- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007


By James R. Hall, Pelican Publishing Co., $25, 160 pages, illustrated


By Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer Frank, Ballantine Books, $25.95, 274 pages, illustrated

Ever since the “late unpleasantness” came to a conclusion, Southerners have endured two never-ending accusations that, despite their inaccuracy, have made those from the region feel inferior because of their moral implications.

However, with the recent release of two books, the truth finally is available to all who are willing to examine the facts objectively. What makes these two books so compelling is that they were written by Northerners. (Full disclosure: I am a native Southerner and have a personal connection to the subject of one of the books.)

The charge addressed in the first book is that only Southerners mistreated their prisoners of war — most notably at Andersonville.

James R. Hall’s “Den of Misery: Indiana’s Civil War Prison” is about the infamous Union POW camp known as Camp Morton, located in what today is Indianapolis. My own great-great grandfather, John Meredith Crutchfield, spent about eight months there after being wounded at the Battle of Piedmont in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on June 5, 1864. He was part of a prisoner exchange on Feb. 2, 1865, and then entered Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond on March 10, 1865. He died shortly thereafter, evidently from the mistreatment he had received at Camp Morton.

When the word “mistreatment” is mentioned in reference to Civil War prisons, Andersonville usually comes to mind.

“In Andersonville’s 15 months of operation, almost 13,000 Union prisoners died there of malnutrition, exposure, and disease,” Mr. Hall writes. “The name Andersonville became synonymous with the worst kinds of atrocities that can be committed against other human beings during a time of war. When Northern newspapers and periodicals published photographs of emaciated Union prisoners, the Northern populace became outraged.”

However, the treatment at Camp Morton was no better. As one Confederate prisoner there stated:

“I have seen the prisoners struggling with each other to devour the dirty matter thrown out of the hospital’s kitchen. Rats were eaten, and I have seen dog-meat peddled out by prisoners. The murdering of prisoners, clubbing, tying them up by the thumbs was known to all there. I could put the entire piece of meat given me for a day’s allowance in my mouth at one time.”

Mr. Hall sheds additional light on the two prisons, North and South, and which was guilty of the greater sin:

“To the contemporary student of the American Civil War, it seems obvious that one consideration could have moderated public feelings of retribution against Southern prisoners,” Mr. Hall says. “While the Southern states were struggling to provide their fighting troops in the field with even the barest of necessities, the North had relatively ample resources of money and food.”

Mr. Hall’s book is based largely on the account of Dr. John A. Wyeth, who was a prisoner at Camp Morton and a prominent New York physician and medical researcher after the war. He served as president of the American Medical Association.

In April 1891, Century Monthly magazine published a lengthy article by Wyeth titled “Cold Cheer at Camp Morton.” It was the literary equivalent of tossing a grenade into a crowded room. Wyeth’s account of “starvation, exposure to extreme cold and heat, beatings by prison guards, and even coldhearted murder of innocent prisoners” shocked the collective conscience of Americans in both the South and North.

His charges were met with strenuous denials and rebuttals, but too many witnesses had survived who could corroborate Wyeth’s accusations.

Mr. Hall’s book is the first detailed history of Camp Morton and includes photographs and many firsthand accounts of prisoners as well as a list of the names of some of the Confederate prisoners who died and are buried near Camp Morton’s original location. The book is well-written and researched and a necessary read for students of the Civil War who want a fuller understanding of the conditions in Union POW camps.

The second book tackles an even more controversial subject — slavery. In their groundbreaking book “Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery,” Connecticut newspaper writers Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jenifer Frank explode the myth that Southerners are primarily to blame for America’s national sin and that the North’s abolitionist efforts during the Civil War absolved it of collusion.

The authors are refreshingly frank and honest as they write of their journey in discovering the whole truth regarding the evils of slavery in America: “We have all grown up, attended schools, and worked in Northern states, from Maine to Maryland. We thought we knew our home. We thought we knew our country. We were wrong.”

The authors get right to their main point in the first sentence of the introduction: ” ‘Complicity’ is the story of how the North helped create, strengthen, and prolong slavery in America.” They hold nothing back as to why they wrote the book:

“Slavery had long been identified in the national consciousness as a Southern institution. The time to bury that myth is overdue. Slavery is a story about America, all of America. Together, over the lives of millions of enslaved men and women, Northerners and Southerners shook hands and made a country.”

“Complicity” tells us “what the Northerners were shaking on.”

Of course, the North’s motivation in perpetuating slavery was the same as the South’s — money. The South’s very profitable cotton crop was made even more profitable by slave labor, but Southern plantation owners were not the only ones profiting from cotton. “By some estimates, the North took 40 cents of every dollar a planter earned from cotton,” the authors say.

In fact, as the authors point out, New York City’s financial well-being was so dependent on cotton imported from the South that in January 1861, the city’s mayor threatened to secede if the South left the Union. The book teems with other documented facts and revelations damning the North and its involvement in the slave trade and slavery itself:

• “A conservative estimate is that during the illegal trade’s peak years, 1859 and 1860, at least two slave ships — each built to hold between 600 and 1,000 slaves — left lower Manhattan every month.”

• c “The illegal slave trade was carried on so flagrantly that New York newspapers reported the names of ships leaving for slave voyages.”

• “For the half century before the Civil War, cotton was the backbone of the American economy. It was King, and the North ruled the kingdom.”

• “As much as it is linked to the barbaric system of slave labor that raised it, cotton created New York.”

• “Amalgamationists, dupes, fanatics, foreign agents and incendiaries — that’s how the North viewed its radical abolitionists.”

• “For 50 years, kidnappers prowled the streets of Northern cities, abducting free blacks to sell into slavery. Too few tried to stop them.”

One of the most ironic subjects the authors explore is in the chapter “The Other Underground Railroad.” Here the book reveals how freed blacks in the North were often wrongly accused of being runaway slaves, then kidnapped and sold illegally. Things were so bad in Boston that fliers were distributed to free blacks warning them to avoid “conversing with watchmen and police officers” as they were corrupt and would abduct and sell the blacks into slavery.

“Complicity” is thoroughly researched, heavily footnoted and generously illustrated with dozens of photographs, drawing, maps, charts and documents. Unfortunately, the book has been largely ignored by many in academia and the mainstream media. But perhaps the rest of America will, like the authors, soon admit they “were wrong” about who should share the blame for slavery.

Richard G. Williams Jr. is author of “Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend” and “The Maxims of Robert E. Lee for Young Gentlemen” (www.SouthRiverBooks.com).

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide