Eugene Blackford letter excerpt January 5, 1861

by Fred Ray on February 28, 2016 · 2 comments

I will be periodically posting excerpts from Eugene Blackford’s letters in the next few months, all of which are included in Volume I of my upcoming book (which may still be ordered at a prepublication discount).

This letter finds Blackford, a Virginian, in the small town of Clayton, Alabama (near Eufaula) working as a school teacher. His letter, written to his brother Lewis just before Alabama’s secession on January 11, gives an excellent insight both into the politics of the Lower South at the time and into Blackford’s own feelings. He is still a staunch Unionist who opposes secession and the institution of slavery in general, but he also feels his first loyalty is to his home state.

Blackford is also under considerable pressure to join a local militia unit, the Clayton Guards, and to express his loyalty to the Confederacy. Since he is someone who knows drill and tactics he is even offered command of the unit, but refuses and instead raises his own small company from the boys in his school, whom he begins drilling.

Mr. Clayton is Henry DeLamar Clayton, a local politico and future Confederate general.

Your letter was received as you hoped on Christmas day and arrived as a Christmas gift. The account you give of the gay time you have had contrasts very strongly with the life I lead here—I keep my diary regularly but so far as recording events is concerned, it is a perfect farce—one day is the exact stereotype of another. I do not know what I should do, did not I not feel a lively interest in my school which now prospers exceedingly; several young men who have been in stores in the village have abandoned business & taken to books again under my instruction. I have purposely avoided alluding hitherto to my company, which is now in such a condition as to warrant me in mentioning it with some pride—you will recollect that among the articles of agreement between me & Mr. Clayton was one which required me to teach tactics. I commenced as soon as I began teaching and now have the best drilled company in Ala, I have no doubt, judging from those I have seen. Tis true it is very small, only twenty in number, but they are all well grown for I have gotten rid of the little boys. I had drilled them after Hardee strictly with the skirmish drill. They execute the manoevers beautifully, some of them as well as any company could. I do almost every thing at double quick, sometimes going several miles in one evening. The Company has attracted considerable attention hereabouts and the result is that I was again pressed to take command of the “Clayton Guards” a few days ago—but of course I flatly refused.

Besides this I have a large class which study the tactics regularly. For this purpose I have a very large blackboard, whereon I require the pupil to explain the manoever to me and the class. I find it very improving to me—I expect to know the tactics as I do the ABC by next summer.

You (mirabile dictu!) did not allude to politics in your letter, I can’t keep it out of mine, nor do I wish to do it or see it done. I was anxious to know what were your views, and anxious to know whether we were together—if Virginia joins the S. Carolina Confederacy she will not be likely to need my services, or any one else’s, so I shall clear out to Europe. As I feel now I should be but a traitor at heart when opposed to troops under the stars & stripes who stepped to the time of Hail Columbia. Do you ever think how you would feel under such circumstances? Or do you feel in regard to it as I do—I never remember to have seen the national flag once in my life without being stirred to the very depths. Fight for Va. I shall and will to the very last, but I pray it may not be under those circumstances.

Every one here is for immediate Secession, they do not even now speak of themselves as Citizens of the United States, but as of the Sovereign State of Alabama.

Orders have been issued to the colonels of the regiments to hold them in readiness to march at any time to Mobile—but with the usual Southern disregard of orders, nothing whatsoever has been done-the men think it manly to disobey orders of all sorts, I sent a boy away from my school on that account. A few days ago a parade of the company was ordered here—in the order it was especially enjoined upon all to come provided with balls, twelve rounds at the target, when they appeared on the field it turned out that only two files had come with balls, the rest had totally disobeyed the order.

I forgot to mention that my company is armed with very handsome little rifles, which at the same time shoot very accurately. I intend to make them practice frequently at a target. The uniform is a shirt exactly like the undress uniform of the H.G. and black pants. The Company here has also adopted the shirt and all seem much pleased with it. I must have already seen some 10,000 varieties, more or less, of the flags for the Cotton Confederacy—an uglier collection of rags could hardly be found in a rag shop. Every one has one of his own plan, many of them are flying from the tops of private houses. I suppose the Charleston Mercury will be allowed to settle this matter as it has every thing else since the beginning of the revolution.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Fox March 3, 2016 at 10:48 am

Blackford’s description of secession fever in Alabama is very interesting and contrasts with his love and support for the Union which belies his Virginia roots. Virginia’s Secession Convention of course had voted in February 1861 to remain with the Union. The incident that changed that, and I think was Lincoln’s biggest mistake, was calling for 75,000 Union troops on April 15, 1861 to invade the South. Virginians knew that the road for these troops to take to attack the seceded Southern states would be through Virginia. The Virginia Secession Convention then reversed its previous vote to not secede and Virginia joined the Confederacy on April 17, 1861. If Virginia had remained neutral then huge numbers of Va troops don’t join the war effort nor does Tredegar Ironworks and the Virginia Armory. Perhaps most importantly, General Robert E. Lee does not join the Confederate effort. I’m looking forward to reading more of Major Blackford’s thoughts as this is fresh primary material! Thanks for pulling this together Fred.

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Fred Ray March 3, 2016 at 9:22 pm

We often forget that Scott’s Anaconda Plan was prepared well before the shooting started, and that its object was to bring the Lower South back to the Union without having a bloody civil war. The idea was to blockade the Southern ports, cutting off cotton exports, then to control the Mississippi, cutting off commerce there. The Upper South would be left in a state of tenuous semi-neutrality, but there would be no actual invasion. Scott thought a few years of this would have been enough to reverse the process of secession and leave South Carolina isolated. Would it have worked? We’ll never know, but once Lincoln demanded troops from the Upper South the die was cast.

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