Update – New Site

Hey everybody,

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve posted on this site and, consequently, some of you might have been wondering what I’ve been up to. Well, let me alleviate your fears by informing you that I have not given up on blogging. However, I will be taking an extended (possibly permanent) break from blogging on this site

I’ve actually spent the past month or so working on a new site. It’s very politically focused and I’m excited to contribute to it. The site is called Natural Liberty and covers all sorts of topics from a liberty-minded, natural rights perspective. A couple of my old posts are already up there, and I will have more posts that will be published on this site in the future. I’m really excited about this new project and I hope that you’ll check it out.

(Also, you should follow and like this site on social media.)

Twitter: @natl_liberty

Facebook: www.facebook.com/natlliberty


Thanks for reading and have a great evening!


Jonathan Wright


The Origin of Government: Two Differing Perspectives


Have you ever wondered how government came to exist? Most of us tend to not consider the origin of government, since it has existed for our entire lives. While arguably not particularly important, opinions on the origin of government tend to bleed into one’s perception of the nature of government, thereby holding at least some measure of relevance. Given this information, let’s consider two starkly different perspectives on the origin of government.

Government as a Voluntary Association for the Protection of Property

Philosopher, John Locke attempted to justify the existence of government through his interpretation of its origin. In his mind, the only way that government could be justified in ruling over free individuals would be if those individuals consented to being governed. He writes:

“Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature. When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”

Thus, Locke argues that government formed based on the voluntary decisions of numerous individuals to compact together in community for the common good.

Government as a Coercive Association of Legalized Plunderers

Anthropologist, Robert L. Carneiro, disputes Locke’s narrative, saying, “We now know that no such compact was ever subscribed to by human groups… A close examination of history indicates that only coercive theory can account for the rise of the state.” Thinkers who align with Carneiro’s position would tend to have a much more skeptical view of the State and its potentially nefarious motives for coming into existence. Journalist, Richard J. Maybury, gives one potential explanation for the origin of government:

     “Historians and anthropologists have now located many examples of peaceful communities that had gangs of barbarians living nearby. Imagine one of our more violent gangs riding into town on horses, instead of motorcycles or cars, and you will have the picture.
     These barbarians were lazy and had little interest in work. Every few weeks they would ride into town, steal food, clothing, and whatever else they could carry, then ride back out. They would live off this stolen loot until it was gone, then ride back in and raid the town again.
     This would go on for many years until —
     One night, as the barbarians were sitting around their campfire planning their next attack, one complained, ‘You know, all this riding in and out of town fighting with people is beginning to feel like work. It isn’t fun anymore, there’s got to be a better way.’ 
     Another lamented, ‘ You’re right, in the last raid I lost an ear and two more fingers. I’m running out of parts.’
     This sorrowful discussion would continue until someone exclaimed, ‘I’ve got it! Let’s just ride into town and stay! We’ll put up a building in the middle of town and call it City Hall or State Capitol or some such thing, and we’ll use it as a hangout. We’ll take baths and shave and dress up in fine clothes like respectable businessmen. Then we’ll levy something we’ll call a tax.
     ‘We’ll tell the people — we’ll call them taxpayers — that as long as they pay this tax regularly, exactly as we tell them, with the right forms and everything, we won’t punish them. We’ll start the tax low so that they won’t feel it’s worth fighting over, and each year we’ll raise it a bit until we’re taking a sizable part of their incomes.’ 
     Another barbarian suggested, ‘Yes, and we could use some of the tax money to provide a few services, maybe streets, schools, and courts, so that the people will feel they’re getting something for their money.’
     And another added the final touches. ‘There are other gangs in this area. When they see how docile our taxpayers have become, they’ll try to ride in and take over. They’ll be shearing our sheep. We’ll need to provide police and an army to protect what’s ours. The taxpayers will love it — they’ll think we’re doing it for them.'”

In stark contrast to the Lockean perspective, Maybury argues that the State is merely an attempt to legitimize recurring plunder. Sociologist, Franz Oppenheimer, agreed with Maybury’s perspective, saying, “Everywhere, we find some warlike tribe of wild men breaking through the boundaries of some less warlike people, settling down as nobility and founding its State.”


Both these theories are interesting and have ramifications on how we interpret government actions. Which one do you think is a more realistic, legitimate explanation for the origin of government?


Please shoot me an email or leave a comment below with your opinion on which theory seems more believable. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

Hypothetical Outcomes at the Battle of Gettysburg (Part 4) – Jackson’s Genius


One truly fascinating hypothetical outcome that historians have pondered for years is: what would have happened at the Battle of Gettysburg if General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had been there. Stonewall Jackson, who previously taught at the Virginia Military Institute, possessed a brilliant military mind and almost certainly would have been able to alter the outcome at the Battle of Gettysburg. The measure of how exactly he would have been able to affect Gettysburg is directly tied to his innovative strategy and previous successful battles where he exemplified the benefits of this strategy. Jackson’s strategy involved a few key elements, one of which was his desire to preserve his manpower. “I would rather lose one man in marching,” explained Jackson, “than five in battle.” In this desire to conserve his fighting force, Jackson would prefer to face the dangers of terrain than an enemy army. Closely related to his desire to preserve manpower, Jackson also attempted to avoid Union strengths and attack them at their weakest points. Combining these two elements, Jackson often marched many miles out of the way, through tough terrain, in order to strike the enemy at their weakest point. To employ these tactics successfully Jackson had to move incredibly quickly. Describing his military philosophy, Jackson said, “to move swiftly, strike vigorously, and secure all the fruits of victory is the secret of successful war.” Jackson also explained that these elaborate marches were always intended to “mystify, mislead, and surprise” the enemy. He always wanted the enemy to be unsure of his intentions and to worry about his actions.

