Slave-Holders Knew Secession Was Doomed To Failure

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
SlaveHolders Knew Secession Was Doomed To Failure

John Bell Song.jpeg

Tennessee Library & Archive
John Bell of Tennessee was the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party in the election of 1860. His name & the party he led is all but lost to history.

Union Party poster.jpeg

Bell held the very narrow ground between the secessionists & the slave-holding Unionists.
All too often left out of the narrative of the year leading up to secession was the part played by Unionist slave-holders. The banner carrier for them was John Bell. Unionist slave-holders were appalled by the prospect of secession. As we know, secession was intended to protect the right of white men to hold other human beings as property in perpetuity. Unionists rightly feared that secession would effectively destroy slavery in the U.S.A. In fact, they accurately predicted the outcome of the Civil War, something that might have been unique at the time.

Secessionists either did not know or ignored the complex system that powered the institution of slavery. For example, the vast majority of Kentucky slaves were held in bondage in a few counties in the Bluegrass Region. Absent the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, most Kentucky slaves were a short raft ride across the Ohio River. With secession, the "freedom line" would be moved southward from the Canadian border to the Ohio. It would make slave-holding in the Bluegrass all but impossible.

It was not just the 75 families in Kentucky that owned 50 or more slaves that saw the threat secession would bring all too clearly. In South Carolina, the anxiety took on a very different, darker form. Mary Chestnut's father in law, a man who knew a thing or two about slave-holding, expressed to her his anxiety about secession. He stated that it was only the majesty & power of the United States Government that kept the slaves in thrall. In 1860, South Carolina was 60% slave & demographics were headed for an 70-80% slave population within a decade or so. The small white population of the state would be powerless to suppress a servile insurrection on its own. It would require the intervention of the national army & legal system to prevent a Haiti-like extermination of the white population.

The plantations in the Deep South & Coastal Carolina consumed workers at prodigious rate. It was a well known principle of slave-holding that stock only had a seven year productive life. That reality drove a flow of extra labor from Virginia & other border states to the slave markets in Mississippi & Charleston SC. It was the production of human beings in border states that provided the cash flow that kept Virginia, etc, elite families solvent. Without the replacement labor provided by the extras from the border states, the Deep South plantations could not continue to operate. The halt in waterborne traffic that secession & the inevitable war would curtail would strangle both the border state producers of human beings & the Deep South consumers of human beings. It would ruin them both.

In the first half of the 19th Century, gravity powered the American economy. Hemp from Kentucky rode down the Erie Canal to the ship yards & chandlers of New England. Thousands of turkeys, ducks & geese were herded to Louisville for transshipment downriver to markets as far away as New Orleans. A look at the 1860 slave census map shows that the greatest concentrations of slaves are along rivers & harbors. There simply was no way to ship cargo of any bulk overland. Cotton farms on the upper reaches of the Tennessee & Cumberland River watersheds sometimes had to wait two or three years for water levels to rise in order to send their crops to market.

The tools, mules, food & equipment that Deep South plantations depended on came from up the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers. The Shakers at Pleasant Hill produced tons of smoked sweet potatoes that were loaded at their riverboat landing for shipment to feed Deep South slaves. Virtually all of the mules produced in the U.S. were raised above the Ohio River. Truly staggering volumes of smoked & salted meat bound for plantations was produced in Cincinnati. In the event of secession, that essential flow of supplies would bring the Deep South plantations to a halt sooner, not later.

The coastal traffic that brought extra labor to the many slave jails that lined the water front in Charleston was absolutely dependent on a free flow North & South. Unionist slave-holders depended on the cashflow from their extras. South Carolina fortunes depended on the flow of cash generated by the coastal trade. Secession was seen as an existential threat to the cash flow engine that powered the slave-holding economy.

