Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

The politics of pain: An 1871-style Iowa stump speech

Six years after Appomattox, the Civil War was an emotional “live wire” in Iowa.  Republican candidates for office tapped into the continuing agony, and they condemned Democrats with great vigor (just as they had done during the war).

I recently portrayed Livingston G. Parker, a Union Army veteran and candidate for the Iowa State Senate in 1871, at the Historic Livingston Foundation. I wrote the following stump speech (drawing upon Parker’s letters and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) to capture the spirit of Iowa Republicans.


Please read this speech in this context. I am not recommending any candidate in the current election.  To help get the flavor of this speech, I would suggest that you listen to my reading of the text.

My friends, I stand here on this august occasion to remember the price our boys paid, often in blood, to put down the great Rebellion.

My fellow soldiers, some of you were also in Springfield, Missouri in late 1861.  Gen. Fremont was there, Sigel and Sturgis also.  There were some 40,000 men already there and more arriving daily …  Who can forget the sight — white tents everywhere about the town … The drums were beating and the bugles sounding the evening calls and still the camp fires burned brightly.  It was a scene of rare beauty, and as they stretched far away over the plain and up the hillsides, reminded us of the quiet village where bright lights reflect the peace and felicity within.

We yearned for the day when the rebels would repent their great wickedness, return to the fellowship of kindly brotherhood, fall into the line of duty and forward march to the music of the Union.  We longed for “the banner of the free to float proudly over our land from lake to gulf and from ocean to ocean.”

But while we fought and bled, back home in Iowa, an enemy slithered through the cornstalks.  Copperheads!  Copperheads, those Democrats, said to be treacherous, cowardly, and venomous “above all other beasts of the field.”  Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Copperheads seduced many citizens.  Those Democrats proclaimed loyalty to the Union, but they actually worked against President Lincoln and our nation as we engaged in a life-and-death struggle.

Disloyal Democrats used newspaper editors to spread their poison.  They used congressmen, too.  Clement C. Vallandigham of Ohio, Democratic Congressman, proclaimed that he was an Apostle of Peace.  My friends, Scripture teaches that Satan can appear as an Angel of Light, and that the time will come when even the very Elect may be deceived.  Fellow citizens, do not be deceived.  The Democratic Party is still the party of disloyalty!

Far, far away from our fair state, many of our valiant comrades fell on the field of battle or succumbed to disease.  The Good Book says their bodies lie sleeping, until the Final Trump.  Many of you know all too well the empty chair at the table that will never be occupied, the wise voice of counsel that will never again be heard, the hopes and dreams of marriage, forever sundered by death.

Out of the anguish that doesn’t stop, let us resolve, along with the martyred President Lincoln, “that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

My friends, this election, vote for the party of Grant and Lincoln!


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Dig a little deeper in the well: A review of Reluctant Rebels: The Confederates who joined the Army after 1861

For the past six years, I’ve asked myself, “Why would someone leave a nice state like Iowa and serve the Confederacy?”  Seeking insights, I read James M. McPherson’s masterful book, For Cause and Comrades:  Why Men Fought in the Civil War.

McPherson and other historians have focused on men who enlisted in 1861.   Historian Kenneth W. Noe gives a richer, fuller, and more nuanced picture in Reluctant Rebels:  The Confederates who joined the Army after 1861.


When Noe looked at the body of Civil War literature, he asked the following questions:

Where were the conscripts? … Where were the deserters?  Where were the men who broke and ran away?  Where were the garrison troops and backwater outfits?  For that matter, where were the reluctant Rebels, the men who waited months or years before enlisting?

Noe added:

Scholars and general readers alike would never truly understand the full range of the soldier experience, I suggested, until all those men found their historians, too.

Almost one-fourth (22.5%) of all Confederate troops enlisted after 1861.  If you add conscripts (15%) and substitutes (9%), almost half of all Confederate soldiers entered the Confederate service after 1861.

Defying stereotypes

Noe states in his introduction:

While they were not so different than other soldiers – and those similarities as well as differences will be delineated in the pages that follow – later-enlisting Confederates ultimately defy stereotyping and must be met on their own ground.  Doing so offers a fuller portrait of them and all Confederate soldiers.

In Reluctant Rebels, Noe explores “the reasons that compelled most of those ‘later enlisters’ … to stay at home initially only to join up later on.”  He also considers “the factors that kept them in the ranks and emboldened them in combat.”

Noe draws upon a sample of 320 later-enlisting Confederate soldiers.   He interweaves his analysis with the positions of Civil War scholars, including Bell Wiley, James M. McPherson, Gerald Linderman, Randall Jimerson, and Chandra Manning.

A sampling of surprises

Author Noe surprised me several times in Reluctant Rebels.  For instance, regarding slavery, he states the following:

 Later scholars maintain in sum that Johnny Rebs enlisted, remained in the ranks, and fought battles to preserve legal slavery.  They also admit that such an interpretation requires a degree of historical interpretation and literary deconstruction, for relatively few of the soldiers they studied wrote blatantly about fighting to preserve slavery.

On the subject of substitute soldiers, the author writes:

Despite the expected public shame associated with hiring a substitute, the market for such proxies in the Confederacy exploded overnight as men swallowed both the vaunted Southern honor historians wax eloquently about and their reputations.

Ultimate problem

I found the following insight to be compelling:

Part of the Confederacy’s ultimate problem was that the thin gray line of white men the South called up in the war’s second year and beyond always were too few in number, too old, too divided in heart and soul, and physically not always up to the task before them.  Later enlisters could and would fill the ranks and kill in combat, but many of them could not always march and fight as well as their new nation needed them to do.

As the Gospels surely reminded some of them during their trials, ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’  Lacking sufficient manpower both in terms of quality and quantity, the thin gray line of later enlisters proved insufficient, and the Confederacy yielded at last.

My recommendation

Reluctant Rebels is insightful, persuasive, and peppered with captivating quotes.   To his credit, author Noe admits the limitations of his research, and he gives solid reasoning to support his conclusions.

In short, I found Noe’s book to be well worth reading.

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If you help my child, you help me: Jefferson Davis’s 11th-hour mission

Pressing on through severe facial pain and “unutterable griefs,” Jefferson Davis wrote his farewell speech to the U.S. Senate.  His personal struggles in January 1861 (after Mississippi seceded) foreshadowed the nation’s trial by fire.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

He also wrapped up loose ends in Washington, D.C.  That included writing his college friend (and former U.S. senator from Iowa) George Wallace Jones.

Helping the son of a friend

A few years earlier, George Wallace Jones’s second son, William A.B. Jones, was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the First Regiment, U.S. Cavalry.  William rode a “wild spirited horse … without bridle or saddle,” resulting in a rupture.

(Library of Congress)

(Library of Congress)

William resigned his commission (based on a doctor’s diagnosis).  Surprisingly, William recovered, and he wanted his old job back.    Davis asked Secretary of War John B. Floyd to reinstate William’s commission, but there were no vacancies.

Letter to a friend

On January 20, 1861, the day before his farewell speech, Davis wrote George Wallace Jones that William wouldn’t be reappointed.   Davis also shared his thoughts about secession with his old friend and political ally.

Davis wrote that Jones wouldn’t be surprised that he was leaving the Senate.  He continued:

I am sorry to be separated from many true friends at the North, whose inability to secure an observance of the Constitution does not diminish our gratitude to them for the efforts they have made.  The progress has been steady towards a transfer of the government into the hands of the abolitionists.

Many states like Iowa have denied our rights, disregarded their obligations, and have sacrificed their true representatives.

Jones recognized himself in Davis’s description.  Two years earlier, Jones was not re-elected the U.S. Senate because he had voted for the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution.

Davis continued:

To us, it has become a necessity to transfer our domestic institutions from hostile to friendly hands … There seems to be but little prospect that we will be permitted to do so peacefully …

I know you will sympathize with us although you cannot act with us, that we shall never find you or yours in the ranks of our enemies.

I am as ever very truly your friend,

Jeffn Davis

After the speech

About three months after Jefferson Davis said goodbye to the Senate, Confederate artillerists fired upon Fort Sumter.

