MOST SOUTHERN WHITES

HATED THE CONFEDERACY

November 17, 2021

by John Spritzler

Non-slave-owning whites in the South--in the states of the Confederacy--during the Civil War were, according to the mass media and films and novels we read and see today, solidly and passionately in support of the Confederacy and its secession from the Union, were willing to fight and sacrifice for what they believed was a great and noble cause to save their wonderful Southern Civilization based on slavery from the evil invading Yankees, and were heartbroken at their unjust defeat in the Civil War: the Lost Cause.

 

This Lost Cause version of what was going on then is simply false. The truth can be discovered by reading books written by serious historians based on actual contemporary letters, diaries, newspaper accounts and so forth.

I have recently read some such books and will share with you some of the important things I learned from them. Here they are:

1. Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South, by Keri Leigh Merritt. "Masterless men" refers to poor whites who, like the slaves, had strong reasons for being angry at the slaveowners but who, unlike the slaves, had no master and whom the upper class had to control by other means.

2. What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War, by Chandra Manning. This book is based almost exclusively on letters or other writings by soldiers in the Confederate and Union armies. It focuses on their views about slavery and how and why those views changed over time during the war. The letters and beliefs of Confederate soldiers reported in this book are, however, representative only of the minority of Confederate soldiers who did not desert; keep this in mind when you read quotations from this book.

3. Bitterly Divided: the South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams

4. Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War: Class and Dissent in Confederate Georgia, by David Williams, Teresa Crisp Williams, and David Carlson. This book is mainly about Georgia, but with respect  to the concerns of the book, Georgia was much like the other Confederate states.

5. The State of Jones, by Sally Jenkins, a journalist, and John Stauffer, chair and professor of the History of American Civilization at Harvard University. Their book's title reflects the fact that Jones county in Mississippi virtually seceeded from the Confederacy during the Civil War.  

These books are written by academic historians. They cite contemporary sources for the statements they make, and which I quote at length below. I urge you to read these books.

Briefly, here's what I learned.

The Condition of Non-slaveholding Whites

The few whites who owned more than 20 slaves were called "planters." Planters made up 3% of Georgia's population. [Plain Folk, pg. 8.] The planters owned the huge plantations and often owned hundreds of slaves; they were the ruling class of the South, essentially an aristocracy. Planters before and during the Confederacy controlled the government (the  state governments and later the Confederacy federal government) and had enormous influence with the other key institutions including the press and judicial system.

"By 1860, the 10 percent of people with the highest incomes in the cotton states held 53 percent of the region's agricultural wealth. The bottom half owned only 5 percent." [Plain Folk, pg. 9] "Land and slave ownership dominated the South's economy, but most white southerners held no slaves, and many owned no land. According to one antebellum resident, in southwest Georgia's Early County 'there was a body of land east of Blakely...which made 216 square miles, and not one foot of it was owned by a poor man.'" [Bitterly, pg. 11]

 

"[O]nly about 14 percent of the state's [Louisiana] whites could be classified as middle class." [Masterless Men, pg. 14] "[A] true southern middle class of merchants, lawyers, and doctors had become well established in the Deep South by the middle antebellum era....Almost all of the men in this class either directly or indirectly made their money from the region's cash crop economy, linking them to the wealthy master class,' which 'did bind the new middle and upper classes together in white solidarity." [Masterless Men, pg. 139]

Three fourths of the South's free population owned no slaves. [Bitterly, pg 2]

Long before the Civil War period itself, non-slave-owning whites ("masterless men") bitterly resented the planters for making them compete with slaves--who worked for nothing--for jobs. Wages for white workers were thus so low that whites for the most part didn't rely on wage-labor work to survive. "The profitability and profusion of plantation slave labor consistently reduced the demand for free workers, lowered their wages, and rendered their bargaining power ineffective, indeed generally (except in the case of specialized skills) worthless. In essence, they were not truly 'free' laborers, especially when they could be arrested and forced to labor, for the state." [Masterless Men, pg. 23]

 

Instead of relying on wages, most non-slave-owning whites relied on subsistence farming if they were lucky enough to own a little plot of land ("Generally defined as owning neither land nor slaves, poor whites [a.k.a. masterless men] comprised, at the very least, about one-third of the South's white population in the few decades preceding the Civil War" [Masterless Men, pg. 3]), or they relied on what an anthropologist would call "hunting and gathering" on marginal land (that they did not own) that was too infertile or inappropriate for regular agriculture. "Instead of futilely continuing to try and participate in the formal economy, growing numbers of them [poor whites] began living away from 'civilized' white society, hunting, fishing, stealing, and trading with slaves in an informal underground economy." [Masterless Men, pg. 30]

 

Most whites were extremely poor, and because they wouldn't work for the absurdly low wages offered they were characterized by the planters as "lazy and shiftless." "One planter, in a private letter to a friend, wrote of the poor whites, 'not one in ten is...a whit superior to a negro.'" [Plain Folk, pg. 11] A small number of non-slave-owning whites were tradesmen or shop-owners, some were editors of small local newspapers, and a relative few (compared to the North) were employed in industry. White industrial workers in the cities, in the years prior to the Civil War, "began forming 'associations,' or labor unions, and demanded freedom from competition with slaves and even free blacks, whose wages always undercut their own. Vocal leaders of these groups threatened to stop supporting slavery if something was not done to help raise their wages." [Masterless Men, pg. 6]

"Travelers often commented on the horrible conditions of poor white dwellings. Impoverished whites 'usually lived in one-room cabins, the logs unhewn and inadequately chinked. Frequently there was no window of any kind, and almost certainly there would be no glass window,' reported one source. 'There was no floor but the bare earth; the furniture seldom included more than a bedstead or two, a rough pine table, a rough homemade chair or two, and perhaps an improvised cupboard and sometimes a spinning wheel...All were dirty and unkempt.'  Freedman Ed McCree confirmed this description, noting that 'Slave quarters were lots of log cabins with chimneys of crisscrossed sticks and mud. Poor white folks lived in houses like that too.'" [Masterless Men, pg. 117]

"The master class had a long-established, effective, and well-planned system of social control. They kept the white poor uneducated and illiterate on purpose. Refusing to invest in a system of public education, slaveholders used public money to fund law enforcement departments, creating an intricate and bureaucratic criminal justice system. This system allowed masters to incarcerate (at will) whites who failed to follow their social dictates." [Masterless Men, pg. 24]