Lessons from the Shenandoah Valley Campaign

One series of battles that displays the successes of Jackson’s strategy is the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. During this campaign, Jackson was told to preserve the resources of the Shenandoah Valley against several large Union forces. In order to mislead the enemy, Jackson decided to march a great distance out of the sight of the enemy. Suddenly, his army had vanished and the Union leaders had no idea what he intended to do. While they were worrying about his potential objective, Jackson emerged near an isolated Union force, effectively negating their numerical advantage by focusing on a single group of troops. Following this deceptive march, Jackson successfully employed a flank attack to achieve an enormous victory. Later in this campaign, Jackson utilized another deceptive, fast-paced march, avoided a bloody confrontation and achieved terrific results. “Jackson’s Valley campaign,” says historian, James McPherson, “won renown and is still studied in military schools as an example of how speed and use of terrain can compensate for inferiority of numbers. Jackson’s army of 17,000 men had outmaneuvered three separate enemy forces with a combined strength of 33,000 and had won five battles … Jackson’s victories in the Valley created an aura of invincibility around him and his [men].” The Shenandoah Valley Campaign is just one example of Jackson’s successes. His greatest achievement came at the Battle of Chancellorsville where he and Lee worked together to achieve a stunning victory.

Lessons from the Battle of Chancellorsville

In the spring of 1863, the South was in a dangerous situation, as their forces were spread out and the Union armies were moving in. After observing many of the northern movements Jackson and Lee confided about how to proceed. Jackson suggested taking his entire corps (the majority of the Confederate troops) in a massive flanking attack. “This was a stunning proposal,” claims historian Bevin Alexander. “Jackson was not suggesting [a] modest turning movement … but rather a full-scale descent with the vast bulk of Confederate strength” on the Union flank. The actual maneuver was a massive success, with Jackson’s attack rolling up the Union flank and producing an important victory. Looking back at the entirety of the Civil War, Jackson’s flanking movement is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated tactical decisions. Unfortunately, near the end of Chancellorsville, Jackson was mortally wounded in a tragic accident and died soon afterward. So although the South was never able to replicate the success of Chancellorsville, this battle gives a believable blueprint of how Jackson and Lee might have functioned together in the future.

Jackson’s Potential Impact on the Battle of Gettysburg

Given Jackson’s strategy and methods, how could Jackson have helped at Gettysburg? From the beginning, Jackson would have most likely wanted to keep Stuart close. Jackson knew the importance of having scouts to detect the enemy movements and would probably have emphasized this fact to Lee. He probably would have also suggested moving on a major city, rather than Gettysburg in order to attain maximum damage to the Union industry and morale. If Lee ignored this point, then Jackson would have most likely opposed fighting at Gettysburg, given their minimal knowledge of the battlefield. Once Lee decided to fight at Gettysburg, Jackson would have wanted to stick with the proposed strategy and fight a defensive battle. Unlike Ewell, Jackson most likely would have been able to work with Lee’s vague orders and try to take the high ground on the first day. Knowing the value of avoiding the enemy’s strengths and attacking their weaknesses, Jackson probably would have echoed many of Longstreet’s suggestions and would have certainly opposed Pickett’s charge. It is hard to know if Lee would have listened to all or any of these suggestions. But Lee had seen Jackson’s work and trusted him, so it is likely that Jackson would have been able to alter the outcome at Gettysburg to some degree.


In dealing with hypotheticals nothing is certain. But had Lee listened to the advice he received, learned from past battles, or had Jackson survived, the South could have won Gettysburg. A victory at Gettysburg would have changed the outcome of the war, substantially weakening the Union army and providing an unhindered route to Washington D.C. So although winning at Gettysburg would not have necessarily clinched the war for the South, it would have been devastating for the North. But Lee ignored the advice he received, failed to learn from the past, and did not have Jackson by his side, so the South lost the battle and history was decided.


Thanks for reading this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.


For further reading check out:


[The cover image is of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson – http://www.civilwarphotos.net] 

Hypothetical Outcomes at the Battle of Gettysburg (Part 3) – Lee’s Experience


Lee had a strong personality. Professor and historian, Joseph Harsh notes, his leadership was characterized by a “pragmatic acceptance of the hand dealt him by fate,” allowing him to handle surprising problems and situations with calmness. He knew that the mathematics were against the South, so he could not afford to be inactive, but had to control the tempo of the war. Although he was an optimist, Lee also had a combative personality. A subordinate of his stated that “determination to strike the enemy” was one of Lee’s leading characteristics and that Lee “was the most aggressive man in his army.” This pragmatic, fatalistic, optimistic aggression definitely influenced Lee’s incredibly forceful tactics at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lee’s Previous Experience

