Friday, April 15, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: War By Other Means

[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]

Officially, the Civil War is considered to have ended on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House. However, the truth is that it really only ceased being a war of battlefields and armies, and in short order shifted into another phase -- one of war waged by terrorist violence.

That war -- call it the War of Reconstruction -- was won decisively by the South.

Lee's was only the largest of the Confederacy's scattered armies, and it was several more weeks, and at least one more battle (Palmito Ranch), before the rest of the armies joined in the surrender and the fighting ceased. Even then, the bloodshed was slow to stop, as marauders and other violence-prone remnants of the war committed random acts of murder and robbery around the countryside.

But it was the Ku Klux Klan -- whose name, ostensibly, was an adaptation of the Greek word Kuklos, for "circle," suggesting a closed family by adding "clan" -- that came to represent the new war that Southerners intended to wage, now that their "gallant" army had failed to defend the institutions of slavery and white supremacism, as promised. It was a war by other means -- assassination, lynching, targeted violence, mass terrorism -- and it proved to be very effective indeed.

An important precursor of the Klan was the antebellum slave patrols that began in the 1700s and continued up to the opening of the Civil War itself. Every able-bodied male under the age of 45 was liable to serve in these patrols, and they played a significant role in shaping the mindset of poor, non-slave-holding whites against black slaves.

Slave patrols began in South Carolina in 1704 and spread throughout the colonies and lasted well beyond the American Revolution. As the population of black slaves boomed, especially with the invention of the cotton gin, so did the fear of slave resistance and uprisings. Its development began when other means of slave control failed to instill slave control and obedience. ...

Slave owners feared slave gatherings would allow them to trade or steal goods and the potential for a rebellion. South Carolina and Virginia selected patrols from state militias. Slave patrols were often equipped with guns and whips and would exert brutal and racially motivated control.
The Klan picked right up, after the war, where these slave patrols (which remained in place up through the war, until near its very end) had left off. Via Infoplease:
The original Ku Klux Klan was organized by ex-Confederate elements to oppose the Reconstruction policies of the radical Republican Congress and to maintain "white supremacy." After the Civil War, when local government in the South was weak or nonexistent and there were fears of black outrages and even of an insurrection, informal vigilante organizations or armed patrols were formed in almost all communities. These were linked together in societies, such as the Men of Justice, the Pale Faces, the Constitutional Union Guards, the White Brotherhood, and the Order of the White Rose. The Ku Klux Klan was the best known of these, and in time it absorbed many of the smaller organizations.

It was organized at Pulaski, Tenn., in May, 1866. Its strange disguises, its silent parades, its midnight rides, its mysterious language and commands, were found to be most effective in playing upon fears and superstitions. The riders muffled their horses' feet and covered the horses with white robes. They themselves, dressed in flowing white sheets, their faces covered with white masks, and with skulls at their saddle horns, posed as spirits of the Confederate dead returned from the battlefields. Although the Klan was often able to achieve its aims by terror alone, whippings and lynchings were also used, not only against blacks but also against the so-called carpetbaggers and scalawags.

A general organization of the local Klans was effected in Apr., 1867, at Nashville, Tenn. Gen. N. B. Forrest, the famous Confederate cavalry leader, was made Grand Wizard of the Empire and was assisted by ten Genii. Each state constituted a Realm under a Grand Dragon with eight Hydras as a staff; several counties formed a Dominion controlled by a Grand Titan and six Furies; a county was a Province ruled by a Grand Giant and four Night Hawks; the local Den was governed by a Grand Cyclops with two Night Hawks as aides. The individual members were called Ghouls.

Control over local Dens was not as complete as this organization would seem to indicate, and reckless and even lawless local leaders sometimes committed acts that the leaders could not countenance. General Forrest, in Jan., 1869, seemingly under some apprehension as to the use of its power, ordered the disbandment of the Klan and resigned as Grand Wizard. Local organizations continued, some of them for many years.
It's worth noting that while the devotees of this original incarnation of the Klan wore masks of varying kinds while committing their various atrocities, they never wore the peaked caps and white robes or deployed the flaming crosses that became the icons of their later mythology. That was all the product of a movie, much later on.

However, there is no question it became a real political power in the South in very short time:
By 1870, the Ku Klux Klan had branches in nearly every southern state. Even at its height, the Klan did not boast a well-organized structure or clear leadership. Local Klan members–often wearing masks and dressed in the organization’s signature long white robes and hoods–usually carried out their attacks at night, acting on their own but in support of the common goals of defeating Radical Reconstruction and restoring white supremacy in the South. Klan activity flourished particularly in the regions of the South where blacks were a minority or a small majority of the population, and was relatively limited in others. Among the most notorious zones of Klan activity was South Carolina, where in January 1871 500 masked men attacked the Union county jail and lynched eight black prisoners.

