Book Review: Race and Radicalism in the Union Army


by Mark A. Lause

Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013. Pp. x, 188. Illus., maps, notes., biblio., index. $28.00 paper. ISBN: 0252079256

Race and Radicalism in the Union Army looks at the rise of a quasi-multiracial milieu on the frontier during the period of “Bleeding Kansas” and how this affected Unionism and military operations in the region.

Prof. Lause (Cincinnati) aptly opens with an account of the Battle of Honey Springs (July 17, 1863) in what is now Oklahoma, in which two multi-racial armies clashed, and a Confederate force of pro-slavery Indians and whites was defeated by a Union force of Indians, blacks, and whites.  He then gives us an account of how this unique moment came to be.  Lause sees several factors at work.  Obviously, the influence of the radical heirs of John Brown had helped, furthering abolitionism and Unionism on the frontier, a region that already experienced something of “total war” since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  Within that context, the frontier was also an area where the concept of “race” was perhaps even shakier than elsewhere.  African-Americans, whether free or slave, were certainly welcome to help in the defense of isolated communities, whereas even in the North the idea of arming black men was controversial, while Native Americans could see their status threatened by the Confederacy's pro-slavery philosophy.  Yet even Confederate ranks were open to pro-slavery “civilized” Indians.  And there was also a larger population of people of ill-defined “race” commonly found on the frontier.  Lause is by no means blind to racism on the Union side, but he argues effectively that this quasi-egalitarian frontier experience held considerable promise for the future, albeit it was a promise that went unkept. 

Race and Radicalism in the Union Army is a good book for anyone interested in the war in the Trans-Mississippi or in in the complex nature of “race” in American history.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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