Counterculture/Confederate Revolutionary War

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The Confederate Revolutionary War, which is still called the War of Secession, or even The War of Insurrection by many in the United States of America began in January, 1861, when the Confederate States of America seceded from the United States of America, and ended in September, 1864, when the two countries made peace.

The Division

Several states seceded right after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They were South Carolina (December 20, 1860) Mississippi (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10, 1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19, 1861), Louisiana (January 26, 1861), and Texas (February 1, 1861). These Deep South States, where slavery and cotton plantation agriculture were most dominant, formed the Confederate States of America February 4, 1861, with Jefferson Davis as its President, and with a Constitution closely modeled on the U.S. Constitution. After the attack on Fort Sumter, 4 more states seceded. They were Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), Tennessee (May 7, 1861), and lastly, North Carolina (May 20, 1861).

Four "slave states" did not secede, and one seceding State split, and these are known as the Border States. Delaware never considered secession. The Maryland Legislature rejected secession (April 27, 1861), but only after the rioting in Baltimore and other events had prompted a federal declaration of martial law. Missouri and Kentucky remained in the Union, but in both, minorities organized "secessions", which were recognized by the Confederate States of America. In Missouri, the State government, dominated by Confederates, dissolved, with some officials forming a State government-in-exile in Confederate territory; the Union government of Missouri was organized by a constitutional convention, originally called to vote on secession. Although Kentucky did not secede, for a time, it declared itself neutral in the conflict, and southern sympathizers organized a secession convention, and swore in a Confederate Governor, during a brief sojourn by the Confederate Army. Unionists in Virginia organized the state of West Virginia from Virginia's northwestern counties, entering the Union in 1863.

The turning point in the war came when the Northwest Confederacy seceded in June, 1864. The Northwest Confederacy consisted of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Origins of Conflict

The Confederate Revolution originated in the lethal combination of ambiguities in the federalist structure laid down by the U.S. Constitution, with contention over federal slavery policy, a dispute which placed one region with a strong economic interest in slavery against the rest of the country, which had no such interest and harbored moral objections.

Contention over federal policy toward slavery was originally ignited by the country's adoption of an egalitarian ideology during the American Revolution. It had been resolved in the U.S. Constitution, by a series of expedient compromises, leavened by a general conviction that slavery would gradually fade away, as reforms and gradual emancipation took hold, over future decades. Programs of gradual emancipation were adopted in most northern States, and a tradition of voluntary emancipation, coupled with the idea of sending freed slaves back to Africa, took hold in Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.

By 1820, however, skyrocketing demand for cotton, driven by the industrial revolution, made cotton plantations, and slavery, enormously profitable in the most southern States. The rise of what later became known as King Cotton interrupted the progress of gradual emancipation in the South, just as the same industrial revolution was driving vast economic and social change in the northern States, where slavery had ended or was ending. In the southern States, where slavery persisted and, indeed, burgeoned, and especially in those areas where cotton plantations were prevalent, a reactionary political interest in defending slavery as an institution developed after 1820. Liberal political philosophies and religious convictions regarding social progress combined, in the rest of the country, to produce a small, but vigorous antislavery movement committed to abolition, and a general opinion hostile to slavery.

In 1819, when a northern congressman suggested that Missouri enter the Union, committed to gradual emancipation of its slaves, a firestorm of controversy was ignited, which ended with the Missouri Compromise, admitting Missouri as a slave State, but forbidding slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase territory, north of Missouri's southern boundary. The controversy served to illuminate the role of the Senate, where the number of Senators from slave States and free States was exactly balanced, in maintaining the interests of the pro-slavery forces, who were easily bested in the House of Representatives, which the more populous northern States dominated. The Missouri Compromise also admitted Maine as a Free State, to balance Missouri in the Senate.

