The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War

The Confederate Reader: How the South Saw the War

by Richard B. Harwell

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"An excellent anthology, worthy of the imitations it will engender . . . it will go a long way toward illuminating Confederate history." — The New York Times
For any student of the War Between the States, this treasury of contemporary documents—all but a few written by Southerners — offers a wealth of insight and perspectives on life in the South during the conflict, how newspapers and periodicals covered events, and how Southerners reacted to the disastrous struggle that disrupted their lives and ravaged their homes, farms, and cities. Selections have been arranged in an order that demonstrates the progress of the war, beginning with a South Carolina ordinance to secede from the Union and ending with a final message in 1865 from the last Confederate general to surrender.
Relive the day-to-day reality of the War as captured in a rich legacy of written records: official battle reports, general orders, letters, sermons, songs, published articles, novels, and accounts of travel, prison, and conditions of army life. Included are contemporary newspaper accounts of the Battle of Fort Sumter, a stirring address to his soldiers by Jefferson Davis in 1864, a Confederate prisoner's account of life in a Yankee prison, a newspaper report of the sack and destruction of Columbia, South Carolina, a poignant last-ditch attempt by General E. Kirby Smith in 1865 to rally the Trans-Mississippi Army, and many more. A selection of authentic cartoons, sketches, and broadsides from various periods of the War adds a special "you-are-there" flavor to the book.
Carefully chosen and annotated by a distinguished authority on the Confederacy, these selections paint a broad and moving picture of the attitudes, emotions, and ideas that motivated and sustained the South during the War. Assembled in this inexpensive paperback edition of The Confederate Reader, they will bring new insight and enlightenment to any Civil War buff or student of American history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486121291
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/25/2012
Series: Civil War
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 692,195
File size: 4 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Confederate Reader

How the South Saw the War

By Richard B. Harwell

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1989 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-12129-1


To Dissolve the Union

THE FOCUS of growing tension throughout 1860 was Charleston. The question of secession had been close to the surface of political thinking in the Palmetto State since the Nullification controversy of President Andrew Jackson's administration. It had reached the boiling point in 1852, only to subside after the passage of an ordinance affirming the state's right to secede. Now it was ready to boil over. Continued affronts to the advocates of state rights had caused South Carolina in 1859 to forewarn Washington of secessive intentions by an invitation to her sister slaveholding states to consider measures for concerted action.

Positive action was deferred pending the results of the political canvass of 1860. The election of Abraham Lincoln was the signal for secession—and separation—and war to come.

The South Carolina Convention, originally convened in Columbia, adjourned to Charleston to escape a threatened epidemic of smallpox and proceeded to bring upon the state and upon the South the greater scourge of war. The proud little city, arrogantly conscious that she was for the moment the center of national attention, awaited the passage of the Ordinance of Secession. After sober deliberation, feeling the responsibility of setting an example of dignity and reason, the delegates to the convention approved the ordinance early in the afternoon of December 20. Beneath the banner "The South Alone Should Govern the South" that stretched across Broad Street from the propaganda headquarters of the 1860 Association, crowds of citizens and militiamen streamed to the office of the Mercury, the fire-eating newspaper of secessionist Robert Barnwell Rhett, to confirm the news. And in scarcely fifteen minutes after its passage at St. Andrew's Hall copies of the Ordinance were rolling from the presses as a Mercury extra.

* * *



We, the People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained,

That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention, on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also, all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of "The United States of America," is hereby dissolved. D. F. JAMISON, Del. from Barnwell, and Pres't Convention.


Fort Sumter

SENTIMENT in the lower South was overwhelmingly in favor of secession and separation. From the beginning the extremists in South Carolina counted on the early accession of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to their ranks. In each of these states cool heads warned against the consequences of secession, but enthusiasm and emotion overrode wise admonition. The wisdom and love for the old Union of such as Alexander H. Stephens in Georgia, Benjamin F. Perry in South Carolina, and old Sam Houston in Texas could not prevail against the ambition-fired confidence and irresponsible claims of the fire-eaters. It mattered little that the South was not materially prepared for war. It was far too well prepared psychologically. What matter if there were not enough arms for a long war? What matter if there was no Southern navy? The war would be over in three months. Any Southerner could whip a dozen Yankees. Secession fever swept from Charleston to Montgomery, Jackson, Milledgeville, and Tallahassee. By February Louisiana had cast its lot with the secessionists, and the decision of Texas was a foregone conclusion.

