Saturday, January 5, 2013

Swallowing the Dog

One of the most frustrating things about playing sports - or even being a sports fan - is admitting when you get beat soundly. Whether the team that beat yours wasn't really that good, or whether your team really never had a chance to win, admitting defeat is tough to do. Similar but much graver consequences come with war.

When the various commanders of Confederate armies capitulated in the spring of 1865, many of the soldiers were left with little other choice than to "swallow the dog," as they called it, which involved taking the oath of allegiance to the United States. To those Southerners who went to war proclaiming that each Confederate soldier would "whip 20 Yankees with a cornstalk" the reality turned out to be about as tasty as eating man's best friend.

In order for former Confederates to return to any sense of normalcy and participate in the basic activities of life such as voting, contracting work, getting released from a prisoner of war camp, receiving government rations, or even getting married, they were required to verbally renounce their support for the Confederacy and pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States. They were then often provided with documentation of their oath that they could provide to anyone that may question their allegiance.

And, along with the pledge to support the Constitution these documents, like the one above, also made sure the oath taker understood the changes the war had wrought. Included in this document is the statement "and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion, with reference to the emancipation of slaves."

Some Confederates initially refused to swallow the dog. The taste was just too bad. Honor, being what it was to most Southern men, made it doubly troubling. But often necessity, and as this account shows, the soldier's family's strident persuasion won out. Writing to her brother in a prisoner of war camp and advising to go ahead and take the oath, a sister explained:

"Do not again refuse when the opportunity presents itself. God judge me if I do wrong in writing thus to you. If you have suffered, believe me it has cost your sister no little pain to do that which I would rather have died then done twelve months ago! Let you act as you may, you will command the respect of your friends. Your character is too well established to be assailed after four years of strict adherence to duty, should you deem it advisable to bury all hopes and become a good 'citizen' of the United States of America. A man of sense ought to yield everything for duty's sake, and 'obey the powers that be.' Don't imagine the those who love you so dearly will ever blush for your conforming to unavoidable circumstances. Come home, then, my darling, for home needs you as well as you need it."
From - The Day Dixie Died: Southern Occupation, 1865-1866, by Thomas and Debra Goodrich

Top document courtesy of the National Archives

Bottom image "Grant's Campaign - administering the oath of allegiance to Rebel prisoners near Dutch Gap [Virginia] and taken from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper October 1, 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


  1. There are ALWAYS consequences to war, both in winning, and especially in losing.

    The American Civil War cannot be viewed, and judged, as one may view what happened to the Native Americans. From the early Europeans who decided to take what they could, that war continued towards Natives well into the official establishment of the United States of America.

    The Native's losing that war is nothing like the Confederate south losing the Civil War. For the Natives, that war was brought to them by people who believed that they could and should take what the New World offered, with many believing they had a "divine right" and destiny to do so. The Natives thus suffered losses in a war that they did not start nor want.

    With the US Civil War, the Confederate south knew exactly what they were doing, and what they wanted. And what they wanted was another government. They wanted another government because the existing government of the USA, and the Americans who voted it the into office, agreed and decided that slavery would no longer be legal nor acceptable in the United States of America.

    The southern states that had wealth and prosperity, mostly based on slave labor, could not accept and not abide a lack of slavery. Why? Because they knew their wealth and economies would have to change if they had to actually hire and pay for the labor they now owned and controlled.

    The Civil War was about a country that needed and wanted to evolve and bring into reality what the US Constitution claimed as the basis for the creation and existence of the country. That being that ALL men and women are to be equal under the law, and equal citizens of the country. The country, the people, had evolved their thinking and beliefs about what the Constitution stated about "All men", and how that could or couldn't be reconciled by viewing non-white, enslaved Americans as only being 3/5 of a person, or not at all an actual person, human being.

  2. Continued..

    The Confederate south decided that their "heritage" of white superiority and slavery needed to be maintained. When the country, through President Lincoln, deciding that slavery was no longer wanted, nor accepted, the south became a confederation of people and states who were not going to give up their superiority and their want of slavery to continue. That is why the Civil War happened.

    The US government of the time did not start the Civil War. The Confederate southern states and their leaders, and their people, started the Civil War. They believed that they could force the US government, and the majority of non Confederate American citizens, to abide the wants and demands of the Confederate south, who now declared themselves a separate nation with their own President.

    The Confederates wanted to destroy the country that they were a part of, and had prospered by being a part of. And now, their want of supremacy and slavery is what they choose to fight for.

    All of the death and destruction across the country at that time, happened because of and due to the Confederate demands and wants to either control the whole country of the USA, or to tear it apart so that the Confederates could secede from the USA.

    The Confederate south lost the war, thankfully. And what those southern states felt was punishment after the war, was actually not enough, as those states decided to keep the war going even after the official end of it. When you lose a war that you started, and that war results in massive numbers of deaths, and immense national destruction, then you should and need to suffer the consequences and take the blame, so that you understand that what you did is not acceptable.

    Instead, the southern states continued to be defiant and violent, taking out their anger on newly freed Black Americans. From that continual guerilla war our country got the Klu Klux Klan, and the racism and hate that continued to tear at our country all the way to our modern time.

    The whole romanticization of "Southern Heritage", and "Southern Pride", is nothing more than people creating pro Confederate propaganda, believing that the "cause" was just and true, even though the war was lost. In other words, the south that created the war, and the death, and the destruction, continued to it in more discreet and dark ways. And if they could, they would start the war all over again, because they never accepted their human failing at humanity, and the loss of their war. The Confederate south did not suffer enough for what they did. That lack is why we continue to deal with and fight against the now inherent hate, white supremacy, and racism, to this day. That needs to, and must stop, so that our country can finally heal the destruction and damage done to our country and to all of us living now and those who are yet to live.