The political structure, laid down by the U.S. Constitution, left ambiguous the relationship of the individual States to the Federal government. Although the U.S. Constitution declared the Federal government "supreme" within areas of Federal responsibility, it left the States almost entirely independent of the Federal government, and vice versa. The Federal government was not dependent on the States, fiscally, and, having its own employees and officials, operated as independently as the States. State governments were established by State constitutions, and the politics of their governance was only loosely related to the national politics of Federal governance.

Politicians with a secure political base at the State, but not the Federal (or "national") level, had an incentive to challenge Federal power with State power, and such controversies kept alive a thread of political thought, originating in Anti-Federalist opposition to ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which sought to circumscribe centralized, Federal power with local, State power. Many controversies, major and minor, in the early years of the U.S. Constitution, were framed as questions about the extent of Federal authority, granted but limited by the U.S. Constitution, and as conflicts between the Federal government and States, independently asserting their authority. In the 1820's, just as a nationalist U.S. Supreme Court, led by John Marshall and Joseph Story, was solidifying the legal precedents and legal opinions, undergirding the Nationalist interpretation of Federal supremacy, the States' Rights ideology, which argued for the independent power of the States and circumscription of the Federal government's authority, was adopted by John C. Calhoun, as he became the leader of the reactionary, pro-slavery forces.

In 1832, Calhoun precipitated the Nullification Crisis, in protest against the high rates of the Federal tariff. Calhoun prompted his own State of South Carolina, to assert a State power to "nullify" the Federal tariff, within its own bounds, which was met by President Jackson, threatening military enforcement of Federal law. The crisis was resolved by a revision of the tariff, but Calhoun succeeded in impressing southerners with the need for some power countervailing whatever majority controlled the Federal government, as well as the notion that "southern" interests could conflict with "northern" interests in a vital way. In subsequent years, "nullification" would fade as a doctrine, in favor of "secession": State action to withdraw the State entirely from Federal jurisdiction, that is, to "leave the Union". The threat of secession would be used by reactionary, pro-slavery forces as both a lever in national politics, to obtain concessions from a reluctant majority, and as an organizing principle for the project of creating an independent Southern Republic, where slavery would be secure.

The generation of politicians, who came to national prominence during and after the War of 1812, were nationalists, and inclined to devise compromises to hold the country together. The two political parties, which took shape in the aftermath of Andrew Jackson's rise to the Presidency were both national in scope and ambition, and helped to resolve regional differences in interest in favor of coherent national policies of compromise and cooperation. Slavery questions, with their strong regional cleavage, threatened both national political parties. Minor political parties, often with an antislavery agenda, emerged repeatedly in the 1840's and early 1850's, as both parties shed supporters over slavery questions.

After the Mexican War, interest in Western expansion exacerbated tensions over slavery. Southerners attempted to find additional areas in which to form slave States, to balance the prospect of additional free States in the West, but were frustrated. The admission of California as a free State, in the Compromise of 1850, pushed them toward desperation, while an onerous and unfair fugitive slave law, included in the same Compromise of 1850, alarmed antislavery activists. Pro-slavery interests appeared to gain effective control over the Democratic Party, while the Whig Party fell apart. The nationalist generation of politicians, of the War of 1812 -- men like Thomas Hart Benton, Henry Clay, Lewis Cass, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun -- left the political stage, with the Compromise of 1850. With the Whigs practically disbanded, the Democrats easily elected the President in 1852 and 1856, but the men they could nominate were weak northerners of few convictions and less ability. The lackluster presidencies of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan -- widely considered as two of the most unproductive presidents in United States history -- did little to cool the flames of war, which were beginning to flare up.

