22 May 2009

Northern Secessionists

Fellow WBTS blogger Robert Moore has spent quite a bit of time researching and writing about "Southern Unionists." Other Civil War bloggers often offer the criticism that some see the Confederacy as "monolithic" in their political views during the years of the war. These same critics further suggest those who in any way defend any aspect of Southern Heritage are claiming to speak for everyone in the South (though I've asked for examples, I've never been given any).

Obviously, the South was not totally unified in political thought and purpose - any nation that goes to war rarely is. Southerners fought for different reasons: defense of home, slavery, protection of family, states rights, etc, etc. And there were pockets of pro-Union sentiment in the South as well, as Robert has pointed out.

And while there are others who like to remind every one that the South was not monolithic in their views on the struggle that embroiled our nation between 1861 and 1865, these same individuals are quick to do a 180 and say the South was monolithic in "fighting for slavery". Can they have it both ways? No, but they try.

With all this in mind, I'd like to remind readers that there was also quite a bit of pro-South sentiment in the North. I'll mention one example in this post and some more later. . .

New Jersey:

Over the years, the people within New Jersey had developed many family ties with the South, and several leading Confederates were born in New Jersey. Among them were Henry Ellet, who was offered but declined the position of Postmaster General for the Confederacy; Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General of the Confederate Army . . .

The census statistics of 1860 indicate that 6,068 Southern-born New Jersey inhabitants had moved to New Jersey. This was about one percent of the State's total population. Even more significant was the movement of Jerseymen to the South. Of the 16 Southern states, New Jersey supplied more inhabitants in seven than any of the three major midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio). . . There was, indeed, a definite north-south movement between New Jersey and the South.

These economic and social ties clearly mark New Jersey as a border state. Its attitude towards slavery and its political position during the secession crisis confirm this status. . .

Two [New Jersey] newspapers advocated that New Jersey unite with the South. There were the Newark Journal and the New Brunswick Times.

Three newspapers wanted New Jersey to secede from the Union and join the other border states to form a central confederacy. . . On December 27, 1860, the Monmouth Democrat printed an editorial in which it favored the central confederacy as it was "better than to risk the results in a civil war." This same editorial was printed in the Hunterdon Democrat of January 2, 1861. As an introduction, Hunterdon's editor wrote:

"Peaceful Secession - We agree with the following views taken from the Monomouth Democrat, in regard to Peaceful Secession."

This editorial stated:

"We are in favor of peaceful dissolution, and opposed to all measures of coercion. If the Union cannot be preserved without shedding the blood of our brethren, it cannot be preserved at all."

The above excerpt is from: The Secession Movement in the Mid-Atlantic States by William C. Wright (Associated University Presses, Inc., 1973), pages 98-99 & 113.

There were diverse opinions in the South, of course. But the same is true of the North. To suggest that the North's sentiment was uniformly "pro-Union" is as inaccurate as suggesting that the South was uniformly "pro-Secession."


James F. Epperson said...

Has anyone seriously suggested the North was monolithic? I mean we have Fernando Wood and Clement Vallandigham...

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Not directly. But one could certainly come away with that impression since its the South that always seems to be the focus.

Border Ruffian said...

There was Union sentiment in the South, but in this current fad of the academic left they tend to exaggerate it.

One of their prime examples- Jones County, MS -was taken over by a gang of deserters that numbered about 100 men.

What they don't tell you is there were 4 or 5 companies (probably around 400 men) from Jones County off fighting for the Confederates.

Sort of easy to take over a county when all the other menfolk are gone.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

My problem with much of the academic discussion we see taking place on many blogs is that it comes off primarily as a morality play (despite the loud denials) which paints the South as evil and the North as righteous.

Along these same lines, we often see the criticism that Southern whites wanted to exclude African-Americans from the power structure of their society. For the most part, that's absolutely true and is antithetical to our founding documents. However, whenever that's brought up it's framed as an indictment against the South (morality play), but these same critics fail to bring up that Lincoln wanted to deport all blacks. Which is worse?

cenantua said...

James, I think there are those who have this static level of understanding about the North, just as much as there are those who have a static picture of the South. I think it can be found in a range of people. How prevalent it is, on all-in-all, is hard to determine.

As for BR's comment about Jones County, MS... while there may have been companies of men off to war, better establish first the nature of service of those men... when they enlisted (how conscription played a role), how the desertion rate was, and so forth. There's a lot more to it than you offer.

Exagerated levels of Unionism? Really? Better take a harder look... Southern Unionist claims are only one level of understanding, and I've seen some fraudulent claims of hardcore Confederates who tried to sell themselves off as Unionists, so there's more to this as well. Also, there were sometimes wars within the war itself within county borders among the civilians who remained... and sometimes it had nothing to do with the causes surrounding the war.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


You're right. As I said, Southerners, as well as Northerners, went to war for all kinds of reasons. Stupidity no doubt one of them, i.e., "vain glory" - that's universal in all wars. I mean no disrespect whatsoever and am thinking specifically of the naive young man who thinks he's going to be a war hero and win all kinds of accolades. He forgets he's going to have to go hungry, lie in the mud, fight the cold, the heat, and all the brutality that goes with warfare.

All that being said, there were also those young men who went off for honorable reasons - patriotism, self-defense, duty, etc, etc.

All this is obvious, of course, but I think we need to be reminded from time to time.

cenantua said...

"He forgets he's going to have to go hungry, lie in the mud, fight the cold, the heat, and all the brutality that goes with warfare."

And I think that was the reality check with several young men... and some not so young. I have one story of a young man from Page County (a former student of Jed Hotchkiss, no less) who paraded around with a unit flag and said the flag would never fall as long as he were alive! Then, about 9 months later, he was caught deserting, headed North with two Union soldiers.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Reality has a way of changing our opinions, doesn't it?

Good for that young man he did not have the misfortune of running into General Jackson.

cenantua said...

Actually, he did go through a CM and I think Hotchkiss made the difference in his favor... and he deserted again, later.

Actually, Jackson's stern manner in handling his old brigade may have been more detrimental to the manning levels in the long run than effective. He dealt with this as if they were professional soldiers, which, of course, they were not. I've dabbled in the study of the desertion rate in the brigade, but it deserves greater attention in a full-blown study.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Actually, Jackson's stern manner in handling his old brigade may have been more detrimental to the manning levels in the long run than effective."

Perhaps, but it's hard to argue with his results.

Anonymous said...

Richard, you're really addressing the essential problems with so many one-sided CW bloggers. They slice their history so thin that many only get a negative view of the Confederacy. A great economist once said that if you torture data enough it will confess to anything. Of course, many historians work with opinions or agendas rather than with objective data, but the analogy remains pertinent.

After reading Moore's blog, some might think that the Confederacy wasn't anything more than a name. But of course, that betrays my own ancestral ties which shows that everyone I have researched either were wounded or killed in action or were with Lee or Johnson through the surrender. I will give Moore high praise though for allowing differing opinions unlike so many.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Very well put sir. Yes, I disagreed w/Robert on his position of "the Confederacy being the Confederacy", but he is more balanced than most.