proclamations of the enemy; who does not see that the issue above referred to is presented now… I will not say that, under the Providence of God, we may not be able to triumph; but I do say that we should not, from any mawkish sensibility, refuse any means within our reach which will tend to enable us to work out our deliverance . . .

I do not hesitate to say that I would arm such portion of our able-bodied slave population as may be necessary and put them in the field, so as to have them ready for the spring campaign, even if it resulted in the freedom of those thus organized . . .

No one would advocate the policy of thus appropriating our slaves except as a matter of urgent necessity… I therefore earnestly recommend to the Legislature that they should give this subject early consideration and enact such measures as their wisdom may approve.

Even with both the Governor of Virginia and Robert E. Lee himself urging quick action to arm slaves to fight for the Confederacy, slaveowners resisted. It wasn’t until March of 1865 that several companies of slaves were organized and began to drill in Richmond. By then it was far too late for the experiment to even be tried.

Within a month of the time the when Confederates, out of utter desperation, could bring themselves to begin training blacks as soldiers, Lee would surrender to Grant at Appomattox. At the time of that surrender, there would not be a single duly enrolled black soldier in Lee’s army.

Ron Franklin

© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin

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States rights would doom the Confederacy even if they won the war

Would the Confederacy have become a powerful nation if they had won the Civil War? Probably not. Their commitment to state sovereignty would have soon torn them apart.

By the summer of 1864 Southerners were sick of the Civil War. Many of them were looking for ways to negotiate an end to the conflict on terms they would consider honorable. A similar war weariness was taking hold in the North, at least among Democrats, many of whom had opposed the war from the beginning.

Confederate States

Confederate States

One strategy for ending the war that seemed to be gaining favor both North and South was the idea of calling a convention of all the states. The hope was that delegates to that convention would hash out some sort of compromise that they could take back to their respective states for approval.

Neither Jefferson Davis nor Abraham Lincoln wanted anything to do with the idea of a convention, both sensing that if it achieved anything at all, it would be at the expense of the very war aims each side had already spent so much blood to advance. But as Northern Democrats prepared to fight the 1864 presidential campaign, they were considering adding the convention idea to their platform.

That’s the background to the editorial that appeared in the August 31, 1864 issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch. Quoting approvingly from an article published in the Charleston Mercury, the Dispatch editor wanted to drive home the point, which both newspapers considered the consensus view among Southerners, that “the Constitution of the Confederate States does not authorize the Government to put the said States, or any of them, into convention with any foreign power.”

A “government” that had no ability to govern

The key issue, from the two newspapers’ point of view, was that the Confederate government couldn’t call the Southern states into a convention because it was basically powerless to tell them to do anything at all. Here’s how the Dispatch put it (italics are my emphasis):

The Confederate States are so many sovereignties, each a nation in itself, with all the claims and attributes of sovereignty. This is the doctrine we went out of the Union proclaiming; the doctrine for the maintenance of which we have been fighting for the last three years and a half; the doctrine which distinguishes us from our enemies of the Yankee States; and which, if we surrender, we give up all we have been contending for.

Being independent nations, they have united in a partnership for certain specified purposes, and have appointed an agent or attorney to carry those purposes into effect. That agent or attorney is known as the Government of the Confederate States. Its power of attorney is the Constitution, and it cannot transcend the limits conferred by that instrument any more than an attorney of flesh and blood can go beyond the limits of the paper by which he is created such. Now, what right has such an agency as this to put any one of the independent nations from whom it holds its power into the proposed convention, or any other sort of convention, not authorized expressly by the Constitution? . . .

Whenever a treaty of peace shall be made, it must be done solely on the basis of the entire independence and sovereignty of each particular State. That must be preliminary to, and cannot be a subject of, negotiation. The Confederate Government has no right to make any peace in which one inch of land belonging to any one of the States shall be given up, or one iota of its privileges as a sovereign be surrendered. This, so far from being the subject of negotiation, must be the starting point from which all negotiation must proceed.

I think the Dispatch did a pretty good job of summarizing the guiding philosophy of the Confederacy. It was by declaring itself an independent nation simply resuming its sovereignty that South Carolina claimed the right to secede from the Union.

States rights meant no negotiated settlement to end the war

To me, this commitment to the principle of state sovereignty had a couple of implications, one recognized by Confederates at the time, and one probably not.

The first was explicitly stated in the Dispatch article, and was articulated repeatedly by Jefferson Davis: the only negotiation for ending the war the Confederacy would even consider would be one that acknowledged the independence of the seceded states from the outset. Of course, for the United States to negotiate on that basis would concede the very issue on which the war was being fought. The thought of doing that never entered Abraham Lincoln’s head. There would be no convention of the states, and the only meaningful negotiation between the two sides would occur at Appomattox.

States rights would have blown a victorious Confederacy apart

The second consequence of the Confederacy being founded on the principle that each state was a sovereign nation was, in my opinion, that even if the South had won the war, the Confederate States of America was doomed. It couldn’t last. Even during the war states like Georgia and North Carolina had serious disagreements with the central government in Richmond. Once the unifying force of fighting a common enemy had dissipated, the first serious clash of interests between one state and the rest would have set off a second round of secessions, this time among the Confederates themselves.

A “nation” founded on the principle that its constituent parts are sovereign in their own right is an impossibility.

Ron Franklin

© 2014 Ronald E. Franklin

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