- Clash of Loyalties: A Border County in the Civil War
“Which side are you on?” is a question no doubt familiar to readers of this journal, yet John Shaffer is not concerned with labor union/management struggles. “The purpose of his study is . . . to explore the basis of Union and Confederate sentiment within the county. Barbour was selected because its people were nearly evenly divided in their sympathies, making the county a kind of microcosm of the divisions that separated the population of West Virginia as a whole,” writes Shaffer of his book, the third volume in West Virginia University Press’s West Virginia and Appalachia Series (14). To accomplish this difficult task, the author analyzed all the concrete evidence he could find in order to determine what factors caused neighbors and even family members to choose sides in badly-divided central West Virginia. He says that by “using military service records, biographies, contemporary newspapers, public records, diaries, and letters, it was possible to identify 718 Union loyalists and 509 Confederates” (14).
Shaffer’s fascinating study, a portion of which appeared in the pages of this journal in 1991, examines the traditional rationales given for Unionism and Secessionism, including political party, religious affiliation, wealth [End Page 114] and class, slaveholding, patterns of enlistment, marriage, and length of residence. The author subjects each variable to statistical analysis in the classic Annales school of historical quantification. The results are surprising and instructive.
The socioeconomic factor most likely to predict Civil War loyalty was length of residence and connection to eastern Virginia. Barbour County was in the middle of a market revolution caused by construction of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, which opened up the isolated rural agricultural economy to new settlers. Many of the newer residents came along the road from eastern Virginia and were thus more likely than earlier settlers from Maryland or Pennsylvania to support the Old Dominion once Virginia seceded after Fort Sumter. There are some other surprising conclusions, such as the declining rate of marriages between Northern- and Southernsupporting families as the crisis deepened.
After the initial battle of Philippi routed the Confederates from western Virginia in June 1861, there was no more open combat in the region, but cavalry raids, feuds, kidnapping, murder, horse thievery, arson, deprivation, cattle rustling, and other civilian atrocities all occurred in Barbour County as law and order practically vanished from the Tygart valley. Barbour County men in blue fought neighbors in gray on faraway battlefields as the war deepened. Although nominally under Union control, internecine guerrilla warfare in the region continued after Appomattox, as revenge and vengeance replaced liberty as motivation for fighting. A staggering number of men enlisted, but families usually managed to keep one adult male at home to run the farm. A new political elite replaced the antebellum wealthy Democratic gentry with Republican middle-class office holders, and slavery disappeared along with support for the institution. The exploration of the underground postal service which attempted to facilitate communication with exiled Barbour Countians is unexpected and enlightening. After the war, patterns of migration again changed the demographic structure of the county, and the Masons and Odd Fellows helped ease the pain of sectional reconciliation. Marriages between families on opposing sides of the conflict began to increase, reversing the pattern of the late 1850s.
The book is well-written, and the supporting tables are readily comprehensible to non-statistically-trained readers, but the absence of a map of the county is a glaring omission, especially since “internal improvements” are at the center of the argument. More thorough editing might have corrected some minor errors, such as “McClelland” for “McClellan” (65 and passim), “Harper’s Ferry” for “Harpers Ferry” (54, 62), “script” for “scrip” [End Page 115] (99, 134), “1962” for “1862” (125), and “canon” for “cannon” (151). These are minor deficiencies in what is otherwise a fine addition to West Virginia Civil War literature, the author smoothly navigating the complex currents and shifting eddies of statehood and Reconstruction-era politics.
West Virginia historians are in...