- Editor’s Note
This issue includes essays that offer new perspectives on Ulysses S. Grant and the Compromise of 1850. Two others focus on culture: one takes a fresh look at northern loyalty and patriotism, and the other considers northerners’ darker emotions. Together, these pieces attest to the vibrancy and diversity of Civil War era studies.
George Rable’s Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, “Fighting for Reunion: Dilemmas of Hatred and Vengeance,” starts out this issue. In a sequel to his Damn Yankees! which examined the vitriolic rhetoric Confederates used to describe northerners, Rable measures the depth and temperature of northern hatred of the Confederacy—by comparison, it was never very deep and at most tepid. According to Rable, northerners were slow to demonize Confederates, and when they did, they tried to identify those who really deserved it rather than those who were simply duped and deluded. In the end, Rable finds northern war rhetoric “vague, contradictory, and at times almost schizophrenic” in its denunciations of the enemy, something that makes sense, he reminds us, in a war aimed at reunification. In seeking answers to why northerners never called for vengeance on the South, Rable quotes the most recognizable phrase from Lincoln’s second inaugural: “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Rable’s essay may leave some readers wondering if some of the explanation also lies in the sense—which Lincoln expressed in the lesser known section of that speech—that the war was God’s vengeance on both sides for the sin of slavery: “He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of ‘American slavery’] came.”
Despite popular illustrations of women’s patriotism featuring women bent over in their chairs, knitting socks and stitching together homemade flags for the soldiers, Joanna Cohen’s essay, “‘You Have No Flag Out Yet?’ Commercial Connections and Patriotic Emotion in the Civil War North,” reveals that elite women in the urban North were very happy to buy these items, embracing “the opportunity to mingle commerce and patriotic feeling.” Indeed, some of the very same people who expressed concerns about a purchased patriotism shopped for patriotic stationary and explained away their purchases of machine-made socks and blankets for the soldiers as freeing them to do more work for the cause. Their embrace of a consumerist patriotism was a privilege of their class, and so Cohen’s essay will no doubt leave readers with questions about how other Civil War Americans understood the relationship “between emotion and market relations.” [End Page 345] When folks like New York’s elite Woolsey family decided it was “more efficient” to buy supplies rather than make them, they were also rendering a judgement about time and its worth, to themselves and others. Cohen’s essay is a good reminder of how Americans’ relationship to capitalism and class underwent key changes during the war.
Although the scarcity of primary sources prevents our knowing much about Ulysses S. Grant’s early thoughts about slavery, historians have generally asserted that he was opposed to the institution throughout his life. In his essay, “‘I Was Never an Abolitionist’: Ulysses S. Grant and Slavery, 1854–1863,” Nicholas W. Sacco sets aside historians’ “unhelpful mythmaking” about Grant as always an antislavery man for a fuller picture of how Grant, like other military men, was converted to emancipation on the battlefield. To do so, Sacco digs into the sources documenting the Grants’ years at the Dent family’s White Haven plantation, where they benefited—even if they did not profit—from the work of several enslaved people. While among slaveholders, Grant acted comfortably like one, at one point appraising the value of a neighbor’s slaves and making decisions for his family based on securing his family’s enslaved property. The growing sectional conflict did not spur Grant toward a moral reckoning about slavery any more than did his own father’s strong aversion to the institution. Instead, as Sacco argues, it was the war that did that work. Whether or not you were convinced by Ron Chernow’s recent biography of Grant, you will find Sacco’s careful treatment to be...