Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Men Who Would Die by the Stars and Stripes: A Socio-Economic Examination of the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry (US)

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Men Who Would Die by the Stars and Stripes: A Socio-Economic Examination of the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry (US)

Article excerpt

ALMOST FROM THE MOMENT IT ENDED, the Civil War has been remembered by many white southerners as a collective experience of enduring hardship and sacrifice embodied in the noble fidelity of a nearly mythical Confederate soldier. Indeed, these white southerners' definition of "southern" is bound up in this understanding of and identification with the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy (or at least the relished image of a Rebel) has become inexorably intertwined with their personal identity. Most would likely be stupefied, then, to know that many of their 1860s counterparts supported the Union, and that approximately 100,000 white men from the Confederate states, including several thousand Arkansans, served in the Federal army during the Civil War. This is surely one very large case of collective amnesia. One of William Faulkner's characters said that "The past is never dead. It's not even past." But southern unionists' past has seemed all but deceased for years-though they represented a significant impediment to Confederate hegemony within the South.1

White southerners enlisted in the Union army for a wide range of motives. Many did so out of patriotic loyalty, others out of necessity, and some were perhaps simple opportunists. An untold number of others were disaffected Rebels. What makes their service especially striking is that it was much more difficult for white southerners to enlist in the Union army than in the Confederate. A prospective recruit had to either journey to where Union forces were located, which could be dangerous in itself, or wait for the Federal army to arrive in his area. In addition, the prospective soldier enlisted knowing that if his secessionist neighbors found him out, he and his family would likely suffer some difficult circumstances. As Carl Degler has written, "The severest test of Unionism in the South was willingness to serve in the invading army."2

In Arkansas, these federal soldiers were drawn from a diverse population whose disaffection ranged from passive dissent to passionate opposition to the Confederacy. Unionism varied from region to region but was also highly individualistic. In the mountains of north central Arkansas, groups of men formed secret societies to resist Confederate authority. Hundreds more fled to southern Missouri to escape persecution by secessionist forces.3 In other parts of the state, far from Union lines, people were forced to bide their time and keep quiet. As a distinct minority in a state frenzied by war, many Arkansas unionists could ill afford to have their true sympathies known. Even the arrival of the Federal army did not guarantee safety to those who professed a loyalty to the national government. As one Arkansas unionist noted:

The loyal citizen in a rebel state is placed between two fires-and flanked beside. If he professes loyalty and manifests sympathy for the Union army, he does it at a sacrifice of his safety when they retire, which he has no assurance they will not do. In that case he is sure to be dealt with by the rebels. If on the other hand he appears unfriendly towards the Union troops, he is certain of nothing better, and often he finds but little favor arising from Union professions. Thus it is that loyalty to the Government in a rebel State can only be expected from men of uncommon nerve. Few are possessed of moral courage enough to publicly commit themselves to a cause surrounded with the dangers of Unionism in Rebeldom! It costs our northern friends nothing, but rather they are well paid for their loyalty. Not so with the loyal citizen who may at this unfortunate time have his home in the 'sunny south,' it cost him his all for the time being, and [he] is often but little rewarded for it.4

A Texas Confederate stationed in the northwest part of the state put it plainly when describing his feelings toward Arkansas unionists. He stated, "When we find one of that kind we show him little mercy."5 In spite of the threats of political violence, however, many Arkansas unionists did exhibit their true loyalties when the opportunity presented itself. …

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