Army of the Cumberland and George Thomas Source - www.AotC.net
HOME
Archive
Facts
News
Photos
Chronology-AotC
Battles & Reports
Overview
Links

The Confederate Spin on Winfield Scott and George Thomas by Francis Macdonnell.
Printed from Civil War History, Dec, 1998, FindArticles.com, located at http://www.findarticles.com

A tape-recorded message informs visitors to the Robert E. Lee Museum on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery that in 1861 "no other choice was possible" for Lee except to fight for the South. The museum's conclusions regarding Lee's decision survive as a vestige of Confederate propaganda. Approximately 190,000 Southerners, black and white, obscure and illustrious, chose differently than Lee, going so far as to don a blue uniform and fight for the Union. Determined to forge a new nation, secessionists successfully depicted Southern Unionists as disreputable and unprincipled. No honorable man, they said, could bear arms against his native land. The Confederacy proscribed as insurrectionaries freedmen who fought for the North and decried as outlaws and tories ordinary white Southerners who took up Federal arms. Secessionist publicists particularly targeted Winfield Scott and George Thomas, two of the most important Southerners who remained loyal to the Union.

Attacks on Scott occurred primarily in 1861, while the most serious effort todiscredit Thomas took place shortly after his death in 1870. During the war, men like Scott and Thomas were dangerous to secessionists because of their military talents and their example of steadfast loyalty to the United States. Afterwards, Lost Cause apostles continued to vilify Southern Unionists on the grounds that honorable men had no other choice than to support the Confederacy.(1)

Several weeks after Virginia's secession, J. E. B. Stuart expressed a desire to hang George Thomas. In June 1861 the hue and cry against Scott was so severe that Catherine Edmonston called for a halt: "I wish we would cease this lamentation first & abuse now of General Scott." Edmonston believed Scott "a hoary headed old traitor," but thought the apostasy of an "old vain, inflated bag of wind" would do little damage to the cause of Southern independence. At the war's end, Edmund Ruffin bitterly reflected on the part Scott and Thomas played in bringing down the Confederacy: "It is a singular coincidence, & an additionally galling infliction, that this war began & ended in Virginia with the operating Yankee armies under the command of two traitor Virginians." Ruffin's only consolation lay in his belief that both generals had earned infamy throughout the South, while being "secretly despised in the North." Former Virginia governor John Letcher argued that Scott and Thomas's treachery had been compounded by cowardly and dishonorable indecision. Both men, he contended, offered clear indications of a willingness to support Virginia in the period before secession, only to recant at the hour of decision. Letcher went so far as to claim that in November 1860 Scott intentionally betrayed the United States government by forwarding to Richmond a copy of his "Views" on the sectional crisis: "I supposed his object in sending these papers to me was to inform me of the troops the United States had for use, where they were located, and also the condition of the Forts, and how they were manned."(2)

In fact, Scott pursued policies that offered evidence of his intention to stand by the Union. In the last days of the Buchanan administration, he desperately urged that federal forts in the South be resupplied and reinforced. Early in January 1861 he outfitted the Star of the West for a relief expedition to Sumter. Though the effort failed, Scott's action precipitated a near fistfight between the seventy-four-year-old soldier and Georgia secessionist Robert Toombs. Scott also brought more troops to the District of Columbia as a precaution against possible attack by Southern agitators. In February he provided Congress with military protection in case extremists should try to break up the counting of presidential electoral votes. For this transgression, legislators from slave states scorned him as a "Traitor to the state of his birth!" and a "Free-state pimp!" In March, J. E. B. Stuart wrote of Scott's "diabolical designs" and "secret inquisition through the Army."(3)

Despite his actions supporting the Union, Scott issued public pronouncements that might have misled wishful-thinking secessionists. As loyal as he was to the nation, he looked with horror upon the possibility of civil war. On October 29, 1860, he drafted a letter outlining his "Views" on the sectional crisis. Scott sent this document to President Buchanan, select cabinet members, politicians throughout the nation, and the editor of the National Intelligencer. (The letter eventually appeared in the Intelligencer on January 18, 1861). Scott began by admitting the right of secession. However, he balanced this assertion by accepting the legitimacy of Federal coercion to restore national unity if the withdrawal of an interior state disrupted the United States's "continuity of territory." In all other instances, he rejected the idea of invading a seceded state. Scott predicted that forcible efforts to hold the country together would lead to a savage war and "despotism of the sword.... A smaller evil would be to allow the fragments of the great Republic to form themselves into new Confederacies." In a remarkable flight of fancy, he prophesized the break-up of the United States into four separate nations. Clearly, secessionists might have taken heart from Scott's "Views." However, in this letter he also insisted on reinforcements for threatened American forts in the South, in order to preempt "some danger of an early act of rashness preliminary to secession."(4)

