Confederate States of America

Troubles in the Government

Robert E. Lee

In the meantime, the new Confederate Government was showing early troubles as the first Cabinet was composed of men who had either opposed the secession movement or who had been rivals of Jefferson Davis for years. Vice-President Alexander Stephens had never been on friendly terms with Davis and he had been the most powerful opponent of secession in the South as late as January, 1861. The first Secretary of State, Robert Toombs was hostile to Davis, and within months of his appointment, stepped down to join the Confederate States Army as a brigadier general in July, 1861. Christopher Memminger, the first Secretary of the Treasury, had consistently fought the separatist movement since 1832; L. Pope Walker, the first Secretary of War, had been a leader of the unionist forces of North Alabama and even Davis himself had advised South Carolina not to secede as late as November 10, 1860.

Of the great generals whom the president of the Confederacy called to the leadership of the armies, only Albert Sidney Johnston really believed in the propriety and necessity of the movement. Robert E. Lee had never been a state rights man and late in April, 1861, he lamented the “revolution” which the lower South had precipitated. Joseph E. Johnston was of the same opinion, though his political antecedents were less strongly national than those of Lee. In the senate and house a large minority — sometimes a majority –of the leaders was made up of men who had never believed in the wisdom of secession, though most of them acknowledged the right of a state to withdraw from the Union.

Recognition of the Confederate States

Despite persistent efforts of Confederate agents from 1861 to 1865 to secure recognition, it failed. The U.S. Federal Government refused al to hold any official communication that could be interpreted as recognition of the existence of the Confederacy as a separate power. In addition, the U.S. Federal Courts held that the Confederate States were “an unlawful assemblage without corporate power.”

In the meantime, the Confederacy pinned its hopes for survival on military intervention from Europe. The South based their expectations on the fact that Europe, especially England, could not endure the lack of cotton. These expectations would prove mistaken. When the U.S. Federal Government made it clear that any diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy meant war with the United States, no nation was willing to go to war and would not assist or recognize the Confederacy.

Early Reverses

Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee

Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee

The frontier of the Confederacy extending from Norfolk, Virginia, through the southwestern counties of Virginia and through Kentucky to western Missouri was broken at Forts Donelson and Henry, Tennessee, in February, 1862, and again at Pittsburg Landing in western Tennessee in the following April. In May, 1863, New Orleans fell into the hands of the Federals and with the fall of Murfreesborough, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863, the western part of the Confederacy was cut off from the main group of states.

From the autumn of 1862 the seafront from Chesapeake Bay to Galveston was guarded by an ever tightening cordon of armed ships of war. This blockade effectually closed the ports of the South against all foreign trade. Only along the northern boundary of Virginia did the armies of the Confederacy make any inroads upon the North and these ceased after General Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July, 1863. This was followed by General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea, which, in the autumn of 1864, cut through the heart of the Confederacy.

Under these discouraging conditions, petty personal jealousies arose among the officers of the army not unlike those between the civil authorities of the Confederate and state governments. Joseph E. Johnston, who was connected with many of the most powerful families of the South, became intensely hostile toward President Davis and was jealous of the growing fame of General Lee, who was the very personification of the “first family” influence. The Confederate congress generally sided with Johnston against the President but feared openly to antagonize Lee.

Confederate Generals

Pierre G.T. Beauregard

Pierre G.T. Beauregard

The South had the great advantage in the beginning in the character of the higher officers who resigned their commissions in the United States Army to accept commands in the army established by the Confederacy. The chief of these were Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, Albert Sidney Johnston and Pierre G. T. Beauregard; all leaders of great ability and long experience in actual warfare. The prestige which these names carried and the confidence which they inspired in the success of the cause had much to do with the rapid formation and successful organization of the armies with which the Confederacy began operations. During the first year of the struggle, the “new nation” put more than 400,000 men into the field and began the building of many ships of war in English and French docks. During the four years of the war almost 900,000 soldiers were enlisted and equipped. Everyone in the South, whether he had favored the movement originally or not, counted it a disgrace not to have a part in the fighting, and for years, no one in the older southern states would admit that he or any of his family shirked military duty or sent a substitute to the front.

Economic Conditions

Railroad wrecked by retreating Confederates

Railroad wrecked by retreating Confederates

Enthusiasm for the cause, coupled with early victories in the field, led to the belief that success was only a matter of time. In this confident expectation, a debt of $1,500,000,000 was contracted on the part of the Confederate Government alone and almost as much must have been spent by the states, counties and municipalities. In the end, almost all of this debt would be repudiated during Reconstruction by the Federal Government in 1865-66. A small portion of this huge debt was due to European creditors, not more than $10,000,000; but, all the rest was a total loss to the people of the South, mainly to those who had been slave owners. The loss in cotton production and export decreased from four million to less than one million bales between 1860 and 1865 and would not again reach its former state of profitability until 1870. The corporate wealth of railroads and manufacturers was almost wholly lost during the war. At the beginning of the war the South had three main lines of railroad, some of which were extended to deal with the war-time traffic. Cut off from the steel and iron mills of the North and England, the railroad soon ran down and in the end became almost worthless.

End of the Confederacy

Throughout the war, troubles in the Confederate Government continued and from November, 1864 to February, 1865, a strong party in the Confederate Congress, led by Alexander H. Stephens and supported by Governors Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina, and Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, urged the impeachment of Jefferson Davis and the establishment of a military dictatorship with General Robert E. Lee at the head. The refusal of Lee to support the plan prevented a practical attempt at its realization.

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