Chapter 20 – In Response to Lincoln’s War Proclamation, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas Secede, and the Civilized Native American Nations Choose Sides.
By Howard Ray White of N. C., S. I. S. H.
You should not be surprised that the people and governments of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas refused to support a military invasion of sister states to their south. Below, read about President Lincoln’s request for state militia, and, in response, the refusals and secessions of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, which expanded the Confederacy to 11 states and doubled the white population. Earlier, all four states had experienced votes against secession.
President Lincoln only had access to about 16,000 U.S. troops to stop further secession and to force seceded states back under the Federal Government. But there was a 1799 law that allowed him to ask governors for state militia on short notice, but it limited the total requested to 75,000. So, on April 15, 1861, President Lincoln asked the governor of each US state to send militia to reinforce the US Army – submitting the following justification to each governor and to the population:
“Whereas the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law. Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. . . . And I hereby command the persons composing the combinations aforesaid to disperse, and retire peaceably to their respective abodes within 20 days from this date. . . .”
At the same time Secretary of War Simon Cameron sent each governor the following telegraphed request for militia:
“Sir: Under the act of Congress for calling out the militia to execute the laws of the Union to suppress insurrection, repel invasion, &c., approved February 28th, 1795, I have the honor to request your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your state, the quota designated in the table below to serve as infantry or riflemen for three months, or sooner, if discharged.”
The quota for states with Republican governors totaled 72 regiments (56,160 troops) – 17 regiments from NY, 16 from PA, 13 from OH; 6 each from IL and IN; 4 from NJ, 2 from MA, 1 each from: ME, NH, VT, RI, CT, MI, WI, IA, and MN, and less than one from DC. The quota for states with Democrat governors totaled 21 regiments (16,380 troops) – 4 each from MD, KY, and MO; 3 from VA, 2 each from NC and TN; 1 each from DE and AR. There was to be 37 officers and 743 men in each regiment. The defiant response from the following Democrat governors helps the student understand why state secession quickly followed.
Virginia Governor John Letcher refused to send Lincoln any militia. On the same day, April 17, the Virginia Convention adopted an Ordinance of Secession by a final vote of 103 versus 46. On May 23, Virginians would ratify secession by 78% versus 22%. Most of the no votes were from Virginia’s western counties (now in West Virginia), which were economically tied to the Ohio River Valley. Immediately, the commander of the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry directed the destruction by fire of all the buildings, armaments and arms manufacturing and repair machinery. Likewise, the commander of the Federal shipyard at Norfolk directed the torching of all buildings, destroying valuable steam engines and other machinery, and the burning of the large warship Pennsylvania and the sinking of six, including the Merrimac.
North Carolina Governor John Ellis told Lincoln, “I can be no party to this wicked violation of the laws of the United States, and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.” Anticipating Federal destruction of NC armaments, Ellis shrewdly ordered the State Militia to immediately seize the arsenal at Fayetteville and the 3 Federal forts located within the State. On May 20 the North Carolina Convention would vote, 120 versus 0, to secede.
Tennessee Governor Isham Harris refused to send militia, telegraphing Lincoln he would not send even one man for the purpose of invading the Confederacy, “but 50,000, if necessary, for the defense of our rights, and those of our Southern brothers.” The Tennessee State Legislature would approve an Ordinance of Session on May 6, which Tennesseans would vote, 69% versus 31%, to ratify on June 8.
Arkansas Governor Henry Rector refused to send the Federal Government any militia. Rector informed Lincoln, “The people of this Commonwealth are freemen, not slaves, and will defend to the last extremity, their honor, lives and property against Northern mendacity and usurpation.” Rector ordered the state militia to immediately seize the Federal military stores at Napoleon, Arkansas. On May 6 the Arkansas Convention would vote, 69 versus 1, to secede.
Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas joined the Confederate States of America and the Confederate capital would soon be moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. The addition of these 4 states greatly increased the Confederate economic and military capacity.
For the most part, Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws and Chickasaws supported the Confederacy. To learn why, Google “Cherokee Declaration of Causes, October 28, 1861.” Cherokee brigadier general Stand Watie would be the last to surrender. But Confederate faithfulness would severely punish these Native Americans: never to have a state of their own.
In the next chapter you will learn how the Democrat states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri responded to the request for militia to reinforce the Republican military campaign to conquer seceded states.
Suggestions for Class Discussion
S.I.S.H. member Gene Kizer, Jr. asks, “Since 52.4% of white Southerners, a majority, lived in Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina, and since those states clearly seceded over the issue of Federal coercion (use of military force), isn’t it fair to say that Federal coercion is the major cause of the war?”