Scott thus wrestled with two irreconciliable impulses: preserving the Union and averting war with the South. The second manifested itself during the early weeks of the Lincoln administration, when Scott came to urge abandonment not only of Fort Sumter but of Fort Pickens as well. Subsequently, he developed a military strategy (the Anaconda Plan) aimed at overawing the South, choking it economically, and bringing it to its senses without a massive effusion of blood. Scott's reluctance in the fall of 1860 and spring of 1861 to wage a hard war led some Confederates to believe that he might turn on the Union.(5)

When Virginia seceded, Gov. John Letcher dispatched Judge John Robertson to Washington with the mission of persuading Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott to resign from federal service. By the time Robertson reached Alexandria, he learned that Lee had already tendered his resignation. On April 23, Robertson, an old William and Mary classmate of Scott's, unsuccessfully sought an interview with the general-in-chief. After being denied an appointment, Robertson "accidentally" ran into Scott as he was crossing the street. At first, the general attempted to brush him aside, "complaining of ... overwhelming engagments," but finally agreed to hear Robertson's message as long as the judge spoke only in a private rather than an official capacity. All efforts to turn Scott away from his national loyalties "were met by a stern declaration of his determination to defend the Stars & the Stripes and to maintain, what he called his allegiance to the Union." Significantly, as a sign of his fear of a fratricidal conflict, he assured Robertson that "he intended no invasion of the States, but to act as he viewed it on the defensive." News of Scott's encounter with Robertson appeared in the Northern and Southern press, as did the text of a telegram the general dispatched to his friend John J. Crittenden: "I have not changed. I have not thought of changing. Always a Union man."(6)

Faced with irrefutable evidence that the greatest "captain of the age" had abandoned the South, Confederate publicists lost no time in shredding Scott's reputation. They attributed his support of the Union to a mad thirst for power, senility, or both. The Charleston Mercury deplored the general as a man-on-horseback manque: "He, Scott, the hungering aspirant for the Presidency, seduced in his old age by the vain dream of becoming military dictator of the country! Knowing the imbecility of Lincoln, he fancies that his military successes secure his military dictatorship. But his soup, like the spur of Percy has grown a little cold!" The New Orleans Picayune wrote that Scott controlled "a vast military power, which his habits made a dictatorship ... he will not abandon power and place from any sentiment." Editorialists for the Charleston Daily Courier blamed his treason on a lack of mental vigor. Conversely, the Petersburg (Virginia) Express suggested Scott's decision itself had driven him to lunacy: "Overwhelmed with the lashings of a guilty conscience, he has become a sort of terror to all around him." The paper added that "Scott raved like a madman, and told Lincoln he was a stupid fool, a most consummate ass."(7)

The Richmond Enquirer predicted Scott would enter the ranks of historical villains such as Judas Iscariot and Napoleon: "Alas! the hissing words of scorn must now be uttered and resounded through all the coming ages--the tomb of infamy must now be opened, and the name of Winfield Scott be buried there forever." The Enquirer prayed that mental incapacity, not reasoned consideration, accounted for the general's apostasy. Near its conclusion, the editorial offered a poignant wish for Scott: "let us, his friends, indulge the painful hope that Death, in kindness, will soon come to his rescue, and relieve him from the melancholy infamy, which will surely gather in all after time around the first and only traitor son of Virginia, who has stooped to be the tool of her tyrant oppressor."(8)

Southern papers further held that the Confederacy would not need the services of Scott, whom they characterized as a vain, foolish, arrogant, bad-tempered, ungrateful, petulant, and prodigious humbug. His past successes were either good luck or else the result of good work by subordinates. The Charleston Mercury wrote: "Scott has always been a military blunderer, but a fortunate one." The Richmond Dispatch claimed Zachary Taylor had been the real genius of the Mexican War. Moreover, the victories Scott achieved in Mexico occurred in spite of "one or two awful blunders" and were largely due to Lee's engineering. Other stories derided the General's service in the War of 1812 and his efforts against the Seminoles in Florida.(9)

