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The Collapse of The Confederacy

The Collapse of The Confederacy

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The Collapse of The Confederacy

260 pagine
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Aug 9, 2016


In 1937, in his ground-breaking The Collapse of the Confederacy, the African American historian Charles H. Wesley (1891-1987) took a bold step in rewriting the history of the Confederate South by asserting that the new nation failed because of underlying internal and social factors. Looking beyond military events to explain the Confederacy’s demise, Wesley challenged conventional interpretations and argued that, by 1865, the supposedly unified South had “lost its will to fight.” Though neglected today by scholars and students of the Civil War, Wesley ranked as one of the leading African American historians, educational administrators, and public speakers of the first half of the twentieth century.
Aug 9, 2016

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Charles Harris Wesley (December 2, 1891 - August 16, 1987) was an American historian, educator, minister, and author. He published more than 15 books on African-American history, served as president of Wilberforce University, and founding president of Central State University, both in Ohio. He died in Washington, D.C. in 1987 and is buried at Lincoln Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland.

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The Collapse of The Confederacy - Prof. Charles H. Wesley

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Text originally published in 1937 under the same title.

© Pickle Partners Publishing 2016, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Publisher’s Note

Although in most cases we have retained the Author’s original spelling and grammar to authentically reproduce the work of the Author and the original intent of such material, some additional notes and clarifications have been added for the modern reader’s benefit.

We have also made every effort to include all maps and illustrations of the original edition the limitations of formatting do not allow of including larger maps, we will upload as many of these maps as possible.




Professor of History at Howard University

Washington, D.C.







Food for the Army and People 10

The Effects of Confederate Financial Plans 17

War Supplies and Manufactures 19

Numbers 30


The Cabinet 33

The Congress 35

Popular Opposition to Administrative Measures 36

State-Rights Controversy 40

Speculation 43

Social Evils 44


The Decline of Enthusiasm 46

Desertions 48

Rich Man’s War 50

The Effects of Deaths 51

The Will to Fight 51

Movements for Peace 55

Southern Women 58


Cotton Is King 61

The Limitation of Cotton 63

The Failure of Cotton 67

The Refusal to Abandon Slavery 69

Emancipation 70


The Free Negro Population 75

The Military Employment of Free Negroes 77

The Impressment of Slaves for War Purposes 80

Negro Soldiers 83



I—Food in the Confederacy 95

II—Numbers 97

III—Opposition to the Confederacy 99

IV—Opinion on Emancipation 100

V—Negroes as Military Laborers 101

VI—Negroes as Confederate Soldiers 103

VII—Act of the Confederate Congress employing Negroes as soldiers 107




The purpose of this volume is to make a brief exposition of the collapse of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is not the purpose to present a comprehensive history of the Confederacy. The aim has been to prepare a short history of the complex causes at work in the South during the period of the Confederate decline. An increasing interest in the history of the Confederacy has revealed the need for objective historical treatments of its past. The presentation of its life and history in novels and literary treatises has given rise to concepts which are only partially related to the facts as the unbiased historian sees them.

Sectional differences, especially as they relate to the North and South, are still active causes of controversy. Studies which are intended to treat the economic, social or psychological conflicts in either of these sections, therefore, are likely to be productive of emotional attitudes on the part of authors and similar reactions on the part of readers. The writer has endeavored to pursue the investigation with impartiality. It is hoped that the reader may also free himself from any bias and apply to the text the same rigid test.

This volume is a complete revision and expansion of an essay, which was the result of a study undertaken at Harvard University under the direction of Professor Edward Charming. This study was first published as a brief account in one of the Howard University Studies in History. The wealth of historical material which has been brought to light within recent years and the increase of published research concerning the several aspects of internal situations within the Confederacy have induced the author to present his earlier views in this work. While the evidence has increased since the first account was published, the conclusions in this study are relatively the same.

There have appeared comprehensive treatments of the Confederacy, and other publications have dealt with general aspects and special phases of the subject, but there have been few efforts to treat critically the internal movements in the decline of Southern resistance. This study is intended to set forth comprehensively this neglected aspect of American history and to present an analysis of the causes and a summary of the internal processes by which the Confederacy collapsed. No attempt is made in this investigation to recount the general historical facts. These may be secured from the secondary accounts of the war. It is presumed that those who use this study are familiar with such facts.

The author wishes to express his gratitude to Dr. Carter G. Woodson for reading the manuscript and the galley proofs, and to the Social Science Research Council for a grant-in-aid used in part for the completion of this task.


Howard University

Washington, D. C.