The policies of Reconstruction -- aiming to extend the rights of Southern blacks -- had the unintended effect of pushing hundreds of resentful and anxious veterans into the Klan, which soon began instituting a systematic policy of violence in opposition to the new social order. Former slaves were the obvious target of this terrorism, but the Klan also harassed, intimidated and even killed Northern teachers, judges, politicians and "carpetbaggers" of all ilk. By late 1867, the movement had spread throughout the small towns of the South, though it did not take hold in urban areas, perhaps because at that time the cities were not suffering the economic hardships of rural regions. Klansmen began waging guerilla warfare against what they perceived as a corrupt system depriving them of rights. This feeling of grievance, which began during the time of the first Klan, would characterize Klan sensibility and ideology throughout the 20th century.
Mostly, the Klan became renowned for its frightening violence:
Klan members adopted masks and robes that hid their identities and added to the drama of their night rides, their chosen time for attacks. Many of them operated in small towns and rural areas where people otherwise knew each other's faces, and sometimes still recognized the attackers by voice and mannerisms. "The kind of thing that men are afraid or ashamed to do openly, and by day, they accomplish secretly, masked, and at night."
The KKK night riders "sometimes claimed to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers so, as they claimed, to frighten superstitious blacks. Few freedmen took such nonsense seriously."

The Klan attacked black members of the Loyal Leagues and intimidated southern Republicans and Freedmen's Bureau workers. When they killed black political leaders, they also took heads of families, along with the leaders of churches and community groups, because these people had many roles in society. Agents of the Freedmen's Bureau reported weekly assaults and murders of blacks.
"Armed guerrilla warfare killed thousands of Negroes; political riots were staged; their causes or occasions were always obscure, their results always certain: ten to one hundred times as many Negroes were killed as whites." Masked men shot into houses and burned them, sometimes with the occupants still inside. They drove successful black farmers off their land. "Generally, it can be reported that in North and South Carolina, in 18 months ending in June 1867, there were 197 murders and 548 cases of aggravated assault."
Klan violence worked to suppress black voting, and campaign seasons were deadly. More than 2,000 persons were killed, wounded and otherwise injured in Louisiana within a few weeks prior to the Presidential election of November 1868. Although St. Landry Parish had a registered Republican majority of 1,071, after the murders, no Republicans voted in the fall elections. White Democrats cast the full vote of the parish for President Grant's opponent. The KKK killed and wounded more than 200 black Republicans, hunting and chasing them through the woods. Thirteen captives were taken from jail and shot; a half-buried pile of 25 bodies was found in the woods. The KKK made people vote Democratic and gave them certificates of the fact. By 1869, internal strife led Klansmen to fight against Klansmen as competing factions struggled for control. The Klan's increasing reputation for violence led the more prominent citizens to drop out and criminals and the dispossessed began to fill the ranks. Local chapters proved difficult, if not impossible, to monitor and direct. In disgust, Forrest officially disbanded the organization and the vast majority of local groups followed his lead. Some number of local units continued to operate but were eventually disbanded or sent into hiding by federal troops.
In the end, the Klan's own propensity for violence became its undoing, and the loose collection of local organizations fell apart after Forrest disavowed them and the Congress began passing legislation to counter them.
National sentiment gathered to crack down on the Klan, even though some Democrats at the national level questioned whether the Klan really existed, or believed that it was a creation of nervous Southern Republican governors. Many southern states began to pass anti-Klan legislation.

In January 1871, Pennsylvania Republican Senator John Scott convened a Congressional committee which took testimony from 52 witnesses about Klan atrocities. They accumulated 12 volumes of horrifying testimony. In February, former Union General and Congressman Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Ku Klux Klan Act). This added to the enmity that southern white Democrats bore toward him. While the bill was being considered, further violence in the South swung support for its passage. The Governor of South Carolina appealed for federal troops to assist his efforts in keeping control of the state. A riot and massacre in a Meridian, Mississippi, courthouse were reported, from which a black state representative escaped only by taking to the woods.

The 1871 Civil Rights Act allowed President Ulysses S. Grant to suspend habeas corpus. In 1871, Grant signed Butler's legislation. The Ku Klux Klan Act was used by the Federal government, together with the Enforcement Act of 1870, to enforce the civil rights provisions for individuals under the constitution. Under the 1871 Klan Act, after the Klan refused to voluntarily dissolve, Grant issued a suspension of Habeas Corpus, and stationed Federal troops in nine South Carolina counties. The Klansmen were apprehended and prosecuted in federal court. Judges Hugh Lennox Bond and George S. Bryan presided over the trial of KKK members in Columbia, South Carolina during December 1871. The defendants were sentenced to five years to three months incarceration with fines. More African Americans served on juries in Federal court than were selected for local or state juries, so they had a chance to participate in the process. In the crackdown, hundreds of Klan members were fined or imprisoned.
Everyone thought that was that. But in reality, the violent vigilantes of the South were just getting started.

Confederate Heritage Month:

Day 1: Strange Fruit

It Was About Slavery

That Peculiar Institution

How Poor Whites Got Suckered

 The First American War Criminals

'The River Was Dyed' 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: 'The River Was Dyed'

Artist's rendition of the 'Fort Pillow Massacre'
[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]

One of the cornerstones of Confederate mythology is the notion that Southerners were more "gallant" than their crude Yankee enemies, and thus more honorable fighters. Of course, we have already seen the limits of that gallantry in the horrifying mass war crime that was Andersonville.

