Until Every Drop of Blood Is Paid: A More Radical American Civil War

The update will take some time more because 1) I'm on vacation and want to rest and 2) I have writer's block and am looking for a way to integrate all I want to discuss in the update. It will be focused on the Confederate homefront, meaning there will be discussions of the effect of the defeat, changes in Confederate leadership, the peace movement and Unionist guerrillas, and the overall economic situation and hardship. If there are any comments regarding that, I would be interesting in reading them. @joea64 had several interesting thoughts regarding how the defeat might affect Davis and Lee especially.
Hope you have a great (and safe) vacation!

On the point of the Confederate homefront, one thing I would have to ask is whether or not the inflation in the CSA has reached its terribly high levels or not. Historically, inflation was something that bothered both North and South, but the CSA government basically raised the bulk of its resources from the printing press, the easiest means at its disposal, while the Union government took a more balanced approach and raised nearly two-thirds of its revenues from loans and a balanced combination of taxes and inflation for the remainder. Looking at a comparison of Confederate finance to that of the Union government, the American Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812, it's striking to see that the Confederacy used the greatest percentage of inflation and the smallest percentage of loans. For the average Southerner, the high level of inflation led to the Southern bread riots of 1863, in which citizens, mostly women, protested the exorbitant price of bread and later resorted to violence. Would Breckenridge have been able to maintain a better mix of the sources of government financing? (Although I would note that refugees, blockade and foraging would have still massively contributed to inflation).

On another point, you mentioned a peace movement. As social and political ACW history is not my forte, I would like to ask if this peace movement refers to a negotiation of an armistice or an offer of reunion on the condition that slavery is maintained. I think Breckenridge urged surrender IOTL when the Confederate cause was completely hopeless.
I'm bringing this up because it was mentioned how when people talk of the Civil War they talk of the "Union government" and the "Union Army" instead of the "American government" and the "American Army". This seems to make a distinction, as if to say that during the Civil War there were indeed two distinct governments instead of the United States on one side and the traitors who rebelled against it on the other. It seems to legitimize the Confederates somewhat and take the sting of being traitors off them.
I would say this is at least partially based out of a desire to avoid confusing the two sides.
I had, and may still have, an 1863 North American Almanac I got at a garage sale or auction as a teen when my parents enjoyed doing those. I loved history so enjoyed almanacs in those days. It referred to the war as "our current Rebellion." It was from one of the New York newspapers, as a lot of those almanacs were – the World Almanac and book of facts originated from a newspaper called the New York World in fact. Maybe that's more commonly known than I think, but I always thought it was just because it was information about the world.

Anyway, well I remember looking at that right away and seeing how they would refer to it, and that was decades ago, I don't remember how they referred to the north. My guess is that they called it the Union Army but I'm not sure.

However, with that juxtaposition it makes sense to call it the Union Army because it is saying that these are Rebels against the Union. It did not refer to them as having a legitimate government.
I think Breckenridge urged surrender IOTL when the Confederate cause was completely hopeless.

There's ample evidence, as William C. Davis has documented, that Breckinridge was maneuvering for a termination of the war from the moment he was confirmed as Secretary of War.

It's a little fuzzier how willing he was to settle for unconditional surrender; at Bennett Place he obviously negotiated something short of that. But he does seem to have concluded no later than the end of 1864 that the Confederacy was doomed, which obviously sets him apart from Jeff Davis.
Will women's suffrage become law decades earlier? Some of the more prominent abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, were in favor of it, and AFAIK at least one territory allowed right to the point where it became a state.
Will women's suffrage become law decades earlier?

It seems doubtul, honestly. The political leverage of abolitionists would not have been sufficient to such a major political sea change on a relatively unrelated objective.

Abolition happened because of a bloody war but also because it was happening in line with efforts to suppress slavery worldwide in the 19th century. Whereas women's suffrage happens pretty much universally in the West in the early 20th century - mostly after WW1.

Does anyone know if it could be applied on a state by state basis? Probably not, but perhaps we could see some more territories allowing it.
Does anyone know if it could be applied on a state by state basis? Probably not, but perhaps we could see some more territories allowing it.

Perhaps, but probably in the same way it happened in our timeline - that is, in new western states and territories desperate to attract women settlers. Wyoming's territorial government was first out of the blocks to do so in 1869, for example.

But in more settled states, it was far less likely at the time. Even in Kansas, when it was proposed in 1868, it was quickly squashed.
It seems doubtul, honestly. The political leverage of abolitionists would not have been sufficient to such a major political sea change on a relatively unrelated objective.

Abolition happened because of a bloody war but also because it was happening in line with efforts to suppress slavery worldwide in the 19th century. Whereas women's suffrage happens pretty much universally in the West in the early 20th century - mostly after WW1.

Wait, how does Saudi Arabia have women's suffrage if they're not even democratic?
It seems doubtul, honestly. The political leverage of abolitionists would not have been sufficient to such a major political sea change on a relatively unrelated objective.
I'm more optimistic. At least to the degree that suffrage could happen before its OTL date.
The spirit of the 60s in this TL may well carryover into different strains of politics once the peace has been established. Securing the gains of the Civil War will be an ongoing commitment for the next few decades. The sort of social atmosphere that struggle creates lends itself well to other political projects.