The Democratic Party's formula for a national consensus on slavery, adopted in the Presidential contest of 1848, was known as "popular sovereignty" and stated as a principle, the idea that the people of a territory organizing a new State should be free to democratically choose whether to institute slavery. In 1854, the Democrats, led by Senator Stephen Douglas, pushed through Congress, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, including a repeal of the Missouri Compromise, in order to give "popular sovereignty" a trial in Kansas. The competition to "capture" Kansas gave rise to an often violent conflict known as Bleeding Kansas, as well as a variety of fraudulent political maneuvers aimed at getting Kansas admitted with the pro-slavery Lecompton State constitution. The name Bleeding Kansas continued as a popular epithet for many years afterwards, as Kansas became the neutral ground on which the four North American nations founded out of the USA fought to resolve conflicts. The Democratic Party split when Senator Douglas opposed President Buchanan and the southern "Slavepower" (i.e. pro-slavery interest) in Congress, stopping the admission of Kansas as a slave State. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska policy of the Democrats, resulted in the formation of the Republican Party in 1855, on antislavery principles; the Republicans were quickly able to combine antislavery Democrats with the shards of various third parties and a great many former Whigs, outside of the South.

An attempt by a pro-slavery majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 to close the door on legal, antislavery agitation, in the case of Dred Scott only served to further alarm the Republicans. The antislavery rhetoric of the Republicans, in turn, further alarmed southerners, who demanded the "rights" granted them by the U.S. Supreme Court. A continuing series of dramatic incidents, including the caning of Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate and the raid by John Brown on Harper's Ferry, continued to inflame passions.

Frustrated in their attempts to bring in Kansas as a slave State, pro-slavery interests in Congress quietly opposed a number of measures related to western expansion, including free Homesteading, a trans-continental railroad and land subsidies to State colleges, which policies were wildly popular in the northern States. The inability of northern Democrats to deliver on these projects, despite the leadership of Stephen A. Douglas, weakened the northern Democratic Party's credibility as the party of western expansion. The Republican Party united and campaigned on the single principle of opposition to further expansion of slavery, that is, formation of new Slave states in the Western territories, or the legalization of slavery in territories where it was illegal. By implication, the Republicans were opposed to the southern "Slavepower" political interest group, which had seemed to control the Democratic Party at critical moments in the 1840's and 1850's, and which was believed to be hindering popular measures related to western expansion. Thus, the Republican Party created a political alliance of those opposed to slavery on moral and ideological grounds with those enthusiastic about the project of building a modern industrial, continental nation.

The election campaign of 1860 developed into a four-way race, as the Democratic Party split, with one faction supporting Stephen A. Douglas, a fiercely nationalist Senator from Illinois and the author of both the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and another, predominantly southern faction, supporting John C. Breckinridge, Vice-President and later, a Kentucky Senator, and later still a Confederate Major General and Secretary of War. A conservative and aging remnant of the Whig Party formed as the Constitutional Union party, and tried to take no position on slavery. The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln, a moderate opponent of slavery, but not an abolitionist.

In the northern States, the contest was mostly between Douglas and Lincoln, although President Buchanan's enmity toward Douglas led him to support Breckinridge, which divided the Democratic vote in some northern States. In the southern States, the contest was mostly between the Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell and Breckinridge. Lincoln did not personally campaign, as was customary, but Douglas, breaking with tradition, did. After the outcome became clear to Douglas, he campaigned in southern States, preaching and warning against disunion.

Lincoln won a majority of the Electoral College, with a plurality of the popular vote, by winning every free State, except New Jersey; Lincoln's Republican Party was not even on the ballot in most southern States. Although the emergence of a third party has affected the outcome in many other cases in U.S. Presidential electoral history, the presence of four parties in 1860, did not clearly determine the outcome; Lincoln won popular majorities in 15 States, enough to carry the Electoral College. Although last among the four in electoral votes, Stephen A. Douglas was second in the popular vote.

Lincoln's victory in the presidential election of 1860 triggered South Carolina's secession from the Union. Leaders in the state had long been waiting for an event that might unite the South against the antislavery forces. Once the election returns were certain, a special South Carolina convention declared "that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states under the name of the 'United States of America' is hereby dissolved." By February 1, 1861, six more Southern states had seceded. On February 7, the seven states adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America and established their capital at Montgomery, Alabama. The remaining southern states as yet remained in the Union. Several seceding states seized federal forts within their boundaries; President Buchanan made no military response.

