Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just Finished Reading

I remember as a youngster how crushed I was when I found out that my native East Tennessee was largely Unionist in its sympathies.  As I have aged I have learned some of the reasons that the citizens in that part of the state chose the path they did.  I have also learned that there were Unionists in other parts of Tennessee, some of whom felt a stronger attachment to the nation and stayed Unionist throughout the war, and some that felt they ultimately owed their loyalty to the state and joined the Confederate cause.

Daniel Croft's Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis does much to explain the thinking and actions of those not only in Tennessee, but also in Virginia and North Carolina.  Crofts chose not include Arkansas because it was largely a frontier region west of the Mississippi River and it did not have a competitive party political system that allowed for proper comparisons as did the three eastern upper South states.

Crofts's book looks at different pushes toward secession in these states from Lincoln's election in November 1860 to his call for 75,000 volunteers in the wake of Fort Sumter. The first push came with the election of the "Black Republican" president.  That threat was enough to convince the Gulf states to leave the Union, but not the two tiers of state above them; the upper South states and the border states. The second move was a push back by those upper South states who at the time wanted no part of secession, but were also angered with the North and the president for threatening coercion against the seceded states. The final push came after the bombing of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's subsequent call for states to provide troops to put down the rebellion. The fight at Fort Sumter itself was not enough prompt the upper South states to leave. It took Lincoln's perceived coercive action for the straw to break the camel's back and prompt their secession.  Virginia went out first on April 17, then North Carolina on May 20, followed by Tennessee, who's June 8 referendum was largely for show as the governor had effectively already separated the state from the federal government. 

While much of this book focused on the parties and politics of these states during this time period, my favorite parts were the close looks at a number of the politicians involved and the ultimate decisions they made. Men like: Robert Hatton, a congressman from Middle Tennessee who held out until Lincoln's call and then became a Confederate officer that was ultimately killed rather early in the war; and Emerson Etheridge, a rare West Tennessee Unionist that remained loyal throughout the war; and North Carolinian John Gilmer who was actually considered for Lincoln's cabinet, but chose to go with his state to the Confederacy.  Other individuals that Crofts mentioned but that I wished he would have examined more fully are William G. Brownlow of Tennessee and John Minor Botts in Virginia.

I'll admit that Crofts lost me in a heavy flurry of statistical analysis and graphs in chapter 7, "Measuring the Unionist Insurgency." But, I enjoyed most of the rest of the book and it is well worth reading for the individuals and ideas it illuminates.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis a 4.25. 

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