Post-War Devastation

We associate photos like this one with the devastation of post-war Europe.

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In fact, this is a post-war photo, but it is of Charleston, South Carolina after the Civil War.   We seldom think of such scenes as being relevent to the US, but the South was at least as destroyed after the Civil War as Germany was after WWII.   Sherman's march to the sea in Georgia was famous for its devastation, but in their letters, many of Sherman's soldiers say they were particularly ferocious in South Carolina, the state that they most associated with the war and its start  (though much of the devastation in Charleston was self-inflicted, as a fire to burn the remaining cotton and keep it out of Yankee hands spread to the rest of the city).

Full sized image at Shorpy

  • artemis

    I live in the South. Our infrastructure was wrecked by the war, and many of our natural resources were stripped for the "war reparations" popular at the time. Moderate estimates are that the economy took 100 years to recover, and we still lag behind. For instance, furniture grade timber is unheard of in the south, because timber cutters strip cut so much to during the gutting that happened after the war. And people wonder why many Southerners are still angry... especially when every attempt is made to blame southern poverty on our character instead of the many trade protections New England enjoys even to this day.

    This is only made that much more chaffing by the people who falsely put 100% of the cause on slavery (read history and the fact that South Carolina almost seceded 10 years earlier). The primary cause was over protectionist tariffs for Northern industry which drove goods necessary for the South (for agriculture) out of the price range where the south could afford them (cheaper goods were imported from europe prior to tariffing)... essentially forcing continued dependence on slavery by reducing access to the equipment necessary to begin the process of leaving slavery behind.

    Wait... a section of the country using a majority to force in financially lucrative laws for one group at the expense of another. Does this sound familiar anyone?

    By ignoring the actual causes of the Civil War, we hide the important lessons that could have been learned from it. If you force your citizens to choose between revolt and being forced into poverty to support other groups, bad things happen.

  • Buddy Y.

    The destruction of Charleston, SC can not be attributed to Sherman's army. When Sherman marched his army through South Carolina they didn't go through Charleston. It was mostly caused by bombardment from the Union army's positions along the coast.

  • Anonymous Mike

    Artermis,

    I will leave aside your arguments supporting the linkage between the tariff and the necessity of southern slaveholders to maintain their inhumane treatment of black human beings in order to support their way of life. I will also leave aside for the time being the argument that until the development of such tools as the cotton gin, that slavery was viewed as an unprofitable and therefore dying economic institution.

    I will also leave aside any possible analogy between the inability of southern slaveholders to grow cotton without engaging in slavery and say free-hold farmers of the western Union states who were able to sustain themselves without engaging in that infernal practice despite living under those tariff laws. My guess is that many of those farmers filled out the regiments in Sherman's army that wrecked such detestation in Georgia and South Carolina

    I will also leave aside your comment linking the war-time destruction on the South to the 100 years it took for the region recovery though I have to wonder given the equal flattening Germany and Japan suffered during World War II and their recovery in a period of a few decades if culture has a role to play.... and the fact that the South wasted the human capital of its black citizens for most of those 100 years

    Instead I will focus on your comment "Wait… a section of the country using a majority to force in financially lucrative laws for one group at the expense of another. Does this sound familiar anyone?"

    Are you trying to analogize southern slaveholders having to live under the tariff with the institution of slavery that they themselves practiced? If so then there are whole fields of historical research waiting to be done of how southern slave holders were brutally kept at their jobs growing cotton with slave labor. I guess I missed that Harriet Beecher Stowe sequel that had southern plantation owners dreaming of Canada and freedom.

    As the Georgia side of my family says.... "thank be to the Almighty we didn't win."

  • Link

    I second Anonymous Mike and add the following:

    Had the US not expanded westward the uneasy compromises over slavery might have continued -- I doubt that we would have had had anything as extreme as the Civil War. As it was, the Civil War was primarily a fight over the West and by extension -- a fight over who would control the future. Lincoln saw this -- it's what brought him out of political retirement. Lincoln was allied with the railroads -- which were the most dusruptive and progressive force of the time.

