Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reflections on The Civil War and "Dixie of the Pacific Northwest"

The American Civil War lasted four years, took an estimated 620,000 lived on both sides and crippled and maimed hundreds of thousands more. Although several southern states has already seceded by the time President Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861, open hostilities did not commence until April 12 of that year.  The Federal brigade at Fort Sumter (in Charleston, South Carolina ) was bombed by rebel forces that morning as soon as there was light enough to see the place they were firing at.   The fort's island redoubts and walls were smashed to rubble by cannons.

(above, a Civil War Union Veterans Parade in Ashland, Oregon, approximately in the 1890's.)

 After thirty hours the Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered.       

It began as a war devised in my opinion by a few southern politicians, the landed interests they represented, and the northern politicans and cohorts who either appeased or profited from slavery,  to leave the Union---and maintain the "peculiar institution" of slavery in the bargain. It only ended when it had been made clear by Mr. Lincoln that slavery could no longer exist as a protected economic vehicle inside the United States.

 Ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, ending slavery and giving citizenship rights to all citizens born in America, was the price the former rebel states paid after the war when they rejoined the Union.    

The price for the bondage of four million African souls and all those who came in chains to America prior to 1861, was borne by both sides in the conflict, North and South, white soldier and (in the Union forces) black soldiers as well.

As Abraham Lincoln put it in his great speech in his Second Inaugural Address four years after the first...

"One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.


"Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged..."


"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."


Lincoln himself was one of the last to pay with his life in that war for this cause.


That was not the end of the story of course and the conflict that is so long ago still instills bitterness and revisionism in some quarters. The great myth of "The Lost Cause" began shortly afterwards to console those who had loyalties to the Dixie States that thier fight was not about oppression but somehow about tariffs or states rights or whatever--anything but the prime motive, profitting from the labor of the uncompensated and unfree.

True, as I'm sure a friendd has told me quite a few times on this matter,  many young southern men who fought did not own slaves and many union men who fought for the Grand Old Republic hated blacks.  But there was a deeper truth to the conflict, sensed by Lincoln before the war started when he said: "a nation cannot exist half slave and half free, it must be either one or the other." 

The argument will go n in some quarters as long as the country lasts.  One thing is sure: many hundreds of thousands on both sides paid dearly in those four years.   And to be ignorant of this conflict is to be ignorant of many of the political  problems America faces even today, especially the attitudes toward government power.  

Some states and their citizens were luckier than those in others. In the far Northwest, the state of Oregon had only been admitted to the Union in 1859. Its state constitution forbade slavery but also made it a criminal offense for black men and women to emigrate to the new state. This is more measure of the hatred and bigotry that some legislators of  "free soil"   states, including Lincoln's home state of Illinois, had for those who were liberated from un-remitted toil and status as little more  than chattel property.        

The article below is from "The Ashland (Oregon) Daily Tidings", published on April 8 of this year and refers to a talk given by local historian Jeff  Lalande about the effect the war had on a distant Pacific-shored state.   

No battle of the Civil War was fought in Southern Oregon, but feelings on both sides ran high. Backers of the secessionist South, who concentrated in the Jacksonville-Gold Hill area, nearly came to blows many times with abolitionist Union immigrants, clustered in Ashland, Talent and Phoenix, historians say.

 Ashland tended to be the settling place of "kindred spirits" from the Oregon Trail who knew a lot of the same people back home in the Midwest, says LaLande, ticking off the family names of Beeson, Helman and Applegate, "the movers and shakers" of Ashland.

Museum director Victoria Law says immigrants from the South were engaged prosperously in gold mining here, while immigrants from the upper Midwest settled into the farming life.

"The war was far away," says Law, "but the feelings were intense and often pitted neighbor against neighbor and community against community. A lot of immigrants came from the South, including a lot of the gold miners in Jacksonville — and they were pro-slavery and pro-secessionist."

One "very ardent secessionist" was William T'Vault of Gold Hill, the first newspaper editor in Oregon and the first speaker of the Oregon House, she says.

"Northern Oregon people called Southern Oregon 'Little Dixie,' " says Law, adding that there was a riot in Roseburg in which secessionists killed nine Union sympathizers.

