Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Confederate Officer From Pennsylvania, And His Ties To The South

The American Civil War was a very traumatic time for this country. The idea of Americans purposefully killing other Americans in battle just sends chills up most of our spines. This was true for the ordinary combat soldiers, the officers executing battle plans, or for those fortunate officers who were of administrative importance to the war. Everyone involved was fighting for a cause, the South was highly effective at converting this cause into a determination to fight and win the war. It is possible that those individuals involved in the fighting had a much stronger belief in the cause, since they risked life and limb everyday and every battle. This is found not to be true. Even though the non-combat Confederates did not engage the enemy first hand they too had a direct emotional response to the cause and for defense of the South.
Josiah Gorgas was the Chief Ordinance officer for the Confederacy. Josiah Gorgas was born into a Poor Pennsylvania family on July, 1st, 1818. Once of age Josiah Gorgas enrolled at West Point, where he graduated 6th in his class. His focus was on military ordinance and logistics. He was commissioned to the U.S. Army Ordinance department, where he remained until the Civil War broke out. Gorgas married his wife Amelia Gayle Gorgas while he was stationed in Alabama in 1853. Mrs. Gorgas was the daughter of a prominent Alabama politician and ex-governor named John Gayle. This highly influential family that Josiah Gorgas connects himself too casually persuades him to identify with Southerners and the Southern Cause. Josiah Gorgas feels more at home with his wife’s family than with his own. This may have been in part because Josiah was not home much after going to West Point. He felt disenfranchised from his family once the War broke out.
It is interesting to see how an educated man from the North can just simply change to the Southern vantage point. The transition Josiah Gorgas made from a Northerner to a Southerner is not covered in his journal. He avoids the issue and it is difficult to see why. I believe Josiah Gorgas resented the fact that his family was poor. When Josiah Gorgas was stationed in the South he was a white officer, which put him in the upper class of this highly aristocratic society. I believe Josiah Gorgas enjoyed his social standing in the South as well as the hospitality that came with it. These are characteristics he was not used too in Pennsylvania. It is, however, important to note that Josiah was not an advocate of slavery. Josiah did not view slaves from a pro-slave or abolitionist, he simply went with the status quoi. This simple fact should suggest that he is not a whole hearted Southerner. It is apparent to me that Josiah Gorgas is doing his best to fit in with his wife’s family. Josiah Gorgas was a Confederate volunteer, who left the Union army for the opportunity to be apart of a new nation. It is amazing to see a Northerner become a Southerner in such a short time span. It was only eight years from the time Josiah Gorgas met his wife to the start of the War. There must have been a very close relation for Josiah Gorgas to his wife’s family; therefore he felt a part of their family rather than his own in Pennsylvania.
When the War broke out Josiah Gorgas was torn between his true family and his new found one in the South. Mrs. Gorgas and her family had a strong connection to Josiah and their purpose must have called out to him. Amelia Gayle Gorgas’s father, the Alabama politician, was highly influential in this decision. In order to keep his daughter in the South he contacted Jefferson Davis, whom he knew well through his political channels. Jefferson Davis contacted Josiah Gorgas and offered Josiah a position on the Ordinance staff for the newly forming Confederacy. Gorgas first declined the offer. Shortly after the Confederacy offered him the Chief Ordinance officer job and he took the position. He was not excited about his decision; however Josiah Gorgas was on poor terms with his commanding officers in the Union and wanted to get away from them.
Josiah Gorgas felt a call of duty from the South, and his wife’s family. Since Josiah Gorgas is now a Southerner he feels that it is important to defend his honor by joining the Confederacy. Gorgas knows that he is destined to fight for the Confederacy and in doing so will sever all ties with his family. The severance is clear when he writes, “Days appear like weeks, and the last day above entered confounds itself with my early life” (Gorgas 1). This is stated by McPherson, “Among Confederates the emphasis on honor occurred most often in the letters of upper-class soldiers and officers” (24). It is difficult to convert many of McPherson’s arguments to accommodate Josiah Gorgas because he is an Ordinance Officer and not involved in the actual fighting. Josiah Gorgas does not present first hand battle experiences, however he does reflect an overall picture of how the Confederates are doing. According to McPherson most soldiers during the Civil War were anxious for the first fight. This anxiousness is presented when he writes, “Rebel and Yankee alike, they clamored for a chance to see the elephant” (McPherson 30). Josiah Gorgas does not show enthusiasm for his personal experiences; however he does seem to feel the War will go in favor on the Confederacy in the early stages. This enthusiasm is presented when Gorgas writes about General Magruder’s success, “His devotion had an electric effect, and was looked on as a happy omen of the spirit of the War” (1). Gorgas believes that his best service to the Confederacy is in the Ordinance Department, rather than on the battle field, this is how he relates to McPherson’s argument.
Early in his Journal Josiah Gorgas remarks seem upbeat and geared toward success. But as the War progresses the language becomes dimmer and shows the thin state of Confederate morale. One remark made by Josiah Gorgas that shows his loss of enthusiasm is when he discusses the state of Confederate combat soldiers. Gorgas states, “Our poor harrowed and overworked soldiers” in response to the plummeting troop morale in the South late in the War (145). This statement is then followed up by, “They see nothing before them but certain death, and have, I fear, fallen into a sort of hopelessness, and are dispirited” (Gorgas 145). McPherson’s argument is that those soldiers may have wanted to go home, but deep inside knew that it would be worse for them to give-up, than it would for them to keep fighting. If they gave into the fear and tried to quit fighting the ridicule that would accompany that decision would have been worse than the fighting itself. McPherson makes some good points some of which are at least in some ways evident in Josiah Gorgas’s writings. Unfortunately, though most of McPherson’s claims or arguments cannot be examined through Josiah Gorgas’s writings. There gaps become too large to interpolate between the context of McPherson’s combat soldier and Josiah Gorgas the administrative Officer.