The South turned Scott into the perfect anti-republican villain, a power-hungry, luxury-loving embodiment of vice. He either aspired to a military dictatorship or else took pleasure in overseeing the "palace Janizaries" who preserved Lincoln's despotism. He had turned his back on the Founders; the hero of Lundy's Lane now served as bodyguard to the "despicable and bloody craven" who occupied the White House. A relative labeled him a worse traitor than Benedict Arnold; other writers spoke of his certain damnation. Scott's decrepitude and senility comforted secessionists, not only by suggesting his incapacity for military service but by symbolizing the decadent and tyrannical government he continued to serve.(10)

[George H. Thomas]

At the start of the war, Winfield Scott was the most celebrated Southerner to side with the Union. By the conflict's end, that distinction belonged to George Thomas. Thomas knew that his decision to bear arms against the South had subjected him to savage attacks by supporters of secession. In a March 2, 1867, piece in the Army and Navy Journal, he expressed anger at the way former Confederates had successfully stigmatized Unionism: "[l]oyalists to the whole country are called d--d Yankees and traitors, and over the whole great crime with its accursed record of slaughtered heroes, patriots murdered because of their true-hearted love of country, widowed wives and orphaned children, and prisoners of war slain amid such horrors as find no parallel in the history of the world, they are trying to throw the gloss of respectability, and are thrusting with contumely and derision from their society the men and women who would not join hands with them in their work of ruining their country." Thomas wrote out of personal experience, for his own actions and character were the subject of a vicious campaign of rumor-mongering, distortions, and lies. Such attacks continued, even intensified, after his death.(11)

On March 28, 1870, Gen. George Thomas died in San Francisco, succumbing to what doctors diagnosed as an attack of apoplexy. Flags from Maine to California flew at half mast. Throughout the North, tributes flowed in from politicians, veterans, and newspaper editorialists. Gen. William T. Sherman wrote that the Civil War found his West Point classmate "at his post true and firm, amid the terrible pressure he encountered by reason of his birthplace, Virginia." The New York Times spoke of Thomas's "unflinching loyalty," and the Boston Daily Advertiser observed "he never seems to have hesitated for an instant as to his duty to stand by the flag."(12)

Obituaries from the South were less flattering. The New Orleans Picayune saw the Virginia-born Yankee as a perfidious liar who helped push the South into the war only to side with the North at the hour of decision. The paper characterized Thomas as an extreme fireeater who rigidly clung "to the doctrines of the Calhoun party.... He was so open in his views and advocacy on this question that he was called by some persons the apostle of secession in the army." Thomas allegedly promised to resign his commission, offering his services to Virginia and the Confederacy. (After making this charge, the Picayune rather weakly conceded that "whether he did this directly and in unmistakeable terms is somewhat uncertain.") After pledging to aid his section, he fell under the sway "of his northern wife or to considerations of material interest." The paper strongly favored the latter explanation, emphasizing that the resignations of Johnston and Lee had opened the road of promotion for Thomas.(13)

The Picayune represented the most extreme Southern response to the general's death. An editorial in the Richmond Dispatch offered a more dispassionate, though hardly enthusiastic assessment of Thomas's life. The Dispatch expressed respect for his memory "without entertaining for it a warmer sentiment." The fact that other Southerners had seen Thomas's death as an opportunity to impeach the character of a "dead hero" was described as "regrettable." However, the Dispatch's editorialist accepted as indisputable accusations that Thomas wavered in his loyalties at the start of the war. The paper saw such indecision as laudable, for any Virginian who easily separated from his native state possessed a "heart of stone." The Dispatch reflected an uncommonly magnanimous view of the Civil War, holding that the late conflict involved questions over which "even brothers might differ honestly, and we never found it in our heart to hate a Virginian who, otherwise worthy of respect, sided with the National Government." Ironically, the Southern paper that dealt with Thomas's decision in the most generous fashion, shortly proved the vehicle for a bitter inter-sectional dispute over the his character.(14)