"There was a lot of speech-making here and threats to tear down each other's flags."

The political parties in 1861, says Law, "were the reverse of now, with the Republicans being the progressive party."

The pro-slavery South was Democratic and the abolitionist Union, home of Abraham Lincoln, was Republican.

Most of the men in Ashland were involved in the war in some way, with many joining the Ashland Mountain Rangers, "the first militia here, formed to protect Southern Oregon from secessionists," says Law.

The Union built Camp Baker in Phoenix so the militia could drill and be prepared for battle, says Law, who has located 59 Civil War burials in Jackson County — only three of them veterans of the Confederacy.

Camp Baker, says LaLande, was a small post, not a fort, and served as a military presence of volunteer cavalry and infantry after the regular army went off to war.

They protected settlers from "depredations" of the Klamath Indians, who began coming over the Cascades after original American Indians here were shipped off to the Siletz and Grande Ronde reservations on the Oregon Coast, LaLande says. A bronze plaque marks the site of the camp today.

"There was fear some locals might prove disloyal (to the Union)," he says.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

A song from the period, performed by the popular and controversial 1950's and 60s folk group The Weavers.


  1. Thought provoking to say the least Doug. As there was a history which took place between our lands at this time. I shall look further and make comment. As there was a point where loyalist immigrated into parts of Western Canada. As well, Abe Lincoln certainly stood his ground and there is much here that one can write on within history.

  2. You're right Jack. Canada did play an important role in the "Underground Railroad" movement to bring blacks to freedom after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. It was both a refuge for slaves and a place where a few Confederate spies planned attacks and sabatoge campaigns on the Union with their "Copperhead" allies in the US nothern states.

  3. Gosh you know as there was several that not only took the path of the underground railway but as well there was recent studies that came out of Stanford which indicated that some fled to the west as well. But I shall return.

  4. Very interesting read Doug I've always been interested in the civil war since I was a kid having grown up in the south.I read where the south had group of spy's living in Canada who made plans to kill Lincoln by sending him a suit which had been infected with some type of deadly disease. The infected suit had been obtain from some third world country in south America. They mailed the suit to Lincoln but nothing ever came of the plot somehow the infection never happened.Just thought I'd throw that in as it isn't mentioned very much in history..thanks for the post enjoyed it Doug.

  5. No comment Doug I am not going this path... Yet Mike, I will say you are all wet. Silly how you have an invite and what is understood doesnt have to be discussed.

  6. That's really an off the wall plot, Mike! I've never seen it referred to anywhere. Thanks.

  7. Sig, there is much to take into account during this time and era and often I digest it and within the history of President Abe Lincoln that was not in any history books I ever read. I wish to come back and read add in some of the historical things related with America and on America.

  8. Well that's something I never knew before. I wonder what the process was where they changed and how that evolved?

    This was a very interesting post Doug, I have read bits and pieces about this civil war. It's hard to believe now in this day and age that anyone could find justification for slavery.

  9. Interesting article, Doug, It certainly filled in a few gaps in my knowledge of the subject.

    A war where brother fights brother, is bound to bring about much heartache.

    Thank you.

  10. Super song there, Doug. I don't want to go off the subject, but was there much music written about those battles?

  11. Cassandra, I was trying to find some video music for you, but the following is first what I found, and I like the insight it gives about how universal music is, and what it can do.

    "Many soldiers brought musical instruments from home to pass the time at camp. Banjos, fiddles, and guitars were particularly popular. Aside from drums, the instruments Confederates played were either acquired before the war, or imported, due to the lack of brass and the industry to make such instruments.

