UK Heritage

Those Confederate States

by John Bennett

 

(This Article originally appeared in 'Crossfire - The Magazine of the American Civil War Round Table (UK)' Issue No. 63 August 2000)

 

In 1864 the first edition of a famous reference book was published in London: it was the Statesman's Yearbook, containing statistical and historical information about the countries of the world. That edition, and the one for the following year, included entries not only for the United States, but also for the Confederate States.

 

 


This may seem surprising, but the Confederacy was already regarded by many in Britain as a de facto nation, in spite of the government's refusal to grant it diplomatic recognition; furthermore, in 1864 it was by no means certain that the North was going to win the war, particularly before Sherman's capture of Atlanta and Lincoln's re-election. The decision to include the Confederate States was undoubtedly a carefully considered one on the part of the publishers, Macmillan & Co., mindful of the reputation of their new publication. Unlike some other London publishers - William Blackwood & Sons, Richard Bentley and Saunders, Otley, & Co., for instance - there is no evidence that Macmillan were particularly pro-Southern. 1 The inclusion of the Confederate States in their new reference book was almost certainly for reasons of completeness, rather than from any sympathy with the Confederate cause.

 

In both editions, sixteen pages were devoted to a description of the Confederate States, starting with an account of their Constitution and Government. This included a profile of President Jefferson Davis, with details of his military career, including his service in the Mexican War, his time in Congress as a Senator for Mississippi, in government as Secretary of War, and his appointment as President of the Confederate States on 4 February 1861. His position as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and his powers to nominate ambassadors, ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, 'and all other officers of the Confederate States' were also described.

 

In addition, details were given of the Vice-President, Alexander H. Stephens, and the six members of the cabinet, only two of whom, Stephen R. Mallory, the Secretary of the Navy, and John H. Reagan, the Postmaster General, were to remain in post throughout the war.

 

The Yearbook made no mention of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which gave President Davis the authority to declare martial law in areas threatened by the enemy. This happened three times between 1862 and 1864, and convinced many of his enemies that he was aiming for absolute power; one of his bitterest critics was Vice-President Stephens.

 

Nor, of course, did it refer to the widespread criticism of Confederate laws regarding conscription, impressment (the compulsory purchase of anything needed by the army), and tax-in-kind, whereby one tenth of a farmer's produce was taken by the government. Given this, and the obsession with state rights, conflict between the President and the individual states was almost inevitable; some state governors, in particular Joseph L. Brown of Georgia and Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina, were endlessly critical, and seemed to be engaged in a private war of their own with Jefferson Davis, in a stream of acrimonious correspondence. 2

 

The parlous financial condition into which the Confederate States got themselves was illustrated by some of the statistics included in the section headed Revenue and Expenditure. Government printing presses poured out millions of treasury notes, unbacked by either gold or cotton - 265 million dollars were issued between October 1863 and March 1864 alone. The notes may have been artistically designed but they were ultimately worthless; a depreciating currency, coupled with soaring prices, as goods became ever scarcer, probably did as much as anything to undermine civilian morale.

 

The Conscription Acts of 1862 called up 'white male citizens of the Confederacy', aged between 18 and 45 (later extended to 50). They proved difficult to enforce, with much resistance from Southerners opposed to secession or simply indifferent to it. 3 Some found ways of avoiding the draft, by keeping out of the way of the conscription officers, or feigning illness or disability. Others tried to misuse the Military Exemption Act of 1862, which designated certain groups of men as not liable for conscription. In the part devoted to the Army, the Yearbook set out the exempt categories:

 

'The chief officials in the service of the government; pilots in the merchant marine service, chief mechanics in the employment of railway companies; presidents and teachers of colleges, academies, schools and theological seminaries; shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, waggon makers, millers and their engineers, and millwrights, all actually employed in the said trades; one editor of each newspaper and such employees as the editor or proprietor may certify to be indispensable for conducting the publication; and various other classes'.

