Part 06: The Civil War

Part Six: The Civil War

The North had visions of an industrial/manufacturing complex to build up a national economy. But the South, realizing that raw material like cotton, tobacco, sugar, rice, and other food stuffs constituted the wealth of the nation, wanted no part of it. It preferred trade with Europe, whereby manufactured goods could be bought at the lowest prices, and did not wish to see northern exaltation of industry at the expense of agriculture.

Moreover, the northerners were hard workers and simple livers, devoting their energies and intelligence to building industrial systems. Hence, they quickly monopolized transport, mines, and factories. Whereas, the southerners were lazy and self-indulgent, wanting results without effort. As a result, Northern and European industries began to control their prices, hence, their profits became lower. In an attempt to counteract this, they put more repressive demands on their slaves in order to lower the cost of slave labor. This heinous act met with stiff resistance among the slaves. For, although there were ways and means to make the enslaved work, there was no way to make them work well. Thus, instead of negating the economic advantage held by the North, paradoxically, slavery created an economic lag in the South.

As the southern planter's economic power declined, his political power, obtained from slavery and the disenfranchisement of the poor whites, became indispensable to him for the maintenance of his income and profits.

To circumvent this he turned to the acquisition of more lands upon which slave labor could bring in adequate profits. The South looked toward the Southeast; then toward Louisiana and Texas, then Mexico; finally the Northwest and toward the West Indies and South America.

The South had grown self-confident as it had conquered Mexico (i.e. Texas) without help and dominated the Army and Navy. They knew that a much larger proportion of their population could go to war, because of slavery, than in the North. Though aware of possible slave insurrections during a long war with invasions an all, the South discounted that possibility and really didn't expect any war at all, and began contemplations of independence, internal or external.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President on a platform that would prohibit further expansion of slavery. This action inflamed the already outraged South. The planters felt that this mandate would stifle their economic growth (e.g. in 1850 a cotton crop of three billion bales, in 1859, five billion bales) and also curtailing their intentions of securing more in the years to come. Couple this with the paranoid feelings of political disenfranchisement and the ubiquitous fears of radical abolitionists taking over and you have a South primed for secession.

The segments of the North which opposed secession, in order to unite the most of the people in the North, West and perhaps border states, came up with the slogan of "Save the Union." This slogan fitted just fine as the North and West wanted the southern market and agriculture for the manufacturers and potential trade and profits. While the Border States wanted to continue to sell surplus slaves to the South as well as to remain united with the West and north for the trade possibilities. Little or no thought was given to "freedom for slaves" as a slogan, as few people would rally for such a cause.

As the South began to secede, beginning with South Carolina in 1859, then Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas in 1861 (forming the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis president on a states rights doctrine), the northern opposition stepped up its activities. Consequently the South Carolina troops fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, starting the war.

Subsequently, in 1861, Lincoln proclaimed the blockade of Confederate states: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina joined the Confederacy; Robert E. Lee resigned from the United States Army; and West Virginia broke away from Virginia and was admitted into the Union.

In the meantime, the Black masses, mostly on plantations, moved slowly and painstakingly. They waited to find out just where their interest lay, for they knew the North was not fighting for their freedom, and the South was fighting for continued and expanded enslavement—and winning!

Thus, the southern planter, with seven percent of a section within a nation, ruling "five million white people and four million Black people" seeking "to make agriculture equal to industry through the rule of property without yielding political power or education to labor" led the South into war.

The South was using slave labor to build roads, forts, raise food, taking care of homes, etc. The North at first returned runaway slaves, but upon realizing the southern advantage of slave labor, came up with a doctrine of "contraband of war" relative to confiscated, captured and runaway slaves. Seeing that the North would not return runaways, the enslaved in mass would flee to the northern camps whenever and wherever the Union Army approached. This created what amounted to a workers "general strike." At the same time the North would employ the Black runaways to labor for them. Hence, releasing more hands for combat action.

The North was utilizing the Underground Railroad for the gathering of war intelligence and espionage, as well as to prepare the Blacks for their arrival. More and more the Blacks were becoming involved in the war; some were beginning to even fight!

Across the ocean the aristocracy and upper classes of England and France were favoring the South, as they wanted the trade and low prices on cotton, and viewed the North as fighting for high tariffs and not for freedom of the slaves. For Lincoln had declared time and again that he was neither for nor against slavery, that his desire was to "save the Union" and that if he could do that without freeing the slaves, he would. The laborers in both countries favored the North and the abolition of slaves.

If England and France would have recognized the Confederate government, the South might have won out over the North. But they hesitated because of their labor upheavals, which favored the North. While they did, the Blacks became more and more involved in the war. Many were beginning to now serve as fighting soldiers. The abolitionist rumblings were becoming louder. The northern white laborers began to view the war as the "Niggers Fight." Lincoln had to resort to the draft for soldiers. In the midst of all of this, Frederick Douglass urged Lincoln to use Black troops and to form Black fighting units. The "Emancipation Proclamation" was drafted and presented in September of 1862 (a military tactic; a strategy to threaten the abolition of slavery in the Confederate States if they did not surrender). The document was hotly discussed and debated. The South did not budge. And on January 1, 1863 the proclamation was issued.

The European laborers (among them Karl Marx) hailed the proclamation, as the enthusiasm for abolition of slavery permeated the countryside. As a result, Europe's sympathies swung toward the North who now was, on the surface, fighting under the "freedom banner."

Five days after the Emancipation Proclamation the Secretary of War authorized the Governor of Massachusetts to raise two Black Regiments for three years service (the celebrated 54th and 55th Black regiments). And so it went, in Pennsylvania, three; G. L. Stearns raised Negro regiments in Nashville; Gen. Banks proposed an army to be known as the Corps d'Afrique encompassing an infantry, artillery, cavalry, three divisions of three brigades, with engineers, hospitals, etc.

Thus, the Blacks entered the war as official Union troops. Although there was discrimination in pay, and while many regiments refused to receive the reduced rates, they continued to fight. For they knew that their freedom was at stake!

The logistics of the Black labor moving from south to north coupled with the zeal of the Black soldier fighting for freedom spelled doom for the South. The South considered using slaves as soldiers (in fact, a few slaves did fight, though mostly by force), but the consequence of such an endeavor would result in their freedom. And by just walking into northern camps volunteering their services they crippled the South by depriving them of that same service. The realization of losing the Blacks to the North weighed heavily on the South.

On January 31, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified. The Blacks were jubilant and this was reflected in their fighting spirit. The defeat of the South was inevitable. On April 9, 1865 at Appomattox, Virginia, Lee surrendered, officially ending the Civil War.

Principle Reference: Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 by W.E.B. DuBois

Other References:

Conrad, Earl — Harriet Tubman
Negro Almanac
The New York Times Encyclopedia Almanac
All quotes are from Black Reconstruction and Harriet Tubman