As we know, John Bell & the Constitutional Union Party's clarion call to economic sanity was ignored. Sometimes, the events leading up to secession take on an inevitability for those of us who know what a Thelma & Louise thing it really was. It is fascinating to realize that Unionist slave-holders had a clear understanding of the economy that their secessionist slave-holding peers did not.

If you want an insight into John Bell's thinking, I recommend: Library of Congress, Speech of Hon. John Bell, of Tennessee. On the admission of Kansas under the Lecompton constitution. Delivered in the Senate of the United States. March 18, 1858. 16 pages.
 
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lupaglupa

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I think students of US history don't often acknowledge the impact the rebellion in Haiti had on those Americans living in areas with large slave populations. The fear of a slave rebellion drove a lot of the policies and actions of the white population - not only slaveowners but also those who lived near them.
 

uaskme

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SE Tennessee
I think students of US history don't often acknowledge the impact the rebellion in Haiti had on those Americans living in areas with large slave populations. The fear of a slave rebellion drove a lot of the policies and actions of the white population - not only slaveowners but also those who lived near them.

Yep, Emancipation was thought to automatically cause a Race War. A fact not lost on the Yankee, who could of cared less and actually Hoped for one.
 

uaskme

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SE Tennessee
John Bell, like most Tennessee Unionist, changed his mind about secession after Ft Sumpter and Lincoln’s call up of 75 K Troops to subdue and force the Lower South to stay in the Union. He ended up supporting Secession. Something must of been more important to Bell and other Slaveholders than Slavery. Gosh, what could that have been?

Lincoln created many Unionist who would support Secession In Tennessee with his 75K Troop call up. Tennessee occupation by the Federals created many more. Jack Hinson was a devout Unionist from Dover, Same area Bell was from. He and Bell knew each other. Yankees cut off 2 of his sons heads and planted them on Jack’s porch posts. Yep, not surprisin, he bacame a Confederate.
 

Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
John Bell, like most Tennessee Unionist, changed his mind about secession after Ft Sumpter and Lincoln’s call up of 75 K Troops to subdue and force the Lower South to stay in the Union. He ended up supporting Secession. Something must of been more important to Bell and other Slaveholders than Slavery. Gosh, what could that have been?

Lincoln created many Unionist who would support Secession In Tennessee with his 75K Troop call up. Tennessee occupation by the Federals created many more. Jack Hinson was a devout Unionist from Dover, Same area Bell was from. He and Bell knew each other. Yankees cut off 2 of his sons heads and planted them on Jack’s porch posts. Yep, not surprisin, he bacame a Confederate.
I have handled Jack Hinson's rifle quite a few times. It belongs to a friend of mine here in Murfreesboro. I took a measured drawing from it for a gunsmith, so you can say that I carefully examined every square inch of it.

I also did a document search. The book about Henson's exploits is a work of fiction. For example, the Iowa regiment that hunted down Henson's eldest son spent the entire war along the Mississippi. In the book, Henson wreaked vengeance on the officers of that regiment... didn't happen. In fact, during their months in that area, they did not suffer a single casualty, not one. During the war, given their service, they suffered remarkably few casualties. Henson might well have murdered some random Union soldiers, but he certainly did not shoot any men of the Iowa regiment that captured his son.

A very knowledgable shooter & gunsmith I know has gone up to the position where Henson shot at the passing river traffic. He tells me that it was in fact possible, once he became accustomed to the downward angle, for Henson to fire accurately from there. The story of Henson causing a steamboat to heave to & surrender is, of course pure bunkum. Any reading about the river war will reveal the fact that river traffic was sniped at all the time. Never once did a peashooter caliber rifle firing at most 3 rounds a minute stop a steamer.

Now comes the interesting part. Nobody actually knows what the two sets of marks on the barrel of the rifle indicate. They are certainly there, I have very carefully measured & drawn them. Henson never said a word, so it is literally is anybody's guess what they mean. Keep in mind, that the area along the Tennessee / Kentucky border was infested with gangs of banditti that were only vaguely associated with one side or another. It is possible that Henson hunted some of them down & eliminated them as a public service... he never said, nobody knows.