    Musical duels between the two sides were common, as they heard each other as the music traveled across the countryside. The night before the Battle of Stones River, bands from both sides dueled with separate songs, until both sides started playing Home! Sweet Home!, at which time soldiers on both sides started singing together as one. A similar situation occurred in Fredericksburg, Virginia in the winter of 1862–3. On a cold afternoon a Union band started playing Northern patriotic tunes; a Southern band responded by playing Southern patriotic tunes. This back and forth continued into the night, until at the end both sides played Home! Sweet Home! simultaneously, to the cheers of both sides' forces. In a third instance, in the spring of 1863, the opposing armies were on the opposite sides of the Rappahannock River in Virginia, when the different sides played their patriotic tunes, and at taps one side played Home! Sweet Home!, and the other joined in, creating "cheers" from both sides that echoed throughout the hilly countryside. "

    I think this expresses something very deep about human nature, and music. We aren't as different as we think, and I could go on forever about that, but I won't. Have you read "Red Badge of Courage?"

    "Both sides sang Maryland, My Maryland, although the lyrics were slightly different. Another popular song for both was Lorena. When Johnny Comes Marching Home was written in 1863 by Patrick Gilmore, an immigrant from Ireland, and was also enjoyed by both sides.

    The first song written for the war, The First Gun is Fired, was first published and distributed three days after the Battle of Fort Sumter. George F. Root, who wrote it, is said to have produced the most songs of anyone about the war, over thirty in total. Lincoln once wrote a letter to Root, saying, "You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators."

    Does anyone know if any songs have been written about the carnage in the Middle East?

  12. Dr. Luke P. Blackburn of Kentucky thought it a good idea to spread yellow fever, small pox and other infectious diseases in the North by means of infected clothing. Testimony was introduced at the trial of the conspirators in May, 1865, to the effect that at Blackburn’s direction Confederate agents had tried to spread pestilence throughout the North, including the White House, by distributing infected clothing that Blackburn had gathered from victims of the disease in Bermuda and sent to various garment distributors in the United States. Allegedly, he even sent infected shirts to Lincoln.

  13. "Blackburn, despite being a doctor, did not know that yellow fever could not be contracted by contact with infected clothing. Few, if any, did know it, until Dr. Walter Reed discovered, in 1900, that the disease was spread by the bite of mosquitoes. That Jefferson Davis knew about this plot was proved by a letter written to him by Kensey Johns Stewart, an Episcopal minister turned Confederate agent, who implored Davis to call it off on the grounds that it could not possibly find favor with God. The letter, sent in December, 1864, was found among the few Confederate records that hadn’t been burned. This letter, in my judgment, comes very close to a smoking gun inasmuch as it demonstrates Davis’s willingness to kill innocent people, and even the President of the United States (with the infected shirts), if it would further the cause of Southern independence."
    Mike, this is a great link! When I said "off the wall," it really is, isn't it, compared to our technology?

  14. That is something I hadn't heard before Jack, but it does make sense. The western territories were vast and underpopulated (apart from the Native Americans) and many people who came West likely weren't wedded as wedded to the old order whence they came.

  15. You're welcome Mike. The Confederate agents attempt Kind of recalls the CIA's efforts to poison Fidel Castro with a diving suit tainted with some poison.

    I think I should make clear that, as far as I know, no group of Canadians were involved in any plot to kill Lincoln. But there were agents of the Confederacy in Montreal and other cities taking advantage of British neutrality. Just as German agents in World War II took advantage of American neutrality in the Second World War before Pearl Harbor. The people of Canada and Great Britain were mainly anti-slavery in mindset, apart from those who dealt in the cotton trade.

  16. I hope you will Jack. I don't think Mike meant anything negative towards Canada,

  17. Mike it's all fine I yet I never looked thoroughly about what you mentioned regarding spys from Canada attempting to kill Abe Lincoln and that never happened in history that is all.

  18. No he didnt and it was my mistake Doug. Last night I was reading several articles and there is allot to bite into with this one. Thus it's really something to think and write on. Again time is a factor here...

  19. thats what I meant a "sleeper cell" of southerns "confederates" who had their base in Canada no they were not Canadians I agree Doug.

  20. That's one of my favorite bits of Americana, Cassandra. I think The Weavers version is superior to anything else I could find.

    Sigurd did a fine job relating the musical "battles of the band" between Union and Confederate forces...thank you for sharing that information.

    There was a major multi-part documentary about the Civil War, produced by Ken Burns, that came out in 1990. The amount of familiar America music connected to that war is immense. 'The Bonny Blue Flag", "Hail Columbia", "Marching Through Georgia", 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and those previously mentioned have stood the test of time.