Those limits were also on display at a notorious incident that in fact was an important precursor to Andersonville -- namely, the Battle of Fort Pillow. The most observable limit there was that if the Confederates indeed had any reserves of human decency and gallantry, they simply did not exist at all in their treatment of black people.

Because the Confederates -- led by none other than Nathan Bedford Forrest himself, the later founder of the Ku Klux Klan -- simply ignored the ordinary laws of war by massacring nearly every black soldier they found in the garrison.

History Channel has the background:
In March 1864, Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-77) launched a cavalry raid in western Tennessee and Kentucky that was aimed at destroying Union supply lines and capturing federal prisoners. In early April, he determined to move on Fort Pillow, located 40 miles north of Memphis. At the time, Fort Pillow was being held by a garrison of around 600 men, approximately half of whom were black soldiers.

On April 12, Forrest’s force, estimated at 1,500 to 2,500 troops, quickly overran the fort, suffering only moderate casualties. Though most of the Union garrison surrendered, and thus should have been taken as prisoners of war, some 300 soldiers were killed, the majority of them black. The Confederate refusal to treat these soldiers as traditional POWs infuriated the North, and led to the Union’s refusal to participate in prisoner exchanges.
Encyclopedia Britannica:
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Forrest’s men quickly gained the upper hand. The situation within the fort’s walls degenerated into chaos, and command and control on both sides vanished. Some Union soldiers doggedly continued to resist; others threw down their arms in an attempt to surrender; and others—including Major Bradford—fled toward the Mississippi River.

The actual final assault on the fort’s walls and the subsequent fighting lasted less than half an hour. By that time Forrest and his staff had arrived in the fort to restore some semblance of order. Both Confederate and Union witnesses claimed that an unknown number of Federal soldiers—most of whom were African American—were gunned down after attempting to surrender. Many more were shot as they fled, while others drowned in the Mississippi River. While it is impossible to determine how many were killed in the battle as opposed to the massacre, between 277 and 295 Union troops—the majority of whom were African American—were killed in total. Only 14 Confederates were killed.
Historians and official reports emphasize a delibertae massacre took place. Confederate sources say they kept firing in self defense. Survivors claimed that even though the Union troops surrendered, Forrest's men massacred them in cold blood. Surviving members of the garrison said that most of their men surrendered and threw down their arms, only to be shot or bayoneted by the attackers, who repeatedly shouted, "No quarter! No quarter!"[15] The Joint Committee On the Conduct of the War immediately investigated the incident and concluded that the Confederates shot most of the garrison after it had surrendered. A 2002 study by Albert Castel concluded that the Union forces were indiscriminately massacred after Fort Pillow "had ceased resisting or was incapable of resistance."[16] Historian Andrew Ward in 2005 reached the conclusion that an atrocity in the modern sense occurred at Fort Pillow, including the murders of fleeing black civilians, but that the event was not premeditated nor officially sanctioned by Confederate commanders.[17]

Recent histories generally concur that a massacre occurred. Historian Richard Fuchs, the author of An Unerring Fire, concludes, "The affair at Fort Pillow was simply an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct—intentional murder—for the vilest of reasons—racism and personal enmity."[18] Ward states, "Whether the massacre was premeditated or spontaneous does not address the more fundamental question of whether a massacre took place... it certainly did, in every dictionary sense of the word."[19] John Cimprich states, "The new paradigm in social attitudes and the fuller use of available evidence has favored a massacre interpretation.... Debate over the memory of this incident formed a part of sectional and racial conflicts for many years after the war, but the reinterpretation of the event during the last thirty years offers some hope that society can move beyond past intolerance."[20]

Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn of the 6th U.S. Heavy Artillery (Colored) stated in his official report, "There never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men declaring they never would surrender or ask for quarter."[21] Another officer of the unit, however, and the only surviving officers of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry attested to the characterization that unarmed soldiers were killed in the act of surrendering. A Confederate sergeant, in a letter written home shortly after the battle, said that "the poor, deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hand scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and then shot down."[22] This account is consistent with the relatively high comparative casualties sustained by race of the defenders.
 Ulysses Grant mentions Fort Pillow in his memoirs, though he was not there; rather, he cites Forrest's dispatches:
"The river was dyed," he [Forrest] says, "with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners."
Grant himself, as Wikipedia explains, immediately took action after the massacre to try to prevent it from occurring again:
On April 17, 1864, in the aftermath of Fort Pillow, General Grant ordered General Benjamin F. Butler, who was negotiating prisoner exchanges with the Confederacy, to demand that black prisoners had to be treated identically to whites in the exchange and treatment of prisoners. He directed that a failure to do so would "be regarded as a refusal on their part to agree to the further exchange of prisoners, and [would] be so treated by us."[34]

This demand was refused; Confederate Secretary of War Seddon in June 1864 wrote:
I doubt, however, whether the exchange of negroes at all for our soldiers would be tolerated. As to the white officers serving with negro troops, we ought never to be inconvenienced with such prisoners.[35]
The resulting breakdown in prisoner exchanges in turn produced the atrocity of Andersonville, where the numbers for the stockade swelled to three times their intended capacity because the exchanges ceased.

All for one root cause: White Southerners' hatred of black people.

