In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

THE SOUTHERN UNIONIST CRITIQUE OF THE CIVIL WAR William C. Harris THE GUNS AROUND Charleston Harbor had hardly ceased firing on April 13, 1861, when historical accounts of the Civil War began to roll off the presses. Since then, a voluminous literature has appeared on the origins of the conflict, the war itself, and Reconstruction. Historiographers like Thomas J. Pressly and Charles E. Cauthen have analyzed these writings and have described and categorized the various interpretations of the war. These scholars begin with the contemporary accounts, which they place into two categories, Southern and Northern, with both sides intent upon justifying their section's role in the war, especially its origins, and condemning the other section for its aggression. Northern writers portrayed Southerners as conspirators bent upon the destruction of the hallowed Union—the bright republican hope of the world—in order to advance the cause of slavery and the immoral society that the institution fostered. In the minds of these Northern writers, whose interpretation became the dominant one during the postwar era, the existence of slavery in the South lay at the heart of the sectional conflict, creating profound moral differences between the two sections and causing Northerners to resist Southern designs as they struggled to preserve the republic of the Founding Fathers.1 Southern or Confederate writers of the Civil War era, as twentiethcentury scholars have noted, insisted that Northern aggression against constitutional rights and the Southern way of life caused the sectional confrontation. Slavery was not the fundamental issue in the war; it was only the pretext for rapacious Northerners to attack the South. According to the Southern interpretation, the real purpose of Northern antislavery elements in agitating the South to secession was the advancement of their 1 Thomas J. Pressly, Americans Interpret Their CMl War, 2d ed., (New York: The Free Press, 1962), chaps. 1-2 (see especially pp. 48-49); Charles E. Cauthen, with the collaboration of Lewis P. Jones, "The Coming of the Civil War," in Arthur S. Link and Rembert W. Patrick, eds., Writing Southern History: Essays in Historiography in Honor of Fletcher M. Green (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1965), 226-27; Gerald N. Grob and George Äthan Billias, eds., Interpretations of American History, 4th ed., (New York: The Free Press, 1982), 360-61. 40CIVIL WAR HISTORY own political and economic power. The Civil War had nothing to do with the moral issue over slavery.2 Missing from these historiographical studies are the views of Southern Unionists. Although containing elements of both contemporary Northern and Confederate interpretations, the Unionist critique of the war is unique, providing insights into the Southern division over the war and Reconstruction, and reflecting the intensity of opinion that existed. It also provides a window into the minds of an often forgotten group of Southerners— and Americans. In order to ascertain the Southern loyalist view of the war, the commentaries of seventeen Unionists have been examined. These seventeen men range from such militants as William G. "Parson" Brownlow of Tennessee, who trumpeted their Unionism during the war, to such unobtrusive Unionists as Samuel F. Phillips and John Pool of North Carolina, who accepted minor Confederate positions in order to avoid conscription. Three of them (William Woods Holden, Thomas Settle, and Robert P. Dick), after leading the North Carolina Union party during the secession winter of 1860-61, supported the Confederacy after Lincoln's call for troops, only to become disillusioned with the war and organize a formidable peace movement in their state.3 Like other contemporaries, Southern Unionists wrote in a partisan vein, defending the Union cause and their support of it and condemning secessionists. Their version of the origins of the war, although similar to the two-dimensional Northern interpretation, differed significantly from that of their compatriots above the Mason and Dixon line. The Southern loyalist especially rejected the Northern notion that slavery had created two distinct societies in America, which, according to Northerners like Henry Wilson in his massive History of The Rise and Fall of the Shve Power, made virtually inevitable a violent confrontation between the sections. Southern Unionists, who in almost all cases were proslavery, sought to reconcile American nationalism with the protection...

pdf

Share