It has been customary to account for the collapse of the Confederacy in the war, 1861-1865, on the bases of the preponderant resources of men and materials and the superior military, financial and industrial organization of the North.{1} It has been asserted that the Confederacy might have continued the contest if there had not been a superior organization of the Northern forces, as shown in Grant’s Campaign in Virginia, Thomas’ victories in Tennessee, Sheridan’s devastation in the Shenandoah, Sherman’s march through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, and the Blockade. The resources of the two sections have been compared and statistics of the wealth and population have been used to show the superiority of the Northern section. Finally, this rather traditional treatment of the war has ended with the astonishing conclusion that we must all be amazed that the Confederacy was able to continue the contest for so long a period.

On the contrary, it is astonishing that with its resources the Confederacy did not continue the War for a longer period. Here was a section with a large territory and enormous resources suddenly collapsing. How is it to be explained in any other way than on the basis of military organization! Quite evidently the military campaigns of the North, its superior industrial organization and its larger resources had great effect upon the result of the contest. But these conclusions cannot completely explain the result. No treatment of the Civil War will be complete until the disintegrating internal factors have been exploited. The psychological factors which entered into the disruption of Southern morale and the inherent political weaknesses of the Confederacy were fundamental, for in the long run these determined the resistance.

The South collapsed, it is asserted, because of the lack of men, food, war materials and resources for its population. These factors should be carefully studied before we can determine whether they were directly responsible, or whether behind these there were more potent factors. The lack of material resources did occasion suffering in the South, especially during 1865. This must be admitted. But no nation in history has gained its independence or its freedom to follow its chosen pursuits, without suffering and without drinking the dregs of the bitter cup of adversity. The wars of independence in the modern world have been fought, as a rule, by peoples of inferior resources and populations. Note the wars of the Netherlands with Spain at the dawn of the modern era in which thousands were butchered in the Spanish Fury and their country inundated, but the Dutch were not beaten; the wars of Frederick the Great, in which Prussia was drained of men and boys by conscription, even Berlin, the Capital, was captured and the country overrun, but Prussia was not defeated. The American Revolution, the Spanish uprising against the Napoleonic invaders—these and others show clearly that more important than numbers and resources—as weighty as they may be in the final result—are the morale of the people and their attitudes toward war. The war lesson which modern history seems to teach is that a nation like an individual is not beaten until its spirit is broken.

The Earl of Chatham expressed the thought most clearly when he said, Conquer a free population of three million souls! The thing is impossible! Morale was just as fundamental a factor in the Civil War. While there was a lack of food in the army and in certain military areas, there was food in abundance in other parts of the South. While there was an insufficient supply of munitions and the implements of war, there were still army supplies to be burned and destroyed at Richmond, Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Fayetteville, Columbia and other places as late as March, 1865. While there was an inadequate transportation system, there were railroads, other lines were constructed, older ones repaired, new cars built, and there were-wagons and horses, foundries and mills. Truly, as in other wars for independence, the government denying this right was superior in all things, but in this case the people who were seeking independence seemed powerless to use the nucleus given them for the building of a greater resistance.

There are also generalizations which consider the Southern population as a homogeneous group and under a sweeping indictment refer to the people of this section as the South during the war. Such generalizations do not reach the real truth in this situation. There were divisions among the people of the South and these should be taken into consideration in developing this neglected aspect of our history. The consciousness of these divisions had led Southern politicians for decades to endeavor to make their people aware of their need for unity, especially as an outgrowth of slavery, their peculiar domestic institution.

At the top of the scale and dominating the politics and society of this section were the large slaveholders. They had dominated the state legislatures and had led in the secession movement. They could hire substitutes for themselves in the army. Their overseers on the large plantations were exempt from conscription. This was the basis for the cry rich man’s war and poor man’s fight. A second class was composed of the small farmers, the tradesmen and the artisans, who outnumbered the first group. Many of these were also the owners of slaves, but of only from one to five in number, and they were the most numerous of the slaveholders. These two classes formed about one-third of the Southern population, and they were accordingly, so far as numbers were concerned, in the minority. Two-thirds of the Southern people held no slaves. Of this class there was a large number of persons who were opposed to the domination and control of their political affairs by the slaveholders. From this number, there came many of the conscripts, who were found later among the deserters. Others were the mountain folk, the hillbillies; and yet, even some of these were as loyal to the Confederacy as were the slaveholders. There were still others who were opposed to slavery from the beginning, and only the propaganda of the ruling class kept them loyal to the Southern cause.

