“Turncoat Virginians”

Posted on August 27, 2009 by


When reviewing a Confederate unit history recently, I ran across a remark made by the contemporary author (not a person who actually lived during the Civil War) about the men of Samuel MeansLoudoun Rangers (see this link for an interesting history of the unit… strange to say, the author of this article also uses the word “turncoat” in reference to the Loudoun Rangers). The Loudoun Rangers were, for the most part, Virginians (at least Co. A… Co. B consisted of more Marylanders) from Loudoun County (and the surrounding area) who not only refused to buy into the idea of secession, but were members of a unit in the service of the Union army. Means’ unit was an example of what I consider Southern Unionism taken to the “nth” degree.

When we really take time to consider these Unionist Virginians, were they really “turncoats?”

Well… I have to say that the word “turncoat” is a poor choice. According to the Second College Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary, “turncoat” is defined as “One who traitorously switches allegiance.” At what time did these men switch allegiance? Virginia was a state of the United States… and when had these men, ever, sworn allegiance to Virginia? For that matter, when did they swear an allegiance to the United States? But, before I digress…

Since the men of the Loudoun Rangers did not wear Confederate uniforms before they donned the blue uniforms, the word “turncoat” doesn’t fit.

Maybe some Virginians who bought – lock, stock, and barrel – into the idea of secession and Confederacy, considered these Unionist Virginians as“turncoats,” because the Confederate-leaning Virginians saw things as state first, country second.

On the other hand, the Unionist Virginians of Means’ command probably saw the secessionist Virginians as turncoats, having turned against the United States… the Unionist seeing things as country first, state second.

Bottom line is that the word “turncoat” equates to “traitors.”

Before I go any further, let me be clear here… I’m not going to entertain any comments about the legality of secession, so please don’t submit any. Moving on…

If these dueling Virginians saw each other as traitors, then it was their perspective at the time of the war and I can’t possibly dispute how the two parties judged each other, but I can be suspicious of a contemporary author using the phrase “turncoat Virginians.”

First, I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt. It may be that the wording is used to immerse the reader more in the mindset of the Confederates who are at the focal point of this work. (I’m personally a big fan of virtual reality in narrative design, but I’m not sure I’m buying it here). The book is a Confederate unit history and the Confederates (or some of them) may have seen the men of the Loudoun Rangers as turncoats against Virginia. Yet, there is no evidence (quotes from the Confederates as to their opinions of Means’ men) anywhere in the text of the book to show that the Confederate Virginians described the Unionist Virginians in blue as “turncoats.”

So, did the author go a little too far? Is this an indication of the author’s personal “sympathies” for the Confederates as well as an indication of a little animosity toward the Loudoun Rangers? Is this an indication that the work is about a “bushel” short of objectivity? Does the author inappropriately weave this sympathy into the history to invoke a sympathetic feeling in the readers for the Confederates and animosity for the Loudoun Rangers?

Unless I can ask the author specifically what his/her intent was in saying this, and because there is an absence of any quotes from the Confederates identifying the Rangers as “turncoats,” my first inclination is to suspect the author of failing in the delivery of objective history. At least it doesn’t appear to be history delivered in a manner for the reader to read, consider, evaluate, and form opinions on his/her own.

Some say that objectivity truly isn’t possible, but would you prefer lack of objectivity being transparent or opaque?

This post is dual posted in Southern Unionist Chronicles.