    Lincoln was a firm believer in law and process. Had the South not seceded he wouldn't have tried to affect slavery in the South, but he would have done everything he could to stop its spread to the West. Instead, the South picked the fight with South Carolina in the vanguard as Beauregard shelled Fort Sumter until it surrendered.

    My wife's family is from the South. There's many fine things about it and its people, but many folks from the South still have their heads up their ass. It's a contributing factor to why the Republican party has ceased to be an effective national party.

  • ADiff

    Artemis,

    As a Southerner, and a long-time resident of South Carolina (and graduate of the University of South Carolina) as well as a student of history, I am as convinced as it's possible to be that the only proximate cause of the Civil War was secession. And the only proximate cause of secession was Slavery, or more precisely fears on the part of the wealthiest and most politically influential members of Southern society that special immunities and protections would be withdrawn from the institution. It was widely understood the institution could not endure without such active protection. There were numerous other areas of conflict between the regions, yes. But it's examining all others it very difficult to believe any besides slavery were not amenable to compromise. And of these most were ancillary of that institution at some level or other. The participants of the various secession conventions, and the proceedings of the various bodies convened to organize governments following secession make it explicitly clear that the primary reason for secession was the protection and perpetuation of the "peculiar institution". Across much of the South there was little, if any, economic impact from actual combat, however pervasive such was in certain areas. But in one regard at least the war was truly devastating: the loss of human life and disorganization of social institutions around which it was organized. As destructive as the War was, it's damage actually may have been far less pervasive than that inflicted upon the South by it's self in (successful) attempt to re-establish apartheid at the end of re-construction. The long-term damage inflicted by institutional racialist policies constructed between the 1870s through their triumph in the second two decades of the 20th Century was combinant with the political damage of the general acceptance of state governance by terrorism with which the 'Redeemer' governments gained power. There may not have been any practical alternative to this tragedy, but that doesn't make it any less tragic for being, perhaps, unavoidable.

  • ADiff

    My dear Artemis,

    As a Southerner, and a long-time resident of South Carolina (and graduate of the University of South Carolina) as well as a student of history, I am as convinced as it's possible to be that the only proximate cause of the Civil War was secession. And the only proximate cause of secession was Slavery, or more precisely fears on the part of the wealthiest and most politically influential members of Southern society that special immunities and protections would be withdrawn from the institution.

    It was widely understood the institution could not endure without such active protection. There were numerous other areas of conflict between the regions, yes. But it's examining all others it very difficult to believe any besides slavery were not amenable to compromise. And of these most were ancillary of that institution at some level or other. The participants of the various secession conventions, and the proceedings of the various bodies convened to organize governments following secession make it explicitly clear that the primary reason for secession was the protection and perpetuation of the "peculiar institution".

    Across much of the South there was little, if any, economic impact from actual combat, however pervasive such was in certain areas. But in one regard at least the war was truly devastating: the loss of human life and disorganization of social institutions around which it was organized. As destructive as the War was, it's damage actually may have been far less pervasive than that inflicted upon the South by it's self in (successful) attempt to re-establish apartheid at the end of re-construction. The long-term damage inflicted by institutional racialist policies constructed between the 1870s through their triumph in the second two decades of the 20th Century was recombinant with the political damage of the general acceptance of state governance by terrorism with which the 'Redeemer' governments gained power. There may not have been any practical alternative to this tragedy, but that doesn't make it any less tragic for being, perhaps, unavoidable.

  • Roy

    The four posts above do not necessarily mutually exclude one another.

    Nothing Artemis wrote demands that one conclude he presented a brief for race based perpetual slavery.

    While I could be wrong, I expect Artemis would join me in rejecting that as shameful and evil. He, like I, would probably both refuse continuing its practice and even oppose its continuation. Even if that refusal and opposition came at the expense of great sacrifice.

    However, demanding that folks in the antebellum South think that way else one can dismiss the other factors effecting their choices fails to learn from history. That, btw, is the point of Artemis' last two sentences.

