Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome guest contributor Adam Burke…
Tucked into the nook of a large brick building in historic Harpers Ferry is a conspicuous granite monolith. It stands along Potomac Street, a lesser traveled street one block north of High Street, the main thoroughfare of the town. However, travelers who want to see the original site of John Brown’s capture, or those seeking a better view of towering Maryland Heights across the Potomac River, may stumble upon the seemingly out of place slab of granite.
In 1931, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) dedicated this monument to Heyward Shepherd—a free black railroad worker and the first victim of John Brown’s infamous Harpers Ferry Raid. Shepherd was killed by one of Brown’s men when he went to look for a missing bridge watchman in the midst of the raid. Upon encountering Brown’s men, Shepherd was ordered to halt. Unaware of the evening’s danger, Shepherd turned around to go back to the Baltimore & Ohio Rail Station. Fearing Shepherd would sound an alarm, one of Brown’s men shot him in the back.
The monument describes Shepherd as someone who exemplified “the character and faithfulness of thousands of negros who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.” The monument fails to tell the story of John Brown’s raid and what it meant to the course of the nation’s history. Instead, the UDC, the SCV, and other speakers at the dedication ceremony “emphasized Shepherd’s presumed loyalty to the Confederacy over the tragedy of his innocent death and Brown’s aberrant violence over his ideological mission.” In doing so, the UDC and SVC “tactfully downplay[ed] slavery and the racial issues of the Civil War,” writes Civil War era scholar Akiko Ochiai. The Heyward Shepherd Monument stands today as one of the many surviving relics of the Lost Cause.
Recent Civil War literature thoroughly documents the myth of the Lost Cause. Created shortly after war by powerful white southerners, the Lost Cause is a retelling of the Civil War to explain the Confederacy’s devastating loss. Despite the political and social consequences of the war, this powerful retelling of events sought to protect and maintain white supremacy. The myth consists of several key themes. First, it obscures the fact that secession states fought to protect their right to maintain the institution of slavery. Instead, mythology offers other explanations such as tariffs or states’ rights. Another key motif is that of the happy, docile slave who was better off enslaved than free. One of the most important elements, however, is the idea that the Union defeated the Confederacy due to built in advantages such as a stronger economy, a larger population, and industrial prowess. In this view, former Confederates could shift blame from the generals they would shortly deify, and find comfort in the fact that, as Lee himself noted, only “overwhelming numbers and resources” prevented their success. They ignore how Northern states became industrially and economically dominant. However, Northern advantages and Southern disadvantages were the result of the North favoring free labor and wealthy southerners insisting upon the perpetuation of slavery.
Authors have spilled much ink discrediting these historical distortions, yet they persist. Time and time again, authors have demonstrated that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.
Works that address the subject have recently become quite prevalent. Henry Louis Gates’ Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow demonstrates how proponents of the Lost Cause effectively used imagery and symbols to hide the true cause of the Civil War, to reverse the progress of Reconstruction, and to lay the foundation for Jim Crow. In his book The False Cause: Fraud, Fabrication, and White Supremacy in Confederate Memory, Adam H. Domby explores how the myth continues to influence the nation’s Civil War memory. A related but less discussed idea is that slavery contributed to the downfall of the Confederacy’s cause. In fact, southern dependence upon slavery helps explain almost every excuse for losing the war offered by the Lost Cause myth. To meet the demands of an agricultural plantation economy, southern elites insisted upon the perpetuation of slavery. This stubbornness caused the South to fall behind the North in manufacturing capacity, infrastructure development, and population growth. Ironically, southern dependence on a vile institution is the overwhelming factor that created the built-in southern disadvantages much lamented by the mythmakers.
At the outbreak of the war, Southern states trailed their Northern counterparts in manufacturing capacity. A reliance on slavery in the South accounts for a significant portion of this gap. Although the South accounted for approximately forty percent of the population, it was responsible for only twenty percent of the country’s industrial production. Although slave owners could make money by selling the labor of their slaves to factories, cotton was profitable enough to encourage slave owners to keep their slaves working in the fields. Because most slaveholder capital was not liquid—instead, it was tied up in land and slaves—it was also difficult to invest in other areas. Incredibly, by 1860, “the economic value of slaves in the United States exceeded the invested value of all of the nation’s railroads, factories, and banks combined,” notes another historian. Slave owners simply had no incentive to invest in other ways of making money.