Having served in the Mexican War, Lee’s background also may have affected his decisions in the Civil War and at the Battle of Gettysburg. Intrigued by this possiblity, Harsh asks, “how could [Lee] have not learned from his experiences in the Mexican War?” During the Mexican War, Lee guided the first assault on the Mexican fort during the American victory at the Battle of Chapultepec. So maybe this positive past experience with frontal assaults influenced Lee’s later decisions? If this is the case, then there is also a possibility that Lee ignored the changes in technology since the Mexican War. Between the Mexican War and the Civil War weaponry improved significantly with advancements in rifling and other armaments making frontal assaults much riskier and far less successful than they were before. Although it is hard to gauge the extent to which Lee’s character and background affected his tactics during the Civil War, they definitely played some part in his decision-making. But despite the potential impact of these character traits and background information, Lee could have altered the course of Gettysburg by learning from some of his previous experiences in the Civil War.

Lessons from the Seven Day’s Battle

During the course of the war, Lee fought a couple battles that offered instruction on how to handle future engagements. One such battle was the Seven Day’s battle of 1862, which bears some strong similarities to the Battle of Gettysburg. Throughout the Seven Day’s Battle Lee ordered numerous, unsuccessful frontal assaults. If he had looked back at the details of this encounter, he could have applied some of the experiences at the Seven Day’s Battle to the Battle of Gettysburg. During Lee’s first attack at the Seven Day’s Battle, there was a miscommunication and the attack did not go as planned. Once Lee realized that his planned attacks were not on schedule, instead of calling off the attack, Lee ordered it to go forward as intended. This first attack resulted in horrific casualties, with the South losing 1,500 men compared to the North’s 360. Similar to Gettysburg, the next attack was poorly coordinated. Lee misjudged both where the Union army was and how their leaders would react to his movements. However, eventually the disjointed Confederate attacks pushed the North back, but the South lost 8,000 men with the Union losing only 4,000. Lee’s third attack involved incredibly complicated plans, resulting in the South gaining just a small portion of ground. On the day the Confederates lost 3,500 men, twice as many as the North. This Seven Day’s campaign was characterized by battles where the South pushed the Union army back but lost far more men in the process. With the South’s astronomical numerical disadvantage, “victories” like this were unsustainable.

Lee’s series of frontal assaults came to a climax at the Battle of Malvern Hill, one of the many engagements during the Seven Day’s Battle. Similarly to Gettysburg, the Union army held a strong, elevated position, this one with deep ravines around it. And similarly to Gettysburg, Lee’s previous attacks had been unsuccessful, so he ordered a massive frontal assault on this hill. His subordinate and trusted ally, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson argued against this frontal attack and suggested a flanking movement, but Lee ordered the attack nonetheless. Like at Gettysburg Lee prefaced the assault with a cannon barrage, which, like at Gettysburg, failed miserably. Unlike at Gettysburg, however, Lee discovered that his artillery had been unsuccessful, but his communication was so unclear that the attacks took place anyway. The result of this unsupported assault was appalling, with the South losing 5,600 men, over twice as many as the North. Confederate Officer D.H. Hill, who participated in the assault said, “it was not war, it was murder.” Historians have noted the similarities between Pickett’s charge and Malvern Hill. Harsh points out that both battles “were attempts by Lee to bring an ongoing battle to successful closure. In both instances, he believed the time to achieve a crushing victory was rapidly expiring and that the Federal army was vulnerable. In each case, he misjudged both the weakness of the enemy and the capabilities of his own army.” Although Lee technically won the Seven Day’s Battle, it was too costly. This is why by the summer of 1863 the South was forced to adopt a defensive strategy. But as we have seen, Lee did not stick with this strategy. Also, he failed to remember the minute success rate of frontal assaults from the Seven Day’s Battle and apply this lesson to the Battle of Gettysburg.

[Don’t forget to check back next week for the fourth and final installment in this series on the Battle of Gettysburg.]


Thanks for reading this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.


For further reading check out:


[The cover image is of General Robert E. Lee – http://www.civilwarphotos.net] 

Hypothetical Outcomes at the Battle of Gettysburg (Part 2) – Longstreet’s Advice


Before the Lee even moved his troops north, General Longstreet tried to convince Lee to take a defensive strategy. Longstreet had seen the failure of assaulting strong, defensive positions and believed that defense lead to success. In practice he wanted the South to detect and seize formidable positions and then wait to be attacked. Longstreet later wrote about his proposed strategy, “Our numbers were less than the Federal forces, and our resources were limited while theirs were not. The time had come when it was imperative that the skills of generals and the strategy and tactics of war should take the place of muscle against muscle.” If the war came down to brute force and numbers, the South could never win. Other southern officers echoed Longstreet’s ideas and actually believed that Lee had agreed to such a strategy. Confederate Colonel, Walter H. Taylor, said that Lee’s plan was to “select a favorable time and place in which to receive the attack which his adversary would be compelled to make on him.” Lee’s secretary, Armistead L. Long, said that if the South could draw the northern troops away from Washington and defeat them on a chosen battlefield, they would achieve ultimate victory. Lee himself admitted, “it had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base unless attacked by the enemy.” Given the assumed intentions of all of these officers, including Lee, the strategies used at Gettysburg seem to contradict the South’s planned course of action at this point in the war. If Lee had maintained the original strategy, then the South might have been able to avoid defeat at Gettysburg.

Longstreet’s Advice for the First Day of Battle

Despite not following this early advice, Lee had the chance to remain consistent with the South’s overall strategy by listening to some of the suggestions that were given to him at the Battle of Gettysburg. At the end of the first day, after the Union secured the intimidating position at Cemetery Ridge, Longstreet tried to convince Lee to go around the Union flank and move on Washington D.C. He implored Lee, “All we have to do is to throw our army around by their left [that is to the south], and we shall interpose between the Federal army and Washington.” At this point the South could have easily dug in and waited for the Union army to attack. With the Confederate forces sitting between the Union army and Washington, Longstreet strongly believed that the northern troops would have to attack. And reiterating his confidence in a defensive strategy Longstreet stated, “when they attack, we shall beat them.” Showing his determination to destroy the enemy at all costs, Lee responded to Longstreet by pointing to Cemetery Ridge and saying, “the enemy is there, and I am going to attack him.” Longstreet insisted, “if he is there it will be because he is anxious that we should attack him; a good reason, in my judgment, for not doing so.”

Again, Longstreet asserted that the South should not attack, but should move to a defensive position and wait to be attacked. Fatalistically, Lee made up his mind, refusing Longstreet’s proposal and saying, “they are there in position, and I am going to whip them or they are going to whip me.” Lee should have listened to Longstreet. Union commander, General Meade later actually admitted that he was worried the South would follow Longstreet’s suggestion, calling it “sound military sense,” and noting that it “was a step [he] feared Lee would take.” Another Union general, Abner Doubleday, also confirmed the wisdom of Longstreet’s advice saying, “Lee could easily have maneuvered Meade out of the strong position on the heights and should have done so.” In his attempt to earn a decisive victory, Lee missed a unique opportunity to weed the Union army out of their strong position and fight on a more suitable battlefield or move on the Capitol.

Longstreet’s Advice for the Second Day of Battle

Early on the second day Longstreet again tried to convince Lee to move around the Union flank. Once again Lee rejected this advice and instead ordered Longstreet to lead an assault on the Union position. “Such a [flanking] move might actually draw [Lee] into a trap, “ says historian, Albert Marrin. “He would deal with the problem before him and not venture into the unknown.” Despite this explanation for Lee’s decision, there is no evidence to conclude that Meade was actually trying to trap Lee. Meade’s admission of worry, regarding Longstreet’s suggestion, indicates that this proposal could have been immensely successful. Once again Lee failed to capture the opportunity to fight a defensive battle in a favorable location.

Longstreet’s Advice for the Third Day of Battle

On the final day of battle, Longstreet adamantly opposed Pickett’s charge. He eloquently and humbly tried to dissuade Lee saying, “General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, by companies, regiments, and armies, and should know as anyone what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men … can take that position.” Lee brushed his proposal aside stubbornly and succinctly replying, “the enemy is there, General Longstreet, and I am going to strike him.” Longstreet, who was told to command the assault, almost prevented it telling a subordinate, “I don’t want to make this attack. I believe it will fail. I do not see how it can succeed. I would not make it even now, but that General Lee has ordered and expects it.” Contesting this decision, Longstreet did what he could without direct disobedience. “Longstreet opposed the assault,” says Tucker, “as stubbornly as he could and still remain in the army.” Later Longstreet wrote about his deep sorrow in following Lee’s orders and condemning thousands of his men to death, “My heart was heavy. I could see the desperate and hopeless nature of the charge and the hopeless slaughter it would cause … that day at Gettysburg was one of the saddest of my life.” Lee had a final chance to turn away from the madness of this assault and regroup elsewhere. Ultimately, Pickett’s charge capped off a series of bad decisions made by Lee in this campaign. If at any point Lee had listened to Longstreet, the South could have won the decisive victory they needed. But in order to be fair in critiquing Lee, it is important to understand his background and see some of the rationale for his decisions.

[Don’t forget to check back next week for the third installment in this series on the Battle of Gettysburg.]


Thanks for reading this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.


For further reading check out:


[The cover image is of General James Longstreet – http://www.civilwarphotos.net] 

Hypothetical Outcomes at the Battle of Gettysburg (Part 1) – Background Info


By the summer of 1863, the Civil War had entered a critical stage. The South had won the majority of battles up to this point, but the war dragged on. In order to decisively end the war, southern commander General Robert E. Lee wanted to win a battle on northern soil. Since Lee and other Southern leaders hoped that a significant victory in the North would force their opponents to sue for peace, the Battle of Gettysburg was the South’s chance to turn the tide of the war. Although the Confederate troops ended up losing the Battle of Gettysburg, they could have won if a few events had gone differently. If Lee had listened to the advice he received, learned from his past battles, or if General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had been alive, the South could have won the Battle of Gettysburg and maybe even the war.

[This post begins a four-part series on the Battle of Gettysburg. The background and historical facts will be discussed today, and then each of the hypothetical outcomes will be discussed in the following three blog posts.]


