Just a day or two more than 150 years ago, a correspondent of the Chattanooga Daily Rebel reported that a General Gideon Johnson Pillow, a Confederate military man blessed with an unfortunate name, gave a powerful speech to slaveholders of Madison County, Alabama, with the express purpose of cajoling them into giving their slaves to great cause of the Confederacy. It was February, 1863. "He showed conclusively," that reporter's account of the speech says, "that interest, as well as patriotism, should induce every man to use his property to strengthen our army, and to sustain our cause."
"'Let no one,' the reporter wrote, quoting Gen. Pillow, 'delude himself with the idea that he can, by the avowal of Union sentiments, or by proving false to his country, preserve his property from the ravages of the foe."
The reason for such unthinkable action as introducing slaves into the ranks of the glorious Army of the Confederacy was what General Pillow called the Union Army's "war of plunder." "Their intention," he said of Lincoln and the Yankees, "is to make slaves of the white men of the South."
Apparently, General Pillow's argument raged on. "The poor men have given their sons, the rich men have given their sons, you, all of you, have given your sons," he argued, "and now are you unwillling to give a portion of your negroes to serve as teamsters, to take the place of the brave men who would do good service as soldiers, but who are now engaged in driving wagons?"
To Gen. Pillow, such practice made no sense. Surely their negroes could drive the wagons.
Gen. Pillow's own property had already disappeared because of the War of Northern Aggression. He told the slaveholders that he himself had lost 400 of his slaves "by force of arms." What was worse, he'd learned that those slaves were now suffering from all manner of disease and were begging the enemy to be returned to him with pleas that went incomprehensibly and brutally unanswered.
"The General's speech abounded in sound views and practical suggestions," the Rebel reporter opined.
The images of the institution of slavery that stay in my mind were created by whips and nooses. But beneath that bloody horror lies the very real conviction that seems impossible today to understand--the opinion that some people thought other people were their property, as if a man were really an anvil or a woman a broom.
General Gideon Johnson Pillow held forth admirably 150 years ago in Madison County, Alabama, February, 1863, his passionate speech reported by a thoughtful newspaper correspondent. "I cannot do more than give this brief abstract of what he said," that man wrote, "omitting, as I am compelled to do, many of the best portions of his speech."
Just 150 years ago.
from The American Civil War Gazette