Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pro-Union Southerners

I was surprised to read about the 1st Alabama Cavalry today. This unit was from the deep south and it fought for the Union during the American Civil War. I had no idea that such a unit ever existed! Reading further, I discovered that large portions of Northern Alabama had been opposed to secession and remained loyal to the United States. Further, these areas were never under Confederate control and they raised several units which supported Union forces. The 1st Alabama Calvary even served as escorts for General Sherman on his infamous March to the Sea late in the war.

Curious, I looked for more. I found Lincoln's Loyalists by Richard Current from 1992 in the library today and checked it out. There were quite a few pro-Union southern units in the Civil War. Areas such as Western Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee delivered dozens of units each to the USA to help in crushing the separatist rebellion. However, deep south states like Texas, Alabama, and North Carolina also contributed. Every Union advance into the south brought out local loyal Union supporters who were eager to enlist who had not had the opportunity previously.

I would have expected that the black population of the south supported the Union. However, I was surprised that so many white southerners (some who were slave holders) refused to join the rebellion and openly fought to preserve the United States of America. The loyalist in the south were a major hindrance to the rebellion and they certainly tied up Confederate troops that were needed elsewhere.

Many northerners opposed the war and many were sympathetic to the southern separatists. This was manifested in many ways including anti-draft rioting. Lincoln may well have been the most unpopular President in American history during his term in office. However, there were no Michigan, New Hampshire, or New York units fighting for the rebellion. Those fighting for the Confederate cause represented a divided south against a united north.

I guess this should have not been surprising to me. I do have a good grasp of American history and know about the history of the war. This aspect of it just has not gotten a lot of coverage. However, it is only logical that many of the southerners were pro-union. How would you feel if you found yourself one day being told that you were no longer a citizen of your nation, that you were now a citizen of a new one, and that your services were now required to help defeat the nation you had been loyal to all of your life? Would rebellion against the rebellion enter your mind? The American patriotism of the pro-Union southerners is not that hard to understand.


The Minstrel Boy said...

I first learned about Yell County, Arkansas by reading the novel True Grit. In describing the character of Mattie the author said "When Arkansas seceeded from the union, Yell County seceeded from Arkansas." It sent me digging and I found that it was true. My own home in Arizona as a territory had divided loyalties. Arizonans fought for both sides in the conflict and our one little battle was more about water rights than issues of union/disunion or slavery.

Elektratig said...

I would be a little careful here. There were few true "unionists" in the deep south at the start of the War. Most non-secessionists were cooperationists. Although the term covered a wide range of views, most simply disapproved of separate state secession and wanted the south to act together., e.g., via a regional convention. Even those who were willing to wait for an "overt act" by the Republicans usually attached conditions that the Republicans would never have agreed to, e.g., slavery in the territories.

The phenomenon to which you refer -- deep south Union units -- is I believe largely the result of increasing unrest and conflict that developed particularly in southern mountain communities during the War in response to intrusive practices of the Confederate and state governments such as conscription and related enforcement measures, and impressment and tax-in-kind policies. An outstanding recent local study that really gives you a feel for what happened in two Georgia counties is Jonathan Dean Sarris' A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South.

This doesn't mean that the phenomenon of southern disaffection and disloyalty wasn't important. For example in The South vs. The South, William Freehling has argued that the 450,000 southern Union troops, black and white, were vital to northern victory. It does mean, however, that most white southerners were probably not driven to enlist by a vision of "the Union." Mostly, they just wanted to get the Confederate government off their backs.

M said...

I have no doubt that there were a variety of reasons that southerners, like northerners, fought in the war many of which had nothing to do with preserving the Union. However, the evidence suggests that patroitism towards the Union was clearly a part of it for many loyal southerners.

Here is a nice quote from Current's book made be a Tennessee historian in the 1890s:

"The inhabitants of this section were mostly Whigs and the descendants of Indian fighters. They were full of patriotism and had been taught from childhood to resent an insult, and especially one to the flag of their country, the emblem of liberty. Descendants of the brave men, it was not unnatural that they should be aroused by this great insult to their country's flag." (p. 145).

Many parts of North Alabama remained loyal from the beginning of the war and were raising units to fight for the Union as early as 1861. West Virginia left Virginia at the very beginning of the war. Some southerners liked their county. I think some patriotism is in play here...

The north was more united than the south and this may be one of the reasons the north won.

Elektratig said...


To some extent, I think you're mixing apples and oranges. I carefully limited my observations to the lower south. As you move further north -- to the states that did not secede until after Ft. Sumter -- there you find areas in which there were some "unconditional unionists," eastern Tennessee and western Virginia being examples. Among politicians, Andrew Johnson is probably the most famous example.

As for Alabama, there's the famous "Free State of Winston." I've actually been trying to find a book on it. Any suggestions?

M said...

"To some extent, I think you're mixing apples and oranges."

Perhaps you are right. However, apples and oranges are both fruits. Northerners and southerners are both Americans. What is the big difference between loyal citizens in southern Tennessee and those in the north of Alabama? A state line?

"As for Alabama, there's the famous 'Free State of Winston.' I've actually been trying to find a book on it. Any suggestions?"

There is not a lot out there yet I am afraid on Winston or the 1st Alabama Calvary for that matter.

There is an Arcadia book titled The Free State of Winston by Dr. Don Dodd and Dr. Amy Bartlett-Dodd at Arcadia books are high on pictures and low on content so I am not sure if this is helpful.


The free state of Winston; a history of Winston County, Alabama, by Wesley S Thompson, 1968.

Fact and fiction of The Free State of Winston including A legend of Clear Creek Falls by Charles D Hudgins, 1950.

The Civil War in Winston County, Alabama, "the free state", Don Dodd and Wynelle S Dodd, 1972.

Tracing the free state of Winston by Bill Connell, 1993 (video)

The free state of Winston: example of warning? by H Brandt Ayers, James Dickey, Eugene Stanaland, Paul Hemphill, and Kenneth E Boulding, 1968.

These books seem to be rare. Check to see if your local library can interlibrary loan them.

Ryan Dupree said...

I would be read Wesley Thompson's books with caution. You need to take them in contect. In his writing style, he makes these people appear to be uneducated hicks who really don't know anything.

Donald Dodd also wrote the Annals of Northwest Alabama, Vol IV. A good reference.

There are also 2 great novels out that are based on historical fact about individuals from the 1st Alabama.

you can also read about the 1st Alabama (2 companies) participation in Streight's raid.

Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss the 1st Alabama. They are my primary field of research.

Ryan Dupree

Unknown said...

My family fought in the First Alabama. You might find some useful information here:


Unknown said...

The reason more Southerners didnt fight for the Union was that terrorist gangs of pro-slavers would murder suspected Union sympathizers in the middle of the night.
Many German-American Texans fled to Mexico to escape being lynched.
Northerners should remember that only 5% of Southerners owned slaves but all the wealth and power of the South was concentrated into slavers hands.
They used every means available, political, media, terrorism, to bend the minds of Southern men to their side.
Reminds me of today and the Republican propaganda machine how it is able to turn people away from their own best interests.
Very sad so many Southern men had to die for such an empty cause and even more sad so many Northern men had to die defending the United States.

Anonymous said...

For Alabama unionists, you might try Bitterly Divided, which deals with Unionism in the civil War, especially north Alabama (the proposed state of Nickajack). the Free State of Jones about resistance to the confederacy in Mississippi