On April 23, 1870, a letter from Gen. Fitzhugh Lee appeared in the Richmond Dispatch questioning the assertion, repeatedly made in Northern papers, that Thomas "never faltered in his allegiance to the Union." Lee wrote that as war approached, Thomas's views "were Southern to almost the bellicose degree." Thomas had personally expressed to him an intention to resign his commission and go South. Lee insinuated that documentary evidence could substantiate his charges: "It is a fact that about that time he wrote a letter to John Letcher, then governor of Virginia, and tendered his services to the state (which letter the Governor may have now)." Lee praised Thomas as "an upright, kindhearted man" who had fought well, but who was also a vacillating figure who had said one thing and done another.(15)

Lee quickly found himself challenged to back up his allegations with hard evidence, a challenge he failed to meet. Col. Alfred Lacey Hough, a long-time aide to General Thomas, angrily denied that his commander's loyalty ever faltered. Hough claimed to have held long conversations with the general, which he contemporaneously recorded in a journal. In these discussions, Thomas
purportedly dismissed as "an entire fabrication" any charges that he dallied with secession. He told Hough that "not a line ever passed between him and the rebel authorities; they had no genuine letters of his, nor was a word spoken by him to any one that could lead to such an inference." Thomas believed himself the victim of slander created by men "who knew they had done wrong" and were determined that "no Southern born man who had remained true to his country should ever bear a reputable character." The general allegedly added that any Southern man who had sworn an oath to the United States had "no excuse whatsoever to resign." The major Northern newspapers published Hough's reply to Lee.(16)

Where did the truth lie in this dispute? The best evidence suggests that in the months immediately before the firing on Sumter, Thomas went through a brief period of painful indecision. An ambiguously worded piece of correspondence between Thomas and John Letcher suggests a man considering the possibility of leaving the army. Fitzhugh Lee's memory that Thomas indicated he would be returning to Virginia confirms the tone of the Letcher letter. None of this implies that Thomas ever intended to fight for the Confederate cause, or that he had been an "apostle of secession" while in the United States Army, or any of the other more inflammatory charges advanced by ultra-Confederates. On the other hand, Northern claims that Thomas never troubled himself for a single moment as to which direction his duty lay are rather hard to square with the historical record. A letter in the Thomas papers suggests that the general himself had a difficult time coming to terms with his own pre-Sumter hesitations.

The correspondence between Letcher and Thomas had innocent origins. In the fall of 1860, on his way home from a tour of duty in Texas, Thomas suffered a severe back injury while stepping off a train in Lynchburg, Virginia. Uncertain if he retained the physical capacity to serve as a soldier, he applied for a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute. Though he did not get the job, the school's superintendent, Francis Smith, recommended Thomas and another man to Governor Letcher as candidates for chief of ordnance in the state of Virginia. Letcher offered the job to Thomas, having had the post previously refused by nine others. Thomas declined.(17)

Most notable in Thomas's refusal is the language he used with Letcher in describing his future service in the federal army. It strongly suggests a man determined not to fight against his native state. Thomas wrote: "I have the honor to state, after expressing my most sincere thanks to you for your very kind offer, that it is not my wish to leave the service of the United States so long as it is honorable for me to remain in it, and therefore as long as my native State Va remains in the Union it is my purpose to remain in the Army, unless required to perform duties alike repulsive to honor and humanity."(18) Given the language of the Letcher letter, how does one explain A. L. Hough's ironclad assertions that Thomas never wavered? Perhaps Hough's love for his old commander led him to record inaccurately their conversations. More likely, Thomas so shaded the discussions as to hide any of the doubts he experienced in 1861.

In August 1868 Thomas replied to a letter from an admirer, Captain L. H. Letcher, who had previously reported a vicious attack on the General in the pages of the Lexington (Kentucky) Gazette. Three false charges comprised the substance of the story: Thomas was an ardent secessionist before the war; he offered his services to the Confederacy in the spring of 1861; and he betrayed the South out of an unscrupulous and unprincipled personal ambition. Thomas unequivocally denied the accusations, but he treated his conduct in the spring of 1861 in a less than fully candid fashion. He explained what he did not do, rather than what he did do: "Nor can any person truthfully say that I ever applied by letter or verbally to any person private or official in the Southern Confederacy for a commission in their army or for any position in their Government, nor that I ever received any proposition from any person private or official in the Southern Confederacy for a Commission in their army or for any position in their Government, nor that I ever received any proposition from any person private or official in the Confederacy
relating to my acceptance of a Commission either civil or military under their Government." Technically, of course, Thomas told the truth; he received an offer for a state job from a state official. Strictly speaking, there was no exchange with the Confederate government. He hid no unethical conduct; Letcher had initiated correspondence between the men and Thomas had declined his job often Still, Thomas only offered a terse, legalistic and misleading explanation of his actions on the brink of the Civil War. Why?(19)

