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Harold Hyman is Professor of History at Arizona State College at Tempe. This article is part of an investigation of loyalty tests in American history, the research for which was supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation [Fund for the Republic ] Deceit in Dixie HAROLD M. HYMAN ACCORDING TO GENERAL WILLIAM T. SHERMAN, ". . . THE MOST DIFFICULT buSlness of our army as it advances and occupies the Southern country" was dealing with civilians "suspected to be hostile or 'Secesh.' " Amateurs at war, Americans of the 1860's had even less experience as occupation administrators ; Northern officials learned early in the war that the responsibilities of a conqueror were vexatious, unending, and unavoidable. "It is almost impossible to lay down rules," Sherman confessed as late as 1864, "and I invariably leave the whole subject to the local commanders."1 Local commanders, in turn, delegated the major share of their internal security problems to a novel administrative creation of the Civil War—to the provost marshal staff which each Union army corps possessed. Earlier American wars had known provosts marshal, but in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, that officer executed almost exclusively military-police functions, keeping troops in disciplinary order. The Civil War highlighted the Army's need for someone to relieve field commanders of the multitudinous details of military government over large numbers of civilians. In 1863 Congress created the Provost Marshal General Bureau in the War Department; as was usual in the Civil War, this legislative enactment served more to ratify what executive need had already brought into existence than to initiate policy.2 1 Rachel S. Thorndike, ed., The Sherman Letters . . . (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1894), p. 228. Even within a single command, subordinate officers had great leeway in policy-making; see P. S. White to W. B. Campbell, August 23, 1863, David Campbell Papers ( MSS, Duke University, Durham, N.C. ). 2 The clearest extant analysis of the growth of the provost marshal's functions is in Gerald I. Jordan, "The Suspension of Habeas Corpus as a War-Time Political Control Technique" (Ph.D. dissertation, Political Science Department, University of California at Los Angeles, 1941 ), chaps. 1-5. 65 66HAROLD M. HYMAN The basic duty of a Union provost marshal in charge of an occupied Southern area remained that of a policeman. His special detachment of cavalry and infantry, often reinforced by Unionist militia and home guards recruited from the civilian population, supplemented further with special agents, spies, and vigilantes in mufti, operated to maintain internal security in the zone of occupation. They sought to prevent sabotage, to counter Confederate espionage, and to suppress rebel sentiment, guerrillas, and bushwhackers. Such functions impelled each provost to distinguish between the civilians over whom he exercised almost unlimited authority. "Safe" civilians might buy scarce commodities, obtain travel, mail, and property-protection privileges, practice trades and professions, sue in renascent civil courts, and remain in their homes during good conduct. Less trustworthy Southerners might at best maintain an insecure tenure in their homes, but, lacking protection, they were plagued by looters of two armies and faced penniless exile into Southern lines if the area commander felt, as did John Pope in Virginia and Ben Butler in Louisiana, that unrepentant rebels deserved no haven at all under the Stars and Stripes. In unplanned agreement on the question of how to mark the worthy from the irreclaimable among the civilians in their jurisdictions, Union commanders as varied as George B. McClellan and John Charles Fremont resorted to a congeries of loyalty tests, especially loyalty oaths. The first three war years saw a proliferation of such oaths, which Northern officers from Arkansas to Florida wrote to fit their needs of time and place but which had in common the stipulation that the oath-taker was worthy of favor, privilege, and protection and that the nonjuror was not. Everywhere, the Union provost marshal was oath-administrator. To ever-increasing thousands of Southerners, a provost's decision on whether or not to grant the privilege of taking the oath meant the difference between penury and security, prosperity or exile—often, between life and death. Then on December 8, 1863, Lincoln added...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 65-82
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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