Why We Fight: The 1850's brought prosperity to South. Cotton was king. This prosperity was not to last for long. For while there were many economic changes in the 1850's, the decade would be the harbinger of war. A lot of new territory was acquired after the war with Mexico, territory that people was eager to get into and settle. The question was, would this new territory be free, or slave? The debate was heated. The North wanted to prohibit slavery in the new states formed out this territory. Some Northerner's idea was to end slavery through attrition. Stopping the spread of slavery would have, as Abraham Lincoln would put it later, bring about its "ultimate extinction". Don't assume that ending slavery was the only motive for keeping it out of the West, or that it was the primary motive. For while the institution of slavery was indefensible and many Northerners and Southerners sought its abolition, economics and racism were the main motives for keeping slavery out of the West. Keeping slavery out of the West would keep the Southern planter out. This would leave the land free for the northern farmer to homestead. The Northern workers hoped to be able to live and work in western cities and towns and not have to compete with slave labor. Many Northerners, like Congressman David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, just wanted to preserve the West as a place where whites could live without any black neighbors.
Southern planters were already looking toward the fertile fields of the West before the Mexican War, looking toward greater yields and greater profits. Southerners also knew that geographic expansion of slavery was the only hope for the institution's survival. "There is not a slaveholder in this House or out of it but knows perfectly well that whenever slavery is confined within certain specified limits, its future existence is doomed", said one Georgia politician. They saw the new territories acquired from Mexico as an opportunity to expand the institution of slavery. The South saw the prohibition of slavery in the West as a conspiracy to dilute their power in congress. The growing population in the North had already given the North the advantage in the House. The admission of new free states would change the balance in the Senate also. The South wanted a slave state for every free to maintain a balance.Southerners saw restricting slavery in the West as a violation of their Constitutionally guaranteed rights of property. The Constitution sanctioned property in slaves, so to bar a slave owner from West (or anywhere) was to violate his rights of property. The only way that slavery could be legally prohibited anywhere was by a Constitutional Amendment.
Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party seemed to have scared the Southern people the most. To them Abe Lincoln might just have well have been John Brown. Statements such as "I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other." made in Lincoln's "House Divided" speech in 1858, disturbed them. Did he mean the arbitrary abolition of slavery wherever it existed? His example of the snake in the children's bed in his speech in New Haven, Connecticut, March 6, 1860 seemed to indicate otherwise. He also indicated as much in his letter to Alexander Stephens in December 22, 1860. Both of these documents reflect his resolve to prohibit the expansion of slavery into the West, but not to interfere with slavery where it already existed (these documents should also disillusion anyone that thought of Abraham Lincoln as the "Great Emancipator"). Nevertheless, the South believed (and technically they were right) that any prohibition of slavery was Unconstitutional. The people of the South also feared there would be, after all the Republican Party's anti-slavery rhetoric, an all-out slave revolt if Lincoln was elected. So, following Lincoln's election in November of 1860, South Carolina declared her independence and left the Union. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana followed her in January and Texas in February. South Carolina's Declaration of Secession probably best describes the South's position on secession using the Declaration of Independence as an example in its defense.
February 4, 1861 delegates from the seceding states met in Montgomery , Alabama and formed the provisional government of The Confederate States of America. In President Lincoln's inaugural address, he again assured the people that he would not interfere with slavery in the states where it already existed and promised that fugitive slave laws would be enforced. He even endorsed a constitutional amendment expressly protecting slavery saying, "I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable." He also condemned secession saying, "It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances." He closed his speech promising that the United States government would not be the aggressors and appealed for reconciliation: "I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Fort Sumter, a federal fortification in mouth of Charleston Harbor, only had provisions to carry them through to about the middle of April. A decision had to made on whether to send a relief expedition to Sumter or evacuated. All but two of Lincoln's cabinet favored the evacuation of Fort Sumter South Carolina's Charleston Harbor. Secretary of State William H. Seward even suggested creating an international crisis that might scare the South back into the fold. Lincoln rejected these suggestions. On April 11, General Pierre G. Beauregard demanded the surrender of Sumter. There was no surrender, so on April 12 bombardment of Sumter began and would continue for forty hours. Sumter was reduced to ruins, but the Federals suffered no casualties. A white flag of surrender was raised over the fort on April 13, and the Federal troops were allowed to evacuate. On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln declared existence of an "insurrection" and called for volunteers. With Lincoln having declared hostilities, four more states cut their ties the Union and joined the Confederacy. Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia seceded in May. Tennessee was the last to secede in June. Lincoln's declaration of hostilities had made up the minds of those undecided about secession and changed the minds of those Southerners opposed to secession. The War of Northern Aggression had begun.
