HIST 119: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877

Lecture 13

 - Terrible Swift Sword: The Period of Confederate Ascendency, 1861-1862


Professor Blight discusses the expectations, advantages, and disadvantages with which North and South entered the Civil War. Both sides, he argues, expected and desired a short, contained conflict. The northern advantages enumerated in this lecture include industrial capability, governmental stability, and a strong navy. Confederate advantages included geography and the ability to fight a defensive war. Professor Blight concludes the lecture with the Battle of Bull Run, the first major engagement of the war.

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The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877

HIST 119 - Lecture 13 - Terrible Swift Sword: The Period of Confederate Ascendency, 1861-1862

Chapter 1. Introduction: Alcott’s Hospital Sketches and Burns’s The Civil War [00:00:00]

Professor David Blight: This week you’re reading Hospital Sketches, the short and in some ways extraordinary little novel, written by Louisa May Alcott, based upon her — Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame, if you happen to have grown up on that book, daughter of Bronson Alcott, a famous and extremely eccentric New England reformer and utopian — but she went to war, as a young nurse — couldn’t stay away — and she kept her sketches about her experiences of a young woman confronting the horror of Civil War hospitals. This is a photograph of — it is not Louisa May Alcott, I don’t think — of one of those young nurses sitting in a Civil War hospital in 1863, probably writing a letter; they spent a lot of their time writing letters for sick or dying or wounded soldiers. I think what you can find in Alcott’s novel, among other things — it’s almost like a descriptive documentary novel; it’s almost like she summed up her diary — is the human encounter, particularly a woman’s, a young woman’s encounter with what war does to the human body, the human psyche, to human beings.

Now, good Lord, it is eighteen years ago, Ken Burns produced — can it really be? — a series on Public Television called The Civil War, as every opening of it says, brought to you by General Motors. Nine episodes and eleven hours, garnered the largest Public Television audience ever. The estimate was that the first time through about thirty million Americans watched it, and then it’s been rerun many, many times. I went to Germany to teach for a year in 1992 and ‘93, and when I arrived in the Fall of 1992, on German National Television they were running the Ken Burns film series, all eleven hours of it, dubbed into German. And it was weird, because there was one male voice and one female voice for all the voices. And of course one of the tricks, or one of the techniques, one of the quite brilliant techniques of Burns’ film was the many different voices he used — Garrison Keillor for Walt Whitman, Sam Waterson for Abraham Lincoln, et cetera — voices that you, in many ways — or Americans in many ways — were comfortable with in their living rooms. They knew Sam Waterson; they didn’t know him as well as they know him now from Law & Order; but they knew Garrison Keillor’s voice, and when Garrison Keillor came on every night, it was Walt Whitman. At any rate, I was astonished at the reaction in Germany. There were articles in the paper, editorials and so on and so on. I had one German student come up to me one day, after watching an episode of it and listening to one of my lectures, and he said, “Why were there so many sunsets and moon rises in that documentary film?” I said, “Well…” — he caught me off guard. I said, “Well it’s a good question.” Probably because Burns is a sentimental filmmaker, and there’s a great deal of sentiment in the structure, and in the music and in the mode of that film series. And I defy you to watch one or two hours and not be humming be the “Ashokan Farewell” in the shower the next morning. [Sings] It is a haunting violin. It wasn’t, as some people say, written for that film series, it’s much older.

