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Confederate States of America

The official name of the Southern States that seceded from the Union and formed the league also known as the Southern Confederacy. On Feb. 4, 1861, delegates numbering forty-two and representing South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, which States had adopted ordinances of secession, assembled in Montgomery, Ala., to form a union.

The sessions began in the Statehouse, with R. W. Barnwell, of South Carolina, as temporary chairman. Rev. Basil Manly invoked the blessings of God upon the premeditated labors of the convention. Howell Cobb, of Georgia, was appointed permanent president of the convention, and Johnson F. Hooper, of Montgomery, was chosen clerk. In his speech on taking the chair Cobb declared that they met as “representatives of sovereign States which had dissolved their political connection with the United States;” that the separation was a “fixed, an irrevocable fact—perfect, complete, and perpetual;” counselled his associates to assume the responsibility necessary for the accomplishment of the work they had entered upon; and concluded by saying, “With a consciousness of the justice of our cause, and with confidence in the guidance and blessing of a kind Providence, we will this day inaugurate for the South a new era of peace, security, and prosperity.” It was agreed that all votes should be taken by States. It was perceived at the outset that perfect harmony in the convention could not be expected. Nearly all of the delegates, as private letters show, were aspirants for office. Judge McGrath, who laid aside his judicial robes at Charleston, sent word by Memminger that he would like to be made Attorney-General. Robert Barnwell Rhett, the “father of secession in South Carolina,” thought himself peculiarly fitted for Secretary of War, and evinced, in [304] letters to his son, special sensitiveness because his claims to distinction had been overlooked. Memminger aspired to be Secretary of the Treasury, and James Chestnut, Jr., who had resigned his seat in the United States Senate, was spoken of as a fitting head of the new nation. In the convention, Rhett counselled the same violence that the South Carolinians had practised in Charleston, and when his recommendations were met by calm opposition, he denounced his associates as cowards and imbeciles. “If the people of Charleston should burn the whole crew in effigy I should not be surprised,” he wrote Feb. 11, 1861. Men like Stephens, Hill, Brooke, and Perkins controlled the fiery spirits like Rhett and Toombs in the convention, and it soon assumed a dignity suited to the gravity of the occasion. The sessions were generally held in secret. On the second day Memminger, of South Carolina, offered resolutions declaring it to be expedient forthwith to form a confederacy of “seceded States,” and that a committee of thirteen be appointed to report a plan for a provisional government on the basis of the Constitution of the United States, and that all propositions in reference to a provisional government be referred to that committee.

Alexander H. Stephens then moved that the term “congress,” instead of “convention,” be used when applied to the body then in session, which was agreed to. Commissioners from North Carolina appeared (Feb. 6), and were invited to seats in the convention. They came only as commissioners from a “State yet in the Union,” instructed to effect an “honorable and amicable adjustment of all the difficulties that distract the country, upon the basis of the Crittenden Compromise (q. v.) modified by the Virginia legislature.” Their mission was fruitless, for that “congress” was opposed to any form of conciliation. On the 7th a resolution from the legislature of Alabama, offering the “Provisional Government of the Confederacy of Seceding States the sum of $500,000 as a loan,” was accepted. On the same day, Memminger, chairman of the committee of thirteen, presented a plan of government. It was discussed in secret session, when the Constitution of the United States, with some important modifications, was adopted as the form of government of the new Confederacy.

This provisional constitution received the unanimous vote of the convention; yet the violent Rhett fulminated, through the Charleston Mercury, anathemas against it, especially on account of a tariff clause, the prohibition of the African slave-trade, and the adoption of the three-fifths rule of representation for slaves, as in the national Constitution. “Let your people,” he said, “prepare their minds for a failure in the future permanent Southern constitution, for South Carolina is about to be saddled with almost every grievance, except abolition, against which she so long struggled, and for which she has just withdrawn from the United States government.” On the 9th of February the president of the convention and all the members took the oath of allegiance to the provisional constitution, and at noon the doors of the hall were thrown open to the public, and the convention proceeded to the election of a President and a Vice-President of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, was chosen President by unanimous vote; and by a like vote Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, was chosen Vice-President. The chairman of the convention appointed committees on foreign relations, postal affairs, finance, commerce, military and naval affairs, judiciary, patents and copyrights, and printing. All the laws of the United States not incompatible with the new order of things were continued in force temporarily. A committee was appointed to report a constitution of permanent government for the Confederacy. On the 13th a delegate from Texas took his seat in the convention. The others were on the way. Preparations were made for the organization of an army and navy, and to make provision for deserters from the old flag. On Feb. 18 Davis and Stephens were inaugurated, and the oath of office was administered to Davis by Howell Cobb, president of the congress. The convention authorized him to accept 100,000 volunteers, and to assume control of “all military operations between the Confederate States;” and at the middle of March it recommended the several States to cede to the “Confederate States” the forts, [305] arsenals, dock-yards, and other public establishments within their respective domains which they had wrested from the United States.

