Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln: The journey from Hard War to Soft Peace

“There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’ … for the times they are a-changin’.”  Bob Dylan could’ve sung these words about Abraham Lincoln and the nation after Fort Sumter.

Early on, Lincoln told Congress that he had been careful to not let the war “degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.”[i]

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln changes his mind

However, things changed after the slaughter at Shiloh.  Historian James McPherson states:

Willy-nilly, the war was becoming a remorseless revolutionary conflict, a total war rather than a limited one.[ii]

Pressure from Radical Republicans

Thaddeus Stevens, congressman from Pennsylvania, thundered, “We must treat this [war] as a radical revolution.”  Stevens called for the Union troops to “free every slave, slay every traitor – burn every rebel mansion, if these things be necessary to preserve [the nation].”[iii]

Thaddeus Stevens
(Library of Congress)

By the fourth year of the war, Lincoln believed in a hard war.  He reckoned that God had allowed “this mighty scourge of war” as the consequence of slavery.  Lincoln was prepared to see “every drop of blood drawn with the lash” (by slave overseers) be “paid by another [drop of blood] drawn with the sword.”[iv]

Critics cry out

When Northern armies carried out what Lincoln envisioned, his critics complained about outrages such as burning of civilian homes, forced evacuations of entire neighborhoods or districts, and alleged rape.  When victims and concerned Union Generals contacted Lincoln, Lincoln was often silent about the outrages or he sometimes praised the commanding generals for their military success.[v]

Few of Lincoln’s generals outshone Sherman, who wanted to “make Georgia howl.”  Sherman succeeded in hastening the end of the war.  He also left a legacy of multi-generational pain.[vi]  A United States military veteran in 2014 said that he couldn’t sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” knowing what Sherman’s troops had done 150 years earlier.

William T. Sherman
(Library of Congress)

Lincoln’s paradox

After Sherman captured Atlanta, Lincoln envisioned the end of the war.  In his Second Inaugural Address, this believer in a hard war called for a soft peace:

With malice toward none; with charity for all … let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.[vii]

Lincoln’s last portrait
(Library of Congress)

Apparently, Lincoln saw healing as finishing the “work” of war.  Lincoln drew upon his King James Bible for a tone of mercy that evoked Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul, both of whom taught that God wanted to make his enemies his friends.

The nation’s loss

After the surrender at Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln.  When his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, heard the news, he reportedly said:

I am sorry.  We have lost our best friend in the court of the enemy.[viii]

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[i] Abraham Lincoln, First Annual Message to Congress, 12/3/1861, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29502

[ii] James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York:  1990), 32.

[iii] Thaddeus Stevens to Lancaster County Republican Convention, Lancaster, PA, 9/3/1862, Beverly Wilson Palmer, ed., The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, Vol. I, January 1814-March 1865 (Pittsburgh:  1997), 322, 323.

[iv] Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln, First and Second Inaugural Addresses (Washington, 1909), 40.

[v] William A. Blair, With Malice Toward Some:  Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill:  2014), 134-137, 145-146, 151.

[vi] William T. Sherman to Ulysses S. Grant, 10/9/1864, in The Civil War:  The Final Year Told by Those who Lived it (Library of America, New York:  2014), 362-364.

[vii] Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 40.

[viii] Burke Davis, The Long Surrender:  The Dramatic Account of the Collapse of the Confederacy and the Pursuit of Jefferson Davis (New York:  1985).

Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln: Persuader in Chief

Lincoln had the consummate skills of a lawyer, a politician, and a storyteller.  Added to those skills, he had impressive logic.

In many cases, Lincoln served himself, the Republican Party, and the country well.   But in some cases, Lincoln (and his subordinates) violated civil liberties.

One of Lincoln’s defeated Union Generals, Ambrose E. Burnside, inadvertently sparked a controversy, involving a vocal Peace Democrat.  Amid a public outcry, Lincoln defended his views on civil liberties in wartime.

Imprudent edict

Historian Frank L. Klement writes:

[Burnside, commander of the Department of the Ohio] regarded all criticism of the President as unpatriotic and traitorous … Since Burnside believed that Copperhead speeches and editorials gave encouragement to the enemy, he issued his well-known ‘General Orders, No. 38’ on April 13, 1863.

 

General Ambrose Burnside (Library of Congress)

General orders No. 38 stated that “the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy” would no longer be tolerated.  Burnside would discern between criticism and treason.  Civilians who disobeyed Burnside would be arrested and subjected to military procedure (that is, denied rights in the civil courts).[i]

Incendiary arrest

Almost immediately, Peace Democrat (and former congressman) Clement L. Vallandigham gave a speech, defying Burnside’s edict and suggesting that voters use “the ballot-box” to hurl “King Lincoln” from his throne.

Clement L. Vallandigham (Library of Congress)

Burnside arrested Vallandigham.  A military tribunal found Vallandigham guilty and put him in prison.

Democrats cried foul, and Lincoln ordered that Vallandigham be exiled to the Confederacy.  The level of outrage increased as Northern Democrats held mass protest meetings.

Corning Letter

A committee of Democrats of Albany, New York, chaired by Erastus Corning, wrote Lincoln on May 19, 1863.    They demanded that the Federal Government “maintain the supremacy of the civil over military law.”[ii]

Military arrests in the North were unconstitutional and eviscerated the Bill of Rights, according to the Albany Democrats.  They also claimed that Vallandigham was seized and tried “for no other reason than words addressed to a public meeting, in criticism of the course of the administration, and in condemnation of the military orders of the general [Burnside].”

Lincoln’s public reply

President Lincoln on June 12 wrote that he had lawfully suspended the writ of habeas corpus earlier in the war.  The Constitution allowed the suspension “when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.”

Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress)

Lincoln then commented on the former Ohio congressman:

Mr. Vallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of the Union; and his arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it.

He [Vallandigham] was not arrested because he was damaging the political prospects of the Administration, or the personal interests of the commanding general, but because he was damaging the army, upon the existence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends.

He [Vallandigham] was warring upon the military, and this gave the military constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands upon him.

Powerful, homespun argument

Lincoln asked:

Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?

This is none the less injurious when affected by getting a father or brother or friend into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration or a contemptible government …

I think that in such a case to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional but withal a great mercy.

Preventive arrests, assumption of guilt

Lincoln stated:

Arrests [in cases of rebellion] are made, not so much for what has been done as for what probably would be done …

The man who stands by and says nothing when the peril of his country is discussed cannot be misunderstood.  If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy; much more, if he talks ambiguously – talks for his country with ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’.

Lincoln explained the value of his policy by citing Confederate generals who hadn’t been arrested before they entered the Confederate service.  He stated, “I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many.”

Clarifying Lincoln’s words

The Albany Democrats on June 30, 1863, responded to Lincoln’s letter.

Your claim is, that when the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, you may lawfully imprison and punish for the crimes of silence, of speech, and opinion …

Your doctrine denies the freedom of speech and of the press.  It invades the sacred domain of opinion and discussion … even the refuge of silence is insecure.

They mentioned that the previous Congress (on March 3, 1863) had voted to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.[iii]  The Albany Democrats explained:

This [congressional] statute promptly removes the proceeding in every case into the courts where the safeguards of liberty are observed, and where the persons detained are to be discharged, unless indicted for criminal offense against the established and ascertained laws of the country.

Cross-examining Lincoln

The Albany Democrats pressed Lincoln for an explanation:

Upon what foundation, then, permit us to ask, do you rest the pretension that men who are not accused of a crime may be seized and imprisoned, or banished at the will and pleasure of the President or any of his subordinates in civil and military positions?

Where is the warrant for invading the freedom of speech and of the press?

