Johnny Reb and Billy Yank…are they so different? Generally, the two sides during the American Civil War, the North and South, are viewed as polar opposites. One side wanting to secede, the other trying to stop them; one side heavy on agriculture, the other heavy on industry; one side proslavery, the other antislavery. But, upon closer examination, were the two sides so different after all? Such is the case between southerner John C. Calhoun and northern born William Tecumseh Sherman. Two men representing two different sides, yet they shared similar personalities and beliefs.
In the article titled, “He Started the Civil War”, Ethan S. Rafuse discusses a controversial South Carolina native John C. Calhoun. Calhoun, the former Vice President of the United States under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, was known as a congressman, Vice President, secretary of state, Senator, and most popularly known as being a proslavery racist. Through all of his government positions and political stances, Calhoun became the voice of the South until his death a decade before the start of the Civil War, a war in which he is given much credit for instigating.
The article’s thesis states that slavery was the foundation of the antebellum South. This more closely means that before the Civil War broke out, slavery was essentially the South’s backbone. Slavery provided a labor force so crucial for the South’s economic survival that a threat to it was bound to stir up controversy. This is how it is easy to see why many southerners were outraged when the institution of slavery was challenged by Washington and the North.
Rafuse goes on to explain Calhoun’s view and defense of slavery in depth. ”In the end, Calhoun supported the institution of slavery for many reasons, but at the bottom of all his argument was this: he believed the African race was inferior. He shared the prevailing prejudice of the day held in both the North and the South that black people were mentally, physically, and morally inferior to whites. This inferiority necessitated that they be slaves.” As preposterous, by today’s standards, as this inclination sounds, Calhoun shared this opinion of blacks with both Southerners and Northerners alike. Calhoun’s defense of slavery argued that slavery benefited all involved, and with his views and defense of slavery he became a moral, political, and spiritual voice of Southern separatism.
Ironically, Calhoun never wanted the South to secede from the Union. However, his words and life’s work made him the father of southern secession and a major contributor in starting the American Civil War. Furthermore, Rafuse’s article provides clear evidence as to why Calhoun had so much influence and could have, in fact, sparked a war. He appealed to the southern people by complaining that slave states had less representation in Congress than free states, he developed roads and canals, he spoke for Southern interests, and he defended the South’s institution of slavery. With a strong following and a large population of people with the same views and beliefs as his own, John C. Calhoun was a major factor in the South’s decision to break away from the Union. It is no surprise that on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, approximately ten years after the death of its great Senator.
Rafuse’s article is a very informative account of the life and career of John C. Calhoun that a person does not have to be a history buff to enjoy. He includes strong evidence to support his thesis and is very convincing in doing so. Rafuse seems to use his own knowledge of Calhoun to back up the thesis of the article, and he does not indicate that any information is used from any other sources. However, the pictures he includes in the article are helpful in visualizing what he is trying to convey. In fact, some of the pictures used in the article depict slavery negatively while the article has Calhoun referring to slavery as a positive establishment.
In 1820, while John C. Calhoun was still ineffectually opposing tariffs, a married couple living in Lancaster, Ohio, named Charles and Mary Sherman had a son who they named Tecumseh. After Charles’ death in 1829, Tecumseh was sent to be raised by a close family friend where he acquired the name William. William Tecumseh Sherman, as he was now known, would grow up and leave Ohio to become one of the most influential generals of the Civil War. Known in the North as a hero and the South as a devilish villain, he was able to break the back of the Confederacy with his march to the sea, and, in the process, liberate tens of thousands of former slaves.
In Irvin Kitrell III’s article, “40 Acres and a Mule”, Kitrell discusses a side of Sherman that many are not familiar with. He does not mention how great of a general Sherman was, or how the general swiftly split the South in half, almost guarantying the North’s victory in the war. Instead, Kitrell touches on the fact that Sherman was a racist and that he was not opposed to slavery at all. He even mentions that Sherman thought slavery would survive the war, and that Sherman himself said that he would own slaves one day. The article centers on Sherman’s lackadaisical approach to the former slaves that attached to his army as he made his way through the South. The lack of care and concern Sherman showed towards the recently freed blacks was evident, and as a result he was under heavy fire from a few Northern government officials. To save his own hide, Sherman drafted his Special Field Order No. 15, which paid reparations to former slaves.
Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 was created due to, as Kitrell’s states in his thesis, a political quagmire that Sherman was stuck in towards the end of the war. As Kitrell states, ”Tens of thousands of former slaves had liberated themselves as Sherman’s columns swept through the South, and had attached themselves to his army, creating a serious logistical challenge. The general made no secret of his proslavery stance, and refused to conscript the freedmen into his forces or make any other provision for them. But, that was precisely what the administration in Washington was pushing him to do.” It was because of Sherman’s insubordination that several instances occurred where promised provisions for the free blacks were not granted.
