26 February 2023

Political Winds in Kenya's Elite, 1930s

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 46-47:

Before long, out of boredom and an acute sense of his own abilities, the ruling instinct in Erroll began to assert itself and to bloom, encouraged by Lord Francis Scott, who recognised his natural talent for politics. The opportunities for power in that community were infinite: it was a tidy constituency and there was a marked absence of competition. The Premier Earl of Scotland was likely to be a figure of some weight, and he also expressed some forceful political sentiments. In 1934 he became a paid-up member of the British Union of Fascists. Nellie Grant, Elspeth Huxley’s mother, described Erroll’s exploits on Oswald Mosley’s behalf in her posthumously published book, Letters from Africa:

11th December 1934. Wednesday last was Joss Erroll’s meeting at the (Muthaiga) Club to explain British fascism. There were 198 people there, no less, and a very good-tempered meeting, as everybody cheered to the echo what anyone said. British fascism simply means super loyalty to the Crown, no dictatorship, complete religious and social freedom, an “insulated Empire” to trade with the dirty foreigner, higher wages and lower costs of living … All questions and answers cheered to the roof … Whenever Joss said British fascism stands for complete freedom, you could hear Mary Countess [Molly] at the other end of the room saying that within five years. Joss will be dictator of Kenya.

The following year Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, and Joss Erroll dropped his membership in the British Union of Fascists. Instead he was elected, aged thirty-four, to the Presidency of the Convention of Associations, the “settlers’ parliament”—a separate and unofficial rival to the Legislative Council. Eileen Scott, who described Erroll as “much improved,” was at the election.

To my surprise and delight, contrary to the expectations of most people. Joss Erroll was voted to the chair, largely outnumbering the Left Wing, and most of the executive are sound men too. It is a pity Joss hasn’t had a year’s more practice and experience; he has a brain like lightning, and it is difficult for him to listen patiently to this slow minded, if sound, community. However, it is a great step in the right direction, he is very able and a gentleman. Nearly everyone expected a Bolshie to be elected.

24 February 2023

Ethnic Status in 1920s Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 16-18:

The Masai had been the favoured tribe from the days when Delamere first met them, laughing with pleasure and cracking skulls with their long clubs. Only the feudally minded could make allies of them while they were still raiding cattle from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean, killing herdsmen and their women and children as a matter of pride. At first the Masai stole mercilessly from Delamere’s herds, practising their belief that all the cattle under God belong exclusively to their tribe and that even Delamere’s imported Hereford bull had been taken from them long ago. (Hence their withering looks when they came to watch the European cattle auctions.)

There is nothing more valuable to the Masai than cattle, and next to that, perhaps, their passion for physical adornment. Because they never ate meat and never slaughtered or sold their livestock, the Masai chiefs that Delamere befriended owned upwards of 50,000 cattle each, and by 1910 the tribe was estimated to own three million head. But they had consistently lost grazing land in the several treaties made with the white man since the setting up of the tribal reservations in 1905. No consideration was given, for example, to their traditional places of retreat in times of drought or pestilence, and by 1914 they were suffering from land hunger.

The Somalis were the fashionable servants, the top “boys” in any household in the early days. They were immensely proud and elegant, the essence of nomadic nobility, with their waistcoats and gold watch chains, their low guttural voices and their strict Mohammedan ways. Many of them, like the Masai, were rich in cattle in their own country across Kenya’s northern frontier. They were linked in fame and fortune with their employers and associated by name, Delamere with Hassan, Berkeley Cole with Jama, Denys Finch Hatton with Bilea, Karen Blixen with Farah. Blixen wrote that a house without a Somali was like a house without a lamp: “Wherever we went we were followed at a distance of five feet by these noble, mysterious and vigilant shadows.”

The Kikuyu, whose land stretched from Nairobi to the slopes of Mount Kenya, who were later to outstrip all other tribes in political ambition, were hired as labourers and domestic servants. At the outbreak of the First World War, they were drafted, with the other tribes, into the King’s African Rifles and the Carrier Corps as porters, and died in their thousands in one of the most shameful campaigns ever waged by a British Army, in which, at the start of hostilities, 250,000 British Empire troops were held down by 10,000 Germans under Count von Lettow Vorbeck, who had to forage for supplies for the duration of the war. When it was over the British force had been reduced to 35,000 and the German force to only 1,300.

