Southern Unionist

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Newton Knight (Mississippi), leader of the Knight Company and one of the founders of the Free State of Jones.

In the United States, Southern Unionists were white Southerners living in the Confederate States of America opposed to secession. Many fought for the Union during the Civil War. These people are also referred to as Southern Loyalists, Union Loyalists,[1] or Lincoln's Loyalists.[2] Pro-Confederates in the South derided them as "Tories" (in reference to the pro-Crown Loyalists of the American Revolution). During Reconstruction, these terms were replaced by "scalawag" (or "scallywag"), which covered all Southern whites who supported the Republican Party.

Tennessee (especially East Tennessee), North Carolina, and Virginia (which included West Virginia at that time) were home to the largest populations of unionists. Other (primarily Appalachian) areas with significant Unionist influence included North Alabama, North Georgia, Western North Carolina, the Texas Hill Country, northern Loudoun County in Virginia, the State of Scott in Tennessee, the Free State of Jones in Mississippi, North Mississippi, North Texas, the Arkansas Ozarks,[3] and the Boston Mountains in Arkansas.[4] These areas provided thousands of volunteers for Union military service. Western North Carolinians, for example, formed their own loyalist infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments, while West Virginians formed a new Union state admitted in 1863.


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 initially opposed secession (especially in the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia), but afterward 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 Army, or fought informally as partisans in the South. Some remained in the South and tried to stay neutral. The term could also be used for 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.[5]

Baggett study[edit]

In 2003, historian James Alex Baggett profiled more than 1,400 Southern political activists (742 Southern Unionists, and 666 Redeemers who eventually replaced them) in three regions (the Upper South, the Southeast, and the Southwest). He coded them as follows:

Score Activity
1 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 claimed that each activist's score was roughly proportional to the probability that the activist was a Southern Unionist. Baggett further investigated the lives of those Southern Unionists 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.[6]


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 northwest Virginia,[7] East 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.[8] 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. Around 100,000 Southern Unionists served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and every Southern state except South Carolina raised organizations of white troops.[9]

State White soldiers serving
in the Union Army
(other branches unlisted)
Alabama 2,700[10]
Arkansas 9,000[11]
Florida 1,000[12][13]
Georgia 2,500
Louisiana 5,000[14]
Mississippi 545[15]
North Carolina 10,000[16]
Tennessee 31,000[17]
Texas 2,000[18]
Virginia and
West Virginia

The Southern Unionists were referred to in Henry Clay Work's song Marching Through Georgia:

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:[20]

"We had many regiments of brave and loyal men who volunteered under great difficulty from the twelve million belonging to the South."

Prominent Southern Unionists[edit]

