In the United States, Southern Unionists were white people living in the Confederate States of America, opposed to secession, and against the Civil War. These people are also referred to as Southern Loyalists, Union Loyalists and Lincoln Loyalists. During reconstruction these terms were replaced by "scalawag", which covered all Southern whites who supported the Republican Party. Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia (which West Virginia still formed part of) were home to the largest populations of loyalists, thousands of whom volunteered for Union military service.
What was a Southern Unionist?
The term Southern Unionist, and its variations, incorporate a spectrum of beliefs and actions. Some, such as Texas governor Sam Houston, were vocal in their support of Southern interests, but believed that those interests could best be maintained by remaining in the Union as it existed. Some Unionists opposed secession, but afterwards either actively served and fought with the Confederate armies, or supported the Confederacy in other ways. Others refused to fight, went North or stayed North to enlist in the Union Armies, or fought informally as partisans in the South. Some remained in the South and tried to stay neutral. The term could also be used of any Southerner who worked with the Republican Party or Union government in any capacity after the war ended in 1865.
A study of Southern Unionists in Alabama who continued to support the Union during the war found that they were typically "old fashioned" or "Jackson" conservative Democrats, or former Whigs, who viewed the federal government as worthy of defending because it had provided economic and political security. They saw secession as dangerous, illegitimate, and contrary to the intentions of the Founding Fathers, and believed that the Confederacy could not improve on the United States government. The desire for security was a motivation for Unionist slaveholders, who feared that secession would cause a conflict that would result in the loss of their slaves; however, some stated that they would rather give up slavery than dissolve the union. The Southern ideals of honor, family, and duty were as important to Unionists as to their pro-secession neighbors. They believed, however, that rebelling against the United States, which many of their ancestors had fought for in 1776 and 1812, was the unmanly and dishonorable act.
James A. Baggett profiled 742 Southern Unionists, comparing them to 666 Redeemers who opposed and eventually replaced them. He compares three regions, the Upper South, the Southeast, and the Southwest. Baggett follows the life of each Southern Unionist before, during, and after the war, with respect to birthplace, occupation, value of estate, slave ownership, education, party activity, stand on secession, war politics, and postwar politics.
Baggett thus looked at 1400 political activists across the South, and gave each a score:
|1||Antisecessionist Breckinridge supporter in 1860 election|
|2||Bell or Douglas supporter in 1860 election|
|3||1860–61 opponent of secession|
|4||passive wartime unionist|
|5||peace party advocate|
|6||active wartime unionist|
|7||postwar Union party supporter|
Baggett found the higher the score the more likely the person was a Southern Unionist. Of course, depending on the definition, all of these activities make one as a Southern Unionist by definition.
Before the war there was widespread belief in the North that the states that had not yet seceded might be persuaded to stay within the Union. This idea was predicated on the fact that many believed that the newly elected President Lincoln would declare a relaxed policy toward the South that would ease tensions. Given the fact that there were a good number of Southern Unionists known to be found in the South it was hoped that this deliberate policy of non-provocation would subvert extremists from irreversible action. Admirable though their sentiments might have been the claims of these Northerners were greatly embellished. In fact there were fewer Unionists in the South than many Northerners believed, and they tended to be concentrated in areas such as northern West Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, and parts of North Carolina where slave owners and slaves themselves were few. Furthermore in the states that had already seceded irreversible action had already taken place, federal buildings, mints, and courthouses had been seized.
Many southern soldiers remained loyal when their states seceded; 40% of Virginian officers in the United States military, for example, stayed with the Union. During the war, many Southern Unionists went North and joined the Union armies. Others joined when Union armies entered their hometowns in Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana and elsewhere. Over 100,000 Southern Unionists served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and every Southern state, except South Carolina, raised at least a battalion.
|State||White soldiers serving in the Union Army (other branches unlisted)|
|Virginia and West Virginia||22,000|
Yes and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears,
When they saw the honored flag they had not seen for years;
Hardly could they be restrained from breaking forth in cheers,
While we were marching through Georgia.
Southern Unionists were extensively used as anti-guerrilla forces and as occupation troops in areas of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. Ulysses S. Grant noted "We had many regiments of brave and loyal men who volunteered under great difficulty from the twelve million belonging to the South." (Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, 1885, vol 2. chapt. 68, p. 636).
Prominent Southern Unionists
- John Bell, but after the Battle of Fort Sumter he supported the Confederacy
- John Minor Botts
- Thomas E. Bramlette
- Robert Jefferson Breckinridge
- William Gannaway Brownlow
- William Cannon
- William Crutchfield
- Thomas H. DuVal
- Emerson Etheridge
- Andrew Jackson Hamilton
- Joshua Hill
- William Woods Holden
- Joseph Holt
- Sam Houston
- Fielding Hurst 
- Andrew Johnson 
- Newton Knight
- Francis Lieber
- Montgomery C. Meigs
- Isaac Murphy
- Thomas Amos Rogers Nelson
- James L. Petigru
- Francis Harrison Pierpont
- Joseph G. Sanders
- Winfield Scott
- James Speed and Joshua Fry Speed
- George Henry Thomas
- Elizabeth Van Lew
- James Madison Wells
- East Tennessee Convention
- Storey, Margaret M. (February 2003). . "Civil War Unionists and the Political Culture of Loyalty in Alabama, 1860-1861" Check
|url=scheme (help). The Journal of Southern History 69 (1): 71–106. doi:10.2307/30039841.
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- Snell, Mark A., West Virginia and the Civil War, History Press, Charleston, SC, 2011, pg. 28.
- Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 205.
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- Dale Baum. The Shattering of Texas Unionism: Politics in the Lone Star State During the Civil War Era (1998). LSU Press: p. 87.
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- Thomas Alexander, "Strange Bedfellows: The Interlocking Careers of T.A.R. Nelson, Andrew Johnson, and W.G. (Parson) Brownlow," East Tennessee Historical Society Publications, No. 24 (1952), pp. 68-91.
- Susan Wyley-Jones. "Petigru, James Louis." Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (2002), eds. David Stephen Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler, and David J. Coles. W. W. Norton: p. 1504-05.
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- Kirk C. Jenkins, The Battle Rages Higher: The Union's Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry. University Press of Kentucky, 2003: p. 8.
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- Donald, David (1944). "The Scalawag in Mississippi Reconstruction". Journal of Southern History (Southern Historical Association) 10 (4): 447–460. doi:10.2307/2197797. JSTOR 2197797.
- Ellem, Warren A. (1972). "Who Were the Mississippi Scalawags?". Journal of Southern History (Southern Historical Association) 38 (2): 217–240. doi:10.2307/2206442. JSTOR 2206442.
- Fleming, Walter L. (1906). Documentary History of Reconstruction: Political, Military, Social, Religious, Educational, and Industrial. 2 vols. Uses broad collection of primary sources; vol. 1 on national politics; vol. 2 on states.
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- Franklin, John Hope (1961). Reconstruction after the Civil War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-26079-8.
- Garner, James Wilford (1901). Reconstruction in Mississippi. Dunning school monograph.
- Holden, William Woods (1911). Memoirs of W. W. Holden. North Carolina Scalawag governor.
- Keegan, John (2009). The American Civil War: A Military History. Random House.
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- McKinney, Gordon B. (1998). Southern Mountain Republicans, 1865–1900: Politics and the Appalachian Community. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 1-57233-009-0.
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- Perman, Michael (1984). The Road to Redemption: Southern Politics 1869–1879. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- Rubin, Hyman (2006). South Carolina Scalawags. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-625-X.
- Tunnell, Ted (2006). "Creating 'the Propaganda of History': Southern Editors and the Origins of Carpetbagger and Scalawag". Journal of Southern History 72 (4). doi:10.2307/27649233.
- Wiggins, Sarah Woolfolk (1991). The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865–1881. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-0557-2.