The Civil War
The dissolution of the Union initiated the most horrific loss of life in U.S. history. What we, as students of that history, need to remember is that the Civil War was about slavery, about the involuntary servitude of millions of kidnapped Africans and their descendants who withstood unrelenting horror --- including rape and murder --- for almost 250 years! All in the interest of white supremacy. While the Civil War abolished slavery, it did not end white supremacy, North or South. It is a legacy that haunts us in 2019 and the struggle to eliminate white, male privilege, in particular, is an issue we need to address every day --- particularly in light of the current Administration’s clear commitment to support white (male) supremacy.
In considering the Civil War we will limit our focus to: (1) Lincoln’s election and Southern secession; (2) the Battle of Gettysburg; (3) the Emancipation Proclamation; (4) Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address; (5) the ratification of the 13th Amendment, and (6) Lincoln’s assassination and the ascension of Andrew Johnson to the presidency. Volumes have been written about the Civil War, about Lincoln’s presidency, about various Generals (Grant, Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, William Sherman, et al). The focus here is to follow the through line of white male supremacy as it was not only created but also cultivated, step by step, in our history.
Lincoln’s election & Southern Secession
Southern states, starting with South Carolina in December of 1860, considered the election of Abraham Lincoln a clear sign that the Northern states were determined to rid the nation of slavery, the economic lifeblood of the South. While secession had been threatened before --- by the New England states during the War of 1812 (The Hartford Convention) and South Carolina in 1832-33 (The Nullification crisis, a conflict over tariffs. The Southern states believed the tariffs favored Northern shipping interests. Led by John Calhoun, an avowed white supremacist, South Carolina claimed it could “nullify” a federal law it did not believe in and, failing that, had a Constitutional right to secede. President Andrew Jackson --- while being a slave-owning, Indian-murdering white supremacist himself --- did not believe the Constitution allowed secession and ended the Nullification Crisis, threatening to send in Federal troops and to personally hang Calhoun --- his Vice President! --- if necessary).
On December 3, 1860, President James Buchanan, in his State of the Union Address, acknowledged his view that the South, "after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union.” (wiki) While noting there might be apocalyptic consequences if secession were to occur, Buchanan did not take a definitive, strong stand against secession (as Jackson had) --- opening the door for South Carolina to leave the Union.
By June of 1861 (Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861), eleven states had created The Confederate States of America, seceding from the Union. “The eleven states of the CSA, in order of their secession dates (listed in parentheses), were: South Carolina(December 20, 1860), Mississippi (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10, 1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19, 1861), Louisiana (January 26, 1861), Texas (February 1, 1861), Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), North Carolina (May 20, 1861), and Tennessee (June 8, 1861). Secession was declared by pro-Confederate governments in Missouri and Kentucky but did not become effective as it was opposed by their pro-Union state governments. “(wiki) With the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston (S.C.) Harbor in April of 1861, the Civil War began in earnest.
The Battle of Gettysburg
Initially, the South was militarily successful for a number of reasons. The Confederate States, with a cultural history of horsemanship and military academies, had more qualified leaders (Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, James Longstreet, George Pickett), they were fighting on their “home field,” and they fervently believed in their “cause” (as some still do today!). But the tide turned in south central Pennsylvania just before the 4th of July in 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. “The battle, July 1 to July 3, 1863 involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war's turning point. Lee led his army on a torturous retreat back to Virginia. Between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three-day battle, the most costly in US history.” (wiki) Southern forces never penetrated the Northern states again and, of course, Lincoln’s battlefield address, to dedicate the cemetery for the fallen soldiers, was widely publicized (and criticized by opponents!) and proved to be inspirational to Union forces. Historically, it is now seen as one of the greatest speeches in U.S. History.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Before the Gettysburg Address was delivered, Lincoln had issued The Emancipation Proclamation. Technically, “The Emancipation Proclamation, or Proclamation 95, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It changed the federal legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the designated areas of the South from slave to free. As soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, by running away or through advances of federal troops, the former slave became free.” (wiki) Ironically, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves who lived in the states in rebellion, meaning slaves in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri (about 500,000) remained in bondage, having to wait until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865 to become free. Lincoln’s authority to issue the Proclamation was based on his “war powers” as commander-in-chief (the South was “in rebellion” and was never acknowledged as a sovereign nation --- by the U.S.A. or any other world power). So, while Lincoln has been historically known as “The Great Emancipator” his work was not completed until the 13th Amendment was ratified (as depicted in Spielberg’s 2012 historical drama Lincoln). As we know, despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery), ending slavery did not end white supremacy by any stretch of the imagination.
Tomorrow: The Civil War – Part Two
P.S. - Today would have been Jackie Robinson's 100th birthday. When I used to teach high school U.S. history classes I would tell my students that I believe the post-WWII Civil Rights movement started on April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson stepped on a baseball field as a Brooklyn Dodger. In today's NFL/NBA dominated sport scene, it is hard to imagine how important baseball was to the cultural fabric of the United States in 1947. The St. Louis Cardinals team threatened to strike if Robinson appeared on their home field (they didn't). Southern players on the Dodgers refused to play with him (Brooklyn General Manager Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson, traded them!) It was an age of railroad travel (there were no teams WEST of St. Louis --- and there were only 16 Major League teams, 8 in each league) and radio but, as James Earl Jones's character Terence Mann (a Black man) states in "Field of Dreams:" "The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again." As today's New York Times notes, Jackie Robinson's birthday is a day ahead of the beginning of Black History Month --- just as Jackie Robinson was a bit ahead of America in pioneering for genuine Civil Rights for African-Americans.