Civil War POW camps

This morning I posted a deal on Andersonville POW camp under the “On This Day” caption and received a ton of comments and emails reminding me that Union POW camps were just as bad, Wirz was a scapegoat, it was Lincoln’s refusal to exchange or parole prisoners that caused the overcrowding, etc etc.
The only reason I singled out Andersonville was because they began receiving prisoners on the 27th of February. That’s it.

While I do appreciate (no sarcasm here) your comments and emails, I’m well aware of atrocities on both sides concerning prisoners of war. There were many, many camps on both sides that had horrendous conditions. Matter of fact, over several months of lightweight research I’ve yet to find a single solitary camp on either side that had what we today would consider humane conditions and yes, I fully believe that it was Lincoln’s policies that caused that.

Wirz was executed because his side lost. That’s it. No other reason. Had the Confederacy won, we wouldn’t even know his name today. It’s been that way all through history and it will be that way in the future.

And before I get a shitload of comments and emails for using the term Civil War in my title, let me say this: That was the term that I was taught all through school. Hell, I never even heard the term ‘War of Northern Aggression’ until I was in my 20s.

This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Civil War POW camps

  1. Unclezip says:

    The winners write the history.

    • JeremyR says:

      In the case of the Civil War, the History was written by the democrats who started the whole thing.
      I know the term War of Northern Aggression is popular, but it was the south who decided they would be bitter and act like school yard bullies who get caught. It was the south who fired the first shots. Most of the territory they demanded was bought with money that came from northern industry, and a large part of that debt was still on the books. There is no process for dissolving the Union so a state can leave. The founding fathers did not plan on that being the case.
      Slavery would have disappeared in a few decades with out the war, it was meaningless loss. Technology was improving agriculture at a rapid pace, and American inventors were doing much of it. More important though, we had a flood of immigrants who were hungry and eager to work. They would have replaced slaves the same way diesel tractors replaced the F-20 and A John Deere. Why? No need to feed them during times when labor was not needed, they would not have had to cloth them, house them, or keep guards to watch and track runaway Irishmen.
      So much of what people “know” about the civil war just aint so.

      • Hawk_TX says:

        How did the south act “like school yard bullies who get caught.” ?

        Yes they did fire this first shot, but that doesn’t make them the aggressor. They were after all firing on an invasion force occupying and reinforcing a fort controlling the approach to Charleston harbor.

        If an intruder kicked in your front door and came barging in with a gun without firing a shot would you be the aggressor for shooting them? Obviously not, so why is South Carolina the aggressor for firing on a occupation and invasion force?

        You claim that southern territory was purchased with money from northern industries. If you are referring to the Louisiana purchase that only involved the confederate state of Arkansas and parts of Louisiana and Texas. It did not involve the Confederate states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Hardly most of the territory of the Confederacy.

        You also seem to not understand how the federal governments finances worked at that time. All of the federal governments money came from tariffs imposed on trade. The southern economy relied on internationally exporting crops, while the north’s economy relied on regional industry. This meant that the south paid a disproportionate amount of taxes and consequently contributed more to the federal governments coffers.

        You go on to claim that ” There is no process for dissolving the Union so a state can leave”. This statement is not accurate. While it is true that the Constitution does not specify the process for a state to secede it is not mute on the matter. The tenth amendment reads ” The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”. The power to prevent a state from seceding is not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution, nor is it prohibited to the states in the Constitution. Meaning that the power to secede is clearly reserved to the states or the people. Clearly the founders did plan on this as they wrote it in the Constitution. In addition there are numerous quotes from founders supporting the right of states to secede.

        You are right that slavery wold have disappeared in a few decades anyway. Most likely in a gradual peaceful process like it did in other countries.

        And you are right that so much of what people “know” about the civil war just isn’t so. I hope that I have cleared up some misconceptions you have been taught.

