“Are you for the Union or opposed to it?”

GAR veterans from Garland Post 423, Waveland, Indiana. Photo courtesy of 40th Indiana: http://40thindiana.wordpress.com/waveland-in-cw-vets/

GAR veterans from Garland Post 423, Waveland, Indiana, around the turn of the 20th century. Photo courtesy of 40th Indiana: http://40thindiana.wordpress.com/waveland-in-cw-vets/

The American Tribune was a veteran’s newspaper based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. An organ of the Grand Army of the Republic, the paper operated from roughly 1888-1906 and was fairly popular with “Western” veterans in states like Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. The Library of Congress lists only three libraries in the entire United States that have any sort of collection from the Tribune, so I’m pretty lucky to have this resource in my neck of the woods at the Indiana State Library for my thesis.

I haven’t gone through the entire collection (which is on microfilm), but I’ve compiled a nice collection of more than one hundred articles from the paper that cover a wide range of subjects, including pension legislation, the Lodge Bill, Patriotic instruction in schools, the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, and a long series of articles in 1890 debating who was at fault for the massive death toll at Andersonville Prison. The paper also had a vocal editorial section that frequently lashed out at former Confederates and those who held “Lost Cause” sentiments. For instance, an editorial from March 3, 1892, criticized “Ex-Rebel Blowhards” for allegedly falsifying the numbers of soldiers who had fought on each side of the conflict. It appears the numbers were being used by some Lost Cause advocates to argue that the Union military won an unfair fight thanks to an abundance of men and resources. In response, the American Tribune bluntly stated:

It is well known to nearly everyone who knows anything about the strength of the two armies that the number in each… [was] nearly equal, and while we do not not desire to underestimate the valor and fighting qualities of the Ex-Confederates, we must be pardoned for stating that the man who in this day, with the record of the Civil War before him, will pretend or assert that any given number of Confederates proved themselves superior to the same number of Union troops during the late war, is a “blowhard” and an ignoramus.

By 1902, the paper devoted less space to political issues. Discussions regarding the Civil War focused more on telling stories of Unionist valor and honor rather than criticisms of the Lost Cause. More time was also spent on “proper” farming techniques and funding a “colonization” movement to Oklahoma, which I am still learning about. However, editorials continued to occasionally reflect on and promote a Unionist interpretation of the war, its causes, and its consequences. Last week I came across an interesting editorial from May 15, 1902, that adroitly captured the views of many GAR veterans when it came to establishing a proper “title” for the Civil War. To wit:

No expression can be more misleading or untrue to the facts of history than the designations, “The War Between the States,” [or] The War Between the North and South,” as applied to the great rebellion of 1861-1865. That fearful conflict was not a civil war; it was not a conflict between the North and the South; it was not a war between the States as such, and ought not to be designated…Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland and West Virginia, all Southern States, gave as many soldiers, if not more, to the Union cause than they did the Confederate… These [215,546, according to the paper] soldiers, all of whom were white, were reinforced during the closing days of the rebellion by 96,033 colored men who wore the blue. [It was actually more than that].    

In the Northern States were a class of men known as Copperheads, Knights of the Golden Circle, etc,. whose sympathies were decidedly Southern but whose courage[,] as with Tories always, was not strong enough to place them at the forefront of the Southern army… Loyalty in the South cost something. The leading question at the opening of the war was adroitly put, “Are you for the North or the South?” This was not the issue, but “Are you for the Union or opposed to it?“… No orator’s silver-tongued eloquence, no writer’s pen…can even approximately do justice to the gallant men and women in the Southern states, and especially in the mountain fastnesses of West Virginia. North Carolina, East Tennessee and Northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi who staked their lives, their property and their sacred honor upon the altar of their common country.

As Brad Paisley’s recent song “Accidental Racist” has shown us, many people today continually fail to make the appropriate distinction between the words “Confederate” and “Southerner.” As this editorial shows, many GAR veterans believed they had gone to war against a government that was supported by people from all parts of the United States. Destroying the Confederacy–not the South–was their primary goal. This essay forces us to ask what we mean when we refer to the South. What is the South? Is there more than one South? What are the geographical boundaries of the South? Are states like Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia actually Southern? Who can call themselves a Southerner? Do people who wave the Confederate flag today actually demonstrate “Southern Pride,” or are they merely demonstrating “Confederate Pride?”

Cheers

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2 responses

  1. Just a correction. West Virginia actually did not send more men to the Union than the Confederacy. The recent soldier count by George Tyler Moore Center at Shepherd University has put the numbers about even; around 20,000 to each side. See Mark Snell’s “West Virginia and the Civil War”, History Press, 2011, pg. 28.

    1. Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the clarification. To be sure, we are looking at what Union Civil War veterans are saying about the conflict in 1902, almost forty years after the conflict ended. It is clear that when it came to troop numbers, many veterans on both sides were prone to fudging the numbers to make their respective interpretations of the war more plausible (I also pointed out that they actually underestimated the number of USCT soldiers that fought for the Union). Such misstatements alert us to the importance of treading lightly when analyzing veterans’ primary source documents as “factual” artifacts of history, since they were created so long after the fighting actually took place. Thanks again for commenting.

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