If things settle down into a complacent normal, then yeah suffrage may take a backseat. But I don't think the US is settling into complacency in this timeline, if anything it seems to be going into a much more dynamic period of political reform and activism.

IOTL so much of the gains from the war and the interests that supported those gains were frustrated at every possible point vis-a-vis the Johnson administration, cultural resistance, bargaining over reconstruction itself, etc. It was a time where reformers fell on deaf, war-weary, and progress-defying ears.

But here, the door is wide open. The radicals have the floor and they're dancing like schoolgirls at the chance to imprint their vision onto the country. You couldn't get a more different political class from OTL to respond to the issues of the day. There may well be a suffragist plurality in congress in the late 80s the way things flesh out.

Possibility is there.
Last edited:
Just thought I'd pop in to say how enjoyable it is to read the discussion in this thread. Wish I had anywhere near the kind of historical know-how to really participate, but you guys going back and forth over the past two hundred pages has been super educational on the time period!
Chapter 39: Hard Times in Dixie
The Battle of Union Mills was simply a disastrous failure for the South. Lee’s invasion, meant to secure peace at the tip of a sword, had ended in an enormous defeat. Many historians have now come to the conclusion that although Union Mills was certainly a big material defeat, the battle is most significant for its psychological effects. Alexander Stephens had once declared that the whole raison d’être of the Confederacy was the “great physical, philosophical, and moral truth” that African Americans were inferior to the White man. But the Southern armies had been disastrously and completely defeated by the USCT at Fort Saratoga and Union Mills. How could the victory of Black Union soldiers be conciliated with the belief that White Southerners were superior? How could the Confederacy assert that slavery was the Black man’s natural condition, when he proved that he could not only equal the rebels, but defeat them in the field of battle?

The answer was simply enough, but its implications for the South and its society were momentous: the Confederate cause was wrong. Such an admission was impossible for Southerners to even contemplate, much less accept. If Black people were their equals, the unavoidable conclusion was that slavery was sinful, abolitionists were right, and their rebellion was unjust. How could men who had fought so long and so hard to maintain slavery and uphold White Supremacy accept that their sacrifice had been in vain? They could not. And thus, the first reaction after Union Mills was denial. Wild, almost hysterical and definitely panicked voices insisted that Union Mills proved nothing. “Jackson was tired!” or “Hill was sick!”, they shouted. A desperate editor even claimed that the Heroes of Union Mills were in truth White soldiers in blackface, a ridiculous assertion that showed how shocked the rebels were.

Some laid the blame on Breckinridge, claiming he had purposely set Beauregard to fail and that it took “a hundred thousand Negroes to do the work a hundred White men could have accomplished”. Beauregard himself, his ego and reputation broken, would bitterly say that the defenses at Fort Saratoga were the “strongest in the world, and perhaps in history”, and he too blamed the President for the defeat, unwilling to accept that Black troops had simply defeated his gallant Southrons. The bad blood between Beauregard and Breckinridge complicated the task of burying the news. Northern newspapers and propaganda, and careless soldiers were even worse in that regard. Soon enough, and despite Richmond’s claims to the contrary, the fact that Beauregard had not merely failed but had been disastrously defeated was known by everybody.

The initial phase of denial quickly gave way to panic. There was panic among general and statesmen, certainly, as they painted pictures of “Lincoln and his acolytes recruiting millions of negroes . . . for their campaign of butchery and extermination”. Such statements were meant to invoke anger in the past; now, they invoked fear. One of the soldiers of the disgraced Stonewall Brigade confessed to his family that he was afraid they would be defeated and massacred by Black troops in a future engagement. “What should they not pay us with the same coin and avenge their comrades at Canton and Harpers Ferry? . . . I am afraid of falling by some African savage’s hand.” Moreover, after Union Mills the Lincoln administration raised even more Black regiments, adding to their manpower advantage. Previously, the rebels had all but ignored the Black soldiers, believing them useless; now, some seemed to be under the impression that “one colored soldier is the equal of four cowardly rebels”, as one Pennsylvania newspaper gleefully announced.


The U.S. Colored Troops

The Confederate military and the civil authorities had been both cowed by the disaster, but the reaction was greatest among the scared civilian population. The old specter of slave uprisings, which had long haunted Southern nightmares, arose again with a vengeance. From seemingly all Southern towns came outcries of “slave rebellions” and “the wholesale butchery and massacre of white women and children.” “Has the time not come to admit our defeat and allow the negroes to depart in peace?”, wondered a newspaper editorial, “Only such a course can prevent those savages from covering the land with our blood”. “What’s the use of contesting the Yankee invaders in the field if our women at home are abandoned to the nigger’s lust?”, declared an officer in his diary. “Let us conclude a peace, humiliating as that might be, and return to protect our homes from the enemy that’s already there.”

Indeed, many Southern communities clamored for the boys in grey to return home to protect them from slave uprisings, which seemed “a more present and bloodthirsty foe than even the worst Yankees”. Southern nerves were not calmed by the course the Union was charting, as news arrived of the Third Confiscation Act and “its promise to execute our leaders and starve our civilians”. The Act, however, caused merely a negative reaction, not a horrified one. Far more ominous for many Southerners was the speech Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas had given to recruit Black soldiers, where he invoked the name of Toussaint L’Ouverture. In doing so, Thomas had casted “the Union’s war as a black revolution in the mold of Haiti” and invited the enslaved “to rise against their masters, destroy slavery where they lived, and claim allegiance to a nation that had never really been theirs”.

