Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War

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Executing Daniel Bright

Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865

Barton A. Myers

On December 18, 1863, just north of Elizabeth City in rural northeastern North Carolina, a large group of white Union officers and black enlisted troops under the command of Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild executed a local citizen for his involvement in an irregular resistance to Union army incursions along the coast. Daniel Bright, by conflicting accounts either a Confederate soldier home on leave or a deserter and guerrilla fighter guilty of plundering farms and harassing local Unionists, was hanged inside an unfinished postal building. The initial fall was not mortal, and according to one Union soldier’s account, Bright suffered a slow death by “strangulation, his heart not ceasing to beat for twenty minutes.” Until now, Civil War scholars considered Bright and the Union incursion that culminated in his gruesome death as only a historical footnote. In Executing Daniel Bright, Barton A. Myers uses these events as a window into the wider experience of local guerrilla conflict in North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp region and as a representation of a larger pattern of retaliatory executions and murders meant to coerce appropriate political loyalty and military conduct on the Confederate homefront. Race, political loyalties, power, and guerrilla violence all shaped the life of Daniel Bright and the home he died defending, and Myers shows how the interplay of these four dynamics created a world where irregular military activity could thrive. Myers opens with an analysis of antebellum slavery, race relations, slavery debates, and the role of the environment in shaping the antebellum economy of northeastern North Carolina. He then details the emergence of a rift between Unionist and Confederate factions in the area in 1861, the events in 1862 that led to the formation of local guerrilla bands, and General Wild’s 1863 military operation in Pasquotank, Camden, and Currituck counties. He explores the local, state, regional, and Confederate Congress’s responses to the events of the Wild raid and specifically to Daniel Bright’s hanging, revealing the role of racism in shaping those responses. Finally, Myers outlines the outcome of efforts to negotiate neutrality and the state of local loyalties by mid-1864. Revising North Carolina’s popular Civil War mythology, Myers concludes that guerrilla violence such as Bright’s execution occurred not only in the highlands or Piedmont region of the state’s homefront; rather, local irregular wars stretched from one corner of the state to the other. He explains how violence reshaped this community and profoundly affected the ways loyalties shifted and manifested themselves during the war. Above all, Myers contends, Bright’s execution provides a tangible illustration of the collapse of social order on the southern homefront that ultimately led to the downfall of the Confederacy. Microhistory at its finest, Executing Daniel Bright adds a thought-provoking chapter to the ever-expanding history of how Americans have coped with guerrilla war.

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Fenians, Freedmen, and Southern Whites

Race and Nationality in the Era of Reconstruction

Mitchell Snay

After the American Civil War, several movements for ethnic separatism and political self-determination significantly shaped the course of Reconstruction. The Union Leagues mobilized African Americans to fight for their political rights and economic security while the Ku Klux Klan used intimidation and violence to maintain the political and economic hegemony of southern whites. Founded in 1858 as the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, the Irish American Fenians sought to liberate Ireland from English rule. In Fenians, Freedmen, and Southern Whites, Mitchell Snay provides a compelling comparison of these seemingly disparate groups and illuminates the contours of nationalism during Reconstruction. By joining the Fenians with freedpeople and southern whites, Snay seeks to assert their central relevance to the dynamics of nationalism during Reconstruction and offers a highly original analysis of Reconstruction as an Age of Capital and an Age of Emancipation where categories of race, class, and gender--as well as nationalism--were fluid and contested.

