- The Limits of Loyalty: Ordinary People in Civil War Mississippi by Jarret Ruminski
The realm of Civil War scholarship is so rife with published works that it is becoming a daunting task to find a new angle, perspective, or aspect to research. In the Civil War era, the state of Mississippi, in outward appearance, seems to have been filled with extremist citizens who were unyielding in their support of secession and the Confederacy. However, as one thinks more pragmatically about this situation, that image appears fundamentally unrealistic. Jarret Ruminski delves into the issue of where Mississippi civilians placed their [End Page 453] allegiances in The Limits of Loyalty: Ordinary People in Civil War Mississippi. In this comprehensive study, the author explores the multiple divisions among Mississippians that tend to be overlooked. The challenges of loyalty truly crossed many levels.
In the introductory chapter, Ruminski describes the layout of the book and its scope of purpose. In the initial pages, the author states that "this study enters the scholarly debate over the nature of Confederate nationalism by viewing Mississippians through the lens of different, overlapping loyalties that indicated neither popular support for, nor rejection of, the Confederacy" (p. 4). Accordingly, each chapter looks into the dynamics of specific relationships and the resulting confrontations that emerged in Civil War Mississippi.
Throughout the book, the author effectively uses individuals' accounts to make a compelling argument about the fierce divisions that existed in Mississippi. This approach challenges the pervasive assumption that white Mississippians stayed devoted to the Confederacy. By incorporating a variety of stories, ranging from those of slaves to those of planters, Ruminski paints a broad picture of the many conflicts that residents faced, particularly as the nature of the war changed. The people of Mississippi faced a variety of trials, some that perhaps were not unique to the state but that added new dimensions of difficulty during the course of war. As Mississippians quickly found themselves confronted with the presence of Union troops, each person had to decide where his or her loyalties ultimately lay.
The book includes stories of basic survival, when individuals knew that simply keeping their families fed was based on whether they chose to sell goods to Union troops. Others sought to continue profiting from crops that had been cultivated at the hands of their slaves, and the enemy was the only potential buyer. Some Mississippians had to decide if they wanted to remain loyal to the nation or to survive the war; many of the same individuals who opted to engage with the Yankees then found the need to justify their actions to prove that their Confederate allegiance remained intact. However, it appears that most citizens wanted to be left to their own devices.
Among the book's incorporation of many different Mississippians, chapter 5 discusses the unique situation in which slaves were placed. With masters off fighting the war, many enslaved people found the opportunity to experience a modicum of freedom, while others chose to leave and join the Union ranks. The masters, however, were often surprised that slave allegiance was not theirs exclusively.
This book is a comprehensive historical analysis of the variety of challenges that confronted all societal levels found in Civil War Mississippi. It is thoroughly researched, as demonstrated by the extensive use of primary accounts. Though it is not geared for the novice, The Limits of Loyalty is a welcome addition to the scholarship on Mississippians' experiences in the Civil War. [End Page 454]