Research Exercise: The Imploding Confederacy

People who celebrate Confederate heritage as the story of a proud and unified people defended by soldiers committed to the cause of Confederate independence ought to do a little more research into what happened at home during the war. Here’s a letter from an eminent Georgia politician to Governor Joseph Brown that shows us just how problematic an account of a united white South may be:

Morganton, Georgia

August 11, 1863

His Excellency, Joseph E. Brown

Dear Sir,

I wrote you a few days since, relative to the conduct of the deserters and bushwackers, giving you the program of their actions up to that time.

I called out my cavalry as far as they were armed. Capt. Kincade called out his infantry company and they are now stationed at the place. Both companies have actively engaged scouring the country but up to this time we have not been able to capture any of them. Last night one hundred and twenty five of these desperadoes were within five miles of this place swearing they would come to the town and burn it. They were met by the sheriff and persuaded to disband. The sheriff has several relatives in the crowd and he therefore went boldly to work, and finally prevailed with them to desist.

We have no arms of any value, scarcely old rifles and a few single barreled shot guns and no ammunition, not two rounds a piece. We cannot muster more than fifty or sixty guns which I consider worthless. We must have arms and ammunition or this town will be burned and the country over run and perhaps many citizens massacred.

They swear that no man who is a Southern man in sentiment and action, will be permitted to keep a gun or any other weapon of defense. They are bold and reckless. I repeat to you that we must have help, both in men and arms or our county will be over run. There are some of the Georgia deserters who have sent me word if I can obtain the consent of the War Department that they will join the company here for home defense, but they swear they will die before they return to the army. Can you procure the consent of the department. It would be better to quiet them in this way than to let them connect themselves with these North carolina desperadoes.

Under an order of Gen. Buckner of a recent date, I am informed that the names of all the deserters under his command have been stricken from the company rolls. It strikes me therefore that the war department might willingly, if applied to, give permission for them to join the companies for home defense, I must confess I have little confidence in them but they can be better controlled in this way, they can be dispersed all over the country. If this meets with your approbation I trust you will immediately telegraph the war department and if they give their consent, write me immediately and I can quiet all the Georgians in this section.

Since writing the foregoing, I learned that a large party of these scoundrels, after dispersing last night went back a few miles into the edge of Union County and took all the guns they could find in that section. They say they can muster eight hundred men. Every man in Cherokee, N. Carolina who was enrolled for conscription have taken to the bush and if this is true, I doubt not that they can muster a large force. The Tennessee deserters and conscripts are also with them–many of them. And they are all sworn to defend one another, I am not scared but I confess that the times are any thing but pleasant to contemplate.

I intend to hold this place if I can, but how it is to be done without arms or ammunition I must confess looks doubtful. The lives of all the prominent citizens are threatened and unless some relief is sent forthwith, they will doubtless execute their threat.

Now my Dear Sir, as you see how things stand and it is for you to take such course as you think the emergency requires. If you can arm the battalion composed of the companies from Gilmer and this county, we can successfully defend this section and drive the marauders from this country. Without help however we are destined to suffer.

I am as your friend and servant.

E. W. Chastain

P.S. I had omitted to say that the whole country is panic stricken. That I cannot get them to turn out for their own defense. They are afraid to move anyway. EWC.

What does this letter tell us about the state of the Confederacy in the summer of 1863? The floor is open.


14 thoughts on “Research Exercise: The Imploding Confederacy

  1. tcgreen December 11, 2013 / 8:22 am

    In “Disloyalty in the Upper Districts of South Carolina During the Civil War,” written in 1974, James Otten documents similar issues in the upstate of South Carolina during the Civil War, including the prevalence of desertion, refusal to cooperate with efforts to hunt down deserters, and even a notation that an escaping Union officer was told that “sympathy for the Union cause was prevalent” in the upper Spartanburg District. Otten also notes that the Governors of Virginia, North & South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi met in October 1864 to discuss ways to end the problem of disloyalty and deserters, and that in September 1863, “President Davis recommended that a general officer be stationed in the mountain area of North and South Carolina to control deserters.”

  2. Tony December 11, 2013 / 8:27 am

    This was around the same time that residents of Jones County and Choctaw County, as well as the west side of the Yazoo River in Mississippi were in open rebellion to the Confederacy.

  3. Michael Confoy December 11, 2013 / 8:56 am

    James L. Swanson points this out as a severe problem in his book “Bloody Crimes.” Jeff Davis fears for his wife’s safety as she escapes south and there is fear that Jeff Davis’ party may be attacked for the Confederate gold.

  4. tcgreen December 11, 2013 / 9:10 am

    On May 4, 1864, 12 men from the 58th North Carolina and two from the 60th North Carolina were executed for desertion near Dalton, Georgia.

    • Talmadge Walker December 11, 2013 / 10:14 am

      And don’t forget the 22 NC Union soldiers that George Pickett hung for desertion in Kinston.

  5. Corey Meyer December 11, 2013 / 10:20 am

    To me it shows that in 1863 the Confederacy was beginning to decay from the inside out.