Confederate Heritage Month:

Day 1: Strange Fruit

It Was About Slavery

That Peculiar Institution

How Poor Whites Got Suckered

 The First American War Criminals

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: The First American War Criminals

A prisoner of the Andersonville Camp
[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]

War crimes are largely a 20th-century phenomenon, but there were some antecedents. Probably the first known war criminal was Peter Van Hagenbach, an overzealous knight bailiff who was put on trial for his tyrannical acts in 1474 by the Holy Roman Emperor and beheaded.

But the first American war criminals, most likely, were the Confederates who ran the prisoner-of-war camp in Andersonville, Georgia. They set a standard for misery that foreshadowed the greatest horrors of the 20th century.

The camp opened in February 1864, as the war began winding towards its close, and it soon became clear that the Confederate government was ill-equipped to feed and house the thousands of men in its stockades.

Robert H. Kellogg, sergeant major in the 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, described his entry as a prisoner into the prison camp, May 2, 1864:
As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. "Can this be hell?" "God protect us!" and all thought that He alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.[9]
As Wikipedia explains:
At this time in the war, Andersonville Prison was frequently undersupplied with food. The Confederate Army and civilians also struggled to get enough food. The shortage was suffered by prisoners and the Confederate personnel alike within the fort. But the prisoners received less than the guards, as the latter did not suffer such emaciation, nor scurvy (caused by vitamin C deficiency). The latter was probably the main cause of mortality (along with diarrhea, caused by living in the filth from poor sanitation and the necessity to take drinking water from a creek filled at all times with fecal material from thousands of sick and dying men). Even when sufficient quantities of supplies were available, they were of poor quality and poorly prepared. Although the prison was surrounded by forest, very little wood was allowed to the prisoners for warmth or cooking. This and the lack of utensils made it almost impossible for the prisoners to cook the main food they received, poorly milled corn flour. During the summer of 1864, Union prisoners suffered greatly from hunger, exposure and disease. Within seven months, about a third died from what was diagnosed as dysentery and scurvy; they were buried in mass graves, the standard practice by Confederate prison authorities at Andersonville. In 1864 the Confederate Surgeon General asked Joseph Jones, an expert on infectious disease, to investigate the high mortality rate at the camp. He concluded that it was due to "scorbutic dysentery" (bloody diarrhea caused by vitamin C deficiency). In 2010 the historian Drisdelle said that hookworm disease, a condition not recognized or known during the Civil War, was the major cause of much of the mortality.
The Georgia Encyclopedia explains that the numbers of prisoners quickly overshot the original estimates:
The camp was planned for a capacity of 10,000 prisoners, but with the breakdown in prisoner exchanges, which would have removed much of its prison population, its numbers swelled to more than 30,000. As the number of imprisoned men increased, it became increasingly hard for them to find space to lie down within the vast pen. The prisoners, nearly naked, suffered from swarms of insects, filth, and disease, much of which was generated by the contaminated water supply of the creek.
Andersonville had the highest mortality rate of any Civil War prison. Nearly 13,000 of the 45,000 men who entered the stockade died there, chiefly of malnutrition. Guards were also issued poor rations but had the option of foraging for food elsewhere. Critics charged that though the Confederate government could find the resources to move prisoners hundreds of miles and to build a facility in which to incarcerate them, it failed to provide adequate supplies or living conditions for the inmates or even for the staff.

The Civil War Trust describes what the pen itself was made of:
The prison pen was surrounded by a stockade of hewed pine logs that varied in height from 15 to 17 feet. The pen was enlarged in late June 1864 to enclose 261/2 acres. Sentry boxes—called “pigeon roosts” by the prisoners—stood at 90-foot intervals along the top of the stockade and there were two entrances on the west side. Inside, about 19 feet from the wall, was the “deadline,” which prisoners were forbidden to cross. The “deadline” was intended to prevent prisoners from climbing over the stockade or from tunneling under it. It was marked by a simple post and rail fence and guards had orders to shoot any prisoner who crossed the fence, or even reached over it. A branch of Sweetwater Creek, called Stockade Branch, flowed through the prison yard and was the only source of water for most of the prison.
A survivor described the horrors of life inside the prison, if you could call it that:

You must understand that the Confederate government made no attempt to house its Andersonville prisoners….Here we were, by the thousands, taking the weather night and day as it came, without any covering except the clothes worn throughout the twenty four hours. Let me say here that during June and July 1864 it rained for twenty-one consecutive days and the rain-fall amounted at times almost to a deluge. During a heavy storm none of us could keep from getting soaked and those poor fellows who were without any shelter were much worse off than those who had only a blanket for a roof.

I have seen men, by the hundred, standing huddled together for mutual warmth and support (you could not fall very well with men on every side standing tight to you) but these men were weakened by disease and starvation, and during the night many would have to lie down and, in the morning, if it had rained hard you would approach a man who looked like a pile of sand, the heavy rain having thrown sand over his prostrate body. Many of them would be dead in the morning and would be carried out to the deadhouse by their comrades….A sluggish stream separated the north from the south side of the prison and this was all the provision made by the Johnnies for the drink needed by the prisoners. This stream was surrounded by wet, marshy ground which was unfit for men to camp in, nor could they occupy all of the hill-side so that much of the space was worthless as a camp, but very valuable as a source of disease and death.

