There seem to be lots of petitions floating around among the states calling for secession. The last time I looked in to this it seems that things did not go well for the states that actually seceded, nor did they go well for the states that committed to the union. It was just a horrible experience. It was so bad that this native Mississippian feels that Mississippi didn’t actually, completely, and functionally come out of Reconstruction until the 1980’s. Many may disagree, since reconstruction was officially over for Mississippi in 1876; but Mississippi’s Jim Crow laws and voter suppression efforts led to other Federal interventions, and Mississippi is one of the few sates still covered by the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and 1968. We have had a hard time living down our past, and just about the time we begin to earnestly shed the shackles and move Mississippi into the 20th century (though it’s the 21st, we are still playing catch-up) . . . who rationally wants to re-identify with the dark things in our past by talk of secession? Not me!!!
Elections and politics don’t always go the way we want, but that does not leave the citizenry without a voice, nor of a means for the redress of grievances. I am certainly numbered among those who resent the deeper infiltration of the Federal government into more and more aspects of our lives, and I see our liberties being siphoned off one by one by a Federal juggernaut that seems to be out of control. There is no question in my mind that my own representatives have contributed to the out-of-control spending and regulation. A significant portion of this has come about by Congress’ abdication of its role as lawmaker by allowing the creation of commissions, agencies, bureaus, and authorities that are empowered by congress to create regulations that have all the effect of law. In effect, we have bureaucrats working for the Executive branch making policy that have the effect of law. Why Congress has chosen to abdicate its responsibility and delegate its authority and power to the executive branch is a mystery to me. I think it is even a dangerous one . . . but it is not one that cannot be fixed if our elected representatives would get about the business for which we sent them to Washington.
Because of that, and an election turned to gall and wormwood in the stomachs of many, there is this new talk of secession. It depends on which partisan, inflammatory, or spurious website you look at that leads one to a determination of just how widespread this movement is. Is it all hot air, or are some really serious?
If Nathan Bedford Forrest were alive today, he would be likely to address modern secessionists in a manner that they would find very discouraging.
“You want to WHAT?” asked the aged Civil war general.
“We want to secede from the union,” said the chairman of the Modern Secessionist League at their convention in Froward, Folly, to the specially honored guest speaker who had just now learned the reason for his invitation.
“Have y’all lost your minds?” He asked.
“No sir, General,” said the chairman, “We think the time has come to dissolve the union so we can have complete control of our own affairs here in the great and sovereign state of Folly.”
The elderly Forrest, speaking barely above a whisper and having to be supported by two aides who accompanied him everywhere, since he was 181 years old, replied, “Don’t call me General. I stopped being a general 153 years ago. There comes a time in a man’s life when he must abandon his folly and get on with working within the framework of things as they are. I don’t know why you invited me here, but I think I can assure you that this audience does not want to hear what I have to say about any secession from the union.” The weakness in his aged body could not hide the fire in his eyes as he spoke. There was a real and vital MAN still living inside the ancient body. He shook off his aides and rose to his full height, which was 6’1”, not too tall by today’s standards, but nearly a giant in his days as a young man . . . and even now, seeming taller than he actually was . . . and standing alone on the dais, looked his audience over and declared, “You must stop this foolishness,” at which they gasped. Not getting the response they had expected.
“I sacrificed everything I owned for a cause I believed in, even though that cause turned out to sheer foolishness. I tell you all that the war that will follow will be anything but glorious, and I know that glory is what you are seeing for yourselves. But there is no glory. There is only death, blood, and the sacrifice of your property, the safety and comfort of your mothers, your wives, and your daughters, and the death and dismemberment of your sons. There is a time for war, and when brought to it, all a man can do is fight, but to seek it is the height of the folly of mankind, and you are headed down a path which you do not want, nor from which you can stray once you start.
“I know what I am talking about. I have sent my own men to their deaths, and spent their lives like I might have spent nickels from my pocket. I have looked men square in the eyes and knowingly and willingly fired my pistol right into their face at point blank range and watched them die. I have run men through with my saber an cursed them as I pushed their dying body off its point, and wiped their own blood on their clothes to clean it. I did this without a second thought, and I would do it again. I doubt many of you have the stomach for such business, preferring to send others to do this for you, but it’s your own sons you will send.