    As a matter of historical record (ie, the recorded words of the people at the time rather than what folks said later) neither North nor South considered slavery as the *causis belli*. Instead, both groups focused on what controls a central government would exert. The intertwined slavery issue often conceals that reality.

    What resulted regarding that *causis belli*? 1865 set the course for not only the outlawing of slavery. It also determined the inevitablity of FDR's alphabet agencies, Johnson's Great Society welfare expansion, and Obama's twin pronged attack (industry, health care).

    In our (correct) zeal rejecting race based perpetual slavery, let us not miss the rest of the story.

  • Roy

    Anon Mike,
    Post civil war South did not receive infusions of capital from the North, but endured both reparations and forced restructuring. Better than your comparison with post WWII, with its Marshall plan for Europe and the benign dictatorship of MacArthur for Japan, think on post WWI and Versaille, with the reparations demanded of Germany. Without defending Hitler's evil, one can recognize that Versaille brought the Nazis.

    As for the "wasted black capital": you might meditate for a while on how what the North implemented in the South ended up destroying the structure of the Black family and finally developed into the welfare state's absent father perversions of the 20th C. Thomas Sowell has plenty of useful data for you to chew on.

    Should we not learn from that sequence, which took 100 plus years to solidify?

  • Michael Miller

    This photo could have been taken in any big city in the US back in the 60's.

    But all that was in a way related to the War Between the States too. A residual effect.

    The damage done to the country by that war was horrific. But the greatest damage done has not yet been healed. That was the damage done to the Constitution itself. The loss of States Rights is what has opened the evil door to statism.

    And fixing the problem may take another civil war.

  • Technomad

    That picture looks a lot more like Columbia, SC, to me. Charlestown wasn't burned to the ground; Columbia was.

    As far as the South's sufferings go, my response is "don't let your mouth write checks your a$$ can't cash." They'd been pushing and pushing for a long time, and finally pushed too far.

  • Ron H.

    This is a very interesting discussion of the causes of the Civil War, but no one has mentioned that military action by the Union against the Confederacy was an illegal act of aggression.

    Most politicians at the time agreed with the right of secession. When the US Constitution was ratified by the states, Virginia included the following "buyer's remorse" clause:

    "The powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression."

    Several other states included similar provisions in their ratification. As no state should have more rights than any other, this was assumed to apply to all states.

    See what Walter Williams has to say about it here:

    http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=1543

  • ADiff

    Technomad,

    It's Charleston all right....Meeting Street in front of the (at that time ruined) Circular Church facing toward what I believe is St. Matthew's Lutheran Church. The damage in Charleston, especially right around 'The Battery' from naval and land shelling was extensive. Note the surface of the street in the foreground...this is one of the older streets in Charleston, paved with ballast stones from ships.

    Columbia was badly damaged by fire, but only about a third of the city was destroyed.

    Of course Columbia wasn't shelled for the better part of 4 years with some of the largest caliber artillery then in existence either.

  • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo (from downunder)

    The suggestion that trade policy mattered so much that it was worth fighting over is frankly risible. The South had dominated the Presidency essentially until the election of Lincoln in 1865, it had lost control of the House years before and had recently lost control of the Senate. Its own political domination it regarded as acceptable, Northern political domination not so.

    Why this mattered is because there was a strong Northern push to abolish slavery: part humanitarian, part political calculation to redirect Northern worker anti-immigration angst away from the political dead-end of nativism, and part claim over Western resources. Slaves represented about one-third of the total capital of the South. Anything that put that at risk was worth fighting over. Especially as the abolition of slavery would have also massively devalued the votes of white Southerners generally and undermined their incomes (due to direct labour and other competition). That was also worth fighting over.

    Trade policy simply represented a point of argument over much larger differences. Coming from a country which hobbled itself with daft protectionism for 70 years, let me assure you protectionism is noxious, but it is not that noxious.

