The Paradox of the Lost Cause: Part II

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest contributor Adam Burke…[see Part I here]

20th New York

20th New York Volunteer Infantry Monument, Antietam National Cemetery. The 20th New York Regiment is an example of one of many Union regiments comprised of mostly immigrants. (NPS)

Slavery’s effects on Southern industry and manufacturing devastated the Confederacy’s military manpower capacity. The antebellum North enjoyed dramatic economic and population expansion. From 1840 to 1850, population growth in Northern free states was twenty percent larger than in southern slave states.[1] Immigration accounts for some of this difference. Industrialization led to rapid urbanization in the North. Immigrants found growing Northern cities to be attractive destinations.[2]  Seven of every eight people coming into the country from abroad settled in free states. [3] In the South, immigrants competed against unpaid labor.[4]  Additionally, the Northern economy relied upon appreciating land value and cheap labor, which incentivized Northern investors to promote immigration, improve infrastructure, and to develop cities. However, wealthy Southerners, who had no incentive to sell land, discouraged similar developments to maintain the value of their slave labor.[5] As a result, the North tended to be a more accommodating environment for those seeking labor opportunities. In fact, only eleven percent of immigrants chose to live in the South.[6] The Union army benefited greatly from immigration, comprising twenty five percent of the army; soldiers who had at least one foreign parent comprised another eighteen percent of the army.[7] By the time of the war, the population of free states contained three and a half times more military aged males than Confederate states.[8]

Slavery affected the manpower discrepancy between the Union and Confederacy in another crucial way. Although the war began as an effort to maintain the Union, President Lincoln realized that slave states would not yield as easily as he originally assumed. To defeat the rebellion, he had to attack the institution of slavery itself. Although Lincoln reached this conclusion gradually, after two confiscation acts and the Emancipation Proclamation, approximately 175,000 African Americans,[9] at least half of them former slaves,[10] served in the Union army. African Americans—freedmen and former slaves combined—accounted for approximately ten percent of the Union army.[11] The boost to the Union’s manpower advantage provided by former slaves devastated the Southern war effort. Every former slave converted into a Union soldier was equal to two men: one less man helping grow food or build earthworks for the Confederacy, and one more man toting a rifle for the Union.

The Confederacy could not arm these very men because to do so would have undermined their entire cause for secession and war. By 1864, the military situation was so dire that southern newspapers began to call for the arming of slaves.[12] Southern politician Howell Cobb warned that such a drastic step would mark “the beginning of the end of the revolution.”[13] Cobb continued, “If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”[14] Thus, the Confederate government found itself in a devastating paradox. Furthermore, Cobb’s concerns presupposed, perhaps unwisely, that an impactful number of slaves could be persuaded to fight for a government that denied them their freedom in the first place.

Emancipation Day

“Emancipation Day in South Carolina.” In this illustration, the color guard of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (African Descent) celebrates with a crowd after reading the Emancipation Proclamation. This regiment included some of the first former slaves to be mustered into Union service. (LC)

In a great historical irony, the South’s insistence on slavery largely doomed their abhorrent intent to create a nation based upon human bondage. After the war, former Confederates sought to console themselves by rewriting the war’s history and its causes. Key elements of this revisionist history glorified Southerners as a group of heroic men fighting for a noble cause against an oppressive but unfairly advantaged foe. In reality, they were fighting for a cause that limited opportunity for all southerners—especially the enslaved, but poorer whites too—and inhibited their own ability to prosecute the war. Northern advantages on the eve of the war, which included manufacturing, infrastructure, and manpower, were not the result of luck or fate. Rather, the North’s preference for free labor incentivized improved infrastructure and urban development. These improvements provided a desirable destination for immigrants and were conducive to population growth. Wealthy southerners’ insistence on slave labor thwarted industrial growth, infrastructure development, and population expansion. In the end, a slave-centric economy proved to be incapacitating. Thus, during the war, the North mobilized men and material on a scale not yet seen on the continent, while the South could not. The slave owners’ cause was indeed lost from the very beginning, but we know the true reason why.