On March 11 the Congress at Montgomery adopted a permanent constitution for the Confederacy, and gave to the league the title of “Confederate States of America.” In its preamble the doctrine of State supremacy was fully recognized in the following words: “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character,” etc. It was the Constitution of the United States, with certain omissions and alterations. It fixed the term of service of the President and Vice-President at six years, and made the former ineligible to re-election. The constitution was submitted to the several States for ratification. The convention of Alabama ratified it on March 13, 1861; of Georgia, on March 14; of Louisiana, March 21; of Mississippi, March 26; of South Carolina, April 3. In the Mississippi convention some of the ablest men proposed to submit the constitution to the people, but this idea was voted down by the voices of seventy-eight against seven. None of the conventions ever ventured to allow the people to vote freely on their own acts, or on the subject of forming a Southern Confederacy. For the full text of the Constitution see article on Southern Confederacy.

The congress at Montgomery discussed the subject of a national flag. One model,

Confederate flag.

from some women of Charleston, was composed of a blue cross on a red field, with seven stars-similar to the South Carolina flag; another was from a gentleman of the same city. It was a cross, with fifteen stars. Memminger made a speech on presenting these models. Then a committee of one delegate from each State was appointed to report upon a device for a national flag and seal. Brooke, of Mississippi, offered a resolution to instruct the committee to report a design as similar as possible to that of the United States, making only such changes as should give them distinction. He eulogized the old flag, and was severely rebuked for uttering sentiments which were regarded as almost treasonable. W. Porcher Miles, of South Carolina, chairman of the committee, protested against the resolution and the utterances of the member. He “gloried,” he said, “more, a thousand times, in the palmetto flag of his State.” He had regarded “from his youth the Stars and Stripes as the emblem of oppression and tyranny.” Brooke withdrew his motion. Mrs. C. Ladd, of South Carolina, presented a model, through W. W. Boyce, “tricolored, with a red union, seven stars, and the crescent moon.” In her letter accompanying the flag, she offered her three boys to her “country,” and suggested “Washington republic” as the title of the Confederacy. Boyce made a speech in presenting the model. Chilton, Toombs, Stephens, and others also presented designs for flags. They were sent in almost daily, some of them showing a strong attachment to the old national flag. The committee made an elaborate report, in which they said they did not share in the sentiment of attachment to the Stars and Stripes, too often repeated in communications; yet they recommended a flag that had a certain resemblance to the one they were deserting. It was to consist of a red field, with a white space extending horizontally through the centre and equal in width to one-third the width of the flag; the field of the union was blue, extending from the top to the bottom of the white stripe, and stopping at the lower red stripe. In the centre of the union was a circle of white stars, corresponding in number to that of the States of the Confederacy. It was really the old flag—red, white and blue— with three “alternate stripes, red and white,” instead of thirteen such stripes. This flag was first displayed in public over the State-house at Montgomery, March 4, 1861. [306]

Jefferson Davis called the Confederate Congress to assemble at Montgomery on April 29, 1861. That body passed (May 9) an act of fifteen sections recognizing the existence of war between the United States and the Confederate States, and concerning the commissioning of privateers. The preamble declared that the Confederate States had made earnest efforts to establish friendly relations between themselves and the United States, but the latter had refused and had prepared to make war upon the former and blockade its ports. Such being the case, they declared that war existed between “the two governments.” They authorized the “President of the Confederate States” to use their whole land and naval force to meet “the war thus commenced,” and to issue commissions to privateers under the seal of the Confederate States. The tenth section of the act offered a bounty of $20 for each person who might be on board any armed ship or vessel belonging to the United States, at the commencement of an engagement, which should be burned, sunk, or destroyed by any vessel commissioned as a privateer, of equal or inferior force. They also offered a bounty of $25 for every prisoner captured by a privateer and delivered to an agent of the Confederacy. Davis had not waited for this legal sanction, but issued commissions for privateers immediately after his proclamation, April 17.

The government of the Confederate States was transferred from Montgomery to Richmond, and there the third session was opened at noon, July 20, 1861. The members were called to order by Howell Cobb. President Davis, in his message, congratulated his associates on the accession of States to the league; declared that the national government had revealed its intention to make the war one of subjugation; that the Confederates had not begun the war; that the Confederacy was “a great and powerful nation” ; that their nationality had been recognized by the establishment of “blockades by sea and land” ; and that the national government had repudiated the idea of the Confederates being citizens of the United States, by making war upon them “with a savage ferocity unknown to modern civilization.” He charged that “rapine and plunder” was the rule of the loyal soldiers; that they plundered and destroyed private houses; that they made special war on women and children by depriving them of the means of procuring medicines, and that they had committed outrages on defenceless women. The Congress passed an act (Aug. 8, 1861), which authorized the banishment from the limits of the Confederate States of every masculine citizen of the United States (with some exceptions named) over fourteen years of age who acknowledged its authority. The courts were authorized to arrest all Union men who did not proclaim their allegiance to the Confederacy [307] or leave its limits within forty days, and to treat them as “alien enemies.” Another act authorized the confiscation of every species of property of such “alien

