Category Archives: Union

If By Pro-Union You Mean, Pro-America

Richard Williams believes that I run a pro-Union blog, which I assume stands in contrast with a pro-Confederate blog.  It’s kind of funny to be labeled in a way that suggests that I am somehow still fighting the war.  On the other hand, I do not claim objectivity when it comes to this history.  Who could possibly do so given the issues involved and the scale of violence and destruction wrought.  No, I do not believe that the Union was wholly good and the Confederacy evil – that would be to apply an overly simplistic moral formula to a very complex subject.

So, if you have any doubt as to where I stand let me lay it out for you on a fourth-grade level:

  • I do not believe that secession was justified given the reasons presented. [I am speaking specifically of the lower South states.]
  • I also do not believe that secession was constitutional.
  • Abraham Lincoln was justified in using military force to suppress the rebellion of the southern states.
  • Lincoln and Congress were justified in going against slavery as a means to save the Union.
  • The abolition of slavery was a good thing for the entire nation.
  • The preservation of the Union was a good thing for the entire nation. [The right side won the war.]
  • The outcome of the war placed this country on track to becoming the leader of the free world.

I was born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey.  I was not raised on a pro-Confederate or pro-Union interpretation of the war; in fact, I don’t remember learning anything about the Civil War until I was well into my 20s.  If what I listed above makes me pro-Union than so be it.  It seems to me to be a pretty mainstream/uncontroversial view.

Rather than a pro-Union blog I prefer to see it as a pro-America blog.  Enjoy the increased traffic today, Richard.

Union and Civil War Memory

Today Brooks Simpson is asking his readers for their understanding of why white northerners resisted secession and disunion in 1861.  It’s a good question and one that is rarely discussed or taken seriously.  I’ve learned a great deal from reading Russell McClintock’s Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession.

Brooks’s question is a good one, but I think we can extend it south of the Mason-Dixon Line as well.  Paul Quigley does a brilliant job in his new book of analyzing how white southerners negotiated their own deep ties to union during this period, including those who remained loyal and those who came to identify closely with the Confederacy.

My question is a slightly different one.  Why do we find it so difficult to appreciate the concept of union for millions of Americans (north and south) in 1861?  It’s also challenging to teach it and as I contemplate my own return to the classroom in a few weeks I look forward to the opportunity to take another crack at it.  In the meantime here is a lecture by Gary Gallagher in which he explores some of these questions based on his latest book, The Union War.

The Governor Considers It A Most Important Command

Statue by sculptor Thomas R. Gould constructed in 1875, Hingham, MA

One of the stumbling blocks that I continue to come up against in researching the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is in reference to Governor John Andrew.  The problem is especially acute given my interest in the pay crisis of 1863-64.  Andrew played an important role as an advocate for these men, but I am only able to skirt the surface of his involvement thus far.  Unless I am mistaken, the last biography was written in 1904.  I suspect that his pre-mature death in 1867 as well as the general trend of the nation’s collective memory by the end of the nineteenth century has something to do with his disappearance from the historical landscape.

Of course, he makes a very brief appearance in the movie Glory and you will find him referenced in scores of Civil War studies that focus on the organization and deployment of black Union soldiers, but there seems to be little more.  Can anyone think of a more important Civil War era governor?  Andrew is central not only to the inclusion of African Americans in the United States military, but emancipation itself.

I am now toying with writing a Civil War biography of Andrew.  Such a focus would allow me to continue to research black Union soldiers and the story of black citizenship in Massachusetts, but it would also highlight Andrew’s role in this dramatic story.  I suspect there is also room to talk about how Andrew was remembered in connection to emancipation and black soldiers after his death.

[Post title comes from a letter written by Col. Robert G. Shaw on Feb. 4, 1863, which appears in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.]