"Poor whites were undoubtedly targeted by the legal system, and their punishments often helped blur the line between slavery and freedom. William Barney wrote that 'Common laborers, as a group, faced a host of coercive mechanisms. Indentured servitude, involuntary apprenticeship, compulsory labor for debtors, vagrants, the unemployed, and seamen were some of the devices by which' the poor became unfree. In Panola Country, Mississippi, for example, nearly every single person charged with a criminal offense in the 1850s was listed as a 'laborer.' Not only were poor whites more commonly prosecuted for crimes, but their sentences were generally much harsher than they were for the more affluent." [Masterless Men, pg. 226]

"While few historians and economists have extensively studied wage rates in the ante-bellum South, these preliminary figures do show that wage rates were lower in areas where slavery thrived....As Stanley Lebergott tabulated, in 1850 a farm laborer residing in New England could expect to earn $12.98 per month, while the same worker in Georgia would only be earning $9.03, or $7.72 in South Carolina. These wage differentials cannot be explained solely by regional differences in the cost of living, as there was also a sectional divide between real wages, an estimate of money's purchasing power.

 

"As one New York Times article plainly explained, slavery 'depreciates the value of labor. A laboring white man, throughout Southern States, receives but fifty cents a day and his board, and, what is worse, labor is there considered the badge of servitude.'" [Masterless Men, pg. 73-4]

"[Previously mentioned] John Nickle's abuse and murder suggests that some poor whites endured childhoods that differed little from those of slaves, living in a state of bondage where corporal punishment was relatively frequent, and occasionally brutal enough to cause death" [Masterless Men, pg. 83]

"While many historians assume that the ranks of overseers were filled with poor white men, this supposition is simply incorrect." [Masterless Men, pg. 84]

"Though most white males in the South could vote, and many did, there was not much for them to decide beyond the local level. Then as now, any successful bid for high political office depended as much on wealth as votes--and wealth went hand in hand with slavery. Both major parties, Whig and Democrat, centered more on personalities than issues, and both represented slaveholding interests." [Bitterly, pg. 19]

"Slaveholder control of southern politics, at least at the state and congressional levels, was nearly absolute. One southerner complained that although a majority of qualified voters owned no slaves, 'they have never yet had any part or lot in framing the laws under which they live. There is no legislation except for the benefit of slavery and slaveholders.'" [Bitterly, pg. 20]

"Slavery-driven capitalism made the slaveholders richer, while simultaneously ravaging the poor. The National Era ran an article in the fall of 1858 asserting that no other 'country in the civilized world' had 'such a wide, deep chasm' dividing 'class and class as that which separates' the slaveholders and non-slaveholders 'occupying this plantation district in the Southern States.' To be sure, the writer continued, the two groups 'are united by no common bond of sympathy or interest. On the contrary, a sour, sullen suspicion on the one side, and a proud and haughty bearing on the other, are likely to widen the gulf between them.' Antebellum poor whites unquestionably possessed class consciousness, and class tensions had reached dangerous levels by the time of secession." [Masterless Men, pg. 19]

Non-slaveholding White Views about Slavery

Because slavery had existed for more than a hundred years at this time, it was accepted by whites as "just the way things are," much as ordinary people today accept capitalism and class inequality as "just the way things are." But it was NOT how things were two centuries before. "Two centuries before, in the early decades of British North America, there had been no distinctions in law or custom between whites and blacks. In fact, the term 'slave' was often used in reference to all those laboring as indentured servants." [Bitterly, pg. 16] Read this footnote about how ruling class fear of revolution is what made things change.*

The planters worked very hard to make ordinary whites very much aware of the fact that they were not treated as bad as the blacks, that they were not chattel slaves, that unlike blacks they could walk around without anybody demanding to see some paper giving them permission to walk around, that they could quit a job if they felt like it, that they could vote and attend civic meetings and serve on a jury and testify in a court of law, that they would be addressed as Mister or Miss or Missus, and that they would be praised as good people in the press, and so forth. None of this put food on their plate or provided them with decent shelter or provided a decent education to their children or provided them decent medical care, but it was something nonetheless--it was social status.

The planters worked hard to make ordinary whites fear that they would lose social status--the only thing of any worth they had--if slavery were abolished. If slavery were abolished, the planters told the whites, then ordinary whites would sink to the same level as the 'ni**ers' and their daughters would end up being wives of the 'ni**ers' and so on.

But pro-slavery propaganda was not nearly as effective as the planters wished. "The few times poor whites were given a platform to discuss antebellum government, they had negative things to say about the master-dominated political process. Federal soldier James T. Wolverton grew up the son of non-slaveholders in Tippah County, Mississippi. His father, a carpenter and mechanic, was opposed to slavery but could do little about the situation, as slaveholders controlled the government. 'It was considered slaveholders was allowed a vote for each slave owned,' Wolverton remembered. Poor white S.P. Larkins from Dickson, Tennessee confirmed the sentiments of the Mississippian. 'The slaveholders thought they was better than the poor people and would not have anything to do with the poor class," Larkins alleged. Instead, 'the poorer class of people was look[ed] upon about like slaves was...My father would not vote for a man that owned slaves nor would he have anything to do with them.'" [Masterless Men, pg. 177.]

"[T]he interracial trading network clearly concerned the slaveholding class, who realized that the interaction of free blacks, slaves, and poor whites meant a majority of Southerners were already colluding in open defiance of them. J.J. Rainwater, a poor white from Mississippi, skipped town to avoid arrest for 'unlawfully receiving a side of bacon from a slave.' Also accused of accepting stolen cash from the same slave, Rainwater had been smart to abscond, as the local justice of the peace determined a 'palpable...case of guilt.' Rainwater's indiscretions ultimately earned him 'the condemnation of the public as a dangerous man in a slave community.' Indeed, frequent contact between the underclasses supposedly laid the groundwork for revolt and rebellion. Masters knew they had to intensify their efforts at segregation, heavily policing the poorer segment of the white population.

"Both slave patrols and vigilance committees token this task, monitoring...'not only slaves, but the shadowy underworld inhabited by poor whites who traded forbidden liquor and stolen farm goods with them.' Many areas in the Deep South called for stricter regulations by the patrols as the antebellum period wore on. One local Farmers' Club even implored the patrol to take action against poor whites, encouraging their arrest and punishment....The increasing frequency of biracial interaction, especially in the underground economy, had slaveholders trying to eliminate traffickers' privileges of white citizenship in the 1850s. Attempting to restrict the Constitutional rights of poor whites, slave-owning lawmakers called for the 'imposition of civil disabilities,' essentially the denial of legal rights and privileges to people who had been convicted of crimes. These civil disabilities, of course, would permanently disenfranchise the convict." [Masterless Men, pg. 209-10]

During the Civil War years, the planters told ordinary whites that if the North won the war then the slaves would be freed and they--with Lincoln helping--would turn the world upside down and make whites the slaves and blacks their masters.

 

For example: "Mere weeks after Lincoln's election, the Southern Banner published an alleged 'want' ad they claimed originated in Rochester, New York. Appearing in an article entitled 'The Practical Workings of Abolition,' the advertisement was supposedly placed by a 'respectable colored family' who was looking for a 'white boy, 14 or 16 years of age, to wait upon the table and make himself generally useful about the house.' Thus, with one scandalous advertisement, slaveholders attempted to frighten poor white laborers into supporting the peculiar institution. If they failed to do so, they could fully expect soon to be working for emancipated blacks, waiting on them in a servile fashion. Slavery, the masters of men claimed, was much more important for poor whites than it was for the affluent, as it kept them from being the mud-sill of southern society. Poor whites, their argument ran, had much to lose if African Americans ever gained freedom. Their honor and dignity were at stake. The southern publishers of this incendiary want ad concluded by warning non-slaveholders about their futures in a free land--futures in which they could expect to be working for black masters. 'We trust the time will never come when the children of the poor white man in Georgia shall be thus humbled or abased,' they wrote. With emancipation, 'our slaveholding population would or might lose money...but the poor white man would lose much more, and what is all in all to him and to every man, viz: the consciousness of political and social superiority.'

"What the pro-slavery writers failed to understand, however, was that assurances of poor whites' ostensible superiority over slaves did not always mollify people who were already treated as socially, politically, and economically inferior to members of their own race. There were few scenarios in which things could get materially worse for whites who had great difficulty finding work, keeping work, and earning a living wage. They had little reason to think abstractly about their social position relative to emancipated slaves. Instead, they were much more worried about how to obtain next week's food and whiskey. For poor white Southerners in the late antebellum period, freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose." [Masterless Men, pg. 112-13]

"The Richmond Enquirer cautioned that abolition meant 'the substitution of the white by the black race in the southern tier of States.' Confederates...repeatedly proclaimed that they must fight or be made slaves." [What This, pg. 38]

"The Confederate camp newspaper The Vidette made this same point more concisely when it called emancipation 'Slavery for the White Man!'" [What This, pg. 107]

"The most powerful motivator [of the minority of soldiers who did not desert, as discussed below, and whose letters are the basis for this sentence--J.S.] remained Confederate troops' certainty that they must fight to prevent the abolition of slavery, the worst of all possible disasters that could befall southern white men and their families. Over and over, soldiers repeated the same refrains about the necessity of fighting for slavery that they had been sounding since the war began. Abolitionist tyrants would 'force the yoke of slavery' onto white men and their loved ones if Confederates ever gave up the struggle, one Texas chaplain warned. Similarly, Alabama private Thomas Taylor insisted that his sister recall that if Northerners succeeded in emancipating black slaves, they would 'place upon [white Southerners] the chains of slavery.'" [What This, pg. 138]

 

This threat of becoming a slave to black masters relied for its credibility on the fact that whites knew very well how cruelly the blacks had been treated as chattel slaves--the whippings and separation of parents from children, not to mention being forced to work for nothing--and whites also felt complicit in this cruelty because state laws required all eligible (males of a sufficient age) whites to serve in the slave patrols that hunted runaway slaves with "Negro dogs." If a person has been cruelly whipping a caged dog for many years, he will probably be very afraid of what that dog would do to him if it were released from its cage, right? He would fear anybody aiming to release the dog from its cage. This is how some whites felt about the abolitionists; they feared what would happen to them if the abolitionists succeeded, i.e., if the North won the war.

Fear of what would happen to them if the slaves were freed by a Union victory is the ONLY thing that made some--a minority!--of ordinary whites willingly remain in the Confederate army. Most whites, however, did not volunteer to fight with the Confederate army, and when the Confederacy resorted to a draft conscription most whites tried to evade it, huge numbers of whites deserted from the Confederate army and many even went over to the serve in the Union army. Why?

Most Ordinary Whites in the South Opposed Secession

For one thing, most ordinary whites in the South opposed secession. "On January 2 [1861], Georgia voters went to the polls to choose convention [for the new Confederacy] delegates. Accurate returns were hard to obtain, but within a few days the Athens Southern Watchman declared the anti-secessionists the victors 'by a considerable majority.' In fact, the popular vote was very close, with a likely majority of 42,744 opposing secession to 41,717 supporting it....

 

"There was an even more basic concern about how democratic the initial delegate nominating process had been. Some charged outright fraud. Shortly before the convention met, one furious voter accused Singleton Risk, a Missionary Baptist minister, of cheating Habersham County out of its vote. In an open letter to the Athens Southern Watchman, he told how this "janus-faced expounder of the Gospel" had declared himself a Union man to gain the nomination of Habersham's anti-secessionists. With their backing, Sisk was elected to the convention. 'After the election, we find that he had privately promised the Secessionists that he would, in the Convention, support Secession.' Risk indeed betrayed his constituents and backed secession at the convention. Similar betrayals occurred among the representatives of at least twenty-eight other Georgia counties. In Campbell County, the fraud was so transparent that some who went to the polls declined to vote for any candidate." [Plain Folk, pg. 14]

"Of the South's free population, three-fourths of whom owned no slaves, most made it clear in the winter 1860-61 elections for convention delegates that they opposed secession. Nevertheless, state conventions across the South, all of them dominated by slaveholders, in the end ignored majority will and took their states out of the Union." [Bitterly, pg. 2] "One Texas politician conceded that ambitious colleagues had engineered secession without strong backing from 'the mass of the people.' A staunch South Carolina secessionist admitted the same: 'But whoever waited for the common people when a great move was to be made--We must make the move and force them to follow.'" [Bitterly, pg. 3]

