Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’
One of my readers is researching General Grenville M. Dodge and asked for information. I, of course, turned promptly to my buddy Peter A. Hansen who knows more about rail history than anyone I know. Pete writes for most of the major rail history magazines, consults with museums and rail companies, speaks regularly on rail history, and is currently editor of Railroad History, the scholarly journal of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Pete has also been an on-camera source for CBS News and NBC News. More about Pete here.
Fun Fact: It’s an indisputable fact that Railroad History is the oldest (and still the most scholarly) rail history journal, but it is also believed to be the oldest industrial heritage journal of any kind in the U.S.
The information below is all Pete’s.
“You’ve seen Dodge many times, though you may not have known it. He appears at the center of what’s arguably the most famous photograph in American history (below). Two men on the ground are shaking hands; Dodge is the one on the right.
Dodge was born in Danvers, Mass. in 1831, and educated at New Hampshire’s Durham Academy and Vermont’s Norwich University. Upon receiving his engineering degree, he did what many ambitious young engineers did in the 1850s: He went to work for a railroad. He started with the Illinois Central, and later went to the Chicago & Rock Island and the Mississippi & Missouri. It was during his service to the latter two roads that he met Thomas C. Durant, who would later become the driving force behind the Union Pacific, the eastern half of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.
Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln stemmed from a chance 1859 encounter on the front porch of the Pacific House hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lincoln was in town to inspect some real estate that had been offered as collateral for a loan requested by a friend, and he was also due to make a speech there. (He wasn’t yet an officially-declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but he was at least considering it.) Dodge had just returned from a surveying expedition in Nebraska’s Platte Valley, seeking a route for an eventual Pacific railroad. Lincoln, a frontiersman by birth, was intensely interested in the subject of internal improvements, and particularly in a line to California. During their two-hour meeting, Lincoln did most of the listening, and Dodge, the talking. “By his kindly ways,” Dodge would recall, “[he] soon drew from me all I knew of the country west, and the results of my reconnoisances. [sic] As the saying is, he completely ‘shelled my woods,’ getting all the secrets that were later to go to my employers.”
A few years later, when President Lincoln needed impartial advice on the Pacific Railroad, the greatest non-military undertaking of his administration (or indeed, in all of American history, up to that point), he turned to Dodge. Apart from his unquestioned abilities, it may have been Dodge’s relationship with Lincoln that made him a favorite of Sherman and Grant.
Dodge began the war inauspiciously enough, as colonel of the Fourth Iowa infantry regiment. He was to make his mark at Pea Ridge in early 1862, where he sustained multiple minor wounds and had three horses shot from under him. He was promoted to brigadier general in April of that year, and was commanded to rebuild the Mobile & Ohio Railroad between Corinth, Miss., and Columbus, Ky. Despite continual harassment by Nathan Bedford Forrest, he got the job done by October.
His performance did not go unnoticed. Grant’s chief of staff, John Rawlins, sent for him that month, and he was given a divisional command with the Army of Tennessee. He became something of a spymaster during the Vicksburg campaign, where he also covered Grant’s left during the final stages.
It’s also worth noting that Lincoln sent for Dodge during the Vicksburg siege, seeking his advice on several matters related to the Pacific Railroad Act. In particular, the Act had authorized the president to name the eastern terminus of the line, and Lincoln wanted to hear more about Council Bluffs. Also, certain provisions of the 1862 Act had scared private investors away from the project: Lincoln sought Dodge’s advice on how to redress them, but ultimately rejected Dodge’s advice on the finance question. Dodge thought the government should simply build the railroad itself; Lincoln favored a revised Pacific Railroad Act in which government bonds would take second position to private issues – a reversal from the original Act. Lincoln’s view prevailed in Congress, and a second Pacific Railroad Act was passed in 1864. Lincoln did follow Dodge’s advice about Council Bluffs, however, and to this day, the city is Milepost 0 on the Union Pacific’s line west from the Missouri River.
Dodge went on leave after Vicksburg, and Durant lobbied him vigorously to resign his commission and return to railroading. Durant saw an opportunity in the young engineer for unparalleled Washington influence, and offered him the generous salary of $5,000. Nonetheless, Dodge remained in uniform for the rest of the war, though he would never again attain the distinction of the early campaigns. He served under Sherman during the siege of Atlanta, where a bullet fractured his skull, after which he was effectively out of the war.
Incidentally, Dodge’s papers can be found at the Iowa State Department of History and Archives in Des Moines. Do take his writings with a grain of salt: Dodge was not above embellishing his record. His home in Council Bluffs is now a museum, and it’s well worth a visit. While you’re in town, you might also check out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, which tells the story of the first transcontinental railroad, and of Dodge’s role in it.
Two additional footnotes:
- One of the perks of being a railroad construction engineer, especially in virgin territory, was the ability to name places. Thus, the highest point on the first transcontinental line was at Sherman, Wyo., 8013 feet above sea level. Some 120 miles west, another Wyoming town bears the name of Rawlins.
- Some of Dodge’s history with Lincoln is recounted in my February 2009 Trains magazine feature, ‘The Rail Splitter and the Railroads.’”
Many thanks to Pete for the information above!
For more on Grenville Dodge, I recommend:
- Iowa Public Televisions Series on Dodge here.
- Dodge’s book, How we built the Union Pacific railway: and other railway papers and addresses thanks to Google Books.
In class, we’ve been discussing how the decisions of the two commanders-in-chief during the American Civil War impacted events at the operational level. Modern scholars have challenged the notion that Lincoln simply stayed involved in military details until he found the right general (Grant). Eliot Cohen posits that’s “Lincoln exercised a constant oversight of the war effort from beginning to end.”(1) This intense interest in providing direction can be seen as early as the events surrounding the attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln’s order of the nonviolent resupply of the fort, which caused the Confederates to fire the first shot and thus initiate the war, demonstrates Lincoln’s willingness to go against the advice of senior commanders. Equally important, it showed his considerable ability at playing the game of strategy. Cohen summed it up well by calling Lincoln’s move “characteristically cunning” and revealing of “a steely willingness to accept the hazards of war.”(2)
Lincoln continued to immerse himself in operational details, stepping back only to a degree when General Grant became General-in-chief but certainly not completely. Lincoln carefully reviewed dispatches and, as has been well documented, literally camped in the telegraph office during battles. In fact, he qualified as a micro-manager to some degree. As such, one of the ways in which his leadership impacted operation was by his dismissal of generals who didn’t perform. “By comparison with our recent presidents, Lincoln was an exceptionally unforgiving boss.”(3) He also took considerable personal interest in the technological advancements that took place prior to and during the war. His personal influence could make things happen as it did with the development of river canon, which helped to win control by the Union of the Mississippi River and southern ports.
Lincoln was so intent upon staying informed of field activities that he installed journalist Charles Dana as, effectively, a spy in Grant’s camp while he was assigned in the west. Dana, who even had his own cipher for sending reports back to Stanton, was also dispatched to observe and report back on the command abilities of General Rosecrans. Lincoln put Dana back in Grant’s camp later in the war even after Grant had demonstrated success and earned Lincoln’s trust. This fact further dispels the notion that Lincoln simply turned over the war’s higher direction to Grant.(4) In fact, Cohen posits that “Lincoln did not merely find his generals; he controlled them. He molded the war to its last days, and he intended to dominate the making of peace at its end.” (5)
(1) Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime, (London: Free Press, 2002), 19.
(2) Ibid., 20.
(3) Ibid., 24.
(4) Ibid., 51.
(5) Ibid., 21.
I’ve made a number of new acquisitions over the past few weeks. I bought this book to assist with an assignment on the command skills of Abraham Lincoln. Author Eliot A. Cohen (left), also examines the records of Georges Clemenceau, Winston Churchill and David Ben-Gurion in an effort to synthesize why they stand above others as leaders in time of war. So far, after reading the first few chapters, I’m quite impressed. Full disclosure: I own the 2002 paperback version of this book published in the UK by The Free Press. I recently purchased the audio version from Audible.com published by Blackstone Audiobooks and narrated by Robert Whitfield (a.k.a. Simon Vance).
- Author: Eliot A. Cohen
- Published: 2003-09-09
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN13: 9781400034048
- Binding: Paperback
- 320 pages
12 b&w illus., 1 map
The good folks at the University of Oklahoma Press sent me a review copy yesterday of Bryce Benedict’s Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James Henry Lane. In my usual fashion, I’m posting a few comments prior to a thorough reading.
I live on the borders of Missouri and Kansas so confess some considerable fascination with both Jim Lane and the evolution of war in the towns and farmlands of this part of the Western theater. Lane, a Kansas senator and strong advocate of Lincoln, was a player. Benedict identifies Lincoln himself as having given Lane authority “to raise and command two volunteer regiments.” Lane used them to harass Missourians with violence, theft, and destruction of property in a manner foreshadowing that of Sherman. Benedict posits that Lane thus embraced the notion of “total war” as a means of disabling the enemy’s war machine before it became more widely adopted as a strategy of the Union.
The photo of Lane on the cover (above) was a brilliant choice. After perusing the Library of Congress and finding his carte d’visite (left), it becomes clear that the look of the man fit his personality. In the words of Milton W. Reynolds, Lane was “weird, mysterious, partially insane, partially inspired, and poetic.” He described him as having lived a “…wayward, fitful life of passion and strife, of storm and sunshine a mysterious existence that now dwelt on the mountain-tops of expectation and the very summit of highest realization, and anon in the valley of despondency and deepest gloom.”  Lane committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a pistol in 1866.
Author Bryce Benedict has produced a well researched work with notes for each chapter and three appendices including considerable information about fate of the casualties of Lane’s brigade, most of whom died from disease.
For further reading, check out these books digitized for online reading at the Library of Congress.
 Connelley, William Elsey, (1855-1930) James Henry Lane, the “Grim chieftain” of Kansas (Topeka: Crane, 1899). The Library of Congress Digitized Book. LOC Call number: 9594581, Digitizing sponsor: Sloan Foundation
T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.
Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.
This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.
Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.
Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.
The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.
John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.
Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.
Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)
Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.
Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)
Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.
At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.
Anyone studying 19th century American history will likely have read Eric Foner. WGBH Forum Network provides an audio video lecture Foner provided on Lincoln and slavery in November of 2008 at The Boston Athenaem. It provides some interesting insights on Lincoln’s views on slavery and the Civil War. You can access it here.
Eric Foner is professor o history at Columbia University.
In this world of hustle and bustle, having books read to me is a wonderful luxury. Today I found a terrific site, Freeaudio.org, that takes largely public domain works and provides them free to the public in audio form. This trumps my Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature in that real human readers are easier to listen to.
I picked up the American Library version of Frederick Douglass’ works back in January and love it, but with freeaudio.org, I can clean the garage and “listen” to a professional reading of Douglass’ work as performed by Marvin Pain, an excellent reader.
I will be adding the site to my “Primary Sources” links. Note that some of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches are also available.
I plan on submitting a donation and asking that they begin putting up some of the biographies and autobiographies of our American Civil War military men as well as soldiers diaries.
The good folks at Oxford University Press recently sent me a review copy of Allen C. Guelzo’s Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction. I’m a fan of OUP’s “A Very Short Introduction” series which you can view in its entirety here or by clicking on the picture below. Their advantage is, obviously, their conciseness. I look forward to reading this one.
Professor Guelzo is the Luce Professor of Civil War Era Studies/Professor of History, Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College and you can view his profile here. He holds an MA and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.
The good folks at Oxford University Press have sent me a review copy of Jennifer L. Weber’s book, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North. I’m very much looking forward to reading Weber’s work as it addresses the political war that was in play during the American Civil War in the North. This quick excerpt from the back jacket gives a taste of the ferocity of that conflict.
The Northern home-front during the Civil War was far from tranquil. Fierce political debates set communities on edge, spurred secret plots against the Union, and triggered widespread violence. At the heart of all the turmoil stood the anti-war Democrats, nicknamed “Copperheads.” Now, Jennifer L. Weber offers the first full-length portrait of this powerful faction to appear in almost half a century. Weber reveals how the Copperheads came perilously close to defeating Lincoln and ending the war in the South’s favor.
Note that James M. McPherson provides the foreword.
Dr. Weber is an Assistant Professor with the Department of History at Kansas University and you can see her profile on the campus site here. Oxford University Press provides an online Q & A with Dr. Weber on her book here.
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 9, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195306686
- ISBN-13: 978-0195306682
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
- Note that this book is also available in a Kindle edition.
I’ve spent some time at the Kindle Store perusing their books for deals on American Civil War Books. I’ll follow up with additional lists on Military History and History in general although they are numerous. One plus – many of the Army Field manuals are available for $0.99, You could, of course, download most of the latter from other sites and load to you Kindle as well.
Here’s my list so far of ACW books that are free or under $2.00 in the Kindle Store. Bear in mind that most of these are in the public domain so you can also load them to your Kindle 2 for free in the manners I described in previous posts.