And of course, there was the constant cloud of disease and starvation hanging over the camp:
... Privations, lack of vegetable food and lack of exercise [led many of us to contract that] dread disease, scurvy. The mouth would become infected, the gums swollen so the teeth could not be closed together and we would be unable to chew any solid food. The gums would become black and decayed and, in my own case, with long and sharp finger nails I could gouge away parts which were in such condition as to be exceedingly offensive to the smell.

Limbs would be drawn up to the body and the back of them would become discolored and from the heels to the hips resembled, in color, a very severe black and blue spot. A dropsical swelling of the flesh would take place and I could pull the flesh of my feet out of shape or press an indentation into the flesh and it would remain in that shape until action replaced it.

Although we know that the commander of the Andersonville camp, Captain Henry Wirz, was afterward convicted of war crimes and hanged, nonetheless, as Wikipedia notes, there remains some controversy over the precise nature of the Confederacy's moral guilt for the crime:
During the war, 45,000 prisoners were received at Andersonville prison; of these nearly 13,000 died. The nature of the deaths and the reasons for them are a continuing source of controversy among historians. Some contend that they were a result of deliberate Confederate war crimes toward Union prisoners, while others state that they were the result of disease promoted by severe overcrowding, the shortage of food in the Confederate States, the incompetence of the prison officials, and the breakdown of the prisoner exchange system, caused by the Confederacy's refusal to include African-Americans in the exchanges, thus overfilling the stockade.
 Any way you cut it, however, this horror belongs to the Confederacy.

Confederate Heritage Month:

Day 1: Strange Fruit

It Was About Slavery

That Peculiar Institution

How Poor Whites Got Suckered

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: How Poor Whites Got Suckered

Some of the faces at the Woolworth's lunch-counter sit-in,
May 28, 1963, Jackson, Miss.
[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]

It's one of the great historic puzzles: How was it that poor Southern whites, who had the most to lose by seceding from the Union and declaring war against the North, came to agree to do such a thing?

The question survives today: How is that the white Southern working class, which has been rendered economically bereft by its deep embrace of conservatism, its rejection of unionism, and the cultural backwardness of which its citizens are aggressively proud, can continue to support a politics that makes their lives miserable?

Lyndon Baines Johnson knew the answer to that, according to Bill Moyers, who recalls that LBJ told him, in 1960: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

Indeed, the pattern for this was established at the very genesis of the Confederacy, when Southern society remained highly stratified -- an elite "1 percent" society of plantation owners and slaveholders, a large white working underclass, and the black slave class, all walled off from the other. The Confederacy was the brainchild of the elite plantation/slave owners, who were determined to maintain their privileged status quo; but its monstrous offspring, the Civil War, would be fed by the bodies and lives of millions of working-class Southerners who received only a handful of direct benefits from the institution of slavery, few of them economic.

The critical question that gave the Confederacy its limited legitimacy was the extent to which the latter were willing to lay down their lives for the former. And how was that made possible?

Jonna Ivin at the journal Stir expounded on this at length recently, while pondering the nature of Donald Trump voters:

As slavery expanded in the South and indentured servitude declined, the wealthy elite offered poor whites the earliest version of the American Dream: if they worked hard enough, they could achieve prosperity, success, and upward social mobility — if not for themselves, then perhaps for future generations.

But few realized that dream. In “The Whiting of Euro-Americans: A Divide and Conquer Strategy,” the Rev. Dr. Thandeka notes:

Not surprisingly, however, poor whites never became the economic equals of the elite. Though both groups’ economic status rose, the gap between the wealthy and poor widened as a result of slave productivity. Thus, poor whites’ belief that they now shared status and dignity with their social betters was largely illusory.

With whites and Blacks divided, the wealthy elite prospered enormously for the next two hundred years while poor whites remained locked in poverty. With the potential election of Abraham Lincoln, however, the upper class began to worry they would lose their most valuable commodity: slave labor. The numbers were not on their side — not the financial numbers, but the number of bodies it would take to wage war should Lincoln try to abolish slavery. And it was white male bodies they needed. (Poor women were of little value to the rich, since they couldn’t vote or fight in a war.) So how did wealthy plantation owners convince poor white males to fight for a “peculiar institution” that did not benefit them?
The answer, as Ivin explains, is actually fairly simple: "Religious and political leaders began using a combination of fear, sex, and God to paint a chilling picture of freed angry Black men ravaging the South."

Historian Gordon Rhea explored all this in great detail in a 2011 address to the Charleston Historical Society:

As Southerners became increasingly isolated, they reacted by becoming more strident in defending slavery.  The institution was not just a necessary evil: it was a positive good, a practical and moral necessity.  Controlling the slave population was a matter of concern for all Whites, whether they owned slaves or not.  Curfews governed the movement of slaves at night, and vigilante committees patrolled the roads, dispensing summary justice to wayward slaves and whites suspected of harboring abolitionist views.  Laws were passed against the dissemination of abolitionist literature, and the South increasingly resembled a police state.  A prominent Charleston lawyer described the city’s citizens as living under a “reign of terror.”

