How Toxic Masculinity, Honor Culture, and Lack of Discipline Undermined the Southern Army during the Civil War

Why the Confederacy Lost: The Experiences of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia

Joseph Glatthaar, the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke at Vanderbilt University Feb. 8, 2011, as part of a College of Arts and Science-sponsored series of lectures about the Civil War. Glatthaar teaches about the Civil War and is the author of “General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Defeat.”

Transcript

00:07
thank you very much I’m really delighted
00:09
to be here let’s hope you still have
00:13
that same commitment to applause when
00:15
the talks over when Jefferson Davis
00:22
became president of the Confederate
00:23
States of America it was apparent to him
00:25
that a war was going to occur and Davis
00:28
formulated the Confederate strategy the
00:31
strategy was simple to punish the
00:33
invaders the objective was to discourage
00:37
future attacks and also to convince the
00:40
northern public that future attacks
00:43
would be futile and that military
00:46
efforts to reconquer the Confederate
00:48
States would fail one of the most
00:52
celebrated officers in the Confederacy
00:53
Edward Porter Alexander explained the
00:57
Confederacy hoped quote that the
00:59
desperation of her resistance would
01:01
finally exact from her adversary such a
01:04
price in blood and treasure as to
01:07
exhaust the enthusiasm of its population
01:09
for the objects of war Davis wanted his
01:21
subordinate generals to strike the enemy
01:24
as close to the borders as possible as
01:27
Davis explained to one general officer
01:29
resist invasion as far as may be
01:32
practicable and repel the invaders
01:34
whenever and however it may be done
01:36
because citizens and soldiers lived
01:40
along avenues of invasion Davis believed
01:43
the Confederacy could not yield
01:45
territory unless it was absolutely
01:46
necessary quote the evacuation of any
01:50
portion of territory involves not only
01:52
the loss of supplies but in every
01:55
instance has been attended by a greater
01:57
or less loss of troops end quote now
02:01
every strategy has its flaws
02:03
particularly one against an enemy that
02:06
has superiority and manpower and
02:08
resources those nations such as the
02:11
Confederacy with inferior resources in
02:14
manpower can compensate by developing a
02:17
sound strategy and utilizing resources
02:19
more efficiently
02:20
we also by tapping soldiers and
02:23
civilians commitment to the cause and
02:25
requiring them to endure more hardships
02:28
than their enemy but the fact remains
02:30
they have a limited margin for error as
02:34
that margin for error is stripped away
02:36
the demands of war cutting to the sinew
02:39
and bone of the war effort
02:41
breaking down institutions and morale
02:44
and inflicting ever-increasing hardship
02:46
for the Confederate States of America
02:48
there would be enormous hardship
02:51
sacrifices and tragedies the war would
02:53
stretch manpower and resources to the
02:55
breaking point and they would incur
02:58
heavy losses delivering powerful blows
03:01
against the enemy nonetheless Davis
03:04
believed the Confederate people could
03:05
endure any sacrifice for freedom and
03:08
independence we will do all that can be
03:11
done by plucking muscle endurance and
03:13
dogged courage
03:14
– and red-hot patriotism Davis claimed
03:18
no Confederate Army fulfilled that
03:21
strategy like the Army of Northern
03:23
Virginia yet even it wore down in the
03:26
face of two then three and finally four
03:28
years of fighting against those
03:30
overwhelming odds the margin for error
03:34
dwindled and ultimately disintegrated
03:37
fissures appeared in every institution
03:39
in every facet of life including the
03:42
Army of Northern Virginia and despite
03:44
its efforts it too was ultimately
03:47
overcome now the Army of Northern
03:49
Virginia had to utilize manpower and
03:51
resources effectively but the two early
03:54
commanders Pierre Gustav Teuton
03:57
Beauregard and Joseph E Johnston
04:00
established ineffective precedents and
04:03
policies three times those officers
04:07
abandoned position one in Harpers Ferry
04:10
another in Northern Virginia and a third
04:12
at the Manassas Centreville axis the
04:15
result was massive destruction that not
04:18
only affected the Confederacy’s ability
04:20
to prosecute the war after all the
04:22
resources were precious but it also sent
04:25
the wrong message to troops the
04:27
destruction helped establish aspects of
04:30
the military culture that encouraged in
04:32
discipline in the
04:34
and that paid little credence to the
04:36
preservation of valuable resources which
04:39
in turn reduced the Confederate margin
04:41
for error now every organization has a
04:45
culture and the Army of Northern
04:46
Virginia was no different army culture
04:50
derives from two areas elements that
04:53
individuals bring into the military from
04:56
civil life and military experiences in
04:59
training normally boot camp tears down
05:03
and rebuilds so that the military
05:05
culture flows from the top down but with
05:08
no such experience and because officers
05:11
largely came from home we’re learning on
05:14
the job and failed to rigorously
05:16
discipline their men the culture tended
05:19
to flow from the bottom up at the core
05:23
virtually all these citizen soldiers
05:25
share the same fundamental beliefs in
05:28
the rightness of secession and slavery
05:30
from society they inherited Southern
05:33
Honor an overarching concept that
05:36
embraced powerful perceptions of manhood
05:39
integrity independence valor kinship and
05:43
esteem and among the elite both luxury
05:47
and generosity in times of war a
05:50
wholehearted allegiance to the spirit of
05:52
Honor would serve its soldiers well but
05:56
southern society also promoted certain
05:58
qualities that did not benefit the
06:01
Confederate nation in a war against the
06:03
better resourced Union a lack of
06:05
discipline and particularly among the
06:07
well-to-do a spirit of prophecy and
06:10
self-indulgence were acceptable modes of
06:13
conduct before the war closely related
06:17
to one another these three behaviors
06:19
elevated the individual over the group
06:22
and tolerated conduct and uniform that
06:25
was not conducive to effective military
06:27
service more than a simply a spirit of
06:30
individualism which the army could
06:32
harness and convert to military purposes
06:35
these qualities diminished the
06:37
usefulness of the soldier in the pre-war
06:40
South an individual who squandered money
06:42
recklessly was not necessarily scorned
06:45
in some circles he earned prey
06:48
days by distinguish himself from his
06:50
penurious materialistic northern
06:52
countrymen southerners particularly
06:55
males aspired to fulfill their every
06:57
impulse and desire and society tolerated
07:01
often encouraged such indulgence
07:04
attention to administrative detail and
07:07
other mundane matters were beneath many
07:09
of them undisciplined conduct and open
expression of passion or a ready resort
to violence was not necessarily
considered unbecoming in the pre-war
South
after all to adhere to a code of
discipline meant that others impose
their will on the individual such
dominance of the individual smacked of
slavery and southern whites were
extremely sensitive to it
even in the
realm of laws and codes of moral conduct
southern males abided by them
voluntarily not out of compunction if
society compelled them to obey then it
dominated the individual and deprived
him of his manhood and no
self-respecting white southerner could
endure
that these qualities made them
wonderful motivated soldiers but they
also promoted the resistance to
discipline which in turn was the key to
effective utilization of limited
resources
now the Battle of Seven Pines on May
31st 1862 Joseph e Johnston was badly
08:12
wounded and Jefferson Davis assigned
08:16
robert e lee quote/unquote temporarily
08:19
to be commander of that army when lee
08:22
stepped into that position he confronted
08:24
two huge problems one the obvious one
08:27
Union forces were literally at the gates
08:29
of Richmond they were three miles
08:31
outside of Richmond and the second one
08:33
was that there were administrative and
08:35
discipline problems in the army staff
08:39
officers practice sloppy paperwork
08:42
procedures and soldiers failed to
08:44
conserve and as a result troops went
08:46
without and suffered I remember one
08:48
instance where troops literally outside
08:50
of Richmond had to trap rats soak them
08:53
in water overnight and then fry them for
08:55