[1] McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91.

[2] 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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Merritt, Keri Leigh. 2017. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 96.

[5] Rosenbloom, Joshua L., “Antebellum Labor Markets” (2018). Economics Working Papers: Department of Economics, Iowa State University. 18003. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/econ_ag_workingpapers/2, 12.

[6] Ibid, 20.

[7] Doyle, Don  H. “The Civil War Was Won By Immigrant Soldiers.” Accessed April 18, 2021. Time, December 24, https://time.com/3940428/civil-war-immigrant-soldiers/.

[8] 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

[9] Trudeau, Noah Andre. 1998. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865. New York City: Little, Brown & Company, 466

[10] Stoker, Donald. 2010. The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. New York City: Oxford University Press, 228.

[11] Ibid, 228.

[12] McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 831.

[13] “Georgia and the Confederacy, 1865.” The American Historical Review 1, no. 1 (1895): 97-102. Accessed April 20, doi:10.2307/1834020., 97.

[14] “Ibid, 97.

Bibliography

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

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.

Doyle, Don  H. “The Civil War Was Won By Immigrant Soldiers.” Accessed April 18, 2021. Time, December 24,  2019. https://time.com/3940428/civil-war-immigrant-soldiers/.

“Georgia and the Confederacy, 1865.” The American Historical Review 1, no. 1 (1895): 97-102. Accessed April 20, 2021. doi:10.2307/1834020.

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.

Lee, Robert Edward. General’s Lee’s farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia. April 10th. Petersburg, Ege’s print. Petesburg, 1865. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.18703400/.

Levin,    “How the myth of black Confederates was born.” The Washington Post. July 17. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/07/17/how-myth-black-confederates-was-born/.

McPherson, James. 1988. Battle Cry of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Merritt, Keri Leigh. 2017. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ochiai, Akiko. “Continuing Skirmishes in Harpers Ferry: Entangled Memories of Heyward Shepherd and John Brown.” The Japanese Journal of American Studies 23 (2012): 14.

Rosenbloom, Joshua L., “Antebellum Labor Markets” (2018). Economics Working Papers: Department of Economics, Iowa State University. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/econ_ag_workingpapers/2.

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.

Stoker, Donald. 2010. The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. New York City: Oxford University Press.

Symonds, Craig. “Gunboats on the Mississippi.” American Battlefield Trust, March 25, 2021. Accessed April 17, 2021. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/gunboats-mississippi?fbclid=IwAR2JRBBWV29O-i-VGu4WOTXqTSqmsdCYUoPF8oeCEBukWqJhJ4-97ThKAdE.

Trudeau, Noah Andre. 1998. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865. New York City: Little, Brown & Company.

 

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. 

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18 Responses to The Paradox of the Lost Cause: Part II

  1. wdonohue1 says:

    Burke’s explanation appeals to me and relates well to my family history in the Civil War.

  2. There has been considerable discussion about the immediate cause(s) of the multiple Southern state secessions and the resulting Civil War. That can be argued ad infinitum. However, the ultimate cause of the tragic Civil War (i.e.. War Between the States, etc.) was over the issue of slavery. Period.

  3. Tony Robertson says:

    At the start of the War, the Union was not yet fighting to end slavery. But the Confederacy was certainly fighting to preserve it, from beginning to end. What is the evidence of this claim?

    (1) The declarations of causes for secession by most of the Confederate States. They tell us plainly that they seceded primarily to defend slavery.
    (2) The political speeches of the time by Southern leaders.
    (3) The editorials of the time, of leading Southern newspapers.
    (4) The Confederate reaction to the Confiscation Acts and the Emancipation Proclamation.
    (5) The Confederate reaction to the Union enlistment of black troops.
    (6) Confederate policy toward black Union prisoners of war and their white officers.
    (7) The reaction by CSA high command and political leaders to Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s proposal in January 1864 to enlist & arm black troops.
    (8) Confederate reaction to Congressional passage of, and State ratifications of, the 13th Amendment.
    (9) Widespread opposition to, and a narrow Congressional vote for, enlistment of black troops by the CSA as a dying gasp in March 1865.
    (10) Efforts at the end of the War by slave owners, especially very wealthy ones, to maintain some form of involuntary servitude as a form of ersatz slavery of black people.