“I have had musket balls cut out of my body without the benefit of any anesthesia other than a drink of whiskey, and bitten on bullets and sweated while the surgeons did their shoddy work, only to have it done again the following week. I doubt many of you would be willing to do this. I earned the respect of my men by never asking them to do something that I would not do, led a thousand charges from the front, not the rear, but in doing so, I watched my own family come to near starvation as I earnestly fought for a lost cause that was lost from the very beginning. But I did what I felt was my duty to the best of my ability, though it cost me everything but my life, and how I wish I have been killed in my first battle rather than to have seen those things which still haunt me after all these many years. The thing that perhaps haunts me most is what we would have become had we won. Just what is it that we would have won, and how would it have served us?”
The once enraptured crowd had fallen into a deathly silence, pondering these words they had not expected to hear, pondering them because they knew that the one speaking was not talking through a vision of future glory, but through experiences none of them had encountered, not thought through, and not thought would actually affect them or their fortunes. Words that had come so easily from their mouths just moments before now seemed stuck in their craw, choking them like an alkaline dust stirred by hot desert winds.
“On May 9, 1865, I made my farewell address to my troops. I never expect to have to utter such words again in my lifetime, or yours. I will read to you what I said then.”
By an agreement made between Liet.-Gen. Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama. Mississippi, and East Louisiana, and Major-Gen. Canby, commanding United States forces, the troops of this department have been surrendered.
I do not think it proper or necessary at this time to refer to causes which have reduced us to this extremity; nor is it now a matter of material consequence to us how such results were brought about. That we are BEATEN is a self-evident fact, and any further resistence on our part would justly be regarded as the very height of folly and rashness.
The armies of Generals LEE and JOHNSON having surrendered, you are the last of all the troops of the Confederate States Army east of the Mississippi River to lay down your arms.
The Cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations, and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. The government which we sought to establish and perpetuate, is at an end. Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms — submit to the “powers that be” — and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land.
The terms upon which you were surrendered are favorable, and should be satisfactory and acceptable to all. They manifest a spirit of magnanimity and liberality, on the part of the Federal authorities, which should be met, on our part, by a faithful compliance with all the stipulations and conditions therein expressed. As your Commander, I sincerely hope that every officer and soldier of my command will cheerfully obey the orders given, and carry out in good faith all the terms of the cartel.
Those who neglect the terms and refuse to be paroled, may assuredly expect, when arrested, to be sent North and imprisoned. Let those who are absent from their commands, from whatever cause, report at once to this place, or to Jackson, Miss.; or, if too remote from either, to the nearest United States post or garrison, for parole.
Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men.
The attempt made to establish a separate and independent Confederation has failed; but the consciousness of having done your duty faithfully, and to the end, will, in some measure, repay for the hardships you have undergone.
In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the Cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, has elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my past success in arms.
I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.
N.B. Forrest, Lieut.-General
Headquarters, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps
May 9, 1865
My own great-great grandfather, Ransom Lane McElroy, of Company C of the 2nd Mississippi Cavalry was there in Gainesville, Alabama, to hear that speech. He had served with Forrest during the war, and his company was later transferred to Lieutenant-General Richard Taylor, Forrest’s commanding officer, mentioned above. That Ransom Lane McElroy was a tough soldier, there is no doubt . . . for Forrest would have no slackers and shirkers in his cavalry; he would not think twice about dispatching any man who was derelict in his duty. Ransom Lane McElroy received his parole in Gainesville, Alabama, that same day of May 9, 1865. As a Confederate cavalry soldier, he owned his own horse, which he was allowed to keep and he rode it home the 50 miles or so to Lauderdale, Mississippi, the home of my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my mother, and my six-great grandfather who was the un-named father of the great Choctaw chief, Pushmataha . . . the place where I was also raised, just ten miles south of my current home in Kemper County, Mississippi. My roots run deep here, all the way back to days of the Woodland and Archaic period indians, before there was any recording of history. Perhaps that is why it feels so much like home; it is in my blood.
My family possesses a painting of Ransom Lane, or “Paw” as he was called, according to my Uncle Son, who is the only one left that is old enough to remember him. Paw had a big moustache like me. I wonder if he has ever peeked down from heaven at me, elbowed some of his former cavalry brothers and observed to them, “That boy has a fine moustache!”
Paw returned home with his horse. In immediate post-civil war Mississippi, that made him a wealthy man. I don’t know what he may have been feeling or thinking about the speech of the General he admired and served during the late unpleasantness. I doubt if he or the general he served so faithfully would be signing any petitions about secession, today. I’m certain I won’t, because . . . because, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
And our President, our nation’s Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces has taken the following oath, and will take it again this January, 2013: I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The soldiers who serve under him have already taken or will take this oath: I, (NAME), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
If our pledges and our oaths mean nothing, then nothing can help this country. Our word MUST MEAN something; in fact, it MUST MEAN everything.