At any rate, it is assigned in the course, at least major parts of it. You can access it — I’m actually going to assign you episodes two through nine; that’s eight out of the nine. If you skip one or two only the gods will know, I’m sure, but they will know. It is all available on the Internet, at Yale, through the Film Archive. How many of you have done this before for courses? Fabulous, you’ve done this. All right, I checked this morning, the URL — if you can read this; I don’t know if you can read this, can you read this? Yes, in the front. In the back? No. How about now? Whoa! yale.edu/clabs — c-labs, I don’t know what that — something — that stands for. That’s for Macs. They tell me that this is better on PCs, easier on PCs than Macs, and you might have to download a patch to do it on a Mac. True, false? Don’t know? Anybody done it recently, in a course? Help? You all raised your hands, you’ve done this before. Don’t remember? That’s also easy. Okay, good. Over the next five — including Spring Break week — you’re in Jamaica, Spring Break week, you can access Ken Burns’ film, you can be humming the “Ashokan Farewell” in the shower with somebody in Jamaica. [Laughter] That’s terrible, the best laugh I’ve had in this course was — [Laughter] You’re just like everybody else. At any rate, that’s the URL, ladies and gentleman, and then you — you need to use your net ID to access it. If you have any problem with this let us know immediately and we will help you. It is assigned, and we’re going to discuss it. I love a final exam question — don’t always use it — that actually draws upon it as a source; just thought I’d say that.

Okay, there also is in the syllabus this week, of course, a very vague reading — you’re reading Hospital Sketches, which is short, but then it says selective choices or selections from about fifty pages of documents in the Gienapp book and about forty pages of dispatches and documents and letters by Lincoln in the Lincoln reader. We’re going to pin that down for you at our lunch today and you’ll be fired an email before this afternoon, perhaps — and then maybe individualized by your teaching assistant as to which of those documents you might especially want to concentrate on. But in those two sections of Gienapp and Johnson, if you haven’t looked yet — and you should — you get, day by day in some cases, you get Lincoln’s orders and dispatches to his generals, his attempt to become the War President, including that first document in that section where Lincoln lays — right after the disaster at Bull Run — he lays out nine or ten very direct orders, all beginning with the word “let”: let there be this, let there be that, let there by this, let there by that. And you also find in these documents, especially in the Gienapp Reader, some of those incredibly megalomaniac letters by George B. McClellan. If ever there was a more vain character in American military history, and political history — well there’ve been a lot of vain characters in American political history, God knows — but if ever anybody left more egregiously vain, utterly self-serving letters and dispatches about his own sense of self-glory, it is McClellan, who by all rights probably should’ve been court-martialed, but wasn’t; that’s another story we’ll come back to.

Chapter 2. Expectations on War and the West Point Graduates [00:09:28]

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He has loosed the fateful lightning with his terrible swift sword. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” It’s possibly the most famous poetry in American music. It’s also apocalyptic; some would say purple in its blood. Julia Ward Howe wrote the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in early 1862 while overlooking an encampment, a huge encampment of the Union Army near Washington. And she stayed until sunset and saw the fires, which she called “the watch fires.” And she wrote the great apocalyptic paean of the Civil War. We will come back to this question, especially next week, when we deal with the story, the problem of emancipation.

At the beginning of this war, as we’ll see in a moment, most people expected something short, might even just be a lot of fun, a summer outing, an adventure, a chance to whip some Yankees, maybe shoot a Rebel or two. But if it became very long at all — and that’s the point — if it became very long at all, its aims, its goals, its strategies, its purposes would have to change. That’s why the thinking people of 1861 feared a long war. Lincoln most definitely and most prominently; he feared what, as he said in his — well, he said it in the Second Inaugural; he said it also earlier in his annual message at the end of 1861 — he feared a long, quote, “remorseless revolutionary struggle.” Because a long, remorseless, revolutionary struggle would have very different fundamental results. In that Second Inaugural, again one of those famous passages from that speech, Lincoln said all had hoped — that was at the end of it — “All hoped,” he said, for, quote, “a result less fundamental and astounding.” But because this war will not be short, it will become all out and total, depending on whose interpretation and argument you accept, in terms of what is modern total war — and we’ll come back to that question. The results would become fundamental, and transformative. Now we always steal titles from Julia Ward Howe, just like we do from Lincoln. That’s actually a photograph of Bull Run Creek. I know it could be a creek anywhere, I know, but trust me, that’s Bull Run Creek.

There were 523 West Point graduates who fought in the Mexican War, and that war, back in 1846 to ‘48 had become a kind of, if you like, military primer for so many of them, and the vast majority of those would end up in the Civil War, on both sides — Ulysses Grant, Class of ‘43; William Tecumseh Sherman, Class of ‘40; Winfield Scott Hancock, Class of ‘44; George Thomas, Class of ‘40; George S. Meade, Class of ‘35; Joseph Hooker, Class of ‘30; John Sedgwick, Class of ‘37; Joseph E. Johnston; most notably Robert E. Lee, Class of 1829, first in his class, later commandant at West Point. They’d all learned a kind of warrior culture, if you like. They all take a very deep and abiding oath. It was a very difficult thing to do for West Point graduates on the southern side, to abandon that oath and go with their states. But of course many, many, many of them did. As Oliver Otis Howard — a West Point graduate, later Union Corps Commander, lost his arm in the Petersburg Campaign and later first leader — head of the Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War and for whom Howard University is named — said, quote, “Probably no other place existed where men grappled more sensitively with the troublesome problems of secession.” No kidding. Now the numbers of this — there was a kind of a stampede of West Point cadets back to the South, at least to a certain degree. An Ohio cadet named Tully McRae wrote to his sweetheart — this is April 1861: “This has been an eventful week in the history of West Point. There has been such a stampede of cadets as was never known before. Thirty-two resigned and were relieved from duty on Monday, April 22, and since then enough to increase the number to more than forty. There are now few cadets from any southern state left here.” In all, seventy-four southern cadets resigned and were dismissed for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States; but twenty-one southern cadets, from slave states, remained and would eventually fight for the Union. This was a far higher proportion of loyalist than southern students at Harvard, Yale or Columbia. At Princeton not one southern student remained at the college — it’s an old southern tradition at Princeton, make no mistake.

There are many extraordinary witnesses to these breakups at West Point. Here’s just one of them. The cadet, George Armstrong Custer, Class of 1861 — that Custer — recalled walking sentinel duty in June of ‘61 and seeing fifteen defecting southern cadets marching toward a steamboat landing on the Hudson. I quote him: “Too far off to exchange verbal ‘adieu,’ even if military discipline had permitted it, they caught sight of me as step by step I reluctantly paid the penalty of offended regulations” — that’s why he’s doing this guard duty — “and raised their hats in token farewell, to which, first casting my eyes about to see that no watchful superior was in view, I responded by bringing my musket to a present.” Custer would later be proud of how many southerners he had killed.

Now, the next whole section of this course I want to suggest some questions that we want to hope that we leave you with answers for; and you can write these down and hold me to it, if you want. We can disagree about those answers, but that’s what history’s ultimately for. (1) Why did the North win this war? (2) Why did the South lose it? (3) What did making war, and experiencing it, mean to common soldiers, to officers, to their families, to the women left at home and the women who went to the front? (4) How did the war unleash or reinforce or reshape nineteenth century values and attitudes? When Americans of the 1860s confronted war on this scale, eighty percent of all white males in the American South between the age of sixteen and forty-five will be in the army — eighty percent. In the northern states, fifty percent — a much higher population — of all white males between eighteen and forty-five will be in the Army or the Navy. Can you imagine if we had fifty percent of the American — let’s just count the white males — in the United States today under arms, through a draft? A whole lot of you wouldn’t be here. (5) What did the war itself mean on both sides? Its cause, its purpose, that developing sense of the reason people fight. What was it about? (6) What were the war’s results, what were its consequences? Do wars have meanings that we are obliged to discern? Yes. (7) Why were the slaves freed? How did emancipation come, when it came, the way it came? (8) Was the American Civil War a second American Revolution — yes, no, maybe in between? Is it the wrong term, is there a better one? (9) What is the place of this pivotal, transformative event in America’s national memory? And (10) — God I hope we can answer some of these — was the Civil War a just war?