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Fort Pillow, a Civil War Massacre, and Public Memory

John Cimprich

At the now-peaceful spot of Tennessee's Fort Pillow State Historic Area, a horrific incident in the nation's bloodiest war occurred on April 12, 1864. Just as a high bluff in the park offers visitors a panoramic view of the Mississippi River, John Cimprich's absorbing book affords readers a new vantage on the American Civil War as viewed through the lens of the Confederate massacre of unionist and black Federal soldiers at Fort Pillow. Cimprich covers the entire history of Fort Pillow, including its construction by Confederates, its capture and occupation by federals, the massacre, and ongoing debates surrounding that affair. He sets the scene for the carnage by describing the social conflicts in federally occupied areas between secessionists and unionists as well as between blacks and whites. In a careful reconstruction of the assault itself, Cimprich balances vivid firsthand reports with a judicious narrative and analysis of events. He shows how Major General Nathan B. Forrest attacked the garrison with a force outnumbering the Federals roughly 1,500 to 600, and a breakdown of Confederate discipline resulted. The 65 percent death toll for black unionists was approximately twice that for white unionists, and Cimprich concludes that racism was at the heart of the Fort Pillow massacre. Fort Pillow, a Civil War Massacre, and Public Memory serves as a case study for several major themes of the Civil War: the great impact of military experience on campaigns, the hardships of military life, and the trend toward a more ruthless conduct of war. The first book to treat the fort's history in full, it provides a valuable perspective on the massacre and, through it, on the war and the world in which it occurred.

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Granbury's Texas Brigade

Diehard Western Confederates

John R. Lundberg

John R. Lundberg’s compelling new military history chronicles the evolution of Granbury’s Texas Brigade, perhaps the most distinguished combat unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Named for its commanding officer, Brigadier General Hiram B. Granbury, the brigade fought tenaciously in the western theater even after Confederate defeat seemed certain. Granbury’s Texas Brigade explores the motivations behind the unit’s decision to continue to fight, even as it faced demoralizing defeats and Confederate collapse. Using a vast array of letters, diaries, and regimental documents, Lundberg offers provocative insight into the minds of the unit’s men and commanders. The caliber of that leadership, he concludes, led to the group’s overall high morale. Lundberg asserts that although mass desertion rocked Granbury’s Brigade early in the war, that desertion did not necessarily indicate a lack of commitment to the Confederacy but merely a desire to fight the enemy closer to home. Those who remained in the ranks became the core of Granbury’s Brigade and fought until the final surrender. Morale declined only after Union bullets cut down much of the unit’s officer corps at the Battle of Franklin in 1864. After the war, Lundberg shows, men from the unit did not abandon the ideals of the Confederacy—they simply continued their devotion in different ways. Granbury’s Texas Brigade presents military history at its best, revealing a microcosm of the Confederate war effort and aiding our understanding of the reasons men felt compelled to fight in America’s greatest tragedy.

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The Guerrilla Hunters

Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War

edited by Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers. foreword by Kenneth W. Noe. afterword by Daniel E. Sutherland

Throughout the Civil War, irregular warfare—including the use of hit-and-run assaults, ambushes, and raiding tactics—thrived in localized guerrilla fights within the Border States and the Confederate South. The Guerrilla Hunters offers a comprehensive overview of the tactics, motives, and actors in these conflicts, from the Confederate-authorized Partisan Rangers, a military force directed to spy on, harass, and steal from Union forces, to men like John Gatewood, who deserted the Confederate army in favor of targeting Tennessee civilians believed to be in sympathy with the Union.

With a foreword by Kenneth W. Noe and an afterword by Daniel E. Sutherland, this collection represents an impressive array of the foremost experts on guerrilla fighting in the Civil War. Providing new interpretations of this long-misconstrued aspect of warfare, these scholars go beyond the conventional battlefield to examine the stories of irregular combatants across all theaters of the Civil War, bringing geographic breadth to what is often treated as local and regional history. The Guerrilla Hunters shows that instances of unorthodox combat, once thought isolated and infrequent, were numerous, and many clashes defy easy categorization. Novel methodological approaches and a staggering diversity of research and topics allow this volume to support multiple areas for debate and discovery within this growing field of Civil War scholarship.

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Inside the Confederate Nation

Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas

edited by Lesley J. Gordon and John C. Inscoe

In The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience (1970) and The Confederate Nation (1979), Emory Thomas redefined the field of Civil War history and reconceptualized the Confederacy as a unique entity fighting a war for survival. Inside the Confederate Nation honors his enormous contributions to the field with fresh interpretations of all aspects of Confederate life—nationalism and identity, family and gender, battlefront and home front, race, and postwar legacies and memories. Many of the volume's twenty essays focus on individuals, households, communities, and particular regions of the South, highlighting the sheer variety of circumstances southerners faced over the course of the war. Other chapters explore the public and private dilemmas faced by diplomats, policy makers, journalists, and soldiers within the new nation. All of the essays attempt to explain the place of southerners within the Confederacy, how they came to see themselves and others differently because of secession, and the disparities between their expectations and reality.

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Inventing Stonewall Jackson

A Civil War Hero in History and Memory

Wallace Hettle

Historians’ attempts to understand legendary Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson have proved uneven at best and often contentious. An occasionally enigmatic and eccentric college professor before the Civil War, Jackson died midway through the conflict, leaving behind no memoirs and relatively few surviving letters or documents. In Inventing Stonewall Jackson, Wallace Hettle offers an innovative and distinctive approach to interpreting Stonewall by examining the lives and agendas of those authors who shape our current understanding of General Jackson. Newspaper reporters, friends, relatives, and fellow soldiers first wrote about Jackson immediately following the Civil War. Most of them, according to Hettle, used portions of their own life stories to frame that of the mythic general. Hettle argues that the legend of Jackson’s rise from poverty to power was likely inspired by the rags-to-riches history of his first biographer, Robert Lewis Dabney. Dabney’s own successes and Presbyterian beliefs probably shaped his account of Jackson’s life as much as any factual research. Many other authors inserted personal values into their stories of Stonewall, perplexing generations of historians and writers. Subsequent biographers contributed their own layers to Jackson’s myth and eventually a composite history of the general came to exist in the popular imagination. Later writers, such as the liberal suffragist Mary Johnston, who wrote a novel about Jackson, and the literary critic Allen Tate, who penned a laudatory biography, further shaped Stonewall’s myth. As recently as 2003, the film Gods and Generals, which featured Jackson as the key protagonist, affirmed the longevity and power of his image. Impeccable research and nuanced analysis enable Hettle to use American culture and memory to reframe the Stonewall Jackson narrative and provide new ways to understand the long and contended legacy of one of the Civil War’s most popular Confederate heroes.

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Knights of the Golden Circle

Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War

David C. Keehn

Based on years of exhaustive and meticulous research, David C. Keehn’s study provides the first comprehensive analysis of the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret southern society that initially sought to establish a slave-holding empire in the “Golden Circle” region of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Keehn reveals the origins, rituals, structure, and complex history of this mysterious group, including its later involvement in the secession movement. Members supported southern governors in precipitating disunion, filled the ranks of the nascent Confederate Army, and organized rearguard actions during the Civil War. The Knights of the Golden Circle emerged around 1858 when a secret society formed by a Cincinnati businessman merged with the pro-expansionist Order of the Lone Star, which already had 15,000 members. The following year, the Knights began publishing their own newspaper and established their headquarters in Washington, D. C. In 1860, during their first attempt to create the Golden Circle, several thousand Knights assembled in southern Texas to “colonize” northern Mexico. Due to insufficient resources and organizational shortfalls, however, that filibuster failed. Later, the Knights shifted their focus and began pushing for disunion, spearheading pro-secession rallies, and intimidating Unionists in the South. They appointed regional military commanders from the ranks of the South’s major political and military figures, including men such as Elkanah Greer of Texas, Paul J. Semmes of Georgia, Robert C. Tyler of Maryland, and Virginius D. Groner of Virginia. Followers also established allies with the South’s rabidly pro-secession “fire-eaters,” which included individuals such as Barnwell Rhett, Louis Wigfall, Henry Wise, and William Yancey. According to Keehn, the Knights likely carried out a variety of other clandestine actions before the Civil War, including attempts by insurgents to take over federal forts in Virginia and North Carolina, the activation of pro-southern militia around Washington, D. C. and a planned assassination of Abraham Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore in early 1861 on the way to his inauguration. Once the fighting began, the Knights helped build the emerging Confederate Army and assisted with the pro-Confederate Copperhead movement in northern states. With the war all but lost, various Knights supported one of their members, John Wilkes Booth, in his plot to abduct and assassinate President Lincoln. Keehn’s fast-paced, engaging narrative demonstrates that the Knights proved more substantial than historians have traditionally assumed and provides a new perspective on southern secession and the outbreak of the Civil War.

