Lincoln’s Loyalists

Richard Nelson Current, an acknowledged authority on the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, has never hesitated to challenge long-cherished assumptions about the period. In THOSE TERRIBLE CARPETBAGGERS (1988) he demolished the lingering myth that the Northerners who moved South and held office in the former Confederate states were largely a collection of scoundrels. In LINCOLN’S LOYALISTS, Current addresses the story of the Southerners who fought for the Union during the Civil War. These men have largely been ignored by historians of the Civil War and the South, yet they played a major part in determining the outcome of the conflict.

Current estimates that at least 100,000 Southerners served in the Union Army. This figure, impressive in itself, takes on additional significance when compared to a total Confederate enlistment of 800,000-900,000. Not only did these men prove a valuable reinforcement of the military strength of the Union, but they denied to the Confederacy a substantial fraction of its potential military manpower. Lincoln’s loyalists tended to come from regions in the South where the institution of slavery had not taken root, such as western Virginia and eastern Tennessee. Other volunteers came from the non-slaveholding classes of Southern society. Though most of these men were motivated more by devotion to the Union than by antislavery sentiment, the demise of the “peculiar institution” does not seem to have troubled them deeply.

The memory of these Southern Unionists fell victim to the politics of Reconstruction, and the need of Southern apologists for the emerging Jim Crow regime to create a legend of a solid South which had pursued a gallant “lost cause.” In LINCOLN’S LOYALISTS Richard Nelson Current not only does justice to unfairly ignored men but also deals a devastating blow to the overripe myth of Dixie.