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Peace Societies In The Confederacy

        Soon after the war started, peace societies organized by disloyalists began appearing in the Confederacy. 3--the Peace and Constitutional Society, the Peace Society, and the Order of the Heroes of America--grew into well-developed disruptive forces that seriously undermined the Confederate war effort.
        Disloyalists opposed the suspension of Habeas Corpus, Impressment, Tax-in-kind legislation, and conscription, denouncing these laws as unjust and unconstitutional. When possible they evaded or refused to obey them. Conscription in particular invited defiance that the Conscript Bureau countered with harsh retaliatory measures and made banding together necessary for self-protection. Because of the danger of being exposed and arrested by Confederate authorities, disloyalists operated clandestinely, with secret oaths, handshakes, and passwords. Initially dominated by Unionists and others who had opposed secession, the number of those disaffected grew as dissatisfaction with the government and suffering caused by the war increased.
        The Peace and Constitutional Society, the smallest of the organized opposition groups, was founded by staunch Unionists in Van Buren City., Ark. Its existence was discovered in fall 1861 when civil authorities arrested and tried 27 men for refusing to support the Confederacy. During their trials, the men were exposed as members of the society, which was pledged to encourage desertion and support the Federal army when it reached Arkansas.
        The Peace Society, a powerful subversive group in Alabama, extended its influence to East Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and possibly Florida. Confederate officials suspected its existence in 1862 and believed it had originated within Union lines. They did not investigate until the society successfully influenced the Aug. 1863 elections and sent to the Confederate Congress 6 officials who advocated ending the war and returning to the Union. During this time, to subvert the Confederacy's war effort in every way possible, prominent members traveled through the Southwest recruiting support for the society's doctrine. Their success in carrying their activities into the army became evident Dec. 1863, when some 60 Peace Society members in Brig. Gen. Ames H. Clanton's brigade attempted to mutiny, betraying a plan to lay down arms and go home on Christmas Day.
        The best developed of the peace societies, the Order of the Heroes of America, may have been organized as early as Dec. 1861, though by whom and where is uncertain. Active in North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee, the Heroes protected deserters, aided spies and escaped prisoners, and supplied Federal authorities with information about Confederate troop movements and strength to bring about a Confederate defeat. Brig. Gen. John Echols, who investigated the order in Virginia when it was discovered there in 1864, believed it had been formed at the suggestion of Federal authorities. Union civilian and military officials cooperated with the order by assuring its members safe passage through the lines and by offering them exemption from military service if they deserted, protection for their property, and a share or confiscated Confederate estates after the war, Both Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln belonged to the order. In addition to their signs and passwords, the Heroes identified themselves by wearing a red string on their lapels and thus were nicknamed the Red Strings" and the 'Red-String Band."
        As Confederate morale declined, the strength of the peace parties increased despite efforts by the military to suppress them. Their influence played a strong role in the Confederate Congress reluctance to suspend Habeas Corpus for extended periods and boosted support for peace advocates in government. Protection of deserters and conscripts denied the army thousands of able-bodied men when they were critically needed. Faced with severe shortages of men and materiel and a hastily organized central government, the Confederacy suffered more disruption from the peace societies than the Union did from Copperheads .
Source: "Historical Time Encyclopedia Of The Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust

This Page last updated 02/16/02


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