Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1862

Symptoms of Disintegration in the Southern Confederacy

Source: MECW Volume 19, p. 260;
Written: on November 7, 1862;
First published: in Die Presse, November 14, 1862.

The English press is more Southern than the South itself.

While it sees everything black in the North, and everything white in the land of the “nigger” [Marx uses the English word], people in the slave states themselves do not by any means lull themselves with the “certainty of victory” that The Times celebrates.

The Southern press, with one voice, raises cries of dismay at the defeat at Corinth and accuses Generals Price and Van Dorn of “incompetence and conceit”. The Mobile Advertiser speaks of it regiment, the 42nd Alabama, that went into battle on Friday 530 men strong, numbered 300 men on Saturday and consisted of only 10 men on Sunday evening. The rest were killed, captured, wounded or otherwise lost in the meantime. The Virginia papers use similar language.

“it is clear,” says the Richmond Whig, “that the immediate purpose of our Mississippi campaign has not been attained.” “It is to be feared,” says the Richmond Enquirer, “that the outcome of this battle will have the most harmful effect on our campaign in the West,”

This foreboding has come true, as the evacuation of Kentucky by Bragg and the defeat of the Confederates at Nashville (Tennessee) show.

From the same source, the newspapers of Virginia, Georgia and Alabama, we are getting interesting disclosures concerning the conflict between the central government in Richmond and the governments of the individual slave states. The occasion for the conflict arose out of the last Conscription Act, in which the Congress extended military service far beyond the normal age. A certain Levingood was enrolled in Georgia under this Act and arrested by an agent of the Confederacy, J. P. Bruce, because he refused to serve. Levingood appealed to the highest court of Elbert County (Georgia), which ordered his immediate release. The extensive substantiation of the ruling says inter alia:

“The preamble to the constitution of the Confederacy is careful to emphasise explicitly that the individual states are sovereign and independent. How can this be said of Georgia if any militiaman can be forcibly removed from the control of his commander? If the Congress in Richmond can pass a conscription act with exceptions, what is to prevent it from passing a conscription act without exceptions and thus enrolling the Governor, the Legislature, the judges, and thereby putting an end to the entire state government?... For these and other reasons, it is hereby ordered and decreed that the Conscription Act of the Congress is null and void and has no force of law...

Thus, the State of Georgia has forbidden conscription within its borders, and the Confederate government did not dare to revoke the prohibition.

Similar friction occurred in Virginia between the “individual state” and the “league of individual states”. The source of the dispute is the refusal of the state government to grant the agents of Mr. Jefferson Davis the right to conscript the militiamen of Virginia and enrol them in the Confederate army. The incident led to an exchange of caustic letters between the Secretary of War and General J. B. Floyd, the notorious character who as Secretary of War of the Union under President Buchanan prepared the secession and in the process managed to “secede” notable portions of the Treasury funds into his private coffers. This chief of the secession, known in the North as “Floyd the thief”, now appears as the champion of the rights of Virginia as against the Confederacy. The Richmond Examiner comments, among other things, on the correspondence between Floyd and the Secretary of War:

“The entire correspondence is a good illustration of the resistance and hostility that our state (Virginia) and its army have to suffer at the hands of those who abuse the power of the Confederacy in Richmond. Virginia has been plagued with endless burdens. But everything has limits, and the state will no longer tolerate the repetition of injustice.... Virginia supplied almost all the arms ammunition and military supplies that won the battles of Bethel and Manassas. It gave the Confederate service, out of its own armouries and arsenals, 75,000 rifles and muskets, 233 pieces of artillery and a magnificent arms factory. Its manpower capable of bearing arms has been drained to the dregs in the service of the Confederacy; it had to drive the enemy from its western frontier unaided, and is it not a cause for indignation if the creatures of the Confederate government now dare to make sport of it?”

In Texas, too, the repeated drawing-off of its adult male population to the east has aroused antagonism towards the Confederacy. On September 30, Mr. Oldham, the Texas representative, protested to the Congress in Richmond:

“In the wild-goose expedition of Sibley, 3,500 picked troops were sent out from Texas to perish in the and plains of New Mexico. The result was to bring the enemy to our borders, which he will cross in the winter. You have transported Texas best troops cast of the Mississippi, dragged them to Virginia, used them at the points of greatest danger, where they were decimated. Three-fourths of every Texas regiment sleep in the grave or have had to be discharged because of illness. If this government continues to draw the able-bodied men out of Texas in this manner in order to keep those regiments up to normal strength, Texas will be ruined, irrevocably ruined. This is unjust and impolitic. My constituents have families, property and their homeland to defend. I protest in their name against transporting men from west of the Mississippi to the east and thus laying their own country open to invasion by enemies from the north, east, west and south.”

Two things emerge from the foregoing quotations taken from Southern journals. The coercive measures of the Confederate government to swell the ranks of the army have gone too far. The military resources are giving out. Secondly, and this is even more decisive, the doctrine of the “states’ rights”, (the sovereignty of states) with which the usurpers in Richmond gave the secession a constitutional colouring, is already beginning to turn against itself. That is how little Mr. Jefferson Davis has succeeded in “making a nation of the South”, as his English admirer Gladstone boasted.