Josiah Gorgas was a true administrative genius. He was able to perform miracles in order to keep the Confederacy running. His major feats included Building a national Powder works, and several rolling mills. This was highly important to supply guns and munitions to the front. Most of this industrialization took place in Richmond, which had most of the South’s industry already. Josiah Gorgas’s Ordinance department was the only Confederate supply department able to meet almost all of the requisitions that were sent from all over the South. He was able to meet those demands by thinking outside the box. He was successful in producing substitute goods when the real thing was not available. This quick thinking and resilient man became an unsung hero for the South, without his wit and know-how the Confederacy may have been defeated once the blockade took full effect. This is what made Josiah Gorgas such an important individual in Confederate history.
Amelia Gayle Gorgas was a very influential part of Josiah’s life. She was the reason he left the Union and became a true Southerner. Gorgas has said publicly that his life revolves around his wife, and that her comfort is what matters. Josiah Gorgas suggests this when he writes, “I am absorbed by the world of my wife” (16). Amelia Gayle Gorgas was a member of a very prominent Alabama family. She proved to be very helpful during the War. She would help the wounded at the hospital in Richmond, and nurse wounded family members back to health. This nursing was what Faust argued was common among Confederate and Union women alike. This desire to help is explained with, “The death of trained nurses in the South, the crying need for medical care, and the energy of women seeking a means to make a contribution to the Cause combined in the early months of war to encourage exceptional and privileged southern women to improvise solutions to the suffering they could not, as women, bear to ignore” (Faust 95). This is supported by Josiah Gorgas when he refers to his wife, “Mamma [Mrs. Gorgas] has been untiring in aiding, visiting and relieving these poor sufferers and has fatigued herself very much” (26). Josiah Gorgas later writes, “Mamma went to the hospital last evening and stayed some hours assisting the poor fellows” (37). These statements seem to support some of the view that Drew Faust presents to us in Mothers of Invention. Mrs. Gorgas seems to cope with the War effort as well as possible, she misses her husband when he is gone, but since he is not at the front she does get to see him periodically. The fact that Josiah Gorgas is not totally out of the picture allows her to keep much of her strength and focus.
A key issue to consider is how viable is this source, Josiah Gorgas’s journal. It is considered a primary source since he experienced the Civil War first hand; therefore he could present actual thoughts, feelings, and concepts that we will never be able to duplicate. The fact that we will never be able to replicate the Civil War makes documents like his invaluable. Since Josiah Gorgas was an educated man his account is considered to be an accurate portrayal of his beliefs and opinions of the War. Being a Confederate officer, Josiah Gorgas’s writings are considered more valuable when evaluating the chain of events that occurred throughout the War. Josiah Gorgas mentions almost every major event that took place during the Civil War, and gives the date to which that event occurred. This organized approach also validates his work and shows that he knew what many of the greater themes of the War were.
Josiah Gorgas wrote about many events in his journal, the accounts given by Gorgas all portray some basic strengths and weaknesses. The strengths that Josiah Gorgas’s works enforce are in his ability to organize anything and to place events and situations on a time line for readers to piece together quite easily. This is quite apparent with the date above each entry, and is an event occurred before that date he would mention the date of the occurrence. This would ensure that the reader would be able to place that event before what was happening currently on that date. This juggling of dates and events does not happen very often, which is amazing considering the amount of disarray and constant variation these soldiers lived their lives. They did not know what would happen later that day, let alone later that month or year. This was a time when it was literally imposable to plan or prepare for any event that did not directly concern the War or a battle.This source was not perfect; Josiah Gorgas had many weaknesses in his journal. Josiah Gorgas needed to include more personal information in his journal. There is not enough content about his wife, Amelia Gayle Gorgas, and the rest of the family. Josiah Gorgas did not put much emotion into his journal, it seems a bit too business oriented, rather than showing any feelings for the particular events he writes about. It is hard to visualize yourself in Josiah Gorgas’s shoes. The inability to connect with what he writes is the major drawback of his journal. Much of this was probably due to the War and how if adversely affected everyone who was involved.
Overall the Journal of Josiah Gorgas supports the views presented by Drew Faust and James McPherson. The actions taken by Josiah Gorgas are not exactly what were described by these historians, however if you look at the major themes and the ideology behind Gorgas’s actions it is apparent that the views are very similar. Josiah Gorgas and his wife Amelia Gayle Gorgas are interesting characters with many factors of their lives affected by the War. That is why we focused on individuals involved in the War and why it was important to compare these individuals to the major concepts that were presented throughout our class.
Works CitedAyres, Edward L. IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES, The Civil War In TheHeart Of America 1859-1863. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.
Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Gorgas, Josiah. THE CIVIL WAR DIARY OF GENERAL JOSIAH GORGAS. Ed. Frank E. Vandiver. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1947.
McPherson, James M. For Cause & Comrades, Why Men Fought In The Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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