[Johnson] When Jackson Burned | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Johnson] When Jackson Burned

On May 14, 1863, the Army of Tennessee, under Generals Grant and Sherman, seized Jackson as the Confederate army retreated in disarray. Grant ordered the city's "strategic assets" burned, and in hours, much of Jackson burned to the ground. This is why Jackson has the nickname "Chimneyville," because the fire spared little but brick chimneys, which stood like tombstones after the blaze. This was only the first of three times Jackson burned during the war.

It was a war crime, one of many committed by both sides in that brutal war. We must never forget the thousands of innocents who died in the Civil War, the weak and defenseless who could not run fast enough. Whether Jacksonians supported the war or opposed it, all suffered the horrible consequences of secession.

It was the same for my hometown, Lawrence, Kan., which was burned to the ground three months later by a Confederate ruffian from Missouri named William Quantrill. Kansas is the state where the Civil War began, with a guerilla war in the east between pro-slavery "ruffians" and abolitionist "jayhawkers." Kansas is where John Brown, who would later lead the attack on Harpers Ferry, became a terrorist.

On Aug. 21, 1863, my paternal grandfather's grandfather, 9-year-old Charley Matthews, was playing in the family yard, three miles east of Lawrence. When Charley saw the riders, he climbed a tree and listened as his mother told Quantrill that all the men were in town. Quantrill and his cavalry rode away, and soon smoke began to rise from Lawrence. One of Charley's older brothers was killed and another wounded, along with hundreds of others, some of them butchered in front of their families.

In "bleeding Kansas," the war over slavery was always a civil war, rather than a war between the states. In Kansas, the Civil War began in 1856.

The Civil War was born in the Midwest, and Midwesterners ended it. It was not Yankees that defeated the South. It was Midwestern men like Grant and Sherman, both from Ohio. The president they served was from Illinois.

Lincoln had decided that the war was so horrible that it had to end by all means, even if it meant totally devastating the South. That very July, the two armies at Gettysburg suffered 51,000 casualties in just three days. The following fall, Lincoln ordered Sherman's March to the Sea, and five months later, the war was over. (At least 618,000 Americans died in the Civil War.)

We often hear that only a tiny percentage of whites held slaves, but that was not true of the Deep South. Nearly half of all white Mississippians owned slaves: of 63,015 white households, 30,943 of them held slaves, according to the 1860 census. There were more than 436,000 slaves in Mississippi, or 55 percent of the total population. In Hinds County alone, 1,421 white households held 22,363 slaves, the highest slave-to-master ratio in Mississippi and the ninth highest in the South.

Is it any wonder that Jackson burned?

When we remember the Civil War, we must always think first of the 4 million slaves who were freed by it.

States' rights was never anything more than a fig leaf for the right to hold slaves. How can one speak of states' rights when 55 percent of Mississippi's population could not vote? Those 436,000 slaves were counted as 261,600 Americans under the 3/5 compromise, even though they could not vote, thus boosting Southern representation and ensuring the survival of slavery.

Certainly, Mississippi's legislators thought the Civil War was about slavery. In the Articles of Secession, they began, "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery." They wrote, "By an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun." They were outraged that they might lose "property worth four billions of money." (Click here to read the Public Eye's story for the Articles of Secession.)

The war was not a fight over principle. It was not caused by northern financial interests, even if they benefited from it.

It was caused by the vanity and evil of white men who thought they had the right to enslave people who were black. The better among them were almost decent, though we must remember that even an "enlightened" master like Thomas Jefferson did not free his slaves until after he died. The worst among them inflicted tortures beyond polite description.

Opposition to slavery was a religious movement before it was a war. My father's church, the American Baptist Church, split with the Southern Baptist Church over this very issue. There was a great religious awakening in the North and the Midwest, a horror at the horrors of slavery.

It is an important moral decision whether we regard the Civil War as a war between the states or a civil war. Racism is always a question of what you choose to see, and only the latter acknowledges that 436,000 Mississippians opposed slavery.

The myth of the loyal slave who stayed to fight at his master's side, endlessly recycled in romantic melodramas like "Gone With the Wind," is made absurd by the fact that hundreds of thousands of slaves deserted their masters during the war. More than 180,000 of them became Union soldiers.

If it was only a war between the states, all African Americans are made silent and consigned again to the evil of Confederate rule. Look at your African-American neighbor, even if you live in a gated community far from Jackson's dreaded west side, far from the destitute descendants of the slaves who were "freed" into poverty. Do you really think he wants to be a slave?