Chapter 3. Advantages of the Union Military [00:20:38]

Okay, when the war came — back to that little picture of Bull Run in a moment — but when the war came, of course, Americans had to now decide how to fight a war. They had never mobilized for — like they’re going to mobilize in this war; although at the beginning no one really had any clue of the scale of the mobilization in industry and resources and transportation and in human power that the war would bring. Let’s examine just for a moment this question of Union advantages and Southern advantages, strengths and weaknesses on both sides, at the outset of the war, and even through it. It has a great deal to do with ultimately explaining Union victory and Confederate defeat, although it is not by itself an explanation; the North didn’t just win the war because it had more industrial capacity, or as Ken Burns has Shelby Foote say at one point — the star of his film — has Shelby Foote say at one point in the film, “The North fought that war with one hand behind its back.” Bullshit Shelby, they really did not fight that war with one hand behind their back. [Laughter] But it helps make a nice explanation, or the beginnings of a nice explanation for southern defeat.

There were many Union advantages. Let me just tick off several. First in finances, the North had — most of this in New York City and a couple of other cities — had four times the bank deposits as the southern states, even though most of the southern states had their bank deposits in northern banks. In manufacturing, there were 110,000 manufacturing establishments in the northern states with 1.2 million industrial workers in 1860. The North had four times — oh I already said that, the bank deposits, forgive me. The North — excuse me — there were as many factories in the North as there were industrial workers in the South; in the neighborhood of 100,000 or so small manufacturing industrial workers of one kind and another in southern towns and cites; the northern states had that many manufacturing establishments. Eighty percent of all industrial capacity in the United States were in the free states. One Connecticut county, New Haven County — this town, and its county — produced firearms valued at ten times the entire southern capacity to produce firearms in 1860. Now the South’s going to improve that greatly through the Tredegar Iron Works, in Richmond in particular, and other places. But New Haven, Connecticut produced ten times the firearms as the entire South put together in 1860. Those shells of some of those old factories in this town, that are no longer factories, were gun factories, and man did they get rich during the Civil War.

In transportation, eighty percent of all railroad miles in the United States, the former United States, were in the northern states. Of the 470 locomotives made in the United States by 1860, only nineteen of them had been made in the South. The North had the vast, vast majority of skilled mechanics who worked on railroads. The North tended to have uniform gauges to their railroads, three or four feet wide to the track. In the South they had this ridiculous problem, frankly, and they will not solve it very quickly, that the South built its railroads haphazardly, state by state by state by state, at all kinds of different gauges, three and a half feet here, four feet there, four and a half feet there. You’d go into one town with a railroad gauge that’s one width but it goes out the other side of town with a gauge that’s another width. You had to switch locomotives and switch trains, as ridiculous as that sounds. They found out in a hurry what a misery that would cause. Another northern advantage was simply in manpower — just look at the population numbers. The population of the North was approximately twenty-two and a half million people in 1860. The population of the South was slightly over nine million white people and about four and a half million black people; about 4.2 million of whom were slaves; the other 250 to 300,000 who were free blacks. The northern states produced ninety-four of all cloth in the United States in 1860, ninety-three percent of all pig iron, and on and on and on; boats, ships, it’s all eighty, ninety, ninety-five percent in favor of the North. William Tecumseh Sherman was sitting in New Orleans, where he was stationed when secession occurred, and the war broke out in April 1861, and according to his testimony he said to his friend, who had actually been a West Point buddy of his, he warned him and he said, quote, “No nation of agriculturalists ever made war on a nation of mechanics and survived.” Yes, it’s very prescient, but I don’t want you to think that Confederate success or victory was somehow determined at the outset, because of all these economic, financial, industrial advantages.

