Saturday, November 17, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Monday, Nov. 18, 1861

“War is Complicated”

As always in human affairs, nothing in the Civil War is as simple as we assume. That's illustrated by what happens today in North Carolina and Kentucky.

Consider our division of the United States into “The North” (The Union or the Federals) and “The South” (The Confederacy or the Rebels). Neither side is as monolithic as we make them sound. Both are more complicated than that, for both unofficially divide themselves into political groups which further divide themselves into small groups (and, we may assume, the small groups divide themselves into still smaller groups. And so on, unto tedium.)

In the North, Radical Republicans cry for all-out, punitive war against the South and the immediate freeing of all slaves, everywhere. More pragmatic Republicans—among them, Abraham Lincoln—prefer a more judicious use of force and a measured approach to emancipation, to avert backlash from the handful of slave states remaining in the Union. Opposing the Republicans are the “War Democrats,” who favored continuing the war to re-unite the Union, but not necessarily to disturb slavery, and the “Peace Democrats,” who demand a negotiated peace with the Confederacy, which implies acknowledgement of both secession and slavery.

While the North sometimes violates the civil liberties of extreme critics, dissent tends to be more widely, and often violently, suppressed in the South and most Union loyalists have to lie low. However, some pockets of resistance dare take action. Unionists in eastern Tennessee form one example. Another is the loyalist resistance in North Carolina.

On this day, examples of such dissent occur in both the Union and Confederacy.

In North Carolina, a convention of Unionists on the coast repudiates the state’s secession and names a provisional government loyal to the Union.

In Kentucky—officially a Union state, but with a very divided population—Rebel soldiers meet at Russellville in the thin slice of territory controlled by the Confederacy. They declare that Kentucky has “seceded” and that they are setting up a parallel state government in opposition to the loyalist one dominating the state.

Needless to say, neither endeavor will prevail, but both will cause heartburn in the state governments they oppose.

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