Photograph of Members of the 57 Georgia Regiment
Officers and Cook of the 57th Georgia. Source.

Lieutenant William Cowper was a soldier fighting for the Confederacy in the 17th Mississippi. In October 1862, he wrote a letter to his mother after Stephen, a slave, ran away. In it, he expressed ideas of God and his justice that many today would find very foreign:

I don’t know that I much regret the loss of Stephen. I have thought that this war was ordered by Providence, as a means of settling definitely and conclusively the question of slavery: if slavery is a divine institute, I believe we will be successful, that our independence will be recognized and the Southern Confederacy will be established as a Government with slavery as its great distinctive feature. if on the contrary, slavery is a curse and obnoxious to an All Wise and Good Creator I believe that he will make this war, the means of abolishing it from the face of the earth. I have the greatest confidence in the wisdom of God, and believe that all things work together for good to them that we love.

From The Hour of Our Nation’s Agony: The Civil War Letters of Lt. William Cowper (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press: 2007). p. 102.

2 Comments

  1. Reading this letter I can’t help but recall the Shackleton advertisement article on this website. It seems odd that a Mississippi native in 1862 would ever have thought the war part of a divine plan of any kind, certainly not a divine plan to test the validity of slavery as an institution. The Bible when I read it…fully, twice…seems to have no problem with slavery and goes so far as to describe how it should be carried out. Southerners went to war not to defend slavery, but to defend Southern rights against the unlimited encroachment upon them by ruthless northern politicians…brought to its culmination with the election of the free-thinker(atheist), railroad lawyer and speculator who gave a long speech to assure his total loyalty to northern commercial interests as President (an election he won ONLY in the northern states).
    The letter smells of forgery. Keep in mind that the authoress of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a paid propagandist; I understand she was later strongly rebuked in England for efforts of a similar kind. She also made a small fortune with her book though having absolutely no personal knowledge of the conditions of slaves in the U.S.. One of many historical examples of fiction becoming fact.
    It is common knowledge among serious scholars that the war was not fought over slavery until Lincoln, desperate to change the course of it, made it an issue with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Lincoln himself had said that blacks and whites could never live together, and looked for “solutions” to the “problem” should the southern slave population become free.
    As I say, the letter smells of forgery. Then again it might only be an anomaly. Good southern christians of the time taught the Bible to their slaves and felt fully empowered to perpetuate the institution in its passages.
    In any case, the Civil War was the work of men, above all of one man, Abraham Lincoln, and over 600000 soldiers and perhaps as many civilians were casualties in it. A heavy price to pay for an abolition that Great Britain accomplished around the world almost without bloodshed.

  2. The source of this quote is referenced in the post, and you can even see the book online in Google Books.
    books.google.com/books?id=02aXWdVpXsIC

    It would be highly unusual for a book like this, not particularly popular or scandalous and taken from the original source materials, to be a forgery.

    Regardless, you can find quote from many southern soldiers expressing some similar thoughts on the causes of the Civil War. You can also find many more quotes where soldiers said it was just about defending their country.

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