Previous Comments

ID
72402
Comment

Is this the same Sherman that went west after the war with Phil Sheridan and slaughtered the American Indians with the Gattling gun?

Author
ATLExile
Date
2006-05-18T10:48:22-06:00
ID
72403
Comment

interestting tale abou the first occupation: In May of 63, Grant and Sherman both were have said to have toured the captured Capital city and went the the factories of Phillips and Greene. They were making tent canvas for the CSA. It was all women working in the mill. They watched and then told the young ladies to go home as there would be no more tents made today. They then promptly had the factories fired. Yes Jackson was burned three times. But it was also clearly in the path of contending armies and the result was inevitable. "Fighting Joe" Johnson (actually a better term would be "marching backward" Joe Johnson) would never leave and go out and fight so he just fortified. It had to be reduced. And was. But oddly enough when the State legislature re-convened in Jackson in 1866 they were able to find plenty of homes to be quartered in. There has been a recent diary journal uncovered where a young union soldier writes about the looting of Jackson durng the second occupation. he notes about all of the pianos and houseold seating piled up in the streets (Capital & State) and being set on fire. He wondered after such senseless waste. It was Sherman who said.....War is hell......

Author
ATLExile
Date
2006-05-18T11:15:22-06:00
ID
72404
Comment

Yes. No one claimed that Sherman was a nice or even a good man.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-05-18T11:15:36-06:00
ID
72405
Comment

Brian I just can't judge the tragedy of 19th century slavery with our 20/21rst century minds and realities. The 19th century in America was a horrible time. Brutal and disjointed. If you and I could go back to "hot humid" 19th century Mississippi with our 21rst century reality we would be appalled at how primitive it all was. Primitive, filthy, and rural. The people effected by that war were not even the same species that we see today. The blacks were not the same and the whites were not the same. They were little bent sickly people (look at the photos of Jeff Davis and Abe) with chronic problems and no relief but death. No one (middle and poor class) even lived much past 40. That fight was inevitable and it was based on sectional hatred, economics/tariffs, slaves, and religion built since four score and seven years before. Those two brothers were needing to come out slugging each other and they did. As the reverend Jesse Jackson said "some of you came over on the Mayflower, some of you on slave ships and some of you "charter"....."but it don't make no mind now, cause we in the same boat tonight".............

Author
ATLExile
Date
2006-05-18T11:37:57-06:00
ID
72406
Comment

I hear what you're saying ATLExile, but the 19th century was not so vastly different from today. Certainly, neither blacks nor whites were a "different species." They were both human, and white people in particular had a moral obligation to recognize the evil of slavery. It was evil then and it is evil now. I also do not believe that the war was inevitable. If the South had remained in the Union after Lincoln's election, he certainly woulnd't have pushed them out of the Union. He considered all manner of unspeakable compromises, up to and including paying the South for the property value of its slaves. If the South had remained in the Union, it could have continued to thwart abolition. Ultimately, we are all lucky that the white men in charge were too vain and arrogant (what they called "honor") to pursue that course.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-05-18T12:12:47-06:00
ID
72407
Comment

"The people effected by that war were not even the same species that we see today. The blacks were not the same and the whites were not the same. They were little bent sickly people (look at the photos of Jeff Davis and Abe) with chronic problems and no relief but death." Maybe this is the logic slave owners used when they went to slave markets. That's probably why they purchased slaves in bulk, if they could afford it. "He's sickly, I better by three!" Not to mention, the slaves were only 3/5 of one whole little bent-over sickly persons. I bet that's why they ranged in price--it depended on how bad their osteoporosis was. Now I'm wondering, though, if the different species of people (both black and white) gradually morphed into the present 21st century species, or if it were abrupt. If it happened gradually, it probably would have more sense to faze out slavery. That way all of that free, unwillful labor could have been taken over in increments by the sickly white people who grew stronger everyday. (They probably really wanted to do the work themselves anyway but simply couldn't.) Epiphany... Abolition should have been a process! Nah, ATLExile, doesn't work for me. We can't move forward if we're unable and unwilling to look backward, acknowledge our ugly past and be wounded healers, so to speak. Deciding that we'll simply all get along because we're all here ignores the struggle and the impact the past had and continues to have on us.

