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Archive for the ‘Confederate States of America’ Category

The struggle to get here and put anything in print continues.  But there is light at the end of this tunnel, and things are starting to lighten up.  Activity around this place should pick up in the week or two.  I’ll keep things brief tonight, just because I’m a bit out of practice.

On March 19, 1863, a ship was lost off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina.  On March 19, 1965, a shipwreck was discovered.  It’s location was also off the coast of South Carolina.

And as you might guess, the ship lost and the ship found was one and the same.  The CSS Georgiana was a small vessel by today’s standards.  But by Civil War standards, she was a good size at 226 feet long and displacing more than 400 tons.  She was also iron-hulled, built for speed, and packed a considerable punch.  She was outfitted as a cruiser and given the job of raiding Union merchant shipping.

Unfortunately (for the Georgiana and the Confederates, not the Union), she never really got the opportunity to carry out her mission.  She ran afoul of the Federal Blockading Squadron which was guarding the seaward approaches to Charleston.  Sustaining heavy damage, Captain Davidson ordered the Georgiana abandoned, at which point she was scuttled in shallow water and subsequently burned by Union forces.

Fast forward exactly 102 years, when eighteen-year-old budding archeologist E. Lee Spence found the CSS Georgiana lying in just 5 feet of water.  He was soon the president of his own salvage company and beginning the process of removing cargo from sunken ship’s hold.  And according to the various sources I’ve looked through, Spence has recovered artifacts and cargo worth nearly $12 million.  But so far, none of the gold bullion rumored to be on board has been recovered or found…worth another $12 million or so.

I’ve been poking around looking for a photo or drawing or sketch of the Georgiana, but so far nothing.  If anyone can point me to one, that would be great!!

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Without doubt, there are others who have done a far better job writing about the importance of the 2008 elections than I ever could.  They’ve talked about the incredible voter turnout.  They have spoken eloquently concerning the call, by the American people, for a change in leadership and a new direction.  And, of course, they’ve highlighted the historical significance of America electing its first African-American President.  I wouldn’t, for a moment, try to match words with any of them.

But since we’re on the subject, let’s talk briefly about another elected President…Jefferson.  No, not Thomas Jefferson.  And no, not the President of the United States.  On November 6, 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected as the first (and only) President of the Confederate States of America.

As a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, he believed that each state had the right to secede from the Union, though he strongly opposed the action.  But the ears of his fellow Southerners were to his words as stone, and the Union dissolved.  Davis’ home state seceded in January of 1861, and Davis resigned from the Senate and returned home, where he joined the army.

When the southern “states” held their Constitutional convention in February of the same year, Davis was named the provisional President of the Confederate States, a position that would become official with the returns from the election held on this day in 1861.

By then, the Civil War was in full swing but, just four years later, the Confederate government would dissolve under the pressure from the Northern armies, the sacking and subsequent capture of the Confederate capital, and the surrender of General Lee.  Jefferson Davis’ 6-year term as President would end about 2 years early, and that time would be mostly spent in jail, reflecting on his tenure as one of the two leaders of the Divided States of America.

Recommended reading: April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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On April 3, 1865, Union forces finally captured the Confederate capital of Richmond.  The end to the American Civil War was in sight.  But if you can believe it, the activities of the night before are even more interesting.

Knowing that Grant’s army was on its way, an order to evacuate the city was given around 4 pm.  The citizens that were able to get out of town did so before dark, but a large number remained – holed up in their houses, afraid for their lives and their belongings.

The military and militia in Richmond were given orders to destroy any remaining weapons, dump the barrels of liquor and burn the tobacco warehouses.  Taking care of the cannons was easy enough as they were just tossed into the river.  Perhaps they should’ve done the same with Richmond’s vast amount of leftover whiskey.  Instead it was merely poured into the gutters.  Men do strange things in desperate times, and I would say that living through four years of death and disease might cause people to go a little crazy.  But the idea that were people literally lapping up whiskey from the streets still seems sub-human.

