Propaganda, Not History

You can’t have contact with neoconfederates on the internet for too long before you encounter them quoting an article from the website,

I’ve said elsewhere that this is actually code for “nothing credible to be found here,” but I thought I’d provide an example from one of their classic articles, which I came across again recently while going through some files I had in a container.

This is a September 12, 2001 article from Joseph R. Stromberg.  Mr. Stromberg, as the site tells us, “is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a columnist for”  Wow.  Impressive title, eh?  Maybe.  Anyway, here’s how Mr. Stromberg approaches history:

“The last several weeks have seen a seeming bull market in anti-Southern libel. David Brion Davis, the eminent historian, told us in the New York Times that a) slavery was very, very bad, and b) that, tragically, after the heroic moral exercise of 1861-1865, evil Confederate ideology won a “victory” in the North. This terrible fact has haunted us right down to the last five or ten minutes. That’s why we’ve all been suppressing the fact that slavery was very, very bad.”  This is a reference to an article by Professor Davis in the New York Times published on August 26, 2001 entitled, “Free at Last; The Enduring Legacy of the South’s Civil War Victory.”  It’s a truly outstanding article which does not call the Civil War a “heroic moral exercise,” nor does it call confederates “evil.”  In fact, in the article, Professor Davis says, “The Confederacy’s ideological victory, which the nation is still struggling with, would not have been possible without the North’s deeply embedded racism and complicity in repudiating Reconstruction as an embarrassing failure. This was cited regularly, despite Reconstruction’s many achievements in promoting black suffrage, education and civil rights. Because most of the Northern white public was unprepared to face the consequences of slave emancipation in 1865, it was easy to popularize a new history of America, in which slavery occupied a far less central role. Beginning in the 1870’s, as the price of reconciliation, the North accepted the demands of Southern whites that they manage ‘Negroes’ as they pleased — an acquiescence to an era of lynching and Jim Crow.”  So we see right off the bat that Mr. Stromberg practices history first of all by distorting the writings of others.

He continues, “The loveable international conference on racism in Durban has generated a lot of copy this week, as well. The participants found time to entertain a complaint about the state flag of Mississippi. That is much more fun for them, I guess, than minding their own business would be. There are also sundry problems much closer to Durban. Farm murders in South Africa, for example, which even Professor Davis might concede are very, very bad. No matter.”  That is a reference to the UN’s World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 8, 2001.  The conference did have problems of its own, such as the draft calling Zionism equivalent to racism, prompting the walkout of both the Israeli and US delegations.  Mr. Stromberg acts as though this was just some folks in Durban who got together to complain about things outside South Africa.  Again, his concept of the practice of history appears to be distorting what others are doing.  You can read their 62-page declaration here.  I could find no mention of the Mississippi state flag.  Perhaps you’ll have better luck.

He then writes, “And, of course, The Atlanta Paper – hereinafter called The Atlanta Paper – lately ran an essay on the good points of General Sherman. It turns out we have been much too harsh on the genial invader, a mistake traceable perhaps to some long-standing Southern distemper, leading to an unwillingness to look at truckloads of evidence showing Sherman to have conducted his march through Georgia ‘pretty much by the book.’

“That is interesting, but ‘the book’ – the Union War Department’s General Order #100 — was written by Francis Lieber, a German immigrant of mushy liberal-nationalist views, which centered on state-worship. Thus Lieber: ‘the state stands incalculably above the individual, is worthy of every sacrifice, of life, and goods, of wife and children, for it is the society of societies, the sacred union by which the creator leads man to civilization, the bond, the pacifier, the humanizer, of men, the protector of all undertakings’ und so weiter. As often happens with quasi-Hegelian mystifications about the state, the code rested in practice on pure positive law. Anything done by a commander in the field could be justified under the rubric of ‘military necessity.’ So Sherman’s men could burn and pillage (and worse) to their heart’s content, while staying within the fraudulent limitations.”