Author
nacollier
Date
2006-05-18T13:50:41-06:00
ID
72408
Comment

and they were vain and head strong (I guess that can be construed as arrogant). Bumbled right into it. When ever slavery is brought up today though all I have is my modern image of myself, a white guy, and the black man that I know today. I can't see him as ever being a slave or me being an owner dependent upon his blood and sweat to survive. I don't have the image, in motion anyway, of what a white or black man was in 1861. I imagine that 95% of Blacks and Whites were quite primitive and ignorant. I mean if you looked at it today......dumb enough to think they could own a man and dumb enough to believe they could be owned.......I'd say two to tango.

Author
ATLExile
Date
2006-05-18T13:56:37-06:00
ID
72409
Comment

Wonderful writing and storytelling Brian. Quite educational, too. This kind of history was taught to me by racist whites still crying that the south lost. As a result I stopped reading it, and believed very little of what they taught or I read. It's refreshing to hear about some of it now by someone who isn't pushing the southern agenda. The truth is all I ever wanted.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-05-18T14:13:53-06:00
ID
72410
Comment

Thank you, Ray. I appreciate that.

Author
Brian Johnson
Date
2006-05-18T15:12:41-06:00
ID
72411
Comment

Stories like this make me feel proud to be born and raised in Jackson.

Author
JSU
Date
2006-05-23T10:05:21-06:00
ID
72412
Comment

"Lincoln had decided that the war was so horrible that it had to end by all means, even if it meant totally devastating the South." Actually, Lincoln wasn't opposed to slavery. He was trying to end the massive bloodshed of the Civil War and this was the only card he was instructed to play. but he had to pay with his life for that decision.

Author
JSU
Date
2006-05-23T10:08:58-06:00
ID
72413
Comment

I'm kind of late but Nice article Brian. It's always good to gain knowledge on the history of this city. I think ATL may have exaggerated a bit about people from the 1800's being a different species from people living today, but I think the point may be that IMO people today wouldn't last half as long as those living in what we would call primitive conditions back then. I also concur that the American civil war was inevitable. IMO, slavery was the biggest problem but I think that there were other isues that began to strain the relationship between the North and the South, and the issue of slavery was the icing on the cake so to speak. I'm not a historian or anything but from what I was taught, this is what I think. Another point I wanted to comment on: "Maybe this is the logic slave owners used when they went to slave markets. That's probably why they purchased slaves in bulk, if they could afford it. "He's sickly, I better by three!" Hardly, African Americans also faced all the chronic diseases that all people faced during those times, but when they went to the slave markets the focus was which slave was the biggest, strongest and looked the healthiest, sickly slaves were not a high priority. Slaves were used to do all the hard and dirty work.

Author
jan2006
Date
2006-05-24T10:50:17-06:00
ID
72414
Comment

The "maybe that's the logic..." comment was a sarcastic one.

Author
Walker Sampson
Date
2006-05-24T16:22:02-06:00
ID
72415
Comment

Let me clarify my "Species" statement. I don't mean as much humanoid as I do "Societal". We discuss slavery in very much 21rst century terms, "Slavery" "emotions" "proported evidence" of the mass tragedy bondage without being able to know anything definitively or verify anything, except scant reports from people with vested interests in their own cause......It's the same as "Java" Man.......when first discovered Java Man was the end all. He had a society, norms tribal customs......a history of sorts. All of this wonder and expectation was based on a skull fragment and a jaw bone...... If you pulled a "Conneticut Yankee in King Aurthur's Court" routine and went back with all the stuff we have piled on the Slave issue and the Civil War....they would think we to be crazy. Neither race, black or white, could even relate to our speech patterns and logic let alone our societal rules.......you know we have come to expect that "Booker T" & Oprah were waiting at the gate of every plantation and squatting in the ruined "burned" broken walls of every city waiting for the blue caps to liberate them......they weren't. We would not know those people and they would not in any way relate to us.....That's what I mean't