        • JeremyR says:

          The troops in Fort Sumner were not an invading force. The fort was built after the War of 1812, and had been garrisoned for quite some time prior to that. Most of the troops were stationed at Ft Moultrie which was built at the start of the Revolution. It had been garrisoned to protect Charleston Harbor beginning in 1802. It was one of the few forts garrisoned by regular rather than militia troops. Secretary of War John Floyd had planned to surrender the forts to the confederacy when he deserted his post and joined the Confederacy. So clearly, your first point is false, it was more akin to you shooting a guest in your home whom you felt had over stayed his welcome.
          The territory of the nation consisted of much more than the Louisiana Purchase. Texas was not won in battle, we paid Mexico for it and Oklahoma as well as parts of Kansas and Colorado. Further more, a big chunk of the south known as the Gadsden Purchase was acquired from Mexico. That money was paid from tariffs which are taxes on IMPORTS. The south exported so it was in their interest to have low tariffs as that would stimulate sales of cotton. They paid very little on taxes since most imported good were received by northern states. Since a fair sum of those imports were raw materials for processing, It is correct for me to say Northern industry.
          The United States purchased Texas from Mexico for the sum of $15 million, and the border lands of New Mexico and Arizona for another $10 million. The national debt in 1859 was $64,842,288, so $39,842,288 above the purchase of those lands which would have gone to the Confederacy.
          Your argument about the 10th Amendment is pure BS. It was put to rest by the Texas v White Supreme Court decision of 1869.
          I understand your Southern Pride. It is commendable. In 1860, the southern states were 90% democrat. The conflict then, as with the unrest now is democrats vs conservatives. I would say republicans, but that would be insulting to Libertarians and Constitutionalists who hold much more conservative views than the corporatist owner republicans we have in Congress. The rebel flag so many of you cherish is actually the flag of the democrat party of 1861. I understand your sentiment and agree with it, just not so much your choice of a symbol to rally behind. It and all it’s bad baggage belong to the democrats, not modern people mot of whom are republican and nationalist. I have nothing better to offer though unless it is the Gadsden flag which carry’s the same though, and now has the baggage by virtue of association.

          • Hawk_TX says:

            I have already addressed the legal claim of authority that the Union government had on the fort in another comment on this thread. Suffice to say that the Union troops had no right to be there and thus were in fact an invasion force. Does your claim about a guest that overstayed include the armada of ships sent to reinforce the fort?

            Texas was indeed won in battle during the Texas revolution in 1836. It then became the Republic of Texas an independent and sovereign country. The Republic of Texas was admitted to the United States in 1845. It was not purchased by the U.S. from Mexico. The Gadsden purchase consisted only of a small part of Arizona and New Mexico. It did not involve a big chunk of the south or any Confederate state.

            The north supported high tariffs to support their industries and constituents.The south supported low tariffs because they had little industry and European goods were cheaper than northern goods. This was the reason for earlier secession crisis. In addition the southern economy relied heavily on exporting crops. This meant that they had to at least partially support the cost of the ships coming to America. If the cost of importing goods increased then those cost would be passed along in the form of shipping rates. You say most imported goods were received by northern states but who actually paid for them. When the war broke out goods coming into New York fell by more than half, since they no longer could ship them south. Imported goods were not always consumed at the port of entry and the end users really paid the price of a tariff.

            My argument about the 10th amendment simply cited the supreme law of the land. The decision in Texas v White is pure BS. In the majority opinion chief justice Salmon Chase argued that the perpetual union clause in the articles of confederation were still in effect, and consequently no state can leave the union. Completely ignoring that the Constitution replaced the articles of confederation in 1789. And even if that was not the case how could he possibly claim that Texas was bound by the articles of confederation when it never signed them. Texas became a state 56 years after the articles of confederation were replaced by the Constitution.

            • JeremyR says:

              Amazing that you can have such WRONG opinions. The matter was settled, 1 by force of arms, in case you did not notice, you are still part of the Union because the democrats who started the shooting match failed to win it, and 2 by court judgement inre White v Texas. Whether you like it or not, it is settled law. That makes your opinion a rather unimportant one.
              Apparently you also are incapable of understanding that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo paid Mexico money to relinquish their claims to Texas. For the following eight years, there were quite a few disputes about the exact interpretation of that treaty, and when the Gadsden Purchase was made, it also finalized the bickering.
              As for the question of the Gadsden Purchase being part of the union, it was seized by the confederacy as part of the Confederate Territory of Arizona.
              In some ways I wish there was a process for secession. Calexit is all the rage with liberals and many conservatives would just as soon see them go. fwiw, since their choices are what gave us eight years of Barry, they should get the trillions of national debt caused by him.