William A.B. Jones headed to Colorado Territory, and he never served either side during the Civil War.  In contrast, both of his brothers served the Confederacy.   (If you’d like to read more about William’s brothers, please click here, here, and here.)

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“When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail”: A review of Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton

Many Americans can picture the “devoted patriot” Edwin Stanton, close to Lincoln’s bedside as the president lay dying.  After Lincoln breathed his last, a stoic Stanton reportedly said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Historian William Marvel has written Lincoln’s Autocrat:  The Life of Edwin W. Stanton (Civil War America series, University of North Carolina Press).  This engaging, well-documented book tells how Stanton, an able lawyer, came to serve Presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson.


This book reveals Stanton’s duplicitous, self-serving character.  The author describes Stanton’s “deep insecurity,” a condition suggested by his “sycophancy, double-dealing, and self-congratulatory storytelling.”


Marvel preferred to use “the most contemporary primary sources – diaries, letters, official documents, and newspaper observations from the period in question.”  He explains:  “All those sources suffer from personal and political prejudices, but those are usually easier biases to detect than those absorbed unconsciously, over the passage of decades.”

The author does a good job of setting events in context, while maintaining the thread of a story.  I was fascinated to learn about Stanton’s role in suppressing and violating civil liberties in the North during the Civil War.

The power to arrest and imprison

After Fort Sumter, Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in the North.  This meant that federal authorities could arrest and imprison civilians, without any charges.

Secretary of State William H. Seward was, at first, in charge of arresting civilians.  Secretary of War Stanton assumed this authority in early 1862.

Lincoln signed into law the first draft in U.S. history on July 17, 1862.  Marvel describes what happened less than a month later:

Stanton quickly … nullified much of the Bill of Rights.  Citing no authority but his own, on August 8 he ‘authorized and directed’ all U.S. marshals and chiefs of police – over whom he could claim no constitutional authority whatever – to arrest and imprison anyone who ‘may be engaged, by act, speech, or writing, in discouraging volunteer enlistments, or in any way giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or in any other disloyal practice against the United States.’

Stanton’s orders were significant, from a civil liberties perspective.  Marvel states:

In a single sentence, Stanton abolished the First Amendment, overrode the Fourth, ignored the Fifth, and eviscerated the Sixth.  He essentially criminalized every citizen’s right to criticize the government.

Republican officials would quickly embrace his order as an opportunity to treat criticism of the Lincoln administration and its political supporters as a form of treason, and to punish Democrats – almost exclusively – for daring to voice disagreement.

Bringing it home to Iowa

Shortly after Stanton issued his orders, federal and state authorities arrested and imprisoned about 36 Iowans in August 1862, according to historian Hubert H. Wubben.  Arrestees included Dennis Mahony, editor of the Dubuque Herald, and David Sheward, editor of the Constitution and Union (in Fairfield, Iowa).

Dennis Mahony, editor of the Dubuque Herald (Loras College)

Dennis Mahony, editor of the Dubuque Herald (Loras College)

The arrestees were imprisoned without any formal charges and without a jury trial.  They were held in prison for as little as two months.  Mahony, “like most of his fellow prisoners,” was forced to sign a pledge that he wouldn’t sue Stanton or other officials for false arrest.

The arrests and imprisonments violated the following civil liberties:

  1. Freedom of speech;
  2. Freedom from criminal punishment except upon indictment and trial;
  3. The right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury;
  4. The right to be informed of the nature of an accusation; and
  5. The right to confront contrary witnesses.

Marvel comments:

Suddenly it was impossible to utter any effective criticism of the war, or the administration, without at least the threat of arrest.

Republicans faced a backlash during state elections in October and November 1862.  Nonetheless, Marvel writes that Stanton “kept jailing critics, painting all who disagreed as traitors, and the president allowed him free rein.”


I have focused on only one part of Marvel’s lucid and thought-provoking book.  I highly recommend Lincoln’s Autocrat:  The Life of Edwin Stanton.