"Hurrah, hurrah! for Southern Rights Hurrah," soon sang comedian Harry Macarthy as he plugged his own song "The Bonnie Blue Flag":

First, gallant South Carolina nobly made the stand;
Then came Alabama, who took her by the hand;
Next, quickly Mississippi, Georgia and Florida,
All raised on high the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a Single Star.

The secession of Texas was brought about after a bitter Unionist stand by her old patriot and governor, Sam Houston. But Houston could not hold back the hard-riding enthusiasm of the Texans for secession. The decision of the mammoth state, which remembered its own independence of less than a generation before, brought all the states of the great cotton belt into the new Confederacy and extended its territory from the Atlantic to ill-defined lines in the Western Territories.

The South moved in orderly and parliamentary fashion toward the formation of a new government. The Star of the West was fired on as she attempted to bring supplies to Major Robert Anderson's garrison at Fort Sumter in January, but the threat of immediate war subsided. Delegates were elected to a convention to be assembled in Montgomery. The Southern senators and representatives withdrew from the United States Congress. Secessionists in the army and navy resigned to place their services with their native states.

On February 4 the Montgomery convention began its sessions, and four days later a provisional government had been established. The convention at first looked to Georgia for the president of the new nation. But Bob Toombs, on hearing that some of the delegations had decided to vote for Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, asked that his name not be presented. The vote for Davis was unanimous. The ex-senator received the news with apparent surprise. His ambition lay in military, not administrative, duties. His first fame had come from his career in the war with Mexico, and he had served a distinguished term as President Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War. But Davis resigned the appointment the new Republic of Mississippi had given him as major general of its army and left his plantation "Brierfield" for Montgomery.

William Lowndes Yancey, eloquent champion of secession in Alabama, introduced Davis to an assembled crowd on the evening of February 17: "The man and the hour have met." The next day, before an audience thoroughly conscious of the historic importance, if not of the historic implications, of the occasion they witnessed, Jefferson Davis become the President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America in a simple and impressive ceremony. He delivered a short, dignified, and well-reasoned statement of his position as head of a new government. "We have changed the constituent parts, but not the system of our government," he declared. "Sustained by the consciousness that the transition from the former Union to the present Confederacy has not proceeded from a disregard on our part of just obligations, or any failure to perform any constitutional duty-moved by no interest or passion to invade the rights of others—anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with all nations, if we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of having needlessly engaged in it. Doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others, there can be no doubt that the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measures of defence which honor and security may require."

Herman Arnold led his Montgomery Theatre band through the catchy strains of "Dixie," and the government of the Confederate States set about the task of establishing a new nation in fact as well as in name.

While the government in Montgomery burgeoned with red tape, appointments and bureaus, the military situation in Charleston Harbor was one of growing tension. Major Anderson had moved his garrison from Fort Moultrie to the unfinished, but more easily defended, harbor stronghold of Fort Sumter the day after Christmas. His position was an anomalous one, as both North and South were aware of the advantage to be gained by not striking the first blow.

The continued occupation by the Federals of a fort in sight of the birthplace of secession was particularly galling to Southern pride and patriotism, so it was here, on April 12, 1861, that war really began. It began in the fashion of a much-heralded theatrical event. All the niceties were complied with. Until the last, Major Anderson continued to exchange friendly notes with his acquaintances in Charleston. (The belief still existed that the problems of the day could be solved without violent interference with the personal lives of the participants.) The venerable Edmund Ruffin and the vigorous Roger Pryor came down from Virginia to share the honors of commencing hostilities. The people of Charleston lined the famous Battery to witness the spectacle of war. And, despite heavy artillery bombardment, not a single human life was lost during the battle for the fort. The only casualty occurred during Anderson's salute to the old flag at his surrender.

* * *

Friday, April 12, 1861.

The bombardment of Fort Sumter, so long and anxiously expected, has at last become a fact accomplished.

At about two o'clock, on the afternoon of Thursday, General Beauregard, through his Aides, Col. James Chesnut, Jr., Col. Chisolm and Capt. Lee, made a demand on Major Anderson for the immediate surrender of Fort Sumter. Major Anderson replied that such a course would be inconsistent with the duty he was required by his Government to perform. The answer was communicated by the General-in-Chief to President Davis.

This visit, and the refusal of the commandant of Fort Sumter to accede to the demand made by General Beauregard, passed from tongue to tongue, and soon the whole city was in possession of the startling intelligence. Rumor, as she is wont to do, shaped the facts to suit her purposes, enlarged their dimensions, and gave them a complexion which they had not worn when fresh from the pure and artless hands of truth.

A half an hour after the return of the orderlies it was confidently believed that the batteries would open fire at eight o'clock, and in expectation of seeing the beginning of the conflict, hundreds congregated upon the Battery and the wharves, looking out on the bay. There they stood, straining their eyes over the dark expanse of water, waiting to see the flash and hear the boom of the first gun. The clock told the hour of eleven, and still they gazed and listened, but the eyelids grew weary, and at the noon of the night the larger portion of the disappointed spectators were plodding their way homeward. At about nine o'clock, General Beauregard received a reply from President Davis, to the telegram in relation to the surrender of Sumter, by which he was instructed to inform Major Anderson that if he would evacuate the fort he held when his present supply of provisions was exhausted, there would be no appeal to arms. This proposition was borne to Major Anderson by the Aids who had delivered the first message, and he refused to accept the condition. The General-in-Chief forthwith gave the order that the batteries be opened at half-past four o'clock on Friday morning. Major Anderson's reply was decisive of the momentous question, and General Beauregard determined to apply the last argument. The stout soldier had resolved to make a desperate defence, and the bloody trial of strength must be essayed. The sword must cut asunder the last tie that bound us to a people, whom, in spite of wrongs and injustice wantonly inflicted through a long series of years, we had not yet utterly hated and despised. The last expiring spark of affection must be quenched in blood. Some of the most splendid pages in our glorious history must be blurred. A blow must be struck that would make the ears of every Republican fanatic tingle, and whose dreadful effects will be felt by generations yet to come. We must transmit a heritage of rankling and undying hate to our children.

The restless activity of Thursday night was gradually worn down; the citizens who had thronged the battery through the night, anxious and weary, had sought their homes, the Mounted Guard which had kept watch and ward over the city, with the first grey streak of morning were preparing to retire, when two guns in quick succession from Fort Johnson announced the opening of the drama. Upon that signal, at twenty-five minutes past four o'clock, A.M., the circle of batteries with which the grim fortress of Fort Sumter is beleaguered opened fire. The outline of this great volcanic crater was illuminated with a line of twinkling lights; the clustering shells illuminated the sky above it; the balls clattered thick as hail upon its sides; our citizens, aroused to a forgetfulness of their fatigue through many weary hours, rushed again to the points of observation; and so, at the break of day, amidst the bursting of bombs, and the roaring of ordnance, and before thousands of spectators, whose homes, and liberties, and lives were at stake, was enacted this first great scene in the opening drama of this most momentous military history....

Steadily alternating, our batteries spit forth their wrath at the grim fortress rising so defiantly out of the sea. Major Anderson received the shot and shell in silence. And some excited lookers on, ignorant of the character of the foe, were fluent with conjectures and predictions, that revived the hope fast dying out of their hopeful and tender hearts. But the short-lived hope was utterly extinguished when the deepening twilight revealed the Stars and Stripes floating defiantly in the breeze. The batteries continued at regular intervals to belch iron vengeance, and still no answer was returned by the foe. About an hour after the booming began, two balls rushed hissing through the air, and glanced harmless from the stuccoed bricks of Fort Moultrie. The embrasures of the hostile fortress gave forth no sound again till between six and seven o'clock, when, as if wrathful from enforced delay, from casemate and parapet the United States officer poured a storm of iron hail upon Fort Moultrie, Stevens' Iron Battery and the Floating Battery. The broadside was returned with spirit by the gallant gunners at these important posts. The firing now began in good earnest. The curling white smoke hung above the angry pieces of friend and foe, and the jarring boom rolled at regular intervals on the anxious ear. The atmosphere was charged with the smell of villainous saltpetre, and as if in sympathy with the melancholy scene, the sky was covered with heavy clouds, and everything wore a sombre aspect.

About half past nine o'clock, Capt. R. S. Parker reported from Sullivan's Island to Mount Pleasant that everything was in fine condition at Fort Moultrie, and that the soldiers had escaped unhurt. The same dispatch stated that the embrasures of the Floating Battery were undamaged by the shock of the shot, and though the formidable structure had been struck eleven times, the balls had not started a single bolt. Anderson, after finding his fire against the Iron Battery ineffectual, had concentrated his fire upon the Floating Battery, and the Dahlgren Battery, both under command of Capt. Hamilton. A number of shells had dropped into Fort Sumter, and one gun en barbette had been dismounted....

The venerable Edmund Ruffin, who, so soon as it was known a battle was inevitable, hastened over to Morris' Island and was elected a member of the Palmetto Guard, fired the first gun from Stevens' Iron Battery. Another son of the Old Dominion was appointed on General Beauregard's Staff on Thursday, bore dispatches to the General in command, from Brigadier-General James Simons, in command of Morris' Island, during the thickest of the fight, and in the face of a murderous fire from Fort Sumter. Col. Roger A. Pryor, in the execution of that dangerous commission, passed within speaking distance of the hostile fortress.

Fort Moultrie has fully sustained the prestige of its glorious name. Here, Col. Ripley, who was commandant of all the artillery of Sullivan's Island and Mount Pleasant, made his headquarters. The battery bearing on Sumter consisted of nine guns, in command of Lieut. Alfred Rhett, with a detachment of seventy men, Company B. It fired very nearly gun for gun with Fort Sumter. We counted the guns from eleven to twelve o'clock, and found them to be forty-two to forty-six, while the advantage was unquestionably upon the side of Fort Moultrie. In that fort not a gun was dismounted, not a wound received, not the slightest permanent injury sustained by any of its defences, while every ball from Fort Moultrie left its mark upon Fort Sumter. Those aimed at the barbette guns swept with a deadly fire the parapet of the battery bearing on Cummings' Point, and also that against Sullivan's Island, clearing the ramparts of men, striking the guns, or falling with terrible effect upon the walls and roofing of the quarters on the opposite side of the fortress. Many of its shells were dropped into that fort, and Lieut. John Mitchell, the worthy son of that patriot sire, who has so nobly vindicated the cause of the South, has the honor of dismounting two of its parapet guns by a single shot from one of the Columbiads, which at the time he had the office of directing. During the morning, Major Anderson had paid his respects to all, and had tested the Floating Battery and the Iron Battery, and made nothing for the trouble. The last two or three hours before dark, he devoted himself exclusively to Fort Moultrie, and the two fortresses had a grand duello. Game to the last, though much more exposed, Fort Moultrie held her own, and, it is believed, a little more than her own. Towards night, several rounds of red-hot shot were thrown into the barracks of the enemy. This battery has received universal applause and admiration.


Excerpted from The Confederate Reader by Richard B. Harwell. Copyright © 1989 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
To Dissolve the Union,
Fort Sumter,
The Tune of Dixie,
A Visit to the Capitol at Montgomery,
"Glorious, Triumphant and Complete Victory",
The Texans Leave for War,
A Skirmish of the Horse Artillery,
A Prayer for Our Armies,
Winter in Virginia,
Naval Victory in Hampton Roads,
The Texans Invade New Mexico,
The Drummer Boy of Shiloh,,
Stealing the Telegraph,
A Scout for Stuart,
Beauregard Answers Butler,
Behind the Lines in Carolina,
General Robert Edward Lee,
Morgan in Kentucky,
A Hit at Everybody,
Richmond Views of the News,
The Battle of Fredericksburg,
The Alabama Versus the Hatteras,
The New Richmond Theatre,
Mosby Makes a Night Raid,
A Journey across Texas,
The South Mourns Jackson,
Defeat at Vicksburg,
Mule Meat at the Hotel de Vicksburg,
All-Out War,
A Prayer by General Lee,
In Camp near Chickamauga,
General Joseph E. Johnston,
Dinner at the Oriental,
The Close of '63,
President Davis' Address to the Soldiers,
Gaiety as Usual in Mobile,
The Consequence of Desertion,
Theatricals in the Army,
The Bishop-General, Leonidas Polk,
A Plea for the Reliable Gentleman,
The Jews in Richmond,
Spending the Seed Corn,
Peace Negotiations,
Victories in the Indian Territory,
Sherman in Atlanta,
In a Yankee Prison,
To the Friends of the Southern Cause,
Discipline in Lee's Army,
In Sherman's Wake,
"Forbid It Heaven!",
"Humiliation Spreads Her Ashes",
"The Glory of History Is Honour",
"Great Disasters Have Overtaken Us",
Secession Runs Its Course,

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