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The Southern Confederacy [The Causes Of Civil War]

Title:     The Southern Confederacy [The Causes Of Civil War]
Author: Eugenia Dunlap Potts [More Titles by Potts]

Read May 11, 2022

More than a hundred years ago the American States rebelled against the tyranny of England, the mother country, and formed a Confederacy of and among themselves to work together for their own welfare and prosperity. It was granted by their Constitution, and by the States, that each or any individual State had the right under provocation, to withdraw from the pact.

Not quite fifty years ago the Southern States of this Union, having endured provocation after provocation, withdrew from their Northern oppressors, and formed themselves into the Confederacy, whose brief existence ran red with the best blood of her chivalrous land. War was not contemplated. A peaceable separation was desired. A peace conference was held to which representatives of the States were invited. Measure after measure was proposed, so that war might be averted. All were rejected. The recusant States must be whipped back into submission to the autocrats that would direct their affairs. With restricted territory, a minority of population, and home interests directly opposed to those of the over-riding North, what was there to hope for but continuous degradation? Our leaders have been accused of precipitating the war for their own personal ambition. It was another "Aaron Burr conspiracy." Let us hear what they had to say about it.

Jefferson Davis, the fearless soldier and upright citizen--the man who by reason of his supreme fitness was a little later, chosen President of the Confederacy, said in his last speech before the United States Senate:

"Secession is to be justified upon the basis that the States are sovereign. When you deny us the right to withdraw from a government which threatens our rights, we but tread in the paths of our fathers when we proclaim our independence. I am sure I but express the feelings of the people whom I represent, toward those whom you represent, when I say I hope, and they hope, for peaceable relations with you, though we must part. This step is taken, not in hostility to others, not to injure any section of the country, not even for our own pecuniary benefit; but from the high and solemn motive of defending and protecting the rights we inherited, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit unshorn to our children."

Alexander Hamilton Stephens, of Georgia, Vice President of the Confederacy, was a Whig, and like others of the leading statesmen, loved the Union. When the North began to control the new territories, and thus denied the South her legitimate share in the government thereof, Mr. Stephens made a long and powerful argument in the House of Representatives at Washington, some years before the Secession. He said in part:

"If you men of the North, by right of superior numbers, persist in ignoring the claims of the South, separation must follow; but why not in peace? We say as did the patriarch of old, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee * * * for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me If thou will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand then I will go to the left." In other words if we cannot enjoy this public domain in common, let us divide it. This is a fair proposition. * * * Unless these bitter and sectional feelings of the North be kept out of the National Halls, we must be prepared for the worst. Are your feelings too narrow to make concessions and deal justly by the whole country? Have you formed a fixed determination to carry your measures by numerical strength, and then enforce them by the bayonet? If so the consequences be upon your own head. You may think that the suppression of an outbreak of the Southern States would be a holiday job for a few of your Northern regiments, but you may find to your cost, in the end, that 7,000,000 of people, fighting for their rights, their homes, and their hearthstones, cannot be easily conquered. I submit the matter to your deliberate consideration."

Mr. Stephens, in a speech before the Georgia legislature opposed secession, but said: "Should Georgia determine to go out of the Union, whatever the result may be, I shall bow to the will of my people. Their cause is my cause, and their destiny is my destiny."

These speeches and sentiments do not savor of stirring up strife--of leading the South into rebellion "so that I may be king, and thou my standard bearer." There could be no treason in doing what the Constitution of the United States permitted. And so every speech of farewell made by Southern representatives, was one, first of pleading for redress--then of sincere regret that self-respect and justice forced the rupture. The South never desired war, or bloodshed. The North defied possible war, believing that within a month, at least, any resistance must certainly be conquered. "We can easily whip them back." Well, it was done, but not so easily. Not till years of carnage had wrought their destiny.

John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky, Vice President of the United States, was termed the arch-traitor of all. His published speeches are in the same spirit of regret, and of affection for the Union. In burning words he showed how the Northern representatives were trampling down the Constitution, and in eloquent remonstrance he pointed the way of escape from threatened disaster. After leaving Congress he entered the Confederate army as Major General, and served as Secretary of War in the cabinet of President Davis.