    These are cold hard facts that cannot be papered over or explained away. Not even by subterfuge, revisionism, or deflection.

    • Nick says:

      In addition to your the items you list above, many people overlook the 67 proposed constitutional amendments introduced between SC’s secession and the firing on Fort Sumter. 90 percent were designed to protect slavery. Fifty-eight amendments addressed slavery in the territories, most introduced by the upper slave states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. 49 dealt with fugitive slaves, 35 with interstate transit of slaves., 38 protected slavery in DC, 33 protected slavery in southern federal installations, 27 guaranteed slavery in perpetuity where it existed at the time, and eleven provided for nationalizing slavery. Only TWO of the proposed amendments suggested a prohibition on excessive tariffs. Source: Dwight T. Pitcaithley, “The U.S. Constitution and Secession”

      The one amendment that Jefferson Davis proposed stated that “Property in slaves, recognized as such by the local law of any of the States of the Union, shall stand on the same footing in all constitutional and Federal relations as any other species of property so recognized.” Id.

      These amendments are clear evidence as to what issues the South considered most significant during secession winter.

    • Mark Harnitchek says:

      And a nation state, along with its constitution, dedicated to the principle that all men are not created equal.

    • Ski says:

      You can also include the commissioners sent out from South Carolina to intimidate and persuade the vote for secession on the defense for slave labor and prevention of mixing races.

      There are also stories of Edmund Ruffin sending pikes out from John Brown’s Raid to state legislatures during the votes.

      • Mark Harnitchek says:

        Good book by Charles Dew — Apostles of Disunion — on the secession commisioner’s correspondence and speeches … their message: if the other slave states didn’t join the deep south, their doomsday prophecy was racial equality, a race war and racial amalgamation.

  4. Bob Ruth says:

    Congrats to Adam Burke.

    Your take on the reasons for the South’s disadvantages in manpower, infrastructure and industry is well thought out and fascinating. They were all due to slavery. What irony. The very institution for which the Confederacy fought was the very reason for its demise.

  5. This two-part article was so insightful and make so much sense! My mind is blown! Thank you for sharing your research and analysis – and your service to our country. 🙂

  6. Great essay — good argument, solid scholarship and persuasive writing — well done.

    To your point on the “The slave owners’ cause was indeed lost from the very beginning,” I used to think the same thing — no way the North could lose.

    But James McPherson, Edward Ayers and Gary Gallagher got me thinking a little differently … McPherson (Battle Cry pp 854-860) and Ayers In The Presence of Thing Enemies introduce the idea of contingency … they argue that the war — at any time — could have gone the other direction … and the outcome at Appomattox was not inevitable due to southern miscalculations about slavery, their ideal of societal supremacy, or northern advantages in men and material … northern victory was, instead, contingent on the confluence of hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller events … change the outcome of several of these events and the outcome of the war could have been different … Gallagher makes a similar point about CW historians penchant to read history backwards from Appomattox.

    Congrats again on your fine work.

  7. Adam Burke says:

    Thank you, everyone, for reading and leaving your thoughts!

  8. The hanging of 42 men in Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas in 1862 by Confederate zealots for real or imagined opposition to secession should not be overlooked. This left 42 widows to care for about 300 minor children who no longer had fathers to care for them. It should be pointed out that a significant number of Texas counties, particularly the more northern counties, voted against secession in 1861 as did Governor Sam Houston. I personally know descendants of two of the murdered men.