As the monuments were put up to the African soldiery, the usual sentiments were expressed. In this case the natives had “responded most loyally to the call by the Government for porters.” In fact, of course, they had little choice. (One of the unremembered battles of that war was between draft-resisting Masai and the British forces themselves.)

The Kikuyu, in particular, went unrewarded. After the war, a new scheme was devised to persuade ex-soldiers from Britain to settle in Kenya to swell the European population. The land this time was distributed by lottery. As this new wave of settlers invaded the highlands, more pressure was exerted on the Kikuyu. The farm wage was reduced, hut and poll taxes were levied, and identification cards issued, forcing their dependence on the white wage.

By the early 1920s the general areas of production were set up. Gilgil and Nakuru were the centres of the livestock business, Thika was coffee, Njoro was wheat, Naivasha was sheep and cattle and Londiani, in the west, was flax.

All the land schemes had clearly favoured the European at the expense of the African population. It was a short-sighted policy and the Kikuyu made their first organised protest in 1922, only two years after Kenya became an official Crown Colony.

22 February 2023

Growth of Colonial Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 11-13:

Nairobi was established in 1899, on the frontier between the Masai and Kikuyu, as the last possible rail depot before the track climbed 2,000 feet up the Kikuyu escarpment, the eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley. For anyone looking down into the vast floor of the valley for the first time, the sheer scale of the landscape was over powering—something quite new to the senses.

Tea was taken at Naivasha station, the beginning of the highlands, and from there on, up to Gilgil and then to Nakuru, the promised land was slowly revealed, in all its immense variety and beauty. After some miles of thorn and red rock, you emerged into thousands of acres of rolling English parkland, a haze of blue lawn rising and falling to the horizon, untouched by the plough and apparently uninhabited. Some of it resembled the landscape of the west of Scotland, with the same dramatic rock formations, grazing pastures, dew-laden mists. Streams rippled through the valleys, wild fig (sacred to the Kikuyu) and olive grew in the forests; the air was deliciously bracing, producing an ecstasy of well-being, and the quality of the light was staggering. There were scents too, the indefinable flavour of peppery red dust and acrid wood smoke that never fail to excite the deepest nostalgia.

And yet unless the land was productive and profitable, there was no point to this “lunatic express,” as its opponents had described it in England. It had been built for prestige and super-power competition, and its only effect was to drain the Colony’s budget.

The Commissioner for East Africa, Sir Charles Eliot, a distinguished Oxford scholar and diplomat, produced a scheme in 1901, soon after his arrival, of recruiting settlers from the Empire to farm the land. The idea was simply to make the railway pay for itself, by hauling freight from the uplands to the coast. The development of the Colony was a secondary consideration, indeed almost an accident. A recruitment drive was launched in London, and the first wave of settlers arrived in 1903 from Britain, Canada, Australia and South Africa. The photographs depict them as “Forty-niners” from the Yukon—a much rougher crowd than the later arrivals, who were drawn mainly from the Edwardian aristocracy and the British officer class. Nevertheless, there were many peers among these first arrivals—Lord Hindlip, Lord Cardross, Lord Cranworth, for example—and victims of the English system of primogeniture, such as Berkeley and Galbraith Cole, younger sons of the Earl of Enniskillen.

There were millionaires, too, like the amply proportioned American, Northrop MacMillan, a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt. There was the fabulous Ewart Grogan, a fiercely chauvinist Englishman who had walked from the Cape to Cairo. There were fugitives, wasters, speculators.

Above all there was the man who became the settlers’ unchallenged leader from the turn of the century until his death in 1931, Hugh Cholmondeley, 3rd Baron Delamere, who had first set eyes on the Kenya Highlands in 1897, at the merciful end of a 2,000 mile camel ride from Somalia. He had returned to England for six unhappy years, to look after his estates, but the Kenya bug had infected him too, and he returned in 1901 to buy land.