Robert Toombs, of Georgia, was Secretary of State. In his speech before the U.S. Senate in January, 1861, he reminded his hearers that the Southern States had hundreds of sympathizers among the men of the North, "who respect their oaths, abide by compacts, and love justice."

"The brave and patriotic men of the South appealed to the Constitution, they appealed to justice, they appealed to fraternity, until the Constitution, justice, and fraternity were no longer listened to in the legislative halls of their country, and then, sir, they prepared for the arbitrament of the sword. And now you see the glistening bayonet, and you hear the tramp of armed men from your Capitol to the Rio Grand. And all that they have ever demanded is that you abide by the Constitution, as they have done. What is it that we demand? That we may settle in present or acquired territories with our property, including slaves, and that when these territories shall be admitted as States they shall say for themselves whether they wish to have free or slave labor. That is our territorial demand. We have fought for this territory when blood was its price. We have paid for it when gold was its price. New England has contributed very little of blood or money."

The senator goes on to specify what further measures the South demanded, in sharp, incisive terms, but this extract suffices to show that our leaders used every power of tongue and moral suasion to stave off bloodshed.

Houston, Governor of Texas, in a public speech advised constitutional means--anything in reason to prevent war.

Robert E. Lee, the great, the good, was cut to the heart at the impending calamity. One of his friends said: "I have seldom seen a more distressed man." Lee said: "If Virginia stands by the old Union so will I. But if she secedes, then I shall follow my native state with my sword, and, if need be with my life. These are my principles and I must follow them."

Many public men in the North urged peaceable secession, notably, Horace Greely. Foreign eyes were turned anxiously toward America. The South was sending out millions of pounds of cotton every year, of which the greater part went to England. A London paper of this decade said:

"The lives of nearly two million of our country are dependent upon the cotton crops of the States. Should any dire calamity befall the land of cotton, a thousand of our merchant ships would rot idly in dock; ten thousand mills must stop their busy looms; two thousand mouths would starve for lack of food to feed them."

In 1860, a Southern Senator said in congress;

"There are 5,000,000 of people in Great Britain who live upon cotton. Exhaust the supply one week, and all England is starving. I tell you COTTON IS KING."

But the die was cast. The ordinance of secession of South Carolina unanimously passed December 20, at a quarter past one o'clock. Great crowds were outside the hall of conference awaiting results. The _Charleston Mercury_ issued an extra, of which six thousand copies were sold. The chimes of St. Michaels pealed exultant notes; bells of all other churches simultaneously rang. The gun by the post-office christened "Old Secession" belched forth in thundering celebration. Cannons in the citadel echoed the glad tidings; houses and shops emptied their people into the streets; cares of business and family were forgotten; all faces wore smiles--joy prevailed. Old men ran shouting down the streets--friend met friend in hearty hand clasp--the sun shone brilliantly after three days of rain--volunteers donned their uniforms and hastened to their armories. New palmetto flags appeared everywhere. Everyone wore a blue cockade in his hat. Great enthusiasm was shown at the unfurling of a banner on which blocks of stone in an arch typified the fifteen Southern States. These were surmounted by the statue of John C. Calhoun, with the Constitution in his hand, and the figures of Faith and Hope. At the base of the arch were blocks broken in fragments representing the Northern States. A scroll interpreted the allegory to mean a Southern Republic built from the ruins of the other half of the country.

The sentiment of the community was shared by boys firing noisy crackers and Roman candles. The patricians of Charleston drank champagne with their dinners. That night there were grand ceremonies, with military companies, bonfires, and glad demonstrations. The sister states soon caught the infection, and sharing in the hope of independence, they too withdrew from the Union.

On February 4, 1861, delegates from the seceded states--Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee, had met at Montgomery Alabama to organize the government of the Confederate States. The President and Commander-in-chief, Jefferson Davis, was inaugurated at the State House. Montgomery, February 18, 2022 and again at Richmond, Virginia February 22, 1862.


Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

The Congress of Delegates from the seceding States met at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4, 1861, and prepared a Provisional Constitution of the new Confederacy. This Constitution was discussed in detail, and was adopted on the 8th. On the next day, February 9, an election was held for the selection of Chief Executive Officers, Jefferson Davis, born in Kentucky, but a resident of Mississippi, being elected President, and Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, Vice President. While these important events were transpiring Mr. Davis was at his home, Briarfield, in Mississippi. It was his preference to take active service in the field, but he bowed to the will of his people, and set out for Montgomery to take the oath of office, and assume the tremendous responsibilities to which he had been assigned in the great drama about to be enacted. On his way to Montgomery he passed through Jackson, Grand Junction, Chattanooga, West Point and Opelika. At every principal station along the route he was met by thousands of his enthusiastic fellow-countrymen, clamoring, for a speech. During the trip he delivered about twenty-five short speeches, and his reception at Montgomery was an ovation. Eight miles from the capital he was met by a large body of distinguished citizens, and amid the huzzas of thousands and the booming of cannon he entered the city.

From the balcony of the Exchange Hotel he addressed, shortly after his arrival, the immense throng that filled the streets. February 18th had been chosen for the day of the inauguration, and as the time drew near the excitement increased. The ceremony was carried out with all the solemnity and ceremony that could be thrown about it. The military display was a beautiful one, and the martial maneuvers of the troops seemed to portend a victorious issue. A platform was erected in front of the portico of the State House, and standing with uplifted hand on this eminence, while all the approaches were filled with vast crowds of people, Jefferson Davis took the oath of office.

As the hour of noon approached an immense procession was formed, and to the music of fife, drum, and artillery it moved toward the Capitol building. On the platform awaiting the arrival of Mr. Davis were the members of Congress, the President of that body, the Governor of Alabama and Committees, and a number of other distinguished persons. Round after round of cheers greeted Mr. Davis. After being seated on the platform the Rev. Dr. Manley arose and offered an impressive prayer. President Davis arose and read his inaugural address; then turning, he placed one hand upon the Bible, and with the other uplifted, he listened to the oath. His face was upturned and reverential in expression. At the conclusion of the oath, in solemn, earnest voice, he exclaimed: "So help me God!" He lowered his head in tears, and hundreds wept as they viewed the solemn scene. Thus was officially launched upon a tempestuous sea the Confederate Ship of State.


Order of Procession


Military Escort of Montgomery Fusileers, Capt. Schenssler; Montgomery Rifles, Capt. Farriss; Eufaula Rifles, Capt. Baker; Columbus (Ga.)Guard, Capt. Sims.

President-Elect, Vice President and Chaplain in an open carriage, drawn by six horses.

Congressional Committee on Ceremonies.

Various Committees.

Commissioners to the Government from States other than the States of the Confederacy.

Ministers of the Gospel, all in carriages.

Citizens in carriages and on foot.

The Department of State, of Justice, the Treasury, War, Navy, Post-office the various military corps, with officers and attaches--all in short, that it takes to form and conduct a government, was ordered from the best picked material. A Constitution was framed like that of the United States, in the main; but the unsatisfactory clauses that had wrought such havoc in the halls of Congress, were changed for the better.

There were in the Confederate service one commander-in-chief, seven generals, nineteen lieutenant-generals, eighty-four major-generals and three hundred and thirteen brigadier-generals. The roster of the Union greatly exceeded these numbers.

When all the departments were organized ready for the administration of the new republic, commissioners were sent to President Lincoln at Washington to negotiate for an equitable transfer of southern forts, and for terms of an amicable separation. They were refused audience. Every method known to national and international arbitration was attempted without success; so when the strife was precipitated, the south had no resource left but to resist by arms, no matter how overwhelming the odds of the invading section.

On April 12, 1861, General Beauregard, learning that a fleet was forcing its way into Charlestown harbor to join Major Anderson at Sumter, opened fire upon the fort. The North charged the war was thus inaugurated by the South. The South believed its action was necessary for self-defence. However that might be, it was the onset of battle--of the greatest Civil War the world has ever known. President Lincoln and President Davis both called for troops. Mass meetings were held in every part of the country North and South. The roll of the drum and the shrill fife of the march were heard in every direction. Muster rolls were drawn up, drills were in progress in hall and on the green. Every youth rush to take up arms. After the great Confederate victory at Bull Run, some one wrote:

"They have met at last--as storm--clouds
Meet in heaven;
And the Northmen back and bleeding
Have been driven.
And their thunders have been stilled,
And their leaders, crushed or killed,
And their ranks, with terror thrilled,
Rent and riven."


They had indeed met. And they met and met again. Throughout the length and breadth of the prolific country where cotton was king, the honest achievements of a hundred years were ground into dust by the engines of destruction.

The North came on as invaders; the South stood firm as defenders; and in all the histories of the struggle this fact should be pre-eminent.

Of the hundred battles fought only that of Gettysburg was on Northern soil. The beautiful lands of the garden spot of earth, as I have said, were torn and pillaged and ruined, not alone by the fortunes of civilized warfare, but by the ghastly horrors of cruelty and needless vandalism. It is not the purpose of this paper to fight those battles over. The strife lasted four years. The population of the North was 22,000,000; that of the South 9,000,000, of whom three and one-half millions were slaves. The North was four times as great in numbers as the South.

The North had three times as many armies. The South could not get enough small arms for many months. All foundries for cannon, and all except two powder mills were in the North. The North had food and provisions in abundance. The South planted cotton and tobacco, but could not even in times of peace, raise enough food, but were accustomed to buy from the North and from Europe.

The Union had a treasury and a navy: the Confederacy had neither. The North could renew supplies from abroad. The Southern ports were blockaded and many necessaries of life were shut off. The Confederacy set to work to make arms, ammunitions, blankets, saddles, harness, and other necessities. Bells from churches and halls, dinner bells, plantation and fire bells, along with stray pieces of metal, were melted and cast into cannon. Old nails were saved and blacksmiths made of them clumsy needles, pins and scissors.

For coffee was used burnt rye, okra, corn, bran, chickory and sweet potato peelings. For tea, raspberry leaves, corn fodder and sassafras root. There was not enough bacon to be had to keep the soldiers alive. Sorghum was used for sugar.

The women and girls helped in every possible manner. Silk dresses were made into banners, woolen dresses and shawls into soldiers' shirts--carpets into blankets--curtains, sheets, and all linens, were made into lint and bandages for the wounded. Soft white fingers knitted socks, shirts and gloves, to keep the cold from the men in the trenches. Calico was $10 per yard quite early in the strife. Homespun was made upon the old colonial wheels and looms that had been kept as souvenirs and curios. Buttons were obtained from persimmon seeds with holes pierced for eyes. Women plaited their hats from straw or palmetto leaf, and used feathers from barnyard fowls.

One mourning dress would be loaned from house to house as disaster came. Shoes were made of wood, or carriage curtains, buggy tops, saddle tops or any thing like leather. There were thin iron soles like horse shoes. They were patched with bits of old silk dresses. For little children shoes were made from old morocco pocket-books. Flour was $250 per barrel; meal, $50 a bushel; corn, $40 a bushel; oats, $25; black-eyed peas, $45; brown sugar, $10; coffee, $12; tea, $35 a pound; French merino or mohair sold at $800 to $1,000 a yard; cloth cloak, $1000 and $1500; Balmoral boots, $250 the pair; French gloves, $125 and $150. The stores came to be opened only on occasions.

Salt was the most difficult of all the necessities. The earth from old smoke houses was dug up and boiled for the drippings of ham and bacon--these being crystallized by a primitive process.

Newspapers were printed on coarse half-sheets. Every scrap of blank paper in old note books, letters or waste was utilized. Wall paper and pictures were turned for envelopes. Glue from the peach tree gum served to seal the covers. Poke berries, oak balls, and green persimmons, furnished ink.

The devotion of the people was sublime, always dividing with their neighbors; and the refugees were noted for heroic acts. The negroes were faithful in guarding the families, all of whom were left unprotected, and in working the plantations. Nowhere in the annals of nations has such fidelity been known.

Two negro men belonging to an army officer's widow who lived with her young daughters on an Arkansas plantation, conveyed $50,000 in gold in the cushions of an ambulance to Houston, Texas--a place of safety from marauding troops, who burned the house and cabins, and captured the live stock. The Yankees would not molest escaping negroes. These were faithful to their trust. Similar instances are legion. Leal and true, always and everywhere.

The memory of those hardships cannot die until all the survivors are dead. Fertile fields and pleasant villages were destroyed by great armies. Two billions of dollars in slaves were swept away. Cotton, the chief staple, was burned, or captured. Wealth placed in Confederate bonds, was lost forever. Of the 1,000,000 men in the southern army, three fourths were killed; 400,000 were crippled; and no estimate was made of the wounded who recovered. The cost of the war was $8,000,000. Men and horses perished of starvation and disease. The Southern Confederacy died, not for lack of the will and of the spirit to fight on--for not even Washington's ragged troops at Valley Forge endured greater sufferings or displayed greater heroism. The Confederacy died of exhaustion.

I have said that the women of the South gave all their energies and ingenuities to the cause. They shared the burdens of conflict. They encouraged and stimulated the men by their sympathy and cheerful fortitude. To their country they gave their dearest and best, and bore up bravely in defeat as well as in victory. With silent courage they faced privation and danger. They nursed the sick and wounded; took charge of farms and plantations. With wonderful resource they supplied the growing deficiencies in domestic affairs. They cared for and directed the thousands of negroes left dependent upon them. They never lost their trust in God, or in the righteousness of their cause though their loved ones languished in prison, or lay dead on the battle field. Their patriotism and womanly fidelity will be held in honor while the world lasts.

* * * * *

And the women refugees from the Border States suffered in addition, the cutting off of news from those they left behind them. Letters went by chance messengers through the lines, or around by Liverpool, England, and finally, by special indulgence, in one-page missives, unsealed, by flag-of truce, via Newport News and Norfolk, Va.

Sometimes months of silence elapsed. Oftener the letters were lost. In many cases they straggled in after two, or three years.

Forty-four years have dragged their slow lengths since the last roll-call. We, the survivors and descendants, have buckled on the armor of faithfulness and are honoring the memory of our martyred heroes. We are rearing monuments to perpetuate their deeds of valor. We are cleaning their revered names from aspersion. We are striving to educate the generations to come in the true history of their marvelous struggle for the inalienable rights of every free-born American. How sublime that struggle! How undaunted their attitude! How unsurpassed their fortitude amid the upheaval of their colossal ruin! The conquered banner's tattered folds hang on the wall her standard-bearer lies in the dust--the sod is green above the heads of her valiant leaders--her rank and file sleep in many an unknown grave. _We_ are in the cooling valleys of peace, where refreshing lies, and above us waves the flag of the old, old Union our people once loved so well. So mote it be. We were loyal to the powers that were; we are loyal to the powers that be. Good citizenship is now, as ever, the watchword of the South. We do not forget our martyrs. Upon our devoted heads rests this sacred duty of consecration. Let us cling together in a cause so noble. Let us merge all thought of self in the glorious work that lies before us.

And what of our beautiful, our historic southland about which the halo of poesy so lovingly lingers? Nature and man have wrought a mighty restoration. Through the grand old States of Virginia and South Carolina, whose annals contain names which will ever adorn the pages of history, down into the prosperous States of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, through Louisiana, unrivaled in fertility, on to the vast expanse of Texas, whose coming wealth and power may not be measured, there arise prophetic voices from field, forest, mine, and workshop, fortelling the grand stirring into life of extended commerce, enterprise, and capital. Her products have increased and multiplied in kind and in variety, till we hear in the Senate chamber of Congress an eloquent plea for the protection of her interests in the country's political economy. We hear from the lips of the Kentucky Senator a full recognition of our worth, our greatness and alas! the tardy acknowledgement of our _rights_.

These beautiful States are swept by the ocean and mountain winds, and nurtured by the glowing sun and gentle rains. The palmetto and the cypress and the lordly live oak, stand above the glowing orange grove and fragrant magnolia bloom, and the grey moss on the trees, wearing the uniform of the men in grey, wafts a solemn requiem above their narrow beds. The light of prosperity spreads transcendent radiance over the land. The throb of commercial triumph pulsates in the hum of the factory, in the smelting furnace, and ascends in the soft twilight from the rich furrows of her incomparable fields; while the salt sea billows, as they rock her shipping, and dash against pier and wharf, add their exultant voices in prophecy of still greater prosperity.

May advancing wealth rebuild her mansions and fill her coffers, and fittingly crown the efforts of her ambition, and of her genius. May she never lose the aspirations that have made her people through sunshine and storm, a lofty and noble race.

[The end]
Eugenia Dunlap Potts's Paper: The Southern Confederacy [papers On The Causes Of The Civil War]