Thoughts On The Civil War

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Editor, The Herald:

I have been reading with some interest the articles by Bert Dunkerly entitled 150 Years Ago This Month: The Civil War. While they are for the most part accurate they are, in some regards, incomplete. The writing of this period of our history is often rife with omissions and misrepresentations to the point that we lose sight of whole picture and much truth is washed away. This is especially true of this conflict and in particular the Southern aspect as the history of any war is written by the victor. This is indeed a complicated era of our history and may elicit varied emotions. I will attempt to offer at least briefly some facts to help flesh out what Mr. Dunkerly has covered thus far.

It must be remembered that from the earliest history of our country, even before independence was won from England; the Southern and Northern portions of our land were divided by cultural, economical and political differences. Winston Churchill said that our War Between the States was the most inevitable in history. It can be argued that our “civil war” was an extension of the English civil war. The descendants of the “Cavaliers”, those Englishmen engaged in agriculture settled the South, and the “Roundheads”, those Englishmen engaged in manufacturing settled the North. They brought with them the same hostility and bitterness that had plagued their ancestors.

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The November 17th article insinuates that Virginia was somehow made jealous by the election of Lincoln in 1860 because a Virginian had not been elected president in the past ten years and that “the delicate balance of power between free and slave states was gradually tipping in the favor of the free states”. In truth, the balance of power had long since slipped away. In the House the North gained a majority prior to 1840 and the balance in the Senate was broken in 1850 with the admission of California as a free state. Mr. Dunkerly writes “at the heart of the issue was the expansion of slavery”. While slavery was an issue that was hotly debated, at the heart of the issue was how the constitution was construed by the northern majority especially in the House where money bills, tax bills and appropriations originate. Long had been the practice “of a system of revenue and disbursements by which an undue proportion of the taxes were paid by the South and an undue proportion of the proceeds paid to the North”. In other words, in many ways the South was in the position of a colony of the North. Understand this and you can begin to understand the States Rights issue. The Constitution was to guarantee all states equal opportunities, benefits and protection. As to the slavery issue, the resistance to the expansion of slavery by the Northern states was fostered by the desire to keep opportunities in those lands available only to free white labor and had nothing to do with sympathy for the plight of the black race. That is evidenced by the fact that several states in the Northwest forbade the entry of even free blacks let alone slaves. This practice had the force of law as many states had such statutes written into their constitutions. While slavery would not have flourished in these areas anyway the laws also had the effect of telling Southerners they were not welcome to settle or to travel to or through these states with their slaves.

The articles printed on 12-03-10 and 12-31-10 both deal with Fort Sumter. I hope to be able to share information on Sumter in another letter as it is a complicated topic. The article of 12-31-10 also mentions the formation of the Nottoway Grays and their eventual designation as Company G of the 11th Virginia Infantry when in reality they were Company G of the 18th Virginia Infantry.

John Brown is covered as well though his raid on Harper's Ferry is stated as having occurred in November of 1860 it occurred one year earlier on October 16, 1859. John Brown is referred to by Mr. Dunkerly as an “outspoken Anti-slavery leader” which is an interesting euphemism for a terrorist and murderer. John Brown's “gang”, which was made up in part by his own sons (and who had committed brutal murder in Kansas) sought and found financial backing from several northern business men for their attack on Harper's Ferry. The intention was to launch a slave revolt which would both free slaves and kill the men, women and children of the South. Ironically, the first man they killed was a highly respected free black man, Hayward Sheppard, who was employed by the railroad as a master porter. Six others were killed and seventeen injured. Most of Brown's men were captured, five escaped into Ohio and Iowa. Both of these states refused to extradite these murdering terrorists to Virginia for trial.

Over the course of the next four years there will be considerable time for discussion and debate about The War for Southern Independence. I encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to do your own research. It is important to remember as you research, the closer you can get to the original source, the purer the truth.

Chuck Ironmonger

Prince Edward