History is part legend, part fact, but mostly interpretation of those who have gone before us
We make history every day. From one moment to the next, our decisions—small and large—shape our future and, as we travel along that path, shape our past. How do we want it to read? Should we care? Or should we just get on with our lives and hope for the best? The Past Not Taken is three novellas that show that not all “authorities” are authoritative.
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood…
In a small archive, documents that could upend American history are found. Did Jefferson suggest that Washington was an ignorant bumpkin and that America bounded by the Constitution would fail?
We may make history, but it’s the “authorities” –the scribes and narrators of the future–who write it based on what we leave behind.
Curtis is a budding historian at a small university. Meli is a friend-who-is-a-girl…
“How long have we known each other, Curtis?”
“Since the fall of ‘73, so going on nine years,” I answered; she squeezed my hand. She IS pretty…
“Do you like me?” Easy to get along with…what’s with…?
“I do; a lot.” She’s funny, and a good listen…WHAT? I stopped; she took a step ahead, not letting me go. “Are you in trouble, Meli?”
“Yep.” She didn’t turn. Her voice was but a whisper above the game, but I heard it as if it were thunder overhead.
“Want help?” WHAT did I say…?
“I need help, Curtis,” she said quietly. “The consequences for Dad would be….”
“Yeah. If this place were any more straight-laced, we’d need diagrams to tie our shoes.” God have MERCY on me…“I’ll be proud to, Missy.”
How “authoritative” are the documents that make up the basis of our history? Just because a document appears to be old and is in an archive, does that make it “proof” of the past?
Daughter By Choice explores how the past catches up to everyone. It also explores the nature of being a parent, and how there’s so many different kinds of families. It, too, speaks of how history is written and how the long-forgotten can become so important so fast.
Whereof what’s past is prologue…
A man appears out of nowhere, both known and unknown. He asks for little, but that little means so much. He says a girl’s future is in peril. And what he asks for can be simply devastating for everyone.
History likes to teach about “turning points.” 1776 is one for American history. But what if…?
“Let’s suppose that we wrote a history of America that pivots on the year1619. Think about it. What would its thesis be? It would have to elaborate on why that year….”
“When the first Africans were landed in the English colonies.”
“Yes; August 20th, 1619, on Point Comfort, Virginia—today’s Fort Monroe. The ship was the English privateer, White Lion. These lawful English pirates traded twenty or thirty Angolans—the record is unclear as to how many—for supplies. Suppose we wrote a history that said that those people were intentionally brought here for the sole purpose of being enslaved in 1619. How would we, writing such a thing, continue such a story?”
The method I’m testing is intended for analyzing the historical failures of states. Remember that this is a test case, not a definitive analysis…yet.
So, our new steps:
Step One: Define the Failure(s)
Step Two: Determine the Failure(s) Indicators
Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)
Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any, of the Failure(s)
Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor and Their Contribution to the Failure(s)
Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
Step Seven: Publish Findings and Duck
What did Germany fail to do?
Judging by the ashes of the spring of 1945, win a war. But what was the war for? What were they aiming at? By all indications, the 1939-45 conflict was driven solely by Hitler and Nazi ideology. What were they after? Based on what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, they intended to become the hegemonic power in Europe. They also meant to expand Germany’s direct authority–not necessarily its borders, but its direct control–across Poland and into European Russia. That meant Ukraine, Belorussia/White Russia, and Russia east of the Urals; this was what Hitler called Lebensraum–living space, in German. He meant to eradicate most non-Aryan populations so that more pure Nordic types could thrive.
As a war motive, it’s somewhat grisly. As a strategic concept, it’s inept. Why? Because it’s a strategic resource overreach, even for Germany.
The Nazis who sold this bill of goods to the German people (they needed if not their participation, their acquiescence) used several strategies. One of the first was to exalt Germany as the salvation of humanity, the One True Faith that would save Earth from itself. This was bolstered by the idea that the Versailles Treaty was evil incarnate, that emasculated Germany and humiliated her. While true, it was because Germany was blamed for the great bloodletting known then as The Great War. France and Britain went broke fighting that war, America and Japan became Great Powers participating in it, Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa became all the more united as states during it, and four crowns were snatched from their owners because of it. This was not bad in itself, but it was terrible for Germany because France and Britain took their frustrations out of the Germans. So the Nazis capitalized on the resentment.
We should ask, then, what Germany was trying to do in 1914-18?
THAT has always been a matter of interpretation. The 1914 Crisis, if we must chronologize it, went like this:
28 June Serbian radical Gavrilo Princip kills Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo
29 June-1 July Austria-Hungary demands revenge on Serbia
6 July Germany assures Austria-Hungary of a “blank check” against Serbia
21 July Russia “cannot tolerate” military measures against Serbia; France backs Russia
23 July Austria-Hungary gives Serbia an ultimatum that practically eliminates Serb sovereignty; Britain offers to mediate
24-25 July Austria-Hungary and Serbia mobilize their armies; Russia mobilizes against Austria-Hungary; Serbia accepts most demands
26 July Austria-Hungary rejects British mediation; Wilhelm II expresses desire for peace; Britain’s navy goes on a war footing
28 July Britain’s George V offers to mediate; Germany rejects mediation and backs Austria-Hungary
29 July Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and invades; Britain rejects German requests for neutrality
30 July Russia mobilizes against everyone
1 August Germany mobilizes and invades Luxembourg, declares war on Russia
2 August Germany demands Belgium grant Germany free passage to invade France; Belgium rejects demands
3 August Germany declares war on France
4 August Britain declares war on Germany; Germany declares war on Belgium and invades
6 August Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia
Now, if you study this chronology for a while, you’ll realize that Germany enabled Austria-Hungary on 6 July by not stopping them from going up against Serbia–they almost certainly could have, depending on who you talk to. You’ll also notice on the map that Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Britain have no contingent borders on Serbia or Austria-Hungary. You might also observe that Germany doesn’t, either.
So why, one might ask innocently, did Germany stick their noses into Austria-Hungary’s business? What did they have to gain? Aside from the politics behind Bismarck’s “concert of Europe,” the numerous treaties and alliances in place at the time, Victoria’s multiple children and grandchildren, what did Germany expect to gain in 1914?
Regrettably, the answer was not much other than hegemony over bordering states. The Germans–especially the Prussians–as we’ve seen before, had been Europe’s doormat. They’d been overrun by everyone in the 17th century, built up and exhausted legendary military prowess in the 18th, were shattered by the French in the early 19th, and then destroyed the French themselves in the mid-19th. In the meantime, they were willing to follow any strongman who came along who told them what they wanted to hear. So the Hohenzollerns of Prussia led them to towering military and economic power in the early 20th century and were most anxious to use it to defeat their enemies…but for what? Yes, they beat the Russians, but it took three years and millions in blood and treasure while also fighting the French, Belgians and British. And they ultimately gave up, anyway.
All for the chimera of “security” that they would likely have to fight for again and again. Then along came the Nazis, who fed on German fear, shame and anti-Semitism…not a hard sell in Germany in the 1930s. Yes, they had some resources but not enough to fight off everyone. No campaign is bloodless; every battle costs both blood and treasure. Every enemy Germany defeated between 1939 and 1945 cost them blood and treasure they had to replace with something. By 1945, that something was just blood. And it was all expended because Hitler and his Nazis wanted the Lebensraum of Eastern Europe and Western Russia…and to get rid of the undesirables, of course.
There ya have it: Germany failed to achieve its supposed security in WWI, or its quest for Poland and European Russia and the ethnic cleansing, to borrow a modern term, in WWII.
Next time, we start looking at what makes us think there was a failure.
