Recent protests against the national anthem, burning the American flag, banning the flag on college campuses and attempts to depress freedom of speech are eerily reminiscent of events prior to outbreak of hostilities between the states in the mid-19th century. Authorities and individuals hardened their hearts to differing opinions on the political and social issues of the day.
As noted in the Fall 2011 issue of Civil War Monitor magazine, when London Times reporter William Howard Russell visited Charleston, S.C., the cradle of the Confederacy, in April 1861, after the attack on the federal facility at Fort Sumter, he filed this report:
“Secession is the fashion here. Young ladies sing for it; old ladies pray for it; young men are dying to fight for it. … The utter contempt and loathing for the venerated Stars and Stripes, the abhorrence of the very words United States, the intense hatred of the Yankee on the part of the people, cannot be conceived by anyone who has not seen them.”
Yet, detestation was not relegated to the Southern population, as witnessed by the comments of the Rev. Andrew Leete Stone of Park Street Church in Boston that same month:
“[W]e ought to make the war overwhelming. … We ought to pour our legions forward. … Let us meet and settle the issue now, and bury it so deep, in a grave so blood-cemented, that it shall have to the end of time no resurrection. Hang traitors.”
The Troy Times in New York editorialized: “We must pierce, fight, and crush the traitors upon their own soil, under the shadow of their own homes….” George Templeton Strong, a New York lawyer and diarist, wrote on April 18, 1861: “[T]he attitude of New York and whole North … [is] readiness to make every sacrifice for the support of law and national life.”
Given this outburst of acrimony engulfing the nation, the Rev. David Pitkin cautioned his congregation at St. Peter’s Church in Albany, N.Y.: “I think that many persons are beginning now to feel that the excitement of our people … is becoming too intense, and is running into violent fanaticism which may soon plunge us into all the brutalities of the lowest and most savage forms of warfare … against our brothers and fellow countrymen.”
As stated in Harold Bell Hancock’s Civil War political history of Delaware, Sen. James A. Bayard of Delaware placed the combative disposition of the population into context when he wrote that “$2,000,000,000 of property [in slaves] will not be surrendered without a struggle.” The Delawarean newspaper in Dover commented, “We assume that four-fifths of Delawareans have no taste for … the fratricidal war into which we were plunged by ambitious demagogues of the North and South.”
In June 1861, a female resident of Baltimore, Md., wrote to a friend, “Oh! How I do hate the North.” That same month, Confederate Brig. Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard issued a proclamation to the residents of Virginia, warning them that the true intention of Union soldiers was to rape and pillage their way through the South:
“A reckless and unprincipled tyrant has invaded your soil. … All rules of civilized warfare are abandoned, and they proclaim by their acts … their war-cry is ‘Beauty and Booty.’ All that is dear to man — your honor, and that of your wives and daughters, your fortunes and your lives, are involved in this momentous contest.”
This hatred and malice between North and South tore the country apart over a period of four years, causing 1.5 million military casualties, killed, wounded or missing, as well as tens of thousands of civilian casualties. This troubled period of our history offers lessons that contemporary voices speaking with unbridled animosity should take into consideration to avoid a national trauma of such proportion ever occurring again.
Tom Ryan is the author of the dual award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign.” Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books and at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.