Memorial Day 2017 and the Confederacy’s Race War

“The South was right on the constitutional issues surrounding that war and, had I been back there with my current convictions, I would have fought for the South. . . . This stand on slavery has been taken because I am a biblical absolutist. That is the issue, and that is the only issue.” Douglas Wilson

The original (un-amended) Constitution of the United States guaranteed Americans the right to own slaves. No one disputes this regrettable fact. In 1861 the South launched the War of the Rebellion (now called the American Civil War) because they feared President Abraham Lincoln intended to violate this constitutional right, which he did not. For his part, Mr. Lincoln cared little for slavery, but he had no plans to wage war over the issue. However, the Confederacy’s preemptive strike against the Union changed this. Mr. Lincoln would not allow the United States of America to split on his watch. Therefore, he would put down the rebellion.

At first President Lincoln believed he could quash the southern revolt in 90 days. Eighteen months later it became clear that he was in a war of attrition. So among other things, Mr. Lincoln sent notice that he would exercise his constitutional war power to free Confederate slaves — as an act of war:

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary warning that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January 1, 1863. None of the Confederate states restored themselves to the Union, and Lincoln’s order was signed and took effect on January 1, 1863. (Wikipedia)

The Emancipation Proclamation was a stroke of genius. President Lincoln used his constitutional authority as commander in chief to deny southerners their constitutional right to own slaves. In this the Emancipation Proclamation delivered a death blow to the Confederacy, which could not survive economically without slave labor. The Emancipation Proclamation also delivered a mortal blow to southern morale because it opened a two-front war. President Lincoln freed over three-million people who, contrary to Southern opinion, did not appreciate Southern hospitality. And suddenly the South had to defend against Northern encroachment and hostile slaves in the backyard.

Close up of Company E, 4th US Colored Infantry at Fort Lincoln.

Close up of Company E, 4th US Colored Infantry at Fort Lincoln. Click to enlarge.

In 1863 the Union implemented another stroke of genius: The United States War Department created the United States Colored Troops (USCT) to fight for the Union against the Confederacy. That is, the Union paid blacks — including ex-slaves who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation — to kill rebels. One doubts that southerners appreciated the irony. To be sure, Jefferson Davis did not. The President of the Confederate States of America1 answered the Emancipation Proclamation with lethal force. According to his command, the Confederate Congress ratified the Retaliatory Act, which ordered:

Sec. 4. That every white person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court.

Sec 5. Every person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as such in the service of the enemy, who shall, during the present war, excite, attempt to excite or cause to be excited servile insurrection, or who shall incite or cause to be incited a slave to rebel, shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court.

Sec 6. Every person charged with an offence punishable under the preceding resolutions shall, during the present war, be tried before the military court attached to the army or corps by the troops of which he shall have been captured, or by such other military court as the President may direct, and in such manner and under such regulations as the President shall prescribe, and, after conviction, the President may commute the punishment in such manner and on such terms as he may deem proper.

Sec. 7. All negroes and mulattoes who shall be engaged in war or taken in arms against the Confederate States, or shall give aid or comfort to the enemies of the Confederate States, shall, when captured in the Confederate States, be delivered to the authorities of the State or States in which they shall be captured, to be dealt with according to the present or future laws of such State or States. (The Retaliatory Act, May 1, 1863)

The Retaliatory Act denied prisoner-of-war status to black men in uniform and white men who commanded them, when they were captured in battle. The South summarily executed these soldiers in retaliation for the Emancipation Proclamation, which made the Civil War a race war. Blacks not welcome, even though they had the most skin in the game. This is one of the so-called “constitutional issues surrounding that war” that Douglas Wilson would have fought for:

The South was right on the constitutional issues surrounding that war and, had I been back there with my current convictions, I would have fought for the South. . . . This stand on slavery has been taken because I am a biblical absolutist. That is the issue, and that is the only issue. (Blog & Mablog, Gettysburg Do-Over? April 29, 2005)

Today MoscowID.net remembers the brave souls of the United States Colored Troops who gave their lives fighting for their liberty and ours. These honorable men secured our great republic from bitter white aristocrats who deemed themselves free to hold an entire race of human beings in captivity — because the Bible says so. Their sacrifices helped end the War of the Rebellion — the Confederacy’s unique race war — and I am forever thankful to them.


1 “I’d vote for Jefferson Davis.” —Douglas Wilson

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