The Truth About the Confederacy
The 150th anniversary of the Fort Sumter bombardment that formally began the Civil War is tomorrow, and wrong-wingers throughout the South and the rest of America are fixing a big celebration. There’s going to be a seemingly infinite issuance of blogs, articles, radio interviews, and television appearances that will proffer a prettified picture of a brave and stolid South, courageously defending the “true conservative Constitutional” principles of states rights, individual responsibility, and limited government.
If you’re one of the many Americans who don’t really know that much about the Civil War, you have probably been perplexed by the number of wrong-wing Republican politicians who have made open statements of admiration the past year or two for the Confederate ideas of states rights and secession. This very lengthy diary is designed to fully inform you what the Confederacy was really like – a society suffering acutely from class differences; a society ruled by a slave holding oligarchy that was sickeningly arrogant and grasping, as well as racist. A number of myths about have been developed about the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy for over a century, and those myths and lies are probably going to be repeated so often the coming days and weeks that you’re going to want to puke. My intent for this diary is to help shatter those myths and lies.
Most people have heard or read that the Union was saved by the 200,000 African-Americans who gathered under federal battle banners, three quarters of whom were former slaves. Rarely discussed or acknowledged is that 300,000 southern whites also joined the Union army. Nearly a quarter of all Union armed forces, nearly one half million, actually came from the South. In the border states, 200,000 whites joined the Union army; only 90,000 joined the Confederate army. Soldiers from the border states comprised only ten percent of the Confederate army; but if they had contributed 37 percent, rebel ranks would have included 250,000 more soldiers. But, what actually happened, William Freehling writes in South vs. South, is that “Another 100,000 Middle South whites enlisted in Union ranks. Those 300,000 southern white Unionist sharp-shooters replaced every Union casualty in the first two years of the war.”
Many of these men had deserted the Confederate army. But many more deserters had simply wearied of war, and were in hiding near their homes. By 1864, two-thirds of the Confederate Army was absent with or without leave. So, the story of a unified Confederacy bravely fighting off invading Yankees is a damnable myth. The Confederacy was deeply riven by class divisions, with poor whites almost as hostile to slave holders as slaves were. The truth was that large parts of the South ended up warring against the Confederacy. Within one year of the outbreak of the war, there were entire counties and areas of the South that had broken free of control by either state or Confederate officials. As more deserters came home to hide, they banded together in self defense, and more areas slipped out of Confederate control. In many areas, Confederate officials, especially military conscription officers, were shot on sight, or hunted down and ambushed. The Confederacy, in no small degree, defeated itself.
For most of this diary, I relied heavily on - and quote or paraphrase extensively from - two books: Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams, 2008, and The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, 2009. I also am indebted to William W. Freehling’s 2001 opus, The South Vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War, and Richard Nelson Current meticulously researched 1972 tome, Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers From the Confederacy. For those of you who become interested in learning more about the Civil War, there is a relatively short history by Fletcher Pratt: his 1935 book, recently reprinted by DoverOrdeal by Fire: A Short History of the Civil War. Pratt is better known as a science fiction writer, but he also was the military correspondent of the New York Post during World War Two, and the annual award for best military correspondent is now named after him. I love Pratt’s erudition and writing style; here’s a long excerpt from Pratt’s book I used in a comment last year. A few other sources are mentioned in the appropriate places.
What Our Side Fought For
One thing I really would like you to take away from this diary is a basic sense of how the United States, as a self-governing democratic republic, cannot long tolerate oligarchic and aristocratic ideas in its body politic. This is becoming an increasingly urgent issue for us today, because the American conservative movement today is basically a replica of the slavery-defending, anti-free labor, government-hating, insurrection minded, treason-breathing, violently inclined Confederacy. And, I want you to be able to instantly recognize and rebut the false histories that neo-Confederates have created. So, the first material I place before you is an excerpt from an important and emotionally powerful 1995 book, What They Fought For, 1861-1865, a masterful survey and summary of private correspondence from Civil War soldiers and officers, by James M. McPherson.
But why did these soldiers think that the "infernal rebellion" jeopardized the survival of the glorious republic? Why could they not, as Confederate War Department clerk John Jones suggested, merely return home to a northern nation and leave the South alone so that the two republics could live in peace as dual heirs of the Revolution? Because, said northern soldiers almost as if in echo of Abraham Lincoln, once admit that a state can secede at will, and republican government by majority rule would come to an end. The dis-United States would fragment into several petty, squabbling autocracies, proving the contention of European monarchists and reactionaries that this harebrained experiment in democracy could not last. Government of the people, by the people, for the people would perish from the earth. Many Union soldiers voiced with extraordinary passion the conviction that preservation of the United States as "the beacon light of liberty& freedom to the human race," in the words of a thirty-five-year-old Indiana sergeant, was indeed the last, best hope for the survival of republican liberties in the Western world.
"I do feel that the liberty of the world is placed in our hands to defend," wrote a Massachusetts private to his wife in 1862, "and if we are overcome then farewell to freedom." If "traitors be allowed to overthrow and break asunder ties most sacred - costing our forefathers long years of blood and toil," agreed a Connecticut enlisted man in 1863, then "all the hope and confidence of the world in the capacity of men for self government will be lost. . . and perhaps be followed by a long night of tyranny." In 1863 on the second anniversary of his enlistment, a thirty-three-year-old Ohio private wrote in his diary that he had not expected the war to go on so long, but no matter how much longer it took it must be prosecuted "for the great principles of liberty and self government at stake, for should we fail, the onward march of Liberty in the Old World will be retarded at least a century, and Monarchs, Kings and Aristocrats will be more powerful against their subjects than ever." After Lee's surrender at Appomattox, a fifty-one-year-old New Jersey colonel who had fought the entire four years wrote to his wife that "we [can] return to our homes with the proud satisfaction that it has been our privilege to live and take part in the struggle that has decided for all time to come that Republics are not a failure."
Secession was NOT supported by a majority in the South
Williams quotes David Potter, whose careful study of the popular vote for state secession conventions was printed in 1995 as Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis:
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 by which they invoked unilateral action by individual states, and the firmness with which they refused to submit the question of secession to popular referenda.
