Our Confederate Soldiers: Why And For What They Fought And Fell...
It is an inexpressible honor to speak on this occasion in remembrance and in honor of some 250,000 Southern men, 30,000 of them from Alabama, who gave their lives in a just fight for constitutional government and law, and in honor of thousands of others who served in and survived the war for southern independence. Since 1866 in this city, there has been an annual remembrance of those who died and those who served in the armies of the Confederate States of America. Since 1901, there has been a State of Alabama holiday to honor and to remember our Confederate soldiers.
These tributes we pay to their memory today, these garlands of speech that we strew on their graves, are feeble compared to the tribute they paid the South by their faithful and honorable service.
The memory of their noble and upright service will be cherished forever by freedom loving Southerners. May the spirit that guided our Confederate soldiers be our guide so that it may be said of us---that we have been faithful to our heritage and our duty to defend the good name of the Confederate soldier.
On this Confederate Memorial Day, how do we remember fallen Confederates? In the poet’s words:
“To remember the fallen Is not to remember how they fell, But to remember why and for what they fell.”
We honor and remember them for why and for what they fell!
From glorious victories at First Manassas to Chancellorsville to difficult defeats at Vicksburg and Appomattox, from the horrors of inhumane prison camps at Elymira, Camp Douglas and other northern prisons where 26,000 fell from disease, starvation, cold, and from Lincoln and Grant’s 1864 decision to end prisoner exchanges, confederate soldiers fell on ground made forever hallowed by their blood and sacrifice!
“How to remember the fallen,” the poet asks? Not only to remember how they fell, whether by rifles, canons, bayonets or even shot in the back, but to remember why and for what they fell is to honor them today. Since the celebration of the war’s centennial from 1961 to 1965 until today, the “why” and “for what” Confederate soldiers fell has undergone a dramatic change at the feet of the country’s new unholy trinity of political correctness, multiculturalism and diversity. Permit me a personal illustration of how and for what Confederate soldiers fought and fell and how the why and for what they fought has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.
As a college student majoring in history during the time of the war’s centennial celebration in the early 1960’s, my roommate was from Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, near the Charleston harbor. On a few occasions I went with him to Charleston and visited Ft. Sumter. In the 1960’s, the following was, in summary, the story of secession and how the war began that was told in Charleston.
On December 20, 1860, the State of South Carolina, by the unanimous vote of a Convention, called by its legislature, formally seceded from the Union. At that time, Major Anderson was commandant of the federal forces at Charleston with his headquarters at Ft. Moultrie. Fort Sumter, the strongest of all the city’s defenses and in the middle of the bay, was not occupied. At midnight, on the day the secession ordinance was adopted, Major Anderson, having received orders from Washington, spiked the guns at Moultrie and conveyed all his men and arms to Sumter.
The next morning, to the amazement of the South Carolinians, they saw the Union flag flying over Sumter and Anderson in possession. As was to be expected this act of treachery greatly incensed them...and hear this clearly...incensed them because President Buchanan had assured South Carolina that the existing military status would undergo no change during the remaining 4 months of his presidency. His pledge was violated by the seizure and occupation of Sumter. Buchanan refused to order Anderson back to Moultrie.
Buchanan’s Secretary of War, J. B. Floyd, who had been a party to the promise by the President, felt that his honor had been so compromised by this gross breach of faith that he instantly and immediately resigned. For almost three months, from December 1860 to March 1861, when Lincoln was inaugurated, commissioners from the South were in Washington urging a peaceful separation and in particular the removal of the federal garrisons from Forts Pickens and Sumter.
Upon being inaugurated, Lincoln gave assurances through an intermediary that all would be well, that the military status of the South would be undisturbed and that Sumter would be evacuated. The intermediary was respected United States Supreme Court Justice John Campbell, of Alabama. These assurances were given verbally and in writing to Campbell by Secretary of State Seward himself. However, neither Lincoln nor Seward had any intention of evacuating Sumter. Union Commanding General Scott informed Lincoln that Sumter could be reinforced militarily only by surprise or deception; hence, the deceitful promises. As late as April 7, it was pretended that the evacuation would still take place.
