Lincoln Should Have Just Purchased All The Slaves?

Can we please put this nonsense that Lincoln could have avoided war by buying the slaves to bed forever?

Here is President Lincoln’s Message to Congress recommending compensated emancipation delivered March 6, 1862:

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honorable bodies, which shall be substantially as follows:

Resolved , That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State, in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

If the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end; but if it does command such approval, I deem it of importance that the States and people immediately interested should be at once distinctly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to consider whether to accept or reject it. The Federal Government would find its highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-preservation. The leaders of the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this Government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say, “The Union for which we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.” To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion, and the initiation of emancipation completely deprives them of it as to all the States initiating it. The point is not that all the States tolerating slavery would very soon, if at all, initiate emancipation; but that while the offer is equally made to all, the more northern shall by such initiation make it certain to the more southern that in no event will the former ever join the latter in their proposed confederacy. I say “initiation” because, in my judgment, gradual and not sudden emancipation is better for all. In the mere financial or pecuniary view any member of Congress with the census tables and Treasury reports before him can readily see for himself how very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named State. Such a proposition on the part of the General Government sets up no claim of a right by Federal authority to interfere with slavery within State limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the subject in each case to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them.

 In the annual message last December I thought fit to say “the Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed.” I said this not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made and continues to be an indispensable means to this end. A practical reacknowledgment of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it. Such as may seem indispensable or may obviously promise great efficiency toward ending the struggle must and will come.

 The proposition now made (though an offer only), I hope it may be esteemed no offense to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned than are the institution and property in it in the present aspect of affairs.

 While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.


Source: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=70130

And, if you think someone should have considered compensated emancipation before the war began, consider this from an address delivered to a pro-slavery convention in Missouri in 1855:

…abolition, under existing circumstances, is believed to be morally impossible. In 1850, according to the census of the United States, there were in the slave States, including the District of Columbia, three million one hundred and ninety-five thousand nine hundred and fifty-one slaves. The average value of an ordinary lot of slaves is generally estimated at one-half the price of a prime field hand. Such a slave will now readily sell for 1200 dollars. Taking $600, then, as the average, it will give us 1,917,570,600 dollars as the total value of the slaves in 1850. The natural increase, since that time, makes it reasonable to estimate the present value, in round numbers, at two thousand millions of dollars. At six per cent., the annual interest on that sum will amount to one hundred and twenty millions.

Strike out of existence at once this vast amount of productive capital, and it is not in the power of human arithmetic to express, the financial ruin that would result, not merely to the slaveholding, but also to the non-slaveholding States, and to the civilized world. Besides, it should not be forgotten that negro slaves are constitutionally adapted to labor in those climates where the great staples of cotton, rice and sugar can be produced. Emancipation, therefore, would convert this vast region, the abode of wealth, civilization and refinement of the highest order, into a howling wilderness. The loss of productive property in land, houses, machinery, and improvements of various kinds, thus rendered valueless, can hardly be estimated…

But the financial ruin is by no means the most important item in this account of prospective abolitionism. Look to St. Domingo and the British West Indies. In short, look where you please, all history attests that emancipation would be the greatest calamity that could be afflicted on the blacks themselves: that American slavery has elevated their character, and ameliorated their condition, in all respects; that wherever fanaticism or misguided philanthropy has cut them loose from the guardianship of the white race, they have not merely degenerated, but have retrograded with rapid strides towards a savage, and even brutal race….

….it may be objected, that slavery is a moral wrong; that our obligation to do right is paramount to all others; and that it never can be justifiable to do wrong from an apprehension of any evils, whether real or imaginary, that may be anticipated to result from doing right… [however] All who are well informed on the subject know that if the Bible sanctions anything, it sanctions slaveholding. The most candid and prominent of the anti-slavery leaders (whether religious or infidel) have, within the last ten years, totally abandoned the Bible argument; and many of the latter class may now be heard blaspheming the God of the Bible in terms so malignant and fiendish, as might well make demons shudder….

Source: Missouri’s War: The Civil War in Documents edited by Silvana R. Siddali


“The Kennedy Half Century”

 JFKI recently received an email invitation to participate in an online course. It looks to be quite interesting, so I signed up.  I’m passing the info along in case any of you are interested.

(Charlottesville, Va.) — Enrollment is now open for Prof. Larry J. Sabato’s free online course about President John F. Kennedy’s life, administration and legacy.

The four-week, massive open online course (MOOC), “The Kennedy Half Century,” will begin on Oct. 21, with two hours of video instruction each week by Prof. Sabato. The course is available through Coursera, an educational website that partners with some of the world’s top universities, including the University of Virginia, to provide free online courses. Anyone can register for the course at www.coursera.org/course/kennedy.

The MOOC is one of several initiatives the U.Va. Center for Politics is unveiling this fall in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Prof. Sabato’s latest book, The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, will be released in October as the class begins. Also in October, the Center will premiere a one-hour national PBS documentary on the same subject, which is being produced in partnership with Community Idea Stations. The Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations recently received an Emmy Award for their previous documentary, “Out of Order,” which is about political dysfunction in Washington.

A trailer for the “The Kennedy Half Century” class is available here.

“The University of Virginia Center for Politics has long been committed to providing accessible educational tools about American politics and government. This free online course about how JFK and his legacy have influenced the public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed President Kennedy is one way we can deliver high-quality instruction, at no charge, to a large audience,” Prof. Sabato said.