David Farragut (Tennessee) was made rear admiral in the Union Navy after capturing New Orleans in the spring of 1862.
Sam Houston (Texas), previously the President of the Republic of Texas, was governor of Texas during the secession crisis of 1860-1861 and unsuccessfully tried to prevent Texas from seceding.
Winfield Scott (Virginia), general-in-chief of the Union Army, was a military advisor to Abraham Lincoln, and developed the Anaconda Plan to cut the Confederacy in half.
North Carolina
South Carolina
West Virginia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Philip B. Lyons, Statesmanship and Reconstruction: Moderate Versus Radical Republicans on Restoring the Union After the Civil War (Lexington Books, 2014), p. 262: "Hart was one of the first native white Union Loyalists to speak out in favor of black suffrage and equal rights."
  2. ^ Richard Nelson Current, Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy (Northeastern University Press: 1992).
  3. ^ Howard, Rebecca Ann; ‘Civil War Unionists and Their Legacy in the Arkansas Ozarks (Ph.D. thesis) (2015).
  4. ^ Lause, Mark A.; Race and Radicalism in the Union Army, p. 5 ISBN 0252034465
  5. ^ Storey, Margaret M. (February 2003). "Civil War Unionists and the Political Culture of Loyalty in Alabama, 1860-1861". The Journal of Southern History. 69 (1): 71–106. doi:10.2307/30039841. JSTOR 30039841.
  6. ^ Baggett, James Alex (2003). The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press. ISBN 9780807130148. Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 9 Jul 2016.
  7. ^ Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution – 1863–1877, Harper, 2002, pg. 39
  8. ^ Pryor, Elizabeth Brown (2011-04-19). "The General in His Study". Disunion. The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  9. ^ Current, Richard Nelson (1992). Lincoln's Loyalists: Union Soldiers from the Confederacy. UPNE. p. 5. ISBN 9781555531249. except South Carolina.
  10. ^ The Civil War in Alabama – Legends of America. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  11. ^ Arkansas Military Records Research Guide. Retrieved January 29, 2021
  12. ^ Florida's Role in the Civil War: "Supplier of the Confederacy". Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  13. ^ Robinson, Jim. (January 30, 2005). Black Soldiers Played Proud Roles In Civil War Combat. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  14. ^ Sacher, John M. Civil War Louisiana | 64 Parishes. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  15. ^ Rein, Christopher. (2001). Trans-Mississippi Southerners in the Union Army, 1862-1865. LSU Master's Theses. Retrieved February 7, 2021.
  16. ^ Willard, David C. (2010). North Carolina in the Civil War - NCpedia. January 29, 2021.
  17. ^ McRary, Amy. (August 26, 2017). East Tennessee's Civil War: Pro-Union with divided loyalties. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  18. ^ Union Supporters in Texas - NEISD. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  19. ^ [Snell, Mark A., West Virginia and the Civil War, History Press, 2011, pgs. 28-29 ISBN 978-1-59629-888-0 "The discrepancy between the Union low figure of approximately twenty thousand to the 'official' high of thirty-two thousand can be explained by the fact that thousands of enlistees in West Virginia's Union regiments were natives of Pennsylvania and Ohio..."
  20. ^ Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, 1885, vol 2. chapt. 68, p. 636. Project Gutenberg online edition
  21. ^ a b c d Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 1998
  22. ^ Rogan Kersh. Dreams of a More Perfect Union, p. 194
  23. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 74.
  24. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 353.
  25. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 644.
  26. ^ Gary Matthews, More American Than Southern Kentucky, Slavery, and the War for an American Ideology, 1828-1861 (University of Tennessee, 2014), p. 1: "Anderson ... was a staunch unionist."
  27. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 270.
  28. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 279.
  29. ^ Lowell H. Harrison & James C. Klotter, A New History of Kentucky (University Press of Kentucky: 1997), p. 257.
  30. ^ Daniel W. Crofts, ‘Joseph Holt: Union Man’ (May 30, 2011). New York Times.
  31. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 1990.
  32. ^ Kirk C. Jenkins, The Battle Rages Higher: The Union's Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry. University Press of Kentucky, 2003: p. 8.
  33. ^ Currie, David P. (2007). The Constitution in Congress: Descent into the Maelstrom, 1829-1861. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-226-13116-0. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  34. ^ Scarborough, William Kauffman (2006). Masters of the Big House: Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-nineteenth-century South. Louisiana State University Press. p. 237. ISBN 0-8071-2882-1. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  35. ^ William W. Freehling, The South Vs. The South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 145.
  36. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 1998.
  37. ^ Biography of John Pool (1826-1884). digital.lib.ecu. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  38. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 819.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Edward R. Crowther. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (2002), eds. David Stephen Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler, and David J. Coles. W. W. Norton: p. 298-9.
  41. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 417.
  42. ^ Lonnie Maness, Henry Emerson Etheridge, Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved: 22 April 2014.
  43. ^ Spencer C. Tucker, The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia (Vol. 1: ABC-CLIO, 2011), pp. 183-84.
  44. ^ Derek W. Frisby. ‘Forrest, Nathan Bedford.’ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War (2002), eds. David Stephen Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler, and David J. Coles. W. W. Norton: p. 721.
  45. ^ Paul Bergeron, Andrew Johnson, Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved: 3 May 2013.
  46. ^ 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.
  47. ^ James Marten, Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State, 1856-1874 (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), pp. 115-16.
  48. ^ James Marten, Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State, 1856-1874 (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), pp. 69-70.
  49. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 300.
  50. ^ Dale Baum. The Shattering of Texas Unionism: Politics in the Lone Star State During the Civil War Era (1998). LSU Press: p. 87.
  51. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 1936.
  52. ^ James Marten, Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State, 1856-1874 (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), pp. 70, 132.
  53. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 254.
  54. ^ a b c d e f Otis K. Rice & Stephen W. Brown, West Virginia: A History (University Press of Kentucky: 2d ed. 1993), p. 154: "Unconditional Unionists, such as Arthur I. Boreman, Archibald W. Campbell, Waitman T. Willey, and Chester D. Hubbard, were ready to accept emancipation of slaves, imposed by Congress, and wartime proscriptions, including suspension of habeas corpus, of the Lincoln administration in return for statehood. Conservative Unionists, including John S. Carlile, Sherrard Clemens, John J. Jackson, and John J. Davis, would jeopardize statehood rather than bow to a government that they perceived as dictatorial and abolitionist."
  55. ^ Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, p. 1522.


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External links[edit]