- Loyalty and Loss: Alabama’s Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction
The growing number of Civil War historians investigating the Southern home front must make sense of Southern Unionists. Past studies have cast Unionists as Upper South residents who had no sympathy toward slavery. Recent journal articles and essay collections have complicated this view. Margaret M. Storey's Loyalty and Loss joins Thomas G. Dyer's Secret Yankees (1999) as one of the few modern scholarly book-length studies of Southern Unionism. By casting the Unionist experience in terms of family and community, Storey makes a valuable contribution to the growing literature on Southern Unionism.
Storey bases her analysis on the records of Alabama claimants to the Southern Claims Commission (SCC), formed in 1871 to hear the claims regarding property destroyed by the Union army during the war. The SCC made claimants fill out a detailed questionnaire about themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their wartime experiences. By extensively mining these valuable records, Storey provides a detailed account of the struggles facing Alabama Unionists and their resistance to Confederate authority.
Storey firmly places Southern Unionists in the mainstream of Southern society. Like their secessionist counterparts, Alabama loyalists valued the concepts of honor and family. Many Alabamians honored ancestors who had fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812; while secessionists drew on this legacy to inspire their rebellion, Unionists understood their role as a conservative one. They hoped to honor their family name and the memory of loved ones by asserting their rights within the Union rather than risking all on an untested government fighting for its survival. As they became marginalized from the mainstream of secessionist feeling in Alabama, Unionists relied on traditional kin networks to survive and resist; thus, Unionism was inseparable from family loyalty. All members of the traditional Southern household, including women and slaves, played key roles in Unionist communities. [End Page 82]
Storey argues that the adoption of the Confederate conscription law in April 1862 marked a crucial turning point for Alabama's Unionists. Before the draft, secessionists by and large grudgingly tolerated the dissenters in their midst who did not openly challenge Confederate hegemony. With the adoption of the draft, military-age males who did not join the Confederate army were seen as active resisters. In order to avoid conscription, military-age Unionists hid out in woods, mountains, swamps, and other deserted areas. This practice of "lying out" relied on traditional kin and neighborhood networks. Women and slaves often provided logistical support for the men and kept their hiding places secret. Confederate authorities recognized these ties and began to target the families of Unionists in order to reduce resistance on the home front. Such practices only strengthened the hatred of Unionists toward their secessionist opponents.
By the late spring of 1862, the Union army established a foothold in northern Alabama. Unionists took advantage of the army's arrival in several ways. Many men determined to reach the safety of the Union lines; they relied on the same Unionist networks that supported their lie-outs to assist them on the journey. Most men of military age joined the army after reaching the safety of the lines. Many joined units that would remain in the area performing counter-guerrilla operations and skirmishing with Confederate cavalry. Such duties allowed local Unionists to revenge old wrongs by punishing and harassing their secessionist neighbors—even with the arrival of the Union army, the war remained rooted in local and family conflicts. While Unionists freely cooperated with the army, Storey notes that the destruction caused by foraging complicated the relationship between the Union army and Alabama's loyalists.
Unionists' relationship with national authority remained tenuous during Reconstruction. Local Unionists saw Reconstruction as a time for punishing secessionists and asserting their own political power, while national leaders favored less stringent policies that would lead to reconciliation. Because national Republican leaders did not seem capable of or interested in punishing secessionists for their...