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Williamson Simpson Oldham (American National Biography)

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Richard E. Beringer, "Oldham, Williamson Simpson," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00753.html.

[Williamson] Oldham supported the Confederacy to the last, but he strongly disagreed with many of the policies of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, notably suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and conscription, because he feared the unconstitutional expansion of the power of the central government. Conscription required some sort of exemption system, but to Oldham that too was an imposition on state sovereignty. He also opposed legislation in March 1862 that would place acreage restrictions on the planting of cotton in order to encourage production of foodstuffs. Oldham's ideas were so extreme that one historian asserts, "He could not understand the meaning of 'military necessity' " (King, p. 127).

Except for measures that he feared would strengthen the central government at the expense of the states, however, Oldham was willing to resort to any action that would bring victory. Among the extreme measures he favored were arson attacks on New York City and, contrary to other accounts, the enlistment of slave soldiers. He admitted that arson was not in accord with civilized warfare but asserted that it was acceptable "against savages who discard the moral code recognized by all civilized nations" (Oldham, "Last Days of the Confederacy," De Bow's Review, Sept. 1870, p. 741).

How to Cite This Page: "Williamson Simpson Oldham (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/17794.