Southern… but at what point did “alternative roads” course outward?

Posted on September 22, 2012 by


There’s a great deal of time and effort spent at looking at Southerners in the Civil War, and in the years leading-up to the secession crisis. We see several books, articles, blog posts, etc. focused on “what they were fighting for” (in this instance, one could say this statement applies to both Southern Confederates and Southern Unionists), and, on a much lesser degree… what they were not fighting for (and, in this, I’m inclined to place emphasis on many Southern Unionists and “leave-aloners”… and, in the case of some leave-aloners AND those who cast their lot at the beginning of the war with the Confederacy, there were those who grew intolerant and disillusioned of/with the Confederacy, even to the point of fighting back)… but we rarely see what got the South and Southerners to that point. We can see a great deal regarding political and sectional differences, but that often doesn’t go quite as deep as it should, in explaining the people of the South.  

I think, in scattered Confederate-leaning content on the Web, we see a lot of assuming, with very little basis for such assumptions. The “foundations” for such thinking are incredibly weak. In particular, there are quite a number of people who are limiting themselves to seeing their immediate lineage (and nothing further… well, that is, in some cases… until convenient), and often see the South as a culture carried over from Celtic origins… indeed, I often see way too much emphasis being placed on Scots-Irish origins. If this was really the case, then how does one explain away the diverse cultural content found within one of the most famed Confederate units in the field? Of course, as one whose writing is regularly centered on the Shenandoah Valley, I’m talking about the Stonewall Brigade. Sure, there are people of Scots-Irish origin in the ranks, but I assure you… they did not dominate the ranks. I can go through the rosters and pick out many a person of German origin, and others as well… to include English, Swiss, and Welch.

I’m not saying that “as the Shenandoah Valley went, so did the South”. Indeed, that would be absurd. In the reverse, I wouldn’t dare say that the South represented a single culture or the collective of regions within the South (something like saying… “the actions of the South represent those found in the Shenandoah Valley”… again, absurd). One could just as easily make the assumption that the mid-west Northern states thought in the same manner as the New England states. It’s without basis, and it requires a better understanding of the people. Once again, this is a situation that requires a “bottom-up” approach, as opposed to the “top-down” approach.

O.K., I suppose I’m rambling… or you’re witnessing a thought process in motion… hence the beauty of a blog…

There comes a time whereby one needs to dig deeper than being content with scratching the surface.

I spend a great deal of time writing about Southern Unionists in the Valley, and yet my appetite for an even better understanding is still not quite satisfied. I want to know where the lines of division were… internally. It’s useful to know where people within different regions, within the South, thought in harmony and without question… and where they began to divide, and branch out on alternative roads. If all of Southern culture (as it existed, or as it had developed, up until the 1850s) did not embrace the Confederacy, what explains the difference in opinion among others… even among neighbors… AND, more importantly, a difference in opinion among family members… even under the same roof?

Likewise, for those who were conditional Confederates… to what end would they commit to an idea of an independent South, and what was their level of tolerance for the very government that they opted to side with early on… and yet decide to abandon (as disillusioned/disaffected Confederates) later?

I’ve mentioned tolerance and conditional/unconditional before… conditional Unionists and unconditional Unionist (understanding that the definition of “unconditional Unionism” is “capped” within a particular timeline, of course), and, as I mentioned above, conditional Confederates. I don’t think that the best examination of Southern Unionism can go without consideration of the others, in the same area. All must be considered to form a more complete picture. But, how far back, before the 1850s, is it necessary to take such a study?

While it won’t dominate my posts, I believe it’s time to begin probing this subject matter… just a little more.  Who knows what I might find?