Monday, March 16, 2015

Kentucky Campaign

Christine dragged me through Kentucky this spring, and I strongly recommend it unless you dislike Bourbon, heat and bicycling through beautiful, hilly country. I don’t mind Bourbon.  The greatest liabilities are the fried food and the pollen count. I found the reverence for the Civil War particularly irksome.  I would have thought knowledge of that history would be accompanied by deep shame and bitter regret.
They are planning to commemorate the Confederate assault on Frankfortthe state’s capital. This would kind of be like Chicago commemorating the Memorial Day massacre. 
In Kentucky they make a point of saying how Lincoln revered Henry Clay as the great compromiser.  That Clay delayed the onset of the Civil War until the North had sufficient resources to win.
 Most historians regard the Southern Rebellion as yet another doomed cause. The industrialized North clearly superior to the doomed agrarian South, besotted with their romantic notions of cavalry. The Southern fantasy is worse than that. The only hope for slavery is if the North is beaten into returning runaway slaves. The South cannot accomplish that on their own and dream they can convince France and England to come in on their side. 
But if you review the campaigns you will find that the great majority are offensive campaigns conducted by the North.  People look at the casualty rates and assume that Northern generals are incompetent.  When you recognize that the North is on the offensive, attacking entrenched Southern positions, the counts are not as impressive.   It was more difficult to attack than defend. 
The South had little interest in Northern territory. The closer to Canada, the more likely their slaves will flee. One controversial question concerns the Gettysburg campaign. Some argue that the Southern objective was a shoe factory.  In general, there was little point in Southern raids, abandoning their defensive positions for great risk and losses unless there was something material to be seized.
For instance, the South never took Washington DC. It seems entirely reasonable that sufficient men and material devoted to such a purpose would succeed.  But victory would only have further enraged the North much as Ft. Sumter did, and any losses of leadership may have led to more competent replacements.
This is not to suggest that the South had any hope of winning.  I will go further. Regardless of when the Civil War was fought, or how it was fought, the moment the North supports emancipation, the South has lost.  Once slaves have some certitude of sanctuary, the Southern cause is over.  The great shame of the Civil War was that it took the North so long to recognize that.
The confusion on this point is that people consider the Proclamation or even the Amendment as the start of emancipation.  The moment the South secedes, emancipation is inevitable. But if you must have a proper date then the First Confiscation Act of 1861 will mark the moment of Southern defeat. If you consider the refusal of General Butler to return fugitive slaves, which became Union policy, then it was even earlier.
Part of the reason for the South’s failure is the same as in the American Revolution. Regardless of other objectives the South has to maintain sufficient local garrison to forestall slave uprising.  This is why the South did so poorly against the British and why Washington was reluctant to even go as far south as Yorktown. The French had to push him into it.
Of the various offensive Southern campaigns, Jackson’s Valley Campaign is the most celebrated.  It had the secondary objective of taking booty and the primary objective of delaying the taking of Vicksburg.
Lee’s ridiculous Maryland campaign had the primary objective of seizing supplies and slaves.  It was punitive: punishing a slave (Catholic) state for staying in the Union.  Given the South’s strategic situation it helped hasten their loss and can only be understood as revenge for the North’s earlier assault, the continuing process of emancipation, and hubris over Jackson’s earlier campaign.  While the Maryland campaign satisfied the tactical objective of provisioning Lee’s army, it was a political disaster.  The people of Maryland no longer had any illusions about their status with the South.
The reason that Maryland was part of the Union was my favorite general, afore mentioned Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler. After logistics, the most difficult military task is pacification, the suppression of a hostile population. Pacification was Butler’s specialty. In defiance of his superior officer, Scott, he seized and maintained bases throughout Maryland and intimidated the population into compliance. After Maryland, he was assigned to New Orleans, which he held.  Farragut took New Orleans, Butler held it.  Towards the end of the war he was set up.  Assigned a generals task of assault, he looked at the breastworks and saw little point. The North had won, the South was starving, and patience would succeed. 
If, by some miracle, Butler had been in charge of Reconstruction, he would have been even more filthy rich. He was totally corrupt, what you see is what he was: the devil himself. But if Beast Butler could have led Reconstruction, the country would be far better for it.
The Gettysburg campaign was systemic pillaging.  By that point in the war, looting the North was the only way Lee could supply his army.  Lee was willing to endure the casualties because he had to either lose his men or feed them.
To understand the Kentucky campaigns understand that Kentucky was a slave breeding state.  The plantation states to the south used up their slaves in hard work.  The northern slave holding states made up the difference to their profit.  Their representatives, including Clay, opposed the importation of slaves and spoke of the “eventual” end of slavery, but in the meantime made money selling their slaves south.
Since Kentucky was in the Union, any freedmen, slaves, horses or livestock found there were war prizes.  The South went into Kentucky like a mob trashing Best Buy. Frankfort is proud that 40 volunteers held off General Morgan and his troops until the Union Army could arrive.  I don’t know if they will explain that they were protecting their property.
My views on this are not novel or remarkable. If you had spoken to any abolitionist of the time, they would tell you the exact same thing.

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