The prospect of a large-scale slave insurrection was terrifying enough for the Confederates. In fact, many had joined the Confederacy because they believed that secession was the only way of preventing such uprisings. As the war developed and the superiority of the Union was established, Southerners fretted about whether the government would be able to protect them. This manifested in outcries for armies to remain in their states and protect slavery instead of fighting the Yankees in the field. The infamous debacle over the “Twenty Negro Law”, which shall shortly be examined in detail, is also proof of Southern paranoia. The defeats only increased this panic, as the people wondered for the first time if they could defeat a slave uprising. After all, if Lee’s invincibles were overcome, what chance did “half starved and dim-witted militia boys” have?

“All people think the government has no power to protect us if the negros choose to rebel”, wrote a scared Georgian to her governor. “What are we to do if they rebel? We have no men, and even if there were soldiers here many dubt they would be victorius. Is it time to flee to the swamps?” The letter was never answered, the governor admitting he could say nothing to assure the scared population. Breckinridge had no answers for his people either. Every man was needed at the front, especially after the Army of Northern Virginia had lost almost half of its manpower, and, the President admitted forlornly, even if they had a million soldiers they had no arms and no manpower with which to equip them. Breckinridge could just stare impotently as the Confederate population descended into panic and paranoia.

Lincoln’s maxim that “upon the progress of our arms, all else chiefly depends” was true of the Confederacy as well. In periods of military fortunes, the prospect of slave insurrection seemed far away. After all, what chances did escaped slaves have against the gallant Southern Army? But the psychological shock of Union Mills was enough that some went as far as assuming that Black men, even if unarmed and untrained, would be able to beat their militias and soldiers. Confederate bonds and slave prices plummeted disastrously; even the veteran Fire Eater Edmund Ruffin sold several of the men he enslaved due to the “doubtful tenure of the property." Nearer to the front, there are reports of people fleeing to Union lines and swearing eternal loyalty to the National Government in exchange of protection. The double threat of slave insurrection behind the lines and a Yankee army ready to trial traitors and confiscate land in the front was enough for many to defect in the hopes of saving themselves.


The difficult Confederate situation led to a resurgence of Unionism

Even those who were decided to remain Confederates to the end started to despair. John Jones, a War Department clerk, wrote that "the news from Lee's army is appalling. . . . This [is] the darkest day of the war.” Josiah Gorgas, usually a firm believer in the cause, declared that “Events have succeeded one another with disastrous rapidity. One brief month ago we were apparently at the point of success. Lee was in Pennsylvania, threatening Harrisburgh, and even Philadelphia. . . . Yesterday we rode on the pinnacle of success—today absolute ruin seems to be our portion. The Confederacy totters to its destruction.” Desertions increased, aided by anguished letters from home of family and friends that pleaded with the soldiers to reject a hopeless cause. For example, a wife that implored her husband, claiming that “The people is all turning Union here since the Yankees has whipped us. I want you to come home as soon as you can. The conscripts is all at home yet."

“If we are defeated, it will be by the people at home”, harshly stated the Atlanta Southern Confederacy. As in the Union, the “fire in the rear” was perhaps more dangerous than even the enemy at the front. The defeat at Union Mills reinvigorated Unionists across the South and led to an increase in guerrilla activity. Gone were the days when guerrillas limited themselves to destructing tracks and burning cotton; now, their objective was “reducing the rebel states to a wasteland where only the loyal shall thrive”. Though the Lincoln administration limited aid to these partisans, judging correctly that their bloodthirsty methods would not help conciliate the pro-Confederate population, they still engaged in horrific crimes. In Mississippi, a rebel officer found a dozen corpses in a small stream; at least five furloughed soldiers were murdered in cold blood in Georgia; and in Alabama a giant raid by the “Liberty Raiders” destroyed three plantations and liberated hundreds from the clutches of the enslavers.

Black men took part in all these events, though their participation was limited. There certainly were not as many Black guerrilla fighters as Southerners saw in their feverish nightmares. In areas away from both rebels and Federals, those slaves who escaped found ready comrades, but these usually were upcountry areas where there were few slaves to begin with. Near the Union lines, the enslaved preferred to flee, and those who wanted to fight found it easier to join the “Army of Liberation” rather than irregular partisans. In the Deep South, the Confederate government retained enough control, preventing a large-scale guerrilla war. Moreover, most Black men were not willing to abandon their families, especially when many enslavers promised to punish those left behind in a sickening display of cruelty. For the moment, the worst of the bush war was contained to the Upper South, while in the heart of the Confederacy such incidents were isolated and relatively infrequent.

Nonetheless, one cannot deny the existence of organizations such as the Heroes of America in North Carolina, which practically seized control of the North Carolina upcountry, or Lincoln’s Loyal League in Mississippi, a “maroon army” made primarily of escaped slaves who stroke back against their oppressors without mercy. Ultimately, the Unionist Guerrillas were probably more effective than the Copperhead organizations in the North. It’s true that Copperhead conspiracies had resulted in the gory Month of Blood, but the low-level insurgency in the Southern states was ultimately more damaging to the Confederate cause and psyche. Though Confederate partisans and night raiders continued to inflict terror and violence throughout the South, they were never able to eradicate their foe, and Unionist resistance would only continue to grow until at the end of the war it consumed the Confederacy in fire and destruction.


Away from formal military campaigns, the war continued to degenerate into a bloody contest

But in the summer of 1863 that still laid in the future. Confederate prospects were bleak, but the cause did not seem hopeless just yet. It was with the belief that he could still seize victory from the jaws of defeat that Breckinridge started working to reorganize the Southern Army and administration. The first point was, of course, who was to blame for that fiasco of a campaign. As for Fort Saratoga, the answer was clear enough: Beauregard. Time and time again Breckinridge had attempted to conciliate the egotistical general, and he paid him back with partisan bitterness and unsubtle denunciations. Breckinridge at first attempted to exile Beauregard to the trans-Mississippi, but after Beauregard refused, he demanded and obtained his resignation instead.

Beauregard, as predicted, continued doing his best to propagate the myth that the Fort Saratoga onslaught had been Breckinridge’s fault. Many men, anxious to deny a victory to the USCT and already arrayed against Breckinridge, repeated this false assertion. In any case, the defeat was fresh enough that not many people listened to Beauregard at the moment. Far more complex was how to deal with Robert E. Lee, whose fame and reputation had also taken a catastrophic dive. Again, denial was an important part of the equation, and this time it at least was plausible. Nonetheless, the laurels won at the Peninsula and Manassas had been obscured by the shame and dishonor of Union Mills. No one was more conscious of this fact that Lee himself, who handed his resignation to Breckinridge with a sad verdict: “I cannot even accomplish what I myself desire. How can I fulfill the expectations of others?"

More than simple military calculus was at stake here. Opponents of the Breckinridge administration had already seized upon the Union Mills defeat as the definitive proof “of the wickedness and incompetency of the present administration”. But the Tories didn’t focus on Lee, but rather on Davis and Breckinridge himself. This is partly because the midterm elections were approaching, thus making a concentrated political attack far more advantageous. But it also reflects the fact that Lee was not totally ruined yet; the rebel General retained enough fame and affection that most Southerners were willing to give him a second chance. Furthermore, he had certainly been the most capable leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, perhaps the Confederacy as a whole.

At first Breckinridge considered accepting Lee’s resignation, but he ultimately decided against it. Publicly, he declared it was because there was no better general. But privately, this answered to political needs. Lee, though primarily a military-man, was conscious of political strategy and was a stalwart supporter of the President and his policies. He threw his considerable weight behind conscription and martial law, making such decisions more palatable to the Southern public. Lee, Davis and Breckinridge formed a capable triumvirate with a productive and respectful working relationship, something Breckinridge had not enjoyed with other generals. Finally, Breckinridge judged that a friend of the administration should be in charge with elections so close. Johnston, who acted as a “shield behind which critics gathered themselves and shot arrows at the President”, was not adequate in that regard.

Breckinridge thus kept Lee in command for the time being. Lee and his rebels would earn further laurels, but he would never regain the glory and respect he once held. However, this did not stop the critics of the government, who now focused their attention on Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Davis was a capable administrator and an important ally of Breckinridge, a steady hand that was in many ways more committed to the Confederate cause than the President himself. Despite his difficult temperament, Breckinridge had managed to forge a beneficial relationship with him. Nonetheless, this temperament meant that Davis had more enemies, and that those feuds were often more intense. For example, Senator Wigfall was in cordial terms with Breckinridge, but he loathed Davis and urged his replacement. Even Johnston, who did not like Breckinridge per se, reserved most of his odium for Davis.


Southern politicians opposed to the Breckinridge government were denigrated as "Tories" or "Reconstructionists"

Even as the anti-Lee movement lost strength, the anti-Davis cabal just seemed to gain momentum. As it had happened to Lincoln, Senators wanted to seize power away from Breckinridge by forcing him to appoint someone they wanted. A Senator outright said that Breckinridge, “having proven his unfitness for office”, had to be provided of “a capable hand to guide him, lest he leads us to disaster once again”. The Tory opposition linked both movements, making it clear that either Davis or Lee would have to leave. “Someone is responsible for this shameful calamity”, declared one conspirator, “someone must be punished”. As a result, when it was found that Breckinridge would not dismiss either men, the Congress scheduled hearings to find the culpable.

A few people suggested Breckinridge should throw Davis under the bus as a way to exonerate both Lee and himself. “You cannot uphold him. The attempt will only destroy you”, warned a supporter. Breckinridge refused, and instead manfully assumed the blame himself. Lee, the President said in a public speech, was still “one of the most gallant and skillful generals in the service”, while Davis enjoyed his “utmost confidence in his patriotism and capacity.” Davis, who unlike Breckinridge was called to testify, too behaved honorably, assuming the fault. With a swollen throat and suffering from neuralgia, Davis presented a rather pitiful sight, yet he stood proud as the committee grilled him. Obstinate as always, he refused to consider resignation and maintained that the defeat was not the fault of Lee – Wigfall reported that Davis was “almost frantic with rage if the slightest doubt was expressed as to [Lee’s] capacity and conduct”.

The Senators then called several commanders of the Army of Northern Virginia, hoping they would blame Davis. With the exception of Beauregard, whose word was worth little, their testimonies instead became lengthy defenses of Lee. Jackson, Longstreet and Hill all sought to shift the blame away from their leader, but they could not agree onto whom it should rest. Longstreet, though he still held warm sentiments towards Lee, did declare that he thought attacking the Federals at the Pipe Creek Line “unwise” and that he had argued against that. Longstreet’s astounding declaration briefly resuscitated the anti-Lee movement and destroyed his friendship with Jackson. This because Longstreet had declared that, had Jackson successfully carried the Union flank in his charge, the battle would have been a victory. Such a statement seemed to place the blame on Jackson.

Moreover, Jackson believed that Longstreet was trying to sully Lee’s name. Lee himself accepted the criticism and would continue to regard Longstreet as his “Old War Horse”, but the dogmatic Jackson never forgot Longstreet’s “treachery”. As long as Lee remained in the picture, the relation could remain cordial, but when later he went away it quickly deteriorated, leading the Confederacy to disaster. It’s possible, too, that the feud was exaggerated in the light of future events that would taint Longstreet with false accusations of disloyalty and incompetency. Curiously enough, amid these dramatic accounts, Hill is often forgotten even though he probably is more to blame than the other commanders. In any case, Lee refused to inculpate him. Breckinridge finally convinced Lee to remove Hill to a lesser position under the tactful and partially true excuse that Hill’s medical problems made him unfit for command.

These Congressional hearings in truth did not accomplish much, but rather became public forums filled with bitter and angry tirades against Breckinridge, Davis and other figures of the administration. Breckinridge’s “flagrant mismanagement”, was emphasized by enemies who denounced him as “a miserable arrogant tyrant” who “has alienated the hearts of the people by his stubborn follies” and “his chronic hallucinations that he is a great military genius.” Davis, of course, was also a victim of abuse, with Senators denouncing “his chronic antipathies, his bitter prejudices, his puerile partialities”. At the end, Breckinridge refused to dismiss either Lee or Davis. An attempt to force through a bill impeaching Davis failed when the President’s supporters rallied and the anti-Lee and anti-Davis movements were defeated for the time being.


Political cartoon mocking Secretary Davis

The bitterness of this struggle is a symptom of the volatile political situation, which was only worsened by the debate over the “Twenty Negro Law”. This whole debacle was something of a tragi-comic fiasco, as in truth the law itself was not as consequential as its opponents or supporters believed it was. Rather, the true issue was focused on the more important but still somewhat abstract question of what was the true essence of the Confederacy. Was it a movement to create a new nation? Or a movement to protect slavery? Most Southerners would have easily answered yes to both questions heretofore, but as slavery started to disintegrate and the cause turned hopeless, the pressing issue was one: Should the Confederacy sacrifice slavery to gain independence? Or renounce independence but conserve slavery?

The Twenty Negro Law was first proposed towards the end of 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, and Southern slaveholders had been whipped into a frenzy as they feared insurrection. The massive conscription of White men into the Army, slaveholders argued, had resulted in the erosion of discipline and slavery itself, as the enslaved fled to swamps or the Yankee lines. Moreover, the White women at home were defenseless against the Black man’s supposed savagery. "I have no brother no one on whom I can call for aid," an Alabama woman wrote to her governor. "I am living alone now, with only my child a little girl of 2 years old. I am now surrounded on all sides by plantations of negroes—many of them have not a white [man] on them. I am now begging you will not you in kindness to a poor unprotected woman and child give me the power of having my overseer recalled.”

Such a situation was unacceptable, as both white women and slavery had to be protected. Otherwise, what were the Confederates fighting for? Aside from these appeals to paternalistic White Supremacy there was the practical issue that “The Confederacy also needed the food and fiber raised on plantations, and southerners believed that without overseers the slaves would raise nothing.” Consequently, planters insisted that exemptions for overseers were absolutely needed for the war effort. Was this true? It was certainly an article of faith that slavery lent strength to the Confederate military. “This it is which makes our 8 million of productive fighting material equal to the 20 m of the North,” said the assistant to the adjutant general. Enslaved laborers were indeed vital to the Confederate war effort, working building fortifications and erecting trenches, liberating white men for fighting.

Planters, recognizing this, thus lobbied for a law that would exempt one overseer from conscription for every twenty enslaved Negroes. But President Breckinridge quickly made clear his opposition to such a law. The President predicted a disastrous reaction to a law that “favored negro labor over white labor” and “enshrined aristocratic privilege in the national legislation . . . the terrible burden of war must be borne by all Southern men, no matter their wealth. How can we ask the poor farmer to give up his life while the planter contently remains at home?” Breckinridge was echoing the complains of many yeomen who abhorred the “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight”. As Steven Channing decisively concludes, “There never was a solid South living in contented thrall to a plantation society, ready to die for its values”.

Indeed, a significant part of the Southern population resented the war the “aristocratic planters” had brought upon them with “its fruits of hunger and deaths”. A North Carolina woman confessed she did not know what her husband was fighting for. “I don't think he is fighting for anything only for his family to starve." Another woman complained of how "The common people is drove off to fight for the big mans negro." As the Chief Executive, Breckinridge was profoundly conscious of these “flames of dissent” and he judged that passing the “Twenty-Negro Law” would “throw the entire cause asunder at once”. The President’s opposition deflated the movement. Another factor was that, with McClellan so near the capital, it seemed downright unpatriotic for planters to skirt their duties.


Confederate manpower needs reached disastrous levels after Union Mills

The Twenty-Negro Law laid dormant for months as rising Confederate prospects made many believe it would not be necessary. With victory seemingly so close, Breckinridge and the Congress seemingly decided to simply not touch the issue. But after Union Mills a bill was introduced again. The bruising contest between the Administration and Congress over Davis and Lee had left many men bitter and anxious of taking revenge on Breckinridge. Moreover, with many clamoring for protection from “Negro murderers”, there was an outpouring of appeals to emotion and Southern gallantry. But Breckinridge had, if anything, become even more opposed to the measure. Putting aside the custom of communicating with Congress only through messengers, Breckinridge irrupted into the Congressional Chambers. This earned him a comparison with Charles I and that time he infamously stormed into the Commons.

However, Breckinridge was not there to arrest lawmakers, but to plead with them. The President predicted “utter ruin” if the law was passed, and declared he would veto it. His words fell on deaf ears. Though Congressmen amended the law, requiring planters to pay $300 plus 40 pounds of meat for every slave, it still was passed. As promised, Breckinridge vetoed it; the Congress promptly overrode the veto. Soon enough, they found out that the President was right. "Never did a law meet with more universal odium. . . . Its influence upon the poor is calamitous. . . . It has aroused a spirit of rebellion . . . in the army it is said it only needs some daring men to raise the standard to develop a revolt”, confessed a Mississippi Senator to Secretary Davis. An aide to Robert E. Lee explained that the measure was "very injururious" and "severely commented upon in the army", while Governor Vance commented that the law had "produced a dediced effect on public sentiment" and declared it "the severest blow the Confederacy ever received". Just as Breckinridge had predicted, the law and its powerful symbolism arose extreme hate among the Southern poor.

Many have wondered why Breckinridge was so sternly opposed to the law. Even Davis, usually a staunch supporter, was in favor of it, stating that it would not “draw any distinction of classes, but simply provide a police force, sufficient to keep our negroes in control.” The law only exempted around 5,000 planters, which was a small proportion of all the exemptions and barely 15% of all the eligible. Breckinridge, to be sure, was not against providing such a “police force”. But the President pointedly signaled that many states like Arkansas and Georgia already were keeping troops and militia at home to guard against slave insurrections, and that, in any case, one overseer would not be capable of stopping a full-scale rebellion. This notwithstanding, the main reason for Breckinridge’s opposition remained his justified fears that the law would be a hard hit against the civilian population’s already fragile morale.

Planters and congressmen of planter extraction were far more preoccupied with the fate of slavery than the fate of the poor. This reveals the widening gap between Breckinridge, who was becoming willing to sacrifice slavery in the name of independence, and the slavocrats. Breckinridge, it’s already been pointed out, received his greatest support among Southern yeomen, while the large slaveholders usually voted for Bell. Afterwards, the counties that gave their greatest support to Breckinridge were usually lukewarm towards secession, while the Bell counties voted overwhelmingly in its favor. At first, electing Breckinridge seemed like a brilliant way of conciliating these skeptics. And as a matter of fact, Breckinridge did prove enormously popular with that section of the population.

However, it turned out that Breckinridge, who held no great love for slavery, was not preoccupied with the institution. It must be made clear that he, like all other Confederates, accepted the monstrous institution and was glad to fight for a country that would maintain it. But as the hour of truth approached, Breckinridge had come to the conclusion that securing Confederate independence was more important than preserving slavery. As a result, he vetoed the law, only to be overrode. The debacle discredited the President’s opponents and enshrined Breckinridge as the protector of the poor man against “a greedy and arrogant aristocracy . . . that would rather see a thousand poor men and women starve than give up their power.” It was a rather pyrrhic victory, for the opponents of the administration received the loathing of the poor while Breckinridge was hailed.


The Twenty Negro Law has been pronounced as one of the most misguided pieces of legislation of the Civil War

In time, and as the situation grew even more desperate, many within Breckinridge’s “Nationalist” faction would come to see slavery as expendable. Still, in the summer of 1863 Breckinridge was basically alone among the Confederate leadership in doubting the necessity of the Twenty Negro Law. Another aspect in which Breckinridge departed drastically from the majority of Southerners was revealed when a missive came from the Mississippi theater. A certain Patrick Cleburne had proposed that “in view of the Negro’s martial capacity”, Black slaves could be conscripted into the army as a way to secure independence, even at the price of slavery. The Cleburne proposal intrigued the President, but an horrified Davis convinced him to refuse it and “smother” all talk of Black recruitment. This time Breckinridge deferred to Davis’ opinion, though the Cleburne proposal and the explosive issued of Black conscription would arise again.

Adding to Southern woes was the failure of Confederate foreign policy. In the aftermath of Union Mills, Henry Adams had joyously written that "The disasters of the rebels are unredeemed by even any hope of success . . . It is now conceded that all idea of intervention is at an end." Adams was right; never again would the prospect of foreign intervention appear, but previous to the battle the prospects for intervention had seemed so bright. John Bull overlooked the building of Confederate blockade runners in Liverpool, and foreign agents like Henry Hotze seemed successful “in stirring up British prejudices against the bumptious Yankees”. As Lee and his rebels achieved outstanding victories in the beginning of 1863 and the “cotton famine” started to affect British laborers, for a moment there seemed to be an irresistible momentum towards Confederate recognition.

However, the class that was most affected by the “famine” was also curiously the most opposed to the Confederacy. "The Lancashire operatives class," wrote a frustrated Hotze, “continues actively inimical to us. . . . With them the unreasoning . . . aversion to our institutions is as firmly rooted as in any part of New England. . . . They look upon us, and . . . upon slavery as the author and source of their present miseries." The great mass of British laborers and the radical politicians, it was clear, identified with the Union cause. Lincoln had skillfully portrayed the American struggle as one for “maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men . . . to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life.” These objectives were dear to British workers who saw in the British aristocracy and the Confederate slavocracy twin enemies of progress and human rights. So said the British radical John Bright, who pronounced the Confederates “the worst foes of freedom that the world has ever seen”.

Still, the aristocracy was far more influential in the government, and they were firmly arrayed against the Union and its dangerous democracy. They talked gleefully of "the failure of republican institutions in time of pressure” and predicted “the establishment of an aristocracy in America”. The Times, a paper closely aligned with Lord Palmerston, went as far as saying “good riddance!” to the fall of the “American colossus.” “Excepting a few gentlemen of republican tendencies, we all expect, we nearly all wish, success to the Confederate cause”, said the prominent newspaper. Punch magazine, in previous years a progressive voice, now gleefully published cartoons that showed Abe Lincoln thrust against the ropes by the boxer Johnny Breck, and of King George III mocking Washington and his “perfect republic”. For a while, it seemed like even Old Pam’s reluctance would be overcome.

"John Breckinridge and other leaders of the South," said Gladstone in a speech in early 1863, "have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either; they have made a nation." But the Confederacy was a slaveholding nation, and that reality hung around its neck like a heavy albatross. As McPherson says, “To support a rebellion in behalf of slavery would be un-British. . . . But so long as the North did not fight for freedom, many Britons could see no moral superiority in the Union cause.” Consequently, friendly radicals advised the North to abolish slavery if they wanted to prevent intervention. Lincoln did just that in the Fourth of July, 1862. That, together with the Confederate defeats that followed, killed intervention momentarily.


Punch Magazine followed closely the Civil War, though often it portrayed an anti-Union point of view

But the Peninsula revived it, and when Lee advanced North he did so with the understanding that a victory could secure recognition and independence. It was at this crucible that Napoleon III revealed his machinations. France had been trying to expand its Empire through an intervention in Mexico, and the French Emperor thought that a Confederate alliance would be beneficial. But he was reluctant to move without British approval, and the British chaffed when it seemed like the frogs wanted to dictate their foreign policy. Still, after analyzing the Union defeats at the Peninsula and Manassas, Palmerston stated that “it seems not altogether unlikely that still greater disasters await them, and that even Baltimore or Philadelphia may fall into the hands of the Confederates. If this should happen, would it not be time for us to consider whether . . . England and France might not address the contending parties and recommend an arrangement upon the basis of separation?"

Britain and France watched with batted breath for news of the Pennsylvania Campaign. The first reports of a great Confederate victory at Frederick seemed to confirm recognition. Confederate envoys cheered and Henry Adams despaired as Russia, France and Britain prepared to extend an offer of mediation to the North (one which Lincoln would have surely rejected). Then, news came of Union Mills and the catastrophic Confederate defeat. The tune of the European statesmen immediately changed, and Palmerston refused to intervene, bluntly stating that the Confederacy had not proven its independence as he had required previously. Union Mills closed the possibility of recognition once and for all, and John Bull now took measures to stop the building of blockade runners for the South.

Though the failure of foreign diplomacy certainly added to rebel despondency, the greatest factor remained the terrible economic situation and the hardship the Southern population had to endure. Victories in the field had briefly stabilized the government’s credit, but it plummeted again after Union Mills. By July, 1863, John Jones declared that "the shadow of the gaunt form of famine is upon us.” Much anger was heaped against “speculators” of, it was said, primarily Jewish extraction that took advantage of the desperate. But the real culprit was the war, with its devastation of fields, destruction of transportation and ruinous inflation. The food bill, the Richmond Dispatch calculated, had “climbed from about $6.65 per month at the time of secession to $68 by early 1863”, and people in the countryside faced starvation. “Plase of giveing us aney thing to eat”, supplicated a desperate woman to Governor Vance. “I have 6 little children and my husband in the armey and what am I to do?"

Further aggravating the situation, and the dangerous alienation of yeomen families, was the policy of "impressment" the Confederacy had been forced to adopt. The temporary seizing of property, which included foodstuffs, wagons and even slaves, was often necessary due to the sorry state of Southern logistics. But the process was "arbitrary and insufficient" during the first two years of the war, when Confederate commanders impressed goods at their own discretion, generally under the authority of state laws, and often without leaving any kind of receipt or note. By middle 1863, the Congress sought to regulate the process and correct its worst abuses through a comprehensive law. The resulting legislation was meant to repay the property owners, but it also tried to "suppress attempts to evade or resist it" and "still worse, payment would be made in Confederate currency", whose value continued to plummet, the fall becoming even more precipitous after the disaster of the summer of 1863.