"In his seminal study of the secession crisis, David Potter looked at the popular vote for state secession conventions throughout the South and concluded:

'At no time during the winter of 1860-1861 was secession desired by a majority of the people of the slave states...Furthermore, secession was not basically desired even by a majority in the lower South, and the secessionists succeeded less because  of the intrinsic popularity of their program than because of the extreme skill with which they utilized an emergency psychology, the promptness with which they invoked unilateral action by individual states, and the firmness with which they refused to submit the question of secession to popular referenda.'" [Bitterly, pg. 39]

"Secessionists employed more than words in pursuing disunion. One southerner recalled that secessionists 'used the most shameless and unconcealed intimidation' to suppress their opponents. ... In tallahatchie County a secessionist gang of Mississippi 'Minute Men' lynched seven local Unionists. In Florida, secessionists formed armed bands of 'Regulators' who ambushed Union men by night." [Bitterly, pg 10-11]

"After the final convention vote [for secession], the remaining unionist convention delegates insisted that the secession ordinance be ratified by a vote of the people. In calling for popular ratification, an Augusta editor reminded the delegates that previous conventions recommending alterations of the state constitution had sought the people's approval by ratification. But the convention's secessionist majority, sure that the people would overturn its decision, refused. Georgia, like the other seceding states, left the Union without submitting the issue to direct popular vote." [Plain Folk, pg. 15-16]

"It was equally hard for large numbers of plain folk to forget that they had been cheated out of their vote. Had their voices been fairly represented at the state conventions, there would have been no secession and no war. One South Carolina aristocrat expressed deep concern on hearing poor farmers in his area saying 'this is a rich man's war.' They were saying the same thing all across the South. 'What the hell's it all about anyway?' asked an angry speaker at the Texas state capitol. 'The nigger!' came a reply from the crowd. 'I ain't got no nigger,' yelled the speaker. 'I ain't going to fight for somebody else's nigger.' Such comments echoed what John Bell told his son Henry of the slaveholders: 'All they want is to git you put up and go to fight for there infernal negroes and after you do there fighting you may kiss there hine parts for o [all] they care.'" [Bitterly, pg. 47]

"The summer of 1861 found a large band of Unionists in Greene County [Mississippi] openly declaring that they would 'fight for Lincoln.' Local authorities suspected that the McLeod brothers, all non-slaveholding yeoman farmers, were leading the Unionists. When hauled in for questioning, Allen McLeod called [Confederacy President] Jefferson Davis 'a murdering scamp & traitor.' His brother Peter told the committee not only that there were plenty of men in Greene County ready to take up arms against the Confederacy but also that there were seven hundred to eight hundred men in nearby Choctaw County, Alabama, pledged to 'fight against the South & slave owners.' Perhaps most frightening to slave owners, the McLeods were also ready to arm and ally themselves with slaves." [Bitterly, pg. 50]

"Alabama private Richard Ledbetter took part in the Confederacy's victory at Chickamauga in September 1863, only to see the gains made there reversed at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in the weeks that followed. By the end of 1863, Ledbetter went so far as to predict defeat for the Confederacy, not simply because of the setbacks his army suffered, but also because 'two thirds of our army' had no heart in the Confederate cause, and it was impossible to 'make good contented and fighting soldiers out of a man who is forced to fight contrary to his own belief and against a cause that he wishes to prosper.'" [What This, pg. 134]

"Our skewed image of the Civil War South also stems in part from the ways in which we emphasize the era's military and political aspects. The great mass of literature dealing with the war years focuses largely on battles and leaders. Such studies are crucial, to be sure. But focusing so much of our collective attention on those aspects tends to foster the myth of sectional unity, minimizing dissent or ignoring it altogether. In so doing, we paint all southerners, all white southerners at least, with a broad brush of rebellion. This oversimplified and often not-so-suble effort to, in a sense, generally demonize white southerners has led to the mistaken idea that the terms 'Southern' and 'Confederate' were interchangeable during the war. They are used as such in most texts to this day. That firmly embedded misconception leaves little room in the popular and, too often, professional imagination for the hundreds of thousands of southern whites who opposed secession and worked against the Confederacy." [Bitterly, pg. 7]

Confederate soldiers hated the Confederacy for two key reasons:

#1. It was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight. This was a universally held opinion, especially because the Confederacy exempted any person who owned at least 20 slaves (i.e., planters) from the draft. Ordinary whites absolutely hated this exemption for planters.

 

"This twenty-slave law was the most widely hated act ever imposed by the Confederacy, especially for poor soldiers already in the ranks. Said Private Sam Watkins of Tennessee, 'It gave us the blues; we wanted [meaning lacked--J.S.] twenty negroes. Negro property suddenly became very valuable, and there was raised the howl of 'rich man's war, poor man's fight.' He continued, 'From this time on till the end of the war, a soldier was simply a machine. We cursed the war ... we cursed the Southern Confederacy.'" [Bitterly, pg. 3]

 

Also the Confederacy allowed men to pay a substitute to enter the army for them, but of course only a wealthy person could afford to do this. Except for the officers, who were wealthy and who could resign and go home whenever they wished, the rank and file soldiers were all poor whites and could only go home with rarely-given permission (as a furlough). White soldiers knew that the war was all about protecting the wealth (slaves) of the planters, and not at all about improving their own lives.

"Colonel James Nisbet, a former Georgia slaveholder, paraphrased [an earlier cited] quote in his postwar memoirs: 'It was a perplexing thing to the Northern mind that these people who owned no slaves, who were put out of the pale of slave-holding society (as they thought) should have accepted with so little question the leadership of the slave-holder.' Nisbet, like so many of his class, chose to ignore the obvious. Most poor nonslaveholding soldiers did question slaveholders' leadership. They questioned why they were being force to fight for a way of life that was not theirs while most of its beneficiaries remained at home. They questioned why their families starve while food rotted in warehouses and cotton was smuggled out. Such questions led many southerners to ignore enrolling [conscription] officers. One newspaper noted that not a single man appeared at the April 1862 enrollment in Savannah and listed 199 names of absentees." [Plain Folk, pg. 100]

"From 1862 until the conflict's end, the attitude that it was a 'rich man's war and a poor man's fight' was so pervasive that some wealthy gentlemen saw no point in pretending otherwise. One member of southwest Georgia's gentry ran an advertisement in the Early County News that read 'WIFE WANTED--by a young man of good habits, plenty of money, good looking and legally exempt from Confederate Service.'" [Plain Folk, pg. 92] To which I, John Spritzler, say, "Well bless his heart!"

