Book Review: The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy


by Lorien Foote

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016. Pp. xviii, 336. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1469630559

Yankee Fugitives and the Collapse of the Confederate Home Front

When this work first appeared in 2016, Prof. Foote (Texas A&M) opened a window on a largely unexamined aspect of the final winter of the Civil War, the surprising role played by escaped Union prisoners in the collapse of order in the Confederate interior.

Foote opens by explaining that in late 1864 the Confederacy began trying to shift thousands of prisoners-of-war out of the path the Union armies, notably Sherman’s, as they advanced into the southern heartland. During these transfers – whether by rail or on foot -- about 3,000 of these men, many of them officers, escaped.

Using letters, diaries, official reports, and more, Foote documents how the flight of these men, aided and at times by Unionist civilians, fugitive slaves, and even Confederate deserters, contributed to the collapse of order on the Home Front in the Carolinas, particularly in the Piedmont and Appalachian regions. Although most of these fugitives were merely trying to get back to Union lines, their presence and actions naturally disturbed the local populace, often disrupting agricultural and industrial activity, and forced the diversion of scarce troops from the armies in an attempt to maintain order.

Foote has the knack of telling a lively tale, punctuated with accounts of derring-do by some interesting people, while also offering valuable analysis.

The Yankee Plague, a volume in the UNC series “Civil War America”, is a worthwhile read for those interested in the Civil War, particularly in its final acts, as well as the history of prisoners-of-war and escape and evasion, and the Confederate Home Front.


Note: The Yankee Plague is also available in paperback and several e-editions

StrategyPage reviews are shared with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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