The course begins with the early legislative career of John F. Kennedy and progresses through the 50 years since Kennedy’s death, focusing on how each president, Lyndon Johnson through Barack Obama, has used JFK to craft their own political image. The class offers more than eight hours of video consisting of 40 lessons averaging 10-20 minutes each in length. Each week, there will be at least two new hours of content, including historical footage from each of the 10 presidential administrations of the last half-century. Prof. Sabato will focus four lessons around Kennedy’s assassination as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of 11/22/63.

New portions of the class will be posted to the Coursera page each week. Students who complete the course do not receive university credit, but they will receive a statement of accomplishment. More information about the course’s specifics, including a syllabus, is available at www.coursera.org/course/kennedy.

Online learning is not new to the U.Va. Center for Politics, which has provided online education tools through its Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) since 1998. YLI conducts regular mock elections for students, as well as an interactive legislative simulation called E-Congress.

“For the last 15 years YLI has developed and distributed free civics education lesson plans using the Internet,” noted Prof. Sabato. “Today YLI reaches more than 50,000 teachers and millions of students throughout the country and around the world.”

* * *

Founded by political analyst and Professor Larry J. Sabato, the U.Va. Center for Politics (www.centerforpolitics.org) is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to promote the value of politics, improve civics education, and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis, and innovative educational programs.


Is Breaking The Law Ever Justified?

001I’ve been reading Lincoln’s Quest for Equality: The Road to Gettysburg, a book by Carl F. Wieck published in 2002. Wieck argues that Lincoln was greatly influenced by the Boston Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker. I’ve discussed Parker in previous posts (see here and here). Wieck wrote, “Although Lincoln cautiously preserved discreet public distance from avowed abolitionists like Parker, his private links to such men prove to have been closer than has generally been presumed, owing primarily to the vigilance he exercised in keeping the extent of his connections concealed.” In the case of Parker, that connection was facilitated by Lincoln’s Springfield law partner, William Herndon. Herndon and Parker maintained a steady correspondence from 1854 to 1859. Parker sent copies of his sermons, published in pamphlet form, and other writings to Herndon, and Herndon told Parker in his letters that he and Lincoln read and discussed them.

Wieck’s thesis is interesting, if not ultimately provable.  In a review in Civil War History, Dennis  K. Boman wrote that while Weick demonstrates the important influence Parker and other northern abolitionists and reformers had on Lincoln, “one suspects that if somehow he could be asked about his influence on Lincoln, Parker himself would have described it as marginal at best.”

Whatever the truth of Parker’s influence on Lincoln, Wieck raised another issue in his book that is well worth pondering. It is an issue Lincoln had to grapple with. It is an issue most Americans had to grapple with in Lincoln’s time, and which many Americans and others around the world have had to grapple with throughout history. It is the question of how much the law should be revered. Is there ever a time when breaking the law is justified? And, if so, when?  

Wieck notes that a youthful Lincoln tackled the question in his “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois” on January 27, 1838. Lincoln complained of “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgement of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.” Lincoln cited recent incidents in Mississippi and in Missouri where mobs had meted out vigilante justice with impunity. Lincoln argued that this kind of lawless action would result in innocent people suffering along with the guilty, and that a breakdown in the people’s affection for the government would follow. Lincoln declared:

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and the Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor.

Lincoln acknowledged, however, that not all laws were good laws:

Let me not be understood as saying that there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed.  

Lincoln’s views would seem to have been shared by his wartime accomplice, Ulysses S. Grant. In a letter to long time abolitionist Gerritt Smith, written in 1872, Grant wrote: “My oft expressed desire is that all citizens, white or black, native or foreign born, may be left free, in all parts of our common country, to vote, speak & act, in obedience to law, without intimidation or ostrasism on account of his views, color or nativity.”  Note the qualifier, “in obedience to law.” Grant’s desire for law and order was constant. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, and Grant re-entered military service, he made it abundantly clear that he was volunteering not to end slavery, whatever his private feelings on the subject might have been, but to defend the nation against dissolution and rebellious lawlessness as he perceived it.

In a letter written to his father in April, 1861 following the attack on Ft. Sumter, Grant wrote, “Whatever may have been my political opinions before I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.”  Early in the war, when forced to deal with the vexing issue of runaway slaves, Grant wrote to a subordinate officer: “I do not want the Army used as Negro catchers, but still less do I want to see it used as a cloak to cover their escape. No matter what our private views may be on this subject, there are in this Department positive orders on the subject, and these orders must be obeyed.” A generous interpretation of this statement would be that Grant’s private views included opposition to slavery, though that is by no means certain. He left no doubt, however, that the law must be adhered to.

To his sister, Mary, in April, 1861, he wrote, “I am convinced that if the South knew the entire unanimity of the North for the maintenance of the Union and the Law, and how freely men and money are offered to the cause, they would lay down their arms in humble submission.” Grant’s puffery aside, this statement unmistakably showed that his primary concerns in 1861 were the integrity of the United States and the preservation of law and order. In his First Inaugural Address in 1869, Grant would tell the entire country, “Laws are to govern all alike—those opposed as well as those who favor them. I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.”  

But, can there not come a time when the “stringent execution” of the law, or the “religious observance” of the law, becomes so odious that one is justified in disobeying it? Numerous examples throughout history are easily cited. See here. Were the enslaved people of Lincoln’s era not justified in their resistance to the law that enslaved them? Theodore Parker certainly thought so. Again, see here.

What about today? Are there laws that one can justify breaking? And, if so, by violent means? Where would you draw the line?  


History vs. Memory

001In his book, Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World, published in 2002, historian Eric Foner wrote, “There is nothing unusual or sinister in the fact that each generation rewrites history to suit its own needs, or about disagreements within the profession and among the public at large about how history should best be taught and studied.” Foner went on to observe however, that in the 1990s history became “a ‘wedge issue’ in the so-called culture wars. During that decade, it sometimes seemed, one could not open a newspaper without encountering bitter controversy over the teaching and presentation of the American past.” This wasn’t happening only in America, and Foner included stories of history being contested in other countries as well. Foner could have included the story of an exhibition that opened in Germany in 1995, which is the subject of a documentary I watched last night on Netflix, The Unknown Soldier.

Foner quoted James Baldwin who wrote, “History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it with us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” I think this is true because history is often based more on faulty memory than fact, or on what we want to believe rather than truth, or on only the facts that support what we want to believe, or on anecdotal evidence. This is effectively shown in The Unknown Soldier. To borrow from an Amazon reviewer:

The subject of this documentary is the opening of the Wehrmachtaustellung (Wehrmacht Exhibition) in 1995, the now famous collection of photographs and documents that provided graphic evidence of German atrocities throughout the Second World War. What distinguished the exhibition from past scholarship on the 3rd Reich, was its depiction of the German Army, or Wehrmacht, as one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust – essentially no different from the SS, SD, or other Nazi organizations commonly associated with the brutality and mass murder of Hitler’s regime.

The exhibit provoked powerful reactions from the German people, many of whom refused to believe or acknowledge that their parents or grandparents could have participated in the horrors. Among others, Neo-Nazis turned out to protest the exhibit. Historians defended the exhibit. Two had this to say:

A part of this phenomenon of the Neo-Nazis is the fact that a second stream of information runs in the families, and of course the glorification of Nazi literature. Above all a transmission in families that portrays a totally different picture: our fathers, our grandfathers were not criminals.

There was a study in Hanover that shows how strong the transmission from generation to generation is. Also the transmission of lies. Grandchildren who were told a family story that clears everyone’s name of participation. Those whose grandfathers were cleared of wrongdoing in the Third Reich come across pictures that disprove this and the reaction is always the same: but my grandfather is not a Nazi. “Grandpa is Not a Nazi” is the name of the study.

An alternative historiography, the verbal one in German families presents a heroization, or an anecdotal style of storytelling, or the resistance, our father, our uncle, our grandfather were resistance members and they did this and that. And, on the other hand, the official historiography is geared toward finding the facts, guilt and responsibility. 

How easily can these German historians’ observations be applied to Americans and their history? Is this what we are seeing in the response to Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam? Is this what we are seeing here? I realize that few people want to be identified with the evils of the Nazis, and that is not the intention of this post. I’m merely interested in how memory affects our understanding of history. By the way, for what it’s worth I am a direct descendent of John and Sophie Winkler, both born in Bavaria, who migrated to the United States in the 1840s.



The Beatles As History

This editorial cartoon titled “The (Dutch Elm) Beetles” by Dan Moore is part of the SHSMO Mayo Collection.

This editorial cartoon titled “The (Dutch Elm) Beetles” by Dan Moore is part of the SHSMO Mayo Collection.

I’ve been listening to Beatles records all day. The State Historical Society of Missouri noted on facebook that August 19, 1964 was the beginning of the Beatles first tour of North America by sharing this period editorial cartoon. Despite their immense popularity, The Beatles have always been controversial. It is a truism that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” When it comes to music, it can equally be said “beauty is in the ear of the listener.” Today, in spite of the phenomenal sales of their records, cd’s, etc.; in spite of the fact that their music is still heard nearly everywhere; in spite of the fact that Paul is still out there playing to stadium crowds who are paying hundreds of dollars for tickets; in spite of the fact that numerous musicians have pointed to The Beatles as their seminal inspiration, there are still those who are critical of Beatles music. To those naysayers I say, whatever. But, The Beatles are also “history,” and as I’ve said many times, history is contested terrain. It doesn’t take much searching to find articles, blogposts, and even academic papers written about the pernicious cultural influence of The Beatles, particularly on the youth of my generation. Here’s just one example.

In August 1964, I was barely nine years old, but the Beatles’ impact on America was pervasive. When Capitol records released the album, Meet The Beatles in January 1964, they noted on the back of the cover, “Said one American visitor to England: ‘Only a hermit could be unaware of The Beatles, and he’d have to be beyond the range of television, newspapers, radio, records, and rioting fans.’” I don’t remember watching their Ed Sullivan performances in February, 1964; I’m sure the television in our house was tuned to another channel that night. I do remember a little girl who lived next door. She had Beatles bubble gum trading cards and could point at their faces on the wrapper and tell me their names. I also remember a silly riddle that made the rounds; “What did one octopus say to the other octopus?” Answer: “I want to hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, it all seemed so innocent. I didn’t know then that The Beatles, and their subsequent solo efforts would become the soundtrack of my life.

