Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict
edited by Susannah J. Ural, New York University Press
Ethnic minorities had more to prove than average American citizens during the nation’s seminal struggle. Susannah Ural’s new collection of essays looks at the drama resulting from divided loyalties within these groups during the war. In Civil War Citizens, the contributors examine a wide range of groups—Germans, Irish, Jews, Native Americans and African Americans—providing thematic parallels within a number of fascinating case studies.
Several essays look at the nation’s two largest minority groups at the time: the Irish (1.6 million) and Germans (1.3 million). Stephen Engle and Andrea Mehrlander point out that Germans served proudly on both sides of the war. Engle delineates the ways in which military conflict created opportunities for sharper focus and group solidarity for Germans in particular. Mehrlander focuses on the urban South, demonstrating the disproportionate contributions that this ethnic minority made to the Confederate war effort. Her impressive original research (16 pages of notes!) explores how this community’s commercial success coincided with the needs of the Confederacy.
Although Robert Rosen’s essay is titled “The Jewish Confederates,” he actually does a commendable job of including information about Jews and the war in the North, commenting on such topics as rabbis serving as Union chaplains and Grant’s infamous Order No. 11, expelling Jews from a military district in Tennessee (an order that Abraham Lincoln countermanded). But the bulk of Rosen’s essay explains Jewish immigrants’ affinity for the South and the big role Jews played in the Confederate experiment.
An essay by William McKee Evans contributes insights on the often-overlooked American Indians. Evans provides three powerful case studies of Native Americans residing within the Confederacy’s boundaries. One tribe, the Lumbee, resisted Rebel hegemony but was subjected to plunder and torture. The Eastern Cherokees, meanwhile, gambled by fighting against the region’s Unionists—and lost. They continued to be punished long after the war.
The Sesquicentennial should bring a revitalized focus to immigrant contributions in wartime. More scholarly research needs to be done in the wake of Ural’s pioneering anthology, of course, a process that’s sure to engage specialists and general readers alike.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.