SOME SURPRISING FACTS ABOUT THE CONFEDERACY
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
In recent years it has become increasingly fashionable in some circles, especially on college campuses and in the media, to demonize anything and everything related to the Confederate States of America (CSA). Some critics have gone so far as to compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany. Many politicians and liberal groups have sought to erase any trace of Confederate heritage. They’ve labeled the Confederate flag as a “loathsome, offensive” symbol and have tried to ban its display on public property. They’ve also campaigned to rename public schools, roads, buildings and parks that are named after Confederate heroes. In some towns, liberal groups have worked to prevent the Confederate flag from even being flown over the graves of Confederate soldiers in public cemeteries. In response to the ongoing campaign to demonize Confederate heritage, I offer the following facts about the Confederacy:
1. By the latter part of 1864 the CSA was moving toward ending slavery. In fact, there are indications that the Confederacy would have ended slavery even if it had survived the war, as prominent historians like J. G. Randall and David Donald have acknowledged (see Randall and Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1969, p. 522).
Critics will reply that the CSA only began to move toward emancipation as an act of desperation in the face of imminent defeat. If so, this proves that Southern independence was more important to Confederate leaders than was the continuation of slavery, that when push came to shove they were willing to abandon slavery in order to achieve independence.
However, this being duly
noted, it should be pointed out that it was by no means clear in late 1864 that
Southern defeat was imminent. Historians
Herman Hattaway and Richard Beringer note that even in February 1865, just two
months before the war ended, "a considerable degree of determination and
high morale did still persist" in the South (Jefferson Davis,
Confederate President, University Press of Kansas, 2002, p. 357). Militarily speaking, the situation was far
from hopeless in late 1864. Even when
the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered in April 1865, the situation was not
completely hopeless. At the end of the
war, fewer than one-third of Confederate troops on active duty were deployed
against either of the two main Union armies.
One of the arguments made by Southern leaders who opposed the arming and
freeing of slaves was that the South's situation did not yet require such a
measure. There is certainly room for
debate about the CSA’s military prospects after the fall of
Wracked though the Southerners were with the agony of a war they were losing, most Confederates, contrary to those persons who prefer to read history backward, did not know in November 1864 that they were beaten. (The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation, Louisiana Paperback Edition, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000, reprint of 1972 edition, p. 101)
One could correctly observe
that the only reason the
In his book Forced Into
Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company,
2000), African-American author Lerone Bennett presents evidence that Lincoln
only issued the Emancipation Proclamation in response to increasing pressure
from the Radicals and in order to blunt the effect of a more drastic
confiscation measure that Congress had already passed. Bennett also discusses evidence that
In the American Revolution,
the Continental Army only began to use black troops as an act of desperation
because the army was running short of soldiers and because the British had
offered freedom to American slaves who would fight in the British army (Henry
Wiencick, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation
of America, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, pp. 196-22; James
and Lois Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among
Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997,
pp. 55-71). George Washington initially
barred blacks from enlisting in the army.
He relented because he was desperate for more soldiers, because white
enlistment was falling dramatically. (Wiencick, An Imperfect God, pp.
196-227). Even then, some
I might add that after the
Revolutionary War, American negotiators insisted on a provision in the treaty
that ended the war, the Treaty of Paris, that the British return any American
slaves who had fled to British lines during the war. One of those negotiators was none other than
John Adams. In fact,
I might also add that when
it began to appear that the British weren't going to return the runaway
American slaves, George Washington demanded a meeting with the British general
who was in charge of enforcing the Treaty of Paris during the evacuation from
The American colonies’ policies on black troops during the Revolutionary War and their insistence on the return of American slaves after the war are admittedly embarrassing and contrary to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. However, to my knowledge, no American historian has expressed regret that the Americans won the war.
2. The Confederate president himself, Jefferson Davis, came to strongly support ending slavery. So did CSA Secretary of State Judah Benjamin, Governor William Smith of Virginia, and leading CSA Congressmen Ethelbert Barksdale and Duncan Kenner (who was one of the largest slaveholders in the South).
3. The CSA's two highest
ranking generals, Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, both disliked slavery
and supported emancipation in various forms.
Lee called slavery "a moral and political evil."
4. The majority of Confederate generals did not own slaves and did not come from slaveholding families (Hattaway and Beringer, Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, p. 37).
5. Thousands of African Americans, Hispanics, and Indians fought for the Confederacy. Many of the slaves who served in the Confederate army did so because they hoped that by doing so they would be granted freedom after the war or because they were specifically promised freedom if they would serve. The same was true of most of the slaves who fought for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
The chief inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Dr. Lewis Steiner, reported that he saw about 3,000 well-armed black Confederate soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s army--he added that those soldiers were "manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army" (Issac W. Heysinger, Antietam and the Maryland and Virginia Campaigns of 1862, New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1912, pp. 122-123; cf. John J. Dwyer, general editor, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War, Denton, Texas: Bluebonnet Press, 2005, p. 409).
Three Confederate states authorized free blacks to enlist in state militia
units. The first to do so was
6. The Confederate Congress specified that black soldiers in the Confederate army were to receive the same pay, rations, and clothing that white soldiers received. In contrast, black soldiers in the Union army were paid much less than white soldiers were paid for over a year. The Union army began using former slaves and free blacks as soldiers in September 1862. They were paid $7 per month. Technically, they were paid $10 a month, but they were forced to pay a clothing allowance of $3, which meant their net monthly pay was only $7. White soldiers, on the other hand, received $13 per month and were not forced to pay a clothing allowance. Thus, in the Union army white soldiers were paid nearly twice as much as black soldiers were paid. Black Union soldiers didn’t start receiving equal pay until June 1864. When the Confederate Congress authorized the recruitment of slaves as soldiers, it stipulated that they were to receive “the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops” (An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, March 13, 1865, Section 3). In addition, when the Confederate Congress authorized salaries for black musicians in the Confederate army in 1862, it specified that they were to receive the same pay as white army musicians, stating "whenever colored persons are employed as musicians in any regiment or company, they shall be entitled to the same pay now allowed by law to musicians regularly enlisted."
7. According to the 1860
census, only 31 percent of Southern families owned slaves. Seventy-five percent
of the families that owned slaves, owned less than ten and often worked side by
side with them in the fields. Approximately
half of the free blacks in
8. The Confederate
Constitution allowed for the admission of
9. The Confederate
Constitution protected every right for its citizens that the U.S. Constitution
10. The Confederate Constitution contained added protections against runaway government spending, excessive taxation, and harmful protective tariffs. Historian Allan Nevins said the following about the Confederate Constitution:
It differed from the old national model chiefly in its emphasis on State rights. . . . The general welfare clauses were omitted. Any Confederate official acting within the limits of a State might be impeached by the State legislature, though the Constitution, laws made under it, and treaties were declared “the supreme law of the land”. . . .
The most remarkable
features of the new instrument sprang from the purifying and reforming zeal of
the delegates, who hoped to create a more guarded and virtuous government than
Subordinate employees were protected against the forays of the spoils system. No bounties were ever to be paid out of the Treasury, no protective tariff was to be passed, and no post office deficit was to be permitted. . . . Some of these changes were unmistakable improvements, and the spirit behind all of them was an earnest desire to make government more honest and efficient. (Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln, Ordeal of the Union, Volume 2, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950, p. 435)
11. Unlike the federal government, the Confederate government did not imprison well over 10,000 of its own citizens without due process in order to suppress internal dissent (some scholars suggest the number of illegally imprisoned citizens was close to 30,000); it did not shut down the legislatures of two of its states because the citizens in those states elected anti-war majorities; it did not arrest members of a state legislature to prevent the legislature from even discussing a policy it didn’t like; it did not shut down over 300 newspapers for expressing "unpatriotic views"; it did not jail dozens of newspaper editors for expressing "unpatriotic views"; and it did not impose military rule on areas that were far removed from combat in order to suppress internal dissent. The federal government did all these things and more.
The Confederacy showed an amazing degree of respect for civil rights during the war. Renowned Civil War scholar (and pro-Lincoln biographer) David Donald has observed that the Confederacy was "astonishingly libertarian" and that "disloyal elements throughout the South had almost unrestricted freedom." His comments on the Confederacy’s respect for civil rights and on the contrast between the Confederacy’s policies and the Lincoln Administration’s policies deserve to be quoted at length:
we could free ourselves of the notion that democracy (a “good” thing) must inevitably have been
connected with the winning (hence “good”)
The democratic tendencies of the Confederacy were all too plainly reflected in its army. . . .
Confederacy’s tolerance of democracy was not confined to military affairs. In civil rights, too, the South had an
astonishingly libertarian record. Though
engaged in deadly war, the
Davis and his government were subjected to tirades of abuse.
one of these, nor any of the other critics, of the Confederate President had
his liberty of utterance impaired. . . .
significant militarily was the Confederacy’s insistence upon maintaining the
cherished legal rights of freedom from arbitrary arrest and upon preserving due
process of law. This sentiment was so
strong that, though the Confederacy was invaded and
The result, of course, was that disloyal elements throughout the South had almost unrestricted freedom. (Donald, "Died of Democracy," in Donald, editor, Why the North Won the Civil War, Touchstone Edition, New York: Touchstone, 1996, pp. 82, 86-88)
Donald then examines the federal government’s very different approach to civil rights, noting that “in comparison with the Confederacy, the Union government did curtail civil liberties” (Why the North Won the Civil War, p. 88). Says Donald,
soon as the fighting started, President Lincoln, without delaying to consult
Congress, suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, at first for a
small area of the East, later for the entire nation. At a subsequent date he reported his fait
accompli to Congress. . . . Congress
had little choice but to ratify, and the disloyal citizen [i.e., the citizen
of the press was also seriously abridged in the North. . . . Over three hundred Northern newspapers were
suppressed, for varying periods, because they opposed the [
Donald further notes that
political democracy thrived in the Confederacy, and that the record was quite
different in the North under
democracy, too, was unimpaired in the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis took care to abridge no
Southerner’s political rights. Elected provisional
president through no solicitation of his own, reelected as the first—and
only—regular President of the Confederacy, Davis did not believe that he should
interfere in politics, either to solicit votes for his friends or to win
support for his measures. . . . When
record of the
Republican Governor O. P. Morgan of Indiana was faced in 1863 with a hostile
Democratic majority in the state legislature [which majority that had been
elected by the citizens of the state], which threatened to curb his appointing
powers and his control of the state militia, the Republicans, by
prearrangement, walked out of the chamber, leaving the legislature without a
quorum and unable to transact any business.