  9. Thanks Adam for the two-parter.

  10. Rod says:

    The irony of Mr. Burke’s “Southern Paradox” article is that in both parts one and two it is his own argument that is paradoxical. He uses the popular modern myth to dismiss what he claims to be the “myth of the Lost Cause.”

    He contradicts himself in saying that a commitment to slavery is the reason the South lagged behind in industry, yet he states that masters could have rented out the labor of their slaves to manufacturing. If that was the case (which certainly is arguable), how did slavery retard the growth of Southern industry?

    What he completely ignores in his zeal to make the South “all about slavery” is the fact that the South looked at Northern industrial cities with its crass materialism, child labor and harsh labor practices, and said “no thank you!” If Mr. Burke were able to first remove “slavery” from his historiographical ether and consider it in its context relative to industrial factory labor in the “enlightened North,” he would understand why the agrarian South preferred its own lifestyle to that in the North. Even slave masters could look at how Northern laborers were treated and by comparison feel no guilt.

    Mr. Burke lauds the North for its population expansion. What he fails to realize is that this great expansion was the immigration of white Europeans at a time when that much needed labor could have been filled by emancipated slaves. A major obstacle to Southern emancipation was the determination of Northern States and Western territories to keep blacks out by legislative actions. Southern emancipation had great momentum in the first 30 years of the 19th century. What stood in its way was how to pay for it and how to disperse the freed population. Southerners who sought to free their slaves and provide available land for them in the North and West were met with laws to prevent the settling of manumitted slaves. Freed blacks were denied the right to settle on Northern land purchased for them by their masters, and were forced to either return to their master or request to become wards of their master’s State. It was this Northern racist determination to keep blacks bottled up in the South that was the fundamental barrier to emancipation. The South simply could not accommodate within its borders alone nearly half the Southern population suddenly turned out landless and penniless. (For more on this see Dr. Eugene Burwanger’s book Frontier Against Slavery, or Dr. Joanne Pope Melish’s book Disowning Slavery.)

    Mr. Burke displays a profoundly adolescent understanding of the issue regarding making soldiers of slaves. He therefore has to resort to the minority opinion of General Cobb to make his point. Never mind that men such as Lee and Claiborne as well as four brigade commanders had called for the arming of slaves, never mind that many slave masters had offered to arm their slaves – one in Arkansas offered to arm every slave along with his own son to lead them. Never mind that Lee had polled his Army of Northern Virginia to see if his men would be willing to fight alongside slaves (it passed by a large majority). Mr. Burke turns to a man who had spent most of his professional life away from his plantation while holding political offices. Cobb was a man whose lack of intimate contact with his slaves made him question their ability to be soldiers. Masters who lived and worked with their slaves, knew their ability and loyalty and that they would defend their homeland.

    Even then Burke misses the primary issue that made men like Cobb and Davis reluctant to make soldiers of slaves. The “revolution” of which Cobb speaks is the Confederate commitment to States Rights, and to its Constitution which left the issue of slavery entirely up to the States. For the Confederate central government to interfere with this States Right, would be the very violation that prompted secession in the first place. This is why Davis agreed to making soldiers of slaves only if the States agreed, the master agreed, and the slave agreed.

    Mr. Burke then concludes with the ultimate myth of the modern narrative, and ironically uses that myth to accuse postwar Confederates of writing myth:

    “In a great historical irony, the South’s insistence on slavery largely doomed their abhorrent intent to create a nation based upon human bondage. After the war, former Confederates sought to console themselves by rewriting the war’s history and its causes.”

