- Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians
Civil War historians have hotly contested the nature and characteristics of Copperheads and other war resisters within the Union states for decades, but the debate finds Pennsylvania relegated to secondary status within the accumulation of books, monographs, journal articles, dissertations, and other scholarship, with the lion's share focusing on the border-states, the butternut counties of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, or New York City. To be sure, some impressive work on anti-war forces in Pennsylvania has been published, with Grace Palladino's analysis of resistance in mining communities in the [End Page 513] state's anthracite coal regions in Another Civil War (1990) among the most prominent, but the overall dearth of analysis on wartime dissension within a state as large and varied as Pennsylvania remains striking. In Deserter Country:Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians, Robert M. Sandow helps remedy this anemia with a valuable contribution to the study of the Keystone State's internal wartime tensions. In analyzing the rugged and extensive Pennsylvania Appalachians, in particular the so-called lumber region in the north-central part of the state, Sandow demonstrates that Pennsylvania was anything but a solid pro-war, pro-Republican state.
Although wartime opposition to the Lincoln administration and the state's Republican leadership existed across Pennsylvania, Sandow argues that the Appalachian mountain region, particularly its northern section, was home to some of the most fierce and persistent grassroots opposition to be found anywhere in the Union. In explaining the origins, characteristics, patterns, and intensity of this local resistance, Sandow conscientiously avoids creating a caricature, portraying them as neither treasonous criminals nor principled heroes; rather, he constructs a thoughtfully reasoned examination and explanation of their beliefs, organization, motivations, and actions, and he takes care to place his research into the existing historiography. By emphasizing the powerful interplay between social, economic, political-ideological, and geographic influences, Sandow finds that the war's opponents in the Pennsylvania Appalachians were reacting to the circumstances in a manner consistent with local antebellum beliefs, traditions, patterns, and conditions.
Sandow notes many underlying similarities between dissenters in Confeerate Appalachia and the mountain chain's Pennsylvania portion, pointing out that people in both Union and Confederate Appalachia were shaped by a variety of common factors long before the war began. These include a geographic isolation that fostered a powerful sense of localism and autonomy, tenuous links to, and suspicion of, the growing market economy and its influence, an underlying racism against blacks, and resentment towards the influence of centralized and non-local authorities. The widespread opposition and resistance to the war in this part of the Pennsylvania Appalachians, Sandow argues, was rooted firmly in the region's antebellum political, economic, social, and geographic conditions. The terrain was rugged and isolated, with a relatively small population spread out over large areas, with tenuous ties to the growing market-capitalist economy. This fostered a strong sense of local autonomy and suspicion of outside control and led its citizens to develop a powerful agrarian republicanism expressed [End Page 514] through staunch loyalty to the Democratic Party, and jealously guarded against encroachments by outside economic and political forces. Indeed, the Pennsylvania Republican Party's advocacy for the rapid expansion of the market-capitalist economy in the late 1850s established them as the clear adversary even then, and the encroachment of large-scale lumber companies into the region in the 1850s, which threatened local farmers' ability to participate in this valuable business, further inflamed local defensiveness and political sensitivity well before the secession crisis and opening of hostilities with the Confederacy. Unlike Grace Palladino's findings in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region, which places a newly forming industrial working class at the center of war resistance there, Sandow demonstrates that the resistance in his part of Appalachia was anchored in the area's small-scale farmers and encompassed whole communities who believed their autonomy and republican values were under siege.