Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Historical Insanity

A Few Weird Things about the American Civil War

In many ways, the Civil War was the strangest conflict in American history. Many aspects of the War Between the States were bizarre.

Even well-known aspects of the Civil War are downright weird. Some of the weirdest aspects of the U.S. Civil War include:

1.    Confederate Icon Robert E. Lee was almost the first commander of the Union Army

On 28 March 1861, President Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois) promoted Lee to Major General and offered him command of the entire U.S. Army. However, Lee refused Lincoln’s offer out of loyalty to his home state of Virginia. Oddly, Lee was willing to fight the Confederacy as long as it did not include Virginia.

2.    Three other prominent Confederate Generals could have had command of the Union Army had they wanted

Joseph E. Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Albert Sydney Johnston all held top ranks in the pre-Civil War Army.

In fact, both Johnstons outranked Lee in the Regular Army. Hence, all three soldiers could have been Union Generals and commanders of the Union Army. However, all three men resigned their U.S. commissions and joined the Confederate Army.

Albert Sydney Johnston; widely regarded as one of America’s top soldiers, was the logical replacement for Lee. However, Albert Sydney Johnston joined the Confederacy. Joseph E. Johnston who later commanded three Confederate Armies was no relation to Albert Sydney.

3.    All four of the Union’s Top Civil War Generals were out of the Army in 1860

George B. McClellan was serving as President of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. Meanwhile, Ulysses S. Grant was working as a clerk in his father’s store in Galena, Illinois.

Similarly, Henry W. Halleck was practicing law in California. Finally, William Tecumseh Sherman was teaching at a military academy in Louisiana. 

Halleck, McClellan, and Sherman left the Army because soldiering was a low-pay and low-prestige profession in the North. However, Grant resigned his commission to avoid a court martial for drunkenness.

Before the Civil War, most high-ranking U.S. officers were Southerners who had income from slave-worked plantations to augment their low army salaries. Most of those men sided with the Confederacy, which opened alternative career paths for talented Northern officers.

4.    Abraham Lincoln did not Abolish Slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in areas under Confederate control. Abolition had to wait until the enactment of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

5.    The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the Slaves in the Union

 In fact, many African Americans in the Union-occupied border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland remained enslaved until the 13th Amendment became law in 1865.

To explain, the Proclamation was a wartime measure Lincoln designed to deprive the South of slave labor, not an effort to liberate black people. Hence the Proclamation only covered slaves in Confederate states.

6.    Lincoln did not intend to free the slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln designed the Emancipation Proclamation as a wartime measure to help the Union War effort.

To elaborate, the primary purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to deprive the South of slave labor. The slaves grew the food that fed the Confederate Army and the cotton that financed the Southern War Effort.

Every slave in the fields freed a white Southerner to fight for the Confederacy. Hence, freeing the slaves could force the South to divert manpower from the battlefields.

In addition, the Emancipation Proclamation helped the Union keep the British Empire out of the Civil War. To explain, many British people supported the Confederacy if it was fighting for independence.

However, the British hated slavery and were not willing to fight for it. By issuing the Proclamation, Lincoln made the war about slavery and made an entry into America’s conflict political suicide for the British government.

Since Britain was the only nation powerful enough to defeat the Union. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made foreign intervention improbable. That made Union victory more probable by depriving the South of outside military aid.

7.    Lincoln was a racist who tried to expel African-Americans from the United States

Lincoln was a supporter of Henry Clay’s (W-Kentucky) “colonization” scheme. To elaborate, “colonization” was a euphemism for the deportation of black people to keep America a white man’s country.

In 1862 and 1863, Lincoln offered a plan to deport blacks to Honduras and Nicaragua.* However, those nations’ governments wanted nothing to do with Lincoln’s plans. Moreover, most black Americans rejected colonization.

Lincoln settled 453 African American “colonists” on an island off Haiti, a black majority country. The colonists almost starved to death and needed rescue by the U.S. Navy.*

In 1863, Lincoln abandoned colonization and began accepting African American citizens. Military necessity and not racial equality motivated Lincoln’s change of heart.

By 1864, the Union Army was facing a serious manpower shortage and needed black soldiers. Consequently, Lincoln changed his mind and abandoned colonization. Obviously, the Union government could not deport its own soldiers.

8.    The Confederacy tried to Recruit Black Soldiers

Bizarrely, the Civil War manpower shortage forced the Confederacy to follow the Union’s lead in recruiting black soldiers.

On 13 March 1865, the Confederate Congress passed a law approving the enlistment of black soldiers. The idea was to arm and train black slaves who were working for the Confederate Army. Hence, the Confederacy effectively abolished slavery, some African American men.

The measure did little good because most of the South was under Union occupation in 1865. Furthermore, the Union Army was recruiting African Americans and paying them in sound money. The Confederacy was paying its soldiers in worthless paper money, which drove many men to desert.

Hence, the Confederate measure was too little late. Whether guilt over slavery or military necessity motivated the measure is hard to determine. However, major Confederate leaders including Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis (D-Mississippi) approved black soldiers.

History shows the Civil War was far more complex and bizarre than most people assume. 

*See Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Eraby James McPherson pages 508-509.