In order to understand the Battle of Gettysburg, one must know the background and positions of the armies leading up to the battle. In late June Lee and the Southern troops were positioned northeast of Washington D.C. in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, while the Union army attempted to protect Washington D.C. by remaining in Frederick, Maryland. Prior to this Lee had allowed General J.E.B. Stuart, his cavalry commander, to leave on a patrol in an attempt to slow down the Union troops. As historian, James McPherson, notes, the loss of Stuart’s presence “deprived Lee of intelligence about enemy movement at a crucial time.” Thus, historian, Albert Marrin, argues, after this point, “Lee’s every movement [was] a step in the dark.” Given Stuart’s significant impact in previous battles, Lee’s decision to allow Stuart to temporarily leave is curious.

Without Stuart, Lee assumed the Union army was much further south than they actually were. Once he heard about their northward march, Lee decided to reconvene at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Some of Lee’s subordinates wanted to obtain a supply of shoes located at Gettysburg, so he allowed a number of his troops to advance there. Historian Glenn Tucker concludes that “had Stuart been with Lee the battle would have had different turns; indeed it probably would have been fought at a site other than Gettysburg.” Despite having almost no knowledge of the terrain at Gettysburg, Lee decided to gather there. Confederate General E. Porter Alexander critiqued this decision, saying that “not only was the selection of ground about as bad as possible, but there does not seem to have been any special thought given to the matter. It seems to have been allowed to select itself as if it were a matter of no consequence.” Although the terrain did not decide the Battle of Gettysburg, it definitely affected the outcome.

Alternative Strategic Movements

Instead of moving to Gettysburg, Lee had other strategic movements that could have served him better. One option would have been to move towards Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This town was much more defensible and the Confederates knew the area around it well. Lee could have dug in and forced the Union troops to attack him on his own terms in Carlisle. Another option would have been to head east towards Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was a huge industrial city for the North, since any movement that threatened Philadelphia would have forced the Union leaders to react and attack Lee. Once again he could have chosen a defensive position in a place he was familiar with and waited for the enemy. Lee should never have fought at Gettysburg. Nevertheless, he did and, as a turning point in the war, the Battle of Gettysburg is therefore worthy of analysis.

Day 1 of Battle

Following Lee’s orders, some of his troops arrived at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Unbeknownst to them, a Union cavalry brigade had already occupied Gettysburg, so when these two forces met, fighting broke out. Lee, who was not at Gettysburg at this point, heard about the battle and decided to fight at Gettysburg, telling a subordinate “we must fight a battle here.” Thus, instead of thoughtfully picking a strategic battlefield, historian, Bevin Alexander, argues that “Lee rushed headlong into battle.”

Arriving at Gettysburg, Lee saw that the Union army held the high ground and ordered his subordinate, General Ewell, to attack the Union position “if practical.” Although at this point the Union position was not reinforced and secure, Ewell thought that it was too strong and decided not to attack. Some historians have blamed Lee for not commanding Ewell to take the position. Others have criticized Ewell for being a man of “excessive prudence” and lacking “insight and initiative.” But regardless of who bears the blame, had Ewell attacked the Union position on the first day, the entire battle could have turned out differently. If Ewell had assaulted the unenforced Union position at this time, the South mostly likely would have gained the high ground and the upper hand in the rest of the battle.

Instead, the Union troops held off the Southern forces on that first day and gained the incredibly enviable position at Cemetery Ridge. Upon seeing Cemetery Ridge, Union General Winfield Scott said, “I think this is the strongest position by upon which to fight a battle that I ever saw.” Once the remainder of the Union forces arrived at Gettysburg, their commander, General George Meade, made a point to reinforce and strengthen this already formidable position as much as possible.

Day 2 of Battle

On July 2, the next day of battle, Lee decided to assault the Union position. He ordered three separate, but related attacks, which needed to be timed precisely in order to succeed. General James Longstreet was ordered to command one of these attacks, which was supposed to take place early in the day. However, Longstreet did not attack until 4:30 p.m. making his attack unsuccessful. There have been various explanations for Longstreet’s delay. Some historians have said that Longstreet opposed Lee’s plan and thus was late in his attacks. Not knowing the terrain well, Longstreet also found the Union forces in a different location than expected. Others have noted that Longstreet cared more about the details of the attack being in place than following a timetable. Thus, he waited for all of his men to be ready and in position before attacking. Regardless of the explanation, these attacks on the second day were delayed, unorganized, and unsuccessful. Each side lost 9,000 or more men, making this second day of battle one of the highest single-day death tolls of the war.

Day 3 of Battle

On the final day of battle, July 3, Lee ordered Longstreet to command a major assault, known as Pickett’s charge, on the Union center. Having attacked both flanks on the previous day, Lee believed that Meade must have weakened his center. Although he ordered a cannon bombardment to clear out the Union artillery, Lee’s men drastically overshot the Union position. Once the barrage ended, approximately 14,000 Confederate troops charged across three-quarters of a mile of open field right at the Union center and its fully functioning artillery.

There are numerous different explanations for Lee’s decision to order this charge. Most historians concur that Lee believed his cannons had been more successful in incapacitating the enemy. If his bombardment had effectively weakened the Union position, the charge would have been more likely to succeed. Others argue that Lee should have known better. Observing the Union position, Lee should have noticed that supreme strength of the Union’s center, the unhindered field of fire of the Union artillery, and the ease with which Meade could reinforce the middle of his line. Lee’s desire to achieve a decisive victory undoubtedly affected his decision to allow this assault. McPherson explains that Lee ordered this charge because “he had come to Pennsylvania in quest of a decisive victory and he was determined not to leave without it.” Rationalizing Lee’s order, some historians note Lee’s enormous level of trust in his men. Tucker points out that “Lee had the highest confidence in the splendid troops who had won victories for him.” Despite the obvious hurdles his troops would face, Lee believed that his men would come through that day.

Regardless of Lee’s reasoning, Pickett’s charge failed. Of the roughly 14,000 men who made the charge, about half were killed, wounded, or captured. As the Confederate troops neared the enemy lines, Union rifles and cannons tore into oncoming wave of men, decimating entire companies at a time. Looking back at Pickett’s charge, many have questioned Lee’s choice to allow this assault. In analyzing Lee’s decision, Tucker states, “Why Lee was prompted to attack a strongly held position two days in succession … is one of the baffling riddles of Gettysburg.” Many years after the fact, World War II General, Dwight D. Eisenhower, gave his opinion of Lee’s tactics at Gettysburg. When asked about how he would have fought the battle of Gettysburg, Eisenhower stated, “I would not have fought the battle that way myself …[it was a] monstrous thing to launch [Pickett’s] charge … Why he would have gone across that field, I don’t know.” Given Lee’s reputation as a brilliant military leader, his decision to allow this charge is peculiar. English Prime Minister and historian, Winston Churchill, wrote an article where he theorized how the South could have won the Battle of Gettysburg. He hypothesized that Stuart’s cavalry could have attacked the Union flank in conjunction with Pickett’s charge, leading to a massive Confederate victory. However, Stuart’s cavalry was not available to make such a flanking movement, so in reality, the attack did not succeed.

The Importance of the Battle of Gettysburg

The outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg had immense ramifications on the rest of the war. Industrialist and historian, James Ford Rhodes, points out that, “the victory of Gettysburg demonstrated that Lee and his army were not invincible, and that the Confederates had lost at playing the card of an invasion of the North.” The momentum of the war shifted after the Battle of Gettysburg. In an attempt to attain a decisive victory, the South squandered a phenomenal opportunity and, although the war continued for two more years, the South never had another equally promising chance to clinch the war. This leads to the question: how could the Battle of Gettysburg have gone differently? Clearly, Lee made a number of mistakes in the way he handled the Battle of Gettysburg. What could he have done differently in order to win? If Lee had listened to some of the numerous tactical suggestions he received, then the South could have won the Battle of Gettysburg.

[Don’t forget to check back next week for the second installment in this series on the Battle of Gettysburg.]


Thanks for reading this post! I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.


For further reading check out:


[The cover image is of The View of Little Round Top – Gettysburg, PA – July 1863 – http://www.civilwarphotos.net] 




In Defense of the True Civil War Narrative


One unfortunate side effect of the tragedies at Charlottesville is that many people have decided to go back and re-interpret historical events to fit their political narratives. I’ve seen numerous people making the simplistic claims that “all Southerners were racists” or “North=good, South=bad,” implying that the Civil War was some sort of humanitarian struggle to abolish slavery. While these arguments are convenient and succinct, they are also predominantly false and lack any sort of nuance. Therefore, I am going to attempt, through the rest of this post, to offer a balanced and accurate perspective of the Civil War that places blame where it is legitimately due.


Let it be known that I am not a Southerner and do not really care about Southern Heritage. I am not a neo-confederate, a part of the Lost Cause movement, or a white supremacist. On the contrary, my family is predominantly from the North and I grew up considering the North the good guys and the South the bad guys. However, as I’ve learned more about the historical facts surrounding this struggle, I’ve coming to realize that this simplistic narrative is simply untrue. From my perspective, it seems that both sides were at fault and I am going to try to clarify some of these issues in the rest of this post. I do not have any sort of agenda, rather, I believe that horrific current events do not necessitate the perpetuation of historical inaccuracies. Racism is evil and should be condemned. However, we can denounce racism without going back in time, misstating history, and unnecessarily vilifying millions of people.

Racial Beliefs in America in the Early 1800’s

The perspective that all the racists and white supremacists in America in the 1800’s lived south of the Mason-Dixon line is patently false. As historian, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, notes, “with respect to race, both [North and South] practiced the same white supremacy, the black minority being either enslaved [in the South] or legally discriminated against [in the North].”

In the North abolitionists were a vocal minority. Individuals such as William Lloyd Garrison argued against slavery from a moral perspective and advocated that the North secede from the Union so as to avoid association with such an evil institution and to become a haven for runaway slaves. His views were so unpopular that a Boston anti-abolitionist mob dragged him through the streets and almost lynched him.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French commentator on 1830’s America, noted that “race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known.” This prejudice was codified in various Northern laws that discriminated against blacks voting or prohibited free blacks from entering various Northern states. As Hummel notes, “Most northern locales had legally mandated discrimination of some sort.”

In addition, the United States government actually subsidized slavery as an institution through the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1793. This law compelled Northern, free states to return escaped slaves to their masters and, for the most part, the free states willingly cooperated with this legislation. Thus, even the Northern states were complicit in slavery’s continued existence in the 1800’s.

