Jesús F. de la Teja, ed. Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 296 pp. $19.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8061-5183-0; $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8061-5182-3.
Reviewed by Adam Zucconi (Richard Bland College)
Published on H-War (January, 2017)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
The memory of a monolithic Confederate Texas during the US Civil War era looms large in the conflict’s historiography. Though one-quarter of Texans voted against secession while many enslaved Texans fled the state, the memory of a unified Confederate Texas continues to dominate, a product of the violence directed toward Unionists during and after the war. This myth of a unified Confederate Texas has obfuscated attempts to more deeply analyze the various shades of Unionism that existed and thus explain why only a particular memory has persisted. In Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas, editor Jesús F. de la Teja and ten other historians recover those actors and those ideas that manifested Unionism and resisted inclusion with the Confederacy. This overall focus necessarily stresses the Civil War’s contested and complex nature. Though the Lone Star State seceded and joined the Confederate States of America prior to Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in March 1861, the “other side” of Confederate Texas opposed this move and the Confederacy in general in a myriad of ways. Unionists’ understanding and memory of the Civil War, therefore, provides an important corrective to the dangerous and misleading myth of a unified Confederate Texas.
The first chapter by Laura Lyons McLemore sets the tone for the volume. McLemore considers the collective memory of Confederate Texas an elusive phenomenon practically “impossible to conceive” because of Texans’ “competing experiences and memories” from the Civil War era (pp. 32, 33). Grounding her research in postwar economic expansion, McLemore convincingly shows that rapid urban growth fostered diverse and competing agendas and memories, especially among white women. For example, while some women passionately supported the efforts and messages of memorial groups like the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), other women expressed multiple reasons for their engagement in such associations. Many women joined out of a sense of civic duty, while others supported beautification projects undertaken by those groups. Other women enlisted as a means of social climbing. Even the historical profession in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries discouraged the creation of a monolithic Confederate memory. Research published by University of Texas historians generally focused on Texas’ western heritage or the post-Reconstruction era while military topics received scant attention. McLemore suggests that key words in Texans’ vocabulary common throughout the state’s history—notably, conservatism, individualism, and racism—shaped residents’ memory of the Civil War and helped produce a Confederate collective memory.
Two essays on the experience of African Americans during the war emphasize the roles marginalized groups occupied. Andrew J. Torget explores how runaway slaves flouted slaveholders’ myopic paternalistic arguments, though the state’s image as a slaveholding sanctuary for refugee slaveholders persisted into 1863. Opportunities abounded for slaves hoping for escape, as Mexico, Native American territories, and US naval ships blockading Galveston port enticed slaves to flee for freedom. W. Caleb McDaniel reveals that slaves who were forcibly removed to Texas by refugee planters labored under harsh conditions. The arduous journey from Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana, coupled with scarce food and severe punishment, weakened slaves’ means of resistance. Refugee planters, meanwhile, continued to reap economic benefits, hiring out their chattel to railroads and salt works. Though these two essays foreground the enslaved experience, those voices are noticeably lacking, resulting in a general dependence on white Texans and printed sources. Perhaps more African American voices in these pieces would reveal greater nuances to their experience than those uncovered by Torget and McDaniel.
While enslaved African Americans constituted one prominent group of Unionists, many white Texans resisted secession, too. Victoria Bynum’s interpretation of Unionist Warren J. Collins underscores the beliefs of those Texans who opposed secession. Collins and fellow Unionists, hiding in the densely wooded Big Thicket of East Texas in an effort to evade Confederate authorities, appropriated the moniker “Jayhawkers” in a nod to their Unionist brethren in Kansas. Relying on folklore and local histories, Bynum demonstrates that Collins and his ilk resisted joining the Confederacy because of their opposition to the Southern “commercial planter” class. Such Unionists, Bynum argues, possessed a “rural class consciousness” that saw a greater threat in a slave-based Confederate government than that of the US government (pp. 90). Bynum’s interpretation counters, at least partially, that of Eugene D. Genovese, who argued that white yeomen farmers across the South readily aligned their interests with those of the master class. Collins’s brand of Unionism, therefore, may further explain why thousands of Texans (and other Southern yeomen) resisted secession and the Confederacy.
In an important essay on ethnicity and unionism, Walter D. Kamphoefner refutes claims about monolithic German Unionism but still insists that most Germans rejected secession and the Confederacy. Census data coupled with country and precinct returns from the secession referendum reveals that few Germans owned slaves (even fewer than the Irish) while a majority voted against secession. Still, Kamphoefner cautions against generalizations. In certain precincts in Austin and Colorado counties, for example, Germans voted overwhelmingly against leaving the Union, but at least two precincts heavily populated by Germans supported the secession ordinance. One wonders if similar socioeconomic and political divisions that existed among Germans who arrived before and after 1848 likewise operated among Texas Germans.
Even those Germans who fought for the Confederacy (many unwilling, the author notes) displayed little passion for the Confederate cause. Many shed their Confederate uniforms and identities postwar and returned to their status as American citizens, even celebrating the Fourth of July in 1865 when typically only African Americans celebrated the holiday. While Kamphoefner’s research focuses generally on Texas, his conclusions may be indicative of other states with significant German populations. He notes Missouri’s German population, but Virginia, especially in Wheeling, was home to a substantial number of Germans, too. Kamphoefner’s research, therefore, may act as a jumping off point for future historians to more deeply investigate.
