Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mississippi, the Civil War & Chariton's John Aughey

I stumbled upon an interesting 2014 documentary the other day from Mississippi Public Broadcasting that provided fresh insights, to me at least, about the Civil War, its causes and effects. It's entitled "Mississippi's War: Slavery and Secession" and runs about an hour, a considerable commitment of time in this day and age, but worthwhile.

Although the documentary deals specifically with the war, its causes and long-term effects in just one  state, the Mississippi experience and the Iowa experience certainly were linked in various ways. Among them, Iowans benefited from the booming "king cotton" slave-based economy of the South during the years leading up to war; then during the war, hundreds of young Iowans died there --- including two uncles of mine, Jim Rhea and Gene Dunlap, one in combat at Vicksburg, the other of disease at Jackson.


The Civil War, its causes and post-war consequences are relevant in the divided United States as we're experiencing it now, some would argue, in large part because as a nation we've never dealt with racial issues that arise from the fact a slave-based economy underpinned it during formative years. Just as we've never dealt with racial, cultural, religious and other issues that arise from destruction of our native people during those same formative years and beyond.

In any case, the documentary deals concisely with a number of historical "sacred cows" that have developed during the post-war experience. Among them, especially in the South, is the idea that the war resulted from something other than a desire to preserve the institution of slavery --- state rights often are cited.

And then there's President Lincoln's burnished reputation as the "great emancipator." Which he was, of course, but he also was a pragmatic man of his time and a politician and while not in favor of slavery probably would have allowed it to stand where it existed before war erupted had it been possible to find compromise at crucial times.

Then there's the idea that the economic elite of the south favored war. In Mississippi, at least, hotheads favored war. The planters --- the millionaires of their time --- in a good many cases were opposed to secession because they knew war would disrupt if not destroy their businesses and doubted the ability of the South to prevail. Many were prepared to take their chances with Lincoln.

And finally, that our Iowa Union ancestors fought and died to end slavery. In the long run they did, but most thought at the time that they were fighting (and dying) to preserve the Union; slavery was a secondary issue. Although there were active and vocal abolitionists in Iowa at the time, the great majority of our Iowa ancestors were not among them.


I was also pleased to find in the Mississippi documentary a cameo appearance by the handsome mug of and a few words from the Rev. John Hill Aughey, later of Chariton, who was living and working in Mississippi when war broke out. 

A Unionist firebrand, his 1863’s “The Iron Furnace: or, Slavery and Secession,” became widely influential in the North. His next book, “Tupelo,” completed during the 1880s when Aughey was preaching in Chariton, was a revised and expanded version of “The Iron Furnace,” and it, too, was a best-seller. You can read more about Aughey and his two terms as pastor of Chariton's First Presbyterian Church here.

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