    Yes, the loss devastated the South: even apart from direct war damage. First, because a third of its capital was liquidated overnight, in the only mass confiscation from whites in US history. Second, it was forced to pay for Northern war pensions. Third, because keeping the whites on top meant resources were expended keeping the blacks down and use/development of their skills was minimised. As Thomas Sowell himself has pointed out, it hardly seems accidental that the economic renaissance of the South took off just as the Civil Rights Acts were passed and resources were no longer being doubly wasted in that way.

    The Civil War simply would not have happened without slavery.

    Which was, of course, the great contradiction in a country created in a Revolution which supported both property rights and general liberty but had these property rights based on the most absolute denial of liberty. (Hence anti-slave Tory Dr Johnson's comment "why are the loudest yips for liberty heard from the drivers of the Negroes?": settler irritation over Crown insistence on keeping the treaties with the natives was a factor in the Revolution too, just as it was a factor in Northern calculations in the lead up to the Civil War, from which Amerindians were--again--big losers.)

  • ADiff

    Artemis,

    I am as convinced as it's possible to be that the only proximate cause of the Civil War was secession. And the only proximate cause of secession was Slavery, or more precisely fears on the part of the wealthiest and most politically influential members of Southern society that special immunities and protections would be withdrawn from the institution. It was widely understood the institution could not endure without such active protection. There were numerous other areas of conflict between the regions, yes. But it's examining all others it very difficult to believe any besides slavery were not amenable to compromise. And of these most were ancillary of that institution at some level or other. The participants of the various secession conventions, and the proceedings of the various bodies convened to organize governments following secession make it explicitly clear that the primary reason for secession was the protection and perpetuation of the "peculiar institution". Across much of the South there was little, if any, economic impact from actual combat, however pervasive such was in certain areas. But in one regard at least the war was truly devastating: the loss of human life and disorganization of social institutions around which it was organized. As destructive as the War was, it's damage actually may have been far less pervasive than that inflicted upon the South by it's self in (successful) attempt to re-establish apartheid at the end of re-construction. The long-term damage inflicted by institutional racialist policies constructed between the 1870s through their triumph in the second two decades of the 20th Century was recombinant with the political damage of the general acceptance of state governance by terrorism with which the 'Redeemer' governments gained power. There may not have been any practical alternative to this tragedy, but that doesn't make it any less tragic for being, perhaps, unavoidable.

    Ron, I'd say the treatment of several coherent secessionist regions within Confederate States by those very States, as well as their institution of conscription, made it pretty clear their legalisms were (as these usually are) more than a bit self-serving rhetoric. At any rate it's pretty clear there was wide disagreement on the topic of the legality of secession. Popularity assertions are as vain today as they were then. But it's very clear which opinion prevailed. Laws cannot be made by governments which cannot survive. If rights depend on separatist successes, then rights are not in jeopardy, they're doomed. There were no rights the South asserted in separation that could not have been much more surely secured Constitutionally. Resort to extra-legal action, whether one calls it Rebellion or Revolution, only encouraged the erosion of individual rights in the emergency such created. How much longer would institutions such as a draft, and income tax and the provisions of the 14th Amendment have taken without the exigencies occasioned by resort to war, war made inevitable by secession alone?

  • Anonymous Mike

    Roy,

    I find your argument a useful addition but simplistic

    First, the rise of extremism due to to Versailles does not necessarily lead to the rise of the Nazis anymore than the rise of extremism in the post-Civil War south would lead to something out of a Harry Turtledove novel. Much has been written about how things might have turned out differently if Lincoln had lived.

    Even if there was a kinder, gentler approach to the post-war South would have the conversion of that region been any faster? The key term here is "conversion" and not "reconstruction" because prior to the Civil War there was very little in the way of industrialization in the South and so very little of ante-bellum industry to rebuild after the War. Barrington Moore and other scholars have pointed out the the economy (and society) of the ante-bellum South had more in common with those areas of Europe that experienced feudalism than with the northern states. With the destruction of the economic underpinnings of that society with the end of slavery and the consequent reaction by southern elites to Reconstruction, you had a cultural reaction to industrialization that was at least as strong as any detrimental actions by northern interests and entirely under control of the south.