Northern Opposition to Slavery

Although few Northerners opposed slavery on grounds of racial equality, many opposed its spread into new states for other reasons. Hummel again notes,

“The single issue that commanded for abolitionists the greatest northern sympathy was slavery’s extension into new territories. Here was an antislavery position that carried no taint of disunion. It allowed Northerners to take steps against slavery in a distant sphere while honoring their constitutional obligation to leave the local institutions of the southern states alone. Here also was an antislavery position that could be made consistent with Negrophobia. Keeping slaves out of the territories was an excellent way to keep blacks out altogether.”

Antislavery Pennsylvanian David Wilmot represented a common Northern perspective on race and slavery. He authored the Wilmot Proviso, which sought to outlaw slavery in all newly acquired territories, and identified with the Free-Soil Party, which sought to keep the western territories available for free white laborers. Arguing for eliminating slavery in these new territories, he said, “The negro race already occupy enough of this fair continent. Let us keep what remains for us and our children.”

Thus, the idea that the North opposed slavery and its expansion on pure, moral grounds is incorrect. On the contrary, most Northerners were fine with allowing slavery to remain untouched where it currently existed. Hummel characterized the two extreme positions on slavery in this manner, “In one [the North], slavery was stigmatized at the national level and legally permitted only at the state level. In the other [the South], slavery was a national institution sanctioned and protected by the central government.”

Abraham Lincoln on Slavery

The beliefs on slavery expressed by Abraham Lincoln are a good example of the sorts of opinions held by Northerners at this time. Many people believe that Abraham Lincoln was a civil rights activist of sorts, who started the Civil War in order to eradicate slavery. On the contrary, Lincoln was a moderate on the issue of slavery who desperately tried to disassociate himself with the seemingly radical abolitionists.

During a debate in 1858, Stephen Douglas, a Northerner from Illinois, tried to discredit Lincoln as a radical abolitionist saying, “I do not question Mr. Lincoln’s conscientious belief that the negro was made his equal, and hence is his brother.”

Lincoln, rather than accepting Douglas’ accusation, defended himself,

“I will say that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they can not so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

This is not to say that Lincoln was uniquely villainous for holding these white supremacist views. Rather, these despicable beliefs made up the predominant opinion of this time.

While Lincoln opposed slavery’s expansion, he primarily criticized slavery based on its potential to divide the country and dissolve the Union. In addition, he agreed with some of the sentiments put forth by the Free-Soil Party saying, “The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them.”

Similar to the views held by Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln believed that white and black individuals could never live in harmony. This lead him to advocate colonizing freed slaves in areas such as Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, and Ecuador.

Southern Arguments for Slavery

My purpose thus far has been to show that racism existed in the North in the 1800’s and that Northern opposition to slavery was not primarily based on moral grounds. This is not to say that the South should be absolved of all moral responsibility for the institution of slavery. However, I have not chosen to focus on these matters as much since they are more commonly known and are not currently being debated by many individuals.

That being said, slavery (as seen in America in the 1800’s) was a fundamentally evil institution that rejected the right of self-ownership and the idea that all men are created equal (and in the image of God). While there were differing degrees of treatment of slaves in the South, it is important to not attempt to excuse this evil institution by saying that some of the slaves were treated civilly. Regardless of whether or not some slaves were treated satisfactorily by their masters, this institution, by definition, violated the natural rights of the slaves and was thus, wrong.

In addition, the reasoning that many Southerners would use to justify slavery was truly horrific. Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina stated, “In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. It constitutes the very mud-sills of society and of political government. [This class demands] but a low order of intellect and but little skill, [but] fortunately for the South, has found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand.”

Similarly, Virginian lawyer, George Fitzhugh, defended slavery as a sort of socialism, “Liberty is an evil which government is intended to correct.” Denying the equal rights of all men, Fitzhugh stated, “It would be far nearer to the truth to say, ‘that some were born with saddles on their backs, and others booted and spurred to ride them’ — and the riding does them good. They need the reins, the bit, and the spur.”

Why Did the South Secede?

Clearly, the majority of Southerners supported the institution of slavery, but did they secede primarily to protect this institution? We must first note that there were many political, cultural, and economic factors that lead the eleven Southern states to secede from the Union between 1860 and 1861. While it is beyond the scope of this post to outline the decades of strife between the North and the South that lead up this point, it is important to be aware that this act of secession did not come out of nowhere. For decades the North had been exploiting Southern production through tariffs, and the election of Lincoln in 1860 was seen as the final straw in a long list of injustices.

People will often claim that the South seceded over the issue of slavery. This statement is correct, for the most part, but requires some nuance. For one thing, there were two waves of secession, each of which took place for different reasons. South Carolina began the first wave of secession and stated that they seceded because the country had elected, “a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery … The Slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.”

The other six states from the Deep South (Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) seceded for very similar reasons. Therefore, it is correct to say that slavery was the primary, but not the sole reason for this wave of secession.

That being said, the four states from the Upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas) seceded for very different reasons. They remained a part of the Union until after the conflict at Fort Sumter, which lead Lincoln to call the national militia to arms. Virginia’s governor, John Letcher, blamed Lincoln for the altercation and said that Virginia would not go to war against the other Southern states,

“The militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such purpose as they have in view. Your [Lincoln’s] object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object — an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the [militia] act of 1795 — will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited toward the South.”

