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Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas

by De La Teja, Jesus F.
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Retail Price: $19.95
Issue: Fall 2016
ISBN: 9780806151830

Beyond the Confederacy: Texans and the Other Civil War

Though observances of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War garnered less attention and fanfare than did centennial celebrations, both movements prompted new publications on the history of the war. While many authors commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War by publishing works that differ little from traditional accounts of key battles, commanders, and the common soldier experience, others explored fresh topics that previously had received limited scholarly attention. Jesús F. de la Teja’s Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of the Civil War belongs in the latter category. De la Teja, noted historian of Texas history, has done a masterful job of examining the activities of Unionists and anti-Confederates living in Texas during the Civil War era, including the years immediately before and after the conflict.

De la Teja argues that scholarly accounts of Civil War Texas often devote too much attention to military topics, leaving scholars with an incomplete understanding of how the war impacted society. Focusing on Texas, De la Teja argues that traditional interpretations leave the impression that only a small minority of Texans opposed Confederate authority before and during the war. Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance provides an alternative perspective, suggesting that anti-Confederate activities were more widespread than previously believed.

Consisting of ten well-written and well-researched chapters, this volume provides a more nuanced understanding of the Civil War era by recounting the experiences of Texans, who opposed the Confederacy, including slaves, Germans, Tejanos, African Americans, and noted white Unionists. While all the chapters in this study provide new insights, some are exceptional. Laura McLemore’s chapter, “Gray Ghost: Creating a Collective Memory of a Confederate Texas,” provides an excellent analysis of the problems associated with the collective memory of Texas’ role in the Confederacy. She convincingly argues that Texans in the postwar years were less tied to the concept of the Lost Cause than many scholars contend. McLemore reveals that “women, who increasingly saw themselves as the guardians of the state’s heritage,” were left “to construct that public memory” (8). However, she also claims that even women’s organizations, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, were more interested in fostering “a sense of culture and appreciation for the state’s history and women’s place in it than to tie Texas to the Lost Cause bandwagon” (8). Likewise, using an abundance of newspaper advertisements related to runaway slaves, as well as military and political correspondence, Andrew Torget discusses the interactions between white slaveholders and their bondsmen. His chapter, “The Problem of Slave Flight in Civil War Texas,” suggests that the fear of an uncontrollable slave population heavily influenced the actions and behaviors of white Texans, including the consideration of conscripting blacks into the Confederate army toward the war’s end. In “New Americans or New Southerners? Unionist German Texans,” Walter Kamphoefner offers new insights on the German population in the state, suggesting that Germans, who immigrated to Texas between 1840 and 1860, faced the challenge of simultaneously being Americans and Texans. Contesting traditional scholarly trends, Kamphoefner concludes that Texas Germans did not possess a natural inclination toward slavery, nor the southern cause. Finally, Omar Valerio-Jiménez’s “‘Although We Are the Last Soldiers’: Citizenship, Ideology, and Tejano Unionism” challenges historical perceptions of the behaviors of Mexican Texans. Valerio-Jiménez concludes that Tejano Unionists opposed the Confederacy based on their antislavery beliefs and the malevolent treatment that they had endured in the antebellum years at the hands of local and state authorities.

Readers will likely find that other chapters cover familiar ground. Richard McCaslin’s “A Texas Reign of Terror: Anti-Unionist Violence in North Texas,” which discusses the 1862 Great Hanging in and near Gainesville, Texas, is well written and informative; however, the chapter does not significantly add to his previously published works on the topic. Also, W. Caleb McDaniel’s “Involuntary Removals: ‘Refugeed Slaves’ in Confederate Texas” provides few revelations on the subject of refugee slaves entering Texas with their owners, an exodus that resulted when slaveholders from other southern states fled their plantations prior to the arrival of advancing Union armies. Additionally, some readers may question why the editor included topics that might seem more suited for a study of Reconstruction Texas. Such chapters include: Rebecca Czuchry’s “In Defense of Their Families: African American Women, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and Racial Violence during Reconstruction in Texas,” Elizabeth Turner’s “‘Three Cheers to Freedom and Equal Rights to All’: Juneteenth and the Meaning of Citizenship,” and Carl Moneyhon’s “Edmund J. Davis—Unlikely Radical.” However, the editor provides a viable explanation for the inclusion of these chapters. Supporting an argument that this reviewer has held for many years, De la Teja contends that the Civil War did not end in 1865, but rather continued through the Reconstruction years. Accordingly, the editor contends that stories of those who opposed the racial and political beliefs of unreconstructed southerners following the war deserve as much attention as anti-secessionist and anti-Confederate activities before and during the conflict.

Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance is an excellent example of how scholars can bring new life to a familiar topic. This study serves to reminds readers of the fallacy of the argument that a monolithic pro-Confederate Texas existed during the Civil War era. As such, this volume will be of particular interest to all serious students of Texas and Civil War history.

Dr. Kenneth W. Howell received his Ph.D. in History from Texas A&M University in 2005, and currently is a Professor of History at Blinn College. Dr. Howell is the author of Texas Confederate, Reconstruction Governor: James Webb Throckmorton, and the co-author of The Devil’s Triangle: Ben Bickerstaff, Northeast Texans, and the War of Reconstruction in Texas. He is the editor of Seventh Star of the Confederacy: Texas during the Civil War and Still the Arena of Civil War: Violence and Turmoil in Reconstruction Texas, 1865-1874. Currently, Dr. Howell is co-editing a volume on the Republic of Texas, tentatively titled, Single Star of the West: The Republic of Texas, 1836-1845.

Howell, Ken, review of Lone Star Unionism, Dissent, and Resistance: Other Sides of Civil War Texas, by De La Teja, Jesus F., Civil War Book Review, (Fall 2016).