Steele’s Division: December, 1944
This is a book I’ve wanted to write for some time, started off and on, and toyed with until now…well, it’s in a series that starts with…
The Steele Saga
In the 11th Century, the pious Scots king Macbeth, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, liaised with a nubile royal cousin of Edward the Confessor, which produced an heir who would technically, in time, become a claimant to the throne of Scotland.
Five centuries after this affair which history has intentionally forgotten, the last of the Macbeths was but a lad living in Killeen in County Meath on the western coast of Ireland, far away from Scotland…but not far enough. While his countries were on the verge of civil war, Charles I could not tolerate a lawful contestant to the throne. Nor could he afford to encourage the nobles who might recognize such a claim, should the boy find a patron with the wit to make one. Thus, in the Year of Our Lord 1611, Burton Anglim Macbeth was transported to the Virginia colonies in America for the crime of having had ancestors from the wrong side of the blanket but who were much too close to being on the right side.
Burton was a clever lad for fourteen. As soon as he stepped off the boat, he was indentured to an ironmonger for seven years, who taught him that iron was good, but steel was better. After five years sleeping next to the hearth, Burton Anglim forged the first steel anything in North America—a drop hammer, as it happened. Selling that tool earned him enough to buy himself out of indenture. When he did so, in the style of the time, he took the name of Dean Steele. “Dean” from déantóir, Gaelic for “maker.” Burton Antrim Macbeth was no more; he became Maker of Steel.
Dean Steele took out a lease on a forge shop in the new Maryland colony and married four women—in succession, of course. The four women bore Dean six boys and three girls who reached adulthood. Five of the boys married and had children themselves, as did two of the girls. One of Dean’s daughters was an ancestor of Nathan Hale. a grandson may have watered, as it were, the Jefferson, Madison, and Washington family trees. The unmarried boy and girl didhave children, but the less said of their illicit and scandalous liaisons, the better.
Dean Steele’s descendants—by the 20th Century, there were over a thousand of them—took part in nearly every momentous American event and were present at every triumph and catastrophe.
The Ned Steele in this story (there were three known as “Ned” before our Ned was born: Edward, born in 1746; Edwin, born in 1780; Nathan, born in 1842) are members of the “Tribe of William,” the eldest of Dean Steele’s boys. By the time our Ned was born—twenty years to the day before America first declared war on Germany in 1917—there were branches of the Steele family in all the states and territories.
The Macbeth/Steele clan invites you to their saga.
It’s a series I’ve had a hard time resisting creating. Like the Sharpe Series, I’ll be jumping around in time. The first book, Steele’s Division, is about, well…
The big steamer trunk I was looking at was a typical auction purchase for my son-in-law, Mike. He made a living buying cheap and selling dear; picking up something old and interesting for maybe $10, cleaning it and selling it for $50, and often more. This battered, unusual wooden beast was bound by cracked leather straps, missing one of its strap handles, and had only three of its four brass feet. It was after he opened it that he called me.
“Most of this stuff is just old letters,” Mike explained, “but once I dug around…”
“Yeah.” I scanned many letters between siblings faded with age. But there were other documents…military orders and medal citations. There were pictures of men in uniforms; of a young nurse, of a woman in a Red Cross uniform. I glanced at the big domed lid. “Ever see a trunk like this?”
“Not with a lid like this,” Mike said. “Not with a locked compartment.”
“Anything like a key in there?”
“I haven’t seen one.”
“We should look inside.”
Mike’s a clever guy; he had the lock picked in a few minutes. It yielded more letters and documents, including a hand-scribbled note that read:
20 Dec ‘44
Hold on to Neuville for me, Ned. You’re all I’ve got to protect my MSR. Good luck with Carnes. His family has as much pull as mine or yours.
I could recognize George S. Patton’s initials. I also knew enough about WWII to know that the date was during the Battle of the Bulge and that MSR meant, in this case, ass.
Many of the documents in the trunk’s dome were dated around that time. Most had to do with an outfit that called themselves The Hammerheads that I’d never heard of. There was a news clipping with a headline Steele Busts the Krauts. The byline was from a pioneering woman war correspondent. The award-winning photo in the article was familiar: the mud-spattered, lantern-jawed face with dangling helmet straps had been in my high school history book.
There was also a letter from Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Engineer District, written to Major General Edmund A. Steele, thanking him for his “enormous service to his country and to all of civilization…” dated 9 November 1945. I knew who Groves was and what the Manhattan Engineer District was all about, but the date…huh. “Well, Mike,” I said, “looks like you’ve done it again. How much did you pay for this?”
“I’ll give you $100 for the contents. Keep the trunk.”
That’s how I began to learn the story of Ned Steele and his16th Infantry Division of a forgotten fight in Luxembourg when the real fighting was said to be twenty miles north.
And the world-changing secret that they protected.
I’m working on Steele’s Division. Expect to see it sometime next year. Also expect to see an E-book version of Why the Samurai Lost Japan.
My Dad read this book because he is always talking about government cover ups. All though the author said it was a book of fiction my dad couldn’t help but see similar details with actual facts. A good read for anyone that loves a good mystery. Well worth the read.
I seem to have written myself into an analytical box. So what else is new?
Those of you who have been following my essays will recall that this is the second EXPERIMENT, the second CASE STUDY to test a method, a way of thinking about how societies/groups fail. My sample case studies depend on rigor, as much as this amateur can provide. I’m trying to demonstrate a method of analysis, not necessarily the research itself… though chicken-and-egg comes to mind rather readily. My model was based on a commonly used engineering method. I’m beginning to see that the model is inappropriate.
Let’s have a look at the model again:
Step One: Determine When, Where and How the Failure Occurred
Step Two: Collect Information on Similar Cases for Comparison
Step Three: Identify Social/Economic/Political/Environmental Similarities in Similar Cases
Step Four: Analyze Each Element/Factor Separately
Step Five: Compare and Contrast Like You Did as an Undergrad
Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
Step One feels jumbled and premature in historical studies. Engineers have it easy here: it’s broken; anyone can see that. In history, it’s kinda obvious that the Roman Empire petered out, that Spain is no longer the preeminent world power, that Babylon is now just some ruins over there between where the Tigris and Euphrates are. The when, where and how are three things we’re trying to figure out, thank you. Step Two seems premature for historical analysis. If Step One is wrong, Step Two can’t be right. Step Three depends on Two…and that’s a problem.
Now, the rest of the steps seem OK, but it’s those first two that seem wrong. But, based on the work I’ve already done, I will submit a new model.
Step One: Define the Failure
In our two case studies so far,
The Southern Confederacy failed 1) to achieve meaningful and lasting political and economic independence from the United States, and 2) maintain the institution of chattel slavery;
Germany failed…to what? What was it that Germany tried to do? THAT question is what we need to answer before we analyze the why of their failure.
Now, this is where we’ll probably see a great deal of argument stemming from the “but they…” kind of argument. But what’s essential to our failure analysis model is that the failure we’re analyzing has to be an apparent failure of either a state or a group with a finite timeline. The collapse of the Roman Empire is nebulous by this definition, even if the fall of Constantinople is held to be the end of the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. So are the ends of most empires of antiquity. Failure analysis for them might require different tools.
But for more modern states, such as the Southern Confederacy, modern Germany, France in 1940, and the Soviet Union in 1991, this sort of framework might be helpful. But when it comes to, say, the British Empire (which has yet to admit destruction), such a tool becomes arbitrary.
Whoever said the work of history was easy didn’t have to do it.
Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators
This may not be a straightforward as it seems. How did the failure (or failures) manifest itself (or themselves)? How or when did the state, group, or leadership recognize or admit to the failure(s)? DID they ever admit to failure? Remember, we’re talking about people, policies, polities, and organizations, not machines or systems.
Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)
States/organizations/polities fail for many reasons. They succeed for the same volume of causes. But while the old saw that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan may feel true, failure can be attributed to causes just as success can.
Just because it feels true, doesn’t mean it is true
National/polity success and failure can have more causes than just “it didn’t work” or “they had a revolution.” Did the polity itself hold the seeds of its own destruction, like a top-heavy organization? Were there external factors that doomed the country, like geography?
Notice that we do not include military causes here. It’s not because we don’t want to consider them, but…look ahead.
Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any
What’s important for this analytical tool is that the military factors that CAN BE factors are NEVER the ONLY factors. Military success depends on everything from voting patterns to the number of rivers a country has, to the length of her national borders to its racial/tribal demographics…even male motility (and yes, that matters a great deal). Build a fabulous military organization with thunderous power and pick a fight with a not-so-hot military organization that can absorb your thunderous power, and you could still lose–just ask Japan. But that level of analysis is finite and does not reach back to why the Japanese did what they did the way they did. That’s why military factors should be studied independently of the others.
Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor
Isn’t “compare and contrast” the same as “analyze?” I ask ya?
This step needs to stay more or less as-is, primarily because it’s so simple and fundamental to any process called “analysis.” How each factor is analyzed, however, can be daunting. Do we value their impact, or their influence, or their restrictions, or their contributions? Or all of these? How do we weigh each in a balance between the social and the political? Are the economic factors more important than the environmental? How do modern social factors affect contemporary political responses to the contemporary environmental causes of failure?
The analysis is essential, as it can reach the root of the issues that preceded the failure. They are also the most fraught with peril. Tread lightly.
Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
So often in the historical trade, practitioners often proceed with their evidence-presenting and their conclusions without a thought about their method or if their findings actually add up to anything more than an empty set of conclusions. This is sometimes best expressed by the equation:
A+B=C; Therefore D
Evidence that does not support the thesis is to be ignored
Everyone has an agenda, a direction they want their researches to go, at least initially. When the evidence points another way, and you don’t change directions, you stop analyzing and start advocating. My method here might have been flawed, but I’m changing it now. If I continued on the same way as I began to, I’d be advocating, not analyzing.
Step Six: Publish and Duck
History isn’t an exact science; historians can’t just publish and walk away. They often have to defend their work against critics who have looked at the same evidence and reached different conclusions for different reasons. They also have to protect their work who have not looked at the same evidence and are not inclined to do so…but who knows better than YOU do because, well, everyone knows better than YOU because you disagree with them. This plays out nearly every day; let’s face it. So when a scholar publishes his work, and someone looks at a fraction of it and declares it to be wrong, said scholar needs to duck and ignore said critic…if possible. Sometimes, however, critics have all sorts of publishing credits to their name and hold prestigious positions. Argue with them, will you? You’ll never have lunch in this town again.
So, next time I’ll restart the Germany Before 1945 with the question: What Did They Want?
The Past Not Taken
This is a collection of three novellas with the same narrator, location, and a common theme: What If? They are based on fragments of the author’s life, things that didn’t happen to him, people who did something different at crucial moments, and decisions made in different ways for different reasons.
In the spirit of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” these stories look at roads that a young man did not take.
A budding academic makes a life-changing decision in a split-second;
A young woman shows up on a doorstep with nowhere else to go;
A man shows up on the same doorstep with dreaded demands.
JDB Communications, LLC is proud to announce–to LinkedIn–the publication of The Liberty Bell Files: J Edgar’s Demons
The Liberty Bell Files: J Edgar’s Demons is a work of fiction…seriously. Neither the Liberty Bell Project nor “the Files,” nor The Special Projects Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ever existed. I mean, can you imagine the FBI investigating a guy who didn’t want to pay sales tax on a cup of coffee? Or a guy who somebody thought wrote a story disrespectful to the Japanese? Or a prostitute calling herself Karla Marx, who advocated revolution by sex?
It is utterly impossible that anyone would authorize time and resources for such things.
Get that out of your head.
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s say…
Dave Clawson of Hell (Michigan) might have started his FBI career with the Special Projects Division fresh from the Academy—the non-existent SPD. Inside the DC Beltway, questions about the SPD would have been met with a puzzled-puppy expression or a quick wave of the hand and a dismissive, “That old Hoover myth? Fuhgeddaboudit, Mack.” Of course, the general public would have never heard of it.
The SPD’s 50-some make-believe agents might have spent most of their time attempting to close Liberty Bell Files created years—some even decades—before on persons and organizations that J. Edgar Hoover might have deemed “suspicious” if not downright subversive. Because the federal bureaucracy cannot stand not knowing stuff—and it never throws anything away—the FBI might well have filled half a building with those oh-so-illegal Files that never existed. Many more of these imaginary files might still sit in the FBI offices that created them, boxed up in conveniently forgotten corners waiting to be retrieved…and waiting to be resolved…maybe.
The Liberty Bell Files—if they existed–would have covered a full spectrum of humanity, from the wholly benign to the horribly malevolent. A good 99% of them would have been about people and groups that were, at worst, harmless crackpots or who just had a different way of looking at life—harming and threatening no one. For example, one might have had to do with an overweight cat; another, an IRS-certified “church” that “worshiped” that relaxing nap after you-know-what; another criticizing an English actor living in the US who said he wasn’t interested in becoming a U.S. citizen (but who did anyway).
The remaining 1% might have been—and possibly still could be—downright scary. Some people in those files could have killed federal agents; some could have blown up buildings, their mysteries “solved” somewhere…maybe. To find those bad ones, the SPD’s imaginary agents would have had to wade through the harmless, the bogus, and the weird.
And…The Director might have called on the non-existent SPD for those tough, nasty jobs no one else can handle–legally. That was because the hypothetical SPD had a centuries-old mandate from the Commander-In-Chief to do whatever they needed to do to protect the Republic.
The Liberty BellFiles: J. Edgar’s Demons is also about Dave’s imaginary effort to peel back the layers of an outfit providing legends—new identities—for a wide range of felons for tons of money and killing anyone who got in their way.
And Jimmy Hoffa? Yeah, he’s in there…sorta…or he might have been, anyway.
And some of those imaginary files might have involved Stella’s Game Trilogy characters…
So help me, Hanna.
Now available in trade paper and e-book at your favorite booksellers
Whether your interest lies in the development of the Japanese nation as a whole, or with the military aspects…you are likely to find Why the Samurai Lost Japan both highly informative and thought-provoking.
Lois Henderson for Reader’s Favorite
The book’s been out for a couple of years, but seeing a new review, especially one so glowing, is gratifying. For those of you who have NOT read our magnum opus…what are you waiting for, the e-book? Yeah, well, end of the year, brother.
The Liberty Bell Files: J. Edgar’s Demons
This book follows two obscure characters from The Trilogy–Julia Parkinson and Dave Clawson–from their graduation from the FBI Academy in 1980, to their induction into the Bureau’s obscure and secretive Special Projects Division, to their role in the climactic ending of The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs.
On the way, they work on a mountain of highly-questionable FBI files compiled over the course of thirty years, the dubious products of The Liberty Bell Project, which was ordered by Hoover because he thought there were demons under his bed…and he wanted the Bureau to root them out.
Among the many reports on nut-cases, pseudo-conspiracies, overweight cats, spurious “subversive” organizations with one member only, tax protesters, neo-Nazis/fascists/communists/space aliens and other hard-to-believe pseudo-demons that fill many filing cabinets are the answers to real questions and real cases, clues to solving real crimes–including the trail that would lead to what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. They can’t be dismissed; they can’t be ignored…but many can’t be believed.
This is a serio-comic wind-up to the Stella’s Game Trilogy, and will be out before Labor Day.
The Past Not Taken
Not a typo, but the title of a novella (less than 25K words) you should see this fall. While the story takes cues from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” it also diverts.
Curtis Durand is a young man who, one Sunday morning, says OK to a friend in trouble, and the direction of his life is changed completely. Over the next seven days, Curtis tries to get his head around this new direction as he defends his doctoral dissertation, tries to find work as a history professor, and finds what might be academic fraud on the behalf of a famous professor–who is also his principal advisor and his future father-in-law.
Along the way, he hears an unborn baby’s heartbeat…and that makes all the difference.
Two road diverged in a yellow wood, and Curtis took the one few would dare travel by, and in The Past Not Taken, he looks back in wonder.
Where was Alexander Vandegrift, commanding the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal, born?
Where was George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, born?
The reason for these questions will become clear.
There comes a time in any historical project when an analyst should stop and ask: Does any of this make sense?
Or at least we should. This is where I’m doing just that. Some background…
JFK was in office when I first read Bruce Catton’s American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. My mother cut out the Life Magazine articles during the Civil War centennial. But WWII beckoned–my father jumped into Normandy, so I studied both conflicts avidly,. Of course, Vietnam was in the headlines then…my sisters’ boyfriends all concerned themselves with it because they were of that age. I got to Gettysburg in ’69, then I went into the Army myself in ’73, three months to the day after the draft ended.
But the American Civil War kept calling me back while, after leaving the Active component, I made a living as a technical writer for thirty years AND stayed in the Reserves. Studying for my MA in American military history, I wrote extensively about the Civil War, more than I did any other American war. I wrote a book on Shiloh, another on the Pacific War, a few novels, and some short stories. Then came this germ of an idea: systematizing historical failure analysis, creating a methodology for what scholars do and buffs chatter about.
A buff knows how many cartridges a soldier’s pouch was made for; a scholar knows how that figure was derived and its effect on the fighting.
In a scholarly way, I’ve tried to look at the facts about the Confederacy, without romance or battle-smoke or blood or moonlight-and-magnolias. And I conclude that the Confederate leadership screwed up by leaving the Union in the first place, let alone starting the war; that they didn’t represent the interests of their constituents, and so as failure heaped on failure, support for the “cause” dwindled to nothing.
This. Is. Not. Conventional. Wisdom. And that’s a problem.
Alexander Vandegrift was born in Charlottesville, VA. Think that fact’s important to the study of Guadalcanal?
If not, why does George Meade‘s birthplace (Cadiz, Spain) appear in nearly every book about Gettysburg? How much more important is one than the other?
While I was writing about Shiloh, I was struck by the conflict’s somewhat uniform treatment by the secondary sources. The Civil War is treated as a special case by American writers. This was especially noticeable when I read John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History (Knopf 2009). Keegan was no stranger to Civil War studies, having spent a chapter of his The Mask of Command (Penguin 1988) on Grant. But his take on the Civil War, as an Englishman, was of a different feel. He didn’t care where this general was born or who that general had snubbed in an earlier career. His straightforward analysis of the available facts without romance was why it was panned by the few Civil War scholars who actually read it. It simply lacked the Lost Cause romance and mystique, the dash of the bold cavaliers, the grim determination of the gallant butternuts fighting for their Cause…and Civil War Inc. noticed. If Keegan, in his equally magisterial The First World War (Penguin Random House 1999), had talked about Pershing’s upbringing in Missouri or about Terry Allen’s grandfather at Gettysburg, it would have been thought quaint…and dismissed as romantic.
To Civil War, Inc., it is vital.
“Everyone Knows” how the American Civil War should be written about–everyone American, that is. When writing or speaking about the 1861-65 conflict, the filter of the Lost Cause must always be applied. Nostalgia for the Lost Cause is required; romance expected, intimate derails of leader’s lives detailed. New information in the form of diaries and letters that confirm with already accepted wisdom are acceptable. No diary entities by Confederate soldiers that call Lee a poltroon or an arrogant old fool could be authentic or ever see print without a firestorm of protest and claims of fraud; if they do exist we may never know.
And here I am trying to say that the Confederacy screwed up from Day One, that the entire idea was madness.
A cottage industry of “counterfactual” history holds that making up events that did not occur is a valid historical interpretive method. Any lawyer introducing non-facts to a jury that they know are not facts might face disbarment. These “counterfactualists,” however, would have us believe that it’s OK, that somehow declaring that Jackson might have survived to Gettysburg and in so doing won the war is a legitimate argument that belongs in the history books.
If this study makes any sense, the Southern Confederacy was doomed from the start, and it doesn’t matter what one general in one battle did. Nearly everything I’ve looked at on the Civil War since the 1960s is a pleasant story. If I go any further than this blog on this project, am I saying that most writers didn’t do the work of analyzing where the Confederacy went wrong? Did they simply agree with what Pickett was said to have quipped about Gettysburg: I believe the enemy had something to do with it?
That should give me pause. Why doesn’t it?
There’s been a truism for writing and publishing about the Civil War: write what The South (TM) wants to see, or it won’t sell. This started in the late 19th century when public schools became more popular, and students needed textbooks. The Late Unpleasantness that was the War Between the States a mere generation before was presented from a distinctly “Confederacentric” viewpoint so that textbook publishers could sell them in the formerly Confederate states. Thus, history wasn’t written by the “winners” but by those who control the narratives for a given audience. In this case, American schoolchildren have for over a century gotten a distinctly distorted view of the 1861-65 conflict because the former Confederacy wanted it that way.
This slant was important from an economic viewpoint, but, too, it was important from a literary one. History tends to be rather dry in academic settings, and a certain amount of suspense is helpful. Yes, the results are known, but adding an element of struggle helps add interest for the reader. Combined, the factors of intentional bias in schoolbooks and the need for suspense–the latter reinforced by the former–have thus shown the American Civil War as a conflict that the Confederacy might have won…if only…
If I’m up against a built-in social and industry bias against my conclusions, what part of my analysis could be faulty? What part doesn’t make sense? Where could I have gone wrong? What facts did I not throw in? This is why I have this step in the method. Let’s see…
First Failure: Davis and the Confederate Congress Ordering the Attack on Ft. Sumter and the Cotton Blockade
The school of thought–predominantly among southern sympathizers–that says that Lincoln should have just surrendered Ft. Sumter in April of ’61 uses a legal argument called “reversion.” Their position is that when South Carolina left the Union, everything in the confines of the state reverted to state ownership.
There are several problems with the reversion theory. The first is that the law is murky regarding extra-legal actions like secession–not covered in any law anywhere in 1861. Thus, reversion may or may not have applied. We will never really know since the Confederacy didn’t even try a legal challenge. Furthermore, the land that Ft. Sumter was/is on was never a part of South Carolina. It’s an artificial island built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, owned entirely by the US Government. How could it revert to a legal entity that it never belonged to in the first place? And if they are applying a legal argument, in what jurisdiction is this argument to be applied? If the Confederacy was no longer a part of the Union, how could it have applied the law of a foreign country? There were no World Courts at the time–the International Criminal Court was a century and two world wars off. Where would the Confederacy go for what it would consider “justice?” It would appear as if South Carolina and the Confederacy wanted to eat their cake and have it too.
But, too, that claim of reversion points out another question: why didn’t the Confederacy simply sue the United States for possession? Was it even discussed? The answer is no. The Confederacy saw only one solution to the problem of Ft. Sumter: force if they did not capitulate or were not ordered to surrender. The Confederate congress and cabinet were both full of lawyers. Did a legal solution–absent the problems above–ever occur to them? There is no record of it.