The North had certain political advantages. It did not have to create a government; it already had one, it had a functioning government. Now eleven of those states are no longer going to be represented, they’re going to be gone, but there’s a functioning U.S. Federal Government. The South has to create that government overnight and it has to create it out of a political culture rooted in states’ rights and localism. And furthermore — and I think this is a very important point — the North had a functioning political party system. There were still functioning Democrats in the North, very strong in certain pockets of the North. They will be a genuine opposition party to Lincoln’s Republicans during the war. They will make a comeback in the Congress in 1862; they got clobbered in 1860. The South doesn’t have a party system; the South has a one-party system — they appointed Jefferson Davis. The South will not hold a general election for its presidency and vice-presidency during this war. Why is that important? Well, when you have a functioning political party system you have a way of organizing power and organizing patronage and organizing loyalty. We’ll see this soon, Thursday. One of Jefferson Davis’s greatest problems and biggest crises throughout the war is trying to get the southern states to go along with various Confederate federal policies, and in the end he will fail at much of that.

Chapter 4. Tactical Advantages and Political Weaknesses of the South [00:28:31]

Now, the South was not without advantages. Look at the map. You could argue that the South had a great advantage of geography, if they used it well. The South is a huge expansive territory, huge; thousands of — what is it, almost a 2,000 mile coastline, 1,500 mile coastline I believe, if you add up Florida all the way up to Virginia. And when Lincoln announced the call for 75,000 volunteers in April of ‘61, he also announced a naval blockade of the entire South. Now this will forever be a tricky legal story and an interesting constitutional problem. Lincoln says the southern states could not constitutionally secede from the Union; they were not therefore a legitimate belligerent. He was not in any way recognizing them as a legitimate government, but, oh, by the way, he was going to put a total naval blockade on them nevertheless. Now, foreign countries, especially Great Britain, will look at this and say, “well you may not — secession you may not think is constitutional in your country and you may not call the confederacy a belligerent, but you sure as hell are treating them like one.”

At any rate, a blockade around that entire coastline will never be easy. And we know that it was very porous in the first year, even into the second year of the war, through 1862 very porous. But the naval blockade eventually was relatively successful, by 1864 and into early 1865. But it’s a huge expansive territory. The South had rivers it could use, and it will use them effectively; of course so will the North, once they invade the South. Geography was an advantage to the southern cause, as many military historians have argued ever since, if and when they stayed on the defensive. When they chose to invade the North, as Lee will twice, two fateful invasions, the one resulting at Antietam in September of ‘62 and the other at Gettysburg in July of ‘63, he was giving up that advantage of the defensive position, forcing the larger armies of the North to come to them and attack on southern ground, on southern soil. This has always been a debate — had the South remained utterly defensive in this war, could the North have stood it, held out long enough?

Thirdly, you could argue that the South has an advantage in its cause or its purpose. And perhaps at first maybe they did, or even later, after a terrible degree of war weariness had set in. The argument is simply that the South didn’t have to win the war, they didn’t have to conquer the North, they simply had to fight long enough as an insurgent. They were the insurgent, the Confederacy was an insurgency, let’s use that term, that’s exactly what they were. If they could hold out long enough and force the North into a degree of war weariness, into some kind of economic trauma, they might just sue for peace. After all, the goal of the Confederacy was national independence. Some have said their cause was clearer, less abstract; defense of the homeland, defense of hearth, is in some ways less abstract than defense of the Union or the Constitution or the social order. How many of you want your sons to die for the social order? Well maybe you do, not for me to say. If they had stayed on the defensive — and they know this; this is one of those testy questions about Robert E. Lee’s legacy.

They had an advantage here now of this new, relatively new invention — thousands upon thousands upon thousands of which were made in this town — and that was the rifled musket. Until the late 1840s and into the 1850s almost all firearms, all muskets were smoothbore. The shell or the bullet or the minie ball that came out of them, came out of a just a barrel that was flat on the inside and it would only go 100 to 200 yards; 200 yards maximum. But with the creation of the rifled musket — and eventually rifled cannon — a rifled musket could hit something as far as 800 years away; it didn’t mean you could see what you were shooting at, but it was extremely deadly at 2 to 300 yards now, in a war that’s still going to be fought with these hideous old Napoleonic tactics of lining up men by the thousands, arm to arm, elbow to elbow, and simply moving across fields. The defensive position with the rifled musket was a huge advantage, if used.

