A review of The Civil War in the American West by Alvin M. Josephy (Vintage, 1993).
As the “history” books to which government school students are subjected begin to deal with the War of Northern Aggression, they tend to make little mention of those states and territories west of the Mississippi, with the exception of Missouri and Kansas. Missouri, so we’ve been told, was chock full of greasy, “racist, hate-mongering “nativist” bushwhackers, who wanted nothing more out of life than to lie in wait so they could ambush the noble, virtuous, godly abolitionists from Kansas to whom “anti-slavery was the law of God.” Other than their presenting us with this little tidbit of historic fertilizer, they tell us almost nothing of what went on in the rest of the West. Either they haven’t done the homework or they have and hope we haven’t.
I’ve seen lines in some Western movies that talk about the War being an “Easterner’s War” and saying the West had nothing to do with it. Not quite accurate!
Historian Alvin M. Josephy Jr., in his interesting book The Civil War in the American West, has given us somewhat more detail than our students’ “history” books are wont to do. He has informed us of the political situation in Colorado, about which he has written: “In Colorado, where support for the Union was admittedly the majority sentiment, William Gilpin, the Federal territorial governor, wrote worriedly that 7,500 people, almost one third of the population of Denver and the mining camps, were secessionists.”
The mining camps around Denver were originally started by people from Georgia–something else you were never told about. So there was a definite secessionist presence in Colorado, even though most today have no idea it existed. Josephy also informed us that: “New Mexico, with a reputation for being Free Soil and with only a handful of slaves and a total of eighty-five blacks in the whole Territory, tacitly supported slavery in 1859 by adopting a code to protect slave owners that dismayed Northerners. Moreover, secessionists were actually in control of southern and western portions of that Territory.
Another little item that Yankee hysterians, oh pardon me, I meant historians, have left out was the racial attitudes of many in the far Western states. At one point, Oregon had voted to ban all blacks, free or slave, from entering the Territory, and California came close to doing the identical thing. In the election of 1860, Lincoln took the state of California by a mere 711 votes, and, although he also won in Oregon, he did it by less than 300 votes! Lincoln said it was “the closest political book-keeping that I know of.”
Josephy told us that: “In California, where almost 40% of the state’s 380,000 inhabitants were from slave states, only seven out of fifty three newspapers had supported Lincoln.” So, you can hardly say he won by a landslide in the far West!
Josephy said: “Congressman John C. Burch called on Californians to ‘raise aloft’ the Bear Flag of the short-lived California Republic of 1845. ‘I was warmly sympathetic with the South’ another congressman, Charles L. Scott, declared, urging his constituents to establish ‘a separate republic’.”
We have been told that areas around Los Angeles and San Bernadino were hotbeds of secessionist sympathy. So the picture is hardly as black and white as it has been painted. In fact, an ordinance of secession was actually passed by a convention of the people of Arizona at Messilla, Arizona Territory, on 16 March, 1861. The ordinance stated, in part: Resolved, That geographically and naturally we are bound to the South, and to her we look for protection, and as the Southern states have formed a Confederacy, it is our earnest desire to be attached to that Confederacy as a Territory.
However, don’t hold your breath waiting for that one to show up in the “history” books. The folks in the West and Southwest don’t really need to know this and that it is part of their heritage and culture–do they? Just ask the historians! Mr. Josephy is honest enough to tell you about it. Most of them ignore it.
There was even, believe it or not, secessionist sentiment up in Montana. How many have ever been told that the mining town of Virginia City, in western Montana, was first named Varina City, in honor of Jefferson Davis’s wife? The name was eventually changed to Virginia City by a local judge who felt that the name Varina City was really pushing the envelope! If you ever get to Montana you should visit Virginia City. It is an interesting spot and they are trying to restore it so that it looks like it did originally. When we were there, some of the old, original buildings were still standing, unrestored, but that’s a few years ago.
Often, the efforts of the Indians in the far West to preserve their hunting grounds and way of life and liberty were, in some cases, construed as interfering with the Yankee war effort in the East, thus giving “aid and comfort” to the Confederacy.
I am sure that, at some point, some radical Leftist “historian” will point to the poor Cheyenne souls massacred at Sand Creek by John Chivington as “Confederate sympathizers.” The Yankee/Marxist spinmeisters will, no doubt, laugh all the way to the bank about that one!
Of course, after the shooting phase of the War was over in the East, the whole, solidified, consolidated Yankee territory had to be opened up for settlement and the Indians were in the way. By that time, the Yankee/Marxists felt that if the could accomplish what they did against a civilized Christian South and get by with it, war criminals and all, then they could certainly do as much and worse to a batch of “benighted” savages–and so, according to Phil Sheridan, the only good Indian became a dead Indian. Arsonists like Sherman and Sheridan planned for their extermination.
Truly the West was (and still is) deeply affected by the War and its aftermath in a way that has never been fully grasped. The Yankee/Marxist mindset that prevailed in Atlanta and the March to the Sea also eventually prevailed at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a quarter of a century later–and it prevails in places like Bunkerville, Nevada and eastern Oregon to this very day. Contrary to what the “history” books tell us, this country is much the worse for the way things turned out.