Friday, October 17, 2008

Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier

1861 cartoon depicting Scott’s Anaconda Plan[i]

“With fife and drum he marched away
He would not heed what I did say
He'll not come back for many a day
Johnny has gone for a soldier.”

During the first few days of the Civil War, Northern religious leaders, ever the lions of the pulpit, seized upon a critical moment indoctrinate their flocks.

“After Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in April 1861, the vast majority of Northern religious bodies—with the exception of the historic "peace" churches which on principle adhered to pacifism—ardently supported the war for the Union.” [iii]

April 15, 1861

In Washington, President Lincoln issued a proclamation announcing an "insurrection," and called for 75,000 troops to be raised. The U. S. Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, called upon the Commonwealth of Kentucky to produce four regiments to join the Union army. Kentucky’s Governor, Beriah Magoffin, flatly refused the request.

“I will send not a man, nor a dollar, for the wicked purpose of subduing my sister Southern states.”
~ Governor Beriah Magoffin

The following week, Magoffin, true to his netrual stance, rejected a similar call for troops from Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Religious leaders were also forced to turned the focus of their attention to the war.

“Winter has gone and spring has come again, the gayest and loveliest of the seasons. How pleasant it is to walk forth in the green meadows or on the sunny side of the flower-decked hills! The orchard regales our senses with its fragrant blossoms, the groves and the meadows are clothing themselves in living green, the singing of birds has come, and all nature is joyous with new life. But alas, the din of war, and clash of arms are distracting our once happy land. The sectional strife, arising chiefly from the unfortunate contest about slavery, has culminated, and the result is a civil war between the north and the south. The attack of the secessionists on Fort Sumter has aroused such indignation in the loyal people of the free states that they are unanimous in favor of chastising the offenders. Active preparations for war are going on throughout the whole land. The President [Lincoln] has made a requisition upon the states for 75,000 men, and will soon call for more.”
~ Rev. Abraham Essick, Lutheran minister

Ministers, such as Reverend Essick, became disseminators of propaganda during the war. The simple act of going to church became tantamount to attending a weekly war rally. Religious leaders felt duty bound to arouse patriotic frenzy within their congregations.

“It’s instructive to realize that most of those who attended local churches in the South during the war—and therefore listened week after week to their local pastor sacralizing the Southern war cause—were women and children. With husbands, sons and fathers off at war, women filled the pews, and in turn, the preachers filled the women’s hearts and minds with a new sense of their place in both politics and public action. It would be the women, they understood, who would be keeping the godly “covenant” with their morality, prayers, and home-front support of the war.”[vi]

May 28, 1861

Governor Magoffin, a Democrat, issued a proclamation formally declaring Kentucky's neutrality. Moderates hoped Kentucky could become a buffer zone between the North and South and act as a broker of peace. These hopes proved fruitless as both the Union and the Confederacy failed to pay heed.

The Confederate government was already trying to pull itself out of a calamitous predicament. Having been short sighted in regard to the financing of both a new nation and a large scale war; the Confederacy found itself in dire need of capitol. Thus it was forced to print unbacked currency.

“As early as May 1861 the Confederate government was issuing treasury notes that would not be redeemable in gold and silver until two years after the signing of a peace treaty establishing independence.” [vii]

September 3, 1861

Confederate forces, under General Leonidas Polk, marched into Kentucky and occupied the towns Columbus and Hickman. General Polk was resolved to occupy the rail terminal at Columbus, which a strong and defensible position along the Mississippi River. In the mid-1800’s rivers were important trade and transportation routes. Keeping the river transportation systems to remain open was imperative to the Confederacy. They had to have access to the river in order to export cotton, import war materials, and insure a means of rapid transportation. Kentucky statesmen wanted river traffic to remain open as well. Hemp and whiskey produced in Kentucky were shipped to Southern and European markets via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. If the North could manage to interrupt river traffic, Kentucky's economy would suffer.

“In 1861, Polk accepted a commission as a major general in the Confederate Army. Though on leave from his duties as bishop, ‘the bishop-general’ was criticized in the North for serving jointly as churchman and warrior. Southerners saw it differently. ‘Like Gideon and David’ the Memphis Appeal proclaimed, ‘he is marshaling his legions to fight the battle of the Lord.’" [viii]

The North was well aware of how much the Confederacy dependent on the rivers. Thus, war wizened seventy-five-year-old General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, in developing the “Anaconda Plan,” called for taking control of the Mississippi River and blockading Southern ports to squeeze the import dependant Confederacy into submission.

"But what a cruel thing is war to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world."
~ General Robert E. Lee

September 5, 1861

Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant moved to occupy Paducah, Kentucky to the north of Polk’s position.

Throughout the remainder of the war, the Confederate and Union Armies would seek control of the Commonwealth by means of invasion, occupation, and battle. Kentucky was strategically important to both the North and South. Both the North and South looked to Kentucky for supplies of tobacco, corn, wheat, hemp, and flax. However, it was the Confederacy that eyed Kentucky and the Ohio River as a both defensible boundary and a staging point for attacks against Northern targets.

South ministers proclaimed that the soldier was fighting for God. They further asserted that gentlemanliness and commitment to the Confederate Cause were Christian virtues.

