25/01/2020 - JANUARY MEETING - The Judge and His Henchmen: The Tyranny of Confederate Confiscation - Rodney J. Steward, USC

There are many windows through which a glimpse of the Confederacy’s true character might be gained, but none provide as penetrating a view as that onto how the Confederate government interacted with the home front. Our January speaker continues our 2019 Conference theme of 'War in the Carolinas' with a look at the murky world of Confederate politics.

As Confederate armies fought mightily to wrest the South from the grip of the Union, Confederate district courts waged another war on the home front to stamp out what they deemed disloyalty; to satisfy an innate covetous impulse, and to squelch political dissent. “The Judge and His Henchmen” pulls the curtain back on the tyranny of home front confiscation under the Confederate Act of Sequestration. It reveals the corruption of sequestration officials, and the persecution of those people deemed alien enemies of the Confederacy but who were, perhaps, anything but.


The sequestration law unleashed a menacing presence on the Southern home front that turned neighbour against neighbour, and revealed Confederate officials’ determination to coerce obedience and compliance from ordinary folk. This lecture challenges much of the current scholarship on the subject of the home front and the depth of Confederate nationalism. Viewed through the lens of the Act of Sequestration, an unexamined side of the Confederacy’s Realpolitik is laid bare revealing much about its fundamental ethos. Corruption, the fate of civil liberties, and the terms of loyalty lay at the heart of this examination of a dark chapter in the Confederacy’s story.




Dr. Steward is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Carolina (Salkehatchie Campus), where he teaches, among other subjects, the American Civil War. He completed his graduate training at Auburn University and has published widely on various topics dealing with Confederate home front issues. He is the author of the book David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity ( University of Tennessee Press, 2012), a biography exploring how the desire for honour and social standing led some middle-class Southerners to embrace secession and the Civil War as a religious experience. Most recently he contributed an essay to Stephen Berry’s Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges entitled ‘Confederate Menace: Sequestration on the North Carolina Home front’, which detailed the nefarious war time activities of district court receivers in North Carolina. His exploration of the topic of Confederate sequestration culminates with his forthcoming book “An Illegal Violence:” The Story of Confederate Sequestration (LSU Press, 2020), which examines the full, devastating effect of the Confederate government’s policy of confiscation and its persistent legacy of penury, social, and racial strife in the South.