Kamphoefner’s conclusions regarding German motivations lead into Omar S. Valerio-Jimenez’s essay regarding Tejanos’ positions during the war. Valerio-Jimenez states unequivocally that Tejanos understood the causes of the war and viewed their participation as part of a larger ideological struggle. Tejano Unionists generally possessed “anti-slavery sentiment” or expressed “opposition to pro-Confederate local politicians” while many believed that enlistment in the army would lead to citizenship after the war (p. 128). Tejanos’ relationship with relatives in Mexico and with local African Americans undoubtedly caused concern among Confederate officials and Anglo-Americans. The lack of written documents and primary sources overall from many of these Tejanos forces extrapolation in some of Valerio-Jimenez’s conclusions, but he forthrightly states that historians have offered similar treatment to other illiterate groups, including poor whites and African Americans. His work, therefore, presents an important opening for greater analysis of illiterate groups that left little to no record but still sacrificed for the Union cause.
For Unionists in general and African Americans in particular, the violence directed toward these groups by secessionists during the Civil War era further highlighted the conflict’s divisiveness. Richard B. McCaslin stresses the extralegal violence aimed at North Texas Unionists. Confederate officials hunted down suspected and outright Unionists, hanging some, forcibly enlisting others, and forcing others into hiding. African Americans fared little better, according to Rebecca A. Czuchry. Viewing the Reconstruction period as an extension of the war, Czuchry argues that a “race war” developed in postwar Texas, as disgruntled former Confederates attempted to reassert “racial dominance and control” over their former chattel (p. 175). Many black women labored under conditions identical to those before the war, as white Texans employed violence to coerce labor while the threat of sexual exploitation persisted. Even the state government aided white Texans’ pursuit of racial control. The state legislature refused to recognize marriages between black men and women, thereby labeling their children as orphans who could be “bound out” to white families. Texas courts broadened the definition of “orphan,” declaring any fatherless child, regardless of the mother’s financial capabilities, an orphan eligible to work under the protection of white “guardians.” This legalized form of slavery, coupled with corporal punishment, created a postwar environment that mirrored that of antebellum Texas.
Through Czuchry’s telling, citizenship for newly freed African Americans was ephemeral. Elizabeth Hayes Turner’s essay on Juneteenth celebrations reaffirms this point but also analyzes the small ways former slaves carved out a public niche in difficult circumstances. The relative paucity of Union troops in 1865 complicated the process of emancipation, with many slaves resigning themselves to labor with their former master rather than face an uncertain new world without federal protection. For freed slaves in areas under Union control, Turner reveals that emancipation celebrations reflected an important rebuttal to paternalistic Texans. Former slaves, celebrating their physical liberation from bondage, expended great energy in preparing food, eagerly imbibed on alcoholic beverages, and dressed in finery. That these celebrations often occurred in public spaces, notably, prominent commercial streets in Houston, further reaffirmed African Americans’ status in postwar Texas.
Carl H. Moneyhon’s essay on Edmund J. Davis, a pro-slavery antebellum Democrat turned Radical Republican, provides a fitting coda to this collection. Davis, a hardened antebellum Democrat, attorney, and public official, refused to support the state legislature’s decision to annex Texas to the Confederacy, an action he deemed illegal. Davis fled to Mexico rather than face conscription and criticism from Confederate officials, but attacks on family members and friends hardened his anti-Confederate stance. After the war, Davis, fearful of President Andrew Johnson’s lenient policies regarding former Confederates, pushed for political and civil rights for African Americans, but the failure of a state constitutional convention and state legislature to embrace such steps dismayed Davis. Davis’s gubernatorial election in 1869 helped mobilize state protections for slaves, though the state quickly returned to Democratic control after Davis’s one term. Moneyhon points to Davis’s transformation as an important reminder that no one factor or set of factors shaped Unionist sentiment in Texas but rather that individual’s “unique experiences” coupled with contingent events often led that person to support the Union or the Confederacy (p. 248).
This important collection sheds light on the different facets of Unionism in Texas and how different actors arrived at and expressed that Unionism. Though this research focuses only on the Lone Star State, the conclusions reflect a growing body of historiography that emphasizes dissent and division in Southern states. Texas resembled other Southern states, including Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, states where “reluctant Confederates,” “diehard rebels,” staunch Unionists, and various shades in between violently competed for power and legitimacy. These essays once again highlight this phenomenon, but the analytical focus on a Deep South state, not a border or Upper South state, should convince historians to carefully examine the process and experience of Unionists throughout the entire South during the Civil War era.
. Eugene D. Genovese, “Yeomen Farmers in a Slaveholders’ Democracy,” Agricultural History 49, no. 2 (April 1975): 331-342.
. Bruce Levine, The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992).
. Daniel W. Crofts, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); Jason Phillips, Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007); Ken Fones-Wolf “‘Traitors in Wheeling’: Secessionism in an Appalachian Unionist City," Journal of Appalachian Studies 13, nos. 1 and 2 (Fall/Spring 2007): 75-95; and Anne E. Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
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Adam Zucconi. Review of de la Teja, Jesús F., ed., Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas.
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