Here he references an essay by Professor Lee Kennett, Professor of History Emeritus of the University of Georgia, published on August 31, 2001 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  You can see the essay here.  Did Professor Kennett reference the Lieber Code?  No.  He wrote, “According to the British legal authority J. M. Spaight, he violated the rules of war only once in the Atlanta campaign: when he failed to give a 24-hour warning before bombarding the city on July 20, 1864.”  He also wrote, “Sherman’s overall record on Southern civilians was reviewed about a century ago by a War Department commission investigating orders authorizing ‘extreme repressive measures.’  They found four of his orders that had probably gone too far, including the one for hostages on the rail lines never carried out.  But the commission’s finding also put other distinguished names among the malefactors, including Gens. Grant, McClellan and Sheridan, and on the Southern side, Jubal A. Early and Jefferson Davis.”  And what about GO #100?  First, Mr. Stromberg makes an ad hominem attack on Francis Lieber, taking Lieber’s writing out of context.  Here’s what Lieber wrote:  “The state always remains a means, yet it is the most indispensable means to obtain the highest end, that man be truly man. The salus populi, not the salus civitatis, is the suprema lex. The state exists to obtain or maintain the weal of the people; but we must beware not to give a mean signification, perhaps that of mere physical well being, to this term of common weal or salus populi.

“On the one hand, the individual stands incalculably higher than the state; for that he may be able to be all that he ought to be, the state exists, and each individual has that over which the state can never extend, because it cannot be drawn into jural relations, and because it will outlive the state,–the soul. ‘Over the soul can and will God allow no one to rule but himself alone,’ says Luther, who had no extensive views of individual civil liberty, beyond what touched the religious liberties, nor could it well be expected of him.

“On the other hand the state stands incalculably above the individual, is worthy of every sacrifice, of life, and goods, of wife and children, for it is the society of societies, the sacred union by which the Creator leads man to civilization, the bond, the pacifier, the humanizer of men, the protector of all undertakings in which and through which the individual has received its character, and which is the staff and shield of society. Not that I am guilty of the egregious folly of believing that every thing in the state is good, that the authorities established by the state may not sanction unwise, bad, wicked things. ‘Jam vero stultissimum illud existimare omnia justa esse, qua sita sunt in populorum institutis aut legibus.’ (Cic. de. Legg. i. 13) but the state as the chiefest of human unions, is a sacred institution, and deserves each man’s faithful devotion to serve where it is right, to improve where wrong.”  Mr. Stromberg again practices history by distortion of others.

He also distorts the Lieber Code, and he distorts the meaning of the doctrine of military necessity.   Simply, what he claims is an absolute falsehood.  The Lieber Code did not sanction that “anything done by a commander in the field could be justified under the rubric of ‘military necessity,’ ” as anyone who honestly looks at the code can tell.

Not content with those distortions, Mr. Stromberg next attempts to claim slavery was not at the root of the Civil War by trying to claim Sherman thought it had nothing to do with the war.  In this, he attempts to support his fellow historical charlatan, Charles Adams.  He apparently approves of Adams’ substitute for a Sears Catalog in an outhouse, When in the Course of Human Events.  He says, “Since such a reading undermines the war as a great moral crusade, it has met with stiff resistance.”  Wrong again, Mr. Stromberg.  Since such a reading is completely wrong and ahistorical, and buttressed by totally incompetent scholarship and attempts to deceive people, it has met with stiff resistance.

Beginning a series of quotes from various Sherman letters, Mr. Stromberg writes, “Well, strangely enough, all of Sherman’s concerns involved economics, geopolitics, or the glorious union. As secession loomed, Sherman wrote to his brother John Sherman, the future Senator, on December 1, 1860 that ‘If Texas should draw off, no great harm would follow – Even if S. Carolina, Georgia, Alabama & Florida would cut away, it might be the rest could get along, but I think the secession of Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas will bring war – for though they now say that Free Trade is their Policy yet it wont be long before steamboats will be taxed and molested all the way down’ (Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, eds., Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin [University of North Carolina Press, 1999], p. 15).”  At least he picked an excellent source for the letters.  Unfortunately his idea of historical research appears to be to carefully cull out only those things that can be made to appear to support what you want people to believe and leave out anything that could let them see the truth.

