Secession Stalls Outside the Deep South

The last of the senators from the seceded states left the U.S. Congress. Robert Toombs of Georgia delivered a farewell speech in which he announced that he would “trust to the blood of the brave and the Gods of battles for security and tranquility.” Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana declared: “What may be the fate of this horrible contest no man can tell.”

Colonel A.C. Myers, the U.S. Army quartermaster at New Orleans, surrendered Federal property in the city and submitted his resignation so he could join the South. Secretary of War Joseph Holt angrily replied that Louisiana’s surrender demand was “an act of spoliation to which you seem to have yielded in anything but a commendable spirit.” Myers returned the letter to Holt “because it shows a splenetic spirit and contains offensive language from a source personally irresponsible.”

In Virginia, the State Convention assembled at Richmond to consider secession. It was widely believed that the delegates were mostly Unionists who would not vote to secede unless the Federal government tried to use force to keep the states that had already seceded in the Union. They especially objected to any Federal effort to move troops through Virginia to get to the Deep South.

The people of North Carolina also leaned toward the Union. A popular election took place to elect delegates to a secession convention; the question of whether to hold a convention at all was also on the ballot. Though Governor John W. Ellis favored joining the Confederacy, voters elected a Unionist majority of delegates and then rejected calling the convention by a slim 651 votes. Only 30 of the state’s 86 counties voted secessionist, while the other 56 were either Unionist or undecided.

Tennessee was divided between the mountainous east, which was predominantly Unionist, and the flatter, planter-based west, which was mainly secessionist. Eastern politicians like Andrew Johnson and John Bell were Unionists. Governor Isham G. Harris favored secession, as did politician John V. Wright, who tried to scare Tennesseans into leaving the Union: “Are you prepared, then, to have the negro set on your juries, represent you in your legislature and in Congress, marry your daughters, and in all things be the equals of yourselves and your families?”

Most Tennesseans were not persuaded to secede. In an election for delegates to a secession convention, voters chose mostly Unionists, and then rejected holding the convention at all by a vote of 68,282 to 59,449. Tennessee would stay in the Union for now.

Across the Mississippi River, Missouri was divided by three factions: secessionists (led by Governor Claiborne F. Jackson and former Senator David R. Atchison), conditional Unionists (led by former Governor Sterling Price), and unconditional Unionists (led by the influential Francis P. Blair, Jr.). Blair used his political connections to get the commander of the St. Louis arsenal replaced by Nathaniel Lyon, a fellow staunch Unionist.

In an election for delegates to a secession convention, voters overwhelmingly chose Unionist (unconditional or conditional) by nearly 80 percent. The convention opened on the last day of February, with Price being chosen president. Delegates ultimately voted against seceding, but Governor Jackson’s lieutenant governor and fellow secessionist, Thomas C. Reynolds, privately funded a campaign to distribute secessionist pamphlets throughout the state.

In Arkansas, state militia carried out orders from Governor Henry M. Rector and seized the Federal arsenal at Little Rock. The Federal garrison, led by Captain James Totten, had been transferred from Fort Leavenworth to Little Rock, a move which state officials considered a threat. Later this month, voters approved holding a secession convention by a vote of 27,412 to 15,826. The election for delegates would take place in March.

The Choctaw Nation in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) also considered secession. Choctaw Chief George Hudson favored neutrality, but a committee of Texans warned him that they might attack to keep the territory from becoming a Federal staging area for an invasion of Texas. Consequently, the General Council of the Choctaw Nation approved resolutions declaring, among other things:

“That in the event a permanent dissolution of the American Union takes place, our many relations with the general government must cease, and we shall be left to follow the natural affections, education, institutions and interests of our people, which indissolubly bind us in every way to the destiny of our neighbors and brethren of the Southern states, upon whom we are confident we can rely for the preservation of our rights of life, liberty, and property, and the continuance of many acts of friendship, general counsel, and material support.”


  • Cozzens, Peter, The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth. The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
  • Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation. HarperCollins e-books, Kindle Edition, 1976.
  • United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1 – Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880-1902.

Leave a Reply