    As with many problems with societies and individuals, many of the the root causes and the best solutions lie with those who suffer the problems. The speed of modernization of southern society was retarded in part by the "Northern man" keeping them down, but was equally and perhaps more retarded by the persistence of ante-bellum cultural attitudes into the 20th Century and reactionary elements responding both to the loss of the Civil War and keeping the black man down.

    You cited Hitler, I'll give you 2 more apt examples of the path the South could have taken. Post-Decatur Japan and post-Franco-Prussian War France; both societies suffered severe cultural shocks and suffered huge obstacles - Japan in industrializing from a feudal society and France getting from out from under huge post-war reparations. Both by the 1900s had shown huge advances against huge obstacles because they were focused on moving forward. I don't see that in the post-war South, if anything I see considerable energy expended in reaction.

    Unlike other commentators, I like the South. I have family there and I have interviewed for jobs there that I would have dearly like to have gotten. However my attitudes stem from the era I grew up in when the region had already started to move from 100 years of self-destructive attitudes

    For those who want to play the South as a victim, I give you 3 responses:

    1) Don't start wars

    2) If you do start wars, make sure you don't lose

    3) Make sure if you lose that you do everything in your power to better your position before you start blaming others for your problems

  • Anonymous Mike

    In regard to the other comments about states rights and the Civil War leading to statism....

    While the North winning the Civil War settled the argument of whether the term "The United States" would be singular or plural and therefore removed obstacle to any sort of future statism, I don't think you can draw a direct causal link given the history of the next 40 years of limited government and I say 40 years instead of 50 because I am not quite sure how to digest Teddy Roosevelt's Progressivism which seems like weak tea (and somewhat reversed under Harding and Coolidge)when compared to FDR. What made the New Deal and the last 75 years of statism go was the introduction of the income tax which provided the fiscal architecture to fund statism and the experience of Wilson and WW I - many of whom went on to work in FDR's New Deal. I just find too many stops and reversals in the march of statism between 1865 and 1933 to draw a direct a causal link between the 2.

    States rights...

    There are 2 problems with the term "states rights"

    First is its historical usage. While there have been other debates over the power of the national government in pre Civil War America- such as the funding of internal improvements, tariff and nullification- the primary motor for the state rights concept has been seen as slavery and then in the ante-bellum South the place of blacks in that society. While not a professional historian, if I do remember correctly alot of the debate around constitutional ratification and in the 1790s revolved around the role of national government and slavery with southern states keenly interested in keeping the national government weak and isolated for just that reason. So the term "states rights" is a radioactive term and the basic concept of weakening national government should be rebranded

    Second, the term is not even useful in a libertarian sense except as a stalking horse to weaken national government as a prelude to weakening all forms of intrusive government. As mentioned above, "states rights" was a term misused by those in the South to in part deprive part of the citizenry of their civil rights. Warren often writes in these pages of the "Coke" and "Pepsi" parties and how they are indistinguishable, along the same lines what good is it to talk of "states rights" when state government is fully capable of acting as a vehicle of oppression.

    So how about we subsume "states rights" within the general concept of "subsidiarity"? That would at least push the horizon past state government and toward local government and ultimately the individual.

  • Not Sure

    "Warren often writes in these pages of the “Coke” and “Pepsi” parties and how they are indistinguishable, along the same lines what good is it to talk of “states rights” when state government is fully capable of acting as a vehicle of oppression." - Anonymous Mike

    Not intending on putting words in Warren's mouth, of course, but I believe the concept here is that "states rights" allows people to escape governmental oppression by relocating to states that are more to their liking, resulting in an encouragement for states losing population/business/etc. to reflect on their decisions and take appropriate remedial actions.

  • ADiff

    As a native of Virginia, born in the upper Valley, with ancestors who served in the A.N.V., and a graduate of the University of South Carolina and resident of both the South Carolina low country and Pee Dee, and long time student of Southern history, I have to remark that I'm rather impressed with Anonymous Mike's well considered and clear-eyed view of the South's historic misadventures and long-time developmental problems. It's an old adage that "those who don't want to overcome their own shortcomings find fault for them in others". And I'm very impressed with the view of "Lorenzo (from downunder)", it's fantastic to read such a well informed and sophisticated understanding of pre-War issues and their bases, great post!

    "By the way, that ain't 'the Confederate Flag', it's a battle flag of the A.N.V." - ADiff

  • ADiff

    Lorenzo,

    "Risible"! Perfect! ... perfect characterization, perfect word. Bon mot!

  • Michael Miller

    Anonymous Mike, I agree the term States Rights has negative connotations with many who are serious students of the history, but that for 98% of the American public today the term has no meaning at all. I believe that it might be useful in reviving the term, perhaps as you suggest as a stalking horse in divesting the Federal Government of its enormous power. Rebranding the concept should not be necessary, as few could tell you what the term means now. But, to take us back down the road to being free again will require the States to assume greater powers. I agree with you that the road to liberty will ultimately lead to the individual. Jefferson and Adams talk of this often in their letters. But the first step is to divest the Federal Government of the powers it has usurped. We need a concept to rally around. If States Rights won't do for a tag suggest another. Lets begin by talking at the national level about bringing decision making much closer to home. Let the States handle social security, medicare, welfare, health insurance, welfare etc. Each state will chart a different course, and I think that this is a good first step in the right direction. As things are heading we will only get more of the same. Coke or Pepsi. And more Government.

    How about a choice. And then more choices. Isn't freedom about choices? Lets start getting them. Get rid of the monster. Break it into 50 little ones. But that is just the first step. But, unless we take it things will never change.

  • http://lorenzo-thinkingoutaloud.blogspot.com/ Lorenzo (from downunder)

    ADiff: thanks for the appreciation. It comes from largely reading two books: Kevin Phillip's The Cousin's Wars and Robert Fogel's Without Consent or Contract (which I review here).

    Being a medievalist, I have developed an interest in the economics of slavery and serfdom. Apart from its relevance to that general topic, Fogel's book is simply indispensable for understanding the economics and politics of American slavery.

  • ADiff

    Lorenzo,

    At the risk of being pedantic, short of physical access to The South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., I highly recommend the following:

    - Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman

    ( This one must be read as straightforward econometric analysis, not social commentary, or one tends read too much
    into it, as did many of it vociferous critics when it was published. It simply makes a strong case for the
    proposition that in the years leading up to the Civil War, slavery, whatever its impacts on other areas of
    Southern society, was strictly within the areas of its employment, hugely and increasingly profitable. )

    - Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, Eric Foner ( I find this a fascinating exposition on the use of Terrorism as a political tool in our own history. )

    - Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction: Documents and Essays, Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor, Ed. ( An excellent source material based survey )

    and lastly a new book

    - The State of Jones, Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer ( 'Seecesh' wasn't by any means as universally popular in the
    South as often believed. We should remember just how 'un-representative' were the governments of the southern states prior to the Civil War. )

    If you haven't read these, then 'Enjoy!' (except the 1st, which though valuable is very much a 'slog'.)

  • GU

    "Lincoln was a firm believer in law and process."

    Lincoln unilaterally suspended the writ of habeas corpus, in direct contravention to both the U.S. Constitution and the common law. I believe he imprisoned thousands of people without trial (suspected Confederate sympathizers).

    I'm a yankee firmly on the side of the Union, but let's not forget Lincoln's lawlessness.

  • Link

    Response to GU,

    In times of war, all bets are off. Ask our Japanese citizens who got interred in WWII. Ironically, the Supreme Court blessed this at the time.

    Lincoln didn't start out wanting to be lawlessbut did we he did out of necessity. Compare Beauregard.

    ps "The War on Terror" isn't a real war for these purposes.

  • John

    General Sherman!!!!!! Destroy them Rebs!!!!