The primary, and perhaps most important, of the institutions in which working-class whites were propagandized into supporting the cause of the slaveholders was in the churches, where preachers constantly extolled the virtues of slavery and the dangers of a society without it:

Rev. Richard Furman
Reverend Richard Furman of South Carolina insisted that the right to hold slaves was clearly sanctioned by the Holy Scriptures.  He emphasized a practical side as well, warning that if Lincoln were elected, “every Negro in South Carolina and every other Southern state will be his own master; nay, more than that, will be the equal of every one of you.  If you are tame enough to submit, abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.”

A fellow reverend from Virginia agreed that on no other subject “are [the Bible’s] instructions more explicit, or their salutary tendency and influence more thoroughly tested and corroborated by experience than on the subject of slavery.”  The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, asserted that slavery “has received the sanction of Jehova.”  As a South Carolina Presbyterian concluded: “If the scriptures do not justify slavery, I know not what they do justify.”

The Biblical argument started with Noah’s curse on Ham, the father of Canaan, which was used to demonstrate that God had ordained slavery and had expressly applied it to Blacks.  Commonly cited were passages in Leviticus that authorized the buying, selling, holding and bequeathing of slaves as property.  Methodist Samuel Dunwody from South Carolina documented that Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and Job owned slaves, arguing that “some of the most eminent of the Old Testament saints were slave holders.”  The Methodist Quarterly Review noted further that “the teachings of the new testament in regard to bodily servitude accord with the old.”  While slavery was not expressly sanctioned in the New Testament, Southern clergymen argued that the absence of condemnation signified approval.  They cited Paul’s return of a runaway slave to his master as Biblical authority for the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the return of runaway slaves.

... During the 1850’s, pro-slavery arguments from the pulpit became especially strident.  A preacher in Richmond exalted slavery as “the most blessed and beautiful form of social government known; the only one that solves the problem, how rich and poor may dwell together; a beneficent patriarchate.”  The Central Presbyterian affirmed that slavery was “a relation essential to the existence of civilized society.”  By 1860, Southern preachers felt comfortable advising their parishioners that “both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time.”
Of course, Southern politicians got into the act, making defense of slavery both a patriotic and a cultural value:

William Harris, Mississippi’s commissioner to Georgia, explained that Lincoln’s election had made the North more defiant than ever.  “They have demanded, and now demand equality between the white and negro races, under our constitution; equality in representation, equality in right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony,” he cautioned, adding that the new administration wanted “freedom to the slave, but eternal degradation for you and me.”

As Harris saw things, “Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality.”  Lincoln and his followers, he stated, aimed to “overturn and strike down this great feature of our union and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races.”  For Harris, the choice was clear.  Mississippi would “rather see the last of her race, men, women, and children, immolated in one common funeral pyre than see them subjugated to the degradation of civil, political and social equality with the negro race.”  The Georgia legislature ordered the printing of a thousand copies of his speech.

Typical of the commissioner letters is that written by Stephen Hale, an Alabama commissioner, to the Governor of Kentucky, in December 1860.  Lincoln’s election, he observed, was “nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government destroys the property of the south, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.  The slave holder and non-slaveholder must ultimately share the same fate; all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life, or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting all the resources of the country.”

The black rape scene from 'The Birth of a Nation'
What Southerner, Hale asked, “can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters in the not distant future associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality?”  Abolition would surely mean that “the two races would be continually pressing together,” and “amalgamation or the extermination of the one or the other would be inevitable.”  Secession, argued Hale, was the only means by which the “heaven ordained superiority of the white over the black race” could be sustained.  The abolition of slavery would either plunge the South into a race war or so stain the blood of the white race that it would be contaminated for all time.”  Could southern men “submit to such degradation and ruin,” he asked, and responded to his own question, “God forbid that they should.”

henry benning
Henry Benning
Typical also was the message from Henry Benning of Georgia – later one of General Lee’s most talented brigade commanders – to the Virginia legislature.  “If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished,” he predicted.  “By the time the north shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.  Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?  It is not a supposable case.”  

What did Benning predict would happen?  “War will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth.  We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination.  We will be completely exterminated,” he announced, “and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa or Saint Domingo.”

Finally, of course, community leaders fell into line in promoting this line of thought:

More to the point, he noted, abolition meant “the turning loose upon society, without the salutary restraints to which they are now accustomed, more than four millions of a very poor and ignorant population, to ramble in idleness over the country until their wants should drive most of them, first to petty thefts, and afterwards to the bolder crimes of robbery and murder.”  The planter and his family would “not only to be reduced to poverty and want, by the robbery of his property, but to complete the refinement of the indignity, they are to be degraded to the level of an inferior race, be jostled by them in their paths, and intruded upon, and insulted over by rude and vulgar upstarts. Who can describe the loathsomeness of such an intercourse;—the constrained intercourse between refinement reduced to poverty, and swaggering vulgarity suddenly elevated to a position which it is not prepared for?”

