Friday, February 20, 2015

Zimring: "TO LIVE AND DIE IN DIXIE: Native Northerners Who Fought for the Confederacy"

[To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners Who Fought for the Confederacy by David Ross Zimring (University of Tennessee Press, 2014). Cloth, photos, 12 tables, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:320/479. ISBN:978-1-62190-106-8 $59.95]

According to the U.S. census of 1860 approximately 350,000 individuals of northern birth resided in states that would form the new Confederacy. How these men and women integrated into southern society before, during, and after the Civil War is the subject of David Ross Zimring's To Live and Die in Dixie: Native Northerners Who Fought for the Confederacy. For his study group Zimring selected 303 men and women, with every state in the North represented. All were born and raised into early adulthood in the North, most relocating singly to the South while in their 20s and 30s. Additionally, to eliminate prior associational bias, very few had any previous personal, family or professional connections outside their birth section during the time they lived in the North1. Availability of source material (ex. diaries, letters, etc.) explaining their thoughts and actions2 was a key selective factor as well. Extrapolating core beliefs from historical writings can be open to wide interpretation but the innumerable examples and excerpts selected by Zimring in the text clearly indicate close familiarity with the key ideological arguments and common rhetorical phrasing employed by period partisans of both sections.

Given the U.S.'s traditional latitudinal migration patterns, why many Northerners moved south instead of west is an important question to ponder. Naturally, the answer varied from person to person (sometimes the reason, as today, was as simple as desiring warmer weather), but Zimring unsurprisingly finds opportunity to be the primary motivation. Compared to the North, there was less competition for professional services and skilled labor in the South and persons could earn far more money in the South for the same work and, being welcomed throughout the entire section, relocation options seemed limitless. Heading into unsettled western territories was a far riskier proposition. Most of the adoptive southerners comprising the book's sample pursued middle class positions like lawyers, businessmen, doctors, and newspaper editors. While the author perhaps exaggerates the native educational deficiencies of the region, teaching and tutoring were a common gateway to personal success among northern migrants, with the added bonus that women were paid just as well as men. Native northerners found so much prosperity that they were often overrepresented in the southern middle class. Army officers also sometimes found southern postings appealing enough to adopt them as their new home [Zimring's sample includes almost 40 of these men].

Where many modern scholars interpret northern transplants as commonly seeking to transform their new surroundings, Zimring instead sees a very elastic form of sectional identity within his sample. Few native northerners went south with permanent settlement in mind and rather than chauvinistically striving to impose superior northern culture and institutions on a backward region most instead adapted themselves to their new surroundings. Certainly the whole range of state and sectional identities existed among the transplants, with some adamantly retaining northern roots and culture while others felt over time that they no longer recognized the section they grew up in, but the majority of those that stayed came to consider themselves southerners by choice.

With the vast majority of the sample group having no prior exposure to slavery and none expressing desire to own other human beings prior to leaving their homes, confronting slavery was undoubtedly the most jarring experience for the newly arrived emigrants. Mostly conditioned by their upbringing to be either anti-slavery or indifferent to the institution, Zimring argues that complete immersion into the slave society (or society with slaves) environment combined with shared racists beliefs eased the transition for many to the pro-slavery view. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of northern abolitionists and intellectuals, transplanted southerners were typically changed by their surroundings, not the other way around. Adoptive southerners were among the few Americans with extensive experiences of both the slave South and free North and many came to consider themselves uniquely qualified to pass judgment on the institution. For them it was less about slavery being a positive social good or irredeemable evil and more about it being an issue of practical necessity for the economic survival of the section. Of Zimring's sample, 109 owned slaves in 1860 and more than half of these were raised in New England so northern background did little to preclude slave ownership.

Native southern unionists have received far more attention in the Civil War literature than native northern Confederates and when the latter are mentioned it is typically in the narrow context of the affect of southern marriage on the issue of transferred sectional loyalty (the case of Confederate general John C. Pemberton being the most popular example cited). Zimring sees the issue as far more complex. In his sample, only 47 of 303 individuals remained pro-Union while 248 became Confederates. The author divides the motivations for the latter group into issues of presumed personal "necessity" (ex. marriage, along with economic and other social pressures) and ideological "conviction," finding evidence for the latter more compelling. Many of Zimring's adoptive southerners considered themselves the perfect impartial adjudicators of sectional misconceptions but there was no such balance of views in most of their speeches and writings, which overwhelmingly portrayed the South as victim of northern wrongs. Their defenses of slavery and states' rights, their fears of northern dominance and invasion, and their cries against abolitionists and personal liberty laws were as strident as those of any native southerner. A sizable sub-grouping did remain pro-Union (around 20%) but the arguments and rhetoric of the vast majority were not those typical of northern unionists but rather closest in expression to that of the southern unionist who believed the South's rights were best protected within the old system.

One of Zimring's chapters offers an illuminating series of individual stories highlighting the military and civilian Civil War contributions of male and female adoptive southerners. Far from a disillusioning experience, army service tended to reinforce their Confederate loyalty and identity. Two-thirds of Northern Confederates served in the armed forces and Zimring interestingly points to their disproportionate presence in the high command of the western theater during the first half of the war — Pemberton and Roswell Ripley at Charleston and Pemberton (again), Martin L. Smith, Franklin Gardner, Johnson Duncan, Mansfield Lovell, Charles Clark, and Daniel Ruggles in the Mississippi Valley. The strength of Confederate nationalism has been much debated in the literature and the scale of sacrifice of adoptive southerners documented by the author seems to reinforce those scholarly interpretations that accept the existence of a strong Confederate national identity. How these Northern Confederate soldiers reacted to being in northern POW camps provides more insight into whether devotion to the Confederacy was conviction or coercion. Out of 30 men from Zimring's sample sent to POW facilities in the northern states, only 3 took the oath of allegiance for release back to their families in the North (and one later broke the oath).  The willingness of the rest to endure the horrific conditions of these camps offers powerful evidence of the strength of their Confederate identities.

How did native southerners view their adoptive southern neighbors?  Scholars often portray southern whites as deeply suspicious of northerners in their midst beginning with the rise of the Abolitionist movement, their hostility reaching hysterical proportions during the turmoil of the 1850s, but the testimony of those from Zimring's sample offers a much grayer picture Most northern born emigrants found the initial atmosphere of social exclusion to be only a thin shell, rather easily broken once the new arrivals demonstrated a willingness to fit in rather than impose outside values. Blanket hatred of Yankees was largely abstract in expression, quickly melting away under personal contact.  However, under the war's invasion conditions fear and hostility broadened with the families of unionist adoptive southerners and even some Northern Confederates subjected to increased scrutiny and abuse. It didn't help that many of the generals mentioned above failed in their high profile missions and some observers, like government clerk and diarist John B. Jones, constantly railed against Northern Confederates being placed in positions of responsibility. Jefferson Davis had no qualms about placing Northern Confederate generals in charge of critically important posts like New Orleans, Vicksburg, and Port Hudson. Among the civilian population and men in the ranks, competence, not birthplace, seemed to be the primary concern and it was really only after disastrous defeat and the inevitable search for scapegoats that northern origins became an issue, with Zimring using the Pemberton and Lovell examples among others to good effect.

After the war, one might expect many Northern Confederates to leave the economically devastated South or if they stayed suffer blame from their neighbors but Zimring found that three-fourths of the surviving individuals from his sample remained in the South with their attitudes and experiences essentially the same as those of native southerners. In general, they resumed their prior careers in middle class pursuits and were unapologetic Confederates who reaffirmed their southern identities. Only twenty left for the North, never to return.

Without any detailed methodological explanation of his sampling technique, it's unclear how truly representative Zimring's small group of 303 individuals is of the nearly 350,000 northern born persons residing in the South in 1860, but the author views his pioneering study primarily as a comprehensive starting point rather than a definitive treatment. In a way, the issues raised in the book are casually analogous to the classic nature (i.e. northern formative upbringing) vs. nurture (i.e. southern then Confederate environmental exposure) debates of the natural and social sciences. To Live and Die in Dixie argues powerfully for a general reassessment of the qualities of sectional identity and loyalty in nineteenth century America, one that stresses "fluidity" and ready adaptation over rigid belief systems set in place by the social environment dominating an individual's formative and early adulthood years. In social history inquiries like this one all evidence is selective to some degree but there's little doubt that Zimring is asking the right questions and discovering answers worthy of both deep consideration and further research. Every serious Civil War student should read this book.

1 - Zimring uses the term "adoptive southerner" to mean anyone born and raised above the Mason-Dixon Line and who moved south of that line during or after early adulthood. "Northern Confederates" refers to adoptive southerners who joined the Confederate movement.
2 - Much of the data referred to in the book is usefully arranged into 12 tables in the book's appendix, with statistics related to the sample group's northern, antebellum South, Civil War and Reconstruction era lives. The names of all individuals used in the study are also included here, along with select vital stats.

More CWBA reviews of UTP titles:
* To Retain Command of the Mississippi: The Civil War Naval Campaign for Memphis
* Confederate Generals in the Trans-Mississippi - Volume 1: Essays on America's Civil War
* Rethinking Shiloh: Myth and Memory
* Ruined by This Miserable War: The Dispatches of Charles Prosper Fauconnet, a French Diplomat in New Orleans, 1863-1868
* The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
* To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 3: Essays on America's Civil War
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 2: Essays on America’s Civil War
* Great Things Are Expected of Us: The Letters of Colonel C. Irvine Walker, 10th South Carolina Infantry, C.S.A.
* Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Vol. 1: Classic Essays on America’s Civil War
* Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South
* Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary
* The Battle of Shiloh and the Organizations Engaged
* The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion
* Echoes of Thunder: A Guide to the Seven Days Battles
* Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaigns, 1863–1864
* Earthen Walls, Iron Men: Fort DeRussy, Louisiana, and the Defense of Red River
* Through the Howling Wilderness: The 1864 Red River Campaign and Union Failure in the West

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