On November 23, 1860 (pp. 8-9), Sherman wrote to his wife, Ellen, that, “I also notice that many Gentlemen, who were heretofore moderate in their opinions now begin to fall into the popular current and go with the mad foolish crowd that Seems bent on a dissolution of this Confederacy–The extremists in this Quarter took the first news of the election of Lincoln so coolly that I took it for granted all would quietly await the issue–but I have no doubt that Politicians have so embittered the feelings of the People, that they think the Republican party is bent on abolitionism and they cease to reason or think of consequences.”  In the same letter, he says, “If the South is bent on dissolution of course I will not ally our fate with theirs, because by dissolution they do not escape the very danger at which they grow so frantically mad.  Slavery is in their midst and must continue but the interest of slavery is much weaker in Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia & Maryland than down here.  Should the Ohio River become a Boundary between the two new Combinations, then will begin a new change.  The extreme South will look on Kentucky & Tennessee as the North, and in a very few years the Same confusion & disorder will arise, and a new dissolution, till each state, and maybe each county will claim separate Independence.  If South Carolina precipitate this Revolution, it will be because she thinks by delay Lincoln’s friends will kind of reconcile the middle wavering states, whereas now they may raise the cry of abolition and unite all the slave states.”  Certainly Sherman did believe that the threat of cutting off navigation would lead to war eventually.  In this letter, too, he says, “I had no idea that this would actually begin so soon, but the news from that Quarter does look as though she certainly would secede, and that Alabama, Georgia, Florida & Texas would follow suit–all these might go, and Still leave a strong rich Confederated Government–but then comes Mississippi and Louisiana.  As these rest on the Mississippi and control its mouth, I know that the other States north will not submit to any molestation of the navigation by foreign states–If these two States go and Arkansas follows suit, then there must be war–fighting, and that will continue till one or the other party is subdued.”  Very clearly, Sherman puts slavery as the cause for secession.  No secession, no war.  Also, while he does say that a threat to navigation of the Mississippi would mean war, this is not what caused the war.  The confederates fired on Fort Sumter, and that’s what started the war.  The Mississippi River was not involved in that.

On November 29, Sherman again wrote Ellen (pp. 11-12), saying, “It is manifest to me now that the Leading Politicians of the State have conferred together and have agreed to go out of the Union, or at all events to favor the new Doctrine of Secession–The Legislature will determine the call of a convention, and the convention will divide very much according to the other events that may occur in the meantime–This imposes on us a change of purpose and it will not do for you or any one to come south unless this state of feeling changes–I know the Governor and believe him an Excellent thermometer of the political Atmosphere of Louisiana–I hear that business is dead in New Orleans, all of which is evidence that the abolitionists have succeeded in bringing on that ‘Irresistible Conflict.’  I am sick of this everlasting subject.  The truth has nothing to do with this world–Here they know that all you in Ohio have to do is steal [n-word]s and in Ohio though the people are quiescent yet they believe that the South are determined to enlarge the area of [n-word]s–Like Burton in Toodles I say D–n the [N-word]s–I wish they were anywhere or be kept at their work.”  Sherman is certainly a proslavery racist, and he blames abolitionists for the conflict, but again he identifies the root of the conflict as slavery.