food that doesn’t appeal to me perhaps
08:58
your dietary practices or otherwise
09:01
and of course these practices also
09:05
encouraged undisciplined behavior
09:07
because soldiers coming from American
09:10
society were problem solvers if they
09:12
didn’t get fed by the army they were
09:14
going to solve the problem themselves
09:15
which means that they were going to take
09:17
from civilians now when Lee stepped in
09:20
he had a great reputation of course you
09:23
probably know this Lee graduated second
09:25
in his class at the United States
09:27
Military Academy he graduated without
09:28
receiving any demerits he was one of
09:30
several of his class who did so and of
09:33
course he emerged from the Mexican War
09:35
as Tim Johnson will say as Winfield
09:38
Scott’s favorite Winfield Scott said in
09:40
testimony that he thought Robert Ely was
09:42
the finest soldier in the US Army yet
09:46
within certain circles there was an
09:47
undercurrent of doubt about Lee by May
09:50
1861 after exposure to Lee over the six
09:53
previous years Edmund Kirby Smith had
09:56
come to the conclusion that Lee lacked
09:58
ability for large-scale command
10:01
describing his selection to head
10:02
Virginia forces as quote unfortunate
10:05
unquote Smith like numerous others was
10:08
put off by Lee slowness to come to a
10:10
decision
10:11
Sam Melton who served on Brigadier
10:14
General millage L bottom staff and had a
10:16
very fair favorable opinion of Lee I
10:18
might add informed his wife in May 1861
10:22
that Lee quote is a splendid officer
10:24
slow too slow but thoroughly
10:26
accomplished
10:27
end quote in a letter that has become
10:30
almost famous for its miss reading of
10:32
the man South Carolina Governor Francis
10:36
W Pickens announced a bonham just before
10:39
the Battle of first Manassas quote the
10:41
truth is Lee is not with us at heart or
10:44
he is a common man with good looks and
10:46
too cautious for practical revolution
10:49
end quote
10:50
be careful what you write because it may
10:52
be saved and you’ll look like an idiot I
10:55
mean this will go this is really the
10:57
most representative document we have of
10:59
Francis W Pickens I’m sure he did other
11:02
things some things right in this
11:04
instance he sort of missed even least
11:07
trusted staff member Walter H Taylor
11:10
complained to his Bradt future bride
11:12
late in the war about Lee’s slowness
11:15
he is too undecided Taylor grumbled
11:17
takes too long to firm his conclusions
11:20
after the first campaign a failure
11:23
amid the rugged terrain of western
11:25
Virginia Lee’s reputation plummeted even
11:28
more fueled by excessively optimistic
11:31
tales in the newspapers as the campaign
11:34
was unfolding soldiers and civilians
11:36
alike reacted to the results of the
11:38
campaign as if Lee had committed some
11:40
monstrous blunder the newspapers and the
11:44
public how old over leaves incompetence
11:47
Edward a power to Richmond newspaperman
11:50
and sharp critic of the Davis
11:51
administration determined quote the most
11:54
remarkable circumstance of this campaign
11:56
was that it was conducted by a general
11:59
who had never fought a battle who had a
12:01
pious horror of guerrillas and whose
12:04
extreme tenderness of blood induced him
12:07
to depend exclusively upon the resources
12:10
of strategy to essay the achievement of
12:13
victories without the cost of life end
12:16
quote
12:17
a student at West Point when Lee was
12:19
superintendent there Ben Alston reported
12:22
to his father that people called Lee a
12:25
dirt dauber a small insect that leaves a
12:29
soil trail in its wake Alexander C
12:33
Haskell a family friend of the Lee’s
12:35
described to his mother a satirical
12:38
sketch he had seen of Lee quote with a
12:40
double-barrel spyglass in one hand and a
12:44
spade in the other reconnoitering in the
12:46
position of the enemy the caption of the
12:48
of the cartoon read quote to retreat a
12:51
little and throw up fortifications the
12:53
instant he sets eyes upon them shooting
12:58
Haskell believed this is unjust to a
13:00
fine officer but it does somewhat
13:03
exhibit his very cautious policy to
13:07
remove Lee from the Richmond spotlight
13:09
Davis sent him to the Department of
13:11
South Carolina Georgia and Florida to
13:13
oversee defenses there a job hardly
13:16
worth the third highest-ranking officer
13:18
in the Confederate Army as the spring of
13:21
1862 approached however Davis brought
13:24
Lee back to Richmond to help him the
13:27
reaction remained hostile
13:28
the appointment of General Lee is chief
13:31
military advisor of the president looks
13:33
like a fatal mistake a member of
13:35
Johnson’s staff wrote his wife B’s quote
13:39
traits of mind unquote would prove more
13:42
problematic than they were the previous
13:44
year he predicted and then he concluded
13:46
with the words may God in mercy protect
13:49
us
13:50
Catherine Edmundston a North Carolinian
13:52
and an unusually perceptive diarist held
13:55
nothing but contempt for Lee he is too
13:59
timid believes too much in master Lee
14:01
inactivity finds his strength too much
14:04
in sitting still even Lee’s counterpart
14:08
on the Union side Major General George B
14:10
McClellan rejoiced when he thought that
14:13
Lee in his new position would replace
14:14
Johnston as the field commander
14:17
I prefer ally to Johnston he elaborated
14:20
to Lincoln
14:21
the former is too cautious and weak
14:23
under grave responsibility personally
14:26
brave and energetic to a fault he yet is
14:29
wanting in moral firmness when pressed
14:32
by heavy responsibilities and is likely
14:34
to be timid and irresolute in action end
14:38
quote we would call that projection
14:44
that’s exactly the way McClellan was to
14:47
a tee getting his job as commander of
14:54
the Virginia forces and then as military
14:56
adviser to the President Lee gained
14:57
great insight into the Confederacy’s
14:59
capacity to make war he fully understood
15:02
that the Confederacy had a limited
15:04
margin for error the Confederate people
15:07
Lee insisted must make up our minds to
15:09
great suffering he then concluded all
15:12
must be sacrificed to the country as
15:15
army commander Lee began immediately to
15:18
institute changes one of the first
15:20
things he did in special orders number
15:22
22 June 1st 1862 he referred to it as
15:25
the Army of Northern Virginia other
15:28
people had called it that at times but
15:30
the name never stuck and once Lee did
15:33
and he announced that his headquarters
15:35
was part of the department of Northern
15:37
Virginia then the name Army of Northern
15:39
Virginia became fixed with
15:42
li and that body of soldiers he
15:44
established and enforced routines for
15:46
the distribution of provisions and
15:48
required division commanders to
15:50
scrutinize requisitions of subordinates
15:53
as I mentioned Johnson’s staff was
15:55
pretty inept at administering and then
15:58
the galacon neglect in paperwork meant
16:01
that soldiers didn’t get provided for
16:03
with supplies li circulated directives
16:07
to all officers to pay attention to the
16:10
quote health and comfort of the men
16:12
under command and spare unnecessary
16:14
exposure and fatigue so that everyone
16:17
was ready for battle in one of Richard’s
16:19
favorite moments Lee even authorized the
16:23
distribution of whiskey rations at the
16:25
discretion of officers quote when deemed
16:28
essential to the health of the men from
16:31
inclemency and weather or exposure in
16:33
the swamps I’m sure many college
16:35
students would mind Sherman Lee’s army
16:37
for a day Lee crackdown on lost or
16:43
damaged supplies which hindered the war
16:44
effort severely quote the increasing
16:47
difficulty in replacing them he directed
16:49
makes greater watchfulness and care
16:51
necessary in their preservation one week
16:54
later he complained quote the means of
16:57
supply are becoming more limited while
16:59
the demand continues great end quote
17:01
on his daily rides Lee quote observed
17:05
with concern in passing through camps
17:07
too much disregard to the proper
17:09
preservation of public property be
17:12
careful to use those kinds of P words
17:15
and public addresses it’s really easy to
17:17
stumble over the words he was firmly
17:20
convinced that our successes mainly
17:23
dependent upon the economical and proper
17:25
appropriation of public property at all
17:27
times end quote compared to the northern
17:31
enemy Confederates had a very little
17:33
margin for error and to win they must
17:35
husband those resources Lee then
17:38
gathered intelligence from the enemy
17:40
from newspapers and he sent Jeb Stewart
