Margaret M. Storey. Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. xv + 296 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-2935-7.
Reviewed by Brian Donovan (Department of History, University of Iowa)
Published on H-CivWar (December, 2005)
Yankees on the Homefront
Margaret M. Storey's Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction is a thorough, well-written, and informative contribution to an important new trend in Civil War studies: the examination of the Confederate homefront and the various complexities and contradictions of loyalties there. The original works in this field, such as Georgia Lee Tatum's landmark book Disloyalty in the Confederacy (1934) and Carl Degler's The Other South (1974), struggled with the problem of definition. Tatum wrestled with the concept of "disloyalty" versus "disaffection" and ultimately concluded that most Southern Unionists were "disloyal" as their Confederate contemporaries understood the word; Degler's study, by focusing on the public opinions of well-known figures like Parson Brownlow and Jonathan Worth, moved the definitional problem almost entirely into the national and political realm at the expense of the local and social aspects of "disloyalty."
Storey avoids the problem of definitions by focusing on what can only be called "unconditional Unionists"--those whose loyalty to the Union was uncompromising and resulted in terrible hardships--in several counties of northern Alabama. She shows that this Unionism, originally born of conservatism rooted in the hierarchical family, became by the end of the war a radicalized stance in which "unwavering wartime loyalty to the Union and a willingness to punish treason [were] the key components of postwar political legitimacy" (p. 2). She illustrates the development of this position through an analysis of the secession conflict in northern Alabama; the various strategies available to resisters of the Confederate draft; the ways in which the United States army employed Unionists following the Federals' 1862 invasion of northern Alabama; and the disillusionment of those same loyalists during Reconstruction, when staunch "Union men" found themselves both politically marginalized and physically threatened by ex-Confederates, especially the Ku Klux Klan. Throughout, Storey emphasizes the complexity of the relationship between family, friends, slaves, and community, and the ways in which all four combined to form self-reinforcing networks that sustained Unionists through four dark years of war.
The "familial" nature of Unionism in northern Alabama is one of the most interesting and important features of Loyalty and Loss. Storey's analysis is largely based on a carefully circumscribed population, the testimony of 405 Alabama loyalists whose statements were recorded by the Southern Claims Commission and whose identities she was able to trace in the 1860 U.S. census. Among these, however, she shows there were no clear ties other than those of family and Unionist identity. Storey's wealth of testimonies and slaveholding statistics (helpfully summarized in one of three appendices) show that Unionism was a highly distributed phenomenon which did not track well with any particular socioeconomic situation. "Indeed," she concludes, "love of the Union may be the only 'interest' such individuals shared" (p. 13). The nature of the ad-hoc community into which these individuals were forced is the subject matter for most of the rest of the book.
Loyalty and Loss is especially good at illustrating the close interrelationships between Unionist men, whose loyalty was tested by everything from the Confederate draft to Federal army service, and the women and slaves who largely enabled them to take an active part in the war. Exact statistics on female Unionism are unobtainable, but throughout Loyalty and Loss Storey emphasizes the importance of women's contributions. "Lying out," or hiding from Confederate press-gangs, for example, would have been impossible without the active support of a large number of a community's women, who furnished the men with provisions, information, and moral support, all at enormous risk to themselves. Also crucial--and even riskier--was the active support of the slave community. Storey shows how many slaves assisted both draft-dodgers and (later) Federal partisan and counterinsurgency efforts by employing the elaborate mechanisms of resistance and evasion they once used against their masters in the service of those same men. This irony does not go unremarked, nor does the unsung heroism of slaves who sacrificed considerable opportunities for revenge or short-term profit in the service of a much larger cause.
Finally, Storey is careful to note the partisan political component of Unionism in northern Alabama. While loyalists were continually harassed in Confederate-controlled sections, the situation was quite different once the Federal army established a presence there in 1862. Though often still preyed upon by Union foragers, many loyalists took full advantage of the Union's presence to avenge themselves upon their former oppressors-- some by serving as Union scouts or irregulars, others by practicing a "partisanship" indistinguishable from piracy. During Reconstruction, also, northern Alabama's Unionists felt that their loyalty under extreme hardship merited reward by the United States government. Some loyalists got their wish--only those who had never sworn allegiance to the Confederacy, for example, could hold posts like election registrars or tax assessors under the Military Reconstruction Acts--while many others suffered an extreme backlash at the hands of the newly-founded Ku Klux Klan, an organization which the government's limited military presence in northern Alabama was incapable of suppressing. In the end, Storey details in a chapter aptly titled, "The Day of Our Ruin" how northern Alabama's Unionists were not able to muster sufficient political clout to put their program into law, and after a brief period of Republican rule, "Unionism" once again reverted to an identity defined by one's friends and kin.
Loyalty and Loss is an important work for understanding the dynamics of allegiance in the Civil War. While the study is localized and circumscribed (those wishing to further investigate Storey's methodology can refer to her extensive appendices), it fits snugly into a large and growing field of social history that recasts an important aspect of Civil War studies. Well written, informative, and accessible, Loyalty and Loss is on the front line of Civil War social history and is a welcome addition to recent scholarship.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-civwar.
Brian Donovan. Review of Storey, Margaret M., Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction.
H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.