Whenever conclusions are being drawn concerning the morale of the South and the spirit of the people, these divisions in socio-economic interests should be taken into consideration. The class structure of Southern society is fundamental in a truthful interpretation of its history. No blanket indictment of all the people can be truthful. The interest of the Southern people in slavery was not entirely determinative of the varying attitude toward the war, for some of the so-called poor whites and some who neither held slaves nor had any interest in the system were as brave and as determined in the closing year of the war as in the opening days. It seems that divergent groups were temporarily together at the beginning of the war and that they gradually separated as the war progressed, until the masses of the Southern people had lost their enthusiasm for independence as a common cause or for any other binding principle of the Confederacy as a unit. They could be continuously loyal to their states but not to the Confederacy. This disintegration of loyalty and its related factors brought the Confederacy tottering to its fall.

There were those who fought nobly and bravely, and who gave up their lives for their beloved cause, but they were not in sufficient numbers to maintain a continuously powerful resistance. The facts in the case present a picture decidedly different from the stereotyped portrayal found in the generalizations which maintain either directly or by implication that there was a united, courageous resistance throughout the war and that the South in spite of its loyalty and sacrifice was beaten by superior numbers and resources. The devastations of the war at Atlanta and other places through which the Union armies passed show the extent of the effects of the military invasions. The observations of travelers in the post-war South reveal the aftermath of the military disasters in this section, but they fail to show the causal process of the decline of the resistance which made military defeat possible. The destruction of property, the loss of manpower, the grief of the bereaved, the conceit of the victors, the ambition of the carpetbaggers, and the treachery of the scalawags—all and more—find space in these unusual experiences. These were apparent, and they were real. The underlying and the exotic forces, however, were not seen. The task of this work is to endeavor to discover the realities which were beneath the surfaces of military defeats and victories and stood behind the scenes in which the armies battled.

The study which follows will be divided into five parts: (1) To determine whether there were sufficient resources of war available; (2) to examine the internal dissensions and the lack of the spirit of cooperation in politics and society in order to weigh their responsibility for the defeat; (3) to answer the question whether the morale of the Confederacy was in any measure responsible for the outcome; (4) to investigate cotton and slavery as determining factors in the struggle; and (5) to review the progress of the proposals to employ Negroes in the military service and to show their significant relations to the collapse. With the military events constantly in mind, the investigation of these factors and especially the ones which were economic, social and psychological, should assist in a more comprehensive treatment of our Civil War period.


Food for the Army and People

With the approach of the War for Southern Independence, the slave-holding states were devoting their major agricultural efforts to the production of cotton. The cotton crop for these states in 1860 amounted to 3.841,416 bales. In 1861, it was increased to 4,490,586 bales.{2} It seemed to observers that the production of cotton was increasing too rapidly and that it would dwarf the production of food. The advice of the press, the agreements of planters’ conventions, the appeals of governors, the resolutions of legislatures, a joint resolution of Congress and an appeal from President Davis encouraged the substitution of foodstuffs for cotton.{3} A decline in the production of cotton resulted from these appeals, while food production was increased. In 1862, the cotton crop consisted of 1,596,653 bales and in 1863 it had been reduced to 449,059 bales. In 1864, the crop was only 299,372 bales or about one-fifth as large as the crop of 1861. However, the harvest of cereals and food was larger.{4}

This production was possible because much land of the South was naturally fertile and capable of producing a wealth of agricultural products with a minimum of labor. In the variety of its natural food production, the South was more than equal to the North. But in the South the methods of tillage were crude and were carried on by slave labor. Improved processes of agriculture made possible a larger production in the North in proportion to the number of laborers employed. The land, in the lower states of the South, was easily tillable, and the labor of slaves seemed to be especially adapted to its cultivation. Two or three crops of vegetables could be produced in a year due to the length of the seasons. Land and Labor were basic factors in Southern agriculture.

Food production in the South during the war was reported by observers. One of these, W. Carsan, an English merchant who traveled in 1862, depicted the excellent dinners of cold fowl, baked possum, apples, cracked corn and sweet cake which he found for sale at various stations along his route. He admitted, nevertheless, that owing to the blocking up of the railroads with troops, food scarcity in the markets resulted. After six months of travel, he finally concluded that the South could not be starved out, and that any notion that the South is now dependent on any outside people for food is a fallacy and may as well be given up.{5} Concerning the army, he stated that in the matter of food, the troops of the army of the Southern Mississippi were at least as well off in time of war as in peace.{6}

On the contrary, there were observers who reported that in some places in 1863, there was actual hardship among the people from the want of food, Jonathan Worth, a prominent citizen of North Carolina, at one time Treasurer and later Governor, wrote to a friend on January 5, All well, and on the verge of starvation and later, We are almost starved out here.{7} Governor Vance of the same state informed Secretary Seddon of the War Department that, in the interior of the state, there was much suffering for bread already, and will be more on account of the failure of the crops from drought.{8} The crop of this year was small. Georgia had planted a large amount of corn, but on account of the drought the return was not as large as it was estimated.{9} In January, Governor Brown of Georgia was told by President

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