Sounds a lot like conservatives today, doesn’t it? So, how did they pull it off? Williams notes that because of threat tactics, voter turnout in the Deep South for selecting delegates to the secession conventions dropped by more than a third from the Presidential election just a few months before. But despite the threats and actual violence, official returns in the Deep South credited opponents of secession with 40 percent. In Alabama and Louisiana (where balloting was so infamously suspect, that officials waited for three months before releasing the questionable results), the vote was nearly half and half. In Georgia, voters actually preferred to stay in the Union by a margin of about 1,000 statewide. Yet, somehow, a secession convention was called, with slave holders comprising 87 percent of the delegates – even though they comprised only a third of qualified voters. As Williams writes, “Similar statistics at all the conventions virtually guaranteed secession regardless of the popular will.” In Texas, secession was voted down by a solid two thirds majority, but slave holders place Governor Sam Houston under house arrest when he refused to call a convention anyway. The secessionists, of course, held their own rump convention, which voted Texas out of the Union. A majority of North Carolinians actually voted down having a secession convention. But the South’s oligarchy would not be deterred by mere public will. Fraud and subterfuge have long been well oiled weapons in the hands of an oligarch. In the secession conventions, the secessionists simply bought the votes of many delegates.
Many southerners continued to question the Confederacy's legitimacy and charged outright fraud. One curious Georgia voter accused Singleton Sisk, a Missionary Baptist preacher, of cheating Habersham County out of its anti-secession 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, he was elected to the state convention. "After the election, we find that he had privately promised the Secessionists that he would, in the Convention, support Secession." Sisk indeed betrayed his constituents and backed secession at the convention. Similar betrayals occurred among the representatives of at least twenty-eight other Georgia counties. (Williams)
The key for the secessionists was, as Freehling explains, South Carolina, where anti-Union oligarchs with extensive commercial ties to England has been promoting secession since the 1830s Nullification Crisis. Votes on secession had been held in South Caroline in 1832-33 and again in 1850-51 but had never come close to a required two thirds majority. After John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in October 1859, secessionists had quietly begun forming armed militias. A year later, whenever hostility to secession surfaced, these militias soon arrived to squash opposition, forcefully branding dissent as disloyalty to the South and her proud institutions. When South Carolina’s U.S. Senator James Hammond wrote a long public letter against secession, a coterie of editors helped Alfred P. Aldrich, South Carolina legislator from Barnwell and leading secessionist, to suppress it. Aldrich openly averred that they could not wait “for the common people when a great move was to be made—We must make the move and force them to follow.” According to Freehling:
South Carolinians thereby canceled other Southerner’s debate on whether a revolution should be started. Now antisecessionists had to decide whether an accomplished revolution should be joined. South Carolina’s neighbors could either stand with southern brothers or with Yankee insulters.
The War WAS Fought Over Slavery – AND Other Issues Also
Sooner or later, you will come across some libertarian or conservative or neo-Conservative who insists that the Civil War was not really about slavery, but about 1) fundamental economic differences between the South and the North, with the industrialized North’s system of tariffs oppressing the agrarian South or 2) fundamental political difference between the North, ruled by mobs and corrupt political bosses who had abandoned Jefferson’s ideal of agrarian yeoman citizens, and the South, ruled by an honest, graceful, and chivalrous planter aristocracy that zealously guarded Jefferson’s ideal; or 3) fundamentally different views of the power and nature of the national government, with South following Jefferson’s and Madison’s notion of enumerated powers, in which the national government was strictly limited to those powers explicitly mention in the Constitution, and all other powers belonged to the states; compared to the North following Hamilton’s doctrine of implied powers based on the General Welfare clause, causing the growth of an overreaching and increasingly despotic central government usurping the powers of the individual states. Now, there is some truth to all of these points; in fact, I am planning a diary on the issue of implied versus enumerated powers, since I view this issue as one of the weakest and most vulnerable flanks of progressives in America at this time. I’ll just aver this for now: to whatever extent there were economic and political reasons for fighting the Civil War, it would be entirely incorrect to argue that those economic and political reasons had nothing to do with slavery. They were ancillary to, and subsumed by, the issue of slavery. In fact, those economic and political reasons arose largely because they were created and molded by the slave oligarchs as justifications for slavery. So, if you find yourself in need of something to throw in the face of some wrong-winger arguing that the Civil War was NOT about slavery, use this: the first full paragraph of Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
Did Southerners Rally Together Immediately and March Lockstep to War?
Not really. Remember how shallow public discourse became in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with Fox news talking heads leading the charge that anyone who dissented from or questioned the line of the Bush regime were traitors and ought be killed? After the bombardment of Fort Sumter, a similar chilling of public discussion occurred in the South. A number of dissenters and Union men were actually arrested for treason and threatened with hanging. There were some mob scenes; in Tippah County, Miss., one farmer’s property was entirely destroyed. “In Columbus, when Presbyterian minister James Lyon continually preached that slavery was sinful and railed against “blood and thunder politics”, Confederates retaliated by arresting his son Theodoric, court-martialing him, and sending him to prison in Virginia.” (Williams, p78) Another preacher who was arrested for speaking openly against secession and the Confederacy was John Hill Aughey, of Tishimingo County, Miss. Aughey was arrested in July 1862 for resisting conscription, and spying. He was part of a ring of nearly 100 other Unionists who had been passing information to federal officers, and even conducting operations against local Confederate leaders. Their watchword was “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Aughey’s friends soon organized a rescue, and helped him escape Tupelo Prison, and flee to Union lines. Once in the North, Aughey wrote The Iron Furnace: or, Slavery and Secession, detailing his experiences preaching against and being persecuted for his dissent, his travails in prison, and his escape from prison and to the north. In a speech in Philadelphia, Aughey said
The question has been asked, is there any Union sentiment in the South? I reply that there is a strong Union sentiment, even in Mississippi. This sentiment is not found amongst the slaveholders, for, as a class, they are firmly united in their hostility to the Government. The middle and lower classes are not only opposed to secession, but also to slavery itself. Eleven years' association with the southern people has enabled me to form a correct opinion, and to know whereof I affirm. I make this statement without fear of successful contradiction, that the majority of the white inhabitants of the South are Union-loving men. The slaveholders have long ruled both the blacks and the whites in the South. When the rebellion was determined upon, the slaveholders had the organized force to compel acquiescence upon the part of those who favoured the Union, yet wished to remain neutral. Their drafts and conscriptions swept them into the army, and when once there, they must obey their officers upon pain of death. To desert and join the Union army, was to abandon their homes and families, and all their youthful associations. Yet many have done it, and are now doing good service in their country's cause.
The rebels punished with death any who declared himself in favour of the Union. In my presence at Tupelo, they were taken out daily and shot for the expression of sentiments adverse to the rebellion. If the Union troops at any time occupied' a place, and the people expressed any favourable sentiments to their cause, upon the evacuation of that position, those who sided with the Union troops were cruelly treated. All these causes, and many others which I might mention, have prevented the full development of the true sentiments of the people.
Today, conservatives and neo-confederates would have us believe that Richmond, which became the capital of the Confederacy, was entirely pro-Confederate, with dashing Southern ladies who delighted in uncovering and turning in Union spies. The actual truth was much different. Williams writes in Bitterly Divided:
The Confederate capital was so rife with anti-Confederates that it was one of the first cities to have martial law imposed upon it. Its military governor, General John H. Winder, was soon rounding up civilians he considered dangerous. Among them was the Reverend Alden Bosserman, who had publicly prayed for Confederate defeat. Winder also went after John Minor Botts, a former U.S. congressman from Virginia, when word got out that Botts was working on a manuscript exposing the secession movement as a conspiracy of southern Democrats. Winder arrested so many Richmond civilians that they took up the entire second floor of Castle Thunder military prison.
The Confederate Home Front Unraveled . . .
Many poor whites who enlisted in the Confederate Army expressed reservations about their families being able to procure enough food while the men were away at war. Their officers, and the South’s oligarchs (who were most often one and the same) assured them that no one would be forced to starve. In fact, most Confederate state legislatures passed laws mandating that plantation owners give increased acreage to food crops. Thus reassured, the South’s men marched off to repel the Yankee invaders.
“Plant corn! Plant corn!” the editor of the Macon Telegraph wrote. “We must have large supplies, or poverty and suffering will come upon us like a strong man armed.” The True Democrat in Little Rock, Arkansas demanded that not a single seed of cotton be planted. The Florida Sentinel of Tallahassee bluntly warned that the planters’ addiction to cotton would lead to famine and the fall of the Confederacy.
But, Southern planters generally ignored these laws and pleas, and continued to grow as much cotton as possible. United States Senator from Georgia, First Secretary of State of the Confederacy, and Confederate General Robert Toombs, and a half dozen other planters in the area of his Georgia plantation, were upbraided by the local Citizens’ Committee of Public Safety for planting almost all their acreage in cotton. Toombs responded in the best fashion of today’s libertarians and conservatives: “My property, as long as I live, shall never be subject to the orders of those cowardly miscreants, the Committees of Public Safety . . . . you cannot intimidate me.”
By the fall of 1862, there was so much cotton being harvested that the South’s warehouses could not store it all. As a result of the South oligarchs’ arrogant greed, there was never enough food grown to meet the South’s needs. Thousands of letters from desperate women whose men were in the Confederate Army began to flood the offices of local and state officials. Most of them included pitiable pleas for assistance, or requests that their husbands be allowed to leave their military units and return home, even if only temporarily. One woman wrote directly to Jefferson Davis: “If I and my little children suffer and die while there Father is in Service I invoke God Almighty that our blood rest upon the South.” An open letter to the Savannah Morning News bluntly declared “The crime is with the planters . . . as a class, they have yielded their patriotism, if they ever had any, to covetousness . . . . for the sake of money, they are pursuing a course to destroy and demoralize our army—to starve out the other class dependent on them for provisions.”
These pleas also fell on deaf ears. Rather than responding to the desperation of the majority of the people, in the spring of 1863, the Confederate Congress passed a series of taxes, including a ten percent levy on all agricultural products including livestock, fodder, and food crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, beans, and peanuts. Soon, many “impressment officers” were taking far more than one tenth of a farm’s goods. Moreover, they were reluctant to “inconvenience” the richest and most powerful, so they stripped poorer farms almost bare, before even considering what the large plantations might offer. This, of course, is not that much different than what conservatives today have achieved with their four decades of tax cuts – the tax rates for the rich have been cut, but the poor actually pay an increased percentage because of local and state retail taxes, and increased FICA taxes. Williams notes that “On the Civil War’s eve, nearly half of the South’s personal income went to just over a thousand families. The region’s poorest half held only five percent of its agricultural wealth.”
These tax levies became so brazenly criminal and notorious, and the poverty they left so many families in so extreme, that even some of the governors began to notice. Governor Brown of Georgia wrote the War Department to warn that the “baneful operations” of impressments were producing an “evil spirit, bordering already in many cases upon open disloyalty.” The editor of the Atlanta Southern Confederacy openly advised readers to resist impressments. So did a few other editors.
Even worse, it became clear that impressments officers and even some of the Army’s quartermasters had been seizing produce and animals from farms, then selling them to speculators, who then turned around and sold the produce and animals, at steeply inflated prices, back to the starving families they had been seized from in the first place, often leaving the families deeply in debt. The Confederate Congress responded to these 1862 scandals by passing a law that prohibited the public from buying military supplies from enlisted men. Reflecting the deep class divisions of the South, no mention was made of officers in the law. With officers excluded, the corrupt trade in army supplies and impressed food and animals was barely dented.
Food riots began to break out in 1862. In Richmond, Atlanta, Mobile, Galveston, Valdosta, Ga, Marietta, Ga, High Point, NC and Salisbury, NC and other urban areas, starving women, sometimes holding squalling babies, broke into stores and carried off what they needed to feed themselves and their children. In Richmond, the angry crowd of women became so numerous, numbering over a thousand, and so destructive, that Governor John Letcher called out the local militia and threatened to shoot the women if they did not disperse. Often, women would organize themselves into armed groups, ride up to a store, and plunder what they could in a few minutes. In Lafayette, Alabama, the owner of a gristmill so stricken described the fourteen women who plundered his flour as being armed with “guns, pistols, knives and tongues.”
. . . And Undermined the Confederate Army
Not surprisingly, soldiers began to receive increasingly desperate letters from back home, detailing the worsening food shortages, the impressments and speculation outrages, the decisions to band together and resort to force to provide for starving children. And, of course, pleas for the husbands and sons and brothers to forsake the army and return home to help their loved ones.
Desertions from the Confederate Army began to soar, leading the Confederate Congress to pass, in April 1862, the first conscription law in American history. However, again reflecting the South’s class divide, there were exemptions for those who paid a fee or hired a substitute. And the law also excluded anyone who owned twenty or more slaves.
