Friday, January 30, 2015
Sons of the Confederacy
Not all veterans’ organizations in the South were filled with violent terrorists. One of the more legitimate and widespread organizations was called the Veterans of Confederate Wars. As the Confederate States participated in only one major war, their ranks were almost all Great War veterans. A few cavalrymen past their prime in 1913 were allowed to join. These old Indian fighters not only lent more legitimacy to the organization; they also brought with them new tales of warfare. Granted, none of them faced the meat-grinder of trench warfare but fighting on the old frontier was no less gruesome.
VCW also acted as a support structure, allowing soldiers to find jobs for their comrades and for the group as a whole to aid war widows and orphans. In the first winter following the war, the VCW was essential for staving off a potential famine. While small farmers were in no danger of starving, the people of the cities, who depended upon food harvested by slave labor, found the winter of 1916-17 to be hungry times. They were also cold times in the Upper South as not only was the limited electrical grid destroyed, there was also a chronic shortage of coal. Again, the VCW helped the needy.
Despite its obvious charity work, it still drew the suspicious eyes of the occupation authority. Anything with the word Confederate in its title was strongly discouraged. Most such organization were less than charitable. Of the numerous paramilitary organizations to sprout during Reconstruction, none were as destructive as the Sons of the Confederacy. This organization was founded by unreconciled veterans, chief among them the Georgian Earl Watson and Texan Leopold B. Jamison III. Their goal was not to aid the impoverished.
Their first appearance was recorded on April 15, 1918, when three hooded figures strode into a newly establish United States post office in Macon, Georgia and opened fire, killing seven. Of these, only one was a federal employee. The others were Georgians trying to ship packages. To the SOC, anyone using the federal government were collaborators.
Their favorite target were soldiers, Freedmen and the Bureau tasked with aiding them. In June 1918, fifty of the SOC engaged in a firefights with the US Army as it enforced the illegality of slavery. Taking down the plantation owners was an easy enough task. Their wealthy and large estates made them highly visible targets. The small farmer, the type that might own between three and seven slaves was another matter. Even two years after the way, not all of the backwoods farmers were tracked down and few of them voluntarily relinquished their property.
The SOC often came to the aid of these small slave owners, garnering great support among them though they fought a losing battle. Paramilitary with rifles and submachine guns were hardly a match for armored vehicles and soldiers angry of being posted so far from home after the war was supposedly over. The problem was most severe in Mississippi and Alabama. The June 1918 move to clean Lawrence county, Alabama saw more than a dozen such firefights on small farms. In only three of these attempts did the SOC have any success, temporarily driving back soldiers who were unprepared for a fight. As the month ground onwards, ambushes became less frequent and the Sons switched to softer targets.
They received little attention from Northern press as there were a great number of such groups dedicated to making restoration as difficult and costly as possible. In fact, few took them as a serious threat until August 1918, when they successfully bombed the Freedman’s Bureau in Selma Alabama. Sixty-four people were killed in the bombing, including Black civilians fleeing the burning building. Selma’s fire department refused to extinguish the flames, though if this was from support of the SOC or fear that they might be gunned down has not been established. The following day, soldiers searching the ruins found a message scrawl on a still standing wall. It read simply “the South shall rise again”.