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Practicing the arts of war:  From central Iowa to a Confederate armory

Confident and versatile are two words associated with West Point graduates.  One such man protected Des Moines and ran a Confederate arsenal during his career.

Georgia-born John C. Booth graduated from West Point in 1848.  He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in Artillery.

His postings included the Augusta Arsenal in Georgia and operations in Florida against the Seminole Indians.

Booth resigned from the U.S. Army on May 1, 1856.  He spent the next three years working as a civil engineer in Des Moines, Iowa.


In early March 1857, news of the Spirit Lake Massacre shocked residents of central Iowa.   Chief Inkpaduta and warriors of the Wahpekute Dakota tribe, reportedly murdered white residents of all ages and both sexes.


(Source: Des Moines Public Library Special Collections)

A letter announced that the warriors were headed south to raid Fort Des Moines.  Settlers became “intensely excited” (that is, alarmed).

Protecting Des Moines

Men armed with hunting rifles and shotguns formed a militia.  Taking command, Captain John C. Booth drilled four companies of recruits.

Polk County historian L.F. Andrews wrote:

The whole town was aroused with military spirit.  For a week, pomp and circumstance of war, the fife and drum, kept enthusiasm at high pitch.

Scouts galloped north and debunked the rumors.  Andrews stated, “The incident … disclosed the patriotism of the community.”

Three years later, in 1859, Booth took a job as clerk in the Illinois Central Railroad.

Career change

On March 11, 1861, Booth offered his services to the Confederate secretary of war, calling it an “honor” to do so.  On March 29, Booth took command of the Baton Rouge Arsenal in newly seceded Louisiana.

War erupted two weeks later at Fort Sumter.  Federal armories in the South assumed a greater strategic importance.

The Union defenders of the armory at Harper’s Ferry Virginia, set the buildings on fire and rushed out.

In their footsteps, Virginia militiamen doused the flames and salvaged a great deal of equipment, arms, and components.

Harper's Ferry Armory (Library of Congress)

Harper’s Ferry Armory (Library of Congress)

Fayetteville Arsenal

Three days later, North Carolina militiamen peacefully seized the arsenal at Fayetteville.  It was quite a prize, containing an armory, gun carriage and caisson shops, and machine shops.

Booth assumed responsibility for the Fayetteville Arsenal on July 27, 1861.  He started enlarging a building and converting flintlock muskets to more modern percussion-cap weapons.

Fayetteville Arsenal and Armory (North Carolina Museum of History)

Fayetteville Arsenal and Armory (North Carolina Museum of History)

In the fall of 1861, machinery for making rifles (including rifles with sword-bayonets) arrived from Harper’s Ferry.  Thirty-six machinists and workmen came, too.

The Fayetteville Arsenal turned out about 500 rifles per month, along with small arms ammunition and carriages for heavy artillery (for sea coast defenses) and light artillery.  The arsenal also produced two unique guns, the Fayetteville Pistol-Carbine and the Fayetteville Rifle.

The following March of 1862, General Robert E. Lee formed plans for security of the North Carolina seaboard.  Josiah Gorgas, ordnance chief in Richmond, ordered Booth to place obstructions in the Cape Fear River below Fayetteville.

Time running out

Booth became sick, but he “worked incessantly.”  A colleague wrote that Booth kept “growing weaker, until he was forced to take his bed, and in a few short months he died.”

The colleague noted that Booth was “a splendid executive officer … universally loved by the entire armory force.”  John C. Booth died on September 6 or 8, 1862.

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Johnny on the spot: A review of Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief

Jefferson Davis was a lifelong friend of George Wallace Jones, one of Iowa’s first U.S. Senators (and father of two Confederates from Iowa).  Even more than that, Jefferson Davis read and commented on most or all letters from Iowans who sought Confederate commissions or offices.  Those intersecting lives gave me ample reason to read Embattled Rebel:  Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief.

James McPherson has written 14 other books about the Civil War.  In this book, McPherson tells the Civil War as a story, with Jefferson Davis as the main character.

Embattled Rebel Jefferson Davis book cover AMAZON dot COM

McPherson artfully condenses strategies, battles, and entire theaters of war.  He uses the right number and types of quotations to introduce his points.

For example, McPherson describes the Confederate decision to fire upon Fort Sumter in April 1861.  I have seen this as a huge mistake because it stirred up a hornets’ nest of Northerners, buzzing with righteous indignation.  McPherson offers a perspective I hadn’t considered before:

Davis had reason to believe that an actual shooting war would bring more slave states into the Confederacy to stand with their Southern brethren against Yankee ‘coercion.’

Inter-personal relationships

The author gives a few examples where Jefferson Davis showed “favoritism toward incompetent friends.”  My study of early U.S. Senator from Iowa, George Wallace Jones, suggests another way to look at President Davis’s actions.

George Wallace Jones and Jefferson Davis were college friends who remained close the rest of their lives.  Their relationship suggests that Davis was routinely loyal toward his friends.


Jefferson Davis serves as a prism for looking at the Civil War.  Students of the war may glean insights in McPherson’s masterful book.

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“Black Hawk” bond: The intertwined lives of an Iowa legislator and his “servant”

The Union defeat at Bull Run shocked many Iowans.  In contrast, Iowa State Legislator James H. Williams had “the biggest drink of brandy” to mark “the glorious [Confederate] victory.”

Two days later, James returned to his native Virginia, leaving behind a successful law practice in Dubuque and a future in the Iowa Democratic Party.  He returned to his slave-owning family in Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley.[1]

James H Williams 1869 cropped from Phil Williams

James H. Williams

Four months later, on November 27, 1861, James became a recruiter for Chew’s Battery, 7th Virginia Cavalry.  To celebrate, his father gave James a body servant named John Jackson.[2]

“Black Hawk”

James became an artillery lieutenant, and he ate meals with a mess of other men.  Body servant John Jackson, nicknamed “Black Hawk,” fixed their meals.

Chaplain James Battle Avirett visited James’s mess on occasion.   Forty years later, Rev. Avirett discussed John Jackson in a letter to Confederate Veteran:

The old cook of the mess, commonly called ‘Black Hawk,’ was the faithful depositary of the officers’ watches and money when the fight was on.  Highly respected and as trustworthy as he was during that fearful struggle, ‘Black Hawk’ still ministers as a trusted servant in the family of the late Gen. James H. Williams of Woodstock, Va.[3]

John Jackson remembers:  Two opportunities for freedom

Seven years later, in 1912, John Jackson, using the nickname “Black Hawk,” wrote the following to Confederate Veteran:

I thank you for putting my picture in your magazine. I am proud of my war record.  I was given when a young man by my old master, Samuel C. Williams, who was a member of the Virginia Secession Convention, to his oldest son, who was then Lieut. James H. Williams, of Chew’s Battery, and I stood by him and his brothers until the close of the war.

I was taken prisoner twice, captured once with the watches and money of our boys and others of the Williams mess upon my person, given into my care when the battle began.  I escaped and returned with watches and money all safe …

The picture you published was taken while Dr. Averitt was on a visit to Mrs. James H. Williams at Woodstock, Va.  I was not Dr. Averitt’s camp servant, nor was he ever a member of the Williams mess … Rev. Dr. Averitt was often our guest.

Like the rest of the veterans, I am growing old; but I am with my people in Woodstock, where I was born.[4]

Rev. Averitt (seated) and John Jackson ("Black Hawk") standing


I haven’t found any documentation of why John Jackson continued to work for James H. Williams after the war ended.  There is always a certain amount of mystery involving relationships of the past.

Perhaps John Jackson evaluated his experience, training, and job opportunities in the war-ravaged Shenandoah Valley.  If James treated his former body servant with respect and kindness, perhaps John Jackson decided his best option was to stay put.  One thing is certain:  Their story reflects the complexity of their intertwined American lives.[5]

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[1] James H. Williams diary entry, 7/22/1861, James Harrison Williams Diaries, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library; 1860 Census, Schedule 2, Slave Inhabitants in Woodstock, Shenandoah County, Virginia, pg. 5, 7/10/1860, Samuel C. Williams (James H. Williams’s father).