My mother has a younger sister. She and her husband were college age when I reached my teen years. They gave me a hi-fi record player and my first two records, Meet The Beatles and A Hard Days’ Night. I’ve been an unapologetic Beatles fan ever since. Unfortunately, I never got to go to a real Beatles concert. I was only 15 when they broke up in 1970. Like many others, I hoped they would eventually re-group. But, there were always the records to collect and listen to. I would make lists and circle the ones I had and pine for the ones I didn’t have. I drew pictures of the Yellow Submarine and Blue Meanies. I also read everything about The Beatles I could find, including what I think was the first biography of the fab four. And, of course, like everyone else, my hair got longer. My parents tolerated my love of all things Beatles, even if they didn’t much care for the music.

Somehow, I grew into an adult. I’ve made my share of mistakes in life, but I can’t blame The Beatles for any of them. The Beatles have just been there. Been there through the good times and the bad. There when my kid sister and I sang I Saw Her Standing There together in my bedroom all those years ago. There when my childhood didn’t reflect Leave It To Beaver. There when I had my first romances. There when my heart was broken. There when I married and when I divorced. There through financial ups and downs. There when my friends and I got together, there when my kids were growing up. Yes, my kids, now grown, know the lyrics to most every Beatles song. Somehow, despite a lot of other traumas that could have corrupted them, they grew up to be well adjusted, productive adults also. The Beatles have always brought me joy.  Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better…

There was a popular Christian rock band that used to go around telling people that before they became Christians they had really been into The Beatles. They thought The Beatles knew some deep spiritual truth and they were slowly revealing it to the world through their music. When the “White Album” came out these guys all thought this had to be the album where the Beatles would finally reveal what they knew; after all the cover was all white! How spiritual was that! They put the album on and listened. All of them wanted to be cool, none of them wanted to admit they weren’t getting much of a spiritual message from Rocky Raccoon. They felt The Beatles had let them down. The audiences would always laugh at this story. Well, of course they would, because it was silly for anyone to think The Beatles were anything but a musical group. They never claimed to be anything else. The Beatles were also four very young men growing up in a very turbulent era. Were they really leading their generation, or were they merely reflecting it? Looking for spiritual messages in Beatles music was as silly for  those guys who became Christians as it was for Charles Manson to think Helter Skelter was telling him to commit murder.

Paul has said that he is proud of The Beatles because they were primarily about love. If there was a message, that’s what I always heard. All you need is love, love is all you need… How pernicious is that?






152 Years Ago

Today marks the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The following is a brief account I cobbled together from various sources in ’08 while a grad student at Missouri State working at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. This can still be found on the park’s website. I still think it’s pretty good, except for the statement that “Lyon installed a pro-Union government at Jefferson City.” Further study has convinced me that is inaccurate.


The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

In the early morning hours of August 10, 1861, the rolling hillsides of southwest Missouri echoed with the thundering roar of cannon, the fire of muskets, and the shouts of officers and their men locked in mortal combat. By the time the smoke cleared, five hundred thirty five men lay dead in the hot summer sun. Hundreds more struggled with battle inflicted wounds. Included among the dead was Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union General to die in the Civil War.

Although the Civil War officially began with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the roots of the conflict ran much deeper into America’s history. Indentured servitude and the institution of slavery were part of the fabric of colonial culture long before America declared its independence from Great Britain. Differences in climate, and economic and social development between the Northern States and the Southern States however, led to the decline of slavery in the North versus the growth of slavery in the South. When the United States Constitution was created in 1787 it protected the institution of slavery. Nevertheless, slavery increasingly became a politically divisive issue between the two sections in the early to mid 1800’s. A series of political compromises ensued as Southerners sought to protect their Constitutional right to own slaves from what they perceived to be an ever more anti-slavery North.

Missouri became a focal point of the slavery issue when in 1818 it requested admittance to the Union as a slave state. Missouri became the 24th State on August 10, 1821, but to maintain a balance of power in the Senate between slave and free states, the “Missouri Compromise” also admitted the State of Maine into the Union as a free state. In addition, the Missouri Compromise stated that slavery henceforth (with the exception of the State of Missouri) would not be allowed north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude.

In 1853 Stephen Douglas, U.S. Senator from Illinois, desiring to establish state governments in the western territories, developed the concept of “Popular Sovereignty.” Embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Popular Sovereignty declared that the people of each state should decide for themselves whether their state would be free or slave. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act nullified the Missouri Compromise’s restriction on slavery north of the 36 degrees 30 minutes line. It once again focused the nation’s attention on Missouri and the slavery issue as pro-slavery Missourians and “Free-State” Kansans engaged in a bloody border war to determine whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act also prompted the birth of the anti-slavery Republican Party.

On the eve of the Civil War however, Missouri was a deeply divided state. Originally settled primarily by Southerners, there were large hemp and tobacco plantations along the Missouri River, an area later known as “Little Dixie,” where large numbers of slaves toiled. Elsewhere in the state, particularly in the growing city of St. Louis where a large German immigrant community thrived, and in the Ozark Mountain region where the terrain was not compatible with large plantations, anti-slavery sentiment, or at least strong pro-Union sentiment, existed. Many Missourians indicated their desire to remain neutral however, when in the Presidential election of 1860, they voted not for the Northern anti-slavery candidate, Abraham Lincoln, nor for the Southern pro-slavery candidate John Breckinridge, but for the candidate they believed represented compromise, Stephen Douglas. Remaining neutral would become an untenable position after Lincoln captured the Presidency by winning all the Northern States, and deep South slave states began to secede in protest.

 When the Civil War began in 1861, Missouri’s allegiance was of vital concern to the United States Federal Government. The state’s strategic position on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and its abundant manpower and natural resources made it imperative that it remain loyal to the Union. Missouri though, had elected a Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, who was a large plantation owner with strong Southern sympathies. While officially claiming neutrality, Jackson worked behind the scenes to effect Missouri’s secession. A state convention was held in February 1861 to consider Missouri’s secession, but Union sentiment ran strong, and Governor Jackson’s desire to take Missouri out of the Union was soundly defeated.

Following the firing on Ft. Sumter in April, President Lincoln called for troops to put down the growing rebellion in the South. Missouri was asked to contribute four regiments. Governor Jackson refused the President’s request and ordered state military units to muster at Camp Jackson outside St. Louis. Tensions heightened in St. Louis and across the state as lines were drawn between Unionists and Secessionists. Out of this volatile mix emerged a fiery U.S. Army Captain named Nathaniel Lyon. Lyon was a West Point graduate, career Army officer who had served time in the far west and in Kansas during the Kansas-Missouri border war over slavery. His experiences had confirmed an anti-slavery conviction in him and a determination to defend the Government of the United States. Lyon was placed in charge of the U.S. Arsenal in St. Louis which held 60,000 muskets, powder, and cannon.

When Lyon learned that Governor Jackson intended to use the state militia units encamped at Camp Jackson to seize the Federal Arsenal, he secretly moved most of the weapons to Illinois. Using the U.S. Army forces under his command and German immigrant militia units hastily sworn into Federal service, Lyon marched out to Camp Jackson and forced its surrender. Lyon proceeded to march the disarmed state militia captives from Camp Jackson, through the streets of St. Louis, to the arsenal. Angry Southern sympathizers lined the route, hurling insults, stones, and other objects at the Union soldiers guarding the prisoners. Shots rang out, killing and wounding several soldiers. The soldiers fired back indiscriminately. By the time the melee ended, 28 people were dead, including a child. Known as the “St. Louis Massacre,” the incident raised secessionist fervor across Missouri, and prompted the state legislature to authorize the Governor to raise the Missouri State Guard.

Lyon, elected a brigadier general of volunteers, was placed in command of all Federal forces in Missouri. After a futile meeting with Governor Jackson to resolve the crisis, Lyon led his army up the Missouri River and occupied Jefferson City, the state capitol. Jackson and the Missouri State Guard mounted an unsuccessful stand against Lyon at Boonville, before retreating to southwest Missouri. Lyon installed a pro-Union government at Jefferson City, picked up reinforcements in the form of volunteer units from Kansas and Iowa, and then proceeded across the state to track down the fleeing secessionists. By July 13, 1861, Lyon was encamped at Springfield with about 6,000 soldiers and three batteries of artillery.

Meanwhile, Governor Jackson had turned over command of the Missouri State Guard to Major General Sterling Price. Price had fought in the Mexican War and had served as Governor of Missouri himself. Although he was a plantation and slave owner, he had been a Union supporter until the events in St. Louis swung him irrevocably into the secessionist camp. Seventy-five miles southwest of Springfield, Price busily drilled the 5,000 men in his charge. By the end of July, Confederate troops from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, under the command of former Texas Ranger turned Confederate General Benjamin McCulloch, and Arkansas State troops led by Nicholas Bart Pearce rendezvoused with Price, bringing the secessionist force to a total exceeding 12,000 men. On July 31, after formulating plans to capture Lyon’s army and regain control of Missouri, Price, McCulloch, and Pearce marched northeast to attack the Federals. Lyon, hoping to surprise the Confederates, marched from Springfield on August 1. The next day, in a minor engagement with the secessionist’s advance guard at Dug Springs, Lyon was successful in driving the enemy from the field, but he realized he was outnumbered and withdrew to Springfield. The Confederates followed and by August 6, were encamped along Wilson’s Creek.

Price and McCulloch were at odds. Price wanted to attack Lyon at Springfield, but McCulloch was reluctant. McCulloch had little faith in the rough-hewn Missourians, 2,000 of which were not even armed. The rout at Dug Springs had only further eroded his estimation of their fighting abilities. Furthermore, Missouri had not officially seceded. Price agreed to give McCulloch overall command in an effort to pressure him into attacking. The Confederate leaders planned a surprise attack on the Federals, but rain on the night of August 9 caused McCulloch to cancel the operation. McCulloch feared the paper powder cartridges they carried would get wet, rendering their ammunition unusable. Remaining in camp, they inexplicably failed to put out pickets to guard against an attack.

Attack is exactly what Lyon had in mind. Leaving behind about 1,000 men to guard his supplies, the Federal commander led 5,400 soldiers out of Springfield that same night of August 9. Adopting a plan put forth by German immigrant Colonel Franz Sigel, Lyon split his forces. 1,200 men under Sigel marched wide to the south, flanking the Confederate right, while the main body of troops struck from the North. Outnumbered two to one, Lyon knew success hinged on the element of surprise.

Price and McCulloch were having breakfast at the Edwards’ cabin on the morning of August 10 when the Union army struck. Lyon’s attack caught the secessionist troops off guard, driving them back. Forging ahead the Federals overran several Confederate camps and occupied the crest of a ridge subsequently called “Bloody Hill.” Nearby the Pulaski Arkansas Battery opened fire, checking the advance. This gave Price’s infantry time to form a battle-line on the hill’s south slope. The battle raged for more than five hours. Fighting was often at close quarters, and the tide turned with each charge and countercharge.

Sigel’s flanking maneuver, initially successful, collapsed in the fields of the Sharp farm when McCulloch’s men counterattacked. Believing McCulloch’s soldiers to be friendly Iowans due to fact that the Iowan’s uniforms were also gray, Sigel ordered his men not to fire. By the time he realized his mistake, the enemy was upon him. Defeated, Sigel and his troops fled all the way back to Springfield, leaving Lyon and the remainder of the Union forces to fend for themselves on Bloody Hill.

At about 9:30 a.m., General Lyon, who had been wounded twice already, was killed while leading a countercharge. The Federals continued to fight, now under the command of Major Samuel Sturgis. By 11:00 a.m. their ammunition was nearly exhausted. During a lull in the fighting, Sturgis ordered a withdrawal to Springfield. As the Confederates cautiously approached the hill they realized the battle was over. For reasons historians continue to debate, Price and McCulloch did not pursue their retreating enemy.

Casualties (killed, wounded, and missing) were severe and about equal on both sides – 1,317 for the Union and 1,222 for the Confederates. Southerners claimed a victory at Wilson’s Creek, making the most of the fact that they held the field at the battle’s conclusion and that they had killed Lyon. Northerners however, felt they had more than held their own, had only reluctantly retreated due to lack of ammunition, and had dealt a stunning blow to the secessionists. Lyon was hailed as a martyred hero.

On December 30, 1861, Congress passed a joint resolution in which it said:

That Congress deems it just and proper to enter upon its records a recognition of the eminent and patriotic services of the late Nathaniel Lyon. The country to whose service he devoted his life will guard and preserve his fame as a part of its own glory.
That the thanks of Congress are hereby given to the brave officers and soldiers who, under the command of the late Gen. Lyon, sustained the honor of the flag, and achieved a victory against overwhelming odds at the battle of Springfield, [Wilson’s Creek] in Missouri…

Following the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, and the further retreat of the Union army from Springfield to Rolla, the Confederates occupied Springfield. Price and McCulloch continued to have their differences however, and Price could not convince McCulloch to follow up their apparent victory with further advances into Missouri. The Confederate forces under McCulloch and the Arkansas State troops under Pearce retreated into Arkansas, while Price, re-assuming command of the Missouri State Guard, moved north and captured the Union garrison at Lexington. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek and Price’s continued activities in the state, finally drew attention to the necessity of a large Federal force to secure southwest Missouri. In early 1862 Price was driven from the state and into Arkansas. The subsequent Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March kept organized Confederate military forces out of Missouri for more than two years. Nevertheless, for the duration of the Civil War, Missouri was the scene of fierce fighting, mostly guerrilla warfare, with small bands of mounted raiders destroying anything military or civilian that could aid the enemy. Price mounted one more campaign in September 1864 to capture his beloved Missouri for the Confederacy, but it ended in disaster when he was thoroughly defeated at the Battle of Westport. By the end of the war, Missouri had witnessed so many battles and skirmishes that it ranks as the third most fought-over state in the nation.

On January 11, 1865, a state convention passed an ordinance declaring that Missouri’s slaves were “now and forever free.” The decree emancipated Missouri’s enslaved people even before the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution advanced the promise of the Declaration of Independence throughout the re-united nation:

 We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.



Whitewashing American History: A Review of Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede

My friend Joan Stack recently visited Branson, Missouri with her family, where they attended a dinner performance at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. She posted this review on facebook, and has graciously allowed me to cross-post it here. Dr. Stack is Curator of Art Collections at the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.


A massive, plantation style façade houses Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede theater/arena near downtown Branson. My daughter and I park and join a long line that meanders past two dozen or more stables housing magnificent horses. Dolly Parton songs play over the sound system as numerous voice overs inform us that photography is not permitted in the arena. We step into the foyer, as hostesses dressed as Southern belles greet us. We pick up two tickets in the “South” section.

We enter the darkened arena and hear crickets chirping and frogs croaking. The noise evokes the sounds of a Southern summer evening. A backdrop depicts a two-storied white plantation façade surrounded by shade trees draped in Spanish moss. Although such a house undoubtedly would have belonged to a wealthy slave-owning family, no imagery or rhetoric acknowledges that slavery was an integral aspect of antebellum Southern life. The show starts as the emcee enters, wearing a red rhinestone cowboy outfit. He introduces the program as a “journey back to a rivalry that has been going on for years” between the Northern and Southern sections of the United States. At this point the two sides march into the arena in mock battle formations. The Union enters first to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” The Confederates join them as the band plays “Dixie.”

Both male and female performers wear satiny quasi military uniforms, the North in blue trimmed with yellow and the South in grey and red. We see no controversial Confederate flags, only pennants of blue and gray. After the foot “soldiers” arrive, the faux “cavalry” rides in, circling the arena. The leading riders (the generals?) wear gloves that reflect stereotypes related to the North and South. The Unionists sport sleek black patent leather, while the Southerners wear fringed gauntlets of tan buckskin. After the two rival “armies” depart, the emcee discusses the origins of the conflict with symbolic landscapes, characters and animals. He links the antebellum era to an amorphous concept of America’s “never ending quest for freedom,” announcing that before there was the North or the South there was “the West.”