              • Hawk_TX says:

                Force of arms only settled whether the Confederate states would be allowed to remain separate. It did not resolve whether secession was legal or not. As I have already pointed out the 10th amendment makes it clear that secession is perfectly legal. The Union waging an illegal war in no way amended the Constitution to change that. It simply meant that they were violating the Constitution and corrupting the government. Because of this our government is still corrupted from the illegal power grabs of the federal government then.

                I already addressed the absurdity of the courts reasoning in the Texas v White case. The idea that a state can be held to a law that it never signed and hadn’t been in effect for over 56 years is obviously wrong. How exactly can it be settled law when the court did not even cite U.S. law. It cited the articles of confederation which predated the country, and were no longer in effect. And I already addressed how the 10th Amendment from the actual supreme law of the land clearly shows that secession is perfectly legal.

                Or as James Madison the drafter of the Constitution said “Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.”

                Actually the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo only established the Rio Grande as the boundary for Texas. It put an end to Mexican claims to Texas land. But it in no way was purchasing Texas from Mexico, as they had already lost any claim to it in the war.

                You claimed that the ” a big chunk of the south known as the Gadsden Purchase was acquired from Mexico”. When in reality the Gadsden purchase only involved a small part of Arizona and a very small part of New Mexico.

  2. Jim Carlson says:

    Just ran across your blog as a result of the resurrection of Grouchy. In reference to Civil War, the most interesting book I ever read about the subject was “Jim Ransom’s Diary” I agree with you that Lincoln killed off over half a million men and women (military and civilian) without reason. I think the institution of slavery was doomed to failure for economic reasons. I don’t have an answer for what would have happened to the Blacks who would have been released.
    Just think how much larger our White population would be today if those killed had lived. We definitely would not be turning as Brown as is the case today.
    I was born and raised in northwest Washington State and reached these conclusions by simple logic.

    • JeremyR says:

      You’re a smart kid for being 91. Hope you don’t get old too soon, it would be our loss.

  3. .45-70 says:

    I was taught Civil War, too. It was only later that i heard it called the ‘War of southern Secession’

    And yes the prison camps were wretched….neither side was prepared.

    If you think it was Lincoln’s policies….it was also true of Jefferson Davis.

    Jim Carlson….if you think Abe killed for no reason, i have no words and just shake my head.

    The war didn’t start because of slavery.

  4. Tennessee Budd says:

    Folks, why not assume Kenny’s at least as smart as you are?
    He’s better informed on a good many things than I am. I’m pretty sure that I’m better acquainted with calibration & electronics repair than he. Past that, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
    I saw the Andersonville post & figured that, if it’s posted on Wirecutter’s blog, he probably has at least a passing acquaintance with the story. It was a repost from a history website. Now, if our host had come out with something I thought was factually incorrect, I’d have posted a comment with my politely-phrased disagreement. If his opinion differed from mine, well, I’m in his shack, so we can disagree.
    What the hell happened to simple manners?

    • Wirecutter says:

      Well hell, you have called me on a couple things like when I said this part of Tennessee were Union supporters for the most part.
      I did some more research and we were both correct – my county was, yours wasn’t even though we’re only an hour or so apart in today’s times.
      Shit, I’ll be the first to admit I’m wrong – and I’m wrong a lot, more times than I care to admit. And if somebody takes the time to call me out on my mistakes, I’ll take the time to check it out.

      Yes, Andersonville was a shithole (literally) but so was Elmira and Hart Island and Chase and every other prison the Union had. To quote that asshole Sherman, “War is hell”.

      And yes, I do appreciate your polite corrections – that’s how I learned about our respective county’s loyalties during the War.

      • Wirecutter says:

        And let me add that I do welcome civil discussions and corrections. It’s how we learn.

        • Tennessee Budd says:

          You’re quite welcome. In the instance you referred to, I knew I was right about Robertson County, and admitted that I was unsure about Macon. That’s fact. Had you rendered an opinion as to the right or wrong of this or any other matter, that’s an opinion, & we’re each entitled to our own.
          It’s reciprocal–I appreciate a blog proprietor who isn’t too thin-skinned to examine things when someone ask if he’s sure he’s correct. In this case, I would have been astonished to learn that I was wrong, but would have had to bow to facts gracefully, if such had proven to be the case.
          I’ve learned a good deal here–among other things, that Macon was more Union-supporting. I’ve added that to my store of knowledge. That’s one reason I come here daily.

  5. Jeffery in Alabama says:

    Most of what we have heard or seen in movies about Andersonville has been not “fake” news, but “fake” history. No doubt Andersonville was a horrible place. In the latter months of the struggle the men charged with running the camp at Andersonville did the best they could with what they had. The guards were nearly as hungry as the prisoners. I have a muster payroll slip where my G-G- grandfather was paid while pulling a brief stint of guarding prisoners there. Not long after the “Battle for Atlanta” the 26/50th Ala. Inf. Regt. was sent to Montgomery for “rest and replenishment of their ranks”:. They had not been there long when they were ordered to Andersonville. .The real tragedy with prisoners in the War Between the States is that the north was able to provide adequate rations and proper medical treatment to Confederate prisoners and elected not to do so. Camp Chase, Elmira, and Point Lookout were hellholes where many men died needlessly. As a note of irony, there are six prisoners buried in Andersonville who were in the 1st Ala. Cav. U.S. from where I live here in Winston County Alabama. Also, I think Jim, in his comment above, meant to write John instead of Jim, for “John Ransom;s Andersonville Diary” is one of the best accounts of prison life at Andersonville. The yankee “regulators” were the scourge of the camp and many times worse than the men guarding the prisoners. If anyone hasn’t read the book and are interested in that sort of thing, I’d highly recommend it. Here is a link to a preview of the book. Cheaper copies may be had from other venues than Amazon.\

    Andersonville is also the National POW Museum where many artifacts pertaining to POWs from all of our country’s wars are on display. If anyone is down in southwest Georgia and has the time, the park is well worth visiting. One of my favorite displays is a scale mode of one of the tunnels representing Tom. Dick, and Harry from the story made famous by the WWII classic movie “The Great Escape”

    PS: please overlook any mistakes, typos, etc. It is late as I write this.

  6. Grandpa says:

    …and, for a lot of reasons we’ve just read; the acrimonious history of the war of northern aggression, or civil war 1; continues in many ways to this day. As seen, we are as “touchy” about a lot of it as we have been every year since before it began.
    This is the primary reason – as well as adding in the divisiveness of our current time – is why I try to counsel the hotheads today to REALLY settle down and think it through, before we take up arms against each other today, and kick off C.W. 2
    The death toll, then;.on both sides, if/when we go there; will be nothing compared to the cubic shit ton of dead motherfuckers, if/when one side or the other lights this match and we go loud now.
    To quote J.C. Dodge at MDT: “…it won’t be mistaken for a fourth of July parade”.
    Amen to that. No one detests war more than a warrior.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Only a fool wants war. I don’t worry about my own death, only the suffering of my loved ones that will surely be affected by the hardships.

      • Grandpa says:

        Not that others aren’t, my brother; but you and I (and others) caution thoughtfulness, because there are folks we love that we don’t want in harm’s way. Every moment since the blue ball express brought me back to the world has been a gift, to me. I love life, but I will set it down to keep the kids, grandkids, and friends- even my ex – safe. And I’ll do it smiling. Yeah, I’m that fucking foolish.

        • Wirecutter says:

          I would gladly lay down my life for those I love for the reasons you gave.
          I love you Bro and you’ve given me reasons to say that.
          If you EVER need me, holler.

          • Grandpa says:

            You know that I love you brother. And you – and Miss Lisa, and Angel, too; for the reasons you know – you are in my heart and in my prayers always.

  7. Cliff Smith says:

    One of my great grandfathers walked home to pennsylvainia from Andersonville.

  8. Rob says:

    I’d never heard it called ‘the war of northern aggression’ until I was in my 40’s.
    The south fired the first shots too …

    • Grandpa says:

      Rob, sometimes a line is crossed; and the first punch is thrown; because… enough is enough.

      • JeremyR says:

        Take a careful look around. The democrats of today, 2017 are acting exactly like the democrats of 1861. Tell us please, what line did we cross in 2016 in not electing HiLlARy?
        Lincoln was elected but had not even taken office yet when seven states voted for secession. Was this about state’s rights? South Carolina claimed they had a right to nullify any federal law, but complained that northern states were not enforcing the fugitive slave act, in other words, do as I say, not as I do. Had those states remained in the Union, their delegation would have prevented any legislation which would have abolished slavery.
        People rail about state’s rights as a cause, but it was not state’s rights vs federal rights, it was state’s rights vs state’s rights.
        As for the why of the parole system breaking down, read The exchange system was in place and working until mid 1863.
        All things considered, the treatment of prisoners in the Civil war was bad, but nearly as horrible as that of Patriots held by the British during the Revolution.

      • Rob says:

        Punching someone & later claiming they thru the first punch is not unheard of.
        -shrug- it’s 2017 & that war was a long time ago.

  9. Jim Carlson says:

    Jeffrey–thanks for the correction. Quoting Hillary, “I misspoke.”

    • Jeffery in Alabama says:

      You are welcome Jim. Between “auto-correct” on my phone, my fat fingers on either keyboard, or sometimes just being tired, I make plenty of mistakes. Anyhow, John Ransom’s book is awesome.

  10. Doonhamer says:

    I much prefer the non-aggressive wars.
    At least I can’t be accused of being oxymoronic.

  11. Bobo the Hobo says:

    Since I waded into the fray yesterday, I’ll post this today (and I apologize if I already submitted it – my husband was whining about breakfast while I typed – you would think the man could fry a simple egg … but I digress.)

    Unclezip is right: history is written by the winners and it sometimes takes years, decades, centuries before corrections see the light of day.

    As a Southerner born, bred, and raised in Florida, it gets a little tenuous hearing how the Civil War was fought over slavery, which is how it was taught many mango seasons ago when I was but a wee school girl. The problem (and I specifically reference Florida because of the modern invasion by Northern retirees) is not so much of what they “know” to be true but that what they know is just wrong. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t all marry our cousins, we’re not all debutantes, and our families certainly did not own slaves. While in college, I challenged the professor over the selection of the American history book used in class that outrageously proclaimed “because of the emancipation of slaves, many Southern women were so helpless they could not even brush their own hair.” Boy, I was hot! I presented a well-sourced paper refuting the book that he made a public apology in class.

    It is beyond unendurable that many of our new residents fleeing the repressive taxes of their former northern states bring their prejudices, ignorance, and rudeness with them, all the while trying to fashion us into the fiscal and social image they recently departed.

    So yeah, we get a little touchy about the subject of Civil War and if I offended you Ken, I apologize – it was not my intention to do so. I maintain that while the North may have signed the acceptance of surrender papers at Appomattox Court House, I believe that by the number of people leaving the North and relocating South, we finally won the war.

    • John Deaux says:

      A thumb through any history book and you’ll see history is indeed written by the winners, right wrong or otherwise.
      You mentioned about people dragging their baggage with them to their new locations. I never understood why people do that, I have several friends up in the Eastern Tennessee mountain range and their biggest grip is people coming in and immediately what to change things.

      • Wirecutter says:

        Same thing happened when the Fucking Bay Area people started moving to inland California.

        • John Deaux says:

          I remember years ago, one of my first rides up that way. I stopped at a bar in Cocke County, one of those locals only kinda place you gotta go out of your way to find. Having a cold one and minding my own business I was approached by a few guys inquiring as to who the fuck I was and what were my intentions. Intentions ? Just a guy who needed to get off his bike and stretch some while enjoying a cold beer. After a laugh and a couple rounds they said they wanted to make sure I wasn’t a floridot, someone from Fla who moves there then wants to change every damn thing. Nope I like things just fine thank you.