[2] “John Jackson Dead,” Shenandoah Herald, 3/12/1920.

[3] James B. Averitt, letter to editor of Confederate Veteran (Nashville, 1905), Vol. XIII, 7/17/1905.

[4] “Black Hawk,” Confederate Veteran (Nashville, 1912), Vol. 20, 410.

[5] Marc Wortman, “Why was Robert Webster, a slave, wearing what looks like a Confederate uniform?”, October 2014, Smithsonian Magazine, , viewed 7/24/2016.

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Fence posts and scholarship — A review of To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners who Fought for the Confederacy

Historical research and scholarship remind me of putting up fence posts the old-fashioned way.  Gripping a post-hole-digger, a person presses down, making it bite into the soil.

Repeated turns strain the pectoral muscles, shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps, wrists, and hands.  Next comes pounding a fence post into the hole, digging a new hole, and repeating the process.

Historian David Ross Zimring has added a new fence post with To Live and Die in Dixie:  Native Northerners who Fought for the Confederacy (Knoxville, 2014).    Zimring identifies 303 men and women, born in northern states (not including Iowa), who moved South before the Civil War (sometimes as early as the 1810s).    This scholarly book explores the complex dynamics of identity formation in the nineteenth century.

To live and die in Dixie Native Northerners who fought for the Confederacy BOOK COVER Amazon DOT com

Main questions

Zimring asks why northern emigrants “chose to fight for their adopted home and against their native section?  Most importantly, what do their experiences tell us about the nature of sectional identity and Confederate nationalism?”  I have thought about related questions for the better part of six years.

The author contends:

Those [emigrants from the North] who supported the Confederacy did not fight as northerners dragged into the Confederate ranks against their will; they viewed themselves as both southerners and Confederates in thought and action, by adoption rather than by blood.

Differences between his definition of “resident” and mine

Zimring defines “resident” as a native of a northern state who left that state and moved South as an adult.  I define resident as a person who lived in Iowa no earlier than 1850 (that is, after Iowa became a state), for at least two years, and who was 13 or older while living in Iowa.

Zimring’s definition of resident is more stringent than mine.  It seems open to discussion as to whether people as young as 13-15 years old are able to identify with a state and/or a region.  This question may need further study.

Positive attributes

I found Zimring’s main points to be compelling.  I appreciated the fact that his sample size (303) is much greater than my list of 75 Confederates from Iowa (although research is continuing).

Negative critique

To Live and Die in Dixie would have been richer if Zimring had included Iowans.  I question whether Zimring needed to include Northerners who moved South as early as the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s.  On a micro level, I think that Zimring’s book would benefit from another round of copyediting.  Specifically, some individual statements (in support of a larger point) are weak or indefensible, although the larger points are typically credible and persuasive.   Additional copyediting might also reduce repetitive statements.

My recommendation

This book is rather expensive (I paid $53.39 for a copy).  Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in northerners who emigrated to the South before the Civil War.

Lincoln in a new light: An Independence Day special

Abraham Lincoln had an incredible journey.  Two of his speeches show how far he came in his thinking about this country.

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln, the revolutionary

In January 1848, Congressman Abraham Lincoln gave a speech about the disputed boundary between Texas and Mexico.  Lincoln said that the farthest reaches of Texas’s territory depended upon revolution.

Lincoln continued:

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.  This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.

Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it.  Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much territory as they may inhabit.  More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement.  Such minority was precisely the case of the Tories of our own Revolution.

It is a quality of revolutions not to go by old lines, or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones.[i]

President Lincoln (Library of Congress)

President Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln, the Conservative

Thirteen years later, in 1861, President Lincoln gave his first inaugural address.  He said “the Union is perpetual.”  He continued:

No State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; … resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and … acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.[ii]

A Democratic congressman asks:  Encouragement to secede?