The backdrop suddenly changes to a Southwestern, desert landscape featuring dramatic rocky buttes. Dry ice fills the arena and a small herd of buffalo stampedes into the arena. The bison proceed to roll around in the dust. These iconic American animals soon depart and the emcee informs us that the West was untamed until man arrived. The sound system blares Dolly Parton’s song about the Cherokee (a tribe from the Smokey Mountain region of Dolly’s birth, not the desert southwest, although many were infamously relocated to Oklahoma). A single figure appears on foot with two riders on brown and white painted horses. The riders depart and the emcee speaks of the mystical exoticism of the natives and their world of “magic.” With these words a flying white dove (not a bird usually associated with Indians) suddenly “appears” from the folds of the Natives clothing. The arena darkens. A black light illuminates the Indian’s costume, decorated with glowing Southwestern designs. A harnessed female acrobat joins him in a thunderbird costume. After an acrobatic aerial performance, the two native dancers depart.

The emcee announces that the Native American world was disrupted by settlers. A “stampede” of longhorn cattle represents an interesting domestic parallel for the buffalo that appeared earlier. As the longhorns depart, men and women in rugged prairie costumes ride in, some driving wagons. The “settlers” vastly outnumber the lonely “Indians” who appeared earlier, an unspoken reflection of their eventual “triumph” in the West. The presence of both men and women signals the permanence of their settlements, but no reference is made to the genocidal violence that eventually decimated America’s Indian population.

The wagons surround a campfire, and goods in wooden boxes suggest the growth of commerce. Fiddle music begins, and the settlers begin to dance. The men perform athletic jigs by the campfire and the girls shout, “Don’t forget us!” further emphasizing the importance of their domesticating presence. The boys enter the audience’s space, dancing on the tables directly in front of spectators. The raucous intimacy of this performance implicates spectators in the mythic history. The emcee announces that it is “dinnertime,” and a song about the joys of dinner begins. This song is an extension of the settlers dance, suggesting that we are complicit participants in the settlement of the West. Waiters dressed in stylized Confederate and Union uniforms serve chicken, corn on the cob, and sweet tea to the audience, and we proceed to “chow down.”

After a short intermission, the emcee introduces the “traditions” of the North and South by speaking of the celebrated aspects of both regions. The North is described as a region characterized by great cities and “Lady Liberty herself.” The traditions of the “South,” on the other hand, are “performed,” an aspect of the program that, like the backdrop and show title suggest a privileging of the Confederacy over the Union. The old South is compared to a “fairy tale,” as Southern belles in hooped skirts twirl on a floating gazebo, their dresses lighting up as they spin. Beneath them, a Southern “gentleman” rides in, wearing a white suit illuminated with fairy lights. His horse begins walking sideways in an elegant “dressage” performance that ends with the animal “bowing” to the audience. Slaves are excluded from this idealized vision of Southern bliss.

Finally the competition begins. First representatives of both teams engage in a barrel race. After this, audience members join the cast, as pigs and chickens decked in blue and gray race each other for bragging rights. The pigs’ names relate to war heroes on both sides, “Ulysses S. Grunt,” “Robert E. Lean,” and “Abraham Bacon.” Selected members of the audience toss toilet seats in a modified horse-shoe contest, and cast members race Union and Confederate ostriches around the arena. This bizarre and trivialized representation of a conflict that left over 600,000 dead finishes as one side is declared the winner. The two teams re-enter the arena dressed in red, white, and blue. A video of Dolly Parton strikes a reconcilliationist tone, as the singer croons that she “bleeds red, white, and blue.” The American flag is transformed into an emblem of both sides, which are each lauded as patriotic and noble.

While the ultimate causes of the war are obliquely alluded to in the part of the show that showcases the West, the issues of national unity and the extension of slavery that made the West contested territory are never addressed. Nevertheless, “Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede” is interesting because it makes a sanitized, symbolic Civil War the focus of an exhibition about white Americans understanding of themselves. I came away thinking the show represented the mythic history of white America rather accurately. Even the “white washing” of the bigotry, violence, and turmoil entailed in the extermination of the Indians and the enslavement of black people accurately reflects the nation’s difficulties in confronting these issues. The audience for the show I attended was 95% white, and I wonder how African American and Indian spectators might have responded to this extravaganza.


Ulysses S. Grant In Missouri 1861

Brigadier General U. S. Grant, Cairo, IL, October, 1861. (From "U. S. Grant Album" by Lawrence A. Frost)

Brigadier General U. S. Grant, Cairo, IL, October, 1861. (From “U. S. Grant Album” by Lawrence A. Frost)

If you have been reading the recent exchange of comments here regarding Missouri’s loyalty to the Union during the Civil War, you might have noticed a quote attributed to Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was very familiar with politics in Missouri, having lived in the state from 1854 to early 1860. The outbreak of hostilities in early 1861 however, found him residing in Galena, IL, and so he volunteered his services from that state. Perhaps ironically, he soon found himself back in Missouri. I thought it might be instructive to look at Grant’s observations in Missouri in 1861, including the entire letter in which the quote mentioned can be found. (See the letter dated Nov. 22.) If there is one thing these letters show, it’s that simplistic explanations of the time aren’t possible. The Aug 3 letter is particularly intriguing in this regard, because it challenges our assumptions of what constituted a “secessionist” or a “unionist.” These letters also challenge the assertion that it was only federal forces oppressing innocent Missourians. (See the highlighted passages.)


