Camejo on the U.S. Civil War

Richard Fidler rfidler at
Thu Jul 10 14:35:09 MDT 2003

>From Peter Camejo, Racism, Revolution, Reaction, 1861-1877: The Rise and
Fall of Radical Reconstruction (pp. 24-29):

Secession and War

With the election of Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate in 1860,
the control of the executive branch of the federal government changed
hands. Even though it had not yet lost control of Congress or the
Supreme Court, the slavocracy could read its political future and chose
to break the seventy-year-old constitutional agreement for a joint
government. The period of struggle in the sphere of elections and
parliamentary maneuvering was over. The federal government had to
acquiesce to secession or use force to stop it.

Within the opposing camps differences existed over what policy to
follow. In the North many of the commercial capitalists, especially
those around the port of New York, vacillated, fearing hat war would be
disastrous to their trade with both camps and internationally. In the
South among some of the farmers who did not hold slaves and in the
embryonic industrial capitalist class, there was opposition to a
military showdown. The resistance to secession was so substantial in
some Southern states that it became necessary for the slavocracy to
carry out virtual coup d'etats to impose its will. In the slave states
of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and part of Virginia, its secessionist
campaign failed altogether. But once the test of strength was actually
begun with the firing on Fort Sumter, the war factions on both sides
rapidly became dominant. In the North the Republican Party was gradually
transformed from a simple electoral political party into a powerful
machine, a revolutionary instrument wielding increasingly centralized

The industrial capitalists of the North, feeling national political
hegemony within their grasp, could not tolerate the prospect of a new
nation appearing on the continent, particularly one led by their
opponents, which would remove one-third of the territory and population
of the home market. The separatist Confederacy, moreover, would be
financially tied to Britain and would be able to draw from it the
political and military backing to continually threaten what remained of
the old American Union and to keep it weakened.

Finally, Northern industrialists of foresight were aware that the new
Confederacy ultimately would have to expand or die. Economically
inferior and outnumbered in population by the North, it could at best
hope by its war of secession to weaken the United States sufficiently to
force a stalemate; and during a temporary peace to build itself up with
British aid for the acquisition of new lands for its plantation system.
Such new lands could only be gained by wars of conquest in U.S.
territories, the Caribbean, Mexico, or South America.

Once hostilities broke out, the North -- despite its advantages and
Britain's initial policy of waiting to see if the Confederacy could hold
out -- found it hard to defeat the South. There were various reasons for

First, the capitalist rulers, seeking to prevent the war from turning
into an open class struggle in the South, took a stand in favor of
slavery. Just prior to the outbreak of war, Lincoln and the Republicans
went so far as to push through Congress and start ratification by the
states of an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing Southern slavery
forever. That would have been the Thirteenth Amendment! With the firing
on Fort Sumter that offer was dropped, but the proslavery line continued
with Lincoln's policy of reassuring pro-Union slaveholders in the border
states. And when slaves fled into the Union army's lines they were
returned to their masters.

This course blocked the potential uprising and other pro-Union activity
of 40 percent of the people behind the enemy lines -- the Black labor
force of the South. It also meant failing to tap to its *full* potential
the enthusiasm for the war that an avowedly antislavery stand would have
evoked from the abolitionist-minded layers of the middle classes of the
East, the small farmers of the Midwest, and the many immigrant workers
of European origin. Lincoln's course also delayed and limited the role
of international solidarity with the Northern cause, which nonetheless
had an important political effect, especially in Britain where the very
textile workers thrown out of work by the war demonstrated against
slavery and the threat of British intervention on the Confederacy's

The Northern capitalists were incapable of subordinating their
individual greed to the needs of the struggle, and the whole war was a
saturnalia of corruption. It reached right into the cabinet with
scandals involving graft on army supply contracts and the commissioning
of officers, and Lincoln was forced to ease out Secretary of War Cameron
by sending him off to Russia as ambassador.

Incompetents were given army commissions -- generals were appointed by
the hundreds on the basis of bribes or their connections in the ruling
class. The top command was totally disorganized for a period. Internal
differences and intrigues within the ruling class led to confusion,
vacillation, even contradictory commands. Such errors were paid for in
blood by the plebian farmers and workers in uniform and caused
widespread demoralization.

The South had certain military advantages, such as more graduates of
military academies and more officers with command and combat experience
in the old federal army. The Southern states also had a martial
tradition, and because of the constant need to police the slave
population, practically all white men there were trained in the use of
weapons. Finally, the Confederates were fighting a defensive war on
their own soil with interior lines of communication and supply.

As the war dragged on, casualties mounted. Disaffection and
discouragement grew in the ranks. It became harder and harder to
replenish the losses. Volunteers became scarce. The draft, resorted to
by both sides for the first time in American history, met popular
resistance and resentment.

