Skip to comments.Historian suggests Southerners defeated Confederacy
Posted on 08/25/2008 9:11:18 AM PDT by Colonel Kangaroo
Valdosta State professor pens Bitterly Divided: The Souths Inner Civil War
Generations of students have been taught that the South lost the Civil War because of the Norths superior industry and population. A new book suggests another reason: Southerners were largely responsible for defeating the Confederacy.
In Bitterly Divided: The Souths Inner Civil War (New Press, $27.95), historian David Williams of Valdosta State University lays out some tradition-upsetting arguments that might make the granite brow of Jefferson Davis crack on Stone Mountain.
With this book, wrote Publishers Weekly, the history of the Civil War will never be the same again.
Actually, historians have long fallen into two camps in explaining the Confederacys demise one stressing the Unions advantages, the other the Souths divisions. Williams gives vivid expression to the latter view, drawing on state and local studies done primarily in the past two decades.
The 49-year-old South Georgia native discussed his interpretations in an interview from Valdosta.
Q: You write that most Southerners didnt even want to leave the Union.
A: Thats right. In late 1860 and early 1861, there were a series of votes on the secession question in all the slave states, and the overwhelming majority voted against it. It was only in the Deep South, from South Carolina to Texas, that there was much support for secession, and even there it was deeply divided. In Georgia, a slight majority of voters were against secession.
Q: So why did Georgia secede?
A: The popular vote didnt decide the question. It chose delegates to a convention. Thats the way slaveholders wanted it, because they didnt trust people to vote on the question directly. More than 30 delegates who had pledged to oppose secession changed their votes at the convention. Most historians think that was by design. The suspicion is that the secessionists ran two slates one for and one supposedly against and whichever was elected, theyd vote for secession.
Q: You say the war didnt start at Fort Sumter.
A: The shooting war over secession started in the South between Southerners. There were incidents in several states. Weeks before Fort Sumter, seven Unionists were lynched in Tallahatchie County, Miss.
Q: Was the inner civil war ever resolved?
A: No. As a result, about 300,000 Southern whites served in the Union army. Couple that with almost 200,000 Southern blacks who served, and that combined to make almost a fourth of the total Union force. All those Southerners who fought for the North were a major reason the Confederacy was defeated.
Q: In the spring of 1862, the Confederacy enacted the first draft in American history. Planters had an easy time getting out of it, didnt they?
A: Very easy. If they owned 20 or more slaves, they were pretty much excused from the draft. Some of them paid off draft officials. Early in the war, they could pay the Confederate government $500 and get out of the draft.
Q: You use the phrase rich mans war, poor mans fight several times. Does this history anger you?
A: I dont think it would be unfair to say that. It seems like the common folk were very much ignored and used by the planter elite. As a result, over half a million Americans died.
My great-great-grandfather was almost one: John Joseph Kirkland. He was a poor farmer in Early County, no slaves. He was 33, just under draft age, and had five children at home. He went ahead and enlisted so he could get a $50 bonus. A year later, he lost a leg at the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Q: One of the biggest problems for the South was a lack of food. Why?
A: That does seem strange, because we think of the South as a vast agricultural region. But the planters were growing too much cotton and tobacco and not enough food. Cotton and tobacco paid more.
Q: You say the Confederate army stripped the fields of much of the produce and livestock there was, leaving civilians hungry. That sounds like Shermans troops marching through Georgia.
A: It was very much like that.
Q: When they couldnt feed their families, Southern women started food riots. There was a big one in Richmond. Were there any in Georgia?
A: Every major city in Georgia had food riots. Weve documented more than 20. In Atlanta, a woman walked into a store on Whitehall Street and drew a revolver and told the rest of the women to take what they wanted. They moved from store to store.
Q: The deprivations at home led to a very high desertion rate among Confederates. How bad was it?
A: By 1864, two-thirds of the Army was absent with or without leave. It got worse after that.
Q: There was a sort of Underground Railroad for deserters?
A: Yes. It surprised me that many Confederate deserters could count on the support of slaves to hide them and move them from one location to another.
Q: How important were black Southerners in the outcome of the war?
A: They were very important to undermining the Confederate war effort. When slaves heard that Abraham Lincoln had been elected, many of them thought they were free and started leaving plantations. So many eventually escaped to Union lines that they forced the issue. As other historians have said, Lincoln didnt free the slaves; the slaves freed themselves.
Q: If there was so much division in the South and it was such an important part of the Confederacys downfall, why isnt this a larger part of our national memory?
A: The biggest reason is regional pride. It gratified white Southerners to think the South was united during the Civil War. It gratified Northerners to believe they defeated a united South.
Q: Why do you think so much Southern identity has been wrapped up in the Confederacy? Were talking about four of the 400 years since Jamestown was settled. It seems like the tail wagged the dog and now you tell us the tail is pretty raggedy.
A: I think popular memory got wrapped up in race. Most white Southerners opposed secession, but they were also predominantly racists. After the war, they wanted to keep it a white mans country and maintain their status over African-Americans. It became easy for Southerners to misremember what happened during the war. A lot of people whose families had opposed the Confederacy became staunch neo-Confederates after a generation or two, mainly for racist reasons.
Q: Has this knowledge affected your feelings about Southern heritage? Did you have an opinion about the former Georgia flag?
A: I had a graduate student who did his thesis on that. He looked into the origins of the 1956 state flag and concluded that the Confederate battle emblem was put there not to honor our ancestors but as a statement against school integration.
Q: So you saw no reason to defend that flag?
A: No, not in the least.
Q: Have the Sons of Confederate Veterans been to see you?
A: Yes. They didnt really deny anything I had to say, but they werent real happy to hear it. I told them, Well, Im not making this up.
There's a lot of historical evidence out there that indicates the idea of a united Confederate South is a myth.
This is about that new book you told me about a couple of weeks ago.
Bump for later...
How did all of this take so long to get out?
The proud Southern Heritage of the Confederacy represented by the “Rebel flag” as you call it, most likely was a by-product of Reconstruction, more than a yearning for the days of the Confederacy.
If the whole of the South wasn’t united before that occupation period, and it likely wasn’t, the actions of the occupiers sealed the deal.
It took that long to dream it all up.
Its always been there.
I am not sure why this is considered so “revolutionary.”
I know that there are places in Alabama where secession was not favored - Fort Payne, Alabama still has a “Union Park” because the secession was generally not supported in that area.
I have been to Looney’s Tavern in Winston County, Alabama as well - they used to put on a show telling the story of Winston County’s secession from the state of Alabama over the secession issue. I bet that the “Free State of Winston” is not discussed much in today’s history books - would detract from the narrative that the South was uniformly racist and bigoted.
Both of the above areas were generally poor rural areas where there were not many slave holders.
Part of it is typical public school watered-down history. Growing up in the South, I was spoon fed the hooray for Dixie and the Confederacy myth. It was only when I started looking for myself into what was actually said and done back them that I began to realize that the actual situation was a lot more complicated than a mere North versus South war.
ITT: >9000 posts, death threats, and several bans.
Sounds like a Yankee dis-information plan to me.
Actually, I said this in my 2006 book, "America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars," although the number I gave was 100,000 southern whites. I'm anxious to see his source on this, because it only strengthens my case.
But it didn't help the South that in 11 of the first 12 major battles or campaigns in which more than 6,000 men were involved, the Confederacy lost a higher % of troops deployed than did the Union, even though the Union occasionally lost more men in real terms. You can't win a war, particularly a defensive war, losing more in every engagement with the enemy.
(Looking for popcorn. This is going to be good.)
No, it's American history.
A lot of Southerners have been propagandized out of taking pride in their Unionist forebears and a lot of Northerners have conveniently forgotten about their defeatist, Copperhead forebears.
The historical fact is that "the American South" and "The Confederacy" are not synonyms.
The secession "vote" in Georgia would have done Al Gore's Florida team proud.
And how united were the northern states?
why am I not surprisd....I knew you two were in cahoots.
oh goody...I see all the South bashers are here...let's see revisionists, black republican club.....where are the Star Wars guys?
I miss them. They mustn't neglect the chance for a little denigration of the only reliable conservative part of the country we got left aside from Indiana and Idaho and Wyoming.
this is one of those "I'm shocked i tell ya" threads
I’m wondering if he’s including West Virginians in that 300,000 figure. That seems like an awfully high number considering the population of the South at the time.
The divisions in the Southern population aren’t really new news. I remember hearing a lot about it studying history growing up in Virginia. There were some absolutely vicious mini “civil wars” in the mountain counties of North Carolina and Tennessee between Unionists and Confederates. Many of the counties that are now in the Shenendoah Valley in Virginia barely stayed in the Union when the western counties split off to become West Virginia—and this despite the tremendous victories Stonewall Jackson won on that very same soil in 1862. The story my college history prof told me was that Rockingham County, Virginia (where I went to college at JMU) stayed in Virginia by one single vote. The generals like Lee and Jackson were revered up there, but the war was by no means popular.
Folks up in the Piedmont and toward the mountains generally didn’t own slaves, or at least not nearly as many as the rich planters along the coast. Appealing to their loyalty as Northerners invaded their home states worked to a point (especially in Virginia) but for folks further up in the mountains in places like West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, they didn’t feel like they wanted to get involved in a rich man’s war.
The truth’s in the middle—yes, having 500,000 Southerners (white and black) fighting for the Union definitely made things worse for the Confederacy. But the North’s crushing industrial superiority was decisive, as well as them finally finding generals like Grant and Sherman willing to take that material superiority and use it to grind the South down. BTW, it doesn’t surprise me that the Urinal-Constipation takes an opportunity to pee on the former Georgia state flag and the SCV in general. I imagine the idiots at the AJC were big fans of King Roy’s Placemat.
That's the Democrats' game for sure. Southerners need to learn the true facts so as not to fall into the leftists' trap.
I remember seeing a print of Lee handing these battle flags to regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia. There should have been a loud outcry throughout the South when the Klan adopted the battle flag as its emblem. I think that is a point when the Southerner irretrievably compromised his heritage, and disfigured the image of arguably the finest infantry this country ever produced.
I think people could answer most of those questions themselves after watching Ken Burns history, so it should not be new. I remember one line in the television series where someone says the South died of a concept.
Shermans march through Georgia highlights the power, yet disinterest of the planter aristocracy of the South. There were food riots in Georgia, yet Shermans army never lived better than when it plundered the plantations.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.