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This Day in Labor History: September 22, 1862

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On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves in all parts of the U.S. in rebellion free on January 1, 1863 if they did not rejoin the United States. While not a complete abolition of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation signaled slavery’s death knell and is one of the most important presidential acts in U.S. history. It also made taking away the labor system that led the South to secede from the Union away from its leaders, undermining the economic stability of an already beleaguered rebellion.

While Lincoln abhorred slavery personally, as president, he was very cautious about acting against it. There were several reasons for this. First, he had campaigned on the idea that slavery was recognized in the Constitution for the states and the real battle was in the territories. Given the intense hatred of Lincoln from the Democrats who were still a real force in many states after 1861, including the political powerhouse of New York, such a reversal of his campaign rhetoric would have been hard to imagine. Second, Lincoln was very nervous about what millions of free blacks would mean for the country. Could they live together in peace? Even into the war, Lincoln was toying with colonization schemes to send slaves back to Africa. Third, Lincoln’s biggest problem other than the rebellion itself was keeping the border states in the Union. Baltimore had to be placed under martial law while Kentucky had “neutrality” that needed to be respected. Freeing the slaves would have just stirred up more anger in those states and perhaps made it impossible to keep them from seceding. Finally, Lincoln consistently deluded himself, to the point of his death, that the majority of the white South really wanted to be part of the Union and so tried to give them incentives to rejoin. Freeing the slaves would have made that impossible.

On the other hand, African-Americans, north and south, knew what the war was about. While many in the North were trying to say it wasn’t about slavery per se, like southern whites, African-Americans never had any question of the stakes. Frederick Douglass and other northern black leaders urged Lincoln to immediately emancipate the slaves and organize black regiments for the Army. Perhaps more importantly, slaves themselves took advantage of nearby U.S. troops, fleeing to the military. Generals such as Benjamin Butler quickly recognized the potential of taking away the South’s labor force and turning that into a Union labor force. But Lincoln, nervous about the effects of making this an official policy on his plans to lure the South back into the Union, originally rejected the idea.

By mid 1862, Lincoln began to change his mind about the expediency of freeing slaves. The situation in the border states was more secure, with the ardent secessionists now significantly outnumbered by unionists. Congress pushed him on this, passing in March 1862 a law barring the military from returning escaped slaves to their owners. Still, Lincoln decided to avoid Congress and issue the proclamation as Commander in Chief, thus avoiding a tense debate and possible rejection. Lincoln wanted a major victory by Union forces before he issued it so it didn’t look desperate. Unfortunately, he had George McClellan as his commanding general, which meant that no major victories was likely. With the partial victory at Antietam a few days earlier as good as Lincoln was going to get, he decided this was the time.

14disunion-img-blog427

Currier and Ives print on Lincoln using the Emancipation Proclamation to crush the rebellion

The Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in areas of the South under rebellion on January 1, 1863. People criticize Lincoln today for the partial nature of the Emancipation Proclamation and for the fact that it provided immediate freedom for no one. For slaves in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, not to mention the subjugated areas of the Confederacy like parts of Tennessee, slavery did not end at the beginning of 1863. The morally pure thing to do was to free all the slaves immediately. Certainly that is what Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison demanded. And yes, it mandated the Union actually win the war for the slaves to be freed instead of freeing the slaves it actually had control over. But the partial nature of the proclamation was political genius. No, it didn’t free anyone. On the other hand, it made the ending of slavery in the Confederacy official federal and military policy. And slavery simply could not survive in Kentucky if it was ended in Mississippi. Plus it gave a moral reason to fight the war, one with increasing importance as soldiers who might have been racist but had never personally witnessed slavery were outraged when they went to the South and saw the horrors of this labor system first hand. When combined with the doctrine of free labor that already drove Republican policy, the eradication of slavery becoming central to the war effort was both morally correct and politically savvy.

It’s not as if word about the Emancipation Proclamation immediately spread around the South. But as rumors leaked out, slaves began fleeing by the thousands to Union lines. By 1865, this would have a severe impact upon the plantation economy. Booker T. Washington remembered the day the Emancipation Proclamation became knowledge at his home:

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom…. Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

On the other hand, Democrats were outraged. Horatio Seymour, running for governor of New York and the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 1868, called it, “a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder, which would invoke the interference of civilized Europe.” But in fact, Europe largely approved of the move, although the commonly held myth that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to keep Europe from recognizing the Confederacy is significantly overstated and was only a minor factor in its existence or its timing.

By June 1865, 4 million slaves would be free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation.

We see the Emancipation Proclamation as a key moment in the African-American freedom struggle, and for good reason. But it’s also an absolutely central moment in American labor history because it was the decisive moment when the nation officially rejected the system of slave labor that had built so much of the antebellum country.

This is the 118th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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  • Woodrowfan

    there is a nice map on Civil War memory showing the areas where slaves were immediately freed when the EP was issued. it’s a myth that NO slaves were freed right away.

    http://cwmemory.com/2013/01/01/where-slaves-were-immediately-freed-by-the-emancipation-proclamation/

    Also see the NYT Civil War series.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/31/the-grove-of-gladness/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    • Fair enough. And thanks for the map.

    • joe from Lowell

      Any idea why Tennessee gets its own color on that map?

      • rea

        The Emancipation Proclamation did not list Tennessee among the states in rebellion:

        http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html

        Because Tennessee was mostly in Union hands, and ostensibly controlled by a pro-union state government led by Andrew Johnson, it was exempted from abolition.

        • Manny Kant

          So, basically, slaves in Baton Rouge, in northern Arkansas, in northernmost Mississippi and Alabama, in parts of coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, and along the Potomac in Virginia were the ones immediately freed?

  • spearmint66

    There’s also the point that Lincoln claimed military authority to free the slaves in the rebellious areas, but did not feel he had that authority where legal norms prevailed. Certainly he did not want the matter decided in Roger Taney’s Supreme Court.

    • Barry_D

      That’s a really, really good point. It’s pretty clear what Taney would have done.

      • rea

        Or just about any other chief justice. Whatever you think about slavery, it is pretty clear that at the time, it was legal, the president didn’t have authority to abolish it by proclamation (except as a military measure), and if Congress had the power to abolish it (not clear) it would have to be by compensated emancipation.

        • Sly

          Or just about any other chief justice.

          Very true. Only the Garrisonians*, and not even all of them at that, argued that slavery was fundamentally at odds with the Constitution as it existed prior to the 13th Amendment. In fact, the entire Republican dual strategy of military emancipation and gradual abolition was centered on a mutual understanding that states were constitutionally permitted to have slavery, and ending slavery required a combination of carrots and sticks employed by the free states.

          * And Lysander Spooner, but he was a nutcase.

          • Manny Kant

            I thought the Garrisonians argued that the Constitution itself was a fatally flawed document because it protected slavery. Which is more or less the opposite of what you’re saying they argued.

            • cpinva

              that’s kind of the way I’ve always understood it too. in fact, by allowing slavery, the constitution was itself antithetical to true freedom and democracy, elections notwithstanding. in fact, Jefferson made this very point, in a letter to a friend, regarding the slavery issue and the constitution, so garrison’s take wasn’t exactly original.

            • Sly

              Like I said, not even all of them. Douglass and the Northern Star was perhaps the most prominent advocate of the “Constitution and Slavery don’t mix” theory. The majority of abolitionists disagreed, some going so far as to say that the Constitution’s allowance of slavery fatally compromised it.

              • Hogan

                Garrison then produced a copy of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and put a match to it. Amid cries of “Amen” the hated document burned to a cinder. Then he produced copies of Judge Edward G. Loring’s decision to send Anthony Burns back to slavery and Judge Benjamin R. Curtis’s comments to the U.S. grand jury considering charges of constructive treason against those who had participated in the failed attempt to free Burns. As Martin Luther had burned copies of canon law and the papal bull excommunicating him from the Catholic Church for heresy, Garrison consigned each to the flames. Holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as “the source and parent of all the other atrocities–‘a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell.'” As the nation’s founding document burned to ashes, he cried out: “So perish all compromises with tyranny!”

                Garrison was no Garrisonian.

          • liberal

            And Lysander Spooner, but he was a nutcase.

            Not noticeably nuttier than the gun nuts who think that the 2A guarantees the right to unregulated gun ownership.

            • Sly

              I’m not sure that that argument is nuttier than the argument that the Constitution explicitly allows for secession and that the war was a Northern effort designed to keep slaves in bondage, but YMMV.

  • Sly

    By mid 1862, Lincoln began to change his mind about the expediency of freeing slaves.

    And by the end of the war, his support of recolonization schemes and for the many of the same reasons that radical abolitionists had abandoned the idea a generation earlier.

    Notwithstanding the fact of Lincoln’s evolution on these issues grants an advantage to Neo-Confederates to make shit up about the reasons for and goals of the war by cherry-picking his earlier statements, I think there are a couple of safe assumptions we can make about where Lincoln was inevitably headed. His last public address contained approval for Louisiana granting the franchise to the state’s freedmen, and he issued a call for black veterans of the war (and “the intelligent”) to be given the franchise nationwide. An address, incidentally, attended by John Wilkes Booth, and may have been the impetus for Booth deciding to kill him.

    As for Lincoln’s initial reluctance on immediate emancipation, its also worth noting that the context of his position on the issue was the divided Republican coalition; even up to the end of the war and the passage of the 13th Amendment, there was a strong push by conservative Republicans to either hold off on emancipation or abandon it entirely. Given that Democrats were universally opposed to anything that might jeopardize a reunification with favorable terms for the Southern elite – because anything else would prevent the Democrats from regaining the national power they’d lost in secession once the war was over – Lincoln had to thread a particularly troublesome needle. Thus I think its fair to say that Lincoln favored immediate emancipation when he thought the current situation allowed him to do so.

