A Southerner in a Yankee Army

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Honor is a complicated word to define. It can be argued that the opposite of honor is shame, and that fear of the latter inspires defense of the former. Consider a company of soldiers, standing at attention, awaiting the order to charge across an expanse of open field against a defensive position, into the mouths of cannons loaded with grapeshot, rifled muskets charged with bone-smashing.

This was a scene played out on countless battlefields throughout the war—and with rare exception, the soldiers followed orders and charged, often into certain death. And—as they had predicted the night before—they died in droves. The unavoidable question: What can be more precious to a man than his life, and what choice more obvious than flight, when confronted with the possibility—or the certainty—of death? The shame of being branded a coward had become more loathsome to him than death. Under their code of chivalry, a knight was forbidden, on pain of expulsion from the order, to engage in cowardice in battle, conspiracy against a fellow knight, desertion, lying, stealing, sodomy and murder.

Over the centuries, such standards were adapted—to greater or lesser degrees—by the armies of various European nations. When the British established themselves in the New World, their military code of honor came with them. It had no degrees—a gentleman could not lose a little honor…. Honor was a mark of distinction that…enabled an officer to command men.

Naturally, this European-style code of honor informed the first cadets of the fledgling U. Military Academy at West Point. Interestingly, this code of honorable behavior was not formally written down until the midth century. In the Articles, acts of conduct dishonorable to the service —lying, stealing, cheating, cowardice—were carefully spelled out, along with the penalty—which, as in the Regular Army, was determined by court-martial and frequently resulted in dismissal from the service. Insofar as individual conduct was concerned, the cadets often took it upon themselves to deal with those who, in their estimation, had behaved dishonorably.

Those who failed to respond either with or to a challenge were viewed as cowards, and faced ostracism. So prevalent was the practice of answering even trivial insults with force that West Point banned cadets from owning pistols or sabers—although many cadets kept weapons hidden away. According to eminent West Point historian James L.

Morrison Jr. Usually, the altercations were simple fist fights, resulting only in bloody noses and black eyes, but occasionally the combatants resorted to weapons with intent to do bodily harm. The Army officially frowned upon dueling among its officers. In fact, Article 25 of the Articles of War prohibited the practice, stating that any officer who engaged in dueling would be cashiered.

Article 28 went a step further, and expressly forbade calling a fellow officer a coward for turning down a challenge:.

Any officer or soldier who shall upbraid another for refusing a challenge, shall himself be punished as a challenger; and all officers and soldiers are hereby discharged from any disgrace, or opinion of disadvantage which might arise, from their having refused to accept of challenges, as they will only have acted in obedience to the laws, and done their duty as good soldiers, who subject themselves to discipline. When he fell, mortally wounded, he rose by convulsive efforts and triumphantly waved in the face of the rebels, not 10 yards distant, that flag he loved so dearly of which he was so proud and for which his valuable life, without a murmur, was freely given up.

The troops had a favorite anecdote about a soldier in an outfit that was about to engage the enemy. As the regiment formed to charge, and the enemy guns opened up, a rabbit suddenly broke from cover and ran to the rear.

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It matters not at all who said it, or if the story is, in fact, apocryphal; the message is universal. To run would be to incur the condemnation of his comrades. To many, the shame of losing was equal to the ignominy of cowardice. Do your duty as I have done mine! I would rather die than be whipped!

The military background of the war

At times, soldiers otherwise renowned for their strong sense of honor behaved abysmally. For a century and a half, Maj. George Pickett has been a revered charter member of the pantheon of Confederate knights, and is known to history as the commander who valiantly led his men in that doomed, glorious charge at Gettysburg.

What many students of the war do not know, however, is that he was also responsible for one of its most horrific acts. From Atlanta to Savannah , from the northern mountains to the wiregrass and piney woods of south Georgia, these so-called enemies of the country survived, sometimes barely, as a small, secretive, and vulnerable minority in the midst of tremendous hostility, oppression, and danger. The geographical distribution of committed southern Unionists is revealed in part by who joined the Union army. In his book Lincoln's Loyalists , historian Richard Current indicates that as many as , white Southerners became Union soldiers at some point over the course of the war, and that 70 percent of those came from Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Georgia supplied fewer Union troops than did any other Southern state except South Carolina. Approximately Georgians enlisted in Union military units, compared with around 5, in North Carolina, more than 3, in Alabama, and a remarkable 42, in Tennessee. Of the few Georgians who chose to join Union forces, most were from the mountains and had to cross state lines to enlist. As many as Georgians enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry, organized near Huntsville in mid In November eight men from Fannin , Towns , and Union counties, all poor farmers who had deserted the Confederate army, were on their way to join the Fifth Tennessee in Cleveland, Tennessee, when they encountered John P.