  12. Dave Lange says:

    I ran across an instructor at the Army War College (interestingly, a Navy Captain, helo pilot) who had, in a case in his office, his muti-great-grandpappy’s Virginia militia uniform from the Army of Northern Virginia, who put it thusly: “The Civil War was about States’ Rights. The States’ Right to own slaves.” He noted that the slave states didn’t have any problem with the Feds stomping on ‘state’s rights’ when it came to using the Fugitive Slave Act to nullify personal liberty laws in the free states.

    For good reading on the events leading up to the War, I recommend “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Ordeal by Fire” (Vol I, specifically) by James MacPherson.

    It was said above that Southerners felt that enough was enough, but Northerners felt much the same way, having had the South imposing their will for a couple of decades, starting with the annexation of Texas (opposed in the North) via the Constitutionally dubious method of a joint Congressional resolution (simple majority) rather than a formal treaty of annexation (requiring 2/3 of the Senate, which they couldn’t get), which lead to the Mexican War (also opposed in the North). This was followed by the nullification of the Missouri Compromise by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, on terms which were felt to favor the slave states (opening formerly free soil territories to the possibility of slavery; territories below the Mason-Dixon Line weren’t really of issue at the time) followed by imposition of a slavery-friendly constitution by force and fraud on the Kansas Territory.

    Chief Justice Roger B. Tanney (of Maryland, a slave state) then decided to roll barrels of gunpowder into the fire with his decision in the Dred Scott case, where he said, among many odious things, that slaves were property, and that free states and territories could not deny a slaveholder’s property rights, even if that slaveholder brought his slave(s) to a place where slavery has prohibited by law. Taney thought he would ‘settle’ the slavery question, but instead ended up giving a giant “F*** you” to the Northern states. (It is worthy of note that Southerners were vastly overrepresented on the Supreme Court up until the Civil War, despite being much smaller, population-wise.)

    And .45-70 is correct, the origin of the end of the Dix-Hill Cartel prisoner exchanges can be traced back to Jefferson Davis, specifically his refusal, later codified by the Confederate Congress, to exchange black Union soldiers. Lincoln’s response, in July 1863, was to end the exchanges until the CSA agreed to treat all U.S. soldiers equally. A year later the Confederates agreed to Lincoln’s conditions, but by that point (mid-August 1984) Lee was already beseiged inside Petersburg, and Grant was unwilling to release Confederate prisoners on parole (the Union by that point held far more prisoners than the CSA) due to the danger of the parolees violating their parole and returning to the fight.

  13. Roy says:

    I wish to add a bit to what Dave Lange says above.

    The slavery issue had dominated US politics for over 40 years – from the close of the War of 1812 until 1860. Both sides had some legitimate gripes but more importantly, both sides had real fears.

    Dave is right. Southern politicians did indeed dominate in the early days of our republic but they were being slowly subsumed by the growing population and power in the north. Immigration from Europe overwhelmingly settled in the northern half of the country and the industrial revolution was leaving the south behind. Ironically, those immigrants that did settle in the south (the Adelsverein Germans that settled the Texas hill country, for example) tended to be anti-slavery.

    The lid was kept on this powder keg for many years by more and more compromise as the country pushed further and further west. This usually took the form of adding a free state for every slave state that entered the union or vice versa – The Missouri compromise of 1820 added Missouri and Maine for example.

    This entire apple-cart of compromise was upended in the 1850’s by the Dredd Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave act. This instilled real fear into the northern population that they were being dragooned into supporting slavery by forcing them to do the “dirty work” of the slave holders. This galvanized northerners into more and more resistance to the institution and increased the number of bloody incidents between the two factions. (See: “Bloody Kansas”) The hot-heads on both sides were gaining more and more influence which inevitably lead to John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Why was that raid so important? Well, let’s look at the very real fears of the *other* side.

