Another angle on The War
By Walter S. Hearnes
Special to the Star-Telegram
Posted on Sun, Jan. 25, 2004
In a Monday letter to the editor, Lance Peppers of Fort Worth wrote that he believes the South started a terrible war that cost the lives of more than 600,000 men on both sides. He added that he thinks Confederate soldiers could not be considered heroes.
But the blood began to flow in earnest only when an armed mob of lightly trained Union troops invaded the South to force us back into the Union at the point of a bayonet. If the Confederacy had been allowed to conduct its business through its own elected officials, war might well have been avoided.
Secession was not an exclusively Southern concept. When Thomas Jefferson first entered the White House, New England Federalists spoke openly of leaving the Union. In 1803, when Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, many New England Federalists called for secession.
A generation later, the great Northern abolitionist journalist, William Lloyd Garrison, not only called upon Northern states to secede if Texas was admitted as a slave state — at a July Fourth celebration in the 1840s, he publicly put a match to a copy of the U.S. Constitution to make his point.
Peppers believes that Confederates turned traitor in defense of slavery, and yet generations of Northerners were quite willing to make huge profits out of the transportation and sale of African slaves to the lower states. More than 200 slave ships left Boston, Newport and other Northern ports to procure African slaves to be sold in Southern slave markets.
One wonders what passed for heroism among Northerners of that period.
John Brown was widely regarded as a hero in the North for his 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. He and his followers hoped to steal guns and ammunition to arm and inspire a bloody uprising of black slaves throughout the South.
Instead, it resulted in the deaths of several innocent people and Brown’s execution for treason.
Henry David Thoreau called Brown an "angel of light." Ralph Waldo Emerson said his hanging would "make the gallows as glorious as the Cross." The day Brown was executed, church bells rang across New England.
Would Northern abolitionists, who publicly praised Brown, have been outraged if armed Southerners had invaded the coal fields in Pennsylvania to organize a violent rebellion among miners who worked long hours for miserable wages in dangerous and unhealthy conditions?
Peppers compared Rebel soldiers to the Nazi killing squads that shot tens of thousands of innocent people and burned homes, schools, hospitals and museums.
However, if anything during the Civil War resembled what the Nazis did during World War II, surely the burning of Southern homes and the destruction of our livestock and crops in a part of the country that was already starving comes closest to being a war crime.
If Confederate soldiers were all traitors, as Peppers believes, their leaders in the field certainly must have been traitors as well. Let’s look at the lead "traitor."
Many military historians consider Robert E. Lee as one of the greatest commanders of all time, and the Army of Northern Virginia ranks with the Roman legions and Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies as among the greatest campaigning formations in history. Only Alexander the Great and Napoleon commanded such reverence from their men.
After his surrender at Appomattox in 1865, this "traitor" spent the rest of his life trying to heal the breach that the Civil War had created between the victorious North and the devastated and occupied South.
In his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill called Lee "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war."
It’s certainly true that Yankee prisoners died in great numbers in Confederate prison camps. This was a direct result of Union Gen. Ulysses Grant’s decision not to trade prisoners on a one-to-one basis with his Southern opponents — for the cold-blooded reason that the South couldn’t afford to lose the manpower, but the North, with its far larger population, could.
Yankee prisoners in Rebel hands received the same rations and medical care available to their Confederate guards. Sadly, large numbers of Confederate prisoners died in Northern prisons because the Lincoln government placed our men on half rations, not because the North lacked food — it exported grain to Europe throughout the war — but to save money.
Confederate soldiers fought and died for four years because Northern troops invaded our land, stole our crops and livestock, burned our houses, poisoned our wells and wrecked our businesses.
The capitalist North used its industrial might to overcome the agricultural South — and freeing the slaves became a nice fig leaf to cover what in reality was aggression for economic reasons.
It is said that in winter one could trace the progress of Rebel armies by following their bloody footprints in the snow. And yet they kept fighting for the same reason that their grandparents refused to abandon George Washington during that hungry winter at Valley Forge.
Support for the institution of slavery could never have held the allegiance of our men through all those years of suffering.
Love of their newly established country, not the preservation of slavery, held those ragged boys and hungry old men — most of whom did not own slaves — to their grim tasks long after all hope of victory had been lost.