essay I'm working on about American Civil War revisionism...

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essay I'm working on about American Civil War revisionism...

Post by JMurphy » Mon Apr 18, 2005 4:02 pm

This just kind of grew out of discussions I've had with people who say the condition of slaves wasn't all that bad, the war wasn't about slavery, confederates were nicer to slaves then northerners, etc.

Should be interesting, could turn into a Masters thesis.

Anyone have any thoughts?

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Post by Skepchick » Mon Apr 18, 2005 4:05 pm

Hi JMurphy
Have you considered joining our Essayists group?
Information here :) http://www.skepticforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=296
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Post by JMurphy » Mon Apr 18, 2005 4:07 pm

thanks, as you can tell I just started using this forum and it's alot bigger then I thought...
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Post by Raskolnikov » Mon Apr 18, 2005 4:59 pm

The Civil War is one of the most studied areas of American History. Partly this is because you have several different bodies of historical literature written about it:

1) Apologias by first hand participants and their cultural or political heirs. This tradition started with Jubal Early, James Longstreet, and US Grant, and has continued to the present.

2) Military history that largely ignores the social, political, and diplomatic context.

3) Works by real historians that draws upon the above, but has generally been focused on the social, political, and diplomatic at the expense of military history.

The real historians have already done a lot to debunk some of the claims of the apologists. I have never seen a real historian deny the centrality of slavery in the territories to Confederate motivations (although I am sure they are out there). As such, I know there is a body of work out there that touches on your proposed thesis, although I don't know how deep it gets.

Also, your initial post makes it sound like you wanted us to read and comment on your essay. Did you forget to provide a link?
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Post by JMurphy » Mon Apr 18, 2005 5:03 pm

no, just wanted to stimulate some discussion. I'll submit it to the Essays section once it's done.
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Re: essay I'm working on about American Civil War revisionis

Post by Luke T. » Tue Apr 19, 2005 12:28 am

JMurphy wrote:This just kind of grew out of discussions I've had with people who say the condition of slaves wasn't all that bad, the war wasn't about slavery, confederates were nicer to slaves then northerners, etc.

Should be interesting, could turn into a Masters thesis.

Anyone have any thoughts?


You must read this Chapter.

Thus the traveler who floats down the current of the Ohio to the spot where that river falls into the Mississippi may be said to sail between liberty and servitude; and a transient inspection of surrounding objects will convince him which of the two is more favorable to humanity.

Upon the left bank of the stream the population is sparse; from time to time one descries a troop of slaves loitering in the half-desert fields; the primeval forest reappears at every turn; society seems to be asleep, man to be idle, and nature alone offers a scene of activity and life.

From the right bank, on the contrary, a confused hum is heard, which proclaims afar the presence of industry; the fields are covered with abundant harvests; the elegance of the dwellings announces the taste and activity of the laborers; and man appears to be in the enjoyment of that wealth and contentment which is the reward of labor.

The state of Kentucky was founded in 1775, the state of Ohio only twelve years later; but twelve years are more in America than half a century in Europe; and at the present day the population of Ohio exceeds that of Kentucky by two hundred and fifty thousand souls. These different effects of slavery and freedom may readily be understood; and they suffice to explain many of the differences which we notice between the civilization of antiquity and that of our own time.

Upon the left bank of the Ohio labor is confounded with the idea of slavery, while upon the right bank it is identifies with that of prosperity and improvement; on the one side it is degraded, on the other it is honored. On the former territory no white laborers can be found, for they would be afraid of assimilating themselves to the Negroes; all the work is done by slaves; on the latter no one is idle, for the white population extend their activity and intelligence to every kind of employment. Thus the men whose task it is to cultivate the rich soil of Kentucky are ignorant and apathetic, while those who are active and enlightened either do nothing or pass over into Ohio, where they may work without shame.

It is true that in Kentucky the planters are not obliged to pay the slaves whom they employ, but they derive small profits from their labor, while the wages paid to free workmen would be returned with interest in the value of their services. The free workman is paid, but he does his work quicker than the slave; and rapidity of execution is one of the great elements of economy. The white sells his services, but they are purchased only when they may be useful; the black can claim no remuneration for his toil, but the expense of his maintenance is perpetual; he must be supported in his old age as well as in manhood, in his profitless infancy as well as in the productive years of youth, in sickness as well as in health. Payment must equally be made in order to obtain the services of either class of men: the free workman receives his wages in money; the slave in education, in food, in care, and in clothing. The money which a master spends in the maintenance of his slaves goes gradually and in detail, so that it is scarcely perceived; the salary of the free workman is paid in a round sum and appears to enrich only him who receives it; but in the end the slave has cost more than the free servant, and his labor is less productive.

The influence of slavery extends still further: it affects the character of the master and imparts a peculiar tendency to his ideas and tastes...


One of the greatest political science books of all time. I recommend everyone read it in its entirety every time I can find an excuse. 8)

There is a lot in there for you. A great examination of the process of the abolishment of slavery in the North with the resultant concentration of slaves in the South, and the consequences, and the expected future results.

Among the Americans of the South, Nature sometimes reasserts her rights and restores a transient equality between the blacks and the whites; but in the North pride restrains the most imperious of human passions.


As soon as it is admitted that the whites and the emancipated blacks are placed upon the same territory in the situation of two foreign communities, it will readily be understood that there are but two chances for the future: the Negroes and the whites must either wholly part or wholly mingle. I have already expressed my conviction as to the latter event. I do not believe that the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing.


If I were called upon to predict the future, I should say that the abolition of slavery in the South will in the common course of things, increase the repugnance of the white population for the blacks. I base this opinion upon the analogous observation I have already made in the North.


De Tocqueville spoke of the inevitable terrible bloodshed which was to occur, and why, and all the possible forms it could take.

If, on the one hand, it be admitted ( and the fact is unquestionable) that the colored population perpetually accumulate in the extreme South and increase more rapidly than the whites; and if, on the other hand, it be allowed that it is impossible to foresee a time at which the whites and the blacks will be so intermingled as to derive the same benefits from society, must it not be inferred that the blacks and the whites will, sooner or later, come to open strife in the Southern states? But if it be asked what the issue of the struggle is likely to be, it will readily be understood that we are here left to vague conjectures. The human mind may succeed in tracing a wide circle, as it were, which includes the future; but within that circle chance rules, and eludes all our foresight. In every picture of the future there is a dim spot which the eye of the understanding cannot penetrate. It appears, however, extremely probable that in the West Indies islands the white race is destined to be subdued, and upon the continent the blacks.



Read it all. You will be hard pressed to improve upon it. :D

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Post by Larson E Whipsnade » Sun Apr 24, 2005 1:07 am

Here are some links I've collected while discussing this on another board.

White Lies - An interview with Brooks D. Simpson, a professor at Arizona State, regarding NeoConfederate/Lost Cause ideology.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has quite alot of information on this topic, especially the Winter 2004 edition of Intelligence Report.

Confronting Slavery and Revealing the Lost Cause (PDF file) - Article from the National Park Service's Cultural Resource Management

The Better Angels US News & World Report article

Tricky Dixie: the mainstreaming of the Confederate ideology - from Slate

Causes of the Civil War - Great source of primary documents to throw back into a NeoConfederate's face, particularly Alexander Stephens' "Cornerstone Speech":
The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.


DiLorenzo's Lincoln --- a rebuttal - Thomas DiLorezno, a Libertarian economics professor, wrote a hatchet job called "The Real Lincoln." Lew Rockwell regularly spews similar garbage. This page details a just few of the problems with the book.

Not enough info for a thesis, but interesting reading.

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Civil War Revisionism

Post by Dave » Tue Apr 26, 2005 8:32 pm

I hope that you're a sociology or, even better, a psychology major as opposed to a history student. Most revisionist drivel has little to do with the facts in evidence.

Also, interpretation of the facts is in the eye of the beholder, of course. During a recent visit to the nice city of Charleston SC, I read an editorial piece in the Charleston Post and Courier regarding states rights/10th Amendment vis a vis the Terry Shiavo story. At some point the writer states "Lincoln waged the bloodiest war in American history to subjugate an entire region in the name of saving democracy." That is, NOT to preserve the union, per se.

While technically correct, I've never heard the war put into these terms. Lincoln led the north, it was bloody, saving democracy, well, ok...but subjugate? You have to pick your favorite definition...1. To bring under control; conquer. 2. To make subservient; enslave. The writer (who is a full-time editor at the paper) and I traded emails on his piece. He essentially insisted the south was invaded by the north solely because the south exercised their right to exit the union. I won't go on except to say that he had the view of a victim of some great injustice put upon him. His ideas sound just like the points put forth from Brooks D. Simpson in his 'White Lies' piece.

My point is that I doubt very much that this person considers himself any sort of revisionist. He is certainly intelligent and educated and has put some considerable thought into the issue of the Civil War. But he has come to an entirely different conclusion than me on many major points. Can your thesis answer why?
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Post by Raskolnikov » Wed Apr 27, 2005 3:12 am

My point is that I doubt very much that this person considers himself any sort of revisionist. He is certainly intelligent and educated and has put some considerable thought into the issue of the Civil War. But he has come to an entirely different conclusion than me on many major points. Can your thesis answer why?


Lincoln certainly subjugated the south. In principle, a large, self-sustainable and geographically coherent population should have the right of self-determination. If the State of Texas wanted to secede today, I would, in principle, agree that they have the right to do so. However...

1) I don't think they have the right to do it unilaterally unless all other options have been resolved and the parent state is unreasonable (c.f. American Revolution). The US has the right to make sure those not supporting secession will be taken care of, and that compensation is made for federally owned property and investments. In the Civil War, secession was unilateral, and the South tried to settle the issue of federal property through force of arms at Fort Sumter. None of these are high on the list of how to win friends and influence people. I strongly suspect that if the South had been smarter about secession, the North would have waved them goodbye. The Confederate decision-making leading up to Sumter was idiocy.

2) You can't ignore the issue of slavery. Any claim about self-determination is risable in a society where a good 40% of the population was enslaved. There was even a slave majority, not coincidentally, in South Carolina, the birthplace of the Confederacy and the home of the most vocal fire-eaters.

But to answer why, I think it ihas to do with the motivation for the war among those fought it and those who paid the greatest price. The Confederate state governments seceded because of slavery, but that isn't what motivated the rank and file, or those back at home. Who wants to fight on behalf of enslavement, plutocracy, and plantation agriculture? Few Confederate soldiers owned slaves. Most were small landowners or laborers. These guys fought because of state pride. For many people of the time, particularly in the antebellum south, personal identity was with one's state, not with the United States. They thought of themselves as Virginians, or Georgians, not Americans. "America" was this abstract concept, sort of like the European Union is today. They fought out of nationalism. Damned if they were gonna let a bunch of Yankees tell them how to run their state or invade with impunity.

This is hard concept to grasp in modern America, where state identity is very weak, akin to what you feel to your high school. It dictates the sport teams you root for, but doesn't say a lot about who you are as a person. You really get this if you read the histories of the time, with the excerpts from diaries, letters, and news accounts.

From such a point of view what the North did was indeed subjugation. The soldiers *did* fight over the right to secede. After the war was over the Confederate leadership saw that that was a much more morally defensible position than the right to own slaves, and changed their arguments about why they fought. The Lost Cause school was born.

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Post by Capthorne » Wed Apr 27, 2005 5:29 am

J Murphy:

As a fairly recent immigrant my knowledge of US history is minimal. However, I think you may find The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph.D. worth reading.
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Post by mmancuso » Wed May 04, 2005 8:03 pm

One of the reasons that I detested the film "Gods and Generals" is that it depicted this revisionist version of the Civil War (that, and the absolutely dreadful script).

:x

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Post by ranger75 » Sun May 08, 2005 10:06 pm

Revisionism....

"Revisionism" isn't some dark and sinister force of the universe skulking about the shadows in Nazi armband plotting denial campaigns refuting that Jews were ever gassed at Treblinka. That's the bastardized image of "revisionism" provided by our woefully ignorant popular culture.

The word "revisionism" was highjacked from professional historians long ago, and popularized primarily by The American Historical Association, which after the 1996 publication of The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews by The Nation of Islam, wished to brand anti-Semites with a readily identifiable cultural stigmata. Thus "revisionism" = anti-Semite = Holocaust denier = evil naughty Nazi.

In 1965, Yad Vashem held that 4 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz. However, 35 years later, after countless thousands of pages of new records and historical ephemera had been examined, the official Holocaust authority of the nation of Israel revised that number down to 1 million. This is revisionism. Without revisionism it would be impossible for professional historians to engage in the objective, scholarly pursuit of their discipline. In short, far from being some sinister construct to be loathed, revisionism is no less vital to the professional scholar of history, than is criticism to the professional scholar of literature.

Regarding the Civil War....

I’m a former member of the Atlanta Civil War Round Table. When I divorced in 1989, I was forced to part with my collection of almost 500 Civil War soldier's letters. I'd been collecting them for 15 years. They were worth anywhere from $5 for the mundane, up to $400 for a remarkable blood-splattered four-page eyewitness account of the battle of Shiloh by a wounded Union artillery officer writing to his brother in Wisconsin. Still very much in shock at participating in the first great blood-bath of the Civil War, he was so exhausted that he wrote the letter standing up, using the barrel of his Napoleon canon for a writing desk.

I would guess that 450 of the letters in my collection were Union soldier's letters and perhaps 50 were Confederate. Regardless of who had written the Union soldier's letters, all shared certain traits of character in common:

None contained so much as one syllable of the latter-day, politically-motivated tripe which deigns to postulate about what the war was all about in the first place. These soldiers knew exactly why they were fighting even if the NAACP and the entire current faculty at Harvard and Berkeley are all woefully ignorant of same. Their favorite four-word soliloquy appeared time and again in my own collection of letters. They were fighting you see....

"TO FREE THE NEGROE"
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Post by Raskolnikov » Mon May 09, 2005 1:51 am

That's interesting. The take I get from historical books is more mixed. There were certainly many soldiers with abolitionist motives, but one gets the sense that more were fighting to preserve the Union. Your take indicates it was more one-sided.

Did you notice a time trend, with more abolitionist motives described *after* the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (that is, roughly after Antietam)?

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Post by ranger75 » Mon May 09, 2005 5:24 am

"That's interesting. The take I get from historical books is more mixed. There were certainly many soldiers with abolitionist motives, but one gets the sense that more were fighting to preserve the Union. Your take indicates it was more one-sided. Did you notice a time trend, with more abolitionist motives described *after* the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (that is, roughly after Antietam)?"

Many people in contemporary America, the intelligentsia specifically, would be loath to acknowledge the overwhelming presence and influence of religious sentiment contained in the thousands of Civil War soldier’s letters I’ve read over my lifetime. Their authors were farm boys mostly, a disproportionate number tracing their roots to Germany and Ireland, who went to church and respected the tenets of acceptable human behavior put forth in the Bible (including the Old Testament, since Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary sparked a renaissance of nostalgia amongst interested American Jews, who so far have ferreted out service records of more than 12,000 Jewish combatants, Union and Confederate alike). For most rank and file Union soldiers, the Civil War didn’t present nearly the perplexing conundrum it does for the latter-day tenured, The Sons of Confederate Veterans, the NAACP, or “the reparations movement”. To the average Union grunt, the dissolution of the union and slavery weren’t separate issues. They were cause and effect. They were one and the same.

That isn’t to say that the average Union soldier was a hayseed or hick incapable of grasping abstractions. Far from it. The Union Army in the 1860’s was unique in the world in that 90% of its rank and file were fully literate, a per capita literacy rate far exceeding that of any other army in the world at that time. Literacy in the Confederate Army was probably 40% at best, yet that probably represented the second highest literacy rate of any army on earth. The British, French, and Prussian Armies of the day could probably boast no better than 10% literacy amongst their rank and file. Since the 1960’s, Sweden has boasted the highest per capita literacy rate in the world, as well as one of the two or three highest standards of living in the world, yet in the1860’s, 90% of its people were illiterate subsistance farmers. That was the state of the world in the 1860’s.

Thus the sheer volume of letters churned out from the Union ranks quickly grew so massive that it forced the US Postal Service to become a highly efficient and well-trusted federal bureaucracy, not to mention a monumentally important morale booster later in the war. Union soldiers, regardless of where they were on the campaign trail, and regardless of where their families lived in the north, could, by 1864, get nearly any letter delivered home in 7 days or less. Furthermore, they grew to trust the Postal Service implicitly with the contents of their letters, since a great deal of paper money was going back and forth between the war front and the home front from 1862 on, and very rare indeed were incidents of pilfering by postal employees. The soldiers talked about this in their letters a good deal, about their confidence and trust in the postal service, thus in their government, thus in the Union.

I don’t ever remember seeing the Emancipation Proclamation mentioned in a Civil War soldier’s letter, and I don’t regard it a seminal crossroads in the conduct of the war. To most cynics in 1863 America, it probably represented nothing more than an end to foot-dragging by Lincoln and his government, who’d finally rubber stamped the reason the nation had been at war for three years, thus making the whole bloody affair….well….you know….more official. Far more an obvious paradigm shift in the attitude reflected by many Union soldier’s letters takes place in 1864, when the war grew very, very bloody, a period when Union soldier ruminations grow increasingly hostile toward the Negro, .whom they regarded the locus of the war, and the reason they themselves are suffering so much misery. In short, some soldiers started asking their moms and dads and brothers and sisters if the freeing of the Negro was worth the great human toll it was exacting from young white soldiers, 375,000 of whom would ultimately sacrifice their lives ending slavery, while “emancipating” its 4,000,000 victims.
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Post by Sharpest » Tue May 10, 2005 12:26 am

There were 2 major causes of the Civil War

1) Northern Aggression, Overtaxation of the South
North taxed the heck out of the South
Power Struggle: North feared the South which might have aligned with Mexico

2) Slavery
Read the records of the first Southern convention of the Confederacy and the new Confederate President.
Major griping over slavery tied to the war.

() The Tyrannt, Pres. Abraham Lincoln, then just replaced Racial Slavery with Tax Slavery.
20th century American slaves paid more taxation than prior 19th century Racial slaves

() One factor that ended the Civil War was breeding. Whites bred with Black slaves. They feared they or their children would also become slaves.
1/2 Black to 1/16th Black ... at some point Whites also became slaves
Tipping point was the Fugitive Slave Law that may also enslave their chidren.

Racial Slavery ends due to in-breeding, Masters eventually become Slaves.

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Post by Larson E Whipsnade » Sat May 21, 2005 11:12 pm

Capthorne wrote:J Murphy:

As a fairly recent immigrant my knowledge of US history is minimal. However, I think you may find The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Ph.D. worth reading.


Actually, Woods is precisely the type of person you shouldn't be reading. He's a founding member of the League of the South, a white supremacist "Southern heritage" group. Check here for more info.

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Post by mmancuso » Tue May 24, 2005 6:13 pm

Sharpest wrote:There were 2 major causes of the Civil War

1) Northern Aggression, Overtaxation of the South
North taxed the heck out of the South
Power Struggle: North feared the South which might have aligned with Mexico

2) Slavery
Read the records of the first Southern convention of the Confederacy and the new Confederate President.
Major griping over slavery tied to the war.

() The Tyrannt, Pres. Abraham Lincoln, then just replaced Racial Slavery with Tax Slavery.
20th century American slaves paid more taxation than prior 19th century Racial slaves

() One factor that ended the Civil War was breeding. Whites bred with Black slaves. They feared they or their children would also become slaves.
1/2 Black to 1/16th Black ... at some point Whites also became slaves
Tipping point was the Fugitive Slave Law that may also enslave their chidren.

Racial Slavery ends due to in-breeding, Masters eventually become Slaves.


Northern Aggression??? More like Southern Instransigence. Southerners had been in control of the United States for most of its history up to the start of the Civil War. They saw that control slipping away as the country expanded and new states emerged that really, really did not want slavery. It was not about protecting their "peculiar institution" or their way of life; it was about power and control, plain and simple.

I'll ignore the rest of your post as being obviously ignorant and simplistic.

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Post by UnrepentantSinner » Thu Jun 02, 2005 1:32 pm

Sharpest wrote:There were 2 major causes of the Civil War

1) Northern Aggression, Overtaxation of the South
North taxed the heck out of the South
Power Struggle: North feared the South which might have aligned with Mexico


Really? The Union, as historian Shelby Foote noted, "faught the war with on hand behind it's back" due to it's economic supremacy. How exacty was the South taxed into rebellion? I'm unfamiliar with any tax law of the period where manufactured goods were taxed at a different rate than cotton and tobacco.

And as far as the fear of the South aligning with Mexico, my understanding is that the Confederacy envisioned conquering Latin America with an ever expanding empire to to South. Perhaps you could cite some sources on said feared alignment.

Sharpest wrote:2) Slavery
Read the records of the first Southern convention of the Confederacy and the new Confederate President.
Major griping over slavery tied to the war.


Agreed sorta. The Southern revisionists who decry the claim that the war was about "states rights" are as similarly incorrect as anyone who claims the war occured to free the slaves. The war occured primarily over the issue of a state right - the right to own slaves.

Sharpest wrote:() The Tyrannt, Pres. Abraham Lincoln, then just replaced Racial Slavery with Tax Slavery.
20th century American slaves paid more taxation than prior 19th century Racial slaves


Really? How exactly did a president who was assasinated in 1865 have any personal responsibility for the 16th Amendment and other tax increases in the 20th Century?

Sharpest wrote:() One factor that ended the Civil War was breeding. Whites bred with Black slaves. They feared they or their children would also become slaves.
1/2 Black to 1/16th Black ... at some point Whites also became slaves
Tipping point was the Fugitive Slave Law that may also enslave their chidren.

Racial Slavery ends due to in-breeding, Masters eventually become Slaves.


Really? So the "breeding" of slave masters and slave women led to the losses of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Appamatox?

I'm sorry, but I'm a bit confused about how your misegynation argument applies to the military history of the later war years.

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Post by Raskolnikov » Thu Jun 02, 2005 3:44 pm

Really? The Union, as historian Shelby Foote noted, "faught the war with on hand behind it's back" due to it's economic supremacy. How exacty was the South taxed into rebellion? I'm unfamiliar with any tax law of the period where manufactured goods were taxed at a different rate than cotton and tobacco.


I agree with most of what you are saying elsewhere in your post, but taxes were an issue before the Civil War. The problem is that manufactured imports were taxed. This got the south mad for a few reasons:

1) the primary reason for the tax was to help northern manufacturing. That meant the benefits primarily fell to the north.

2) Tariffs in general spark retaliation. As such, the south reasonably saw tariffs as an obstacle to lowering European tariffs on the exports produced by the south.

I also never really liked Foote's argument in this regard. It is pretty much part of the "lost cause" school, where the south never had a chance and fought anyway because their hearts were pure, they had honor, yada yada yada. The north did have economic supremacy, but the south had its own advantages, and I would argue that the south largely negated northern economic advantages through ingenuity and borrowing. At least until the very end of the war, when Sherman was wrecking havoc on Confederate supply lines.

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Post by Raskolnikov » Fri Jun 03, 2005 5:22 am

However . . . one then has to consider what if Sherman failed, and Lincoln loses the election. What if England decided to recognize the South? Where would be Foote's "hand behind the back?" Would the Union have "brought it to the front," so to write?


Bingo. The lost cause school usually focuses extensively on Union advantages. I would argue that greater manpower was indeed an advantage, but that several Confederate advantages more than compensated for it: fighting a defensive war, being able to win by not losing (Washington won the revolutionary war this way), potential intervention and support from the International community, being able to use slavery to mobilize a much higher percent of a highly motivated white population, etc.

I also am not a believer in the "superior generalship" argument. Yes, Lee was unmatched, but he was one man. I would argue that the Union had a much deeper bench, after four years of war had allowed the cream to rise to the top. None of Lee's chief lieutenants, and none of the other army commanders, ever showed the ability to manage major independent strategic (as opposed to tactical) army operation. Jackson was the closest, but Shenandoah was minor and he was operating on Lee's orders. Contrast that with Grant, in his brilliant Vicksburg campaign. Or Sherman. The March to the Sea was his idea. Or Thomas, who ignored Grant's orders to attack Hood immediately, waited until the time was right, and utterly annhilated Hood's army at Nashville. Or Sheridan, probably the closest Northern equivalent of Jackson, who rose to the top late in the war. Or even Rosecrans, who kicked Bragg out of Tennessee almost solely through positional manuevers.

When Confederate commanders like Longstreet, Bragg, and Johnston tried stuff like this, it blew up in their faces. Union generalship got better as the war raged on, and Confederate generalship got worse.

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Post by Chadvoodoo » Fri Jun 03, 2005 8:30 am

I also am not a believer in the "superior generalship" argument. Yes, Lee was unmatched, but he was one man. I would argue that the Union had a much deeper bench, after four years of war had allowed the cream to rise to the top.


Yes, but it strikes me that had we had a general that wasn’t afraid to attack-and pursue-at the beginning of the war it might have shaved substantial time off the conflict. Instead we had McClellan, who despite Lincoln’s admonitions, refused to do anything but drill his troops-- while the south got dug in for the long haul.

I'm not saying that the north didn't have good generals. But it seems that they weren't able put the ones they had to good use in a timely manner.
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Post by Raskolnikov » Fri Jun 03, 2005 3:15 pm

I'm not saying that the north didn't have good generals. But it seems that they weren't able put the ones they had to good use in a timely manner.


Sure they did, just not against Lee. By the time Grant was brought over to face Lee, the Confederacy had been split in two, lost New Orleans and control over the entire Mississippi, and had been firmly kicked out of Tennesee and most of Louisiania. It was the strategic advantage given by these victories that finally allowed Grant to beat Lee, even though Grant wasn't tactically up to Lee's caliber.

The North had its best generals in the west. The South had them in east. But I would argue that the northern generals in the east were better than the southern generals in the west. For all of Lee's vaunted genius, he never managed the type of strategically important victories that the Union achieved in the West. Partially this was because the Army of the Potomac had some solid corps commanders, who never made the gross mistakes of the Confederate generals out west, and usually managed to maintain or quickly regain the strategic initiative.

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Anyways, the Union had a few early chances to win a "decisive" victory--but failed. The exact reasons why keep history departments employed. Lee basically out-generaled the Union fops placed against him until he met Meade. Historians bitch about whether or not Meade had much to do with his victory, whether he should have persued Lee . . . blah . . . blah . . . blah, but it was the first major win. I do not count Antietam. Even WITH Lee's battle plans, McClellan tried very hard to lose!


I don't credit Meade much. He had only been in command for a week, and couldn't claim credit for developing the army that won. He also didn't even show up until late in the 2nd day, so had no important role. Most historians give the credit to Reynolds, who chose the defensive position on the first day before getting killed, and to Hancock, who maintained the northern lines under furious Confederate assaults on the second day.

I don't fault Meade for failing to pursue, but I do fault him for sitting on his ass for the next 9 months. His inactivity let Lee send Longstreet to reinforce Bragg, which proved crucial at Chickamauga. The Union almost suffered a catastrophic setback as a result of events in northern Georgia and southern Tennessee, and it wouldn't have happened if Meade had been keeping up the pressure.

Meade was more competent than Burnside, Pope, and Hooker, but he wasn't what the north needed.

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Post by mmancuso » Fri Jun 03, 2005 3:44 pm

Raskolnikov wrote:Meade was more competent than Burnside, Pope, and Hooker, but he wasn't what the north needed.


Yes! Grant was the first general that controlled the Army of the Potomac who truly understood that the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia was the true strategic goal for the Eastern Theatre. Lincoln realized this early in the war, but could not get his generals to understand that. Yes, the defense of Washington was important, but that accomplishment did nothing to further the strategic goals of the war effort -- which was the destruction of the Southern Confederacy's capacity to wage war.

Once Grant took over, he directed that the Army of the Potomac concentrate on the destruction of Lee's Army. From the Wilderness to the beginning of the siege of Petersburg he had a death grip on Lee's Army in an attempt to destroy it before it could go to ground behind unassailable fortifications.

He did not succeed, in large part because of the brilliance of Lee's countermoves. However, it is ironic that Lee's very success led to his ultimate destruction. Lee knew that it would be the end of his ability to manipulate the operational battlefield if his Army was ever placed in a position of static defense -- the Army of the Potomac was just too strong and numerous. Behind the Petersburg defenses, the war was prolonged for nearly a year, but never again was the North threatened by invasion.

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Post by Raskolnikov » Sat Jun 04, 2005 3:15 am

Ambrose Bierce . . . well . . . he did not want to be a commander. Someone noted the tragedy of Fredricksburg was that his men did not let him lead a "final charge" himself! I found it "odd" that Lee would, in a way, recreate the disaster of Fredricksburg with "Pickett's Charge." Perhaps he fell back on his belief of success.


I think he believed his men could do whatever he asked of them, given his recent run of victories. Its hard for me to fault Lee for wanting to test the limits.

I am glad R mentions Rosecrans. He did pretty well, but "lost" one battle and got remembered as "another loser Union General" a bit unfairly.


He did pretty well until Chickamauga, where he made a massive screw-up, and then seems to have lost his nerve. He really did need to be relieved at Chatanooga, as he couldn't seem to solve the logistical problems, and was beseiged. His men were down to quarter rations. Within a couple weeks of Grant and Sherman showing up, Sherman solved the logistical problems, full rations were back, and a few brisk offensive actions sent Bragg packing.

I have lately been thinking that Chattanooga was one of the most important battles of the war, exceeding Gettysburg. So many key events hinged on what happened there, and Grant got incredibly lucky with Thomas' assault up Missionary Ridge. That assault shouldn't have worked. But push back the relief of the siege of Chattanooga by a few months, and the entire timetable of the rest of the war gets thrown a-kilter, and there is a real possibility that Lincoln loses the 64 election.

I don't see such a critical juncture of events clustered around Gettysburg. The only other battle where I see them is Antietam.
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