    • I agree, Lincoln’s views changed as the war progressed fairly significantly. Unfortunately, he played his cards so close to his vest that he left the country without a solid Reconstruction plan before his death.

      • Without Lincoln’s political savvy and skills I’m not sure anybody could have gotten his program, whatever it was, passed. Certainly not Andrew Johnson, even if he had agreed with it. But yes, it’s too bad we don’t know much about what he intended. He probably did that on purpose, though.

    • Pat

      At that point, yes. McClellan would have been a formidable Democratic candidate against Lincoln had he been allowed to pursue Lee into Virginia after the battle of Antietam. Lee’s troops were in disarray and Richmond was completely unfortified: they would have lasted days, maybe. Lee had already informed his aides that they needed a miracle to survive. They received it from their foe – Lincoln sacked McClellan, declaring him a coward, just prior to his invasion of Virginia. Lincoln then installed Hooker, who promptly declared that they would wait the winter before attacking Richmond. Richmond took the gift of time and readied for battle.

      But what if the war had ended at that time and McClellan defeated Lincoln in the election of 1864? Millions would have not died, but slavery would have been left unresolved.

      Anyway, I get annoyed with comments like “Unfortunately, he had George McClellan as his commanding general, which meant that no major victories was likely.” McClellan was a logistical genius who actually valued the lives of his troops.

      • Sly

        At that point, yes. McClellan would have been a formidable Democratic candidate against Lincoln had he been allowed to pursue Lee into Virginia after the battle of Antietam.

        And not just during the course of the war itself, but the anticipated aftermath. I think everyone, including and especially Lincoln, knew that if the Copperheads got back in power after the war even if the Union prevailed the victory would have been for naught. A fear that was, it should be noted, borne out by the aftermath of the 1876 election; as soon as the Democrats could leverage their power, the first thing they did was gut Reconstruction.

        Plus it wasn’t just the fact that the Taney Court would overturn the Proclamation and the Confiscation Acts; this was still a time when politicians could run on voting to outright nullify Supreme Court rulings and still be taken seriously (Lincoln himself did as much in the 1858 Senate contest vis-a-vis Dred Scott). The victory against slavery needed to survive the political process itself, and the only way to do that was with an amendment that could only be overturned if the Free States agreed.

      • Socrets

        Anyway, I get annoyed with comments like “Unfortunately, he had George McClellan as his commanding general, which meant that no major victories was likely.” McClellan was a logistical genius who actually valued the lives of his troops.

        And it was McClellan valuing the lives of his troops over victory that probably led to the war lasting longer than it should have and probably lead to the deaths of even more men. Esquire had a very good series on the Civil War written by a guest blogger and he briefly touched on McClellan’s failure to continue pushing after a battle in order to regroup, reorganize, etc., which would also allow the opposing side to do the same. Grant’s strategy of continually hitting the Confederacy and wearing them down until it was completely destroyed didn’t give Lee that opportunity to reorganize. (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/civil-war-spotsylvania-050714). So I think Lincoln was probably correct in removing him from command, even if Hooker wasn’t a better choice since he made the same mistake. You can call Grant a heartless butcher, but you gotta admit, the man got results, which is the most important thing at the end of the day

        • liberal

          You can call Grant a heartless butcher, but you gotta admit, the man got results, which is the most important thing at the end of the day

          Maybe it’s not true or out of context, but some info plaque at Gettysburg claimed (IIRC) that Lee was the most liberal in spending his own men’s lives.

          • Pickett’s Division, First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia

            You could make that argument, yes.

            • joe from Lowell

              Poor Pickett’s ghost gets to carry around the shame of Lee’s order.

        • so-in-so

          The question is, was he afraid of his own troops dying or afraid of losing? I suspect he CAUSED more deaths by failing to follow up and support troops already committed to battle. Not to mention (as others already have) prolonging the war and thereby the loss of life.

          It appears the soldiers did really like and respect him, so I tend to agree that having him build the armies and others command them in battle might have worked. He was also well respected as the chief engineer of New York harbor after the war.

      • rea

        Nonsense. McClellan had two months after Antietam to pursue Lee, and did nothing. He was replaced by Burnside, not Hooker.

        McC. held two whole veteran corps out of the battle, and had more fresh veteran troops on hand the morning after Antietam than Lee had left in his whole army, not even counting the Union troops that had fought the previous day.

        McC., of course, was suffering from the delusion that he was outnumbered by Lee’s supposedly enormous army, leaving historians ever since to wonder whether he was actually that stupid, or whether he simply found being radically outnumbered more convenient.

        McC. was good at forming presentable armies that could parade nicely, He was unbelievably inept at commanding armies in battle–7 Pines, the 7 Days, and Antietam were fought by his army essentially without any participation whatever by its commander–he even spent most of the 7 Days offshore on a gunboat. McC. was politically ambitious and saw himself as Napoleon–a McC.-led coup was a real danger. He actively sabotaged John Pope, leading to the defeat at 2nd Bull Run. He wanted to offer the South concessions on slavery in return for restoration of the Union. He spent much of his time in command more concerned with defeating Lincoln on policy questions than with defeating Robert E. Lee.

        • Manny Kant

          Yes, this. Pat’s comments are completely incomprehensible to me.

          • drkrick

            They’re exactly backwards. McC wasn’t sacked to prevent him from pursuing Lee, he was sacked for refusing to pursue Lee. He was a brilliant logistician and preparer of armies, but a fatally overcautious battlefield commander. If he could have been confined to the things he was good at, he would be remembered far more favorably.

            • rea

              A post in charge of training camps back in Ohio or Illinois would have been more suited to his actual talents.

          • cpinva

            seconded. I have no clue what pat is talking about, unless he knows of McClellan’s evil twin, skippy McClellan, who was a hard charging go getter. the actual McClellan was an engineer by training (west point), and very smart. he was an organizing genius, able to produce well-trained, healthy armies, for someone else to actually lead into battle. even when he was successful in battle, he couldn’t go for the jugular, and finish Lee off. for such an arrogant bastard, he was particularly inept as a field commander. he considered himself (delusionally) as napoleon’s natural successor, and had little use for either Lincoln or congress, and wasn’t reluctant to let everyone within earshot know it.

            • rea

              And I never understand why McC. gets such credit as a trainer of armies. The eastern armies dressed better and were more formally disciplined than the western armies led by Grant (through 1863) and Sherman, but did not notably fight better; rather the contrary.

              • Scott P.

                We have many first-hand reports. Lee himself thought that after defeating Pope at Second Bull Run, that they Union army would need four-five weeks of reorganization. Instead, McClellan was given command and the effects were instantaneous — the men suddenly were raring to go.

    • Cheerful

      For a recent example of Neo-Confederates cherry picking Lincoln, I give you Patterico, pointing to the Scottish vote as proving that really, secession is not such a bad thing and, surprise! Lincoln was as racist as the Confederates:

      http://patterico.com/2014/09/20/scotlands-vote-makes-the-point-its-ok-for-a-free-people-to-decide-for-themselves-whether-to-secede/

      • cpinva

        um, wow, that’s an………………interesting take on things. he might have a point, were it not for those pesky “facts” getting in the way. I know I shouldn’t have, but I took a gander at some of the comments, which were, for the most part, what you’d expect. there was an exception though, which had the bad manners to (nicely) point out that the author is full of shit. I suspect he didn’t pick up on that, explaining why it’s not been deleted yet.

      • rea

        Not only does he not know much about the Civil War, he doesn’t know much about Scotland.

        “Nobody really thinks twice about the concept that Scotland was allowed to decide for itself whether to remain part of the United Kingdom. If they wanted to stay (and they did), fine. If they wanted to break away — well, that would have been fine too.”

        Except that . . . Scotland got to have an referendum on independence because the British government gave Scotland permission to do so. The idea that nobody thought twice about it is ludicrous–they spent many years negotiating about whether a referendum would be held, and employed some weasel words about whether a vote for independence would indeed mean independence.

      • Just the link’s URL shows the flaw in the logic: the 4 million slaves didn’t get a say. The 1861 decision to secede wasn’t made by “a free people,” it was made by a corrupt oligarchy in the name of every person, free or enslaved, living in those states.

      • Warren Terra

        Lincoln was plenty racist, but when you’re adjudicating a racism contest you’ve really got to give the edge to the side that has gone to war to preserve its right to expand a system whereby people of one race are subjugated into total chattel slavery.

        • Cheerful

          It’s why I can never think of the neo confederates as particularly bright. They seem to think this is all some sort of game where they win, at least the particular round, if they can tag the other side as “racist” too, like it automatically silences any further argument.

          They really, really don’t understand American racism as an actual thing, with a history and consequences, as opposed to some kind of character flaw to be denied or accused, as the game requires.

  • Denverite

    Erik, out of curiosity, have you been to the Lincoln library in Springfield? It’s very kitschy and lowbrow, but generally well done for what it is IMO. I also think the Lincoln tomb is a must see.

    • No, but I really want to go to Springfield!

      On the other hand, I am going to a conference in Newport Beach next month. You know what is 20 miles from Newport Beach? The Nixon Library. You can’t imagine how excited I am to hate blog the museum!

      • Denverite

        You should go. Springfield’s a dump, but the library (really a museum) and tomb are worth seeing. IIRC you’re childless, but if not (or if that changes), the Caterpillar museum in nearby Peoria is nirvana for boys and girls who are into that sort of thing.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Also, too, Eric could do a really top-notch hate blog from the belly of the loathsome-to-labor Caterpillar!!!

          • Denverite

            I thought that went without saying.

          • Does one hateblog from Caterpillar’s belly, from under it’s mushroom, or from inside the hookah?

            • Warren Terra

              One visits the company in order to build a hardened shell about one’s self, from which you can burst forth as a beautiful butterfly of pro-labor outrage.

  • joe from Lowell

    Excellent, Erik. Just excellent.

    Benjamin Butler’s name needs to make it into any write-up of emancipation in the Civil War.

    • rea

      Butler (shudder)–an amazingly inept general and corrupt politician, who did a few good things on civil rights after the war, when it was good politics for him. In 1860, he backed Breckinridge for the presidency, after being unsuccessful in his attempt to get Jefferson Davis nominated. A few months later, he was suddenly more of an abolitionist than Lincoln, at a time when Lincoln was being cautious to avoid losing the border states to the Confederacy. One might doubt whether this was a good faith transformation.

      • spearmint66

        Sure, but that’s how history goes sometimes. Butler’s decision on “contraband” slaves at Fortress Monroe was a pivotal moment in the course of the war, the politics of its prosecution, and the determination of its end goals. While his motives and sincerity are interesting, his actions were what mattered most.

        • rea

          Butler’s role in that is a bit complicated. His reasoning was pernicious–he claimed that the South was now an independent country, so he was no longer obliged by law to return runaway slaves to their masters. He still treated them as slaves–just government slaves–put to work on construction projects for food and shelter but no pay. But of course, slavery could not survive if slavery was escapable simply by going to the Union lines.

          • joe from Lowell

            His reasoning was pernicious–he claimed that the South was now an independent country, so he was no longer obliged by law to return runaway slaves to their masters.

            That isn’t quite his reasoning.

            His reasoning was that the South was a wartime enemy, and he had the right to seize the property of the enemy if it was being used for the war effort.

            He never actually recognized the South as an independent country, just as the enemy.

            • rea

              He never actually recognized the South as an independent country

              Lincoln rather disagreed with your analysis of the effect of Butler’s reasoning.

              • joe from Lowell

                That’s funny – I didn’t write anything about the effect of Butler’s reasoning.

                I wrote about his reasoning.

              • Hogan

                It’s possible to argue that the Fugitive Slave Act didn’t apply to rebel property seized during an insurrection without conceding the CSA’s independence.

      • joe from Lowell

        “Inept general” is the type of comment someone who only pays attention to battlefield tactics might say. “Inept” General Butler kept Maryland in the Union, got the first units into Washington to secure it, secured rail and sea access to the capital, set off the mass defection of the Southern labor force across Union lines, secured the barrier islands for Union use instead of merely blocking them as ordered, and cleaned up New Orleans while turning a profit for the Union.

        Prior to the war, he was the most prominent campaigner for the 10-hour workday.

        A comparison of Butler to Lincoln on the issue of slavery and abolition is quite accurate. Both believed, rightly, before the war that the Constitution protected slavery; both became radicalized by the war; and both saw it as an opportunity to accomplish the destruction of slavery which wasn’t possible during peacetime.

        That his conversion was even more dramatic than Lincoln’s is probably best understood as a consequence of personality. Lincoln was more level-headed and accommodating; Butler recommended hanging the Confederate negotiators in 1861, and the Confederate leadership in 1865.

        • rea

          “Inept general” is the type of comment someone who only pays attention to battlefield tactics might say.

          Or strategy. But yes, judging Butler by the standards applicable to generalship, Butler was a horrid general.

          May 1864. Grant and Lee are fighting in the Wilderness. Butler lands on the James a few miles from Richmond, with 33,000 good troops. Facing him are less than half that number of troops, mostly home guardsmen, commanded by Beauregard. Butler’s task is ideally to take Richmond, but at a minimum, force Lee to send Beauregard reinforcements. His effort is so feeble that instead of Lee reinforcing Beauregard, Beauregard is able to send most of his able-bodied troops to reinforce Lee. Butler’s failure is one of the great lost opportunities of the war–a missed chance to end the war a year earlier.

          • joe from Lowell

            Nope, not strategy. His recognition of the importance of Annapolis, of the barrier island straits, and of the narrow area between the two rivers while he was back in Virginia shows that. One of his first actions when he got to Washington was to recommend that the Union fortify Vicksburg, because he recognized its strategic value, but he was ignored.

            But yes, judging Butler by the standards applicable to generalship, Butler was a horrid general.

            For certain definitions of “standards applicable to generalship” – the ones that lead to the unwarranted adulation of reckless cavalry generals that dominates popular “Civil War buff” discussions – that is a true statement.

            May 1864. Grant and Lee are fighting in the Wilderness. Butler lands on the James a few miles from Richmond, with 33,000 good troops. Facing him are less than half that number of troops, mostly home guardsmen, commanded by Beauregard. Butler’s task is ideally to take Richmond, but at a minimum, force Lee to send Beauregard reinforcements. His effort is so feeble that instead of Lee reinforcing Beauregard, Beauregard is able to send most of his able-bodied troops to reinforce Lee. Butler’s failure is one of the great lost opportunities of the war–a missed chance to end the war a year earlier.

            A failure resulting from poor tactical leadership. Butler recognized what needed to happen from a strategic viewpoint, but he lacked the tactical skill to make it work.

            • joe from Lowell

              Wait, typo.

              Not Vicksburg.

              Fredericksburg.

              • joe from Lowell

                Although he did also recommend an early move against Vicksburg, and was ignored there, too.

                • rea

                  It was not so much that he was ignored–taking Vicksburg was obviously desirable–fort on tall bluffs overlooking the Mississippi just below the junction with the Yazoo–but Farragut tried and failed to take the town in July ’62, and Sherman tried and failed in December ’62, followed by multiple attempts by Grant before his ultimate success.

        • rea

          cleaned up New Orleans while turning a profit for the Union.

          Accused, with considerable supporting evidence, of participating in a scheme for trading with the enemy run by some of his family members at New Orleans during his command then.

    • Mike G

      Butler is an ancestor of mine.
      An interesting character to say the least — he was a member of Congress and Governor of Massachussetts as well as a Civil War General.

      • joe from Lowell

        He was one of the foremost defenders of civil rights in Congress. He wrote the Civil Rights Act that was later struck down. He was a House impeachment manager when they went after Johnson for failing to protect the rights of freedmen.

        Your ancestor’s reputation has been vilified because he was particularly vigorous in his hatred of the slaver class, his defense of black civil rights, and his eagerness to free slaves and arm them, and because Civil War history has been dominated by Confederate sympathizers.

        • MikeN

          There may be vilification of Butler from that direction; most comes from Union supporters (particularly fans of Grant)regarding his failure in the campaign on the James, as rea pointed out, and his later failure to take Fort Fisher.

          Grant informed Butler of his recall on January 8, 1865, and named Major General Edward O. C. Ord to replace him as commander of the Army of the James.[67] Rather than report to Lowell, Butler went to Washington, where he used his considerable political connections to get a hearing before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War in mid-January. At his hearing Butler focused his defense on his actions at Fort Fisher. He produced charts and duplicates of reports by subordinates to prove he had been right to call off his attack of Fort Fisher, despite orders from General Grant to the contrary. Butler claimed the fort was impregnable. To his embarrassment, a follow-up expedition led by Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry captured the fort on January 15, and news of this victory arrived during the committee hearing; Butler’s military career was over.[

  • This is off topic, but I wanted to bring it to people’s attention. An armed ‘militia’ plans to commit voter intimidation on election day in WI
    ‘Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia’ plans to confront Scott Walker recall petition signers at polls

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      well, that’s more than a little disgusting. particularly impressed by the screencapture with the guy looking out from behind the bars, captioned “convicts vote democrat”

    • MeDrewNotYou

      That reminds me of a post on The Weekly Sift a little while back. Basically these Neo-Confederates will play by the rules to get their way, but if that doesn’t work, they’ll move to intimidation, violence, and murder. Very astute observation but also quite depressing and scary.

  • MeDrewNotYou

    I enjoy the series, but this post stands out. I found the Booker T Washington quote quite moving.

  • Davis X. Machina

    The morally pure thing to do was to free all the slaves immediately. Certainly that is what Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison demanded.

    Lincoln.Didn’t.Even.Try.

    The inevitable result of elevating an Illinois state house hack above his real level of ability.

    We needed a leader who could lead. With leadership. And better speeches.

  • Vance Maverick

    Here’s a page with larger versions of that image. Anybody know about the Gyascutis? Wikipedia links it to a poorly-sourced mishmash of joke animals…but that’s notable for unequal legs, not for the backbone illustrated here.

    • Cool. Those old editorial cartoons all need a full paragraph of explanation to get all the references.

      • rea

        Imagine a world in which people exhibit exotic animals at carnivals and offer to let people take whacks at them with sledgehammers, for a price. We’ll call it “1862 World”

    • Hogan

      More results if you spell it “gyascutus.”

      • Vance Maverick

        But it’s still not clear which applies here. This one, at least, has short legs in front and longer in back, not left-right like what Wikipedia is describing.

      • Davis X. Machina

        May be an animal similar to Barnum’s Egress.

        Atlantic Monthy, 1872

        • Warren Terra

          Wouldn’t it be great if following a Google link to the Wikipedia page on the Egress just took you back to Google?

  • tsam

    The takeaway here is that Democrats are the REAL racists.

  • liberal

    What I find interesting (and amusing) is the Libertarian claim that (a) the war could have been avoided if the slaveholders were paid off, (b) the slaveholders were actually owed because they had, in fact, paid for the slaves.

    My favorite commenter on the USENET group sci.econ referred to the notion that the people—who will lose (in terms of some capitalized assets becoming worthless) when freedoms are expanded—holders of “tyranny futures”.

    • so-in-so

      Since my understanding is that the value of slaves (driven up by the end of the slave trade from Africa) exceeded the value of all the industry in country I’m not sure how this could have been done.

      It’s also pretty clear that the slave owners in general were not interested. Paying you a fair price now for an invested you figure will increase in value over time is generally not inviting to the capital owner.

      • rea

        Although (as I believe Lincoln himself pointed out) the cost of the war far exceeded the cost of buying all the slaves at their fair market price.

        • so-in-so

          Had anyone known that cost (or that it would take four years, 750,000 lives and the destruction of the South’s economy) the parties might have thought a bit longer before firing on Sumpter or even declaring secession. Then again, maybe not, as the whole enterprise seems not to have been fully worked through in detail. Still, the cost of compensating for slaves could be reasonably calculated to exceed the capacity of the government to raise funds for the purpose. The cost of the war was not foreseen, and once begun took on a “life of it’s own”.

          • Hogan

            You’re forgetting the carefully formulated Southern grand strategy: “Any Reb can lick ten Yankees! Yee ha!”

  • drkrick

    On the other hand, African-Americans, north and south, knew what the war was about. While many in the North were trying to say it wasn’t about slavery per se …

    If you want to get at what the war was “about” you have to allow for the possibility that the motives of the United States and the secessionists weren’t symmetric.

    The declarations of the various state secession conventions state quite forthrightly that the motive for their action was protection of slavery and white supremacy, so there’s not much room for good-faith debate there.

    The US, on the other hand, was fighting to keep the states who were attempting to secede in the union and would have been equally happy (at best) to do so with or without abolition. As the war dragged on, the disruption of slavery became a useful tactic for achieving the objective of ending secessionist resistance.

    The importance of identifying the US with abolition for the purposes of keeping England and France out of the conflict is at least debatable. By the end of 1862, it was clear that battlefield victory by the secessionists was pretty much impossible and that their only paths to victory were either loss of will to continue to fight on the part of the US or European intervention. Making the embrace of the secessionist cause by countries that had already abolished slavery politically untenable was probably pretty important.

    • rea

      The US, on the other hand, was fighting to keep the states who were attempting to secede in the union and would have been equally happy (at best) to do so with or without abolition.

      That’s true, up to a point. But there was a widely held view among people on both sides that long-run, slavery could not survive unless the slavers could keep control of the federal government, which they were losing for demographic reasons, as the US expanded and slavery did not.

      • spearmint66

        Yes, the country had spent the years since the Mexican War fighting over the expansion of slavery to the acquired territories, or south to Cuba, the Caribbean, and Central America. Abolition of slavery in the existing states was absolutely not on the menu in the 1860 election, nor was it through the secession winter when all sorts of compromises and guarantees were proposed. But the slavers felt, with reason, that slavery was doomed in the long term if it could not expand as the nation expanded. The Senate would tip irrevocably against them if each new state were free. There were also economic reasons why a constrained slavery was in trouble.

        The election of Lincoln meant that the era of compromise on expansion was basically over. That the Republicans of 1860 were not abolitionist in the main is somewhat useful ammunition for today’s neo-Confederates, but it doesn’t change a thing about the painfully obvious answer to “what was the war about, anyway?”

    • Sly

      The US, on the other hand, was fighting to keep the states who were attempting to secede in the union and would have been equally happy (at best) to do so with or without abolition. As the war dragged on, the disruption of slavery became a useful tactic for achieving the objective of ending secessionist resistance.

      To the extent that they aren’t symmetric owes primarily to the extent that they weren’t uniform. The Union was a contradictory collection of factions ranging from Copperheads to Peace Democrats to War Democrats to Conservative Republicans to Moderate Republicans to Radical Republicans, who all had different goals and agendas for why and how the war ought to be waged. The actual waging of and rationale for the war is a reflection of this “coalition” (put in quotes for the simple reason that Copperheads actively sabotaged the war effort).

  • Bruce Vail

    This is a great post, Erik.

    I just finished reading some material on McClellan and the battle of Antietam (having visited the site last year), and I’ll respectfully disagree with your characterization of the battle as a ‘partial victory.’

    The Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac in a major invasion of the North. McClellan rallied his forces and drove the Confederates back. In a climactic battle, the troops of the North attacked the Confederates with great courage and ferocity. The bloodbath left both armies exhausted, but Lee was defeated and forced to abandon his invasion. That’s a victory any way you look at it.

    Civil War enthusiasts love to criticize the Generals, and there is a lot to criticize in McClellan’s case. But the Battle of Antietam was the one great victory of his career.

    • rea

      The Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac in a major invasion of the North.

      Lincoln sighs, puts his head in his hands, and mutters, “I keep telling them–it isn’t an invasion–it’s all our country.”

      And . . . September 15–McC. has 3 times as many troops as Lee at Antietam. He does nothing until September 17, by which time Lee has received major reinforcements. McC.’s army still outnumbers Lee 2:1–although McC. thinks he’s seriously outnumbered. He launches a series of ill-coordinated attacks, which the Confederates narrowly repulse, but hold back two corps of his best troops, just in case . . . of something.

      After a day of hard fighting, McC.’s troops have lost somewhat more heavily than the Confederates, but the Confederates, still outnumbered by 2:1, are on the brink of collapse, and have a major river between them and escape. McC. says he plans to renew the battle the next day . . . but does nothing, even though, with the reserves held back the previous day and newly arrived reinforcements, he has a body of fresh, veteran troops bigger than Lee’s army in addition to the troops that fought on the 17th.

      Very often, when you look at McC.’s generalling, and then consider that he did not really want a peace based on total Union victory, you have to wonder if he was really acting in good faith. Certainly, many wondered that at the time.

      • Bruce Vail

        Of course it was an ‘invasion,’ because a CSA army had crossed a boundary out of the CSA and into the USA, with the intention of attacking USA forces or USA cities. The frightened citizens of Philadelphia and Washington DC certainly viewed it as an invasion.

        • rea

          Of course it was an ‘invasion,’ because a CSA army had crossed a boundary out of the CSA and into the USA

          There was no such boundary.

          • Bruce Vail

            I’m missing your point. That the Union never recognized the legality of secession means that there was never any boundary between the CSA and the USA?

            I guess that’s true as a legal construct — but not very meaningful to the pro-union citizens of Maryland and Pennsylvania. They certainly saw it as an invasion. As did the Union army.

      • Bruce Vail

        I’d also challenge your assertion that Confederate army was on the ‘verge of collapse’ after the battle. They had taken a terrible beating, it’s true, but they had inflicted similar damage on the Union army. To McClellan’s credit, he understood that the Army of Northern Virginia was still a very dangerous force.

        • Warren Terra

          I think you’ve missed the part where rea asserts (I assume correctly) that while as you say the Confederates “had inflicted similar damage on the Union army” there remained in reserve Union forces equal to the Confederates upon whom no damage had been inflicted.

          • rea

            And as Lincoln pointed out to McClellan at the time (although in a slightly different context) it was an insult to the troops under McClellan’s command to assume, as McClellan always did, that the Army of the Potomac was incapable of performing as well as the Army of Northern Virginia. If Lee’s troops could fight on the 18th, why couldn’t McClellan’s?

            And I don’t quite say, despite the quotes (I am aware of all internet traditions) that the Confederates “had inflicted similar damage on the Union army”. I said, “McC.’s troops have lost somewhat more heavily than the Confederates,” but also point out that the Union army was twice as large as the Confederate army. 12,000 casualties among 75,000 men is a shocking total, but 10,000 among 38,000 is rather more shocking . . .

            • Bruce Vail

              I guess I am not being very clear.

              I am not arguing that McClellan didn’t have superior forces and theoretically could have crushed the Confederates if he had renewed his attacks on a second day. Most Civil War analysts agree on that, I think.

              What I am saying is that the battle was a clear victory for McClellan because he had met the enemy army and damaged it so severely that it was forced to retreat. That was the definition of a battlefield victory in 1862.

      • Rob in CT

        This, with the addition of the capture of Special Order 191!! He HAD Lee. Had him dead to fucking rights. And he did nothing for almost 2 days.

        Very often, when you look at McC.’s generalling, and then consider that he did not really want a peace based on total Union victory, you have to wonder if he was really acting in good faith. Certainly, many wondered that at the time.

        I can’t help but think the same, but I end up concluding that this was mostly subconcious. Basically, the personality traits that made him want to make peace with the CSA were traits that made him reluctant to go for the jugular. I don’t think he threw battles deliberately. He just jumped at shadows constantly. His “intelligence” people really didn’t help – consistently helping him imagine massive forces arrayed against him.

  • chancery

    >>While many in the North were trying to say it wasn’t about
    >>slavery per se, like southern whites

    Southern whites never denied during the war that the civil war was about protecting and expanding slavery. To the contrary, they boasted about it.

    The Lost Cause mythology contending that the cause was something else certainly started promptly after the war, but you won’t find any meaningful examples prior to Appomattox.

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