- Union Demobilization and the Boundaries of War and Peace
Editor's Note: The following represents the acceptance speech for the Watson Brown Prize for the best book published on the Civil War era in the calendar year 2017. Tad Brown, president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, awarded the prize to Andrew F. Lang for his book In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America, published by LSU Press. These remarks were given at the annual banquet of the Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH), held during the Southern Historical Association annual meeting on November 9, 2018, in Birmingham, Alabama. The SCWH judges and administers the book prize.
When I received the advance copy of In the Wake of War in late 2017, I scarcely imagined standing here tonight to accept the Tom Watson Brown Award. This honor will long rank among the most cherished of my life and career. Many of you in this room helped make this book possible, and I am profoundly grateful for your collegiality and friendship. Notable gratitude is due to the Society of Civil War Historians, Tad Brown, and the Watson-Brown Foundation for their generous support of our profession. Many thanks also to the Richards Civil War Era Center and Barby Singer for their tireless efforts in coordinating this award and dinner. I owe a great debt to the 2018 prize committee—Orville Vernon Burton, Nicole Etcheson, and Earl J. Hess—for recognizing and endorsing my work. I am further grateful to Michael Parrish, my series editor and now coauthor, and John B. Boles, the advisor of the doctoral dissertation on which the book is based. Mike and John have always encouraged me to think big, make bold contributions, and respect the delicate boundaries of the past.
In the Wake of War links the American Civil War to a military ethos that long preceded secession and patterned the contested peace after Appomattox. The book interrogates contemporary perspectives of the Mexican-American War, Civil War, and Reconstruction, linking the broad [End Page 178] era to a prevailing culture of martial republicanism. In each conflict, U.S. soldiers appraised military occupations against competing attitudes on race and nation, the citizen-soldier tradition, and suspicions of standing armies. Indeed, nineteenth-century martial republicanism demarcated the boundaries between war and peace, exposed the tensions between occupation and democracy, and framed the murky processes of state-sanctioned social and political change. Among many other topics, the book engages the origins of Reconstruction's military history, contextualizing the era's limited purpose, its moderate scope, and its unsatisfactory conclusion. Tonight I would like to explore how the demobilization of Union armies in 1865 anticipated the complex world of Reconstruction and informed the disputed meaning of the American Civil War era.
"After a contest of four years of unexampled proportions," announced Charles Pinckney Kirkland, a prominent New York City attorney and influential Republican politico whom Abraham Lincoln greatly esteemed, "the glorious end has come; reason, right, justice, liberty, humanity, have triumphed." When he wrote in June 1865, Kirkland believed the United States had extinguished the cancer of slaveholding, "the great disturbing cause of [t]his country's peace, the source of all the discord, heart-burnings and dangers of the Republic for the last half century." Slaveholding rebels had been vanquished, their unholy republic now extinct. Unburdened from slavery's draining yoke, the Union now stood in the world as a sovereign nation of, by, and for the people. For Kirkland, the triumph of popular democracy mandated a national restoration in which white southerners accepted the illegitimacies of secession and slavery, while demanding from unionists "reason, justice and mercy" in binding the nation's wounds. "As such we now owe a stern duty to ourselves, our posterity, our country and the world" to fashion an eternal peace.1
Loyal citizens of the Union implored, as President Lincoln prayed in his second inaugural address, that "this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away." Republics could not tolerate perpetual states of war, much less endure the chaos of insurgencies. Without defining the rigid boundaries of war—in this case the collapse of the...