During and after his lifetime, secessionists tirelessly assailed his character. Unwilling to supply adversaries with any ammunition to distort the past, he appears to have avoided discussion of the personal doubts he almost certainly experienced. Thomas saw the kinds of outrageous slanders directed at him. Rabid Confederates labelled him an exteme pre-war secessionist on the basis of gossip and dubious newspaper articles. Accusations of his unscrupulous ambition ignored the fact that he had refused promotion at several points during the war and that as a Virginian siding with the North he had lost the kind of political assistance that legislators rendered favorite sons.

No man vilified Thomas with more gusto than Francis Smith, the superintendent of VMI. In an 1876 letter to the general's widow, Smith repeated the standard calumnies. He claimed that Thomas's application to VMI professed in writing: "I have made up my mind never to draw my sword against a state struggling for its Constitutional rights." Smith could not produce the document and no copy of it exists in the VMI archives. He then outlined for Mrs. Thomas the numerous proofs of her husband's secessionist tendencies in the winter and spring of 1860-61. Smith alleged that a Col. J. R. Chambliss told him that Thomas had expressed a desire personally to intervene so as to "hurry up our sluggish Va Convention to secession." He also wrote that Robert E. Lee had characterized Thomas as a supporter of secession while the two men served together in Texas. Smith said there could be no doubt that in the spring of 1861 Thomas belonged to the "ultra secession party of Va." He added that the New Orleans newspapers confirmed all of this "at the time & before the war closed and before the death of Gen. T." The VMI superintendent noted that Thomas stood in sharp contrast to Gens. R. E. Lee, J. E. Johnston, and T. J. Jackson "who deprecated secession." Smith thus informed Mrs. Thomas that her husband had betrayed the South, and at the same time been less loyal to the Union than Stonewall Jackson. He ended his correspondence with a gentlemanly flourish: "I have endeavored in this letter to present to you only such facts as have come to my personal knowledge. And I hope you will receive them in the spirit of kindness which should prompt the reply to the letter of the Widow of a distinguished officer now deceased whose desire to protect the memory of her husband from undeserved criticism all must honor and respect." No doubt, Mrs. Thomas apprehended in exactly what kind of "spirit of kindness" Smith had drafted his letter.(20)

For secessionists who had a hard time living with moral ambiguity, George  Thomas posed a terrible problem. If he had acted honorably in siding with the Yankees, then their own support for secession might have to be reexamined. Given the disastrous consequences of the war for the South, it was far easier to believe that secession had been a matter of compulsion and not one of choice. Southern blacks who joined the federals could be dismissed en masse as criminals; so too, white Unionists could be written off as thieves, brutes, and poor white trash. However, men of reputation had to be handled differently. Life would be much less complicated for ex-Confederates if the portrait of Thomas as an honest and courageous soldier could be replaced by one of him as an ambitious double-crosser who left matters of conscience in his wife's hands. This would be especially true for Southerners who--in contrast to Thomas--violated their oaths to the Constitution in order to support the Confederacy.

The demonization of eminent Unionists by Confederate publicists made violence against their lowlier brothers more likely; the nameless Unionists from the lower orders were more readily stereotyped as villains against whom any revenge could be appropriately wreaked. The extremes to which such vilification could go can be found in the popular short stories of Confederate private William Herrington. In "The Captain's Bride" and "The Deserter's Daughter," Herrington described Southern Unionists as "Fiends Incarnate !" ready to commit any abomination to reach their ends. "The Deserter's Daughter," for example, tells how North Carolinian tories employed a ten-year-old girl in a plot to poison well water used by faithful Confederates. Having entered the ranks of well-poisoners, Southern Unionists could sink no lower in public esteem.(21)