From Macon City, MO, July 19, 1861, to his wife, Julia:

…I have been on the road between here and Quincy, and marching South of the road for nine days. When we first come there was a terrible state of fear existing among the people. They thought that evry horror known in the whole catalogue of disa[sters] following a state of war was going to be their portion at once. But now they are becoming more reassured. They find that all troops are not the desperate characters they took them for. Some troops have behaved badly in this part of the state and given good grounds for fe[ar] but they have behaved no worse than their own people. The Secessionist commit evry outrage upon the Unionests. They seize their property, drive them out of the state & c. and destroy the railroad track wherever they find it without a guard. Yesterday, I returned to camp on the line of the R.R. from a little march south as far as the town of Florida. As we went down houses all appeared to be deserted. People of the town, many of them, left on our approach but finding that we behave respectfully and respected private property they returned and before we left nearly evry lady and child visited Camp and no doubt felt as much regret at our departure as they did at our arrival. On our re[turn] evry farm house seemed occupied and all the people turned out to greet us. I am fully convinced that if orderly troops could be marched through this country, and none others, it would create a very different state of feeling from what exists now…


From Mexico, MO, Aug 3, 1861, to his father, Jesse Root Grant:

…I find here however a different state of feeling from what I expected existed in any part of the South. The majority in this part of the State are Secessionist, as we would term them, but deplore the present state of affairs. They would make almost any sacrifice to have the Union restored, but regard it as dissolved and nothing is left for them but to choose between two evils. Many too seem to be entirely ignorant of the object of present hostilities. You can’t convince them but what the ultimate object is to extinguish, by force, slavery. Then too they feel that the Southern Confederacy will never consent to give up their State and as they, the South, are the strong party it is prudent to favor them from the start. There is never a movement of troops made that Secession journals through the country do not give a startling account of their almost annilihation at the hands of the States troops, whilst the facts are there are no engagements. My Regt. had been reported cut to pieces once that I know of, and I don’t know oftener, whilst a gun has not been fired at us. These reports go uncontradicted here and give confirmation to the conviction that one Southron is equal to five Northerners. We believe they are deluded and know if they are not we are.

Since I have been in Command of this Military District (two weeks) I have received the greatest hospitality and attention from the Citizens about here. I have had every opportunity of conversing with them freely and learning their sentiments and although I have confined myself strictly to the truth as to what has been the result of the different engagements, the relative strength etc. and the objects of the Administration, and the North Generally, yet they don’t believe a word I don’t think…


From Ironton, MO, August 9, 1861 to Capt. J. C. Kelton, Asst. Adj. Genl U. S. A., St. Louis:

…Spies are said to be seen evry day within a few miles of our camp, and marauding parties are infesting the country, and pillaging union men within ten miles of here. At present I can spare no force, in fact have not got suitable troops, to drive these people back and afford the Union citizens of this neighborhood the protection I feel they should have…


From Cape Girardeau, MO, August 31, 1861, to Julia:

…there is a large rebel force in this section of the state and they are committing all sorts of depridations upon the Union people…


From Cairo, IL, Nov. 17, 1861, to Chauncey McKeever, A. A. Western Department, St. Louis:

…I have also been called upon to-day by a lady from Bloomfield who states that the Union people of that district are not only depredated upon but their lives are constantly in danger. many have already been murdered for entertaining Union sentiments, and people of this class  are not permitted to leave on pain of death.

She urges, on behalf of the Union people, that troops be sent there either to garrison the place perminantly, or for a stated period, giving citizens notice of the length of time they intend remaining so that they might take advantage of their protection to get away…


From Cairo, IL, Nov 22, 1861, to Capt. John C. Kelton:

I have frequently reported to the Western Department that the line of steamers plying between St. Louis and Cairo, by landing points on the Missouri shore were enabled to afford aid and comfort to the enemy.

I have been reliably informed that some of the officers, particularly the Clerks, of these Boats, were regularly in the employ of the Southern Confederacy, so called

The case of the Platte Valley, a few days since, confirms me in this belief

I have heretofore recommended that all the carrying trade between here and St. Louis, be performed by Government, charging uniform rates. I would respectfully renew the suggestion, and in consideration of the special disloyalty of South East Missouri I would further recommend, that all commerce be cut off from all points south of Cape Girardeau.

There is not a sufficiency of Union sentiment left in this portion of the state to save Sodom

This is shown from the fact that Jeff Thompson, or any of the Rebels, can go into Charleston and spend hours or encamp for the night, on their way north to depredate upon Union men, and not one loyalist is found to report the fact to our Picket, stationed but one & a half miles off

Missouri slave map


The shaded areas of the above map show the concentration of enslaved people in Missouri in 1860. The Grant letters are in chronological order. Grant’s first letters were written from north of Columbia, (notice Macon County had relatively few slaves), but by the end of the year when he writes the letter about South East Missouri, he is at Cairo, IL. Notice he specifically mentions Charleston, MO.  Charleston was the major river city of Mississippi County, MO, across from Cairo. It is that dark spot in the bottom right corner of the map. Many Missouri slaveholders remained loyal Unionists, but it should not be surprising that the strongest secession sentiment in the state was located in the areas where there was the highest concentration of enslaved people.