Thus, while it can be said that the first seven states seceded primarily over the issue of slavery, this assertion cannot be made regarding the following four states. As Hummel notes, “Previously unwilling to secede over the issue of slavery, these four states were now ready to fight for the ideal of a voluntary Union.”

Lincoln’s Assurances

It was noted previously that the first seven states seceded upon the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency. This is still a bit of a confusing rationale since Lincoln was not an abolitionist and clearly stated that he would not interfere with slavery where it already existed. Hummel notes, “Between his [Lincoln’s] election and his inauguration, he refused to compromise on keeping slavery out of the territories, but throughout his campaign he had steadfastly opposed any other antislavery policies. He promised to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and respect slavery in the existing states.”

Lincoln reiterated these sentiments during his inauguration and assured the Southern states that he would not seek to eliminate the institution of slavery,

“Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property [i.e. their slaves] and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you … I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

After some of the initial Southern states seceded, Congress desperately tried to entice these states to remain in the Union through a variety of compromises. One such effort, which Lincoln approved of, was a constitutional amendment that prohibited interference with slavery where it existed and was unamendable.

Why Did the North Fight?

Clearly then, Lincoln and the Northern states did not confront the Confederacy over the issue of slavery. On the contrary, they were willing to compromise again and again on the issue of slavery in order to keep the Union in place. After all, why would the Northern states all of a sudden go to war to try to overturn an institution that they had been largely apathetic towards for the past fifty-plus years? It is not as if the South seceded so that they could set up an institution that had previously been disallowed by the United States government.

Furthermore, Lincoln allowed slavery to remain untouched in the four slave states that did not secede (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri). If Lincoln primarily cared about the inherent immorality of slavery, he would not have continued to allow it to exist in these four states.

That being said, if the North did not fight to end slavery, why did they fight? Lincoln made his purpose clear in a 1862 letter,

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Again, Lincoln showed his willingness to compromise on the issue of slavery in order to keep the Union together. At times throughout the war, Lincoln even hinted that he would allow the Southern states to keep their slaves if they rejoined the Union.

The United States Senate reiterated many of these sentiments,

“This war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of over-throwing or interfering with with the rights or established institutions [i.e. slavery] of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance therof; and to preserve the Union.”

It is clear, then, that the North did not view this war as a heroic effort to abolish slavery, but rather, sought to preserve the unity of the states.

Even the Emancipation Proclamation, which is commonly viewed as a definitive piece of anti-slavery legislation, only freed slaves in the Southern states (specifically exempting Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Northern-controlled counties in Virginia). Overall, it was more of a “war measure” designed to garner support from European countries, which would have potentially supported the South, then a statement on the inherent equality of all races.

Thus, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, criticized the proclamation stating, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” In terms of actually improving the plight of slaves, this proclamation did close to nothing.

In summary, while it can be said that the abolition of slavery was a positive, secondary effect of the Civil War, it was undoubtedly not the original, primary purpose.

Massachusetts abolitionist, Lysander Spooner, summarized the purpose of the war in this manner, “The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.”


There is a lot more that could be said on these issues, but I’ve already said more than intended to. I’ll summarize my perspective through the following points:

  • The majority of Americans in the both the North and the South in the early 1800’s held white supremacist views.
  • Most Northerners who opposed slavery did not oppose it based on moral grounds.
  • Slavery was a horrific institution and was excused by many Southerners based on terrible, immoral reasoning.
  • The first seven states seceding primarily, but not solely over the issue of slavery and the next four states seceding primarily over the issue of self-governance.
  • The North fought to preserve the Union and not to abolish slavery.

Thus, I would say that the Southern states who seceded over the issue of slavery were in the wrong, due to their reasoning for secession. And while it is beyond the scope of this post to deal with the constitutional right to secede, I would tend to affirm the compact theory which would legitimize the act of secession. Therefore, I would say that the North was in the wrong for not allowing the Southern states to secede.

Even if one rejects the compact theory and argues that the North was justified in their retaliation, I do not think that the North can unequivocally be labeled “the good guys,” based on the manner in which they conducted the war. From Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and other clear constitutional violations to General Sherman’s use of total war, the North undoubtedly employed immoral means to achieve their ends.

I want to add that, although it is easy to place all of the blame for slavery and past injustices on the Confederacy, in reality, slavery was at least implicitly condoned by the entire nation. And, while it is wrong to hold every individual from this time period responsible for slavery, my point is that the North repeatedly compromised on the issue of slavery and directly allowed for its continuance. Therefore, if you want to indiscriminately condemn people for the institution of slavery, at least be consistent and blame the entire country and not just the Southern states.

In summary, this is a complicated topic which requires nuanced analysis. Even if you do not agree with all of my conclusions, I hope that this post has given you a more refined perspective on the Civil War that moves beyond the simplistic narratives being perpetrated by individuals and news sources in lieu of current events.


Thanks for reading this post! Please feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email with your feedback to this post.

For further reading check out Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s book “Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men” and Ben Lewis’ articles “Did the South Secede Over Slavery,” and “Did the North Really Fight to End Slavery.”