Book Review: Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas


by Jesus F. de la Teja, editor

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 286. Illus., map, tables, notes, biblio., index. $29.95 . ISBN: 080615182X


Unionism in Confederate Texas

De la Teja assembled an impressive array of academics to take on subject that has long-deserved attention: Unionism in Confederate Texas. Ten fascinating essays examine German Unionists, slaves, Tejanos, freedmen, anti-Unionists as they endured what was essentially a second civil war throughout the Reconstruction era. The collection ranges from broad perspectives on the cultural and political landscapes to intimate portraits of men and women struggling to navigate through a world turned upside down.

For the most part, Texas fought the Civil War on its own, particularly after July 1863 when Vicksburg, Mississippi, finally fell to U.S. Grant and the Mississippi River returned to Union control, cutting off the Lone Star State from the rest of the Confederacy. Once the war ended in the 1865, Texans loyal to the Confederacy had to find a way to credibly formulate for themselves -- and for the generations that followed -- the reasons for their brutal struggle against the United States. They had to somehow justify the death and destruction of war and explain the social and racial revolutions Confederate defeat unleashed upon the state.

Laura McLemore prepares the intellectual canvas with a deft examination of how these Texans saw themselves as distinct Southerners in the larger Confederate tapestry. They were Texans before they were Confederates, and when the war ended, Texans were ready to get back to business much sooner than other Southern states. That identity, separate from the Lost Cause mythology that consumed most of the postwar South, specifically enabled white Texas women to wield a unique Texan nostalgia for their own social and political benefit. Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy gave women the opportunity to rebuild a new Texan society and redesign a new Texas memory for future generations to absorb. Memorials, plaques, statues and cemeteries celebrating white Texas society – at the expense of Germans, blacks and Latinos – were their victories on the battlefields of the Reconstruction war.

Andrew Torget and W. Caleb McDaniel consider the slaveholders and their slaves before and during the war. The slaveholders constantly feared the possibility of slave uprisings and were plagued by slave runaways, who usually ran to Mexico. But they didn’t necessarily blame the slaves. Torget explains that slaveholders blamed any revolts or runaways on influential abolitionists and disloyal Southerners, who allegedly stirred up emotions among the slave population. So slaveholders embraced Texas secession as a way to clean out their communities of these destabilizing influences -- to protect their slaves from those influences – thereby improving like never before – in their minds – the bond between master and slave. And yet the runaways and other forms of resistance continued after secession. By the end of the war, slaveholders finally understood how the black Texans truly felt about them.

McDaniel’s looks at the other side of the relationship. His incredible essay looks the slaves taken from regions of the South into Texas – and adds them to the overall count of the state's Unionist forces. They endured the deprivations of wartime life, biding their time and hoping for the eventual destruction of the slaveholding system, or they joined the Union forces as workers and eventually as soldiers. Instead of being passive victims of their enslavement, they were active forces that worked to destabilize Confederate Texas from within and asserted their own humanity.

Some white Texans felt no allegiance to the Union or to the Confederacy but only to themselves and people from their region. In the first of the book's two fascinating case studies, Victoria Bynum profiles the anti-Confederate motivations of Warren Collins, a resident of East Texas. He owned no slaves. He considered secession and the subsequent civil war simply crusades to preserve a world dominated by large landholders and the upper-class – a world that had no place for him – so he felt no loyalty toward the Confederacy and hardly cared if it was defeated. That attitude was shared by thousands of Texans like him. Their passive or active resistance equated manpower not available to throw against Union forces, not available to secure the home front, and not invested in Southern victory.

German Texans are some of the most interesting and complicated facets of the antebellum and wartime-era Texas populations. Immigrants from a Europe dominated by kingdoms and empires to the land of liberty, many Germans settled in the state to become farmers and businessmen, and very few had any inclination towards slavery. Many lived in the Hill County or west of the region, an area too dry to grow much cotton. Many also embraced the democratic ideals of their adopted homeland, and they saw the slaveholding system and the upper-class it supported as a threat to the democracy's future. Many German Texans thereby voted against secession, refused to serve in Confederate armies and swelled the ranks of Union forces. After the war, German communities were among the first to celebrate July 4 in 1865 and welcomed Union occupation forces. They also entered Reconstruction-era political arenas, bravely in many cases, and allied themselves with black political leaders trying to redefine Texas society.