The slave holder exemption, of course, was based on the slave holders’ fears of a slave revolt – all the prattle about paternalistic love for an inferior race, and that race’s child-like love in return, apparently forgotten. In a number of counties, government officials begged to be released from draft quotas because they feared sending more men off for military service would fatally weaken local slave patrols. C.F. Howell of Jackson County, Mississippi wrote his governor that “now we have to patrol every night to keep them down.” One planter in Alabama ignored the Confederacy’s need for military manpower and openly pleaded with the men of his area to stay at home and save their families “from the horrors of insurrection.”
The slave holder exemption turned out to be a huge mistake, because Confederate soldiers were forced to recognize that the South’s oligarchs had begun the war not so much to fend off supposed Yankee encroachments on their rights, but to preserve slavery and protect the oligarchs’ investment in slave property. Within months, it was a common lament in the ranks that it was “a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” And as more and more letters arrived describing the plight of starving women and children, more and more soldiers reached the conclusion that preserving the lives of their families mattered much more than preserving slavery. This was especially true in the western theater, where the Confederate fortunes of war were not as bright as in the east. After losing at Corinth, Mississippi in October 1862, about 7,000 Confederate soldiers went AWOL, many returning to their home areas in southeastern Mississippi.
The problem of desertion became a catastrophe for the Confederacy after the Union won Vicksburg in July 1863. When Confederate general Pemberton surrendered the river strong-hold and his 30,000 men, Union commander Ulysses Grant slyly decided to parole all 30,000 prisoners and let them find their own way home. Trying to transport them all to prisons in the North would have crippled Union transportation systems for weeks, and posed the long term problem of feeding and housing them. But more important to Grant, was that they were starved, and completely disenchanted with the rebel cause and their leaders. “I knew many of them were tired of the war and would get home just as soon as they could,” Grant later wrote in his Memoirs.
At the time, Grant’s decision caused an uproar, with a delegation of northern politicians descending on Lincoln to inveigh against Grant and demand that Lincoln dismiss the general immediately. Wisely, Lincoln saw what Grant saw, and brushed aside the delegation by telling a story about a dog all the local boys hated, and tricked the dog int swallowing an explosive cartridge wrapped in a piece of meat. After the blast sent pieces of dog meat through the air, the owner sadly picked up the tail, and observed, Well, he was a good dog, but I guess he’ll never be of much account again – as a dog.” Lincoln paused to savor the bewildered anger of the delegation – they were here on important business, and all the President could do was tell some absurd story of an exploding dog? – before delivering his judgment: “I guess Pemberton’s forces will never be of much account again – as an army.”
And indeed, 30,000 hungry, defeated, and disenchanted soldiers set in motion a wave of dissension and opposition to Confederate rule. In fact, Pemberton twice asked Grant for the return of some weapons, so that Pemberton could guard his own men and prevent them from deserting as they waited to be paroled. Grant refused, noting in his Memoir, deserting “was precisely what I expected and hoped they would do.”
Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer write in The State of Jones:
Grant had made a shrewd decision to accept surrender with parole. As he predicted, the released and disillusioned soldiers became a crisis for the rebel army: a month after Vicksburg fewer than fifteen hundred of thirty thousand had reported for duty. All across the South, in Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana, men were missing from their units. In Mississippi, there were at least five thousand deserters, stragglers, and absentees, according to an inspecting officer for the Conscription Bureau. Men were leaving the rebel army faster than they were being rounded up, the officer noted with alarm.
The Confederate high command did its part to transform these parolees into disloyals. Amazingly and perhaps intentionally, the Confederate staff lost the official parole rolls. The high command used this as an excuse to violate the parole agreement and began attempts to force men back into the ranks whether or not they had been exchanged. For many soldiers, despair turned into open rebellion. Thousands of poor whites followed Newton Knight and became self-described Unionists.
Many of them went home to rural counties to find disaffection had already set in there. Reports of armed bands of deserters resisting Confederate authority had been pouring into the Mississippi governor's office since the spring of 1863: Scott, Lawrence, Leake, and Marion counties all requested military aid to deal with the festering issue. In Simpson County, a band of twenty-five deserters busted out of the local jail and attacked citizens who had aided in capturing them. A similar account came from Gainesville, a town on the banks of the Pearl River in Hancock County, where deserters were so resistant that local authorities couldn't confront them "without endangering their lives." One man who lent his horse for an action against the deserters was "severely beaten and bruised," a Confederate official complained, adding, "It is not safe for any officer to ride through the country alone not knowing what minute that he may be waylaid and shot down from the wayside."
Southern Armed Resistance against the Confederacy
On August 5, 1863, one month after Vicksburg had fallen, Confederate President Jefferson Davis practically begged deserters to return. If only they would, he insisted, the Confederacy could match the Union armies man for man. Davis offered 20 days of amnesty to all Confederate deserters who reported back for duty. But, he warned, after that, all deserters would be summarily executed. It was not an idle threat: in September, one Confederate surgeon wrote approvingly of having witnessed nine executions in a single day in Virginia.
There were other, less severe, punishments than execution. The most feared alternative was being branded with a "D" on the cheek. The branding was often administered at a regimental or division field hospital. An orderly heated the branding iron - made specifically for deserters – until it was sufficiently hot, then handed it to the surgeon, who pressed it into the man's cheek. “There was a sizzling sound, followed by the acrid-sweet smell of burning flesh and blood, and then a long wail.”
Another corrective was to be clapped in shackles and fetters while they were red-hot, which also caused scarring. A blacksmith was ordered to "iron him securely, sir," and the glowing metal was placed around wrists and ankles, burning through cloth and boots. The chain threaded through the prisoner's shackles was about ten inches long, forcing him to walk in an enfeebled shuffle. (Jenkins and Stauffer)
But the pleas of Davis and the threat of permanent disfigurement were ignored. Instead, an entirely new threat began to materialize: deserters and Unionists were banding together in organized resistance against the Confederacy. Many deserters joined “Tory” gangs that by 1864 had brutally eliminated Confederate control in much of the southern hill country and pine barrens, the Red River valley of Texas and Lousisiana, and the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Many deserters and Unionists found they could rely on slaves to help them with food and shelter.