17:42
on a cavalry ride around the Union
17:44
position he directed his sharpshooters
17:47
and our terrorists to pester the enemy
17:48
as much as possible so they couldn’t
17:50
build works meanwhile he was employing
17:53
his own troops at building works
17:55
here he was challenging a naive cultural
17:58
perspective on warfare soldiers thought
18:02
they would just slug it out in the open
18:03
field against the Yankees and rely on
18:05
their superior character and martial
18:07
skills to win the day it never crossed
18:10
their minds that they would have to
18:11
wield axes and shovels that was worked
18:14
for slaves our people are opposed to
18:19
work Lee alerted Davis our troops
18:22
officers community and press all
18:24
ridicule and resisted yet he went on to
18:27
explain that it was the very means by
18:29
which McClellan was closing in on
18:31
Richmond why should we leave to him the
18:34
whole advantage of holding advantage of
18:36
laborers combined with valor fortitude
18:39
and boldness of which we have no fair
18:41
proportion it should lead us to success
18:44
after describing how the Romans combined
18:47
fortifications and fighting so
18:48
skillfully we then concluded quote there
18:51
is nothing so military as labor and
18:53
nothing so important to our army as to
18:56
save the lives of its soldiers end quote
18:58
three days into his command he ordered
19:01
each division to assign 300 men to work
19:04
on the supervision of engineer officers
19:07
to dig fortifications soldiers resented
19:11
the labor Lee didn’t care
19:13
trenches and works would save rebel
19:16
lives and multiply combat power he also
19:19
ordered men to quote strengthen their
19:21
positions in the most perfect manner
19:24
with redoubts barricades a batiste
19:27
rifle pits etc so that everyone has a
19:30
hand in the manual labor in quote they
19:37
finally entered combat and fight they
19:39
did winning the seven days battles in
19:41
June and early July and then taking the
19:44
war into Northern Virginia and winning
19:46
the second Manassas campaign literally
19:48
driving the Yankees out of almost every
19:50
ounce of Virginia soil and then taking
19:54
the war into Maryland but after three
19:56
months of fighting Lee knew that he had
19:59
serious discipline problems Lee believed
20:02
quote the material of which it is
20:04
composed is the best in the world and
20:06
nothing can surpass the gallantry and
20:09
intelligent
20:09
of the main body in quote soldiers
20:12
brought with them from civil life
20:14
qualities and motivations that make
20:16
confederate soldiers in lee’s opinion
20:18
the best infantrymen in the world but
20:21
other aspects injured their cause in
20:23
other ways have the Confederacy
20:26
organized units differently Lee believed
20:28
had they not been introduced prematurely
20:30
into combat without adequate training
20:32
and regimentation had they not endured a
20:35
series of harsh conditions hard marches
20:38
and frequent campaigns and battles we
20:40
felt they might have been able to alter
20:42
military culture but the demands of war
20:45
permitted no such opportunity by the
20:48
time Lee was in a position to implement
20:51
any changes he encountered three
20:52
difficulties first military culture had
20:56
already taken hold and it would be
20:58
extremely difficult to break to the
21:02
officers upon whom he would have to rely
21:04
to alter that military culture came from
21:06
the same communities and to a great
21:08
extent the same backgrounds as their
21:10
enlisted men those officers shared the
21:13
same values in civil life and brought
21:15
them into the army and third new
21:18
recruits and furloughed troops revived
21:21
that sentiment by coming from civil life
21:23
back into the Army and so they left
21:26
steady reminders of what that culture
21:27
everyone left behind was all about that
21:31
however didn’t stop Lee from trying
21:33
after Antietam in September 1862 he’d
21:36
elected he directed his subordinates to
21:39
quote infuse a different spirit among
21:41
our officers and to inspire them in
21:43
making every necessary effort to bring
21:46
about a better state of discipline they
21:48
must impress men and officers with the
21:52
importance of a change necessary to the
21:54
preservation of this army and it’s
21:56
successful accomplishment of its mission
21:58
as it’s better discipline greater
22:01
mobility and higher inspirations must
22:03
counterbalance the many advantages over
22:06
us both in numbers and materiel which
22:09
the enemy possess end quote but those
22:12
who were expected to inculcate
22:14
discipline the officer corps had
22:16
suffered very heavy losses over the
22:19
entire war almost a quarter of all
22:22
officers in Lee’s army were killed in
22:25
action and one of every two officers was
22:29
either killed in action or was wounded
22:32
in action and wounded at least once many
22:36
multiple times
22:37
officers were more than twice as likely
22:40
to be killed in battle than were
22:41
enlisted men and more than one and a
22:43
half times as likely to be wounded in
22:46
battle from the seven days through
22:48
Antietam that’s the late June to mid mid
22:52
to late September 600 officers were
22:55
killed and 2,000 officers were wounded
23:00
from Antietam through the summer of 1864
23:04
another 1,000 officers were killed and
23:08
4,000 officers were wounded so from the
23:11
day we took command until mid 1864 1600
23:17
officers were killed in action and over
23:20
6,000 were wounded in action the
23:23
Confederacy of course had a finite
23:26
number of quality officers and the
23:28
staggering number impaired its ability
23:31
to train and discipline the troops what
23:35
our officers most lack is the pains and
23:37
labor of inculcating discipline Lee
23:39
complained to Davis in mid 1864 it’s a
23:42
painful and tedious process and is not
23:45
apt to win favor Lee believed his
23:48
enlisted men lacked discipline and the
23:50
officers cannot instill it in them
23:52
because they lacked discipline as well
23:54
as one inspector explained to
23:58
Confederate headquarters the extensive
23:59
fighting stripped away quote the best
24:02
and most efficient men in each command
24:04
and in too many companies there is not
24:06
material left out of which to make
24:08
company commanders end quote
24:11
yet there was little the Confederacy
24:13
could do if there was any consolation at
24:15
least these replacements were as Major
24:17
General George Pickett argued quote
24:19
Galit gallant and meritorious in action
24:23
end quote and the soldiers trusted them
24:25
to lead them in battle even worse supply
24:29
and transportation problems became so
24:32
severe that soldiers had to take matters
24:33
into their own hands young people
24:36
as we know can each staggering
24:39
quantities of food and quality is not
24:42
always a priority but these soldiers did
24:46
not know how to cook and were
24:47
unaccustomed to such bad food
24:49
a Georgia private grumbled of eating
24:51
biscuits so hard quote I could knock a
24:53
bowl down with one end quote I like this
24:56
guy the soldier has a perfect name his
24:58
name is bacon and he’s trying to bake
25:00
bread the first time I made up dough I
25:03
had a mess of it stuck to my hands I can
25:05
just envision him trying to swing his
25:06
hand to get it all stuck to my hands and
25:08
I could hardly get it off then I tried
25:10
to bake it but I could not get it done
25:12
some was burnt up in some was raw what a
25:15
mess I had my favorite story though a
25:18
soldiers who stole what they thought was
25:21
a tub of lard but in fact it was
25:24
actually tallow for candles and they
25:26
baked the biscuits and somebody came by
25:28
and said that wasn’t lard that’s tallow
25:30
one of the guys in the mess decided to
25:32
try the biscuits out anyway and he said
25:35
pronounce them good and tried to
25:36
convince his fellow soldiers to eat them
25:38
but they wouldn’t have any of it that
25:43
was early in the war then shortages
25:45
kicked in in an average year before the
25:48
war 800,000 to 1 million bushels of
25:51
wheat were shipped into Richmond in 1862
25:54
even though the city’s population had
25:56
doubled and on top of that you had the
25:59
army ranging in between 70 and 80
26:01
thousand men only 250,000 to 300,000
26:05
bushels of wheat arrived by mid January
26:09
1863 the army supply of cattle had
26:11
dwindled down to enough to last through
26:14
the end of the month only and those that
26:16
they had had becomes skinny as a result
26:19
of the winter regarding the other meat
26:22
pork the standard joke in the army was
26:24
that the bacon quote outranks General
26:26
Lee unquote in late April early May 1863