Many have said over and over that the South had superior generalship in the first especially two years of the war, and I don’t think there’s much question that they did. And then of course some have argued that the South simply had the yeoman soldier — better soldiers, better men, so-called. Now they thought they did, and let me give you a couple of illustrations of that. They thought they did, in their rhetoric and in their war fever of 1861. One young Confederate officer wrote home from the summer of 1861. He said, “Just throw three or four shells among those blue-bellied Yankees and they’ll scatter like sheep.” So was the theory. “It was not the improved arm but the improved man,” wrote Governor Henry Wise of Virginia, “which would win the day.” He’s writing this in 1861. “Let brave men advance with flint locks and old-fashioned bayonets on the popinjays of Northern cities and he would answer for it with his life. The Yankees,” he says, “will break and run.” The Yankees won’t fight, or so was the theory. Now, I don’t know, at times I suppose there was an advantage. There was a certain warrior culture in the South. There were perhaps more hunters per capita in the South than maybe in the North; but don’t make much of that one.

The South had awesome problems though to fight this war as well, and let me tick them off quickly. They’ll have a tremendous problem of supply, as the war gets bigger. Johnny Reb will never be very well clad, never very well fed. Always reliant on captured blankets and captured boots and captured food, and even captured medical supplies at times. In the South they will truly, in a biblical sense, have to make ploughshares into swords. They actually accomplished amazing things in the creation of weapons, of ordinance, of gun powder, of shells, by the thousands, almost overnight. They will also buy a lot from Great Britain, from the French to some extent, and much of that will get in through the blockade in the first two years. They had a huge disadvantage of not having a Navy. They had to somehow create a Navy — and we’ll come back to this later when we look at the role of Europe in this. They will go to Britain and try to buy ships, and they will — ironclads, rams, and, ultimately, battleships, that will prey upon and destroy hundreds of Union ships.

And then you might say that they had a real political disadvantage — I guess I’ve already mentioned it — in that they were born of a states’ rights impulse, and overnight now they have to try to centralize a government, to fight a highly centralized, coordinated war over a vast thousand mile front. And Georgians are supposed to cooperate with Virginians who are supposed to cooperate with Tennesseans who are supposed to cooperate with Arkansans. And it didn’t always work.

And last but not least, would slavery be an advantage or a disadvantage in the South’s war efforts? To some degree it was an advantage, and thousands upon thousands of American slaves will be put to work for the Confederate military, for the Confederate industry. If you visited a Confederate army from 1861 on, if it was above 1000 men, you would see plenty of black guys, and some black women. If you were on a southern train by 1863, you’d see plenty of black workers on that train, most of them slaves. If you were in a field hospital in Georgia by ‘63 and ‘64, during Sherman’s March, if you were in a Confederate hospital you’d see plenty of black nurses; about forty percent of all the nurses in Confederate hospitals, from ‘63 on, in Georgia were slave women. They were impressed into Confederate service by the thousands. So there’s an advantage in that. But I think as we’ll see next week, slavery ultimately was the Achilles heel of the Confederate war effort, because once the Union leadership — and that’s going to happen, it’s going to take a year into the war, but that’s going to happen by 1862, and certainly ‘63 — will come to see that the only way they can truly win the war is by destroying slavery. And once the Union war effort becomes an effort to destroy the social structure of the South, including its labor system, and an effort to destroy slavery, it becomes an all-out and total war of conquest.

Chapter 5. Battle Strategies and Recruitment for the Two Militaries [00:39:35]

Now, quickly, to the extent there was an opening grand strategy, soon to be abandoned, it was this. Winfield Scott, the “Old Rough and Ready,” as he was known, the old General of the Mexican War — he’s very ancient by now, he’s eighty-years-old, he’s big and he’s fat and he’s immobile — but he was the General of the Army and he came up with what he called the “Anaconda Plan.” The Anaconda Plan was basically to envelop the South, surround it by a naval blockade, use gunboats to penetrate the rivers down the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Missouri if necessary, from the west, and up those rivers of Virginia and down the coast of the Carolinas, and, in effect, suffocate the South from outside, over time. It might take a year, it might even take two years. The idea here was to surround the South and to force them ultimately to not just see the error of their ways but to see that they had no chance to win. This was a plan now that would not invade the South with major armies and seek major battlefield victories, it was almost a kind of an economic plan to win a war. It would take time, patience and an ever-growing Navy.