And if force was the only answer, were they prepared for a wider conflict? No, of course not. They were not prepared for Lincoln’s call for the militia nor a declaration of rebellion. How could they have been? But both Davis and the Congress should have been prepared for both…that’s what good leaders do. But they were not. The cotton embargo was imposed when the blockade wasn’t even polite. It presupposed that cotton really was king…and it wasn’t. The Confederate leadership failed to do their due diligence to determine if Europe’s demand for their exports was enough to get Europe to help them out. If they had, perhaps secession might never have happened. What then? That’s beyond the scope of this study.
Worst Failure: Lack of Real Representation
As the fortunes of the war turned decidedly against the Confederacy, domestic support for the war dwindled in very large part because the leadership goals were not the goals–necessarily–of the led. Separateness to enable an institution that few had any stake in made less and less sense the longer the casualty lists became. As the Union armies moved through slave-holding areas after 1863, the wave of freedmen became even larger, and even those non-slaves who had supported the Confederacy no longer had substantial reasons to support what was truly a losing proposition. At the end of the war, the Peace Commissioners were only empowered to seek a cease-fire and a return to the status quo antebellum, a losing argument. Just who they thought they were representing is an open question.
Most Influential Failure: Lack of True National Identity
Richard Beringer, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones and William Still, in Why the South Lost the Civil War (University of Georgia Press 1986), argued that the Confederacy failed because of a lack of civil religion. I argue that their civil religion–their peculiar institution of chattel slavery–defined everything that the leadership did. Each of the seceded states mentions their support of slavery; the Confederate Constitution enshrines it. State’s rights–the right to keep and maintain slaves–was mantra invoked before every battle, every argument, every discussion of the conflict–a conflict that defined the Confederacy. Their war and their national identity were tied up in that cause. Small wonder then that The Lost Cause should have been the primary reason for the conflict. Ironically, though Lincoln freed the slaves wherever the Union Army could not reach, it was the Congress that passed Amendment XIV that finally forbade chattel slavery…legally.
The Confederacy should not have been surprised that the war ended badly because the reason they were fighting not only was not popular even in the southern states, it wasn’t very humane, either.
Least Appreciated Failure: All Three Added Up to Catastrophe
Bad leadership, unrepresentative leadership, and lack of national identity is a disastrous combination. Each on their own would have been bad enough. Any two would have been worse. Combined, only failure could have been expected. Regardless of what generals survived what battles or what battles went one way or the other, the Confederate States of America was doomed to fail in the long term. Worse, they set themselves up for failure from the beginning. I have said it in the past, and I shall keep saying it: there is no scenario in which the southern Confederacy could have won a military victory that would have resulted in lasting and meaningful political and economic independence from the United States. There can be no debate of legal scenarios: under what law and in what court could secession arguments have been held?
But, too, would any judgment in any court that did not sustain South Carolina’s demands–and the demands of the slave owners of The South (TM)–would not have resulted in war, anyway? They wanted slavery legal all over–and they got it in Dred Scott. But it wasn’t enough. They wanted a reversal of the 1860 election. They wanted either a weak or a sympathetic chief executive who would allow them to do whatever they wanted to do. Ultimately, in a much larger sense, a civil war was almost inevitable because of this attitude. Every law, every legal move, every executive decision had to be run through the filter of the peculiar institution before 1860. Western expansion was slow because the slaveholders kept demanding decisions on the expansion of slavery. And the non-slave-holding states were held hostage by the impolite bellicosity of their slave-holding brethren.
Bad leaders, not caring what their constituents thought, led their country into an unwinnable war, supporting a policy that not everyone agreed with. Just how was such a state supposed to succeed?
This may be a fair analysis of the facts, but now…what to do with them? That’s for next time…
The Safe Tree, Friendship Triumphsis now available. The final part of The Stella’s Game Trilogy follows JJ and Ann, Mike and Leigh for one more year–1986–and their adventures through two weddings, two gun battles, a fire…and some insight on one of the most enduring mysteries in American history: what ever happened to Jimmy Hoffa. Now available in paper-bound and many electronic media from your favorite booksellers.
According to my original outline for this method, this phase is where we compare and contrast the various examples. Since there are no other examples, we’ll compare and contrast the multiple causes of the Confederacy’s ultimate failure and rank them in order:
Least appreciated by historians/pundits/blowhards
Chickens and Eggs
A short chronology of major events up to the end of 1861:
South Carolina and Mississippi secede;
Star of the West fired on in Charleston Harbor;
Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas secede;
Confederate Government formed by seceded states, naming Jefferson Davis as Provisional President;
Confederate Constitution adopted;
Relief expedition for Ft. Sumter ordered;
Davis orders Ft. Sumter to be reduced before relief arrives.
Ft Sumter fired upon;
Lincoln declares rebellion, calls for troops;
Lincoln declares blockade;
Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee (in order) secede.
War traditionally begins at Bull Run/Manassas.
Cotton embargo begins.
First Failure: Davis and the Confederate Congress
The Buchanan government’s response to the firing upon the unarmed cargo ship Star of the West in January of 1861 was a strongly-worded nothing. US armories, arsenals, and barracks across the seceded states surrendered to armed mobs without a fight during his administration. Then the South Carolinians wanted Ft. Sumter to just give up…and they wouldn’t. In the patois of the time, reduced meant destroyed or taken. South Carolina started shooting and everything went downhill after that. Davis’ faulty assumption/poor leadership as to Lincoln’s reaction to an attack on Sumter led to the war, the first failure of the Confederacy.
But that blockade…
For a country that was so dependent on imports and exports, The Confederacy had no reliable means of defending any maritime assets. Yes, the Confederacy built ships to break the blockade, but the blockade was porous until late 1862. Nonetheless, the Confederate Congress, with Davis’s agreement, began to withhold cotton when cotton could get out as early as the winter of 1861. They believed that starved of their cotton, Britain and France would hasten to rescue the Confederacy.
But Europe depended too much on the North’s output and too little on the South’s, and the Confederacy never admitted this. The Confederacy believed Europe would break the blockade and land troops to fight off the Yankee invaders in exchange for cotton. When even recognition didn’t come, Confederate leaders tried all sorts of schemes to finance the war with cotton futures: all failed. As the war went on and they lost more territory, the schemes became even more fantastic. One even surrendered the Gulf of Mexico to whoever would support them…without asking the Gulf States.
It is a leader’s responsibility to act in the best interests of a majority of the led. Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress did not guide the Confederacy in a practical or realistic direction. Aside from the miscalculation about Lincoln, cotton diplomacy, continual insistence on ever more draconian draft and impressment regulations that ate up the future, then even the future of the future, destroyed what resources even a prosperous country would need to survive. The manifold failure of leadership at Montgomery, then Richmond, merely compounded Davis’ failure.
At the same time, Davis acted as if every setback was permanent, forever and ever. The frontiers of his country were impossible to hold with the resources at his disposal. Trying to hold them squandered manpower and resources the Confederacy could never replace.
By the end of 1863, when titanic battles had wiped out a quarter of his armies, Davis should have appreciated the dire straights he was in, but if he did, he didn’t do anything about it. Maybe, surrounded by fire-eaters, he couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean that he might not have been able to reach some accommodation with the more virulent of them. Again, there’s no evidence that he tried. After Lincoln’s reelection in 1864, after the fall of Atlanta and the clear signs that the Union Army was in charge, not him, he held firm with the policy that would become the Lost Cause. Feeling the need to hold impossible borders in defense of a hopeless policy was contributory, symptomatic of poor leadership.
Worst: Lack of Real Representation
The Confederacy needed everyone to be on board to fight off an invasion. The Confederate Congress was exclusively white, male, and almost exclusively slave-owning. While many had represented their same constituencies in Washington, that didn’t make them any better at representing their people. Sure, educated men in America were among the landed gentry. Many were attorneys that made them better at understanding and creating laws. Many were wealthy. But most people in the Confederacy were not slave-owners, and not all slave-owners were proponents of disunion willing and ready to expend their blood and treasure to stay out of the Union.
