Rebellion Roads

by Joseph Ryan

A Synopsis


When I began the book it was not quite novel, not quite straight historical narrative. I started with the trip to Washington, to introduce Lincoln, then Davis, and their points of view, then Lee who would carry the military weight of the war on his shoulders, dictating really how and when it would end, easy through capitulation, or hard core to the bitter end. Lee knew going in there was no way to overpower Lincoln's power.

Lincoln's role is key: He goes in fighting with one arm tied behind his back. He is in a ring with Lee fighting two fist ed, recklessly, insanely aggressively, it is Dempsey stomping Furpo in the Polo Grounds in 1923. The Constitution is holding him back, he is trying to keep within its clear command that slavery is not the business of the Federal government in order to induce the loyal citizens of the United States living in the South to wrest control of territory from the Confederate government and return to the Union. Most of North Carolina, parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri etc, he is wooing this way. Which makes him honor the constitutional commitments regarding slavery through September 1862. That's the political front.

At the same time he is trying to organize and wage a war across a three thousand mile front stretching through Kentucky from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, pushing columns of army into Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri. He has to organize a chain of command, find generals who will push hard. But his mentality as a commander in chief is limited to that of a country lawyer who knows only the battles of courtrooms and wrestling matches in the dust of country streets. Davis on the other hand has a class of great generals, the cream of west point crop, and he has the supreme Lee, an absolutely amazing man. A hermit, penniless really, his wife owns everything, a man who could have retired from the army years before the war and lived the life of a Virginia gentleman, managing his wife's properties, riding his horse, visiting friends. Instead he lives the corps of engineers in 1855 and takes a position in the line as a cavalryman assigned to a regiment out in the middle of Texas in Commacheria. Why did he do this? The answer defines his mind.

Part One is intended to set up the start of the war, Lincoln intentionally started the war, by inciting the country to go mad over the petty fact that the Confederates fired on Sumter. Lincoln manipulated events to force the Confederates to fire. He made it seem that he was sending a war fleet of ships to the harbor to force an entrance and reinforce the fort with men and arms. In fact it was a ruse, he never intended to have the fleet actually arrive at the mouth and force its way in. If the fleet had actually been there when the firing began, England and France would have treated the thing as an act of war by Lincoln and been quite ready to insist on their law of nations right to protect their commerce with South Carolina, the major port of entry on the East coast at the time.

South Carolina allowed Sumter to be built solely as a means to protect itself from foreign invasion as had happened in 1776 when the British Navy burst in and bombarded Charleston. As far as South Carolina was concerned Lincoln's navy war ships were no different than Britain's. So South Carolina had every legal right to insist that Sumter be evacuated not reinforced. This reality is hidden from the general public, go read a text book to see what kids are taught.

Now, with the people up in arms, Lincoln intentionally delays calling Congress into session which would have resulted in the Senate debating war under all the constrictions imposed by the constitution. Instead, Lincoln uses three months keeping the senate out of session as he goes about blockading the south coast, cajoling governors to send him their militias for federal service, and building up army organization, finding general officers etc. Only after this is all accomplished and he has standing armies rising in place does he bring in the congress to rubber stamp what he has done. He is already acting the tyrant from Day One. This is where his true greatness lies. It is the only reason he deserves his monument.

And it is the central irony of the book. Lincoln played the role of Tyrant, handed to him by the truly supreme law of war every nation seizes on when the chips are down, with as perfect honesty and fidelity to the spirit of the founders' dream as possible under the circumstances. And, as has been true ever since, the Supreme Court stepped out of his way. Taney, by himself, tried to force the issue between the law of war and the Constitution with Merriman, but Lincoln simply ignored him and the courts fell silent after that; as they have in every crisis of national war since, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson,. . . only when we get to the new "war of Terror" and Bush trying to act like Lincoln does the court, a conservative one at that, slowly, grudgingly, rise up and consistently put Bush down. Hurrah for the Republic!

We were so lucky as a nation to have had Lincoln in the seat of power at the moment of crisis, but can we expect to get Lincolns or Bushs as the centuries roll out? The responsibility lies in ourselves, in the people, the voters in the booths to prick the right hole, or the country will fall victim to the whim of one man's rule.

In all of this Lee is not Lincoln, he is a simple hermit, a monk really, with a past that takes his genes back to the beginning of Virginia. He knows what Washington thought, what Madison thought, what the men of the revolution thought. He knows that the Union is a marriage based on a specific promise and that if that promise gets broken that marriage is subject to divorce. and the Northern politicians of 1860 plainly broke the promise and when the Tyrant called on Virginia for its militia to use it against the seceded states, Virginia said NO. Now It was plain it would be the battleground as Lincoln tried to push his army through the territory of the state to get to the Carolinas and Georgia. Virginia in defense of its territorial integrity established its own army, eventually aligned with the Confederacy to defend itself from Lincoln's invasion. That is the true history of the thing.

Lee has no moral choice but to lead Virginia's young men into the battle. He could have left the states with his wife, thereby preserving her properties, gone to Paris and waited out the war. His sons would have remained behind fighting for Virginia, all his family friends and their sons would have remained behind. Impossible for him to leave. Fighting for Lincoln was impossible. No choice left but to take up the banner of what he knows is a losing cause and lead the young men to battlefields of his choice where they can at least die in a way that he knows they will always be remembered. That is the part he played. He made Lincoln do it the hard way. . . Lincoln had to use the full unrestrained raw power of the Union, without regard to "legal" restraints, to crush Lee's Resistance, or Lincoln could never have won the war, the northern people themselves morally drained by the immense death and destruction.

And for 12 months Lincoln bungles: He picks McClellan and then is unable to let Mac do his thing, driven by politics to interfere grossly and stupidly in Mac's operations. No doubt there was a great tension on the rope between the two men and the entourages around them. Mac influenced by the Democrats is perhaps hanging back in part by the notion that they want some accommodation with the South rather than total annihilation war. Lincoln wants territory more than places, he clings to the idea that as long as he can appear to hold territory he is winning, Johnson's notion in Viet Nam. Yet, if he just left Mac alone Mac would have captured Richmond by the spring of 1863 and the war in Virginia would have ended, North Carolina and Tennessee would have fallen out too, and then Mac is into the midlands of Georgia heading for Atlanta.

But at every step Mac takes, Lincoln shafting him from the rear, Lee is throwing every thing he has at Mac, keeping him off balance, forcing him to shift his base to the James, then the call back by Lincoln, the stupid attempt to shift command from Mac to Pope, and Lee is on Pope like a tiger, like Dempsey on Furpo in 1923. And then, incredibly, his aggressiveness knocks Pope completely off his feet and the Union army is behind the forts at Alexandria, and now Lee is absolutely powerless. His army is exhausted, depleted, he has no supplies, no means of getting horses and more men. He cannot possibly move on Alexandria, nor stand where he is, he has got to get to the Valley to feed his men, but going there directly is a dead giveaway that he cannot fight any longer on the offensive. That the way to Richmond will be open. So he decides like Napoleon. He will move to the valley indirectly, in a way that makes Lincoln and Mac think Washington is actually in danger of capture, then he will draw Mac out into a battle where he stands of the defensive. The battle will wreck Mac's new organization badly enough (although the risk to Lee is annihilation) and then Lee can move unmolested into the valley and have a haven for rest long enough to replenish himself and move on the offensive again. And incredibly, risk point after risk point, with just a nick of time to spare, he pulls the plan off! Just absolutely amazing.

Now at the bottom of all this is the true protagonist of the book. The young men in the ranks of both armies. They are there at Antietam solely because of Lee's vision for them. They are all racists, like their fathers and their fathers before them. They do not think on either side for one second of living with Negroes as equal citizens in their respective states. They are here simply because they were born in one place or the other and their elders have driven them from their valleys, towns, and homes into the war and they have to survive with guns in their hands a terrible day Lee has created for them. This is their trial, their day in the voting box, deciding whether the Union will be held together by force of arms, not the constitution, and in the Union side winning the winning changes automatically the Constitution . . . the irony the winning makes Negroes citizens of the United States and by reverse osmosis of the 14Th amendment therefore citizens of any state in which they choose to reside. An absolutely overarching new Constitutional principle written out in blood on the battlefield of Antietam.

And this is when Lincoln realizes he must break completely loose from the restraints of the Constitution and invoke the law of war to strip loyal citizens of the United States of their property without due process of law and he strikes with the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing it is now a war between foreign powers to the bitter end. Lee keeps punching, punching, until he is finally pressed into an unbreakable clench in the corner and is beaten down. The old way of slavery is gone now, and everyone knows social acceptance of this will take at least a hundred years to come on. And it came on with our generation, the generation of the sixties. It was we the children of our parents that came to age without a universal feeling of disdain for Negroes. I grew up in St. Louis, in the west end, never seeing a Negro except on street cars as I passed through the north side going downtown. They lived separately from me I could see, they were strange looking, etc, but no bad feelings were inoculated in me by my parents. It was never thought about. Then as I gained the teens I got to know a black here and there and thought of them as hardly different from me, then college and all hell broke loose and my sympathies went immediately to their point of view, and we finally ended the civil war Lincoln and Lee's courage wrought.

Joseph Ryan



Special Order 191: Ruse of War

Position Paper

Documents Exhibit

Photo Album

Sectors of Operations Maps

Who Wrote Special Order 191

Author Joesph Ryan About the author:
Joseph J. Ryan is a Los Angeles trial lawyer who has traveled the route of the Army of Northern Virginia, from Richmond to Gettysburg many times. He has written a Manuscript entitled Rebellion Roads, the narrative covering the Peninsular and Sharpsburg campaigns.


American Civil War Exhibits