Destruction and Reconstruction

This is a book by Richard Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor and a confederate general during the Civil War. His sister was Jefferson Davis’ first wife, so he was also Jefferson Davis’ brother-in-law. You can download and read this book for free here, here, or here.

The book has a great deal of lost cause nonsense in it, and Taylor’s claims need to be taken with a huge grain of salt, but the book is still worth reading.

Taylor starts writing falsehoods quite early in the book. “The history of the United States, as yet unwritten, will show the causes of the ‘Civil War’ to have been in existence during the Colonial era, and to have cropped out into full view in the debates of the several State Assemblies on the adoption of the Federal Constitution, in which instrument Luther Martin, Patrick Henry, and others, insisted that they were implanted. African slavery at the time was universal, and its extinction in the North, as well as its extension in the South, was due to economic reasons alone. The first serious difficulty of the Federal Government arose from the attempt to lay an excise on distilled spirits. The second arose from the hostility of New England traders to the policy of the Government in the war of 1812, by which their special interests were menaced; and there is now evidence to prove that, but for the unexpected peace, an attempt to disrupt the Union would then have been made. The ‘Missouri Compromise’ of 1820 was in reality a truce between antagonistic revenue systems, each seeking to gain the balance of power. For many years subsequently, slaves – as domestic servants – were taken to the Territories without exciting remark, and the ‘Nullification’ movement in South Carolina was entirely directed against the tariff.” [p. 9] Those who are familiar with the actual history of the United States instead of Taylor’s fabricated history will know slavery was abolished north of the Mason-Dixon line as a result of the ideology of the Revolution. His claim about the Missouri Compromise being “a truce between antagonistic revenue systems” is simply a lie. It was about slavery and admitting new states as slave states or free states. The Nullification Crisis in South Carolina, according to His Satanic Majesty John C. Calhoun, was in reality about finding a way to protect slavery. As Calhoun himself wrote, “‘I consider the tariff act as the occasion rather than the real cause of the present unhappy state of things. The truth can no longer be disguised, that the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States and the consequent direction which that and her soil and climate have given her industry, has placed them in regard to taxation and appropriation in opposite relation to the majority of the Union; against the dangers of which, if there be no protective power in the reserved rights of the states, they must in the end be forced to rebel, or submit to have their paramount interests sacrificed, their domestick insitutions exhausted by Colonization and other schemes, and themselves & children reduced to wretchedness. Thus situated, the denial of the right of the State to interpose constitutionally in the last resort, more alarms the thinking, than all the other causes; and however strange it may appear, the more universally the state is condemned, and her right denied, the more resolute she is to assert her constitutional powers lest the neglect to assert should be considered a practical abandonment of them, under such circumstances.” [John C. Calhoun to Virgil Maxcy, 11 September 1830]

Taylor continues, “Anti-slavery was agitated from an early period, but failed to attract public attention for many years. At length, by unwearied industry, by ingeniously attaching itself to exciting questions of the day, with which it had no natural connection, it succeeded in making a lodgment in the public mind, which, like a subject exhausted by long effort, is exposed to the attack of some malignant fever, that in a normal condition of vigor would have been resisted. The common belief that slavery was the cause of civil war is incorrect, and Abolitionists are not justified in claiming the glory and spoils of the conflict and in pluming themselves as ‘choosers of the slain.’ ” [p. 10] If there was no secession, there would have been no civil war, and if there had been no argument over slavery there would have been no secession. To me, Taylor’s blatant lies on the first two pages of his text calls into question the entire book, meaning we should consider anything he writes suspect until proven correct. If he’s the sole source for any claims, we should view them skeptically.

Taylor makes several claims that are such good stories we want them to be true. For example, regarding confederate general Richard S. Ewell, Taylor writes, “On two occasions in the Valley, during the temporary absence of Jackson from the front, Ewell summoned me to his side, and immediately rushed forward among the skirmishers, where some sharp work was going on. Having refreshed himself, he returned with the hope that ‘old Jackson would not catch him at it.’ He always spoke of Jackson, several years his junior, as ‘old,’ and told me in confidence that he admired his genius, but was certain of his lunacy, and that he never saw one of Jackson’s couriers approach without expecting an order to assault the north pole.” [pp. 37-38] That so captures our view of Jackson and Ewell’s relationship with him that we want it to be true. It may very well be true. I don’t think we should trust it unless we can corroborate it from another source.