The North would call the war the "Civil War" or the "War of the Rebellion". Confederates were branded as "rebels". Rebels? These men were grandsons or great-grandsons of Revolutionary War soldiers. They were sons or grandsons of War of 1812 soldiers. They were the sons of soldiers that had fought in the Mexican War. Some of them had fought in the Mexican war themselves. They didn't see what they were doing as being rebellion, but standing up for their rights. To them this was the "War for Southern Independence" likened to the War of Independence from Britain. Some Southern men's conscience would not let them take up arms against their home states or stand by idly and see their states invaded by northern armies. General Robert E. Lee was one those men. Lee was not a slave owner. His view of the Union was clear in his writing, "no north, no south, no east, no west, but the broad Union in all its might and strength past and present." Lee was opposed to secession, but when he had to choose between the Union and his home state of Virginia, he chose the latter. When offered the command of the Union army Lee declined it saying, "...though opposed to secession and a deprecating war, I could take no part in the invasion of the Southern States." When Virginia seceded he resigned his commission telling his wife Mary, "I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children." Others like Milus Eddings Johnston, Madison County, Alabama resident, anti-secessionist, and Methodist Episcopal Church minister, were driven to fight. Johnston lived in the Huntsville area during General Ormsby Mitchel's occupation and suffered much mistreatment at the hands of the Federal occupying forces (as did many other residents). Having been arrested on numerous occasions, constantly harassed, his home burnt three times, and his livestock and property destroyed or stolen he decided it was time to take up arms against this Northern invader. He evaded Federal picketts and made it to a Confederate held area where he volunteered for service and was commissioned an officer. He went back inside Federal lines to raise troops.
Why did we fight? The South seceded over the North's views on how the West should be settled and because they felt that the institution of slavery, on which they were economically dependent, was threatened. I don't believe that we can assume that if there had not been an issue over slavery, that there would not have been some other issue that the South would have seceded over. Cultural and economics differences between the the North and South caused the schism between them, not any one issue. They would have probably found some other issue concerning the settling of the West to fight over.
Why did we fight? The war was over the Constitutionality of secession. Abraham Lincoln didn't raise an army to emancipate the slaves, and the soldiers in blue were not fighting to free the slave. Lincoln's goal was the preservation of the Union. "Billy Yank's" intentions were the same as his President's, but many also wanted to punish the South for seceding. Don't assume that all Confederates were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. Read first hand accounts, speeches, and documents from the Secession and Civil War Era to base you opinion of the war on. Forget what that coach tried to teach you from a high school text book. Read for yourself.
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And They Wonder Why We Hate Yankees? Did you ever wonder why Southerners dislike Northerners, and why they just can't forget the "War Between the States"? Well, there is a myriad of reasons why we dislike Yankees, but let's keep this in perspective of the War Between the States. Following is a just is just a brief history of the Union occupation of Huntsville, Alabama and surrounding area that might give some idea.
There were mixed feelings in this area about secession. The town of Fayetteville, Tennessee which had a population of about 800 was described as "secesh to the bone" and a "secessionist hellhole" by Yankee troops and journalists as they passed through the area. The people of Franklin County, Tennessee were so anxious to secede that they were prepared to secede from Tennessee and join with Alabama when Tennessee secession was so long in coming. Huntsville and Madison County, Alabama were against secession, their delegates would vote no on secession. However, Madison County supported her state mustering several units for her defense.Athens, county seat of Limestone County, Alabama, was a unionist town. Her people were upset that secession was not brought up for a popular vote in Alabama. The U.S. flag continued to fly over the Limestone County courthouse even after Alabama had seceded from the Union. In fact, so firm was their resolve, that they nailed the flag to the flag pole and it had to be torn down.
After Forts Henry and Donelson fell and the Confederate army withdrew after the Battle of Shiloh, the Tennessee Valley was left undefended. The Tennessee Valley was a vital area to the Confederacy because of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad which linked Chattanooga, Tennessee to Corinth Mississippi. Huntsville was key city because it was the Eastern Division Headquarters and shops. To capture the Huntsville depot was to capture locomotives and freight cars also. Retired Secretary of War, Leroy Pope Walker was in command of the North Alabama military district. He repeatedly reminded the Confederate High Command of the importance of the area and warned of the danger it was in. His warnings went unheeded. By April Yankee troops were on their way down from Nashville, Tennessee. They were led by Major General Ormsby "Old Stars" Mitchel (called Old Stars because of his interest in astronomy). They passed through Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee. Upon reaching Fayetteville, Tennessee, they sealed off the town to keep her citizens from getting a warning to Huntsville. Mitchell soon left Fayetteville for Huntsville leaving behind a regiment of soldiers and a provost marshal. The advance was led by Colonel John Basil Turchin. Turchin was Russian born. His Russian name was Ivan Vasilovitch Turchinoff. They camped in Meridianville that next night, then proceeded into Huntsville early the next morning down Meridianville Pike. At 6:00 A.M. The Huntsville Depot was attacked. A cannon was brought to bear on two engines that were about to depart. The first engine stopped. The second tried to make a run for it, but a shot from the cannon derailed her. While everyone's attention was turned to the second train, the first engine took off with Union calvary in pursuit. They wounded the black fireman, but the train got away and made it to Chattanooga. 159 unarmed Confederate soldiers were captured at the depot. Some were wounded from the battle of Shiloh, some were returning from furlough, and some were new recruits. The Confederacy was deprived of its East-West railroad, and eighteen locomotives and over one hundred railcars.
This was the beginning of a about a five month reign of terror in Huntsville and Madison county. Mitchell was a very disagreeable and supposedly very dishonest man. He could not or would maintain any kind of discipline among his soldiers. Mitchel's men seemed to be more a gang of thieves and vandals rather than soldiers, and he was content in them being so. Mitchel himself would sell confiscated cotton for his own gain. Innocent citizens were harassed and arrested, and their livestock was confiscated or driven off. Their homes were used as barns for the Yankee's horses and mules. Churches were desecrated in the same manner. In retaliation for Confederated attacks on the Union Army or supply trains, citizens' houses were burned. The towns of Paint Rock (Jackson County, Alabama) , Madison Station (Madison County, Alabama) , New Hope (Madison County, Alabama), and Whitesburg (Madison County, Alabama) were all burnt. Some innocent citizens were shot or hung to avenge the Yankee soldiers killed by Confederates.
The worse was to come to the Unionist town of Athens. On April 20, 1862, Athens was occupied by the 18th. Ohio Infantry Division. On May 1, a regiment of Louisiana Calvary that was passing through attacked the garrison and drove the 18th. off. The Athens citizens, obviously disillusioned by Yankee occupation, cheered as the Ohions withdrew. On the way they met up with John Turchin and told him of their plight. Turchin said "I shuts mine eyes for one hour". The Ohions returned to Athens and began two hours of rape and pillaging. Stores and homes were broken into and sacked. What the Yankee soldiers could not carry away they destroyed. White women were harassed and insulted. Slave women were raped by Yankee Soldiers. The sacking of Athens was such an atrocity that it even was condemned by William Tecumseh "Cump" Sherman. This incident turned Athens into a utterly Confederate community, and Confederate recruiters were soon busy there. To the Union Army's credit, General Don Carlos Buell would Court Martial Turchin. Turchin was convicted and given a Dishonorable Discharge. Turchin wife went to Washington and was able to talk to President Lincoln, and to Lincoln's discredit, he had Turchin pardoned and promoted. General Mitchel resigned his commission, but he was reassigned to Hilton Head, South Carolina where he died soon after of yellow fever.
The Union army withdrew from the Huntsville area in August, 1862, taking about 1500 black men that they were to impress into service. Huntsville would be raided several times through 1863 by Union troops capturing blacks to force into service. She would changes hands several times though out the rest of the war. Early in 1864 Huntsville would be occupied again by Union forces and Sherman would stockpile materials in there to be used in his infamous "March to the Sea". "That Devil" Nathan Bedford Forrest would be a threaten Sherman's campaign, destroying his supply trains and tearing up tracks and trestles. There would not be any major battles in this area, but there was a lot of military action.
Other cities and towns all across the South would share Huntsville's plight. Then to add insult to injury, the South had to endure "Reconstruction" at the hands of Radicals bent on punishing the South, but that's another story. Then to top it all off, today, if a Southerner shows any pride in his Confederate heritage he is accused of being a racist. If anyone proud of his Southern Heritage displays the Confederate flag, well he might as well be wearing a hood and burning a cross too. The same can be said if you play "Dixie". With that kind of public relations, the rest of the country wonders why Southerners hate Yankees?
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