The son that the Hawkeyes ran down & killed was a really nasty piece of business. The guerrilla bands in that area were pretty indiscriminate, so he probably made himself obnoxious to a lot of people. Scholars & folklorists have examined every aspect of Henson's life & legend. The only think certain is that the version in the popular book about him is only vaguely associated with the truth.

The rifle itself is, I am told, a very typical example of a target rifle of the time. .36 cal as I recall. As was common, the hammer is from a pistol, it looks totally out of proportion. The reason for that was because the heavy hammer typical of military rifles has enough momentum to pull the rifle off target as it swings forward & strikes the cap.
 

uaskme

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Joined
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Location
SE Tennessee
I have handled Jack Hinson's rifle quite a few times. It belongs to a friend of mine here in Murfreesboro. I took a measured drawing from it for a gunsmith, so you can say that I carefully examined every square inch of it.

I also did a document search. The book about Henson's exploits is a work of fiction. For example, the Iowa regiment that hunted down Henson's eldest son spent the entire war along the Mississippi. In the book, Henson wreaked vengeance on the officers of that regiment... didn't happen. In fact, during their months in that area, they did not suffer a single casualty, not one. During the war, given their service, they suffered remarkably few casualties. Henson might well have murdered some random Union soldiers, but he certainly did not shoot any men of the Iowa regiment that captured his son.

A very knowledgable shooter & gunsmith I know has gone up to the position where Henson shot at the passing river traffic. He tells me that it was in fact possible, once he became accustomed to the downward angle, for Henson to fire accurately from there. The story of Henson causing a steamboat to heave to & surrender is, of course pure bunkum. Any reading about the river war will reveal the fact that river traffic was sniped at all the time. Never once did a peashooter caliber rifle firing at most 3 rounds a minute stop a steamer.

Now comes the interesting part. Nobody actually knows what the two sets of marks on the barrel of the rifle indicate. They are certainly there, I have very carefully measured & drawn them. Henson never said a word, so it is literally is anybody's guess what they mean. Keep in mind, that the area along the Tennessee / Kentucky border was infested with gangs of banditti that were only vaguely associated with one side or another. It is possible that Henson hunted some of them down & eliminated them as a public service... he never said, nobody knows.

The son that the Hawkeyes ran down & killed was a really nasty piece of business. The guerrilla bands in that area were pretty indiscriminate, so he probably made himself obnoxious to a lot of people. Scholars & folklorists have examined every aspect of Henson's life & legend. The only think certain is that the version in the popular book about him is only vaguely associated with the truth.

The rifle itself is, I am told, a very typical example of a target rifle of the time. .36 cal as I recall. As was common, the hammer is from a pistol, it looks totally out of proportion. The reason for that was because the heavy hammer typical of military rifles has enough momentum to pull the rifle off target as it swings forward & strikes the cap.
So, Yankees didn’t behead his sons.? Hinson wasn’t a Unionist who became a Confederate?

Invasions create counter offensives. Yankees targeted civilians. Made Examples out of them. Burned houses over suspicion. That is the way they controlled Civilian Populations, by Terror. Many signed up so they could plunder. Shame they didn’t kill more of them, Yankees that is.
 

unionblue

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So, Yankees didn’t behead his sons.? Hinson wasn’t a Unionist who became a Confederate?

Invasions create counter offensives. Yankees targeted civilians. Made Examples out of them. Burned houses over suspicion. That is the way they controlled Civilian Populations, by Terror. Many signed up so they could plunder. Shame they didn’t kill more of them, Yankees that is.

(Sigh.)
 