A little dirt whiskey really emboldens a crowd.  Stores and homes were looted, fights broke out, and there were suddenly no troops or law anywhere to be found while a mob of thousands ran amok.  One resident called the societal breakdown “the saddest of many of the sad sights of the war.”

Around the same time, the tobacco warehouses were finally set ablaze.  But the winds shifted, and suddenly the fire was out of control.  Volunteer firemen tried to put it out, but for reasons probably not even known to them, a mob of people chopped their hoses.  But the time it was over, more than twenty blocks had been destroyed.

To cap off the night’s happenings, the National Arsenal exploded causing a chain-reaction of explosions among the remaining ironclads that had been inconveniently packed with the army’s remaining artillery shells.  Altogether over 100,000 shells exploded over a four-hour period raining fire and debris over the city.

What was supposed to be a peaceful evacuation of the city turned into chaos and even more death and destruction.

Recommended reading: April 1865: The Month That Saved America

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In accordance with his nature, Robert E. Lee wanted to make one final assault in what everyone knew to be the last days of the Confederacy.  All he hoped to do, he told Jeff Davis, was “delay the impending disaster.”  He decided that an assault on Fort Stedman just outside Petersburg, VA might break the Union’s supply lines, and that it would at least cause Ulysses S. Grant some distress.

The plan was to take the fort and then move on to 3 smaller “backup” forts, gather up the guns there, and eventually make their way east to City Point where they would hopefully gather up high-level prisoners, including Grant himself.

The attack began in the dark at 4 am on March 25, 1865 with the Confederate forces wearing white strips of linen so that they could be identified by their fellow soldiers.  The surprise attack worked, and they took the fort fairly easily before dawn.  But as the morning light increased, they realized something.  There were no other forts.  Boxed in by heavy fire and forced to retreat and then surrender, the Confederate army suffered some of its highest casualties – an estimated 4,800, or one-sixth of Lee’s command.

There were a couple more battles before Lee’s surrender 2 weeks later at Appomattox, but the assault and then loss of Fort Stedman was more than just a symbolic defeat.  It was a devastating last grasp at the close of a bloody, 4-year struggle.

Recommended reading: The Civil War: A Narrative, Vol. 3 Red River to Appomattox

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Confederate Cabinet

On March 11, 1861, the Confederate States of America unanimously (sort of) adopted a Permanent Constitution.  Rather than starting from scratch, they used the U.S. Constitution as a model and went line-by-line inserting the changes they wanted to make in their new country.  Let’s take a look at the interesting ones:

After some in-fighting (which was not a rarity), they maintained the prohibition on slave trade from foreign countries.  Rather than being seen as something progressive, they likely kept this provision because they had all the slaves they needed and importing more would only devalue what they considered their current property.  They also, not surprisingly, strengthened the fugitive slave law.

They eliminated the provision that members of Congress could not serve in the Cabinet.  It was thought that this would give the President a voice in arguing for his own legislation and, conversely, help the other legislators understand his point of view on different matters.

A few differences centered on money.  There was to be no protective tariff.  And all appropriations had to originate with the president, although they eventually conceded that Congress could raise money for navigation issues.  Having the president authorize all appropriations would eliminate any pork-barrel legislation from congressmen – already seen as a problem 140+ years ago.  Also, to further this end, the president would have line-item veto power on all appropriations bills.

The president and vice-president were limited to one six-year term, although they could run again after a six-year break.

And to make what they knew to be a hastily-prepared, contentious constitution more malleable, they made it so that only three states (already then a minority) could call for a convention to vote on a new amendment, and they changed the votes necessary to pass an amendment from three-fourths to just two-thirds.

Some interesting items that were in the initial provisional constitution but were eventually rejected included:

They reserved the right to restrict trade with any slave state not a member of the Confederacy; eligibility for president entailed being a citizen of one of the original states, thus diminishing the effect of the border states even if they were to join; the Supreme Court would only sit to hear cases when requested by Congress; and a provision that any state that abolished slavery could be expelled from the Confederacy.

Recommended reading: Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America

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