The consequences of Confederate spin often proved more grave for ordinary Southerners who stood by the Union. Secessionists harmed Scott and Thomas's reputations but not their persons. Enraged Confederate soldiers shot dead helpless black men, refusing them the right to become prisoners, at Olustee, Florida; Poison Springs, Arkansas; Fort Pillow, Tennessee; Plymouth, North Carolina; Petersburg, Virginia; and Saltville, Virginia. While longstanding racial hatred clearly played the most important part in such excesses, tacit encouragement from the Davis administration and Confederate press also contributed to the violence. The Confederate government and newspapers characterized freedmen in Union arms as criminal insurrectionaries not entitled to the usual protections guaranteed by the laws of war. White Unionists also found their lives in jeopardy. For example, in Gainesville, Texas, vigilantes hanged at least forty-two suspected Unionists; at Fort Pillow, Nathan Bedford Forrest's men killed white Southerners, so-called "home-made Yankees" in the Thirteenth West Tennessee Cavalry; at Laurel Springs, North Carolina, Confederate soldiers murdered fifteen Unionists ranging in age from thirteen to sixty; in Kinston, North Carolina, George Pickett ordered twenty-two North Carolinians captured in Union uniforms hanged for desertion.(22)

After the war, devotees of the Lost Cause pointed to Lee's fidelity to Virginia as unmistakeable proof that an honorable man's primary loyalty belonged to his state rather than his nation. As Alan Nolan has observed, Lee helped sustain such views by describing his decision to fight for the South as a matter of duty and compulsion.(23) Yet raw numbers suggest that Southerners who made the "other choice" greatly affected the course of the War. Ninety to one hundred thousand whites and approximately 98,000 blacks from Confederate states entered the Federal ranks, making a total of over 188,000 militant Southern Unionists. Scholars estimate overall enlistments in the Confederate Army at between 750,000 and 900,000 men. Thus, as many as one out of five Southerners who fought in the Civil War were Union soldiers. As Richard Current has noted, the 90,000 to 100,000 whites who enlisted in the federal army constituted a double loss for the Confederacy, denying desperately needed troops for the secessionist cause and at the same time strengthening the invading yankees. Given the obvious menace posed by internal division, one can hardly be surprised at the industriousness with which Confederate publicists worked to defame Unionists, especially two of the most consequential ones.(24)

(1) Twenty-five percent of U.S. Army officers resigned to join the Confederacy and 24 percent of U.S. Navy officers went South. Only 15 percent of West Point graduates from Confederate States remained loyal to the Union, a total of thirty-nine men. On resignations in the Army, see Russell Weigley, History of the United States Army (New York: MacMillan, 1967), 199; on resignations from the Navy, see William S. Dudley, Going South: United States Navy Officer Resignations and Dismissals on the Eve of the Civil War (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Foundation, 1981), 13; on West Point resignations, see James L. Morrison, Jr. "The Best School in the World": West Point, the Pre-Civil War Years 1833-1866 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State Univ. Press, 1986), 134. On Scott see Charles Winslow Elliott, Winfield Scott: The Soldier and the Man (New York: Macmillan Co., 1937) and John S. D. Eisenhower, Agent of Destiny: The Life and Times of General Winfield Scott (New York: Free Press, 1997). On Thomas see Francis McKinney, Education in Violence: The Life of George H. Thomas and the History of the Army of the Cumberland (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1961); Freeman Cleaves, Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1948); Wilbur Thomas, General George H. Thomas: The Indomitable Warrior (New York: Exposition Press, 1964); Henry Coppee, General Thomas (New York: Appleton, 1898); and Thomas Van Home, The Life of Major General George H. Thomas (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1882.)

(2) J. E. B. Stuart to Flora Cooke Stuart, June 18, 1861, Mss 2 ST 922 a3, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.; Catherine Edmonston, diary entry for June 2, 1861, in The Journal of a Secesh Lady: The Diary of Catherine Anne Devereux Edmonston, 1860-1866, eds. Beth Crabtree and James W. Patton (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1979), 66; Edmund Ruffin, diary entry for April 12, 1865, The Diary of Edmund Ruffin, ed. Lewis Simpson, 3 vols. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1972-89) 3:844, John Letcher, undated memorandum (probably postwar), in folder 13, box 18, John Letcher papers, George Marshall Library, Lexington, Va.

(3) On dispute with Toombs, William Y. Thompson, Robert Toombs of Georgia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1966), 154. "Traitor to the state of his birth!" and "Free-state pimp!" in Elliott, Winfield Scott, 692; J. E. B. Stuart to John Overton Steger, March 23, 1861, Mss 2 St922a6, Virginia Historical Society.