The Democrats then adjourned the session, believing that Morton, in
order to carry on the government, must call them promptly back. Instead, the
learned a lesson from 1862,
1864 a number of Northern states permitted their soldiers to vote in the
field. Republican canvassers were
afforded every facility for getting to the front, but Democratic politicians
were often harassed by long delays in
Donald states that most
Northern citizens supported the Union cause and either didn’t know or didn’t
care “that freedom of the press was abridged or that arbitrary arrests were
numerous.” Saying that “most” Northern
citizens felt this way might be a bit of an overstatement, since Lincoln’s
opponent in the 1864 election, George McClellan, received 41 percent of the
vote, in spite of everything the Republicans did to try to keep McClellan
supporters from going to the polls. In
any case, Donald correctly observes that “the test of civil liberties is not
the freedom of the majority but that of the dissenter,” and that “in the
Confederacy the dissenter retained his democratic rights down to
12. Even though it was being invaded and ravaged, the Confederacy showed more respect for private property and limited government than did the federal government. Critics unfairly claim that the CSA became a highly centralized, micromanaging state, contrary to the doctrines of states' rights and limited government. For one thing, this is hardly a fair argument to begin with, since the Confederacy wouldn't have had to take any centralizing measures if it hadn't been invaded and ravaged. Furthermore, the federal government became highly centralized during the war and engaged in just as much micromanaging as did the Confederate government, if not more.
Moreover, the degree of CSA
centralization has been somewhat misrepresented by critics. McPherson notes that while Republicans in the
U.S. Congress gave
Critics point out that the Confederate government resorted to impressment to support the war effort. But so did the federal government. When Confederate officials impressed goods, each impressing agent had to show written authority and had to issue the owner of the goods a certificate indicating the value of the goods that were being impressed.
In addition, when the
13. One of the first things the Confederacy did
after it was formed was to send a peace delegation to
14. The Confederacy publicly offered to pay the
federal government the Southern states’ share of the national debt, to pay
compensation for all federal installations in the South, and to allow Northern
ships free use of the
15. The Confederacy was created by delegates from
the seven states of the Deep South soon after those states seceded from the
The Confederacy grew from
seven states to eleven states when
16. Anti-Semitism was more of a problem in the North than it was in the South (Hattaway and Beringer, Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, p. 137). In relation to this, it should be pointed out that the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah Benjamin, was Jewish.
17. Confederate soldiers were among the bravest,
most determined soldiers in the history of warfare. Even many Union soldiers testified to the
courage and fortitude of Confederate soldiers.
This is an especially interesting fact because Confederate troops were
frequently poorly fed and often suffered from a lack of clothes and shoes. Some Northern citizens who saw Confederate
It is beyond all wonder how such men . . . can fight on as they do; that, filthy, sick, hungry, and miserable, they should prove such heroes in fight, is past explanation. (In McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, pp. 539-540; see also p. 535)
Even when the Confederacy was winning on the battlefield, Southern
leaders wanted to end the war and desired peaceful relations with the
First, that the Confederate Government is waging this war solely for self-defense; that it has no design of conquest, or any other purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United States of their pretensions to govern a people who have never been their subjects, and who prefer self-government to a union with them.
Second, that this Government, at the very moment of its inauguration, sent commissioners to Washington to treat for a peaceful adjustment of all differences, but that these commissioners were not received, nor even allowed to communicate the object of their mission; and that, on a subsequent occasion, a communication from the President of the Confederacy to President Lincoln remained without answer, although a reply was promised by General Scott, into whose hands the communication was delivered. . . .
Fourth, that now, at a juncture when our arms have been successful, we restrict ourselves to the same just and moderate demand that we made at the darkest period of our reverses, the simple demand that the people of the United States should cease to war upon us, and permit us to pursue our own path to happiness, while they in peace pursue theirs. (Proclamation of Jefferson Davis to the People of Maryland, September 7, 1862)
When judged fairly and objectively, it must be admitted that the Confederacy was one of the most democratic countries of its day, if not the most democratic country in terms of the rights that its citizens enjoyed. The Confederacy was more democratic than many countries in our day.
What about the fact that the
Confederate States of
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree
in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in
Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s
degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied
Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. He also holds an Advanced Certificate of
Civil War Studies and a Certifcate of Civil War Studies from