Where is the justification for placing the citizen on trial without the presentment of a grand jury and before military commissions?

Lincoln never responded to these questions.  His words and actions suggest that for him, saving the Union (and preserving enlistments) “covered a multitude of sins.”

Historians weigh in

Historian Philip Paludan observes that President Lincoln made a more extreme defense of military arrests of civilians than necessary.[iv]

Historian Mark E. Neely Jr. writes:

If a situation were to arise again in the United States when the writ of habeas corpus were suspended, government would probably be as ill-prepared to define the legal situation as it was in 1861.

The clearest lesson is that there is no clear lesson in the Civil War—no neat precedents, no ground rules, no map.  War and its effect on civil liberties remain a frightening unknown.[v]

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[i] Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (Chicago: 1960), 89; Frank L. Klement, The Limits of Dissent:  Clement L. Vallandigham & the Civil War (New York:  1998), 149.

[ii] Frank Moore, ed., The Rebellion Record, Vol. VII (New York:  1864), pp. 298-308.

[iii] Mark E. Neely Jr., The Fate of Liberty:  Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York:  1991), 68.

[iv] Phillip S. Paludan, “Toward a Lincoln Conversation,” Reviews in American History, XVI (March 1988), 40-41.

[v] Neely, 235.

Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln: Softly disarming his opponents

I was a member of the Abraham Lincoln fan club as a boy.  Dad was a member, too.  He taped a Lincoln quote to his bedroom mirror: “My father taught me to work.  He did not teach me to love it.”

My elementary school class made a pilgrimage to Lincoln’s bronze bust in Springfield.  We stood in line to rub his now-shiny nose.  As I’ve reflected on Lincoln over the years, I’m still drawn to his ability to tell stories.

(Flickr.com)

A new series

In order to understand the Civil War and its causes, it’s good to look closely at Abraham Lincoln, his words, and his actions.  And so, I am starting a new blog series, Critically Thinkin’ Lincoln.

Responding with humor

When a political opponent accused Lincoln of being two-faced, Lincoln supposedly said, “If I had two faces, would I wear this one?”

Lincoln, who knew his King James Bible, used humor to fulfill the verse, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

An example

Lincoln received a lot of criticism for Secretary of War Simon Cameron.  When Lincoln dismissed Cameron, a group of visiting politicians said the president should go further and replace the whole cabinet.  Lincoln replied:

Gentlemen, when I was a young man, I knew one Joe Wilson who was very proud of his chickens, and he built a fine henhouse.  Skunks started raiding his hens, and he got annoyed.     One night, unusual cackling and fluttering woke him up.  It was a bright moonlit night.  Joe snuck outside with a shotgun.  He saw six skunks running in and out of the shed.  Enraged, he put a double charge in his gun to blast the whole tribe of skunks.  Somehow, he killed only one, and the rest ran off.

When Joe told this story, he paused here and held his nose.  The neighbors asked, ‘Why didn’t you run after them and kill the rest?’  ‘Blast it,’ Joe said.  ‘It was eleven weeks before I got over killin’ one.  If you want any more skirmishing in that line, you can just do it yourselves!’[i]

(cyberbreeze.com)

Starting young

Historian James M. McPherson explains Lincoln’s fondness for animal metaphors and parables.  McPherson states:

This derived in part from his own rural background [and] the many boyhood hours he spent with Aesop’s Fables.  During one of those long hours, his cousin Dennis Lincoln said to him, ‘Abe, them yarns is all lies.’  Lincoln looked up for a moment and replied, ‘Mighty darn good lies, Denny.’

McPherson continues:

As an adult, Lincoln knew that these ‘lies,’ these fables about animals, provided an excellent way to communicate with a people who were still close to their rural roots and understood the idioms of the forest and barnyard. [ii]

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[i] Paraphrased from Francis Bicknell Carpenter, Six Months at the White House with Abraham Lincoln:  The Story of a Picture (New York, 1866 ), 139.