    In 1859 there was still living memory of the Haitian revolution. In the 1820’s the slaves on the French side of the island of Hispaniola revolted against their masters. The slaves won, but after winning they massacred every white person left on the island – men, women, and children. Fast forward a few years and you start to have slave rebellions in the American south such as Nat Turners rebellion in Virginia. In the south, slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike feared that the north was fomenting these rebellions and that there was a very real possibility that they might be murdered in their beds by another Nat Turner. John Brown’s explicit reason for raiding Harper’s Ferry was to seize the arsenal and arm the slaves.

    Now comes the 1860 election and Abraham Lincoln – a known anti-slavery man, nominated by a party that owed its very existence to abolitionism – gets elected without a single electoral vote from the slave holding states.

    THAT is why those first seven states decided they were better off outside the Union than in it and seceded.

    Now, I personally, believe that the southern states had every right to secede. The Constitution did not explicitly forbid it and indeed, up until then *everyone* north and south considered the union to be a federation of *sovereign* states. (That’s why we call them “states” and not “provinces”.) A lot of prominent southerners such as Robert E. Lee thought it was a great mistake to leave the union. Most of the non-slave holding southerners didn’t really care one way or the other. So the deed was done, a full two and a half months *before* Lincoln actually became president.

    Once the seven states seceded, the overwhelming opinion of the general northern population in the north was “good riddance”. “Let the bastards go”. “We’re tired of their shit.”

    (Don’t believe me? All you have to do is read primary sources from that time – newspaper articles, speeches and letters etc. Not everyone felt that way, of course, but most actually did.)

    Which brings us to Ft. Sumter.

    Now, a lot of southerners here claim that Ft. Sumter was an “invasion” of the south. No, it wasn’t.

    Ft. Sumter was one of a chain of fortifications built along the Atlantic and gulf coasts by the Federal government to protect the harbors and coastal cities of the nation. Ft. Sumter, Ft. Moultrie, and Castle Pickney in Charleston were all part of that same chain. But Ft Sumter was the newest one, and had been built on an artificial island out in the harbor. The island and its fort were all built by the US Federal government. Now, from the time of secession up until the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, southern forces had been seizing arsenals, custom houses, post offices etc. all over the south without firing a shot or any bloodshed. This was mostly because that goof, James Buchanan (whom I consider to be the actual worst president) did absolutely NOTHING during this crisis.

    Back to Ft. Sumter. The commander of the US forces in the Charleston area, Major Robert Anderson – a southerner, by the way – could see the crisis building. He could also see that his main base of operations had no defenses from the landward side. So he moved all of his forces from Ft. Moultrie and Castle Pickney over to the brand new Ft. Sumter. He had two reasons for this. One was for defensibility. (Ft. Sumter is in the middle of the harbor and had no landward approach.) But the other, as stated explicitly in his reports, was to avoid any incidents or confrontations between his soldiers and the townspeople of Charleston. (…read the primary sources, people.) Indeed, his move to Sumter was on his own authority and was a surprise to the administration.

    Lincoln gets inaugurated and negotiations begin about various things, but mainly about the disposition of Ft. Sumter. The negotiations drag on – mainly because the US government refuses to recognize the Confederate government – until supplies in the fort run low.

    Here’s where it gets interesting. As supplies run low, the Lincoln administration formally *notifies* the governor of South Carolina that they are going to resupply Ft. Sumter with VICTUALS ONLY. The governor of SC refuses and southern forces actually fire on the supply vessel “Star of the West”. They then issue an ultimatum that the US evacuate the Fort or they will open fire. (Jefferson Davis is the one who actually gave the order.) For 30 hours, Confederate forces fire on Ft. Sumter until Major Anderson finally surrenders. So southern artillery had finally fired in anger on US troops who were occupying a fort they had every right to occupy. Now here is what is important to remember…

    The firing on Ft. Sumter was the Pearl Harbor of its day.

    The decision to fire on US troops had almost overnight turned a country that mostly had the attitude of “good riddance” to southern hubris, into a country that was now crying for blood!

    And it was indeed southern hubris. The Confederate government initiated Civil War without a single cannon factory within its borders. (It is my contention that the south lost the Civil War, not at Gettysburg, but at Ft. Sumter.)

