Robert M. Sandow, ed. Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North. The North's Civil War Series. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018. 328 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8232-7975-3.
Reviewed by Shae Smith Cox (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)
Published on H-Nationalism (May, 2019)
Commissioned by Evan C. Rothera (Sam Houston State University)
The essays gathered here demonstrate how notions of loyalty were defined and contested in everyday Northern life across the spectrum of politics, class, race, gender, education, and various affiliations. Robert M. Sandow, professor of history at Lock Haven University and author of Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians (2009), states that “this collection pushes us to see how a factious and diverse Northern people ultimately failed to reach consensus on what loyalty meant or how citizens in times of war might demonstrate it” (p. 1). Sandow points out that “when Northerners used the word ‘loyalty’ they most frequently invoked it in the framework of nationalism” (p. 2). However, Union loyalty was a poorly defined concept interpreted in many ways. The most recent interpretative change began in the late 1990s when attention turned toward the Northern home front and the complications that people faced in relation to the Union war effort.
The four main themes of this volume are politics, educated men, working-class men and women, and race and ethnicity, although most of the essays speak to more than one of these themes. Melinda Lawson, Matthew Warshauer, Jonathan W. White, and Sean A. Scott examine numerous individuals who struggled with the concepts of loyalty and patriotism through the avenue of politics. Lawson analyzes three men—abolitionist Wendell Phillips, Representative George W. Julian of Indiana (the son-in-law of legendary abolitionist Joshua Giddings), and Abraham Lincoln. Lawson examines Phillips as an “agitator” working to shape public opinion, Julian as politically committed to an administration bent on stopping the spread of slavery, and Lincoln as committed to the people and the Constitution. Lawson explores how each of these men negotiated their patriotic behavior through the lens of duty and helps us understand loyalty in the Civil War era through the concept of patriotic obligation. Warshauer’s study of Connecticut Copperhead constitutionalism considers how peace Democrats hoisted the Constitution as their torch of political value. The author argues that the concepts of loyalty in this essay deserve a closer look because they were outside the norm for their area and more typical of the border states. Peace Democrats believed themselves to be anti-war but not anti-Union. The author believes that the peace movement in Connecticut is a solid example concerning patriotism and constitutionalism in the heart of New England, and he argues that this state deserves further investigation due to its extensive anti-war sentiment. White uses raids by Confederates in Pennsylvania to argue that defining loyalty, specifically in terms of treason, became a political process although it was supposed to be nonpartisan. This is demonstrated in the period 1862-64 when rebel commanders, such as Jeb Stuart, pillaged Pennsylvania, captured horses and clothing, and burned Union military supplies. The Pennsylvania legislature turned the possibility of compensation from the raids into a debate over loyalty. Scott’s essay fits into both the political category of this anthology and the educated men section because it focuses on a Presbyterian preacher, William S. Plumber, and his refusal to politicize his public prayers. The lack of political rhetoric in his prayers, partly because he sympathized with the South, led to bitter disagreements in the church and his removal from the pulpit.
Julie A. Mujic and Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai discuss the positions and debates of educated Northern men during the Civil War. Mujic uses courtship letters between Annie Cox and Gideon Winan Allen to demonstrate how war rhetoric shaped their relationship through gender roles, loyalty, and patriotism. Both Allen and Cox occupied “succinct positions on loyalty and patriotism that were never altered during the war” (p. 113). Wongsrichanalai’s essay traces college-educated New England men who enlisted in the Union army and shows how their education guided their views of patriotism and loyalty. While this is a small sample size of “twenty-five college-educated New Englanders who fought in the Civil War,” it provides a foundation for further investigations of people’s perspectives about intellectual duty and of ways these men formed opinions on political and military matters and leaders (p. 138).
Working-class men and women enter this discussion in the chapters by Judith Giesberg and Timothy J. Orr. Giesberg’s essay demonstrates how labor was equated to loyalty. She states, “through their sewing work, women found a political voice with which to engage the rhetoric about loyalty” (p. 207). In sewing uniforms, Philadelphia women banded together against contractors and professed their sacrifice and loyalty to the Union cause. Continuing in Pennsylvania, Orr’s project reveals the intricacies of labor history throughout the area and the volatility of “accusations of disloyalty” regarding the Union’s ammunition workers (p. 221). As Orr contends, throughout the US Civil War “loyalty was a shapeless concept,” not something that was solid or always tangible (p. 235). The ways Northerners viewed loyalty were fluid and changed by person and circumstance, much like the concept of Confederate nationalism.
In their chapters, Ryan Keating and Thaddeus Romansky tackle the concepts of race and ethnicity. Keating’s work centers on understanding those who defined themselves as Irish Americans either “by birth or descent” and who were “proud of their ethnic heritage,” viewing themselves as “loyal American citizens” who “pledged to defend the Union against all enemies” (pp. 249, 250). Keating demonstrates how perceptions of the Irish community soon shifted in the aftermath of the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. In the beginning of the war, Irish Americans benefited from the “public willingness to accept volunteers as, first and foremost, American soldiers” (p. 250). After the riots, many people saw the Irish as “enemies of the Republic” rather than as patriots (p. 242). Romansky analyzes the disconnect between the public celebration by white citizens of African American soldiers’ loyalty to the Union and the limitations of black rights within their roles as soldiers. Both of these chapters wrestle with how race made those deemed inferior by white people repeatedly demonstrate their loyalty to the Union.
Contested Loyalty fills holes in our understanding of the Civil War North. It asks and answers important questions about patriotism and loyalty. Sandow and the contributors deserve credit for helping us gain a better understanding of patriotism and loyalty and of the functioning of those concepts in the Civil War North.
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Shae Smith Cox. Review of Sandow, Robert M., ed., Contested Loyalty: Debates over Patriotism in the Civil War North.
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