But the American people wouldn’t have it. The northern people wouldn’t have it. They wanted an army forming around Washington, D.C. in April, May, and June, 1861, to move, to act. Horace Greeley, the most important editor of the most important newspaper in the United States, the New York Herald-Tribune, in New York, published that famous headline, “On To Richmond” — or “Forward to Richmond,” it said. Attack that Confederate army, stop the insurgency, whip them once, end the rebellion, punish its leaders and get this thing over before the end of summer.

Now, the problem here is not unlike — think about it — the problem in the American Revolution. If the British could’ve ended that American insurgency in the American Revolution quickly, in the first year or two, instead of letting these American armies under George Washington and others keep retreating away from them, and not engaging in any real pitched battles, and continuing to give up their cities, and retreat inland and inland and inland, the Americans would not have won their revolution. As long as the Confederate armies could exist, the Confederacy could exist, if indeed we interpret it as a revolutionary insurgency; and, ultimately, that is virtually how they will interpret themselves. And, hence, we can see that if this war lasts very long, if it lasted frankly beyond one year, it had all the potential of becoming a war of conquest, all out and total, requiring the destruction of the southern infrastructure and southern society.

Now, both sides in this war — and I’ll get around to Bull Run and the way the war broke out in the west in a moment — both sides in this war will engage in conscription, they will create the draft for the first time in American history. The Confederates were first to do it. The first Conscription Act in American history is passed in April of 1862 by the Confederate Government. It said that all able-bodied men eighteen to thirty-five, later raised to forty-five, would be conscripted into three years of service. They allowed the hiring of a substitute, which led to the charge of elitism, which was accurate. There were brokers and all kinds of dishonest substitutes. One man is alleged to have sold himself twenty times for the bounty that he got paid to get out. There were exemptions in the Confederate conscription — public servants, ministers, teachers, editors, nurses, factory and railroad workers, miners, and telegraph operators. Among the Confederate troops out at the front they called these people “bomb-proof” positions. And then, worst of all, in the Confederate Conscription Law in 1863, they passed what was known as the Twenty Negro Law: if you owned twenty or more slaves you were exempt from service. The reason for that was the deep fear setting in, in 1862 across the South, that if all these white men — eighty percent of white males in the South will be in the Army — and if all these white men left the plantations it would be black men left on the plantations running the place. Any man who had twenty or more slaves was exempt, if he chose to be. This will cause tremendous resentment in the Confederate armies and ultimately become one of the causes of desertion.

The Union Conscription Law came later, it didn’t come until early ‘63. It drafted every able-bodied man twenty years of age to forty-five years of age. It had — its exemptions were more limited. You could escape if you could find a substitute and pay $300; hence the charge, not inaccurate, that in the North, this “people’s war,” as Lincoln called it, this war to save democracy, became a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. Generous bounties were paid if you enlisted, and in the end only about six percent of all the Union forces in the Civil War were draftees. The social pressure in some communities, since regiments were formed locally, was tremendous, especially in the first two years. Approximately twenty percent of all Confederates were draftees and only six percent of Union troops.