One such instance was the Ebenezer Creek catastrophe in which Union Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate President Jefferson Davis), under the command of Sherman, did not allow freed slaves to escape across the river to avoid approaching Confederates. As the Confederate army drew nearer to the trapped and hopeless ex-slaves, Colonel Charles D. Kerr recalled the slaves reactions to their unknown fate, ”they raised their hands and implored from the corps commander the protection they had been promised, but the prayer was in vain and, with cries of anguish and despair, men, women and children rushed by hundreds into the turbid stream and many were drowned before our eyes.”
Consequently, it was occurrences such as the Ebenezer Creek catastrophe that ultimately resulted in Washington questioning Sherman’s ability to follow orders involving the newly freed blacks. To save his reputation, Sherman met with 20 black men, all of whom were selected by Sherman himself, to have a discussion and ask them some personal questions. Taking the suggestions of the men that met with him, Sherman drafted his Special Field Orders No. 15. The newly prescribed orders provided the enlistment of colored troops, and gave the freedmen certain possessory rights to land. Sherman had done it; his Special Field Orders No. 15 had supposedly revealed a changed man and a total reversal of his proslavery stance.
Kitrell does an excellent job communicating with the reader on the side of General Sherman that many might not have known before reading his article. He is also able to use direct quotes, from Sherman and others, to help the reader visualize the situations being presented. On the other hand, if Kitrell had included more pictures in his article, then the reader may have been able to better comprehend what he was trying to say. Nevertheless, Kitrell’s article includes more than enough evidence to support the point that he was trying to make and to convincingly reinforce his thesis.
Kitrell and Rafuse share with us the stories of two different men who influenced the United States during two different time periods. Both of these men, although incredibly different, are surprisingly similar to some degree. Who knows, maybe without John C. Calhoun there would have been no American Civil War. Without the Civil War Sherman would not have had his march to the sea, which he is so famous for. It is true that Calhoun is from the South and Sherman is from the North, but both men were racist, both men were proslavery. In fact, Calhoun was a southerner through and through, but he did not want the South to secede from the Union. Obviously neither did Sherman, since he played a huge role in stopping the South from doing so. It is not a coincidence that Sherman attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the very institution that Calhoun revitalized as secretary of war under President James Monroe. The similarities between the two men can go on and on.
With all these similarities between Calhoun and Sherman, it is hard to believe that more southerners and northerners did not share some of the same qualities during the Civil War. But why stop there; it is true that these two men were involved during “the War of Northern Aggression”, but they will forever be linked to others who have influenced American history throughout all of time. For example, prior to the outbreak of hostilities between the North and the South, William Tecumseh Sherman was Superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy at Alexandria, Louisiana. After the war, the school moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and became Louisiana State University. Some 65 years later, Louisiana’s Governor Huey Long initiated a massive building program on LSU’s campus to expand the physical plant and add departments. However, most of Huey Long’s activities at LSU centered on the football team and the band instead of on academics. ”He made the band the largest in the nation. In fact, during one year the university expended more money on the band than on the law school and graduate school combined.”
Another man who has been credited with fueling the start of the Civil War, such as Calhoun, was a slave from Virginia named Nat Turner. In 1831, Turner led one of the bloodiest slave insurrections that the South had ever seen. Unfortunately, the uprising was to have a profound impact on the destinies of southern whites and blacks alike. ”In the wake of the Tuner revolt, the rise of the abolitionists, and the Virginia debates over slavery, the other southern states also expanded their patrol and militia systems and increased the severity of their slave codes. What followed was the Great Reaction of the 1830s and 1840s, during which the South, threatened it seemed by internal and external enemies, became a closed, martial society determined to preserve its slave-based civilization at whatever cost.” No one could have guessed, not even Calhoun or Turner, that the South would fight a civil war costing hundreds of thousands in American lives, just to preserve slavery.
The two authors, Rafuse and Kitrell, give us an in depth account of two very influential people in American history. No one article is better than the other because they are both unique in their own way. The articles are presented in a manner that a regular “Joe Shmoe” can understand and hopefully relate too. For this, and many other reasons, there is no need to improve any of the two articles. Rafuse and Kitrell give enough support and evidence to persuade the reader that their thesis is correct. With this in mind, Kitrell and Rafuse unknowingly raise the question: Was the South all that different from the North during the American Civil War?
 Rafuse, Ethan. 2002. He Started the Civil War. Civil War Times. October.
 Kitrell, Irvin. 2002. 40 Acres and a Mule. Civil War Times. May.
 Kitrell, Irvin. 2002. 40 Acres and a Mule. Civil War Times. May.
 Jeansonne, Glen. 1990. Huey P. Long: A Political Contradiction. Themes in American History. 336-342.
 Oates, Stephen B. 1973. Children of Darkness. Themes in American History. 182-197.