Non-slaveholders, he predicted, were also in danger.  “It will be to the non-slaveholder, equally with the largest slaveholder, the obliteration of caste and the deprivation of important privileges,” he cautioned.  “The color of the white man is now, in the South, a title of nobility in his relations as to the negro,” he reminded his readers.  “In the Southern slaveholding States, where menial and degrading offices are turned over to be per formed exclusively by the Negro slave, the status and color of the black race becomes the badge of inferiority, and the poorest non-slaveholder may rejoice with the richest of his brethren of the white race, in the distinction of his color.  He may be poor, it is true; but there is no point upon which he is so justly proud and sensitive as his privilege of caste; and there is nothing which he would resent with more fierce indignation than the attempt of the Abolitionist to emancipate the slaves and elevate the Negroes to an equality with himself and his family.”

Ivin also explores this in some detail:

Wealthy plantation owners had succeeded in separating the two races, and they now planted a fear of Blacks in the minds of poor and working white men. Enslaved Blacks were an asset to the wealthy, but freed Blacks were portrayed as a danger to all. By creating this common enemy among rich and poor alike, the wealthy elite sent a clear message: fight with us against abolitionists and you will remain safe.

It worked. Poor and working class whites signed up by the hundreds of thousands to fight for what they believed was their way of life. Meanwhile, many of the wealthy planters who benefitted economically from slavery were granted exemptions from military service and avoided the horrors of battle. On both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, wealthy elites were allowed to pay other men to take their place on the bloody battlefields. As the war lingered on, poor whites in the North and South began to realize the rich had waged the war, but it was the poor who were dying in it.

... With more than 650,000 deaths, the end of the Civil War eventually brought freedom for African-Americans. But after the war, ex-slaves were left to linger and die in a world created by those in the North who no longer cared and those in the South who now resented their existence. Poor whites didn’t fare much better. Without land, property, or hope for economic gains, many freed Blacks and returning white soldiers turned to sharecropping and found themselves once again working side by side, dependent on wealthy landowners.

Ivin also makes clear that this has profound relevance today, because these same poor whites are the meat of Donald Trump's proto-fascist army:

Trump supporters believe he’s different. They believe that he cares about us, that he tells it like it is, that he gives us a voice, that he can’t be bought because he’s already rich, that he’s railing against politics as usual.

But does Trump care about the white underclass, or does he still think poor people are “morons”?

Did slave owners care about white indentured servants when they pitted them against African slaves, or did they want to ensure a steady supply of cheap labor? Did Ronald Reagan care about poor white people when he trotted out the fictional welfare queen, or did he need a budget item to cut? Do wealthy elites and politicians care about poor and middle class people when they send them off to war, or are they anticipating massive profits?

Trump is railing against establishment politics not because he cares about the white underclass, but because he needs us — for now. He isn’t reaching out a hand to lift us up. He wants to stand on our shoulders so we can lift him up.
Confederate Heritage Month:

Day 1: Strange Fruit

It Was About Slavery

That Peculiar Institution

Monday, April 11, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: That Peculiar Institution

“Slavery as it existed in the South … was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world. … Slave life was to them [slaves] a life of plenty, of food, clothes and good medical care.”

-- Douglas Wilson and Steve Wilkins, Southern Slavery, As It Was
“Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery. Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America?”

— Jack Kershaw, League of the South board member, 1998
[Slavery was “a bad institution”, but possibly] “the mildest, most humane form of slavery ever practiced”.
“If you look at the wealth created by the slaves, in food, clothing, shelter, medical care, care before you’re old enough to work, care until you died, they got 90% of the wealth that they generated. I don’t get that. The damn government takes my money to the tune of 50%.”
-- Todd Kiscaden, 64, a neo-Confederate guarding the grave of Confederate Gen. Edmund Pettus
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. When I go through Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and I would see these little government houses, and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

-- Cliven Bundy
While many defenders of the Confederacy are content to simply argue that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, it was about [insert historically inaccurate excuse here, i.e., "states rights," "foreign trade," "federal tyranny"], others try a different tack: Hey, slavery really wasn't so bad in reality -- thus, neo-Confederates Douglas Wilson's and Steve Wilkins' obscene attempt to make it out to be a benevolent institution. Wilson's  and Wilkins' book Southern Slavery, As it Was is inordinately popular on the far right, especially among the home-schooling crowd.

As the SPLC explains, the book "selectively interprets slave narratives and rehashes pro-slavery arguments of the mid-nineteenth century to argue that the practice was benign, sanctioned by God and was used as a 'pretext' by Unionists to prosecute a war fought over the 'biblical meaning of constitutional government' in an effort to suppress Christianity."

Many others try to soft-pedal the memory of what slavery was about, even beyond the morally bankrupt concept of owning another human being. Slaves were well provided for, they say. And they love, as Bundy rather infamously did in 2014 in Nevada before a bunch of reporters, to suggest that their current impoverished state is actually worse than slavery.

All of which adds up to the obfuscation of the realities of slavery, and what it actually meant -- and why its devastating and toxic legacy remains with us today.

The reality is not hard to find. From Geoffrey Ward's The Civil War: An Illustrated History:

A slave enters the world in a one-room dirt-covered shack. Drafty in winter, reeking in summer, slave cabins bred pneumonia, typhus, cholera, tuberculosis. The child who survived to be sent to the fields at twelve was likely to have rotten teeth, worms, dysentery, malaria. Fewer than four out of one hundred slaves lived to be sixty.

"It is expected," a planter wrote, "that [slaves] should rise early enough to be at work by the time it is light ... While at work, they should be brisk ... I have no objection to their whistling or singing some lively tune, but no drawling tunes are allowed ... for their motions are almost certain to keep time with the music." Slaves worked till dark, unless there was a full moon that permitted them to be kept at it still longer.

On the auction block, blacks were made to jump and dance to demonstrate their sprightliness and good cheer, were often stripped to show how strong they were, how little whipping they needed. "The customers would feel our bodies," an ex-slave recalled, "and make us show our teeth, precisely as a jockey examines a horse." Since slave marriages had no legal status, preachers changed the wedding vows to read, "Until death or distance do you part."

"We were not more than dogs," a slave woman recalled. "If they caught us with a piece of paper in our pockets, they'd whip us. They was afraid we'd learn to read and write, but I never got the chance."
And their mistreatment, as the Wikipedia entry on the subject suggests, went well beyond what one might imagine necessary for the subjection of millions of people, and grew well into the irrationally sadistic:

Slaves were punished by whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding and imprisonment. Punishment was often meted out in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but sometimes abuse was performed to re-assert the dominance of the master (or overseer) over the slave.

They were punished with knives, guns, field tools and nearby objects. The whip was the most common instrument used against a slave; one said "The only punishment that I ever heard or knew of being administered slaves was whipping", although he knew several who were beaten to death for offenses such as "sassing" a white person, hitting another "negro", "fussing" or fighting in quarters.

Slaves who worked and lived on plantations were the most frequently punished. Punishment could be administered by the plantation owner or master, his wife, children (white males) or (most often) the overseer or driver.

Slave overseers were authorized to whip and punish slaves. One overseer told a visitor, "Some Negroes are determined never to let a white man whip them and will resist you, when you attempt it; of course you must kill them in that case." A former slave describes witnessing females being whipped: "They usually screamed and prayed, though a few never made a sound." If the woman was pregnant, workers might dig a hole for her to rest her belly while being whipped. After slaves were whipped, overseers might order their wounds be burst and rubbed with turpentine and red pepper. An overseer reportly took a brick, ground it into a powder, mixed it with lard and rubbed it all over a slave.

A metal collar was put on a slave to remind him of his wrongdoing. Such collars were thick and heavy; they often had protruding spikes which made fieldwork difficult and prevented the slave from sleeping when lying down. Louis Cain, a former slave, describes seeing another slave punished: "One nigger run to the woods to be a jungle nigger, but massa cotched him with the dog and took a hot iron and brands him. Then he put a bell on him, in a wooden frame what slip over the shoulders and under the arms. He made that nigger wear the bell a year and took it off on Christmas for a present to him. It sho' did make a good nigger out of him."

Slaves were punished for a number of reasons: working too slowly, breaking a law (for example, running away), leaving the plantation without permission or insubordination. Myers and Massy describe the practices: "The punishment of deviant slaves was decentralized, based on plantations, and crafted so as not to impede their value as laborers." Whites punished slaves publicly to set an example. A man named Harding describes an incident in which a woman assisted several men in a minor rebellion: "The women he hoisted up by the thumbs, whipp'd and slashed her with knives before the other slaves till she died." Men and women were sometimes punished differently; according to the 1789 report of the Virginia Committee of the Privy Council, males were often shackled but women and girls were left free.

The branding of slaves for identification was common during the colonial era; however, by the nineteenth century it was used primarily as punishment. Mutilation (such as castration, or amputating ears) was a relatively common punishment during the colonial era and still used in 1830. Any punishment was permitted for runaway slaves, and many bore wounds from shotgun blasts or dog bites used by their captors.
Even 150 years after it was finally overthrown, the legacy of this evil remains with us today. The underlying attitudes that gave it sustenance, it emerges, remain very much alive today; anti-black attitudes remain at toxically high levels in the former Confederate states. Its legacy also lingers in our racially segregated ghettoes. It continues to have a horribly negative pull on the mental health of African Americans.

And of course, white folks remain defiantly obtuse about its legacy. One of their favorite claims -- which we'll be exploring in greater depth throughout Confederate Heritage Month -- is that blacks have proven they are less capable because slavery was outlawed 150 years ago and they still haven't improved their lot significantly, as though the subsequent systems of oppression put in place, particularly Jim Crow and other means of demographic segregation, had no effect on their ability to advance.

But even without those systems, as Daria Rothmayr demonstrates authoritatively in her book Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage, blacks' disadvantaged position would remain. She describes, using the economic "lock-in" model, the way that unfair competitive advantage can begin to reproduce itself over time, automatically, without any ongoing illegal behavior.

It actually takes conscious choices on the part of whites, who are too busy being defensive about the legacy of slavery to take those steps. Mostly, they swim in the system every day and are unaware how slavery continues to impact American society today. As Luke Visconti puts it:

If you go back to people being created equally, it is just math that a percentage of our country’s greatest minds were eliminated from the competition simply by fact of skin color, and by extension their families were denied the head-start of their accomplishments. Every white person benefits from this–even people who arrived to the United States yesterday.