A New Force Enters the Revolutionary Coalition

Under these pressures the Republican Party divided into radical and
moderate wings. With their policies gradually becoming dominant, the
Radicals called for subordinating everything to the war effort, turning
the war into a war for emancipation, and bringing Afro-Americans into
the army. The Republican Party grew in numbers and power and became
closely tied to the military machine and through the crisis of war
consolidated its power.

Eventually the pressure from the Radicals forced Lincoln, a moderate who
vacillated between the two wings of his party, to turn the war into a
crusade against slavery. Lincoln, who had always opposed the
abolitionists, personally possessed the racist prejudices of his
Kentucky and downstate Illinois background. When the end of the war was
in sight he considered schemes for deporting Blacks from the country,
believing it impossible for free Blacks to live harmoniously among
whites. These views, not fitting the needs of any class or social layer,
were not taken seriously beyond the confines of a small group and died
along with the white-supremacist "Great Emancipator," save for a weak
echo in Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson.

As the war continued, the government's position towards Blacks gradually
changed. Escaping slaves were no longer returned by the Union army to
their Confederate owners, but were kept as "contraband of war" and put
to work on fortifications or as teamsters, etc. Then Blacks were
accepted into the army and formed into regiments. Some 80,000 from the
North and 125,000 from the slave states served in the Union forces.

War Department records show that a month after Lee's surrender there
were 166 Black regiments in the Union army -- 145 infantry, 7 cavalry,
12 heavy artillery, 1 light artillery, and 1 engineers. The enlistment
records (apparently incomplete) showed 178,975 enrollments,
approximately one-eighth of the entire Union army.

Service in the U.S. Navy, which from its beginning had accepted free
Blacks, was proportionately much higher. From 1861 on, official Navy
policy had been to "fill up the crews with contrabands," and the records
show that during the war there were 29,511 Black enlistments, about a
quarter of total naval personnel.

As W.E.B. Du Bois pointed out: "In proportion to population, more
Negroes than whites fought in the Civil War!"

But that is still not the complete picture. An unrecorded number of
Blacks, estimated variously as 300,000 and 400,000, served the Union
forces in myriad occupations -- as laborers, carpenters, fortification
builders, teamsters, scouts, and spies. In addition there were the
unpaid multitudes that accompanied the advancing Union armies doing
volunteer work.

In answering Democratic Party criticisms of his policy of taking freed
slaves into the army, Lincoln gave the following testimony as to the
crucial role they were playing: "There are now in the service of the
United States near two hundred thousand able-bodied colored men, most of
them under arms, defending and acquiring Union territory .... Abandon
all the posts now garrisoned by black men; take two hundred thousand men
from our side and put them in the battlefield or cornfield against us,
and we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks .... My
enemies pretend I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of
abolition. So long as I am President, it shall be carried on for the
sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this
rebellion without the use of the emancipation policy, and every other
policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the
rebellion. Freedom has given us two hundred thousand men raised on
Southern soil. It will give us more yet. Just so much it has subtracted
from the enemy."

And in an August 26, 1863, message he sent to be read "very slowly" to a
mass meeting in his own Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln said:

"I know as fully as one can know the opinion of others, that some of the
commanders of our armies in the field, who have given us our most
important successes, believe that the emancipation policy and the use of
colored troops constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion,
and that at least one of these important successes could not have been
achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the
commanders holding these views are some who never had any affinity with
what is called Abolitionism, or with Republican party politics, but who
hold them purely as military opinions."

More decisive military measures were taken. General Sherman broke with
the tradition of long supply and communication lines, which limited an
army's maneuverability. After the capture and burning of Atlanta, he
struck out directly through Georgia on his march to the sea. The
military feat of marching an army of 65,000 men for four weeks through
enemy territory, cutting a sixty-mile-wide swath of scorched earth, and
living off the land, was made possible in no small measure by the tens
of thousands of freed slaves who greeted the Union forces and
accompanied them, guiding them, literally unearthing hidden supplies,
finding mules, horses, and livestock as well as foodstuffs. Sherman's
logistic miracle could largely be found in the Black volunteers who
accompanied and led his famous foragers or "bummers." And they took up
arms and fought alongside the Union soldiers when they ran into
Confederate ambushes or skirmishers.

The coalition of industrial capitalists, Midwest farmers, and Northern
workers which had built the Republican Party had been expanded to
include the Afro-American people. It was this revolutionary coalition
led by the Republican Party, itself transformed into a massive apparatus
with a powerful if not always dominant Radical wing, which forced the
slavocracy to its knees at Appomattox in 1865, ending slavery and
opening a whole new period of American and world history.

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