The Great Debate of 2008

The Southern Victory of 1865:
Was the Confederacy a Viable State?

The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Was the Confederacy a viable state? Could it have survived as a nation? If so, what made it viable? If not, what did it lack?

The 2008 Dick Crews Debate posed the question: The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State? Five speakers presented on the topic of how the Confederate States of America won its independence and how it did or did not survive. Below are the texts of those five arguments, along with moderator William Vodrey’s opening remarks, presented in the order the speakers addressed the Roundtable.

Debaters Hans Kuenzi, Thomas Stratton-Crooke, C. Ellen Connally, Paul Burkholder and Peter Holman (left to right)

Opening Remarks

By William F.B. Vodrey – Debate Moderator

Many of you have probably heard the old children’s rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

“What if” is a question as old as history itself. The earliest known piece of alternative or “counterfactual” history was written by the Roman historian Livy, who speculated more than two thousand years ago, around 25 B.C., in his Ab Urbe Condita (translation: From the Founding of the City) about what might have happened had Alexander the Great attacked Rome and not expanded his empire to the east. It might not surprise you to learn that Livy decided the Romans would’ve kicked Alexander’s ass, if it came to that.

More recently, in 1931, Winston Churchill wrote the essay “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” Other noted authors and historians who asked “what if” have included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hilaire Belloc, Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, MacKinley Kantor, John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose, Stephen W. Sears, David McCullough, James McPherson and Philip Roth. Alternative history – the tantalizing question of “what if” – is even at the core of that beloved Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, which asks us, just what would have happened if George Bailey had never been born?

CONTINUE ARTICLE >>


A Captain-Less Raft Floating On a Sea of Problems:
The Confederacy Was NOT a Viable State.

By C. Ellen Connally

We are faced tonight with a question – a burning question in the minds of most of you – was the Confederacy a viable state? It is the conundrum of the hour, a question that historians and Civil War buffs will argue into time immemoriam. But tonight, we, the Great Debaters of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, will provide the wisdom and the knowledge so that all of you can answer the question and decide the fate of us, the humble debaters.

I intend to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Confederate States of America was not a viable state; not in its beginning, not in its end and not in the minds of a sufficient number of its citizens to allow it to survive as a nation.

The Confederacy was a captain-less raft. It was so crowded with internal problems that its sinking was inevitable. The class conflict among and between its diverse citizens resulted in a lack of the necessary nationalism that was needed to compel the Confederacy into a real state. The internal problems – social, economic and legal – were insurmountable. Any critical analysis of the Confederacy will clearly show a flawed state based on flawed principles whose citizens would have come begging back to the glorious Union.

CONTINUE ARTICLE >>


The Myth of a Weak Confederacy:
The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Paul Burkholder

I think most of us would agree that, with a not too absurd twist of fate, there were several points before 1865 when the Confederacy could have won its independence. The Confederacy’s best chance for a viable independence with the least absurd twist of fate occurred in the fall of 1862 when Lee was invading Maryland, Bragg was invading Kentucky and Lord Palmerston’s government in London was seriously deliberating English intervention.

IF Lee’s Special Order No. 191 had NOT fallen into Union hands, McClellan would have been blind to Lee’s troop deployment and very likely unable to prevent Lee’s moving on Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia. Just as significantly, Lee’s non-defeat at Antietam would have left the Emancipation Proclamation locked in Lincoln’s desk and the Union cause without the moral high ground that ultimately obstructs European intervention.

Additionally, IF Bragg seizes Louisville at that same time rather than bypassing it as part of a misbegotten plan to install a Confederate governor in Frankfort, then defeats at Perryville and Stones River are averted and Kentucky is perhaps drawn into the Confederacy.

With Lee in Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, Bragg in Louisville and the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s desk drawer, I believe the Confederacy enters 1863 as an independent state. But, was the newly independent CSA viable?

CONTINUE ARTICLE >>


Follow the Money:
The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Hans Kuenzi

For purposes of this debate, I have assumed that the Confederacy survived the Civil War as an intact sovereign nation. This may have occurred in a number of ways: through victory on the battlefield, as the result of some domestic calamity or due to the intervention of a foreign power. In any case, it is my position that with the conclusion of hostilities, the Confederate States of America would have not only survived but thrived as an independent republic.

Any analysis must begin by considering the territorial size and likely borders of the two neighboring American states. Although the United States was much larger, the Confederate States of America was comprised of a great deal of valuable property in terms of the resources which could be grown upon and extracted from the land. From the standpoint of organization, the Confederate States had also established all of the bureaucracy necessary to manage and efficiently govern the country.

The social fabric and institutions of the South were very strong, perhaps even stronger than in the North. The Confederates also had the political experience necessary to adapt to any changes the future might bring. The Confederate Constitution looked very much like the Constitution of the United States. The governance of the nation would be conducted by educated leaders with means that had proved successful in the North. The only question remaining is whether the Confederate States of America would have enjoyed the economic fortunes necessary to thrive as a nation. Clearly, it would have.

CONTINUE ARTICLE >>


‘Too Small for a Republic…Too Large for a Lunatic Asylum’: The Confederacy Was NOT a Viable State.

By Peter Holman

After the order of secession had passed the South Carolina legislature in December 1860, the old anti-nullification attorney James L Petigru was asked if he would now, at last, support his native state. “I should think not!” he replied. “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum!” And that, despite the fantastical notions we discuss tonight, is the key to answering the question – was the Confederacy a viable state following their victory of 1865?

Seven states had seceded by February 1, 1861: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. These seven could not form a viable nation – their human, social and material resources made them too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum.

After the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, four more states seceded: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Now the size might be right – even the social, human and material make-up might be right for a nation if allowed to depart in peace – but war was joined and the brute fact of war ensured that the Confederacy could not become a viable nation regardless of success on the battlefield.

CONTINUE ARTICLE >>


The Second Shot Heard ‘Round the World:
The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Thomas E. Stratton-Crooke

The “genesis” of the Civil War may be found at the time of the American Revolution which began in 1776. Therefore it might be construed by some to say that the Civil War started in 1776.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled.
Here once the embattled farmer stood
And fired the shot heard ’round the world.”

The question that now begs the answer is when was the second shot heard ’round the world fired? And the answer of course is as night follows the day: April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter.

The concept of viability is caught up in the concept of unity, that is, the viability of all the people in all the states, since the power of the nation is derived from the power of the people, which is the underpinning premise of the Constitution of the United States of America. Remember, please, we are speaking unity, not disunity. We are speaking peace, not war. We are speaking of conciliation and reconciling acts of kindness. We are speaking of winning the peace as a greater factor than winning the war. Wars are not won per se. Might is right. In 1813 the British outlawed slavery because the British were doing everything in their power to gain back their colonies in recognition of the greatest blunder in history in losing the United States of America. E Pluribus Unum.

CONTINUE ARTICLE >>

Epilogue: At the conclusion of the debate, the Roundtable members chose Peter Holman’s argument as the most persuasive. In fact, in considering all of the votes cast for each of the five debaters, the Roundtable members indicated that their opinion – by a margin of three to one – is that the Confederacy was NOT a viable state.

The Great Debate of 2008: Opening Remarks

The Southern Victory of 1865:
Was the Confederacy a Viable State?

By William F.B. Vodrey – Debate Moderator
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January, 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was the opening remarks made by the moderator of the debate.

____________________________________________

Many of you have probably heard the old children’s rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

“What if” is a question as old as history itself. The earliest known piece of alternative or “counterfactual” history was written by the Roman historian Livy, who speculated more than two thousand years ago, around 25 B.C., in his Ab Urbe Condita (translation: From the Founding of the City) about what might have happened had Alexander the Great attacked Rome and not expanded his empire to the east. It might not surprise you to learn that Livy decided the Romans would’ve kicked Alexander’s ass, if it came to that.

