John Overton’s great great grandfather was a member of British Parliament. He did not come from humble beginnings. That being said he was not content to rest on the laurels of others and he spent his life as a mover and shaker in the founding of Nashville, one of the American South’s major cities.
Overton built his two story home in 1799. Well, he didn’t really build it, he had other people build it for him. By people, I mean slaves.
When we arrived at the plantation the woman in the gift shop told us they had an award winning exhibition on the slaves who lived at Traveler’s Rest. We bought our tickets.
The grounds are relatively well tended though not seriously landscaped. There is a white picket fence around the property enclosing in a series of buildings. The main house is a hodge-podge of wings added over time. Behind that are two smaller buildings, a smokehouse and building for spinning. The slavery display was on the second floor of the spinning shed.
The exhibit was mostly the names and approximate ages of the black people who are normally ignored at such places. It was very meaningful in that there has been an effort to get names and relationships recorded and displayed. But reading those names was sort of “meh” and even more it was sort of discouraging. I was reading about the slaves but I wasn’t standing in the buildings in which they lived. Those buildings are gone. The homes of black people are gone, but the smokehouse and spinning shed are still there and I was looking through a window at a giant house that these black people built.
The pamphlet explains that right before the battle of Nashville General Nathan Bedford Forrest slept in this house. The text made note of him as a confederate general, not as the founder of the KKK. But his name was recorded and that was who he was.
The Overtons hung on to Traveler’s rest, and a surprising amount of their fortune, after the civil war and the location became well known for their stable of Arabian horses. the stables are no longer there. They came down after the family and the horses moved to California. When the location became a historical sight they did not rebuild the stables or the slave quarters. They did however build a large “barn” to host weddings and events.
One hundred fifty years ago, yesterday, South Carolina declared War on the United States of America. Other states soon followed and since that time we have argued about why.
No. Rather I should say that since Lee surrendered, and after reconstruction was bartered away, we have done our best to forget or change what was. I have had many a discussion, to put it politely, on this subject and I thought today I would take a moment to do what I have striven to do in my personal readings, but rarely do when blowing hot air myself; I’m going right to the originals.
South Carolina did not just shoot, they explained:
“And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act…
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety… The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.” printed 1860
This speaks for itself. Lets look at Georgia.
“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery…policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party…The Presidential election of 1852 resulted in the total overthrow of the advocates of restriction and their party friends. Immediately after this result the anti-slavery portion of the defeated party resolved to unite all the elements in the North opposed to slavery an to stake their future political fortunes upon their hostility to slavery everywhere. This is the party two whom the people of the North have committed the Government. They raised their standard in 1856 and were barely defeated. They entered the Presidential contest again in 1860 and succeeded.
The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.
With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.
The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.” printed 1861
Mississipi got right to the point:
“A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”printed 1861
That is what they officially said it was about then. Why is there question about it now?
The answer to that question tells us much about why things are the way they are now.
I inherited from my father a tendency to be early to everything.
Again I found myself in Appomatox before the park opened. On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee arrived there early as well. He sat and waited, impeccably dressed, for Grant to arrive, mud spattered and in regular issue uniform. The war was over.
This meeting took place in the parlor of Wilmer McLean. Mr. McLean once said that the war started in his front yard and ended in his front parlor. It is true in that the first battle of Bull Run took place at his then home, causing him to move, then later the final battle at Appomatox happened on the property he had retreated too in order to be more safe. Some guys have all the luck I suppose.
McLean’s home and property were looted as everyone left. Gen. Custer, who received the desk the final treaty was signed on as a gift from Grant, was said to have handed McLean a handful of cash as they marched away. Some see this as one of the tragedies of the war but as I stood and looked at the building, a rather nice building, I also looked at what it had in common with many other manors of the day. It also had a small grouping of shacks surrounding it. Maybe those that should have carried away McLean’s possessions were the one’s who had lived in those shacks and labored to allow McLean the lifestyle he had previously enjoyed.
The official surrender happened some days later at the courthouse. Lee wrote to his troops:
After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.
But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
It was the end of America’s bloodiest war, the beginning of a unified country, and most importantly the ushering in of our countries most studied, written about, and debated era. The focus of 8 out of 10 American amateur historians. A war turned into a hobby.