Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Review - "Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North" by Robert Sandow, ed.

[Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North edited by Robert M. Sandow (Fordham University Press, 2018). Hardcover, notes, contributor list, index. 326 pp. ISBN:978-0-8232-7975-3. $65]

Past proposals by historians that internal divisions were the primary cause of Confederate wartime defeat spawned an extensive literature related to Civil War loyalty and dissent. Though the northern home front was never completely neglected in these areas, a significant sectional imbalance emerged in the scholarship. However, in recent years this North-South gap in the historiography has significantly narrowed, and many of the historians involved in this process are featured in the excellent new essay anthology Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North, edited by Robert Sandow. Generally speaking, the essays in Contested Loyalty presuppose the existence of "layers" of loyalty within individuals, a context that often serves as a useful starting point for deeper examination.

Melinda Lawson's opening essay looks that the relationship between sacred duty and patriotism, specifically the similarities and differences between the views of antislavery moderate Abraham Lincoln and the radicals Wendell Phillips and George Julian. All agreed that the Declaration of Independence was the U.S.'s defining document and that duty combined with action as the means to an end that upholds those ideals was the highest form of patriotism. Differences lay in Phillips's initial support for disunion and the more radical pair's belief that duty nearly always trumped regard for consequences, which are often unpredictable anyway. Unlike Phillips and Julian, however, Lincoln had much more measured concern for the short and long term outcomes of his actions, leading Lawson to label the president's sense of duty as much more "deliberative" by comparison and the one best able to achieve the ideological goals of all three men.

With the Peace Democrat literature, both older and more modern studies, largely concentrated on the Midwest opposition, the next chapter from Matthew Warshauer instead examines Connecticut "Copperheadism." Distinct from the three individuals mentioned above, these conservative Democrats insisted upon their strict interpretation of the sanctity of both Constitution and Union, believing their party to be the true loyal defenders of both and Republican radicalism the source of much of the country's woes. Nearly unseating the state's Republican governor in 1863 (which would have been a wartime first) and very nearly handing the state to McClellan in the 1864 election, with the soldier vote likely the decisive factor on both occasions, Connecticut's Peace Democrats were the strongest among the New England states. Why this was so seems to have been in large part related to the leadership's adroit coupling of consistent, principled ideological opposition to Republican war measures with compliance of the law. In this way, the state's Peace Democrats avoided violent backlash and were able to build an exceptionally robust political challenge to majority attempts at narrowly defining loyalty.

Jonathan White's essay looks at a seemingly innocuous Pennsylvania relief proposal that instead serves as yet another example of how contested loyalty became an embittering political football. After Confederate raids caused a great deal of property damage in southern Pennsylvania, a relief bill was introduced in the state legislature. Members from both parties opposed it on various grounds, but one of the largest sticking points was Republican insistence on a loyalty test, which Democrats were justifiably wary of given the wider tendency among Republicans to brand all political opposition as disloyal. Oddly enough, it was even proposed (without any justification) that Pennsylvania Democrats, who resided in the southern counties in large numbers, invited Confederate attacks in order to harm the Republican war effort and at the same time line their own pockets at taxpayer expense. The essay provides another defining example of the great lengths that many northern partisans would go to to wield loyalty as a political weapon.

Julie Mujic uses the correspondence between staunch Peace Democrat Gideon Winan Allen and his equally passionate abolitionist Republican fiance Annie Cox to discuss in fascinating fashion perhaps the most personal layer of contested loyalty, that between husband and wife (or in this case the betrothed). In what must be a remarkable set of letters, the Allen and Cox correspondence is filled with vigorous debates over all the great contentious issues of the war, including loyalty and treason. Throughout their letters, both writers used the war's conflicts in the areas of politics and loyalty to learn about each other. Nearly always disagreeing in the end, they were nevertheless able to forge a loving relationship of political opposites that stood in stark contrast with the country as a whole and found in their mutual bond an even higher fidelity that could not be shaken.

Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai's study of 25 college-educated New Englanders finds a variety of political ideologies but consistent support for a vigorous prosecution of the war. Distrusting the democratic masses and viewing themselves as a national elite sharing traditional New England values of "free labor, business, education, and abolitionism," these young men nevertheless demonstrated differing views on the country's political and military leadership as well as policies like wartime emancipation. However, loyalty to the Union, and the obligation of working toward its preservation, was their common cause and overarching concern.

The next essay enters the sphere of wartime conflict between religious conscience and public expressions of loyalty. Pennsylvania Presbyterian minister and seminary professor William S. Plumer was widely admired before the war, but his refusal to explicitly pray for Union battlefield victories and condemn the rebellion in the strongest possible terms (citing the dictates of his conscience that the pulpit should be apolitical and not a forum for secular partisanship) began a long period of persecution that ended with the minister leaving his position. As Sean Scott's interesting case study shows, Plumer fell victim to both a northern society that could reach no common ground on what constituted loyalty and a bitterly divisive wartime atmosphere that did not condone separation between the sacred and the secular worlds when it came to public professions of fealty to the Union and the war fought to preserve it.

Judith Giesberg's chapter amply demonstrates that pursuing work in key war industries was no guarantee against groundless suspicion of disloyalty. In her study of Philadelphia seamstresses, Giesberg finds that those women believed strongly that their war work was testament to their loyalty and they often had to fight with military contractors who equated worker efforts to organize with Copperhead opposition to the war. The more unscrupulous middlemen often used allegations of disloyalty, or just suspected disloyalty (ex. having no husband or male relatives in the army), as an instrument of control and grounds for discharge.

Timothy Orr offers another example of the intersection between war work and concepts of loyalty. His chapter examines the termination of Allegheny Arsenal workers in 1863 for disloyalty amid a domestic climate charged by the proximity of Confederate invasion and an invigorated peace movement on the home front. Simply on hearsay and vague accusations of dissent (all compiled by a hostile newspaper editor), the arsenal commander dismissed fifteen workers, though he was later forced to reinstate them. The chapter is perhaps most interesting for what is says about the work itself. According to Orr, officials at the time often viewed ordnance workers as recipients of government benevolence subject to suspicion rather than individuals demonstrating their loyalty to the nation through work essential to winning the war. That these skilled men remained vulnerable to conscription attests to this less than valuing attitude, which stood in marked contrast to how similar work was treated in the U.S. during the two world wars of the next century.

In the next chapter, Ryan Keating interestingly contrasts the mid-war disillusionment of the New York Irish population that culminated in the horrific draft riot of 1863 with the lack of similar sentiments and actions by Irish-Americans hailing from more integrated Wisconsin and Connecticut communities. Volunteers who enlisted in the 17th Wisconsin and 9th Connecticut regiments and fought in the western theater—where they won more victories while at the same time suffering fewer casualties than their eastern counterparts in the famous Irish Brigade—certainly had similar policy concerns in regard to conscription, emancipation, and black enlistment, but they largely rejected the motives and methods of the New York City uprising and viewed their loyalty to the Union and its preservation as an overriding factor in continued support for the war. The essay well reminds us of the great variety of local and regional differences within ethnic groups when it came to manifestations of loyal dissent.

Northern blacks comprised a tiny minority of USCT troops, but they are the subject of Thaddeus Romansky's final chapter, which examines military protest in the 55th Massachusetts and 14th Rhode Island Colored Heavy Artillery. These Northern black volunteers used resistance techniques informed by both home front civilian experiences and slave traditions to combat what they viewed as unequal treatment within the army. Believing that loyalty demonstrated by military service entitled them to equal rights and privileges, some soldiers responded to inequities in pay, punishment, and officer selection with protests that the army construed as mutiny. In citing several interesting case studies, Romansky links the often violent protests in a positive way to a fight for equality during the war and beyond but perhaps too easily dismisses the army's view that discipline cannot be maintained when private soldiers, regardless of the justness of their grievances, are allowed to take matters in their own hands and assault, curse, and disobey their officers.

As frustratingly shifting and amorphous as they proved to be, concepts of loyalty in the Civil War era North remain popular topics of study these days, and the essays comprising Contested Loyalty offer a fine survey of the range and current state of the scholarship. Hierarchies of loyalty, for which no societal consensus existed, resided in most individuals in the North, and these are identified and assessed by the volume's contributors in areas of personal and communal duty, partisan politics, gender, courtship, ethnicity, race, employment, and religious conscience. Together, these essays amply demonstrate how Civil War conflicts over loyalty and the limits of dissent permeated all elements of northern society, their wartime debates taking many forms with results ranging from productive to disappointingly repressive.

1 comment:

  1. While the Copperheads may have considered themselves to be the true loyal defenders of a strict interpretation of the sanctity of both Constitution and Union - and had ample opportunity to criticize the Lincoln administration on any number of economic, political, or military issues - it seemed that all too often their anger manifested itself primarily as a virulent racism against blacks and the purported never-ending danger of "miscegenation." Frankly, IMO, they were often their own worst enemy. --- Just obtained a copy of this fascinating book and am looking forward to reading it.


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