The following illustration epitomizes the propaganda efforts of the union sympathizers during the war. Unfortunately Neely’s book is not much more than an extension of the propaganda although he has been sanctified by anointing by the victor’s press. Even that can not make his book worthwhile.
Just as the Southern governors would send their militias to fight under a unified command the citizens of the South would meet the deprivations of a starvation blockade and the paranoia of an atmosphere of quislings and fifth columnists by sacrificing their most cherished rights to the need to repel the invaders and be allowed to continue the lives that so many families had sacrificed so much for in the first revolution in peace. This book isolates on hard cases that as the axiom goes make bad law and its author may be the darling of the Lincolnian’s but that doesn’t make him right.
The States in the South all had functioning court systems at the onset of hostilities with the north. The challenges of mobilization, war and invasion affected the administration of justice in the states, but, to the credit of the judiciary, especially on the trial level, there was a fine effort to continue the normal judicial process until Federal invasion finally disrupted the functioning of the organs of the state and local government. That invasion, in addition to the imposition of martial law by union troops, combined to at first slow, and then finally stop the operation of the courts on all levels. There is not ONE paragraph in this book that mentions the destruction of functioning state courts by the union victory or the prevalence of martial law in the twelve years following the cessation of hostilities in the occupied states.
Southern rights : political prisoners and the myth of Confederate constitutionalism Mark E. Neely, Jr. Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1999 Hardcover. vii, 212 p. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 175-204) and indexes. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
On the day Fort Sumter surrendered to Confederate authorities, General Braxton Bragg reacted to a newspaper report that might have revealed the position of gun emplacements by placing the correspondent, a union sympathizer, under arrest. During the civil war that followed, not a day would pass when Confederate military prisons did not contain political prisoners although never the nature or scope of Lincoln’s which saw everyone from congressmen to ministers locked away.
Based on the reconstruction of records of some of these prisoners Neely’s book seeks to undermine the understanding that Jefferson Davis and the Confederates were scrupulous in their respect for rights of citizens while ignoring how flagrantly Lincoln and the unionists regularly violated the rights of dissenters. Neely reveals the repression of spies and saboteurs claiming that it was evidence that Southerners were ready to give up civil liberties in response to the real threats of a foreign invasion – a choice not given mere dissidents in the north.
From the onset of hostilities communities from Selma to Lynchburg begged the Richmond government to impose martial law. Southern citizens resigned themselves to a passport system for domestic travel similar to the system of passes imposed on enslaved and free blacks before the war. These restrictive measures made commerce difficult and when one Virginian complained the Davis administration countered that the passport system was essential. Most Southerners accepted the passports as a necessary inconvenience and that the necessities of wartime mobilization had – temporarily – changed their government from a state’s rights confederacy to a powerful centralized authority.
After the war the records of men imprisoned by this authority were lost. Their partial reconstruction and interpretation by this historian seeks to explode one of the remaining myths of Lost Cause historiography and reveal Jefferson Davis as a calculated manipulator of the symbols of liberty. It fails both on the evidence presented and in a total lack of context.