[ii] James M. McPherson, Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York:  1990), 99-100.

An upset in the making: A review of The Confederacy at Flood Tide

Football announcers, amazingly enough, parallel the work of historians:  They both offer play-by-play comments, descriptions of players, speculation, and post-game analysis.  Historian Philip Leigh has written a thoughtful book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide:  The Political and Military Ascension, June to December 1862.

Leigh describes “the Confederacy’s most opportune period for winning independence.”  He excels at setting things in context, ranging from battles in the Eastern and Western Theaters to geopolitical struggles in Europe.  The book ends on the crescendo of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Divided loyalties

The author offers a political insight about Robert E. Lee and the South in general:

Since he [Lee] famously, and reluctantly, resigned as a U.S. Army colonel during the secession crisis, Lee appreciated that the Confederacy was composed of people with divided loyalties and consciences.  Many would require victories in order to remain steadfast to the new cause.

View from the street

A few lively quotes pepper the text.  For example, a pro-Union woman was dismayed that Confederates had entered her Maryland neighborhood:

I asked myself in amazement, were these dirty, lank, ugly specimens of humanity the men that had driven back again and again our splendid legions with their fine discipline, their martial show and color?

I felt humiliated at the thought that this horde of ragamuffins could set our grand army of the Union at defiance.  Oh!  They are so dirty.  I don’t think the Potomac River could wash them clean.

Financial fallout

Leigh shares interesting, little-known financial information about the broader war at sea.   For example, he states:

Raiders like the Alabama caused a surge in insurance rates for cargoes carried in American hulls.  Consequently, many Northern ship owners sold their vessels at depressed prices to foreign buyers who could sail their ships without fear of Confederate capture.

Half the U.S. merchant fleet vanished during the Civil War.  Rebel raiders destroyed about 100,000 tons, but 800,000 tons were sold to neutral registrants.  Although previously the envy of the maritime world, the U.S. merchant marine was permanently eclipsed thereafter.

What if … ?

Counter-factual scenarios are some of the most intriguing questions in history.  Leigh considers what might have happened if war had broken out between Britain and the United States:

Although it would be hard for Britain to maintain an army in America, its powerful navy might have ended the federal blockade of Southern ports and even blockaded Northern harbors.

Contrary to popular belief, the Monitor and Merrimack were not the first ironclad warships.  The British and French began building bigger and faster deep-water ironclads before America’s Civil War started.

The Road to emancipation

The author deftly traces Lincoln’s journey as he formed his thoughts about abolition and emancipation.  Leigh also clearly explains Lincoln’s strategy of using the Emancipation Proclamation to hasten the end of the war.

My recommendation

This book is a good contribution to the discussion of the Civil War, Lincoln, emancipation, and the Confederacy’s seemingly best chance to obtain independence.  I recommend this logical, clear, and thought-provoking book.

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Trained for war, but pursuing peace: Charles Mason, Jurist

If war is a continuation of politics by other means, as von Clausewitz suggests, Iowa Democrat Charles Mason saw both sides of the coin.[i]

Edging out Lee

Civil War buffs remember Cadet Charles Mason as besting Robert E. Lee in West Point’s Class of 1829.  Neither man had any demerits, but Mason earned slightly more points than Lee.

After West Point, Mason became a lawyer and then chief justice of the Iowa Territorial Court.  In 1839, he wrote the decision, “In the Matter of Ralph.”

Charles Mason (State Historical Society of Iowa)

Ground-breaking Iowa court decision

In this case, in 1834, Missouri slave-owner Mr. Montgomery gave his slave, Ralph, permission to buy his freedom for $550 by working in the Dubuque lead mines.  A few years later, Ralph hadn’t paid off his debt, so slave hunters arrested him.

A judge issued a writ of habeas corpus for Ralph.  The judge in 1839 persuaded the Iowa Territorial Supreme Court to hear Ralph’s case.

