1861-1865 “Confederate Bastille”


from: Mark E. Neeley, SOUTHERN RIGHTS: POLITICAL PRISONERS AND THE MYTH OF CONFEDERATE CONSTITUTIONALISM [Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia Press. 1999]: 1 – 3.

“Knowledge of the existence of thousands of political prisoners now reverses our basic understanding of the Confederate cause. Instead of protecting the southern rights and liberty to which politicians had extravagantly pledged their society before the war, the Confederate government curtailed many civil liberties and imprisoned troublesome citizens. Moreover, many white Confederate citizens submitted docilely to being treated as only slaves could have been treated in the antebellum South [1790 – 1860]. Some, here and there, protested the system but it operated throughout the existence of the Confederacy.

Almost daily Confederate citizens faced the test of their willingness to sacrifice liberty. For example, if they had to travel any distance on trains or carried products to market, they were likely to have irritating encounters with military officials who asked them nosy questions about their identity and destination. Guards and inquisitors confronted citizens on every railroad and at many crossroads. Thus in March 1862 a Virginian names Eppes complained to the secretary of war that ‘there are guards between Franklin and the City of Petersburg, who have instructions to ‘stop’ and ‘search’ on the public highway all carts and wagons and if they have ‘bacon’ they are ordered back to Franklin under guard.’. Eppes bitterly reminded the secretary of war that ‘this struggle was begun in defence of Constitutional Liberty which we could not get in the United States.’

Men like Eppes recalled the pledges of the antebellum past and protested the Confederate system, but protests were not numerous. Although a great number of citizens traveled, the domestic passport system in place in much of the Confederacy during the war required the issuance of a government document each time a citizen wished to travel. It affected all railroad travel for most of the war and imposed restrictions on other modes of travel in places far from the military front. The system caused delays and often subjected citizens to impertinent scrutiny, whatever their rank in society.

The passport system can best be characterized as a gradual adaptation to the needs of mobilization and internal security. Unlike the more famous controversial measures often dwelt upon by historians of the Confederacy, conscription, impressments, or the tax-in-kind, for example, the passport system originated in the War Department and not in the Confederate Congress, but it had extensive reach without being the law of the land. [however, their was deep interest in the Confederate Congress in the domestic passport system as reflected in the following resolution adopted in the House of Representatives in January, 1861 “Mr. Garnett, by unanimous consent, offered the following resolution; which was adopted, viz: Resolved, That the President be requested to communicate any orders or regulations establishing a domestic passport system for citizens, whether men or women, traveling within the Confederate States outside the line of any army, the authority under which such order or regulations are made, and the number and compensation of the officers and men employed in administering and enforcing such system of domestic passports.’ It seems clear that, from the outset of the Confederacy, elected state representatives were monitoring the Confederacy’s use of a domestic passport system and, the absence of legislation seems to document their general satisfaction with the War Department’s rules and enforcement of them.] (1) The passport system quietly but firmly ruled the lives of citizens who traveled, whether they came from Indian Territory in the West or Richmond in the East. Passports were necessary for travel in some places as early as the summer of 1861 and nearly everywhere by the summer of 1864.

Those unsympathetic to the Jefferson Davis administration noticed the system right away and pointed out its resemblance to the antebellum system requiring passes for slaves and free African Americans. In East Tennessee, for example, where martial law was declared in 1861, opposition leader William G. “Parson” Brownlow commented, “Every little upstart of an officer in command of a village or crossroads would proclaim martial law, and require all going beyond, or coming within, his lines to show a pass, like some negro slave.” [pages 1 to 3]

1. from THE JOURNAL OF THE CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA, 1861 [12 January 1861], Volume 6, page 615.

The issue of civilian disloyality and Union sentiments, within the Confederacy, was an early issue considered by President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress. This February, 1861 letter from Davis to Confederate House of Representatives documents that fact.

THIRTY-NINTH DAY — SATURDAY, February 28, 1863.


“The Chair laid before the House a communication from the President; which is as follows, to wit:

Richmond, Va., February 7, 1861 (the date Jeff Davis wrote the letter).

To the House of Representatives:

I herewith transmit a communication from the Secretary of War, containing a list of the civilian prisoners now in custody at the military prison at Salisbury, N. C, in further response to your resolution of the 5th instant, and invite attention to the recommendation in regard to a class of officers to be charged with the special duty of inquiring into the cases of prisoners arrested by military authority. I think such officers would be useful, they being selected for special qualifications and invested with specific powers.


which was read, laid upon the table, and ordered to be printed. from THE JOURNAL OF THE CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA

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