Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America's Bloodiest Conflict

By Wells, Cheryl A. | The Journal of Southern History, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America's Bloodiest Conflict


Wells, Cheryl A., The Journal of Southern History


Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America's Bloodiest Conflict. Edited by Susannah J. Ural. (New York and London: New York University Press, c. 2010. Pp. [viii], 240. Paper, $23.00, ISBN 978-0-8147-8570-6; cloth, $79.00, ISBN 978-0-8147-8569-0.)

During the Civil War, noncitizens, namely, foreigners and nonwhites, composed 15 percent of the American population and fully participated on the battlefield, on home fronts, and in the spaces in between. Susannah J. Ural's edited collection Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America's Bloodiest Conflict rightly seeks to correct the perceived exclusivity of "the dominant white Anglo-Saxon Protestant" Civil War by bringing together seven essays on the German, Irish, southern Jewish, Native American, and northern African American experiences (p. 3). Together these essays focus on how the quest for "full citizenship" and the complex meanings of multiple loyalties shaped each group's responses to the Civil War (p. 2).

Civil War Citizens begins with twinned investigations of the Germans and the Irish. Stephen D. Engle convincingly contends that Germans in the Union army viewed military service as a way to illustrate their loyalty to the Union and preserve the American freedoms they enjoyed while simultaneously earning citizenship. While Germans in the North generally supported the Union's cause, the loyalty of Germans to the Confederacy, as Andrea Mehrlander explains, was contingent on geography and economic opportunity, with Germans in Charleston and New Orleans remaining solidly supportive of the Confederacy and Germans in Richmond becoming increasingly disenchanted.

Irish Catholics in the North, like the Germans of Richmond, illustrated a contingent erosion of loyalty as the war evolved. Ural argues that initially northern Irish Catholics, like Engle's Germans, viewed military enlistment as emblematic of loyalty to both the Union and the old country. However, when northern Irish Catholics perceived the Union as abandoning their interests, especially through the implementation of conscription and emancipation policies, loyalty to the Union correspondingly declined, even as the pursuit of citizenship continued. David T. Gleeson asserts that for the Irish in the South, loyalties to Ireland often challenged new loyalties to the Confederacy. Although often hailed for bravery, Irish Confederates also gained a reputation for shirking military duty, either by deserting or by declaring they had no intention to become citizens and thus avoiding the draft. Irish Confederate civilians, likewise, had a spotty "record of Confederate patriotism," as indicated by participation in bread riots and overwhelming acceptance of Union occupation (p. 145). Remarkably, Irish Confederates rehabilitated their image by embedding themselves into the narrative of the Lost Cause and becoming "model" Confederate citizens (p. 148).

Jews in the antebellum South, argues Robert N. Rosen, successfully inculcated southern ways and attitudes to such an extent that they were granted full membership in white southern society.

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