James M. Schruefer
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Date of Graduation
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
Philip D. Dillard
The thesis investigates the nature of the relationship between white unionists during the American Civil War and their enslaved and free black counterparts. To do this it utilizes the records of the Southern Claims Commission, which collected testimony from former unionists and their character witnesses from 1872 to 1880. For comparative purposes, it focuses on two regions economically similar and frequently contested by opposing armies: Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and the region of central Tennessee to the southeast of Nashville. As the war began, white unionists were suddenly alienated from the larger community and faced persecution by authorities and threats of violence. They sometimes coped in ways which mimicked the survival tactics long practiced by slaves. Meanwhile, free blacks and slaves were forming new identities in relation to the Union, viewing it as the bringer and protector of their freedom. The devotion to Union evidenced in the Claims Commission testimony suggests that they should be considered unionists in their own right. Free blacks and slaves recognized persecuted white unionists as natural allies. The recognition of shared experience and suffering among both races resulted in cooperative action during the war, and suggests a deeper alliance than that of mere convenience. These partnerships endured into the postwar period, as white claimants were supported by black witnesses and vice versa. The persistence of such bonds despite postwar pressures supports the idea of a period of social/racial “fluidity” after the Civil War, and invites further investigation into the nature of racial cooperation in the South
Schruefer, James, "Good Union people: Enduring bonds between black and white Unionists in the Civil War and beyond" (2016). Masters Theses, 2010-2019. 96.