Sunday, June 12, 2016

The First Republican Army

As far as I know, no one has previously attempted a standalone history of the Army of Virginia, the amalgamated Union army [three corps: First (Sigel), Second (Banks), and Third (McDowell)] that was formed in central Virginia in the summer of 1862 after the failure of the Peninsula Campaign and placed under the command of western rising star John Pope. John Matsui's The First Republican Army: The Army of Virginia and the Radicalization of the Civil War (Virginia, Sept 2016) draws "on archival sources from twenty-five generals and 250 volunteer officers and enlisted men" and  "offers the first major study to examine the ways in which individual politics were as important as military considerations to battlefield outcomes and how the experience of war could alter soldiers’ political views."

Matsui supports some interesting arguments.
"If the Army of the Potomac (the major Union force in Virginia) was dominated by generals who concurred with the ideology of the Democratic Party, the Army of Virginia was its political opposite, from its senior generals to the common soldiers. The majority of officers and soldiers in the Army of Virginia saw slavery and pro-Confederate civilians as crucial components of the rebel war effort and blamed them for prolonging the war. Ultimately, the frustrating occupation experiences of the Army of Virginia radicalized them and other Union soldiers against Southern rebellion and slavery, paving the way for Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation."
I don't know. Skimming the Army of Virginia's order of battle, I don't see an exceptionally great preponderance of "radical" leaders and find it difficult to imagine the native born soldiers in the ranks of the three corps being the "political opposite" of their Army of the Potomac comrades in mid-1862. But, hey, I didn't do the research and am definitely intrigued by the notion of having my assumptions challenged on this.


  1. This is an intriguing concept. The proof will be in the pudding research. Did the author come at this with his idea first, and then try to use the research to fit the theory? Or did his research lead him to this conclusion?

    I will be interested in your review of this Drew, should to produce one (I hope you do).

    1. I doubt that I will end up reviewing it. Virginia has never responded to past requests :-(

      I may try again. They might have different publicity people employed there now.

  2. Well, many publishers/presses don't know much about marketing.

    1. There are still holdouts out there that don't send anything to independent reviewers. Thankfully, they are relatively few in number.


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