Lord Delamere was a natural leader of the settlers. He had inherited an enormous estate in Cheshire and vast wealth besides, soon after leaving Eton—where he had distinguished himself as a reckless and unruly boy, untouched by the civilising classics. He was arrogant and wasteful, with a sudden, violent temper; his political instincts were austerely feudal, and physically he was small and muscular, and in no way handsome. But he had the gift of supreme confidence in himself and in his vision of the future for the Colony, which was inspired by an old-fashioned sense of duty to the Empire—the duty, quite simply, being to annex further territory on its behalf.

Kenya was always more fashionable among the aristocrats than Uganda or Tanganyika after the First World War. Uganda was a little too far from the sea, along the railway, and Tanganyika, until then, had been a German colony. The pick of the sites in the Kenyan White Highlands had an English air, almost like the rolling downs of Wiltshire, all on a supernatural scale and under such an immense sky, that when you are first exposed to it, you may be seized both with vertigo—from the sheer speed and height of the clouds—and folie de grandeur. Such grandiose surroundings were irresistible to the English settlers and often went to their heads.

20 February 2023

Solving a Cold Case in Kenya

From White Mischief: The Murder of Lord Erroll, by James Fox (Open Road Media, 2014), Kindle pp. 1-3:

There were many people in Kenya who had a motive for killing Erroll, and many who had the opportunity that night. Yet nobody was convicted of his murder, and the question of who killed him, who fired the gun at the junction, became a classic mystery. It was at the same time a scandal and a cause célèbre which seemed to epitomise the extravagant way of life of an aristocratic section of the white community in Kenya at the moment of greatest danger for Britain and the West.

Erroll was killed on the very day that the campaign was launched in Nairobi to remove Mussolini’s army from Abyssinia. It was Erroll, ironically, as Military Secretary, who had been responsible for gathering the European and African troops for that campaign. The Dunkirk evacuation in May and June 1940, and the bombing of Britain’s cities, weighed heavily on the conscience of the white community in Kenya, who were keenly aware of their isolation from the main war effort. The last thing they wanted was for Nairobi’s social elite to be paraded in court, making world headlines which competed on page one with news of the war itself. It was a source of acute embarrassment. One headline read: “Passionate Peer Gets His.”

The story confirmed the licentious image of the Colony in the popular imagination in Britain and America, and revived the legend of “Happy Valley,” an area in the White Highlands which had been notorious since the 1920s as a playground for aristocratic fugitives of all kinds.

Happy Valley originated with Erroll himself and with Lady Idina Gordon, who later became his wife, and who set up house there in 1924. Friends from England brought home tales of glorious entertainment in an exhilarating landscape, surrounded by titled guests and many, many servants.

In New York and London the legend grew up of a set of socialites in the Aberdares whose existence was a permanent feast of dissipation and sensuous pleasure. Happy Valley was the byword for this way of life. Rumours circulated about endless orgies, of wife swapping, drinking and stripping, often embellished in the heat of gossip. The Wanjohi River was said to run with cocktails and there was that joke, quickly worn to death by its own success: are you married or do you live in Kenya? To have gone anywhere near Happy Valley was to have lost all innocence, to have submitted to the most vicious passions.

With Erroll’s murder and the scandal that followed, the spirit of Happy Valley was broken for ever. For the whites in Kenya it signalled the end of a way of life which stretched back three decades. The spell was broken, the ruling confidence that underpinned their unique occupation was gone, and it was never to be the same again.

Yet the mystery of who killed Lord Erroll survived and flourished, and continues to exert a strange power over all who come into contact with it. In Kenya’s remaining white community, it is still talked about as if it had happened yesterday. The virus of speculation has become endemic, and even today the place is alive with experts. One is told of many different people who alone hold the key to it all, but who will never be persuaded to tell. Others, including a former Governor of Kenya, achieved local fame by promising to leave the solution in written testimony in their wills—but the executors have always been left empty-handed. Much of this oral history is encrusted with distortion and incestuous folklore, each version fiercely held to be the truth—a warning to anyone broaching the subject in the Muthaiga Country Club.

So compelling was the mystery that throughout the 1960s it dominated the thoughts of a man of letters as distinguished as Cyril Connolly. In the spring of 1969, twenty-eight years after the event, Connolly and I decided to investigate the story for the Sunday Times Magazine, where I worked as a staff writer. We discovered that everything written on the subject—including the only book—depended on the public record of the trial, adding nothing new, and came no closer to a solution than the Nairobi High Court in 1941. To our surprise, no one had returned to the original sources, or had gathered and sifted the popular wisdom, or had filled in the glaring empty spaces in the evidence collected by the Nairobi C.I.D. in the weeks after the murder.

Our article, which we called “Christmas at Karen,” turned out to be the prelude to a much longer quest. It generated an unexpected response, awakening memories and producing a mass of new evidence in its wake. The trail led us on. And Connolly, the literary critic par excellence, did not take his obsessions lightly. The volumes of notes that he left me in his will testify to that. My own fascination with the story, shared with Connolly as I played Watson to his Holmes in that year when we worked closely together, was revived when I opened the notebooks again, soon after his death in 1974. I decided to pursue the trail that we had embarked upon together.

17 February 2023

Who Fought for Whom, 1861-65?

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 245-246:

Though the conflict may have been a rich man’s war, it was not as much of a poor man’s fight as the rich tried to make it. That was true for North and South. On both sides, the lowest of the lower classes tended to be as adamant as the rich in their refusal to fight—or refusal to fight for their region’s dominant regime. In the South, while most Confederate soldiers were nonslaveholders and poorer than their slaveholding neighbors, southerners even poorer still were more likely to dodge the draft, desert, or serve in the Union army. As for the North, James McPherson, in his Battle Cry of Freedom, presents evidence suggesting that the poorest northerners were among the least likely to serve. It was in fact their resistance to the draft, and northern dissent generally, that goes a long way toward explaining how a Confederacy at war with itself as well as the North was able to survive for as long as it did....

Despite the North’s population advantage of two to one, only about a million native-born northerners served in the Union military—roughly the same as the number of southerners who served the Confederacy. Nearly a fourth of the Union armed forces were made up of immigrants, and almost another fourth were southerners, black and white. It was, in the end, southerners who gave the Union armies their numerical superiority on the battlefield. Given the limits of support Lincoln was able to muster in the North, the war’s resolution largely came down to Southerners themselves. Had all soldiers from the South fought for the South, or more precisely for the Richmond regime, the result would have been at least parity on the battlefield and perhaps Confederate victory.

15 February 2023

Southern Indians in the U.S. Civil War

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 209-210:

For the South’s other “persons of color,” the southern Indians, both those in the southern states and in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), loyalties were often more difficult to sort out. Many tried to steer a neutral course. But caught as they were “between two fires,” southern Indians were usually forced to weigh their options and, often against their better judgement, choose sides. In South Carolina’s tiny Catawba band, numbering just fifty-five, almost every adult male at one time or another served in the Confederate army. Long since stripped of their own land, most Catawbas were day laborers working plantation lands that had once belonged to their ancestors. The enlistment bounty of $50 was very attractive for these impoverished and dependent men. They were too few to form a company of their own, and there were no “colored” units in the Confederate army for them to join, so they fought alongside their white neighbors in several South Carolina regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia. These were among the Civil War’s few racially integrated units.

Some southern Indians, more isolated and less dependent on the whites, were more successful in avoiding military entanglements. The Florida Seminoles, left to themselves nearly two decades earlier after fending off efforts to root them out, deftly maintained neutrality while allowing both the Union and the Confederacy to court them. In exchange for gifts and supplies, they shrewdly held out the possibility of an alliance without ever committing to either side.2

Others tried to remain neutral with less success. In Virginia’s tidewater region, descendants of the once powerful Powhatans—the Pamunkey, Mattaponi, Chickahominy, Gingaskin, Nansemond, and Rappahannock Indians—had little love for the Virginians who had stripped them of nearly all their lands and stigmatized them as “free persons of color.” With the war’s outbreak, the Powhatans tended to remain at least nominally neutral. But when Union forces arrived in the spring of 1862, they found ready allies among the Powhatans. Many served the Federals as river pilots, land guides, and spies. They led gunboats and supply vessels as far as one hundred miles inland along the navigable waterways of eastern Virginia.

The Lumbees of eastern North Carolina at first declared neutrality but became solidly pro-Union after Confederates began conscripting them to do forced labor, essentially enslaving them. Lumbee guerrilla bands took revenge by raiding local plantations, attacking Confederate supply depots, tearing up rail lines, and doing whatever else they could to disrupt Rebel operations. Most notable of the Lumbee bands was the one led by Henry Berry Lowry, whose exploits became the stuff of legend. Called The Robin Hood of Robeson County, Lowry became, in the words of one Lumbee scholar, “a folk hero to his people, a symbol of pride and manhood.”

