Monday, April 8, 2013

The South – Our Very Own Third-World Country


“Guerillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front,” edited by Daniel Sutherland, 1990.

This book is a compendium of academic articles about guerrilla warfare and violence in the southern states during the U.S. Civil War.   It is what put the ‘civil’ in Civil war.   As this book demonstrates, it was not just a ‘war between the states.’ 

Countering the lying stereotype of the “Cause” that all southerners were loyal Confederates, this is another book that shows the resistance that developed among white non-slave owners, poor farmers, workers and hill people against the war and the Confederacy.  I’ve already covered some of this ground in a review of the “Free State of Jones” and “Why the South Lost the Civil War,” both reviewed below. 

The resistance was for many reasons – unionism, anti-slavery sentiments, class antagonism, anti-war feelings, misery due to the privations of the war, hatred of the Confederate draft of poor farmers, opposition to army impressments and the seizures of property and lastly, revenge for the killing of relatives, friends and community members.  Many were deserters from the Confederate Army, and a few became brigands to survive. Free blacks joined the men in the swamps, woods and mountains, and helped the resistance. But this book only touches on black people tangentially.

The reason this resistance is so important is because it is precisely the southern states, as geographic areas, that hold back social progress in the U.S.  The south primarily provides a cheap labor pool for U.S. and other manufacturers, and every social issue goes back to this economic one.  It is not enough to hold your nose or curse the south.  It is essential, as the head of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, Ken Riley, says, to ‘organize the south’ – now more than ever.  It is not just black & Latino workers who have been super-oppressed there and can undermine the neo-Bourbon aristocrats, but many white workers too. They have made few financial or social gains under these modern day wage-slave owners, in spite of the religious, ethnic and sectional pixie dust thrown in their eyes.  Conditions in southern states are the worst in the U.S. in nearly every category of life, and that does not just apply to black or Latino workers.

These conditions are now being imported into the north.  (See commentary below, “A Snake Slithers Up the Mississippi”) See Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin as the new ‘right to work for peanuts’ states.  Now that the Republican Party has made the South their home base, they have become the full-fledged party of the New Confederacy.  The “northern” party – the Democrats – has basically collaborated with them for years on the labor issue.  Which is why we need a very large fifth column in the south.  This book helps undermine one of the key myths used to bind white southern workers to their overlords who try to enforce southern ‘patriotism’ and regionalism.

However, it is also a book that talks about ‘guerilla warfare behind Confederate lines” which also means talking about Confederate guerillas in Kentucky, Tennessee and other states.  This part, of course, is not news.  The book attempts to look at the situation from the local or town angle, to see what it means when guerilla warfare and violence break out among civilians.   And its not pretty.  Your ‘neighbor’ could become a bloody enemy.

Here is the 'news':

In Mississippi:  To start off, the book follows up on the segregationist ‘controversy’ over the ‘Free State of Jones,’ one of several Mississippi counties in the piney woods that resisted the Confederacy and worked with the Union army.  Newton Knight was the leader of the largest anti-Confederate military group.  One of Newton Knights distant segregationist relatives tried to attack Newton, and to do that, wrote a book that was for the most part a fabrication.  The author here takes that book apart.

In Georgia:  The book discusses events in Lumpkin County in the mountains of northern Georgia around Dahlonega.  The author, a professor from Appalachian State University, uses the insulting term of “Tory” to describe the Unionists and deserters who dominated the county for the length of the war, the same term used by the Confederates.  In his text, he attempts to prettify the hanging of 3 local Unionists for deserting the Confederate Army in apologetic, academic, legalistic jargon.  The term ‘Tory’ appears in a few other essays, taking on the language of the Confederacy.  Tory, of course, was the name applied to supporters of Britain in the American Revolution.  The Confederates styled themselves as new supporters of ‘freedom’ and against tyranny -  an irony of all ironies. 

In North Carolina:  The book focuses on the activities of poor white workers and farmers in Lenoir County, North Carolina near the ocean, who deserted to the Union army.  Upon being captured in battle, 21 were hung around the town of Kinston on George Pickett’s orders.  Pickett was the chivalric ‘hero’, who, acting on orders of the infallible Robert E Lee, led his men into slaughter on the 3rd day of Gettysburg, against his better judgment.

In West Virginia:  The book describes the full-fledged rebellion in mountainous western Virginia, which resulted in the formation of the State of West Virginia as a state free of slavery, and allied with the union. 

In Virginia:  The author and editor tries to make a point by describing the conditions of intimidated land-holding supporters of the Union in Culpepper County, Virginia.  The point of his article is to say that class was not the only motivation of opposition to the Confederacy – sometimes just a desire for peace and profit.  And that violence did not always result – at least not overt violence.

In Tennessee:  Unknown to many northerners is that there was overwhelming support for the union in eastern Tennessee, near the mountains.  The Unionists there waged war on the Confederacy and its supporters, and also to get Union armies to back them up – a promise which was not speedily fulfilled, much to their disadvantage. Many wanted to separate eastern and some central Tennessee counties from the rest of the state, as West Virginia had done.  This was not to be.

In Kentucky:  The book tracks the back and forth struggles between Union and Confederate supporters in Kentucky, as both sides operated against each other in guerilla formations.  Kentucky was not a 100% ‘rebel’ state by any means. 

In Texas:   The Confederate government had to try to dominate many counties in north and eastern Texas populated by German farmers loyal to the North.  The Texas Confederates never could pacify those counties, which undermines the Texas claim to being 100% “Reb.”  This harks back to one of the first battles of the Civil War, where radical German socialists in St. Louis attacked the slavers in downtown St. Louis and ejected them from the city.  Texas was no different, and the Germans mostly stood their ground against military and civilian pressure.   

In Louisiana:  The Union occupied New Orleans and the Mississippi early on, and was able to repel guerilla war with somewhat brutal methods.  There is not much information on pro-union militias and guerrillas at all in this article.

In Arkansas:  The Union army recruited 10,000 Arkansas men to the Union forces, and used them effectively against Confederate bush-wackers and guerillas. 

In Missouri:  The author investigated original atrocity stories recorded by Union staffers, the documents of which were sent to the Library of Congress.  These describe everyday fratricidal conflict in Missouri mostly perpetuated by southern partisans, which went on for the whole war and afterwards, involving bloody criminals like Quantrell. 

There seem to be more atrocities committed by Confederates than Unionists in this book.  In slave states that the union conquered, corruption and scorched-earth policies actually hurt the Union, as it would in any geographic confrontation, because it repelled civilians instead of winning them over. 

Truly, we need a modern, working-class Sherman to conquer the south – from the inside.  And Nat Turner.  And John Brown.  And Demark Vesey. And many more white working-class ‘guerillas’ and activists like Newton Knight, who can send the modern spawn of the Confederacy packing. 

And I bought it in the fine used/bargain book section at May Day Books!
Red Frog
April 8, 2013

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