Judkin Browning. Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. xiii + 250 pp. $37.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-3468-8.
Reviewed by Tommy Brown (Auburn University)
Published on H-CivWar (September, 2012)
Commissioned by Hugh F. Dubrulle (Saint Anselm College)
Unionists or Confederates? North Carolina’s Pragmatic Southerners
In recent decades, Civil War historians have focused increasingly on the home front. Scholars such as Matthew Gallman, Mark Weitz, Judith Ann Giesberg, Nina Silber, and others have written important studies showcasing African Americans, women, and other noncombatants in both the Union and the Confederacy. Others have more specifically concentrated upon Union-occupied regions of the South. Stephen Ash’s When the Yankees Came (1995), Wayne K. Durrill’s War of Another Kind (1990), and Jacqueline Glass Campbell’s When Sherman Marched North From the Sea (2003) are just a sampling of the histories devoted to this purpose.
Judkin Browning’s Shifting Loyalties adds to this growing body of knowledge. Browning, an associate professor of history at Appalachian State University, examines the home front in Union-occupied Craven and Carteret counties in coastal North Carolina. Informed in part by Daniel Crofts’s Reluctant Confederates, the author argues that white residents constantly shifted their loyalties in response to changing socioeconomic conditions during the secession crisis, war mobilization, and Union occupation. Although historians have often divided Southern whites into either Southern nationalist or Unionist camps, Browning insists that “many whites had flexible loyalties, leaning toward the Union or toward the Confederacy depending on circumstances” (p. 180). Moreover, the book diverges from class-based arguments such as those presented by Stephen Ash and Wayne Durrill. The author contends that race, not class, played the determining role in the socioeconomic dynamics in Civil War Carteret and Craven counties.
In the two decades leading up to the Civil War the region maintained a vibrant two-party system. Residents of Carteret County and the fishing village of Beaufort typically supported Whig Party candidates, while in neighboring Craven County and the rapidly developing agricultural and commercial town of New Bern, the Democratic Party held sway. Yet white citizens of both counties were deeply devoted to the Union and, above all, staunchly committed to white supremacy. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry followed by Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency weakened Unionism’s hold on the region. In 1861, while secessionism swept through Craven with little resistance, Carteret Countians adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to “coerce” the rebellious states into submission temporarily ended Carteret’s Unionist tendencies.
During the early states of the war Confederate nationalism in eastern North Carolina was not as robust as in other parts of the South. In Carteret and Craven counties many local whites--more committed to their communities than to the fledgling rebel nation--balked at the notion of serving outside the region, resented high-handed Confederate recruitment tactics, and questioned the Confederacy’s commitment to protect the coastal counties from Union invasion Once the Federals gained control of the area, however, citizens who had displayed only nominal support for the Confederacy returned to the Union fold. For many, the financial benefits of doing business with the Union army, along with the expectation that slavery would remain untouched, were attractive features of occupation. Browning argues that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the threat that freedmen posed to white supremacy, and the Federal army’s hard-war tactics against Southern civilians drove most Unionists back into the Confederate camp. “The irony for Carteret and Craven counties,” the author contends, “is that white residents were more firmly sympathetic with the Confederacy at the war’s end than they had ever been during the heady days of secession” (p. 180).
Shifting Loyalties includes a number of notable strengths. First, the author is careful to include the perspectives of and interactions between local whites, slaves, women, freedmen, Union soldiers, and members of Northern benevolent societies. African Americans, for instance, sought freedom, employment, and education, while forging new alliances with the Federal army as well as New England missionaries to secure these objectives. Second, the book’s organization is straightforward and logical. The first three chapters are chronological and explore the social, political, and economic history of the region from the late antebellum period right up to Union occupation. The final four chapters are thematic, with African Americans, Union soldiers, and Northern missionaries taking center stage. Finally, Browning’s history relies upon a wealth of published and unpublished letters, diaries, papers, autobiographies, and government records. One of the book’s drawbacks, however, is that the author only scratches the surface of the postwar Reconstruction period, a task that will more than likely require another full volume.
While advanced undergraduate history courses will benefit from Browning’s study, the book is ideally suited for graduate seminars in Civil War history. Thought-provoking stories enhance the author’s arguments, and combine scholarly expertise with a lively and engaging style that will appeal to a wide audience. Scholars, students, and enthusiasts should reserve a spot on their bookshelf for this compelling work.
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