History of the Civil War, 1861 – 1865 by James Ford Rhodes $0.99
Memoirs and Biographies
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army Volume 1 by Philip Henry, General, 1831-1888 Sheridan – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, General, United States Army Volume 2 by Philip Henry, General, 1831-1888 Sheridan – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of P.H. Sheridan, both volumes in one file by Philip Henry Sheridan – $0.99
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant Volume 1 by Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885 Grant – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant Volume 2 by Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885 Grant – $0.00
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain- $0.99
Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to His Father and His Youngest Sister, 1857-1878 by Ulysses S. Grant and Jesse Grant Cramer – $0.99
Campaigning with Grant (1907, [c1897]), First Person Account of Ulysses S. Grant During the Civil War by Horace Porter – $1.59
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, both volumes in a single file by Colonel G.F.R. Henderson – $0.99
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War by G. F. R. Henderson – $0.99
Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War by G.F.R. Henderson and Viscount Wolseley – $0.99
The Life of General Robert E. Lee by Captain Robert E. Lee (his son) – $0.99
A Life of General Robert E. Lee by John Esten Cooke – $0.99
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee by his son by Captain Robert E. Lee – $0.99
With Lee in Virginia, a Story of the American Civil War by G.A. Henty – $0.99
Memoirs of General William T. Sherman by William T. Sherman – $0.99
Thirteen Months in the Rebel Army by William G. Stevenson – $0.99
Captains of the Civil War – A Chronicle of the Blue and the Gray by William Wood – $0.99
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, both volumes in a single file by Jacob Dolson Cox – $0.99
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox – $1.84
Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 by Jacob Dolson Cox – $1.84
Reminiscences of Two Years with the Colored Troops by Joshua M. Addeman – $0.99
Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson – $1.00
Heroes of the Great Conflict: Life and Services of William Farrar Smith, Major General, United States Volunteer in the Civil War by James Harrison Wilson – $0.99
The Scouts of Stonewall: The Story of the Great Valley Campaign by Joseph A. (Joseph Alexander), 1862-1919 Altsheler
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis
History of Company E of the Sixth Minnesota Regiment by Alfred J. Hill – $1.59
Woman’s Work in the Civil War; A Record of Heroism, Patriotism, and Patience by M.D. L. P. Brockett – $1.80
Memories: a Record of Personal Experience and Adventure During Four Years of War by Mrs. Fannie A. Beers – $0.99
Fortifications and Armaments
The Story of the Kearsarge and the Alabama by A. K. Browne – $0.99
The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter, both volumes in a single file by Raphael Semmes- $0.99
The Great Railroad Adventure – a True Tale from the American Civil War by Lieut. William Pittenger – $0.99
Andersonville: a Story of Rebel Military Prisons, all four volumes in a single file by John McElroy – $0.99
The Life, Crime & Capture of John Wilkes Booth by George Alfred Townsend – $0.99
Speeches and Legislative Documents
Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln – $0.49
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln – $0.49
The Emancipation Proclamation (Preliminary and Final Version) by Abraham Lincoln and William Seward – $0.80
Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address by Jefferson Davis – $0.99
Civil War Photography
The Little Regiment and Other Episodes of the American Civil War by Stephen Crane. Published by MobileReference (mobi) by Stephen Crane – $0.99
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – $0.99
I’m a fan of university presses so I’m sharing some information forwarded to me by the good folks at Oxford University Press about books and stories they are featuring on their Oxford University Press USA Blog as part of the Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. Check it out.
- An excerpt from James McPherson’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN
- A series of FAQ’s with Allen Guelzo author of LINCOLN: A Very Short Introduction
- A look at how Lincoln almost failed by Jennifer Weber author of COPPERHEADS: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North
- A post by Lincoln Prize Winner Craig L. Symonds comparing Lincoln and Obama which you can view here.
Tonight I wrap up a short series of posts dealing with the topic of racism in the Antebellum North. In post 2, I discussed Stephen A. Douglas’ markedly white supremacist views in his debate against Abraham Lincoln in Ottawa, Illinois on August 21, 1858. Such open discussion of racial inequality is admittedly shocking to me, a liberal Midwesterner of another century. And yet this perspective was the norm in the Antebellum North. Even Lincoln, in his response to Douglas during the same debate, revealed a reticence to place the African American on the same level as the white man. He was a man of his times.
“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” — Abraham Lincoln
Clearly, and epiphanic for me, northern white Americans in the 19th century considered themselves superior in all respects to African Americans, whether free or slave, and understanding this is critical to understanding the times and events of the Antebellum era.
This discussion makes all the more poignant the events of this day, on which we welcome President Obama.
(1) Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, “First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858,” (<http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/debate1.htm> Accessed on 18 Jan. 2009).
I recently had the opportunity to listen to a performance of the first four debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. There is no better example of the Northern Antebellum perception of the black man than in the words of Douglas during the first of those debates held on August 21, 1858 in Ottawa, Illinois. He used the opportunity to mock Lincoln and abolitionists. More importantly, he showed his colors to be that of a true white supremacist. The comments from the crowd are noted in parentheses.
“I do not question Mr. Lincoln’s conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and hence is his brother, (laughter,) but for my own part, I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother or any kin to me whatever. (“Never.” “Hit him again,” and cheers.) Lincoln has evidently learned by heart Parson Lovejoy’s catechism. (Laughter and applause.) He can repeat it as well as Farnsworth, and he is worthy of a medal from Father Giddings and Fred Douglass for his Abolitionism. (Laughter.) He holds that the negro was born his equal and yours, and that he was endowed with equality by the Almighty, and that no human law can deprive him of these rights which were guarantied to him by the Supreme ruler of the Universe. Now, I do not believe that the Almighty ever intended the negro to be the equal of the white man. (“Never, never.”) If he did, he has been a long time demonstrating the fact. (Cheers.) For thousands of years the negro has been a race upon the earth, and during all that time, in all latitudes and climates, wherever he has wandered or been taken, he has been inferior to the race which he has there met. He belongs to an inferior race, and must always occupy an inferior position. (“Good,” “that’s so.”)” (1)
Douglas also made a point of repeating in several of his debates with Lincoln the improprieties of an abolitionist who he observed driving a carriage while Fred Douglass lounged in the cab with the driver’s wife. This inflamed sense of impropriety regarding black men and white women was consistent with fear mongering in the South that led to greater controls on slave populations.
Read the first post in this series here.
(1) Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, “First Debate: Ottawa, Illinois August 21, 1858,” (<http://www.nps.gov/liho/historyculture/debate1.htm> Accessed on 18 Jan. 2009).
RUN don’t walk to your nearest bookstore or library to read the cover story of the February issue of Trains Magazine, “The Rail Splitter and the Railroads,” by Peter A. Hansen. This terrific article, written by one of the country’s preeminent rail historians, is receiving numerous accolades. Highly recommend for those interested in 19th century America and the Civil War era.
For those of you who are regular Wig Wags Blog readers, you’ll recall that Pete contributed to my Civil War Railroads series here. If you’re a CBS Sunday Morning fan, and caught the show yesterday, you may have seen Pete interviewed by Rita Braver as a part of the story titled AMERICANA: Trains as Art. Pete took Sunday Morning to Kansas City’s “triple crossing,” as well as to the renovated, grand old Union Station.
The good folks at BBC Audiobooks America have sent me a review copy of their new audiobook, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates. This production is particularly apropos because we have arrived at the 150th anniversary of these debates. The timing couldn’t be better for me because I am studying Antebellum America this term.
I put this 16 hour performance into the category of primary source in that it uses as script the same verbatim text captured by the scribes who got every word of the debates down uses shorthand so that they could be published in papers across the nation. Text for the production was provided by the Abraham Lincoln Association.
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo, Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College, provides historical commentary.
Richard Dreyfuss plays Stephen Douglas and David Strathairn, Abraham Lincoln.
Having listened to first two CDs, I can highly recommend!
