- Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict
Civil War Citizens is an edited collection of scholarly work on the involvement of various “outside groups” in the U.S. Civil War. Editor Susannah J. Ural includes contributions by authors who address the way the Civil War affected Irish and German Americans in the North and the South, Jews and Native Americans in the Confederate states, and African Americans in the North. At the center of the inquiries into these groups are two interrelated questions: why did they fight, or, in the case of those on the home front, what explains their support for the Union or the Confederacy? Although scholars have dealt with these various groups individually, Civil War Citizens brings them together in one place, allowing readers to consider commonalities in their Civil War experiences. Members of each group negotiated between group loyalty and patriotism, citizenship and cultural fealty.
The commonalities are especially prevalent in the chapters that deal with ethnic groups that included large numbers of recent immigrants. Stephen D. Engle looks at how German service in the Union army acted as a catalyst for both ethnic consciousness and assimilation, and Andrea Mehrländer examines the mixture of patriotism and economic incentive that encouraged Germans to support the Confederate home front through economic aid, investments, and blockade-running activity. On the Irish, Susannah J. Ural and David T. Gleeson address issues they have both [End Page 450] explored in previous studies. Ural discusses the dual loyalties of the Irish who fought for the Union, arguing that they fought both to promote Irish uplift and to preserve the United States. During the war, and even more so during Reconstruction, Gleeson finds, the Irish in the South became true southerners. Similarly, Robert N. Rosen shows how support for the Confederacy helped Jews to gain acceptance in southern society.
Like Irish and German immigrants, Native Americans and African Americans negotiated between loyalty and citizenship. William McKee Evans discusses the experiences of the eastern and western Cherokee and the Seminole Indians living in the Confederacy, showing how Native Americans pursued conflicting strategies of accommodation and resistance to white America. Joseph P. Reidy focuses on the Civil War’s place in the African American citizenship struggle. Despite their attention to similar themes, these chapters seem somewhat out of place, given the longer and more complicated histories Native Americans and African Americans shared with white Americans. Even so, attention to the themes of loyalty and citizenship helps to raise questions about how their experiences compared to those of the “white” ethnic groups considered.
In addition to exposing outside group concerns about citizenship and loyalty, a number of other themes are evident in the collection. Although each of the chapters speaks for a specific group in a particular region, many of the authors are careful to emphasize diversity within groups. The authors pay particular attention to how religious identity, economic status, and political affiliation played a role in determining individual members’ wartime loyalties and expectations. The selections appropriately highlight the importance of representative individuals within the outside group’s community. Most of the authors explore the ways in which prominent military and political leaders from outside groups both affected the opinions of group members and served as symbols of the group in the minds of other Americans. This highlights a final point, which is that, beyond exposing the experiences and attitudes of the members of the group about which they write, the authors also examine the attitudes and expectations that the rest of American society held about and for those groups and how these attitudes shaped their Civil War experiences.
Civil War Citizens provides a rich sampling of scholarship on the experiences of outside groups during the Civil War. Because it is a sampling of literature, it is by no means comprehensive. Each chapter, however, will serve as a useful starting place for students of the Civil War era who are interested in...