Tuesday, December 9, 2014


[The Civil War in the Border South by Christopher Phillips (Praeger, 2013). Hardcover, illustrations, notes, bibliographical essay, index. Pages main/total:131/186.  ISBN:9780275995027 $37]

While works interpreting specific topics associated with the Civil War experiences of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware exist in quantity and quality, Christopher Phillips's The Civil War in the Border South synthesizes and enhances the best of this literature (old and new), freshly mapping the current state of border slave state scholarship spanning the decade of the 1860s through Reconstruction. With a host of publications dealing with Civil War era Border State cultural history and biography under his belt, Phillips is an excellent authorial candidate for this contribution to the Reflections on the Civil War Era series of concise introductory volumes written by subject experts.

In just over 100 pages of narrative, Phillips manages to touch upon a broad range of themes, all of interest to today's scholars. Lincoln and the Republicans were not especially popular in the Border States [in the 1860 election, Lincoln received 28% of the vote in Delaware, 1% in Kentucky, 2.5% in Maryland, and just over 10% in Missouri] and the book briefly discusses the popular response within these states to Lincoln's ascension to the presidency and the ideological divisions(using the literature conventions of unconditional unionist, conditional unionist, and secessionist) that fractured social and political relations during the secession crisis and beyond. With Delaware having no strong pro-secession element and Maryland's being crushed early and permanently, much of the focus is on the western states of Missouri and Kentucky. A common theme revolves around the marked differences in military and home front experiences for those living on either side of the Appalachian geographical dividing line. Missouri and Kentucky were the only Border States to spawn Confederate governments-in-exile and only Kentucky was able to seriously attempt neutrality and later maintain a strong loyal conservative opposition to Republican policy making throughout the war.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Border State experience was the federal occupation, which was solidly in place across the board by mid-1862. Demonstrating a solid grasp of Union military policy in the Border States, Phillips counts six major initiatives: (1) military districting, with a relatively free hand given to local commanders to interpret and implement federal directives using federal troops supported by home guards and militia (2) use of unconditional unionists to provide intelligence on the loyalty status of neighbors and gather evidence for arrest (3) creation of a provost marshal system with expansive policing powers (4) establish loyalty through oaths and bonds, with severe penalties for refusal (5) imposition of martial law and suspension of civil liberties (6) creation of a system of economic coercion through strict trade regulation. Phillips ably summarizes their implementation, assessing both their effectiveness and levels of abuse, the latter increasing to the point that by the mid to late war period even loyal civilians often felt regarded by their military government as citizens of a rebel state.

Another section examines the military and political fallout of the 1862 Border State summer offensives conducted by Confederate armies along vast stretches of both the eastern and western theaters. Rather than inspiring a popular uprising and a flood of recruits, these campaigns contributed little toward padding Confederate ranks and the foraging behavior of the invaders instead sowed resentment among the populace. Interestingly, Phillips titles this chapter "The Confederacy's Tet Offensive." At first glance, this comparison appears inappropriate. The 1968 Tet Offensive was a devastating military defeat for the communists but a political bonanza. The Confederates were soundly defeated on both fronts. On the other hand, if the author's objective was to provocatively remind readers to never overlook the wedding of political consequences to military ones then he succeeded in making the point.

Much of the book addresses unsavory aspects of the inner war, including the guerrilla conflict, tracing the tipping point of severity to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Though the Border States were pointedly exempt from its provisions, slavery in the region was nevertheless quickly put on the road to extinction. Barriers to the enlistment of slaves of loyal masters were systematically eroded and federal military and civilian authorities soon made support of emancipation policy the line of demarcation between loyalist and rebel. With conservative opposition in other Border States rapidly overwhelmed by radical elements in the legislature, only Kentucky was able to field a fairly robust political opposition, but its victories were few and far between and only marginally successful in slowing the tide of social revolution.

Readjustment/Reconstruction is covered in brief, and critics of the book might point out that relegating this unique moment of societal upheaval to the epilogue of a general history once again promotes an undue separation of the two periods, but Phillips covers the basics well and his source essay offers readers a hefty bounty of suggested reading on the subject. The author sums up the rise of a heavily southernized Civil War narrative among large, previously divided segments of white Border State society as a shared appreciation of rebellion, with Confederates fighting a hostile federal government from without while Unionists were fighting it from within.

The Civil War in the Border South very effectively integrates the author's own original research with a keen assessment of the best published works. The serious student should consider closely the book's bibliographical essay. Addressing every appropriate theme, its comprehensive compilation of the best available books and articles more than makes up for the lack of specific source commentary. It's all in there — state and regional histories; battle and campaign books; studies integrating military and social history; works dealing with Border State secession and neutrality politics (and their relationship with Lincoln); published diaries, journals and memoirs; emancipation and black enlistment scholarship; urban studies; works on the guerrilla conflict; cultural histories; and post-war politics, Reconstruction, and memory literature.

Possessing scholarly depth while remaining accessible to new readers, The Civil War in the Border South is a matchless subject primer.

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