“Religion, in other words, was not merely a rationalization, not merely ideology, but the very core of the Confederate nation. ..Indeed, it was the Confederacy and not its enemy who inscribed ‘Almighty God’ into its Constitution and who raised ‘God Will Avenge’ as its motto. Jefferson Davis frequently invoked the Christian God even as Abraham Lincoln spoke in more mystical religious language. The Confederacy considered itself the first great Christian nation, the instrument of God’s will, the beginning of something rather than its end.” [ix]

“When war broke out, [William] Pendleton[an Episcopal priest] reentered the military and quickly became the Confederate chief of artillery. In his first battle, Pendleton commanded four guns, which he dubbed ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.’ He gave the command, ‘While we kill their bodies, may the Lord have mercy on their sinful souls—FIRE!’" [x]

September 11, 1861

Following the violation of Kentucky's neutrality, first by Confederate General Polk and then by Union General Grant, the pro Union Kentucky General Assembly passed a resolution calling on Governer Magoffin to order only the Confederate troops out of Kentucky. Magoffin vetoed the resolution but the General Assembly overrode his veto and Magoffin was forced to issue the proclamation. Citizens with Confederate sympathizes were outraged at the legislature's decision, arguing that Polk's troops had entered Kentucky only to counter Grant’s movements.

Meanwhile, all Southerners, including the Confederate troops, were feeling the effects of the blockade.

“Rations were light, provisions of all sorts scarce, luxuries unknown, and clothing without suspicion of style or fashion. Cut off by the blockade from foreign supplies, we were dependent upon home resources, already overtaxed and imperfect, for almost everything. Only cornbread, peas, and sorghum were plentiful. The latter took the place of molasses, and at the same time was known as ‘long sweetening,’ in the place of sugar, for our coffee, which consisted of parched rye or dried sweet potatoes. It was also the saccharine element of the ‘pies’…, they being the first investment from his meager pay. Only the blockade runners, or their intimate friends, could indulge in the luxuries of eating, and drinking, or in the display of fine clothes.”
~ John H. Claiborne, M. D.

September 18,1861

The Kentucky General Assembly officially abandoned the position of neutrality and declared for the Union. Union troops massed just across the state boarders with Ohio and Illinois strongly influenced this choice. Claims have been made that if the General Assembly had not declared for the Union, these troops would have crossed the river intent on conquering the Commonwealth.

"I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game."
~ Abraham Lincoln, September 1861

September 20, 1861

With the General Assembly taking a pro-Union position, men who had publicly taken stances as Confederate sympathizers no longer felt comfortable residing in the Commonwealth. Late in the evening of September 20, 1861, under the cover of darkness, John Hunt Morgan secreted weapons and members of his Lexington Rifles militia unit out of Kentucky. The following evening, Morgan and a group of about twenty men made their escape. All of these men joined the Confederate Army once they reached the safety of Tennessee.

“Ann Clay, wife of pro-Union Kentucky legislator Brutus Junius Clay, found her stepson's bed empty but for this note stating that he had gone to join the Confederate army:

September 24, 1861

B.J. Clay and family,

I leave for the army tonight. I do it for I believe I am doing right. I go of my own free will. If it turns out I do wrong I beg forgiveness.

Goodbye to you all. You will hear from me soon.

E. F. Clay [Zeke]” [xii]

[i] The Library of Congress/American Memory ,Digital ID: g3701s cw0011000.
[ii] Kendrew of York, mid nineteenth century broadside, original lyrics and melody can be traced to Irish origins.
[iii] Moorhead, James Howell. “Religion in the Civil War: The northern Side,” National Humanities Center
[iv] Powell, robert A. “Kentucky Governors” 1976.
[v] Diary of Rev. Abraham Essick.
[vi] Stout, Harry S. and Edwards, Jonathan., “ Civil War: The Southern Perspective,” National Humanities Center
[vii] Gordon, John Steele. “An Empire of Wealth : The Epic history of American Economic Power” p. 195.
[viii] Scott, Jeffery Warren and Jeffreys, Mary Ann. “Fighter of Faith”
[ix] Ayers, Edward L. “Reviews” The Journal of Southern Religion, 1998-99.
[x] Scott, Jeffery Warren and Jeffreys, Mary Ann. “Fighter of Faith”
[xi] Mitchell, Patricia B. “ Confederate Camp Cooking” 1991.
[xii] Berry, Mary Clay. “Voices from the Century Before: The Odyssey of a 19th Century Kentucky Family” 1997.


Dan Dutton said...

This is fascinating & concise Mary Beth. The heading reminded me that my Rhode Island folksinger friends, Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly are busy making a new recording that includes several songs that I composed, including "Soldier's Round" - an assemblage of traditional lyrics and tunes connected by "Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier" and "Soldier's Joy."

Aubrey sang in 2 of The Secret Commonwealth performances, and on 3 of the recordings.

Mary Beth said...

Thank you Dan!

Today I am thinking of the interconnectedness of all things: Your Pete watching the battle my James was in, an Old Irish folksong living and reverberating through 200 plus years, Dia de los Muertos looming and the arrival of a macabre cut and paste letter from father telling me he “does not wish to communicate.”

When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it
hitched to everything else in the universe.
- John Muir

The Web of Life, The Dance of Death ~ Is there really any difference? The veil of illusions so often covers my mortal eyes! Oh to reach that centered, all seeing, eternally balanced spot within while the world swirls about me in chaos!

How can we fret and stew sub specie aeternitatis - under the calm gaze of ancient Tao? The salt of the sea is in our blood; the calcium of the rocks is in our bones; the genes of ten thousand generations of stalwart progenitors are in our cells. The sun shines and we smile. The winds rage and we bend before them. The blossoms open and we rejoice. Earth is our long home.
- Stewart W. Holmes, 1973