#2. As the war went on the soldiers started getting letters from their wives telling them that their wife and children were--literally!--starving and begging them them to return home to help them survive. Why were the wives and children starving?

 

They were starving because the planters were refusing to grow food crops and instead were growing cotton (and some tobacco) to sell for big profits.

"In direct violation of state law and Confederate [nominal--J.S.] policy, 'planters insisted,' as one historian put it, 'on their right to grow unlimited amounts of cotton; to retain it for sale whenever they chose; and to sell it whenever, and to whomever, they chose.' And it did not matter who the buyers were, even if they were Yankees." [Bitterly, pg. 66]

 

As a result there just was not enough food in the South to feed the people, including the soldiers. Instead of forcing the planters to grow food crops, the Confederacy--to get food for the soldiers--sent soldiers into the countryside to seize food and horses, etc., from poor white women on subsistence farms whose husbands were in the army.

 

"In 1863, the Confederacy determined that what it could not buy, it would take by force. That spring, Congress passed a series of taxes, the most far-reaching of which was a 10 percent levy on such agricultural products as livestock, wheat, corn, oats, hay, fodder, potatoes, peas, beans, and peanuts. Even this tax-in-kind did not provide enough food to meet the army's needs. So officers began to 'impress' produce, and anything else they wanted, far beyond the 10 percent level. Though no member of any class held impressment in high regard, its weight fell heaviest on the plain folk. Only when poorer farms were stripped bare did impressment companies turn to the plantations. Even then, planters paid a proportionally lighter tax or used political connections to avoid impressment entirely. When Robert Toombs used his influence to dodge impressment, one newspaper editor lashed out: 'We believe Toombs, because he is rich, does pretty much what he wants...if he were a poor man he would be hanged.'...'Our own cavalry has been a great terror to our own people,' wrote a man from northern Alabama to Governor Watts. 'Stealing, robbing, and murdering is quite common.' Some called impressment 'pillaging.' In January 1864 one Confederate official wrote a dire warning to [Confederate capitol] Richmond after touring the countryside: 'Great dissatisfaction prevailed in many sections, and generally among the masses...In some localities all the cattle, hogs, and corn of farmers have been taken, and teams are not left to make a crop. Under this pressure the people have become, if not disloyal, at least indifferent...to the cause.' When an impressment officer took two cows from a South Carolina farmer, the man thundered that 'the sooner this damned Government fell to pieces the better it would be for us.'" [Bitterly, pg. 72]

 

The starvation got so bad that women began "rioting" all over the South, going to stores and depots where there was food, often armed with rifles or any other weapons they could obtain, and seizing the food without paying for it (they didn't have the money to begin with, and even when they had some Confederate money the store-owners wouldn't accept it because inflation was making it worthless.)

 

"Women's riots were breaking out all over the Confederacy during the spring of 1863. In late March, a crowd of at least fifty ax-wielding North Carolina women appeared at the government supply depot in Salisbury demanding food. When an agent tried to send them away, they stormed the building and stole ten barrels of flour. A few weeks later in Guilford County, as Nancy Magnum reported, 'a crowd of we Poor wemen went to Greensborough yesterday for something to eat as we had not a mouthful [of] meet nor bread in my house[.] what did they do but put us in gail...they threatened to shoot us and drawed their pistols over us.' ... 

"When Richmond's city council refused even a slight increase in funding for poor relief that spring, it was the last straw. On April 1, several hundred women gathered at Oregon Hill Baptist Church to discuss how they were going to feed themselves and their children. One fiery speaker named Mary Jackson said out loud what they were all thinking. They need food, and they needed it now. If merchants would not sell at prices the women could afford, they would have to take what they needed.

"The next morning, hundreds of women assembled at Capitol Square and headed for the business district. Hundreds more joined their ranks as they went. Soon the surging crowd of women, and some men, numbered over a thousand. They hit the clustered shops like a human hurricane, smashing down doors, looting stock, and sending terrified merchants running for their lives. Governor John Letcher called out the City Battalion and threatened to shoot the rioters if they refused to turn back. They ignored him and continued their rampage. City officials turned fire hoses on the looters. Still they pushed ahead. Finally, [President] Jefferson Davis himself appeared on the scene. Mounting a drayman's cart, he threw what money he had to the crowd but also threatened to order them shot if they did not disperse. Many of the rioters, with all they could carry, were beginning to scatter in any case. The police hurried after them, arresting a few who later received jail time ranging from weeks to months." [Bitterly, pg. 91] [One hundred years later the mass media would be telling us that only black people rioted and looted--J.S.]

"In April, when speculators drove up the price of bacon in Mobile, Alabama, dozens of women marched through the city with banners reading BREAD OR BLOOD AND BREAD AND PEACE. One witness reported that this 'army of women' carried 'axes, hatchets, hammers and brooms.' And they were prepared to use them. As they reached each grocery store, if the doors were not already open they tore them down and helped themselves to ham, flour, and any other supplies. Army officers sent in Confederate troops, but the soldiers refused to level their rifles at the women. According to one merchant who witnessed the scene: 'The military was withdrawn from the field as soon as possible--for there were unmistakable signs of fraternizing with the mob.' By the time Mobile's mayor arrived to appeal for calm, women with armloads of food were making their way home." [Bitterly, pg. 93-4]

 

When the women engaged in this patently illegal activity they had the support of the general population. Furthermore, the women often announced that "their men"--deserters hiding in the woods--would defend them with their weapons. At the same time planters were eating gourmet food supplied by blockade runners (getting through the Union naval blockade of the South) who discovered that it paid much better to just smuggle in high priced luxuries rather than basic food, since the fabulously rich planters would pay the exorbitant prices.