The industrial gap between North and South, facilitated by slavery, tangibly affected the outcome of the war. In terms of the power to make war, the Confederate states could not compete with Northern capacity. For example, Northern industry produced over 3,000 firearms for every 100 produced by Southern industry. Northern industrial capacity significantly affected naval operations as well. Consider the Battle of Hampton Roads, in which two ironclad vessels squared off for the first time in history. CSS Virginia wrought havoc on the Union’s wooden vessels in Hampton Roads, sinking two major ships before nightfall. She threatened the Union’s ability to implement a blockade and caused panic in Washington D.C. Although Virginia had her sights on additional Union vessels the next day, USS Monitor arrived in time to stymie the Confederate ironclad, and the destruction stopped. Incredibly, the North required just over 100 days to produce this “experimental iron vessel from scratch,” while the Confederacy needed almost a year to refit the sunken USS Merrimack and create Virginia. The North would rely on manufacturing strength to mass produce ironclad vessels that would prove essential to the Union’s domination of the nation’s rivers. In fact, the Union utilized ironclad vessels to open rivers to navigation and topple Confederate strongholds, such as Vicksburg. Thus, Northern industrial capacity saved the Union fleet and neutralized what could have been a major strategic advantage for the Confederacy.
As a result of slowly developing industry, the South lagged behind the North in transportation infrastructure. By 1850, the South accounted for only fourteen percent of canals and twenty six percent of the nation’s railroad tracks. Although Southern states would eventually make rapid gains, investment in transportation remained greater in free states than slave states. Northern transportation infrastructure superiority directly affected the outcome of the war. In an event James McPherson called an “extraordinary feat of logistics,” Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton organized transport for 25,000 men to make a 1,200-mile railroad trip in just eleven days to reinforce Union forces at Chattanooga after the disastrous loss at Chickamauga. These troops would be essential to the Union’s victory at Chattanooga later in the fall of 1863, opening crucial passage into Georgia.
The North enjoyed substantial manufacturing prowess over the Confederate States. This gap in capability was exacerbated by southern insistence upon a slave-centric economy. Strong manufacturing resulted in cascading effects that benefited the Union. First, it provided mass production of the material essential to make war. Second, the North’s industrial might enabled rapid movement of essential war material and personnel. Although slavery’s effects on manufacturing were devastating to the Confederacy, we will observe that human bondage affected southern manpower capacity to an even greater extent…
To be continued…
 Brands, H W. The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom. New York City, NY: Doubleday, 2020., 203.
 Ochiai, Akiko. “Continuing Skirmishes in Harpers Ferry: Entangled Memories of Heyward Shepherd and John Brown.” The Japanese Journal of American Studies 23 (2012): 14.
 Seidule, Ty. 2020. Rober E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 30
 Ibid, 30.
 Ibid, 32.
 Ibid, 34.
 Lee, Robert Edward. General’s Lee’s farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia. April 10th. Petersburg, Ege’s print. Petersburg, 1865. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.18703400/.
 McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91.
 Merritt, Keri Leigh. 2017. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 64.
 McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 97.
 Arrington, Benjamin T. “Industry and Economy during the Civil War.” Accessed April 17, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/articles/industry-and-economy-during-the-civil-war.htm
 Hughes, Dwight Sturtevant. 2021. Unlike Anything that Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beattie LLC, 44.
 Symonds, Craig. “Gunboats on the Mississippi.” American Battlefield Trust, March 25, 2021. Accessed April 17, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/gunboats-mississippi?fbclid=IwAR2JRBBWV29O-i-VGu4WOTXqTSqmsdCYUoPF8oeCEBukWqJhJ4-97ThKAdE.
 McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91.
 Ibid, 95.
 Ibid, 675
Adam Burke is an active duty military Officer in his twelfth year of service. He graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Political Theory. He also earned a Master’s in Cybersecurity from Pennsylvania State University. In addition to civilian education, Adam has completed two Joint Professional Military Education programs from Air University and National Defense University. He is an avid reader of history, particularly of the Civil War.