John Thomas Scharf of Baltimore, Maryland (1843 – 1898) was an American historian, author, journalist, antiquarian, politican, lawyer, and a Confederate soldier and sailor. He is best known for his published historical works concerning Maryland and Delaware up to the latter years of his life.
His works include:
1974 — Chronicles of Baltimore; 1879 — History of Maryland; 1881 — History of Baltimore City and County; 1882 — History of Western Maryland; 1884 — History of Philadelphia; 1888 — History of Delaware, and 1894 — History of the Confederate States Navy.
It was that portion of Scharf’s History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day (1879) which concerned the War Between the States that prompted Joyce L. Bennett to write and contribute the following commentary:
The Truth Should Live From Age to Age*
by Joyce Bennett
History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, by John Thomas Scharf, published in 1879
John Thomas Scharf debunks both the nascent “Civil War” revisionism of the late 1800’s and the rabid deconstruction of recent times. Rather than a distraction, his frequent and lengthy footnotes (some a page long) constitute an indispensable under-book of information and quotations from primary sources. Scharf’s prose, though hardly florid or heavy, might seem ponderous to the average high schooler or collegiate of today. But for the serious student of history and the parent who wishes to counter the enormities of public “education,” reading or consulting this 782-page treatment of the war, its antecedents and aftermath, will serve as a perfect point of departure for any investigation of this epochal conflict.
By way of comparison, the twelve-page account of the war contained in Scharf contemporary Henry Onderdonk’s History of Maryland (1879) can only be described as ironic or inept. Onderdonk, a New Yorker, celebrates a precipitous change of heart on the part of Baltimoreans whose armed defiance of Northern soldiers making their way through Baltimore on April 19, 1861 resulted in the spilling of the first Southern blood of the war. As if a switch had been thrown, the citizens of the strategically vital port of entry threw down their weapons and offered their “cordial support” to the occupation Yankee troops who “thronged the streets and squares by day and by night” and trained their guns on the city. Onderdonk still allows that this newly “loyal” Maryland, if given half a chance, doubtlessly would have come to the aid of the South with a “military hand.” Dulaney’s History of Maryland, anonymously authored by “a Marylander,” Dulaney being the publisher, avoids the pitfalls of lying about unpleasant events, virtually, by ignoring them. Sparing only a page and a half to the war, Dulaney’s still manages to beg some weighty questions.
Readers of Scharf will be struck by the similarities between ante bellum radicals and those of the twenty-first century. They employed the same tactics and trickery their counterparts favor today: sophistry, outright lying, perfidy in the guise of compromise, vilification of the opposition, playing the “race card,” the nineteenth-century version of this device. And much of what Scharf has to say about the war in Maryland and the larger South will prove revelatory to both Southerners and Northerners.
His discussion of electoral improprieties in Maryland devastates the “proof” of the state’s Unionist sentiments offered by revisionists down through the last century and a half. Onderdonk, for example, concludes that Maryland had taken a “decided stand” in favor of the Union because of Republican victories in the 1861 election, an election Scharf calls a “shameless mockery.” The North by the summer of that year, however, had Maryland (and portions of the Upper South) by the throat, and there were to be no more free elections in the state until 1867 when most of the Yankees went back up North. At last out from under Lincoln’s heel, Marylanders immediately replaced the illegitimate Republican-friendly 1864 Maryland constitution, an instrument, in spite of Yankee intrigue, that was rejected at the polls and was only “ratified” because of what election historian John T. Willis dryly terms an “unusual vote” on the part of Northern troops, some of whom voted “viva voce.”
Scharf establishes that Republican victories in Maryland had no more meaning than those of South Carolina or Georgia during their time on the cross in the days following the war. In 1860 Lincoln took no county in Maryland, winning a mere two and a half percent of the popular vote. Even in the so-called Unionist or “divided” areas of Maryland, occupation forces were a factor in election outcomes Col. J. W. Geary of the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment was “happy” to report to his superior officer that Northern troops had produced a “Union victory” in Frederick, Jefferson, New Market, Sandy Hook and other Western Maryland towns. Because of such lawlessness, just four years after John Breckinridge had won the popular vote in Maryland, Lincoln did the same.
Post bellum Republican victories in the Deep South states are not, even to the most unrepentant of revisionists, evidence that these states were loyal to the North, but prejudices concerning Maryland die hard. Her reconstruction seems to be of no real consequence even among some Southern historians, who often talk about violations of civil rights in “Northern” states such as Maryland. But no Northern state was conquered during the War of Secession; Maryland fell to the North as surely as her sisters in the lower South were to fall a few years later (New Orleans—along with several parishes in Louisiana—succumbed to Yankee conquest just a year after Baltimore).
Nothing is more representative of conditions in the Old Line State than an 1862 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Maryland Governor A. W. Bradford in which Lincoln admonishes the governor to stop complaining about voting irregularities and military intervention at the polls and reminds him that these very illegalities delivered to Bradford his own office. Scharf quotes a Boston Commonwealth editorial that explains the necessity of voter intimidation and suppression in Maryland and Delaware in 1863 to offset what had been unexpected anti-radical Republican copperhead victories in Ohio and to guarantee that the “aggregate public-opinion of the country obtain[ed] recognition, somehow or other.” Witness the death of subsidiarity, the rise of mob rule and the birth of the malignancy of the American unitary state.
Though Scharf was an honored member of many historical societies in Northern as well as Southern states, an ex-Confederate such as he, modern historians and academics “reason,” could not have been an honest chronicler of the war because he served on the “wrong” side; he fought for the South. On the other hand, histories authored by long-ago Lincoln apologists are gospel. The case could be made that the works of these court historians might be preferable to the insipid “fair and balanced” histories currently in vogue which hint tantalizingly at the truth and proffer only an apparent objectivity by hammering selected facts into a flawed intellectual substrate. In telling the story of Maryland, Scharf relies heavily on the Yankees’ own words. If the North’s self-incriminating correspondence, journals, editorials and military records do not open the eyes of Americans to the historical deception perpetrated first by the victors of Lincoln’s immoral war and later by South-hating deconstructionists, then nothing can. The will does violence to the intellect. _______________
* King Richard III, act 3, scene 1
To see our listing of Scharf’s history of Maryland, clink on the link below:
Joyce L. Bennett is an accomplished writer herself. To view her work, Letters from the Outpost: Essays on the Cultural Cleansing of a Small Southern State, published in 2014, click below: