Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sutherland (ed.): "Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front"

[Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front ed. by Daniel E. Sutherland (University of Arkansas Press, 1999) Softcover, map, drawings, photos, notes, index. Pages main/total: 199/250 ISBN: 1-55728-550-0 $21.95]

As with his other edited essay collection [here, with Anne Bailey] published by UA Press, Daniel Sutherland's work on Guerrillas, Unionists, and Violence on the Confederate Home Front demonstrates his great knack for matching authors with subjects and subjects with the general theme at hand. In this case, the broad meaning of Southern Unionism and the violence attached to its promotion and suppression are examined. Sutherland launches the book with a nice general introduction to the current state of scholarship and summarizes the essays to follow.

Victoria Bynum kicks it all off with her inquiry into Mississippi's "Free State of Jones", and how views of the nature of the resistance changed over time in the literature. In his study of violence in North Georgia, Jonathan Sarris notes how citizen appeals for legal redress through established channels evolved over a period of escalating disorder. Lesley Gordon studies the primary issue raised from the "Great Hanging" at Kinston, NC--should a deserter from the Confederate army who subsequently enlists in the Union army be accorded the usual rights and protections of a POW? John Wakelyn takes up the issue of personal threats and political coercion by Unionist pamphleteers in Virginia. Daniel Sutherland also takes the reader to Virginia and remarks upon the relative lack of violence that occurred in Culpeper County. His study of motivating factors makes note of an important demographic feature not often taken into account, age. Noel Fisher traces East Tennessee Unionism through Reconstruction, while B.F. Cooling determines that guerrilla warfare became the defining experience of the majority of soldiers and civilians in Kentucky and Tennessee starting with Grant's capture of Fort Donelson. Moving on to the Trans-Mississippi front, David Paul Smith examines the violent suppression of Unionists and anti/ex-Confederates in North Texas. Donald Frazier summarizes the guerrilla conflict in Louisiana, while Robert Mackey traces the strategies behind the successful Federal counter-guerrilla campaign in Arkansas. Finally, Michael Fellman relates the horrors of guerrilla violence through graphic first person accounts, and discusses how this archival research affected him on a personal and professional level.

Another significant hallmark of a Sutherland edited book is that, unlike so many other essay collections, there are no weak links [although the Fellman article at the end seemed a bit out of place]. Each article stands alone as a worthy contribution to the literature, yet they complement each other like pieces to a puzzle. In this volume, the regions of the South with the largest concentrations of Unionist sentiment are well covered, with the notable exception of Florida. This is rather unfortunate, as Florida's internal civil war (especially on the Gulf Coast) deeply divided its citizens, as much as any Confederate state.

So, what is Southern Unionism? Like most of the great questions from the war period, its roots and expression do not readily admit to reducible answers. Conscription, impressment, war weariness, taxes, confiscation, political affiliation, ideology, religious identity, familial connections, regional ancestry, class conflict -- all are factors that inspired Unionist, or at least anti-Confederate, sentiment during the war. In terms of expressing their convictions, Unionists could be passive or active, pro-slavery or anti-slavery, or just anti-government altogether. While these essays gathered by Sutherland wonderfully elucidate these questions in terms of individual and community motivation, they amply remind us of the impracticality of broad generalization.


  1. I like Sutherland's book, however, in his article about Culpeper County (and I realize that he wrote a book about the county in the Civil War) I think he does not give enough credit to the merit of Southern Loyalist Claims.

    I used this book as one of the references in completing my thesis (which focused on Southern Unionists, disaffected Confederates and reluctant Confederates in Page County, Va.) While I believe that some who applied for these claims in years after the war were only doing so for the money and had "reinvented" themselves as Southern Unionists in years after the war, I think that the body of applications needs to be considered as a whole. I think there is a lot more to these than Sutherland gives credit.

  2. I think the present trend in detailed city, county, region studies will eventually lead to a new assessment of Southern Unionism -- finding it to be deeper and broader than previously believed. Thanks for writing. I noticed from your ID that you have a blog. I'll check it out.


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