No hard feelings among old enemies? – Former Confederates & Southern Unionists

Posted on July 19, 2012 by


I don’t think that such a claim can be made across the board, though I’ve seen evidence to support the thought that some continued to hold bitterness toward those who had proven themselves as Southern Unionists. Even so, for the most part, in my neck o’ the woods of Virginia, I think the evidence (even that which I’ve found) supports a shift in post-reconstruction times. In some ways, I think that any worries that anyone held regarding Southern Unionists began to dissipate… but, granted… not with everyone. In my opinion, the post-war railroad boom in the Valley had a significant impact on the move forward, from the “old days”.

I’ve got a little more legwork to do on this as it relates to post-war reaction to the old Southern Unionists in the Shenandoah Valley, but, Dan Sutherland mentioned the situation with Southern Unionists in Culpeper County, in his book, Seasons of War (1995):

None of Culpeper’s unionists suffered dire consequences for their wartime words and actions, although old Confederates sometimes viewed them with suspicion, even with contempt. Mary L. Payne, who had long since passed on, never escaped her reputation as a Union sympathizer. As a result, her hotel business suffered after the war. Her case was not helped when a daughter married a Union officer, the same major who had flirted with her during the war, in 1868. Isaac C. Webster, a farmer  and mechanic, had been an outspoken opponent of the rebellion, at one time announcing “he wished an earthquake would come and swallow up the Confederacy.” Many people have never forgotten that statement, and Webster and his wife have endured community hostility ever since. “They were do down on us,” he remarked several years after the war, “that many of our former acquaintances will not notice or speak to us because we were guilty of loving the Union.” Feelings even died hard within families. When James Shaw asked his brother Archibald to testify on his behalf before the Southern Claims Commission, Archibald replied to his brother’s lawyer, “I told him James was as near to me as any of my brothers, but that I could not testify to his loyalty. he was in favor of secession.”

More often, with the Confederacy gone up the spout, people have let bygones be bygones. As early as the mid-1870s, when former unionists sought reimbursement through the Southern Claims Commission for property damaged or impressed by the Union army, some former Confederates testified on behalf of neighbors who they knew favored the Union cause. Anne Smoot, formerly Anne Crittenden, told the Commission that Ann C. Brandt had remained loyal to the United States, even though her son Logan had served and died for the Confederate cause. Similarly, Joseph B. Gorrell, who died in 1906, vouched for Mary L. Payne, and George Williams supported the claim of John C. Green. Some of these people even had to stretch the truth or be careful to express their views in ways that would not injure their neighbor’s case. They tried to dodge questions rather than lie. For example, Williams, who happened to be a cousin of Green’s wife, replied, when asked by the Commission to comment on green’s political affiliations, “Well, I can hardly say that I can. he was at one time considered a whig, and at another time considered a democrat, and sometimes a little of one and then of the other.” Williams spoke truer than he knew of many people in Culpeper.

In my work with Southern Unionism in the Valley… starting with my own home county… I’ve seen the same thing… where men who had even gone to the extreme, and donned Union blue, returned home and made good lives for themselves. Likely, it started in some very stressed settings (though seldom is that period documented), immediately after the war, to the end of Federal occupation; but over time, for most, hostilities were were set aside, as people and communities moved forward to forge a new future.

I know that all seems contradictory to the images that some wish to portray, today, of how things were, but there you have it… at least as seen from a couple areas in Virginia with which I’m familiar.

Speaking of Dr. Sutherland, he will be present at Sesqui related events in the Culpeper area this weekend. Of course, the focus isn’t on Southern Unionism in Culpeper, but, rather… geared toward the 150th of the Battle of Cedar Mountain (the actual anniversary being August 9). If you attend, let me know how the event went.

Source for quote: Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861-1865, pages 381 – 382.