Ralph’s attorney argued that Ralph should be free, drawing upon American law, British law, Natural Law, and the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:15).

Chief Justice Charles Mason responded that slavery was illegal in Iowa based on the Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise (passed in 1820).

Mason explained that Ralph was free because “property, in the slave, cannot exist without the existence of slavery.”[ii]  Therefore, Ralph.’s former owner, Montgomery, illegally deprived “a human being of his liberty.”

Mason concluded:

It is proper that the laws, which should extend equal protection to men of all colors and conditions, should exert their remedial interposition.[iii]

Prophetic insight

Mason commented that this case involved “an important question which may ere long, if unsettled, become an exciting one.”  Over the next 22 years, tensions continued to rise over the expansion of slavery into the territories.

Charles Mason (Library of Congress)

Intervening years after Ralph

Mason became U.S. Commissioner of Patents in Washington, D.C., from 1853-1857.  He then returned to Burlington, Iowa, and served on the State Board of Education.[iv]

During this time, Mason’s beloved Iowa Democratic Party split into two embittered factions.  Republicans rose in strength, and Democrats became weaker and weaker.

Game-changer

When Confederate troops fired upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, Iowa Republicans flocked to enlist in the Union Army and Navy.  Many Democrats enlisted, too, men who supported using the sword to restore the Union.

Not long after Ft. Sumter, President Lincoln began suspending habeas corpus in the North.  This meant that federal authorities could arrest and imprison civilians, without any charges.  The civilians wouldn’t get a trial, and their civil liberties would be violated.

Many Democratic editors in Iowa complained about this, stating that only Congress could suspend habeas corpus.  Lincoln said he had authority to do it.  After all, he was commander-in-chief.

The former jurist analyzes secession

In summer 1861, there was an Iowa governor’s race, and Mason was the Democratic candidate.  As a conservative Democrat, Mason said the Union must be preserved, but he thought the war, at that time, was unwise and possibly illegal.

To examine Mason’s statement, it is helpful to remember President Lincoln’s first inaugural address.  Lincoln had said, “In contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union is perpetual.”[v]  According to this view, the Confederacy was made up of insurgents who lived in states that remained loyal to the Union.  Mason disagreed with this legal fiction.

Mason suggested that secession may represent “the uprising of a whole people against what they deem injustice and oppression.”  He also suggested it may be “the voice of one-third of the Sovereign parties to our present Constitution claiming the rights of securing the happiness of their citizens by changing the form of their Government in accordance, as they contend,” with the Declaration of Independence.

Mason agreed with Republicans that the Union must be restored.  But, he said, the federal government must first exhaust every possible means of compromise and conciliation.  Otherwise, the federal government was engaged in “naked, arbitrary, down-right coercion.”

Mason then predicted that “a republican government held together by the sword becomes a military Despotism.”[vi]

Republican newspapers and politicians called Mason a dis-unionist.  He felt great pressure and dropped out of the race.  A Republican became governor.

War-time activities

Mason advocated for peace, writing letters to editors and advising like-minded Democrats.  Late in the war, Mason returned to Washington, D.C., to practice patent law.[vii]

Prominent Iowa Democrats seemingly trusted Mason’s political insights.  A few of them who had Confederate sons asked Mason to intervene with federal authorities when those sons were captured by Union troops.

During the war, Mason read about his fellow West Point Cadet, Robert E. Lee.  Mason wrote in his diary:

General Lee is winning great renown as a great captain. Some of the English writers place him next to Napoleon and Wellington. I once excelled him and might have been his equal yet perhaps if I had remained in the army as he did.

Robert E. Lee (Library of Congress)

Final thoughts

Iowa Peace Democrats, also known as Copperheads, were soundly defeated during the war.  Sometime after Appomattox, Mason wrote in his diary, “I played the game of life at a great crisis and lost. I must be satisfied.”[viii]

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[i] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ:  1984), 87.

[ii] Eastin Morris, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Iowa, Vol. I (Iowa City:  1847), 1-7.

[iii] Henry K. Peterson, “The First Decision Rendered by the Supreme Court of Iowa,” The Annals of Iowa 34 (1958), 304-307.

[iv] Richard Acton, “Charles Mason,” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=253

[v] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address,” in editor Andrew Delbanco, The Portable Abraham Lincoln (New York: 1992), 197.

[vi] “Judge Mason, acceptance of the nomination for governor of Iowa,” Dubuque Daily Herald, 8/11/1861.

[vii] Richard Acton, “Charles Mason,” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa, http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=253

[viii] Charles Mason, Charles Mason Remey, The Life and Letters of Charles Mason:  Chief Justice of Iowa, 1804-1882 (Washington, D.C.:  1939).

Happy 4th of July

During the Civil War, both sides looked to our Patriot Forefathers — their sacrifice and devotion — for inspiration.  Happy 4th of July.

It’s nice to know where you came from: A review of A History of Iowa

Imagine a scene from the dawn of time:  A warrior on a canoe, spear held loosely, glides up a river toward an unsuspecting mastodon.  The spear flies, and the mastodon falls.  Centuries later, its massive skeleton is in the State Historical Museum in Des Moines.

Professor Leland L. Sage takes us back to early days of what became Iowa.  His book, A History of Iowa, begins with the impact of the glaciers through the end of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Sage excels at describing the growth of Iowa’s government and explaining political movements in Iowa, from territorial days through the farm mortgage-default crisis in the 1920s and 1930s.  He also discusses agriculture.

Sage claims that when he wrote this book, “No scholarly general history of the state existed.”

He writes with authority and insight.  The text is lucid, and he wastes no words.  Sage writes with endearing skepticism.  Two examples will suffice.

  1. According to Sage, it “requires an exercise of great faith” to accept that the name “Iowa” came from the favorite residence of the Ioway Indians. He then offers good reasoning for this skepticism.
  2. After discussing Lincoln’s death, Sage writes, “The Lincoln no one knew would soon take form.”

A small bone to pick

I found a small weakness in Sage’s book, namely, his brief mention of the arrest of Democratic editor Dennis A. Mahony in fall 1862.  Sage writes:

“By remarkable coincidence, U.S. Marshal Hubert Hoxie of Des Moines appeared in Dubuque only six days before the Democratic District Convention, arrested Mahony, and hustled him off to Washington, without benefit of a trial but accused of interfering with the war effort” (pg. 163)

It’s possible that Sage was being ironic, referring to the “remarkable coincidence” of Mahony’s arrest.  However, the author doesn’t examine why Mahony was arrested.  Furthermore, Sage doesn’t discuss the propriety and the implications of violations of civil liberties in Iowa during wartime.  Perhaps the author lacked information.  After all, his book came out six years earlier than Hubert H. Wubben’s Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement.

In contrast to Sage’s treatment of Mahony’s arrest, he gives an ample discussion of violations of civil liberties of German-Americans in Iowa during World War I.

My suggestion

I recommend this book and its meaty end-notes.

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“Against my consent”: Confessions of a discouraged Irish-American

Finding a job was a common worry in Iowa as the Financial Panic of 1857 lingered.   Many Iowans headed to the South where jobs were a-plenty.

For example, engineer William O’Day left Iowa and got a railroad job in Mississippi.  After the firing upon Fort Sumter, some Iowans in the South joined military units to keep earning a living.

(Source: mymodelrailroad.net)

A month-and-a-half after the war began, Irish native O’Day enlisted in Company B, 17th Mississippi Infantry.  His unit was near Richmond, Virginia, in summer 1862.  After being hospitalized for illness, he rejoined his unit and was captured on November 6, 1862, in Hampshire, Virginia.

(Click to enlarge.)