On April 7, 1861 Justice Campbell again wrote Secretary Seward about the subject and received this reply:
“Fate as to Sumter was fully kept – wait and see.” The very next day the Union fleet started a convoy, -- it said, to “provision a starving garrison.” The fleet consisted of 11 vessels with 285 guns and 2400 men. The fleet arrived in time to see the bombardment of Sumter - while lying in anchor in the distance during the action and never firing a gun.
On April 12, 1861, the guns of Charleston had put the intended surprise reinforcement of the fort out of the question, but the Lincoln administration had accomplished its one great objective for which it had been scheming. Now the federal government, while in reality commencing a war which they had fully resolved upon, could make it appear that they were involved by the South’s actions. Such was the impression Lincoln intended and such was the impression in the North needed to stir public sentiment against the South. Thus, Anderson held the fort as long as honor required, surrendered it without a loss of one man, while the formidable Union fleet looked on, never attempting to come to his aid.
In the early 1960’s, this in summary was the story told of why and how the war began. It especially emphasized the Union’s duplicity and deception in beginning the war. And from that beginning, some 250,000 Southerners and some 350,000 northerners fell in a war that could have been averted had Buchanan and Lincoln done what they repeatedly promised to do. It was obvious also that Lincoln in particular wanted either a war to keep the South’s riches in the union or abject submission to his despotic rule. In 1860, the Confederate States had the world’s fourth richest economy.
Let us examine the 1960’s version of how and why the war began. Move forward now fifty years to 2015. What story is the National Park Service telling today at Ft. Sumter? I had the opportunity last month to visit Charleston, see Ft. Sumter and the beautiful new visitor center where you board the boats to go out to the Fort. From the time you walk into the visitor center until the time you visit the fort and leave the visitor center, the National Park Service is telling one and only one prostituted reason for the war: slavery-slavery- slavery! Murals, displays, interactive recordings, brochures, misleadingly claim that this war was about the South fighting to maintain slavery and the reason Confederate soldiers served and fell was to preserve slavery, while at the same time claiming that noble Lincoln and the union were fighting to free the slaves.
It is intellectually dishonest to study everything Lincoln said about blacks before 1861 and still believe that on April 12, 1861, he was starting a war to free the slaves. In 1818, Lincoln’s Illinois had joined the Union as a free state; however, slavery continued there and free blacks were oppressed by state laws known as the Black Codes, which remained in effect from 1819 until 1865. Under Illinois law, blacks
* could not vote
* could not bring suit against whites
* could not testify in court against whites
* could not serve in the militia
* could not own arms
* had to carry on their persons at all times a Certificate of Freedom or be presumed to be a slave
In all of his time in Illinois, in the Illinois legislature and as President, Abraham Lincoln never attempted to repeal the Black Codes in Illinois. In fact, they were not repealed until the war ended in 1865. It is beyond dispute that Lincoln did not begin the war with the intent to free slaves.
The greatest evil in America today is not racism but ignorance. People who think 880,000 southerners were willing to fight and possibly die so that 4-8 percent of the people in the south could continue to own slaves are not only unbelievably illogical to believe that absurdity, but abysmally ignorant of the myriads of differences between the South and the North in 1860. Tariffs, taxes, states rights, even religion and especially their differing views of the United States Constitution, is what led to the war.
Had I been a Southerner in 1860 and my purpose was to maintain slavery, I would have stayed in the Union forever. From the drawing up to the adoption of the Constitution, slavery was unquestionably legal.
The founding fathers knew that if the Constitution outlawed slavery, it would never have been adopted by the 13 states. Why? Because in 1789, in every one of the 13 states except Vermont and Massachusetts, slavery was legal. The first federal census of 1790 showed the number of slaves in every state and that there were nearly as many slaves in New York as there were in Georgia.
How was slavery abolished in five additional Northern states between 1790 and 1860? Slavery was abolished by the acts of the duly elected legislatures of those States. By and within the sovereign States - not by any action, coercion or military force from the federal government. Everyone understood that slavery was legal under the Constitution. The abolition or maintaining of slavery was left to the individual states. All to say, that even Lincoln himself, as he plainly said more than once, did not think the federal government had any power to abolish slavery within the states.
Only when a noble reason was needed for beginning a war, which costs 600,000 lives and maimed a million more, and created animosities which have not completely healed until this day, did “freeing the slaves” become the noble and politically correct ‘cause’ of the war. By saying that the South fought to maintain slavery - are you not saying that the North fought to free the slaves? And if you say the North fought to free the slaves, have you ever read the Emancipation Proclamation? If you have, how can you say that Lincoln and the North fought to free slaves? Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed not one – no not one - slave in the vast territory Lincoln controlled!
I believe it is an undeniable fact that our Confederate ancestors neither fought nor fell to maintain slavery. The last country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery was Brazil in 1888. Every other major Christian civilized country in the world ended slavery without a bloody war. I do not doubt that slavery would soon have ended in the South under the economic realities of agricultural modernization and moral suasion.
But slavery is not the reason our ancestors fell and it certainly is not the reason we honor them on this memorial day. They fell fighting for the just cause of constitutional liberty. They fell fighting for Southern independence. They fell because the South was invaded. It is a truism that had not 2,200,000 Yankees invaded the South, there would never have been a war. Had Lincoln not sent more than 2 million men into the South to invade our land, burn our homes, steal our property and kill members of our families, there would not have been a war.
What happened between 1861-1865 was not a civil war. Classically, a civil war is when two opposing factions within the same country are fighting for the control of the government. The South wanted its independence, not control of the government in Washington or control of the northern states. No reasonable person believes the Confederacy once established was going to invade the north and try to rule a united nation from Washington. It was not ‘Civil War’ in which our ancestors fought and fell.
There is no provision in the United States Constitution to compel a state to remain in a union it voluntarily joined. There is no provision in the Constitution giving the federal government the power to militarily coerce a state to remain in the Union. Both James Madison who drafted the Constitution and Andrew Hamilton who favored a stronger central government said, the Constitution left the federal government, in Madison’s words, “unclothed with any powers of coercion over the States.“ In the Convention Madison said, “the use of force against a State would be a declaration of war and be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts.” Hamilton stated, “To coerce a State would be one of the maddest projects ever devised.” Interestingly, a proposal was made at the Constitutional Convention to give such a power to the national government, but was rejected by every other state delegation. That is why, after the war, when President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned, that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court advised the federal government, “if you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion.” And they were never tried!
The South was right about constitutional government in 1861 and it is still right today. That was the principle upon which our ancestors stood and fought and that is the principle for which more than 250,000 Southerners were willing to give their lives: for the just causes of constitutional liberty and government and for Southern independence.
The leftist elitist press, the poverty pimps down the street, and those who worship the pagan deity political correctness do not get to define our history. It is not their prerogative to determine why we honor our Confederate ancestors or celebrate Confederate Memorial Days. We honor Confederate soldiers because we understand not only how they fell but why and for what they fell.
The Declaration of Independence which our forefathers used to justify their secession of the 13 colonies from England clearly states: “...it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it (government) and institute new government...organizing its powers in such form as to them seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” The Southern states had as much moral, legal and constitutional justification in instituting a government suitable to them as the colonies did in 1776. If Lincoln really believed his high sounding words at Gettysburg about “government of, for and by the people,” how could he oppose the Southern states having a government of, for and by the Southern people?
How do we rightly remember our ancestors? To remember the fallen – we continue to fight, we carry their dreams and we finish what they started. Today we are continuing their fight for limited and lawful constitutional government. We again have a would-be tyrant from Illinois in the White House who like Lincoln believes he rules by divine fiat, is answerable to no one, can ignore the Constitution and the Congress, can make laws with his pen, and can coerce states and individuals to submit to his dictatorial whims.
Our ancestors did not run. They did not retreat in the face of an invading army of more than 2 million destroyers of life and property. Neither should those of us run today who love our heritage and our families. We should remain committed to Christian principles as the foundation of our struggle against tyranny. We should answer every attack on our heritage in the press, movies and on television with letters and public outrage. We should observe all of our Confederate holidays and birthdays by flying our flags, having parades and public gatherings such as this. We should never be ashamed of our Southern heritage, but we should be ashamed of those who are.
The South was right in 1861. We are right today. The constitutional cause for which our ancestors fought was just and righteous. Issues settled at the end of a gun barrel will never be settled in people’s hearts. We should have the courage to stand against tyranny, as our Confederate ancestors did.
Long live the righteous and constitutional cause for which our ancestors fought and fell. Long live those who will defend truth and our Southern heritage. God will vindicate. God save the South.
Cecil Williamson, Selma, Alabama
Presbyterian minister and an attorney