This became more apparent the longer the conflict lasted. Yet, the slave-owners in Richmond insisted on continuing the war, on not changing the policy that had clearly failed, and insisting that Europe would come to its senses any day now…coming right up…next ship…
After the last full measure of devotion had been served out by soldiers who hadn’t had a square meal in four years, Richmond finally allowed the arming of slaves. Politicians in Richmond and elsewhere were willing to sacrifice everyone else on the altar of their Noble Cause. Many of the most virulent supporters of slavery in 1861 were still adamant secessionists in 1865, still insistent that their peculiar institution could survive if only…if only….
North Carolina, which had sent fully half its military-age men off to war by 1865, contributing fully 20% of the Confederate Army, had had enough by early 1865 and was willing to call it quits. It was the second-last state to secede and was the first to counsel surrender, sacrificing more than any other state. And Richmond ignored them.
The peace commissioners of 1865 that Lincoln refused to see, well-meaning as they were, wanted the Union to pretend that the past four years of bloodletting just didn’t happen, that a peace based on nothing more than a cease-fire and a handshake, preserving their Peculiar Institution intact. Lincoln wouldn’t see them because there was no point. The Confederate leadership was living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. They always had been.
The leadership–as a class–of the Confederacy seemed aloof, not just from the country but from reality. Even as late as 1865, some senior Confederate officers thought that breaking up the armies to fight as guerrillas was possible. But most of the former Confederacy only wanted the fighting to end, and most of their would-be guerrillas thought so as well. The leader’s failure to recognize how the world was and what their people–who were not mere subjects or chattels–wanted seems inexcusable and yet another failure. Ranked against Davis’s and his government’s miscalculations, the non-representation of leadership was far worse.
Most Influential: Lack of True National Identity
The issues of national definition and sovereignty go hand in hand. The lack of definition seems innocuous compared to the other failure causes/modes, but let’s see.
A bunch of guys from various seceded states gathered together and called themselves the Confederate States of America. They wrote a constitution enshrouding their Noble Cause–their preservation of their Peculiar Institution of slavery–installed a government and waited for foreign recognition. In the meantime, they added a bunch of states that mysteriously failed to secede and parts of other states…and waited some more.
Then, one of the states started shooting and the government at Washington said “rebellion!” and called out the militia. More states seceded because of that call. The Confederate government moved from Alabama to Virginia and started collecting volunteers to defend the capital. And again, they waited for foreign recognition, intervention to secure their independence, and arms and money.
By 1865, they wondered why the army was melting into nothingness. And they asked why no one had recognized either the Confederacy or their Noble Cause. Unlike the guys in Richmond, a majority of people in the seceded states did not own slaves. And unlike them, not all backed a secession based on the preservation of the institution. Indeed, not all of them supported a war to preserve that policy, regardless of how it started or whatever reason anyone had that the violence began. Most may have been behind it when it started, but after years of deprivation and sacrifice, wearing black and digging grave after grave, their patriotism was worn thin, and what support there was evaporated for most by the end of 1864.
The Confederacy failed on many counts, but how long might they have survived if there was no war? Unknowable, but it’s hard to imagine that without an operating Fugitive Slave Act (it would have been a dead letter, without a doubt). Without the ability to expand beyond the confines of its undefined frontiers, there would have been some imbroglio someplace other than Charleston Harbor that would have triggered a war. By defining themselves as a place where only some people were free, they set themselves up for disaster. It is hard to imagine a shorter-sighted policy. That was a failure equal in devastating effect to the Confederacy’s overall poor leadership.
The Confederacy defined itself not as a country but as a cause.
While the nascent United States built itself based on individual liberty for most of its citizens in the 1780s, it didn’t expressly state that it would only be for some people in perpetuity–1619 Project notwithstanding. From the outset, the United States said that anyone could be free of government intrusion. From the beginning of its existence, citing chattel slavery and perpetuating a strict class system, the Confederacy could not understand why everyone didn’t support them. They had cotton, after all. Here’s cotton, the Confederacy said. Buy our cotton; sell us arms; expend your blood and treasure to break this blockade nuisance. Yeah, those guys over there object to our firing on the flag, say we’re in rebellion. Forget that you’ve freed your slaves a generation or two ago. Here’s cotton…
The Confederates defined themselves as slaveholders, not as a stable country to invest in. They had a political economy, yet they were more alike than different from those they left…except for that slavery thing. No, the North was not the land of universal suffrage, but neither was anywhere else in the mid-19th century.
But the Confederacy was the land where people were bought and sold. No, they weren’t the only ones then. Let’s remember that Brazil kept slaves until 1888; Saudi Arabia–officially–until 1962; it still exists in other parts of the Muslim world. Regrettably, the Confederacy wanted the support of a state founded on liberty, equality, and brotherhood–France. And the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. That they didn’t define themselves as a country but as a cause was a substantial failure, but one that was inevitable and led to inevitable failure.
In his magisterial War For the Union, Allan Nevins said that the Confederacy’s sole concern almost from its founding was the war against the Union. While the Union still expanded, added three states, and began a transcontinental railroad, the Confederacy lacked the resources to do any of those things, except add states that hadn’t seceded. The ONLY thing that they could spend their attention on was fighting and gathering resources for the war.
And that they did poorly, I submit, because of all the other causes of the Confederacy’s failure. The failure of cotton diplomacy stemmed from an overdeveloped belief in the supremacy of King Cotton. The leadership was either willfully blind or ignorant of Europe’s dependence on American food products, specifically wheat and corn. While the South grew those too, those products were primarily for their subsistence, not enough to export. Tobacco, rice, and pecans were popular exports but didn’t hold a candle to cotton’s cash value.
This faith in cotton led to the consistent belief that Britain and France would recognize the Confederacy and intervene on their behalf with almost religious fervor. As late as November 1864, Confederate agents were offering France inducements from selling a decade’s worth of cotton at prewar prices to surrendering their sovereignty over seaports (which what states would agree to?). But France wouldn’t bite…because France could not afford to annoy the Union.
There’s a school of thought that suggests that Lincoln should have ordered Ft. Sumter’s evacuation and that he started the war by not doing so. Let’s not blame the mugging victim for getting beat up.
Least Appreciated: All Three Added Up to Catastrophe
Davis authorized the firing on Ft Sumter;
The Confederate Government didn’t represent those they said they represented;
The Confederacy was less a country than it was a cause; a way of life.
Thee was no single cause of the Confederacy’s failure, but several. One may not have been enough, but all three ganged up on a small bunch of people who couldn’t modernize their outlook or their industry fast enough to stop the tide of blue serge that overwhelmed them in 1865. How well, how long they might have survived if any one of these failures had not existed is impossible to say. One thing is certain: incompetent leaders who don’t understand their people and who expect the rest of the world to think as they do is a recipe for disaster.
The Safe Tree is Coming in March
After three years, The Stella’s Game Trilogy will be complete next month. For those you who have read Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, and Tideline: Friendship Abides,The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphsfollows JJ and Ann, Leigh and Mike for another year. They are apart, then together, then suffer fire and gun battles, treachery and personal loss, culminating a wild trip through time. Whatever you thought The Safe Tree was about, you’re probably wrong.
For those who are unfamiliar with The Stella’s Game Trilogy, it follows four young people from age eight to 31, watching them grow, learn, laugh, cry, love, and rely on their friends. From the Kennedy assignation through the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa to the Iran-Contra scandal, the four friends stick together, even when they are oceans apart.
So now we come down to the why of the Confederacy’s failure.
The Confederate States of America couldn’t define its borders or its members
The Confederacy’s central government didn’t represent–truly–the majority of the populous of states that it could encompass and thus could not count on the support of its people.
The seceded states declared their support for the institution of slavery, but few in the states actually owned them.
The Confederacy really, really could not defend itself or its sovereignty.
The President of the Confederacy failed to lead his country in realistic economic, diplomatic, or military directions.
DefiningConfederates and the Confederacy
While the seceded states were easy to encompass, the outlying slave-holding states were enigmatic and mocking. While Delaware was never disputed (in Delaware) because there were so few slaves there and minimal secessionist sentiment, Maryland and Missouri were thought of as merely intransigent. Secession ordinances failed in Maryland in early 1861 because the legislators didn’t feel they had the power to approve them. Before a second session could convene, Union soldiers arrested pro-secession legislators. Under US military occupation early on, Missouri had two legislatures by the end of 1861, and both sent representatives to both Washington AND Richmond.
Kentucky declared neutrality in May 1861, then voted for a Unionist legislature in June. All the while, both Unionist and secessionist factions were raising troops in the Bluegrass State. That said Union Kentucky troops outnumbered their Confederate brethren by 10:1. Kentucky’s flimsy neutrality was violated when the Confederacy invaded the state in September 1861. A shadow legislature was formed, and representatives sent to Richmond. Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy in October. After the Confederate army abandoned the state in the spring of 1862, it no longer mattered that the elected government had never voted on secession.
Then there were those other places. The Confederacy claimed the Arizona/New Mexico territory. There was a secession convention in March 1861 that voted to separate the region south of the 38th parallel, elected a president, and authorized militias. Richmond hailed the move and admitted Southern/Confederate Arizona. Beset by Federal troops and California volunteers, the secession legislature fled the state in the summer of 1862, though there was minor resistance until 1865. Modern Oklahoma, then called Indian Territory, wasn’t coherent enough to secede and suffered through its own civil war, where native Americans fought each other with the Union and the Confederacy’s assistance.
A handful of pro-slavery Oregonians raise a secession flag in Jacksonville, OR, but were persuaded to haul it down by their neighbors. An 1865 incident called the Long Tom Rebellion in Eugene after Lincoln’s death resulted in the arrest of a pro-slavery blowhard and a few bruises. In California, secessionist sentiment was somewhat more robust in certain areas, but no secession ordinances were considered, and no shadow governments were formed in California. Some California secessionists journeyed east and fought with the Confederacy; more went to Confederate Arizona. About 60,000 Californians fought for the Union; perhaps 5,000 for the Confederacy.
Aside from these outliers, the Richmond government had trouble with parts of the states that had seceded. Texas was never quite a united front; unquestionably not as united as, say, Mississippi. East Tennessee was notoriously rebellious, and there was even talk of a West-Virginia-like secession. Though the third state to secede, Florida was always an enigma because 3/4ths of the state was uninhabited. The important bases in Key West, Fort Jefferson, and Fort Pickens were vital to the Federal blockade of the Confederacy, yet the Confederacy never had the resources to capture them. Only one of Florida’s major ports, Pensacola, was served by rail, and Fort Pickens effectively neutralized it.
The Confederacy had two conflicts on its hands: one with the Union and one with some of its more recalcitrant constituents. It should be remembered that the only state that did not send units to the Union Army was South Carolina. Simultaneously, the number of non-seceded states that sent troops to the Confederacy was just three: Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri; four, if we count Confederate Arizona. There’s an expression in critical thinking: All poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles. The states and parts of states may have seceded before Bull Run, but not everyone in those states were committed Confederates. This lack of commitment was reflected in the growing number of desertions after 1863. A Government Not Of The PeopleThe government that met first at Montgomery, Alabama, and finally at Richmond, Virginia, was an anomaly. Many men in the government had been members of the US Congress; others had been cabinet secretaries. Nearly all were men of means, and almost all were slave-owners. And therein lay at least part of another cause of the Confederacy’s failure: slave-owners were not a majority of the southern population.
Slavery wasn’t as simple as owning human beings and trading them like baseball players. Slavery was an attitude, a way of thinking, and a way of life. Within its grasp were the southern states’ entire political economy–indeed, the Cotton Kingdom around the Gulf of Mexico rose and fell on the practices. Because cotton cultivation defied mechanization until the 1960s, the primary cash crop of at least half the Confederate states depended on human labor for planting and harvesting. This fact might have been a tremendous boon for people who could perform these back-breaking tasks, but because slaves could do it at a lower cost, it only made their situation worse. The planters who owned the land had a tradition of treating people who were not like them poorly. And it didn’t matter if those people were black, white, red, brown, yellow, or pink-polka-dot. If you were not a landed Southern aristocrat, you were a second-class citizen or less. And it was these men–less than 5% of the population–who claimed to represent the Confederacy in Richmond.
The big planters weren’t the only slave-owners. About one in four southern landowners owned at least one slave, but a majority owned fewer than five; indeed, most one or two. The rest worked their own land by themselves. It wasn’t that they didn’t agree with slave-owning, just that they either couldn’t afford it or didn’t feel the need. Many weren’t above hiring one or two from a neighbor for planting or harvesting. That said, many southerners agreed with the social system that kept non-whites from having the same rights that they did.
But many were not all, and some estimates have as many as 15% of those living in Confederate states who did not agree with the social and legal stratification that their neighbors did…and many of them had money that the Confederacy needed. What was worse, as the war went on, what little support there had been in 1861 steadily eroded until, by late 1864, the trickle of army desertions, state defections, and domestic supporters of the Confederacy became an unstoppable torrent.
The Problem of Slavery After Emancipation
When Lincoln announced the Emancipation, he did it as a weapon and an administrative tool, not a humanitarian gesture. He only “freed” the slaves everywhere that Federal troops did not control, thus legally and theoretically taking them out of the control of their masters. Sounds great, but in fact, it was impractical because, well, the slave-owners were under no compulsion to pay attention, and most slaves knew nothing of it until Federal troops arrived. And that was the Confederacy’s problem.
Before the Emancipation, slaves who came into Federal lines or escaped to free territory had an ambiguous status. Some commanders allowed them to remain behind Federal lines; others felt compelled to return them. Indeed, slave-owners and their employees sometimes entered Federal lines to retrieve their charges. Just as often–because not all Federal officers believed the war was over slavery–they were allowed to pass through the lines again with the slaves. There was no clear policy. Which was one reason why Lincoln did what he did. The other reason was to deprive the Confederacy of its cheap manpower, and that reason was, to be frank, problematic. If the slave-owners just ignored it, and the slaves never heard of it, what good did it do? For that, we fall back on the first reason: it required all Federal commanders to let the former slaves remain free. That meant that the cheap labor pool often dried up wherever Federal troops went, whether they stayed or not. The power of the Washington government that the Confederacy defied was such that the Confederate States could not prevent the Emancipation from being enforced on what had been their territory. The longer the war lasted, the fewer slaves they could keep.
The Shield That Didn’t
While this study isn’t about why the Confederacy lost on the battlefield, it is an essential factor behind the Confederate States’ failure. For centuries, scholars and statesmen had been struggling to define “sovereignty” in absolute legal terms. By the 19th century, the theory was called Westphalian sovereignty, named for the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. Loosely, it is the concept of nation-state sovereignty based on territoriality and the absence of external agents in domestic structures. In other words, no foreign power inside the defined borders of a sovereign state could interfere with the functions of either the established government or society.
Then it gets complicated. Buried in the Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law in 1858 was a definition for blockade that replaced ancient unwritten law. In 1861, Lincoln declared the “rebellious states” to be under blockade. What that did legally, among other things, provided a tacit admission to some that the Confederacy was legitimate. However, the 1826 Brazilian blockade of the Rio de la Plata during their war with Argentina was recognized by Britain but not by the US or France, so “legitimacy” was somewhat moot. Indeed, vessels of foreign registry that tried to run the blockade of the Confederacy stopped by the US Navy might have protested the violation of their sovereignty…but they usually didn’t. Even the famous Trent incident might have passed unnoticed if the two Confederate agents/diplomats hadn’t been removed. The fact that the Confederacy couldn’t protect its communications with the outside world affected her sovereignty because she could not trade as a state if she couldn’t assure that cargoes in or out would be safe.
As for land communications, that is a different matter. The borders were porous; the Confederacy could not control even the trade on the Ohio River. Other than few fixed forts in Kentucky, defending the long and ambiguous borders would always be done inside the Confederacy. And what did the Confederacy have to protect those long frontiers with? A collection of state-based units that, for all their zeal, were undermanned and poorly equipped. By some measures, fully 25% of the military manpower was exempt for reasons ranging from being overseers of more than 25 slaves to being members of the national, state, or local government or of local or state militias. While many of the militias did indeed fight when the war came to them, they were rarely used for anything more than rear-guards, for they were rarely good enough for more. By then, it was too late to save an already failed state.
Jefferson Davis: Poor Leader
Jefferson Davis believed in states’ rights to determine whether or not they could maintain slavery as an institution, and he accepted the presidency based on that belief. However, it is not clear that he believed that the CSA could have achieved lasting and meaningful political and economic independence from the United States. From the pie-eyed optimism of the cotton embargo early in the war to his oft-stated belief that any territory “lost” to the Union was “lost” forever to slavery, Davis was many things, but a true believer in the success of his country, he was not.
When the Union blockade was the weakest, the attempts at cotton diplomacy perhaps had the best intentions but the worst of effects. While cotton was short in Europe, Britain and France were more dependent on the Union’s wheat and corn shipments than on the Confederacy’s cotton. Southern belief in King Cotton drove the illusion that Europe would come to their rescue and drove many economic and diplomatic efforts. Even as late as 1863, the Confederacy expected diplomatic recognition any day now…real soon….yep, next month for certain….
Davis, who had been a Secretary of War and a member of the US Congress for years, should have recognized the British-French diplomatic stalling when he saw it, and counseled away from it…but he didn’t. Nor could he back away from defending the seceded states’ long and distant frontiers, believing that every foot of territory held by slave-believing power would be held forever, and every foot lost to the abolitionists would be lost forever. This belief contributed significantly to the defense of untenable positions in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and the border states. To read some of his writings, it was as if Lincoln and the Republicans had never uttered a word before Ft. Sumter, and he was consistently surprised to learn that they meant what they said.
The next step is to Compare and Contrast these factors to see which were the most damaging. Given the above…hard to tell, but we’ll work on it.
For those of you who like the stuff I write, you can enjoy the paperback of my short story collection for less than ten bucks and the e-book for less than a buck. Fun, travel, and adventure, celebrating the unsung, the un-celebrated, the un-heralded workhorses of the backwaters and the front lines of human conflicts. Sergeant’s Business and Other Stories has it all.
The American operation in the Solomons Islands called WATCHTOWER began 7 August 1942, with the Marine landings on the northern coast of the island of Guadalcanal. For all the much-vaunted preparation that would later characterize American amphibious operations, the Americans barely knew how big the island was. All they really knew was that it was large enough to support an airstrip…and that the Japanese were building one there.
What had concerned the Americans before the Japanese started on that airstrip, however was the seaplane base at Tulagi, just across Skylark Channel. While it’s hard for us to understand now what a seaplane base meant then, this big bruiser to the left was known as an Emily–a Kawanishi H8K flying boat, with a combat range of about 3,000 miles carrying 4,000 pounds of bombs. Emilys had bombed Pearl Harbor on 4 March 1942, albeit ineffectively, and could hit Australia from Tulagi…and did NOT need an airstrip.
So the Americans sort-of planned this battle for this island…an island hardly anyone had ever heard of. The scant accounts there were of terrain and climate were studied assiduously. Jack London was one of the few Americans who had ever visited the Solomons before the war, writing a non-fiction account, Voyage of the Snark, and a short story, The Red One. But a few thousand words of prose, some descriptions from missionaries, magazine travel articles and information from a planter-refugee from the island didn’t provide tidal tables, or ground firmness above the beach, or were there was access to fresh water sources, or any of the other myriad other little bits and pieces the planners needed.
Thus…it was dubbed Operation Shoestring by the troops.
Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Follydoesn’t talk a great deal about the American planning, but it does cover the Japanese plans for the island, their reasoning for being there in the first place, and their clumsy reaction to the American landings. For one thing, there were fewer than a thousand Japanese combat troops in the Solomons east of Bougainville, which was why the Marines met little initial resistance. Initially, the IJN believed that the American landings were only a Marine regiment–less than 2,000 men–instead of the division-plus-attachments–somewhere around 15,000–who were really there. Their first counterattack with a little more than 900 troops led by Ichiki Kiyonao was wiped out in what the Marines called the Battle of the Tenaru River on the night of 21 August.
After that, the Japanese became alarmed, but not distressed…not yet.
The Japanese buildup on Guadalcanal was gradual for several reasons, among them being distance: the nearest base was a day and a half sailing away, and the Americans were quick to build up their air strength on Guadalcanal Moving ships during the day became more perilous by the week.
And September didn’t get better. And the Japanese grip on the island slipped more every week, regardless of how the naval battles went because the Americans could replace all their losses and keep getting stronger, and the Japanese could not.
The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs–15 November
For those of you following the Stella’s Game Trilogy, the last installment is on track for publication on 15 November of this year.
Follow the friends as they solve the mystery that has plagued, threatened and endangered them since the ’60s. Whoever–whatever–threatens their lives and their families now, in 1986, will be discovered and, with any luck, ended.
Who can’t remember where they were when the Eagle landed on Tranquility Base?
For some of us, it was forever ago; for others, yesterday. I was on vacation with my mom and my oldest sister; we were in New Bedford, Massachusetts, having already visited Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Trenton, and Valley Forge; I was fourteen, barely, and in the lobby of the Governor Bradford Hotel…and that huge-for-the-time 27-inch color TV in the wall had Jules Bergman narrating…closer…closer now….closer…
Houston, Tranquility Base here: the Eagle has landed.
Neil Armstrong, 20 July 1969
And who cared what Houston said after that, or where we’d been before? A guy next to me, though, declared “triumph of the capitalist system.” I puzzled over that for a long time before I came to understand that the US manned space program was more than propaganda: it was a way to bankrupt the Soviet Union by spending money on their own program that they couldn’t afford…and the West could.
And a year later, 30% of Americans believed that the Moon landing was faked…
Twenty percent of Earth’s population had watched the landing live…and still many people insisted that it was produced in a movie studio…and many people still do. Though thoroughly debunked, the conspiracists also fail to explain just why they would do that, let alone how literally millions of people who worked on the project were persuaded to remain silent about the duplicity
President Kennedy’s goal he’d set eight years earlier had been reached. But a year later, fewer Americans cared about it. They moved on, except during the Apollo XIII mission. Perhaps it was supposed to be that way…
The friends all know where they were when Apollo XI landed on the Moon, and readers who were around then might remember that Sunday, too. JJ and Mike met during that broadcast, wondering at the traffic noise outside: something exciting happened in Chappaquiddick, something to do with a Kennedy, so the reporters were torn as to which story they should cover.
One of the unique qualities to Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships, is the feel that it has given some readers who remember that time not just in their lives but in history. One reader wrote me:
…as I read … I remembered watching the Moon landingin my Grandmother’s kitchen, on her Motorola portable…I was nineteen…thanks for triggering that memory.