In many parts of the South, antiwar feeling became so strong that juries refused to convict defendants opposed to the war, and judges attempting to preside over such trials often could not do so without military escorts. In Winston County, Alabama, when Confederate authorities arrested five anti-Confederates and ordered them to either “join the colors or be shot,” there were enough local area men serving in a Union regiment in Decatur to form a small detachment that rode all night back home, freed the arrested men, burned down the jail, and killed the jailer.
In the mountains of eastern Tennessee, open rebellion against Confederate authority began with secession. As early as autumn 1861, organized militia groups were spying for the Union, and disrupting Confederate communications by cutting telegraph lines and burning railroad bridges. By spring 1862, the Unionists were strong enough that they seized control of Scott and Morgan counties, forced out and replaced all county officials, and disbanded the Confederate home guard.
The mountains of Virginia also harbored deep anti-Confederate feelings. So strong, that in October, 1861 voters from 41 counties voted to secede from Virginia and form a new state. The original name of the new state was Kanawha, after the major river that flowed into the Ohio, but the name as subsequently changed to West Virginia. By June 1862, the new state had mustered 11,428 troops into the Union army, more at that time than the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, or New Jersey.
In November 1864, anti-Confederates in the Virginia counties of Montgomery and Floyd formally declared the formation of the State of Southwest Virginia, and proceeded to elect a governor, lieutenant governor, and “a brigadier general of deserters.” But the new state disappeared back into Virginia after the war. In Randolph County, Alabama, forty miles east of Birmingham on the state line, four hundred Confederate deserters organized themselves and began “systematic warfare upon conscript officers.” By the summer of 1863, there were an estimated ten thousand deserters and Unionists roaming the Alabama hill country in armed bands. Confederate authority over the area practically ceased to exist.
The coastal areas of North Carolina were strongly anti-Confederate. In the first half of 1862, the Unionist newspaper in New Bern faithfully and boldly reported that Unionists had organized militias in Washington, Tyrell, Martin, Bertie, Hertford, Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, and Camden counties. One planter in the area wrote how he and his fellow oligarchs were terrified that the Unionists among the lower classes had “gone so far as to declare [they] will take the property from the rich men & divide it among the poor men.” Similar class war broke out in Georgia’s cotton growing area. The Milledgeville newspaper moaned that “These scoundrels seek the fairest, fattest, and most quiet portion of territory for the theater of their depredations. The pounce suddenly upon the prosperous plantations, and sweep them of their best laboring stock, and such stores of meat, grain, and forage as they can carry off.”
In Florida, a Confederate general shocked at the extent of Unionist sentiment and anti-Confederate activity in Nassau, Duval, Clay, Putnam, St. John’s and Volusia counties (almost the whole Atlantic coast from Cape Kennedy north to the Georgia line) wrote governor and early advocate of secession John Milton and urged him to place those counties under martial law “as a measure of absolute necessity, as they contain a nest of traitors and lawless negroes.”
Generally, almost any coastal area the U.S. Navy could maintain a continuous presence in would swing decisively for the Union against Confederate authority. In many areas, naval officers were able to alert Union army officers to the opportunity to recruit hundreds of Unionists into the ranks.
Even in Georgia, the keystone of the Confederacy, gangs and organized groups of deserters and resisters operated in every part of the state. In July 1862, a correspondent visiting from Fannin County in northern Georgia informed Governor Brown that “a very large majority of the people here perhaps two thirds are disloyal.” Some areas, such as Soldier Camp Island in the Okefenokee Swamp, where up to 1,000 deserters were in hiding, were so dangerous that not even Confederate army patrols dared to enter. In northern Lumpkin County in September 1862, a band of 100 to 200 “tories” and deserters robbed pro-Confederate citizens of their weapons, money, provisions, and even clothes. In White County, a northern-born, pro-union wagon maker who had already fled from Gainesville, Horatio Hennion, was forced to flee again, this time to North Carolina, when pro-confederates tried to kill him and his family in the summer of 1861. A few months later, Hennion returned, and organized a group of anti-Confederates from White County and neighboring Hall County, and fought a series of battles with army units made up of unenthusiastic conscripts. Soon, Hennion signed “an agreement of mutual protection” with a band of deserters hiding in the region, and soon became such a source of irritation that in January 1863 Governor Brown was forced to send the military commandant of Atlanta with a mounted force to “secure the arrest of deserters and restore the public tranquility.” Almost six hundred deserters were captured and marched back to Atlanta, along with 53 civilian Unionists. But just one month later, pro-Confederates in the area were begging Brown to send in another force.
In Pickens County, Georgia, a bit east of the halfway point between Chattanooga and Atlanta, 125 men formed a Union home guard and made contact with federal officials. A Union officer became convinced that hundreds more could be called to arms for the Union, and in August 1864, about 300 north Georgia men were recruited. Some enlisted in an independent company attached to the Fifth Tennessee Mounted Infantry, which was operating in Fannin County, about 40 miles north, and the remainder were formed into the First Georgia State Troops Volunteer Battalion. That late in the war, they did not have enough training to perform well in regular combat, but they fought a running guerrilla war that prevented hundreds of Confederate partisans from appearing in battle formation with the major Confederate armies elsewhere.
In Texas, Hispanic and Anglo anti-Confederates banded together to establish an exiles community in Matamoros, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville. The community included hundreds of German immigrants, who had first fled from the disastrous European revolutions of 1848 and now refused to be conscripted to fight for the slave oligarchy. Union sentiment was so strong among the Germans in Texas, that the areas they lived in were put under martial law. In August 1862, a group of German families, comprising 61 people, left the Kerrville area and started the trek to Matamoros. On August 10, within one day’s ride of their goal, these civilians were attacked near the Nueces River by a pursuing unit of Confederate cavalrymen. 31 were murdered on the spot, and another six were later shot as they tried to cross the Rio Grande. Today, the German-language Treüe der Union (true to the Union) Monument, in Comfort, Texas, is the only monument to the Union on formerly Confederate soil, and only the sixth mass-grave burial site to fly the American flag at half-staff in perpetuity.
In Zapata County, on the Rio Grande about 100 miles upstream from Brownsville, local Hispanics organized themselves as pro-Union partisans, freely plundered the property of secessionists, and seized control of the county government. West of San Antonio, residents became so furious over the depredations of tax collectors that they formed a pro-Union militia, and took control of Bandera County. In the area of Bonham, in north Texas, several hundred Unionists established three para-military camps within two-hour supporting distance of each other. They patrolled the area so effectively, that no Confederate authorities were able to approach without risking the onset of a major battle.
