The disagreement, debate, argument and name-calling regarding the continued public display of the Confederate Flag on government properties – and widely accepted lies about the Confederacy – continues (with a heavy load of irony) today. This in the wake of killings of nine parishioners at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church June 17. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860. And continues to be the most recalcitrant.
South Carolina’s action prompted other southern states to secede. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas left the Union by February 1, 1861. February 4, delegates from all these states except Texas met in Montgomery, Alabama to create and staff a government called the Confederate States of America. They elected President Jefferson Davis. The next move everyone awaited: How would the North respond?
Abraham Lincoln would not be inaugurated until March 4. Sitting President James Buchanan believed this secession illegal, but discovered the use of the Army to be unconstitutional. The entire nation awaited Lincoln’s ascension to the presidency.
In hindsight (a position that so often tends to reshape life-defining decision-making), these early decisions would later be seen to have called for something more than waiting: that would have been analysis. And it could have taken the simplest of forms. Elementary-school addition would have solved the crises. But, as a number of historians have said, the secessionists tried to side-step that simple act to create something “grander.” And were brought low by an impulse to abandon the thriving growth of the impressively successful bourgeoning of the continuing American experiment. And at that moment it included a wrestling match embracing both democracy and the incipient enlargement of the impulse to grant women more generous opportunities, opportunities presented particularly by the movement westward and a limited but gradually revolutionizing growth of feminine participation in already established states.
Instead, Southern designs against this surprising – and unwelcome – growth was the exact opposite. One that roughly mirrored the Southern male population’s domination of black slaves.
That is when grade-school-level counting could have saved four years of catastrophe, “rescuing” both slaves and women from doomed dreams.
The arithmetically, and both oddly and evidently miraculous, door to evading death and destruction was evident to every Southerner everyday. A simple count of its own population and the peculiar and artificially invented social constraints it “inflicted” on large, significant and potentially resourceful portions of its own population, was the path out of disaster and the great sweep of death that was to characterize America’s Civil War.
When South Carolina hardheadedly insisted on secession, the population of the 15 slave-holding states that would follow that destructive example was 12 million, four million of whom were enslaved and “disfranchised,” plus four million free white women who, while “formally” free citizens, were citizens who possessed none of the political rights, and therefore privileges, of their male compatriots. Which left, in theory, four million to attack the Northern States with a population of 22 million.
These figures meant that the Southern States were able to organize an army of 1,082,119 fighting men, while the Northern States was able put 2,128,948 into the field.
While such figures were rough and approximate among both the Southern and Northern citizens, fighting men and even slaves, they were of course more exact among the leaders of each side’s government and military structure due to newspaper reports and a plethora of spies.
There was a not inconsiderable agitation among non-slave-owning soldiers, protesting that fact that any man who owned more than 20 slaves didn’t have to serve in the army. This gave rise to a large population of discontented women at home and the southern states’ government was hard-put to ignore them. They became an “unofficial” articulate – and often well-organized – political force. For when wealthy women made demands of the government they did so as “legitimate” representatives of the South’s elite.
Poor women in the same predicament – but without slaves or influential relatives – created a different political force. They noisily identified themselves as “soldiers wives,” who spoke the insistent language of family, community and bloody battle field loss. As things became more difficult, they overwhelmed the government with petitions seeking assistance that were certainly not charity but that had become a right. And to aggravate the local, state and national governments, they identified themselves as legitimate citizens with “rights.” And they soon were gathering, threatening food riots in larger cities. Some governors exempted poor families from taxes, others provided them with supplies.
Slaves naturally followed the course of their state’s – and the Confederacy’s – fortunes of war. Most eagerly awaited a Union victory. Other canny and lucky blacks escaped, and became members of Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army. This became a large problem for Southern states when Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. African Americans made up ten percent of the entire Union Army by the end of the war. Nearly 40,000 died in the course of war.
The war ended with the battle of Appomattox April 9, 1865. Then President Jefferson Davis was captured May 10.