Chapter 6. The Battle of Bull Run and Conclusion [00:46:25]

Now, I only have a few minutes left, and I’m sorry for that, but I wanted to lay out our aims and goals here. But let me leave you with how this first battle of the war actually came; and we’ll pick it up there Thursday; it makes as much sense Thursday. Along that creek — you can see the picture here, an extraordinary photograph, actually taken in 1862, of four children, two of them wearing what are probably Union kepis — hats — and seven Union cavalrymen across the creek, as though they’re at attention for the photographer. It’s a remarkable picture of, it seems to me, the influence of war on the young. But it was along that creek on the 21st of July, 1861, a Sunday afternoon, that the first collision of amateur armies occurred, and the first major battle of the Civil War came about. Lincoln, under the pressure of public opinion, forced his commander, Irvin McDowell, to move this army, that was not very well trained, it wasn’t prepared to fight — they hadn’t even been taught how to retreat, which they’re about to demonstrate. McDowell complained to Lincoln, he said, “These people can’t fight, we haven’t learned this, we haven’t learned that, we’re not ready, don’t make us move.” And Lincoln said, “I have no choice, you must move.” And he wrote to McDowell and he said, quote, “You are green, it is true, but they are green. You are all green alike.” Well, thanks a lot, McDowell probably said, and off he marched about twenty miles south and west of Washington to collide with this Confederate army that had been forming now for three months in northern Virginia, threatening the U.S. capital.

It was a summer outing. A couple of hundred civilians in carriages, many of them congressmen and their wives and families, got in carriages, packed picnic lunches, went down to watch the battle. They sat on hillsides to watch this spectacle; you stay far enough away you wouldn’t see any blood. Oh, there’s going to be some casualties but that’s — there’s supposed to be. They took picnics. Two U.S. congressmen wound up captured and spent the next year in a Richmond prison. It was a crazy battle. It lasted only three hours, and both commanding generals, Beauregard on the Confederate side and McDowell on the Union side, had the same plan, a fake to the right and a move to the left. This was old-fashioned stuff. Now, if they both had managed to pull it off and their men had known what they were doing, they’d have simply moved each other around and the Confederate army could’ve walked up into Washington. But nothing came off as planned. At first the Union forces took several hundred yards of the field; it looked like, in these field glasses people were using, that this was going to be a Union victory. First clash, a Union victory, send the Confederate Army retreating back into Virginia and end the rebellion.

But then as fast as that happened it turned around, and a counter-attack came. It was led by a general named Thomas Jackson, who gets his name at Bull Run, Stonewall Jackson — more on him later. And suddenly these Union soldiers — knew nothing of retreat — they threw down rifles, they ran through creeks and found the first road they could. So they broke ranks, and they retreated, many of them running the rest of that afternoon and through into the evening, back to Washington, D.C. in utter defeat and retreat. It was so bad that the wagons and the caissons of the artillery started running over men. Albion Tourgee, later to become the most important novelist and writer of the Reconstruction era, was badly wounded; he had his shoulder smashed and broken by the wheel of a caisson in the retreat from Bull Run, and would have to leave the war for year; he’ll return to it, but he’d never be able to use one of his shoulders very effectively. Bull Run — First Bull Run — was a complete Confederate victory, a Union defeat. The Union Army retreated into the national capital, a shock to the country. The casualties were this: 460 killed on the Union side, over 1100 wounded, and 1300 men missing for the next month; a total of almost 2900 casualties. On the Confederate side, 387 killed, 1500 wounded, and only thirteen missing; about 1900 total casualties.

In the wake of Bull Run, Lincoln brings George B. McClellan, this vainglorious but handsome as hell, smart, West Point graduate of thirty-four years-old, to the White House. He’d had a couple of small little victories out in Western Virginia where there’d been a couple of clashes with southern troops, and he brought this gold-sash-wearing young officer to the White House and gave him command of this army that they then named The Army of the Potomac. And the army was being increased daily now with hundreds and hundreds and thousands of troops from the North. And McClellan put them into camp, Camp Brightwood, among others — huge camps — outside of Washington, and he’ll start training them, for months and months and months. And the Civil War got longer and longer and longer. And McClellan’s not going to move that army for another ten months, nine months, until the late Spring of 1862. Meanwhile, the war is going to break out in the West too, and we’ll return to that Thursday.

[end of transcript]

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