The Confederacy also tried to conscript some Indians to serve as soldiers, though they proved to be no less resentful than those conscripted for forced labor. In the spring of 1863, Eastern Choctaws drafted into the First Choctaw Battalion, Mississippi Cavalry, deserted en masse to the Federals just before the Vicksburg Campaign got under way.

13 February 2023

Recruiting Ex-slaves, 1863

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 196-198:

The Emancipation Proclamation had its intended effect on African American men. Eager to enlist, they poured into recruiting offices across the North and flocked to Union lines across the South. Frederick Douglass was among the most enthusiastic supporters of black enlistment. “The iron gate of our prison stands half open,” he told African Americans as he urged them to arms. “One gallant rush … will fling it wide.” Two of Douglass’s sons joined that rush, along with more than two hundred thousand other black men who served in the Union’s land and naval forces. Over 80 percent of them were from the southern states. Nearly all of those had been slaves. But no longer. “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, ‘U.S.,’” Douglass proclaimed, “let him get an eagle on his buttons and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.” Prince Rivers, a self-emancipated sergeant in the First South Carolina Volunteers, made clear what that meant to him: “Now we sogers are men—men de first time in our lives.”

Despite the enthusiasm of men like Rivers, there were some former slaves who were reluctant to exchange one kind of servitude for another, much less fight for the Union. Recruiters in Kansas sometimes had difficulty finding volunteers among refugee slaves. In South Carolina, Union General David Hunter so often resorted to heavyhanded coercion in trying to get recruits for his first black regiment that some of the conscripts quickly deserted. When blacks enlisted, they did so for their own reasons. “Liberty is what we want and nothing shorter,” wrote an anonymous black soldier in Louisiana. “We care nothing about the union. we have been in it Slaves for over two hundred And fifty years.” At a “war meeting” of former slaves on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, a northern correspondent witnessed several speakers, including one black man, trying to draw new recruits.

They were asked to enlist for pay, rations and uniform, to fight for their country, for freedom and so forth, but not a man stirred. But when it was asked them to fight for themselves, to enlist to protect their wives and children from being sold away from them, and told of the little homes which they might secure to themselves and their families in after years, they all rose to their feet, the men cam forward and said “I’ll go,” and the women shouted, and the old men said “Amen.”

12 February 2023

Black Civil War Spy Networks

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 187-189:

Harriet Tubman, famous for her prewar service on the Underground Railroad, headed a ring of spies and scouts who operated along the South Carolina coast. Mary Louveste, an employee at Virginia’s Gosport Navy Yard, where the Confederacy’s ironclad warship Virginia was under construction, smuggled out plans and other documents related to the new secret weapon. She carried the material to Washington, D.C., where she placed it in the hands of Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. “Mrs. Louveste encountered no small risk in bringing this information … and other facts,” Welles recalled years later in support of her pension application. “I am aware of none more meritorious than this poor colored woman whose zeal and fidelity I remember and acknowledge with gratitude.” There was even a black Union spy in the Confederate White House. Mary Elizabeth Bowser, an associate of Unionist Richmond socialite Elizabeth Van Lew, worked as a maid at the presidential residence. She funneled anything worthy of note to Van Lew, who passed the information on to the Federals at City Point.

A black Virginia couple named Dabney proved to be one of the most innovative spy teams of the war. In early 1863, as Union and Confederate armies eyed each other across the Rappahannock River, they escaped enslavement and the husband found work as a cook and groom for the Federals stationed at the river. He became interested in the army’s telegraph system and asked some of the soldiers how it worked. Soon after, his wife went back across the lines to get a job doing laundry for a Confederate general. Within a short time, the husband began updating Union officers on Rebel troop movements. The officers were astonished at how accurate the information seemed to be and asked the man how he knew such things. He took them to a hill overlooking the river and pointed across to the headquarters of General Robert E. Lee.

That clothes-line tells me in half an hour just what goes on at Lee’s headquarters. You see my wife over there; she washes for the officers, and cooks, and waits around, and as soon as she hears about any movement or anything going on, she comes down and moves the clothes on that line so I can understand it in a minute. That there gray shirt is Longstreet; and when she takes it off, it means he’s gone down about Richmond. That white shirt means Hill; and when she moves it up to the west end of the line, Hill’s corps has moved upstream. That red one is Stonewall. He’s down on the right now, and if he moves, she will move that red shirt.

Blankets with pins at the bottom revealed deceptive troop movements intended to distract Union commanders. During the weeks leading up to the Battle of Chancellorsville, thanks to the Dabneys’ clothesline telegraph, Confederates could not make a move without the Federals knowing about it.

10 February 2023

Southern White Union Army Recruits

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 151-152:

David R. Snelling of Baldwin County, Georgia, had deeply personal reasons for his Union stand. David’s father, William, a man of modest means, died of fever when David was five. His mother, Elizabeth Lester Snelling, whose wealthy family had never approved of her marrying a poor man, was given only a small plot of land adjoining the large plantations her brothers owned. When Elizabeth died a few years later, young David was taken in by his uncle, David Lester. While Lester sent his own sons off to school, he put David to work in the fields along with the slaves. Treated much as a slave himself, David came to detest slavery. Threatened with conscription in the spring of 1862, David joined the Confederate army. That summer, he deserted and joined the Federals. Two years later, as a lieutenant in Sherman’s cavalry escort during the March to the Sea, David went out of his way to lead a raid against his uncle’s plantation a few miles from the state capital of Milledgeville. His troops seized as many provisions as they could carry and destroyed the cotton gin.

Though most Confederate soldiers were nonslaveholders and poorer than their slaveholding neighbors, white southerners who served the Union were most often poorer still. In the North Fork district of western North Carolina’s Ashe County, a comparison of thirty-four Union and forty-two Confederate volunteers shows that holdings in real and personal property among Confederates were more than twice that of their Union counterparts. In eastern North Carolina, the difference was even more dramatic. In Washington County, which supplied nearly equal numbers of troops to the Union and the Confederacy, Union soldiers were fourteen times poorer than those in the Confederate army. Such figures reflect a class-based Unionism that made itself felt all across the South. It was reflected too among members of the Union’s First Alabama Cavalry, recruited from poor farmers in the northern part of the state, who relished the opportunity to sack plantations during Sherman’s March to the Sea.

08 February 2023

Confederate Deserters Widespread

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 109-110:

Deserters who made it home found plenty of neighbors willing to help them avoid further entanglements with the Confederacy. That was obvious even from distant Richmond. A disgusted head of the Bureau of Conscription complained that desertion had “in popular estimation, lost the stigma that justly pertains to it, and therefore the criminals are everywhere shielded by their families and by the sympathies of many communities.” A resident of Bibb County, Georgia, wrote that the area around Macon was “full of deserters and almost every man in the community will feed them and keep them from being arrested.” In Marshall County, Mississippi, a witness noted that “many deserters have been for months in this place without molestation.… Conscripts and deserters are daily seen on the streets of the town.” When deserters were arrested in Alabama’s Randolph County, an armed mob stormed the jail and set them free.

In Georgia, Augusta’s Chronicle and Sentinel warned in June 1863 that the South contained “a large number of persons who not only sympathize with the Federals, but who are doing all in their power to injure us in every possible manner.” Samuel Knight of southwest Georgia wrote to Governor Brown with a similar warning. After three months of “mingling freely with the common people,” Knight reported that “among that class generally there is a strong union feeling.”

From Russell County, Virginia, came word in March 1862 that there were “plenty of Union men here.” There were plenty in Arkansas, too. A former Confederate general declared in an 1863 address: “The loyalty to Jeff. Davis in Arkansas does not extend practically beyond the shadow of his army, while the hatred of him is as widespread as it is intense. The Union sentiment is manifesting itself on all sides and by every indication—in Union meetings—in desertions from the Confederate army—in taking the oath of allegiance [to the United States] unsolicited—in organizing for home defense, and enlisting in the federal army.”

