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203 Conclusion “Republics Have Proverbially Short Memories” This work has shown the proslavery nature of the Confederate army and the Rebel military’s attempts to protect the peculiar institution from various threats. The war might have ended at the Battle of Bull Run, and slavery might have lasted indefinitely. But it did not, and the bloodier the war became, the greater were the North’s efforts to crush slavery. Confederates had to fight many battles—not only against the Union army; this was a war between whites and whites, whites and blacks, and, to some extent, it was a conflict among black people as well. But slavery finally ended in the South as a result of external, not internal, reasons. Southern whites did not want slavery to die. Instead, the United States military killed it. Had Lincoln been another James Buchanan and never used force against the secessionists, the Confederacy not only would have kept slavery within its borders, it might have extended it into what is now the western United States, South America, or the Caribbean. In hindsight, it is easy to see how the peculiar institution undermined the Confederate cause. Hundreds of thousands of slaves fled their masters , and many joined the Union army, where they killed, wounded, and captured Southern whites who were fighting to keep them in bondage. Enslaved women and children could not enlist in the military, but the loss of their labor proved severe to Southern slaveholders. The loss of field workers meant crops were not planted or harvested; the loss of domestics meant tables were left uncleared, food uncooked, and white families went without nurses. The escape to Yankee lines of slave artisans and carpenters meant that houses were not built or repaired. Slaves who remained under their masters’ control helped the Union cause through work slowdowns and stoppages, the sabotaging of equipment, and other forms of resistance. Some even plotted slave revolts. The slaves gave Confederates marching masters 204 much to worry about, and their resistance elicited violent responses from secessionists and the armies that protected them. Slavery also served as a valuable propaganda tool for the United States. What began as a war to bring the South back into the Union—though President Lincoln never considered the seceded states legally out of the Union—became a war for re-union and emancipation. Antislavery feeling in Europe (the British had abolished slavery in its colonies in the 1830s, and Russia freed its serfs in 1861) undermined the Confederacy’s attempts to gain diplomatic recognition there. Had the Confederacy obtained the financial and political support it needed from Europe, the war might have gone very differently. It is possible to argue that the Confederacy was doomed because it was a slaveholding nation fighting a more industrialized and more populous United States that did not need slavery. But as David Potter has warned, hindsight is “the historian’s chief asset and his main liability.”1 We know that the Civil War ended in the destruction of the Confederacy. What is important to understand is that Confederates believed they could win the war, despite the long odds they faced. Northern victory and the abolition of slavery were not inevitable. The war’s outcome ultimately depended on thousands of choices, choices that had dramatic consequences. Despite the many ways slavery worked against the Confederacy, it also helped it. In 1861, the South had the largest slave population in history . When Lee surrendered in 1865, most Southern blacks were still in bondage. True, many enslaved people had fled their masters, but far more had remained at home, willingly or not, where they grew the crops and performed the countless tasks that sustained the Rebel armies. Slaves worked in Confederate factories and as teamsters, acted as spies and scouts, and served alongside their masters in the camps, where they tended horses, cooked, cleaned, and performed odd jobs. Thousands of im­ pressed slaves repaired Confederate roads, dug trenches, and filled sandbags . Slave labor was essential to the Confederate military. The Confederacy also used slavery to its advantage as a propaganda tool. In 1861, Vice President Alexander Stephens argued that slavery would provide the foundation for the new, independent South. The institution of slavery served to unite white Southerners against the forces of abolitionism. Despite the problem of desertion within the Confederate army and angry cries of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight,” the vast majority of Southern white males of military age served in the Confederate military...


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