How do you assess the Southern Confederate soldier & Southern Unionist?

Posted on July 15, 2012 by

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It might be a good time to pause, just a bit…

I’m in the midst of drafting another blog post about another Southern Unionist claim, and am realizing just how varied the picture is becoming. Granted, I had already been noting how varied the story is. In fact, I had subcategories of subcategories, breaking down the various types of Southern Unionists I find, but… the image of Southern Unionists (SUs) keeps on expanding.

In the past, I’ve often brought up how one should take care in assessing an individual Confederate soldier. Just because he has a service record, well… it isn’t the end-all, says-all statement.

The same goes with Southern Unionists. Fortunately, however, we have a great deal more to work with when it comes to these folks. Claims applications can be rich with content that you simply won’t find in basic service records, and testimonies of various people, on behalf of one claimant, are great (of course, you have to treat each carefully, as there might actually be a need to read between the lines, and ample time spent in the records of various persons, I’d argue, you begin to develop an eye for this sort of thing).

Just as some do take that end-all, says-all, WYSIWYG approach to the common soldier, there are also some who do the same to Southern Unionists. It’s a shame, really, because the story of these people… and that word is critical, “people”… is really quite rich, and deserves more care. At an early point, it becomes necessary to understand the civilian… and the person, down deep… who may or may not don a uniform… or may opt to no longer wear that uniform, at some point during the war… as what we see in Brett’s post today (which I believe sounds more like one who became disillusioned or disaffected, rather than that of a Unionist) and Craig’s post from earlier this week. There comes a point, I think, where, no matter how resistant one might be to the notion, if giving due diligence to the work at-hand, he/she has to go beyond the military historian, and put more than a toe or two in the water as a social historian.

A look at Southern Unionism is not just a look at a Southerner who wasn’t in support of the Confederacy. What you also get into is a need to understand where that sentiment originated, and how it impacted the larger nuclear family in the war, and… perhaps… after the war.

If you only see the Southern Unionist as a person who opposed the Confederacy, then you haven’t scratched the surface. If you go so far as to call him or her a traitor… that view is shallow and meaningless. It says nothing about the person back then, and more about the person today, making the “assessment”.

What is particularly striking, is the father-son rifts over sentiment (potential or realized rifts… and I touched on this just a little, the other day). I was made aware of them several years ago, but I see them becoming more common the deeper I dig into the story of SUs.  These were precarious points in the claims process. The Commission took a hard look at these. How did you support that/those son/sons after they enlisted? A good many said that they supported the son, and not necessarily the son in a Confederate uniform. That’s a fine line, and understandably so, but… I CAN see how hard that would be for the father at that time (In most cases, it was a sure way to seal the claim as being barred or disapproved). The disagreement over sentiment is one thing, but… did it always create a rift? Sometimes it did, but, I think… most times it did not.

I could go on, but I’d do so at the expense of yet another upcoming blog post.

It’s just to make a point for now… that Southern Unionists can be much more than what meets the eye. When assessing them… or the Confederate soldier… it would be wise to leave preconceived notions, and perhaps… personal baggage… at the door.

* I think this post was brought-on by reading Brett’s post (mentioned earlier in this post). He wrote, “… another possible case of the truth being more complicated than most people are willing to accept or imagine.” There’s a lot to be said for this. Excellent remark by Brett.