On December 1, Sherman wrote to his father-in-law, Thomas Ewing (pp. 13-14), and said, “The convention will meet in January and the Questions submitted to them will be immediate Secession, or a General convention of all the southern states, Louisiana to instruct her Delegates, to demand that the Northern States shall repeal the Laws adverse to slavery, and give pledges of future good behavior.”  Once again, he identifies the source of the conflict as slavery.  In the same letter, he writes, “It might be that S. Carolina, Georgia Alabama and Florida might also fall out, & arrange by Treaty for the break of our Commercial Sea bond, but the moment Mississippi Arkansas, & Louisiana declare an independence, sovereign & complete, with a right to control, interrupt or tax the Commerce of the Mississippi, justly and fairly a storm would arise in those states bordering on the Territories, that would be fearful as compared with anything heretofore known on this Continent.  They argue, however as their policy will be free trade, no possible interruption can occur to the usual navigation: but however they may start, some tax and obstruction will result, and then of course retaliation & war.”  Mr. Stromberg might point to this to buttress his thesis; however, it doesn’t do that.  If we refer to what actually happened to bring on the war, there was nothing like what Sherman described in this letter regarding the Mississippi River.

Stromberg quoted a small excerpt from Sherman’s letter of December 1 to his brother John.  However, he left out some important information.  In that letter, Sherman wrote, “The Convention will meet in January, and only two questions will be agitated–Immediate dissolution, a declaration of State Independence, a General Convention of Southern States with instructions to demand of the Northern States to repeal all laws hostile to Slavery, and pledges of future good behavior.”  Clearly, Sherman shows slavery again at the heart of the conflict.  And he clearly says, in the portion on the Mississippi River, that war would come if shipping were taxed and molested.  If we look at actual history, that didn’t happen.

Stromberg also writes, “On December 9, he wrote to his brother that ‘it would be folly to liberate or materially modify the condition of the Slaves.’ On the other hand, ‘if States secede on this pretext, it will be of course only the beginning of the end. Slavery is common to all the Southern States – Let secession once take place on that point, and let these States attempt to combine they will find that there are other interests not so easily reconciled – and then their troubles will begin’ (p. 16, my [Stromberg’s] emphasis).”  Well, that’s only a small, carefully selected part of Sherman’s letter.  In that letter, Sherman wrote, “Our whole Government is based on the idea that the People are always good & virtuous.  Consequently, it has always been the case that prejudice and popular caprices could overrule and override the Law.  In the North you cannot enforce the fugitive slave law–in the South you cannot punish a man or set of men who hang another on a naked suspicion of being unsound on the Slavery question, or on a Filibustering scheme–These are mere illustrations of the same fact that you cannot enforce the Laws when in the locality there is a prejudice.  I have an idea that all attempts at Reconciliation will fail–that S. Carolina will secede, and that other states will follow and that a change of violence is to begin not affecting the Slavery alone, but all other interests, property, representations, &c.  I think it would be folly to liberate or materially modify the condition of the Slaves.  Their labor & its fruits are necessary to the civilized world, and American slavery is the most modified form of compulsory labor.  Any tampering with it is unkind to the negros, and causes the very natural outburst of passion of the whites–But if States secede on this pretext, it will be of course only the beginning of the end.  Slavery is common to all Southern States–Let secession once take place on that point, and let these States attempt to combine they will discover that there are other interests not so easily reconciled–and then their troubles will begin.”  On the next page, in that same letter, Sherman writes, “Many of my personal friends here say that this Slavery Question must be settled now [emphasis in original], and they demand certain promises from the northern Legislatures that I do not believe can be obtained by coaxing or force, & therefore that Such conditions cannot be had, they think they ought to combine for common safety.”  It’s clear from all this that Sherman believes the conflict is about slavery.

