“Leave-aloners” and Southern Unionism
It’s not some new revelation of mine, and I’ve often thought that some folks have misunderstood me when I talk about Southern Unionism, but reluctance amongst Southerners was not always an indicator of Unionism. Granted, there were indeed Southern Unionists, and there were different levels of Southern Unionists, some even being unconditional Unionists. Then, there were also those who embraced the Confederacy. Somewhere in-between these Unionists and Confederates were a people who have been overlooked, perhaps even more so than Southern Unionists. I call these people, the “leave-aloners.”
Who were the “leave-aloners”? They were people who, in some cases like Jimmy Stewart in the movie Shenandoah, wanted no part in the war, whether that be in blue or gray. They were concerned with that which was theirs. The problem with this was that the war, or more accurately, some of the people who went one way or the other (blue or gray), wouldn’t allow these “leave-aloners” to remain… left alone.
Between peer pressure and the Confederate conscript hunters, it was hard for a reluctant Southern man to remain out of the Confederate army (… to say nothing of the pressure applied by some women… but, that’s another story). On the other hand, I’ve encountered situations in which Southerners got so fed-up with the pressures of the Confederate conscript hunters and/or depredations at the hands of the Confederate army (yes, the Confederate army wasn’t always nice to its own people) that they became refugees, went to the Union army, and sometimes opted to don the blue uniform. Sometimes it was a measure to avoid the hunters and/or to simply survive… and sometimes it was a means to get back at those who had made life so difficult on the homefront.
Likewise, the depredations at the hands of Union army were enough to push a “leave-aloner” over the edge and join the Confederate army. Some of these same people, however (as well as some who had enlisted earlier on), eventually couldn’t quite grasp the concept that by serving 100 (as in the case of Virginians fighting in Virginia… although I have seen desertions of Virginians when under 50 miles of home) or over 1,200 miles away (as in the case of Texans fighting in Virginia) how they were helping to defend hearth and home. In this case, the occasional AWOL and, in some cases, eventual desertion, must have seemed a better alternative to serving so far away from the family and farm. The problem with these desertions is that we don’t always understand if those who deserted did so because of this exact reason which I cite here, or whether they deserted because they became disaffected/disillusioned with the Confederacy…. or, wait for it… if they were Southern Unionists at the beginning of it all.
Yes, I’ve digressed from the focus of this post… “leave-aloners”, but this brief discussion of “leave-aloners” serves as a vessel to bring us to the reality that confronted the reluctant Southern age-eligible-for-service male. It also reminds us that we most certainly should avoid thinking that being Southern automatically meant “being for the Confederacy.”