Monday, March 30, 2020

Booknotes: A Republic in the Ranks

New Arrival:
A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac by Zachery A. Fry (UNC Press, 2020).

"The Army of the Potomac was a hotbed of political activity during the Civil War." One could hardly expect anything less. Any mass volunteer army would naturally reflect the kaleidoscope of political views present in its recruitment geography. 

From the description: "(I)n this comprehensive reassessment of the army's politics, Zachery A. Fry argues that the war was an intense political education for its common soldiers. Fry examines several key crisis points to show how enlisted men developed political awareness that went beyond personal loyalties. By studying the struggle between Republicans and Democrats for political allegiance among the army's rank and file, Fry reveals how captains, majors, and colonels spurred a pro-Republican political awakening among the enlisted men, culminating in the army's resounding Republican voice in state and national elections in 1864."

As referenced both above and below, rather than adopting a top-down approach Fry's A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomac examines more ground-level sources of political expression and change. More from the description: "For decades, historians have been content to view the Army of the Potomac primarily through the prism of its general officer corps, portraying it as an arm of the Democratic Party loyal to McClellan's leadership and legacy. Fry, in contrast, shifts the story's emphasis to resurrect the successful efforts of proadministration junior officers who educated their men on the war's political dynamics and laid the groundwork for Lincoln's victory in 1864." As even Civil War-era citizen-armies were not institutions allowing the kinds of freedom of expression guaranteed in civilian life, there can be a fine line between education and coercion. Hopefully, Fry takes that factor into account, as well. It looks like the book might be a good companion read to Jonathan White's excellent 2014 study Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln.

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