In a letter to his daughter Maria [whom he calls “Minnie”], dated December 15 (pp. 18-19), Sherman writes, “Men are blind & crazy, they think all the people of Ohio are trying to steal their slaves & incite them to rise up and kill their masters.  I know this is a delusion–but when People believe a delusion they believe it harder than a real fact, and these People in the South are going for this delusion, to break up the Government under which we live.”  Again, the conflict is about slavery.  Also, I like what he has to say about people believing delusions.  It helps us to understand neoconfederates.  🙂

In a December 18 letter to Ellen (pp. 21-22), Sherman writes, “That Convention has only to decree what has already been resolved on and proclaimed by the Governor, that Louisiana cannot remain under a Black Republican President.  The opinion is universal that Disunion is resolved on, and the only open questions are what states will compose the Southern Confederacy.”  He also writes, “It would be unsafe here for a family, though insurrection on the part of the negros is not apprehended–Indeed Dissolution is regarded as the cure for any such danger.”  Yet again, he identifies slavery as the reason for conflict.

That same day he wrote a letter to his brother John (pp. 23-24), in which he said, “Govr. Moore takes the plain stand that the State must not submit to a Black Republic President.  Men here have ceased to reason–They seem to concede that Slavery is unsafe in a Confederacy with Northern States, and that now is the time–No use of longer delay–all concession, all attempts to reconstruct seem at an end.”  Again, he’s clear that slavery is the reason for conflict.

Stromberg continues, “In letters of December 25 and January 5, 1861, he told correspondents that ‘it is not slavery’ behind the breakup of the union but ‘anarchy,’ which he equated with an excess of ‘Democratic spirit’ (pp. 27, 30). On January 8, he assured his father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, that ‘Slavery is not the Cause but the pretext’ (p. 32). To his wife, on January 20, Sherman observed that ‘Down here they think they are going to have fine times. New Orleans a free port, whereby she can import Goods without limit or duties, and Sell to the up River Countries. But Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore will never consent that N. Orleans should be a Free Port, and they Subject to Duties’ (p. 46). Thus, it was essential to blockade New Orleans to prevent such a ghastly outcome.”

The December 25 letter Stromberg references is to George Mason Graham, a member of the Board of Visitors for the Seminary.  Once again, Stromberg carefully excised a small part of that letter to make it appear Sherman was saying what he wanted Sherman to be saying.  Here’s a fuller quotation:  “You now profess to have a state government and yet your people, your neighbors, good, intelligent, and well-meaning men have already ignored the laws and courts, and given to an unknown, irresponsible body of citizens the right to try, convict, and execute suspected persons.  If gentlemen on Rapides Bayou have this absolute right and power to try and hang a Stranger, what security have you or any stranger to go into those pine woods where it may become a popular crime to own a good horse and wear broadcloth.  My dear General, we are in the midst of sad times–It is not slavery–It is a tendency to anarchy everywhere–I have seen it all over America, and our only hope is in Uncle Sam.  Weak as that Government is, it is the only approach to one.”  Clearly, Sherman is not saying that “it is not slavery behind the breakup of the union.”  Sherman has said consistently that slavery was the reason for the conflict.  Here he’s saying that there is a tendency to anarchy everywhere, and that is how the slavery question is going to lead to war, because people are disregarding the laws and the courts.  The sad times are caused not by the mere existence of slavery, but by the existence of this tendency to anarchy which will cause the resentment over the slavery issue to burst into conflict.  The January 5 letter he quoted is also to George Mason Graham.  Stromberg thinks the letters are to two different people, but that only shows how he really wasn’t paying attention to substance and was only looking for what he could carefully cut out of context.  In this later letter, Sherman writes, “My only hope for the salvation of the Constitution of the country is in the army.  The law is or should be our King, we should obey it, not because it meets our approval, but because it is the law, and because obedience in some shape is necessary to every system of civilized government.  For years this tendency to anarchy has gone on till now every State and county, and town through the instrumentality of Juries, either Regular or Lynch make and enforce the local prejudices as the Law of the Land.  This is the real trouble, it is not slavery, it is the Democratic spirit which substitutes mere popular opinions for law.”  Here again, Stromberg distorts what Sherman is saying.  He’s saying that local prejudices lead to people deciding what they will enforce and what they won’t enforce, no matter what the law says.  The existence of slavery is not a problem to Sherman, but ignoring the law is a huge problem for him.

