Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance:
Other Sides of Civil War Texas
edited by Jesús F. de la Teja.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.
285 pp. $29.95 cloth, $19.95 paper.
Mary L. Scheer
Despite a considerable number of books and other scholarly materials on Civil War Texas, the Confederate side of the conflict has far outnumbered Union scholarship. This is understandable considering that Texans held slaves, joined the Confederacy, and fought against the Union. But the state was not monolithic. There were also those who “resided on the margins of Texas history dominated by a Confederate-oriented collective memory.” These individuals—Unionists, dissenters, and resistors—form the focus of this anthology. Edited by Jesús F. de la Teja, the Jerome H. and Catherine E. Supple Professor of Southwest Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Southwest at Texas State University, the book is a collection of ten essays that take a “long view” of the war, encompassing anti-secession and anti-Confederate activities before, during, and after the military phase of the war.
The first chapter concerns the creation of a Confederate memory, which Laura McLemore argues was “as elusive as a ghost.” In “Gray Ghost: Creating a Collective Memory of a Confederate Texas,” she identifies several reasons, including a Texan identity separate from the Deep South, distinct geographical and ethnic differences, and competing agendas and memories of the war. All these militated against a monolithic collective memory, leaving construction of a public memory to Texas women, who utilized the occasion to enlarge their own private sphere and their place in Texas history.
One group that resisted their condition during the “long Civil War” were black slaves. Both Andrew Torget in “The Problem of Slave Flight in Civil War Texas” and W. Cable McDaniel in “Involuntary Removals: ‘Refugeed Slaves’ in Confederate Texas” challenge a monolithic view of the state as solidly Confederate, depicting bondsmen as potential and actual resistors. Torget maintains that at the outbreak of the war, white southerners proclaimed the loyalty of their bondsmen, believing that secession would end slave flight. As the war progressed, however, slaves ran to Mexico or behind Union lines, confounding their masters and creating fears about slave revolts and rebellions. McDaniel looks at another subgroup—“refugeed slaves” who were brought to Texas allegedly for safe-keeping. Rather than the stereotypical Lost Cause mythology of helpless white refugees and faithful servants, he argues that the Confederate exodus to Texas was not strictly a wartime economic measure, but a massive forced relocation that “likely swelled the state’s population of Unionists and dissenters.”
Two ethnic groups that confronted competing loyalties during the Civil War were the German Texans, fairly recent arrivals to Texas, and the Tejanos, who were natives of the land. Walter D. Kamphoefner in “New Americans or New Southerners? Unionist German Texans” argues that the Germans of the Hill Country “were unique among inhabitants of the would-be Confederacy and particularly of the Deep South in the degree and outspokenness of their Unionism.” Their particular dilemma was whether to become part of the mainstream and support Texas secession or depart from their fellow southerners and become Americans. Similarly Omar S. Valerio-Jiménez, in “‘Although We Are the Last Soldiers’: Citizenship, Ideology, and Tejano Unionism,” examines a broad range of behaviors by Tejanos in Zapata County and elsewhere to express allegiance or resistance to the Confederacy. Contrary to earlier interpretations, the author argues that Mexican Americans understood the ideological issues at stake between the North and South. Tejano rights, political ties, and anti-slavery views, combined with hopes for U.S. citizenship, influenced Tejano sympathies toward “taking sides or remaining neutral.”
The volume also utilizes case studies of individual Unionists to challenge the orthodoxy of a united South. In “East Texas Unionism: Warren J. Collins, Big Thicket Jayhawker,” Victoria E. Bynum dispels the trope of the backwoodsman as isolated, hotheaded, and quick to oppose all authority. As a migrant farmer to East Texas in the 1850s, Collins did not share in the “Dominate Anglo-Texas ethos” of slavery, secession and pro-Confederate sympathies. The Confederacy threatened his independent ways and, Bynum concludes, “no one made a stronger claim to principled Unionism than Collins.” Another unlikely Unionist was Judge Edmund J. Davis, who openly opposed secession, but “remained supportive of the rights of slave owners.” In his essay, “Edmund J. Davis—Unlikely Radical,” Carl H. Moneyhon traces Davis’s evolution from a states’ rights Democrat and proslavery Southerner to a rabid Unionist turned Radical Republican who accepted black suffrage. He concludes that such a radical transformation resulted from many factors, especially his unique set of personal experiences, which ultimately became more important in determining his loyalty.
One of the more horrific, yet familiar, cases of anti-Unionist violence were the assaults on dissenters in North Texas, especially those in counties that opposed secession. In “A Texas Reign of Terror: Anti-Unionist Violence in North Texas,” Richard B. McCaslin follows the rising tensions and suspicions among the region’s settlers and Indians, abolitionists and slave owners, secessionists and Unionists. Believing Unionists to be a real threat to the Confederacy, local vigilantes hunted down and executed over forty suspects. Known as the “Great Hanging,” the episode forever left a stain of Confederate atrocities, lawlessness, and violence to viciously crush dissent.
The remaining essays in the volume address the Reconstruction era and the unwillingness of southerners to accept emancipation. Rebecca A. Czuchry’s “In Defense of Their Families: African American Women, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and Racial Violence during Reconstruction in Texas” examines the treatment of blacks, particularly African American women, who faced racial violence at the hands of the white majority. Although civil authorities and the Freedmen’s Bureau failed to protect them, freedwomen resisted their mistreatment and reported acts of violence, testifying to their determination to claim their rights and forge “a sense of black communal identity.” Despite the strained race relations and violence used against the freedmen, in “‘Three Cheers to Freedom and Equal Rights to All’: Juneteenth and the Meaning of Citizenship,” Elizabeth Hayes Turner analyses how black Texans memorialized emancipation after the war, creating a collective memory that sustained the black community in seeking their full rights. Known as Juneteenth, the celebration served as “a counter memory to the Southern reverence for the Lost Cause” and a continuing reminder of constitutional guarantees of citizenship, freedom, equal protection, and equality for all.
Many of the essays in Lone Star Unionism, Dissent and Resistance subscribe to what Walter Buenger has labeled “cultural constructionism.” Drawn to a violent past, the authors view the origins of cultural change or continuity in the interactions between disparate groups. The stories of these often-neglected Unionists, dissenters, and resistors, are told through a cultural lens of group identity, citizenship, memory, and gender, providing a more nuanced view of Civil War Texas. The essays also cross previous intellectual borders by taking a “long view” of the war, one that emphasizes the struggles, ambiguities, and complexities of an interconnected past. While Sam Houston’s Unionism and the infamous Battle of the Nueces are only secondarily mentioned, the work expands our knowledge of Civil War Texas by providing a counter-narrative to a Confederate-constructed collective memory. Students of Civil War history and Texana will find this well-researched volume thoughtful, engaging, and informative; one that fills in the gaps about the “other sides of Civil War Texas.”
Mary L. Scheer is a professor and chair of the History Department of Lamar University. She was a Fulbright Scholar in 2004 to the University of Potsdam in Germany and a past president and fellow of the East Texas Historical Association. She was recently appointed Director of the Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast. Dr. Scheer has authored or edited five books on Texas history, included Women and the Texas Revolution, which won the Liz Carpenter Award for the best book on Texas women’s history. Her most recent publication is Eavesdropping on Texas History, published by UNT Press in 2016.