  21. Yes, I think you're right Mike. As I recall, John Wilkes Booth was in contact with some of these "sleeper cells" in the months before his assassination of Lincoln...which reminds me that I'm looking to this new film "The Conspirator" about the military trails of Mary Surratt and others who were unjustly hanged--many historians say--for an assassination plot they were not directly involved with.

  22. I should have been more clear when I mentioned this southern Confederate spy ring in Canada..they were Americans. Canada was the "promised land" for many who rode the "under ground railroad" .

  23. The Republican Party was indeed the progressive party in the Civil War Era and beyond, Iri Ani. It was originally the so-called "Radical Republicans" who pushed for civil rights for blacks in the Congress as early as the late 1860's to1877, the "Reconstruction Period" when Federal troops occupied southern states and African-Americans could vote for the first time in elections. Some black Americans were even elected to the House and Senate.

    After a hotly disputed Preisdential election in 1876,a deal was made between the two parties to withdraw Federal troops from the South. This resulted in a new "Jim Crow" era where blacks lost most of their political and economic gains. The Republican Party didn't make very many inroads into the South for decades. Northern Democrats were willing to accept Jim Crow Laws in those Deep South states in exchange for the general support by southerners of social and economic issues that helped the party attract working and immigrant class Americans. I should point out that many major northern and midwestern American cities like Chicago and Boston had a kind of de facto segregation as well.

    As America became more and more a world industrial power after World War One, the Republicans became more and more the party of business and banking interests. Progressive politicans could still be Republican though. But Republican Party has become less and less welcoming of progressives after World War II and the New Deal Era of Franklin Roosevelt ended. By 1948, the Democratic Party split along lines of pro-and anti Civil Rights. Many Southern whites broke away from the party. By the 1960s, when Civil Rights law were finally put on the books after a 90 year delay, it was the segregationist Democrats like Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and George Wallace of Alabama who either left the party and went to the Republicans or started their own smaller independant parties. Republicans like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan welcomed these new Republicans with open arms, taking on the popular message of the day that federal power from Washington was too great and it interfered with people's lives. (Much of this was helped by the fact that the federal government demanded that blacks be integrated into previously all-white schools and federal law now made it impossible for "Jim Crow" to continue.)

    So a big switch occurred for racial and economic reasons (the South also became more prosperous after World War Two, thus more amenable to the Republicans.) But i would say race was a huge factor in the switch.

  24. Exactly Mike. The end of the line of the Underground Railroad was in Canada. It was the only place after 1850 that escaped slaves could be assured of not being recaptured,

  25. That's a certainty Cassandra. Although the reasons may be different, it seems all major nation-states have one of these terrible internecine conflicts sooner of later.

  26. This is a great link, Mike. It encapsulates a lot of the undercover and "black flag" operations frm both sides...thanks for sharing this fascinating site!

  27. It is amazing, Sigurd, and sad to think that so much slaughter was carried out, even before there was anything as basic to 20th Century slaughters as dynamite or modern machine guns.

  28. Indeed it is Jack. It is more one I need to bookmark and go back into.

    How great that so many of these pictures still turn up from collections we in the public haven't seen. Thanks!

  29. Nice to hear this anthem from The Weavers Doug, but the 'freedom' we are talking about here is primarily that of the market place. Slavery distorts capitalism of course and ultimately destroys it because it abolishes the notion of free labour and the market determined value of commodities.

    It seems to me that as you indicate above the American Civil War had nothing (or next to nothing) to do with the moral standing of slavery.

    Rather it was fought over the supremacy of capitalist relations of production vis-a-vis the anti-competitive nature of slave owning and the unfair advantages this gave the employers of unpaid, unfree labour.

    The risks of this spreading westward fuelled the Free Soil movement as the Whigs collapsed, so the markets were to be free and the soil was to be free too, provided you were not an indigenous American or a black African, or a yellow Chinaman of course, in which case ethnic cleansing cleared the path for this spreading form of freedom.

