The fate of Southern Unionists in the upcoming sesquicentennial

Posted on July 12, 2008 by


I’ve been thinking about this and I’m concerned. As we rapidly approach the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, will remembrance events once again ignore Southern Unionists? Why should I worry? Well, for starters, I have heard that with the Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee there is a reluctance in addressing the issue of slavery and that at least one member has stated that people would be much more interested in where or how Stonewall Jackson made his flank movement during the battle of Chancellorsville. While interesting, I think that this particular approach to the war is a bit shallow (and even insulting), especially in the wake of all that has been brought forward on the big screen and other media that has made folks more aware of the much more complex issues behind the war. But, before I digress…

If the issue of slavery is being skirted (for the standard reasons that go along with the Lost Cause mentality), then why would I think that Southern Unionists would be given any attention? Why would Southerners want to admit that other Southerners opposed the good old Stars and Bars and a “Solid South” of that timeframe? However, I have also heard that there was mention (on the Va. Committee) of remembering Union General George Henry Thomas (the Virginians who opted to stay with the Union). O.K., yes, Gen. Thomas made a name for himself and, for the fact that he didn’t do what Robert E. Lee did (retain his sword for his native state), he took a lot of flack from fellow Virginians. However, really now, should Thomas be the sole focus when it comes to Southern Unionists? I don’t think so, and honestly, I think it is as shallow a thought as that which was mentioned above (the desire to know about a flank movement and not about deeper issues).

Truly, among Southern Unionists, I think that those who stand as worth recognition and had more to lose for their stand on the Union than anyone else, were those who remained in the South and tried to move on, despite all that was going on. Whether it be silent resistance, outspoken resistance, and even the common Southern dirt farmer enlisting as a low private in the Union army, I think their stories stand as more interesting than that of even Gen. Thomas. Not only did these common people stand to lose more, many, in fact, did lose more, and sometimes that included their lives… even as civilians.

Because some want to focus on the “rock stars” of the Civil War, I’m really concerned that the most interesting stories will be ignored… those that address the issues faced by the common man… and woman. In short, I sincerely hope that this is not the path down which the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial folks are headed. Will the sesquicentennial yield meaningful education and remembrance or will it be the same old boring platform for those who continue to see the war with self-installed blinders and want to do the same old song and dance?