Ohio Congressman A.G. Thurman, discussed Lincoln’s 1848 remarks.  Thurman asked in 1872:

[was] a word ever spoken, or line ever written, by a northern Democrat that was calculated to give a hundredth part as much encouragement to the secessionists of the South as were the utterances of Mr. Lincoln [?] …

Mr. Lincoln’s remarks were not confined to the case of Texas,, which he discussed, or to any particular time or revolution.  In what he said he laid down rules that he considered applicable to all times, all countries, and all circumstances.  And by these rules he said, in effect, to the southern people, in 1860 and 1861, ‘If you are inclined and have the power, you have the right to rise up and shake off the existing Government and form a new one that suits you better.  This is a most valuable, a most sacred right.  Any portion of you has this right, and, if there is a minority among you who cling to the Union, you have a right to put those unionists down.’

This was what Mr. Lincoln said in substance to the southern people, and when he became President-elect of the United States, these opinions of his were circulated everywhere in the South as proof that secession would not be resisted by the North.[iii]

A historian weighs in

Historian  David M. Potter stated:

Lincoln apparently thought that the preservation, by the use of force, of the Union formed in 1787 was more important for mankind than the purely voluntary self-determination of peoples. [iv]

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[i] Harry Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (Oxford, 2000), 347, quoting Abraham Lincoln, speech in House of Representatives, 1/12/1848, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, Thirtieth Congress, first session, volume 19, pg. 95.

[ii] “First Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln,” the Avalon Project, the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University, (accessed 6/24/2016).

[iii] A.G. Thurman, speech in House of Representatives, “Extension of the Ku Klux Act,” 5/21/1872, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, Second Session, Forty-second Congress, 665-668.

[iv] David M. Potter, “The Historian’s Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa, ” The American Historical Review, July 1962, pp. 924-950.


The “traitorous” fiddler with a connection to Jefferson Davis

Multi-talented George R.G. Jones wanted a career in the Confederacy.  His dream became a reality through education and a few well-placed family friends.

George was born in 1837 in Wisconsin Territory, across the Mississippi River from Dubuque, Iowa.  He was the second son of George Wallace Jones, one of Iowa’s first U.S. Senators, a slave owner, and a lifelong friend of Jefferson Davis.  Culturally speaking, Senator Jones was a Southerner.

When George was three years old, his family moved to Dubuque, northeast Iowa.  They brought three slaves – and one black freedman — with them.  (The family freed the slaves two or three years later.)  When George was 11 years old, his father was elected U.S. Senator from Iowa.

His father’s stump speeches

Senator Jones, a Democrat, befriended Southern congressmen and senators and often voted with the Southern bloc.  Senator Jones gave stump speeches around Iowa.  He said, if civil war broke out, he and his sons would “be found in the ranks of the Southern Army, and that, altho’ we might be few in number, we would be victorious as our cause would be just.”

Southern military college

At age 15, George enrolled in Western Military Institute (WMI) in Kentucky.  The school aimed to become the Virginia Military Institute of the West.

Western Military Institute

Western Military Institute

He re-enrolled at ages 19 and 20.  George made friends from “some of the best families” of Tennessee, and he became proficient at infantry tactics and drill.

After he graduated from WMI in 1858, George attended schools in Germany and returned to Dubuque.  His father was in South America after losing his senate seat and being appointed minister (ambassador) to New Grenada, present-day Columbia.

Plans to “go South”

In early 1861, southern states were seceding.  George, age 23, bumped into one of his father’s friends in Galena, Illinois.

George said “he was going to Dixie to see his sweetheart,” and gave a “Significant Smile.”  His “sweetheart,” however, wasn’t a lady – it was the Confederacy.  George also told his father that he would fight to defend the rights of the Southern people.

New job

In late April 1861, two weeks after Fort Sumter, George was in Nashville, Tennessee, drilling newly recruited soldiers.

Southern Artillery Militia Charleston SC LIBRARY OF CONGRESS cropped

That summer, his mother wrote his father, Ambassador Jones:

We hear occasionally from George who is in Nashville or thereabouts.  He says he is perfectly happy & will not move from there until the war is over & then only to visit for that is his adopted country.

George became a drillmaster, and a lieutenant, with the Provisional Army of Tennessee on July 30, 1861.