In a January 12 letter to Ellen’s brother, Hugh Ewing (pp. 35-36), Sherman writes, “Strange to say cotton is high and meets prompt sale, and the Large Planters are favorable to Secession, because they believe that the North proposes to gradually undermine their Slavery property, which is their active capital.  Seward being named as Secretary of State confirms in them their hitherto naked assertion that the Republican party is identical with the abolition party.”  Once again, Sherman identifies the conflict over slavery as the cause of the conflict between the southern states and the Union.

Stromberg references Sherman’s January 20 letter to Ellen.  In that letter, he actually writes, “Down here they think they are going to have fine times.  New Orleans a free port, whereby she can import Goods without limit or duties, and Sell to the up River Countries.  But Boston, New York Philadelphia and Baltimore will never consent that N. Orleans should be a Free Port, and they Subject to Duties.  The most probable result will be that New Orleans will be shut off from all trade, and the South having no navy and no Sailors cannot raise a Blockade without assistance from England, and that She will never receive.  I have letters from General Graham & others, who have given up all hope of stemming the tide.  All they now hope for is as peaceable a secession as can be effected.  I heard Mr. Clay’s speech in 1850 on the Subject of secession, and if he deemed a peaceable secession then as an absurd impossibility–much more so is it now, when the commercial interests of the North are so much more influential.”  Note that Sherman is forecasting what would happen in the event of other states having to pay duties to New Orleans.  That never happened.  Additionally, on the same day Sherman wrote to George Mason Graham (pp. 44-45), saying, “My own opinion is that Lincoln will be installed in office, that Congress will not repeal the Union, that the Revenues will be collected.  The consequence is inevitable–War, and ugly war too–I do not think the South will be invaded or plain coercion attempted; but no vessel can be cleared at new Orleans, and no vessel enter without paying duties outside.  Commerce will cease unless the South can combine, organize a navy and fight their way, or unless she can form a treaty with our Old Enemy, England. For the northern and eastern cities will never consent to pay duties, and allow New Orleans to be a free port, to send into the Interior goods cheaper than they.”  Again, Sherman is talking about things that never actually happened here.

According to Stromberg, “Sherman repeated this last theme to his brother on February 1: ‘They want free trade here – to import free, and send their goods up the Rivers free of all charges but freight & insurance – New York, Boston, Phila. & Baltimore could not afford to pay duties if New Orleans is a Free port’ (p. 50).”  Again, Sherman is talking about something that didn’t happen.  In that same letter, says, “But even if the Southern States be allowed to part in peace, the first question will be–Revenue–Now if the South have Free trade, how can you collect Revenues in the Eastern cities–Freight from New Orleans to St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville Cincinati [sic] & even Pittsburg [sic] would be about the same as by Rail from New York & importers at New Orleans having no duties to pay, would undersell the East if they had to pay duties.  Therefore if the South make good their confederation and their plan, the Northern Confederacy must do likewise, or Blockade.”  Once again, this didn’t happen.

Stromberg continues, “In addition, Sherman believed the union to be unbreakable, legally and metaphysically. Writing to his brother on March 21, he sorted things out thus: ‘On the Slavery Question as much forbearance should be made as possible, but on the Doctrine of Secession, none whatever’ (p. 63). For Sherman, secession was treason, and that was that.”

Yes, for Sherman, secession was treason.  He said it in a February 3 letter to Ellen’s brother, Tom Ewing (pp. 53-54):  “My opinion is that this Question had gone so far it must be met–Secession is Treason–If the will of the People dont [sic] conform to the Interest of the Great Whole–it must be made to conform.”  In that same letter he wrote, “The great struggle will be the middle States and I do hope this Slavery question will not be permitted to array them in hostility, for if they leave [to] the Confederacy, there will be confusion worse confounded.”  Yet again, Sherman identifies slavery as the reason for the conflict.