Confederate authorities noted over and over again that the Unionists they sought to repress and kill were comprised of the poorest men in their areas. One Confederate official tried to explain to his superiors that the locals “have little understanding and less sympathy for the difficulties of slave holders.” South Carolina planter and former governor James Henry Hammond, who had married expressly to acquire 7,500 acres and 147 slaves from his bride’s family, wrote candidly to a friend that “The poor hate the rich & make war on them everywhere & here especially with universal suffrage. . . The war is based on the principle and fact of the inequality of mankind—for policy we say races, in reality, as all history shows is as the truth is classes. ” Hammond was a vocal proponent of the death penalty for advocating abolition.
In July 1864, the Natchez Courier angrily announced that the entire county of Jones “has seceded from the state.” The story is told by Victoria E. Bynum in her prize-winning 2002 book, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War. Jenkins and Stauffer also tell the story in The Free State of Jones, focusing on the Confederate Army deserter who emerged as a Unionist political and military leader, Newton Knight. The class strife of the South is easily see in Knight’s story. At the start of the war, Knight did not want to fight, and volunteered to be a battalion hospital orderly. But Captain Joel Welborn, a local oligarch, threatened to have Knight shot. As Jenkins and Stauffer tell it:
Knight simply didn’t feel any common interest with the merchants and planters who made up the officer class and who had pressed him into service. The man who had forced Newton into uniform, 51-year old Major Joel Welborn, was a moneyed, well-connected land speculator with a reputation for crooked dealing back home. Welborn was among the richest men in Jones, the owner of an ever-expanding empire of real estate with a personal worth of $36,000. A year earlier, he had been accused by his neighbors of fraud for abusing his position as swamp commissioner to seize as many as 25,000 acres of land and resell it.”
Knight came from an area known as the Piney Woods, about 30 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, and stretching from eastern Mississippi to the southern panhandle of Louisiana. The Piney Woods had become a favorite refuge for Confederate deserters and fleeing Unionists. Hiding places abounded in the quagmires, marshes, and bogs, that could not be easily approached, if at all, by mounted horsemen. Eventually, Knight would be able to draw on several hundred men from at least five different counties, as well as the sympathies of slaves and his men’s wives and families. The men met secretly to pledge to aid each other and the Union, and chose the name “Jones County Scouts” because “scout’ was the term used by federal officers to describe spies and Unionists assisting the Union army. They elected Newton Knight as captain of the new unit. Decades later, a number of these men signed affidavits in support of Knight’s application for a Union army pension. Knight established contact with Union army officers, and arranged for his group to be recognized and supported as an auxiliary unit of the U.S. army.
Knight’s group became so powerful that it was able to chase out or render impotent almost all pro-Confederate officials in the Piney Woods. But after Captain Knight conducted a successful attack on a Confederate wagon train carrying newly impressed supplies to the Confederate Army, local and state officials appealed to General Leonidas Polk for a full scale military operation to track down and destroy Knight’s group. With the loss of his wagon train still stinging, Polk agreed, and ordered two of the most battle-hardened regiments in his command, the “Bloody” 6th Mississippi Infantry and the 20th Mississippi Infantry to clear and secure the whole stretch of country between the Pearl and Tombigbee Rivers. The operation was commanded by the 6th Mississippi’s colonel, Robert Lowry, also a native of the Piney Woods. Lowry’s two crack regiments managed to send Knight’s men into hiding, by resorting to depredations against even women and children. The Confederate troops rounded up local boys too young for conscription, and threw them into a rough stockade, then began systematically interrogating and brutalizing them. One boy of twelve years was terrorized by being hung in a tree and cut down three times, before a Confederate officer finally intervened.
In about a month, Lowry ranged over seven counties, arrested about 500 men, and killed about two dozen Jones County Scouts. But just two months after Lowry and his troops had left, the local Confederate conscript officer wrote to Governor Charles Clark that Knight and his Scouts had come out of hiding in the swamps and reasserted their authority. The local justices of the peace, constables, and commissioners refused to perform their duties for fear of incurring the wrath of Captain Knight and his Scouts.
Many of these anti-Confederate paramilitary groups assisted Union soldiers who had escaped from Confederate prisons, fleeing Unionist and runaway slaves. Williams summarizes the operations of one such group:
In addition to acting as informants for Union forces, the Heroes of America organized an underground railroad to shuttle escaping Unionists through the mountains to federal lines. Some had run afoul of Confederate authorities. Others simply wanted to get out of the South and away from the war. All across the mountain South, antiwar activists assisted southern dissenters heading for Union territory. They guided refugees from Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas safely through the hills to the Federals in Tennessee. One such guide, Daniel Ellis, was said to have piloted over four thousand people out of the Confederacy. In western Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, antiwar Mennonites set up their own underground railroad. Using their church and homes as safe houses, they ferried hundreds of refugees and deserters out of the Confederacy. In north Georgia's Union County, Austin Mason organized a chain of safe houses to shelter prisoners and deserters as they fled north through the mountains.
Slave Resistance to Slavery and the Confederacy
Every now and then, some deranged wrong-wing neo-Confederate will attempt to retail the myth about how much slaves and slave-holders loved each other. According to this myth, the slave-holders took a paternalistic interest in their slaves, and the slaves happily returned the filial love.
At the beginning of his book, Williams describes the reality of slavery, first by quoting from Kenneth M. Stampp’s 1956 book, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South:
. . . the wise master did not take seriously the belief that Negroes were natural born slaves. He knew better. He knew that Negroes freshly imported from Africa had to be broke into bondage, that each succeeding generation had to be carefully trained. This was no easy task, for the bondsman rarely submitted willingly. Moreover, he rarely submitted completely. In most cases there was no end to the need for control—at least not until old age reduced the slave to a condition of helplessness.