"While poor families with absent husbands and fathers faced the threat of starvation every day, many wealthy Georgians enjoyed a lifestyle hardly touched by the war. As late as March 1865--only weeks before the war's end--one lady wrote of a meal at the Cook house in Columbus where the table was so heavy with fine foods that it "actually groaned" (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, cited in Plain Folk, pg. 187)

"For soldiers to leave their posts was nothing unusual in 1863. By the end of that year, with 278,000 men present for duty out of nearly 500,000, close to half the Confederate army was absent with or without leave....The Confederacy's recruitment difficulties only worsened over the following months. In February 1864, Howell Cobb wrote that 'there are men enough at home able to be in the field to make another army.' Later that year, [Confederacy] President [Jefferson] Davis publicly admitted that 'two-thirds of our men are absent...most of them without leave.'...Unauthorized leaves could and often did result in execution. One Georgia soldier in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia wrote that it was 'an everyday occurrence for men to get letters from home stating that their families are on the point of starvation. Many a poor soldier has deserted and gone home in answer to that appeal, to be brought back and shot for desertion.' Some were never returned for execution. Samuel Henderson Frier of Irwin Country, like the rest of his family, had opposed secession. Too poor to hire a substitute, he joined the army under threat of conscription in May 1862. Frier deserted later that year in Virginia and made his way back home. In October 1863, he was shot and killed by Confederate forces sent to arrest him. Frier's widow, two young children, and other family and friends laid him to rest in the Brushy Creek Primitive Baptist cemetery. Regardless of such risks, soldiers continued to abandon their ranks by the thousands. Aiming their rifles at anyone who dared challenge them, they made their way over hundreds of rugged miles to help their starving families." [Plain Folk, pg. 162]

"By October 1862, over half the soldiers from northeast Georgia had 'skedaddled' and were hiding out in the mountains. At least a third of Lumpkin County's 'Blue Ridge Rifles' had deserted. Nearly half the county's 'Boyd Guards' did the same. The next year War Department officials reported to Secretary James Seddon that 'the condition of things in the mountain districts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama menaces the existence of the Confederacy as fatally as ... the armies of the United States.'" [Plain Folk, pg. 103]

"Desertion became so serious by the summer of 1863 that [President] Jefferson Davis begged absentees to return. If only they would, he insisted, the Confederacy could match Union armies man for man. But the soldiers did not return....Some deserters joined anti-war organization that had been active in the South since the war's beginning. The Peace and Constitutional Society worked to undermine Confederate authority in Arkansas, as did the Order of the Heroes of America in southern Appalachia. Perhaps the largest such organization was the Peace Society, which was centered in Alabama and included members in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. Historian Walter Fleming estimated that by 1863 at least half of Alabama's able-bodied men were associated with the Peace Society. Anti-war sentiment was felt at the polls that year all across the South. Two-thirds of the Second Confederation's newly elected members had opposed secession.

"Deserters also joined with draft dodgers and other anti-Confederates to form guerrilla bands, often called tory, or layout, gangs. They attacked government supply trains, burned bridges, raided local plantations, and harassed impressment agents and conscript officers. This internal civil war became so violent by 1863 that the editor of the Milledgeville's Confederate Union wrote: 'We are fighting each other harder than we ever fought the enemy.'" [Plain Folk, pg. 5]

"For those few deserters and draft dodgers who were captured, there was no guarantee of punishment. When a conscript company in Franklin County captured several deserters, the local jailer would not lodge them. In White County, twenty-two men broke into the jail to release a draft dodger. So strong was anti-war feeling in some counties that judges could not hold court on draft evaders without a military escort. Even when trials were held, convictions were rare. Juries consistently refused to return guilty verdicts against those who opposed the war. Howell Cobb conceded in August of 1863 that to drag antiwar men into court was 'simply to provide for a farcical trial.' He was right. Later that year, two Lumpkin County men, John Woody and John A. Wimpy, were tried on charges of treason. In the face of strong evidence against them, and after Woody confessed his refusal to fight, a jury acquitted both men....

"Samuel D. Knight of southwest Georgia wrote [in 1863] to [Georgia governor] Brown that after three months of 'mingling freely with the common people among that class generally there is a strong Union feeling existing...the same feeling exists among the soldiers in the field to an alarming degree." [Plain Folk, pg. 160]

Many Whites Supported Abolition of Slavery

Despite the pro-slavery propaganda, and despite the fact that it was very dangerous, sometimes fatally dangerous, to express support for the abolition of slavery, there nevertheless was substantial support for abolition among ordinary whites in the South and even instances of solidarity between whites and slaves against the slave owners and Confederacy government. No doubt for every instance of this abolitionist sentiment or action by whites that was ever documented in some manner, there were lots of others that were never documented because the whites did everything they could to keep it a secret in order to protect their lives.

"In 1849, a Georgia carpenter openly declared his opposition to slavery. Competition with slave labor, he believed, kept his wages low. In 1859, one poor Hancock County laborer confided to an acquaintance that if it came to a war over slavery, he was going to 'black himself' and fight to end it. Without slavery, perhaps he could get better wages. That same year, a farmer in Taliaferro County was convicted of hiding a runaway slave for three months. The next year another in Greene County was found making fake passes for saves and 'teaching them to write and cipher.'

"Such class animosities had been building for some time. By the 1850s, despite their racist fears, resentment among nonslaveholders toward the slave system was on the rise. Hinton Rowan Helper, son of a poor North Carolina farmer, most forcefully expressed that resentment in his 1857 book, Impending Crisis of the South. Slavery, he pointed out, benefited only the few. ...

"One defender of slavery warned that there might soon be 'an Abolition party in the South, of the Southern men.' Another frankly admitted, 'I mistrust our own people more than I fear all of the efforts of the Abolitionists.'" [Plain Folk, pg. 11,12]

 

"That same year [1849], mechanics and workingmen in the slave state of Kentucky met at Lexington and drew up this statement: 'Resolved, That the institution of slavery is prejudicial to every interest of the State...it degrades labor, enervates industry, interferes with the occupations of free laboring citizens, separates too widely the poor and the rich, shuts out the laboring classes from the blessings of education...and as slavery tends to the monopoly of as well as degradation of labor, public and private right require its ultimate extinction.'" [Bitterly, pg. 21]

"Planter fears of lower-class cooperation across racial lines had been on the rise throughout the late antebellum era. Those fears became more acute in late 1860 during the presidential campaign and resulting secession crisis. In August came reports of a thwarted slave insurrection in Floyd County. The Rome Courier noted that white men were probably involved, 'as there are several suspicious individuals prowling about in the county.' The Upson Pilot editor wrote in September, "We have heard a great deal lately of worthless white men attempting at various places, to excite slaves to insurrection, arson, and murder.'...

