(Note: I’m just moved this post from my Am Civ II page to a post. This post was originally published on 2/4/11.)
In class we listened to the The Ballad of Davy Crockett, which was first recorded in 1954 by George Bruns and Thomas Blackburn. The song quickly became very popular and was featured in the television mini-series Davy Crockett.
This 21st century parody of the classic ballad, dubbed The Ballad of Davy Crockett (In Outer Space), was released by American band They Might Be Giants back in 2009. The song and music video satirize the Crockett story for the classroom folklore that it has become, complete with chalkboards, finger puppets, and outer space mobiles.
Video: They Might Be Giants – The Ballad of Davy Crockett (In Outer Space)
The fiscal policy of the U.S. has always been intertwined with its defense policy. The Civil War can be seen as the start of this connection, where the Union and Confederacy’s need to buy weapons from Europe significantly impacted their fiscal policy. In the end, the Confederacies volatile currency played a significant role in their downfall, because they couldn’t continue to finance the arms they were buying from Britain. In contrast, the Union was less reliant on weapons from Europe and were able to stabilize a fiat based economy better than the south.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve become increasingly interested in the confluence of war and money. As we know, the Civil War was over slavery and the money tied up in slavery. However, war is costly and weapons are expensive to mass produce. How did the Union and Confederacy fund the war effort and where did they get there weapons from? In my previous post I discussed how the Union and Confederacy used a fiat currency to help fund the war. But how did they get their weapons and how did they pay international weapons dealers who probably didn’t accept the volatile Greenback or Confederate Dollar?
While the Union had the facilities to produce weapons, the Confederates were at a serious disadvantage. As historian Peter Tsouras explains:
“When the South seceded in early 1861, it possessed at most 10% of the industrial base of the former Union. The young Confederacy would go on to make heroic efforts to create an industrial base, but even at its best could produce only a small fraction of the needs of a nation at war.
How, then, did the Confederacy fight on so long and bitterly? The output of British factories, mills, shipyards, and arsenals flooded through the Union blockade of Southern ports to provide the bulk of Confederate needs. Without that massive support, the Confederacy would surely have collapsed within 12 to 18 months. Given that the bloodiest years of the war were 1863-1865, it was British material support that allowed the vast majority of the blood-letting to occur.”
As Tsouras details, the British supplied the Confederates with a great deal of their weapons including the British Enfield Rifle (pictures below), which gave the Confederates an advantage in battle.
This week I began to explore how financial markets, specifically Wall Street, reacted to the Civil War. I also looked at how the North and South adjusted their monetary systems during the war.
I discovered this letter from a correspondent of The Daily Picayune (New Orleans) that was written 3 days before the attack on Fort Sumpter and details Wall Street’s panic on the eve of the war. The correspondent, Antelope as he is referred to here, makes it quite clear that the financial district new war was on the horizon. As Antelope describes the market’s reaction, ” Sufficient it is to say that the decline was both fearful and rapid – tossing the “bears” sky high, and knocking the “bulls” into a cocked hat.” Antelope even mentions the possibility of the South separating and joining with a foreign power.
I also examined the rise of different monetary systems during the war. In the North-East there was the Greenback, in California the Yellowback, and in the South the Confederate dollar. The Greenback and Confederate dollar were both fiat money, meaning they were not gold backed, but rather backed and regulated by the government. Both the Union and the Confederacy turned to a fiat monetary system to help finance the war. The Union excessively issued Greenbacks and the Confederate dollar’s value rested on the outcome of the war; as a result, both monetary systems were very volatile and inflationary. In contrast, the Yellowback, which emerged during the Civil War, was based on the gold standard and maintained a consistent value. Check out these graphs that show the volatility of the Greenback and Confederate dollar.
As Melville wrote in his poem A Utilitarian View of the Monitor’s Fight, “War yet shall be, but the warriors are now but operatives.” The development and use of new weapons during the American Civil War transformed warfare forever; as Melville so succinctly explains, war had become mechanized and the soldier was only now simply another part of the machine. The Civil War’s role as a driver of new military inventions that redefined the battlefield is exemplified by the development of chemical weapons during the war. Many of the chemical warfare agents that were used in World War I were discovered, synthesized and weaponized during the Civil War. Some of these agents included Chlorine, Hydrogen Cyanide, Cholorform and Cacodyl. Despite having considerable access to and knowledge of these chemicals, only a few were proposed for use on the battlefield during the war and very few of these propositions actually saw the light of day.