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Lee In the Shadow of Washington

Richard B. McCaslin

While most scholars agree that Robert E. Lee’s loyalty to Virginia was the key factor in his decision to join the Confederate cause, Richard McCaslin goes further to demonstrate that Lee’s true call to action was the legacy of the American Revolution viewed through his reverence for George Washington. Like Washington, Lee wore a colonel’s uniform. He rode a horse named for one of his idol’s mounts, Traveller, and carried one of Washington’s swords. On January 19, 1861, his fifty-fourth birthday, Lee sat alone in his room at Fort Mason and faced the prospect of war by reading the latest book about his hero. In his thematic biography of the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, McCaslin locates the sources of Lee’s devotion to Washington and shows how this bond affected his performance as a general in battle. He argues that Lee used the strategy of attrition to attempt to persuade the North to quit just as Washington had wearied the British. But reliance on Washington as a role model led to tragic irony: in 1864 it was Lee’s Confederates who became trapped like the British in the Yorktown campaign. After his surrender Lee could no longer emulate Washington the revolutionary, and he became the president of a small college that bore Washington’s name, surrounding himself with mementos of his hero. Challenging conventional interpretations, McCaslin’s absorbing book lays to rest the argument that a posthumous “Lee cult” superimposed Washington symbolism onto Lee’s life to link it with the Revolution. Rather, Lee himself created the association, which yielded an enduring paradox: Washington earned his reputation as a statesman, whereas Lee never escaped his self-imposed image as a revolutionary in Washington’s shadow.

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Lincoln and Citizens' Rights in Civil War Missouri

Balancing Freedom and Security

Dennis K. Boman

During the Civil War, the state of Missouri presented President Abraham Lincoln, United States military commanders, and state officials with an array of complex and difficult problems. Although Missouri did not secede, a large minority of residents owned slaves, sympathized with secession, or favored the Confederacy. Many residents joined a Confederate state militia, became pro-Confederate guerrillas, or helped the cause of the South in some subversive manner. In order to subdue such disloyalty, Lincoln supported Missouri’s provisional Unionist government by ordering troops into the state and approving an array of measures that ultimately infringed on the civil liberties of residents. In this thorough investigation of these policies, Dennis K. Boman reveals the difficulties that the president, military officials, and state authorities faced in trying to curb traitorous activity while upholding the spirit of the United States Constitution. Boman explains that despite Lincoln’s desire to disentangle himself from Missouri policy matters, he was never able to do so. Lincoln’s challenge in Missouri continued even after the United States Army defeated the state’s Confederate militia. Attention quickly turned to preventing Confederate guerrillas from attacking Missouri’s railway system and from ruthlessly murdering, pillaging, and terrorizing loyal inhabitants. Eventually military officials established tribunals to prosecute captured insurgents. In his role as commander-in-chief, Lincoln oversaw these tribunals and worked with Missouri governor Hamilton R. Gamble in establishing additional policies to repress acts of subversion while simultaneously protecting constitutional rights—an incredibly difficult balancing act. For example, while supporting the suppression of disloyal newspapers and the arrest of persons suspected of aiding the enemy, Lincoln repealed orders violating property rights when they conflicted with federal law. While mitigating the severity of sentences handed down by military courts, Boman shows, Lincoln advocated requiring voters and officeholders to take loyalty oaths and countenanced the summary execution of guerrillas captured with weapons in the field. One of the first books to explore Lincoln’s role in dealing with an extensive guerrilla insurgency, Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri illustrates the difficulty of suppressing dissent while upholding the Constitution, a feat as complicated during the Civil War as it is for the War on Terror.

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