(4) Winfield Scott "Views Suggested by the Imminent Danger (October 29, 1860) of a Disruption of the Union By the Secession of one or more of the Southern States," Works of James Buchanan, 12 vols., ed John Bassett Moore
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1910) 11: 301-3.

(5) Scott's role in the secession crisis is detailed in David Potter, Lincoln and his Party in the Secession Crisis (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1942); Kenneth Stampp, And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis 1860-1861 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1950); Richard Current, Lincoln and the First Shot (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1963); and Elliott, Winfield Scott. Scott's aide E. D. Townsend wrote that the general justified the Anaconda Plan to Lincoln on the grounds that limiting Northern attacks on the South to a single thrust down the Mississippi (in combination with a naval blockade) would give Unionist sentiment a chance to reassert itself. E. D. Townsend, Anecdotes of the Civil War (New York: Appleton, 1884), 55.

(6) Judge John Robertson to Gov. John Letcher, Apr. 29, 1861, Virginia Executive Files, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Va.; "Various Items of Interest," Charleston Mercury, Apr. 29, 1861.

(7) "What Sort of War," Charleston Mercury, May 12, 1861; New Orleans Picayune, May 28, 1861. "Character of Gen. Scott," Charleston Daily Courier, May 28, 1861; Petersburg Express, quoted in "General Scott," Richmond Dispatch, May 16, 1861.

(8) "The Contrast-Fortress Monroe and General Scott," Richmond Enquirer, May 3, 186 t.

(9) "Character of Gen. Scott," Charleston Mercury, May 28, 1861; "Gen. Taylor and Gen. Scott," Richmond Dispatch, June 6, 1861; "Character of Gen. Scott," Charleston Daily Courier, May 28, 1861; "Interesting Incident--Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott," Richmond Dispatch, May 9, 1861.

(10) "palace Janizaries" quoted in "General Scott's `Views,'" Richmond Enquirer, Nov. 14, 1861. Scott described as "blacker than Arnold," in "The Exit of Scott," New Orleans Picuyane, Nov. 12, 1861.

(11) George Thomas, Mar. 2, 1867, Army and Navy Journal, quoted in Cleaves, 293.

(12) Sherman quoted in "A Personal Tribute from Gen. Sherman," New York Times, Mar. 30, 1870; "Major Gen. Thomas," New York Times, March 30, 1870; editorial, Boston Daily Advertiser, Mar. 30, 1870.

(13) "A Renegade Dead," New Orleans Picayune, Mar. 30, 1870.

(14) "General Thomas," Richmond Dispatch, Apr. 18, 1870, 2.

(15) Fitzhugh Lee, "General Thomas--An Interesting Letter," Richmond Dispatch, Apr. 23, 1870.

(16) "... you said you thought Thomas's letter to you had been destroyed at the time of the burning of your house--but that you would look into the matter." Fitzhugh Lee to John Letcher, May 29, 1870, in folder 62/12, John Letcher papers, George Marshall Library, Lexington, Va.; A. L. Hough, May 7, 1870, in "Gen. George H. Thomas, His Steadfast Loyalty," New York Times, May 17, 1870.

(17) On Thomas's injury see McKinney, Education in Violence, 85, Francis Smith to John Letcher, Feb. 21, 1861, in outgoing correspondence, Francis Smith papers, Archives of the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va., p. 383; and John Letcher to Francis Smith, Mar. 18, 1861, incoming correspondence, Smith papers, p. 447.

(18) George Thomas to John Letcher, Mar. 12, 1861, in Fitzhugh Lee collection, Alderman Library, University of Virginia.

(19) George Thomas to L. H. Letcher, Aug. 11, 1868, and see also Captain L. H. Letcher to George Thomas, Aug. 5, 1868, both in George Thomas papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

(20) Francis Smith to Frances Thomas, Feb. 8, 1876, in outgoing correspondence, Smith papers, VMI, pp. 177-80. Mrs. Thomas insisted she never influenced her husband's decision to fight for the North. In fact, at the very outset of hostilities she "wanted to dissuade him from going on duty, knowing as I did how very far from well he was." Frances Thomas to A. L. Hough, Jan. 21, 1876, in John N. Hough papers, University of Colorado at Boulder Archives.

(21) "The Deserter's Daughter" first appeared as a newspaper serial and then was printed as a book. The story sold five thousand copies in its first printing and went into a second printing. William D. Herrington, The Captain's Bride, A Tale of the War and The Deserter's Daughter, W. Keats Sparrow, ed. (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, 1990); "Fiends, Incarnate!" 10.

