Re-reading a book or re-watching a movie often make us realize things we didn’t earlier realize/see. So it goes with recent revisit of David Hunter Strother’s diaries in A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War.
I never grow tired of reading his accounts, and with each reading I realize his Southern Unionism is more complex than I previously considered… but, this post isn’t about that. It’s about an observation he made in the summer of 1862.
In a previous post, I mentioned how the progress of the war tried those who seemed… even well into 1861… absolutely unconditional in their Unionism. In fact, I’ve given various examples (even as recent as last week) of how the convictions of Southern Unionists could be tried by the actions of Union soldiers.
In his diary entry of July 6, 1862, Strother helps to elaborate on how even the most (seemingly) unconditional Unionists might be “compromised”:
I am told that Union sentiment is weakening in Virginia. I have heard it in many instances. For example, enter a butternut farmer – ‘I always was a Union man, but they come to my house and took every chicken my wife had, and I can’t stand by any government that allows its soldiers to steal chickens.’ Next is a woman – ‘We were always Union at our house until our son Tommy was pressed into the Confederate Army. He didn’t want to go, and he run away twice, but the last time they tied him and threatened to shoot him so now we’re all on that side.’ Number three is a lawyer – ‘It is useless to prate about sustaining a government which won’t acknowledge the writ of habeas corpus and that arrests me for opinion’s sake.’ But the Confederacy – ‘Oh, that’s another matter; they’re revolutionary. I always was a Union man and they arrested me. But I gave my parole and they have treated me very civilly ever since.’ Number four has large sums of Confederate money. Number five acknowledges to you in a whisper that he is afraid to express Union sentiments until he is assured the Federal government can protect him. And such are the ideas and such the conversation of a people who ‘cannot be conquered.’ I feel assured that when the Union Army shall have overthrown the Confederates in a decisive pitched battle that nine out of ten of these invincible people will become quiet citizens of the government that is able to hold him. They will be whipped out of the treason as easily as they were kicked and frightened into it, as soon as the National Government takes hold of them as remorselessly as their present masters have done.
Of course, how difficult is it to identify (let alone, put a number on…) those who lost their Unionism between, say… 1862-1865?
As I read through the claims, I’m always amazed to think how some maintained their Unionism despite all that they encountered, but I think… being realistic in understanding Southern Unionists… there needs to be an open mind. How many, for example, of those who submitted applications to the Southern Claims Commission, had lost their Unionism in those years… and found it again when the reimbursement from the Federal Government came about through the claims process?
Ahhhh, the complexities of history…