Stromberg says, “So uninterested was Sherman in fighting for emancipation that he could write David F. Boyd, April 4, 1861, that slavery ‘is and was no cause for a severance of the old Union, but [I] will go further and say that I believe the practice of slavery in the South is the mildest and best regulated system of slavery in the world now or heretofore’ (p. 65).”  No one has claimed that Sherman was fighting for emancipation.  He was proslavery.  He was fighting for Union.  But that doesn’t mean the conflict wasn’t over slavery.  It was slavery that drove secession, and without secession there would have been no war.

According to Stromberg, “In late February 1861, Sherman left Louisiana to take up a commission in the Union army, serving first in Missouri and Kentucky. He was already predicting a long and costly war. On August 3, he wrote his wife: “The simple chances of war, provided we adhere to the determination of subduing the South, will of course involve the destruction of all able bodied men of this Generation and go pretty deep into the next” (p. 126). Sherman’s defenders like to say he was prone to exaggerate, that he was blowing off steam in his letters. Fine. The war “only” cost North and South 620,000 deaths. What a bargain.”  First of all, Stromberg doesn’t know Sherman’s service history.  He seems to be completely unaware that Sherman was a civilian when he was in St. Louis.  Sherman first served in Washington, DC and took part in the First Battle of Bull Run.  After his promotion to Brigadier General, Sherman went to Cincinnati, Ohio to serve with Robert Anderson, and after Kentucky officially remained in the Union he moved to Louisville.  And yes, Sherman did believe the war was going to be long and difficult.  I believe he sincerely believed it would cost an entire generation.  What “defenders” is Stromberg talking about here, and why does he believe Sherman needs “defenders” in this case?  It does seem as though Stromberg has erected quite the straw man.

Stromberg next asserts, “And for what did Sherman think it reasonable to fight such a war: tariff revenues, control of the Mississippi River, and the nationalist theory of the union. It is interesting that such an important union-saver should have come so close to the views of Charles Adams on what was at stake. It might be said, ‘Oh, that’s just one man’s opinion’ – but Sherman spoke for a substantial cross-section of northwestern opinion. Such people did not share the motivations of those in the Yankee belt, consisting of New England and the areas of settlement directly west of New England.”  As we’ve seen, this is exactly wrong.  Sherman predicted that duties and interference with traffic on the Mississippi would lead to war, but it’s clear he didn’t say that’s why he would fight.  He’s not close to Adams’ opinions at all, but Stromberg has tried to hide the full story of what Sherman thought.  And Stromberg’s claim that “Sherman spoke for a substantial cross-section of northwestern opinion” is something he fabricated out of thin air.

Continuing, Stromberg claims, “The ethnic ‘Yankees’ did care about slavery. But by themselves they could never have had a war about slavery, or anything else. The pivotal role of the Old Northwest puts crass political-economic interests right on center stage. Neo-mercantilism and continued internal improvements for the Great Lakes region seem a poor reason for killing so many Americans. No wonder those who love the War of Northern Aggression need a moral crusade to beautify an otherwise ugly picture.”  We can see that Stromberg’s idea of history is farcical.  New Englanders didn’t want to start a war to end slavery, and Stromberg’s claim implies they did.  He’s simply making things up as he goes along now.

Stromberg concludes, “A final note: one of the first acts of the Confederate Congress was to pass legislation guaranteeing free navigation of the Mississippi River to North and South alike in perpetuity. This failed to defuse Northern anxieties about their trade routes. As for the metaphysics of perpetual, involuntary union, I leave that to another occasion.”  It’s true that the confederate congress did pass an act that provided free navigation of the Mississippi River.  Since the free states weren’t fighting for tariffs, or navigation of the Mississippi, or commerce, it’s not really relevant to why the war came about.

