Foote’s Civil War, Volume II: Tragedy and Just Causes


J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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139 Responses

  1. You will not get many comments with this post, if only due to its nature, but this is quite excellent.

    Would you summarize the point of this essay as something along these lines:

    The great tragedy of the Civil War is that so many had to die needlessly because the Great Men, the purported leaders (on both sides prior to Grant’s appointment) were far more concerned about vague and amorphous principles or preserving the institution of slavery than they were concerned about winning the war, or at least just bringing an end to it.

    While I’m here, a brief question for the Lost Causers:

    If, on July 4, 1863, Lincoln had offered peace on the following terms, would any states in the South have accepted them? The hypothetical terms: You may maintain your independence, but only on the condition that your Constitution prohibits chattel slavery.

    I have a hard time believing that any Confederate state would have answered in the affirmative, but I’m genuinely curious whether Lost Causers believe otherwise.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      It’s not just vague and amorphous principles — it’s also incompetentance on the part of the generals of both sides. Let’s take Leonidas Polk, soldider-turned-Episcopal bishop-turned-CSA general: he managed to, effectively single-handedly, push Kentucky to officially side with the Union by moving his army into the state; turn Perryville from a decisive victory into a very minor one, and effectively lose Kentucky for the South a second time; doesn’t follow orders and misses a chance to possibly destroy Rosencrans’ army about two weeks before Chickamauga; and, at that battle, nearly loses it by failing to set his divisions in motion because he was too busy eating breakfast three miles away from the field to be concerned about the fact that he was out of touch with both his superiors and his men.

      On the other hand, you have generals like McClellan and (according to Foote) Joe Johnston, who didn’t want to fight because they knew exactly what fighting would do to their men and didn’t want to see them slaughtered — but by stalling, ultimately prolonged the war and probably caused casualties.

      As for your hypothetical… you’re right, absolutely. The only situation I’d imagine that the South would have emancipated was under absolute military necessity, and at a point where the president would have already been granted near-dictatorial emergency powers.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

        Mr. Wall, I would take Mr. Foote’s interpretation of the War of Southern Independence with a grain of salt. He is a Northern lackey.
        Far better for you to read Douglas Southall Freemans, “Lee’s Lieutenants.”Report

      • Thanks, JL.

        And, by the way, I am extraordinarily happy to have been extraordinarily wrong about my prediction in the first sentence of my comment.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      Mark, the South elected, as member of a voluntary compact, to leave that compact peacefully. Constitutionally and legally, not to mention morally they had every ‘right’ and they acted in the American tradition as freemen in so doing.
      Now, we can discuss ’causes’, if that flips your switch, or we can address the legality of secession. It’s and old arguement. But, I think every American, if they take the time to look at the problem, in his heart understands that the South had the right to secede. They were doing nothing different than our ancestors did in 1776.
      Lincoln was a tyrant. He should have let the South go. He had no right to invade the South and cause that horrific war.Report

      • Avatar Lyle says:

        It is precisly because there were 600,000 that the meaning of the constitution was altered. I contend that the Civil War was an extra-constitutional method of altering the meaning of the constitution.
        The 10th amendments meaning was altered. There are of course long arguments over which came first the state or the continental congress (the first national government). The articles of confederation declared the US to be a perpetual union, which may be why the 1787 document does not say so, other than saying to form a more perfect union, implying one existed before.
        But the civil war makes these arguments scholastic at best being in the same class as angels on heads of pins.
        Interestingly we know that Jackson would have followed Lincolns route as he came close over the nullification controversy when he threatened to invade S. Carolina.
        (note that I live in a part of Tx that was pro-union, nearby in Comfort is a monument to those who tried to dodge the confederate draft and headed toward Mexico but were killed by the rebels)Report

      • Avatar Graham says:

        It’s some time since I last read Foote or McPherson, but as I recall the proximate cause of the outbreak of hostilities was the firing upon Fort Sumpter. This was not carried out by the North. The South did not “leave that compact peacefully”. Once hostilities had been initiated by the South, Lincoln was duty bound to respond in kind.

        The pre-war objective of the South was not to protect slavery within its jurisdiction because it was under no threat there, but to expand slavery into the West.

        The pre-war objective of the North was to prevent the expansion of slavery into the West and thereby gradually remove the Southern stranglehold on Congress as western Free States joined the Union. Thus eventually removing such onerous Federal impositions on the North as the Fugitive Slave Act.

        Letting the South go would have done nothing to answer the problem of slavery in the West. Had Lincoln done any such thing the war would have simply been postponed until Bloody Kansas had spilled over into Bloody Nebraska and the war initiated in some dusty western backwater instead of Charleston harbor.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I kind of wish that, more than once or twice in a great while, standing up in favor of supposedly-libertarian principles–local governance versus central, self-determination rather than rule by regulation, that sort of thing–wouldn’t involve siding with such ridiculous people.

    “State’s rights are important” “Yeah!” “They’re important because we want the power to define certain persons as being property!” “Um.”

    “Local governments should set their own school cirriculae!” “Yeah!” “Because we want to teach creationism as a possible model for the origin of the earth!” “Err…”Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    pistols at ten paces to fire and advance

    Think about that. It’s not “fire at ten paces, and if the first shots don’t kill anyone, we’ll declare honor satisfied”, it’s “keep shooting until at least one of you is dead.” Because none of your obligations (to family, to your fellow soldiers, to your nation which is at war) is more important than the fact that you feel personally slighted.

    But remember, an armed society is a polite society.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      Not even that, but keep advancing as you fire! Until you’re so close that you can’t possibly miss — I had re-read that passage when I first read it to make sure that was what it really said.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      Mike, let me recomment a little NAA mini, “Black Widow”. A potent, highly concealable .22 magnum weapon that you can carry all day and not realize in it’s your pants, or on your ankle.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Time Table

    A carved oak table,
    Tells a tale
    Of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold,
    And the brave would lead their ladies from out of the room
    to arbours cool.

    A time of valour, and legends born
    A time when honour meant much more to a man than life
    And the days knew only strife to tell right from wrong
    Through lance and sword.

    A dusty table
    Musty smells
    Tarnished silver lies discarded upon the floor
    Only feeble light descends through a film of grey
    That scars the panes.
    Gone the carving,
    And those who left their mark,
    Gone the kings and queens now only the rats hold sway
    And the weak must die according to nature’s law
    As old as they.

    Why, why can we never be sure till we die
    Or have killed for an answer,
    Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
    That no race has been grander
    It seems because through time and space
    Though names may change each face retains the mask it wore.


  5. Avatar Elia Isquire says:

    Thanks for this interesting post. I’m fascinated by the Civil War and consider it probably this nation’s proudest and most spiritually evocative moment — but at the same time it was an unbelievably, ghastly surreality, as I suppose all extended theaters of war inevitably become (if they’re not from the start). I’ve always been interested in trying to find a class-based analysis of why Grant’s approach to his Generalship was so dramatically different than those of his fellow elites on both sides (although not Lincoln, who rather quickly becomes convinced that the war must be *won* — decisively, no less). His wasn’t a rags-to-riches story exactly, but he nevertheless had more humble beginnings (and biography) than most in his cohort. I wonder if that somehow is part of the reason he shared with the foot solider the urgency to finish the damn thing, whatever the costs, that the other leaders lacked.Report

    • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

      I don’t know where to find that class-based analysis, but it does sound like an interesting angle. What I’ve noticed is the degree to which the generals who were successful in the Civil War seem to have been failures — or, at best, eccentrics of the extreme variety — outside of it. Grant was bankrupt multiple times; Stonewall Jackson was a terrible teacher; N.B. Forrest was a barely-literate backwoodsman; Sherman was probably the sort of sibling his politician-brother hoped would manage to go through life without embarrassing him (and this before cable news). There are others, but their names aren’t on my mind right now… but the “geniuses” of the war were, disproportionately, men who were not successful, in military or civilian life, before it.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      Elia, Grant won because he had more troops and didn’t really give a damn how many he killed. Had he faced Lee in the first two years and been forced to attack Lee, the same fate that Brother Hooker experienced at Chancellorsville would have befallen Grant as well.
      He was in the righ place at the right time. Always remember the Germans sent their generals over here to study Lee’s movements, not Grant’s.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        And they learned how to lose to the Americans real good.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Indeed, Mr. Schilling. Mr. Cheeks, why would the Kraut generals study the losers instead of the winners?

          Perhaps they knew they were on the side of unrighteousness, but as professionals, knew they couldn’t count on any more from their troops than defense of the father/motherland.

          Which is sort of how it went down for the Rebs.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            What Union generals do you consider ‘better’ than Lee, Jackson, the Hills, Forrest, etc.? None of these general officers, as far as I know, considered the establishment of a Southern nation to be ‘unrighteous.’
            Simply put, Lincoln was a tyrant. He was to American history what Lenin was to Russian, what Bismark was to Germany. He betrayed the founding principles.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Sherman. By far the most effective general of the Civil War. For all this romanticizing of the Confederate military, it was a disjointed thing, ill-led, ill-fed, ill-prepared, its skill at maneuver only apparent because its units were small. Its strategy was nil, its goals a tohu-bohu, a defense of slavery and a futile war against their own brothers. A miserable, internally divided cabal, the founders of the Confederacy were deeply stupid men, driven by pride to a fate they entirely deserved. It is only a pity so many ordinary people died to put them down.

              Well, Sherman had the cure for them.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Bp, in what divisions did your ancestors serve?Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Sherman was a butcher. The proper Southern response to the organized slaughter of non-combatants (women and children), pillage, and rape was to breakdown the army into smaller commands and head to the moutains and institute guerilla war. The Federal imposition of Nazi-like atrocities on civilians is one example why the agrarian South sought to seperate itself from such ‘progressive’ people. I would remind my interlocutors the Marse Robert n’er harmed a hair on any olde Pennsylvania lady’s head.Report

              • Avatar Carrington Ward says:

                Some portion of the march to Gettysburg was a slave raid.

                But, I guess as we might expect, Mr. Cheeks is ‘not counting “blacks.”

                The fellow is a stereotype.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                That is, the south seceded because of what happened during the war. No logical problems there.Report

              • Avatar Cackalacka says:

                Robert Cheeks-

                Ever been to Andersonville?

                When I was in junior high, being in the South, I was taught nonsense. I’ve been to the diorama at Stone Mountain. I particularly like the ‘villain-voices’ used for Grant and Sherman.

                Fortunately, as I grew older, I was exposed to more truthful narratives.

                Mr. Ward is right. You are a stereotype.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Chattanooga Civic Guards, Hamilton County Tennessee and Col. Flint’s Militias, Co’s A and C, Knox CountyReport

            • Avatar greginak says:

              So i guess you have never heard of Vicksburg. That campaign has been studied by military scholars around the world.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Yes, I have heard of Vicksburg.
                I would suggest Greg, that Rommel, et al, were more interested in the movement around Catharine’s Furnace, and the men who accomplished it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The Confederate use of rail for efficient troop movements was certainly of interest to the Germans, though they didn’t use it to move soldiers.Report

              • Avatar John Casey says:

                Robert E Lee killed more confederate soldiers than any Union general.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Grant was a better strategist than any general in the South. Lee may have been a brilliant tactician, though Grant was probably his match, but Lee couldn’t hold a candle to Grant strategically. This is why the South lost Gettysburg, for example, though the tactical mistakes, such as letting the Union troops take the high ground, were pretty glaring on the Confederate side as well. Longstreet was a great tactician, as was Forrest. I think the only high ranking Confederate general who had both strategic and tactical abilities that matched Grant’s and Sherman’s was Jackson (I can guarantee you that Jackson would have taken Cemetary Hill without hesitation; without Jackson, Lee looked near ordinary).

              Plus, the South had Hood, who pretty much cancels out the rest ;).

              Also, aside from Hitler’s military ineptitude, there’s nothing ideological about the defeat of the Nazis. They lost because they were fighting on two fronts against nations with more resources, both natural and human, and their philosophy of war production was outdated. It’s nice to have the best tools — the best machine gun, the best tank, the best artillery, the best assault rifle — but you have to be able to produce enough of them, and be able to repair them easily and quickly, for them to be effective, even when you have the best trained troops.

              One wonders, if it were an ideological failure that caused them to lose the war, why they did so strikingly well early on. And lest you suggest that this was before the U.S. entered the war, recall that for much of the time that the U.S. was in the war, 70-80% of the German army was thousands of miles to the East of any American troops, and the Germans never lost an even fight to the Americans. They lost that war because they ran out of men, and gas, and tanks, and planes, and because they made several strategic blunders (particularly in the East) that were more costly than the strategic blunders of the Allies (e.g., Market Garden), because they had a significantly smaller margin for error.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                It sounds like you proved my point?Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                And they ran out of ideology. You ever try to haul an entire ideology through the frozen muck of a Russian winter?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “there’s nothing ideological about the defeat of the Nazis. ”

                If their ideology would have let them make allies of the Poles, Ukranians and other Slavs that absolutely positively hated the Russians, the Germans could have defeated the Russians on the Eastern front (maybe. it still would have depended on how many trucks the Americans could have sent to Murmask. But it would have been a hell of lot closer.)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Well, they did make allies with Ukranians, at the local level. I don’t know much about the Polish occupation outside of the major cities.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          The ideological distortions of Nazism(modernity) was the ground of Germany’s defeat, not their generals or their soldiers. Remember the USA was allied with the Russians, French, British, and the rest of Europe (following Ill Duce’s collapse) and it was still a hell of a fight, or so my father told me. To his dying day he could recall the sound of a Kraut 88, machine gun, and Mauser.Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Mr. Cheeks, I did an appropiate apologia for the Reb soldier. BlaiseP locates my point as do you:

            “The ideological distortions of Nazism(modernity) was the ground of Germany’s defeat, not their generals or their soldiers. “

            That’s why the South lost. They, as men of honor, like those of the Wehrmacht, were more willing to die than kill as ruthlessly as tactics required.

            And strategy.

            They could have marched on WashingtonDC in the McClellan years and exterminated everyone in sight and won the war by blitzkrieg. This they did not do. They could have scorched the earth everywhere they went in Union territory. This they did not do.

            Timidity? Aw, that’s the last thing you’d say about a Reb. Their cause wasn’t righteous, but like the Wehrmacht, they weren’t Nazis either.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              The Wehrmacht were superb soldiers, but they were just soldiers. I wouldn’t say they were short on ruthlessness, they were Nazis and swore an oath to Adolf Hitler, proving their lack of squeamishness everywhere they went.

              The Confederates did behave atrociously, often on orders from the general staff. Quantrill, easily the worst of the lot, was commissioned as a captain in the Confederate Army and Bloody Bill Anderson served as a lieutenant in that dread company. Black Union soldiers were massacred if captured, as they were at Galveston. A few were enslaved. But Andersonville Prison stands as a unique horror. There was no honor at Andersonville: the Confederacy disgraced itself beyond redemption at Andersonville.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Bp, re: Andersonville, bull shit!
                The entire South was starving along with her hordes of Yankee prisoners. At least the South has that argument, but the North? You might want to research Yankee POW camps if you’re interested in the horrors visited upon your people by the general gummint. You’re embarrassing yourself.
                Also, the history of border atrocities is and always was a two way road. Northern hypocracy knows no bounds. It was Yankee forces in the Kansas/Missouri unpleasantness that first developed the theme of summarily executing captured rebels. “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Quantrill et al recipricated…wouldn’t you?
                Interestingly, the “Lawerence, Kansas Massacre” was a rebel response to the killing of a number of rebel ladies who’d been incarcerated. One of those ladies was Bill Anderson’s sister. He never forgave and many a Yankee boy paid with his life for the crimes and atrocities of his gummint. Say what you will but old Bill did what honor required.Report

              • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

                “Incarcerated” –> House arrest for providing aid to Johnny Reb.

                “the killing of” –> A portion of the house caught fire, leading to a portion of the house to collapse, killing perhaps 6.

                Which Quantrill used as a justification to continue and enhance his war on civilians through the destruction of Lawrence. Why Lawrence? Because he had an enemies list, and many of them lived in the strongly abolitionist town.

                Old Bill … had a funny sense of honor. But I think we’ve already established my skepticism of antebellum Southern honor put into practice.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                There was no excuse for Andersonville. Those men lived in the mud, in their own shit and they mostly died of hookworm from their foul conditions.

                Now it is true the South had been greatly reduced, but the Nazis at their worst did not run their concentration camps so incompetently. Henry Wirtz deserved to hang as the only Confederate war criminal.

                Bob, I’ve worked in several refugee camps. I understand short rations and wartime privation. I have seen refugees bully each other for what little there is. I am probably the only person in this debate who could have the slightest sympathy for Henry Wirtz, for I have also handled prisoners of war. What I do not understand is why the Confederates could not run a sanitary camp or provide at least clean drinking water. Andersonville was hell, but it was the sort of hell only possible when cruelty and incompetence are at work.

                Do not attempt to whitewash Andersonville. War is always accompanied by atrocity and there is no excuse for any of it. It is understandable but never forgivable. Thereafter, Americans treated their prisoners of war with more respect. Even the Nazis understood we treated our prisoners well: the Luftwaffe rescued Allied airmen from vengeful mobs and treated them according to the Geneva Convention, for they knew their own airmen were being well-treated in our camps.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I continue to marvel at your various life experiences. Every day brings a surprise.

                To corroborate what you’re saying here, a few weeks ago NPR did a story on a reunion of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen. One of the attendees had been shot down over Nazi Germany and captured.

                The interviewer asked: “How did they treat you?”

                The expected answer being, of course, that they were brutal. They were Nazis and he was definitely not an Aryan.

                His answer? “They treated me like an officer.”

                Not to whitewash a single other thing the Nazis did, but it was definitely a startling answer.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Bp, I have no problem with Wirth’s war crimes and his subsequent hanging. But, ‘war criminals’ were on both sides. My point is a defense of the South’s treatment of pow’s given the paucity of rations, which holds true, in general, as you seem to agree.
                What you haven’t explicated is the Northern pow atrocities, nor answered the question; why no Yankee pow camp commandant’s were hung when the North was awash in food, clothing, blankets, etc? There was absolutely NO reason for that treatment and it occurred in more than one camp.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Part of my instruction as an S2 interrogator was a history of the American POW. The very first day, we were given George Washington’s admonition:

                “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.

                ‘Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,”

                – George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

                A freshly captured prisoner is a great treasure. The first five minutes are key to a successful interrogation: he is in shock and is therefore vulnerable.

                The prisoner must be gotten away from the soldiers who captured him. Offer him water immediately from your own canteen. His pockets must be emptied, his gear examined, his wounds must be treated. He must be reassured he will not come to any harm, that for him, the war is over. He must be isolated from other prisoners, before his old loyalties congeal and his fellow prisoners can force him to maintain his silence. Give him a cup of tea, a pack of cigarette if he smokes, a meal if he’s hungry. Take his picture, take his fingerprints, but above all, he must be treated with the utmost respect, even if he does not seem to deserve it.

                Your tu-quoque argument about the Union’s treatment of its Confederate prisoners falls on hard ground, General Cheeks. War is bad enough: there is a beast inside every man perfectly capable of abuse and murder, given the power of life and death over another man, especially when it can be justified by his maltreatment of others.

                After the massacre of American prisoners at Malmedy, the order was given to give no quarter to any SS prisoner. This led to some terrible misunderstandings, for the SS and Wehrmacht tanker’s uniform were both black. The German tankers abandoned their black uniforms and began to wear the infantryman’s uniform.

                As for specifics of the Union treatment of prisoners, there were significant problems at the Camp Douglas near Chicago. It was a scandal at the time and many subsequent reforms were made in light of the horrific conditions found at Camp Douglas, especially the corruption.

                We must remember this was before the USA signed the First Geneva Convention of 1884, and Clara Barton was instrumental in its adoption and the creation of the Red Cross.

                Your continued defense of the obviously indefensible is just simply annoying. I have tried to put forward what facts I may supplemented with my own experiences. The refugee and the prisoner are the same to me, Bob. I went into refugee work to atone for my sins but it did no good for my soul. Jesus Christ offered me a pardon from the prison of my own soul and I accepted it. There is no justification to be found in the sins of others as you seem to imply. Your defense of the Confederacy is a noxious thing.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Your continued defense of the obviously indefensible is just simply annoying.

                Behold, the universal response to Mr. Cheeks. I don’t think I’ve seen a single comment of his where it wouldn’t apply.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Bp, I’m pretty sure (I haven’t done a Google search) that there were other Yankee camps involved in atrocities. As I said, there’s no defense for war crimes and Wirth was guilty and I appreciate that you agree with me that there were similar, perhaps systematic, Yankee war atrocities. And, yes war brings out the evil in man.
                Jason, you’re merely one of those derailed moderns who are never going to be able to handle the truth.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Bob, it seems to me that it’d be more fruitful to explore the whole “multiple interpretations from multiple perspectives are possible and ought not be dismissed out of hand based on the vagaries of the current cultural zeitgeist” kinda argument than the whole “Truth” thing.

                The Truth, if there is such a thing, is that there were a great many unintended consequences for the North winning the war that were better than the unintended (and intended by many) consequences of the South winning the war.

                Now we can look at “intentions”, if you want, and point out how the “intentions” of the North were far from sweetness and light and how the “intentions” of the South had pockets of nobility and virtue… but, as has been pointed out before, a tree is known by its fruit.

                Intending to make sweet pears don’t mean much if you keep making sour persimmons. The South was the world’s sour persimmon capital and to gloss over that is to ignore a very important piece of The Truth.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Bob, you cannot persist in this Tu Quoque fallacy. It gives me cause to question your Christian walk, as well. Every Christian, regardless of his denomination, believes sin is a part of the human condition, that Christ died for sins, that we may be freed from our sinful natures.

                We are all William Wirtz. Yes, there were atrocities on both sides, there are atrocities now. It is a human thing, a seemingly justifiable reaction to reward evil with evil. Thus has evil propagated itself through all time. Even those who do not believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ accept this tragic and seemingly endless quandary, that the litany of another’s evil cannot provide justification for our own, yet we cling to our excuses. By extension that what we do in the name of the State excuses each of us from responsibility for our own actions, ich bin nicht Schuldig, Befehls ist Befehls, wir wussten nicht. It must stop somewhere. Man is endlessly engaged in self-delusion and self-justification. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.

                This does not imply we ought to walk around with a hangdog expression, beating ourselves in the forehead with Holy Writ. It ought to liberate us, to see ourselves in others, to at last put our sinful natures to death and live in harmony with the world, knowing and accepting our own imperfections, forgiving others that we may be forgiven. But that process must begin with the truth and the abandonment of our own righteousness.

                You embarrass me, Bob, Yes you do. How can you claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth and still defend the proposition of the Confederacy, knowing at its heart lies the doctrine of a Master Race? Galatians 3: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @Jaybird #44


              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Tu Quoque is a fallacy of relevance. Therefore, if Reb atrocities are argued to be a defining feature of the Confederacy, it’s entirely proper to counter that the Union committed them too, and atrocities are more a feature of war in general that a specific quality of the Confederacy.

                One needs to show some rough equivalence, though. For instance, in WWII, there is no real equivalent to Bataan or the Rape of Nanking or of course the Holocaust on the Allied side, those cruelties being gratuitous and not strategic.

                I’m not a Civil War buff, but it seems there were some Union equivalents to Andersonville.

                However, even this rather South-sympathetic book [review below]


                admits that massacres were largely on the Rebel side, and frequently directed at black Union soldiers. Without mercy or quarter.

                This throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the argument that the Reb soldier-of-the-line was simply fighting for his state’s sovereignty.

                Can one judge the Confederacy by the actions of a few, in isolated incidents? Certainly not. However, at some point there may be a preponderance of evidence that it was the good and honorable Rebs who were the exception and not the rule.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Tu Quoque attempts to justify one wrong with another. War is always accompanied by atrocities, and I have gone to great pains to lay out the case for atrocities on both sides.

                The Confederacy is inextricably tied to a philosophy of a Master Race and the institution of slavery. The war it fought to expel the Union troops from their soil in defense of those claims and that philosophy was entirely unjust and unlawful, however noble any one individual might have been or how outrageously the defenders of the Union might have behaved in direct consequence. The United States was in open warfare over this issue long before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.

                The Germans have the word Mitläufer to describe this strange denial of the obvious. The word literally means to-walk-with, the herd instinct, a sort of Groupthink. It was used to describe those who accepted the diktat of the Nazi regime and has also been used of the East Germans who cooperated with the Stasi. We must always be on our guard against this Tu Quoque business, even when it does not attempt to justify, for it is a nakedly dishonest effort to shoot out the spotlight of truth, a belated attempt to avoid denunciation from the facts.Report

              • Avatar Andy Hall says:

                “as they were at Galveston”


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Harper’s Weekly, May 21, 1864, page 334.

                The picture on pages 328 and 329 illustrative of the atrocities committed by the rebels upon Union troops, white and black, is of particular interest at this time. The series presented represent only a few of the sad facts which rebel inhumanity has forced into the history of the time, but they are significant types of the whole, which the design of the central scene most happily presents the origin of the black flag policy and the persons responsible for its adoption. All these butcheries are the result of the proclamation of JEFFERSON DAVIS, issued December 23, 1862, in which he declared “That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the Executive Authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with said slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy” Under this proclamation the rebels proceeded to act at the first opportunity. At Galveston, January 1, 1863, part of a Massachusetts regiment was captured and the rebels took two negroes, born free citizens of Massachusetts, residents of Norfolk county of that State, and sold them into slavery. Near the end of that month, twenty teamsters driving a wagon train of General ROSECRANS’s were captured near Murfreesboro Tennessee, tied to the trees by the roadside and shot. In May, two negroes in the service and uniform of the United States were captured on picket at Fort Hudson and forthwith hanged. On the 27th of May, the first assault on Port Hudson was delivered, and many of the negro troops fighting with great courage were wounded and fell into Rebel hands. Of these, some were murdered on the spot in the sight of their comrades. On the 6th of June, there was an engagement at Milliken’s Bend between about 200 negro troops and an overpowering force of rebels. A large number of the negroes were murdered on the field after they surrendered. Some of them were shot. Some were put to death by the bayonet. Some were crucified and burned. Of those whom this last fate befell, several were white officers in command of the negro troops. And so at all points the work of butchery went on, culminating finally at the wholesale massacre at Fort Pillow, which is still fresh in the public recollection. The incident presented in one of our sketches – General FORREST murdering the servant of a Union officer – occurred about two years since and is thus stated by Major-General StanleyReport

              • Avatar Andy Hall says:

                Thanks. I was curious about the Galveston reference, as I live here, and the fighting here occurred before the organization of the USCT, and involved no Union African American units. The two free black men captured and sold into slavery were presumably servants attached to the 42nd Massachusetts.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I love the city of Galveston. It was my refuge every weekend I was in Houston. I got to know the old girls who run the Bishop’s Palace, a wonderful old gent who opened up parts of the Michel Menard House for me to photograph and all the folks at the Galveston Historical Foundation.

                But my favorite memory of Galveston was driving along the beach beside the Bluewater Highway. Mile after mile, completely alone, a perfect antidote to the horrors of Houston.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

              Tom, I take issue with your idea that Southern forces were able to seize Washington City early in the war. And, even if they were so able, Lincoln would merely have moved the capitol, temporarily, to Philadelphia or someplace.
              Re: ‘honor’ I think there were any number of Yankee soldiers who fought from the olde ideas of chivalry, etc. Many Yankees could not figure out why the general gummint refused to let the “South go?” The moral breakdown in the Yankee armies came from the top, from the Yankee regime. Lincoln justified the slaughter of innocents, something Jeff Davis never did, nor as a Christian, never would do. Lincoln also, probably, ordered the assassination of Mr. Davis and his cabinet, which, ironically, resulted in his own demise at Ford’s Theatre. As Booth said, “sic semper tyrannis.”Report

            • Avatar chris murphy says:

              You underestimate the criminality of the Wehrmact. From the very beginning of the campaigns in the East the army participated in the elimination of the Polish elites. Later the Wehrmact enthusiastically embraced the eliminationism of the “Commissar Order” and actively participated in the deaths of over two million Soviet POWS. Timothy Snyder’s recent book “Bloodlands” and several works by Omer Bartov completely debunk the myth of an honorable Wehrmacht.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            That’s pretty much rubbish. Germany’s defeat lay foursquare on their inability to reinforce and fuel their precipitous military advances. They literally ran out of gasoline. Had Hitler gone further East first, taking out the Soviets with a single crushing blow as he ran through Poland, the West would have treated him rather better: the French would have done nothing and the British even less. All this mucking about in France was kicking the hornet’s nest.

            Though the Fascists were obsessed with Modernity, Hitler was decidedly not. Modernism was not their fundamental ideological weakness, it was their only strength and they rejected it. Germany, Italy and even the British had long since rejected the Tried and True. Picasso and Monet had changed the art world forever. Stravinsky and the Jazz Age were in full bloom, the radio had pushed music from its lofty perch in Symphony Hall into the living rooms of ordinary people. Freud and Jung had changed our notions of the deeper aspects of humanity. The Nazis called them all entartete Kunst = degenerate Art. In its place, the Nazis gave us some of the worst art ever made and made up their own goofy religion, harking back to ancient times, torchlit caves and runic weirdness.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              You speak tactics like a materialist, BlaiseP. Disappointing. Their tactics were a manifestation of their weltanshauung,/i> Grasshopper.

              Rubbish? If tactics were king, you’d be speaking Confederate or German about now. Auf Wiedersehen, y’all. Knowledge is power, but it should never be mistaken for wisdom.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

              Where your excellent analysis derails is in your failure to consider your central point, Nazisms demonic/debauched efforts to substitute for ‘religion.’ Nazism is a legitimate member of modernity’s cadre of humanist, progressivist ideological distortions “characterized as an orthodoxy of alienation that excludes the most important area of reality-man’s relation to the divine ground-from consciousness.” Which is my primary critique of your Commie-Dem party as well.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                We now look back on Nazism as an intellectual and spiritual botch, but why does it continue to succeed so brilliantly in places like Russia and in the skinhead communities of many nations?

                For that matter, why does the Confederacy retain its aura of nobility and pride of place? Both Nazism and the Confederacy survive in the shadows, though both were manifestly philosophies of a Master Race and both lead their acolytes to spiritual destruction even to this day. Consider your own opinions of the Confederacy: ask yourself why you continue to hold the Confederacy in such high regard. Oh I’m sure you’d never say an ugly word about black people, and I wouldn’t dream of calling you a racist. You’re a decent, kindly man, from what I’ve seen of you. Yet when we examine the legacies of Master Race philosophies and their followers, the one commonality is the anomie of Spengler, a longing to be a member of a superculture. From Spengler’s Die Untergang des Abendlandes:

                It is not only the artist who struggles against the resistance of the material and the stifling of the idea within him. Every Culture stands in a deeply-symbolical, almost in a mystical, relation to the Extended, the space, in which and through which it strives to actualise itself. The aim once attained – the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual – the Culture suddenly hardens, it mortifies, its blood congeals, its force breaks down, and it becomes Civilization, the thing which we feel and understand in the words Egypticism, Byzantinism, Mandarinism.

                The Nazis and the Confederates both understood how their respective republics had failed to address their fundamental problems. But rather than work within the structures of Culture, they rebelled against them and in their hubris styled themselves as Übermenschen.

                I contend neither invented anything new: Nazism recycled many old myths and Wagnerian pastiches, especially the ancient hatred of the Jewish Race. They railed on incessantly about the dangers of Communism, of Negroes, of the pernicious influences of the Catholic Church. But their chief enemy was Modernity in all its forms. Technology they embraced with a will but Modernity implies Culture is malleable. This they could not accept.

                The Confederacy hearkened back to the glories of the Übermenschen, its acolytes still utter the litany of generals and battles. Ghostly apparitions still swan around the Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks of plantations built on the backs of slaves. Looking back through the mists of time, the white hot sun that shone upon that cotton and sugar cane becomes an ignis fatuus, the harsh reality blurred into a deadly, seductive reverie. The scene is illuminated by the corpse candles of the Gladden Fields. Do not look into the water, Bob.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Bp, I love ya man.
                However, where we part at least philosophical company is in our interpretation of modernity’s sundry derailments and the pernicious and inhuman effects.
                As I argue above, that derailment is grounded on the ideological (Nazism, Communism, Progressive-Democrats) alienation of reality in its efforts to exclude from reality, from the individual’s conscience, any opportunity to participate in the divine/human encounter.
                I am saddened by your efforts to demonize the South by linking your ancestors to the Nazi regime. It’s simply not true, and detracts from your intellectual capabilities, which in this instance comes across as a mere participation in a ‘para-Marxist grotesque.’
                The South was a Christian-republic.
                The Nazi’s like the Democrats and associated statists for example, engage in programs that intentionally destroyed human life, seek to employ a ridgid, centalized control by an elite that is revealed in their ‘alienation’ where the symbol represents a “feeling of estrangement from existence in time because it estranges us from the timeless..”
                Additionally the ideologue always yearns for a
                ‘second’ reality that substitutes for the natural/normal relationship with God.
                Perhaps, the primary question is Which form of government provides the best opportunity for man to live in right existence?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The Confederacy promulgated the notion of a Master Race. So endeth the lesson, Bob.Report

      • Avatar ViralBrian says:

        Grant won because he had more troops and didn’t really give a damn how many he killed.

        A simple analysis of the casualty data can clear up such a ridiculous conjecture. Its simply not true.

        The casualty rate was highest in Lee’s Army of Virginia (20%), Grant’s was 16%.

        Source: Attack and Die (1984)Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          The ANV was constantly facing 2:1 (or there about) odds. Lee, Jackson, etc. developed a movement, attack oriented offensive attitude in consideration of Yankee numbers. By attempting to engage the enemy before abatis could be built they were hoping not only for victory with as few casualties as possible but also the opportunity to take the AP off the board. Sadly, the ANV was always one division or one corps short.Report

      • Avatar Andy Hall says:

        I’m surprised you’re so dismissive of Grant — that he “didn’t really give a damn how many he killed,” and owed his success to being “in the righ [sic.] place at the right time.” Aren’t you the same Robert Cheeks who wrote some time back, in a book review, that

        Bonekemper has succeeded in his defense of Sam Grant. Grant was not a butcher, rather, he was the father of “modern” warfare. He was a brilliant general who utilized the men and material available to break the back of the glorious Army of Northern Virginia and the heart of its renowned commander, General of the Army, Robert E. Lee.

        Sure doesn’t sound like you’re talking about the same guy.Report

        • I just want to say that:
          1. This comment wins the thread; and
          2. It is in the running for my favorite comment of the year to date.

          Full disclosure: I’m also a huge fan of your site. I have a habit of turning to it whenever I’m sick of the inanity of political debate and want to read something both interesting and passionate.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          Yes, I am.
          However, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with U.S and that singularly delightful review was commissioned seven years ago, and my studies on such are ever on-going.
          It’s hard to not like a cigar smoking, hard drinking, slovenly dressed officer who damned near flunked outta West Point, though, unlike most Yankees, engaged the enemy with panache. That’s how I see old Grant, on the one hand.
          On the other, he was fighting second raters in the West and by the time he got to challenge the ANV Lee’s army was in a parlous condition with much of its officer corps and a large portion of the finest infantry in the world, dead on the field. Grant was in fact fighting a diminished army.
          If Grant had engaged Lee at the beginning, even enjoying a 2:1 advantage, I’m thinking Lee would have merel taken high ground, built abatis, and killed a whole mess of Yankees for a couple of days.
          But, we’ll n’er know for sure.Report

  6. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Congratulations on:

    While I find it difficult to look at any war and be truly gladdened that it occurred, I find it similarly difficult to be saddened that a country—my country! How can a part of me not rise up in love at the thought that my country sacrificed so much for such an end?—stood firm and prevented the creation of a neighboring state with the founding premise that the white man is inherently superior and chattel slavery of Africans is the natural, and right order of things.

    This surely must be the most David Foster Wallace-esque sentence I’ve read in a week. I’m guilty of the same sort of parenthetical indulgences.

    Not having read Foote in his entirety I am ill-equipped to comment on the theme of increasing cynicism about honor and the acceptance of Grant’s blunt and bloody tactics as a means to an end. I am reminded, however, of a passage in Macchiavelli’s infamous Chapter 17 of The Prince:

    I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. And if this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted Pistoia to be destroyed. Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.

    This difference in focus between micro-morality and macro-morality also strikes me as at least harmonizing with the tension between deontological and utilitarian ethics; without finding an appropriate balance between both, even the pursuit of good morality leads to results that can only be condemned. From what you describe, surely there is resonance between Macchiavelli’s praise for the brutal Cesare Borgia and Foote casting Grant the Butcher as the hero, because they both ended conflicts when more “moral” attempts to do so had previously failed and merely prolonged chaos and violence.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      Thx for the post, Mr. Wall, and for a masterful corollary from Mr. Likko.

      Like the Germans in The Great War and then Part Deux, the Rebs fought and died for the homeland and on that level, its prerogatives and interests.

      But there is surely much agreement that the Reb soldier didn’t kill to maintain slavery. He didn’t own any slaves. He fought and died, in large numbers, and bravely. On this, there should be no controversy.

      What we see in Grant and Sherman—per Machiavelli, even—is a willingness to kill bravely.

      What the living hell inspires a man to “kill bravely?” One might kill out of sadism, or on the battlefield out of self-defense. Eye to eye, it’s you or me.

      By contrast, the Union troops fought for something more, at least some of them.

      “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
      His soul’s marching on.”

      “He’s gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord,
      His soul’s marching on.”

      John Brown “killed bravely,” by our moral calculus. Yet he was also a murderer, again by our moral calculus. No wonder we must regard him historically at arm’s length; unwilling to touch him even with a barge-pole.

      Firebombing the civilian populations of Dresden and Tokyo, as well as Truman’s decision to unleash nuclear horror was also “killing bravely.”

      My question here is whether, perhaps per Machiavelli of all people, only the righteous can bring themselves to kill bravely. The tyrants, the savages, the ideologues, they simply kill their enemies as an end in itself. Treat them as animals. But when it comes to the actual killing, it’s the soldier, not the leader, who must carry out his orders according to his own moral calculus.

      Can he do it, or is there a point where he would rather die than kill?

      There are exceptions, of course, the men who “simply followed orders,” who staffed Hitler’s holocaust. But there was a reason, I think, why Germany—generals, soldiers, civilians—fought the Commies and Stalin tooth-and-nail on one front, and permitted themselves to lose to the West. One evil fought another on the Eastern Front.

      There were those simply “following orders” on both sides of our Civil War who committed atrocities, or committed atrocities just out the dark side of human nature.

      But Truman’s moral decision was much like Grant’s or Sherman’s—not to kill his enemies but to end the slaughter, and ruthlessly. There’s an admirableness in the Reb soldier and the German regular army, who despite the propaganda sent from the top about the righteousness of their cause, he was not all about killing his enemy.

      Such ruthlessness fell to the righteous. I submit that righteousness and moral conscience aren’t mere functions of rhetoric or gullibility or self-delusion.

      Pickett’s Charge. Against all odds we charged, and we were slaughtered.

      I will die for this cause. And now I am relieved.

      John Brown’s Body lies a-moulderin’ in the grave
      His truth is marching on.

      I will kill for this cause. And then I will live with it.

      Dying is easy, and often a relief. Living is hard, and there is no relief.

      Thx again, gentlemen, for lighting this candle. Best regards.Report

  7. Avatar greginak says:

    Great post, there is really to much here for me to respond to in the time i have.

    The Grant as Butcher meme has always been interesting. There has been push back on that lately suggesting, correctly i think, that he was simply better then Lee and the other Confed generals. It always seemed like Lee was sort of granted the honor of being the best general ( oh i am punny) as part of the reconciliation after the war. Lee was held up as simply honorable for his choice to fight for his state, although it isn’t asked in the same breath how so many other Virginians, including some of Lee’s relatives choose the US. Grant’s rep also suffered with being president. Lee was also held up as against slavery, while that is untrue, it helped the image of a noble combatant we can quietly reconcile with and ignore all that Reconstruction jazz.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      Next to George Washington, Bobby Lee was our greatest American. Ironically, both held Africans in slavery.Report

      • Avatar J.L. Wall says:

        And yet… Bobby Lee took up arms to defend a constitution that proclaimed that his human property always had been and always would be inherently inferior to him, and fit for no purpose other than that of property. I admit that, on paper, Washington and Lee look similar in their slave-holding and their treatment thereof (the “kind masters” who, in practice, were less kind than they were in theory), but at least Washington was willing to recognize the wrongness of the institution, even if he may not have been able to recognize his own hypocrisy.

        I’m sorry, but I’m barely a week removed from those nights of the year when I read aloud that “We, too, were slaves in Egypt…” and I find it near impossible to look at Bobby Lee as our second-greatest American.

        (I don’t forgive or ignore Washington’s faults; but he played a different role in history. This doesn’t cancel anything out, but it changes the calculus of evaluation. Washington may have been a Great Man, but he was also a hypocrite too blinkered by the concerns of his personal finances to put his money where his mouth was and even improve the treatment of his slaves.)Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          I don’t understand the ethic that because person A is morally imperfect, the equivalent or greater moral imperfections of personnel should be overlooked or forgiven.

          Washington fought for freedom. Lee fought for slavery. That is the overriding factor in this moral calculus.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            That should be “person B,” not “personnel.” Damn, damn, damn this auto-correct function!Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Lee fought to establish a Southern republic.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              He did not. The Confederacy was not a republic and you goddamn well know it. The first words of the Confederate Constitution:

              We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent characterReport

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:


              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                A republic is established among individuals or families. A confederation is established among sovereign states.

                The confedration theory of the U.S. constitution is generally discredited today, and correctly so in my view. The preamble of the CSA constitution makes clear that it was not intended as a republic, but as a confederation. Several other clauses within it support this distinction.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Actually, I believe Lee freed his family slaves during the war or there abouts. Grant on the other hand kept his long after Father Abraham’s proclamation.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Robert Cheeks, you have made the claim Robert E Lee fought for the establishment of a republic and it has been refuted by the Confederate Constitution itself, in its very first words. I am not here to further instruct you on the form and nature of the Confederacy. Lee fought out of loyalty for the State of Virginia and he was not alone in this sentiment. He was a racist. For the remainder of his life, Robert E Lee opposed the enfranchisement of black people to vote, saying they could not vote intelligently. He went so far as to say black people should be deported from Virginia. He engaged in the worst sort of self-deception, claiming blacks and white got along well before the Civil War.

                I do not fault Robert E Lee for his sentiments, sitting here at my desk in Anno Domini 2011. It is the mark of the bad historian that he judges the past in the light of the present. But do not indulge in untruth, Bob, Robert E. Lee was a bigot even in the light of his own times.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                You are amusing. First, you say you’re not judging ” the past in light of the present” than you go ahead and do it. I would say almost all whites in the United States in 1860 shared a certain bigotry against African-Americans. Did you not know that?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Once again, Tu Quoque. You’re in a sorry pass. There is still bigotry in the world. By your lights, I suppose the bigotry of the 1860s justifies today’s bigotry. You may not have it both ways.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                I’m not justifying bigotry of any sort. I think you’re the one who’s bigoted.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You can stop there, Bob. You got caught out saying Lee fought for a republic. I have furnished all the facts, you have furnished none. Your PoMo Poo Flinging is a bad habit, the screams and insults arise from deepest ignorance. Look to some past glories if you will, the Glorious Lost Cause, your maudlin and intemperate defenses of the Confederacy and your complete misreading of the Third Reich, blaming their sins on Modernity when their every doctrine was borrowed from the hell of ancient hatreds, all this tell me you do not understand what you are defending.

                As for calling me a bigot, well, that remains to be proven. Your disrespect is of no consequence: a man is better judged by his enemies than his friends. I have considered leaving you to spout whatever you please, arrogant, uncivil and ignorant as it obviously is. I could not stop it if I wanted to. No amount of admonishment seems to affect you: you seem to thrive on it. You have called me a friend: if this is your definition of friendship, some sense of camaraderie entirely devoid of respect for facts, I will have none of that.

                I too, look to a past when America treated its prisoners with respect. This is no longer my country: the country I fought for did not include a Guantanamo and secret prisons and torture, a wholesale repeal of the Fourth Amendment and warrantless wiretaps. Patriotism is not the last refuge of the scoundrel, it is the first, so said Ambrose Bierce.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Patriotism is the first refuge of the scoundrel. The last is piety.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Bp, I am worried about you. First, however, a comment re: you and Jason’s interpretation of the Confederacy as a republic and/or a Confederation from two friends, both of which are highly accredited.

                First, “Robert, there is no contradiction between a Republic and a confederacy. The founders refer to the United States as both. The CSA was undoubtedly a republican form of government and a confederacy, at the same time. Confederacy has to do with there being an association of sovereigns (in this case republican sovereigns). Power was distributed between three branches, in the same order as the U.S. Constitution. Power was to be exercised fundamentally by the people through elected representatives. The CSA was, as the U.S. always has been, both a republic and an association of republics.”

                “The terms ‘republic,’ ‘confederacy,’ ‘federation’ are almost as chaotic as ‘democracy,’ and ‘justice.’ So let me begin by stipulating what I mean. A republic is a unitary state with a political authority ruling individuals. Traditionally they were small. Athens had around 160,000 people. Renaissance Florence around 60,000 or so. And the republican tradition for over 2,000 years held that republics had to be small otherwise self government and the rule of law could not be enjoyed. The French Revolution issued in the first vast scale “republic” where a centralized state could rule millions of individuals.

                A confederacy is an association not of individuals but of political societies. Here the central government is a joint creation of the political units (not the joint creation of individuals). There is little difference between a federation and a confederacy except that in the former the central government is given limited powers over individuals in the distinct polities in the federation. In a confederacy nothing can be done without the consent of the distinct polities. So under the Articles of Confederation Congress could not tax individuals nor raise troops. The central government (like the kings of Europe) had to go begging to the distinct political societies of the realm: dukes, the church, etc. In the US Constitution power was given to the central government to tax and regulate the actions of individuals throughout the federation, but only in certain limited areas: coining money, regulating commerce, foreign treatises, calling out the state militias, and conflicts between states. All other powers were reserved to the States. In that respect the States were republics since all the powers that had to do with protecting a valuable way of life were reserved to the republics. Upon entering the Union they “delegated” (10th Amendment) certain limited powers to the center. That was a “federative act.” (Federal comes from ‘foedus’ meaning treaty or compact between political units.

                The Constitution in an Article IV says that each State retains a “republican form of government.” If that means anything, it means that the States are republics in federation with other republics.(Article VII explicitly says that ratification is “between the States.”) But a federation of republics is not itself a republic anymore than a federation of country clubs is a country club. This means that the US is not a republic but a federation of republics. The center did not delegate powers to the States, the States, as republics, delegated powers to the center. And that means that the center is an artificial creation of the States and that powers delegated can be recalled.

                So neither the US nor the CSA were a republic. Both were federations. The CSA Constitution was the US Constitution with some important reforms that placed better restrictions on the centralization of power by the center.

                Re: our analysis of the other’s Christian committment, I would say my concern is with your embrace of the Democrat Party and its platform which includes the plank calling for the ‘right’ of abortion. You seem to get the vapors with the mention of African chattel slavery but nary a comment when it comes to your party’s support of the slaughter of 50 million helpless, defenseless American children. Your confused Blaise, very confused.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I simply can’t abide the confusing of “Your” with “You’re”. The Constitution of the Confederacy was a miserable parody of the 1789 American Constitution. Read Federalist 10 to see why the the balance of this mess is nonsense.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              Let me sidestep the issue of whether the CSA was a “republic” or some other kind of entity. I think that’s sort of an intellectual rabbit hole here.

              Whatever form of polity it was that Lee fought to create, it was very clear that the preservation and promulgation of slavery was an inherent part of that polity. Consider the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, Article I, Section 9, Clause 4; Article IV, Section 2, Clauses 1 and 3; and Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3. The Confederacy’s Founding Fathers wrote slavery as a form of property right into the fundamental and supreme law of the CSA. Slavery was at least one of the fundamental and primary objectives of the CSA; the right to hold slaves as chattel was a fundamental right of a Confederate citizen.

              That was part of the fundamental law of the polity — call it a “republic” if you wish — for which Lee fought. Whatever apologia one might offer about tariffs or railroad subsidies or other equivalent twaddle, slavery was important enough to the leaders of the Confederacy that they commited treason, invited war, and pledged their sacred honor, so that they could write slavery into their Constitution as an explicit and fundamental part of their law.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Burt, no one’s arguing the point re: African chattel slavery. In your opinion does that legitimize Lincoln’s invasion of the South? It all hinges on that question, now doesn’t it?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                No it doesn’t. As you know, I’m not much of a fan of changing the subject.

                The proposition on the table here is not “Was Lincoln [or the USA] morally justified in using prolonged military force to prevent the secession of the south?” It isn’t about Lincoln at all. The proposition on the table is “Next to George Washington, Bobby Lee was our greatest American.” So please, let’s keep the focus of your inquiry where it began — the moral worthiness, or lack thereof, of Robert E. Lee and in particular his actions from 1861 to 1865 (and to a lesser but not insignificant extent, his subsequent career as a revisionist historian).

                Whatever his other moral qualities, Lee fought for the creation of a nation that would have rendered slavery part of its fundamental law. Such a man is not worthy of so august an honor as that which you purported to assign to him.

                Lee may be admirable as a tactician and for his skills as a professional soldier (he opted out of taking political office in the CSA) and leader of men. He possessed remarkable charisma, which resonates through the ages, and a fine mind with a good sense for history. Had some improbable political settlement of the slavery issue been found, he would likely have been an ornament to the U.S. military and served proudly. But that’s not how it happened. How it happened is a civil war broke out, one with good guys and bad guys, and Lee chose to side with the bad guys.

                Similar things could be said about Erwin Rommel (other than the choice to fight for the other side part). Just as there is not any such thing as a “good Nazi,” there was not any such thing as a “good Confederate.” The best one could say of Rommel was that he was “not quite as bad as the rest of the Nazis” but that is damning Rommel with faint praise and I’m not certain it would have been accurate anyway. One might claim that Lee was “not really all that concerned about slavery or politics,” or “went along with slavery because he thought it was part of a larger package in which the good outweighed the bad,” and those claims might or might not hold up to analysis. But that is also not the claim on the table. To cast Lee as a hero and to hold up his memory an object of veneration is a significant moral error.

                To me, Lee is a tragic waste. So much potential, so much ability, so much intelligence, so much energy, which could and should have made America greater, sooner. Instead, he allowed a misguided sense of honor and ideology (getting back to the original post) to pervert all of that human power into prosecuting a morally indefensible cause.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Actually, it was time ‘to change the subject’ simply because Lee is universally praised as a great American, slave owner or not, by knowledgeable historians, librul or not. Besides I’m interested in how a bunch of libertarians respond to the question.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                No, not universally. Lee was particularly harsh with his slaves. What’s more, much of what we know of Lee personally is a post-war myth (e.g., he was distinctly anti-abolition, pro-secession, etc., despite more than a century of claims that he didn’t want Virginia to secede and was at least sympathetic to the anti-slavery cause, but simply couldn’t abandon Virginia). His personal papers, which only became available relatively recently, paint a quite different picture from the “universally” recognized one of the last century and a half.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Actually, it was time ‘to change the subject’ simply because Lee is universally praised as a great American, slave owner or not, by knowledgeable historians, librul or not. Besides I’m interested in how a bunch of libertarians respond to the question.

                After all your shenanigans, do I owe you a serious response?

                But maybe the others will find this article interesting. The long and short of it is that

                (1) The South had no legitimate right of secession, because it wanted to secede to protect an illegitimate institution.

                (2) Because the secession was illegitimate, Lincoln was fully justified when he acted to enforce the laws of the United States in the South.

                (3) This remains true even though Lincoln didn’t immediately free the slaves.


                (4) Freeing the slaves was such a huge victory for individual liberty that it completely swamps everything else that happened during the war. Many things Lincoln did were terrible when taken in isolation, but you can’t possibly look at this as a net loss for liberty.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Jason, in response to yours above:

                1. Yes, the South had the ‘right’ to secede, in much the same manner the colonies seceded from Great B. The Constitution does not prohibit secession.
                African chattel slavery wasn’t ‘illegitimate’ in the Southern states in 1860?
                2/3. Lincoln either misspoke or lied when he said he’d sworn an oath to “preserve the Union”, he had in fact taken an oath to preserve the Constitution which neglected to mention secession at all. Obviously the Constitution had no control over the state’s right to secede.
                Lincoln then was the head of a federated state during a time when the elite special interests of the period saw a need to move toward a more consolidated, anti-agrarian, gummint. Essentially the agrarians insisted on enforcing/protecting the republicanism of the American founding generation that viewed the consolidating inclination of the general gummint with suspicion, and stood in the way of the birth of a new, consolidated regime that could better serve the needs of the rising industrial revolution (crony capitalism) and the lust for power of the elites that lived in Washington City.
                Lincoln could not let the South ‘go’, one reason being, following the Montgomery Convention, Southern tariff rates were significantly lower than Yankee rates, which threatened Yankee business interest.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                The right to secession only exists in response to weighty, morally legitimate complaints that have no other means of resolution through the ordinary political process.

                The colonists were taxed while not being represented in Parliament. This was a legitimate complaint, and a very serious one, even if their taxes were low, because without representation they had no guarantees against future exaction. Before they left they tried other means of resolution, and all of them failed. They were right to leave.

                The South wanted to keep its slaves against a threat that hadn’t even happened yet. Throughout American history until that point, they had won every fight there was for keeping their institution.

                As such, their secession was neither morally legitimate nor for a pressing reason, and they had every cause to think that other remedies might still work to get them what they wanted. They were therefore unjustified.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                The problem with your analysis is fundamental to the American system in that any particular reason for a state’s secession from the voluntary compact is brought before the people in convention and appropriately and democratically voted on. The ‘reason’ for secession, assuming you are not a resident of the state, doesn’t concern you. You may agree or disagree but the matter rests with the people in convention.
                A primary reason for secession is found in the preamble of the Confederate Constitution which I believe you and Bp quoted, where the parties to the compact are the people of the first republic/their state and not the people of the Confederacy in aggregate. The preamble goes further and declares that each state retains “its sovereign and independent character.” The rebels made additional improvements to their constitution that we can discuss if you’re not familiar with them.
                The Confederates over the years prior to secession could see that efforts were under way to mutate the American system by perverting the ‘compact’ doctrine and establishing a consolidated nationalism with a central regime with unlimited powers (this is the flaw in your Libertarianism and it may very well come back to cause you discomfort).Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          History is what it is. It’s best to learn to live with what actually happened, if you’re lucky enough to find out the truth of it. In the case of African chattel slavery, it’s one of those rare successes enjoyed by the ‘progressivists.’ Which proves that one must be prudent, logical, and above all, seek the God’s truth of stuff.Report

        • “Washington may have been a Great Man, but he was also a hypocrite too blinkered by the concerns of his personal finances to put his money where his mouth was and even improve the treatment of his slaves.”

          These are the words of someone who has never read Henry Wiencek’s excellent study, “An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America” (2003). I don’t have the book in front of me, so I’ll quote from a review found in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography:

          >>A central theme of the book is the transformation of George Washington on the crucial issue of slavery and its place in American life. Before the Revolution, Washington “was just another striving young planter, blithely ordering breeding wenches for his slave trade, blithely exiling a man to a likely death at hard labor” (p. 133). By the end of his life, he had changed “utterly” and “sickened by slavery, [was] willing to sacrifice his own substance to end it” (p. 274). In the face of relentless opposition from his own family, including his wife Martha, Washington moved to free all of his slaves. “His sense of justice knew no exceptions” (p. 357).<>As [George Washington Parke] Custis’s executor, Lee found himself confronted with the political reality of slavery. He disliked the institution—more for its inefficiency than from moral repugnance—yet defended it throughout his life. Custis, however, had liberated his slaves in a messy will that stipulated that they be released within five years. Lee interpreted this to mean that the slaves could be held for the entire period. The slaves, believing they were already free, accosted Lee and escaped in large numbers. Lee responded by hiring out many Arlington slaves, breaking up families that had been together for decades. He then filed legal petitions to keep them enslaved indefinitely. Only when the courts ruled against him did Lee finally free the slaves.<<

      • Avatar anonymo says:

        Next to Benedict Arnold, Bobby Lee was our greatest American traitor.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Add Jefferson Davis in there, of course. And I’d say that Lee and Davis were much greater traitors than Arnold, since, you know, they actually committed treason that resulted in 600,000 dead Americans.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Actually Chris, Father Abraham is responsible for those lives, the war.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Riiiiiiight. The south seceding, firing on federal troops, siezing federal land and supplies, etc., had nothing to do with it. It was all Lincoln’s fault, because he did what?Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Well, he ran for President promising to not allow expansion of slavery into as-yet unorganized states in the western territories. An intolerable insult to sacred honor!Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Ha. I’m not sure Bob would disagree with that, which saddens me in a way. People like Bob who’ve been so steeped in the southern mythology of that war and its southern actors that they’ve lost any ability to recognize facts, do sadden me, I suppose because I saw it happen to so many of my friends, and that mythology is so… morally damaging.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                When I was in grade school, we were taught that the Civil War arose from a variety of causes, of which slavery was only the best-known. After all, everyone knew that slavery wasn’t going to last much longer regardless. This didn’t make much sense to me, but I assumed it was something I’d understand when I was older.

                I’m quite a bit older now, and I understand perfectly well that it’s horseshit.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                The truly sad thing about Lincoln is that he was prepared to participate in total war, to make war on defenseless civilians in order to champion a ‘consolidated nationalism.’ He had to be mad to turn his back on the old American concept of the natural rights of man and the rightness of our small moral communities (Burkean) to self-govern and to bring forth a central gummint that better reflected the madness of the French Revolution and the insane doctrine of the egalitarian regime.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                He had to be mad to turn his back on the old American concept of the natural rights of man

                Which rights would those be? The right to chattel slaves?

                Neither side in the Civil War was perfect. One side was good enough. The other was simply evil. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Jason, I just posted one above in response to your query.
                I think your confusion rests on your need, as a libertarian, to pursue and expand your vision of ‘rights.’ In many instances I don’t have a problem with the libertarian quest, the problem seems to be that the libertarian doesn’t understand the idea of ‘authority.’ You people seek a more and more consolidated regime, one intent on destroying/obliterating the small, local, parochial agrarian regime (typified by the “olde” South, or Wendell Berry, or Thoreau, and so forth) because you require a large consolidated regime to protect those ‘rights’ won over the past few decades. I think you have a legitimate fear that small, republican oriented communities might turn against racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle minorities. But, I also think that it’s posssible that these ‘rights’ can be better protected in these Burkean communities than in a consolidated general government (see Hitler’s Germany, Fascist Italy, Communist states). I would think that the slaughter of 150 million by these socialist, consolidated regimes provides the truth of what can happen to minorities of any stripe, at anytime, for any reason the state desires. And, in your support of the centralized, national government you may be placing certain ‘rights’ in harms way.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                It is, after all, obvious that a regime whose raison d’etre is the preservation of slavery is the last, best hope of liberty, and that its hydrophobic hatred and fear of dark-skinned people is the sort of quaint folkway so sadly threatened by modernity.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                What a load of hooey. I came over here precisely because of Jason Kuznicki and his nuanced approach to Libertarian thought. I cannot see him preaching consolidation anywhere. Quite the opposite. If, by Agrarian, we are to suppose Plantation fits the bill, you are wrong. The planters were the Tyrannical Consolidators, a Master Race, Authorities unto themselves, a class of treacherous parasites entirely dependent upon slavery and the denial of suffrage to their darkies, a serious flaw in your argument.

                Every time I read Thoreau, I think of that fire he set and damned near burned down the woods around Walden Pond.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                I think I’m sticking with my libertarian analysis. However, Bp you do have a point with the large plantation owners mirroring in one degree or another big bidness. Where you fall short, is your need to blame your own people, and consequently fail to see that even the ‘master racers’ benefited more from the principles described within agrarian-republicanism then in those of the elite-consolidators who required high tariffs to feed the beast which would, in the end, devour whoever it chose, for whatever reason.
                I find it fascinating you fail to grasp the concept. I suppose it has to do with the tension generated by a ‘Christian’ proclaiming the verities of a political party that, like the Nazi’s, advocates the death of the innocent. That has to be difficult to reconcile.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Glad you didn’t answer the question.Report

  8. This is a really great post. I haven’t read Foote’s trilogy, and I really regret that. Outstanding.Report

  9. Avatar Dave S. says:

    I read Foote’s trilogy some time ago, but just recently finally got around to McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, which I highly recommend.

    Incidentally, Sherman’s “insanity” was based on his prediction, made very early in the war, that it would take years and enormous casualties to resolve. Not so crazy, as it turned out.Report

    • Avatar Aloysius Mephistopheles says:

      Sherman certainly implies in his memoir that that was the reason. From what I know of the facts, though, Sherman’s perceived “insanity” was likely based on his actual insanity. Several officers that worked closely with Sherman firmly believed him to be mentally ill. These weren’t all opportunists seeking to undermine him; some of them were his friends. He almost certainly suffered from a pretty serious case of what we would nowadays call bipolar disorder. In Grant’s memoir, he talks about the strange “melancholy” that overtook Sherman prior to Shiloh, and seemed to prevent him from carrying out any 0f the defensive preparations Grant ordered him to undertake. Of course once the shooting started Sherman flew into action and performed brilliantly.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Interesting about Gen. Sherman’s “mental illness,” Aloysius. Lincoln himself was “melancholy,” as we know, and mental illness is similarly alleged.

        Perhaps it’s the healthy reaction to be so, and it’s those who thrive during the horror of war who are either ill or callous.

        [And there might be a tertium quid, those who are neither melancholy like Sherman nor thrive like Patton yet somehow function. They are worth a thinking upon.]Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          It’s not infrequent that tyrants are “melancholy.” They are, after all, usually insane.Report

          • Good point! By that standard, every single slave owner, being a tyrant, was likely as not to be insane. So the Confederacy was fought not only on behalf of tyrants, but insane tyrants.

            I knew that deep-down, you were a closet critic of the CSA. Only now, you have finally admitted it. Welcome to the club!Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Another example here would be Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Lebrecht von Blücher, who suffered from delusions around the time that he fought at Waterloo in which he believed he was pregnant and soon to give birth to a baby elephant.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            It makes me happy to live in a world where this is true.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            If I’m not mistaken, the elephant thing actually happened in 1806, after Prussias defeat, when he was quite physically ill, though apocryphal versions of the story have him saying something to that effect to Wellington, and sometimes add (at least I think this part is apocryphal) that he believed he had been impregnated with the elephant by a French grenadier, but I’m pretty sure whoever it was that impregnated him with an elephant, it happened almost a decade before Waterloo.

            That wasn’t his only little breakdown, either. At one point, he thought his head had turned to stone, and there’s a possibly apocryphal story that he believed for a while that his staff was composed of French agents who were trying to burn his feet, so that when he sat he made sure to lift his feet, and when he stood he stood on one foot, alternating feet frequently (I read jumped from one foot for the other, but that’s almost too funny to be believed). Apparently he had bouts of this mental… illness over the last couple decades of his life. To modern ears, it sounds like he may have had some sort of frontal lobe epilepsy or brain swelling or something. That or he was just coocoo for coco puffs.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Blücher, by the way, crazy or not, was a military genius, whose tactical successes in 1806, even when the end result was Prussian defeat, were amazing, particularly given the disadvantages he had. The American Civil War may have produced some impressive generals, but for the most part, American generals can’t touch the European greats.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          “And there might be a tertium quid, those who are neither melancholy like Sherman nor thrive like Patton yet somehow function. They are worth a thinking upon.]”…Tom, well done!Report

  10. I’m not sure how to define “tragic” any more than I can define “comic” or “pathetic.” But I don’t think tragedy necessarily has to have a bad ending, and the fates that lead up to the tragic might very well be the forces of good. What can be more tragic than the notion Lincoln presented when he said the following?

    Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    Of course, the Civil War wasn’t just Lincoln. It wasn’t even primarily Lincoln as much as it was the soldiers who fought and the slaves who fought and won their own freedom. But isn’t there a sense of the tragic when something so terrible and bloody and yet necessary and (dare I say?) “righteous” happens because it has to?

    Perhaps I’m being a pedant, and an inexcusable pedant because, as I’ve said, I don’t have a firm grasp of the definition of “tragic,” etc. (and also because, as I should admit, I have not read Foote’s history). But when people call the Civil War “tragic,” they may have something else in mind other than “it was bad that it happened.”Report

  11. Avatar Lyle says:

    Of course this veers into the whole issue of just war, which is a topic that has been discussed for centuries with no conclusion. Lincoln in the Second Inaugural clearly sees the cause as just. There are numbers of folks who claim the war was not mostly about slavery, I say read what the people of the time said, (the records are there) and they said it was about firstly the extension of slavery into the territories, and later the existence of slavery at all.Report

    • I think I agree more or less, although I would say the controversy over the extension of slavery into the territories was in itself about the existence of slavery at all. Whether merely banning the extension of slavery would have led eventually to its ultimate demise, I am doubtful, or at least uncertain. But from what I read from that time, that appears to have been the widely accepted assumption among the key players leading up to the secession crisis.

      The main point of my comment about Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural to question how people have been using the word “tragedy” and to suggest that even if one saw the war, or at least the reasons for its fighting and the outcome, as just and good, it could still nonetheless be a “tragedy,” depending on what one meant by “tragedy.”Report