No facet of Texas wartime society was more divided and conflicted than the Hispanic population. Omar Valerio-Jimenez paints a subtle portrait of people who had already endured long decades of abuse by the white power structure in government, society and business. They also shared with black men and women a more constructive history of intermarriage and other positive associations. So most Tejanos and Mexicans, like Bynum’s lower-class East Texans, had little reason to support the slaveholding system, little reason to stand in the way of runaway slaves, and no reason to support secession and Confederate struggles for independence.

For North Texans, their most immediate problem was the danger of Native American attacks, specifically the Kiowa and Comanche. But by the late 1850s, debates over secession, the possibility of war, and regional fears of abolitionist-inspired slave revolts only intensified passions and sparked countless acts of violence against innocent men and women. Richard McCaslin’s essay excellently captures the white-hot fluidity of the situation. Fires that broke out in and around Dallas in the summer of 1860 – the “Texas Troubles” – ignited vigilante attacks on Unionists, slaves, and abolitionists. During the war the region was a haven for Confederate deserters and criminals. Native Americans worked with criminals to sweep the region for useful material to sell to Union forces, usually horses. The end of the war left North Texas in chaotic ruins and its population feeling vengeful but too exhausted to do anything about it.

One of the most tragic stories comes from Rebecca Czuchry, who examines how black Texans coped in a post-war Texas, in which every black man and woman, now theoretically free and equal, threatened every facet of white Texans’ self-identity and social and economic future. Fearing they would lose control, white Texans responded to black freedom with a brutal race war, and they saved a special brand of that violence for black women. These women, striving to maintain their communities or build news ones, were regularly sexualized, dehumanized, beaten, burned, raped or killed. But Czuchry illustrates how these women fought back by providing details of their terrible experiences to white authorities – usually the hapless Freedmen’s Bureau – or by enduring the violence in order to keep their families together. Black Texas women recorded their experiences for posterity, commemorated their bravery and determination, and stood – and still stand – as inspirations for future generations.

On June 19, 1865, Union officials informed black Texans that they were freed from slavery. The day is now called Juneteenth, and it is now celebrated nationwide. The evolution of the day of happiness into a political and cultural extravaganza is what Elizabeth Hayes Turner explores in her fascinating essay. The marking of the day became a moment that grew into a safe and public space for black Texans. It became a day not just for family gathering but for parades and speeches celebrating the men and women who fought for their liberty, a rostrum from which to call for equal rights and voting rights, and an arena in which lasting political alliances were made. It was a moment during which black men and women felt in control of their social and political lives. It also became the foundation from which they could counterattack the rhetoric of the Lost Cause mythologies inundating the minds and curriculums of new generations of Texans.

Carl Moneyhon ends the collection with the book’s other crucial profile: Edmund J. Davis. The Democratic judge opposed secession, commanded a Union regiment, rose to brigadier general, urged Lincoln to order an invasion of Texas, became a Republican and supported voting rights for black Texans. Moneyhon traces that dramatic odyssey from one end of the political and moral spectrum to the other by examining what Davis experienced -- thwarted ambitions, combat, the loss of a friend, dangers posed to his family, and election as Texas governor in 1869 -- as influencing factors on his course. His piece is an important reminder that history is the story of people – the choices they made, the reasons for those choices – and the tormented and beautiful world they left us.

Note: Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance is also available in paper back and several e-editions.

Our Reviewer: Fernando Ortiz, Jr., is an historian and writer in San Antonio. He has taught U.S. history as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio College, Northwest Vista College, and Texas A&M-San Antonio. He edits Stillness of Heart, a blog that explores U.S. history, culture and current events. At the 2011 NYMAS Conference “Civil Warriors: Profiles of Ordinary Americans and the Great National Crisis, 1860-1865,” he presented the paper “Three Lives Grappling with a New Reality: Joseph de la Garza, Manuel Yturri, Kate Stone and Their Civil War.” His current academic projects include profiles of Emma Koehler, a San Antonio business leader, and Mary Edgerton, a groundbreaking Rio Grande Valley physician. He earlier reviews include The Union War and Women in Civil War Texas.


Reviewer: Fernando Ortiz, Jr.   

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