06 February 2023

Confederate Elections of 1863

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 87-88:

As early as November 1861, a committee assigned to consider revising Virginia’s state constitution called for more restricted suffrage and fewer popularly elected offices. In May 1863, the Reverend H.W. Hilliard, a former member of Congress from Georgia, spoke out publicly for a more restricted suffrage. When word of Hilliard’s remarks reached Athens, a local paper wrote that “the most unfeeling, unjust and cruel wrong we have ever witnessed, is this effort of designing politicians and juggling priests who are lying about home doing nothing, and worse than nothing, to disfranchise the brave and noble poor men who are fighting the battles of the country.”

Such efforts on the part of elites served only to inflame common folk and further undermine Confederate support. By 1863, many were openly demanding peace. In North Carolina, there were peace rallies throughout the mountain regions. In Georgia, the editor of Griffin’s Southern Union called for an end to the war, and reunification with the North. Several candidates for Georgia’s General Assembly from Gilmer and surrounding counties ran on the Union ticket. So did candidates in northern Alabama. In parts of Mississippi, so numerous were Union men that cavalry units were posted to keep them away from the polls. Still, armed bands of deserters showed up at Mississippi polling places defying arrest and demanding their right to vote. In Floyd County, Virginia, Confederates guarded every precinct to prevent deserters from voting. Nevertheless, so many local deserters’ relatives went to the polls that they elected a pro-Union sheriff, Ferdinand Winston, and several other Unionist county officials. In Mississippi’s Tishomingo County, Confederate officials were so worried about a Union victory at the polls that they suspended elections entirely.

Fear, intimidation, and despondency kept many alienated voters away from the polls. And because the Confederate Constitution gave the president a six-year term, Jefferson Davis was in no danger of losing his office. Even so, the election returns brought discouraging news for the Davis Administration. In North Carolina, candidates for the Conservative Party, composed mainly of longtime secession opponents, won nine of ten congressional seats—and eight of them were “reported to be in favor of peace.” George Logan of the Tenth District was nominated at a peace rally. Both of the state’s gubernatorial candidates were Conservative Party men.

In Texas, half the incumbent congressmen lost their seats. Of Georgia’s ten congressional representatives, only one was reelected. The state’s 90 percent freshman rate was the highest in the Confederacy. Eight of Georgia’s new representatives ran on an anti-Davis platform. Alabama voted out its staunchly pro-Davis governor. Four of the state’s new congressmen were suspected of being outright Unionists. The new legislature was made up mostly of men inclined to sue for peace. One Alabamian wrote that the election results showed a “decided wish amongst the people for peace.” In all, nearly half the old Congress was turned out. Two-thirds of the newly elected members had long opposed secession. The congressional freshman rate would likely have been much greater had it not been for the large bloc of returning members representing districts under federal occupation who were “elected” by refugees, by soldiers, or by general ticket in a given state’s districts still held by the Confederacy.

04 February 2023

Southern Reactions to Lincoln's Election

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 9-10:

A few weeks after Abraham Lincoln’s election, in the Confederacy’s future capital city, Virginia Unionists organized a mass meeting of the “working men of Richmond” to oppose secession. At a second such meeting, they upheld the federal government’s right to suppress secession by force if necessary. Anti-secession mechanics in Frederick County, Virginia, met to denounce the “folly and sinister selfishness of the demagogues of the South.” Workers in Portsmouth were equally stirred: “We look upon any attempt to break up this Government or dissolve this Union as an attack upon the rights of the people of the whole country.”

From western Virginia came word of Union meetings in Harrison, Monongalia, Wood, Tyler, Marion, and Mason counties. Preston County residents drew up a resolution declaring that “any attempt upon the part of the state to secede will meet with the unqualified disapprobation of the people of this county.” A resolution from Wheeling insisted that “it is the sacred duty of all men in public offices and all citizens in private life to support and defend the Constitution … the election of Abraham Lincoln … does not, in our judgment, justify secession, or a dissolution of our blessed and glorious Union.”

There were similar sentiments in the Deep South. In the heart of Georgia’s cotton belt, a large crowd of local citizens gathered at Crawfordville to declare: “We do not consider the election of Lincoln and Hamlin as sufficient cause for Disunion or Secession.” A mass meeting in Walker County expressed the same sentiment: “We are not of the opinion that the election of any man in accordance with the prescribed forms of the Constitution is sufficient cause to disrupt the ties which bind us to the Union.” In Harris County, the newspaper editor stated firmly that “we are a Union loving people here, and will never forsake the old ‘Star Spangled Banner.’” To stress the point, he printed the names of 175 local men, all pledged to “preserve the honor and rights of the South in the Union.