"A well digger named Parker in Quitman County apparently took pity on a slave belonging to a Mr. Robinson. According to news accounts, he advised the woman, who had been roughly treated by an overseer, to set fire to Robinson's house and then make a run for freedom. Parker promised to help get her out of Quitman County and to some free state up North. Worst of all, in the eyes of local slaveholders, he had told her 'that she was as good as the white folks.' Mrs. Robinson had overheard the conversation. When Parker found that his plan had been uncovered, he tried to get out of the county. He was chased down with bloodhounds, tried in a mock proceeding, and hanged....

 

"W. A. Campbell of Fannin County wrote a frantic letter to Governor Brown in February 1861, only a few weeks after Georgia left the Union. He was sure that 'the results of the late election for delegates in the mountains does not only indicate the Union sentiment, but more and worse, anti nigger slavery!'...

"December 1861 brought word to Governor Brown from north Georgia's Gordon County of local unionists holding secret meetings and organizing a military force to protect themselves from Confederate authorities. They swore both to resist attempts to draft them into the Confederate army and to aid the Yankees should they reach that far south. Most troubling was the writer's insistence that the unionists 'say in case of an insurrection they will help the Negroes.'" [Plain Folk, pg. 132-4]

In Mississippi there was a band of deserters from the Confederate army--"known as the Piney Woods Unionists"--in the county of Jones, led by Newton Knight, the subject of the book The State of Jones.

 

"'These deserters [Newton Knight's band] brought terror into the hearts of people who sympathized with the Confederacy,' recalled J. C. Andrews, a teen-aged conscript who worked a gin mill in Jasper County. 'They robbed George Harbor and beat him and left a notice for him to leave the country at once, which he did. Neal McGill, a Mr. Patterson, and S. A. Allen were also robbed and beaten and their lives threatened. They left the country to save their lives.' Another teenaged Jones County rebel conscript, Maddie Bush, recalled that virtually every local Confederate bureaucrat fled, until there was no civil authority left. 'There was nothing to support the officers, and there was nothing to assess,' he said. 'There was no sheriff, assessor, or tax collector.'

"The theme of the attacks was clear: Newton and the Jones County Scouts were making war on anyone aiding the rebel cause, hounding them just as the Unionists like Newton and John Hill Augury had been hounded after secession.

"Pleas for help flooded the offices of Confederate authorities. On February 8, 1864, a Caption William H. Hardy in Raleigh, the seat of Smith County, warned [Mississippi] Governor Charles Clark that between two hundred and three hundred deserters in Jones were 'confederated' in driving respectable citizens out and that they had murdered a Baptist minister in the southwestern part of Jasper. Hardy asserted that local troops were incapable of dealing with the guerrillas and that citizens refused to act against them 'for fear of some private injury.' On the very same day, Clark received another equally dismaying account from the sheriff of nearby Perry County, G. W. Bradley, who declared that he was so threatened by guerrillas that he could not collect taxes except 'at the risk of my life.'

 

"It had become obvious to the Confederate high command that something disquieting was happening in the Piney Woods. There was a sharp difference between deserter bushwhacking and this new more concerted militancy, which seemed to be spreading. The reports suggested that the guerrillas in Jones were highly organized, and growing in size and control, and they seemed to be forming fluid partnerships with other bands of disaffected insurrectionists in surrounding counties." [The State of Jones, pg. 165-6]

A Confederate lieutenant named A. H. Polk, who was sent to survey the damage wrought by General Sherman, wrote about Newton Knight's band:

"I beg leave also to say something in regard to tories and deserters, who infest Jones County and a portion of Lauderdale [where Meriden is located]. The tories in Jones County mad a raid on Paulding not many days ago, about 200 strong, and carried off a good deal of corn as well as other property. They are becoming very troublesome, as well as dangerous, to the country around." [The State of Jones, pg. 179]

Here is one of the many actions of Newton Knight's band, in March of 1864:

"Within the week, the Piney Woods Unionists launched a far more serious attack on a Confederate installation in New Augusta that demonstrated just how brazen they had become. Fifty Jones guerrillas collaborating with allies from neighboring Perry County assaulted the old conscription station where Amos McLemore had headquartered. Two men calling themselves 'captains,' including one named Landrum from Jones, led the party...

 

"The men had marked on their hats, 'U.S. Victory or Death.' They surrounded the home in which the local conscription officer, Captain John J. Bradford, of the 3rd Mississippi regiment, was staying. In broad daylight they called him outside and took a vote on whether to hang him. He was 'paroled' after he promised to quit the conscription service and swore never again to enter the county or to in any way aid in attacks against them.

"They took three more prisoners at gunpoint, liberated the local slaves, and seized a dozen horses, government stores, ammunition, and cooking utensils. They issued provisions to destitute families in the neighborhood. And before they left, they made a triumphal brag, according to the official Confederate report: 'They stated they were in regular communication with the Yankees, were fighting for the Union, and would have peace or hell by August. They told the negroes they were free." [The State of Jones, pg. 179-80]

 

"Deserters escaping the Confederate army could rely on slaves to give them food and shelter on the journey back home. Others [slaves] joined tory [deserter] gangs in their war against the Confederacy. Two slaves in Dale County, Alabama, helped John Ward, leader of a local deserters gang, kill their owner in his bed. In the spring of 1862 three white citizens of Calhoun County, Georgia, were arrested for supplying area slaves with firearms in preparation for a rebellion. Two years later slaves in neighboring Brooks County conspired with a local white man, John Vickery, to take the county and hold it for the Union. Tens of thousands of blacks fled to federal lines and joined Union forces. Of about two hundred thousand blacks under federal arms, over three-fourths were native southerners. Together with roughly three hundred thousand southern whites who did the same, southerners who served in the Union military totaled nearly half a million, or about a quarter of all federal armed forces." [Bitterly, pg. 5]

 

"About three hundred thousand southern whites served in the Union armies, not counting those in irregular units who numbered many more." [Plain Folk, pg. 157]

THE MYTH OF THE LOST CAUSE

"In April 1865, the last major Confederate armies surrendered. On May 10, Yankee troopers captured [President] Jefferson Davis near Irwinville, Georgia, as he fled south in a vain effort to get out of the country and establish a Confederate government-in-exile. Other Rebel officials were soon in custody, and the Confederate nation ceased to be.