The best known form of slave resistance, of course, was to flee. By 1860, over 100,000 slaves had escaped to the North or elsewhere. But running away was a dangerous and uncertain option to take, too often involving permanent separation from family and loved ones. So, blacks developed a number of ways to resist. Williams explains:
Though most blacks remained in bondage, they still resisted. Slaves organized work slowdowns. They feigned illness and ignorance. They sabotaged or destroyed equipment, or used the threat of such action as a bargaining tool for better treatment. If they failed to get it, suicide was not uncommon. Some slaves were treated so badly that death was a welcome relief. One Georgia slave took her own life by swallowing strychnine. In another case, two enslaved parents agreed to "send the souls of their children to Heaven rather than have them descend to the hell of slavery." After releasing their children's souls, they released their own. Another enslaved mother killed all thirteen of her children "rather than have them suffer slavery." Two boatloads of Africans newly arrived in Charleston committed mass suicide by starving themselves to death.
Once the war began, and especially after the announcement of emancipation, slaves began actively aiding the Union cause. Union soldiers and officers who escaped from southern prisoners were effusive in their praise and thanks for slaves who had hidden, fed, and assisted them in their escape, and perilous journey back to Union lines. Williams notes
Slaves also welcomed strangers who were trying to avoid Confederate service. Deserters traveling home through the plantation belt knew that slave cabins were their safest bet for food, shelter, and support. . . .
Once word of emancipation spread, most southern blacks went out of their way to help the Federals every chance they got. Black women in Savannah secretly gave food to Union prisoners. Susie King Taylor, a black Savannah native, wrote of the city's prison stockade as "an awful place. The Union soldiers were in it, worse than pigs, without any shelter from sun or storm, and the colored women would take food there at night and pass it to them through the holes in the fence. The soldiers were starving, and these women did all they could towards relieving those men, although they knew the penalty should they be caught giving them aid." . . . .
Union soldiers who managed to escape Confederate prisons usually found slaves and free blacks willing and eager to help them back to Union lines. In many cases, the informal organization of these African-Americans was astounding. One escaped Union soldier told of being guided through the Georgia mountains by local blacks, who were able to pinpoint the exact location of Union army units 150 miles distant in Chattanooga, thanks to what the soldier called the “slave telegraph line. . . .
The ability of slaves to pass precise information over such vast distances was truly amazing. Time and time again slaves provided a bonanza of military and political intelligence to Union forces. Untold numbers of federal commanders were compelled to question and finally abandon their racist bias against African-Americans, as the intelligence provided by slaves proved to be reliably accurate and of incalculable value to Union military operations.
Williams relates the story of the Dabneys, a black couple from Virginia that attached themselves to the Union army along the Rappahannock in early 1863. Mr. Dabney found work as a cook, and became interested in the army telegraph system. Soon after some soldiers explained its workings to Dabney’s satisfaction, his wife returned across the river and found a job doing laundry for a Confederate general. Within days, Mr. Dabney was providing disbelieving Union officers with extremely accurate details of Confederate troop movements. When the federal officers demanded to know how Dabney had come to possess such precious knowledge, he led them up a hill overlooking the river and pointed to the headquarters of General Robert E. Lee.
That clothes-line tells me in half an hour just what goes on at Lee's headquarters. You see my wife over there; she washes for the officers, and cooks, and waits around, and as soon as she hears about any movement or anything going on, she comes down and moves the clothes on that line so I can understand it in a minute. That there gray shirt is Longstreet; and when she takes it off, it means he's gone down about Richmond. That white shirt means Hill; and when she moves it up to the west end of the line, Hill's corps has moved upstream. That red one is Stonewall. He's down on the right now, and if he moves, she will move that red shirt.
Slave resistance remained largely non-violent, but slaves were willing to assist anti-Confederate whites in guerilla fighting. In Dale County, Alabama, plantation owner Columbus Holley was notorious for his cruelty, and worked closely with local authorities to capture Confederate deserters. John Ward, leader of a local band of deserters, worked out a plan with Holley’s slaves. On a designated evening, two slaves met Ward at the perimeter of the property, picked him off his horse, and carried him to Holley’s bedroom window. Taking careful aim, Ward poked a gun through the window and shot Holley as he slept. The slaves then carried Ward back and placed him on his horse again. The next day, bloodhounds could find no trace.
Bloodhounds were the worse nightmare of runaway slaves, fleeing Unionists, deserters in hiding, and escaped Union prisoners. It was not so much the traditional bloodhounds with the drooling jowels and huge, hanging ears, whose sense of smell is thousands of times stronger than our own that fugitives feared. It was the other dogs that ran with the bloodhounds. The slave holding oligarchs had cross-bred mastiffs with bulldogs, and trained the hybrid to lunge and attack prey reflexively, their immensely powerful jaws quickly chewing their victims into a shrieking mass of crushed bone and quivering flesh. Most owners deliberately kept their mastiff bulldogs hungry. There are many stories of runaway slaves and other fugitives who had been set upon by mastiff bulldogs, whose corpses the dogs had mangled beyond recognition.
And most owners were despised and hated by the people they hunted. In The State of Jones, the authors tell the story of one of the few times a bloodhound owner received his due. Once, when Newton Knight and his men of Jones County were nearly cornered by Confederate cavalry following a pack of hounds, they threw themselves into a swamp in desperation. The horsemen reigned up, unwilling to proceed on terrain that negated their advantage of speed. The hounds were owned by a local 42-year old slaveholder, William McGilvery, who heedlessly and arrogantly plunged into the muck after his dogs. A roar of shotguns from the Jones County Scouts killed and maimed the dogs. McGilvery, in an imperious fury, stopped his horse and hollered “You stop killing my dogs!” In response, one of Knight’s men calmly laid his rifle across a tree branch, sighted carefully, and shot McGilvery in the head.
200,000 blacks served in the Union Army and Navy: 150,000 escaped slaves from the South, and 50,000 from the North. But almost as important, Freehling notes in The South vs. The South, is that another 200,000 blacks from the South worked for the Union military as unenlisted laborers. As abolitionists had tried to explain to Lincoln in the first two years of the war - before emancipation and before blacks were allowed to enlist in Union armed forced - one would become two: every slave emancipated would be one worker lost to the Confederacy, and one gained for the Union.
The Fatal Shift of Southern Industry to the Union Cause
One of the South’s most fatal weaknesses was its inability to maintain its transportation system (another way in which conservative economic policies, which have left infrastructure maintenance budgets starved for funds, are a zombie copy of the Confederacy). By the end of the war, the food crop of the Lower South simply could not be moved to either the market, or the Confederate army.