At Lake Jackson Church near Tallahassee, Florida, there assembled a crowd of 400 “whose heart beat time to the music of the Union.” A convention of laborers in Nashville, Tennessee, declared their “undying love for the Union” and called secessionist efforts “treason … by designing and mad politicians.” All across the South, thousands of worried southerners did their best to head off secession. While most had opposed Lincoln’s candidacy, a similar majority saw no reason to destroy the country over his election. Three-fourths of southern whites held no slaves and tended to believe that, as one Georgia man wrote, “this fuss was all for the benefit of the wealthy.”

02 February 2023

Effects of Cotton Gin and Indian Removal on Slavery

From Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War, by David Williams (New Press, 2010), Kindle pp. 18-19:

Aside from the moral issues involved, most Americans of that era [c. 1800] saw slavery as an economic dead end. The institution thrived only in the tobacco fields of the Chesapeake region and the rice country of coastal Carolina and Georgia. As the nation expanded, slavery would become proportionally less important to the nation’s economy and would eventually die a natural death. But the development of an efficient cotton engine, or “gin,” in the eighteenth century’s last decade changed all that. The cotton gin became the vehicle by which slavery was carried across the Deep South. Not surprisingly, attitudes toward slavery changed with the institution’s growing economic importance.

That change did not occur overnight. Antislavery sentiment in the South remained open and active through the early 1830s. As of 1827, 106 of the country’s 130 abolitionist societies were in the South. To discourage the use of slave labor, some of those societies paid above-market prices for cotton produced without slave labor. North Carolina Quakers and Methodists repeatedly petitioned their state legislature for emancipation. In 1821, a leading Georgia newspaper insisted: “There is not a single editor in these States who dares advocate slavery as a principle.” Far from advocating slavery, Alabama editor James G. Birney started an abolitionist newspaper. In 1827, the Alabama legislature passed a law prohibiting the importation of slaves from other states, and at every session throughout the decade, members proposed legislation favoring gradual emancipation. As late as 1831, a proposal to end slavery was introduced in the Virginia state assembly.

But the early nineteenth century was also the era of Indian removal. In 1827, Georgia forced out its few remaining Creeks. Nine years later, Alabama did the same. The 1830s saw the Choctaws and Chickasaws driven out of Mississippi. And Georgia annexed Cherokee land following the 1829 discovery of gold there. In an effort that carried the hopes of all Indian nations with it, the Cherokees fought to keep their land through the court system. The United States Supreme Court finally responded in 1832 with its Worcester v. Georgia decision: by treaty obligation, by prior act of Congress, and by the Constitution itself, the Indians held legal title to their land. But President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the ruling, and Congress declined to intervene. Georgia ignored the court order, and the Cherokees were driven westward on the Trail of Tears. A quarter of them died on that brutal forced march. In 1842, Florida’s Seminoles became the last of the southern nations to be violently relocated to land that they were promised would be theirs for “as long as grass grows or water runs.” At the time it was called Indian Territory. Today it is called Oklahoma.

Indian removal completed the transition in slaveholder attitudes begun a generation earlier. Slaveholders no longer viewed slavery as a temporary necessity but held it to be a positive good, divinely ordained, for the slaveholder, the slave, the nation, and the world. Though religion, racism, pride, and fear were all used to bolster slavery at home and justify it abroad, the driving force behind planters’ proslavery campaign was the same that caused their change of attitude in the first place—economic self-interest. Some planters, like Georgia’s Benjamin Harvey Hill, were candid enough to admit it: “In our early history the Southern statesmen were antislavery in feeling. So were Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Randolph, and many of that day who never studied the argument of the cotton gin, nor heard the eloquent productions of the great Mississippi Valley. Now our people not only see the justice of slavery, but its providence too.”31 It was cotton, along with tobacco, rice, and sugar, all cultivated by slave labor, that gave planters their economic power. And it was this power that gave planters the political strength with which to control the South’s lower classes and silence or exile slavery’s opponents.