Some of these attempts are detailed by Jeffery Smart in his essay: Chemical and Biological Warfare Research and Development During the Civil War.
One of the more interesting attempts that Smart details, was the use of suffocating smoke cartridges in Confederate trenches, which I’ve pasted below.
Suffocating Smoke Cartridge. Following the tunneling incident that led to the Union debacle at the Crater during the Petersburg siege, Confederate troops prepared a combustible cartridge to produce a suffocating smoke as a countermeasure to prevent another surprise tunneling operation. Under the direction of Colonel William W. Blackford, an engineer officer, the Confederates dug tunnels of their own extending out in front of several of their key positions. In these tunnels, the soldiers dug holes four inches in diameter extending out approximately 10-15 feet toward Union lines and placed sentinels to watch the holes. Colonel Blackford provided the instructions for these sentinels:
In case the enemy struck one of these holes, the guards on duty were provided with cartridges of combustibles, the smoke from which would suffocate a man. These they were to run into the holes and fire by a fuse, closing their end of the hole tightly, and then, summoning the guard, they were to dig into and take possession of the opposing mine as rapidly as possible, giving another dose of suffocating smoke from time to time to keep the enemy out of his workings until they could dig into them.
Unfortunately, the composition of the combustible was unknown. One historian guessed that it might have been similar to gunpowder but containing a much higher proportion of sulfur. This would create a sulfur dioxide cloud when burned. Another guess was that the material was similar to the mixture used in stink balls. This was a mixture of sulfur, rosin, pitch, asafetida, raspings from horses’ hoofs, and other materials designed to produced a nauseating smoke. The actual use of these cartridges was not reported, but were known to have at least been deployed to the front lines.
Irish and German immigrants during in the 1850’s had a significant effect on the pre-Civil War social and political landscape. The huge influx of immigrants gave power to nativist parties like the “Know Nothings” who pointed to the immigrants’ disproportionately high use of government relief funds, drunkenness, and religion as evidence of the immigrants’ unprincipled nature. Printed caricatures only amplified societal resentment.
Irish and German immigrants also began to have increased political power that bolstered the Democratic party in the north and created new problems for Whigs, Protestants, and the temperance class (McPherson 136). As one free soiler described it in 1854, the forthcoming elections were “freedom, temperance, and Protestantism against slavery, rum, and Romanism” (McPherson 137). This cartoon from the 1850’s by the “Know-Nothings” accused the Irish and German immigrants of negatively affecting an election.
In class we discussed how Douglass’s use of places can be seen as not only geographic locations, but as unique social structures and points of memory. Describing his early days as a house attendant and field hand, Douglass did not know the dates so he used locations to explain his travels across the south. As he travelled a definitive change in the social hierarchy of different places can be seen. Early in the narrative, Douglass and the field hands are jealous of the four slaves that work the boat that travels to Baltimore. Upon arriving in Baltimore later in the book, Douglass realizes that there are actually free black men in Baltimore. Douglass’s freedom also changes as he transitions from the fields to Baltimore. As a field hand he had little freedom, but in Baltimore he had more freedom to work as long as he paid his master, and eventually Douglass found a path to freedom in Baltimore. These examples all exhibit the changing social hierarchy between rural and urban.
Examining these social structures and hierarchies allows use to compare how different places effect the characters within them. The Alamo is portrayed as a wild frontier fort and the characters that surround it and its story have a similar identity. Walden pond is on the fringe of society, as it is in the woods, but only two miles from town. This setting allowed Thoreau to be separate enough to comment on society from the periphery without being entirely outside society. Thus, like the Walden Pond, Thoreau straddles the wild and the civilized. Claiming that location affects a person’s character seems like an obvious statement, but the detailed interaction between person and place is essential in understanding how each developed.
For my final papers please visit the above tabs.
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