O’Day gave the following statement to Union authorities:

I was born in Ireland.  I am 26 years old.  I enlisted with Captain John McGirk of the 17th Mississippi Infantry Co. B and remained with him for the period of 17 months.

My reason for enlisting was because I was out of employment.  I belong to Iowa and my Father lives near West Union, Brama [Bremer] County, Iowa.  I had to leave home to obtain a living.

I served 17 months in the Confederate Army against my consent.  When I left them, they were stationed between Winchester and Front Royal.  Colonel Holder now commands the 17th Mississippi Infantry, numbering about 700.

Union officials moved O’Day to three different prisons:  Atheneum (in Wheeling, Virginia, present-day West Virginia); Camp Chase, Ohio; and Cairo, Illinois.

He was slated to be exchanged – and returned to his Confederate unit – but it never happened.  O’Day presumably convinced Union officials to let him take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. government.  His Confederate company roll call listed him as a deserter.

After his release from prison, the trail runs cold.  Some fifty years later, on August 11, 1910, William O’Day died and was buried in Bremer County.

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Much-maligned Democratic “Dirty dogs”: A review of Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement

“Iowa nice” was in short supply during the Civil War.  Local politics reached new lows as Iowa Republicans demonized Peace Democrats (also known as Copperheads).

A colleague asked historian Hubert H. Wubben, “What can you say about Copperheads that Frank Klement hasn’t already said?”  (Klement had written the authoritative The Copperheads in the Midwest in 1960.)

To answer that question, Wubben borrowed from the scholarship of Leland Sage, the powerful arguments of Frank L. Klement, and the documentation of David L. Lendt.  Wubben also did original research.  The result was Wubben’s magisterial book, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement.[1]

This book tells the history of Iowa during the Civil War, from the perspective of the Democratic Party (and its various factions).  Starting in the 1850s, the author contrasts the divided Iowa Democratic Party with the vigorous and bold state Republican Party.

More recent scholarship by Mark E. Neely (The Fate of Liberty:  Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties) and William A. Blair (With Malice Toward Some:  Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era) serve to illuminate Wubben’s work.

An exception is Jennifer L. Weber’s Copperheads:  The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North.  She disagrees with Klement’s view that the Copperhead “fire in the rear” was mostly “a fairy tale,” a “figment of Republican imagination” comprised of “lies, conjecture, and political malignancy.”[2]

Weber’s argument could be stronger.  She seems to accept claims of the type that Klement had previously debunked.

Wubben has influenced nearly everything I’ve written and thought about Iowa Democrats in wartime, and about Iowa residents who left the state and served the Confederacy.  He notes:

Much of the story has already been told.  But not all of it by any means … Iowa’s history during the Civil War years will long remain fertile ground.[3]

I have documented 76 Iowa residents who left that state and served the Confederacy.  The stories of some Confederates from Iowa intersect with – and illuminate – Wubben’s work.

Historian Wubben combines extensive documentation, analysis, and persuasive reasoning.  I highly recommend his book.

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[1] Leland Sage, A History of Iowa (Ames:  1974); Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (Chicago:  1960); David L. Lendt, Demise of the Democracy:  The Copperhead Press in Iowa (Ames:  1963).

[2] Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads:  The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North (Oxford:  2006), xi.

[3] Hubert H. Wubben, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement (Ames:  1980), xi.

The Architect of Andersonville Prison: A son’s quest to clear his father’s name

Mass imprisonment and poor supplies at Andersonville led to horrible cases of starvation.  The War Department publicized photos of emaciated soldiers, giving Andersonville an infamous and enduring reputation.

Historian Arch Fredric Blakey wrote a biography of Confederate General John H. Winder, who was later blamed for Andersonville.  Blakey writes:

To rescue a villain from history – to overturn a historical myth – is a difficult task.[1]

William Sidney Winder (“Sidney”), one of General Winder’s sons, spent years after the war ended, trying to rehabilitate his father’s name.

