What the Civil War brought

Aside from the obvious settling of a question of what the United States meant to a country torn apart by competing sectionalism, the war and its aftermath brought us a sense of unification but also brought us many more questions left unanswered.

Chief of these has been the questions of race. The south, by force of arms, was subjugated and in many ways the fruits of what many lived through in the civil rights years of the 1960s was the unfettered zeal of Abolitionist forces in the north and in congress who enforced egalitarianism upon its own citizenry. The southern populace found itself leveled and at times even lorded over by those whom they had themselves subjugated for generations before.

Reconstruction in the south to the form of political and societal revenge, a natural feeling felt by many northerners who rightly blamed the south for the years of bloodletting. Instead of gradual emancipation or gradual and controlled integration of thousands of hitherto uneducated freed slaves into the body politic, the freedmen were franchised immediately into state and local politics, not to mention federal. To punish the south, blacks were not only given the vote and an equal voice but also found themselves in charge, elected by the body of freedmen over their former masters while their former masters found themselves bereft of wealth and unable to work their own land or able to afford to hire anyone.

As one former slave put it, “the bottom rail on top now.” This is an apt description for how we should understand reconstruction from both the freedmen’s point of view and those of the former confederacy. Enfranchised with the point of the bayonet, it was not a real freedom for the freedmen. While it helped to bring some sense of justice to northerners to see the haughty brought low, it built a sense of latent rage and militant extremism that found expression in the formation of the KKK, a secret society of former confederates who sought to drive the northern influences out and re-right the balance of their destroyed society. Using intimidation, the white southerners fought back.

This is not to condone the extra-legal actions of the minority but to grasp the real problem with reconstruction as a whole. It was not organic and as long as federal soldiers were around to enforce the gradual re-admittance of each southern state back into the union, the system as conceived from Andrew Johnson’s administration worked. It worked until the federal constabulary was pulled out as each state was admitted back. This is the real tragedy of the war and its aftermath. That real freedom was not condoned by the citizenry on their newly freed slaves but one of force. When force was removed, all that had been changed was reversed by an equally vengeful south.

The south should have freed its slaves before the war ended, allowing for an organic emancipation if they chose to fight. This is not as odd as it sounds even given the counter intuitive nature of serving ones oppressors for the chance at freedom. In the early days of the war, an all black regiment was raised in New Orleans and was formed for the express purpose of fighting for rights that were promised to them locally. These were formed under the confederate banner. Its members were all free blacks and volunteered in order to gain more influence in local politics be able to participate on par with free whites. This unit, though never firing a shot at any federal was eventually disbanded, but its core found its way into the federal army and did participate in battles for the union. This is but one case of what would seem to be an aberration. Why would any black willingly serve for the confederacy? Why indeed.

We have to understand that neither the north nor the south fought to end slavery or to retain it as a war goal. That this was to become an overt goal after the Emancipation Proclamation is now history. That both sides fought for reunification or for a separate country lends some credence to wrapping our heads around why any black would serve the confederacy. If the promise of freedom was offered, the slave had strong incentive to act. A cabal of confederate officers petitioned Jefferson Davis for offering emancipation and land to any slave who volunteered to serve the confederacy of their own free will. Thousands of slaves were laboring on entrenchments for the south already, pressed into service by the army and whose owners were compensated for their labor, but it was not willing labor.

Had slaves been allowed to serve for their freedom it is a tantalizing question to ponder how different the south would have looked even as the union forces the surrender of the southern armies and the south endures a subjugation. Would the now former soldiers, blacks and whites, had a different view of each other as well as their conquerors. For the blacks, freedom and equality of life was paramount, regardless of who gave it to them. That the union forces came to represent that freedom sometimes was a bitter pill as reluctant federal commanders often turned the runaways back or grudgingly allowed the vast caravans to follow them for protection. Many northern commanders were of similar opinion as their southern counterparts, that blacks were inferior in intellect and society. Until it became common practice to view slaves and freedmen as tools to be deprived of, the army had little use for the contrabands that streamed into their camps.

It is improbable that southerners would have seen their former slaves as anything approaching equality, a problem for those who sought to rehabilitate the south. The rush to extend freedoms to those who had never had it before and the expectation that they participate in the electorate who had never been allowed to be socialized into the american fabric of republican government, the vote became both a weapon and a danger to those who now could wield it. Much of our current understanding of race relations and the problems of southern acceptance of the now freedmen has much bearing on how these freedmen were enfranchised. It is also improbable that a more gradual process would have been allowed to take place, for the conquerors needed to show something for the blood and treasure expended in reuniting the union. A slow process would not have played out politically as it would have given too much back to the former rebels and delayed too long the freedoms paid for. Yet, this is exactly what needed to happen where southerners needed to extend freedom of their own accord and not by the bayonet. Had thousands of blacks actually fought and sacrificed for southern freedom, a freedom they would have been promised in payment for that service, we might not have the history that we have today when it comes to race.

But, this is only a thought.

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First Battle of Bull Run

First Battle of Bull Run – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The 150th of First Bull Run (First Manassas for the southern leaning) was this past weekend in Virginia. There were several notable things about this battle, primary of which was the haphazard nature of the fighting. There was the give and take of normal combat, small victories and defeats as brigades on both sides took their objectives or were driven back.

The sudden reversal and precipitous route of Union general McDowell’s forces meant that the rebellion was not to be defeated so easily and the union was to remain divided for some time. These were armies lead by professional soldiers but manned by ninety day volunteers who by the time McDowell marched on Centerville, VA many were ready to go home.

I have been to this battlefield. There were two battles fought here, a year apart and the contrast can’t be more striking when you take in the ground covered by the first battle and then view landmarks from the second. The armies who fought the second battle were almost twice the size and more ably lead, having had a year’s worth of campaigning under their belts and the amateurs weeded out (though some would argue with that statement given some of the union leadership still at this time).

Bull Run proved that the confederacy was an organized force that would not be defeated in one grand battle and that the north would not give up in its desire to reunite the states and defeat the confederacy.

Why we write

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
Cyril Connolly
(1903 – 1974)

I wrote They Met at Shiloh (how often do I say soon to be published?) soon to be published by Create Space (I tell myself that it is worth it for these very reasons) because I wanted the challenge and I had a story in my head. I wrote it because the battle was a fascination and that the characters needed to be known, first by me, and then by anyone willing to read it. Then it was done and now has been the journey to get it into print with editors and cover designers and the minutia of other decisions such as price, Library of Congress Catalogue numbers, ISBN numbers, price, copyrights, etc.

Then it was done. I started to write the sequel, River of Blood (not so soon to be published given all this has to be done all over again) and I’ve been frustrated at how hard it has been to keep the story going. This quote has helped me find my ground once again as to why I wrote Shiloh and to why I am bothering to write River. It is for me, not for fame or fortune (if so, I should have written a how to book) but for a passionate pursuit of the Civil War and letting some knowledge flow out of me that others might (might) want to know, too.

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Location:Conrad Ave NW,Albuquerque,United States

New Orange Walmart Site Good for Battlefield and County, Preservationists Say

New Orange Walmart Site Good for Battlefield and County, Preservationists Say.

I visited this area last year while on a training trip for work and civilization has surrounded both the Wilderness and the Chancellorsville battle sites. I have wondered about this conflict between past and future present, the progress of commerce and the presence of both jobs and convenience. While one could say the principle portions of the Wilderness battlefield are already protected, it is the need for saving all that can be saved before more is eroded away, even the main site could be sold off by the government for cash or claimed by eminent domain by a community.

I do support saving what can be saved and building on that memory with a “never forget” attitude that was enlivened by the horrific events of 9/11. The 150th events bring this even more to the front as we spend these next five years remembering the anniversaries of each battle.