26:30
rations for a single day had to be
26:33
stretched out over three by early
26:36
January 1864 Davis admitted that the
26:39
army issued 1/4 of a pound of meat per
26:42
man per day and Lee only had one more
26:45
day’s issue on hand can you imagine
26:48
trying to run
26:50
armie when you only have food enough for
26:52
the next day it’s incredible when the
26:56
Yankees quipped that the Confederates
26:58
had a new general general starvation
27:00
they wanted very far off the mark that
27:04
was supposed to be funny has got a limit
27:06
lighten up here people I know this is a
27:08
tough subject for many of you
27:09
southerners but this you got a lighten
27:11
up here with shortages soldiers took
27:15
matters into their own hands on the
27:17
marcher encamped troops regularly
27:19
purchased and then later on swiped food
27:21
from locals by late 1863 though there
27:23
was nothing left to swipe instead they
27:26
turned on their government as an Alabama
27:28
private asserted hunger will drive a man
27:31
to anything you may depend the
27:33
Confederate government admitted that in
27:35
1863 alone six hundred and seventeen
27:38
thousand pounds of bacon alone were
27:41
stolen the commissary of subsistence in
27:45
January 1864 confessed quote every
27:48
shipment of meat is robbed of from eight
27:50
to fifteen hundred pounds end quote
27:54
to combat the practice the Confederacy
27:57
had to place guards on all the trains
27:59
with orders to shoot people on the spot
28:03
we tried to solve the food problem as a
28:06
solution and get loaded this is quite a
28:08
revolutionary proposal Lee suggested an
28:11
alteration of priorities and civilian
28:15
consumption habits soldiers in the field
28:18
should become the nation’s top priority
28:21
quote if it requires all the meat in the
28:23
country to support the army it should be
28:25
had and I believe this could be
28:27
accomplished by not only showing its
28:29
necessity but that all equally
28:31
contributed if the government could
28:33
convince the public to consume
28:35
foodstuffs that quote cannot be so well
28:38
used by the troops in the field end
28:40
quote it would save other eatables for
28:42
his men that’s pretty revolutionary
28:44
calling for a change in consumption
28:47
practices clothing clothing of course is
28:50
a big problem in the army many of the
28:51
guys came in with their Sunday best and
28:53
they quickly wore out
28:54
one soldier grumbled about his pants
28:56
that were a quote more holy than
28:58
righteous and quote
29:00
and of course soldiers had shortages of
29:03
coats hats pins etc but shoes with a
29:07
single biggest problem replacement items
29:10
were often poor in quality for example
29:12
in one shipment Lee’s army got 10,000
29:14
pairs of shoes and over 3,000 of them
29:16
were absolutely unusable and had to be
29:19
sent back Lee’s solution to the problem
29:21
he located 271 pre-war shoe makers in
29:25
his ranks and pulled them out of the
29:27
ranks and made them make shoes during
29:29
all the months when the servant when
29:32
they weren’t in active duty that was not
29:34
enough soldiers accustomed to solving
29:37
problems themselves took matters into
29:39
their own hands early on they had
29:41
plundered on the battlefields for money
29:43
and valuables weapons and mementos by
29:46
late 1862 they had no choice but to
29:49
plunder for food and clothing as the
29:51
cold weather approached once again and
29:53
soldiers hoped for a battle so that they
29:56
could clothe themselves properly that
29:59
winter the majority of the troops are
30:02
eager for a fight when officer wrote his
30:04
father the battlefield is the greatest
30:06
storehouse of winter equipments and
30:07
pocket money and our boys have a
30:09
penchant for both end quote
30:11
a Virginia private concurred
30:14
semi-literate I have rather been in
30:16
hopes that if they were going to fight
30:18
it all that it would come off or I want
30:20
some overcoat and blankets if our men
30:23
whipped them I would stand a good chance
30:25
to get some he explained so what they
30:27
needed to do was defeat the Union and
30:30
control the battlefield so they could
30:32
strip the Union soldiers of the clothing
30:33
so they’d have clothing and blankets for
30:35
the winter
30:37
of course if soldiers are being fed
30:39
poorly you can imagine how badly the
30:41
animals were being fed the artillery by
30:43
spring of 1862 was already short 1,200
30:47
horses if they had them they probably
30:49
couldn’t offend them though by early
30:51
1863 Lee directed subordinates to feed
30:54
their animals on twigs and bark from
30:56
poplars maples and sweet gums in the
30:59
latter part of 1863 we had to reduce the
31:02
number of guns in his artillery because
31:05
he could not feed the animals in
31:07
November 1863 he complained to Davis
31:10
quote no corn was received here on the
31:13
21st and
31:14
and on the 22nd and 24th about five
31:17
pounds per horse that average is of
31:20
course two and a half pounds per animal
31:22
per day the Union fed its animals
31:25
between 23 and 26 pounds per day in the
31:31
course of one 40 day period without any
31:34
campaigning a cavalry Brigade increased
31:37
its dismounted men from 292 to 681 due
31:42
to food shortfalls prior to secession
31:47
the southern states had developed a
31:48
transportation network that service
31:50
distant markets predominantly with non
31:52
perishable goods such as cotton tobacco
31:54
and sugar with few exceptions most
31:57
perishable products came locally by the
32:00
winter of 1860 to 63 the Confederacy had
32:03
so overused its rail system in Virginia
32:06
that was becoming increasingly
32:08
unreliable at the time Lee’s army was
32:11
was occupying a position on the southern
32:13
bank of the Rappahannock River near
32:15
Fredericksburg the Richmond
32:17
Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad ran
32:19
there but it was not designed to carry
32:21
Freight just passengers that left the
32:24
Virginia Central probably the most
32:26
important railroad in the state as the
32:28
only viable alternative now the Virginia
32:31
central intersected with Richmond
32:33
Fredericksburg and the Potomac at
32:34
Hanover Junction and from there it went
32:37
all the way up into the Shenandoah
32:39
Valley which of course is the richest
32:41
region for food production in the state
32:43
workers could then unload supplies at
32:46
Hanover Junction put them on wagons and
32:48
cover the 35 miles to the army but of
32:51
course that became more problematic in
32:53
the wintertime when the roads converted
32:56
into mud even worse it resulted in the
33:00
badly over you in a bad overuse of this
33:03
Virginia Central Railroad its tracks had
33:06
declined significantly in just two years
33:08
of war due to the overuse and a lack of
33:11
repairs it’s quote efficiency is most
33:14
seriously impaired end quote so the
33:17
railroad president informed Davis in
33:19
mid-march 1863 the line suffered for
33:22
derailment in a five-day period to
33:26
reduce derailments the Confederacy
33:28
had to cut the weight in each car by 25%
33:31
and then slow down the speed of the
33:34
Train Li solution by early 1864 li
33:38
sought the suspension of all rail travel
33:41
except on government business with the
33:44
space designated for use in supplying
33:47
the army
33:47
in addition quote this is pretty
33:50
revolutionary all the population whose
33:53
presence would impede or endanger our
33:55
efforts should be removed especially
33:58
that part of it
33:59
which increases the consumption of
34:01
public stores without aiding or
34:03
strengthening the army he wants to
34:05
depopulate Richmond fewer mouths food
34:09
goes farther he wanted prisoners
34:11
parolees federal deserters and
34:13
unemployed person to remove from the
34:15
city and quote every encouragement given
34:18
to the rest of the non-combatant
34:20
population to retire except those whose
34:23
services may be useful or who will not
34:26
increase the scarcity of supplies end
34:28
quote
34:29
if the individual didn’t contribute
34:32
directly to the war effort through
34:33
military or government service
34:35
production direct labor or
34:37
transportation the government needed to
34:39
urge them to leave the richmond area to
34:42
conserve supplies for the troops as the
34:46
confederate margin for error winnowed
34:48
and the in the area of supply and
34:49
transportation it declined in manpower
34:51
as well effective implementation of
34:54
Davis’s strategy was extremely costly
34:57
for of every 10 soldiers in lee’s army
35:00
was either killed or wounded and five of
35:03
every nine soldiers who ever served in
35:05
lee’s army was either killed wounded or