More recently, in 1931, Winston Churchill wrote the essay “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” Other noted authors and historians who asked “what if” have included Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hilaire Belloc, Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, MacKinley Kantor, John Keegan, Stephen Ambrose, Stephen W. Sears, David McCullough, James McPherson and Philip Roth. Alternative history – the tantalizing question of “what if” – is even at the core of that beloved Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, which asks us, just what would have happened if George Bailey had never been born?

George Will wrote, “The salutary effect of… ‘what if’ exercises is a keener appreciation of the huge difference that choices and fortuities make in the destiny of nations.” To date, far and away the most popular and recurring topics of alternative history have been a Confederate victory in the Civil War and a Nazi victory in World War II. All others pale in comparison.

Part of the reason in both cases, I think, is because it’s so easy – and so horrifying – to imagine things going the other way. Consider the Civil War. Despite the North’s huge advantages in population, infrastructure and industrial capability, historian Peter G. Tsouras noted in his introduction to the short-story collection Dixie Victorious,

On a number of occasions the [Union’s] margin of error was almost nonexistent. Here luck played the dominant hand. The South either did not press its advantage or failed to seize the moment. Victory [too often] held her laurels tantalizingly just beyond the reach of the Confederacy. The balance was so fine that it was tipped by the absence of a tourniquet [at Shiloh] or the depth of a sandbar on the Red River. The misallocation of naval resources, a lost order [before Antietam], or a failure to keep the cavalry close in the invasion of Pennsylvania were inordinately decisive…. [and of course] Lincoln came within a hairsbreadth of war with Great Britain over the Trent Affair….

I’d suggest that the most plausible and compelling alternative history turns on one decision, one event, that might easily have gone the other way. Then we consider what happened next, and see where it leads us. For a dyed-in-the-wool Unionist like me, “What if?” is always a potent Civil War question. For many Southerners, though, it’s deeply personal. Half a century ago in his novel Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner wrote that,

For every Southern boy fourteen years old… there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself [is] looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet… and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble…. (emphasis in original).

Tonight our debaters will consider what victory the Confederacy might have won, if the Southern slaveholding republic might have survived as a nation, and how our world would have been forever changed by it.

CONTINUE TO THE FIRST ARGUMENT >>

A Captain-Less Raft Floating On a Sea of Problems

The Confederacy Was NOT a Viable State.

By C. Ellen Connally
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those five presentations.

____________________________________________

We are faced tonight with a question – a burning question in the minds of most of you – was the Confederacy a viable state? It is the conundrum of the hour, a question that historians and Civil War buffs will argue into time immemoriam. But tonight, we, the Great Debaters of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable, will provide the wisdom and the knowledge so that all of you can answer the question and decide the fate of us, the humble debaters.

I intend to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Confederate States of America was not a viable state; not in its beginning, not in its end and not in the minds of a sufficient number of its citizens to allow it to survive as a nation.

The Confederacy was a captain-less raft. It was so crowded with internal problems that its sinking was inevitable. The class conflict among and between its diverse citizens resulted in a lack of the necessary nationalism that was needed to compel the Confederacy into a real state. The internal problems – social, economic and legal – were insurmountable. Any critical analysis of the Confederacy will clearly show a flawed state based on flawed principles whose citizens would have come begging back to the glorious Union.

The first point of my argument relates to the failure of Confederate leadership and more specifically the failures of Jefferson Davis. The failure of the Confederacy started at the top.

Davis was a man who suffered from a myriad of health problems. He was an indecisive micro manager of the war and the government who didn’t really want to be president but wanted to be a general. Unlike Lincoln, who formed a cabinet out of various segments of his opposition, Davis was unable to form a cohesive unit and had difficulty keeping cabinet members. Lincoln was wise enough to look for a general to command his forces and let him lead. Davis did not.

Not only did Davis fail as an administrator, but Davis, as a card-carrying member of the planter class, failed to secure the support of the South’s non-slaveholding yeomen, who made up the bulk of the population and made up the bulk of the Southern fighting force. Davis failed to identify with the yeoman farmer and they with him. But yet the Confederacy needed the devotion of all its citizens, both planter and yeoman, in order to transform a region of a country into a nation. The Davis administration fatally failed to respond to the problems of the common people who were the backbone of the Confederacy. Economic suffering, military exemptions for slave owners, class resentments, and political controversies sapped the strength of the Confederacy and were at the core of an internal collapse which preceded and promoted military defeat. Davis failed to establish Confederate nationalism, the only glue that could have held the Confederacy together.

As we are all aware, the birth of the Confederate States of America was initiated by the concept of secession. But even as the lower South left the Union, there were signs of ambivalence and opposition in other parts of the South. There was never a landslide of support for secession. Many supporters of secession advocated it as a means of promoting a settlement over the question of slavery and its expansion. In the upper South substantial majorities refused for months to secede.

Here was a government whose founding principle was states’ rights, yet Davis had to build a central government capable of meeting the requirements of war. States’ rights and a central government present an oxymoron. In addition, constant internal criticism of the administration did much to undermine the integrity of the Confederate state.

The ship of the Confederacy floated on a sea of other problems, problems that would have undermined even the most competent leader, namely the formation, essentially from scratch, of a new government which could provide goods and services to its people, not to mention the myriad of legal problems arising from the war. And yet the Confederacy never had a Supreme Court to serve as the final arbitrator of legal questions.

But let us look then at some of the other problems – the economy. We can all agree that King Cotton was dead. The Southern economy had to be totally retooled for the economy to succeed – and that by a limited government. There was a major problem of a lack of skilled labor. The Confederacy faced a crazy quilt of fiscal problems including the necessity to create a stable national currency. It had to supply and arm and create a national army from state units. It had limited internal transportation routes. It was faced with naval blockades. There was a total disruption of the social order as it related to women, lower class whites and, most obviously, blacks. The inability of the Confederacy to gain foreign recognition is yet another iceberg in the stormy sea in which the Confederacy floated. And all the while it had to fight a war.

The Confederate States of America was an impossible dream based on a peculiar institution trying to maintain a pre-modern society while the rest of the nation forged ahead to the Industrial Revolution, emancipation and the 20th century.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I urge you to accept my arguments and recognize the truth of the matter. The Confederate States of America was never viable, and to accept the arguments of my worthy opponents is to accept a myth, a mirage and a falsehood.

CONTINUE TO THE SECOND ARGUMENT >>

The Myth of a Weak Confederacy

The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Paul Burkholder
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those five presentations.

CSA Independence

I think most of us would agree that, with a not too absurd twist of fate, there were several points before 1865 when the Confederacy could have won its independence. The Confederacy’s best chance for a viable independence with the least absurd twist of fate occurred in the fall of 1862 when Lee was invading Maryland, Bragg was invading Kentucky and Lord Palmerston’s government in London was seriously deliberating English intervention.

IF Lee’s Special Order No. 191 had NOT fallen into Union hands, McClellan would have been blind to Lee’s troop deployment and very likely unable to prevent Lee’s moving on Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia. Just as significantly, Lee’s non-defeat at Antietam would have left the Emancipation Proclamation locked in Lincoln’s desk and the Union cause without the moral high ground that ultimately obstructs European intervention.

Additionally, IF Bragg seizes Louisville at that same time rather than bypassing it as part of a misbegotten plan to install a Confederate governor in Frankfort, then defeats at Perryville and Stones River are averted and Kentucky is perhaps drawn into the Confederacy.1

With Lee in Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, Bragg in Louisville and the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln’s desk drawer, I believe the Confederacy enters 1863 as an independent state. But, was the newly independent CSA viable?

The Myth of a Weak Confederacy

The first, most obvious way to answer that question is to point to how the Confederacy performed in its short, four-year existence. Remarkably, in the period from 1861 to 1864, the CSA:

  • Wrote and ratified a constitution and founded a working government.

  • Established a monetary and banking system.

  • Increased revenue collections ten-fold from 1861-63.2

  • Created a national postal system.

  • Sent out diplomatic missions to Europe.

  • Raised, armed, clothed and fed an army of three quarters of a million men that for 3½ years fought the Union powerhouse to a draw.

That, in fact, is the knock most frequently made against CSA viability – that relative to the Union, the Confederacy was too small, too weak and too divided to succeed. However, that comparison is usually made as part of a discussion of the two sides’ respective abilities to wage war; rarely is it made in relation to the Confederacy’s viability following a quick peace. If we evaluate the Confederacy simply on its ability to survive the peace as opposed to its ability to fight a protracted war with the Union, then a different picture emerges.

In 1860 the South’s combined free and slave population of 9 million people would have made it the 12th most populous nation in the world – larger than Turkey, Mexico, Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands and Canada, larger than Finland, Norway, Denmark and Greece COMBINED.3 And the South’s 790,000 square miles of territory would have made it the ninth largest country in the world geographically.4

Economically, where the Confederacy’s dependence on King Cotton is degraded as a liability when considering its fitness for war, it translates to economic power when evaluating the Confederacy’s viability as an independent state. By 1860, the Southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s cotton,5 accounting for 54% of total U.S. exports to the tune of $124 million a year.6 Once out from behind the Union blockade, cotton would have made an independent Confederacy a formidable economic power.

And though cotton dominated the Southern economy, it was not the sole pillar holding up the roof. According to the 1860 census, 11% of the United States’ manufacturing output, about $155 million, came from the South.7 And there WERE some large-scale industrial operations in the South. Daniel Pratt’s industrial village in Montgomery, Alabama produced 25% of the nation’s finished cotton in addition to lumber, iron and cotton cloth. William Gregg’s Graniteville Manufacturing Company in Graniteville, South Carolina was a sprawling industrial complex consisting of cotton mills, saw mills, grist mills and machine shops. More significantly for the coming Confederate war effort, the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond was the country’s fourth largest iron producer in 1860.8

Though not to the same degree as the North, the South had, in fact, joined the Industrial Revolution. In the period from 1850 to 1860 Southern manufacturing output increased 91%, a greater percentage increase than in either New England or the Midwest. By 1860, over 130,000 people were employed in the South in some type of manufacturing enterprise.9 So, though the industrial output of the Confederacy was dwarfed by that of the Union, it WAS substantial – substantial enough to significantly contribute to sustaining an independent CSA.

And despite the historical perception of the antebellum South being a kind of subsistence-farming backwater, the non-slave population of the nascent Confederacy actually had the world’s fourth highest per capita income in 1860,10 and its growth in per capita income matched that of any U.S. region in the twenty years leading up to the Civil War.11

The War and the Death of States’ Rights

Another argument often made against the viability of the Confederacy is that a national government built on the supremacy of states’ rights was doomed to fail.

Perhaps, but then the United States had already survived up to 1861 largely on that very premise. The Confederacy was no more vulnerable to death by states’ rights than was the post-Revolutionary United States. The fact is the states of the CSA were already working a viable system. They had a viable constitution, a viable governmental structure and, as far as they were concerned, a successful 85-year history working it. So long as a world market for cotton existed, there’s little reason to think that the post-war CSA couldn’t have looked and worked much like the pre-war South, perhaps indefinitely.

Further, the act of waging war with the Union actually undermined the states’ rights movement in the South. The war united the population of the Confederacy in a way it would not have been without the war. Following the Confederacy’s string of early victories, historian Frank Vandiver observes:

“Southerners everywhere had taken new faith in success. That faith brought easy obedience to Confederate laws, acceptance of Confederate promissory notes, affection for soldiers and administrators. By late summer, the Confederacy existed in its armies, on its emissaries, and in the hearts of its people – there was a Confederate ‘nation.’”12

The war also made the Confederacy more viable by providing a catalyst for its industrial development. Significant successes included the CSA’s Ordnance Bureau that doubled its production of small arms in 1863 achieving self-sufficiency or the state of Alabama which in 1864 produced four times more iron than any other state in the ‘Old Union’ or the gunpowder factory at Augusta, Georgia that grew to be the largest in North America by 1864.13

Lastly, the war made the Confederacy more viable by forcing it to confront and overcome the centralization/nationalization boogeyman that might have undermined its later independence. To fight the war, Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress had effectively nationalized the military, its staffing and its supply, the monetary system, taxation and the development and management of roads and rails amongst other things.14 As the Daily Richmond Enquirer lamented in 1864,

“We are not yet fully awake to the extent to which we have abdicated popular Government…. The plea of military necessity had been presented in all its bearings, and its demands set forth in plain, candid words. The urgency of the pleas has been acknowledged by us, and… we have willingly and cheerfully surrendered one privilege of freemen after another.”15

Political Self-Interest and Viability

Closely related to the death by states’ rights argument is the argument that the fractured, petty, self-interested Southern leadership could never have pulled it together to rule an independent Confederacy.

But was the leadership of the CSA any more ineffectual, petty or self-interested than that of the Union? Further, while the Union confronted the more difficult military task in 1861 – they had to conquer a resourceful, geographically scattered opponent – the CSA confronted the more difficult political task – they had to construct a national government out of a patchwork quilt of independently minded states – and THEY DID IT.

Morality and Viability

The last objection often made to the viability of the Confederacy is that, with slavery, the Confederacy was built on a decadent foundation that would have ultimately crumbled.

But, does a state’s morality determine its viability? Was ancient Rome viable? Nazi Germany? The Soviet Union? Apartheid South Africa? How about the post-Revolution, slave-owning United States? All these nations achieved viability despite their immoral foundations. From a viability point of view, the institution of slavery was not the Confederacy’s fatal flaw, at least not in 1862.

Conclusion

No, the Confederacy WAS viable. An independent Confederate States of America would have joined the family of nations in late 1862 as already one of the world’s largest countries both in population and area, with a constitution, a working government, a strong ruling class, a powerful army and navy, a banking and monetary system, a burgeoning agricultural economy and a rapidly growing industrial economy.

William Gladstone, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, observed in 1862 that, “Jefferson Davis and the other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making… a navy; and they have made what is more than either – they have made a nation.”16

Gladstone was right.

CONTINUE TO THE THIRD ARGUMENT>>

Footnotes

  1. Vandiver, Frank E. Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy. 1970. pg 161
  2. Ransom, Roger. “The Economics of the Civil War.” EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 25, 2001.
  3. All population stats from URL:http://www.populstat.info/
  4. All geographic area stats from URL:http://www.populstat.info/
  5. Weeks, Dick, Webmaster. “King Cotton.” Shotgun’s Home of the American Civil War, First Published: January 7, 1997
  6. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. “Timeline of U.S. Agricultural Trade and Development.”
  7. Bateman, Fred and Weiss, Thomas. A Deplorable Scarcity: The Failure of Industrialization In the Slave Economy. 1981.
  8. Vandiver, Frank E. Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy. 1970.
  9. Bateman, Fred and Weiss, Thomas. A Deplorable Scarcity: The Failure of Industrialization In the Slave Economy. 1981.
  10. Fogel, Robert William and Engerman, Stanley L. “Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery.” 1974. pg 250
  11. Bateman, Fred and Weiss, Thomas. A Deplorable Scarcity: The Failure of Industrialization In the Slave Economy. 1981.
  12. Vandiver, Frank E. Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy. 1970.
  13. Thomas, Emory. The Confederate Nation: 1861-1865. 1979. pg 210
  14. Emory Thomas, The Old South In the Crucible of War pages – 7-8
  15. Escott, Paul D. Military Necessity: Civil-Military Relations in the Confederacy. 2006. Preface
  16. Vandiver, Frank E. Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy. 1970. pg 150

References
(Click on any of the book links to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)

Escott, Paul D., After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism. 1978

Escott, Paul D., Military Necessity: Civil-Military Relations in the Confederacy (In War and in Peace: U.S. Civil-Military Relations). 2006

Fogel, Robert William, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery. 1989

Fogel, Robert William and Engerman, Stanley L. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. 1974

Owens, Harry P. and Cooke, James J., editors, The Old South in the Crucible of War. 1983

Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865 (New American Nation Series). 1979

Vandiver, Frank E., Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy (Texas A&M University Military History Series, No 5). 1970

Follow the Money

The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Hans Kuenzi
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those five presentations.

____________________________________________

For purposes of this debate, I have assumed that the Confederacy survived the Civil War as an intact sovereign nation. This may have occurred in a number of ways: through victory on the battlefield, as the result of some domestic calamity or due to the intervention of a foreign power. In any case, it is my position that with the conclusion of hostilities, the Confederate States of America would have not only survived but thrived as an independent republic.

Any analysis must begin by considering the territorial size and likely borders of the two neighboring American states. Although the United States was much larger, the Confederate States of America was comprised of a great deal of valuable property in terms of the resources which could be grown upon and extracted from the land. From the standpoint of organization, the Confederate States had also established all of the bureaucracy necessary to manage and efficiently govern the country.

The social fabric and institutions of the South were very strong, perhaps even stronger than in the North. The Confederates also had the political experience necessary to adapt to any changes the future might bring. The Confederate Constitution looked very much like the Constitution of the United States. The governance of the nation would be conducted by educated leaders with means that had proved successful in the North. The only question remaining is whether the Confederate States of America would have enjoyed the economic fortunes necessary to thrive as a nation. Clearly, it would have.

Please consider the following facts:

  1. The South was a wealthy land, due primarily to its cotton production. In 1860, cotton comprised two-thirds of all United States exports, and this cotton was produced by slaves. Thirty-eight percent of the population of the South was slaves. 400,000 slave owners held more than 4 million slaves. The Southern economy prospered on the ability of its slaves to produce cotton more efficiently than any other region in the world. Clearly, cotton was king in the Land of Dixie.

  2. The economy of the South did not suffer from sectional divisiveness. There was economic and political cohesion in the South, unlike that seen in the northern and western states. Less than 7% of the population lived in towns or cities having a population of over 2,500. In other words, 93% of all Southerners lived in small towns. Southern cities did not drain the countryside of their resources. As slavery would have continued, sharecropping would not have occurred. There would have been no need to offer cheap land in small parcels to pioneering families in order to maintain economic vitality. Southerners required few government-sponsored improvements in transportation, like the construction of the Erie Canal in the North. There was far less pressure upon the Confederate government to maintain economic stability when compared with circumstances in the North.

  3. With the end of the war, the naval blockade of the South would have been lifted, and trade with other countries would have resumed and then grown exponentially. During the war, the European powers favored the Confederacy over the United States, and these countries would have imported far more from the South after the war ended. Britain, who had lost two wars against the United States, feared an American invasion of Canada. France, which already had relations in Louisiana, had thoughts of taking over Mexico. Both of these countries would have willingly supported the Southern economy to the detriment of the North. A modest export tax on cotton in the South could have generated huge revenue for the Confederate government. The rampant wartime inflation which had occurred in the South would have quickly abated after the war. With a dramatic rise in exports, the South would have been easily able to rebuild its infrastructure. The Confederate government would have prospered by the resumption of business as usual.

  4. The inevitable discovery of oil in the West would have generated immense profits for Southern landowners and, in turn, for the Confederate economy. Consider the reserves of oil in Oklahoma and Texas still in production today. With the central government being subject to far less pressures than its northern counterpart, economic cooperation could have produced fantastic awards for the Southern economy. Industrialists and venture capitalists would have flocked to the South. Growth seen in cities like Cleveland and Chicago would have also occurred in Mobile and Houston. Some of the automobile companies that flourished in Indiana and Ohio during the early 1900s could have certainly found their way south. Atlanta would have likely surpassed Detroit as the automobile capital in North America. The economy of the Confederate States of America would have been rewarded accordingly.

As the South would have enjoyed great economic fortune, political stability would have followed. I submit that North America would now be comprised of two independent republics, each engaged in trading their goods with the rest of the world while remaining a proudly sovereign nation.

CONTINUE TO THE FOURTH ARGUMENT>>

‘Too Small for a Republic…Too Large for a Lunatic Asylum’

The Confederacy Was NOT a Viable State.

By Peter Holman
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those five presentations.

____________________________________________

After the order of secession had passed the South Carolina legislature in December 1860, the old anti-nullification attorney James L Petigru was asked if he would now, at last, support his native state. “I should think not!” he replied. “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum!” And that, despite the fantastical notions we discuss tonight, is the key to answering the question – was the Confederacy a viable state following their victory of 1865?

Seven states had seceded by February 1, 1861: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. These seven could not form a viable nation – their human, social and material resources made them too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum.

After the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, four more states seceded: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. Now the size might be right – even the social, human and material make-up might be right for a nation if allowed to depart in peace – but war was joined and the brute fact of war ensured that the Confederacy could not become a viable nation regardless of success on the battlefield.

Rural areas

The Confederate States were overwhelmingly rural and agrarian. Towns of more than 1,000 were few, and typical county seats had a population of less than 500. New Orleans was the only Southern city with a population above 100,000 and the only one in the list of top 10 largest U.S. cities in the 1860 census. New Orleans was captured by the Union in April 1862. The great industrial center of Atlanta, GA had a population of 9,553 in 1860.

“Too small for a republic and too large for a lunatic asylum”

Benson J Lossing LLD in his 3-volume book on the Civil War remarked that “The old South rested everything on slavery and agriculture, unconscious that these could neither give nor maintain healthy growth.”

He could have added that the old South rested everything on states’ rights – a disease which, along with slavery and agrarianism, made the Confederacy non-viable as a nation no matter what the result of individual battles.

States’ Rights

Mary Lyde Williams gave the Presentation Address at the unveiling of the North Carolina Memorial at Gettysburg on July 3, 1929. She intended to make a great compliment when she began with the words, “They wrote a constitution in which each state should be free.” Ironically it was none other than Zebulon Vance, the governor of North Carolina who was notoriously hostile to the national government. Opposition to conscription in North Carolina was intense and disastrous for recruiting. Vance’s faith in states’ rights drove him to stubbornly oppose the Davis administration. And he was not alone.

Governors and state legislatures refused to give the national government the soldiers and money it needed because they feared encroachment on the rights of the states.

Georgia’s governor Joe Brown warned of a deep-laid conspiracy on the part of Jefferson Davis to destroy states’ rights and individual liberty. Brown declared, “Almost every act of usurpation of power, or of bad faith, has been conceived, brought forth and nurtured in secret session.” Giving the Confederate government power to draft soldiers was the “essence of military despotism.”

In 1863 Governor Pendleton Murrah withheld Texas troops claiming they were needed for self-defense of the state and refused to send them east to defend the nation.

Vice President Stephens warned that to allow Davis to make “arbitrary arrests and to draft state officials conferred on him more power than the English Parliament had ever bestowed on the king. History proved the dangers of such unchecked authority.” Stephens thought that Southerners should never view liberty as “subordinate to independence” because the cry of “independence first and liberty second” was a “fatal delusion.” Independence was not evidently the primary goal for Stephens.

While the Confederate Constitution did not specifically include a provision allowing states to secede, the Preamble spoke of each state “acting in its sovereign and independent character.” But it also declared the formation of a “permanent federal government.” The Constitution prohibited the use of revenues collected in one state for funding internal improvements in another state. State legislatures were given the power to impeach officials of the Confederate government in some cases.

It is in such contradictory grounds that the seeds of inevitable defeat were sown.

Recognition

No nation becomes a nation unless other nations recognize it and treat it as such. For the South, recognition was essential – and there were only two nations whose recognition meant a hill of beans – England and France. No one cared if Belgium recognized the South; Mauritania was irrelevant; Germany did not even exist.

But England’s government, anxious as it was to strengthen any threat to U.S. hegemony in the region, could not politically recognize a nation based upon slavery because the working classes of England and the Christian church had learned to detest slavery.

Louis Napoleon, although keen to step in, would not make a move without English cooperation. Indeed, he preferred to let the South hang alone in order to seize Mexico while the US military was too busy to intervene.

Sea Power

The growth and indeed existence of nations in the 18th and 19th centuries was predicated upon access to and control of the seas or full cooperation with those who had it. Without such access, no nation could long endure. The Southern states had no navy, no finances to build or purchase one and no tradition of sea-faring to outfit one. Innovation could not stand in for the quantity and quality of ships, both military and merchant, and the skilled sailors enjoyed by the North. This lack of ability to control the seas ensured the Union a stranglehold to prevent exports and imports desperately required by the South. The North might lose battles, but it could not lose the war as long as it controlled the seas, ports and rivers of the continent.

Foreign Trade

Prior to the war, the states that formed the Confederacy accounted for 70% of total US exports and paid about 60-70% of the tariffs raised in the US. Far from indicating strength and importance, these figures illuminate core weaknesses of the Confederate economy – not strengths.

Confederate leaders believed that exports would give the new nation a firm financial basis, while the ability to shake off tariffs would strengthen their economy – after all, it was tariffs that had driven the pre-war nullification crisis which particularly offended South Carolina.

Cotton was the primary potential export, accounting for 75% of Southern goods either shipped to Northern US states or exported in 1860. The Confederate States entered the war with the hope that its near monopoly of the world cotton trade would force the European importing countries, especially Great Britain and France, to intervene in the war on her behalf. In 1861, Southerners at the local level imposed an embargo on cotton shipments. Millions of bales of cotton went unshipped, and by summer 1861 the Union blockade closed down all normal trade. The Confederate government was forced to make a virtue of necessity – driven into error by states’ rights enthusiasts.

The main purchasers of cotton, Britain and France, turned to Egyptian cotton. British and French traders invested heavily in cotton plantations, and the Egyptian government took out substantial loans from European bankers and stock exchanges. After the Civil War, British and French traders abandoned Egyptian cotton and returned to cheap American exports, sending Egypt into a deficit spiral that led to the country declaring bankruptcy, a key factor behind Egypt’s annexation by Britain in 1882.

During the war cotton cultivation in the British Empire, especially India, also greatly increased to replace the lost production of the American South.

And the much hated tariffs? The Union blockade solved that problem for the South. Almost all of the essential materials to pursue an industrial war and support a civilian population were denied landing – the South had no imports upon which to pay duties.

Specie

The specie holdings of various banks largely found their way into the Confederate treasury as part of a $15,000,000 loan early in 1861. In addition, the government seized specie from various Federal offices. However, this was soon sent to Europe to pay for war supplies. Gold and silver in general circulation also soon left the CSA almost entirely, much of it going to the North. The government never secured any specie revenue, and was driven headlong into the wholesale issue of paper money.

The first interest-bearing notes were issued in March 1861 and were soon followed by others, bearing no interest and payable in two years, with still more payable six months after peace. New issues were continuous, so that from $1,000,000 in circulation in July 1861, the amount rose to $30 million before December 1861; to $100 million by March 1862; to $200 million by August 1862; to perhaps $450 million by December 1862; to $700 million by the autumn of 1863; and to a much larger figure before the end of the war.

This policy of issuing irredeemable paper money was copied by the individual states and other political bodies. Alabama began by issuing $1,000,000 in notes in February 1861, and added to this amount during each subsequent session of the state legislature. The other states followed suit. Cities, corporations and other business concerns tried to meet the rising tide of prices with the issue of their individual promissory notes intended to circulate from hand to hand.

As a result of this redundancy of the currency, its value collapsed. Gold was already quoted at a premium in Confederate notes as early as April 1861. By the end of that year, a paper dollar was quoted at 90 cents in gold; during 1862 that figure fell to 40 cents; during 1863, to 6 cents; and still lower during the last two years of the war. The downward course of this figure, with occasional recoveries, reflects the popular estimate of the Confederacy’s chance of winning and maintaining independence as a viable nation.

The oversupply of currency drove the price of commodities to exorbitant heights, and disarranged all business. Frequent efforts were made by legislation and otherwise to reduce the prices demanded, especially by the agricultural sector. As a result, the production of food products fell off, or at least farmers did not bring their products to market for fear of being forced to sell them at a loss.

Supplies for the army were obtained by impressment, the price to be paid for them being arbitrarily fixed at a low figure. As a result, the army administration found it almost impossible to induce producers of food willingly to turn over their products, and the army suffered from want.

Under these confused industrial circumstances, the sufferings of the debtor class were loudly asserted, and laws were passed to relieve them of their burdens, making the collection of debts difficult or impossible.

Government Revenues

The effectiveness of the Union blockade and the peculiar industrial development of the Confederate States removed the possibility of an ample government revenue. Though import duties were levied, the proceeds amounted to almost nothing. A small export duty on cotton was expected to produce a large revenue sufficient to base a loan upon, but the small amount of cotton exports reduced this source of revenue to an insignificant figure.

There being, moreover, so few manufactures to tax under an internal revenue system such as the US government adopted, the Confederacy was cut off from deriving any considerable revenue from indirect taxation. The first Confederate tax law levied a direct tax of twenty million dollars, which was apportioned among the states.

These, with the exception of Texas, contributed their apportioned share to the central government by issuing bonds or notes, so that the tax was in reality but a disguised form of loan. Real taxation was postponed until the spring of 1863, when a stringent measure was adopted taxing property and earnings. It was slowly and with difficulty put into effect, and was re-enacted in February 1864. In the states and cities there was a strong tendency to relax or postpone taxation in view of the other demands upon the people.

With no revenue from taxation, and with the disastrous effects of the wholesale issue of paper money before it, the Confederate government made every effort to borrow money by issuing bonds. The initial $15 million loan was soon followed by an issue of one hundred million in bonds, which it was, however, difficult to place. This was followed by even larger loans. The bonds rapidly fell in value, and were quoted during the war at approximately the value of the paper money, in which medium they were paid for by subscribers. To avoid this circumstance, a system of produce loans was devised by which the bonds were subscribed for in cotton, tobacco and food products. This policy was subsequently enlarged and enabled the government to secure at least a part of the armies’ food supplies. But the bulk of the subscriptions for these bonds was made in cotton, for which the planters were thus enabled to find a market.

In the autumn of 1862, Confederate law attempted to compel note-holders to fund their notes in bonds in order to reduce the redundancy of the currency and lower prices. Disappointed in the result of this legislation, the Congress, in February 1864, went much farther in the same direction by passing a law requiring note-holders to fund their notes before a certain date, after which notes would be taxed a third or more of their face value. This drastic measure was accepted as meaning a partial repudiation of the Confederate debt, and though it for a time reduced the currency outstanding and lowered prices, it wrecked the government’s credit and made it impossible for the treasury to float any more loans. During the last months of the war, the treasury led a most precarious existence, and its actual operations can only be surmised.

As the war entered its final year, it was becoming evident that the Confederacy’s lack of industry and the destruction of its transportation infrastructure helped to play a part in its eventual demise.

Defeat saved the Confederacy from total ruin. A victorious Confederate government would have collapsed under its total inability to pay debts, obtain new loans, rebuild infrastructure and stabilize its currency. But a defeated and non-existent Confederacy could safely repudiate debt and rely upon the governmental and commercial acumen of the hated Yankees to rebuild a society.

Conclusion

Abraham Lincoln liked to tell the story of a frugal farmer who saw no need to feed a male pig all year just to service his sow. Early one spring morning he put the sow in the wagon, traveled to a nearby farm, and the sow was serviced. The next morning, in order to make more certain of the efficacy of the servicing and to make sure he had lots of bacon come winter, he packed the sow in the wagon and again brought her to be serviced. He did this on each of the next two days. On the fifth day his wife asked if he was going to have the sow serviced. He replied “I’m too tired to tote her down the road again,” to which his wife replied, “Well, you ought to tell the sow, ‘cause she’s a sittin’ in the wagon.”

This question of the viability of the Southern Confederacy has been long settled by history. It has been settled here tonight. We should all be too tired to tote it down the road again – but there it is, sitting in the wagon. I ask for your votes tonight to remove it once and for all.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen.

CONTINUE TO THE FIFTH ARGUMENT >>

The Second Shot Heard ‘Round the World

The Confederacy WAS a Viable State.

By Thomas E. Stratton-Crooke
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: The subject of the annual Dick Crews Debate at the January 2008 Roundtable meeting was: “The Southern Victory of 1865: Was the Confederacy a Viable State?” Five members made presentations on the topic; the article below was one of those five presentations.

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The “genesis” of the Civil War may be found at the time of the American Revolution which began in 1776. Therefore it might be construed by some to say that the Civil War started in 1776.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled.
Here once the embattled farmer stood
And fired the shot heard ’round the world.”

The question that now begs the answer is when was the second shot heard ’round the world fired? And the answer of course is as night follows the day: April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter.

The concept of viability is caught up in the concept of unity, that is, the viability of all the people in all the states, since the power of the nation is derived from the power of the people, which is the underpinning premise of the Constitution of the United States of America. Remember, please, we are speaking unity, not disunity. We are speaking peace, not war. We are speaking of conciliation and reconciling acts of kindness. We are speaking of winning the peace as a greater factor than winning the war. Wars are not won per se. Might is right. In 1813 the British outlawed slavery because the British were doing everything in their power to gain back their colonies in recognition of the greatest blunder in history in losing the United States of America. E Pluribus Unum.

The facts are:

  1. President Abraham Lincoln never fully accepted the concept of secession particularly from 1860 to 1865.

  2. He was unswerving in his strict adherence to preserving the Union at all costs maintaining the United States of America as a viable union of peoples within the states as documented in the Constitution and the ratification of the Civil War amendments (13th Amendment).

  3. President Lincoln believed that the “whole” of the nation states and its people were greater than the sum of the parts and that the needs of the many far outweighed the needs of the few.

  4. In 1865 as the United States was a gathering of the people, so the United States governmental system was predicated on the gathering of states with the potential for westward and other expansion. And in that sense all the people were learning to govern themselves, and it was this unification of the objectives and goals of these people that made the South viable.

  5. The South never did succeed in seceding from the Union.

  6. The South and the North were bloodied and battered but still a viable union of states of the people, by the people and for the people.

  7. The South was still conceived as part of the Union by Congress. Please refer again to the Civil war amendments and the Constitution and therefore, in the Euclidian geometric context, things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. The Southern states were viable and capable of being reconstructed.

Epilogue

In conclusion, please permit me to say that I think we can all agree that nobody really wins a war. War is hell. But everyone can win the peace. Winning the peace is the viable part of war and binding up the wounds of the nation so well articulated by Mr. Lincoln, who knew this fact intimately.

To deny the fact and argue the viability of the Confederate States of America on the grounds of their incapacity, etc. is to deny the basic tenets upon which this great nation of, for and by the people was founded, which includes the fifty-six signatories who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They shall not have died in vain.

RETURN TO THE GREAT DEBATE 2008 HOME >>

Taking “The Gettysburg Test”

By John Hildebrandt
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2009, All Rights Reserved

If, as William Faulkner postulated, at least once in the life of every Southern boy, it is 3 p.m. on a warm July afternoon in the shallow valley that separates Seminary Ridge from Cemetery Ridge, it is also so for every student of the Civil War. However, in the student’s imagination he is a Licensed Battlefield Guide, leading a group of spellbound battlefield visitors on the short walk from Seminary Ridge to the fields that witnessed the glory, and the horror, of Pickett’s Charge.

Like most Civil War students, I pride myself on a more than passing acquaintance with the Battle of Gettysburg. Over the course of a lifetime—quickly approaching sixty years—I have been to the battlefield at least eight times and have read many books and dozens and dozens of magazine articles. I had often wondered how my knowledge measured up against what I considered the gold standard: a Licensed Battlefield Guide.

In March 2008, I decided to find out. I did some quick research about the process of becoming an Official Licensed Battlefield Guide. It is not an easy thing. No surprise here, and I would have been disappointed if it had been otherwise. Applicants must score in the top 20% of a written test administered usually every two years, then get through a series of interviews and training. Then the final test: giving a personalized battlefield tour to two current guides.

But first things first: the written test. It is usually administered the first Saturday in December, every two years, in a location in or around Gettysburg. It involves about two hundred questions and takes three hours. The test is administered by the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides (ALBG).

In March, I made the personal commitment to take the test, and I began my preparation. I had two motives, basically. Although my wife and I live in Sandusky, Ohio, and I am still a few years shy of retirement, the idea of moving to the Gettysburg area in retirement and becoming an LBG has considerable appeal. In my career I have worked with the public on a regular basis and have actually given many extensive tours (in my case of Cedar Point Amusement Park). The other motivation was simply to test my knowledge of Gettysburg. I wanted some objective validation that I was a Gettysburg “expert.”

I decided to start by re-reading what I consider the three major comprehensive studies of the battle: The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edward Coddington; Gettysburg by Stephen Sears; and Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Trudeau. I had read all three books previously, Coddington’s perhaps ten years ago. I decided to re-read them simultaneously. I read the prelude to the battle in each book, then the First Day in each book, then the Second Day, then the Third Day. It is an interesting exercise. I recommend it. At the same time, I re-read as many magazine articles on Gettysburg as I could. The supply is virtually endless, as any Civil War enthusiast knows. Over the years, I had kept most issues of Blue and Gray, America’s Civil War, Civil War Times Illustrated, and North and South that included Gettysburg articles. I also made a commitment to physically get to the battlefield at least once before the test in December.

I work full time as general manager of Cedar Point, a large amusement park and resort facility in Sandusky, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie. The park draws more than three million visitors annually and is actually located less than a mile from Johnson’s Island, site of a Civil War prison for Confederate officers. My busy season is April through October, including every weekend. My study would have to take place at home, and mostly after 8 p.m. I knew the earliest I could get to the battlefield would be October.

In my previous reading of Coddington, et al., I was reading purely for pleasure. Now, they were textbooks. I underlined passages. I made notes in the margins. I noted inconsistencies, biases, and what I considered significant insights. I also read High Tide at Gettysburg: The Campaign in Pennsylvania by Glenn Tucker (a Southern perspective, in my opinion, but his sidebar stories are quite good). I re-read the Gettysburg section, “Stars in Their Courses” in Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative, and the Gettysburg chapter in David Eicher’s The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. I also read extensively—though, I admit selectively—in Harry W. Pfanz’s masterful series: Gettysburg–The First Day, Gettysburg–Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill, and Gettysburg–The Second Day. I also dipped into a number of other books on Gettysburg, from Jeffrey D. Wert’s, Gettysburg, Day Three to The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, from 35 Days to Gettysburg: The Campaign Diaries of Two American Enemies by Mark Nesbitt to James McPherson’s Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg.

According to the ALBG website, the written test measures specific knowledge of the battle as well as general knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction, including the political, diplomatic, and social history of the period. In this area, I trusted a lifetime of reading and museum-visiting and battlefield-visiting. I did no specific preparation. The website also recommended not going overboard studying tactical minutiae. The purpose of the test was to measure your overall understanding of the battle, the ebb and flow, the big picture. I took its advice.

From March through November, my nightstand was piled with Gettysburg books. The same with the desk in my home office. My wife, who has endured my Civil War fascination for nearly thirty-four years (we visited Antietam on our honeymoon), was very supportive, though she would occasionally roll her eyes when I started comparing Coddington and Sears and their differing perspectives on this or that general. Going into my preparation, I thought my strengths would be my understanding and knowledge of the war in general, and the quality and quantity of my reading. I thought my major weakness would be my lack of intimate knowledge of the field itself, including monuments, geography, etc.

My wife and I did get to Gettysburg for two days the first week of October. We spent time in the new Visitor Center and the Cyclorama (worth the trip by itself). We also signed up for a tour by a Licensed Battlefield Guide. I played dumb, not letting on I was on a scouting mission. I asked him to give us a tour of the battlefield from an artillery perspective. He seemed very pleased at my request, and he did a fine job. I saw Benner’s Hill for the first time and a seldom-visited spot where Jubal Early’s artillery raked the Union XI Corps on July 1. I observed our guide closely and peppered him with questions. I asked him if he had given any tours to the rich and famous. He laughed and said no, but one of his colleagues had given a tour to a very nice man and had ended the tour by saying: “And what line of work are you in, Mr. Springsteen?”

I had forgotten how many memorials and monuments there are at Gettysburg. In preparation for a past trip, I had researched the location of all the Ohio monuments on the field. On that trip, I had visited each monument and taken a picture of it. I knew if the test included a question about Ohio monuments, I would be in good shape. (It did not, however). I also visited East Cavalry Field for the first time. I think my wife and I were the only visitors that day. Over Thanksgiving, I began studying the Order of Battle for both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. My goal was to memorize the commanders down to at least the brigade level. In retrospect, I started on this way too late. And there are a lot of names.

The test was given at Harrisburg Community College on Saturday, December 6. The College is located on U.S. 15 on the northwest side of the city, the road Jubal Early’s Division marched down in its approach to Gettysburg on July 1. Unfortunately, due to work requirements, I was not able to do any reading or studying the week prior to the test. Marie and I flew into Harrisburg on Friday night, rented a car, and drove down to Gettysburg. We stayed at the Gettysburg Hotel on the Square, which was lit beautifully for Christmas. It was cold and windy, even a bit of snow, definitely a winter weekend.

It costs $50 to take the test. The registration process is simple enough. Call or write the Chief of the LBG Service. There is a lot of information available on the ALBG website. Return the registration. You are then sent a more detailed application (lots of government-type questions, but it also asks for your experience in guiding tours, any other relevant experience, etc.) and specific instructions for reporting to the test site.

The test started at 9 a.m., but test-takers were told to report by 8:15 a.m. I had guessed the size of the group would be around one hundred. I was low. One of the LBG’s told me there were one hundred thirty-five people scheduled to take the test. Thus, there would be less than thirty people who would qualify to go to the next round. The group was overwhelmingly male, easily 90%, but not as old as I had expected. There were a number of people who looked to be in their thirties and forties. Quite a few seemed to know each other. I also got the impression that a number were taking the test for a second or third time.

When I picked up my test packet, the LBG noted I was from Sandusky, Ohio, the location of Johnson’s Island Confederate Prison. The group was divided up into several classrooms. There were two LBGs, one female and one male, assigned to each room. Our male proctor was a bit of a comedian (and, I am sure, a very good guide) and tried to break the pre-test tension in the room. He made fun of the LBG uniforms, the “silly sport coats that make us look like condo salesmen” and the “ridiculous ties.” He claimed to have never worn either.

Per the website, the test consists of a “fill in the blanks” section, a multiple choice section, and a true/false section, then a section that tests your knowledge of monuments, geography, and people (including identifying photographs). The test concludes with four essay questions. You must answer three of four questions. The essay questions are basically used as tiebreakers. Just before 9:00 a.m., the proctor tells you to open your packet. You are provided with three government-issue pencils. You are allowed to have bottled water at your desk. If you must use the restroom during the test period, you are accompanied to and then into the restroom by an LBG.

I admit to considerable nervousness. The test was a culmination of nearly nine months of preparation. I had not taken a test like this since the GMAT to go to graduate school, more than thirty-five years ago. At precisely 9:00 a.m., we got the green light. It is a hard test. Very hard. No, extremely hard.

The first and biggest section is “fill in the blank.” No guesswork here. You pretty much either know the answer or you do not. My strategy was to go through this section and answer only those I knew, and then double back to those I needed to think about. There were a number where I was absolutely clueless. I did best where I thought I would: general Civil War questions. A few were what I would term “easy,” e.g., what other name is used to refer to the Battle of Stones River? (Battle of Murfreesboro). There were a large number where I realized I should know the answer, but just could not remember the name or fact, though I had read it numerous times, e.g., name the four brigade commanders in Lafayette McClaws’ Division? (Semmes, Barksdale, Kershaw, and Wofford). I had three of four, but drew a blank on Brigadier General W.T. Wofford.

Most students of the battle are aware of the story of the Union soldier who was killed in the retreat through Gettysburg on July 1 and was found holding a picture of his three children. A nationwide search took place to identify the soldier and locate his children. I knew the story. I knew the soldier was a German, a member of the XI Corps. I knew it was a long, unpronounceable German name (Amos Humiston). But could I remember it? No. I still cannot. Another was: Name General Buford’s two brigade commanders present for the fight on July 1? I knew one, Colonel Devin, but not the other, Colonel Gamble. However, I think I did fairly well in the true/false and multiple choice questions.

The test is mainly focused on the recall of very specific factual information. Despite what the ALBG website leads you to believe, it does not test your knowledge of the big picture, the ebb and flow of battle, the major strategic and tactical issues, the choices faced by various commanders. I guess that is my one gripe, a bit of false advertising here, in my opinion. In defense of the ALBG, I think it would counter that testing understanding vs. knowledge comes in the next phase of the licensing process. And one must start somewhere. Evaluating understanding vs. knowledge is a much more difficult task. I do not know who is responsible for creating the test, but my working assumption is that a group of LBGs are charged with developing the questions and format. I also assume it changes considerably each time it is offered.

The monument section was my downfall. You are asked to match approximately a dozen monuments and memorials with specific military units. I am sure I missed most of them. The list of units was multiple choice, so you could guess, and that is what I was reduced to doing. Guessing is never a good thing on a test. In the next section, you are asked to identify about a dozen photographs of Union and Confederate officers. It is fill in the blank, not multiple choice, so much harder to guess. I think I did pretty well here. Some were quite obvious to a Civil War enthusiast, e.g., Winfield Hancock, Jubal Early, and Jeb Stuart. The next section was identifying geographic locations on a map of the Gettysburg field. I thought this was perhaps the easiest section of the test. A careful process of elimination and common sense gets you to the right answers.

The final section of the test was the four essay questions. The first asked the objectives General Robert E. Lee had in mind for his summer 1863 invasion of the North. The second was to present the rationale, from General Richard Ewell’s perspective, why it was “not practicable” to assault Culp’s Hill on the late afternoon/early evening of July 1. The third asked you to address why Lincoln was invited to attend and provide “appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery at Gettysburg in November 1863. The fourth involved a discussion of the three phases of Reconstruction. I answered the first three questions.

I went into the test thinking three hours seemed a bit long. I ended up using all three hours. So did the vast majority of test-takers. When it was done, I was drained.

I received my results on January 2. I did not do very well, scoring in the bottom half of those who took the test. It is embarrassing to admit this, in part because I have always thought I knew a lot about the Battle of Gettysburg. Also, throughout my life, I have always done well on tests. Disappointed? You bet. But I do not regret the time I spent in preparation. I really enjoyed the whole process. And in my heart I know I could give a terrific tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

I have great respect for those who qualified for the next round of the licensing process. Here are some tips for anyone contemplating taking the test:

  1. Know the Order of Battle, especially infantry and artillery units, certainly down to the brigade level.
  2. Know the placement of units on the battlefield by day and time of day.
  3. Know the monuments and memorials. There are over a thousand of them, so you cannot know them all. However, try to identify the top twenty or thirty and know something of their history, especially the unit or units they were erected to honor. To do this right, you have to spend time on the field. Know who designed the state memorials.
  4. Be able to identify the regiments of the more famous brigades, e.g., Irish Brigade, Iron Brigade, Texas Brigade. And their commanders.
  5. Know the insignia of all the Union corps.
  6. Be familiar with Reconstruction. Many Civil War enthusiasts have no interest in anything that happened after April 1865. However, a lot did.
  7. There is a big difference between reading for pleasure and studying. Most of us read Civil War books for pleasure. You must read them as though it is high school or college again and your graduation depends upon how much you can recall.
  8. Know the difference between a Napoleon and a Parrott. Expect questions that test basic knowledge of Civil War weaponry.
  9. Know the geography of the Gettysburg region, the area outside the immediate battlefield but part of it: Taneytown, Carlisle, Cashtown, Mummasburg, et al.
  10. Visit the battlefield as often as you can. There is always something to learn.

The next test date is tentatively scheduled for the first weekend in December, 2010. I plan to be there.

Referenced in this article
(Click on any of the book links on this page to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)

The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command by Edward Coddington

The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War by David Eicher

The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote

The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg by Jay Luvaas

Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg by James McPherson

35 Days to Gettysburg: The Campaign Diaries of Two American Enemies by Mark Nesbitt

Gettysburg–The First Day by Harry W. Pfanz

Gettysburg–Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill by Harry W. Pfanz

Gettysburg–The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz

Gettysburg by Stephen Sears

Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Trudeau

High Tide at Gettysburg: The Campaign in Pennsylvania by Glenn Tucker

Gettysburg, Day Three by Jeffrey D. Wert

Hysteria, Democracy and Terrorism

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2003, 2007, All Rights Reserved

On July 7, 1865, Mary E. Surratt was hanged in the Arsenal grounds at Washington’s Old Penitentiary Building, having been convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Also executed were Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt and David Herold. Mrs. Surratt’s execution was perhaps the most extreme example of how the American rule of law was put to the severest test – and in some ways failed – in the cauldron of the Civil War.

The execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, George Adzerodt and David Herold

President Lincoln took extraordinary measures to maintain order in the North during the war. He ordered the arrest of treasonous Maryland legislators, exiled the Copperhead leader Clement Vallandigham of Ohio, and widely suspended the writ of habeas corpus, even where Federal and state courts were open for business. Lincoln defended his actions, saying “Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” The Lincoln administration claimed the right to take into military custody anyone who demonstrated “substantial and unmistakable complicity with those in armed rebellion,” and between 12,000 and 18,000 citizens were held without trial. Secretary of State William H. Seward relished his authority to arrest those whom he saw as enemies of the United States, telling a visitor, “If I tap that little bell, I can send you to a place where you will never hear the dogs bark.” In the case of Ex parte Merryman, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ordered the release of such prisoners, but Lincoln ignored the order.

We now know that there were indeed some Confederate spies and plotters in the North, and many Copperhead sympathizers, but they never posed a threat remotely proportional to the Lincoln administration’s internal-security policies. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Lincoln badly erred, both legally and politically. The President did the best he could under very trying circumstances, but he overreached, and freedom suffered.

After Lincoln’s assassination, hysteria swept through the North. Coming so soon after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, while Jefferson Davis and many top Confederate officials were still at large, John Wilkes Booth’s crime was thought by many to be a last murderous stab of the Richmond government-in-exile. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton exercised virtually dictatorial power in the hours after Lincoln’s shooting, setting up a command post in the front parlor of the Petersen House, opposite Ford’s Theatre, even as Lincoln fought for life in a small back room. Stanton issued a flurry of orders, offering a reward for the capture of the Lincoln conspirators, and seeing to it that a military tribunal was established to try the conspirators when they were arrested.

Whether Mary Surratt should have been prosecuted before a military tribunal was ably debated at the Roundtable’s meeting in January 2003; I have grave doubts that she should have been. However, the evidence as to her guilt was certainly less than overwhelming. It’s quite possible that she would have been acquitted, or at least pardoned by the new President, in a less grief-stricken and vengeful time.

Mary Surratt was, to some degree, a victim of one of those periods of constitutional crisis that often follow a great national calamity. She found herself in a time, such as we are now in, when public opinion is at its most inflamed, and when constitutional rights and the rule of law – bedrock principles of American democracy – are seen by some as costly luxuries in the face of a mortal threat to the nation. After Ft. Sumter, Lincoln took actions which severely curtailed constitutional freedoms in the North. After World War I and widespread anarchists’ bombing attacks, hundreds of suspected radicals and revolutionaries were arrested or deported in the Palmer Raids, sometimes just because they “looked” like enemies of the state. After Pearl Harbor, many thousands of Japanese-Americans were herded into internment camps just because of their ethnic background, even though no charges of sabotage or spying were brought against them. After World War II, McCarthyism and anticommunist paranoia ruined many lives.

Have we learned anything from these gross violations of the Constitution? I fear not. Since the monstrous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Federal government has laid claim to sweeping new powers. The government has gone so far as to designate two U.S. citizens, Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, as “enemy combatants,” asserting the power to hold them indefinitely, without charges and without access to counsel. This is a power found nowhere in the Constitution, breathtaking in its implications and, in my view, repugnant to American ideals of freedom and justice. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (based in Richmond, ironically enough) upheld the government’s claim on January 8, the very day of our debate, and now the case is sure to go before the Supreme Court. No one wants terrorists to strike again, but we must be mindful of the Constitution that sets our nation apart from all others. As we fight the very real threat of terrorism, we should remember Benjamin Franklin’s warning: “They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Our rights are never more endangered than during a national crisis. Now more than ever, we must do all what we can to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, that structure of ordered liberty that has seen us through so many crises: a civil war, a great depression, two world wars, a cold war. This nation will endure and prevail, if we each decide that it shall be so, and if we are true to the principles on which it was founded.

That’s the least we can do for ourselves, for our country, and for the memory of Mary Surratt – whether she was guilty or innocent.
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Related links:
The Surratt Pardon: History That Never Was
The Lincoln Conspiracy Trial (1865)
Lincoln’s Suspension of Habeas Corpus
Ex Parte Milligan Anniversary
Remembering 9/11

The Surratt Pardon: History That Never Was

By William F.B. Vodrey
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2003, 2007, All Rights Reserved

Author’s Note: In reality, Mary E. Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865 in the Arsenal grounds at Washington’s Old Penitentiary Building after being convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

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Related links:
Hysteria, Democracy and Terrorism
The Lincoln Conspiracy Trial (1865)