The enormous impact of the Civil War on our nation will probably never be determined, but would never have been possible without the courageous stand of the Confederate States of America against invading Union forces. The independence of the Confederate
States commenced by the withdrawal of the State of South Carolina from the Union of the United States. The ordinance of secession was passed on December 20, 1860 by a unanimous vote. The withdrawal of South Carolina from the Union was followed successively by the states of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. A convention of delegates from these six seceding states assembled in Congress at Montgomery, Alabama, to organize a Provisional Government, on the 4th day of February 1861, where they drafted a constitution for the Confederate States of America (Clarke 3).
Many different efforts were made to save the Union and prevent a war. Some believed the Constitution did not allow the North to take an action against the South. An amendment was even passed saying Congress could never interfere with slavery in the states, but it was not ratified by the necessary number of states and was forgotten when the Civil War began. The existence of slavery was the central element of the conflict between the North and South. Other problems existed that also helped lead up to succession. It appears that the only way for the war to have been avoided was to abolish slavery, but this could not be done because slavery is what kept the South alive and running. Lincoln argued that people who were in opposition, or divided against themselves, could not stand, thereby making it impossible for government to endure permanently with the states divided in half. Therefore, because there were two opposing regions or societies and slavery could not be abolished, the Civil War was inevitable (Clarke 4).
The Hon. R. M. Barnwell, of South Carolina, was appointed temporary chairman. Forty-three men of these six southern states adopted the Constitution of the Confederate States of America on Friday, February the 8th. The following day, Congress proceeded to the election of President and Vice-President. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, President, and Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, Vice-President, were elected by unanimous vote. They were sworn in on February 18, 1861 (Clarke 13). Davis, who had been elected President, actually wanted to be appointed General in the Confederate Army. He was a graduate of West Point, fought as a Colonel of Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War, and was Secretary of War. He was pleased, however, when he was informed that he would be the President of a fledgling nation. When Davis had attended West Point, he had clearly read in his textbooks, that any state had the right to secede. However, before leaving his U.S. Senate seat, he wanted to compromise. Davis knew that if the South declared independence, a war was immanent. Davis pointed out that the South was not the first to consider secession. The states composing New England had three times considered secession. Once during the War of 1812, once during the admission of Missouri as a slave state, and once with the admission of Texas into the Union. Therefore, he rationalized that secession was legal. (Clarke 24). “On February 1st, 1861, the State of Texas declared her independence by withdrawing from the Union, and uniting herself with the new Confederacy. Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Missouri also resumed their original sovereignty, and were admitted into the Confederacy.” (Clarke 18). Jefferson Davis, in his inaugural address, stated simply that, “All we ask is to be left alone” (Clarke 27). By April, the tension between the Union and Confederacy had become too great. When Major Anderson refused to surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, the Confederate harbor guns opened fired. In the siege, the only casualty was a Confederate horse. It was a bloodless start to a very bloody war. “Invoking his state’s Revolutionary motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis, a young Virginia officer filled letters to his mother with comparisons of the North’s ‘war of subjugation against the South to England’s war upon the colonies” (Clarke 78). He was confident that the Confederacy would win the “second War for American Independence” because “Tyranny cannot prosper in the nineteenth century against a people fighting for their liberties.” (Clarke 9).
Most southerners who volunteered to fight felt this way. As a Confederate officer wrote they were not only fighting for their freedom, but for their relatives and descendants because they strongly believed in that they had the right to secede and that their constitution was stronger than the Union’s. Therefore, the average Confederate soldier believed that he was fighting for his rights, independence, his family and ultimately to protect his homeland form what many Southerners now considered to be a foreign nation. Until the emancipation proclamation was issued in 1862, the Union was fighting for just that, the Union. When Lincoln issued his proclamation, it outraged many officers in the Union army (Clarke 17). Most Southern soldiers did not care about slavery one way or the other. Only the elite planter and politician class cared at all about retaining their slaves. (Clarke 45). They viewed the proclamation with contempt. It freed only slaves in the Confederacy, not in the border states of Maryland or Kentucky. Later, Lincoln by his own admission proclaimed that his proclamation at the time carried no weight. (Clarke 17). Indeed, the Confederate constitution made slavery legal in the South, but it declared the further importation of slaves from foreign countries (the U.S. included) to be illegal. So how do we know that most Confederates did not fight just for slavery? They wrote letters, kept diaries, and they were encouraged to write them. A misnomer is that Civil War soldiers were illiterate. However, the armies of the Civil War were the most literate in history up to that time (80 percent of Confederates, and 90 percent of white Unionists) and consisted mainly of volunteers rather than draftees or long-service regulars (Clarke 34). Only one in fifteen of all Southern whites ever owned a slave. Overall, there were fewer than 350,000 Southern slave-owners. However, there were some 600,000 soldiers in the Confederate Armies (9 out of 10 free white males). Therefore, if all slave owners were in uniform- and certainly they were not- this still leaves several hundred thousand soldiers with no personal interest in slavery but rather in states’ rights and the concept of the Confederate constitution (Clarke 9).