    The upset of Oregon joining the Union, the jealous struggle for the resources of the West and the birth pangs of a new form of market liberalism and a politics in which racists fought against slavery in the hope of eventually repatriating the newly freed slaves to West Africa, where it was felt by many Unionists that they really belonged.

    I think it is interesting how anthems like The Battle Cry of Freedom are about inspiring people to fight the 'good fight', when in reality no side of the fight was actually 'good', it was more a debate on the exact nature of genocide and the exploitation of the environment.

    It seems to me that those strands remain intertwined in contemporary discourses on freedom in the English speaking world today.

    Interesting historical references to your neck of the woods here Doug.

    My own present researches and reading is touching the territory of the Americas because I am looking more carefully at neolithic societies and archaeological evidence from both sides of the Atlantic (and further afield).

    In prehistory the people of America and the people of Europe are drawn together before the concept of a New World gave a boost to geopolitics and the machinations of empire

    America has now embarked on the final chapter of that story in Africa itself where 'freedom' and 'slavery' are finally coming home to roost, which brings us nicely to the historic purpose of Barack Obama as Africa becomes the last frontier for American capitalism and the final resting place of the Republican revolution.

  30. There is truth I believe in what you say about the advantage free labor might have over the old agricultural "slave power" in a nation that was on a furthering capitalist and in the northeast at least, industrial path, AA.

    And the notion of an "open and expanding frontier" it's true that such openness often overlooks men and women of color who happen to have on that land for generations or simply desire roughly equal opportunities. Suffice to say African-Americans were better off if they were to defy Oregon law to settle upwards toward the northern part of the state, which some did apparently with no major upsets.

    I don't know if there is such a thing as a good war; some do create a measure of result in the carnage that provides some advancement of a society. But, as you say, this had no effect on the rights of indigenous peoples--they had none. And the struggle for blacks in America had hard-won advances ahead.

    I will be interested to read what you'd like to share about the prehistoric links between America and Europe.

    It seems both Chinese and American capitalism are on a course to tap into that African "frontier". The Chinese have many operations in the areas once known as "British East" for example. Hopefully some good will come of that for the people of east Africa.

    And Bravo to you for remembering the once-illustrious American Whig Party! The Wiglets get so little respect these days; its hard to find any of them on a electoral ballot between here and the state of Maine!

    Thanks fro your comments, AA. I admit I enjoy giving the "local Oregon angle" to major national events. It was California's entry into the Union--taken from Mexico and then populated quickly due to a gold rush near Sacramento and San Francisco in the late 1840's, that probably set the stage for the Civil War because its entry and its wealth tipped the balance further toward "free soil" power.

  31. For most in the South the Civil War never really ended and has been perpetuated to this day. With the Civil Rights movement in this country being compared to communism and so on, anything progressive has been frowned upon by those whose sympathies were and still are with the Southern cause. Indeed, I consider them traitors to this country as those do not represent the ideals which our founding fathers built this country on.

  32. I really don't think we are comparing like with like here Doug.

    Whatever our views on China's economic predominance it is not an imperialist power like the US and its dubious coterie of NATO allies. The Chinese have not stationed aggressive military powers all around the world nor prosecuted wars that constitute 'crimes against humanity' or 'war crimes' in the terms of the Nuremberg tribunals.

    The US and its allies have and still do so every day in various parts of the world.

    Libya is a classic example as of course are Iraq, Afghanistan and under Obama's leadership Pakistan is also to be added to the list of victims.

    In purely geopolitical terms China is a far better neighbour than is America and its NATO surrogates.

    If there were another Nuremberg trial the leaders of the US, Britain and France would be in the dock I think but the leadership of China would not be.

  33. Perhaps you're right, AA. But I still wouldn't want to be a Tibetan with neighbor like that. There are Chinese officials who probably should be in a dock for crimes against political activists in their own country.

  34. The overwhelmingly anti-progressive traditions in the elitist part of the white southern political class has certainly been an anchor on our country for decades Stephen. Not much "enlightenment" coming out of that many parts of that region, especially South Carolina.

  35. I can only compare it with Nicaragua or El Salvador Doug