35:07
captured once prior to the surrender at
35:11
Appomattox one in 16 suffered multiple
35:16
wounds and another one in ten were
35:18
wounded and also captured by factoring
35:24
in those who died of disease and
35:26
accidents or who were discharged for
35:28
disabilities almost three of every salt
35:31
for soldiers who ever served in the Army
35:34
of Northern Virginia were either killed
35:36
died of disease were wounded at least
35:39
once were captured at least one
35:41
or were discharged for a disability
35:44
that’s unbelievable when you factor out
35:49
those who deserted the army permanently
35:52
the percentage of casualties rises to
35:55
80% not only did these terrible losses
36:00
damage the army but they also hurt
36:02
morale even in the face of resounding
36:04
triumphs casualties cut to the core of
36:07
wartime support let me give you a great
36:09
example the state of North Carolina
36:11
which narrowly embrace secession what
36:15
fueled the fires of disaffection more
36:17
than anything in North Carolina with the
36:19
tremendous casualties among North
36:21
Carolinians in Lee’s army now listen to
36:24
these statistics because they’re
36:25
unbelievable behind the provost state of
36:28
Virginia North Carolina sent the most
36:30
troops to Lee’s Army in the spring of
36:32
1863 at Chancellorsville three of every
36:37
ten North Carolinians in Lee’s army was
36:40
killed wounded or captured that was but
36:43
by far the greatest total and the
36:45
greatest percentage of any state in
36:48
Lee’s army the seven highest totals of
36:51
killed and wounded fell to North
36:53
Carolina regiments two months later at
36:57
Gettysburg after the army had received
37:00
two huge brigades of North Carolinians
37:05
46.4% of all North Carolinians were
37:08
killed wounded or captured that’s almost
37:10
half the top four regimental casualty
37:14
figures and six of the seven highest
37:17
occurred in North Carolina regiments at
37:19
Gettysburg North Carolina lost 1782 more
37:25
men than the next highest state Virginia
37:27
that 1782 amounted to more casualties
37:32
than eight Confederate states suffered
37:35
in the Battle of Gettysburg then to
37:39
worsen the discrepancy at the Battle of
37:41
Bristow station in October 1863 almost
37:44
every single casualty in the battle was
37:47
a North Carolinian and again another 10%
37:50
of all North Carolinians and Lee’s army
37:52
so while it’s difficult to ascertain
37:55
precision a reasonable calculation over
37:58
a five and a half month period indicates
38:02
that seven of every North 10 North
38:04
Carolinians in Lee’s Army was either
38:06
killed wounded or captured in that
38:08
period the impact of those losses in the
38:13
most successful and visible Confederate
38:15
field command the Army of Northern
38:16
Virginia on the North Carolina home
38:19
front was devastating and coincided
38:21
precisely with the rising disaffection
38:24
in that state to compensate for
38:27
productivity decline associated with
38:30
manpower loss to the army Confederates
38:32
relied on blacks who proved increasingly
38:34
undependable as the war went on more and
38:38
more they slowed down work ran off to
38:40
the Yankees and caused general uneasy
38:42
uneasiness among the population that
38:44
remained at home the situation was so
38:47
severe that by 1864 the former governor
38:51
of Virginia General Henry wise told a
38:54
family friend that quote slavery is a
38:58
dead issue here in Virginia end quote
39:01
regardless of who won the civil war in
39:05
other words even if the Confederacy want
39:07
one you could never maintain slavery in
39:10
Virginia again attrition wore down
39:15
Confederates as we tried desperately to
39:18
increase manpower he notified the
39:20
Secretary of War in January 1863 that
39:23
they needed every man and he asked the
39:25
secretary to call on governor’s to
39:29
appeal to their constituents to fill the
39:31
ranks using quote shame against those
39:35
who will not heed the dictates of honor
39:37
and of patriotism
39:38
end quote in one instance Lee found
39:41
himself under arrest I’ll bet most of
39:43
you need to know that Robert Ely was a
39:44
had an order issued for his arrest what
39:48
happened was the Secretary of War
39:49
ordered two privates to come to Richmond
39:51
to act as clerks and Lee did know who
39:54
issued the order but immediately
39:55
overturned the order and directed the
39:57
guys to go back and be rifle toters
39:59
again when the Secretary of War found
40:01
out he ordered Lee to be arrested that’s
40:05
kind of a funny concept imagine Leonor
40:08
under arrest of course we explained
40:09
situation in guess what the Secretary of
40:12
War rescinded his order the men’s state
40:14
as his rifle toters so we even won the
40:17
battle the grind of the 1864 campaign
40:21
took its toll on Lee’s army after two
40:24
weeks of fighting in May 1864 Lee had
40:28
six generals killed sick nine generals
40:31
wounded and three generals captured by
40:33
the end of May one corps commander
40:36
Longstreet was wounded James Longstreet
40:39
that is another Corps commander Richard
40:41
Ewell had collapsed from exhaustion a
40:43
third Corps commander ap Hill had a
40:45
flare flare up of his old illness
40:48
prostatitis as a result of a youthful
40:51
indiscretion and then Stewart of course
40:55
his cavalry commander was killed Lee
40:57
suffered from dysentery and which he get
40:59
this I got when I found this out found
41:01
this in in the medical army medical
41:04
directors report Lee did not get more
41:07
than two consecutive hours of sleep for
41:11
a three week period now Lee is 59 years
41:16
of age was he born in 1850
41:20
it’s about 56 years of age that’s all
41:23
that’s not very much sleep and of course
41:25
he’s sleeping on a rack and a torte have
41:28
you ever seen it Museum of the
41:29
Confederacy has has leaves caught it’s
41:32
more like a torture rack by early June
41:37
1864 the campaign locked into trench
41:40
warfare with all the harsh conditions
41:42
that entailed from September 1862
41:45
through July 1864 the hospitals in
41:49
Virginia had admitted almost four
41:51
hundred and thirteen thousand soldiers
41:53
as patients due to illness or injury
41:55
during the three months of May June and
41:58
July 1864 those hospitals admitted one
42:02
hundred and two thousand soldiers alone
42:06
now even if every soldier was
42:09
transferred from one hospital to a
42:11
second one
42:12
that means 51,000 soldiers in a
42:15
three-month period were sent to the
42:18
hospital
42:19
that’s incredible in it
42:22
nor could lee effectively replace those
42:24
who went down he had squeezed everyone
42:26
he could in uniform back into the ranks
42:29
and conscription had augmented his
42:31
numbers too as the army passed by
42:33
communities his corps commanders had
42:35
orders to conscript any male who
42:38
appeared physically able incidentally
42:42
and and by the late stage of the war I
42:45
would say one in every eight soldiers
42:46
and Lee’s army was a conscript but I
42:49
want to mention this because this plays
42:51
into the 15 slave law in Virginia only
42:55
2% of all exemptions from conscription
42:58
were given to people under the 15 slave
43:00
law to put it in context four times as
43:04
many farmers railroad workers and
43:08
Millers received exemptions five times
43:11
as many shoemakers and government
43:14
officials received exemptions even
43:17
doctors and clergymen received twice as
43:20
many exemptions as slave holders on the
43:23
15 slave law by the end of 1864 the
43:28
bureau of conscription decreed that
43:30
there were no more conscripts to tap
43:32
except 16 year-olds who were coming of
43:36
age in the next year in Virginia that
43:39
amounted to the precise number of 2719
43:45
in fact the Confederacy just doesn’t
43:47
have the manpower anymore the strain of
43:49
war proved almost unbearable one brigade
43:52
of 1187 privates for example had to
43:56
defend 2,401 yards of works and two
44:01
thousand three hundred yards of picket
44:03
area every day the Union was able to
44:07
rotate troops from the trenches back the
44:10
Confederacy didn’t have that luxury by
44:12
1864 food for man and beast became more
44:15
and more scarce combat had discouraged
44:18
farmers from planting in the Shenandoah
44:19
Valley as far south as Bunker Hill and a
44:22
drought had devastated the corn crop
44:24
between Stanton and Newmarket reducing
44:27
corn production to one-third its usual
44:30
harvest animals got between two and a
44:32
half and five pounds of feed per day and
44:35
it was no
44:36
better for humans in one instance
44:38
cavalry commander Wade Hampton see seas
44:41
2500 head of cattle from the Federals
