Remembering Southern Unionism

Does Unionism have a place in Southern memory?  Check out this very interesting article in the Tuscaloosa News on George Spencer and the 1st Alabama Cavalry.  Much of the article is pulled from Spencer’s testimony to the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which sought to impeach President Andrew Johnson.  There is a kind of reductionism in connection to Civil War memory in the South, which involves the tendency to see history as white-only and as monolithic.  The effect of this works to overshadow the various regions whose loyalty remained with the Union.  In comparison, we seem to have a much easier time acknowledging Northern dissent during the war.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

10 comments… add one
  • Zach Jun 1, 2014 @ 0:40

    As a Northern Alabamian, I don’t consider myself southern. The Southerns became a Nation in 1861. We didn’t. I guess I consider myself part of the U.S. region of Appalachia. (West Virginia) My county (Walker) never officially seceded, we voted against it, and our representative Robert Guttery refused to sign Alabama’s Ordinance of Secession.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2007 @ 9:15

    Hi Cindy, — Thanks for taking the time to write. Please keep in mind that much of what I write about connects to my own on-going research projects on the history of the South, the Civil War, and memory. If you delve into this blog enough, however, you will notice that I do comment on other regions. I assure you that my concentration on the South has nothing to do with a belief that this particular region alone has an issue with race.

  • Cindy Aug 3, 2007 @ 2:13

    I find it interesting that this site can only celebrate a thin portion of the South, and how it hypocritically only discusses racial issues as southern American. Have you explored the rich slave history of northern America? With such an obvious content gap, the general message here fails to ignite serious thought.

  • Bruce Miller Jul 23, 2007 @ 14:41

    I was browsing through the library’s electronic archives of Civil War History this weekend and I came across an article on Southern Unionism called, “The Confederate Spin on Winfield Scott and George Thomas”, by Francis MacDonnell Civil War History Dec 1998 (print edition).

    His focus was on how the Confederates used the image of well-known Unionists like those two in order to brand all Southern Unionists as traitors to the glorious cause of owning other human beings as property, “our sacred institutions of slavery and white supremacy”, as contemporary orators liked to say.

    MacDonnell writes that:

    Ninety to one hundred thousand whites and approximately 98,000 blacks from Confederate states entered the Federal ranks, making a total of over 188,000 militant Southern Unionists. Scholars estimate overall enlistments in the Confederate Army at between 750,000 and 900,000 men. Thus, as many as one out of five Southerners who fought in the Civil War were Union soldiers.

    He also talks about the effect that this line of anti-Southern-Unionist propaganda had on the massacres not only of black Union soldiers but also on the treatment of white Unionists in and out of uniform, as well.

  • Kevin Levin Jul 22, 2007 @ 17:13

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I’m not sure if the the total percentage of Southern Unionists is as interesting/revealing as a more regional or local view. Here I am thinking of Sarris’s impressive comparative approach between Georgia’s Lumpkin and Fannin counties in Georgia, which he explores in _A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South_ (University of Virginia Press, 2006). I think those of you who reference the transformation of sentiment are right on target as well as the question of how to define Southern Unionism over time.

    Maxwell, — Thanks for the kind words and I hope to hear from you again.

  • Maxwell Elebash Jul 22, 2007 @ 16:10

    There have been at least two other stories in the Tuscaloosa News in recent months about Alabama Unionists that you may find interesting. The most recent was on 5/28/07 and one 12/04/07, both by Michael Palmer. The most recent concerns his ancestor in the 1st Alabama Cavalry and the other an incident involving a member of the same unit.

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog and eagerly chect it each day!

  • chris Jul 22, 2007 @ 15:56

    Further reductionism portrays an either/or with regards to Union/Confederate. Quite a bit of Anti-Secessionist sentiments here in North Carolina are interpreted as Unionism when in fact, the Anti-Secessionists were just as pro-slavery and anti-Republican/abolition as the secessionists. And this changed, of course. The great number of people in North Carolina who became disillusioned with the war effort and actively struggled against the Confederate government were simply disillusioned and not necessarily Unionists. So it goes.

    Chris Graham

  • Chris Paysinger Jul 22, 2007 @ 14:34

    I like Margaret Storey’s book on North Alabama Unionism. It will no doubt be a part of my historiography for my Master’s thesis. But I believe she relied a bit too heavily on the Southern Claims Commision reports. Also, while I do tend to believe that 10% may not be too high for Unionist sympathies in early 1861, she doesn’t seem to overtly show any transformation in these feelings to a pro-Confederate stance. She seems to me to infer that feelings of Unionism grew stronger amongst the population of North Al. And it no doubt did for many. But I will be writing about the move to a pro-CSA view. , Chris

  • elektratig Jul 22, 2007 @ 5:48

    I did not think it a great read, but another book that focuses on Alabaman unionism is Margaret M. Storey’s Loyalty and Loss: Alabama’s Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction (LSU Press 2004). She guesses that unconditional unionists in Alabama in 1861 amounted to about 10% or slightly more of the adult white population. Seems high to me, but what do I know? The H-Net review is here.

  • eric Wittenberg Jul 21, 2007 @ 13:30


    The town of Spencer, Iowa was named for General Spencer. He went on to serve several terms in Congress as well.

    The 1st Alabama absolutely got chopped to bits in its first combat when they tried to take on an entire brigade of Confederate infantry. You can imagine what the results of that encounter were.

    Later, the 1st Alabama bore much of the brunt of the onslaught on Confederate cavalry at Monroe’s Crossroads, March 10, 1865. A lot of Wheeler’s command led the charge that day, including the 51st Alabama, a partisan unit. They charged through the Federal camp from the west, and put a major hurting on the 1st Alabama Cavalry.

    William Stanley Hoole published a book in the early 1960’s titled Alabama Tories, which sums up the 1st Alabama Cavalry pretty well, if you ask me.


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