What we see clearly through all this is that Mr. Stromberg is no historian.  He’s a propagandist only.  He’s not interested in actual history.  He’s interested in manipulating some historical information in order to push an agenda.  Anyone interested in understanding history will not take accept anything he has to say.  The label means totally lacking in credibility.



  1. This is awesome! There’s so much to comment on.

    First, there’s the usual tactic of sidestepping and blaming some other unrelated thing; in this case, the UN Conference on Racism. What the heck does THAT have to do with anything? Seriously, these guys thing think all they have to do is yell “SQUIRREL!” and no-one will question their mendaciousness.

    Gods above, but the Libertarians HATE the German immigrants of the 1840s-60s. As far as they’re concerned, all Germans were Marxists that Lincoln kowtowed to. And Lo! the book was written by LIEBER! Well, you just know he was a Commie.

    1. That’s right, Chris. You know the Libertarians’ views on the UN, of course, so I suppose he felt compelled to get that dig in.

  2. Sherman wrote: “I believe the practice of slavery in the South is the mildest and best regulated system of slavery in the world now or heretofore.” He’s probably right. But so what? Slavery is slavery.

    1. Absolutely. Sherman was proslavery, but he was also very much against secession. Of course, when the Union war effort ceased to be solely about Union he complied and freed slaves.

  3. Pat Young · · Reply

    Great post Al!

  4. jfepperson · · Reply

    What is almost comically ironic is that the historical analyses on that website are all written to serve an ideological purpose, which is classic Marxism, the antithesis of libertarianism.

    1. I’m not sure we can call it classic Marxism, Jim. Marx was actually better than the Libertarians in his historical analysis. Now, Marxism-Leninism is another case. 🙂

  5. I think it’s worth at least noting that, on Sept. 12, 2001, while the rest of the country was unified and in mourning, this guy was more concerned with writing a hit piece on W.T. Sherman.

    1. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he had it written beforehand and it was just released on the day that his column is supposed to be posted.

  6. “He’s not interested in actual history. He’s interested in manipulating some historical information in order to push an agenda. Anyone interested in understanding history will not take accept anything he has to say.”

    Change “he” to “they” and this is a perfect description of civil-war left bloggers. That Levin, Simpson, Mackey, Hall, blog in order to push an agenda is abundantly clear.

    1. Congratulations, Connie. You have a perfect record of not understanding what’s written. By the way, for the second time, I’m not a Leftist.

  7. I posted a speech by Howell Cobb on another site. The manager thanked my for providing evidence that there was more to the Southern Cause than just slavery.

    That’s not what I saw, so I wrote back

    “You want to find an article that shows that Southern politics was deeper than just “slaves”? Did you happen to notice that Howell Cobb mentioned “slaves” and “slavery” 96 times?

    Sorry to disappoint you, but you are not are not going to find any uniquely Southern politics that does not involve slavery. ”

    Al, have you ever seen any post by any pro Southern poster that says anything about Howell Cobb? Why are they afraid to talk about the man who was president of the Montgomery convention?
    If unfair tariffs were such a big issue, what did he try to do about it when he was Buchanan’s Sec of Treasury?

    1. I’ve quoted Howell Cobb when he told the Virginia Secession Convention that Georgia seceded solely to protect slavery, and neoconfederates come back with “Well, he’s an idiot.” Projection. 🙂

    2. The other thing they’ll sometimes say is, “well, that was just his opinion,” as if Howell Cobb or Alex Stephens had no involvement or deep understanding of the issues of the day.

  8. ,”it was just their opinion”. If that was true, why can’t they tell us the names of those Southern men who disagreed with Cobb and Stephens?

    To be fair to my opponents, I recommended Kenneth Stampp’s “Causes of the Civil War” . It contains essays from both Northern and Southern politicians and theorists. I thought that some of the Southern ideas might help them substantiate their argument about what really caused the War Between the States. They ignored it. I guess their imaginations are all they need.

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