Lubliner

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Considering the population ratio in the south, the slaves were held to bondage by fear. The fear of bodily harm and worse punishments was what bound them to their ceaseless toil and labor. It is no wonder they took delight in entertaining their white masters, hoping to find a bit of grace in the hard hand of oppression.
Lubliner.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Secession doomed slavery but secession itself as a policy option is not doomed to fail.
The unionist slave-holders had an accurate understanding of how secession was going to destroy the the institution of slavery. How secession could have been a success after that escapes me, please explain.
So, Yankees didn’t behead his sons.? Hinson wasn’t a Unionist who became a Confederate?

Invasions create counter offensives. Yankees targeted civilians. Made Examples out of them. Burned houses over suspicion. That is the way they controlled Civilian Populations, by Terror. Many signed up so they could plunder. Shame they didn’t kill more of them, Yankees that is.
The events of Henson’s life that are known have been amply documented & subject to scholarly investigation. It is unfortunate that he was not the serial killer some want him to be.
So, Yankees didn’t behead his sons.? Hinson wasn’t a Unionist who became a Confederate?

Invasions create counter offensives. Yankees targeted civilians. Made Examples out of them. Burned houses over suspicion. That is the way they controlled Civilian Populations, by Terror. Many signed up so they could plunder. Shame they didn’t kill more of them, Yankees that is.
You are missing a trick. The mess in far western Kentucky was in the amateur ranks compared with Milroy’s murderous defense of the N&CRR in Tennessee. The punitive attacks on North Carolina anti secessionist mountain folk were intentionally brutal. Lee wanted deserters returned to the army, NC authorities just killed them anyway. Henson makes for a rather poor victim or victimizer because he never said what he did. Milroy & the NC authorities documented their atrocities & justified them.
 

Rhea Cole

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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Considering the population ratio in the south, the slaves were held to bondage by fear. The fear of bodily harm and worse punishments was what bound them to their ceaseless toil and labor. It is no wonder they took delight in entertaining their white masters, hoping to find a bit of grace in the hard hand of oppression.
Lubliner.
On many plantations, believe it or not, the slaves were ordered to smile & behave as if they were happy. It was a Shirley Temple movie every day or get a beating. Nothing was too weird for slave-holders.
 

Andersonh1

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The unionist slave-holders had an accurate understanding of how secession was going to destroy the the institution of slavery. How secession could have been a success after that escapes me, please explain.

Some union slave holders had an informed guess as to how future events might play out, and in hindsight they turned out to be right. You're trying to read backwards into that 150 years later and essentially claim prescience on their part. I notice with a number of your posts an attempt to always cast the secessionists in the worst possible light, as if everyone but them knew the whole enterprise was doomed to failure from the start, but picking out and highlighting after the fact those who guessed correctly does not prove your point. Out of any group making predictions, odds are that someone is going to end up having guessed right, but it doesn't mean the outcome they predicted was a forgone conclusion that everyone else should have been just as aware of. The future is never that certain.

You said in the OP "Unionists rightly feared that secession would effectively destroy slavery in the U.S.A. In fact, they accurately predicted the outcome of the Civil War, something that might have been unique at the time." - Can you provide an example of a few of these predictions, or names of these unionist slave holders other than John Bell?
 
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19thGeorgia

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I also did a document search. The book about Henson's exploits is a work of fiction. For example, the Iowa regiment that hunted down Henson's eldest son spent the entire war along the Mississippi. In the book, Henson wreaked vengeance on the officers of that regiment... didn't happen. In fact, during their months in that area, they did not suffer a single casualty, not one. During the war, given their service, they suffered remarkably few casualties. Henson might well have murdered some random Union soldiers, but he certainly did not shoot any men of the Iowa regiment that captured his son.
Something was going on...

Report of Colonel William W. Lowe, Fifth Iowa Cavalry, May 23, 1863:
"Yesterday some of my cavalry, under Major Baird, had a skirmish with the rebels. Some of Cox's command, on Yellow Creek, about 4 miles from our camp, routed and chased them for 12 miles, capturing 7 prisoners. Loss not known. On our side Captain Paul, Fifth Iowa Cavalry, slightly [wounded]. To-day we were fired upon, wounding Lieutenant Beatty, Fifth Iowa Cavalry, and 1 man severely."

From thread about Hinson-
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/th...00-union-soldiers.125147/page-11#post-1350162
 

uaskme

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The unionist slave-holders had an accurate understanding of how secession was going to destroy the the institution of slavery. How secession could have been a success after that escapes me, please explain.

The events of Henson’s life that are known have been amply documented & subject to scholarly investigation. It is unfortunate that he was not the serial killer some want him to be.

You are missing a trick. The mess in far western Kentucky was in the amateur ranks compared with Milroy’s murderous defense of the N&CRR in Tennessee. The punitive attacks on North Carolina anti secessionist mountain folk were intentionally brutal. Lee wanted deserters returned to the army, NC authorities just killed them anyway. Henson makes for a rather poor victim or victimizer because he never said what he did. Milroy & the NC authorities documented their atrocities & justified them.
Straw Man Argument. One of you preferred phrases. Also your arswer is a deflection. We are taking about West Tennessee.

Would Bell be one of those Ignorant Slaveholders who wasn’t Forward Looking?

Bell was a Unionist Whig. He got 50K votes in MA. However he became a Secessionist. He was one of the largest Slaveholders in TN. Probably the largest who worked Industrial Slaves. Knowing all this he endorsed Secession after Lincoln’s Call Up. Surely he wasn’t thinking about the protection of Slavery.

Would beheading a man’s Sons be a Punitive Action? Sure appears that Way!
 

Rhea Cole

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Straw Man Argument. One of you preferred phrases. Also your arswer is a deflection. We are taking about West Tennessee.

Would Bell be one of those Ignorant Slaveholders who wasn’t Forward Looking?

Bell was a Unionist Whig. He got 50K votes in MA. However he became a Secessionist. He was one of the largest Slaveholders in TN. Probably the largest who worked Industrial Slaves. Knowing all this he endorsed Secession after Lincoln’s Call Up. Surely he wasn’t thinking about the protection of Slavery.

Would beheading a man’s Sons be a Punitive Action? Sure appears that Way!
The definition of a straw man fallacy is to attribute an exaggerated or false belief to others rather than presenting evidence to support an argument. Middle school debaters are taught to ignore a straw man fallacy.

Oddly enough, as a Peace Corps Volunteer I lived among the Shura/Jivaro. Head hunting & shrinking heads for religious reasons was still going on at that time. So, to answer your straw man question, I am well aware what taking heads & displaying it involves. I have photos of me sharing a meal with a man who had done it 7 times. It can be a part of a deep religious experience that he was kind enough to describe in considerable detail.

The list of totally bogus things that are attributed to Hinson is as long as my arm. I see no reason to credit much of anything written about him. In any case, this has nothing to do with the topic of this thread, so I will let it be.
 
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Rhea Cole

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Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Some union slave holders had an informed guess as to how future events might play out, and in hindsight they turned out to be right. You're trying to read backwards into that 150 years later and essentially claim prescience on their part. I notice with a number of your posts an attempt to always cast the secessionists in the worst possible light, as if everyone but them knew the whole enterprise was doomed to failure from the start, but picking out and highlighting after the fact those who guessed correctly does not prove your point. Out of any group making predictions, odds are that someone is going to end up having guessed right, but it doesn't mean the outcome they predicted was a forgone conclusion that everyone else should have been just as aware of. The future is never that certain.

You said in the OP "Unionists rightly feared that secession would effectively destroy slavery in the U.S.A. In fact, they accurately predicted the outcome of the Civil War, something that might have been unique at the time." - Can you provide an example of a few of these predictions, or names of these unionist slave holders other than John Bell?
This isn’t actually my inspiration or anything like it. On the first day that our COVID inoculations became effective, I had coffee with two award winning historians. We talked about the astonishing trove of tens of thousands of reports from an English spy in New York. He was spying on Portuguese slavers from 1850-62. It will totally rewrite the history of the anti-slave trade squadron operations.

One of the other topics they discussed was the Unionist slave-holders in the pre-war period. The counter secession aspect of slave-holding was new to me. I went home & started reading up on the topic. I have read endless secessionist slave-holders’ writing, but had never investigated the anti’s. It was a revelation. I decided to share my new insights with a post on CWT. There is always the chance that someone knowledgeable would contribute or stimulate someone to investigate like I had.

I included the reference to Bell’s 1858 speech because I found it very though provoking. Obviously, the posts replying to the thread do not reference any of Bell’s ideas or the economic realities that Unionist slave-holders found so alarming... even today they are the Casandras of their culture.

Between them & the Portuguese spy, it is a lot to digest.
 
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wausaubob

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Researching the speeches would be interesting.
However, Kansas was admitted as a free soil state in January 1861, which wasn't hard to predict. The Republicans and free soil Democrats had the votes. That changed the ratio to 19 paid labor states to 15 slave labor states, and secession wasn't going to help, it was only going to make matters worse.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed before the emergence of the Republican party. It was always poorly enforced. It wasn't hard to predict that if the far south states seceded, enforcement of the act would become non existent. The act would eventually be repealed without Republican support. That wasn't hard to predict.
 

uaskme

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SE Tennessee
Researching the speeches would be interesting.
However, Kansas was admitted as a free soil state in January 1861, which wasn't hard to predict. The Republicans and free soil Democrats had the votes. That changed the ratio to 19 paid labor states to 15 slave labor states, and secession wasn't going to help, it was only going to make matters worse.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed before the emergence of the Republican party. It was always poorly enforced. It wasn't hard to predict that if the far south states seceded, enforcement of the act would become non existent. The act would eventually be repealed without Republican support. That wasn't hard to predict.
All of that is True. It is also True that secession was the last thing that protected Slavery, they lost the FSL. Instead of a Slave having to go to Canada. Across the Ohio was good enough. Also True that Montgomery Alabama was a long way from the Ohio. FSL gave the upper South more protection that the Lower South.

So, Secession had to of been for Other Reasons than Protecting Slavery. Secession in no form or fashion protected Slavery. They did it Anyway.

Those who portray Slaveholders as Ignorant, not Forward Looking, only focused on Cotton Production will Never Get IT. Simply a Bigoted view of the South. A Nationalistic View that gives the North some Moral superiority, which they do not deserve. And dumbs down the Civil War to One Causation, which is Elementary History.

Some are simply Not interested in Details. Same ones who give Grant credit for others actions. They rail on the Lost Cause. But go head over heals into Another Myth. Thanks for the Entertainment.
 

uaskme

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SE Tennessee
The definition of a straw man fallacy is to attribute an exaggerated or false belief to others rather than presenting evidence to support an argument. Middle school debaters are taught to ignore a straw man fallacy.

Oddly enough, as a Peace Corps Volunteer I lived among the Shura/Jivaro. Head hunting & shrinking heads for religious reasons was still going on at that time. So, to answer your straw man question, I am well aware what taking heads & displaying it involves. I have photos of me sharing a meal with a man who had done it 7 times. It can be a part of a deep religious experience that he was kind enough to describe in considerable detail.

The list of totally bogus things that are attributed to Hinson is as long as my arm. I see no reason to credit much of anything written about him. In any case, this has nothing to do with the topic of this thread, so I will let it be.
You Get Around, I will give you Credit for that.

Hinson was one of those Slaveholder Unionist. So, he is relevant. Also relevant, like most other Southern Unionist, Slaveholder or not, it did them No good. Hinson freed his slaves. In the end the Federals targeted him. If one family member was a Confederate, their family were open Targets, regardless of Guilt. Don’t think Hinson had anything to do with Starting the War.

Don‘t suspect the book on Hinson had as much Myth in it than Grant’s Memoirs.
 
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