Confederate States seal.

enemies,” or absent citizens of the United States, with exceptions already alluded to (citizens of slave-labor States yet in the Union). Measures for the increase and officering of the army and navy and for extensive financial operations were adopted. It was reported that the Confederates then had 200,000 soldiers in the field, and President Davis was authorized to increase this force by an addition of 400,000 volunteers, to serve for not less than one year nor more than three years. He was also authorized to send additional commissioners to Europe; also, to inflict retaliation upon the persons of prisoners of war.

The provisional government of the Confederate States ended on Feb. 8, 1862, when the permanent government was organized. Jefferson Davis had been unanimously chosen President for a term of six years. He chose for his cabinet Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana, Secretary of State; George W. Randolph, of Virginia, Secretary of War; S. R. Mallory, of Florida, Secretary of the Navy; C. G. Memminger, of South Carolina, Secretary of the Treasury; J. H. Reagan, of Texas, Postmaster-General, and T. H. Watts, of Alabama, Attorney-General. Randolph resigned in the autumn, and James A. Seddon, a wealthy citizen of Richmond, was made Secretary of War in his place. On the same day a Congress assembled at Richmond, in which all the slave-labor States were represented excepting Maryland and Delaware. Devices for seals of the various departments were adopted, and the seals were made in England.

While the inhabitants of Richmond, the Confederate capital, were at their respective places of worship (Sunday, April 2, 1865), the message from Lee, “My lines are broken in three places; Richmond must be evacuated this evening,” reached the doomed city. President Davis was at St. Paul's (Episcopal) Church, when the message was put in his hands by Colonel Taylorwood. He immediately left the church. There was a deep and painful silence for a moment, when the religious services were closed and the rector (Dr. Minnegerode) dismissed the congregation after giving notice that General Ewell, the commander in Richmond, desired the local forces to assemble at 3 P. M. The Secretary of State (Benjamin), being a Jew, was not at church; the Secretary of the Navy (Mallory), a Roman Catholic, was at mass, in St. Peter's Cathedral; the Secretary of the Treasury (Trenholm) was sick; the Postmaster-General (Reagan) was at Dr. Petrie's Baptist Church; and the

Confederate State Department seal.

Secretary of War (Breckinridge) was at Dr. Duncan's church. The inhabitants of the city were kept in the most painful suspense for hours, for rumor was busy. [308] Towards evening wagons were loaded at the departments and driven to the stations of the Danville Railway, preparatory to the flight of the government officers. At eight o'clock in the evening President Davis left the city by railway, taking with him horses and carriages to use in case the road should be interrupted, declaring that he would not give up the struggle, but would make other efforts to sustain the cause. At nine o'clock the Virginia legislature fled from the city. The Confederate Congress had already departed; and all that remained of the government in Richmond at midnight was the War Department, represented by Major Melton. The gold of the Louisiana banks that had been sent to Richmond for safe-keeping, and that of the Richmond banks, was sent away by the Danville Railway early in the day. The Confederate government halted in its flight at Danville, where an attempt was made at reorganization, to continue the contest “so long as there was a man left in the Confederacy.” On hearing of the surrender of Lee, they fled from Danville to Greensboro, N. C., and made their official residence in a railroad carriage, where they remained until the 15th, when, it being seen that the surrender of Johnston was inevitable, they again took flight on horses and in ambulances for Charlotte, for the railway was crippled. There Davis proposed to establish the future capital of the Confederacy, but the surrender of Johnston prevented. The fugitive leaders of the government now took flight again on horseback, escorted by 2,000 cavalry. They turned their faces towards the Gulf of Mexico, for the way to Mississippi and Texas was barred. At Charlotte, George Davis, the Confederate Attorney-General, resigned his office; Trenholm gave up the Secretaryship of the Treasury on the banks of the Catawba, where Postmaster-General Reagan, having no further official business to transact, took Trenholm's place. The flight continued Gulfward, the escort constantly diminishing. At Washington, Ga., the rest of Davis's cabinet deserted him, only Reagan remaining faithful. Mallory, the Secretary of the Navy, doubtful whether his official services would be needed on the Gulf, fled, with Wigfall, to La Grange, where he met his family and was subsequently arrested; and Benjamin fled to England. Davis's family had accompanied him from Danville to Washington; now, for prudential reasons, they separated, but were soon reunited and near Irwinsville, the county seat of Irwin county, Ga., 3 miles south of Macon, Davis was arrested by National cavalry on the morning of May 11, 1865, and taken a prisoner to Fort Monroe.

For a list of military and naval operations during the war, see battles and Civil War in the United States.

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