Friday, 11 November 2011
That awkward moment when you realize that Greenock probably supported the Southern Confederates
I’m currently reading an excellent book called Clyde built: The Blockade Runners, Cruisers and Armoured Rams of the American Civil War by Eric J Graham. It’s a great book which describes how during the American civil war shipyards on the River Clyde were working around the clock, employing 25,000 men in the construction of Blockade Runners for the Southern Confederates. Around 3,000 Scots worked onboard the vessels, breaking Britain's law against subjects becoming involved in foreign wars, but for the captains it was a business too lucrative to ignore. Many were earning $3,000 per run, and those who made it through the blockade to Charleston with their holds laden with food and arms, were able to fill them up with bales of cotton which they then sold in Scotland for 30 times the purchase price. The Confederates even sent agents to Greenock to purchase warships and weapons.
It also goes onto say that the Paisley workers were pretty much for the North, but all the shipyard and dock workers on the Clyde were all for the South – there was a huge divide. You could say that Glasgow was more pro-South and Edinburgh was pro-North. It thought that, because Scotland is a nation with a cultural heritage which exists uneasily within a larger British cultural identity (plus many Scots were seeking independence) then it's not surprising that the Scots had a respect for the Confederacy.
But it’s not just 19th Century Greenock and Port Glasgow Shipyard workers on the Clyde who admired the Confederates. Even today, many modern neo-Confederates in Southern States of the US admire the cause of modern Scottish nationalism, seeing the cause of the South’s independence as similar to the Scotland’s Cause. They identify Scottish secession from the British Union with Confederate secession and their own current hopes for secession. This concept of brotherhood between Scots and Confederates is compounded by the theory that a great many people in the South and especially the descendants of the Confederates are in fact the descendants of Scottish Highlanders displaced by the Highland clearances, Scottish Covenanters and Lowland Scottish Planters in Ulster (Williamites). The theory claims that Confederates are of the same Ulster Scots Presbyterian stock. That said, there are more than a few holes in the theory that the Confederates cause and ALL the folks in the South are closely linked to Scotland …
For example, those seeking to join the cause of Scottish Independence to the Confederate cause seem to have forgotten about all the Scots who fought on the Union side and the Scottish Highlanders who settled in the Appalachian mountains in the American South. These Appalachian Scots in the South during the Civil War are known to have been strongly against the Southern Confederate secession and the lowland slave-owning interests. In fact, about half as many Southerners fought against the Confederacy as those who fought for the Confederacy. Many of the Southern unionists who came from the Appalachian mountains were poor farmers with no slaves and most of these people would have been of Scottish origin. It would have been unacceptable for these independent freedom loving Scots to accept that the new lands opening up in the west should be denied to independent poor farmers but instead be bought up by rich slave owners who would buy up the best land and work it with slaves, forcing the white farmers onto marginal lands
Also, we cannot ignore the fact that for generations, many folks in the South though of themselves as being descended from southern English Cavaliers not Scots. The idea of the South as a place of so-called “Anglo-Saxon purity” had been strongly believed in for a long time and originally, the (English) Episcopalian Church in Southern States was very big. All this suggests an early English presence (distinct from later Irish Catholicism or Scottish Presbyterianism) did exist in the South, throw into that mix Germans, French and Spanish and the genetic make up of the South is a little more complex and mixed than we might think. It’s also true to say that inn some rural pockets of America's Deep South; they still speak a dialect of Elizabethan English that lingers on from the first 17th-century colonists. Yet despite this evidence, we are now suddenly expected to forget all that and instead think of the Confederates and their descendants as Irish and Scottish Gaels in the Rob Roy mould.
The other problem with this kind of modern link with the Confederate Cause is that many of the Loyalist-Protestant Scots in Scotland today (and also modern Loyalist Ulster-Scots in N. Ireland) are not interested in Scottish or Irish Independence themselves. They don’t want to “secede” from the British Union so it’s absurd to think that they’d support freedom for those breaking away from the American Union while still supporting the British Union at the same time? It’s doubly absurd if we consider the fact that the Protestant Ulster-Scots in America fought bitterly against Britain in the American Revolutionary War of Independence. In reality, Southern rebels and republicans have very little in common with many of their Scottish and Irish Presbyterian cousins who are both Unionists and Monarchists despite the fact that they MIGHT share SOME the same bloodlines and cultural heritage.
So perhaps those modern Confederate sympathizers in the South who are still looking to break away from the United States would do better to look at Civic Scottish Nationalism. Perhaps they should think more about the SNP’s own brand of civic nationalism, the SNP are the most leftwing mainstream party in Britain. Most of all, they should embrace Scotland’s radical streak, humour, kinship, egalitarianism, our improving racial equality and improving integration of people from other nations rather than our old prejudices and bigotries which still persist. However, it should be noted that not all Confederates or their admirers today are racists or pro-slavery. Far from it, the history of this period is very complex much like the people involved. It’s a fact that Confederate leader Stonewall Jackson was against slavery, even General Lee freed slaves and helped repatriate them to Liberia. While on the Union side Grants family owned slaves and Lincoln and Sherman were quite racist. The fact is most Southerners fought because they were attacked and for state sovereignty. For them the war was about liberty, not slavery. Even the reigning Pope during the war, Blessed Pius IX had some sympathy with the Confederates since essentially the South stood for agrarianism over industrialism, (the Ancien Régime over new ideologies) more like a traditional European culture over a Brave New World. I think this also explains the appeal to Scots and suggests that even within a traditional hierarchical society we can potentially still have more personal and social freedom than in a modern liberal democracy? But that is a discussion for another day.
***Note on Confederate Tartan above***
Following the War, the South was under military occupation until 1877, a period referred to as Reconstruction. During this time, the Southern people were stipped of their Constitutional rights, including the right to vote and right to free speech. The display of Confederate symbols, and the wearing of Confederate uniforms, were banned during this occupation. In and identical way after the failure of the last Jacobite rising in 1746, the kilt and tartan were banned in an attempt to stamp out the culture in Scotland.