    Burke’s superficial understanding of the South’s position on slavery reveals a profound ignorance of history. Not only was the South not “intent to create a nation based upon human bondage,” but rather it was willing to end slavery to create a nation free from Northern exploitation, and establish a nation as was intended by the founders. A confederated nation committed to the right of every State to govern itself as its polity saw fit. A true nation committed to government by consent of the governed. In the first year of the war the South expressed a willingness to end slavery, as difficult as that would be within Southern borders alone, if it meant gaining its independence: “the Confederate authorities are already saying publicly that the power of emancipation is one which rests in their hands; and that they will use it in the last resort. This is a disclosure full of interest, and hope.” (Slavery, Secession, and Civil War; Charles F. Adams, pg. 304, quoting a paper called “Once A Week,“ dated Nov. 30, 1861). On April 8, 1862 another newspaper reports, “the Confederacy have offered to England and France a price for active support. It is nothing less than a treaty securing free trade in its broadest sense for fifty years, the complete suppression of the import of slaves, and the emancipation of every negro born after the date of the signature of the treaty. In return they ask, first, the recognition of their independence…” Yet another paper reveals on May 29, 1862, “The rumors of interference by France and England in American affairs are received, and it is even asserted that the South, in return for the intervention, will guarantee the emancipation of her slaves.” And seven Union loyal congressmen say in a letter to their President on July 14, 1862, stating, “the fact, now become history, that the leaders of the Southern rebellion have offered to abolish slavery amongst them as a condition to foreign intervention in favor of their independence as a nation. If they can give up slavery to destroy the Union; We can surely ask our people to consider the question of Emancipation to save the Union.” https://www.loc.gov/resource/mal.1713000/?r=-0.818,-0.749,2.636,3.213,0

    Lincoln had just met with these congressmen on July 12, and the very next day he penned his first draft of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, with which he surprised Seward and Welles that same evening. Is their any doubt now as to what motivated Lincoln to take this action?

    This same Confederate negotiation to end slavery was still underway in the mission of CS Congressman Duncan Kenner to France and Britain when Lee surrendered. France had since 1862 agreed to aid the Confederacy accepting its offer to end slavery, and the British agreed to also but said they wanted to wait until the issue over Papal lands was resolved in Italy, in case that erupted into a military conflict. Unfortunately for the CS, that Papal land issue was not resolved until 1867. Had Britain and France joined the CS cause, a true confederacy of, by, and for the people would have been formed as the founders intended. The South was willing to END SLAVERY to make that happen.

    The irony indeed is Mr. Burke uses the popular modern myth that the South was “intent on building a nation based on human bondage,” in order to dismiss the truths being told by postwar Confederates as “Lost Cause Myth.” The paradox is yours Mr. Burke!

    • Dan says:

      Southern apologists have a long tradition of bizarre revisionism but this one paragraph above really takes it to a surreal level. The paragraph begins with:

      “Mr. Burke lauds the North for its population expansion. What he fails to realize is that this great expansion was the immigration of white Europeans at a time when that much needed labor could have been filled by emancipated slaves. A major obstacle to Southern emancipation…”

      Is there anyone, who has ever studied the Civil War, that sincerely believes the South was trying to emancipate its slaves and the North was preventing them? The reality was the South was upset at the reluctance of the North to return its escaped slaves! The South was upset that it couldn’t take its slaves anywhere in the country including the territories and free states!

      Every bit of the actual historical sectional dispute over slavery was characterized by a pro-slavery South upset at an insufficiently pro-slavery North. All the compromises, court cases, debates, everything.

      And the fact is that the majority of the free blacks in this country in 1861 were in the loyal states. So no one, with even the most basic knowledge of the history, is going to buy this Lost Cause redux unless they are themselves Lost Causers.

      • John Foskett says:

        Here’s an example of the way spin and labeling is used to argue this stuff:

        “He therefore has to resort to the minority opinion of General Cobb to make his point”

        Just toss in the fabricated adjective “minority” and you’re all set. Unfortunately, Cobb’s “minority” opinion carried the day – but maybe we missed that Emancipation Proclamation by Jeff Davis effective January 1, 1863. Because we know that on that date slaves held in territory controlled by the CSA were declared free.

  11. Bryan Wiedeman says:

    I love the line “CRASS Materialism” , I will use it next time when ordering custom Italian marble for my plantation pillars.

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