With losses between 20 and 30 percent in large engagements, the south needed a better system for recruiting, training, and arming its soldiers. By late 1862, the Confederate Congress authorized and approved the National Conscription Act. It stated that all male citizens between ages 18 and 35 had to enlist in the Confederate Army. This outraged many southerners. They were upset at the fact that they were fighting for liberty, and it was their choice to fight, or not. In the mountainous regions of Eastern Tennessee, North Georgia, and Western North Carolina, protest to the draft was significant. Many in these regions had opposed secession in the first place, and were not about to be told they had to fight for something they did not believe in. In addition, there were two clauses in the draft that upset many southerners; first, a planter owning more than 20 slaves was exempt from serving. While this was a small minority in the country, it was a large majority in the Confederate Congress; Second, there was a Substitution clause that stated that one could get someone else to take ones place. Many soldiers now declared that the war was “A rich man’s war, a poor man’s fight.” (Clarke 129). However, the draft served its purpose. Many southerners looked upon a draftee as being a coward. Therefore, with the passing of the draft, the volunteer rate soared.
Many men volunteered instead of waiting to be drafted. The draft worked, and by 1863, the Confederate armies were as large as they would ever be. Even when the war took a turn for the worst after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the armies kept fighting. “Outnumbered, underfed, and poorly equipped, they withstood one of the world’s most powerful military forces for four years of the bloodiest warfare ever raged in the Western Hemisphere. The concepts of southern nationalism, liberty, self-government, resistance to tyranny, and other ideological purposes… (were) a concrete, visceral form: the defense of home and hearth against an invading enemy.” (Clarke 18). To stay alive, the South also pursued an aggressive foreign policy throughout the war. “There is no doubt,” said William E. Gladstone, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, “that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy, and they have made what is more than either- they have made a nation. We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern states.” (Clarke 128). The South pursued a policy that stated that “Cotton was King”, and that Europe could not live without it. Surely, they thought, Britain or France, or both would intervene on behalf of the Confederacy. It never happened. Britain and France, while sympathetic to the Southern cause, did not have the backing of the working class of their nations and at best could only help the Confederacy get around the blockade. The War between the States was the defining point of the last century, and we still feel its affects today. Civil War re-enactors live like, and fight like our ancestors. African Americans fight on both sides, just like in the war. Over 50,000 of free blacks- 12% of the Confederate Army- took up arms in defense of their native south. While the number of African Americans that fought for the North is much greater than that of the South, the blacks in uniform in the North made up only 10% of its force. It is still an issue often overlooked by historians. The Confederacy fell to Union powers in 1865, with the surrendering of the armed forces and the capture and imprisonment of Jefferson Davis. “Were these things real?” wrote Sam Watkins, who fought in the First Tennessee from the beginning of the war until its end. “Did I see those brave and noble countrymen of mine laid low in death and weltering in their blood? Did I see our country laid waste and in ruins? Did I see soldiers marching, the earth trembling and jarring beneath their measured tread? Did I see the ruins of smoldered cities and deserted homes? Did I see the flag of my country, which I had followed for so long, furled to be no more unfurled forever? Surely they are but the vagaries of mine own imagination…But, hush! I hear the approach of battle. That low, rumbling sound in the West is the roar of cannon in the distance. (Clarke 417). The enormous impact on our nation by the Civil War will probably never be determined, and would not have been possible without the stand of the Confederate States of America.
Clarke, Whitford William. Volunteers in the Civil War. Rio Grande Press, Inc.: Sante Fe, 1971.