44:43
that gave the Confederate Army enough
44:46
meat for a month but other than that as
44:48
the winter came on the situation proved
44:51
bleak soldiers seldom received more than
44:54
a pound of cornmeal and a quarter pound
44:56
of beef per day by 1865 the commissary
45:00
could not sustain even that meager
45:02
bounty often 1/4 pound of beef and
45:06
either a pound of bread or 3/4 pound of
45:09
corn meal per day was issued that
45:11
equaled 900 to 1,200 calories per day
45:15
the US Army feeds its soldiers in the
45:19
combat environment 4000 calories a day
45:22
because that’s what the army feels is
45:24
essential to maintain muscle mass and
45:27
body weight not put on weight just to
45:29
maintain existing weight these guys are
45:31
living on 900 to 1,200 calories a day
45:35
that’s like two hours at the at the
45:38
local pub for most undergraduate
45:40
students many days the government could
45:45
supply troops with either meat or the
45:47
starch but not both the government
45:50
diverted corn intended to go to horses
45:52
for their soldiers the corn had
45:54
contained dried leaves and stalks from
45:57
the corn plant roughage that the that
46:00
the animals would find nutritious but of
46:02
course the soldiers found it unpalatable
46:04
supplies from everywhere came at a
46:07
glacial pace we had to draw a supplies
46:10
from as far away as Georgia taxing the
46:12
rail lines even more one line was so bad
46:15
the trains averaged one mile per hour
46:20
once Sherman began his advance through
46:23
Georgia and then South Carolina he cut
46:25
off those areas from food access and so
46:28
Lee’s area from which he could drawn was
46:31
shrinking more and more but it was not
46:33
until the combination of Lincoln’s
46:35
reelection Sherman’s march that
46:37
desertion began to truly soar in 1865 it
46:41
got worse and worse little clothing
46:44
little food too little rest and too much
46:47
work sapped soldiers
46:49
their motivation to fight good soldiers
46:52
tried soldiers began to lose faith and
46:54
desert men who had fought well in
46:56
literally dozens of battles those final
46:59
weeks were awful for men in Lee’s army
47:01
over the course of February and March
47:03
Lee’s army lost on average about 120 men
47:06
to desertion every day that’s comparable
47:10
to an infantry brigade present for duty
47:13
every 10 days just a desertion others
47:17
held on on the retreat from Richmond the
47:20
Richmond Petersburg line westward their
47:22
physical deterioration from poor
47:24
condition prevented thousands from
47:26
keeping up on my previous campaigns
47:29
where soldiers purposely straggled many
47:32
just could not stay up on the March 4
47:35
months Lee’s army lived on a diet that
47:37
lacked half the necessary protein to
47:40
maintain muscle mass and provided less
47:43
than two-thirds the necessary calories
47:45
to sustain body mass the diet by that by
47:49
this point largely down to a quarter
47:51
pound of beef and two pints of cornmeal
47:53
and occasional small amounts of molasses
47:56
was woefully deficient in most vitamins
47:59
resulting in weakness and absorption
48:01
problems of protein minerals and
48:03
vitamins with soldiers suffering skin
48:06
ailments night blindness anemia scurvy
48:08
and diarrhea in other words they weren’t
48:11
taking in enough good nutrition to break
48:14
down the food that they were actually
48:15
eating in a telling assessment doctor JW
48:20
Powell medical director for the Third
48:21
Corps commented on the Corps inspection
48:24
report in February quote while there was
48:27
not much well I’m sorry
48:29
while there was not found’ much absolute
48:32
sickness existing there were many weak
48:35
and feeble men who cannot be relied upon
48:38
to undergo any great physical exertions
48:41
end quote although Lee wants more a call
48:44
for discipline and reminded them a
48:46
patriotism he could get nothing more
48:48
from many of his troops pressed by
48:51
Federals Lee had to push his men hard on
48:54
the retreat thousands dropped out of the
48:56
March some falling into Yankee hands
48:58
others slowly working their way home
49:00
because they liked the stamina
49:02
to keep up for four long years this army
49:05
had battled overwhelming federal
49:07
manpower and resources brilliantly close
49:10
to 30,000 of them fell in combat and
49:13
more than 125,000 suffered wounds but
49:17
punished the Yankees they did Lee’s army
49:20
inflicted 45% of all the Union soldiers
49:24
killed and 45% of all the Union soldiers
49:27
wounded in the entire war in the last
49:32
year of the war despite the decline in
49:35
Lee’s Army grants forces sustained some
49:39
127 thousand casualties that’s almost as
49:45
many casualties as the Army of Northern
49:47
Virginia suffered for four years of war
49:49
in general order number nine a farewell
49:54
to his troops Lee stated that they had
49:56
been quote compelled to yield to
49:58
overwhelming numbers and resources end
50:00
quote to President Davis 10 years later
50:02
he told something different he blamed
50:04
the quote moral condition of the army
50:06
for defeat quote the operations which
50:10
occurred while the troops were in the
50:12
entrenchments in front of Richmond and
50:13
Petersburg would not marked by the
50:15
boldness and decision which formally
50:17
characterized them except in particular
50:19
instances they were feeble and a want of
50:22
confidence seemed to possess officers
50:24
and men this condition I think was
50:27
produced by the state of feeling in the
50:29
country and the GB and the
50:31
communications received by the men from
50:34
their homes urging their return and the
50:37
abandonment of the field end quote
50:39
both were correct the rebels confronted
50:42
vast Union superiority and over the
50:44
course of four years of war it wore down
50:47
the Confederacy ultimately the Army of
50:51
Northern Virginia did not collapse
50:52
because of southern culture industry
50:56
agriculture slavery motivations manpower
50:59
shortages discontent at home or any
51:02
other solitary factor intense and
51:05
sustained Union pressure caused serious
51:08
fissures in all these areas winnowing
51:11
away that margin for error and cutting
51:13
into muscle and bone collectively
51:14
bringing down the
51:16
and the entire Confederacy four long
51:20
years of war damaged or disrupted
51:22
virtually every aspect of Confederate
51:25
life
51:25
the demoralisation to which Lee referred
51:29
was a consequence of all these problems
51:31
not a cause let me conclude by telling
51:35
you a little story about private Thomas
51:37
Petty a native of Virginia and a pre-war
51:39
clerk in Washington DC he lost some
51:42
friends over the Secession issue he
51:44
joined the Confederate Army and in a
51:46
warm July night 1861 he was gazing up to
51:49
the sky and saw a comet rocketing
51:51
through the sky the next day he read in
51:53
the new Richmond newspapers that no one
51:55
had anticipated the comet he wondered
51:59
what it meant
52:00
perhaps it portends refer shadows the
52:03
speedy acknowledgment of our Confederate
52:05
States independence he pondered and by a
52:08
sudden apparition typifies the
52:10
Confederate States which is coming to
52:11
the host of nations like the comet
52:13
blazing gloriously in quote petit was
52:18
wrong about independence but correct
52:19
about the comet as a metaphor in the
52:22
grandeur of time the Army of Northern
52:23
Virginia might the Confederate States of
52:25
America was a short-lived shooting star
52:28
it appeared as a powerful illumination
52:31
and quickly passed into darkness perhaps
52:34
200,000 or more men stepped into its
52:36
ranks throughout the course of the war
52:38
undermanned underfed poorly clothed and
52:41
inadequately equipped the Army of
52:43
Northern Virginia kept a significantly
52:45
larger and better resource Union Army at
52:47
bay for almost four years its success
52:51
was so great that in the minds of
52:53
northerners and southerners alike it
52:55
came to symbolize the viability of the
52:58
Confederate states its commander was
53:01
perceived by many as a general superior
53:04
to all including Napoleon himself the
53:08
combination of Lee and his army have
53:11
left an indelible mark on the landscape
53:13
and the psyche of the American nation
53:15
far beyond its four years even today
53:19
many decades after its last veteran has
53:21
passed away Lee’s army continues to live
53:24
in the imagination of the American
53:26
public not so much for what it
53:29
represents
53:29
but for what it accomplished on the
53:31
field of battle under the most difficult
53:34
conditions and circumstances thank you
53:37
very much
53:47
question

Nathan Bedford Forest (The Memory Palace)

Episode 73:
Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Counci has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery

 

Episode 8 of the 2015 Summer Season

Music
* Under the credits is Harlaamstrat 74 off of John Dankworth’s Modesty Blaise score.
* First up (and returning at the end) is Sandra’s Theme, from Heather McIntosh’s fantastic score to Compliance, a very good, very disturbing movie.
* We hit Frank Glazer leading Charles Ives’ Largo for Clarinet, Violin and Pianoa couple of times, framing…
Runaway from Olafur Arnalds.

Notes:
*The key to researching this episode turned out to be an article in The Journal of Southern History from 2001 by Court Carnay called, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest.”.
* Also particularly useful was Nathan Bedford Forrest: a Biography, by Jack Hurst.
* As was Lynching in America: A History in Documents, compiled by Christopher Waldrep.
* Much of my information about the contents of the ceremony and speeches was gathered from this, the digitized journal and scrapbook of Charles Henry Niehaus, the sculptor of the monument. It’s an extraordinary resource.
* And let us all read Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases, by Ida B. Wells. And let’s put her on the $10 while we’re at it.

How Southern socialites rewrote Civil War history

The United Daughters of the Confederacy was a significant leader of the “Lost Cause,” an intellectual movement that revised history to look more favorably on the South after the American Civil War. They were women from elite antebellum families that used their social and political clout to fundraise and pressure local governments to erect monuments that memorialized Confederate heroes. They also formed textbook review committees that monitored what Southern schoolchildren learned about the war. Their influential work with children created a lasting memory of the Confederate cause, and those generations grew up to be the segregationists of the Jim Crow Era in the South.

How Mary Bowser Spied on the Confederacy from within Jefferson Davis’s Confederate White House

Two brilliant women—one black, one white—assemble a spy ring in the rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia that eventually attempts a ‘mission impossible’ inside the military planning rooms of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

 

Related:

  • Mary Bowser was a Union spy during the Civil War. She was an American former slave and worked in connection with Elizabeth Van Lew
  • Elizabeth Van Lew: a Richmond, Virginia abolitionist and philanthropist who built and operated an extensive spy ring for the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Black Confederate Soldiers

Toxic Myths of the Confederacy (UnCivil Podcast)

A listener voicemail sends us deep down the rabbit hole into one of the most toxic myths of the Confederacy.

John Sims: Hi, my name is John Sims. um – I – I have a really conflicted past with this thing. When I was a teenager I was a part of an organization called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And you know and over the course of like 2 to 3 years as I was a teenager I slowly came to realize how terrible the Civil War really was and how messed up the Confederacy was … And, so I, I don’t know, this subject is really like close to my heart and uh if you want to talk to me some more give me a call. My number is beep. Thank you.

.. From an early age he read a lot of history… and he remembers the first moment he fell in love with the Confederacy…

[MUSIC OUT]

JS: So when I was probably uh, eight or nine my uncle gave us our first computer, right. It was an old Dell Computer, right. And there was a game that was loaded onto it that was a Civil War themed game. You could move the little soldiers around on a map, plan the strategies out for how they were going to attack each other and things like that. The thing that appealed to me about the video game was that it painted this picture of the South fighting a-against a vastly superior army. They were outmanned, they were outgunned. They were the underdogs. And that really appealed to me. And you know as an 8 or 9 year old, I walked into the kitchen where my mom was and I went, “Mom! I, I think the wrong side won.” CK: As time went on, John became sure the wrong side won… Before he knew it he was deep inside the world of Confederate revisionism…

And he connected to other people who felt the same way. And it was there, that he got caught up in spreading of the one of the most toxic modern Civil War myths… Black… Confederate… Soldiers

.. CK: Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans talk about black Confederate soldiers a lot… and here’s what they’re saying… free black men enlisted in the Confederate army alongside the very men who were fighting… to keep them enslaved…. Let that sink in…

JS:  I thought, “well hey, this, this explains it. This shows that the institution of slavery was not as atrocious as, as many historians portray it.  “It shows that it must not have been you know as terrible as many people see it today if people were willing to go out and fight and die for it who were on the slave side of that institution.” 

[MUSIC OUT]

CK: Aiight…  let’s just stop right there… This idea that there whole regiments of free black men that were fighting for the Confederacy.  That’s that bullshit.

Enslaved people were on the front lines with their masters, but they were enslaved..None of them were enlisted as soldiers…

KEVIN LEVIN: in all of the years that I have been, you know, researching Black Confederate Soldiers, I have yet to find, uh, a single wartime account of a Confederate soldier, or a politician, uh, or even, you know a civilian on the homefront who claimed, that these men were serving in the army as soldiers.

CK: That’s Kevin Levin… he’s a historian who has researched this myth for almost a decade

KL: You don’t find that at all and I think that tells us something really important about this, about this myth.

[MUSIC IN]

KL: It tells us that whatever slaves were doing, in camp, on the march, on the battlefield even, that Confederates themselves did not consider what slaves were doing as constituting the work, uh, or the responsibility of soldiers.

CK: Towards the end of the war when the Confederacy got really desperate… they told slave owners that they could enlist their slaves as soldiers.…
But this happened just two weeks before the end of the war… so it’s unlikely that even these forcibly enlisted black men ever saw battle.
JH: But the story of black Confederates willingly going into battle throughout the war to defend slavery… it’s all over the internet…. On message boards and in blogs and in articles … including one written by John Sims…

JS: I wrote an article for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Put it in their newsletter, and it was on Black Confederate Soldiers. 

JH: The idea of black Confederates proved to John that the war wasn’t about slavery. Slavery was just a pretense the North used to violate the rights of Southern states.

After John put that article about black Confederates in the newsletter… he expected praise and admiration from his new friends. He thought they would love it.

JS: The response I actually got was either crickets, just nothing, no response at all, or, or grumbling. Like a, a response of almost like, “why would you lump them in with our people.” Like, “why would you lump in these- these, um, African-Americans with the- the valiant soldiers of the South?”

The thing is it solidified to me was there were segments of this organization that certainly were, you know, racist.

