Thursday, June 21, 2018

Booknotes: Practical Liberators

New Arrival:
Practical Liberators: Union Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War
  by Kristopher A. Teters (UNC Press, 2018).

From the description: "During the first fifteen months of the Civil War, the policies and attitudes of Union officers toward emancipation in the western theater were, at best, inconsistent and fraught with internal strains. But after Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act in 1862, army policy became mostly consistent in its support of liberating the slaves in general, in spite of Union army officers' differences of opinion. By 1863 and the final Emancipation Proclamation, the army had transformed into the key force for instituting emancipation in the West."

"However, (author) Kristopher Teters argues that the guiding principles behind this development in attitudes and policy were a result of military necessity and pragmatic strategies, rather than an effort to enact racial equality." I've always thought the current literature already well differentiated widespread support for emancipation within the Union officer corps from the small subset of those willing to extend full citizenship rights to freedmen.

This is interesting: "Through extensive research in the letters and diaries of western Union officers, Teters demonstrates how practical considerations drove both the attitudes and policies of Union officers regarding emancipation. Officers primarily embraced emancipation and the use of black soldiers because they believed both policies would help them win the war and save the Union, but their views on race actually changed very little." From the great body of writings we have available on the topic from those officers that served in the West and Trans-Mississippi, it seems one could argue either way on that last point. I suppose it depends on what particular 'views on race' the author is taking under consideration. I will find out soon as this one is next up on the reading queue.

"In the end, however, despite its practical bent, Teters argues, the Union army was instrumental in bringing freedom to the slaves." I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

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