- Editor's Note
Readers of this issue will find essays that align over questions about border diplomacy and Civil War–era American expansionism, with an opening essay weighing in on when and why the war ended as it did and a review essay that reflects on the future of military history. In between there are spies, rogue diplomats, and double agents.
We begin with Andrew F. Lang's Thomas Watson Brown Book Prize talk, "Union Demobilization and the Boundaries of War and Peace," which joins the work of scholars like Gary Gallagher and Mark Wahlgren Summers in arguing that Civil War Americans did not bemoan the war's civil rights shortfalls as much as recent scholars do. In the essay, as in his book In the Wake of War, Lang argues that because regular army men "viewed the momentous collapse of the Confederate state as the signal feat of national purpose," they had little patience or stomach for serving as the agents of federal Reconstruction policy, the boots on the ground charged with administering the postwar era's civil rights legislation and protecting freedmen from white insurgents. Their mission accomplished, these men in blue were concerned that a prolonged occupation would threaten democracy, or worse, destroy it. So, the postwar army quickly shrank, before regular army men's fears for the nation's democratic institutions could be realized and just as the democratic aspirations of black volunteers had been.
William S. Kiser's essay, "'We Must Have Chihuahua and Sonora': Civil War Diplomacy in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands," explores the tangled diplomacy of agents representing the United States; the Confederacy; and two northwestern Mexican states bordering New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. At issue were Confederate interest in opening up a supply line from Mexico that could sustain their invasion of New Mexico and, later, U.S. aspirations for a naval station in Mexico, but in the background, too, Apaches and an invading French army moving northward toward the border posed continued threats. This is a story of how "powerful nineteenth-century nations attempted to manipulate and reshape tenuous systems of political power in their weaker neighbors." Expecting to easily lure local authorities into deals that violated official Mexican neutrality, Confederate and U.S. military men and self-appointed diplomats discovered, instead, that they came to the diplomatic table from a point of weakness as Mexican authorities played Americans off of each other and remained resolutely out of the war along Mexico's northern border. It was a diplomatic miscalculation [End Page 175] to think that local Mexican officials, facing a threat to their south, would abandon their national loyalties and seek to cut a deal with their neighbors to the North.
Patrick Kelly's essay picks up this story where Kiser's leaves off. Whereas U.S. diplomatic efforts in Mexico came to naught early in 1863, by June, French emperor Napoleon III's army was in Mexico City, the Mexican national government was in exile, and the Confederacy anticipated reaping the rewards of a forthcoming alliance with France. The survival of the republics of Mexico and the United States hung in the balance as monarchy seemed posed to make a comeback in the Americas. These concerns weighed heavily on Lincoln as he sent troops to south Texas in October and were evident in the words he chose in the speech he delivered that November at Gettysburg. Lincoln opened that speech with words hearkening back to when the founders "brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Kelly reads these words as evidence of Lincoln's continentalism. It was no accident, Kelly says, that "continent" appeared in the first line, for it reflected a "a powerful, if short-lived, moment of solidarity between the United States and the hemisphere's Spanish-speaking republics articulated on both sides of the Rio Grande within the discourse of a politically united American continent." In "The Lost Continent of Abraham Lincoln," Kelly locates the Gettysburg Address in that moment, when liberal nationalists imagined a future in which new world nations stood in solidarity against the old and...