Family life and the law

Sidney grew up in a slave-holding military family in various Southern towns.  After attending Columbian College near Washington, D.C., Sidney practiced law in Keokuk, Iowa, from 1857 to fall 1860, and then he was an attorney in Baltimore.

William Sidney Winder

Sidney’s family became divided as war loomed.  His father, a career military officer, wavered between remaining in the U.S. Army and serving the Confederacy.  Sidney intended to fight for Southern independence, and his older half-brother remained a captain in the U.S. Army.

After Fort Sumter, North Carolina seceded, and Sidney’s father, John H. Winder, resigned his commission “with great regret” and became a brigadier general in the provisional Confederate army.

Sidney also joined the Confederate forces.  He was promoted from 1st Lieutenant to Captain and Assistant Adjutant General, eventually serving on his father’s staff.

Prison administration

General Winder became inspector general of prisons in the Richmond area.  When hungry housewives broke into shops, General Winder helped President Jefferson Davis put down the Richmond Bread Riot.

General John H. Winder

Late in 1863, the prisons in Richmond were seriously overcrowded.  General John H. Winder sent Sidney to Georgia to locate a site for a prison for Union POWs.  That order led to the infamous Andersonville Prison.

Andersonville

Sidney and his father tried to build and operate a prison that was spacious and relatively healthy, unlike the horror that became Andersonville.  However, they failed.

Andersonville Prison

Conditions worsened when, in December 1864, the North refused to resume the cartel (the exchange of POWs).  Prison populations continued to increase, in spite of insufficient resources to feed, clothe, and care for them.

General Winder proposed that the Confederates parole POWs and send them home without exchange.  That would have alleviated the problems at Andersonville, but his superiors rejected the idea, calling it “worse than evil.”

General Winder died a few weeks later in on Feb. 6, 1865.  Sidney went to Richmond, planning to resign, but instead he was charged with guarding the Confederate treasury and archives after the fall of Richmond.

Guarding Confederate gold and archives

Sidney and eight other officers eventually reached the David Levy Yulee plantation in Florida on May 22, 1865 – twelve days after Jefferson Davis was captured.

Author Blakey writes:

The group decided to bury the archives on the Yulee grounds [and allotted] one-fourth of the gold to support of Mrs. Davis and her children; the rest they divided equally among themselves.  Each officer received gold sovereigns in the amount of $1,995.

The nine officers surrendered and were paroled.  Sidney eventually resumed his law practice.

Focus on POW camps

Even before Appomattox, historian Marouf Hasian Jr. writes, “Northern presses were filled with lurid tales of lurid tales of victims of dysentery, scurvy, and gangrene” at Andersonville and other prison camps.  Writer Susan Sontag writes that “photographs of skeletal prisoners held at Andersonville inflamed public opinion.”[2]

Since General Winder was dead, the logical person to blame for Andersonville was commander Captain Henry Wirz.  Captain Wirz was given a military tribunal and hanged.

An uphill battle

Sidney maintained that he and his father had never been cruel to prisoners.  He and an uncle struggled to clear his father’s name.

However, Union officials who controlled the captured Confederate archives did not cooperate.  Without original documents, it was impossible to refute Union accusations that General John H. Winder was a cold-blooded mass murderer.

Sidney spent more than 10 years in a quixotic quest.  His health deteriorated, and he eventually withdrew from the world.  He died on February 25, 1925.

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[1] Arch Fredric Blakey, General John H. Winder (Gainesville, FL.: 1990), xv.

[2] Marouf Hasian Jr., In the Name of Necessity:  Military Tribunals and the Loss of American Civil Liberties (Tuscaloosa, LA:  2005), 123; and Susan Sontag, quoted in Rea S. Hederman, Anthology:  Selected Essays from Thirty Years of the New York Review of Books (New York:  New York Review of Books, 2001), 106.

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