Term Paper: Women and the Home Front

Pages: 31 (11672 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] From the beginning of the secession crisis President Abraham Lincoln viewed the supposedly loyalist mountain regions as an ideal base for military operations into vital Confederate territory, and a place to drive a wedge into Southern unity. Politically, not to mention logistically, the mountain regions turned out to be less hospitable, and certainly less cooperative, than Northerners hoped. The Southern Appalachians, however, proved equally troublesome to the Confederate command. After an initial burst of wartime fervor, many mountain residents grew increasingly resistant, and then violently hostile, to coercive Confederate mobilization policies. The mountain regions also provided havens for deserters and increasingly fertile ground for bushwhackers, bandits, and resistance movements. At the same time, the war was particularly cruel to the Southern Appalachians, and residents suffered from economic collapse, social fragmentation, failed institutions, brutal partisan infighting, and heavy-handed intervention by outsiders, both Northern and Southern.

Except for northern Georgia, the Southern Appalachians were a sideshow in the conventional war. Perhaps for that reason, they have also constituted one of the last battlegrounds in Civil War historiography. Until recently, the mountain regions outside West Virginia and northern Georgia received only brief mention in general accounts of the war and were of little interest to Civil War scholars. Even today, one can find more works on the Battle of Gettysburg than on this entire area. The few existing accounts of the war were largely state and county histories, dissertations and theses, and local records. It was not until the late 1970s that the Southern Appalachians became an object of serious interest to Civil War historians. Not coincidentally, that interest coincided with a wave of social, economic, and cultural studies of the mountain regions by such scholars as Dwight Billings, Durwood Dunn, Ronald Eller, Paul Salstrom, Henry D. Shapiro, and Altina L. Waller. These works significantly altered the stereotype of primitive, savage Appalachia and provided a more sophisticated basis for exploring patterns of loyalties and wartime behavior.

According to Noel C. Fisher, "The American Civil War had many faces. The first and most familiar was the conventional struggle between the Confederate and Union armies, a conflict that was fought under the authority of national governments, conducted by commissioned officers and organized forces, and, in theory at least, waged according to a recognized code of conduct." This aspect of the Civil War has been the subject of hundreds of accounts of campaigns, battles, mobilization, army organization, command, strategy, politics, and diplomacy. However, a second face of the war was the unorganized conflict between Unionist and secessionist partisans. "This struggle pitted region against region, community against community, and members of the same community against each other. It was decentralized, local, and often surprisingly detached from the conventional war, and its character varied from place to place." Fisher reports that in Middle Tennessee, secessionists formed partisan bands to deter the Unionist minority from challenging Confederate rule and fought an increasingly effective war of sabotage and ambush against Federal forces. In many parts of North Carolina, loyalists encouraged soldiers to desert, harbored draft evaders, harassed Confederate authorities, resisted conscription, and fought against the state militia and Confederate troops.

Furthermore, both of these dimensions of the Civil War are describe as being "remarkably savage." Partisans on both sides of the conflict shot, hanged, beat, and whipped their civilian and military enemies, plundered and burned homes, executed prisoners, and on occasion raped women and assaulted children. "The partisan conflict allowed the worst human impulses to flourish, and guerrillas used the war to justify the harshest measures. Yet, as recent studies of Civil War combat have made increasingly clear, the fighting on the battlefield was also vicious and often marred by atrocities."

East Tennessee was the site of particularly intense fighting between Unionist and secessionist partisans. In June 1861 East Tennesseans rejected secession by a margin of more than two to one. Although the remainder of the state overwhelmingly supported separation, the loyalists refused to accept Confederate rule. "They defied Confederate officials, assaulted Southern troops, evaded conscription and war taxes, and intimidated and drove out secessionists. The Confederate government responded with increasing repression, and local secessionists fought back against Unionist violence." The resulting conflict quickly spread to every county in East Tennessee as well as neighboring regions in Georgia, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

The division between East Tennessee Unionists and the Confederacy proved unbridgeable. Despite evidence to the contrary, loyalists were convinced, as were President Abraham Lincoln and many other Republicans, that the majority of Southerners actually opposed separation from the Union. In their view secession was a conspiracy, developed in the 1850s by Southern radicals and imposed on the Southern states through fraud, manipulation, and intimidation. Unionists therefore concluded that Tennessee's act of secession was invalid and argued that their resistance to the Confederate government was justified. Confederates, in turn, were baffled by Unionists' obstinate refusal to join their war in defense of Southern rights. They concluded that Unionism originated in the lies and manipulations of loyalist leaders, who turned the region's population against the Confederate government to preserve their own power. Southern officials viewed East Tennessee Unionists as ignorant and deluded and were unable to see that their loyalties were deep and enduring. Thus, Confederates never understood Unionist fears of Southern rule, while East Tennessee loyalists had little sympathy for Southern grievances. The result was a tragic conflict that could be resolved only by force.

In fact, a good portion of Tennesseans, particularly in the eastern portion of the state, had at first been reluctant to separate from the Union. According to James Welch Patton, Tennessee was singularly free from secession propaganda before 1860. "The geographic location of the state, the social and intellectual background of its people, and the economic situation alike made secession from the Union undesirable." A number of misguided scholars and theorists wrote that the days of the Union were numbered, that the South would no longer submit to the tyranny and oppression of the North; however, the popular leaders of the state were those who supported the Union. "Tennessee was the stronghold of the conservative Whig party, which was devoted from its inception to the theory that the preservation of the Union was the summum bonum of American endeavor."

The fact that the popular leaders of the state were nationalists is particularly highlighted by the case of John Bell, without a doubt the most popular man in the state and prior to 1860 a constant supporter of the Union cause. "Entering Congress in 1826, he frequently referred with pride to the fact that his majority had been increased by the suffrages of several free Negroes. He united with Chase and Sumner in their fight against the threatened 'Crime against Kansas,' and he was the only Southern senator to oppose the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Yet in spite of all these considerations he remained popular in Tennessee and was the choice of the people of that state for president in 1860."

The state's geographic proximity meant that the social and economic interests of Tennessee were inextricably connected to the North as they were to the South. The economic interests of the state were such as to make its continued existence in the Union both profitable and desirable. Tennessee could by no means be classed as a typical cotton and plantation state of the era. For instance, the ratio of slaves to white people in the state in 1860 was less than one to four, and was constantly decreasing. Out of a population of 1,109,801 there were only 36,844 slave owners, and of these only one man owned more than three hundred slaves. Furthermore, only forty-seven men owned over one hundred slaves each.

In addition, a large portion of the state was better adapted to the production of live-stock and food stuffs than to cotton raising, and while these goods found a ready market in the large plantations of the South, they were also finding other markets among the growing population of the North and West. The importance of this fact was emphasized by Dr. Felix Robertson in an address to the people of Tennessee in 1861, and the Knoxville Whig asserted in 1860 that the state was in no position to secede because of the dependence of its population upon the North for manufactured goods.

The secession sentiments were inflamed to the boiling point, however, by the President's call for troops. Tennessee Governor Harris responded to Lincoln with his characteristic style: "Tennessee will not furnish a single man for coercion, but fifty thousand if necessary for the defense of our rights or those of our Southern brothers." The governor's defiance was initially applauded and supported by most of the people. According to Horn, as soon as the legislature could be convened, it voted to submit to the electorate a "declaration of independence" from the United States.

As a result, apart from eastern, Tennessee where the population, then and throughout the war, remained preponderantly Unionist in sentiment, the overwhelming majority… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Women and the Home Front.  (2004, August 16).  Retrieved June 24, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-home-front/5398348

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-home-front/5398348.