- Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North ed. by Robert M. Sandow
The northern home front has slowly become a subject of scholars' attention in the past generation. What we see emerging upends an earlier narrative of a monolithic North—rich, populous, and united in its support of the war effort. Instead, the story that is coming into focus is one rife with dissent. The fault lines are not a real surprise: working class versus middle class and wealthy, immigrant versus native, worker versus employer. The most consistent point of division, however, is political partisanship. This fundamental divide has become increasingly apparent as students of the Civil War have started digging into questions that played out in a variety of ways throughout the conflict: What is loyalty? What is disloyalty? And what is treason? [End Page 655]
Those questions are at the heart of Contested Loyalty, an anthology that provides an excellent snapshot of the state of this particular subfield. In ten essays, we see the various ways that northerners expressed their loyalty (women working in munitions plants, for instance, considered their labor to be a patriotic statement) and wrestled with questions of what was disloyal. While the Copperheads, or antiwar Democrats, were obvious and well-known targets for allegations of treason, others are less apparent to the modern reader. Sean A. Scott may have the most surprising contribution along this line. He details the tribulations of a Presbyterian minister who refused to pray for Union troops or the United States in an effort to keep politics out of his pulpit. We could easily call this paranoia or overzealousness on the part of some of the minister's flock, except that Scott hints that the man may, indeed, have had some Confederate biases.
Jonathan W. White weaves another bizarre story out of the annals of the Pennsylvania legislature, which argued for years over whether to compensate victims of rebel raids into the southern part of the state—most notably, the movements that culminated in the battle at Gettysburg. Republican lawmakers feared that if they did not require a loyalty oath from anyone accepting compensation, taxpayers might be financing people who not only were disloyal, but might actually invite Confederate forces back into the state. At the heart of the debate, as White points out, was a question on the part of Republicans about whether Democrats were loyal at all. Many Democrats had similar questions about their Republican colleagues, based on Republicans' willingness to view the Constitution as an elastic document as well as on their ties—sometimes real, sometimes overstated—to abolitionists, whom Democrats blamed for starting the war. The war had to end before the lawmakers finally decided how to handle compensation claims.
African American soldiers had a more complicated view of loyalty, according to Thaddeus M. Romansky. Theirs was more bilateral, where they expected fair treatment and the same wages as white soldiers in return for their service. Romansky's argument can be a bit confusing at times, but he brings a new twist to the well-known saga of black soldiers' efforts to be treated fairly and with dignity. Melinda Lawson's examination of "duty as a political concept" (22) provides a good standard by which to consider the other areas examined in this collection. What is the responsibility of a citizen in a time of civil war? And what happens when one's own conscience is not in sync with those of the majority?
To the editor's credit, several of the essays reference each other, which helps build a fairly coherent vision through the book. Like many [End Page 656] anthologies, though, this one has its weak spots. While most of the essays fit together, some do not. Judith Giesberg's article on women's nascent efforts at building a labor movement in Philadelphia is excellent on its own merits, but it does not nest comfortably with the general theme of the book. Timothy J. Orr's piece on a...