Enemies of the Country: New Perspectives on Unionists in the Civil War South

By McKnight, Brian D. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Enemies of the Country: New Perspectives on Unionists in the Civil War South


McKnight, Brian D., South Carolina Historical Magazine


Enemies of the Country: New Perspectives on Unionists in the Civil War South. Edited by John C. Inscoe and Robert C. Kenzer. (2001; reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004. Pp. vii, 242; $19.95, paper.)

The past decade has witnessed increased scholarly interest in nontraditional approaches to Civil War history. Part of this trend focuses on Unionist sentiment in the South and the ways it impacted the broader aims of the Confederacy. In 1998 a conference held at the University of Richmond brought much recent scholarship on southern Unionism to light. Out of "Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South" grew the present work, a compilation of several papers given at the conference.

At first glance, Enemies of the Country reminds one of the countless anthologies being published each year-a collection all too often accurately described by reviewers with words like "uneven" and "lacking focus." However, John Inscoe and Robert Kenzer have collected and organized ten However, John Inscoe and Robert Kenzer have collected and organized ten strong individual essays, which, when put together between the covers of a single book, provide a considerate and thoughtful study of the personal nature of the American Civil War in the South.

The overarching theme of Enemies of the Country is the complexity of loyalty within the Confederate South and the roots of these myriad feelings within the individuals. Some, like the infamous William G. "Parson" Brownlow, harbored high-minded ideals that drove them to their ultimate and unwavering adherence to the Union cause, while others, like fellow Knoxville Unionist John Baxter, were wholly driven by self-interest and self-preservation. Robert Tracy McKenzie's essay, which focuses on Brownlow and Baxter, notes that the rhetoric the Parson spewed to his northern audiences on the uniformity of Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee seldom matched the reality. To illustrate this point, McKenzie introduces a cast of characters, all residents of Brownlow's city, of varying loyalties and degrees of conviction. Baxter began the war as an opponent of secession, but rethought his position after the Confederates won at First Manassas. Now viewing Confederate independence as an inevitability, Baxter proclaimed his loyalty to the South and was able to use his position as an attorney to help defend local Unionists in military courts. One year later, however, Baxter reversed course again and returned to the Union, albeit after a flurry of federal victories. While Brownlow remained a steadfast Unionist for ideological reasons, the reality of Baxter's existence forced repeated, and sometimes profound, adjustments. John Baxter's situation illustrates a significant point: just as the old maxim states that all politics is local, during the Civil War, loyalty often depended not so much on high ideals as on immediate threats and rewards.

Jonathan Berkey's essay examines the case of David Hunter Strother. Initially a tepid Unionist, Strother joined the federal army and fought in the lower Shenandoah Valley, his home region. Despite his commitment to the Union, the majority of the members of his family were Confederate leaning, thereby putting him in direct conflict with them during his time in the army. However, Strother did not play the part of detached invader; instead, he frequently assisted his "enemies" by using his position to offer them protection or other favors. Such behavior, particularly in regions starkly divided in sentiment, was probably more typical than scholars have acknowledged. For thousands of southern families politically divided by the war, many fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers could count on some level of protection and lenience from the victor regardless of the conflict's result. …

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