- ISBN: 978-1-60283-402-6
- Published on: 2009-01
- Format: Audiobook (Unabridged)
- Binding: Audio CD
I’m very pleased to have received a review copy yesterday of Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds from the terrific folks over at Oxford University Press. You can view the book’s listing at OUP here. Being a student of both the American Civil War AND maritime history, I can’t think of a better read. I’m reserving this one for the Christmas holiday. This will also be my first introduction to the work of Craig L. Symonds. More to come on my review.
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
Yesterday, I was pleased to receive a review copy of James M. McPherson’s upcoming release, Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life from Oxford University Press. It is scheduled to be released on the date marking the 200th year since Lincoln’s birth. While I’ve yet to complete it, I was impressed by Dr. McPherson’s candor in the introduction about his own shift in opinion about Lincoln and his presidency. While initially critical of Lincoln, not unlike the abolitionists of the era of his presidency, McPherson’s years of study brought new appreciation for Lincoln’s skills as an adroit commander-in-chief tasked with challenges of incredible complexity.
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 1, 2009)
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches
This week, I received a review copy of John Stauffer’s GIANTS: the parallel lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln from the folks at Twelve Books. You can see their book page here. Professor Stauffer is chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English at Harvard University. See his profile and vitae on Harvard’s site here.
Watch for my comments after I complete what looks like a great read.
- Published on: 2008-11-03
- Original language: English
- Binding: Hardcover
- 448 pages
This week I received a review copy of James M. McPherson’s new work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief from the good folks at Penguin Press. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to diving in as Dr. McPherson’s books on Lincoln remain among my favorites.
He opens the book with the following.
“The insurgent leader…does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us no excuse to deceive ourselves. He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it. Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible. It is an issue which can only be tried by war and decided by victory.”
—Lincoln’s annual message to Congress,
December 6, 1864
Tried by War
Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
James M. McPherson – Author
Hardcover | 6.14 x 9.25in | 384 pages | ISBN 9781594201912 | 07 Oct 2008 | The Penguin Press
Continuing from posts 1 here and 2 here, in this post I begin to examine what authors Juliet Wilson-Bareau and David C. Degener in their book Manet and the American Civil War call “one of the most celebrated naval battles of the American Civil War.”
The authors adeptly set the scene by providing the reasons why an American Civil War naval battle would take place in European waters and capture the imagination of artist Edouard Manet. They chronicle the debate that led to “Lincoln’s blockade” of the south contending that the very word “blockade” ultimately gave the “Confederate organization” the status of a “quasi government” which would have “a position among nations.” [i] This ultimately led to both Queen Victoria (see bio here) of Great Britain (May 13, 1861) and Emperor Napoleon III of France (June 11, 1861) declaring the neutrality of their respective countries. “The evolving rules and policies of neutrality would eventually play a large role in determining the circumstances under which, in June 1864, U.S.S. Kearsarge – a ship originally built to enforce Lincoln’s blockade – engaged and sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France…” [ii]
The Alabama, a six screw steamer, was built in Great Britain by John Laird Sons and Company and found its way into Confederate hands because the “British customs agents, port authorities, prosecutors, judges, and courts found ways of understanding England’s Foreign Enlistment Act and the Queen’s declaration of neutrality.” [iii] Enacted during the reign of George III, the Act “prohibited the outfitting of, or aid to, vessels that would be used to commit hostilities against a nation with which England was not currently at war.” [iv} But in a clandestine series of events surrounding the vessels shake down cruise, the ship, known initially as simply No. 290, was acquired by Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch (1823 - 1901) [a fascinating fellow who deserves a post of his own] who saw it supplied and crewed sufficiently to sail to the Azores where its new captain, Southern “son” Raphael Semmes (1809 – 1877), would christen it the CSS Alabama on August 24, 1862. The “enterprising” and “abrasive” Semmes would become a celebrity for his raiding of Federal ships. His exploits would be enthusiastically covered by the London media, indicative of Great Britain’s sympathy for the “Confederate cause for almost the entire duration of the American Civil War.” [v]
[i - v] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
Continuing with my May book acquisitions which illustrate, as said by Civil War Interactive’s comments on my blog this week, why bank robbery may be needed to support my book-buying habits…
This looks like a great read. Author Tom Wheeler, an accomplished man by any measure, has a terrific website here with more about his book and research. This has moved to the top of my list of reading for between terms.
I have DISCOVERED Dr. Hess and the growing list of terrific titles he has published on the Civil War. No doubt his other books will show up in my library before long. Dr. Hess, who has impressive academic credentials, has a website here. His book, Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
I’ve been intending to pick this up. Authored by military history professor and fellow blogger Mark Grimsley, it too is at the top of my reading list. Dr. Grimsley’s OSU webpage is here. His blog is here.
Retreat to Victory?: Confederate Strategy Reconsidered (American Crisis Series)
By Robert G. Tanner
My post, “Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War” here, lead me to this book. One of my readers recommended it and suggests that it proves that the Confederacy could not have used the Fabian strategy effectively. I’m looking forward to this one.
Jav Luvaas is another prolific writer of military history and my collection of his books is growing. I first discovered his work while taking the course, Great Military Philosopers (see “The Courses” page here for details. I picked up his titles: Napoleon on the Art of War and Frederick the Great on the Art of War.
I’ll be adding these authors to my “The Historians” page shortly.
Above: Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Mil. R. Rds., with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
Courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-62364
Millett and Maslowski posit that President Abraham Lincoln did not have Jefferson Davis’ sensitivity about government interference with railroads. The evidence supports the point and also suggests that Davis’ hands-off approach expanded to other areas under his purview including signals and communications. Whether he was afflicted with chronic indecisiveness or was bowing to the perceived whims of a public unreceptive to “big government” is open for discussion but as in many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Regardless, it is clear that rational military considerations were not the sole concern in shaping the South’s military policies and programs. Had they been so, military needs would have received higher priority and the events of the war may have flowed differently.
Above: Lincoln and McClellan
The impact of the decision making processes in the Lincoln and Davis administrations and the respective Congresses as regards those issues impacting the military is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of continued analysis and review. Clearly the social, economic, and political nuances of the North versus the South had much to do with the directions taken within each section. But one is left to wonder whether the leadership qualities of Lincoln and Davis, including the ability to be decisive, allowed the North to more frequently follow a path guided by rational military reason.
Above: The engine “Firefly” on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
The decisions made by leaders of the North and South regarding the dispensations of their respective railroads, could arguably be some of the most impactful of the war. Armies on both sides considered railroads critical. But Lincoln and Davis approached the control and stewardship of these vital resources differently. The resulting policies did not equally reflect rational military consideration.
Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
The need for oversight of the rails came early in the war. Edward Hagerman highlights Federal Quartermaster General Meigs’ complaints in the opening months of the war over the problems of coordination that arose “from civilian control of the railroads.” [i] In January of 1862, Congress gave Lincoln the authority he needed “to take control whenever public safety warranted it.” [ii] Lincoln moved decisively, appointing within thirty days Daniel C. McCallum (below) as director of the United States Military Railroads (USMRR).
Daniel C. McCallum (1815 – 1878)’
Photo Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain
In May of 1862, Abraham Lincoln “took formal possession of all railroads.” General McCallum recruited Herman Haupt (below), a “brilliant railroad engineer,” to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the United States Military Railroad. Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.
Henry Haupt (1817 – 1905)
Military Director and Superintendent of the united States Military Railroad
In the next post, the action of the South.
You may also be interested in two of my previous posts on Civil War Railroads:
[i] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 63.
[ii] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 165.
I realize this won’t be for everyone but I wanted to post the academic book review I finished yesterday on the paperback version of Russel Blaine Nye’s 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning biography George Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel. Sadly this book is out-of-print and available only via library or used book markets. It is a fascinating work filled with insights into an uncommon man who was once this country’s most revered historian – but whom most of us have no memory. It also provides considerable information about our country - and indeed the world - in the period leading up to, during and after the Civil War.
It was enlightening to put this post together in that I discovered some great sources of information about many of the people, places and times in which Bancroft lived. Kudos to http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org for their information on important persons in that university’s history.
By Russel B. Nye. New York
(Washington Square Press, Inc.). Pp. 212. 1964. $.60
If biographies written in the twenty-first century tend toward tomes, Russel Nye’s work on George Bancroft, easily the most acclaimed American historian of the nineteenth century, demonstrates how to impress with a modicum of words. Bancroft’s life spanned a period of epic change in the fledgling American nation. Nye skillfully paints a portrait of the man against the sweeping landscape of the United State’s passage from fledgling country at the turn of 18thcentury to a battle-scarred nation ninety years later. Bancroft helped to make American history as politician and statesman. He also became one of the country’s most gifted historiographers and the first popular historian, a title that was, by the end of the century, not unlike his literary writing style, considered “passé.”
George Bancroft came from a legacy of northeastern conservatism. Bred squarely into the center of the American Calvinistic farming culture of Worcester, Massachusetts, his grandfather Samuel Bancroft was both strict Calvinist and independent of mind. Bancroft’s father, Aaron Bancroft, had a noteworthy career as one of the first leaders of the Unitarian movement. This step toward liberalism directed him to the pastorship of a small Second Congregational Church of Worcester and modest means to support his growing family. But it also positioned him with the intellectual elite of New England. The Bancroft home was a place where books were plenty and reading and discussion encouraged. Independent reason was also valued. Aaron Bancroft authored one of the more popular biographies of George Washington, a man who young George Bancroft would eventually count as among the most influential hero-leaders of the country.
George stood out among his siblings and opportunities were given to him to attend preparatory school at a young age even though it caused strain on his father’s finances. He excelled and passed entrance exams to Harvard College at the age of 13. Bancroft graduated Harvard at 17 and, with the assistance of college president John Thornton Kirkland (pictured right and papers here), was provided both financial support and the necessary letters of introduction to follow a select few Harvard graduates to Göttingen, one of the top universities in Germany (brief history of the town and university here). His goal was to follow his father into the ministry. He began a rigorous course of study including a self-imposed schedule of sixteen hour days. By the age of twenty, Bancroft had a Göttingen doctorate and the respect of some of Germany’s most noted professors. But he had also developed a considerable interest in philosophy, history and literature and began to doubt whether a career in the ministry remained his passion. He continued with post doctorate studies in Berlin and by the end of his four years in Europe had met many of its influential writers, artists and academics. Bancroft returned home filled with ideas about educational reform and exhibiting mannerisms and dress inspired by his time abroad.
Bancroft spent the next several years trying to find his calling. Trained in philology (the study of languages) as well as theology, he tried on the role of Greek tutor at Harvard but became frustrated with the college’s lack of interest in adopting the new educational techniques he brought from abroad. He was also unpopular as a teacher, which is not to say that he was a bad teacher; rather a demanding one. By mutual consent, he left Harvard after a year and with fellow Harvard and Göttingen graduate Joseph Cogswell, opened the Round Hill School for boys near Northampton, Massachusetts in 1823. It became a phenomenon of sorts due to the melding of the latest methods of European educational reform with those of American boarding school. “It was one of the earliest and most successful efforts of the nineteenth century to raise the level of American secondary education by absorbing the new European experimentation, and served as a powerful influence in the diffusion of new ideas on discipline, individual attention, and stimulation of student interest” (45). A student was treated as an individual with unique learning patterns and cooperated as an equal with his teacher rather than as an inferior with his master. Despite the demanding program, the elite of New England clamored to enroll their sons. With Bancroft as the primary teacher and Cogswell managing administration, the school grew in both size and reputation.
It was at Round Hill School that Bancroft met his wife, Sarah Dwight. Her status as the daughter of a wealthy New England family would ensure his financial independence. Bancroft also continued to work on his poetry (he had published Poems while at Harvard) and found opportunity for preaching. But he was successful at neither. His poetry was labeled amateurish and his oration at the pulpit “too consciously learned, too pretentiously oratorical” (5). Interestingly, Bancroft would become a gifted literary critic. A man of many interests, he became bored with the life of a country school teacher and bowed out of the venture in 1831. The Round Hill School failed three years later.
Bancroft discovered while at Round Hill a growing interest in politics. He began to write for prominent journals and even spoke in a political forum in Northampton at the behest of town leaders. In 1830 he was nominated for the Massachusetts’s senate by the Workingmen’s party. Although he declined, his voice as a political philosopher began to emerge. It was firmly centered on the premise that the will of the many outweighed that of the few, a principle that he considered foundational to democracy. He clearly identified himself as a Jacksonian democrat in 1836, a fact that surprised a number of his Whig Harvard colleagues including friend Edward Everett (pictured right). His allegiance was with the common, agrarian masses rather than the privileged minority. His political position became all the more public with Bancroft’s growing involvement in the Democratic Party. He wrote several journal articles in support of Jackson’s position on the national banking issue which he attributed to the long struggle between capitalists and laborers. In 1838, his party work was rewarded with the position of Collector of the Port of Boston. By 1844, he was a prominent player in the Massachusetts democratic delegation and played a key role in securing the Presidential nomination for James K. Polk (pictured left). Polk appointed Bancroft Secretary of the Navy the following year and he found himself Acting Secretary of War during the months that opened the Mexican War. But Bancroft was after a diplomatic post and between 1846 and 1849 he served as United States Minister to England. It was during this time that he amassed a huge collection of historical notes from British archives, utilizing scribes and secretaries to copy copious amounts of data. These he brought home to America for use in future historical writing.
The scholar in Bancroft had found new voice shortly after leaving Round Hill. In 1834, he published the first of what would become his multi-volume treatise, A History of the United States from the Discovery of the Continent (set of all volumes to right). (A full listing of Bancroft’s works available online can be found here.) He chose to focus not on contemporary history but rather on the formation and evolution of the nation. Bancroft believed that the creation of the United States of America was part of a divine plan. It was a demonstration for all the world of the efficacy of a nation built on the principles of liberty.
Pivotal to the country’s success was the quality of its leaders. “The secret of the science of governing, Bancroft decided, lay in the quality of a nation’s leaders – those great men who personify the people’s ideals, act out their interests, and crystallize their needs in laws and institutions” (82). Nye found that Bancroft valued two types of hero-leaders. The first was the agrarian nobleman best exemplified in Andrew Jackson (pictured below).
His gift was an innate perceptiveness gained from long connection with nature. The second was the classic wise man whose traits Bancroft found in George Washington, a man for whom he had a lifelong admiration.
Abraham Lincoln eventually became Bancroft’s third hero-leader. While initially unimpressed with Lincoln, his respect for him grew to such a degree that he eventually thought him representative of the genius of the American people. Bancroft’s regard for Lincoln was no doubt one reason that he was chosen by Congress to deliver his eulogy. It was considered his best oration.
Like the nation, Bancroft had to come to terms with slavery. He blamed the English for its introduction to the colonies and thought it a temporary evil gone array. Its conflict with the principles of liberty was always obvious. While never a flaming abolitionist, Bancroft considered slavery the primary cause of the Civil War and spoke out about it primarily in his writing. He was a resolute unionist and had little sympathy for arguments for state rights and for the succession movement.
Bancroft happily finished his diplomatic career in Germany where he became a favorite of politicians and intellectuals. He returned to a quite life, still writing and active for most of his ninety-one years. The portrait below was painted while Bancroft was in diplomatic residence in Germany.
Nye does a masterful job of identifying Bancroft’s core beliefs and the influences that formed the man and his career. He also shows a considerable grasp of the nuances of history that were in play in the 19th century, worth noting because Nye’s training is in literature rather than history. His obvious mastery of the large collection of papers Bancroft left behind for his biographers is impressive.
Nye leaves the reader with a sense for the utter brilliance of Bancroft (pictured below in his study) and yet presents him as anything but infallible. He was a man who enjoyed the privileges of an education well beyond the norm of his day and earned by an innate drive and love for scholarship. He was comfortable with life choices that went against the norm, an indication of independence of thought. He was not unfamiliar with loss, having endured the death of his young wife. He knew failure, having disappointed those who saw in him potential as minister. His failure as a poet, a personal aspiration, revealed a level of sensitivity (He worked very hard to find and destroy every copy of his Poems.). He embraced cultures and perspectives outside of his own and yet remained an American patriot. He brought to his generation a better sense of the story of their country and to a large degree, popularized history. He remained a loud voice for the ideals of liberty and democracy and the rights and privileges of the masses. But at his core, he was, as depicted by Nye, a man of letters and I suspect that Mr. Bancroft would be pleased with that distinction. His legacy is a remarkable body of work sadly forgotten by most citizens of the 21st century.
American Military University
This post continues a series on Exploring Causes of the Civil War. Other posts can be read by clicking on any of the following links: Part I: Introduction, Part II: Antebellum America, Part III: The Antebellum South, Part IV: The Antebellum North, Part V: The Rise of Sectional Disputes, Part VI: The Contribution of Constitutional Ambiguity, and Part VII: Political Discord, Slavery, and the Fight for Political Control.
Civil War scholar Gabor Boritt posits a fascinating theory that the impact of an individual can, in fact, be more influential in the determination of history’s direction than the long confluence of time.[i] “…It may be declared with confidence that a giant in the earth, or a crucial moment, weighs more in the scales of history than dreary ages.”[ii] The giant of which he spoke was Abraham Lincoln. His view makes Lincoln a central figure of both American mythology and history. Lincoln’s role in the coming of the Civil War he “divides into four increasingly important stages.”[iii]
- First, in the 1850s as tensions grew, Lincoln was one of many political leaders, familiar mostly in and around Illinois, though as the decade progressed so did his reputation in the North.
- Second, in 1860 he won the presidential nomination of the Republican [P]arty and became a nationally known figure.
- Third, from his election in early November to his inauguration on March 4, 1861, he was the president-elect.
- Fourth, in the White House he presided over events that led to Sumter.
As one stage followed another, Lincoln’s stand changed only gradually, but his voice grew ever more weighty until the end when, together with the voice of President Jefferson Davis, it proved to be decisive.[iv]
I would suggest that there were others whose individual influence – while perhaps not equal to that of Lincoln’s – none the less, impacted the direction of the nation. Key to the South was the “triumvirate of secession” – extremists Robert Rhett, William Yancey, and Edmun Ruffin (pictured below). Each, according to his gifts, kept the pressure for secession constant, the evils of the North apparent. In the period after Lincoln’s election, they leveraged the fear, uncertainty and doubt created by Northern and Southern newspapers to move the populous from defeat to secession as the only alternative left.[v] [See more about Rhett, Yancey and Ruffin in my post "The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War" here.]
They fought delay. Many of the leaders had long believed the Union a curse to the South and they feared that if they moved too deliberately the North might offer favorable terms. Others urged quick action lest the people cool off and accept less than justice. They must strike while the iron was hot. Delay was their worst enemy.
By December 17, 1860, Rhett and his followers had secured a convention in South Carolina, composed of those who were ready to stand alone, if necessary, in defense of Southern rights. The next day an ordinance of secession was adopted. Within six weeks, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had followed South Caroline’s example. The Cotton Kingdom was ready to form itself into the Confederate States of America.[vi]
Is it a wonder that Edmun Ruffin was among the first to fire a cannon on Fort Sumter?
At a nearby battery, another fire-eater was ready. Edmund Ruffin, with his long flowing white hair, another momentary exile from a still reluctant Virginia, sixty seven-year-old honorary Palmetto Guard, was ready. Staring into the dark, knowing where the enemy was, he sent the first shot from a columbaid into the fort flying the unseen flag of the United States.[vii]
Key individuals in the North included those who catapulted the Abolitionist message into the public consciousness. For this reason, John Brown must be included. The men surrounding Lincoln – Seward, Chase, Bates, Douglas and Buchanan – also deserve a chair.
And So What the Cause?
The Civil War can be attributed to no single cause. Slavery was undeniably an influencing factor – a common thread – inexorably tied to the sectional crises that evolved as the country expanded. Profound sectional differences – social, cultural, spiritual, economic, political – provided sufficient tender to ignite into violent conflict – given the spark. The “fanatical edge” and our politicians created the sparks that erupted in violence and pushed the nation over the precipice and into war. Several key individuals tipped the balance. Chief among these were: the Southern fire-eaters Rhett, Yancey and Ruffin, abolitionists who turned up the heat of anti-slavery sentiments in the North, and – pointedly – Abraham Lincoln himself.
For more reading, I highly recommend Gabor S. Boritt’s Why the Civil War Came. His essay titled “Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility” is excellent. Avery Craven’s The Coming of the Civil War. 2nd Ed. provides very interesting commentary on Rhett, Yancey, and Ruffin (and more about their individual strengths) and a wealth of information on Antebellum America and its march toward war.
In the next post, I’ll tackle the second question of the series: The Debate Over the War’s Inevitability.
[i] “Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility,” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 7., [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid.
[v] Avery Craven. The Coming of the Civil War. 2nd Ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 433., [vi] Ibid.
[vii] Boritt, “Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility,” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 5.
Exploring Causes of the Civil War – Part VII: Political Discord, Slavery, and the Fight for Political Control
This post continues a series on Exploring Causes of the Civil War. Other posts can be read by clicking on any of the following links: Part I: Introduction, Part II: Antebellum America, Part III: The Antebellum South, Part IV: The Antebellum North, Part V: The Rise of Sectional Disputes and Part VI: The Contribution of Constitutional Ambiguity.
Political discord represents yet another candidate for the war’s cause. Late historian William E. Gienapp (pictured right) suggests that “however much social and economic developments fueled the sectional conflict, the coming of the Civil War must be explained ultimately in political terms, for the outbreak of war in April 1861 represented the complete breakdown of the American political system. As such, the Civil War constituted the greatest single failure of American democracy.”[i]
Gienapp points to the role of slavery as the underlying cause of the sectional conflict. “Without slavery it is impossible to imagine a war between the North and the South (or indeed, the existence of anything we would call “the South” except as a geographic region).”[ii] He also asserts that America’s slave heritage was completely associated with race. That is, had the slaves brought to America been white, the practice would have disappeared much earlier.[iii] But an argument asserting slavery as chief cause of the war neglects the fact that not only was it older than the republic, but “for over half a century following adoption of the Constitution, the institution had only sporadically been an issue in national politics, and it had never dominated state politics in either section.”[iv] What changed? It was the rise of the slavery issue in American society; that is, the heightened awareness of it. This development was rooted in a number of changes in American society in the first half of the nineteenth century already addressed.[v]
As mentioned in previous posts in this series, the abolitionist movement did a great deal to raise that awareness. But Gienapp suggests that “it was the politicians themselves, as part of the struggle for control of the two major parties, who ultimately injected the slavery issue into national politics.”[vi] The key development was the introduction in Congress in 1846 of the Wilmot Proviso, which prohibited slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico, by a group of Van Burenite Democrats who were angry with President James K. Polk (pictured right) and his southern advisers. Once the slavery issue, in the shape of the question of its expansion into the western territories, entered the political arena, it proved impossible to get it out. The issue took on a life of its own, and when politicians tried to drop the issue after 1850, they discovered that many voters were unwilling to acquiesce.[vii]
Gienapp makes a good case for the war’s true cause in the following discourse.
A second critical development, intimately related to the first, was the crystallization of rival sectional ideologies oriented toward protecting white equality and opportunity. Increasingly, each section came to see the other section and its institutions as a threat to its vital social, political, and economic interests. Increasingly, each came to think that one section or the other had to be dominant. Informed by these ideologies, a majority of the residents of each section feared the other, and well before the fighting started the sectional conflict represented a struggle for control of the nation’s future.
It fell to the political system to adjudicate differences between the sections and preserve a feeling of mutual cooperation and unity. And for a long time the political system had successfully defused sectional tensions. Because it brought northern and southern leaders together, Congress was the primary arena for hammering out solutions to sectional problems. In various sectional confrontations–the struggle over the admission of Missouri as a slave state in 1819-21, the controversy over nullification and the tariff in 1833, the problem of the status of slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico in 1850, and the struggle over the proslavery Lecompton constitution in 1858-Congress had always managed to find some acceptable way out of the crisis.
Yet the American political system was particularly vulnerable to sectional strains and tensions. One reason was the institutional structure of American politics. The Civil War occurred within a particular political institutional framework that, while it did not make the war inevitable, was essential to the coming of the war.
Integral to this institutional framework was the United States Constitution. While some aspects of the Constitution retarded the development of sectionalism, it contained a number of provisions that strengthened the forces of sectional division in the nation. No constitution can anticipate all future developments and conclusively deal with all controversies that subsequently arise. The purpose in analyzing the Constitution’s role in the sectional conflict is not to fault its drafters or condemn it as a flawed document, but rather to indicate the importance of certain of its clauses for the origins of the war.
One significant feature of the Constitution was its provision for amendment. Lurking beneath the surface in the slavery controversy was white Southerners’ fear that the Constitution would be amended to interfere with the institution. In advocating secession after Abraham Lincoln’s election, Governor Andrew B. Moore of Alabama (pictured above) predicted that the Republicans would quickly create a number of new free states in the West, which “in hot haste will be admitted to the Union, until they have a majority to alter the Constitution. Then slavery will be abolished by law in the States.”[viii]
The fear, uncertainty and doubt associated with this possibility, on the part of the Southern political establishment, pushed the country toward war.
For further reading, I recommend The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War by Michael F. Holt and Why the Civil War Came, edited by Gabor S. Boritt.
Historian William E. Gienapp. Source: Harvard Gazette Archives, Issue: April 07, 2005.
Poster Announcing Sale and Rental of Slaves, Saint Helena (South Atlantic), 1829. Source: The Atlantic Slave Trade and
Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record., Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr., The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Image H003.
President James K. Polk
Cropped image of the constitution of Kansas
Governor Andrew B. Moore of Alabama. Source: Alabama Department of Archive and History
[i] William E. Gienapp, “The Crisis of American Democracy, the Political System and the Coming of the Civil War,” in Why the Civil War Came., ed. Gabor S. Boritt [book on-line] (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, accessed 1 September 2007), 82; available from questia.com http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=78779127; Internet., [ii] Ibid., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., [v] Ibid., [vi] Ibid., 83., [vii] Ibid., [viii] Ibid., 86.
This post continues a series on Exploring Causes of the Civil War. Other posts can be read by clicking on any of the following links: Part I: Introduction, Part II: Antebellum America, Part III: The Antebellum South, Part IV: The Antebellum North, and Part V: The Rise of Sectional Disputes.
Historian Gabor S. Boritt asserts that the American Constitution’s “fundamental ambiguity” on a number of matters involving slavery contributed to the sectional controversy that stimulated the growing conflict between the North and the South.[i] The document was vague on the status of slavery in the territories, the power of Congress over the institution in the District of Columbia, whether the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce extended to the slave trade, whether it was a state or federal responsibility to return runaway slaves, and whether Congress could impose conditions on a new state or refuse to admit a new slave state to the Union.[ii] But the most important of these was whether a state had the right to secede from the Union.
Whereas the Articles of Confederation had proclaimed the Union to be perpetual, the Constitution contained no such statement. Indeed, nowhere did it discuss whether a state could secede or not. In the absence of any explicit provision, neither the nationalists nor the secessionists could present a conclusive argument on the subject. In upholding the perpetuity of the Union, Abraham Lincoln conceded that the language of the Constitution was not decisive.[iii]
This didn’t stop either side from finding in these documents justification of their positions.
Topic of the next post: Political Discord, Slavery, and the Fight for Political Control.
© 2007 L. Rene Tyree
[i] Gabor S. Boritt, “‘And the War Came’? Abraham Lincoln and the Question of Individual Responsibility,” in Why the Civil War Came, ed. Gabor S. Boritt [book on-line] (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, accessed 1 September 2007), 85; available from questia.com http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=78779127; Internet.
