Bob Shell: Civil War?

Civil War

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020


Civil War?


I decided to write about a touchy topic this time, the American “Civil War.”. Why do I put that in quotation marks? Because there never was a civil war within the United States. A civil war is, by definition, a war between different factions within one sovereign nation.

Let me point out some uncomfortable facts.

First, Virginia, my home, when she joined the United States, reserved the right to leave it at any time, that was in writing. Choosing to leave the Union was Virginia’s right. This was no different than Britain’s current decision to leave the European Union. You don’t see the European Union threatening to attack and invade Britain, do you? And if they did, would it be a civil war? Hardly.

Virginia chose to sever her ties to the United States of America and, instead, join the Confederate States of America. That was her right, and in doing so she broke no law or treaty.

The CSA was recognized by many countries, European and elsewhere, and had a binding peace treaty with the USA. Although not well known, one of the CSA’s allies was Russia, which sent warships to break the USA’s blockade of crucial ports, and deliver supplies.

But northern business interests wanted to prohibit the CSA from buying cheaper goods from elsewhere, so they started their blockade, and ultimately strangled the CSA. Before the separation they had been charging Southerners ridiculous prices for their goods while buying southern goods, primarily cotton, at very low prices that they dictated. High tariffs discouraged importation of goods from Europe, Russia, and others.

You’re probably asking, what about slavery? Wasn’t that the reason for the war? Not really. Slaves were expensive to buy, house, feed. The great majority of southerners could not afford them. My own ancestors were poor farmers and couldn’t have afforded slaves, even if they’d wanted them. And if southern states hadn’t left the Union, slavery probably would have continued, simply to hold down the cost of southern cotton and other agricultural goods. But the big plantations with hundreds of slaves were not the norm for the average southern tenant farmer, who was little more than a slave himself to the land owners. At the surrender, General Lee asked for only one concession, that his men be allowed to keep their mules. They were all poor farmers and without their mules they could not plow their land. Lee kept his men’s welfare ahead of all else.

Lincoln’s vaunted Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves, only those in. the southern states. Slaves in northern states remained in bondage. That’s a fact.

Lincoln was not much concerned with the slaves. He was concerned with preserving the Union. He famously said that if he could save the Union by freeing all of the slaves he would do that, but if he could preserve it by freeing only some of the slaves he would do that, and if he could preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves he would do that. He didn’t care about the slaves, only his precious Union.

Certainly slavery is a despicable evil, and I’m not defending it in any way, but it was not the cause of the war. The 13th Amendment to our Constitution outlawed slavery, right? Wrong! The Amendment contains an exception. Slavery is allowed as punishment for crime. So, slavery is alive and well in America today. I know; I’m legally a slave.

The formation of the CSA allowed southerners to ship their goods overseas where they got better prices, and to import cheaper manufactured goods. And that was the problem. Northern industrialists wanted to keep the South captive to supply them raw materials cheaply and buy their manufactured goods at higher prices than a global free market would have allowed.

People who don’t know history don’t know that my namesake and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee, was offered command of the Union army by Lincoln. After some soul searching, he turned it down. His loyalty was to Virginia, he said. He could not betray his Commonwealth.

After the war Mark Twain approached Lee with a publisher’s high offer to co-author Lee’s memoirs. Lee turned down the offer, saying it would not be right to make money from the blood of his men. Twain then went to Grant, who accepted the offer. That shows the difference between the two men.

It was Lee who brought black men to worship with him in his church in Lexington, Virginia, where he settled after the war to head up Washington College; which is now Washington and Lee University, where he lies entombed in Lee Chapel.

My several times great grandfather, Hugh McCracken, joined the Virginia army and fought under Lee. He survived the war and went home to his farm, where he raised his family. I’ve read his war diary, and it is pretty graphic. He speaks of having to get water from a stream with dead men and horses upstream because it was the only water to be had. Amazingly, he was never wounded or contracted disease, even though he saw action in several major battles.

So I am proud of my simple southern farmer heritage, and refuse to be intimidated by the PC fools who besmirch the memory of good men who fought to save their country from an invading foreign army.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on

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