One of a series of posts, as explained in “Williams & the Civil War: The Wrong Side – Introduction“:

At long last, 150 years after the Union prevailed “with a brave army, and a just cause” in the American Civil War, one of the most visible remaining markers of that conflict is on everyone’s lips and coming down…

Williams College, and most Ephs, reflect on the Civil War through a Union lens — correctly so, from both a moral and historical perspective… [s]o let’s use this occasion to learn more from and about Ephs on the subject of the Civil War and especially on the other side: the Confederacy.

Of course, there was no more important contemporaneous Eph observer of the Confederacy than James A. Garfield of the Class of 1856. Everyone associated with Williams College today knows about Garfield’s tragically brief presidency, but too few are educated in Garfield’s road to the White House and the importance of his Civil War and Reconstruction rhetoric and record in getting him there. Garfield’s short stint at Williams (he entered with advanced standing in September of 1854) helped fire his abolitionist passions. A state senator (the youngest) in his home state of Ohio at the time of secession, he used his legislative position to “declare[] it to be his unalterable determination to oppose the institution of slavery, or any compromise with it. It was a heinous national sin, and he would not condescend to negotiate with it.” As he wrote in a contemporaneous letter:

Peaceable dissolution is utterly impossible. Indeed I cannot say that I would wish it possible. To make the concessions demanded by the South would be hypocritical and sinful; they would neither be obeyed nor respected. I am inclined to believe that the sin of slavery is one of which it may be said that without the shedding of blood there is no remission.

Garfield had no doubt what the Civil War was about, and he was soon in command of regiment of Ohioans, who he led into an early battle to subdue the Big Sandy Valley, an area of Kentucky occupied by Southern troops, with support from many sympathetic locals. After military success, Garfield had his first opportunity to directly address those who had rebelled in support of slavery:

Citizens of Sandy Valley:

I have come among you to restore the honor of the Union, and to bring back the old banner which you once loved, but which, by the machinations of evil men, and by mutual misunderstanding, has been dishonored, among you. To those who are in arms against the Federal Government, I offer only the alternative of battle or unconditional surrender. But to those who have taken no part in this war, who are in no way aiding or abetting the enemies of this Union—even to those who hold sentiments averse to the Union, but will give no aid or comfort to its enemies—I offer the full protection of the government, both in their persons and property.

“Let those who have been seduced away from the love of their country to follow after, and aid the destroyers of our peace, lay down their arms, return to their homes, bear true allegiance to the Federal Government, and they shall also enjoy like protection.

After several campaigns and his ascendance to a generalship, Garfield returned to politics as a United States Representative from Ohio. His first speech in Congress carried forward the theme that, along with slavery, the philosophies, symbols, and other poisons of rebellion must be purged to make the nation whole again:

The war was announced by proclamation, and it must end by proclamation. We can hold the insurgent States in military
subjection half a century — if need be, until they are purged of their poison and stand up clean before the country.

They must come back with clean hands, if they come at all. I hope to see in all those States the men who fought and
suffered for the truth, tilling the fields on which they pitched their tents. I hope to see them, like old Kasper of
Blenheim, on the summer evenings, with their children upon their knees, and pointing out the spot where brave men fell and marble commemorates it…

Let no weak sentiments of misplaced sympathy deter us from inaugurating a measure which will cleanse our nation
and make it the fit home of freedom and a glorious manhood. Let us not despise the severe wisdom of our Revolutionary fathers, when they served their generation in a similar way. Let the republic drive from its soil the traitors that have conspired against its life, as God and His angels drove Satan and his host from Heaven. He was not too merciful to be just, and to hurl down in chains and everlasting darkness the ‘traitor angel’ who ‘first broke peace in Heaven,’ and rebeled against Him.

Speech in the House of Representatives, January 28, 1864.

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