Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Did “Southerners” Lose The Civil War?

In 1860, slaves numbered 3,520,011 in the 11 Southern states soon to comprise the Confederate States of America.  To paraphrase Sojourner Truth, the celebrated freed slave from New York who asked crowds “Ain’t I a woman?”  I ask,  “Weren’t slaves Southerners?”

Yes they were Southerners, and they didn’t lose the war. They, and about 434,000 other slaves in non-Confederate states, won their freedom.

So for accuracy when talking about who lost the Civil War, we should say “white Southerners lost the war.”  Then we must add that even all white Southerners didn’t lose the war. Many white Southerners – including some of my ancestors in western North Carolina - opposed secession and fighting, though some were persecuted for their stands.*  In a way, they, too, won the Civil War.

Now, to really complicate the question, “Did Southerners lose the Civil War?” note that not all the states below the Mason-Dixon Line that traditionally divides the North and South joined the Confederacy. (See Mason-Dixon Line history at geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/masondixon.htm.) This includes Maryland and West Virginia.

My, the stereotypes, misunderstandings and prejudice we stir up when using such labels as “Southern” and “Yankee,“ or today, “Liberal” and “Conservative.”  

The chart below clarifies who won and lost the Civil War.  Numbers come from the 1860 U.S. Census. Full compilation at http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1860a-02.pdf

                                        From 1860 Federal Census
Confederate States
In Order of Secession
  Number Slaves            
       Percentage Total Pop
South Carolina
Firing on Ft.        Sumter
North Carolina

Note that the states seceding first from the Union generally had the largest percentages of slave population. In South Carolina, which led the exodus, most of the population (57 percent) lived in slavery. (Slaves comprised almost 39 percent of the Confederate states' total population of 9,103,373.) The Civil War’s end triggered a migration of African Americans from Confederate states to Northern states, a trend reversed only in recent decades, according to census data.

Who lost the Civil War?  The Confederacy, white Southerners and free blacks who backed the Confederacy, and slave owners.

Who won?  African-American Southerners under President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.


This portion of a war-era letter written by my western North Carolina ancestor indicates the anger some Southerners had about joining the Confederacy.   The letter comes from my book-in-progress, Dear Father I’m Sorry To Tell You.  I have added all words in parentheses for clarification.

Wilkesboro (N.C.)
June 4th 1861

Dear Father
            (we) Are all well and have got out our Corn all most twice      our wheat is good so far       there has ben bontaful (bountiful) chances of rain       fell last night, yesterday and to day heare       we have had a cold spring up to last few days which has brought out things very multch…..

…..So the Matter is the world is filed with evry thing when their is no war
when there is some somewhere else         if we have to sacerfisede (sacrifice) evry thing to gratify the ambitious lying politician the time is come to perform that act     

  if prasperity health Soul & body must be sacerfisede this is the time…..
                                                                         no more but I  will remain your son,
                                                                         E.M. (Elijah) Welborn

For full letter, go to THE LETTERS page. For more on Sojourner Truth, see PHOTOS PAGE page. 

* SOURCES:  Auman, William T. “Neighbor Against Neighbor.” North Carolina Historical Review, January 1984. Williams, David. "Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War.”  New Press, March 2010.