Taylor is a source of the lemon myth regarding Thomas J. Jackson. “The mounted officer who had been sent on in advance pointed out a figure perched on the topmost rail of a fence overlooking the road and field, and said it was Jackson. Approaching, I saluted and declared my name and rank, then waited for a response. Before this came I had time to see a pair of cavalry boots covering feet of gigantic size, a mangy cap with visor drawn low, a heavy, dark beard, and weary eyes – eyes I afterward saw filled with intense but never brilliant light. A low, gentle voice inquired the road and distance marched that day. ‘Keazletown road, six and twenty miles.’ ‘You seem to have no stragglers.’ ‘Never allow straggling.’ ‘You must teach my people; they straggle badly.’ A bow in reply. Just then my creoles started their band and a waltz. After a contemplative suck at a lemon, ‘Thoughtless fellows for serious work’ came forth. I expressed a hope that the work would not be less well done because of the gayety. A return to the lemon gave me the opportunity to retire. Where Jackson got his lemons ‘no fellow could find out,’ but he was rarely without one. To have lived twelve miles from that fruit would have disturbed him as much as it did the witty Dean.” [pp. 49-50] As Professor James I. Robertson Jr. wrote, “Taylor had a knack then–and a habit in his postwar memoirs–of manufacturing facts for the sake of a good story.” [James I. Robertson Jr., Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend, p. 389] In his description of this passage of Taylor’s book, Professor Robertson wrote, “One of the more charming accounts in Confederate history is Taylor’s version of his first meeting with Jackson. Unfortunately, everything about the narrative has dubious overtones.” [Ibid.] In his footnote for this section, Professor Robertson tells us, “Several years after publication of the Taylor book, Col. David G. McIntosh blasted the Jackson caricature in a long letter submitted to the Baltimore Sun. ‘I should never have thought of describing General Jackson as uncouth or ungainly in appearance,’ the artillery commander wrote, and he dismissed out of hand Taylor’s statement about Jackson’s mania for lemons. … Staff officer John C. Haskell openly challenged the accuracy of Taylor’s recollections, especially those sections treating of Jackson and Ewell.” [Ibid., p. 859, Note 124]

Taylor is also a source for another great story, this one about Ewell. “About the close of the war he married Mrs. Brown, a widow, and daughter of Judge Campbell, a distinguished citizen of Tennessee, who had represented the United States at the court of St. Petersburg, where this lady was born. She was a kinswoman of Ewell, and said to have been his early love. He brought her to New Orleans in 1866, where I hastened to see him. He took me by the hand and presented me to ‘my wife, Mrs. Brown.’ How well I remember our chat! How he talked of his plans and hopes and happiness, and of his great lot of books, which he was afraid he would never be able to read through. The while ‘my wife, Mrs. Brown,’ sat by, handsome as a picture, smiling on her General, as well she might, so noble a gentleman.” [p. 78] Many accept this story, and it’s so good I think we’d all like it to be true. Again, it might very well be, but we have to regard it as suspect until we have a corroborating source.

Taylor writes more blatant lies, especially about African-Americans, claiming they were always happily subservient to white southerners. For example, “The Confederate Congress had enacted that negro troops, captured, should be restored to their owners. We had several hundreds of such, taken by Forrest in Tennessee, whose owners could not be reached; and they were put to work on the fortifications at Mobile, rather for the purpose of giving them healthy employment than for the value of the work. I made it a point to visit their camps and inspect the quantity and quality of their food, always found to be satisfactory. On one occasion, while so engaged, a fine-looking negro, who seemed to be leader among his comrades, approached me and said: ‘Thank you, Massa General, they give us plenty of good victuals; but how you like our work?’ I replied that they had worked very well. ‘If you will give us guns we will fight for these works, too. We would rather fight for our own white folks than for strangers.’ And, doubtless, this was true. In their dealings with the negro the white men of the South should ever remember that no instance of outrage occurred during the war. Their wives and little ones remained safe at home, surrounded by thousands of faithful slaves, who worked quietly in the fields until removed by the Federals. This is the highest testimony to the kindness of the master and the gentleness of the servant; and all the dramatic talent prostituted to the dissemination of falsehood in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and similar productions can not rebut it.” [p. 210]

While Taylor’s book is almost completely unreliable, I recommend it because it’s a good read and has some terrific stories in it. If only they were true.

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