    That’s the way it started folks. The polarization built up and up over years until BOTH sides let their hotheads drive the debate. When the shooting finally started, it got completely out of control until over 600,000 lay dead and half the nation lay in ruins.

    Please. Let’s not repeat that mistake.

    • crazyeighter says:

      Pretty much sums it up. Am I the only one that sees parallels between 1812-1861 and present-day America?

      My fear is, that once it starts, it won’t be FedGov vs. seceding states but rural vs cities or worse.

      • Roy says:

        Crazyeighter, I think you are correct. It will be guerilla warfare more like the Irish “troubles” than north vs south.

    • Hawk_TX says:

      How can you deny that the occupation of Fort Sumter was an invasion when you concede that the south had a right to secede. If the south had a right to secede then South Carolina was a separate nation, and the presence of federal troops would undoubtedly constitutes and invasion.

      In fact even if South Carolina did not or could not secede federal troops occupying the fort would still be an illegal invasion of a sovereign state. You only need to consult the U.S. Constitution to confirm this.

      Article 1, section 8, clause 17

      “To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;–And”

      The operative words here are “by the consent of the legislature of the state”. The authority that the U.S. government exercises over needful building is contingent upon the consent of the state where they reside. If the consent is removed then the federal government no longer can exercise authority upon it. South Carolina had clearly removed any and all consent for the federal government to occupy Fort Sumter. And they had given them plenty of time to leave in peace. The Union chose instead to ignore the Constitution and occupy and invade South Carolina starting with Fort Sumter.

      In addition you can consult the 1805 agreement between South Carolina and the federal government for its use. Here is that agreement.

      “That, if the United States shall not, within three years from the passing of this act, and notification thereof by the governor of this State to the Executive of the United States, repair the fortifications now existing thereon, or build such other forts or fortifications as may be deemed most expedient by the Executive of the United States on the same, and keep a garrison or garrisons therein, in such case this grant or cession shall be void and of no effect.”- Statutes at Large, Volume V, p. 501

      The federal government was legally bound by this agreement. It is indisputable that by 1861 Fort Sumter had never been completed. Its construction had been abandoned in the 1820’s, nor had there ever been any federal garrison assigned to it. By the end of 1808 the federal government had’t fulfilled any of the conditions agreed upon. This means that the federal government could not have any claim of authority over the fort, and that it was under the ownership, jurisdiction, and sovereignty of the State of South Carolina.

      Lacking the authority or consent to occupy the fort the presence of federal troops constituted the very definition of an invasion.

      • Roy says:

        It doesn’t matter what you or I think, Hawk. It matters what *they* thought.

        Some southerners may indeed have thought of it as invasion, but I doubt it. (None of what I have read in primary sources postulates that anyway.) But northerners most certainly did not see it that way. And that is all important.

        The firing on Ft. Sumter was the Causus Belli of a war that saw the total destruction of the antebellum south. Again I say: Before Sumter it was “good riddance”. After Sumter it was lines outside of northern recruiting offices.

        Had southerners had a bit less arrogance and a bit more patience they might have gotten away with it all and had their own nation. Or they might have used their earnestness to parley their reentry into the union under more favorable circumstances. But nope. One southerner was worth 10 damn Yankee’s – or so they thought – so fire away.

        • Roy says:

          By the way. I have to add that I, myself am a southerner from one of the border states – Kentucky. I have ancestors that fought on *both* sides of that conflict. One – my great, great, grandfather – was at nearly every battle in the west from Shiloh to Chickamauga. He mustered out, wounded, just before the battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga.

          Another fun fact: Every single state of the Confederacy had regiments in the Union army except one – South Carolina. None of the northern free states had units in the Confederate army.

          The border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware had units in both armies, some of whom – like the 1st Maryland CSA and the 1st Maryland USA, at Gettysburg – faced each other in battle.

          I don’t want to re-fight the war. I do want to to learn from the mistakes made on both sides so that we do NOT suffer a repeat.

  14. Roy says:

    Geeze, did I really type all of that. I’m sorry, Kenny. It kind of got out of hand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *