An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A few weeks ago one of our readers posted a comment on one of our blog posts asking for a “best guess” as to when slavery would have ended in the South had the Confederacy been successful in winning its independence. There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as counter-factual history is just that: not factual. However, the question is an important one that deserves attention and at the very least can be used to explore some ways in which slavery can be contextualized in the Civil War era.

The Confederacy was founded on the idea of preserving the institution of slavery. The short-lived nation’s need for slavery was economic as well as social. Economically, the South depended on an agrarian economy driven chiefly by cotton production. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, required large labor forces to produce. Consequently, profit margins depended on decreasing the cost of labor. Therefore, cotton’s profitability–and thus the economy of the South–benefited immensely from slavery. A change in the workforce would have severely disrupted the status quo. Poor Southerners, who may not have owned slaves, also saw the economic trickle-down effects of slavery: wealthy planters required food, tools, and other goods to keep the system of slavery running, and of these supplies would be supplied by yeomen farmers and craftsmen. As a result, many white Southerners who were neither wealthy nor owned slaves were also economically invested in the institution of slavery.

 When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget it's human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget its human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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When Confederates Came Marching Home: Jason Phillips on Southern Veterans and Reconstruction

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Jason Phillips. Image courtesy of West Virginia University.
Jason Phillips. Image courtesy of West Virginia University.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Jason Phillips, the Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University. He is the author of Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (University of North Carolina Press, 2007) and the editor of Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). He is currently at work on a second book, Civil War Looming: A History of the Future, which examines how Americans anticipated the Civil War and how those prophecies ultimately shaped their experiences and memories of the war.

CWI:  What obstacles—physical, emotional, political, social, financial, cultural—did the Confederate veteran face upon returning home, and how did he seek to deal with them? In what ways did Confederate veterans’ expectations of returning home match with the reality of the homecoming experience, and in what ways were they unprepared for or confounded by the realities of their homecoming?

PHILLIPS: As your question suggests, defeat stared Confederate veterans in the face in every facet of their lives. Failure was a physical, emotional, political, social, financial, and cultural fact that confronted and confounded returning rebels. Patrick Gilmore’s song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” encapsulated how Confederates anticipated their homecoming. Communities would welcome returning heroes with fanfare. Church bells would peal with joy. Reality mocked such dreams. But if Confederates were unprepared for defeat, they were also unprepared for federal leniency. Many rebels expected the government to punish treason. The Confederate rank and file didn’t fear personal imprisonment or execution, as their generals and political leaders did, but they dreaded disfranchisement, confiscation of property, and a prolonged military occupation of the South. What happened was far less severe, and that federal leniency in 1865 emboldened Confederate veterans to resist Radical Reconstruction years later.

Confederate veterans reunion, Little Rock, AR, 1911. Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
Confederate veterans reunion, Little Rock, AR, 1911. Image courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

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The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

William Link
Bill Link. Image courtesy of the University of Florida.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with William A. Link, the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. Link’s publications include: A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870-1920 (UNC Press, 1986), The Paradox of Southern Progressivism 1880-1920 (UNC Press, 1992), Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (UNC Press, 2002), and most recently, Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

CWI:  What were the defining elements of the New South?  What were some of the major forces and players who helped to create the New South?

LINK: Henry W. Grady, newspaper editor and publicist, perhaps became best known for popularizing the concept of the New South. In 1886, speaking before a distinguished group of northerners in New York City—which included Gen. William T. Sherman—Grady explained how a New South arose following the end of the Civil War. “We have let economy take root and spread among us as rank as the crabgrass which sprang from Sherman’s cavalry camps,” he declared, “until we are ready to lay odds on the Georgia Yankee, as he manufactures relics of the battlefield in a one-story shanty and squeezes pure olive oil out of his cotton-seed, against any downeaster that ever swapped wooden nutmegs for flannel sausages in the valleys of Vermont.” The New South, a term in common usage during the period after Reconstruction up until the early 20th century, became both an ideological construct and a social movement. It was a device, above all, serving to describe how the region was open for business to northern investors. According to Grady’s New South, adopted in what amounted to a social movement by promoters and boosters to define the South differently, the region was no longer dependent on slavery, fully reconciled to the Union, but also fully invested in the principle of white supremacy. Continue reading “The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link”

Causing Conversation: Civil War Memory in Beyoncé’s “Formation”

By Annika Jensen ’18

Not only did Beyoncé slay in her latest music video, but she got historical. Her single “Formation” touches on feminism, oppression, sexuality, and police brutality, and her video offers a visual representation for the overall theme of African American cultural ownership. It is, of course, an essential message for contemporary discussion, and the formerly-silenced subject is beginning to achieve prevalence in the music industry, but there is something special and bold about Beyoncé’s take on race: by appealing to Civil War memory and forcing viewers to accept the African American struggle for life, freedom, and success, she is shattering perceptions of one of our country’s most popular areas of historical study. What’s more? She’s a woman.

In some scenes, the iconic singer reconnects with her Southern roots by appearing in a Civil War era Southern-style parlor with other women of color, all sporting opulent Victorian clothing. In another, she stands clad in black outside what appears to be a large plantation home and, in an act of rebellion, flips off the camera. These historical allusions certainly create a powerful image of African American social progression, but they also present a more subtle message about the memory of slavery and the Civil War. Beyoncé is denying any attempt to erase her from our history while presenting the complexity of black lives during the Victorian era. She carefully lays out the connotations of black and white, of woman and man, and of power and submission.

Beyoncé gets historical in her latest music video. Photograph via Billboard.com.

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On the Road: A Summer Odyssey in Dixie

By Jeff Lauck ’18

Jeff 1
My friends Julia Kerr ’18, Meredith Staats ’18, and Cameron Kinard ’18 at our campsite in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photo courtesy of the author.

All summer long, readers of The Gettysburg Compiler were treated to posts from Pohanka interns documenting their research and experiences at historical sites across the country. While I did not participate in the Pohanka internship program this summer, I did take a few of my friends on a week-long camping trip to visit a couple of the interns and see them in action. Our plan was to drive from Connecticut to Harrisburg, PA, where we would stay with friends for the night, then drive to Fredericksburg, VA to tour the Civil War battlefields there and around Richmond.

The trip was memorable for a number of reasons. First, a camping trip with friends presents its own slew of challenges and opportunities. As the only experienced camper and trip planner, I quickly gained the nickname “mom,” a name that has stuck long since we made it back home. We also learned that summers in Virginia are hot, humid, and prone to scattered thunderstorms. All of these challenges were made worse by the fact that we were staying in a tent and two of our party had never before been on a camping trip. Despite one near-collision with a dump truck on a narrow back road in Virginia and a single case of Lyme disease, we all managed to make it home safely. Continue reading “On the Road: A Summer Odyssey in Dixie”

Tributes to Terror: The Mis-Monumentation of the Colfax Massacre

By Matt LaRoche ’17

Recently, I contributed a piece called “Days Gone By, Days to Come: Monuments and the Politics of Peace” on the political teeth with which monuments are often imbued (or are deliberately denied). While I do not intend to ramble on about this issue—I hope that the previous piece will do enough to inspire readers to take a critical eye to any monuments that they cross in the future—I felt that one more story of poor documentation deserved illumination. The context: as Charles Lane chronicles in his book The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, on April 13, 1873—Easter Sunday—the racial and political tensions already boiling in Reconstruction-Era Louisiana burst into decisive, open racial warfare. On that date, the Colfax courthouse in Grant Parish was stormed by a mob of white Democrats who, in a final bid to resolve the question of which party’s candidate had won the 1872 gubernatorial election, shattered the trench lines around the courthouse with small arms and a small cannon. Defending the courthouse were hundreds of freedmen and white Republican officials who had fled into Colfax from the countryside as racial violence had grown increasingly prevalent and organized. Most were refugee women and children. By massacre’s end, three whites and up to one hundred and fifty freedmen lay dead. A PBS documentary on Ulysses S. Grant reports that “nearly half [the victims were] murdered in cold blood after they had already surrendered.”

In the century and a half following the events of that Easter Sunday, the victims of Colfax have not been allowed to rest. Their memory has primarily been ignored or bent toward political ends, usually by those who couldn’t care less for the massacre’s victims of white supremacy. The site’s monuments reflect this. Perhaps there is no more abhorrent example of blood bound to stone for shallow aims in all of U.S. history. Continue reading “Tributes to Terror: The Mis-Monumentation of the Colfax Massacre”

Flags of Some of Our Fathers, Part 1: Ideas Don’t Die Easy

By Matt LaRoche ’17

I lied in the title. Ideas don’t die. Period. Once thought, they stay thought, failing the death of the species. However, that’s not to say that they stay recognizable, as time and circumstance make use of them in unforeseeable ways. And that is not to say that symbols are not co-opted and recycled with regularity. However, it is to say that no generation can allow a lack of foresight, or the complacency of memory, to allow such ideas and symbols to go un-scrutinized.

The so-called Rebel Flag. Wikimedia Commons.
The so-called Rebel Flag. Wikimedia Commons.

What am I on about? I would say that, for Americans, no ideas could afford to go unexamined more than the ill-defined ones that fall under the notion of “Confederacy.” I cannot say that, however, because these ideas are global, and even our familiar symbols—the flags that hold sway over some of our hearts as attractive faces of a positive good or a personal, emotional history—are no longer ours. They belong to the world and to the ages. Thus, it is everyone’s urgent responsibility to call to attention and scrutinize ideas—and their hallmarks—that do not reflect our modern conceptions of morality or sensibility, or that simply don’t make sense. Continue reading “Flags of Some of Our Fathers, Part 1: Ideas Don’t Die Easy”

“Stories of the South”: An Interview with Dr. K. Stephen Prince

By Logan Tapscott ’14

This summer’s Annual Civil War Institute Conference will focus on the War in 1864. Dr. K. Stephen Prince, an Assistant Professor at University of South Florida in Tampa, is conducting a concurrent session during the conference on southern ruins and their influence on Reconstruction. He is also conducting a dine-in session on Frederick Douglass’ “Mission of the War” speech. Dr. Prince’s book entitled Stories of the South: Race and Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1919, will be released right around the time of the conference.

K. Stephen Prince

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