Father under surveillance

While George drilled soldiers, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward spied on his father, intercepting letters between Ambassador Jones and his family.  Seward suspected Ambassador Jones of treason, partly because of his stump speeches and his friendship with Jefferson Davis.  The Lincoln administration recalled Ambassador Jones to Washington.

Shortly before Christmas 1861, the State Department arrested Ambassador Jones and threw him into Fort Lafayette Prison.  Secretary Seward announced the arrest with lightning speed, and the news reached Tennessee.

Request for a commission

While his father was in prison, George wrote the Confederate Secretary of War that he wanted to be a career Confederate officer.  George attached letters of recommendation from General Bushrod R. Johnson and Ambassador Jones’s Southern political friends.  Unsurprisingly, George received a commission.

Fort Henry

In early February 1862, Captain George R.G. Jones was at Fort Henry, Tennessee, commanding an artillery battery, expecting an imminent attack.  Fort Henry was in a very poor location, on low ground between a slough and the Tennessee River.  Rising water flooded the fort as Union gunboats attacked.  General Lloyd Tilghman ordered 60-some men, including Captain Jones, to hold off the enemy while the other soldiers escaped.  The Confederate guns fired accurately until General Tilghman surrendered.   The general praised George and the other officers for “their consummate devotion.”

Ft. Henry on Tennessee River

Ft. Henry on Tennessee River

Northern newspapers weigh in

A New York Times reporter called George “a renegade Northerner, a resident of Dubuque, Iowa, and a son of Hon. Geo. W. Jones …”

The reporter continued:

… He has always lived North, has been supported by the North (through his father), and turns against the country which has fed him …

A large number of his fellow townsmen are here, who became so indignant at finding this young ingrate, in this place, ready to train his guns upon his former associates, that they discussed the propriety of shooting him.  Wiser counsels, however, prevailed, and he is left to enjoy his infamy undisturbed.

The Davenport Daily Gazette stated:

We presume young Jones will be sent to sympathize with his father at Fort Lafayette.  An unfortunate family, those Joneses.

Personal impressions of George

Iowa Union soldiers who met George were more sympathetic.  E.M. Van Duzee, a Dubuque resident and captain of the 12th Iowa Infantry, stated:

He said he was a citizen of Tennessee, and had been for several years.  He was quite cheerful, and I think was quite willing to be taken prisoner.

C.S. Sumbardo stated:

I had a short talk with George Jones at Fort Henry. He stated that he was through with fighting, and would like to take a tour through Europe, where I think he would be more warmly received than at Dubuque.


George spent the next seven months in captivity at Johnson’s Island, Ohio.  The prison, located on Lake Erie, held Confederate officers.

Johnson's Island

Johnson’s Island

A fellow prisoner called George “elegant and accomplished.”  Furthermore, George reportedly was “a versatile genius, being one of the best musicians in prison.”


On Sept. 1, 1862, George was paroled and sent to Vicksburg.  Two months later, he was in Richmond, seeking an appointment as ordnance officer in General Tilghman’s brigade.

General Tilghman stated:

I deem him one of the most valuable men we have … sacrificing Home, Property and friends, he has now proven himself an able and zealous soldier.

Jefferson Davis commented:

Capt. Jones as the son of my early and valued friend has to me special interest and I rejoice to find that his merit as a soldier has proved equal to his zeal for our cause.

The fiddler’s trunk

In spring 1863, George left Vicksburg “to join Johnston’s forces.”  Thereafter U.S. Grant began his siege.  When Confederates surrendered Vicksburg, a company of the 21st Iowa Infantry captured George’s trunk.

The Dubuque Daily Times announced:

Besides several articles of clothing and an excellent fiddle, this trunk contained letters of the most treasonable character, from several residents of Dubuque.

Quiet service

George served the rest of the war in western Alabama and eastern Mississippi.

Endeavors after Appomattox

After the war, he practiced law in Memphis.  He got married and was awarded patents for a fan rocking chair and an inkstand.  George died on January 2, 1905.

Inkstand patent

Inkstand patent

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This blog post is running concurrently on Sarah Bierle’s blog, Gazette665 .

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