At the beginning of the war, Lincoln had observed, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.” The President should have included Maryland, Delaware and Missouri in that observation. Freehling explained how the Union benefited from anti-Confederate Southerners in other areas beyond simple manpower:
The border's pro-Union allegiances crippled the Confederacy even more seriously in the economic realm. While the Border South contained an impressive 37 percent of Slave South whites, it harbored a more impressive 50 percent of southern urbanization and industrialization. In 1860, the three largest Border South cities, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Louisville, contained more inhabitants than the fourteen largest Confederate cities. By gaining the border, the rebel nation would have doubled its factory capacity and bridged its most crippling industrial gap: the capacity to make and repair ships and railroads. Baltimore makes the point all by itself, for railroads had created this city's wild growth almost all by themselves. Flour processing and shipbuilding had helped fuel the city's 1840-60 boom. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, however, had primarily elevated Baltimore into the heady status of America's third largest metropolis in 1860, behind only greater New York (including Brooklyn) and Philadelphia. (Baltimore was 25 percent larger than New Orleans, the Confederacy's biggest city.) Other Atlantic Coast urban centers - New York, Boston, Philadelphia-skimmed more profits from railroad trade and from railroad financing. But Baltimore developed more extensive factories to fashion railroad tracks; trestles, bridges, cars, and locomotives. Baltimore needed more such infrastructure than its Atlantic Coast rivals, for the city had to conquer more miles and tougher geographic obstacles, particularly the western Virginia mountains, to create its railway to the West.
Baltimore's railroad industries especially thrived in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad shops around Mount Clare. In this sooty city within a city, the South’s densest center of employment, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad manufactured parts for stations, tracks, and bridges hundreds of miles west. Baltimore's specialized shops fashioned car wheels, car axles, car bodies, spark catchers, trestles, tracks, especially locomotives. The Baltimore and Ohio also became the prime customer for shops that turned out advanced factory tools. Denmead and Murray and Hazelhurst, for example, supplied castings for Abbott's rolling mill, which supplied plates for the Monumental Locomotive Works, which used engines crafted by Bartlett-Hayward. Between 1848 and 1852, interlocking Baltimore and Ohio shops built not only 200 locomotives but also sixty bridges to span western Virginia rivers and mountains. Other Baltimore shops fashioned steamships, railroad stations, and engine houses.
The Confederacy desperately needed this beehive of tools and skills for crafting iron behemoths. Alone in the South, Baltimore had the capital, expertise, and tooling to remake the southern rails as fast as they wore out (or were blown up). So too, alone in the South, Baltimore had the resources to create ironclad vessels up to Yankee standards. Instead, this pivotal slave-holding city boosted the Union's towering advantage.
The city became the Civil War hospital for Yankee railroads. Outside the Mount Clare shops, millions of pounds of iron railroad debris were piled as high as the factories, ready to be melted into iron sheets again, then refashioned to remake the latest exploded railroad bridge or ripped-up railroad track or expired locomotive. The Baltimore and Ohio bridge at Harpers Ferry, for example, five times demolished by guerrilla warriors, was five times operative again within a few weeks. Because of Baltimore's shops, the Baltimore and Ohio constantly functioned as the main east-west supply line for Union armies.
In contrast, under the crushing Civil War tasks of moving gigantic quantities of food, troops, and military equipment. Confederate railroads succumbed faster than Confederate troops. By midwar, an aide to the Confederacy's western commander lamented that "locomotives had not been repaired for six months, and many of them lay disabled." The colonel knew "not one place in the South where a driving-wheel can be made, and not one where a whole locomotive can be constructed." (Freehling, pp 61-62)
Similarly, Freehling describes the industrial might of St. Louis, the second largest city in the border states, with four times the population of Richmond. While the Confederates struggled to keep iron production running at Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works, in St. Louis a number of facilities poured and rolled huge slabs of iron, then fashioned them into peculiar steamboats: turtle-shaped iron-clad riverine warships designed and built by Samuel Pook and James B. Eads.
(“Pook’s Turtles” they were called). These flat bottomed, paddle-wheel-driven vessels, perfect for shallow interior southern rivers, carried thirteen guns poking through a turtle-like shell of 2.5-inch iron armor. Pook’s Turtles cost $89,000 each. Eight hundred St. Louis construction workers, laboring in nearly all the city's large machine shops and foundries, crafted the necessary twenty-one steam engines and thirty-five steam boilers in a few months in late 1861. The St. Louis firm of Harrison, Chouteau, and Valle rolled most of the armor plating. The resulting gunboats exemplified how the South’s most advanced cities helped fashion a more advanced Union military machine.
But the most important advantage anti-Confederate southerners gave the Union was strategic position. Freehling points out that if Maryland had seceded, Lincoln and the federal government would have been force to flee from Washington D.C. Freehling continues:
So too, if the Border South had been passionately pro-Confederate, Jefferson Davis’s nation would have sprawled up to the Ohio River, one of the world's most natural barriers to defend. South of the Ohio, the West Virginia mountains, a natural area for guerrilla warfare, would have been equally difficult for the Federals to subdue if most residents had been zealous Confederates. The Union had enough trouble pacifying the guerrilla-prone area when only a fraction of West Virginians swore allegiance to the Confederacy. After subduing the Ohio River environs and West Virginia mountains. Union armies would have had to conquer the entire Border South tier of states, just to reach the strategic position where they in fact began the Civil War.
Instead, Maryland ultimately gave Union soldiers a safe avenue toward protecting the president in Washington. The Ohio River became an unhindered highway for the Union's western troops. The West Virginia mountain passes and rivers provided an only somewhat troubled Union route toward Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, breadbasket for Robert E. Lee's Virginia army. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became a fine supply line for the Union's western invaders. The invaders enjoyed sanctuary inside the upper third of the South, as they prepared to subdue the lower two-thirds of slave labor states. Their invasion began not on the Pennsylvania-Ohio borders but below Maryland's boundary, inside Virginia, and below Kentucky's boundary, inside Tennessee. By compromising the Confederacy's manpower, economy, and especially strategic position, the borderland's unionism climactically yielded an early military turning point, one that gave the Federals an enormous headstart on their eventual anaconda strategy before the worst Civil War fighting had even begun.
Note, May 29, 2011: If you doubt that today there is a direct connection between a person's admiration of the Confederacy, and his or her thinking on economic polcies (actually, LACK of thinking), just look at this comment from Naked Capitalism at the time of original publication.