Skip to main content

Curio

Confederate Cattle Call

By David Skinner | HUMANITIES, September/October 2010 | Volume 31, Number 5

There is pleasure to be had in looking to the past for examples of the familiar or near familiar. But one can also look to it for a good blast of the freaky, the strange, and the unrecognizable. Reading the special Civil War issue of Forum magazine from the Florida Humanities Council, one finds no prototype of novelist Carl Hiaasen’s dysfunctional natural paradise. There are no old folks’ homes, nothing like Disney World. Instead, on the eve of the Civil War, Florida is barely populated in the southern half of the peninsula. Large herds of wild cattle roam the south and central prairies. Forty-five percent of the population is enslaved. Abraham Lincoln did not even make it onto the recent presidential ballot. Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge carried the state. John McGhee, president of the convention to decide whether Florida would secede, argued that slavery was essential to Florida’s way of life, its government, and its system of property rights. “Slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property.”

And yet property complaints were common once the state seceded. Resources were heavily taxed to support the war effort. Farmers complained that their livestock were being taken to feed the troops. “Unless this pressing of cows is stopped speedily there won’t be a cow left in Calhoun county,” wrote Rev. John R. Richard. Florida was indeed generous with its resources in support of the cause, according to a Forum article by historian Robert A. Taylor. Such generosity, writes Taylor, was partly attributable to “the presence of many thousands of African-American slaves. These Floridians worked the farms, boiled the salt, and helped drive the cattle that went to the Confederacy.”

David Skinner is editor of HUMANITIES.