 

"In a way, though, the Confederacy as a nation had never really existed at all. Eminent Georgia historian E. Merton Coulter, enamored as he was with the Lost Cause, could still admit that the Confederacy never was an 'emotional reality' to most of its people until long after the war was over.' From its beginnings, the cause of southern independence lacked support from a majority of southerners themselves. That was the main reason it was lost Less than half of white southerners had favored immediate secession in the first place. A majority of Georgians had opposed it. Black southerners could hardly have felt much enthusiasm for a government that considered slavery their 'natural and normal condition.' What support the Confederacy did have began to erode as the passions of 1861 died away...

 

"Robert E. Lee wrote in the fall of 1862 that desertion and straggling were the main reasons for his army's defeat at Sharpsburg. 

 

"The Union's victory is frequently attributed to greater northern industry and population. Though it is true that the North had more factories and people than the South, to assume that these were the reasons for Confederate defeat ignores more decisive realities of the battlefield and Homefront. So successful was the Confederacy's munitions program that never did its forces lose a major battle for lack of war materiel. What they constantly lacked was food. Cotton overproduction was largely responsible for that. It was equally responsible for Homefront food shortages that contributed to inflation, speculation, women rioting, and ultimately to soldiers deserting. Had it not been for the two-thirds of soldiers who by 1864 were, as [President] Jefferson Davis put it, 'absent...most of them without leave,' the Confederacy might well have been able to offset the North's population advantage. As it was, Union armies nearly always held the numerical edge--an edge made even greater by the nearly half-million Southerners who fought for the Union." [Plain Folk, pg.191-3]
 

 

WHO WAVES THE CONFEDERATE FLAG TODAY?

The Confederate flag during the Civil War was the flag of the planter slave-owning aristocracy, and not the flag of anybody else. It was the flag of the greediest, most selfish, arrogant oppressor ass holes. The only decent people who rallied to that flag did so out of naïveté, because they believed the propaganda of the planters.

Though the Confederacy lost the war, the slave-owning upper class remained in power and continued oppressing both black and white working class people as low paid laborers by pitting them against each other along race lines, using Jim Crow for many years and still-legal racial discrimination today including the New Jim Crow of racist incarceration. Today the propaganda to pit the have-nots against each other by race is very sophisticated and it comes from both self-described so-called "anti-racism" leaders of the Democratic Party as well as more overtly racist leaders of the Republican Party, and from both the liberal and conservative mass media.

 

Those today who wave the Confederate flag are either the same kind of contemptible people as were the planters of the Confederacy, or they are as naive as the minority of poor whites who willingly fought for the planters in the Confederate army.

--------------------

* "By the mid-nineteenth century, the tools of slave control seemed to have firmly secured perhaps the world's most rigid system of racial caste. It had not always been so. Two centuries before, in the early decades of British North America, there had been no distinctions in law or custom between whites and blacks. In fact, the term 'slave' was often used in reference to all those laboring as indentured servants. Like white servants, blacks typically gained freedom after serving a given number of years, usually seven. The servants themselves were, as historian Kenneth Stampp put it, 'remarkably unconcerned about their visible physical differences.' Black and white servants worked together, played together, lived together, and married each other. The harsher forms of racism that would become all too familiar to later generations of Americans were absent through most of the seventeenth century.

"That began to change as colonial elites, fearing rebellion from below, took steps to divide poor whites and blacks both socially and economically. The threat of rebellion was very real in a society where most people were servants, landless tenants, or small yeomen holding marginal lands that the gentry did not want. Few could vote or hold office. Those privileges were restricted by wealth throughout the colonies. As early as 1661, the Virginia assembly took a major step toward social division by defining blacks who had not already acquired freedom as 'servants for life.' It was not enough. In 1676, during Bacon's Rebellion, the under-classes of Virginia, black and white, united against their oppressors. They established fortifications all along the James River, marched against the colonial capital at Jamestown, and came close to seizing control of the colony before Crown forces put them down. Among the last to surrender was a band of eighty blacks and twenty whites.

"Bacon's Rebellion sent shock waves through the ranks of the ruling classes. Many feared that some future insurrection, perhaps larger and better organized, might succeed. What could be done to avert such a calamity? Their strategy became something akin to the military maxim "divide and conquer." In the words of historian Edmund Morgan: "For those with eyes to see, there was an obvious lesson in the rebellion. Resentment of an alien race might be more powerful than resentment of an upper class.' Encouraging a social distance between poor whites and blacks, assigning whites the superior position, might make the two groups less likely to unite.

"In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, colonial legislatures throughout British North America passed a series of laws designed to do just that. They outlawed interracial marriage. They amended criminal codes to deal more harshly with blacks than whites. They defined black servants as slaves outright, the absolute property of slaveholders. They mandated limited lands for whites on completing their term of indenture and restricted the practice of most skilled trades to whites only. None of this was enough to qualify lower-class whites for voting or office holding. That would not come for another century or more. But it did instill in whites of all classes a sense that they were somehow 'better' than those with even a drop of African blood--though many had a few such drops in their own bloodlines, whether they knew it or not.

"The strategy worked, and worked even better than elites had hoped. The new racism, they found, was a self-perpetuating thing passed on from generation to generation, keeping the poor divided and more easily controlled. Lower-class whites still resented their oppressors. There were any number of insurrections by poor whites in the eighteenth century--the Regulator Movement, Shays' Rebellion, and the Whiskey Rebellion among them. Slaves, too, occasionally rose in rebellion. But never again did poor whites unite with blacks against their common oppressor to the extent that they had in 1676 Virginia." [Bitterly, pg. 16]