Friday, June 15, 2007

CWL --- White Union Soldiers, Race and Slavery

"A Vexed Question": White Union Soldiers on Slavery and Race, Chandra Manning in The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, University Kentucky Press, 2007, pp. 31-66, notes.

At what point did white Union soldiers accept African-Americans as being more than contrabands? Chandra Manning would say that they accepted blacks as early as 1861 if the white Union soldiers were west of the Appalachian Mountains.

The connection between emanicipation and the war was made by African-Americans. The first group of whites to make the connection were those of Union soldiers serving in Dixie during the fall of 1861. Citing camp newspapers that were writen and edited by soldiers of the line, Manning believes that these soldiers became both advocates and agents of emancipation. The assumption that racism made Union soldiers oppose emancipation is found in Bell Irvin Wiley's The Life of Billy Yank and the essay Billy Yank and the Black Folk.

Reviewing about 100 camp newspapers written and edited by soldiers in the field, Manning has found evidence that Union soldiers were linking emancipation with war aims by the end of 1861. ". . . the fact that slavery is the sole undeniable cause of this infamous rebellion, that it is a war of, by and for slavery, is as plain was the noon-day sun" are words that were written in October 1861 by an Illinois soldier stationed in Missouri; this statement is typical of what Manning has found. Between the late summer and early winter 'a striking pattern took shape, as soldier after soldier began to insist that because slavery had caused the war, only the destruction of slavery could end the war," states Manning.

Remarkably the author has also found that soldiers understood that the South's lacked a middle social class. They viewed the middle class as holding the reservoir of social virtue, which was essential for a democratic nation with a republican government. The sanctity of the family, and the slave holder's violation of it, was an issue for Union soldiers. First hand they observered that one in three first marriages of slaves were broken by sale and that one in two slave children were seperated from one parent by sale.

The progress of the war influenced the racial attitudes of Union soldiers. As black soldiers engaged the enemy and these engagements were alongside white Union soldiers, then white attitudes about blacks changed. Battlefield stamina and courage among black soldiers became an agent of change within the preceptions of white Union soldiers. Importantly, Manning states that many Union soldiers understood that Northern society was complicit in slavery and that the war was a judgment from on high upon the entire nation.

Help Note: This chapter can be obtained by using your local library's inter-library loan services or by contacting me.

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