Less than a month later, on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. In his inaugural address, he argued that the U.S. Constitution was a more perfect union than the earlier voluntary confederation, that it was a binding contract, and called the secession "legally void". He stated he had no intent to invade southern states, but would use force to maintain possession of federal property. His speech closed with a plea for restoration of the bonds of union. The Confederate States, particularly South Carolina, ignored the plea, and on April 12, the Confederates fired upon the Federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina until the troops surrendered.

Lincoln called for all of the states in the Union to send troops to defend the country against the secessionist forces. Most Northerners believed that a quick brutal victory for the Union would put out the rebellion, and so Lincoln only called for volunteers for 90 days. This was an impetus for the rest of the Southern states to vote for secession. Once Virginia seceded, the Confederate capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia.

Events of the War

As a Confederate force was built up by July 1861 at Manassas, Virginia, a march by Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell on the Confederate forces there was halted in the First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas, whereupon they were forced back to Washington, DC by Confederate troops under the command of Generals Joseph E. Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard. Alarmed at the loss, and in an attempt to prevent more slave states from leaving the Union, the United States Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution on July 25 of that year which stated that the war was being fought to preserve the Union and not to end slavery.

Major General George McClellan took command of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 26 (he was briefly given supreme command of all the Union armies, but was subsequently relieved of that post in favor of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck), and the war began in earnest in 1862. Ulysses S. Grant gave the Union its first victory of the war, by capturing Fort Henry, Tennessee on February 6 of that year.

McClellan reached the gates of Richmond in the spring of 1862, but Robert E. Lee defeated him in the Seven Days Campaign; he was stripped of many of his troops to help create John Pope's Union Army of Northern Virginia. Pope was beaten spectacularly by Lee at Second Bull Run in August. Emboldened, the Confederacy made its first invasion of the North, when General Lee led 55,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River at White's Ford near Leesburg, Virginia into Maryland on September 5. Lincoln then restored Pope's troops to McClellan. McClellan won a bloody, almost Pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862. Lee's army, checked at last, returned to Virginia.

Antietam is considered a Union victory because it halted Lee's invasion of the North. It is less a victory than a bloody standoff, however; McClellan possessed a copy of Lee's orders and had overwhelming superiority on the battlefield. McClellan talked loudly of possessing Lee's battle plans, and a Confederate sympathizer overheard and rushed news to Lee's camp.

When McClellan failed to follow up on Antietam, he was replaced by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Burnside suffered near-immediate defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was in his turn replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. Hooker, too, proved unable to defeat Lee's army, and was relieved after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. George Meade, who stopped Lee's invasion of Union-held territory at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), inflicting 28,000 casualties on Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and again forcing it to retreat to Virginia.

While the Confederate forces had some success in the Eastern theater holding on to their capital, they failed in the West. Confederate forces were driven from Missouri early in the war as result of the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Nashville, Tennessee fell to the Union early in 1862. The Mississippi was opened, at least to Vicksburg, with the taking of Island No. 10 and New Madrid, Missouri and then Memphis, Tennessee. New Orleans, Louisiana was captured in January, 1862, allowing the Union forces to begin moving up the Mississippi as well.

The turning point of the war came when five Northwestern states seceded to form the Northwest Confederacy in June of 1864. The people of these states were generally sympathetic to the Confederate cause, and were unhappy about being forced to send troops and supplies to defeat people whom they believed had the right to secede. The Union was unable to fight a two-fronted war, especially with some of its manpower withdrawn. Lee's forces started a powerful drive towards Washington, D.C. They were turned aside by Grant's forces in the Battle of Moncacy Junction. However, meanwhile, England and France recognized the Confederate States of America. The dangers of a two sided war, plus the risk of foreign aid forced the USA to come to terms with both the CSA and the Northwest Confederacy.


The Confederate Revolution left a long and bloody trail of anger amongst the three countries which emerged. Despite the founding of the American Union, to this day, a great deal of tension remains in North America, expecially between the USA and the CSA.

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