CK: John started feeling like the Sons of Confederate Veterans weren’t interested in history… they were interested in what they thought the past should have been
But John’s view of the Confederate history really started to fall apart after he dug a little more deeply into his own family’s past.
John Sims: The moment where things really started to break up for me was- I was under this notion that none of my family had owned slaves, right? And this is an argument the Sons of Confederate Veterans makes, is that most of the people who were in the South, the white Southerners, did not own slaves. So I was under this impression that, “Maybe, um, my ancestors didn’t participate in that dark, but small, part of the South,” And I couldn’t find any documentation that said that they were slaveholders, or that they were racist, and so I just, you know, I brushed it off, right?
CK: But all that changed when he found an old article about his ancestor Charles Burkham.
.. CK: I mean this myth is such blatant bullshit that it made us wonder… how did it ever take off? And when we dug into black Confederate myth… what we found… is that this revision history is actually pretty recent.
According to historian Kevin Levin, we can trace it back to its beginnings about 40 years ago….

KEVIN LEVIN: The first accounts of, of black Confederate soldiers really doesn’t appear until the end of the 1970s… And in large part in response to the success of the television series Roots.

[ROOTS TV SHOW AUDIO CLIP]

AMES: Get up Toby. Dammit, boy! If you don’t understand my meaning, I got a dictionary in the butt end of this whip that’ll make my meaning clear!”


FIDDLER: You do what Mr. Ames says now, Toby!

[END CLIP]

[MUSIC IN]

CK: For eight consecutive nights in the fall of 1977… families gathered in their living rooms to watch the story of nine generations of an African-American family. The story starts in Africa but spends most of its time exploring their lives under the brutality of American slavery…

Since the end of the Civil War, kids like John had grown up on the Confederate narrative …. that slavery was a benevolent system with kind masters. That slaves were happy

Now, American families were watching stories that changed all that. Roots showed in graphic detail, African-Americans being forced to change their names… being beaten and killed… but also that they had resisted slavery all along.

JH: Confederates, who had tried to control the narrative for so long… felt it slipping away

KL: You begin to pick up chatter among Sons of Confederate Veterans who are very worried that this very popular account of slavery, painted the Confederacy in a negative light. They’re worried, uh, that their own preferred narrative is, is jeopardized.

JH: Confederate enthusiasts had to respond… so they poured over Civil War accounts…looking for any black men near the front lines that they could portray as soldiers…. And they found them…  enslaved men in the camps…

KL: One way they can do that is by, starting to talk about camp slaves as soldiers, right? As full soldiers in the Confederate army that served in integrated units from the very beginning of the war.

JH: So they rewrote these men’s stories to fit their narrative… and they circulated these revised histories among themselves…  in Sons of Confederate Veterans meetings and other rallies… and eventually they got the story out of their private clubs… and into the media….

In the 1990s… there were two Washington Times features that suggested… there wereBlack Confederate Soldiers…

CK: And the story started to gain traction in other places… with even bigger audiences….

After the break, the story of Black Confederate Soldiers finds its way onto popular television….

.. In a 2009 episode of the show… the black Confederate myth took center stage..  a man brought in an old photograph of a white Confederate soldier seated next to a black man in a Confederate uniform….

.. JH: The appraiser tried to give context here… mentioning that it wasn’t unusual for a Confederate officer to go to the frontlines attended by what he called a “manservant.”

And while the descendant on the air makes it clear that his ancestor owned Silas…he also describes the two men in weirdly modern terms… like they were friends.

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW: They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate Army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17 and they fought in four battles together

The men grew up together, they worked the fields together, and continued to live closely throughout the rest of their lives.

CK: But there was one family watching the segment who knew that Silas didn’t enlist willingly… and wasn’t Andrew’s friend…

MYRA CHANDLER SAMPSON: I was on the phone talking with my sister and her daughter was flipping through the channels and she started screaming, “The slave, the slave, our great grandfather.” And my sister said, “Oh, turn on Antique Roadshow. they’re talking about Silas.”

CK: That’s Myra Chandler Sampson… the great-grand-daughter of Silas Chandler, the enslaved man in the photo…

MCS: Oh, I was furious. I thought, “How could he? This is is ridiculous.”

[MUSIC IN]

CK: Myra had seen this photo growing up…. Many times. …but where Andrew’s descendant saw two Confederate army buddies… Myra saw something else …MCS: Ok when I see this picture I see Andrew sitting straight, and tall, and proud. And he’s thin. And he’s- He just looks like an ordinary Mississippi white man.

I see Silas scrunched down. Almost scooted forward. To make him look shorter. And I don’t know if he’d been told to- that’s the way he had to appear when he’s with Andrew.

JH: And, and when I look at that picture… to me, you can’t help but look at Silas and think, “the man is just miserable…”

CK: Yeah, I mean to me, it looks like he’s just looking at the camera going, “Do y’all see this bullshit?”

JH: (laughs)

CK: But Myra says no matter what you see when you look at this photo… there are basic facts about Silas and his life that make his relationship to Andrew and to the Confederate war effort… abundantly clear.

For one — the pension application that Silas filed…..describes Silas as a servant of a Confederate soldier…

Myra also found a letter from the Chandler family that lays out Silas’s real day-to-day responsibilities… and they didn’t include battle

MCS: Transporting packages, transporting messages from the plantation to the battlefield. That’s what his, his job was
CK: Eventually by researching Silas’ life, Myra was able to put together the story of Silas the person and what she found was a very different Silas than the manservant she saw presented on Antiques Roadshow

Myra told us Silas’ family was likely taken from Ghana… he was born in Virginia and taken to Mississippi, when he was 2 years old.

JH: Before the war, Myra says, Silas was already a carpenter…. He helped in the construction of many buildings on the plantation…. And he was loaned out to help build the courthouse in West Point, Mississippi.

MCS: When he went away to the war he had just married and his wife was pregnant. and so his son, his first son, was born while he was away with Andrew. And I’m sure that if Silas didn’t have a family, if he didn’t have a wife back home, and he had a chance to escape, I’m sure he would have. He obeyed his oppressor, and followed directions because he wanted to survive, and he wanted his wife and his unborn son to survive.

JH: When Silas died, his family had a mason symbol engraved on his headstone — to acknowledge his work as a carpenter.

But almost a century later, the Confederate supporters came up with a different idea about how to memorialize Silas Chandler

MCS: I believe it was 2003 the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederate Veteran uh, they, they put an Iron Cross on his grave and a Confederate flag. And they declared Silas a Confederate hero.
It was on all the TV stations and throughout the state of Mississippi. I, I was invited to the ceremony but I told them there was no way in hell that I would attend a ceremony like that.

CK: But of course, that didn’t stop them… and it went far beyond just the ceremony… pro-Confederate groups turned Silas into an icon….There are posters… even t-shirts with his likeness… One t-shirt features Andrew Chandler wounded in battle…MCS: And Silas is down on his knees, uh wrapping Andrew’s leg. And Silas has on a Confederate uniform with a Confederate cap at that time. And believe it or not I ordered that T-shirt ‘cause, ‘cause I wanted to see it.

JH: These groups… had taken Myra’s ancestor away from her…… They had redefined who Silas was.

MCS: It brought out a temper in me that I didn’t know I had.

If I lived in Mississippi believe you me,  I would have taken that Iron Cross off. I would have taken it off and burned it, and made a video, and put it on, on YouTube so they could see it. 

They re-enslaved him when they put the Iron Cross and Confederate flags on his grave. And made these t-shirts, and these posters that they sold. Making profit off of a dead slave – they have no soul. They have no soul  – just like their ancestors had no soul in order to keep someone a slave and to profit off of their labor.

JH: In the years of Myra’s research and fighting to get the confederate flags and the Iron Cross off Silas’s grave… that picture from the Antiques Roadshow went up for sale. It was sold to a private collector who immediately donated it to the Library of Congress.

JH: when people come into the Library of Congress, and, and go to look at that picture, what, what would you want them to see?

MCS: They should see what a slave was forced to do in order to save his life and the life of his family. If Silas had not done what he did, I would not be here, and my family would not be here. So, they should see a love story.