 

A clause which became known as the Twenty-Negro Law, which exempted the owner or overseer of a plantation with twenty or more slaves, was particularly resented, as was the substitution system, whereby a man could pay another, not otherwise liable for the draft to serve in his stead; it did indeed seem, as many claimed, to be 'a rich man's war and a poor man's fight'. As the manpower shortage worsened, the categories of exempts were revised, along with the Twenty-Negro Law, and the substitution system was abolished.

 

Governor Brown, ever a thorn in President Davis's side, was among the strongest critics of conscription, denouncing it as unfair, oppressive and unconstitutional, and refusing to co-operate. Furthermore, he claimed the right to withdraw Georgia troops from the Confederate Army whenever he thought it necessary.

 

Quoting the Richmond Enquirer as its source, the 1864 edition of the Yearbook gave the strength of the Confederate Army on 1 July 1863 as 225,000 men, of whom 100,000 constituted Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and 40,000 Bragg's Army of Tennessee. The 1865 edition presented the statistics rather differently, listing 8 artillery corps of 40 companies each (20,000), 175 cavalry regiments (128,275), and 547 infantry regiments (400,951), a total of 549,226. These figures were drawn from the army estimates laid before the Confederate House of Representatives in 1864. The 1864 edition also gave an estimate of Confederate losses up to 1 June 1863 (approximately half way through the war), taken from the Knoxville Reporter, showing 20,893 killed, 69,615 wounded, and 22,169 taken prisoner, a total of 112,677. The number who had died from wounds or disease was given as 136,000. 4

 

The information concerning Population was from the United States Census of 1860. The eleven states which seceded from the Union were shown as having a total population of approximately 9 million (as opposed to 19 million in the North). made up of 5.5 million whites, 133,000 free blacks and 3.5 million slaves. There were huge disparities between the populations of the individual states: the most thinly populated was Florida, with only 140,000 inhabitants, while Virginia had a population of 1.6 million. Neither Missouri nor Kentucky actually seceded, though they were regarded by some as part of the Confederacy, and were listed as such by the Yearbook.

 

Under the heading of Trade and Commerce the 1865 edition of the Yearbook commented that because of the blockade, trade with the Southern States was now conducted largely via Nassau in the Bahamas. It noted that 'In the month of September 1864 there arrived in England 29 vessels, laden with 14,534 bales of cotton and 495 boxes of tobacco, direct from Confederate ports'. According to a footnote, this information came from the Index, the Confederate weekly newspaper published in London and run by the propagandist Henry Hotze. From these figures it was calculated that about 174,000 bales of cotton and 6,000 boxes of tobacco were entering Great Britain from the Confederate States in the course of a year. Perhaps understandably, no information was given about the operation of blockade runners in the other direction.

 

As the editors were preparing the 1865 edition of the Statesman's Yearbook for the press, it is doubtful if they could have predicted that within a few months of its publication, the Confederate States would already be part of history.

 

ACWRT (UK) 2000 & 2001

 

References:

  • 1. Wartime articles in their Macmillan's Magazine indicate if anything a pro-Northern bias.
  • 2. See Frank L. Owsley, State Rights in the Confederacy. 1925 (reprinted 1961) and Georgia Lee Tatum, Disloyalty in the Confederacy, 1934 (reprinted 2000).
  • 3. The workings of the Conscription Acts are described in detail in Albert B. Moore, Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy. 1963 (reprinted c. 1998) and more briefly in Tatum, op. cit.
  • 4. It is interesting to compare these figures with the admittedly incomplete ones given in The Photographic History of the Civil War, vol. X. 1911 (reprinted 1987), which show at least 74,524 killed or mortally wounded, and 59,297 died of disease, and E. B. Long's probably more realistic estimates in The Civil War Day by Day, 1971 (reprinted 1985), of 94,000 killed or mortally wounded, and 164,000 died of disease.