(22) On Olustee see Noah Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998), 151. On Poison Springs, see Gregory J. W. Urwin, "`We Cannot Treat Negroes ... As Prisoners of War.' Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in Civil War Arkansas." Civil War History 42 (Sept. 1996): 193-210. On Fort Pillow, see Richard Fuchs, An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1994); John Cimprich and Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., "The Fort Pillow Massacre: A Statistical Note," Journal of American History 76 (Dec. 1989): 830-37. On Plymouth see Weymouth Jordan Jr. and Gerald Thomas, "Massacre at Plymouth, April 20, 1864," North Carolina Historical Review 72 (Apr. 1995): 125-97. On Saltville see William C. Davis, "The Massacre at Saltville," Civil War Times Illustrated 9 (Feb. 1971): 4-11, 43-48. The Texas hanging is treated in Richard B. McCaslin, Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas 1862 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1994). On the Laurel Springs massacre see Phillip Paludan, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1981). East Tennessee proved a particularly vicious site for Unionist and Confederate excesses; see Noel Fisher, War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1997); and Kenneth Noe and Shannon Wilson, eds., The Civil War in Appalachia (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1997). The most comprehensive treatment of Southern federals can be found in Richard Current, Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy (Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press, 1992).

(23) While the Confederate hero believed conscience required him to side with Virginia, he never insisted that all other Southerners agree with him. Shortly after his resignation, Lee wrote a warm letter to his sister Anne, whose son Louis served in the Federal army. In this correspondence Lee cast no aspersions on Anne's Unionism and asked her simply not to blame him for his choice. Douglas Southall Freeman notes that Lee wanted his son Custis to decide independently whether to back North or South: "If I have done wrong let him do better. The present is a momentous question which every man must settle for  himself." No reliable evidence suggests that Lee doubted the integrity of men like Winfield Scott and George Thomas. In the closing days of the war, he wrote his wife that Scott's autobiography revealed the general as "the bold sagacious truthful man he is." Francis Smith's claims notwithstanding, neither Freeman nor Emory Thomas found any evidence that Lee believed Thomas dishonorable. Alan Nolan, Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1991), 50-53; R. E. Lee to Mrs. William Louis Marshall, Apr. 20, 1861, in An Annotated Edition of the Personal Letters of Robert E. Lee, April 1855-April 1861, Francis Adams Jr., ed., Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Maryland, 1955, 755; Lee's letter on Custis quoted in Douglas Southall Freeman, R. E. Lee, 4 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935-35), 1:444; on Scott's autobiography, R. E. Lee to Mary Lee, Mar. 28, 1865, in Wartime Papers of R. E. Lee, Clifford Dowdey and Louis Manarin, eds. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1961), 918-19.

(24) If one accepts 830,000 Southerners as the number of Confederate enlistments and 193,000 as the number of Southerners enlisted in the Federal army, then 19 percent of all Southerners who fought in the war were Union soldiers. The North, of course, had its own problems of internal disloyalty. Though still in the Union, the four border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware sent 85,000 soldiers into the Confederate army--almost equalling the total of Southern whites fighting for the federals. However, the Federals enrolled 2.2 million men in arms, thus making the 85,000 defectors, less than 4 percent of Union enlistments. James McPherson estimates Confederate enlistments at 850,000 to 900,000 men. Gary Gallagher estimates that 750,000 to 850,000 Southerners fought in the Confederate army. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 306-7; Gary Gallagher, The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism, and Military Strategy Could Not Stave Off Defeat, (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), 28. On black troops from  Confederate states, see Ira Berlin, Joseph Reidy, and Leslie Rowland, eds. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, set. 2, The Black Military Experience (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982) 1:12. On white troops to enlist from the Confederacy, see Current, Lincoln's Loyalists, 213-18.

I would like to thank Betsy Brittigan of the Leyburn Library at Washington and Lee University and Dr. David Hays of the archives at the University of Colorado, Boulder, for their generous assistance to me while I researched this essay.

Francis MacDonnell is visiting assistant professor of history at Southern Virginia College. The author of Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth Column and the American Home Front, he is completing a study of white Southerners who served in the Union army.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
COPYRIGHT 1998 Kent State University Press in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group


HOME
archive
facts
news
photos
chronology-AotC
battles & reports
overview
links