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The Civil War in the Border South

Christopher Phillips, Praeger

Next to winning the war and preserving the Union, no issue occupied the thoughts of President Abraham Lincoln more than keeping Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri firmly within the  United States. As Christopher Phillips illustrates, this was a difficult task. An inner civil war raged in those  border states, fueled by a bewildering variety of political, social and cultural issues that would in the postwar years create a new region known as the Border South.

Part of a Praeger series on pivotal aspects of the Civil War era, Phillips’ book brings a comprehensive perspective to the chaotic conditions dominating the Border South before, during and after the war. “Understanding well their states’ geographical importance—and vulnerability—should war come,” Phillips writes, “the majority of these states’ leaders, whether state or national, supported compromise between the North and South while opposing coercive measures by the Republican-led federal government against the seceded states.” Those plans failed, and Border South citizens were increasingly occupied by Federal forces even though slavery was still legal and their states remained loyal to the Union. That led to myriad political problems, social unrest, suspension of habeas corpus and strict enforcement of martial law.

The Second Confiscation Act, the Emancipation Proclamation and  the enlistment of African Americans into the Union Army “marked a watershed in the war experience of these states,” especially Missouri and Kentucky, Phillips notes. Increased guerrilla activity and social unrest led to more and more “hard war” measures, including confiscation of private  property, forced removal of citizens from their homes, and “eye-for-an-eye” retaliation for atrocities like the sacking of Lawrence, Kan.

For proslavery border state whites, Phillips concludes, “acceptance of Lost Cause precepts leavened their abiding sense of violation by the federal government.” From the bitterness of defeat and the power of the imagination emerged the new Border South.


Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.