- In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America by Andrew F. Lang
Asked to list the ways in which military policy shaped the Civil War and vice versa, we might include topics such as emancipation, hard war, and the Lieber Code. Andrew F. Lang's superb new book offers perhaps an unanticipated but paramount addition to this list: occupation. Building on the work of Mark Grimsley and others, In the Wake of War serves as a powerful reminder of the unintended consequences of ideology and policy. Ironically, Lang explains, the crisis of wartime occupation both paved [End Page 163] the path toward emancipation and limited the scope of Reconstruction because of a military ethos premised on the ideal of the citizen-soldier.
In its earliest years, the United State rejected the notion of a large standing army in favor of the citizen-soldier. Standing armies smacked of aristocratic and repressive monarchies, and early Americans feared that professional armies hindered individual liberty and carried the potential to transform into political institutions. Alternatively, a republic required the active and disinterested (but temporary) service of its citizens in the interest of the broader public good. The new republic established a small professional army primarily for frontier and coastal defenses, but the volunteer soldier remained the centerpiece of the military ethos.
Wars of the mid-nineteenth century challenged this military tradition. Beginning with the Mexican-American War and continuing through Reconstruction, citizen-soldiers and their professional counterparts found themselves struggling with the aftermath of invasion. Unlike defensive wars against the British, these conflicts required armies to hold and occupy territory. Occupation, however, contradicted the central tenets of volunteer armies. "Volunteers insisted that they be deployed to the central areas of crisis, allowed to actively battle their nation's enemies, interact minimally with civilians, and be sent home immediately upon resolution of the emergency," Lang writes. Failure to fulfill these expectations, he notes, "violated the social contracts implicit between volunteer soldiers and their government" (5).
The perception of Mexican enemies as racial inferiors helped American soldiers navigate the challenges occupation posed to the citizen-soldier ideal, but the Civil War brought these tensions into stark relief. The majority of loyal white citizens had enlisted to preserve the Union—the republican ideal. Yet over the course of the war, at least one-third of Union soldiers found themselves in the role of occupier—facing civilian populations far from the front lines for undetermined periods of time. Such service looked and felt like a static, permanent army.
If individual soldiers grappled with their role as occupiers, the Union policy of occupation "unintentionally shaped the landscape of emancipation" (42). Union armies of occupation (not field armies), Lang asserts, proved "the principal institutions that determined the space and setting of wartime freedom" (43). But this added yet another layer of contradiction and frustration for volunteer soldiers. Although many supported emancipation as a military strategy to end the rebellion, some openly questioned whether they should use military means to effect social and political change in their own nation. Doing so inverted the assumptions of citizen-soldiering, threatening the republican principles they had volunteered to defend. [End Page 164]
As the number of troops needed for garrison forces grew in 1863, field armies suffered. The demand for more troops combined with the ideological concerns of occupation forced Union leaders to reconsider employing black soldiers. Underscoring the racist assumptions that black men were either too docile or unwilling to serve in combat, the Emancipation Proclamation offered a solution: black troops to man garrisons. Understanding the relationship between emancipation and occupation, Lang explains, complicates any triumphal narrative. "By taking seriously the military context . . . in which Lincoln wrote the proclamation's call for black troops," he writes, "we see that the road to black male citizenship was uneven at best and unpaved at worst" (131). In executing the proclamation's garrison policy, "military authorities had constructed a racialized military hierarchy that treated African American men as...