  6. Andy Hall December 11, 2013 / 10:51 am

    This was a problem across the Confederacy, particularly as the war dragged on. I recently came across this account of using “Negro dogs” to track deserters in East Texas. The place mentioned, Winter’s Bayou, runs through the Sam Houston National Forest, southeast of Huntsville. From the Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph, December 21, 1864, p. 1:


    Walker County, Nov. 24, 1864

    Editor Telegraph – It is, I believe, generally known that gangs of deserters and “jayhawkers” have for some time, been congregated in the immense recesses of the almost impenetrable “Big Thicket.” Recently, however, the security of these foes to the Confederacy has been most unceremoniously disquieted, and their organization broken up. About 40 more of the “reserve corps,” under I know not what officer, accompanied by that redoubtable old bear hunter and soldier – Richard Williams – who, with a pack of negro [sic.] dogs, was impressed for the occasion, came upon the lurking place of the patriotic gentry above mentioned. Their chief rendezvous was on Winter’s Bayou, about ten miles below Col. Hill’s plantation, in the center of a cane break over a mile in width. Here in the heart of a wilderness, 30 miles every way in extent, the “jayhawkers” and deserters had taken up their abode, built comfortable shanties, cleared lands, planted corn, erected a tan yard for making leather of the hides of stolen cattle, and surrounded themselves with many of the appliances of civilization. But, alas! In an evil hour for these expatriated cowards and enemies of the South, our “Leather Stockings” (Williams) with marvelous sagacity, has tracked their foot-prints through the cane brake and thicket, and the fierce cries of his dogs warn him that the wolves are “at bay.” Instantly the “reserves” are launched upon them. But, although the deserters may rob the passing traveler, and plunder houses protected only by women and children, they can’t stand the cold steel in the hands of these true men.

    They make only a show of resistance, and then “scatter.” Our bold “reserves” are generally too quick for them. Twenty-four were captured; four only of that gang escaped. Pretty good for the “first drive” of the “reserves,” and the indomitable Williams (he is an old 1835 soldier), certainly deserves the highest praise. I talked with Williams yesterday. He says there are yet, at another place in the think about twenty more deserters & c.

    Your informant,


  7. eshonk December 11, 2013 / 3:32 pm

    This incident reflects actions occuring in the North, as well. Both the Union and the Confederacy experienced events that demonstrated the flustration many of their respective citizens felt with the war, in general, and with the loss of their loved ones, in a war that should never have taken place. Illinois experienced the attempt of some of its Southern counties to secede and join the Confederacy, and New Yorkers reacted with the worst race riot the U.S. had ever seen. (Dubbed a “draft riot” to avoid the obvious). And we can’t overlook the terror foisted on many innocent civilians by such Northerners as William Quantrill. Yes, there was more unrest on both fronts than most people are aware, due to the attempts of the “politically correct” to sanitize the war, and make it appear to have been a moral conflict…which it never was. It was the result of one group of Americans’ denying another group of Americans their God-given right to self-determination. Plain and simple.

    Along with the loss of over 750,000 American and foreign lives, we lost the original “union by choice,” which was established via our founding principle…”consent of the governed.” In its place, we have the “union by force” with which we live today. Our Founding Fathers’ “Great Experiment” in self-government didn’t survive one hundred years, before politics gained enough power to destroy it. This is the great travesty of the War for Southern Independence. We are no different than any other country that can only exist by the use of force of arms.

    • Brooks D. Simpson December 12, 2013 / 12:12 pm

      “It was the result of one group of Americans’ denying another group of Americans their God-given right to self-determination. Plain and simple.”

      Glad to see that you have come to accept that the war was somehow over slavery.

    • Matt McKeon December 15, 2013 / 6:08 am

      I believe William Quadrill fought, or at least killed for the Confederacy.

  8. Neil Hamilton December 11, 2013 / 4:24 pm

    When modern-day neoConfederate heritage advocates speak of the ‘solid South’ they speak myth and myth only. There was no such thing as the ‘solid South.’

    One excellent reference is the book, “Disloyalty In The Confederacy,” by Georgia Lee Tatum. Another is “The South vs. The South,” by William W. Freehling. Both of these works speak of hundreds of thousands of Southerners who opposed the Confederacy, in secret and by serving in the Union army during the war.

    Myth should never trump actual history.


  9. Joshism December 11, 2013 / 4:37 pm

    “the story of a proud and unified people defended by soldiers committed to the cause of…independence”

    If this was not true for the American Revolution why should it have been true for the Confederate Revolution?

  10. Bob Nelson December 13, 2013 / 3:11 pm

    No, it was hardly a “solid South.” We all know about the bickering between state leaders and the Richmond government and dissension between Davis and the Cabinet/generals/Congress. But there was much more to it. Joe Glatthaar (“Lee’s Army”) covers some of it. Especially toward the end of the war, Confederate deserters, bushwhackers and thugs preyed on their own people. And much violence occurred during the conflict between secessionists and Unionists in the South. See Daniel Sutherland’s “Guerrillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front.” Marc Kruman of Wayne State University has a new book in the works (LSU Press) entitled “Dissent in the Confederacy,” which deals North Carolina.

  11. Charles Lovejoy December 14, 2013 / 1:48 pm

    Knowing well that area of Union county Ga and area of NC ,best way to describe it as in the middle of nowhere. Good place to get lost or hide. Remember that’s the area Eric Rudolph eluded FBI capture for 5 years. It’s in the area of the Appalachian Trail head. Been to that part of Georgia and NC many times, hiking, backpacking and kayaking. It’s an Appalachian culture very different from Atlanta, coastal Georgia and the rest of Georgia. I also seem to remember that part of NE Georgia having a pro-union sentiment. I have spent a lot of hours in the Georgia archives reading complaint letters to Georgia Governor Brown, each region’s letters voiced different concerns and were written in very different tones.There were plantation owners in coastal Georgia that abandoned their plantations as Robert Stafford of Cumberland Island Ga. He and other coastal planters complained to Governor Brown that they were in fear of a slave uprising and felt the State was not concerned. Many ended up abandoning their plantations.There were many complaints between Macon and Savannah of livestock and fine horses being stolen at night and the owners were not sure if it was Union or Confederate Calvary.There was discontent in Georgia,but there was discontent in other states too both north and South. Ohio for example had women angered that their husbands and older sons were off fighting a war in the south and they were having fend for themselves. They were having to work their family farms without the help of their husbands and sons.

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