Make-up Of The Union Army

Gatewood's notorious Confederate guerrilla force near the state line. In what came to be known as the Madden Branch Massacre, Gatewood's men captured six of the eight, lined them up, and gunned them down at close range.

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Sherman's Atlanta campaign , was the only official Union force established within the state. Its approximately enlistees were motivated as much by the defense of their homes against Confederate raids into the mountains as by any loyalty to the Union.

Union Cavalry

Given this priority, many of its troops chose to flee back home rather than stay put and hold Dalton when it came under Confederate attack in October The First Georgia's commander, Union general James Steedman, called the battalion "utterly worthless" and ensured that it was disbanded a month later. Although few Georgians ever wore Union uniforms during the war, significant numbers of Unionist civilians, either on their own or in small, often secret communities, made concerted efforts on behalf of the Union and against the Confederacy over the course of the war. Much of that activity was concentrated in north Georgia, where the relative lack of slavery or a slave-based economy, along with the region's social and commercial isolation, gave many mountain residents little reason to support the Southern cause.

Such sentiments were never universal, and the divisions among Georgia's highland residents often led to violent and vicious guerrilla warfare , as exemplified by the Madden Branch Massacre. Given that highland Unionists often enjoyed a critical mass not apparent in other parts of the state, they formed small independent and irregular bands that waged localized campaigns to defend their families and property from Confederate forces, which were often guerrilla bands themselves.

As tensions escalated in the war's latter half, many of these same "Tory" bands, made up of true Unionists as well as deserters and other dissenters, resorted to more aggressive actions, including brutal vendettas against Confederate neighbors, home guard units, or conscription officials. Pockets of Unionists, often working even further underground than the rural highlanders, appeared in Georgia cities as well.

Researchers have gathered information much of it anecdotal about these urban Unionists from their journals and diaries , several of which have been discovered in recent years. An anonymous document, long known as "Miss Abby's Diary," proved to be a major source of information on a small, but fully engaged, Unionist community in Atlanta.


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Historian Thomas G. Dyer decoded the diary and discovered that its author, Vermont native Cyrena Stone, had moved to Fayetteville , Georgia, with her husband in and then to Atlanta around When the war broke out, they found themselves, along with other so-called secret Yankees, faced with constant surveillance, social ostracism, and persecution from local law enforcement.

This group of no more than families found various means not only to survive but also to subvert Confederate war efforts. They helped Union prisoners of war and wounded soldiers brought into the city for either incarceration or treatment, and provided information to Union forces as they approached Atlanta. Once Sherman's troops occupied the city, its Unionist residents were allowed to remain for several weeks after the rest of the populace was forced to evacuate. The Unionists eventually left the city as well, and many returned to the North. Other accounts by Unionist women suggest that they lived in isolated situations, lacking even the small network of fellow loyalists found in Atlanta.

In her journal, Louisa Fletcher recounts considerable harassment by local residents suspicious of the couple's loyalties, and ostracism that continued well after the war's end. The war even alienated the Fletchers from their adult daughters, who cast their lot with the Southern cause. Living with her in-laws in Savannah, and under constant scrutiny by local residents, she was far more guarded, and even ambivalent, in her professions of Union loyalty.

Her situation was further complicated by the fact that her uncle, Union general David Hunter, had enraged Savannah residents by capturing and occupying nearby Fort Pulaski.

story (U.S. National Park Service)

These stories, and others like them, suggest that the experiences of Georgia Unionists varied greatly. Rosecrans, a year-old Ohioan who graduated fifth in the West Point Class of , had served as an engineer before leaving the Army in to work in the coal and petroleum industries. He did not serve in the Mexican War. Somewhat heavy, with soulful eyes, a neatly cropped beard and shaggy hair over his ears, Rosecrans reportedly earned his nickname not because of his name but because of his prominent Roman nose.

Rosecrans looked every bit the part of a competent commander.

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Early in the war, Rosecrans served as an aide to Maj. George B. McClellan and participated in the fighting in western Virginia before heading west to join Maj. Henry W.