- Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
Judkin Browning’s Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina provides a local study of Craven and Carteret Counties in North Carolina’s eastern region from the antebellum era to the end of the Civil War. Browning’s book demonstrates the significance of a community’s proximity to the Union and Confederate armies in shaping residents’ experience of the war, an emphasis ably explored in Stephen Ash’s When the Yankees Came (1995). As Browning contends, the Union occupation of eastern North Carolina dramatically shifted residents’ loyalties in the [End Page 614] region. Peopled with a diverse set of historical actors, Shifting Loyalties incorporates Unionists and Confederates; blacks and whites; men and women; and civilians, soldiers, and missionaries into a compelling analysis of the fate of loyalty to the Union under Federal occupation.
Browning’s hybrid chronological-thematic organization demonstrates the transformations in loyalties in eastern North Carolina. The first three chapters move the story of the Civil War in eastern North Carolina forward chronologically. The first chapter, “Antebellum Antecedents,” examines the social, economic, and political milieu of the two communities prior to the Civil War. In this chapter, Browning identifies similarities between the white residents of Craven and Carteret, especially their common devotion to the institution of slavery, and differences, particularly the former’s embrace of secession and the latter’s reluctant support of the Confederacy. The second chapter, “The First Year of War,” focuses on initial efforts to mobilize the communities for war. In keeping with their greater devotion to the Confederacy, white residents of Craven outstripped their counterparts in Carteret. White men of military age in Craven volunteered for Confederate service in significant numbers, with nearly 70 percent enlisting. White men of military age in Carteret exhibited greater reluctance to enlist and greater hesitation to serve outside their county. Dissenters in both Craven and Carteret constituted a pressing problem for Confederate authorities. Some die-hard Unionists publicly asserted their devotion to the Union, while residents without strong allegiances or those who chose neutrality practiced quiet resistance or passive noninvolvement. The third chapter, “The Beginning of Military Occupation,” charts the shift in loyalties, particularly among white men, with the arrival of Union soldiers. As Union troops settled in for a long occupation, white men allied with the occupiers, some even enlisting in the Union army. Browning notes that white women often remained the most publicly steadfast in their devotion to the Confederacy.
While the first three chapters primarily highlight the experience of white residents of Craven and Carteret from the antebellum years to the beginning of Union occupation, the last four chapters shift toward a more thematic organization cognizant of the experiences of a diverse set of historical actors. The fourth chapter, “The African American Experience under Occupation,” addresses African Americans’ attempts to use the Union army and northern benevolent societies to secure “the four pillars of their empowerment”: escape from their masters and mistresses; employment to achieve economic independence; enlistment as an expression of manhood and equality; and education as the crucial determinant of their [End Page 615] personal autonomy (82). In this chapter, Browning focuses on slaves’ own contributions, with the assistance of their northern allies, to the effort to secure their freedom. The fifth chapter, “The Experience of Northern Benevolent Societies during Occupation,” examines agents of organizations, such as the American Missionary Association, and their paternalistic attempts to lift up downtrodden slaves. Browning particularly concentrates on clashes between missionaries and slaves over the content and method of uplift, especially education and religion. The next chapter, “The Effects of Occupation on Union Soldiers,” covers the northern soldiers who occupied coastal North Carolina. Browning emphasizes the soldiers’ assessment of locals, both black and white, as degraded and backward. He also argues that soldiers grew disgruntled with the tedium of occupation but ultimately retained their commitment to Union victory. The final chapter, “White Rejection of Union Occupation,” returns attention to the white residents of the counties...