[Note: This post continues a series on The Civil War as Revolution which is available at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War, and Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as Revolutionary.]
All revolutions require revolutionaries. If the American Civil War was, in fact, a second American Revolution, who were its revolutionaries?
Emory Thomas in his work The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience suggests that Southern “fire-eaters” should be included on the roll call of revolutionaries because they “used radical means to achieve conservative ends and therefore began [my emphasis] the Confederate revolutionary experience. Their role was reactionary – to preserve the Southern way of life. Yet in pursuit of this goal, the fire-eaters acted in ways commonly associated with revolutionaries.” [i] First on the list would be the triumvirate whose voices for southern unity, independence, and succession were the loudest and of longest duration: Robert Barnwell Rhett (dubbed the father of succession), William Lowndes Yancey (secession’s orator), and Edmund Ruffin. All had connections to South Carolina which proved the hottest bed of Southern revolutionary thought. But, points out Thomas, “fire-eaters cut a broad swatch across many professions and every state in the antebellum South.” [ii] Influential clergymen like James H. Thornwell and Benjamin M. Palmer used their pulpits and pamphlets to “deepen the sentiment of resistance in the Southern mind.”[iii] Men with control of the editorial content of widely read publications added their voices including: James D. B. DeBow (DeBow’s Review), Roger A. Pryor, editor of the Richmond Enquirer newspaper, William Gilmore Simms (editor of the Southern Quarterly Review), and various editors of the Southern Literary Messenger. <[iv] Teachers in the classrooms of schools and colleges taught “Southern Nationalism” and impressed on the minds of students the “standard ‘line’ on the issues of slavery, politics, and economics.”[v] The system also expunged itself of faculty members who dissented. Taken in the aggregated, these activities resulted in what Thomas rightly labels an “intellectual blockade” as the Southern rights mantra came to dominate press, pulpit, and classroom.”[vi] Was this revolution or defending Southern institutions? The line between the two is admittedly a fine one. [vii]
It can also be argued that some from the Southern political elite, while advocates for Southern rights, did their advocating within the Union and so are not so easily labeled revolutionaries. Jefferson Davis falls into this camp as does Calhoun, Alexander H. Stephens and R. M. T Hunter. [viii] These men moved into the secessionist camp once it was a “fait accompli.” Were they, along with many of those who would take up arms on behalf of the South, thus revolutionaries or were they simply caught up in the fray? Jefferson Davis considered the use of the label revolution “an abuse of language.”[ix] “‘Ours is not a revolution.’ We left the Union ‘to save ourselves from a revolution’ that threatened to make ‘property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless…Our struggle is for inherited rights.’”[x]
The Black Republicans were the real revolutionaries, southerners insisted, “a motley throng of Sans culottes…Infidels and freelovers, interspersed by Bloomer women, fugitive slaves, and amalgamationists…active and bristling with terrible designs and as ready for bloody and forcible realities as ever characterized the ideas of the French Revolution.” Secession was therefore a “political revolution,: explained a Georgian in 1860, to forestall the “social revolution” sure to come if the South remained in the Union.[xi]
Can Northerners be assigned the label of revolutionist? Certainly extremists like James Brown [photo to right], who resorted to violent acts to try to force social change, qualify as radicals. Harriet Beecher Stowe influenced social change by reaching hundreds of thousands with abolitionist sentiments through the power of popular literature. See an excellent summary of her writings here.
Representative James A. Garfield and contemporary William H. Seward considered the rise of the Republican Party to be a “revolution.”[xii] Garfield studied the French Revolution and found striking parallels with mid-19th century America. He became an ardent voice of revolution and “one of the most radical of the radical Republicans.”[xiii]
Abolitionist Wendell Phillips was considered by historian James McPherson to be “the most articulate spokesman for a revolutionary policy,” pegging Civil War as social revolution and calling for the “taking to pieces” of the whole social system of the Gulf States.[xiv] Similarly, Thaddeus Stevens, a leader of radical Republicans in the House, asserted that “‘we must treat this [war] as a radical revolution…and free every slave–slay every traitor–burn every rebel mansion, if these things be necessary to preserve’ the nation.”[xv]
Activists from both the South and the North could agree that secession was a counterrevolution to the revolution of 1776. But their frames of referenced were completely opposite. Secessionists saw it as a counterrevolution against the anticipated revolutionary threat of slavery.[xvi] Northerners saw secession as “not a just revolution, but an unjust counterrevolution.”[xvii]
For consideration of Abraham Lincoln as “revolutionary,” please see my previous post “Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln on Revolutionary.”
Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree
[i] Emory M. Thomas, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience. (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), 24., [ii] Ibid., 30., [iii] Ibid., [iv] Ibid., 35., [v] Ibid., 34., [vi] Ibid., [vii] Ibid., [viii] Ibid., 32.,
[ix] James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, (New York: Oxford University Press), 26. [x] Ibid., 26., [xi] 3., [xiii] Ibid., 4., [xiv] Ibid., 5-6., [xv] Ibid., 30., [xvi] Ibid., 27., [xvii] Ibid., 28.
A short post for today. I’ve been busy locating and cataloging ”primary sources” related to the Civil War for my reading and research. It’s also the focus of an assignment due at the end of next week. I’ve started a new filter for sorting inks to those sites that I’m finding.
Please feel free to share if you have any suggestions. I’m amazed at the breadth of information. Well organized sites are preferred. So far – and not unexpectedly – national archives and universities have proved the best sources. I am very hopeful that projects to digitize important historical documents will continue.
[Note: This post is part of a series on The Civil War as Revolution which is available at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War, and Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as Revolutionary.]
Indulge me while I – mull over and expound upon - one of Dr. McPherson’s essays in Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution.
If the mantel of “revolutionary” is worn by individuals who – because of their unique presence – drive transformational change, Abraham Lincoln must certainly be considered among them. Such a label might at first seem unfitting in that Lincoln was known for his conservatism. Indeed his early actions reflected caution and a desire for a limited, minimally disruptive war. His journey toward “revolutionary” took a big leap forward when the Border States ignored his repeated offers of graduated and compensated emancipation. His failure to sway them left him angry enough to, as McPherson phrased it, “embrace the revolution.” Lincoln’s “revolutionary” response? He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the final version of which was delivered on New Year’s Day 1863. With it came a new “revolutionary” charter for the war: forceful overthrow of slavery and the South with it.
McPherson considers the enabling of black soldiers to fight and kill their former masters “by far the most revolutionary dimension” of Lincoln’s “emancipation policy.” And embrace it Mr. Lincoln did. Over 180,000 black soldiers would serve in Northern armies before the conflict ended. I must agree with Mr. McPherson’s conclusion that Lincoln evolved to fit the pattern of a revolutionary leader and became – once over his initial reluctance – arguably more radical than some of the founding fathers
A thought provoking collection of essays on the complicated second American revolution that was the American Civil War and the startling reversals that took place during the counterrevolution not ten years later. McPherson’s essays are masterful.
For more…see the post Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as “Revolutionary.”