Author
ATLExile
Date
2006-05-24T17:06:45-06:00
ID
72416
Comment

jan2006, slavery was never the icing on the cake. It was the cake. The icing was all of these tertiary arguments over states' rights and territorial expansion. Or to set aside the metaphor, slavery was always the central disagreement between the North and South. This was so when the Constitution was written, and it was so in 1860. Yes, the South was more agricultural, and the North was industrializing, concentrating capital. But you were taught a "subtler" truth that is not true at all, that even though it looks like the Civil War was fought over slavery, it was actually fought over something else. But all roads lead to Rome. Southern states fought with the North over territorial expansion because they wanted to balance slave and free votes. Every compromise between the North and South over expansion proceeded from this premise. States' rights always meant the right to hold slaves. Why does the obvious truth make people so uncomfortable? As for your comments, ATLExile, you are wrong on almost every point. First, there are many, many historical documents regarding slavery. We can only reconstruct what slave life was like, but we have extensive census data, deeds, wills, letters from masters, masters' diaries, and slaves' diaries. There is no comparison with Java man. I assume by referring to Java man you are speaking of Homo Erectus. There is now extensive fossil evidence for 13 "transitional" species between Homo Sapiens and the progenitor that split from the Gorilla-Chimpanzee-Bonobo line, although some scientists argue that some species may only be local variations in a dispersed species, like Homo Erectus, for instance. Every year, new fossils are found in Africa, despite difficult conditions. Rather than a "missing link," we now have a veritable "bush" of hominid species, with hundreds of supporting fossils. I do not know what this has to do with the Civil War. Not all masters had an interest in presenting things from their "vested" perspective. Some were perfectly candid in their diaries. One plantation owner wrote about administering what he called "Derby's Dose" to particularly disobedient slaves. WARNING: The following is true but upsetting. In this punishment, one slave was forced to defecate into another's mouth. That slave's mouth was then gagged and he was left to suffer with feces in his mouth for 12 hours or more. Some masters kept meticulous records on how often they raped their slaves, and even Thomas Jefferson had a slave "mistress." Historians have uncovered an enormous amount of documentary evidence about how slavery worked in the last 30 years. But then, I have not heard anyone speak of "Java Man" in a long time. As for your assertion that we could not understand the "speach patterns" and "logic" let alone "the societal rules" of 19th Century America, you are utterly, flatout wrong. You would have no trouble having a conversation with a 19th Century American. If we can understand our governor today, we could understand Americans then. To say nothing of the British. "Logic" has hardly changed at all. These were Christians who knew Plato and Descartes. More to the point, there is not such a moral gulf between us and our great grandfathers. They knew the Golden rule. They believed in "democracy." Do not promote a cheap moral relativism. Slavery was wrong in 54 BC, and it was wrong in 1860. What has changed is not "logic" but "societal rules." This is not a matter of what one wears to dinner. This is the fact that women and African-Americans can now vote. They should have had the vote in 1860, and that is why the war was necessary. Thankfully, the emancipation of women has been more peaceful, though we are due for another shit storm on this front any day now. Make abortion illegal, and you will ultimately produce the next New Deal. Most offensive is your bald assertion that slaves were not waiting in the "broken walls of every city for the blue caps to liberate them." Why should we take your word for it? I talked about census figures and Union Army enlistments by former slaves to demonstrate that the Civil War was also a slave uprising. Southern masters had learned cruelty too well to lose control of their slaves, but when the Union army arrived, slaves jumped at the chance for freedom. How dare you deny them that? You talk about Oprah, as if the liberty of your brothers and sisters is a TV dinner. Do you understand that Oprah is just a self-enamored celebrity? The Civil War killed at least 618,000 people. Real people. There were 4 million slaves. Real people. They were not so different from you.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-05-24T18:43:23-06:00
ID
72417
Comment

The "maybe that's the logic..." comment was a sarcastic one. Still doesn't mean I can't comment on it.

Author
jan2006
Date
2006-05-25T12:28:51-06:00
ID
72418
Comment

Brian, yeah I see your point, maybe I should have stated it the other way around (the icing and the cake metaphor) but my point is that i think the civil war was inevitable, because there were other issues (social, political, & territorial) that strained the relationship between the north and the south. i.e. social security issue, the issue of state law vs federal law, tariff of abominations

Author
jan2006
Date
2006-05-25T12:51:11-06:00
ID
72419
Comment

these were some issues that were all leading up to a war. I think that if slavery was not a problem back then, sooner or later a civil war would have still happened due to other differences. some countries can always find something to fight about

Author
jan2006
Date
2006-05-25T12:53:34-06:00
ID
72420
Comment

"In this punishment, one slave was forced to defecate into another's mouth. That slave's mouth was then gagged and he was left to suffer with feces in his mouth for 12 hours or more" Well that brings an all new meaning to the term "Potty Mouth"....

Author
ATLExile
Date
2006-05-25T12:59:11-06:00
ID
72421
Comment

yeah that is pretty repulsive. i'v never heard anything like that before.

Author
jan2006
Date
2006-05-25T13:18:44-06:00
ID
72422
Comment

Great quote for this thread: We must do something, and we must do it now. We must educate the white people out of their 250 years of slave history. — Ida B. Wells

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-05-26T16:35:22-06:00

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

comments powered by Disqus