Short Takes

The Wisconsin Historical Society looks at election chicanery in 1864 when the Republicans, like the Democrats today, faced a stunning defeat. They did, however, have an ace to play, the military vote.

Since they controlled the Legislature, Republicans passed a bill in September that enabled soldiers to vote while serving in the field, and authorized commanding officers to run the elections. Nearly every regiment’s officers were Republican appointees and since they controlled virtually all aspects of a soldier’s life, pressure was easily applied.

Although soldiers accounted for only 8 percent of the total vote in November, they voted 3-to-1 for Republicans. It was enough to swing every close local election and to guarantee Republican control in Madison.

When the law was challenged the legislature made soldiers eligible to vote for judges, too, and the law was upheld. One could (and someone probably should) write a whole book about the irregularities in the 1864 election, especially with the soldier vote. Just based on what I’ve read from first-hand accounts I think Lincoln would have carried the army anyway, but the other offices were a different story. Some pro-McClellan Indiana soldiers, for example, found that their ballots had been mysteriously lost until after it was too late to count them.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that cotton prices have hit an all-time high.

The Mississippi Historical Society has its own records that show cotton was changing hands at $1.89 a pound during the middle of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. In the early stages of the war, the South halted exports in a failed attempt to draw Europe to its defense. Then later, the North imposed a blockade, crippling the South’s ability to ship cotton to Europe.

Maybe it’s time for Jeff Davis to consider a comeback. Seriously, the article is worth reading for the historical survey of the cotton trade, and the Degas painting of the New Orleans Cotton Exchange.

NPR takes a look at C. J. Chivers’ new book The Gun, about the AK-47, a firearm that changed both battlefields and social history. There is an interview on Fresh Air, and for those of us interested in the Civil War there is an excerpted section on the Gatling Gun.

Dr. Gatling, as he liked to be called, came from a North Carolina family that owned as many as twenty slaves. But he had moved north to Indiana for business and marriage, and when the war began in 1861 he did not align himself with the secessionists who formed the Confederacy. He knew men on both sides. Far from his place of birth and away from the battlefields, he had taken to viewing the contents of the caskets returning to the railroad depot in Indianapolis. Inside were the remains of Union soldiers, many felled by trauma but most by infection or disease. Seeing these gruesome sights, Gatling shifted attention from farm devices to firearms, and to the ambition of designing a rapid-fire weapon, a pursuit that since the fourteenth century had attracted and eluded gunsmiths around the world. “I witnessed almost daily the departure of troops to the front and the return of the wounded, sick and dead,” he wrote. “It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine – a gun – that would by its rapidity of fire enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently exposure to battle and disease would be greatly diminished.”

I’d also recommend for the general military reader Chivers’ At War blog articles on Afghan and Taliban marksmanship, “Afghan Marksmen—Forget the Fables” , “The Weakness of Taliban Marksmanship,” and “Afghan Marksmanship: Pointing, Not Aiming.” All apply to any war, including the Late Unpleasantness.

And finally, a kerfuffle over a fourth grade Virginia history books that claims that some African-Americans fought for the Confederacy. All the usual suspects make an appearance.


One response to “Short Takes”

  1. Bryn Avatar

    I’ve thought for a while “why isn’t there a book about the corruption of the 1864 election”? There was an academic paper recently about how the proxy vote in New York was abused by the Republicans which unfortunately I can’t access. There is also some discussion about the deployment of the army to Pennsylvania to ensure it went Republican (by enforcing the Enrollment Act against Democrat voters at the polling station) in a few books but nothing solidly on the topic.

    Thanks for adding something about Wisconsin to the list.

    If McClure is to be believed (and I find him partisan) then Grant was not sympathetic to the Republicans attempted interference in the elections, and so Lincoln bypassed him and went directly to Meade:

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