To be sure, Breckinridge, both for political advantage and genuine concern, sought to prevent the impressment of the property of the poor yeomen who already had very little. This was oftentimes honored on the breach, meaning that desperate, almost starving citizens could have their last supplies seized by the Confederate soldiers meant to protect them. A desperate Mississippi woman told the tale of how Grant's soldiers had taken almost all of her flour - and then Cleburne's came and took the rest. Even in areas away from the main theaters of war, impressment could push people to the brink. A resident of Calhoun County, Florida, for instance complained to his Governor of how "there are soldiers' families in my neighborhood that the last head of cattle have been taken from them and drove off, and they left to starve." Some herculean efforts at Food Relief did not amount to much when, as one woman complained, "what one soldier gives a miserable thief of the same regiment then takes".


Slaves forced to work on a Confederate position

By late 1863, the Richmond Enquirer was reporting that "We often hear persons say, 'The Yankees cannot do us any more harm than our own soldiers have done.'" Assistant Secretary of War James A. Seddon admitted that impressment was "a harsh, unequal and odious mode of supply", made all the more distasteful because of the widespread resistance of the planter class to it. Believing that the central government had no constitutional authority to take their property, the planter aristocracy was the most bitterly opposed to the measure, even as they were also less affected by it. They candidly declared that "they will allow their fodder to rot in the field" rather than allow the Army to seize it. Without a single shred of irony, planter James H. Hammond said that heeding a request for his maize would be "branding on my forehead 'slave'". A furious Alabaman observed how, at the start of the war, "every man was ready & willing, nay, anxious, to make every sacrifice for the good of the cause" but "now Selfishness & greed of gain has taken possession of a large portion of our people".

Part of this resistance came from the fact that in addition to grain and cattle the Army could also impress "a species of property . . . the confiscation of which is more injurious to pride, right and law than any other" - that is, enslaved people. Requisitions of slaves by the Army had been going on before the Congress enacted the Impressment law, which, labeling slaves as just another kind of property, permitted officers to impress them as well. But planters categorically refused. General Pillow found this when he asked Huntsville planters to rent him slaves. The General reminded the slaveholders that by heeding his call they would be "advancing your own interest by preserving your property and aiding the army to protect the homes and property of the owner", instead of leaving all at the mercy of the Yankee invaders. But planters were not convinced, such as Catherine Edmondston, who likened the impressment of slaves to abolition, or a Texan who swore that these requests "would not be obeyed except at the point of the bayonet."

This meant that the brunt of sacrifice and sufferings were bore by an increasingly disillusioned, angry and desperate poor population. Southern disaffection finally exploded into “bread riots” in several cities in the Confederacy. Mobs formed mostly out of women in several cities broke into shops and attacked speculators in order to get bacon and flour. The “largest and most momentous riot occurred in Richmond”. Virginia’s desolated farms were not capable of feeding the swollen city population and Lee’s Army, creating the conditions under which a thousand people mob assembled to demand bread. "Our children are starving while the rich roll in wealth”, they cried as they broke into stores. Militia, doubtlessly including husbands and brothers of the rioters, failed to contain them. It seemed the riots would end in a Southern Month of Blood.

That’s when President Breckinridge arrived at the scene. Gaunt, thin, with tired eyes that spoke of many sleepless nights, the President climbed into a wagon and called for the mob to disperse so that “the bayonets can be turned against the real enemy”. The mob booed him, a young girl pointing to her skeletal arm and saying that they had the right to “take a little bread after you took all our men.” Breckinridge then pulled up his own sleeves, showing his own thin arm, little more than bone and skin. The crow gasped, surprised. “I ask of you no sacrifices except those I am willing to take myself. I won’t leave you alone, I will do all in my power to protect you and give you what you need. But please, don’t let this end in bloodshed.” The President’s pleads worked, and the crowd dispersed. The government then opened its rice and beef stores, and a Food Relief Administration was created to alleviate the problems the South faced, though it was never capable of solving them.


The Bread Riots were, until the end of the war, the most surprising demostration of Southern dissafection

Breckenridge had managed to prevent the Bread Riots from ending in a gory massacre, and his capable administration kept the Confederacy from disintegrating after the catastrophic Union Mills defeat. His actions furthermore hallowed him as the great defender of the poor against the arrogant aristocracy that sought to starve and abandon them. But not even Breckenridge was capable of rescuing the sagging civilian morale, defeat Unionist insurgencies or arresting the political polarization that threatened to fatally divide the Confederacy. With elections approaching, a growing peace movement, and the start of a renewed campaign for Vicksburg, the end was in sight for many Confederates.
Last edited:
While Lincoln would never go for it, one has to wonder what a South that sacrificed slavery for independence would look like. Would they try to preserve slavery in all but name, or deport their blacks to avoid a revolt?
While Lincoln would never go for it, one has to wonder what a South that sacrificed slavery for independence would look like. Would they try to preserve slavery in all but name, or deport their blacks to avoid a revolt?
I would say the latter, it has historical precedence and I think it makes more sense. It is cheaper, and lets the South retain its cheap manpower pool to an extent.

Edit: I meant former
Last edited:
I would say the latter, it has historical precedence and I think it makes more sense. It is cheaper, and lets the South retain its cheap manpower pool to an extent.
The American Colonization Society never got much of anywhere IOTL, with one big reason being the huge cost. Moving the freedmen west (instead of across the ocean) would help with that if somewhere like Texas is willing to donate land, but even so, the planters would probably be upset to lose their labor force and have to totally revamp their plantations.